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Becoming What God Intended

By Jacob Malaluan

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I first moved down to Southern California from my hometown of Tracy, Calif. when I started my freshman year at the University of California, Irvine in the fall of 2012. University felt like starting a race at a sprint, with no end in sight. Being so far away from home, I was thrown right out of my comfort zone and into a world that I had only dreamt of since I was a child. I had to begin my own new life in a new place that I slowly fell in love with. 

Like many stories you may have heard before mine, I grew up going to church, but really didn’t fully understand what it meant to have a relationship with God until my second year of University. I had a girlfriend my freshman year that was from my high school, which provided a sense of comfort and stability when everything else felt like it was a whirlwind of craziness. I relied a lot on her as an anchor to some form of normalcy, while disregarding Christ’s availability to be that anchor for my soul as he so readily promises. As I became more and more overwhelmed with the Biomedical Engineering degree that I was pursuing, I realized that God was the only source of stability that I needed. 

I am so thankful to my family here at IPC over the years who have, in some way, shape, or fashion, helped me develop into the young man that God has intended me to be.

Starting my second year, I got plugged in with Young Life on campus under the leadership of Mike McEvoy. This is where I can clearly define the moments when I came to form that relationship with God I had always been missing. In hindsight, I can identify the fact that I so clearly missed the whole Jesus aspect of the trinity.

I did not have a complete grasp on the fact that I could not work hard enough or try anything to earn salvation, besides admitting that I was a sinner and needed a savior in the form of Jesus Christ, to begin living into a full life that God had always intended for me. Mike McEvoy and Ryan Andrews (a former intern at IPC) showed me what it looked like to be intentional in relationship, which in turn helped me better understand what an intentional relationship with God looks like. IPC has been a huge catalyst for my relationship with God, in being the center point for Young Life Irvine, as well as developing me to be a leader among high school kids at Woodbridge High School. I have found a passion in sharing God with high school students, and growing Christian students into Christian leaders within their own communities and beyond.

I finished up my degree in Biomedical Engineering at UC Irvine, and am currently on the hunt for a job within the field of biotechnology; in engineering, medical sales; or a combination of the two. In the meantime, I have been so very thankful for the opportunity to step in as the Associate High School Director here at IPC. The job hunt has been difficult, and continues to be, but my time here at IPC has shown me how God truly does provide and that His timing is very crucial. Being able to work alongside Erin Marschke in Student Ministries has been a huge blessing to further shape me into the young man that God intends me to be and provides me a space to continue in my passion for working with high schoolers. I have also been so blessed by the Cheng family (David, Junko, Meg, and Josh) who has hosted me for the past year and who has supported me throughout my final year of university and through this tough job hunt. 

I am so thankful to my family here at IPC over the years who have, in some way, shape, or fashion, helped me develop into the young man that God has intended me to be.

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Hands-Open Faith

By Erin Marschke

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If you were to tell anyone who knew me even three years ago that I would be working full-time in youth ministry, they would have told you that you were crazy. Ministry was never on my radar. I have my degree in psychology and thought for the longest time that I would pursue that as my career. I had a plan for my life, but God is funny in that His plan is often the opposite of ours. It takes tremendous faith to relinquish our control and trust that His plan is better than our own.

My plan when attending UCI was to focus on school. I was going to major in psych and take pre-med courses on the side so that I could get into medical school and eventually become a psychiatrist. I didn’t really plan to get involved in any clubs or activities. But on the first day of school, I happened to sit next to a girl who wanted to check out the Young Life booth at our involvement fair. I ended up becoming heavily involved with Young Life at UCI. It became my community and began to take more of a priority in my life. 

In my third year of school, one of our past interns, Aaron Cardinio, approached me about leading WyldLife here at IPC. He told me he was putting together a team of volunteers and felt like I was the perfect fit. My response was that I don’t like kids and I’m too busy with school. Aaron is very persuasive though, and I ended up checking WyldLife out. During the course of that year, God changed my heart completely. I absolutely fell in love with junior high students. And even though it became evident to me that med school was no longer an option, I was still holding on to the idea that I had to be a psychologist or therapist of some sort — something successful.

God clearly has something different, and ultimately better, planned. So far it’s been scary, but worth it.

I ended up graduating UCI a year early and was able to take a gap year where I worked in the mental health field, continued to lead WyldLife, and tried to figure out my next steps. It was during the process of applying to graduate schools that God spoke to me clearly and asked me to step out in faith and trust Him with my career. I was sitting in WyldLife thinking about how it was always the highlight of my week when I heard God tell me, “You know, Erin, you could do this. You could have youth ministry be your career if you want to take that leap of faith.” All I had to do was say yes. And for some reason I did. I had no idea what it would look like. I had no plan, but I said “yes” (which is so out of character for me). I’m the type of person who wants to know what’s going to happen before it happens. I want to know what to expect — no surprises. 

Normally something like this would bring about many anxieties, but I felt total peace, that peace, only from God, that surpasses all understanding. With no plan, I prayed. A lot. And spoke to trusted people in youth ministry, including Rob Clark, former director of Student Ministries. And through those conversations arose the opportunity to become an intern here at IPC. 

Fast forward 1 ½ years later and God has asked me to step out in faith again by accepting my position as Interim Director of Student Ministries. My plan for this year was to intern again in order to learn more of the ins and outs of being a youth pastor. God clearly has something different, ­­and ultimately better, planned. So far it’s been scary, but worth it. I’m relying on God a lot this year, which is how it should be, right? Faith is hands open, allowing God to guide you step-by-step.

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The Blessing of Host Daughters

By Curtis Drever

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It started with a text to my wife Michelle. “Did you know that Theresa will be living with us in two weeks?” Her reply, “Who is Theresa?” My reply, “The new IPC Intern. Rob [Clark] said that when you’d met several months ago you offered to provide housing for the year.” That night, our conversation went something like, “What are we going to do with a girl living on our house?” However, we sensed that God wanted us to open up our house since we were empty nesters. And so began our journey.      

That was summer 2013. Fast forward to today and we now have two interns living with us — Erin Marschke (current IPC intern) and Jennifer McGee (IPC intern 2016–17). This whole experience has been transformational for our family. We have two sons and know the ins-and-outs raising boys. Girls, on the other hand, were completely new, and a somewhat uncomfortable territory for us. We really didn’t know what to expect.

In 2013, Theresa Hoey was first to arrive at the Drever home from Seattle, then, a recent graduate of the University of Washington. Before she arrived, I reached out and to say hello and to see if she had any questions about living with us. She did — one of them being, “Do you guys drink coffee?” I laughed. Little did she know that we are avid coffee drinkers. I thought to myself, “Theresa will fit in well here.” 

We immediately loved Theresa and included her in all of our family events. Although she was gone many nights and weekends due to her crazy internship schedule and because she could fly for free since her mom worked for an airline, I felt we got to know her fairly quickly. I recall all the special times with her, sitting in the kitchen or around our dinner table and listening to her share about her life — the ups, the downs, the challenges, and the successes. She wasn’t afraid to ask us about a passage in the Bible or input on the talk she was preparing for Young Life at Chapman University. She was always eager to share what God was doing in her life and ask for prayer. 

The year flew by. We missed her immediately when she moved out, but knew we had a life-long connection. It was a privilege to be part of Theresa’s spiritual, emotional, and life journey as she earnestly sought God’s call. We also knew that we wanted to host again, and again, and again: Elise Ball (2014–15), Dana Ayoob (2015–16), Jennifer McGee (2016–17), and Erin Marschke (currently). Michelle and I often comment to each other, “Wow, we’ve had five girls living with us. Who would have ever thought?”  

Our entire family has been blessed during the time each lived with us. Each had special gifts and callings. We’ve enjoyed sharing our lives with them and having them share with us, seeing them struggle and overcome life’s issues as they transitioned from college student to independent adult, and dealing with issues of faith head-on. I’ve never said this to any of them (yet), but I’ll say it here. We would be honored to have any of these ladies as our daughter-in-law. We feel they are all so awesome in their own unique ways. (Remember — we have two sons who are still both single and in their 20s). 

Where are they today? Theresa lives in Santa Monica, pursuing a master’s degree in Social Work at USC. Elise just finished her master’s in Behavioral Intervention and is still involved in the IPC community — helping lead worship and being a student leader for Eikon (High School). Dana has started on her Master of Arts in Theology at Fuller, while working full-time as Director of College Young Life at UCLA. Jennifer currently lives with us, working two jobs as she applies for Child Life positions at children’s hospitals across the country, but her desire is to stay in Orange County. And many of you know Erin, our Interim Director of IPC’s Student Ministries. 

Michelle and I truly thank God for our five “host daughters.” They have and will continue to be a blessing to us. We are eager to see God’s plans for them as they continue on their respective journeys.

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Veronica’s Story 

By Curtis Drever 

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I have been inspired by Veronica Becerra — one of the behind the scenes people at El Niño — from hearing her story to getting to know her and her family. Most of you are familiar with our El Niño mission, but here is an inside glimpse into Veronica’s personal story. Veronica wasn’t born into a Christian family, but her parents both accepted Christ when she was young.

“Even though I had been in a few different churches as a little girl, I don’t remember being taught that Jesus died for me. My family began attending a new church as I was entering junior high school, and I accepted Jesus as my Savior at 11 years old at a youth conference when I heard the gospel for the first time.

I began going on frequent mission trips when I was 12, and absolutely loved everything about the mission field! I was given opportunities to serve with the children in my church when I was 14. I was 15 when I listened to a missionary talk about his experiences, and I heard the Lord’s call on my life to be a missionary. During my high school graduation speech, the Lord made my call clear when I said that He was calling me to work with children in Mexico. The doors later opened for my dad to take a church in Tijuana that had lost their pastor. Among the congregants was my future husband. Israel was studying in a Bible seminary at that time. We began ministering together in different areas of the church, and well, the rest is history!

You have a tremendous opportunity to fill a need that goes far beyond school supplies ... You have a voice in the life of the entire family and can be used to make an eternal impact!

The Lord brought The Main Place Christian Fellowship to us in Tijuana in 2005, and we planted a church with them later that year. We ministered there until 2007 when circumstances led us to serve for six years on The Main Place Campus in Orange County in the Spanish Ministry. In 2013, a door opened for a church plant in Tecate, Mexico, but once there, we realized that a church in Tecate was not God’s leading at all. We sadly parted with The Main Place and joined the ministry in El Niño under Pastor Daniel Nuñez in 2015 by way of IPC needing an English teacher for their scholarship program.

I always wanted to be a teacher. When I got older, I had the opportunity to assist in schools and then ultimately homeschool my own children. I began teaching English because I lived in an area in Orange County that was predominantly Spanish speaking, and parents wanted the ability to communicate with their children. Now, El Niño gives us an opportunity to better someone’s life by teaching them English, one that might not otherwise be offered in such a rural community, thus giving students a chance at “open doors” by being bilingual.

El Niño is one of several communities that grew out of loss, making it easy to find need among the people. Neighbors are open to receiving, though not always eager to give. It is an area in need of a lighthouse that we hope is being found in our church and through the El Niño Scholarship Program where families can find Christ’s love reflected. For those who sponsor our children, you have a tremendous opportunity to fill a need that goes far beyond school supplies. You have been given a family to love, pray for, and minister to far better than the Church can ever do. You have a voice in the life of the entire family and can be used to make an eternal impact! God bless you!”

If you are interested in becoming a sponsor, please contact Karen Francis or Laura Boyd at elninochild@yahoo.com.

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Missional Life and the Impact on My Dad

By Jennifer Dietz

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Many of you met my dad, David Woody, during the two years he lived with us until July when he died at age 93. Although Dad was not a Christian, you’d find him to be a sweet, pleasant guy. He never criticized and could always find something positive to say. This is despite the fact 

that in the last ten years of marriage, my mother was critical, mean and unloving to my dad — so much so that he had forgotten what love was. When a friend of mine told my dad she loved him, Dad commented, “I would never say that to someone. Love is a strong word.”  That began our “mission” — to teach him about love. Every time I said goodnight or goodbye, I told him I loved him! And so did Jon, our daughters, and DuNa, the graduate student who lives
with us.

Ralph Laue made it his “mission” to bring Dad a pizza lunch once a month, and along with another friend — either Bob Oehlman, Jack Guiso or Luke Wood — sat and talked “guy talk,” thereby showing a love and friendship that he hadn’t experienced before. 

His heart was clearly warming as he was feeling loved.

When we joined a missional community last summer, Dad always looked forward to seeing everyone. He had no idea about UP, IN and OUT, but started to understand the rhythm and what we were doing each Friday. He listened to the Bible study during the UP evenings. Although he said he couldn’t understand much because he had no Christian background (and he was hard of hearing), it gave us a platform for later discussions. After an evening of sharing testimonies, I had the idea to tell Dad MY testimony. I “practiced” with the whole group on my assigned night, and then sat down with Dad a few days later. I started out giving Dad the credit for me being a Christian, because when I was young, he dropped us off at Sunday School (i.e., Sunday morning childcare). I proceeded through events of my life, explaining how I became closer to Jesus, even though nobody else in my family is a Christian. Although I was disappointed that he didn’t jump with acceptance, it was a great conversation about Jesus. He challenged the timing and the truth of the gospels, and I was able to correct his thinking, all in a loving conversation.

He enjoyed the OUT evenings, especially when we made the Christmas soup jars — he liked the camaraderie of the assembly line and helping “his group” make something for other people. In fact, it was then that he truly felt like he belonged — because he contributed to something big that seemed successful to him.

Dad loved the IN evening potluck dinners. He felt cared for — and loved. I was embarrassed the first few months because instead of praying, Dad told stories of how great his life was. While everyone else had their heads bowed, Dad was telling stories!  But everyone was patient, expressed interest in his stories, and showed him a love and concern he had not felt in years.

As his health weakened, we could see that Dad was definitely searching — his heart was clearly warming as he was feeling loved. He last attended the missional community gathering during an IN week, and when it was time to pray, he ACTUALLY PRAYED to the “Great Being Up There Who Listens to Us” and thanked Him for his life and his friends. 

Because Dad had a stroke and wasn’t able to communicate, we were not fortunate enough to hear him accept Jesus like we wanted. However, we told him, over and over, that Jesus loved him, and we knew he heard us. Two years ago, he never would have understood who Jesus was or what love meant. Before he died, we had confidence that he understood and was able to make the right decision when he met Jesus. For that, I say, “Thank you, missional community and IPC, for all you did in exhibiting and communicating Jesus’ love to Dad!”

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Giving Generously and Sacrificially

By Aaron Schweizer

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When I was twenty one, I spent the summer in San Diego with fifty college students from around the country. We squeezed into four condos in the heart of the beach community for ten weeks. We shared meals, got summer jobs, and swam in the ocean, but our main purpose was to worship God and share the gospel with anyone we would meet where we lived, worked, and played. It was a once in a lifetime experience.I was a new Christian at the time. In fact, it had not even been a year since my decision to follow Christ. I was as they say, “green behind the ears,” and I had a lot to learn. That was the best part about it though. I had a community of faith who showed me a living example of Christ and taught me how to study the Bible and how to communicate my faith to others. But one lesson that impacted me the most that summer was what I learned about generosity.

God is not impressed with what we accumulate. He is impressed with how we give it away.

Each of us who participated had committed to raise $2,000 to cover room and board. We were encouraged to invite others we knew to sponsor us as prayer and financial support partners. Because I was a new Christian, my ability to raise support for my summer was pretty limited. My girlfriend at the time was a Christian, so I remember asking her if I could send some letters to her parents and her parents’ friends, but that was about it. By the time I arrived, I was able to raise about half of the funds, but I still owed $1,000. I almost didn’t go, but someone told me I shouldn’t back out because God would provide the rest.

So that’s what I did. I went and hoped for the best. Thankfully the best happened, and I got an amazing job. While most of the guys and gals who were with me were selling beach souvenirs, snow cones, or hamburgers, I was working as an intern at AT&T making good money. In a little more than a week’s time, I had enough money to pay off the remainder of my commitment, but for some reason I didn’t. I think I liked seeing the money in the bank and watching it grow. I liked the feeling that it was my money, and I was proud that I had earned it. So instead of paying off my debt, I collected paychecks and watched my balance grow, and growand grow. 

You can probably guess what happened next. About six weeks into the summer I lost it all, right? Wrong. Actually I kept making money and decided that it was finally time for me to pay up. So one day I got my checkbook out and asked the group administrator what I owed. With my pen in hand, ready to write a check, I remember her answer to me was “nothing.” “Are you sure?” I asked. “Yes,” she said, “your balance is zero.” I said to her, “That’s impossible, I know I still owed about $1,000.” Then she told me, “Someone else paid your debt. You don’t owe anything.” Oh my gosh, are you kidding me, someone paid what I owed? I was so happy ... and that’s when it happened. God had me right where He wanted me. 

In my heart I heard the Holy Spirit say, “You see Aaron, even when you are caught up in your bank balance, I will lavish you with grace. You didn’t deserve someone paying your debt, but that person did it anonymously anyway. That’s grace, Aaron. And from here on out, I want you to remember what just happened, because it’s my grace. You can never outgive me, Aaron, because I have given you everything, even my only son, Jesus. All I ask is that as you live your life, you give back to me like I gave to you, generously and sacrificially.” 


That summer I learned that God doesn’t care about our bank balances, our great jobs, or our successes. God’s not impressed, because how can He be impressed when He made it all happen. God is not impressed with what we accumulate. He is impressed with how we give it away.

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Moments That Matter

By Curtis Drever

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This past summer, seven volunteers from IPC joined a larger team of 105 volunteers to provide a camp experience for 87 children from Orange County’s foster care system at Royal Family Kids Camp (RFKC). Their goal was to create moments that matter. The following are some stories from the team and what God showed them along the way.

Randy German

My favorite night is Thursday when we have an affirmation ceremony around the fire for 11 year old “graduates” who are aging out of the program. We asked them how much they thought counselors were paid for being at camp. There were a wide range of responses and looks of disbelief when we revealed to them that we were all volunteers and there just because we love them. So many people in their lives are paid to be there, especially for the group home kids. The counselors were instructed to talk to them throughout the week about what they might want to be when they grew up and to share at the graduation ceremony. It is amazing how many of them had never thought about their futures and how many said they wanted to be counselors!  This really speaks to the impact that the counselors had on them. God gave me the blessing of knowing that, at least for this one week, I can be absolutely certain that I am walking in His will and that I’m able to completely put my own wants and desires aside to concentrate on helping others.

Donna Miramontes

Dear sweet Angela, 11, was in transition. Hopefully she is now safe and living with an auntie and her grandma. She received her first dress at camp. She’d never had a dress because her birth mother, then foster mother, told her she was too fat for a dress. I feel sure Angela wore the dress to her half-brother’s funeral the following week. He was 10 and died from a respiratory condition since the father didn’t take him to the hospital! This is how her new life began. Now I’m home and I awoke crying this morning. I went to bed last night with thoughts from my week at camp. RFKC is a blessing for foster children and me. The Lord opened the door for me to serve three years ago and there is no turning back!

Peter Fyfe

Tony and James were my campers for the week. They were pretty good kids, although Tony did test me for attention occasionally. On Friday, campers and counselors get a bag lunch and we sit and go through their memory books and talk about the week. Soon thereafter the campers line up for the bus. Chuck Waterman and I were standing by Tony who was waiting to board. He turned to us and said, “Sorry for being a jerk this week.” This from a kid who recently lost his father, was living in a group home, and certainly had a right to be mad and act out. I just about choked up. All I could say was that he hadn’t been a jerk, but just a kid at camp having fun. God showed me that I am truly blessed to have never been down their road, and that I am blessed to be able to spend the week showing the love of God to these children of God.

Chuck Waterman

Foster kids are like other kids: they need love and caring. They love to swim and splash in the pool, just like other kids. The RFKs are in very difficult situations, but God has sent us to be His hands and feet to show His love to them. And no matter how you prepare for RFKC, God always surprises you. I am humbled by the love that was shown to these kids by the counselors and the love that the other counselors showed to me the entire week I was there. I know that there is a good God that cares for me and for these amazing kids. I will continue to be His messenger of love and hope to all that I come in contact with at home, work, and wherever I go.

Wow, great stories! How about you? Want to share your own story? The foster care system needs you! There are opportunities to participate in year-round mentoring programs which begin in September. If you are interested, please contact Randy German.

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By Faith

By Scott Bullock, Lead Pastor

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When I was twenty years of age, I had the opportunity to study abroad at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Israel on Mt. Scopus. It was a chance of a lifetime, a yearlong study program in middle-eastern and Israeli culture, history, politics, and language. I had all my papers in order and a place waiting for me, but I got cold feet. Actually, I froze with fear: fear of what a year in a foreign country might look like, despite all my previous romanticized idealism of what it would offer; fear of being alone, away, adrift; fear of failure. I didn’t go to Jerusalem that year. I withdrew my enrollment and settled for the easier route of staying put in familiar environs. Unfortunately, this wouldn’t be the last time I froze in the face of an opportunity to step out: a graduate program in England, a teaching opportunity at a school in Guatemala (missed out on a lot of good coffee and Spanish language acquisition), and an invitation to be the youth pastor of an African American church in Philadelphia. In retrospect, I do not doubt that God guided me in spite of my fear; however, it has made me wonder how often my fear outsizes my faith in a God who in reality cannot be outsized. With that said, there have been times in my life in which, while my fear wrestled relentlessly with my faith, my faith in God won the round. One of those occasions was in the spring of 2010. 

The journey may seem uncertain, but the God who calls us on the journey is totally certain.

Britta and I had three young children ages seven, five, and two. We were part of a beautiful neighborhood in South Jersey, lived in a home we had renovated, in which we were incredibly comfortable, with neighbors we cherished. We were part of a church community that loved us deeply and whom we called our family and we lived less than two hours away from grandparents. We loved the seasons, the shore, Philadelphia just across the Delaware from us, and the whole east coast vibe. In our contentment, though, God called us to pick up and leave Moorestown, NJ and head to Irvine, CA, a community quite unfamiliar to us, to a church family who did not know us, to a great unknown! That was over seven years ago. The certainty of the call of God on us to step out in faith and go is as certain to us now as it was to us then; albeit, in retrospect, it has had its share of difficulties along the way. God knew then whom he was calling, to where he was calling us, and for what purpose he was calling us, even if it was somewhat murky to us at the time, along the way, and even in the present. God never waivered, although our faith may have as our fear and doubt rushed into the ring to defeat it. Faith is a hard step, but the God in whom we trust is stronger. 

The author of Hebrews 11:1 says, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Faith is actually not the absence of fear and doubt; it is the victory over fear and doubt. It is perfectly natural in our unnatural state of sin, to fear and doubt and to freeze up, but God calls fearful, doubtful, and weak people to follow him especially when the call and direction may not seem perfectly clear. Faith overcomes fear because it hopes in a God who is trustworthy and faithful and it lives out its conviction because this same God directs our steps and illuminates our path. We are to walk “by faith” even when the way seems dim. 

Over the next six weeks, we will be teaching on Hebrews 11 and 12, “By Faith.” We believe that God still calls us to walk by faith and follow him into unknown territory as he did the men and women commended for their stepping out in faith in Hebrews 11, and who become the great cloud of witnesses in chapter 12. The journey may seem uncertain, but the God who calls us on the journey is totally certain. 

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My Faith Journey in Jesus’ Call to Discipleship

By Stephanie Choi

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Although I called myself a Christian after I accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior at the age of 15, I wasn’t aware that accepting His call to salvation meant I was to follow Him, identifying myself as His disciple, and leading a life of discipleship. I was familiar with the word disciple as it refers to Jesus’ disciples, but I didn’t really know what it meant and how it applied to me.

However, unbeknownst to me, and by God’s grace, I was being discipled through God’s provision of a church where I felt at home, in a fellowship of believers through a pastor and teachers in my youth group where He would cause me to grow in my relationship with Him. I was taught how to have quiet times, read and meditate on Scripture, journal, and pray to my Heavenly Father. Through these means of grace, God deepened my desire to want to know and follow Him, so much so that I committed to a life of mission at the age of 17 with a condition that God would save my family who were not believers at that time. This began my life of discipleship, as God would remind and teach me throughout my faith journey that salvation is free, but discipleship is costly. In Luke 9:23-25, Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?”

He is Lord, my Master, and the King of my life. I am not.

God has made this truth very clear to me repeatedly through major events and trials in my life: testing my devotion to live my life for Jesus or for my mom before she passed away when I was 18; journeying through college and graduate school trying to put God first; clinging unto God during trials in marriage; raising children with intentionality that they are His; and serving the church to encourage and strengthen His disciples. Seeking to do His and not my will meant to deny myself and to take up my cross daily in obedience to Him, and ongoing surrender to His Lordship. He is Lord, my Master, and the King of my life. I am not. That meant dying to the desires for self-serving ways, for worldly respect/recognition and the fear of men, for an easy life, staying in my comfort zone, and for complacency. It also meant denying myself the passing pleasures of sin and dying to the desire for earthly wealth or to save my earthly life. This whole process of God’s call to discipleship ultimately draws me closer to an intimate relationship with Him, transforming me to become more like Him so that I may shine and reflect His character to the world around me. Surely, there is a cost to discipleship, but what I gain in the place of the things I give up is infinitely better. We can have unspeakable joy and peace in the midst of life, and eyes to see through His eyes.

A. W. Tozer says, “In every Christian’s heart there is a cross and a throne, and the Christian is on the throne till he puts himself on the cross; if he refuses the cross, he remains on the throne. Perhaps this is at the bottom of the backsliding and worldliness among gospel believers today. We want to be saved, but we insist that Christ do all the dying. No cross for us, no dethronement, no dying. We remain king within the little kingdom of Man’s soul and wear our tinsel crown with all the pride of a Caesar; but we doom ourselves to shadows and weakness and spiritual sterility.”

Let us follow Jesus, accepting His call to discipleship so that we may become more like Him. As we “look” more and more like Him, we look less like the world. We become brighter light in the darkness and shine Jesus in our “work” places (anywhere God has placed us: home, at our job, in our spheres of influence like non-believing friends, relatives ... ). Let us together declare what King David said, “I will not offer to God which cost me nothing.”
– 2 Samuel 24:24

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Forgiveness

By Roxanne Nilsen 

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For the past 10 years, I’ve been teaching a junior high school Bible study class at Stoneybrooke Christian School and have found that God uses this to teach me new things each year.

I grew up in a Christian family and have always known and loved the Lord. But on a summer camp bus, the youth pastor, who was also the bus driver, called each of us to come sit next to him. In this “bucket time,” he asked me, “What is God doing in your life?” I really had no answer. He encouraged me to dive into God’s Word so I could find an answer. After years of study, learning, and living, I realized that it’s not my life, it’s God’s life. I need to trust Him. I followed the path He placed before me, even when it wasn’t always the path I would have chosen. Sometimes it’s like being in a jungle, where you can’t see your way beyond the trees, but God simply says, “Trust me.”

I followed the path He placed before me, even when it wasn’t always the path I would have chosen.

The path of forgiveness was my biggest challenge. When our son was 13, he was in the hospital, dying from complications of a transplant surgery. My brother, who had just gotten out of prison and was a recovering addict, had asked to stay with us, so we left him to hold down the fort while we spent several weeks at the hospital. While we were with our son in the hospital, we learned that my brother had stolen everything of cash value from our home. Really? Our son is dying and you did this?

Because it was my brother, we chose not to call the police, but did change the locks. Years went by, and I received a note that read, “I was hoping you would forgive me for my substance-induced behavior.” I didn’t want to forgive him and felt he was just making an excuse for his behavior. That was 15 years ago.

In teaching this Bible class over ten years, every time we got to Philemon, God tugged at my heart, calling me to forgive as He forgave. I was reminded of the Lord’s Prayer — forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us — and of Ephesians 4:32: “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” I would ask, “God, why is ‘trespass against us’ so prominent in my life? I love him as my brother, but I can’t forgive him.”

Paul wrote to Philemon, “God has forgiven you. Onesimus is like my son. He has repented. His life has changed. Please forgive him and accept him in your home not as a slave, but as a brother. You can do it.”  I thought to myself, “I’m Philemon. This is my brother that I can’t forgive. This letter is for me. Because you love the Lord, because He has forgiven you, you have to forgive your brother.” A pastor once told me that forgiveness is one of the hardest things for Christians, but it becomes like a deadly poison that eats you up.

Over time and with the help of the Holy Spirit, I have been able to forgive my brother. During the past two years, we have started a new relationship. He has told me, “I know I’ll blow it and know I don’t deserve your forgiveness. I’m so sorry.” God worked on both of our hearts and is working on rebuilding us as brother and sister. Out of forgiveness, I have a new brother in Christ. I pray for him each day that he won’t give in to temptation, and that I also won’t give in to the temptation not to forgive.

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God Found Me!

By Aaron Schweizer 

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I went missing when I was five years old. Not missing like back of the milk carton missing, instead I followed my brother, Jason, into the caves on Disneyland’s Tom Sawyer Island to explore. He was three years older than me, and much braver. As we ventured in further and further, something from behind startled me. I turned around to see what it was, and when I turned back, Jason was gone. Frantic, I raced out of the caves hoping to find him or anyone I knew, but I was alone, and I felt it. I ran all over the island looking for my family, tears streaming down my cheeks, and after what seemed like an eternity, I literally ran into my mom. She found me! That was the first time I remember getting lost.

As a child I grew up in a non-religious home in Berkeley, Calif., and my parents brought a mix of Jewish, Methodist, and Christian Science traditions with them from their families. My parents were also very altruistic, and I was the second of four children, sandwiched between an older adopted brother and a younger adopted sister, both of whom were biracial, both of whom were from alcoholic parents. I was an ordinary kid, but it probably wouldn’t surprise you to believe that this wasn’t easy for me, especially in the 1970s and 80s. We had a comfortable home, my dad had a good job, I rode my bike to the park and walked to school around the corner, I played catch in my backyard, and walked in the creek with friends, but life was complicated. As I got older, I became more aware of race, adoption, religion, addiction, mental illness, and all the other junk that swirls around us.

The lost boy who longed to be loved was rescued by a heavenly Father.

By the time I was thirteen my dad was physically present, but emotionally absent due to his alcoholism. My adopted sister was on the verge of flunking in school from her learning disabilities because of fetal alcohol effect. My brother was struggling with becoming a black man in a white home and had become a full blown drug addict and started to show signs of mental illness. And what about me? I decided to get lost. 

I was by myself, watching TV (four or five hours a day), playing sports, being with friends at their houses. When it was time to go to college, I went as far away (in California) as I could, and attended UC San Diego. I was running, like that same little boy at Disneyland.

I did a lot of searching, but I wasn’t looking in the right places. School, work, friends, parties, activities weren’t the answer. God was. In my freshman year, as part of my humanities requirement, we studied the Bible. It wasn’t the same perspective as I have today, but God’s Word is alive and it did something to me. I also met people who brought me to church, and I found it to be amazing. These people had something that I wanted. 

God eventually showed me very clearly what it was. On a Friendship Sunday, as I was listening to the speaker, God grabbed hold of my heart. “The love you’ve been looking for is the love I have for you. I am Jesus, I sacrificed my life for you, Aaron, and I love you.” In the quietness of my heart I said, “God, I want that love. Forgive me for the sin in my life. I want to have a relationship with you.” And then, everything changed!  I was a new creation. I felt the weight of sadness lift and I had joy. Life was by no means perfect. My family didn’t disappear and I still had a lot of growing to do, but the lost boy who longed to be loved was rescued by a heavenly Father. I now had hope because God found me!

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Preparing for College: An “Adoptive Mindset”

By Rob Clark, Director of Student Ministries

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Transitioning from high school to college is more difficult than ever these days. As our society has moved from focusing on cultivating intergen-erational community to being more atomized, we’ve moved from asking, “How do we support those on the outside,” to, “Who is watching out for me?” The consequences on our youth is that they’ve been trained to think this way as well, and they have little support as they move out of their homes and into their dorm rooms.

As a result, we’ve seen over 50% of “student-leader” type kids decide to leave the faith after they graduate high school. Although many who leave come back when they get married or have children, it is in lesser numbers than people may realize. According to the Pew Research Center, about 35% of Millennials refuse to identify themselves as Christian. This is a disturbing trend compared to other generations: Generation X (23%), Baby Boomers (17%), and the Silents (11%). 

There are many theories as to why younger people are leaving the faith. But of all the reasons, I believe the one that we have control over as a local church is how we come alongside our kids as they ask difficult questions and search to find their place in the community of faith. If kids feel truly at home in and a part of the local church, they have a bedrock to fall back on. This is the reason we’ve pushed an “adoptive mindset” at IPC centered around Ephesians 2:19, “Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household.”

The “adoptive mindset” is based on four key principles taken from the book, Adoptive Youth Ministry:

1. Adoption recognizes that in every church or organization, there are insiders and outsiders.

The inner circle of the church does whatever it needs to make sure those on the outside experience the family of God as fully embraced and included participants. An adoptive mindset mandates that it is the responsibility of those in power to draw in, include, and equip students so they feel included in the very center of the family of God.

2. I am adopted into God’s family as a child with other children.

Adoption requires that those in power see themselves as siblings to all others who have faith in Jesus. God is our Father, and we together are his children (Ephesians 3:14-15).

3. Jesus has his eye specifically on the vulnerable.

Those who are mature must see it as their responsibility to ensure that those who are not cared for, included, and empowered, can grow into well-established life and faith.

4. Adoption recognizes that in every church or organization, there are insiders and outsiders.

As siblings in God’s family, we are called to invite the orphans into an adoptive relationship with the Father. 

As we look at how this translates to our young people going off to college, I believe the best chance they have to hold on to their faith is if they truly feel adopted by God and by this faith community at IPC. Yes, our student ministry can send kids care packages, or we can try and get them plugged in to a college ministry at their schools, but what they really need is a village of adults that are following up with them regularly. This year, we have a small graduating class of four: Karly Thibault, Rohan Nappoly, Trevor Kirkby, and Ryan Vosbigian. How can you practically carry out an adoptive ministry to help these wonderful young people transition?  Ask for their addresses, send them notes, pray for them regularly, and partner with their parents in asking how you can care for them while they are away. 

The best way to help our kids transition to college is not simply to rely on a college ministry to take them in (though that’s helpful), but to let them know they have a family here of mature believers that love, pray, and care for them — through thick and thin.

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Our Awesome Interns

By Rob Clark, Director of Student Ministries

In August of 2013, IPC began its Student Ministries Internship Program. The vision for the program came out of our church’s mission to make disciples who make disciples. The desire wasn’t to go out to find help forthe ministry, but instead, to seek out people who had an aptitude for ministry and help them cultivate it. We sought recent college graduates to fulfill this mission, and since 2013, we have had seven wonderful young people participate in our internship program.  

It is true that our students have greatly benefited from the discipleship they’ve received from our interns, but what I’m most proud of is the discipleship our interns have received from the adults in our church. This program has been a perfect example of the mission of IPC: adults discipling interns and interns discipling kids. The hope is that as our interns finish their program, they have a greater sense of their vocational calling, as well as a feeling of being more equipped to continue to disciple people — no matter their vocation. Regardless of their vocational call, their missional call remains the same — to make disciples and contribute to God’s kingdom work.

Regardless of their vocational call, their missional call remains the same — to make disciples and contribute to God’s kingdom work.

This past year, our previous interns have been serving God in these ways: Theresa Hoey completed her master’s degree in social work at USC; Becca Robbins is serving as a nurse at Seattle Children’s Hospital; Ryan Andrews is in full-time college ministry at University Presbyterian Church in Seattle; Aaron Cardinio is stepping into the role of Junior High Youth Pastor at Voyagers Bible Church; and Elise Ball completed her master’s in applied behavior analysis while also serving on IPC’s worship team and youth ministry. They have all greatly benefited from the community of IPC, and thanks to your investment, are better equipped to make disciples of Jesus in the fields they serve.

Our program is part of a network of churches called the Ascent Network. This network is made up of Presbyterian churches across the United States, including: Seattle, Malibu, Irvine (IPC in partnership with Young Life College), Boulder, and Chattanooga. Each spring, leaders from these college ministries collaborate with one another to recommend students graduating from our ministries to serve in one of the other ministries. Most of our interns were college students in one of these ministries before deciding to become interns at IPC. 

This year we are doing things a little differently. Erin Marschke, last year’s Junior High and High School Ministry intern, is continuing with us for one more year. And for College Ministry, I am excited to introduce Kaitlyn Katai, who will be joining us later this month from University Presbyterian Church in Seattle. I expect God to do great work in her life as she serves at IPC and with the college ministry at Chapman. Join us in praying for her the next few weeks as she makes her preparation to transition from Seattle to Irvine. Here is an introduction from Kaitlyn:

“Hey! I’m Kaitlyn Katai and I’m 23, from Kent, Wash., and a graduate of the University of Washington with a degree in medical anthropology and global health. Last year, I interned for University Presbyterian Church’s college program, The Inn, and wanted to do a second year of interning because I loved my job living life alongside college students, hearing their hearts, dreams, and struggles. I’m also exploring the idea of going into full-time ministry, as well as learning a lot about myself and my own gifts and passions. 
 
I’m stoked for this new adventure where I will get to meet new people, explore new places, and see how God is working in college campuses in Calif. (while learning about what brings students’ joy alive!). I have a heart for adventure and spontaneity and I love bringing people along with me — whether it’s going on road trips, paddleboarding, hiking, watercoloring, photography, or finding new coffee shops and places to eat. Honestly, anywhere where I can be in community, in relationship and laughing with people is what brings me joy, and brings my soul to life!”

I think she’ll fit right in!

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Reflections

By Erin Marschke

1 Thessalonians 2:8 says, “We loved you so much that we shared with you not only God’s Good News but our own lives, too.” This verse perfectly sums up what this internship means to me. There are a lot of aspects to the internship — trainings, meetings, planning and facilitating Eikon and Wyldlife — the list goes on. And I’ve learned so much from every part of what I’ve done this year. But at the center of everything are the junior high and high school girls that I’ve shared my life with. So I’m going to take this time to share with you about some of these girls and what each of them has taught me. 

Anna lives out our mission statement here at IPC. She has exemplified to me what it means to be a disciple who makes disciples. Anna is a disciple. She is continuously seeking to know more about Christ and deepen her relationship with Him. But she also knows that she is called to mission. Anna knows the goodness of God and community and wants to share it with her peers. As a result, Anna has invited so many other students to church events over the past few years. It’s truly amazing. 

They love each other, encourage each other, they are honest with one another, and seek Christ together.

Ellen and Hailey have been the best example of a friendship rooted in Christ. They love each other, encourage each other, they are honest with one another, and seek Christ together. I hope all my friendships look like theirs. 

Ashley has taught me what it looks like to live into my identity as a child of God. Ashley 100 percent only cares about how God views her, not how her peers or others view her. I don’t know many 15 year olds like that, if any. It’s been difficult this year to not worry about how I’m doing in the eyes of others. But Ashley has reminded me, time and time again, to just live as the person God created her to be, and that the only voice that matters is God’s.

Izzy has shown me what joy is. I don’t think I’ve ever seen her not with the biggest smile on her face. It’s obvious when you meet her that her joy and happiness is not circumstantial. It comes from her hope in Jesus. 

Brielle has taught me the importance of always seeking God. She has the greatest thirst for Jesus, always desiring more, always asking questions to further her relationship with him. I have benefited so much from discovering answers with her. 

Hannah and Paige have taught me how to put my full trust in God. No matter what life throws at either of them, they both have complete faith that their heavenly Father carries them in the palm of His hand and will work everything out for His good. Whenever I want to keep everything in my control, or am anxious about the future, I am reminded of these two girls and what they’ve
taught me. 

Emmy has been proof for me that the more you know about Christ, the more you resemble who Christ is. Emmy is wise and smart and so knowledgeable about Scripture. And it shows because she is Christ-like. Emmy loves and connects with people like Jesus. Her actions have been a constant reminder to me of who Jesus is.

I am so blessed to be able to share my life with these girls. They have taught me more than I’m sure I’ve taught them. And I am so excited to get to spend another year learning from each other, and growing in our relationship with God together. 

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Helping The Homeless

By Curtis Drever

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If you pay attention, you can see homeless people all around you — street corners, bus stops, busy intersections, and shopping centers. Some are working homeless, perhaps sleeping in their cars each night and working during the day. Some have mental illness; some are hiding from someone or something; some have substance addiction; some simply do not like having rules and thus consider living on the streets as living in complete freedom. The circumstances are varied and complicated. 

Let me share some of what God has taught me about homeless people. First and foremost — the homeless are people. The second thing is that you must look beyond appearances and not judge because you don’t know their stories. Jesus said to love people and not judge them. 

Remember, this isn’t about you, but what God can do through you.

I’ve talked with a sufficient number of homeless people to conclude that one main difference between them and me is that they have perhaps made four or five bad decisions in a row; whereas I have made only one or two. Making those additional “bad” decisions are what had gotten them into their current circumstances. This is humbling. We all know how easy it is to make bad decisions. Keeping this in mind helps me give extra grace, and helps me keep perspective that I’m not that different from them.

A third point is that you have to decide — do you really want to help them?  If you say “Yes” to that question, there are several levels of help that you can provide depending on how far you are willing to go! I know firsthand that these relationships can get very messy. However, if you really want to help someone, you have to be willing for things to be both messy and inconvenient. It takes a village to raise a child. It also takes a village to help a person get off the streets and become self-sufficient again. For that to happen, you have to be willing to become their advocate, friend, coach, mentor, etc.   

“I’m not equipped for that,” you may say. Welcome to the crowd. Until you actually go through this experience, no one really is!  Remember, this isn’t about you, but what God can do through you. This is about being a disciple of Jesus, a Jesus follower. I should have mentioned this earlier, but I’ve made the assumption that you are praying and letting God lead your actions. 

If you’d like to talk more about this topic, let’s grab coffee. In the meantime, here is my encouragement. Next time you come across a homeless person, first of all treat them as a real person. Next, at least take the first step and ask, “Is there something you need?”  Don’t hand them money, just meet the need and from there, God will lead. 

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Partnering with Families to Make Disciples

By Lauren Knips

Every Sunday, dedicated leaders serve to share God’s Word with children at IPC. They’re part of an important equation; by combining Sunday morning discipleship with parents discipling their children at home, we get greater influence to impact each child with God’s love. Our incredible Sunday leaders selflessly give their time and talents to creatively share the Bible and make it come alive to kids. Some are parents, some are students, and some are just people who love kids. You don’t have to be a parent or an educational professional to serve. You just have to show up consistently, and share what it means to be a disciple of Jesus!

“The best way for a kid to know God is to know someone who knows God.” – Reggie Joiner

Discipleship at home is essential, too! Even if we have the coolest Sundays around, the most entertaining teachers (which we do), and the most amazing activities, we still have a fraction of a child’s time on Sunday morning.  So, when it comes to making disciples, we want to partner and find ways to help parents connect Sunday mornings to the rest of the week.  

Thinking outside of Sunday morning isn’t a new idea. In fact, we can find this idea in Deuteronomy 6 as Moses and the Israelites were camped outside the promised land. In that moment, Moses gathered the people together and gave a sermon about how they should live in the land.  

“Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.” (Deuteronomy 6:5-7). 

These verses give amazing clarity as to how parents can disciple their children. Discipleship becomes part of everyday moments through intentionally infusing them with God’s truth. It takes place when you’re sitting at home, when you’re driving in the car, when you get up in the morning, and when you go to bed each night. Don’t feel overwhelmed; no family is going to do this perfectly. Life is busy, and we all have times where we get out of rhythm or when life throws a few curveballs, but here are a few examples of simple ways families are practicing discipleship at home.

The Van Niekerk Family

We try to have at least one meal together as a family. We pray before we eat and talk about our day, including who we played with, had lunch with, etc. so we can help our kids see the importance of investing in other’s lives and getting to know them. 

At bedtime, we read books and end with a Bible story — we currently use a children’s Bible but have also used an Afrikaans Bible. YouVersion has a great Kid’s app with interactive Bible stories. Then both kids say a prayer that Carlo taught them in Afrikaans, and we’ve recently had them add their own requests and thanks. Carlo or I will pray, too. Last, we sing “Jesus Loves Me” with the additional verse, “We love Kayla and Christopher do they know, have we ever told them so.” Kayla and Christopher love to hear us say that we love them every day.

The Choi Family

Earlier this year, I felt a strong conviction to intentionally spend time with my daughters reading Scripture. We make it fun by taking turns reading using our animated voices, and then share about the story we have read together. We end our time praying about what was stirred in our hearts. By doing this on a weekly basis, my prayer is God will cause my daughters hearts to grow to love and know Jesus, and have a love for His Truth.

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Teen Challenge

By Lynne Grabyan

Toward the end of 2016, in response to Jesus’ teaching that “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21), 15 people were each given $100 to invest toward God’s broader kingdom purpose in the world. Here is one disciple’s story. As I began the Treasure Principle Adventure last November, I had an immediate impression that I would invest God’s $100 in the ministry of Teen Challenge. But I wanted to make sure the idea was from God and not based on my prior positive experiences and involvement with them. So I prayed. I waited a few days and prayed some more. I felt released that Teen Challenge was God’s leading, yet I knew there were many ways the gift could be used. Looking at the Teen Challenge website to reacquaint myself with their Christ-based substance abuse recovery and prevention programs, I became excited about the possibilities. Which way to go? Back to prayer and waiting on the Lord for direction.

As I waited to feel God’s nudge, I reread the directions for the Treasure Principle Adventure. “I agree to pray and ask God what He wants me to do with His money, how He wants me to invest and put it towards His broader kingdom purpose in the world, for His glory.” I thought that maybe my focus was so local that I might be missing the opportunity for “His broader kingdom purpose in the world.” So I researched Global Teen Challenge and was amazed at all the countries where the ministry had spread. Eastern Europe, in particular, caught my attention because my husband’s and my grandparents came from the Ukraine and Slovenia. I prayed and emailed the director of European Teen Challenge to explore areas where God’s money might be invested. After a time with no response, and bringing it again to the Lord in prayer, it seemed the door had been closed. The journey reminded me of other times I thought the Lord was leading in a certain direction, only to be rerouted back to the beginning. “Show me your will. Lead me,” I prayed.

God isn’t in a rush or anxious for a resolution ... His plans and ways are always better and higher than ours!

One morning, I woke up thinking about the men and women who had spent a year in the Teen Challenge residential program and had overcome and been set free through Christ, working hard on rebuilding their lives and relationships. Certain individuals felt called into ministry in their local congregations, the mission field, or Teen Challenge to share the love, forgiveness, and hope they had experienced. For this calling, the Teen Challenge Ministry Institute in Southern California exists to “equip workers for the harvest to serve the church locally and around the world through evangelism, discipleship, and leadership training.” I thought perhaps this was where God’s treasure should be directed. I prayed and contacted the regional office in Riverside to see if there was a specific student at the TC Ministry Institute who needed financial aid. I discovered that almost all of them raise their own funds. Brenda, in the regional office, was touched to hear about the faith journey of the Treasure Principle. She let me know of the way the money could be earmarked for TC’s scholarship fund. I was very excited and felt the Lord approving this investment of His $100, and so it was.

Through this adventure I was wondering, and at times at bit impatient, as to when I might have clear direction. When I felt like this, I remembered God isn’t in a rush or anxious for a resolution. Along the way, I learned more about the worldwide spread of this ministry started in 1960 by preacher David Wilkerson in New York. To see over the years how God has partnered with believers to expand the work from gang members and drug addicts, and now, reaching out to families and children across the world with the message of Christ’s love to save, restore, and even prevent falling into damaging addictions was so encouraging. God’s plans and ways are always better and higher than ours!

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Summertime, Sabbath, and Rest

By Pastor Gabe Fung

For many of us, external busyness and internal hurriedness are a way of life. We run from one place to the next. We scramble to meet deadlines and fulfill commitments. We try to fit everything in but never seem to have enough time to do it all. However, an important but often neglected aspect of doing life with God and following Jesus is rest. With summer upon us, here are three key reminders about the importance of rest.

1. Rest is modeled by God and part of his created order. 

“By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.” (Genesis 2:2-3)

From the very beginning, God hardwired the rhythm of work and rest into the DNA of life. God rested not because he was tired but in order to model this healthy rhythm of work and rest that contributes to human flourishing. In Exodus 20:8-11, God commands his people to follow his example by remembering the Sabbath (from the Hebrew sabbat, which means “to stop or to cease”) and resting from their work one day a week. When we overwork and ignore this basic rhythm of work and rest, we become stressed out, burned out, irritable, and depressed; our physical and emotional health suffer; our relationships deteriorate; and work becomes an oppressive burden and even an idol.

Rest is both a gift and a command from God.

2. Rest is found in being in relationship with Jesus.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” 

– Jesus (Matthew 11:28-30)

True rest isn’t found in sleeping in, going on vacation, or unplug-ging from electronic devices, although those are not bad things in and of themselves. Jesus says, “Come to me … and I will give you rest.” Although putting on His “yoke” implies a certain discipline, it is “easy” and “light,” not because Jesus’ call to follow Him requires nothing of us, but because of who He is: He is “gentle and humble in heart.” As Lord of the Sabbath (Mark 2:27-28), Jesus knows what we need and what is best for us at every step, and He gives us rest.

3. Sabbath rest points to God’s ultimate salvation rest.

“There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from their works, just as God did from his. Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will perish by following their example of disobedience.” (Hebrews 4:9-11)

These verses encourage us to enter God’s salvation rest by trusting in Jesus and what He has done for us, and warn against the negative example of the Israelites in the desert when they hardened their hearts and did not trust God.

When we practice a weekly rhythm of rest, we are living out several practical implications of the gospel. First, we remember that God has saved us from sin and death through Jesus’ finished work on the cross for us, so we rest from striving to prove ourselves and trying to earn God’s love and acceptance on the basis of what we do. Second, we remember that through Jesus, we are the recipients of God’s love and grace, so we rest in our identity as God’s beloved children. And third, we remember that ultimately God is in control — and we are not! — so we rest and trust Him for whatever work we still need to do.

In short, rest is both a gift and a command from God. So take time each week and rest. Rest from work. Rest from doing. Rest from striving. Rest in God. Rest with God. Rest to the glory of God.

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God At Work Through VBS

By Lauren Knips

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“My daughter loved her group leaders.”

“My kids were able to memorize and practice Bible verses. It helped me reaffirm my relationship with Christ.”

“My grandsons liked looking up the Bible stories and telling us all about them each day.”

"My child learned that Jesus loves us.”

“I love to hear my kids singing the VBS songs to themselves the next day.”

“I love to see people working together at VBS, and supporting each other.”

“Kids were able to question and ask things they had been wondering about Jesus. Seeing this proved that God was truly working in their hearts.”

These are just a few of the comments I read as I glanced back over many parent and volunteer evaluations from past years at VBS. They all point to the unique power of God at work through VBS. I’ve been at VBS every summer I can remember, whether as a child participating, as a student, or as adult staff leading. In fact, I can’t remember a summer without VBS!  

We each get to see God’s hand at work together, and get a picture of a heavenly future as the family of God.

What I love about VBS is the special energy it brings each summer. Kids who are a part of our church family each Sunday get an out-of-the-box way to explore their faith at a deeper level. Kids who may not otherwise have the chance to hear the good news of the gospel get to experience the love of Jesus in a vibrant way.

What I especially love about VBS at IPC is the joy of community that is clearly evident among those who serve. Of the many VBS weeks of which I’ve been part, there is clearly a special camaraderie that our week together brings to our church family. We each get to see God’s hand at work together, and get a picture of a heavenly future as the family of God. Relationships with friends are strengthened and new friendships are found.

Another incredible outcome of VBS is when children are impacted as participants and grow up to become leaders at VBS. This is a clear view of how God uses VBS to make disciples who make disciples. Two of these individuals are Taylor Topacio and Paola Haley. Both of them attended IPC from a young age and experienced God and learned about His great love for them through volunteer leaders. Even as they were being discipled as high school students, they felt God’s call to make disciples.

Taylor became a VBS leader as a student and continued to lead after graduation. She has been a camp counselor for children’s ministry and most recently has been one of our 6th grade Sunday school leaders! God has given her the great gift to teach His word and make it relatable to our elementary kids!

Paola is another leader who caught the vision to make disciples as a high school student. She was so impacted by leaders at Beach Club and VBS when she was a participant that she knew she wanted to be a leader, too. When Paola was just a sophomore, she asked if she could lead a small group at Beach Club.

Her gifting for building relationships with our elementary girls was clearly evident. Paola has not only had the opportunity to make disciples at Beach Club and VBS, but will impact hundreds of children at Forest Home this summer! 

God’s work through VBS is sometimes visible, as I have witnessed with His call for both of these young ladies. But I also know that we don’t always get to see the fruit of disciple making at VBS. We don’t get to see the invisible work God is doing in the hearts of the many children who attend. We are seed planters, and we remain faithful to that task as we trust God to continue the good work He began in their hearts at VBS. 

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Sharing the Love of the Father

By Chuck Waterman

“You’re a good, good father. It’s who you are.
And I’m loved by you. It’s who I am.”

I love the words to this song by Chris Tomlin. I like to remember them in my prayers, and they help me as I try and be a role model for my children and others.

When my dad died when I was 13, I lost him as a role model. My friends’ fathers, who wanted the best for me and cared about me more than I realized until I was older, became my role models and helped me stay out of trouble. But as I got older and on my own, I succumbed to the temptations that many young men fall into when they have no boundaries. I was lost and unaware that there was a good, good father that always wanted the best for me! As I began going to church, I got a glimpse of how compassionate and caring, loving and accepting God is. He is mindful of me. I began to realize what it meant for Him to send Jesus to the cross. 

I am continually learning what it means to be a father. My relationship with my own son has its ups and downs. Sometimes I say or do silly things. I am his father. I should know better. I need to ask Zach for forgiveness. Just like when I offend God, I need forgiveness. This is a hard lesson!

Because I know the importance of having a heavenly father to help steer my path, I like to be a father/mentor figure to kids in Beach Club and at Royal Family Kids Camp. Recently, Zach and I helped build playgrounds in Jamaica with Kids Around the World. Hanging out with the kids was the best part. A young boy named Alfred would run up to me every day and give me a hug. I called him my son one day, and after that he called me his father. That was a gift from God!!!  I also met J and Pharoah, teens from the orphanage that helped build the playground. I hope they were able to see our good, loving, heavenly Father through me as we worked side by side. The smiles on the faces of the children as they used the play equipment were worth all the sweat and work. We left with praises to God in our hearts for our opportunity to share His love with the children and people in Jamaica.

By Zachary Waterman

Being blessed with the opportunity to travel to Jamaica in February made me more grateful and joyful than almost any other experience in my life. Most people who travel to third world and developing nations expect to see how much the communities lack. However, during my trip to Africa in 2014 it became completely obvious that the citizens of these countries are often richer than we could ever dream to be. 

The Jamaicans we encountered are amongst the greatest people I have ever met. They have a pure sense of joy, for they learn to enjoy even the littlest things in life. They love more passionately than any others I have seen, as family and friendships are more important than material possessions. They have the most impres-sive sense of hope as each and every one of them dreams for a more fruitful life, whether it be in their lifetime or with God
in heaven. 

I was blessed with more during my trip than I could ever bring to anyone in need. I learned to work without complaint and to rely on others to support me, all while building playgrounds for the children of God. Although I struggled not being with anyone even close to my age (who was fluent in English), I appreciated the wise men and women, both American and Jamaican, with whom I worked and shared my experiences. 

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Welcome the Unexpected

By Lisa Frank

My first encounter with IPC was to fill the role as Accompanist for Chancel Choir and Pianist for the church services. It was 1980, I was 25, single, not really connected with a church, never worked for a church, but really needed a part-time job. Jan Wyma, Director for Chancel Choir, had faith in my abilities, encouraged me to grow in my skills as a church pianist, and helped me meet people and connect with other members of the congregation. It wasn’t long before I recognized that, although God provided me with a part-time job, He knew that what I really needed was a church community. God, in His wisdom, redirected my path, and through the years I’ve come to expect, and to accept (most of the time) that when change is needed, change happens!

In the course of the 37 years I’ve been at IPC, I’ve experienced a lot of change in my life. I graduated from Long Beach State with a Master’s degree in Piano Performance. Kerry and I got married and had two children (Laura and Neal). I became the Director for the IPC Handbell Ministry, accompanied for the Children’s Choirs, composed and arranged music for various services and events, created, directed and produced multiple handbell and creative arts programs, and worked on staff as Worship Planner. I have had the most varied and creative jobs anyone could ask for, but I wasn’t trained in most of these skills. God brought these wonderful opportunities to me because He saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself. And with each new opportunity I learned that, even though change can be scary and even difficult, it can open up new avenues to be explored. I never intended to teach, but now just about everything I do involves teaching. I hated my conducting class in college but learned to love it when working with the bell choirs. I spent most of my teens and a good part of my 20s ignoring God and going my own way, but He drew me to Himself through the Word, through prayer, and through Christian friendships. I grew in faith, trusting the Holy Spirit to guide me. After a while, I was charged with the responsibility of planning our worship service. How blessed I am to have served in so many positions for IPC! God knows me inside and out, better than I know myself.

When I was asked to work as a full-time Worship Planner and Leader of the music department, I bought myself a wall hanging for my office. How did Pier 1 know I needed this very thing?! It says, 

“Welcome the unexpected in life.
Learn to bend with grace.
Let yourself grow.
Be humble.
And never forget to look for the beauty changes can bring!”

I will be on the lookout for the beauty this newest change will bring in my personal life, my professional life, and my spiritual life. I pray that all of you will also embrace whatever new opportunities or challenges come your way. Change may still be hard! But, “Be confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6).

Kerry and I look forward to worshiping with you as part of the congregation. We’re so thankful for your friendships and your prayers, dear brothers and sisters in Christ.

May God bless our walk together!

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Reflections 

By Jennifer McGee, Student Ministries Intern

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Coming into this year, I had no idea what to expect. I was excited because I knew that I would be doing college ministry, but I was also aware that I had no idea exactly how this year would be. I was a little nervous, because I knew that it would bring a lot of change. This would be the first time away

from my identical twin sister in 23 years. We have never left each other’s side and have been through everything together. I was going to be across the country from my family in Tennessee, and I knew no one out here. Not to mention, I had never been to the state of California. However, I knew God was calling me out here, and I was confident in that. I wanted to be obedient, so I packed everything up and drove out here with my sister, realizing that things would look different.

In my mind I thought, “This could be a really good year, a really good experience, or it could be the complete opposite; but I knew that either way I would grow a lot and be shaped and formed into a better person, into the person that God needed me to be here on this earth in order to fulfill His kingdom.”

I look back acknowledging the fact that, if you are obedient, God is going to be right there by you no matter what the outcome.

From start to finish, looking back on this year, it turns out that it has been one of the best years I have ever lived, and I have never been this happy before. I have learned what it’s like to be surrounded by people who truly not only care about me but also for the people around them, and who also love the Lord. I have learned so much about myself individually that I had never known before. I never truly knew who I was, and that people actually liked me for me, because all I had known was life as a twin. I have learned through the IPC community that people genuinely care about me, and love me. This has been so clearly portrayed in many different ways. Through my loving host family, my friends I have made out here, and through my mentors, God’s love has been clearly displayed.

As my 10-month internship comes to an end, I look back on this journey with a lot of thankfulness in my heart. I look back acknowledging the fact that, if you are obedient, God is going to be right there by you no matter what the outcome. All things are going to work out for our good, but we need to be bold and to just take that first step — whatever that might look like. Whether it might be scary or uncertain, we are able to step out because He is the One who gives us the strength, the boldness, and the courage. In Him we can do anything. If I had not taken that first step, I wouldn’t have been able to experience this, and man, would I have missed out!

“Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”
– Joshua 1:9

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In Obedience to the Great Commission

By Laura Cho

When I heard about unreached people groups at the Perspectives class last year at IPC, my life’s focus changed. I committed to support and participate in the Great Commission: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:16-20).

Recently, I had the privilege of going to an unreached people group called the Badjao. The Badjao were once nomadic people, but now most have settled along the shores of the southern islands of the Philippines. I was one of five people from the United States who joined a long-term American missionary and many local Filipino Christian brothers and sisters for this outreach project. Our goal was to introduce the good news of our loving God to people who do not know Jesus. 

They needed hope, the hope of seeing their lives and the natural world around them restored, and to see how precious they are in God’s sight.

The Badjao people are known as “people no one wants”; the missionary told us that they were also called “Bad job.” Oftentimes, they have no birthright because they are so uneducated and poor that they forget or don’t know how to report the birth of their children. This means that they do not receive governmental assistance for public services such as education and health care. The young girls are often sold into prostitution, and younger children become beggars. 

The location for our outreach project resembled a trash dump combined with sewage. My part in the project was to provide them with medical services before they moved on to the Prayer Station. The weather was hot and humid, which contributed to its unpleasant aroma and muddy ponds. I noticed that the children were playing in the dirty water, and that is how many of them were getting parasitic skin infections. Other children had poverty-related illnesses. God’s beautiful people and the natural world were clearly marred. Tears started flowing down my cheeks before my brain registered what I was seeing. I knew these people needed hope — the hope of seeing their lives and the natural world around them restored. They also needed to know they are precious in God’s sight. 

Though the Badjao people may avoid religion, they love being prayed for, especially when they are faced with dire situations of illness, poverty, and hopelessness. At the Prayer Station, the local Filipino Christians prayed and shared the gospel as the Holy Spirit led them. I was so grateful that I could participate in this loving ministry that whispered such a message of hope and healing.

At my commissioning at IPC, I had asked people to pray for me to experience the love of God toward the Badjao, so that I might be more convinced of His Great Commission. I saw so much love reflected through the caring ministries of the Filipino Christians and the American missionary. They go out of their way to help the Badjao people get public services. They visit them regularly with health care, and some have even moved to live among the Badjao community in order to learn their language and culture. There are several people who are currently translating the Bible into the Badjao language, and the New Testament has already been completed.

Please join me in praying that the Badjao people will soon be crossed off the list of the over 8,600 unreached people groups in the world.

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Making Disciples Through The Generations

An Interview with Mimi and Ralph Laue

It was 46 years ago that Mimi and Ralph first became involved with Tijuana Christian Mission (TCM) while they were attending Santa Ana First Christian Church. Throughout the years, as disciples, they have helped lead others into discipleship.

Martha Lopez and her husband, Sergio, founded TCM to get young children out of jails and off the streets, to be a good influence on them for Christ. The youth at the Laue’s church were already involved in TCM, so it was natural that Ralph and Mimi joined their two older children on a mission trip. Besides serving together as a family, they saw it as an opportunity to educate their children and expose them to a different life. Their first project was to build what is now the cafeteria. Ralph would haul lumber in his pickup, and he and Mimi worked on installing the roof. When they came to IPC in 1977, the Laue’s brought their love for TCM with them, and it soon became IPC’s first mission partner. Their two younger children later joined in serving with them. 

“Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” – Matthew 25:40

Ralph recalled Ben Patterson’s (IPC’s first pastor) first trip to TCM. When they got to the border, Ralph asked for “a couple of bucks” from each of his passengers. Ben wanted to know why. “To bribe our way across the border.” Because they were bringing in lumber, the bribe would help cut through the red tape. Ben said, “No,” to which Ralph replied, “It’s the only way we’re going to get in.” Ben said, “No, we’re going to pray our way in.” They made it through!  And they never bribed the officials again.

On another visit, Ralph and Junko Cheng traveled together, his truck filled with toys and gifts, attempting to arrive the same day in time for the Christmas party. As soon as they crossed the border, they got lost. Children would point them in “the right” direction, which kept turning out to be the wrong way. Ralph saw a man standing by a beat-up old pickup truck, and he spoke English! He said, “Follow me,” and off they went, arriving miraculously at
10 am, just as the party was starting. Ralph tried numerous ways to give the man some money, but he wouldn’t take it. As he drove off, Ralph saw a statue of Jesus on his dashboard.

In the beginning years, the TCM children sometimes visited the U.S. and would stay at IPC members’ homes. One family the Laue’s hosted had six children — mom had died, and dad worked in Los Angeles. Dad carried the L.A. Times under his arm so he would look like an American as he traveled to Irvine, and he was able to spend the weekend with his children. One of these children later became a pastor, one a nurse, and one a teacher. They would have otherwise been on the street.  

By 2000, TCM was established and supported by numerous churches, so they wanted to extend their ministry to other parts of Mexico. This is when Curtis Drever and Laura Boyd helped
El Niño to become an outgrowth of the TCM ministry. In 2004, Pam and Biff Oliver got involved at TCM when Biff went to provide dentist services at the Mission. Mimi served as his aide, sterilizing instruments and doing other needed tasks.

Over the years, disciples have made disciples who are still making disciples. Martha Lopez, TCM’s founder, is 77. Her two daughters and son now run the mission. Early on, as IPC was bringing gifts to the TCM children, Martha and her staff began bringing food to the Tijuana City Dump where the poor people were scavenging. Serving at TCM is a tradition for Ralph, who has gone every year since 1971. Many from IPC have also made the trip throughout the years, and generations of TCM graduates have gone on to successful careers, some coming back to serve. 

“Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” – Matthew 25:40 

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Thankfulness and Trust

By Ann Barkley

Let me start with a “Motherhood 0, 1, 2, 3, 4 Riddle.” I had zero kids the first eight years of marriage, so I experienced some of the pain of infertility. I have never experienced labor pains. I had one experience as a foster mom, becoming a foster-to-adopt parent to one child. Two times I have been in the hospital to give birth to living children, so I’m a birth mom, too. I was briefly a member of Mothers of Three Sons Club. We have four children ... how did this happen?!

Many of you know that we have three boys. Our oldest is now married and living in Washington D.C. Our twins are still in the Los Angeles area — one married and one single. Our youngest child, who was adopted as a baby, lives in Orange County and is single. All this is to say that God has uniquely put me through many different experiences of motherhood that even today continue to shape me, bringing undeserved joy and unexpected challenges. The Barkley family is not perfect!

My life as mom for 30 years has sometimes been painful and not very pretty. Particularly with our daughter, I am still learning. Despite the grace she has received time and again, little has changed as we experience her rejection and defiant “You can’t tell me what to do” attitude and occasional violent behavior. It impacts all six of us in different, and not always healthy ways. I often feel like I’m living in emotional hell.

God tells us to thank Him within all circumstances, even when the situation seems impossible, and to trust Him.

This planet is not the way God designed it to be — we’ve gotten ourselves into a hopeless pit. But at infinite cost, God sent Jesus to die and hang on that cross to take the punishment we deserve. And so I know that He will never abandon me, or our daughter ­­­­— or any of us. Christ is our only hope.

We have seen that God has continually been working in our daughter’s life. I remember two times when I clearly saw His hand at work. They may seem insignificant to others, but they were profound examples to me of how God has not abandoned her. When she was about 8, she wanted an American Girl doll. We told her she needed to read the books first and then we would see about getting her the doll. She refused to read. But on a trip, she found a doll in an airport. When no one claimed it, it was given to her. She didn’t deserve that doll, but she got it anyway. God did that for her.

Our daughter recently got a job at Panera and wanted a car. Out of the blue, someone in our church choir gave her a used car, not even knowing that she wanted one. She did nothing to earn it. But this was God’s way of letting her live at home, have her own transportation, and show His hand in her life, even when she didn’t deserve it. How often have we seen God in our own lives give when we don’t deserve?

I know that God has huge plans for our daughter, but right now she is deeply troubled. She has to go to a darker place than she is today until she comes forward into the light. I have faith that God will preserve her life and will use our daughter for His good. I know that I can’t choose for her and that she hasn’t yet reached her lowest depth. But I have hope in Christ, a hope that Christians have that others don’t. I hang on to what I call the two “Ts”: thankfulness and trust. God tells us to thank Him within all circumstances, even when the situation seems impossible, and to trust Him. He made the ultimate sacrifice with His child, His son, and He loves us unconditionally and will never desert us. 

Lord, I am willing to receive what you give, release what you take, lack what you withhold, do what you require, and be who you desire, through Christ. Amen.

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Music Lessons: What God Has Taught Me 

By Angela Walsh

I come from a family of famous Chinese musicians. My maternal grandfather is considered one of the greatest composers of Cantonese music. My father was a famous player of the pipa, a 4-stringed Chinese lute. He came to the

United States to perform at Carnegie Hall and was recruited to teach at the UCLA department of ethnomusicology. My mother was a successful child performer in Cantonese opera and grew up to become a recording star and pioneer of early Cantonese pop music, with her name on billboards all over Southeast Asia at one time. I grew up learning to sing from my mom and to play the pipa from my dad, and was a child performer as well.

My parents were half agnostic and half Buddhist, but they allowed me to go to a nearby Catholic school for 7th and 8th grade because they didn’t think I was ready to take a bus to attend the public junior high school. There I first learned about Christianity, and quickly decided that I wanted to become a Catholic and a nun. My parents wouldn’t permit this, and by 9th grade I was back in public school. 

I started carpooling with some kids who listened to pop radio every morning. I soon decided that, instead of a nun, I wanted to become a pop star. By high school, I was aspiring to sing like an R&B diva. After school, I would put on a bunch of records and belt at the top of my lungs until my voice gave out. This drove my parents nuts, but at least they weren’t hearing from me anymore that I wanted to become a Catholic.

God used that experience to show me that I am dependent on Him for my very breath.

It was in college that God used music to bring me back to Him. During my freshman year, I joined the women’s chorus at UCLA. I ended up sitting next to a girl, who shared with me that she joined the chorus in order to sing better at church. She told me about a non-denominational church called the Hiding Place and invited me to the University Christian Fellowship group. I visited that group, and at one point everyone held hands and prayed for one another and whatever was on their hearts. I had never experienced prayer like that, and found myself wishing I could just talk to God directly and intimately like that. That Sunday, I visited the Hiding Place and answered the altar call to accept Christ.

In my second year at UCLA, music brought Craig and me together when I met him upon joining the Student Committee for the Arts. He had grown up in a Christian home but had drifted from the faith after studying science in college. I dragged him to church with me — so I guess God used music to bring Craig back to Him as well!   

God also used music to stretch my boundaries. I grew up in a sheltered, traditional Chinese home, but because of my desire to pursue R&B, I joined a couple of bands in South Central LA and worked with African American music producers. One highlight was when I recorded demos for Jackie Jackson of the Jackson Five. So because of music, I learned to relate to and care about people from diverse backgrounds, which has opened doors for sharing my faith. 

Skipping forward to 2009, I had yet another lesson to learn through my love of music. Right after I was asked to sing with the IPC worship band, I became sick and was hospitalized with asthma exacerbation. God used that experience to show me that I am dependent on Him for my very breath, not to mention my ability to sing, and that I needed to understand this before He would let me lead His people in worship. He has since healed me of this condition, and I am grateful for — and blessed by — the privilege of leading worship at IPC. 

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Extending Grace to Others

By Minda Schweizer

A few months ago, a friend visited and brought with her a loaf of homemade sourdough bread. It was delicious! I told her that I’ve made homemade bread before, but not sourdough, and nothing that was quite so good. I asked her, “How do you make sourdough? I’ve only bought sourdough at

a grocery store or had it at a restaurant.” She then exclaimed, “It’s easy. I’ll bring you over the yeast (sourdough starter). You just need to feed it.”  Feed it? Like a pet or a plant? I already told the kids no more pets … what was I getting myself into?

The next time she came over she brought a container with some liquidy, doughy stuff and said it was the sourdough yeast. She told me that this particular yeast had been passed on to her from her stepmother who had gotten it passed from others before her over many years. She taught me how to make the bread and gave me instructions to feed the yeast once a week to keep it alive. The next weekend, I set out to make some bread myself, and at the end of the day, I had two beautiful, golden baked sourdough bread loaves. 

We are to continually teach about grace and extend grace to others; otherwise it will be wasted.

Of course, like any proud baker would do, I took pictures and posted them on Facebook. Shortly after, I had a dozen likes, several comments, and even a request from another friend for some of the yeast. So a few days later, this friend came over to get some yeast. I found myself sharing how to take care of it, and I sent her off by saying, “Tell me how it goes when you make it!” and “Let me know who you pass the yeast on to next!” I knew bread making was an experience, but I never knew it was such a social experience!

As I reflected on this whole sourdough bread adventure, this verse came to mind, “Timothy, my dear son, be strong through the grace that God gives you in Christ Jesus. You have heard me teach things that have been confirmed by many reliable witnesses.

Now teach these truths to other trustworthy people who will be able to pass them on to others.” (2 Timothy 2:1-2)  Grace through a relationship in Christ Jesus is like yeast, for it is living and active. When we feed God’s grace in our lives by spending time in the knowledge of that grace through Scripture reading, missions, and teaching, we grow spiritually. 

But it’s not just for us. Grace through a relationship in Christ Jesus is to be given away, just like my yeast. What would happen if I continued to feed my sourdough yeast each week and not give it away? It would overflow my container, make a mess, and go to waste!  This is like the 2 Timothy verses which remind us that we are to continually teach about grace and extend grace to others; otherwise it will be wasted.

So what will you do with the grace you have been given? How will you feed it? Who will you pass it on to? Take some time to consider and pray for God’s wisdom about this. And after you spend time this week feeding and giving away God’s grace in your life, be sure to tell me and others what happened! You can even post it on Facebook if you’d like. I will be sure to press “like!”

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Two Treasure Principle Adventures

Toward the end of 2016, in response to Jesus’ teaching that “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21), 15 people were each given $100 to invest toward God’s broader kingdom purpose in the world. Here are two stories from those individuals.

Anna Haley and Erin Marschke

Anna had a real sense from God that we were to use the $100 Treasure Principle money to bless children. Because this was around Christmas, we both felt strongly about providing gifts for children. While researching many ways in which we could do this, I (Erin) noticed at Starbucks that they were doing a toy drive for kids battling cancer. I immediately felt a nudge from God that helping Starbucks in this mission was the way we were to use His money. 

We went to Target and purchased 15 toys (about $100 worth) for ages 1 to 10, both for boys and girls, and took them to Starbucks. We prayed over the toys, asking that God would bless the kids that received them, that they would catch a glimpse of the gift of Jesus through receiving these gifts, and that the toys would bring them joy in a time where they may not have much joy. As we left Starbucks, I gave the remaining change to a homeless man in the shopping
center. Though we were unable to engage with him, it was clear
God orchestrated that moment so that all of the $100 was used for His kingdom. 

It was really cool for me to see how God spoke to Anna in how we should use the money. And as the holder of the money, it helped me view money differently. As I looked in my wallet, I acknowledged every time that the $100 dollar bill was not mine, but God’s. This is how I should look at every bill in my wallet. Even though we didn’t have any face-to-face interactions with the recipients, we knew God was orchestrating it all — that he would place the toys in the right kids’ hands and would make sure they were blessed and felt His presence despite us not being there. It was quite humbling to know that we did very little, and God did mighty things. 

Steve Pischel

The “Adventure” for me began when Pastor Gabe announced the concept last year. Some friends in the congregation were part of the first challenge. When round two was introduced, I felt called to be part of it.
As I came forward, I had no idea of what would happen, only that God was calling me to respond. In the days ahead, my wife, Marilee, and I prayed for God’s direction. 

LOT318, a non-profit organization based in Placentia, was on my heart. I work for the City of Placentia and have had the opportunity to come to know LOT318 and their Director, Letty Gali. LOT318 stands for “Loving Others in Truth” and derives its name from 1 John 3:18. Their mission is to minister to at-risk youth and their families by empowering them to see their worth and purpose in the community and the world. They fulfill their mission through programs, services, and special events to expose and engage the youth and families to opportunities to serve others, make a difference with their peers, and be a positive influence in the community. LOT318 believes and supports education and the principal of helping youth value themselves and the gifts they have been given. 

One of Placentia’s several low-income barrios is Cypress Street. Through the amazing ministry and the Godly leadership of LOT318, hundreds if not thousands of lives have been changed. The neighborhood was converted from one controlled by gangs and drugs to one in which education, family values, and service to others has become the culture. More work needs to be done, but the foundation has been established with God’s presence and their work.

We prayed for God’s discernment on how the $100 should be directed to help LOT318 and felt called to add personal finances. We were able to support the annual Thanksgiving Dinner for over 1,500 members of the Cypress Street community as well as other programs and services for at-risk youth.

Moving forward, in addition to financial support, we look forward to volunteering with their projects and events. Lives are being impacted every day through their leadership and the hand of our Lord. We are blessed to have had the opportunity to assist through IPC and God’s provision. 

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They Thought It Was Nonsense

By Don Barkley 

People generally like Christmas more than Easter. A baby born with animals all around is preferred over a story about a horrific execution, dead body, and tomb. Except for the resurrection at the end, Christmas is much more likable. A new baby is cuter than an empty tomb. But it turns out today’s celebration is the very core of Christianity.

Now, imagine if someone died on Friday and was buried, just two nights ago. What if that person walked in on breakfast this morning? As we look back from this Sunday morning, that’s how long Jesus was dead and buried. 

Early that Sunday morning, according to the four gospels, women rushed to the men who had been followers of Jesus, and told them that the body of Jesus was gone and that two angels said that he was alive. 

But “The story sounded like nonsense to the men.” (Luke 24:11)

It sounded like nonsense. And we can see why. When people die, they stay dead. When people are buried, they don’t show up two mornings later. 

But … for some reason what sounded like nonsense to them that day became the essence of their message. 

Absurd news became good news. 

What caused them to change their minds? John tells us in his first letter. 

We saw him with our own eyes and touched him with our own hands.” (John 1:1)

But why should smart, educated people like us believe that this really happened? Here are some points to consider:

  • Most scholars, Christian or not, acknowledge that Jesus of Nazareth was publicly crucified, was buried, that the tomb was found empty, and that his followers believed that they saw him alive. 
  • Eyewitnesses testified of the resurrection of Jesus even as they faced execution.
  • Consider the growth in number of Jerusalem believers pro-claiming the risen Christ against opposition, in the city where the events of the crucifixion and empty tomb could have been denied. 
  • Why would Jews shift their traditional day of worship from Saturday to Sunday?
  • The silence of the enemies of Christianity: no body of Jesus, or evidence contrary to the resurrection account, was produced by either the Jewish or Roman authorities. In fact, they acknowledged that the tomb was empty.
  • Conversion of Paul: Paul was the arch-enemy of Christianity until Jesus appeared to him. He ended up spreading the Christian message as far as Italy.

But so what? What is the faith about? If the resurrection is the evidence, what is it the evidence for?

Here it is: He died as our substitute. He died for us. We were separated from God because of sin. He was willing to take our sins on himself and die in our place. He experienced the separation from God we deserved.

“For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ.” (1 Corinthians 5:21)

The worst part of death is that our sins go with us into eternal separation from God … unless we embrace Christ as our substitute. 

Whoever believes in Him can know that they have eternal life. He took the sting of death away.

There is the story of a dad in the car with his kids … they see a bee. They go nuts, screaming. When the bee landed on the steering wheel, the dad grabbed the bee and held it. Then he let it go …still alive. The kids were afraid again. “Don’t worry,” he said, “I let it sting me. He can’t hurt you now.” 

Jesus took the sting of death. 

Death may scare us, but it’s lost its sting. It flies all around us, but it’s lost its threat. Because he rose from the dead, we know Jesus defeated death and offers us new life, now and forever. 

What seemed like nonsense — absurd news — became the best news of all!

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My “Coming to God” Story

By Kelly Knutson

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Recently I have been reminded of and have been processing over a wonderful truth that Paul speaks of in Acts 17:28. It states, “In Him we live and move and have our being.” Or as The Message version puts it, “He’s not remote; He’s near. We live and move in Him; can’t get away from Him!”

I love this!  It says that I am enveloped by Him. I am covered, shielded, and protected, and I am breathing, moving and living every step IN Him and, therefore, with Him at all times. This gives me goose bumps as I reflect on the day I met Him and the events that led up to that moment. He was with me then, and He was gently pursuing and calling me into the very depths of Himself.
It was my senior year of high school and I, like most seniors, was having the time of my life. I was pretty much consumed with my friends and the events of my senior year, such as prom, graduation, senior days and our senior trip to Hawaii. But in the midst of that, I sensed my parents were dealing with financial hardship. I felt the tension, but tried to distract myself and focus on my activities. Then it literally happened overnight.

Two months before my graduation, my family lost everything. Truly, everything, but the clothes we wore. We ended up in a motel for five months, using rental cars, sharing one bedroom and one bath, and for a short while were living from meal to meal. I quietly watched God provide (pursue) in wonderful ways. At the same time, I was so lost in emotions of shame and embarrassment that it took me awhile before I shared with any of my friends where I was living. Somehow, by God’s grace and a gradual sense of peace, I managed to tell my friends the truth, attend prom, celebrate my graduation and even go on my senior trip, all the while living in
a motel.

Together we journey through every valley, and every mountaintop, and everything in between.

It was in that very motel room that I got down on my knees and had my first intimate, real discussion with God. It went something like, “God, if you are there and if you hear me, please help us. Please help me. I feel scared and unsure of our future.”  My family and I remained closer than ever during that time, and within months we were back in a home, a much smaller home, still in a city, and I actually loved it.
It was five months after that day we lost everything that I was invited to a Bible study. It was in the month of October and I heard the message of God’s deep love for me. And it was that night that I found myself having another real, intimate talk with God. I asked Him to be my God, to take my life and make it His, and to be my Lord and my first Love. Ever since that night, I have been on a wonderful journey with Him and IN Him every step of the way and with every breath I have taken.

The journey so far has been wonderful and challenging. I have grieved the loss of many loved ones. I have grieved the loss of hopes and dreams, and I have had to let go of things that I held tightly. At the same time, I have rejoiced in the goodness of many joys and blessings. For example, I have a really good husband, two amazing sons, and a delightful community of people I get to call friends. Through the good times and the challenging times, my God is in me and with me, and I am in Him and with Him. Together we journey through every valley, and every mountaintop, and everything in between. For it is in Him that I live and move and have my being.

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God’s Love Story

By Julie Waterman

Shortly after we were married, Chuck found out that he had chronic glomerulonephritis. We were told that “someday” he would need a kidney transplant, but there was no way to predict when that would be. Almost ten years later, that day came. I remember sharing this with our Life Group at the time, in shock and not wanting to believe that it was finally here. Fear welled up in me. You see, not only was I worried about Chuck and his health, but at the time I was about five months pregnant with Erin. Zachary was about 15 months old, and Emma was not quite 3 ½ years. It was a lot to process. 

Chuck had surgery to put a fistula in his arm, just in case. We began the process of finding a donor. He filled out medical and psychological forms. We got his will in order. Along the way in October of 2001, I gave birth to our sweet Erin. 

Chuck’s sister was approved as a most perfect match. A date was selected in March 2002. That would be nine months of planning and waiting when the transplant would finally happen. We had to get work disability forms in order as Chuck was going to need to take the rest of the school year off from teaching. We were a young family. I wasn’t working. We had a house payment, Emma was in preschool, and there were bills to be paid. 

The Deacon Fund helped pay for a hotel room right near the hospital. I was still nursing Erin, so I had her with me. Friends took Emma and Zach so our parents could be with us. My best friend from Arizona was able to come. While Erin and I sat in the lobby of the hospital, Chuck’s surgery went off without a hitch. 

At five months old, Erin was super smiley and engaging. So many people commented on the beautiful smiley baby that greeted them and brightened their dreary, hard hours in the hospital. God poured out through her in that moment! 

From beginning to end, I had this profound sense of love, grace, and peace from God through the body of Christ.

Chuck had to go back to UCLA hospital many times in the following months. He often had to be there at 5:00 in the morning! This meant leaving at 4:00 in the morning! I certainly couldn’t be doing that with a new baby, a toddler, and a preschooler! 

This long story is all to tell you that this was one phase of my life where I had multiple God encounters. Watching and supporting someone going through an illness or hard time can be tough. My life had to continue ... all those regular life things. But from beginning to end, I had this profound sense of love, grace, and peace from God through the body of Christ. There was A LOT going on and A LOT that I could have stressed out about and made myself crazy. But as people stepped up to bring food, drive Chuck to appointments, pray for us, watch the kids, sit with us, and fly from out of state to be with us, I experienced God in a profound way. I felt an incredible sense of God’s presence and hand in all that was happening. The people that loved us, cared for us, and supported us were wrapping us in God’s love. 

When I look back now, I am even more aware of how God showered us with his love, kindness, compassion, and mercy through the people of God. Remembering this God experience makes me reflect on Psalm 136. I suggest you go home and do that. It calls us to give thanks for what God has done — as we remember — His goodness to us. It reminds us that His Love Endures Forever. I like to put our story, the Waterman story, into this psalm. You can do the same!

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Serving Those In Need

Treasure Principle Adventures Toward the end of 2016, in response to Jesus’ teaching that “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21), 15 people were each given $100 to invest toward God’s broader kingdom purpose in the world. Here are stories from two of those individuals. Andrea Malhotra 

“Loneliness and the feeling of being unwanted is the most terrible poverty.”

I’d read this quote by Mother Teresa many years ago, and it has stayed with me. From working in nursing homes for many years, I know this to be very true. Many of my patients have been housebound seniors who are often saddened by their loneliness. When I prayed how to best use the $100, I felt I was being led in the direction of feeding the hungry but also bringing joy to the lonely. 

I have a 72-year old friend who recently moved here from India and lives with her son and family. She loves being here, but because she is unable to drive, she is homebound and lonely. She loves to knit, and so the idea came to use the money for yarn that would provide her many hours of joy as she knitted beanies that we could donate to the homeless. I asked for and promptly received donations from my friends. I was able to buy enough yarn to make 60 beanies!  We also had enough money to make 100 lunch packets to donate to the homeless shelter. 

Curtis Drever helped set up a day for us to deliver the meals and beanies. Unfortunately, I was working that day and could not go. However, my husband and a friend went with Curtis. Both were humbled by the appreciation of the people they served and are inspired to continue.

Throughout this process, I felt a sense of “living” my faith — a tremendous joy to be able to serve and also to bring family and friends into service with me. Jesus was reminding me to go back to the basics, to something taught to me in early Sunday school lessons
 — to feed the hungry and comfort the sick and lonely. 

Britta Commans

I prayed diligently for several weeks, asking God how he wanted me to use the $100, but I didn’t get an answer nor seem to have any sense of direction. As the deadline neared, I became nervous. That, I felt, reflected on my spirituality. Humbly, I looked for advice.

My daughter reminded me of Matthew 25:40, “Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me — you did it to me! David Siaki advised that, as I went about my day, to notice if any need arose of which God may be making me aware.

I then was able to notice the six backpacks that had been sitting on my dining room floor for the past six months. I sensed God smiling and pointing out, “Oh, look right here. You can finish these and give them out. It’s that simple.”

“Oh, that would be fun, but it doesn’t seem significant.”  “Britta, help the poor. This is what I want. I don’t want you to struggle or worry but to enjoy our working together and seeing how significant this can be.”

I filled the backpacks and put them in my car. When I saw a man sitting on the curb with a sign, I grabbed one and shoved it through the window saying, “I have something to help keep you warm, and some snacks.” The look on his face is indelibly imprinted on my mind. Before I could say it, he said, “Thank you and God bless you.”  I was the one who received the gift.

I realized that this was not just about the backpacks. I learned that God comes up with better ideas that I do. I realized I tend to make things more complicated than necessary. I experienced the value of community and others’ wisdom. And I appreciated the accuracy and promise of his word!  My feelings of inadequacy, insecurity, and the need for approval were met by the One who says, “Do not be afraid. I am with you and will guide you.”

 “Put into practice what you learned from me, what you heard and saw and realized. Do that, and God, who makes everything work together, will work you into his most excellent harmonies.”
– Philippians 4:8-9 

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Walking Together in Faith

An Interview with Jeff Austin

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“God will always be with us, even in the darkest places. And he knows we need each other — we can’t walk alone for very long without there being an actual hand to hold onto.”  When Jeff Austin shared his faith story in Salt Shaker two years ago, his closing words talked about the people that have walked with him as he learned to follow Jesus.

One of those people was his dad, Tim. The Lord called Jeff 21 years ago to work in his dad’s family construction business, along with his brother-in-law, Jason. Until age 70, his dad never slowed down or expressed interest in retiring. Even through prostate cancer, he bounced back. But last spring, he was diagnosed with a rare, aggressive form of bladder cancer.

Tim’s instructions to Jeff and Jason were, “Hold down the fort until I’m back on my feet.” Eight weeks of unsuccessful chemo followed; so in August, he had his bladder removed. It became apparent that coming back to work would be hard. His dad said, “I think I’m going to retire with hopes of coming back as a consultant.”  Tim loved his work and didn’t know what he’d do without it.

My Christian brothers and sisters were praying on my behalf ... that’s why we have the body of Christ. It lifts us up. And it taught me to be more intentional about praying for others.

For Jeff, this was something new, facing his dad’s mortality and his “next phase” of life. Things turned quickly from a business relationship and a father/son relationship to being a caregiver. Jeff and Jason had to take over Tim’s duties and at the same time grieve the loss of the partnership. And in the beginning this was a really hard balance. “I knew I needed to spend extra time helping to get things in order for the company to keep things going, but all I wanted to do was to be with my dad. And I did so as much as I could, definitely letting a bit of my work go unchecked. At the same time, though, Jason’s response to the crisis was to spend extra time at work to hold things together. It was beautiful. He really stepped into the moment in ways I could not at the time. The three of us have God in common. We have each other’s backs. We handled it together, and the Lord blessed us.”

But that didn’t solve things at home. “I came home everyday so stressed and so cranky. And I never before had to rely on Laurie so much. But she handled it. She picked up my slack and was there for me for the emotional side — the stress and depression. She loved me all through that hard time.” 

“During this time, I wouldn’t say my faith wavered, but I found it hard to pray. In the beginning, knowing what dad was facing, I would have hoped I could have kick started my prayer life for him. I tried, but nothing. All I could pray was ‘God, take care of my dad.’  I had nothing else!  That was part of the depression. I wasn’t questioning God. I knew my dad is a believer and would be all right no matter what. But I was depressed that I couldn’t pray like a prayer warrior. However, I could call Chuck Waterman and he’d pray for me, and on the patio so many friends would ask me about my dad and tell me they were praying. And others sent notes, even people I didn’t really know. It was ok that I couldn’t pray!  My Christian brothers and sisters were praying on my behalf. This was a powerful thing for me to learn. That’s why we have the body of Christ. It lifts us up. And it taught me to be more intentional about praying for others.”

As Tim was recovering, Jeff prayed. “God, everyone stepped up for me. Help me relate to you. Help me learn how to pray.”   Three days later, Gary Knutson emailed Jeff. “I meet with this group, and we’re putting together a cohort to explore ways of praying. I personally wanted to invite you. I was praying and your name came to mind.” Jeff responded, “I just prayed for this!”

“God orchestrated it all. Once again, he used the body of Christ to walk with me and lift me up.”

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Blessing a Family

By Kerry Frank

Toward the end of 2016, in response to Jesus’ teaching that “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21), 15 people were each given $100 to invest toward God’s broader kingdom purpose in the world. Here is one story of participation in the Treasure Principle Adventure. 

At first, I struggled with God for a vision of what he wanted me to do with his $100 as part of the Treasure Principle Adventure. As I prayed about it, many ideas and thoughts came and went … including “why did I agree to this?!”

Through the entire process, my goal was to in some way help the ministry of Royal Family Kids. God has surrounded me with people involved with the RFK camp, both at church and at work. My wife, Lisa, and I attended and served at the summer birthday party for the kids at last year’s camp. So many people we know take a week out of their lives to give to kids whose lives are not ideal, to say the least. A colleague from work, Phil Armstrong, and his wife, Shanley, both served as camp counselors and had met three siblings. They decided to make a life-changing commitment to foster-to-adopt all three kids. I was, and still am, profoundly moved by their selfless act of kindness and generosity in bringing these kids into their home. 

I became caught up in the excitement of seeing what God would do and found real peace in the busyness of preparation.

After a Friday round of golf, I shared with my golfing buddies my lack of progress in coming up with a vision for the $100. One of them suggested that I put on a small golf tournament for the benefit of something or someone that God had put on my heart. This prompted a vision to put on a small (3 – Foursome) golf tournament. Plans began in earnest on New Year’s Day. This was an exciting process as God gave me good idea after good idea to make this a special and intimate event to bless someone financially. It also became abundantly clear who that would be. 

I approached Phil with my tournament idea and told him I’d like to use the proceeds to send their foster kids to camp this coming summer. He and Shanley were both very excited and jumped right in to help out with a few of the tournament prizes. God blessed this event with 12 generous and kind golfers. God’s total gift to this young family was $877. 

I must say, however, that the largest blessing was getting to know a few more amazing people as well as watching God open doors and guide me in making sure this little tournament would happen. For example, I had originally booked the golf course for January 20, but realized shortly after that this was inauguration day. Thinking that people would want to see this once-every-four-years event, I decided to move it a week later to the 27th. As it happened, the 20th was one of the rainiest days in recent history!  The following Friday was a beautiful, sunny day … thanks be to God! 

I think one of the biggest challenges a Christian can face is trusting God. I said earlier that I had struggled to catch a vision of what God wanted me to do. I didn’t “feel” God in this process. As with most journeys, it takes movement to see things a bit differently, much like the story of the coal miner who can only see so far with his headlamp. He must venture deeper into the tunnel to get a different view. So it was for me in this process. Nothing was happening because I wasn’t moving forward. Once I began, the path was clear, and God made it straight. I became caught up in the excitement of seeing what God would do and found real peace in the busyness of preparation. 

I’m incredibly grateful to those who participated and helped a young family get to camp this summer. This may become a tradition. Who knows? Perhaps God will bless this as an annual event and many more kids who would not otherwise have an opportunity to go will have a week to heal and just be kids.

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Helping the Homeless

By Curtis Drever

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My first real experience was many years ago when I came across two homeless men named Jim and Mike. Both looked homeless, but Jim especially needed major dental work, and his fingernails looked pretty gross. Looking past their appearances, we actually had a pretty normal conversation. I knew they had some issues, and there was much I didn’t know yet, but I think it was during that initial conversation that I decided to try and help them. 

They showed me where they lived — an old RV that was absolutely disgusting.  I was shocked that they lived in such squalor when it seemed they could at least live in sanitary conditions. Jim claimed to be an inventor and said he’d worked with a neurologist (I partially confirmed this). He had dreams of an invention that could repair spines so people could walk again. He wanted to find an investor and create the device. However, he also believed that aliens took him at night and that he was married to one. I know this sounds crazy, but he really didn’t seem all that crazy. 

This wasn’t a random encounter, but something God orchestrated to teach me many things.

As we got to know each other, I was able to share the gospel with them. They wanted a Bible and actually started reading it. They wanted to go to church, so I brought them to IPC one Sunday. I didn’t tell anyone; I just brought them. I wasn’t sure how people would react, but I told myself I wouldn’t do anything different because of them. We sat near the front on a communion Sunday. They “passed the peace of Christ” with people, took communion, listened attentively to the sermon, and went forward for prayer. I was pleasantly surprised — they felt welcomed!    

After their visit to IPC, others offered to come alongside me to help. We got them haircuts, tried to get them jobs, housing, and more. But nothing seemed to change, even after a few months of trying to help them. I remember praying something like, “Lord, I don’t know what to do. This isn’t going anywhere. I feel stuck.” The very next time I saw them, Jim handed me a piece of paper with a name and phone number on it. He told me it was his sponsor, and that he wanted me to call him. I did, and the first words out of his mouth were, “You need to stop helping them immediately.”  I instantly felt a huge burden lifted and knew this was an answer from God. 

He went on to explain that Jim and Mike were ‘professional homeless.’  They knew the streets, how to work the system to get what they needed, and actually liked being homeless. I was stunned. How could someone enjoy being homeless?  The answer is that some just don’t want any rules. In their minds, living on the streets, in tents, or in a disgusting RV is better than having rules. This was a monumental life lesson — most people will accept help, but not if it means having to change their lifestyles. Change is so hard, if not impossible. Paraphrasing what Jesus said, “What is impossible for people is possible with God. With God, all things are possible.”

So how did this turn out?   I immediately switched to a ‘tough love’ approach. I stayed in touch with them, but did not go out of my way anymore. I also asked others to stop helping them. A few weeks later, Jim called and said they were moving back to Missouri. Mike was from that area and supposedly had a job lined up. They both thanked me and said they would call me again when they got to Missouri. That was the last I ever heard from them. 

In hindsight, this wasn’t a random encounter, but something God orchestrated to teach me many things. 

I have much more to say about this, perhaps in another article. If you’d like to talk more about this topic, let’s grab coffee. In the meantime, here is my encouragement. Next time you meet a homeless person, first treat them as a real person. Next, take the first step and ask, “Is there something you need?”  Don’t hand them money. Just meet the need and from there, God will lead. 

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Why Our Marriage Works

By Karen Mitchell

This is not an easy question, especially when you see the statistics that 50% of marriages end in divorce.  So what makes ours so different? Otis and I share our story here with the hope that it encourages, and also to share some of the remedies that have enriched our married life together.  Our relationship began 32 years ago when we met on a Tahoe ski vacation through Racquet Club of Irvine. This trip gave us some time to enjoy the fresh powder of Heavenly while getting to know each other. Upon our return, Otis sent me a postcard from Sun Valley asking me out on a date. The following year, he proposed in Tahoe.

As our love grew, Otis knew he no longer could put his faith on the back burner as it was central in my life. We began church hunting and found IPC with Ben Patterson and Jane Holslag. Neither of us were Presbyterians, but we loved the preaching. We soon asked Jane if she would marry us. Throughout membership classes, counseling with Linda Klassen, and wedding planning, we believed our marriage needed to bear witness of Christ’s love to the church and the world. We weren’t going to become a statistic!

Three things we focused on during our early years, before children:

  •  We needed to both put 100% into our relationship and to serve each other
  • We needed to “court” each other through loving gestures, kindness, and respect
  • We needed to love God first, recognize that our spouse was a gift to love forever, and know that divorce was not an option

These objectives were easier to accomplish when it was just the two of us. We showed our affection in loving ways — Hallmark cards in the suitcase for business travel, rose-petals on the bed, compliments to each other, and being each other’s greatest champions. 

We believed our marriage needed to bear witness of Christ’s love to the church and the world.

As our careers grew, we bought a house and began having children. All these external pressures made it more difficult to focus on the “us,” and yet we were both committed to each other. We also learned as new parents that we needed help raising our children in a Godly environment, so we joined a small life group at IPC. These new friends extended our church family to a deeper level and helped us face so many of the challenges we had with three boys close in age. 

As Otis grew as a Christian, he continued to be my Prince, as my husband and father to our three boys. It was especially hard during my absence on business trips, but he always made all of us feel special. Our parenting became easier because we were one,
even under the most difficult circumstances we have endured in life’s journey.

God’s word is a beautiful love story of His amazing Agape love for His people, and this unconditional love is shown through His Son, Jesus. This same love should be expressed in our marriage, because it’s the best way to show the gospel story. If our joy in our marriage radiates, people will take notice and ask what makes us different. Then we have the opportunity to be witnesses for God’s kingdom. 

As you think of your spouse this Valentine’s Day, remember — it’s the passionate love beyond the bedroom that he or she will notice (affirmation of one another, love notes, rose-petals, kindness). I love a prayer I just recently read, and I quote, “Lord, grant me the strength to answer your call to be a living sign of your love. Make my love for Otis be like your love for him: passionate, permanent, intimate, unconditional, and life-giving.”

Blessings to each of you.

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Faithful vs. Successful

By Burk Beadle

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When we invited Jeremy into our home last February after having met him at Royal Family Kids Camp and staying in touch over the years, it wasn’t an easy decision. We spent months praying and talking with family, friends, social services, and with Jeremy himself. We knew adding a teenage boy to our family would change both our lives and his life. 

How does one break down the bad habits and reshape the worldview of a teenager who has spent his childhood bouncing in and out of group and foster homes, sometimes with negligent and/or abusive family members? The gains were slow and hard-fought. Almost daily, I was confronted with a situation that I didn’t know how to handle. How was I supposed to deal with disrespectful and angry behavior without getting angry myself? I wanted clear validation—were we on the right track? It seemed like God had gone silent. Wasn’t He the one who had orchestrated this whole thing? 

As I wrestled with this, I experienced God in a profound way through His word in Micah 6:8:  “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” 

What did it mean to “walk humbly with my God?” I felt like we answered God’s call. Weren’t we taking the crucial first steps in our walk with God? But the verse doesn’t say “walk with your God,” it says “walk HUMBLY with your God.”

God has not called me to be successful. He called me to be faithful.

God has clearly shown me what is good and what is required of me. I now realize that it is selfish and disrespectful to need validation for simply doing what my Creator requires of me. God had not gone silent. In fact, he is actively working in my life to break down my pride of self-sufficiency and my need for affirmation and accomplishment. “It’s not about ME.” Ironic, that God is disciplining me so that I will become more respectful and unselfish! However, once my pride is broken, I find it liberating to not have to have all the answers and to realize that I’m not walking alone!  God strategically puts people in our lives to help in our times of need, as he did when so many of you came to help Jeremy celebrate his 16th birthday in a way he’d never experienced.   

Towards the end of 2016, the frequency and the severity of Jeremy’s explosions were accelerating, and he would not acknowledge our parental authority. He wanted to move on. His social workers recommended moving him to a therapeutic foster home. This was devastating to Cindy and me, worrying about what would happen to him and feeling like we failed both God and Jeremy. 

We learned on January 6 that Jeremy would be placed in a foster home. We attended Sunday worship together one last time. Both Pastors Scott and Gabe found him crying at different times. Because we had not witnessed such an emotional reaction, Cindy asked him why he had been crying. Jeremy replied that he was asking himself, “What have I done?!”

Jeremy’s response was monumental. This was the first time he had taken ownership of his actions. But most remarkable was that it was the IPC church family he was going to miss most of all. He knows that here is he is loved and accepted and was happy fellowshipping and experiencing the love of Christ among this community. 

Jeremy now lives in Moreno Valley in a foster home. We still stay in touch with him and see him occasionally. He is happy in his new home and in school.

I’m still processing this past year, trying to figure out what it means to walk humbly with my God. Recently, our daughter, Erin, found this quote from Mother Theresa: “God has not called me to be successful. He called me to be faithful.”

That’s it! At least part of the answer of what it means to “walk humbly with my God” is that I need to let God take care of the success. He is sovereign. For my part, I need to be faithful in all circumstances. 

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Being in a Missional Community

By Rachel Van Niekerk

In September 2014, Maribeth Fung asked if we wanted to come to their house on Friday to see what a missional community was all about. She said it was open to kids, and it was going to be a Bible Study, sharing, and some snacks. Friday nights were traditionally the night we went out, as it was the end of the busy week and neither Carlo nor I had any desire to cook. But these events were becoming more expensive and more stressful with two busy little ones more eager to explore than eat. So we decided to take Maribeth up on her offer.

We hadn’t been involved in many extracurricular church activities since getting married and having kids. As is often the case, life got busy and extra church involvement didn’t seem possible. However, this time and this community seemed to work for us. I must admit, though, that in the first few months, I really did not enjoy it. Both kids required a fair amount of attention, and I often felt we were more of a distraction than participants. After a few months, however, things seemed to get easier. Maybe it was my comfort level or maybe it was the fact that the kids were older and less needy, but I started to really enjoy these events. And, as Carlo noted, it was a lot easier on our checkbooks than weekly dinners out! So now every Friday, we would come together with 8 to 10 families and focus on the rhythm of living UP to God, IN to each other, and OUT to our community. 

It is encouraging to see and hear young children express their prayers and questions in a comfortable and safe environment, and we love that this community encourages participation by all members — not just the adults.

Our kids began to develop friendships with older children in the group and eagerly anticipated Friday nights. They would also look forward to seeing these new friends at church. This has been one of my favorite outcomes from being involved in this group. Kids that would not necessarily be friends due to age gaps now regularly get to play together and enjoy each other. By regularly focusing on OUT, we have begun to think about how we can reach out to others in both our local neighborhood and community outside of IPC. Our favorite Fridays have been the OUT events where we are involved in large group activities, such as putting together bags for foster children or packaging scones, soups, or chocolate pretzels for the holidays to pass out to neighbors. This has given us the opportunity to talk to our children about how fortunate we are and the importance of praying for families who do not have as much as we do. It’s been a joy for us to see our children get excited about giving things away versus expecting to receive. 

It has also been encouraging to be in a group of families with children a little older than ours and see what our future holds. Seeing children being raised in Christian environments models for us how we strive to parent. It is encouraging to see and hear young children express their prayers and questions in a comfortable and safe environment, and we love that this community encourages participation by all members — not just the adults.

Carlo and I have felt more connected to IPC as we have developed new and deeper friendships within this group, and we have a greater appreciation for what it means to be in a community which holds us accountable, and supports us regularly in prayer. We have a new perspective on neighbors and those we interact with regularly, thinking about them as potential persons of peace. We have also learned a new way to read and apply Scripture that has allowed us to more easily engage in regular and meaningful Bible study. So while there was not a lot of thought that went into our decision to join, our missional community has shaped us and our family’s life as well as given us a great way to spend Friday nights. 

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My Faith Journey

By Eun Beenen

“… Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to do immeasurable more than all we ask or imagine …”. (Ephesians 3:20)

This verse rings true in my life as a recipient of God’s grace in the midst of life’s challenges. 

My first memories at age 3 were ones of bewilderment and loneliness.

I had been abandoned by my Korean birth family and placed in an understaffed orphanage where children were neglected. As the youngest child in residence, I had to quickly become self-sufficient. At age 4, I was placed in a Korean foster home where I was expected to prepare meals, clean the house and wash clothes. By God’s grace, at age 5, I was adopted as an only child by an older American couple and began my life in the U.S. in a small town of 500 people in Kansas.

My adoptive parents were both school teachers. Although I was glad to have a family, it became clear that my new life was far from perfect. My father had mental health issues and was abusive. My mother, as the stable force in the home, did her best for me but was limited by her own fears. But God’s grace also was evident as my parents took me to church every Sunday and gave me my first Bible. And it was this Bible that I turned to for comfort to help me through childhood and adolescence. I accepted the Lord at age 11 and was baptized in Jr. High School. 

Looking back at my life, I see how He always gave me what I needed to survive and persevere — and all in His perfect timing.

College helped me launch a new chapter in life. I started to attend Campus Crusade ministry events, and although I considered myself a Christian, I saw other Christians had an intimacy with God that I didn’t have. One of the leaders gave me a pamphlet that asked, “Who is the Lord of your life? Is it Christ, yourself, or worldly things?”  

After college, I thought back to that pamphlet as a volunteer counselor at a children’s camp in Chicago. Every morning the counselors would gather together for prayer, and I admired their dedication and love for God. I wanted what they had. When I returned home from camp, I knelt, wept and asked God to be the Lord and center of every aspect of my life. 

Be careful what you ask for! Soon after that, I began to break down emotionally. It was as if all the hurt and rejection I had repressed and held on to from my past came to the surface. I began to struggle with depression and panic attacks. Overwhelmed, I had to turn to God for help with an intensity I hadn’t experienced until that point. God’s grace became even more evident to me. In my brokenness, He placed Godly people in my life — two Christian women in particular —  to mentor and disciple me. They welcomed me into their homes as part of their family. They taught me how to have a genuine personal relationship with God through prayer, Bible study and fellowship with other believers. They showed me by example how to involve God in my daily life. God also led me to excellent counselors who helped me heal my emotional wounds and to overcome my fears. 

Looking back at my life, I see how He always gave me what I needed to survive and persevere — and all in His perfect timing. I still struggle at times, but now I am more confident in His love than ever, and my faith is stronger because I’ve experienced his faithfulness and grace over and over again. And, He has given me what I never dared to dream: my own family ... with a loving husband and two wonderful kids; loyal friends, healthy relationships, and the knowledge of my purpose on earth — which is to give back to others the love and grace He has given me.

I am the recipient of God’s grace and favor as stated in Ephesians 3:20. Yes, he has given me more that I could possibly have hoped for or imagined.

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Following God Doesn’t Always Make Sense – Until It Does

by Aaron Schweizer

A month ago, I had two iPhones that I wasn’t using and I decided to sell them on Facebook. Right away three friends asked to buy them. I followed the “first come, first served” rule and told the third friend they were gone. She told me she understood and then innocently mentioned it was for her

high school daughter who had been praying to finally get a phone. Well, that was too much for my heartstrings to bear, and it might sound weird, but I sensed God wanted me to be a part of His answer to her prayer.

A little background ­— earlier this year, I started fixing iPhones to make a little spending money, and I’ve become pretty good at it. So I knew if I found a broken phone, I could fix it for her. After a quick search on Craigslist for “iPhone cracked screen,” I got a bunch of hits. None were very promising, until I saw the perfect one — in Torrance.  So of course my first thought was, “Torrance, that’s really far. ­Aaron, are you seriously going to drive 40 miles to buy a broken iPhone?” But before I could answer, God answered for me, “yes, get in the car and drive.” Which again, probably sounds weird, but when does following God make a lot of sense?

He really wanted someone to pray for him ... and I added that it would be a privilege. As I said goodbye and got in my car, I thanked God, and then I prayed for John — all the way home.

I arranged with the seller, John, to meet at Starbucks, and after a quick check of the phone I said “so I think we agreed on $70, right?” Then John said, “Actually, this is going to seem weird (there’s that word again), but I want to give you the phone for free — all I want is for you to pray for me?” Excuse me? Did he just say PRAY or pay? 

“Are you sure? Actually, it’s really no problem to do both!” I an-
swered. “No, no, I just want you to pray for me,” John said. “You can have the phone.” So I asked him, “Can you tell me what you want me to pray for?” “Well, it’s kind of selfish,” he said. “I’m going to be taking my CPA exam, and I just want you to pray that I pass.”

“Of course, that’s pretty exciting, and not really that selfish,” I told him. Then the weird thing happened again and I sensed God wanting me to ask, “By the way, are you involved in a church nearby?” So I asked, and he said “no,” that he hadn’t been to church for a while, and that he didn’t feel comfortable praying for himself. He told me that a few friends shared about prayer with him recently, so he really wanted someone to pray for him. Again, I agreed, and added that it would be a privilege. As I said goodbye and got in my car, I thanked God, and then I prayed for John — all the
way home. 

Since our meeting, I have been emailing John every few days to tell him that I am still praying for him. The other day he wrote me back and said, “Thank you once again for your continuous care and support in prayer. It really does mean a lot to me. I was just expecting a single prayer, but the fact that you’re keeping this up, really means a lot to me. And it’s why I’m so thankful for your sincere care and effort.”

I still sense God inviting me to pray for John, and I hope to meet with him again in person, soon, to talk about his exam, prayer, and anything else he wants to talk about. So as I sit and write to share this story, I’m thinking, “God, you are weird. How does a girl’s prayer for a phone lead to all this?” But maybe it’s not so surprising. Sometimes following God just doesn’t make sense — until suddenly — it all makes sense. 

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Who is My Neighbor?

By Scott Bullock

In Luke 10:25-37 a cheeky lawyer, prompted by Jesus’ summary of the law in action, “Love God, love neighbor,” asks Jesus to define neighbor.  Jesus tells him the story of one man who helped another man in distress.  It is a story of inspiration, incrimination, and insight into the definition of a neighbor—anyone around us whom we see in distress and in need of rescue and comfort.

My friend, Matt Svajda, has a neighbor named Odin. Odin was recently out of a job and had a fence repair that he couldn’t afford. Matt had become friendly with Odin, and they had talked about life and their respective faiths, Islam and Christianity.  Odin wasn’t that interested in Jesus. When Odin faced his fence fiasco, Matt thought it would be great to ask a group of his Christian friends to help Odin repair it. The group decided to tackle Odin’s project on a Sunday. When they showed up, Odin took Matt aside and said, “Aren’t you supposed to be in church?” and Matt replied, “Odin, this is the church.” Odin paused and said, “Matt, I’m ready to talk about Jesus.” For the next three months, Matt and Odin met weekly and read through the Gospel of John. Recently, Matt had the opportunity to assist in Odin’s baptism. It is an amazing story of helping a neighbor that took intentionality. 

When I asked Matt why he and Jourdan live this way, he quoted John 1:14, “The Word became flesh and moved into the neighborhood.”

When Matt and his wife, Jourdan, moved into their Irvine community, they decided they would intentionally love their neighbors. Their first step was to introduce themselves, so they wrote a letter. The letter was simple. It introduced them, said they were going to throw parties, and that the Svajda family hoped to get to know their neighbors. They canvassed the new neighborhood with the letter and then waited. Three months later, their doorbell rang. Matt opened the door, and a couple he had never seen before stood on the steps before him. The woman handed Matt a gift certificate for a box of See’s chocolates and said, “Thanks for your letter. We are your neighbors, Rita and Sanjeev.” Matt invited them in, and they learned that Rita and Sanjeev had moved to Irvine nearly two years before with the hope that this would be the warm and welcoming place as advertised. To their disappointment, in the past two years, they had met none of their neighbors until they received the Svajda’s letter.

When I asked Matt why he and Jourdan live this way, he quoted John 1:14, “The Word became flesh and moved into the neighborhood.” The incarnation is their motivation for knowing and loving their neighbors. They are wholly committed to the idea that Christ-followers are called to live on mission where God has planted them: neighborhoods, schools, and work places. They champion the idea that every Christian is to be a disciple-making missionary in those locations. Matt and Jourdan have started a neighboring movement called the Hub. Through this work, they strive to encourage Christ-followers to know and love their neighbors as Jesus does. 

The Svajda’s story of engagement with their neighbors may be quite overwhelming for some of us, but it all began with an intention of knowing and loving their neighbors, which is something all of us can do. One tool that Matt shared with me that he has gleaned from the book, Art of Neighboring, is a block map. The block map is a fridge magnet that shows eight homes around their home and simply asks the question,“Do I know the names of my eight closest neighbors?” 

What would it look like for us to simply begin by asking the question posed by the block map,“Do you know the names of your eight closest neighbors?” Start there and ask God to lead. In doing so, you may discover people like Odin, Rita, and Sanjeev who have been longing for someone to notice, to care, to comfort, and with whom to connect.

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God’s Grand Plan for My Life

By Charlene Hsu 

“But mom, I don’t want to go!”

It was the same conversation in the car every week: my sister trying to bargain with my mother regarding our weekly piano lessons. “If we skip this week, I’ll even give you two dollars.” I smiled to myself, knowing that there was no way on earth that we could get out of piano lessons for two dollars. 

Even though my family had just moved to California, the first thing my parents made sure we had access to was a church and to music lessons. Ironically, Irvine Presbyterian Church wasn’t even the first church we went to, nor were handbells the first musical instrument we picked up, but God has a way of making things happen in His time. 

Fast forward a few years, and my sister and I have both finally made it to Irvine Presbyterian ... but no handbells quite yet. Instead, we were singing in the children’s choir as trees in our first ever musical. At this time, Lisa Frank was still serving as the pianist in children’s choir, and somehow, handbells came up in conversation between my mother and her one afternoon. My mother—being the wonderful woman that she is-—wanted to make sure my sister and I had all the opportunities she and my father didn’t have while growing up in Taiwan, so she signed me up almost immediately. Before I knew it, I had one more extracurricular activity that I passively agreed it. 

Through the ups and downs of school, work, and life in general, we’ve always had a group of believers that would be willing to pray for us, be patient with us, and to love on us.

Eventually, my sister also was “volun-told” by my mother and joined handbells, and we’ve been there since. But handbells has been more than just a Monday night extracurricular activity. For my sister and me, it has also been a community and a church family of crazy uncles, wise aunts, and random cousins. My sister and I practically grew up with handbells, and through the ups and downs of school, work, and life in general, we’ve always had a group of believers that would be willing to pray for us, be patient with us, and to love on us. Through handbells, God has given my sister and me different examples of imperfect people that serve a perfect God. Even though none of us are perfect in bells (despite what it might seem like during Sunday services) and in life, as a handbell group, we’ve learned to laugh, to learn, and to grow from our mistakes. Handbells have evolved from the simple act of playing with nine other people on Monday nights into a way to glorify and praise our Father in Heaven with my brothers and sisters. 

Did I know that handbells would have such a tremendous impact on my life when I stepped onto a wooden block (I wasn’t a particularly tall fifth grader, and this block allowed me to see over the music stand) and picked up a bell for the first time?  Of course not!  But God has this grand plan that we get to be a part of, even though it is only revealed to us a portion at a time. I didn’t know that the piano theory I had to unwillingly learn as a third grader would become relevant at a later time, nor could I predict that the handbell players I met when I first joined—seemingly intimidatingly more experienced—would eventually become friends that I value and hold dear. It’s exciting for me to see how handbells have influenced and shaped my life, and it will be interesting to see how else God will use it in His plan for me.

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In God’s Hands

Treasure Principle Adventure Stories 

Jack Guiso
After being pushed to the front of the church by my wife the morning that the Treasure Principle Adventure was introduced this past summer, I began wondering what she had in mind. Patricia whispered, “Precious Kids.” Being the quick-minded man that I am, I immediately knew that she was referring to a ministry with which we have been connected for several years.

Precious Kids Center (PKC) in Kitali, Kenya, is a ministry to mostly special needs children in Africa, founded by Sammy Hammock from Orange County. God works in strange ways, and just as parents inherit insanity from their children, we can also inherit interests in powerful ministries. Out of Saddleback Church, Sammy started going to Kenya as a teenager and saw the need for a place for special needs children. She was determined to return and do something about it. Our daughter’s family has been long-time friends of the Hammock’s, and when Sammy founded PKC, they started traveling to Kenya to work there. This summer, our granddaughter, Cassie, spent ten weeks there and said that if she hadn’t had to come back to complete college, she would have stayed!

Of course, when I had returned to my seat, I was still at a loss for what Patricia had in mind. She quickly informed me that we should write a letter to our closest friends and family, letting them know about PKC and the Treasure Principle Adventure, and requesting that they help out however the Lord led them. This had to be a God thing because the last thing that Patricia ever wants to do is request money from anybody for anything. 

Patricia and I grew in faith by seeing that is okay to ask people to help ministries like PKC. The response of others is not our responsibility, rather, it is God’s to make ministries grow. We are just conduits. Of course, we have the responsibility to be respectful and to let God do the work in others.

For more information, visit www.preciouskids.center.

Paul Van Horn
When Paul stood up and accepted the Treasure Principle Adventure, he knew he would use the $100 to support education at El Niño. But he went a step further and sent a letter inviting others to join him in this adventure.

In his letter, Paul shared that “God has gifted me with the love of my life, Diana, two sons and three granddaughters. They are treasures.” While life hasn’t been trouble free, in “reflecting on my path to the present, I find that God never lets go of my hand, even when I haven’t hung onto His assurance and love. And in my life, there have been moments of great joy when I have been able to help someone going through a difficult time, seeing no hope for the present or the future.”

Paul went on to explain how the Lord called IPC to support the people who had been displaced by El Niño’s torrential rains and flooding. These families were taken to a remote location and essentially left to go it alone, with only minor provision and no support from the Mexican government. A Mexican pastor living in the U.S. pleaded to God and to churches to help. IPC heard this call and responded by sending a small group to determine what was needed. The bottom line was that a new mission was initiated when IPC invested its treasures in response to the Lord’s call to care for his sheep. Families were saved, healthy living conditions were created, children were educated, and God’s word and love were made real.

Paul has felt called to pledge his time and money in continuing support of El Niño, particularly in seeing children being educated both in the pursuit of career goals and in the growth of their Christian faith. “In this way, they are able to give back to society and to show in their lives the gifts that God has given them.”

How did this end up? “I don’t know! I do know that $300 additional had been pledged. More may have come in. All I know is that I praise the Lord Jesus for any amount. All the support for El Niño is His and His alone!”

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A Thanksgiving Testimony

By Gabe Fung

I grew up in a Christian home with parents who loved God and followed Jesus. I don’t recall a Sunday when I was growing up when we weren’t in church. When I was twelve, our youth group held an overnight Easter vigil, and that night I committed my life to Jesus as Lord and Savior.

A few months later, on my thirteenth birthday, I was baptized. But it wasn’t until I was sixteen that the Christian faith my parents had passed on to me really became my own.

Thanking God is foundational to a life of loving Him and following Jesus.

It was during my last year of secondary school when I began to doubt and question God’s love for me. As a teenager, I longed for my dad’s affirmation and approval, but often felt I wasn’t good enough for him, and I could never do enough to please him. These feelings carried over into my relationship with God; I felt I wasn’t good enough for God either, that I was insignificant and of no use to Him. Over a period of several months, this became a crisis of faith for me. I remember at one point thinking to myself, “If God is like my dad, then I’m not so sure I want to keep following Him.”

The turning point came on a Tuesday night in July 1992. I was alone in my room and somehow felt compelled to think back and write down the times when I had experienced God’s presence in my life—at the Easter vigil when I first committed my life to Jesus, at my baptism, and at a youth camp a few years earlier. I then wrote down how God had blessed me through my family, even though, at the time, I was struggling with my dad. Next I wrote down God’s provision of food, clothing, and shelter—how I had never lacked. I wrote down how God had blessed me with good health and a good education. I listed my gifts and abilities, my accomplishments and the things that I was good at. I wrote down the names of friends and mentors and people whom God had used to encourage me. I wrote and wrote until my list of God’s blessings filled three pages. For the first time in my life, I realized how much God loved me; at the same time, I was deeply convicted because I had taken everything for granted. That night, I committed my life to God anew. I said,“God, I will never again doubt that you exist or that you love me, and I will follow you as best I know how for the rest of my life.”

I wrote and wrote until my list of God’s blessings filled three pages. For the first time in my life, I realized how much God loved me.

Through this simple exercise in thanksgiving, God broke through my doubts. He met me and revealed Himself to me as the perfect heavenly Father. This revelation freed and transformed me. All of a sudden, I was filled with a profound sense of joy and gratitude, and a quiet confidence that God is my Father, and that is all that matters. A few weeks later, in his perfect timing, God also began to heal my relationship with my dad.

Dallas Willard describes the New Testament letter of Colossians as one of the best overall descriptions of what Jesus’ disciples are to look like. This little book exhorts us to cultivate various traits and practices, but the reminder to be grateful and to give thanks to God punctuates every chapter and is found no less than six times (Colossians 1:12; 2:7; 3:15, 16, 17; 4:2). In other words, thanking God is foundational to a life of loving Him and following Jesus. Indeed, over the years, I’ve learned the importance of regularly thanking God for who he is, what he’s done, and all his goodness expressed in ways both big and small. I’ve also experienced the life-giving benefits of doing so: thanksgiving brings perspective and helps me refocus on God, it strengthens my faith, and it fuels my worship. More than just a holiday or a season of the year, we practice thanksgiving because ultimately everything is a gift from God. It’s all grace.

What’s on your thanksgiving list?

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When God Surprises Us

An Interview with Jin Cho

Sometimes God takes us on unexpected and unplanned journeys. In Jin Cho’s case, it challenged his identity and direction, but it has led to new knowledge, personal growth, and a passion for the City of Irvine.

“I’ve been in ministry for 20 years, 16 of those as a pastor in Irvine. But in March, I went on an unexpected extended sabbatical. I thought I would just move into the next pastoral position, but my wife knew that we were both burnt out. Seeds of awareness were planted that maybe ministry might be something other than what I thought I was called to do. God began bringing wise people into my life to give me personal guidance and encouragement. 

As pastors, we tend to focus on growing our church, versus growing the church. Now I’m focusing more on the bigger picture of God’s kingdom work in the world.

I began to connect with other pastors and realized how narrow my circle was for 16 years. I didn’t recognize what God was doing outside my church. I became part of the Irvine pastor’s network, Envision Irvine. I’m learning to ask, “What does it mean to love the city?” This is thrilling!  As pastors, we tend to focus on growing our church versus growing the church. Now I’m focusing more on the bigger picture of God’s kingdom work in the world. As I meet with pastors in other denominations, I’m realizing that, while there could be many things we disagree on, the main thing that binds us all is a sense of Christ’s lordship.

I’m gaining a deeper sense of the issues in Irvine and seeing that we are a diverse city, yet strangely segregated. We are too polite to have real conversations. At this point, unity in Irvine isn’t deep. There is a cost to being one of the safest cities in America. It hides things. Churches are great when people are exactly alike, but then it means they can only invite similar people and are not meaningfully challenged by others’ issues. But with Envision Irvine, our conversations are different. We talk about our understanding of others’ issues, and opportunities. We want to lead. We want to be defined by the center, that is Christ, not by the boundaries. We can’t do it alone. We must talk to others outside our church whose journeys aren’t parallel, but nevertheless are going out from the same center. We are asking the challenging questions about what really is important. 

As part of God’s surprise for me, for the first time, I’m not directly connected as a pastor of a particular church. Yet I have certain skills and insights, and I’m seeing how this makes it easier for me to relate to others and them to relate to me. I’ve been open with others about the space of uncertainty that I’m in. I don’t know what’s next. This vulnerability opens up great conversations. I’ve had pastors ask me to come alongside them as an advisor, and as a friend. For example, there are about 12 church plants in Irvine, some that have difficulty getting advice. I can serve them, learning through our conversations what can be useful, what benefits them. Or on a personal level, for a veteran pastor who is weighed down and needs a sabbatical, I can help him understand that as pastors, we sometimes don’t know when we need to take a break. I can help him because I’m also going through this. I can talk with other pastors about staying personally healthy, or help them through theological conversations to develop a discipleship strategy. 

Though this break was unplanned and unwanted, I hear God saying to me, “You are useful to me right now.”  Now it’s a joyful sabbatical!  That is a tremendous gift. I know that he is shaping my heart for the long term and is teaching me amazing things about His kingdom.”

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Taking It on the Road

By Annie Kirkby and Dylan Kirkby

dylan_campkids.jpg

At the beginning of this past summer, my son Dylan shared in the IPC weekly about how he was excited to be gearing up for leading VBS worship. As July approached, a great group of musicians came together, and I was able to be a part of the team by running the display of the

song lyrics for the week. We had an awesome time, learning some new songs (“Multiplied”) and singing, once again, the VBS favorites, plowing the words of Scripture even deeper into those young hearts. It was an especially sweet week for me as a mom, watching all three of my children use their God-given talents in His service:  Dylan growing as a worship leader, using his innate enthusiasm to connect with the kids; Helen team-teaching the 6th grade class, almost magnetically drawing the young girls around her and then sharing Jesus stories with them; and Trevor guiding the 4th grade class, reaching out to the shy boys with his own quiet invitation to come on board. It was a lovely, hectic week, and we were all exhilarated and exhausted when it was over.

But God had a second act in mind. And in the way that I have come to expect from God, it was similar, and yet different.

A person of peace is someone who is working for the Christ-like unity and restoration in the world, and someone who we, as Christ-followers, should reach out to and partner with.

A few weeks after VBS was over and we had recovered, I received an email from my neighborhood entertainment committee asking if Dylan might be able to lead some sing-alongs before a big-screen showing of Star Wars in our park later in the month. My neighbor, Sabine, wanted to help build up our UCI faculty community and to do something more than watch a screen together—she wanted us to interact! I think Sabine is what Pastor Gabe calls a “person of peace” — someone who is working for the Christ-like unity and restoration in the world, and someone who we, as Christ-followers, should reach out to and partner with.

Now, our culture loves music and, enabled by our technology, we steep ourselves in it to an unprecedented degree. Music fills the background of nearly every mile we travel in our cars, every TV show we watch, every mall we stroll through, and every minute we exercise. But that is all professional-grade, canned music. One thing that the church can offer this post-Christian world is real, live, interactive music, because we are one of the few groups of people that still do it regularly. 

I forwarded Sabine’s email to Dylan, who wasn’t immediately keen on singing in the park to our neighbors. It is easier to pass on an invitation than it is to stand up in front of people you only kind of know, and who might themselves be hesitant about singing with people they only kind of know! But I told him I thought it might be kingdom work, and Dylan eventually said yes.

He had learned a Star Wars-themed Weird Al Yankovic rewrite of “American Pie” a while ago, so he started by working that up as a solo piece. Then he found another Weird Al Star Wars song (“Yoda,” cleverly overlaid onto the tune of The Kinks’ old hit “Lola”). As a kid, he had been a huge Raffi fan, so for the little kids he adapted “Willoughby Wallibi” and “Spider on the Floor” to the Star Wars theme. I did what I’m good at, and I made up slides full of Star War characters and song lyrics, and paged them forward on the big screen to the beat, just the way Dylan likes it. 

That night, Dylan brought his IPC-honed skills and God-given enthusiasm to Gabrielino Community Park, and a couple of hundred folks — UCI professors and their kids — were blessed with a taste of God’s kingdom, without even knowing it.

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Out of the Boat in Africa

By David Boyd

My first trip to Africa was in 2004 with a team from IPC. We served at several Christian ministries focused on children. I wondered how we might add value to the work God was already doing through these ministries. I felt I had little to offer. Yet, we were encouraged to go and “step out of the boat.”

We served at the 5Cs Orphanage in Hillbrow, an impoverished section of Johannesburg well known for its large numbers of homeless teens. In addition to housing orphaned children, the 5Cs has a feeding program where homeless children are invited into the safety of the orphanage for a meal and worship. When the homeless children arrived, I was nervous with anticipation. The first boy that came in was around 10 years old. He had no shoes. His feet and hands were caked with dirt. His dusty hair was matted. His teeth were chipped and stained. His clothes were dirty and torn. He had a confident smile and an outgoing spirit. Many of them mask their pain by sniffing glue. I was overcome with sadness and the horrible thought that this young boy would return to the streets soon. I thought of how God’s heart must be broken by the plight of homeless children.

With few resources and bold plans, these front-line missionaries have modeled for me what it means to fully trust God.

Our team also served at the Ubuhlebethemba Community Development Center (UBCD) in Soweto, an impoverished township with over 50% unemployment. The UBCD founders, Themba and Buhle, told us that, due to high unemployment, many of the children have little hope of a prosperous future. With little sense of hope, many of them spend their free time in a “shebeen,” a private home that sells liquor illegally. One of UBCD’s mission objectives is to care for vulnerable children. Their community center is an oasis for children and families living in poverty. I was encouraged by Themba and Buhle’s faithful reliance on God for everything and their passion for loving others.

At the New Life School in Swaziland, we helped construct a classroom, provided a dental clinic for the community, and helped with VBS for the children. The mission of the school is to provide a Christian based education to vulnerable children. We met a young boy who was abused by his stepmother and found living in the brush at 8 years old. He was attending the school and living in a nearby orphanage. The HIV/AIDS pandemic has left many Swazi children in vulnerable living situations with no resources to support themselves. The school provides a life-changing education for children who would otherwise have little hope of an education.

Upon returning home, the IPC team felt a calling to be a part of what God was doing through our friends in Africa. The IPC Africa Outreach ministry was started in 2005. My faith has been greatly influenced by the courage of these front-line missionaries that operate with few resources and bold plans. They’ve modeled for me what it means to fully trust God. They’ve shown me that God’s perfect plans don’t always fit my expectations. They have exposed me to worldly things that break God’s heart. They’ve encouraged me to play an active role in God’s plan, and deepened my faith tremendously. When I pray to God for these children, I know that God wants me to play an active role in His response.

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My Treasure Adventure

By Janet Wolensky

For three weeks, I walked the long corridor several times a day from the elevator of the Superior Court building in Santa Ana to the courtroom to watch the trial my husband, Gary, was defending. One side of the corridor had windows from floor to ceiling where I could look down the eight stories to the homeless below. 

They had created sections of tiny communities in the courtyards with their tents, bicycles, and other belongings. There was a hierarchy. Some were in the shade of trees or buildings; others had their tents baking in the sun all day. Some had pet dogs; others had patio chairs; one lady was sweeping her “front yard.” I learned later that there were homeless gangs that controlled the covered picnic area, and it was dangerous to wander over there. At the beginning of each month, when most receive their disability checks, the courtyards empty out as the recipients head to local cheap hotels to shower, drink and do drugs. Then, they return and find a spot again in “the hood.”

Angel, my dog walker, knows these unfortunate ones. She serves them several times a week through a nonprofit she works for called Insights Foundation. The foundation primarily serves inmates, but she has taken it upon herself to serve the homeless. Being that she is a vet tech and loves animals, she is always concerned about
their pets. 

I’ve always believed that serving hands-on in difficult places is one part of the lifelong process of sanctification.

My beloved whippets love Angel. She walks them when I am not able and stays with them when we’re out of town. I’ve gotten to know her a bit over the past several years and am in awe of her dedication to serving the down and less fortunate. With $100 of God’s Treasure Principle money in hand, I knew where He would want me to invest it.

Angel joyfully accepted the cash (and an additional $100 from us) and left immediately to purchase bottled water and various strengths of reading glasses. The $200 covered 29 cases of water and 170 pairs of glasses!  That Saturday, we went to the very area in Santa Ana that I had been viewing from the courthouse and spent several hours milling around, offering water and glasses to all. We had fun with those that wanted the glasses, as we had a colorful variety of them. They wanted to try on several pairs, deciding between the bright orange ones or the ones with “diamonds” along the rims. It was important for them to have our approval on which ones made them look the coolest!  I let some take two pairs, provided they used the second pair to read the Bible. “Oh, yes!  Of course!”  

I learned from this experience that the homeless are all kinds of folks — old, young, mentally healthy, but physically disabled, or just unlucky. Angel loved having us show interest in her work to the point of going to the front lines with her. She says it’s hard to find volunteers to help her. I’ve always believed that serving hands-on in difficult places is one part of the lifelong process of sanctification. Sanctification is the state of proper functioning. A football is sanctified when it’s used to toss. In the theological sense, we are sanctified when we live according to God’s design and purpose. “Sanctus” means holy. The “tion” is the ongoing or continuing process towards holiness, which takes a lifetime.

We realized that Saturday that Angel didn’t have a car. She was taking buses or borrowing a truck when it was available. She lives in a rough area, so she needs to be home before dusk every day. Yet with all this, she spends her days serving. Gary and I knew we needed to help her get a car of her own. We pulled Dan Brown in to give us some advice, and she now has her own car. Treasure Principle multiplied! 

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LA Mission Trip

By Curtis Drever

“See that woman over there at the bus stop?” I asked Paige, “How about her?” Paige nods her head and walks over and has a brief exchange with the woman who is sitting on a bench. She returns to our group, smiling. “What did she say?” we asked. “She said she doesn’t need anything,” pauses, then adds “except a diamond ring.” The woman looked over to us smiling. We then realized we were standing in front of a jewelry store there in downtown LA. She was, of course, joking. 

This was just one story from something we experienced called “Meet a Need.” The goal of this was simple — walk around downtown LA and ask people, “Is there something you need?” Surprisingly, many times we get “No, thank you.” They may not want to be bothered; they may be too prideful; they may not like how we look; maybe they really don’t need anything. 

Pete is a Vietnam veteran whom we found sitting in a wheelchair on a very busy street corner. We asked if he needed something, but he politely declined. We kept talking with him — about life in the city, where he was from, what he did in the service. After five minutes, we asked again if he needed something. This time he said, “I’d really like a hamburger!” Although it was about 10 am, we found a place and quickly returned. He didn’t eat right away and set it aside. We had earned the right to hang out with him. I sensed a “God encounter,” a Kairos moment, when things become a bit surreal.

Even if I don’t feel equipped or adequate, the Spirit reminds me that it’s “not by [my] might nor by [my] power, but by His Spirit.”

A man hovered nearby. He was intently watching and listening to us talk with Pete. [Great reminder —people are watching us, the world is watching us.]  However, I know from experience this is the time when I must block out the surrounding scene and focus on the person in front of me. 

We continue talking with Pete and ask more personal questions. Soon we had to go, so I asked if it was OK to pray for him. He said “yes” without hesitation, so several of us prayed. Only God knows, but I believe our prayers impacted Pete. He gave me his phone number, and I said I would call him sometime.

Later, I reminded the team that if we treat people decently, look beyond their circumstance or appearance, and suppress our fear or bias, then doors will open. 

If asked to summarize what this trip is all about, I have two answers:  “God encounters”(which give us stories) and “it’s a gift.” God has all these encounters prearranged. Our job is to be available and take advantage of them. And this year, more than ever, it dawned on me that God gave me this trip as a gift. God has taught me much, and whatever I have learned, I try to pass on to the next generation. 

It’s a blessing to be part of junior high students’ lives and experience what God does in and through them in a week. One student goes from being nervous about praying out loud on Sunday to praying Spirit-filled prayers on Friday; another is now not afraid to approach a homeless person and ask, “Is there something you need?” and so on. These are life lessons they are learning, and being part of that is a gift. It doesn’t get better
than that.

Disciples Making Disciples (DMD) is a term we hear, but we can still be unclear as to what it really means. For me, the LA trip has helped crystallize what DMD means in real and personal terms. I am a disciple, and as a disciple I am called to live out the life of Jesus to the best of my ability. Even if I don’t feel equipped or adequate, the Spirit reminds me that it’s “not by [my] might nor by [my] power, but by His Spirit.” And “For it is God who works in me, to will and to act according to his good purpose.” (Philippians 2:13) Living that out is the essence of Disciples Making Disciples.

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Where Rivers Flow

An Interview with Andrew Scarborough

About 3 1/2 years ago, I was preaching at a church in Los Angeles when the pastor said to me, “You should start a church in Orange County.” Later that night, I pulled out an Orange County map, and Irvine jumped out at me. I’d never even heard of Irvine! But after what was really a random invitation, we received several miraculous confirmations that this is what my family and I were meant to do. So we left our home in Australia and came to Irvine, as Christians who love Jesus, to be church planters.

Over the years, I’ve come to realize that, as Christians, we are good at going across the globe, but often struggle going across the road. How could we begin planting churches without first meeting our neighbors to “love your neighbor as yourself”? So, we began by hosting a monthly barbecue. This caught on quickly and grew to where we had nine different ethnicities sitting in our living room!  One man who had lived on our street since 1997 said he’d never had a meal with a neighbor before. “We never knew each other until you came,” he said. We’ve had conversations about God with people of different religions and people who have no faith at all. And we’ve seen a genuine interest in Jesus from this group who had previously been total strangers. 

Beyond the planned barbecues, we’ve seen spontaneous meals and camping trips taking place, neighbors watching out for one another’s kids, and the simple pleasure of just being in each other’s lives. Some girls of unchurched parents in our group kept asking us where we were going on Sundays, and we told them we were going to church. They wanted to go, too! One of the families invited them, and they attended church for the first time. They are now eager to get their parents to come, too.

Being the church is doable. We need to ask, “How can I be the church, not just simply attend one?"

When our neighbor’s iPad was stolen from his car, I thought back to a training I attended where the speaker had said, “People that aren’t yet Christians want to know that we Christians practice what we preach, so they will want to see us actually love and serve our neighbors. What’s more, those that aren’t yet Christians also want to do good. So, take opportunities to involve your neighbors in your ‘missions’ activities.” We sent out a text to our neighbors asking if they could help. The outpouring of love and donations happened so quickly, including contributions from neighbors that didn’t even know him, and we were able to buy him a new IPad! This neighbor later told us that they had been planning to move, but decided to stay in the neighborhood because of the way their neighbors have all come around them.

Being the church is doable. We need to ask, “How can I be the church, not just simply attend one?” We know our call is to love our neighbors, regardless of the outcome. We want them to know Jesus. We’ve invited them into our world and into relationship. We want to show them how much we love them and how much we love God, then watch it all unfold. We trust that God will build the church, and pray that he opens the hearts of our neighbors. He is preparing them!  And so far, no one has said, “Stop loving us.” 

Please pray for Andrew and his family. Pray for continued favor and trailblazing opportunities as Andrew gathers with other leaders across the city to be a missional presence in our communities, equipping people to be the church in our neighborhoods. Pray for courage, wisdom and discernment, and with all the various things that press on him each day, pray for time. 

Andrew and his wife, Joyce, and two children, Sean and Abigail moved to the U.S. about 2 ½ years ago from Melbourne, Australia. Andrew recently graduated from Fuller Seminary with an M.A. in Global Leadership. He is now on staff at Mariners as a resident church planter, learning from them while simultaneously planting churches. He recently wrote and published,“Where Rivers Flow,” a guide to capturing the heart of God and sharing it across the road and across the globe.

 

 
 

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