Letter from Joseph Tkach — December 2013

Posted by colin on December 6, 2013 under Pastor General's Monthly Letter | Comments are off for this article

December 1, 2013
Letter from Dr. Joseph Tkach  

 

Grace Communion International - Living and Sharing the Gospel

 

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

The Christmas season is here again, and you know what that means: Christmas cards! Sending out letters of encouragement to my friends around the world is one of the best perks of being denominational president. But it doesn’t compare to the joy I experience when I read the letters and cards that you send me here from around the world. Whether these come in the form of a handwritten letter or an email, I am always encouraged by seeing how God is using our denomination. It makes me feel like we are drawing closer to a time when, as Isaiah wrote, “the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea” (Isaiah 11:9). I like that image and I think it speaks to where we are as a denomination. Let me explain.

When we think about Isaiah’s imagery, we could envision it as a great revival where people seeking God will be like an ocean reaching from horizon to horizon. We like this type of dynamic image and pray for such dramatic success. But that is not the only way the “waters cover the sea.” Have you ever stood by the shore and watched the tide come in? The water level rises slowly, but relentlessly, covering the beach, filling in tide pools, and reclaiming its territory. I think this second image reflects how I have seen God begin working within our denomination. We are a culturally diverse group with a myriad of ethnic viewpoints. But what unites us is our need for the grace of Christ and our love of that communion. We may only be a trickle, but our movement toward Christ is as relentless as the incoming tide.

In this letter, I would like to share with you some of the ways we are moving closer to Christ and spreading the good news around the world. First, I will relay a message from Papua New Guinea. Then, I would like to highlight our efforts in Haiti. And finally, I want to tell you about what we are doing here in the United States. I think you will find these letters as exciting as I have.

Rod Mathews supervises our work in South East Asia and the Pacific. He recently told me about a dangerous trek he made with Mark Latham to visit some of our congregations in the Mount Wilhelm region of Papua New Guinea. For those of you who don’t know, Mount Wilhelm is one of the most inaccessible regions in the world. But even so, God has blessed our largest congregation in that region with nearly 200 regular attendees. This gathering is even having a significant impact on the nearby communities and continues to grow. Rod writes:

Getting to Mt. Wilhelm is no easy trip. The Highlands Highway from Goroka to Kundiawa starts well enough with a sealed surface, but progressively deteriorates to large stretches of mud, gravel and rocks. After two and half hours we pulled into the provincial town of Kundiawa, which reminded us of a frontier town from a western movie. Here, we had to purchase a range of hardware and equipment needed for the construction of the church’s community activity building.

We piled into a 4-wheel drive pickup for the final 2½-hour drive up into the mountains. It rained off and on almost all the way. The passengers in the back crouched under a tarpaulin and hung on, laughing at the “hardship.” It was normal for them.

As we climbed upwards, hugging the side of steep valleys, we crossed a few cascading rivers on old military–built Bailey bridges. The vehicle bounced over the rocks and slithered through the mud, and somehow no one on the back fell off. Late in the afternoon we arrived at Keglsugl, where we were to stay at a guesthouse owned and run by members, Arnold and Josephine. It was still raining lightly. And at over 8,000 ft. altitude, it was now cold, but the welcome made up for it in every way. No church visitor could forget it.

On the day of our official welcome, a group of cultural dancers (left) led us onto the church property through a corridor of children, ladies and men, before everyone assembled in front of the buildings for the formal speeches. The children sang and the ladies’ choir presented a welcome song. I felt like I had always known these wonderful people. The grand church service two days later was a celebration of unity in Christ. It lasted over 3½ hours, with hymns, a special worship presentation of music and dancing.

On the day prior to our departure, the church came together again in the dining room of the guesthouse for a special church service where the Lord’s Supper was celebrated prior to a mumu – a traditional meal cooked in an earth oven with hot stones. There was excess food for everyone, including anyone from the local community who wished to come.

While these members are remote, I marveled at how the Holy Spirit connects us all and works in our lives in special ways. We were so privileged to become attached to one another in the Body of Christ through our international fellowship.

I also have some encouraging news from the other side of the world. Haiti is by far the poorest nation in the Western hemisphere. Our small church there owns and operates a school in the capital, Port au Prince, although keeping it open and functioning is an ongoing challenge. Our pastor in Haiti, Joseph Franklin, wrote to me about the latest progress:

Let’s thank and praise God for His gracious ministry to the Haitians! Our school is finally open for the 2013-2014 academic year, after a delay of one month and many difficulties. We have 132 children – 105 in preschool and 27 in primary. We are still expecting about 75 more children.

After services on Sunday, November 3rd, we discussed an important plan the members proposed some time ago – to launch a project on the church’s property at Ganthier, near the Dominican border. The plan is to develop a farm that raises chickens and turkeys. I have grown a dozen young coconut trees, which I offered them to start with.

Opening a small school that offers basic education, or providing a dozen homegrown coconut trees to start a plantation may not seem like great progress. But we should never underestimate the impact these things can have for people who live in poverty. They are life-changing material evidence of the even greater spiritual blessings that come from having a relationship with God.

One of the great blessings we have is that our denomination is truly worldwide. We who live in rich nations can develop partnerships with congregations in poorer parts of the world. For example, our congregation in Indianapolis has coordinated a program that donated dozens of bicycles for our pastors in Mozambique, a place where we have had a surge of growth in recent years. Now Pastor David Perry tells me his congregation is cooperating with our South African churches to establish some chicken farms in the African nation of Namibia. A few chickens and a small vegetable garden can help lift a family out of poverty. I am very thankful for congregations like Indianapolis, whose vision extends far beyond their geographical and cultural borders, and helps us reach the uttermost parts of the earth.

Of course, all the need is not overseas. Many of our churches are quietly getting on with helping the poor and needy in the United States as well. The Book of Proverbs advises us to “Let someone else praise you, and not your own mouth” (Proverbs 27:2). So it was good to read this story the local paper published about our congregation in Kenockee, Wisconsin.

It’s hard to imagine a congregation tinier than the 25 or so members of In His Grace Community Church at 8950 Lapeer Road. But don’t let the size fool you. With the help of their neighbors, members of the church are making sure people who are hungry receive the food they need. The church had a food giveaway on Oct. 19.

“We know the need is there,” said Pastor Grant Forysth. “There still are a great number of people who, due to the economy, are not making it. We are trying to, in any little way we can, help people make it.”

He said 161 families signed up for the latest food giveaway, which represented 516 people. The food comes on a truck from the Food Bank of Eastern Michigan. “We try to do two a year,” Forsyth said.

We may be a small denomination, with limited resources, but God has allowed us to have an impact in so many different places. As Rod Matthews wrote to me recently, “The scope of the work of the Holy Spirit is not seen by just looking nearby. Nor is the significance or nature of our international fellowship measured by what we see locally. We are indeed a communion brought together by the remarkable grace of God that girdles the globe; a microcosm of the ultimate fullness of the kingdom of God.”

Thank you, my friends, for helping make this possible. It is because of your help that we can continue to play our part in making the desperately needed truth of the gospel known in so many places. And we can be confident that eventually, what may seem like a trickle will become a mighty flood, and all the earth will be filled with the knowledge of God as surely as the waters cover the sea.

May your Christmas be blessed and joyful!

With love, in Christ’s service,

Joseph Tkach President – Grace Communion International

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