Planting Churches Behind Bars - Daren Busenitz
"We have already begun to have meetings on the yard and are not being shy about the fact that we are members of CTV and we are here to Live the victory of Jesus, Seek the advance of his Kingdom in the city (which prison is representative of), and Stand on the Ancient Christian faith. Our hope is to be able to eventually have a Sunday night service, which will be distinctively Christ the Victor Church. We see no reason to beat around the bush here, but are committed to seeing this through."
This is an excerpt of a letter from a TUMI student in one of the prisons in Kansas where we have a TUMI satellite. This brother is a leader in the church behind bars and a powerful witness for Christ and His Kingdom wherever he goes. The words above strike me as unique for a number of reasons.
First, there is an amazing sense of clarity of purpose. It makes me wonder how I pursue the things that God has clearly led me to do. Do I approach God's call with clear-cut obedience and determination to pursue no matter what the cost? How passionate am I about declaring the victory of Christ and planting churches that declare this truth in the hardest and darkest places on our planet? Do I really believe God's power can overcome the evil one when I hear so much in the news that brings me despair?
Secondly, there is an amazing combination of boldness and humility in this excerpt, as well as his entire letter. He has a leadership quality that I do not see too often. Some Christian leadership either tends to be to too harsh to too soft. How am I leading those God has entrusted to me? Do I lead with courage and faith in and taking risks for God since He has promised His powerful presence and deliverance or do I fuss over details that are out of my control and hang back out of fear? Do I firmly believe that my leadership is not really about me but rather about the One I represent?
Thirdly, there is aggressive action under the leading of the Holy Spirit. This brother is one who has much determination to do all he can for the Lord in the days he has remaining on this earth, but also a yielding to the Spirit that keeps him from being out of control. Do I run wildly like a man beating the air or do I move when the Lord says move with all His energy so powerfully working in me?
In case this is news to you that God is raising up his finest leaders in the prisons of America, please consider learning more and praying for sold-out-to-Christ men and women behind bars. Consider learning from them and emulating their faith as they follow Christ. Jesus commanded his followers to visit those who are in prison (among other distinguishing marks of authentic Christianity). I believe this also means to fully believe and act on the fact that these men and women, no matter what the crime, can be God's agents of ministry and reconciliation in a dark world!
Indigenous Church Planters: Alfredo and Salina
Alfredo started attending The Urban Ministry Institute in Fresno and connected right away with Rick Browatzke, the City Director and TUMI facilitator. His endless questions and enthusiasm made the class a great joy. As a new believer he had suffered some spiritual abuse, but his desire to know Jesus and study the Scripture was not hindered in the slightest. Alfredo didn't finish all his assignments, but he started his own house church as a ministry project with his family and some friends. All he needed was someone in his corner to encourage him and believe in him. A few years ago, World Impact licensed him as a minister of the Gospel, and although there have been challenges finding steady employment, he has never doubted his call to be a pastor.
Alfredo was born in Compton, a notorious area of Los Angeles, and lived in rough areas of the city throughout his childhood. Suffering and struggling to survive – and without a father – he was educated on the street by gangs and drug life. Somehow God protected Alfredo through those turbulent years and brought him through alive and not incarcerated.
To get away from the street life and start anew, Alfredo moved to Fresno. There he met a wonderful young woman named Salina who later became his wife. She saw something behind his hard exterior and, although a nominal Christian at the time, invited him to her church. He went a few times but did not have a good experience. But God was at work in his life. He started listening to Christian radio teachers; somewhere in a late night struggle, he met Jesus. He describes it as a "divine intervention," becoming a new creation in Christ. The change and freedom was so radical that some thought he must have found a new drug. Others concluded that he must have lost his mind because he wouldn't stop talking about Jesus.
Nine years later, his knowledge and maturity caught up with his zeal. He is a bold evangelist, sharing Jesus in every opportunity and developing his gifts as a teacher and pastor. Alfredo and Salina have provided leadership and helped organize an Urban Church Association, which brings together church plant pastors. They meet regularly for pray support and networking.
Two years ago the couple started Immanuel's Living Church, which meets on Sundays and has between fifteen to thirty attendees. The group's size has not hindered their faithfulness or outreach to the homeless and to needy families in the neighborhood. They have been working hard at establishing their own status as a nonprofit organization.
Along with the fellowship that meets on Sunday, they have started a midweek house church in the home of Salina's parents. It began with Salina's mother and a few members of the family. Her father had always been antagonistic toward church and God, but they prayed for him for many years. He observed Alfredo and Salina's growing and sincere faith over the years, and through their witness and prayer, the Holy Spirit has opened his heart. He started asking Alfredo more questions and became a sincere believer. They say the change has been profound – her father fully participates, reading his Bible and engaging in the discussion.
Alfredo and Salina are wonderful indigenous leaders who have demonstrated a visible transformation and testament to Christ!
Expanding the Kingdom in the East Region - Bob Engel
I met Father Andrew Wyns, with the Charismatic Episcopal Church (CEC), at one of his favorite eating spots, The Jamaican. I ate one of the best fish sandwiches I have ever had. Grant, the chef, greeted Andrew as an old friend. Hanging out with Father Wyns made me an instant insider.
We connected to finalize a partnership with the CEC to plant a church in Newburgh, NY. The Bishop of the North East Region gave his blessing for the partnership so it became official. Father Wyns is a World Impact Associate in the East Region planting Christ The King Church in Newburgh, NY.
Walking through Newburgh together definitely reminded me of the need for the transforming work of the Gospel. Sixty percent of the most violent cities in America with a population of 200,000 or more are situated in World Impact's East Region. Newburgh is ranked 15th. This region also claims 67% of the most impoverished cities in America. Seeing these cities transformed can seem like a daunting task. Our national directive to plant 100 churches in each region by 2021 is bold, fresh and challenging. I have leaned upon several simple Kingdom truths in leading our mission and vision that have kept me "sane" (although some would question my sanity!) and ever moving us forward. Let me share one of these eternal Kingdom truths as it has most recently been seared in my spirit again.
In February of this year I saw a video that deeply moved me. Islamic State (ISIS) militants slaughtered 21 Egyptian Christians. "We had a hope that they would be released," said a brother of one of the martyrs a day after the news was released, "But the will of God was for them to be martyrs of Christ, and that is better than life. They were martyred in the name of Jesus Christ. They kept the faith until the last moment. They didn't deny the Name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. We are proud of them." I have read Foxes Book of Martyrs, but seeing this video was different. The faces of these 21 Brothers in Christ, walking along the shore of the Mediterranean Sea with their executioners, had such clarity, a peace, a confidence that caused them to be unwavering to the point of a knife to their throats. It gripped me. What made these men, and the men, women, and children throughout the Church history, unwavering? This imprinted picture of these martyrs reminded me again of a Kingdom truth and that also is the theme for this year's retreats: Unshakable Kingdom! Unwavering Warrior!
I believe these 21 Coptic Christians were unwavering because they saw clearly the unshakable Kingdom of God (Hebrews 12:28). When I look at the Eastern Front, its massive territory and the relentless work of the kingdom of darkness, this truth strengthens my spirit and pushes me toward His calling through World Impact. The more clearly we see what is eternal (2 Corinthians 4:18) the more our feeble feet will be strengthened for the task (Isaiah 35).
There is much that can be pulled from these verses, but Hebrews 13:14 sums it up without my fumbling attempt to expand on this one Kingdom truth: "For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come." Our prayers, our initiatives, our labors are all focused on the gospel being God's power for transformation, but here we have no unshakable city. Our city is the Kingdom city to come. We are passing through.
Yes, we are committed to transforming our cities. There are cities in the Eastern Front that we believe will reflect the indigenous passion of the church in Thessalonica where Paul says of them, "For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything."
Newburgh just may be that city and Father Wyns is the unwavering warrior for the task.
Bob Engel is the Vice President of World Impact's East Region.