Scarred but Restored: Ministry Gives West Virginia Women Second Chance

Lori Meadows baptizing one of the ladies she’s invested in.

By Carl Stagner

Often derided and dismissed, they’re considered the fringe of society. In chains and often in danger, they stand in need of rescue. Made beautifully in the image of God but scarred within, they are the “least of these” and must not be ignored. That’s what Lori Meadows recognized while riding the roller coaster of emotions when her daughter was nearly swallowed up by the quicksand of drug abuse several years ago. While walking alongside her daughter, God opened her eyes to the brutal world of women suffering from addiction. In time, she and the ministry she founded called Recovery Warriors became inextricably connected to Southridge Church, the Church of God congregation in South Charleston, West Virginia. In mid-November, the church hosted a spiritually potent “Beauty Day” for the ladies of the local recovery home. The occasion was yet another reminder that these “warriors” are totally committed to giving West Virginia women a second chance. Continue reading

Java and Jesus: Michigan Ministry Does Discipleship Differently

Cultivate Coffee & Tea storefront in the mall.

By Beth Ehlert

Editor’s note—In July, Healthy Growing Churches began publishing a series of articles called “Fresh Expressions of the Church.” Since then, they’ve shared the stories of visionary leaders thinking “outside the box” about church. In the following article, Beth Ehlert introduces you to Matt Chesney of Eagle Ridge Church of God in Midland, Michigan. The story’s not about Eagle Ridge so much, however, as it is about a separate creative ministry given to Matt and his senior pastor, Bill Greiner. This unique, fresh approach to church isn’t a once-a-week gathering; it’s an outreach that’s making a daily impact on their community.

The Calling

The moment Matt became a Christian, he began to hear little whispers saying, “You need to be a pastor.” Over and over again, the Voice would call, and Matt would push it away, believing he already had his dream job as a teacher, school builder, and principal. What more could he want?

Continue reading

Restored and Resolute: Pastor’s Painful Past Redeemed for Purpose, Promise

Pastor Ray Hodges preaching the gospel at Resolute Church.

By Carl Stagner

Ray Hodges had personal experience with church; he’d never had personal experience with the risen Christ. Growing up Catholic, he’d acknowledged the existence of God but would confess there was no relationship with Jesus. Even when he began attending the Iglesia de Dios (Church of God) with his girlfriend, it was the kindness of the people, the lively music, and the relatable preaching that he came to know and love. Without the foundation of Christ in his life, the allure of drugs and parties soon became too much to bear. Thankfully, the patience and persistent prayers of his wife and pastor over Ray’s fifteen-year addiction paid off when Jesus Christ gloriously redeemed his painful past for a future of purpose and promise. Continue reading

Pakistan: Educators Celebrate Pastors, Invest in Leadership Development

Dr. MaryAnn Hawkins teaches in Pakistan.

By Carl Stagner

Earlier this year, we brought you the story of “Facebook Seminary”—an innovative, online approach to providing quality education to pastors-in-training in Pakistan. Every Saturday evening during their semester, they gather around a screen to learn under the teaching of Anderson University adjunct professor, Dr. Sarah Blake LaRose. The George Theological College in Karachi, Pakistan, originally hoped that a theological professor from the United States could actually come and teach for at least a year, but the costs were prohibitive. Thus, the Facebook idea was born. Sarah has now taught the Pakistani students for three semesters using the free video option of Facebook Messenger. Continue reading

Thanksmas

By Jennifer Neal

As an accountant, my approach to Scripture can be pretty formula-driven. I read a text like 1 Thessalonians 5:18, which says, “Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus,” and I see three parts. First, give thanks; second, in all circumstances, and third, it’s God’s will. This is really straightforward in my mind, but let me tell you a story of just one way this can be demonstrated in our daily lives. Continue reading

Steadfast Stateside: A Sister’s Perspective on Missions

Kay and Sherman Critser

By Cheral Critser

Editor’s note—Sometimes the story that doesn’t get told is the one about family and friends who are left behind when missionaries leave for the field. Honoring the retirement of career missionaries Sherman and Kay Critser, Cheral Critser—Sherman’s sister—offers a tribute to the couple and, at the same time, a unique perspective on missionary service.

Kay Critser was pregnant with Ryan and went to the doctor to see if she was having twins (Kay was a twin and there are twins in our family). They called on the phone, asking me to come over. I was excited and asked if they were having twins. Sherman laughed and hung up on me! As I went down the hill from the dorm, I was thanking and praising God for the twins. I crossed the street and was at the light post on the corner of the college library. I heard a voice loud and clear, “They are not having twins.” I jumped, looked around and there was no one around. The voice told me God was sending Sherman and Kay to Africa. Continue reading

Church of God Congregations Give Life This Thanksgiving

Food distribution at Central Community Church, Wichita, Kansas.

By Carl Stagner

Though the fourth Thursday in November hasn’t yet arrived, Church of God congregations across the United States have already pulled out all the stops to celebrate Thanksgiving. While it may seem that Walmart and the Hallmark Channel have bypassed this autumn holiday for its even more commercialized wintertime counterpart, churches from Washington State to New York City and in between still make it a big deal. From special worship services to massive community service projects, Thanksgiving, for the Church of God, means giving life from a heart of gratitude. Continue reading

Fresh Expression of Church Empowers Everyday Missionaries

Amanda (far left) and team wearing aprons symbolizing servanthood.

By Carl Stagner

They don’t have their own building, and they won’t be renting a school or a movie theater as they grow. They have no ambition to get big; in fact, they’ll multiply before they ever attract a crowd. They’re not looking to raise up associate pastors who will open a second campus. If they had a website, you wouldn’t find service times listed. The Foundry, based in Columbia City, Indiana, is not your typical church plant. It’s a “fresh expression” of church, and it’s designed to train disciples to use their spiritual gifts to make more disciples—at home, at work, and at play. Continue reading

Stories Merge with Greatest Ever Told at Texas Church Plant

Merge Church team members ready to invite you to “Join the Merge!”

By Carl Stagner

Two thousand five hundred people move to the greater Houston area each week. Efrain Cirilo, pastor-turned-church-planter now living in the metro area with seven million neighbors, says you could plant a megachurch every week and not keep up with the growth. Broad and diverse, such an influx represents the widest variety of stories—Where did they come from? What brought them here? What has their experience been with church? With God? Stories of those far from God tug especially on the heart of Efrain Cirilo. Such stories are but a part of the reason Pastor Efrain and his wife Megan were willing to leave their thriving congregation—and their comfort zones—behind in Kilgore, Texas. With the official launch of Merge Church only a couple months away, they’re rejoicing as stories, disconnected from Christ, begin to intersect with his. Continue reading

Maryland Church, Community Construct Neighborhood Park in Just 8 Hours

Volunteers from across the community made Kirby Lane Park possible!

By Carl Stagner

The goal was pretty ambitious: build a park for the community in just eight hours. Of course, this wasn’t about timing, but it was a rallying call to the community to work together to achieve something they could only accomplish together. Negative news coverage of their city over the last year wasn’t going to stop them from showing their community and places far beyond who they really are. So, late this summer, Celebration Church Monroe Street in Baltimore, Maryland, came alongside government agencies, community organizations, and neighbors, channeling resources and efforts to remove blight and restore beauty. The construction and completion of the all-new Kirby Lane Park was yet another step Celebration Church Monroe Street has taken to boldly reclaim their neighborhood in Jesus’ name. Continue reading

Unconditional Love Defines, Directs Regional 2020 Host Church

Madison Park lives out the love of Christ locally and globally.

By Carl Stagner

What drives the arms of the heavenly Father to welcome back the prodigal son? What brings the wanderer out of long-term drug rehab and back into fold? What then transforms him and ultimately calls him to pastor one of the most influential Church of God congregations in the country? What motivates those under his leadership to feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, and care for the orphans and widows in their community? What causes them to add tremendous hospitality, for the Church of God movement next June, to their already full ministry plates? At Madison Park Church of God in Anderson, Indiana, the answer is no secret. It’s unconditional love. Continue reading

CHOG in Northern Brazil Grows at “Incredible” Pace, More Pastors Needed

Seminary student worships at regional youth convention.

By Carl Stagner

Though its roots are in church tradition, today’s festivities of Mardi Gras tend to reflect the worst of culture more than the person of Christ. In Brazil, the celebration of Carnival has similar Christian roots but, like Mardi Gras, hardly resembles its origins. Thankfully, as the Church of God in northern Brazil continues to grow, so does its influence on the culture, especially in the city of Itaituba. Missionaries Jonathan and Beth Todd have been blessed to witness firsthand the mighty move of God in recent years, which has resulted in a good problem to have—they need more pastors. Continue reading

Church of God Commemorates Veterans Day, Remembrance Day

Veterans Day 2019 tribute at Teays Valley Church of God, Scott Depot, WV.

By Carl Stagner

When cool, crisp breezes begin to blow through the colorful spread of autumn across much of the United States and Canada, you can be sure that anticipation for the Thanksgiving holiday is on the rise. Many may not know that Canada’s Thanksgiving falls on the second Monday of October and doesn’t resemble everything the American holiday has become, especially Black Friday shopping—and that’s probably not a bad thing! But on November 11, the United States and Canada set aside the same day to honor the sacrifice of servicemen and women, and such an occasion should not be bypassed for turkey and football. Canada’s Remembrance Day may look a bit more like Memorial Day in the United States, as they seek to honor those who have fallen in service but, like Veterans Day, many in the Church of God choose to acknowledge and utilize this cultural observance as an opportunity to show the love of Jesus in tangible ways. Continue reading

From the Archives: Remembering to “Say It!”

By Robert H. Reardon

A few days ago, without any notice in the media, the autumnal equinox silently came and went. Now the days are shorter and the nights longer. Soon the wonderful holidays will be upon us with all the homecoming, joy, laughter, and the deeper sense of gratitude for God’s unspeakable gifts. Continue reading

English + Spanish + Arabic = 3 Congregations Under 1 Roof

Pastors Tim Gould, Huber Maxwell, Mounuir Soliman leading prayer.

By Carl Stagner

While race, language, culture, and politics are just a few of the things that often keep people apart, at 14400 Northwest Freeway just off US Highway 290 in Houston, Texas, Jesus Christ brings people together under one roof. Houston First Church of God, Houston Primera Iglesia de Dios, and Arabic Christian Church offer weekly ministries separately in English, Spanish, and Arabic, but each of these Church of God congregations come together for different purposes throughout the year. One recent example of such unity took place in early October when the three churches gathered at the table for their annual “International Feast.” Continue reading