Pastor’s Corner

Reformation 500

Reformation and Commitment Weekend

This weekend, October 28-29, we will be celebrating the 500th anniversary of the Reformation.  The Reformation is a time in history when people of faith rose up to the big challenge in front of them.  What was that challenge?  The leadership in the church was not teaching Biblical truth!

This isn’t an accusation of unfaithfulness; it is a reality we call experience. We make decisions on what we think is best rather than on what the Bible teaches.  Initially our decisions may be informed by Scripture, and that is great.  But if we don’t remain rooted in the Word, decision after decision has the chance to, unintentionally, take us away from Godly decisions.

That is why I am so excited this week that Cross, as a family of faith, is re-committing itself, each one of us, to live out our faith more intentionally. We have a big goal to have 500 adults commit or recommit to discipleship at Cross.  Discipleship is the faithful following of Jesus Christ and our Triune God.  At Cross we define this as Walking with God in worship, Growing in Faith Together and Loving Our Neighbors.

So far the results have been exciting. This fall we started 14 new community groups with the Living (n) Active materials.  Eighteen families will commit to discipleship for the first time at Cross.  Thirteen students will receive first Communion and four will confirm their faith!  This is just the beginning for what God has been doing this fall!  Come join us on Sunday, October 29 for our Reformation celebration and our recommitment to life and ministry together here at Cross!

P.S.  Don’t forget to celebrate with us on Saturday night, October 28 for the Jubilee Celebration!  Kick-off is at 5 PM!  See you this weekend!

Pastor’s Corner

Faith

Invigorating My Faith

                “What can I do if I am going through a dry spell with my faith?”  I am frequently asked this or very similar questions.  First of all, it is important to know that like all things in life, there are times where our faith takes the front seat and is the most important thing in our life.  There are also times when it drifts to the back seat, or possibly, even the trunk!  I love the questions about how to improve our faith because it means we are craving the joy and excitement we once had in our relationship with God.

  1. Remember… The word “remember” is frequently used throughout scripture. The prayers of the psalmists and other faithful people crying out to God for Him to remember. Jesus tells us in Holy Communion to “do this in remembrance of me.”   When we pray to God and ask Him to keep His promises the scriptures say he “remembered his/people/promises/covenant” and answered their prayers. Our world often asks “What have you done for me lately?” This is disrespectful to God, as the blessings He has promised cover the past, present AND the future.
  2. One Another… Faith is meant to be lived out in community, just like life. When we withdraw or isolate ourselves, or when circumstances cause us to be isolated, our faith can run dry. It runs dry because instead of looking to the source of our faith, we look inward at the source of our frustration. Get into a community of faith where you can be yourself, share your struggles and be encouraged by one another as we live life together in this world.
  3. Pray… This should be at the top, but I was afraid you wouldn’t read any further if it was.   I realize that sometimes our faith is so dry we can’t pray, or don’t want to pray, or don’t know how to pray. But, just like a relationship where you have “drifted apart,” the first step in reconnecting is reaching out and communicating again. The same is true with our relationship with God! When you don’t know “How” or “What” to pray, pray the Bible. Just open it up and read the words as if you are in communication with God. As He is speaking to you or you to Him. You will be amazed at how much more rich it all becomes.
  4. Mentor… Faith is not meant to be acquired, it is meant to be given. We often attempt to acquire more faith. We want to store it up for a rainy day when we need it. We want to learn all we can to answer our questions or win an argument. But, that isn’t what faith is for. Faith is given to us by God so we can give it to others. Our faith grows the most when we see others growing in the faith again or for the first time. They ask us questions to challenge and refine us and through their growth we grow too.
  5. Apply fire… Faith grows when we need it. If we live our life comfortably our faith won’t need to grow. It won’t need to grow because we have convinced ourselves we are good! If you want to grow in faith, take a risk. Not a completely mindless risk, but not a safe risk either. Ask God to open your eyes, your ears, your mind, your heart and ask Him what He is calling you to do. You’ll know when He reveals it to you; it will likely scare you at first. When you use your faith to follow where the Lord is leaning, your faith won’t be dry anymore!

Friday, Day 7 Guatemala City

Day 7, the last day.  It really is hard to believe the week here is over.  It truly seems like we have only just begun our work here.  Perhaps it’s knowing that we saw only but a glimpse of the work that goes on here on a daily basis.  We all feel like there is more that we can and should do.

We stayed in Guatemala City today. To wrap up our week, we started with some relaxation and sightseeing. Andy, Nick, Ryan and Jack went to visit a coffee roasting operation, and Julie and Jason visited the local Mayan Ruins.  After lunch we had our faith lesson at the ministry house with a small group of people that live here in the city.

The week was full of emotions.  There were moments of surprise, expectation, frustration, sorrow, anxiousness, fear, joy, love, you name it, it was felt by at least one member of this amazing team.  We saw and learned so much about the struggles of daily life in Guatemala, and that for many, it is only by the love and grace of God that they are able to make it to the next day.  Many of our experiences are simply something that can not be described.

We just completed a “debreifing” with our hosts, Kevin and Ginny, to help us reflect on our week, and think about what we are going to do with what God has shown us here when we return home.   I ask myself, how will this change me? How will I recognize need in our congregation, our community?  More importantly, how will I address it or respond when I do recognize it? Am I really equipped, or smart enough, or brave enough to do anything? Is anything I do really going to make a difference?  The answer is simple. It’s the same answer Pastor Conrad had us respond with when we were commissioned as a short term mission team before we left.  Yes, with God’s help.  The week here makes one thing clear.  WE can’t change things.  GOD, can change things.  We are merely the messengers.  However, without the messenger,  the message doesn’t get delivered.  That is our job and our purpose, and it is an important one.

I ask for your prayers for this mission.  For Kevin, Ginny, Rachel, and Randy. For the Guatemalans who work here, Ana, Aracely, Carlos, César, Julián, Manuel, Oscar and Sandra.  They face every day what we did for a week.  The task is monumental, and they need your prayer and support.

Please pray for us and for our safe return.  We leave the ministry house here at 3:45am and will hopefully be landing on time in Chicago betwen 5 and 6pm Saturday.

Thank you for your prayers, and for reading this blog and taking interest in us and this mission. Adiós and God Bless! And most importantly, Gracias a Dios

From Guatemala City: Andy, Nick, Jason, Julie, Jack and Ryan are signing off.

Submitted by Ryan Schmeckpeper

 

Pastor’s Corner

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Power of Prayer

“The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.” James tells us this powerful truth in the fifth chapter of his book.  We are told to pray over the sick, the troubled, the happy and the sinner.  Elijah, a prophet of God, prayed for a drought and then prayed for rain.  Both times Elijah’s prayers were effective.  If this describes all or part of you — sick, troubled, happy, in need of something or a sinner — you are a prime candidate for prayer!

Last week in the aftermath of the Las Vegas shooting, a person came into our thrift shop. He told the team that a loved one who attended the concert was still missing four days later.  He was very concerned and asked for prayer for his loved one, that she would be safe and that she might contact him.  They prayed for her right there on the spot.  As soon as they said, “Amen,” that man received a text from his loved one saying she was OK!  The man replied, “I had no idea God worked that quickly!”

Sometimes our prayers are answered immediately, sometimes even before we pray! Other times, our prayers aren’t answered for quite a while or seemingly at all. “The prayers of a righteous person are powerful and effective.” This Biblical truth rings true even when our prayers seem to go unanswered.  The power of a prayer is in the praying and the hearing.  It is in the conversation and the trusting.  The power of a prayer is the faith clinging to God that the prayer will be heard and answered.  The answer to our prayers is always from a good and loving God, no matter the outcome.

If you are reading this article and you are already a disciple of Christ, then please expand your prayer life. Expand it for the sick and the happy, the weak and the strong.  Pray for all things, without ceasing, as you constantly present the desires of your heart to your almighty God.  Increase your listening to God’s responses, and your relationship with God will grow.  When you communicate with Him and trust His leadings in life, you will grow in joy and effectiveness in ministry to others.

If you are not a disciple of Jesus Christ, I’d still invite you to pray. Pray to God for whatever it is that comes your way and see if He doesn’t listen to and answer your prayer.  Our God loves you, even if you don’t know Him or aren’t happy with Him right now.  As you pray to Him, you are opening up a conversation with the Creator of the entire universe, your God who made you, and wants to be loved by you.

Nothing is too big; nothing is too small. Your heavenly Father invites you to call on Him in all circumstances; He promises to listen and answer every prayer.  When God hears the prayers of His people, it moves Him to compassion as a loving Father who keeps His promises, and it reminds us that we are loved in miraculous and amazing ways.

 

Thursday, Day 6 Amatitlán

I can’t believe we are on day 6 of our mission here in Guatamala and that there is only one more day of ministry for us here.  Today we had a cereal and fruit breakfast at 7:00, followed by our morning devotions at 8:00 and on the road about 9:30.   We headed to the city of Amatilán, which is a city situated on flat ground between mountains and volcanos and is about an hour from the ministry house in Guatamala City.  The views from the city are amazing.

We started our day in the city with a visit to the home of a boy named Luis, whom Andy is sponsoring through the mission here. Luis was in school at the time of the visit, but we had great conversation, and prayer with his mother and siblings.  Andy was able to speak with Luis later in the day, and he also helped us out with the children at the faith lesson.   As Andy mentioned in yesterday’s blog, the sponsorship program allows these kids to get an education.  The family applies for a scholarship through the Groundwork Guatemala mission, which then pays the expenses for their school year.  There are alot of factors that go into deciding who gets a scholarship, and each year the number of applications increases, making it more difficult to get one.  A child can also lose their scholarship for various reasons, including poor grades.

Now to backtrack a bit to Monday when we met a girl named Graciela (Grace) that Julie had mentioned in Monday’s blog.  I was so inspired by her story, that I felt compelled to help, and sponsor a child.  That night, I flipped through the books of children who have earned a scholarship, and are eligable to be sponsored.  While doing so, I felt even more compelled to sponsor not one, but two of the kids.  I looked through photos of over 200 kids in the four locations we help with the faith lessons at. Most of them are currently sponsored for the next school year, (the current one is ending right now) but a bunch are still in need of sponsorship.  I asked Andy, how do you pick, they all need our support? He really didn’t have an answer for me.  I kept coming back to the photos of a young boy and a young girl who were maybe twenty or so pages apart in the same book, therefore in the same location, the city of Amatitlán.  The kids are alphabetized by their first name, but I was just looking at their faces at first.  After I had decided that these were the two I was going to sponsor, I began to look at their first names and dates of birth.  I said to Andy, who was sitting next to me, “hey the two kids I picked have the same birth day, wait a minute, they have the same birth year too.”  Andy said something like that’s interesting, are they twins?  Only then did I look at their last names and sure enough, they were twins.  Andy said to me “that looks like a sign to me.” At that moment, I knew God had a plan for me, and I filled out the paperwork to make it official.  Surprise Cathy!  🙂

Today was the day Jack and I got to meet these wonderful kids, Edgar Alexander, and Astrid Nayeli, along with their younger sister, and their mother, Olga.  I found that she calls them by their second name, so they are Alex and Nayeli.  It was such a joy spending some time and speaking with them.  In some cases here, some simply can not afford to go to school, and others will pay for school, but risk running short on food, or are unable to pay the rent.  Their father, who loads coffee beans onto trucks, has not been working regularly due to the seasonal nature of  the crops.  This scholarship will ensure the kids will be able to continue their studies, and leave money to pay for food, and the rent.  Nutrition, education and a stable home will afford these kids the opportunity to succeed. With our help, their hard work, and the Grace of God, I have no doubt that they will.  We all pinky swore that we would write to each other, so I can not wait to hear from them in the future.

What a wonderfully uplifting day in Amatitlán, full of joy, laughter, singing and the love of God!

Tomorrow we stay in Guatemala City for our final day of faith lessons and activities.  Stay tuned for our sign off tomorrow night.

Dios le bendiga!

Submitted by Ryan Schmeckpeper

 

 

Wednesday Day 5, Buena Vista

This morning we woke up for breakfast at 6:00 so we could be on the road by 7:30. Buena Vista is a two hour drive from the ministry house, down out of the mountains towards the ocean. Buena Vista is an extremely rural town (it is reached by turning off the main highway and driving for about thirty minutes on a bumpy dirt road) situated along an abandoned railroad track. Most houses are made of tin with dirt floors, and they only received electricity within the last two years.

When we arrived I was able to talk to the mother of Hector, a boy I met on my first visit and whom I was able to sponsor through the completion of his schooling and have visited on each of my visits to Guatemala. In Guatemala it is very difficult to find a job, and impossible to do if one does not have a high school diploma. This makes the sponsorship program very important for the children and youth. Free public education is not available all the way through high school, and many families are unable to pay for their kids to go to school. Hector is no longer living in Buena Vista, as he recently found a job in a nearby city. Though I was sad not to see him, I am much happier about the fact that he is working, and his education has helped him.

We spent a significant amount of time with the children in Buena Vista. Many of the boys played soccer with members of our team, while other children joined a few of us to read books that we had brought along. I sat down to read to a small boy sitting by a tree. He was quiet but answered a few of my questions to tell me that his name is Minor and he is four years old. He listened quietly and intently as I read, and pointed to varoius pictures on the pages when I asked him where certain things were. Throughout the day I tried to spend a lot of time with him, holding him or keeping my arm around him, because he seemed like a boy in need of love. A few times when I was away from him sitting down he came over and sat leaning against my back. I later learned that he is the youngest of 11 children (of which 8 are still living). His father is currently out of work, and his mother is very ill, possibly with cancer. She has not been able to see a doctor because it takes two months to get an appointment; it is not easy to get to the hospital for her appointment and the family does not want to burden anyone, though the ministry here is working to help her get to a doctor. Please pray for this family, that she is able to get to a doctor and be healed. It is heartbreaking to think this boy may grow up without a mother if she is not healed.

At the end of the day each child received a fajita and juice box, and today they also received a toothbrush and toothpaste and a month’s supply of vitamins. I learned the Spanish word for “box”when Minor came to me asking for one of the small boxes that had held some of the juice boxes, so he could carry his items and his craft (that we colored during the lesson) home. I gave him the box, and a hug. I will never forget the image of this small boy as he headed home, walking barefoot down a dirt road carrying his box of items.

We also met a boy named Joel, who followed us around asking questions and stayed late to talk more. He appeared to be about 11 years old, but he was actually 15. Many of the children here are very small due to malnutrition. Groundwork Guatemala, the ministry we are helping here, provides a snack and vitamins to help improve their health.

Our lesson this week is on Noah’s ark. Our craft is an animal mask for them to color (designed by Jill – thank you Jill!) which the kids enjoy coloring. Oscar (the Guatemalan missionary who leads the children) taught them a song about the ark and incorporated the five animals that are on the various masks. In each verse, one of the animals is highlighted and they make the noise of that animal. The kids with that particular mask will hold up their mask at that point to pretend to be the animal. Oscar is a wonderful leader for the children. Our entire team is impressed with how loving and attentive he is, and how much the children look up to him and follow him.

Before leaving I was grateful for the opportunity to see Javier, another boy (now a young man) whom I met several years ago. After packing up we started the long drive home. Some members of our team are preparing our sandwiches for lunch tomorrow, and Jack and Nick are playing UNO with three of the Guatemalan children who live in the ministry house. Soon we will meet for evening devotions and then head to bed so we can be well rested for tomorrow.

Thank you all for your prayers and for the donations that were given. God’s blessings to you all.

Submitted by Andrew Winkelman

Tuesday Day 4, El Rincón

Today was our first time leaving the city and visting one of the remote villages on our list of destinations, the village of El Rincón.  We loaded into the vans shortly after our morning devotion.  As we made our way out of Guatemala City and through the moutain roads, I was afforded the opportunity to sit and talk at length with the Guatemalan staff members that serve the ministry.  Its amazing to hear their stories of how they recognize the evidence of Christ on a daily basis in the individuals that they come in contact with and help.  I had also noticed that all the members of our group were taking full advantage of the down time during the hour long drive by getting to know and bond with the Groundwork team.

After a quick unload of our supplies, we divided into groups for some in home visits.  I was blessed with being assigned to the same group as Julie. Our first visit was to a small home where we were greeted with open arms by the family there. After introductions were made with the mother of the household, I had the pleasure of witnessing Julie getting introduced and meeting the child that she had decided to sponsor.  Watching the connection that she made as hope filled the eyes of that child, words can not explain.

After the home visits, we reconvened at the base of operations for the day and began our group activites with the villagers.  As a firefighter/paramedic, I was blessed to be able to work side by side with the clinic’s RN, Ana.  It was amazing to be able to see patients and administer treatment in such a in such a unique situation and setting, knowing that your making a diffence in so many lives.   It was truly rewarding, and I look forward to continue serving the Lord and his people in the clinic the next few days.

Tomorrow we head out early to Buena Vista, which is over a two hour drive in a very rural area.

Submitted by Jason Frederick

Monday Day 3

Our devotions this morning looked at how Abraham influenced his servant giving his servant an example of praying and expecting God to answer with an answer that is best for the person praying.  We practiced praying many times during the day.

We spent some time visiting the Only a Child program at their workshop.  In 1994, a man from Boston, who was captivated by a story about the death of a street boy from Guatemala, started a program of outreach in a park called Concordia, to boys living on the street in Guatemala City.  He has built the program into a home for boys and a woodworking shop where they can work.  He requires that they go to school and they attend church as a family.  They have the family they would not otherwise have.  The woodworking is all by hand and is amazing.  George has a phychologist working in the program and several other adults who care for and about these young men.  We met several of the young men and heard their stories including struggles and successes.

We sat in our van outside an entrance to the City Dump.  The only source of income for many Guatemalans is searching through the garbage to find things they can sell to feed their families.  Across from the dump is an area that was the previous dump.  On that debris, families have dragged cardboard, tin, and plastic to create places to live.

Later in the afternoon, we visited with four families in an area that was also a dump about 15 years ago.  In this area, Guatemalans who began living in cardboard, have brought cement, tin, and some steel doors to create a neighborhood.  Some homes have electricity, some have toilets, some have a fire stove.  We visited with a family where 14 people live in one room with four beds.  The responsible elders are three sisters (2 with children of their own at 24 and 19) who take care of 6 more siblings on the salary of one daughter who is 18.  Grace graduated from school through the support of Groundwork Guatemala.  We talked and prayed and read from the Bible.  A four year old recited Psalm 91 for us.  I beg you to pray for this family.  They are steadfast in their faith, but are so vulnerable to the evils around them.  These families live in abject poverty with all the odds against them.  Even for people with schooling there are very few jobs, no security, and gangs demanding protection money or death.  No one is safe, but these people live in constant danger.  Only through God will these families even survive.

Pray also for George and his mission at Only a Child, and for Kevin and Ginny at Groundwork Guatemala and the missionaries they are mentoring.  They are lights in a dark place making a difference one child and one family at a time.  I thank them for their obedience to the call God gave them and for including us in God´s mission here.

Tomorrow we begin faith lessons and meeting hundreds of children who will come to hear God´s word.  Dear God, let us bring your love to those we meet.  Amen.

Submitted by Julie Schlichting

Day 2 – Sunday

Kevin and Ginny are taking good care of us.  The accommodations are welcoming and the food is lovely.  I wanted to help with the kitchen work but suddenly felt like Mary and knew I needed to stay and listen to the conversations at the table.  We are learning about Guatamala, but more importantly about the people here.  Church today was a worship experience.  There was a praise band with 6 singers, drums, guitar and keyboard.  There were dancers who performed beautifully to tell the story of each song.  Some songs were new to us and some were songs we knew, sung in Spanish but we knew the meanings.  The message was based in Matthew and was presented as a retelling of the story where Jesus tells the Pharisees that they knew the rules, but their hearts were not clean.  He then reached out to each of us and asked, “Como es tu corizon?” or “How is your heart?”  Are we carrying grudges? Are we waiting for someone else to admit they wronged us?  Are we neglecting to fix a relationship?  And yet we go to God and expect him to forgive us.   We need to forgive, ask forgiveness from others, and ask God to clean our hearts.  It was a beautiful time of worship.

We sorted out our donations and prepared some items the missionaries will deliver to families that attend the faith lessons this week.   It is an interesting situation to know that we need to be guarded here and inconspicuous until we are in the areas the missionaries have chosen for us, and on the other hand to fully accept that we are in God’s hands.  We have faith in our hosts that they know how best to take care of us, and that God has brought us for such a time as this to do His work.  I am so anxious to start seeing families tomorrow to see what blessings God has in store for each of us.

Submitted by Julie Schlichting

 

 

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Day 1, arrival

By God’s grace we have arrived safely in Guatemala after flying from Chicago to Miami, then to Guatemala City.  After a long day of travel it feels good to get here  and settle in.  Tune in for our daily updates and reflections on our day from Ryan, Jack, Andy, Nick, Julie and Jason.