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.
Church Planter Profile: Elwood Jones
If you read this month's bulletin, you may have seen a brief profile on Elwood Jones. Here is the full version of his story.
Elwood Jones is the lead pastor for the Landmark Church of Alexandria. Elwood grew up in Alexandria, VA, in the late ‘60s where he lived in a multi-racial and diverse community. His upbringing gave him a heart and a passion to see a movement that embraces all people. After graduating in from T.C. Williams High School, Elwood was employed by the Alexandria Recreation Department. He became popular in the community as a musician playing in successful bands in the Virginia and Washington DC metro areas. Elwood has maintained a reputation of success in the community, organizing music events like a 30-year reunion of the bands in 2010 where over 500 people attended. As a result of his popularity, he has gained the attention of local businesses, nonprofit organizations, and the local media.
In 1984, Elwood gave his life and service to God. In 1986, he traveled to 13 countries and across the United States performing music and speaking. Two years later, he met and married the love of his life, Betty Hayden. Together they took a step of faith and moved to Minneapolis, MN.
In Minneapolis, Elwood started a nonprofit called Urban Street Level Ministries where he trained lay ministers to effectively reach their communities. Out of Urban Street Level Ministries, he created a youth program called Friday Nite Live, a monthly gathering of students and their leaders that included music and hot topic preaching. Not only did churches from all over the Twin Cities attend Friday Nite Live, but they also came to get training on how to do relevant ministry that would help students come to know Jesus and grow in their faith.
Elwood decided that it wasn't enough to just do ministry in an urban setting, he felt the importance of bringing ministry partners from suburban and rural area churches together. He and a team of pastors from urban and suburban churches launched HOODFEST, an annual urban festival that brought together some of the top artists in Christian music. The youth and leaders from Minneapolis and the surrounding suburban and rural areas came together in an outdoor festival for a weekend of community service, multi-cultural sensitivity training and discipleship building.
Elwood's path eventually led him to Prince George's County, MD, where he served with Young Life for ten years as a county director. He was responsible for directing programs that affected students from 44 middle schools and 22 high schools.
Since 2009, Elwood has worked alongside Pastor Matt Hall at SouthPoint Church, a growing multi-ethnic church south of the District of Columbia. He oversees the weekend worship experience as well as the outreach programs. As a worship pastor, Elwood recruits volunteers to perform weekly, providing anointed, top-notch musicians and singers.
Elwood and Betty see themselves as partners in ministry. Betty is a worship leader, having lead worship for over 20 years in Urban Street Level Ministries and in local churches. Betty's passion is creating exciting Sunday morning experiences through the use of the arts. She has overseen the creative departments in two of the previous churches they attended. She is also a national speaker with a television show airing locally called BettyTalk.
Landmark Church will be a multi-racial church that targets unreached people in Alexandria, VA, and the Washington, DC metro area. They launched the church in early January of this year. A core group of at least 100 people actively participate in pre-service mission meetings, small group vision casting and training. They expect attendance to reach 300.
Sankofa Experience: Part 3 - Keith Wilks
When I first heard about the Sankofa bus trip, I was not quite sure what to expect. It was explained to me that it is a four-day bus trip to various sites in the deep south that were commemorative of the Civil Rights era. I, like most of us these days, immediately searched for and found their website. The website stated "The Sankofa Journey is an intentional, cross-racial prayer journey that seeks to assist disciples of Christ on their move toward a righteous response to the social ills related to racism. This interactive experience explores historic sites of importance in the Civil Rights movement, places of oppression and inequality for people of color, while seeking to move participants toward healing the wounds and racial divide caused by hundreds of years of racial injustice in the United States of America." That sounded like something that I definitely wanted to be a part of, so I readily agreed. My wife, Tiffany, and I were excited to go and we were even more excited to find out that we would be paired with Andy and Lisa Entz. We arrived in Chicago slightly behind schedule due to a flight delay, but we were still ready to go. The attendees introduced themselves to the other travelers and we prepared to embark. We travelled through the night and arrived in Birmingham, AL, the next morning.
I thoroughly enjoyed the fellowship of Andy and the other participants as we continued to put miles behind us hustling from site to site. In fact, an undeniable feeling became apparent with each passing mile. There seemed to be an intangible sense of family brimming from within our group that belied the racially divided American society that we were discussing along the way. This sense of brotherly and sisterly love that permeated the Sankofa atmosphere was in direct contrast to the racially charged documentaries and movies we watched on the bus and the memorialized events of the Civil Rights Movement that we visited at the various sites and museums. As I noticed this, what I began to realize is that we – the Church – as the embodiment of Jesus Christ on earth, have been negligent in our duty to "occupy until He comes" by being the example that society so desperately needs. We know that in Christ there is "neither Jew nor Greek" (nor African American nor Caucasian nor Hispanic nor Asian nor Indian nor Middle Eastern, etc.) "neither bond nor free and there is neither male nor female…" (Galatians 3:26-28).
The categorization and classification of people based upon race is an insidious practice that has been used by the dominant culture of every "civilized" society since man's fall in the Garden of Eden. Man's desire to subjugate and mistreat whom he can, accompanied with his errant belief in inherent racial superiority, did not begin in America and it will not end until the return of our Lord. Jesus, when speaking to one group stated, "Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father, ye will do…" (John 8:43-44). Just for the record, the "spiritual wickedness in high places" referred to in scripture is not referring to a mysterious group of people living on a mountain in Tibet. Generationally racist regimes are "of their father" and will do the evil that their father does. But it should not be so for us. This mindset and the practice of the aforementioned beliefs have no place in our personage and identity as a people reconciled back to God and to each other. The church alone has been given the true ministry of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:17-19). We alone have been given the promise of the Holy Spirit. (John 14:16-17), and it is only through us actually walking in the Spirit that we will receive and exhibit the love that we have been commanded to show to each other and to our fellow man (Ephesians 5:8-16). The world, in its blindness, is incapable of doing this (2 Corinthians 4:4). So the task falls to us as the "salt and light" of this world, to "show them a more excellent way" (1 Corinthians 12:31-13:1, emphasis added). But can the American Church truthfully say that we have done that as a whole?
With each movie we watched and each stop we made along the way, the feeling of the American Church's misuse and misapplication of the gift of the Holy Spirit became more and more apparent to me. The final confirmation was received when we visited The Spencer Perkins Center for Reconciliation and Community Development. There, we had the privilege of meeting and hearing from Dr. John M. Perkins. Dr. Perkins is a world-renown preacher and advocate for racial reconciliation. At the age of 29, he was arrested and mercilessly tortured by police in Brandon, MS, for organizing an economic boycott in his hometown of Mendenhall, MS. He has since worked to reverse the ill effects of racism and systemic poverty all over the world. Dr. Perkins shared a number of things with us, but one thing that he said in particular stuck with me and I will remember it for the rest of my life. To paraphrase, he said that the problem with our American society is that the church has taken the surrounding culture and wrapped Christ around it, instead of wrapping our culture around Christ. It became clear to me what I had been feeling since the trip began: everyone on the bus was (at least behaving like we were) one in Christ. This was in direct contrast to life outside of "Sankofa." Jesus asked in John 17:20-23, when praying for the church, "…that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me."
So, my fellow American Christians, I will summarize this revelation this way: true reconciliation, whether racial or any other kind, can only be accomplished through unity in Christ. When we actually live our claim that Jesus is Lord, we will be as one. And when we esteem each other above ourselves, regardless of race, the world will see this and ask, "How are they able to love each other like that?" Then we can say, "Because Jesus was sent by God to die for our sins and it is only through belief in Him that we can be reconciled back to God." And they can say, "There must be something to what the church is claiming because somehow they're able to think, talk and act contradictory to the systematically implanted racial and social prejudices that are in me and in those around me." See how that works? But if we, the Church, carry the same racial mindset as the rest of America and the world, how are we going to be the change agent we've been called to be? We are either in Christ or we are of the world. If we claim that he is our Lord, then we must be transformed by the renewing of our mind (Romans 12:2).
I am glad I was asked to go on the Sankofa journey. More importantly, I would definitely recommend it to anyone who is willing to face the truth about where they stand regarding our country's purposely-structured system of racial prejudice. It was enlightening to hear various sides of the "race issue" from people representing other cultures. But as disciples of Christ, we must be ever mindful of the fact that we are called to come out from amongst the world, and each of us is therefore called to "examine ourselves, whether we be in the faith" (2 Corinthians 13:5, emphasis added). In so doing, let us decide to be what our Lord called us to be. Let's say it together church: "I believe America and the rest of the world can be transformed for the Kingdom of God, but that transformation requires that I first put aside all racial prejudice within me."
Keith Wilks is the Regional Director of Ministry for World Impact's East region.