Letter From Joseph Tkach – December 2012

Posted by colin on December 8, 2012 under Pastor General's Monthly Letter | Comments are off for this article

December 1, 2012

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

One of the most dramatic changes Jesus made, as he taught his disciples about their relationship with God, was to transform the way they prayed. Their leaders had set an example of heavily structured prayer, conducted with much ceremony and with emphasis on an outward show of piety.Jesus showed them how prayer could be an intimate conversation between an individual and God. He still taught that formal, public prayer had its place, but he emphasized that it should not take the place of prayer that is personal and private. When we learn to pray like this, we see our relationship with God become deeper and stronger.Even so, most of us still find prayer difficult at times. We often wonder if our prayers “get any higher than the ceiling.” Actually, it wouldn’t matter if they didn’t, as God is omnipresent. His ears are always open to our prayers—it takes more than a ceiling to cut them off. Even so, our prayers may often seem like we are giving God a “to do” list, as we systematically make our requests known. We ask in faith, and we try to be patient for when God doesn’t “get it all done.” We realize that sometimes the answer to our requests must be “wait” and even “no.” So we continue to ask, day after day.

Instead of just giving God a “to do” list, why not also ask God to share his list with you? This isn’t some gimmick. It really does make sense when we understand how we have been called to participate in the ongoing ministry of Jesus, through the Holy Spirit. That ministry is to reconcile all humanity to God, and that means there is always much to do, because the Holy Spirit is at work 24/7. Everyone we know and everyone we meet is on God’s “to do” list. As Jesus observed in Matthew chapter 9, the fields are ready for harvest, and God is looking—seeking those who will help him in the work of harvesting. When we, as a denomination and as individuals, ask for opportunities to participate in that ministry, he will show us what he wants us to do.

This is why I would like to share with you some of the stories that come to me from our congregations around the world. Some of these are the result of thoughtful planning, hard work, and a wise commitment of resources. I thank God for blessing our efforts. Sometimes I hear of something that leaves me asking, “Where did that come from?” In some cases, we did not plan a campaign, organize evangelism or think to commit our resources to see if we could make something happen. But something did happen.

For example, here is a report from one of our regional leaders, who had just returned from a visit to North Africa:

Wafiq lives in North Africa. One day he and some friends attended a local book fair. They saw, tucked away in the corner stall, some books wrapped in brown paper. When they asked what the books were, they were told they were copies of the New Testament in Arabic. They took the books and read them from cover to cover when they got home. With much excitement they decided that “Jesus is Lord” and they sought to be baptized. Wafiq searched the web for a church and got in touch with us to request baptism. After some email exchanges I went to visit him and the others at the end of 2010. Wafiq was baptized during that trip. The others decided not to continue their interest; one because his wife threatened him with divorce and would report him to the authorities should he become a Christian; the other was not sure for various reasons. At the beginning of 2011 Wafiq advised me that more people wanted to be baptized. I went to see them in late November. It is difficult to be Christian openly in some Muslim countries, and all our arrangements had to be sensitive to that fact. One of the problems is, of course, time to get to know each other well. There is not always the time on such visits to thoroughly assess anyone’s understanding. In my mind, however, although understanding is important, it is not the deciding factor on whether to baptize someone. The heart’s desire comes into it, as does the confession of faith. These people did not have the Old Testament in Arabic, and one of them reads the Bible only from the Internet. We prayed and they told me of their desire to confess Jesus as Lord—in a country where that is regarded as heresy. So I baptized three men with Wafiq’s assistance. They don’t want their exact geographical location to be known for fear of persecution and victimization. I am delighted to tell you, however, that we now have four baptized people in a Muslim country in North Africa. They would appreciate our prayers.

Another example has been the astonishing growth of our membership in Mozambique. We made no deliberate effort to reach Mozambique, especially as we have no one in our African ministry who speaks Portuguese. (Mozambique was a Portuguese colony before gaining independence.) But over 80 congregations have asked to join us and are now members of our worldwide fellowship. Our director over Southern Africa, Tim Maguire, has his work cut out for him when it comes to helping the church elders serve these people. Mozambique is an extremely poor country. Tim tells me that our members are subsistence farmers and not one of them has any kind of paid employment. To have a thriving church in Mozambique was not in our plans. But they were calling out to God for someone to teach them the truth. So when we prayed for more people to serve, he showed us that these people in Mozambique were on his “to do” list.

This is encouraging, but perhaps it should not surprise us. It is what Jesus told us to expect when we join him in his ministry: “When the Holy Spirit comes on you, you will be able to be my witnesses in Jerusalem, all over Judea and Samaria, even to the ends of the world” (Acts 1:8 The Message).

Rod Matthews has just sent me this report after visiting what we might consider the “ends of the earth”—some remote islands in the Pacific.

Allowin and Monorega Katohebele

The archipelago of the Solomon Islands is distant enough from anywhere, but GCI has a congregation of around 60 people in Qiloe, on the remote island of Ranongga—where there are no roads, no electricity or water supply and only recently gained its first cell phone tower. It takes a three-hour flight from Australia, another one-hour flight in a small propeller-driven commuter plane to the regional town of Gizo, and a 90-minute trip in a small open boat powered by an outboard motor across the strait between Gizo and Ranongga to get there.

Derek Jiru is our local pastor. During their annual family festival held in November, Mission Developer for the South Pacific, Rod Matthews, together with the Solomons’ national coordinator, Henry Kuper, was delighted to ordain Qiloe’s second elder, Allowin Katohebele.

Rod Matthews baptizes young man in stream

In addition, four baptisms were conducted in a rock pool in a crystal-clear stream coming out of the mountainous interior. Ameria, one of two young ladies baptized, is the daughter of our new elder. A young man who was baptized comes from the neighboring village, but he had specifically requested and gained permission of his parents to move to Qiloe and attend our services with his friends.

It might be hard to get there, but there is no evidence more clear of the presence and work of the Holy Spirit in the most remote places than among the people of Qiloe.

Sometimes I get good news from a place I have never heard of. For example, here is a report from Hector Barrero, our Mission Coordinator in South America:

About 55 members and children got together from September 28th to the 30th for their first seminar in Piura, Peru. Piura is a city of close to 500,000 people, located one hour by plane from Lima, the capital of Peru. Some members from Lima and La Huaca attended and were grateful for the visit and gained a deeper sense of connection with GCI. I took greetings from all of you to them and they send back their love and a very warm and Latin hug.

GCI Conference in Piura, Peru

The focus of our time together was on lessons from Steve McVey’s book Grace Walk Experience. We also hosted a talent show night, which was mostly led by children with lots of good humor. I’ve already received reports from our local leader, Ruth Nieves, in which she tells me that members have regained a desire to get closer to Jesus and start working more enthusiastically to live and spread the message of his kingdom.

Baptism Service

Also, two children were baptized: a 15-year-old boy named Christian Nieves, and a 10-year-old girl, Camila Gutierrez. Camilla’s mother promised to help her through her spiritual journey. Juan Carlos Florian, our leader in La Huaca, Cajamarca, was ordained deacon with his acceptance and the agreement of national pastor Jose Kasum and local leader Ruth Nieves. Members are already planning to have another seminar next year. 

I thought you would find it encouraging to see how God is using our denomination, with the help of your generosity, to reach people in these far-off places. I know that we who live in America could tell similar stories of the Holy Spirit at work, right here in our own backyard. Not every encounter is exciting, and may not even seem newsworthy. However, Jesus showed us that every lost person who comes home is a cause for celebration, no matter whom or where it takes place: “Imagine a woman who has ten coins and loses one. Won’t she light a lamp and scour the house, looking in every nook and cranny until she finds it? And when she finds it you can be sure she’ll call her friends and neighbors: ‘Celebrate with me! I found my lost coin!’ Count on it—that’s the kind of party God’s angels throw every time one lost soul turns to God” (Luke 15:10, The Message).

Let’s continue to pray that God will show us his “to do” list, and also that he will give each one of us the eyes to recognize those opportunities and seize them humbly, wisely and gratefully.

Before closing, may I thank you once again for your generous support in 2012. Tammy and I wish you a very happy and blessed Christmas as we celebrate together the birth of the One whose birth, life, death and resurrection has given us so much, including the priceless privilege of allowing us to share in his ministry of reconciliation.In Christ’s service,

Joseph Tkach President – Grace Communion International

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