Letter from Joseph Tkach — November 2012

Posted by colin on November 17, 2012 under Pastor General's Monthly Letter | Comments are off for this article



November 2012
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,Sometimes, as President of Grace Communion International, I am asked “What are your churches like?” I know what the questioner means, but it is a difficult to answer.

Some churches and denominations have recognizable characteristics. It may be the architecture of their buildings, or what day they have chosen to worship together. Others can be distinguished by some distinctive item of dress, or hairstyles. Or maybe what they eat or don’t eat sets them apart. But I find it difficult to isolate some physical detail that is the common factor for all of our churches. In fact, our motto is “All kinds of churches for all kinds of people in all kinds of places.” It is a motto we try hard to live up to.

Let me explain what I mean by describing two of our congregations, both of whom are firmly rooted in our fellowship. But they are located on opposite sides of the world and are about as different from each other as it is possible to be.

The first is located in the Patayas, a suburb of Manila, capital city of the Philippine Republic. Patayas has the dubious distinction of being the site of a huge dumpsite. Some years ago, one of our pastors, Fred Millemena, gave up a successful career to make his home among the squalor and filth to serve the people who scratched a precarious living from scavenging the dump. He wanted to offer them the spiritual comfort of a church and give their children the hope of a better life through education.

The church lies in the shadow of a mountain of garbage several hundred feet high. Dump trucks disgorge their loads of rubbish around the clock – up to 30,000 tons every day. The scavengers then sift through what others have thrown away, making about three dollars a day if they are lucky. They live in the shadow of the dump – in homes pieced together from cardboard, discarded tarpaulins and sheets of rusty corrugated iron. There are not many permanent buildings here but Fred Millemena’s church is one of them. During the week, it is used as a school for over 100 children, whose parents are too poor to afford even the modest fees of the government run school outside the dump. On the weekend, the building is transformed into a place of worship with over 100 regularly attending.

Some generous donations have made it possible for Fred to install two water tanks. You can imagine the difference a supply of clean water makes, especially when you see the condition of the fetid, sludge filled ponds and streams. Fred and his staff also provide simple but nourishing meals for over 100 children every day.

They are a living embodiment of what Jesus meant when he said, “(W)hatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:40). The church in Patayas may not be physically impressive, but I consider it one of the jewels in our denominational crown.

Another jewel is located in Staten Island, New York. Mary Bacheller is a very skillful teacher of American Sign Language (ASL). She has worked for many years as a teacher to deaf and hearing-impaired people, but her dream was to plant a church where the deaf could worship in their own language. (ASL is not just “English in signs.” It is a language in its own right that makes it possible for the deaf to communicate quickly and fluently.)

Last September her dream became a reality, when “Hands of Christ Community Church” was officially launched, and has an average attendance of around 40. In this congregation, ASL is the primary language, with translation into spoken English for visitors.

Mary wrote to me recently, “I cannot begin to tell you the excitement I feel with Hands for Christ Community Church. The deaf are just loving the bible study and learning so much. I would have never believed that I would be doing this one day given all that has happened, but GOD is an AMAZING GOD and now I can’t think of NOT doing this. Please let me know the next time that you and Tammy come into NYC. I would love for you to speak at our services one day.” I certainly plan to visit this unique congregation as soon as I can.

Do you see why it is hard to give a simple answer when asked, “What do your churches look like?” The answer is, “It depends on what kind of people are members, and in what kind of place they are located.” But I can say that, although physically they may be vastly different, GCI congregations share a common belief that we have been called to participate with Jesus in his ministry to the world. And so, wherever we are, the members of Grace Communion International share a commitment to “Live and Share the Gospel.”

I am deeply grateful to people like Fred and Mary who have planted churches in such challenging circumstances. I am also deeply grateful to people like you, whose generosity and prayers make it possible for us to support them.

In this season of Thanksgiving, let us join together in giving thanks to God, who has given us the privilege of working with him in the wonderful ministry of reconciliation, bringing comfort and hope to a world that needs it so desperately.

Happy Thanksgiving to you all!

Your brother in Christ’s service,

Joseph Tkach President – Grace Communion International

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