Tag Archives: Faith Christian Community

Church Signs Tell Strong Stories…Or Do They? Part 1

I’ve written about church signage in Anchorage several times over the years. When I was being published in the Alaska Dispatch News (Anchorage Daily News), I was unable to get my photos of church signs included with my columns. I’ve decided to regularly give examples of great signs and those needing improvement. Signs are needed to identify your church, service times, and hopefully your website where more information about the church can be found. They should be readable when passing at the posted speed limit for that roadway. It is not necessary to put the name of the pastor on church signs, a vanity sign of bygone days.

Our Lady of Guadalupe Co-Cathedral – Wisconsin Sign

I enjoy visiting Catholic services and find them of value to people of that faith and others. Many Catholics and Catholic clergy are close personal friends of mine. While the sign in front of Our Lady of Guadalupe is an improvement from the previous sign, it still cannot be read by someone driving by at the posted speed limit. It’s unfortunate it’s not posted perpendicular to their beautiful cathedral. It also contains too much information to digest. This information should be available by referring to Our Lady of Guadalupe’s website, the address of which is missing from the sign.

Faith Christian Community – Wisconsin Sign

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Two blocks south of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Faith Christian Community’s sign is simple, can easily be read on both sides while passing at the posted speed limit. It contains worship times and the church website address. I’m always amazed how efficiently and inexpensively this church has used the same sign for dozens of years to great effect.

Cornerstone Church – Seward Highway (Brayton Drive entrance)

For many years, Cornerstone Church has prominently displayed their sign along Brayton Drive and the Seward Highway. Easily viewed when passing at 65 mph, their signage is often changed as the seasons dictate, e.g. Easter, Christmas, etc. What a cost-effective and efficient way to communicate their presence, website, and service times to travelers on a busy thoroughfare.

Churches need not dedicate tremendous sums of money to have effective signage.

Chris Thompson
churchvisits@gmail.com

 

A training approach that seeks to redefine missions – one person at a time

Summers provoke a burst of interest in missions, both here in Alaska and abroad. Some provide demonstrable good, others may target faith groups who differ from the sponsoring mission organization’s ideals, and yet others may insinuate themselves into native communities in culturally insensitive ways. We should not ignore local missions by preferring foreign missions. All missions could benefit from changes in approach.

In my June 10 column, “Africa is showing Alaska how to do missions,” I focused on the training Faith Christian Community has offered our community for years through Community Health Evangelism. Faith’s CHE trainer, Larry Kingry, has trained over 100 people during this time, providing them with tools to approach missions insightfully. Many trainees do not take expensive trips to foreign destinations; some do, but a goodly number employ those skills in everyday interactions with people here and in other parts of Alaska.

Kingry was helpful connecting me with CHE-trained individuals. One of them was Heidi Navarro of Community Pregnancy Center.

“We had six of our people trained in CHE,” Navarro said, “and now we not only include our clients in the design of services in the very beginning, but we stop and think through our strategies in helping. We want to build the dignity of those we help and for them to take ownership of the solutions.”

Heidi offered an example of a time where CHE training was useful. She’d started planning a Christmastime “birthday party for Jesus” for kids of clients. “I was all pumped up,” she said.”I would like to do this party for the kids but I stopped myself. I thought, wait! CHE talks about ownership.” She asked a client to take the lead, and own it. The client enlisted her friends, “reaching a whole new people group than before.” The event, held at University Baptist Church was a great success. Heidi says they also use the training day-to-day to encourage a team atmosphere, asking “Is this CHE?”

Joyce Matthews can be found most days working at Downtown Soup Kitchen. CHE-trained in 2014, she talked about her mission experience before CHE. “I have been going to Uganda on short-term missions for years,” Matthews said. “After taking CHE, training and education has been my focus versus taking huge suitcases of gifts. I have been promoting CHE as a strategy for development.

Previously, during twice-yearly trips to Uganda, Joyce noticed whatever she brought or did, or her actions on behalf of other people subsequently became “expected,” establishing a dependency in the Ugandans. Now, she only takes books, using them to share the Gospel.

If needs are expressed to her, she poses the question, “What resources do you have here to solve this problem?” an important key in development as taught by CHE. At DSK, clients also take meaningful responsibility for their actions, consistent with CHE principles. For instance, when a client uses a shower but leaves it messy, they’re called back to clean it if they expect to use it again.

Local real estate agent Fred Owen said, “I was a field coordinator for our church for missions in the Philippines. For years we have poured many thousands of dollars in relief efforts (that were not relief) and created huge dependencies on our church. We destroyed initiative. We then trained 30 pastors in three levels of CHE hoping to turn them away from dependency from outside funds. It still hasn’t happened; it is so hard to break the cycle of long-term dependency. They see Western culture as having unlimited money. Good intent gets lost.” He admits CHE is changing this mindset, but it takes time.

Fred encourages those considering CHE training to “Come with a very open mind if you are considering CHE training. If you have that open mindset, the lightning bolt will come to you. It’s about becoming disciples, not fixing everything.”

A clinical professional from Fairbanks, Jo Miller, took her CHE training last fall. “I started traveling overseas with mission groups as early as 2005, and although I enjoyed the work, I always felt like something was ‘missing’ from the end result after each mission. CHE has provided the missing key with the concepts of sustainability and a clear, measurable long-lasting effect on every community touched. After the CHE training, my entire view on both local and foreign missions has drastically changed along with the choice in what organization I may choose to travel. I am so much clearer on my mission goals and truly feel my efforts are directed by a spiritual basis of love and compassion while providing a solid foundation for those I have the honor and privilege to work alongside in every community.”

Amanda McKinley, a Kenai Peninsula nurse recently returned from Ghana after working with CHE-related programs for two years. I first met Mandy, at my May interview of Dayo Obaweya, regional coordinator of West Africa Community Health Evangelism. Her parents are the directors of Child Evangelism Fellowship; Mandy clearly has a passion for ministry.

“Through the ministry of my parents,” she said, “I have had a passion to help others become their own teachers so that they become less dependent on outside resources. Through nursing work I have seen that not just spiritual needs must be addressed. I think that often the Western Church completely separates spiritual and physical. But when we look at the life of Christ he did not ignore the physical needs around him nor did he ignore the spiritual, he addressed both.”

In Ghana, Mandy helped start Children’s CHE and Women’s Cycle of Life. Children’s CHE introduces children to learn through Bible and physical health prevention stories. They learn how to purify water, make fly and mosquito traps, prevent malaria, and make latrines to prevent disease. Beadwork was taught to help children make jewelry to sell to help their families or pay school fees. Parents become more interested in adult CHE programs as they are taught by their children.

The Women’s Cycle of Life gives women a forum to discuss pregnancy, danger signs in pregnancy, preparing for delivery, nutritious foods for children, and how God values women. Mandy said, “Some of the women told us that they were always arguing and fighting but when they started to meet together for WCL they learned how to get along and work towards a goal. They have worked together to start a market in their area.”

Kingry is offering a CHE training over two weekends in September. For more information and to sign up, visit pixelark.com/registration/signup/?5050.

Africa is showing Alaska how to do missions

Several weeks ago, I wrote about a large local church youth group going to South Africa for a short-term mission trip. Although I purposely did not name them, they were subsequently identified by a member in a recently published letter to the editor as from St. John United Methodist Church. They and other local churches have participated in a number of such missions the last few years, sending groups to Africa despite widespread information such trips usually do more for the participant than those on the other end. In fact, most of such trips, according to the Africans, do more damage than help.

A popular definition of insanity, often attributed to Albert Einstein is “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” George Santayana famously wrote: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” There has to be a better way to conduct missions and this column describes it.

Recently, I had an opportunity to interview a knowledgeable spokesman from Africa representing a network of churches and nongovernmental organizations that understand the limitations of well-intentioned individuals. That person, Dayo Obaweya, is regional coordinator of West Africa Community Health Evangelism covering an area equivalent to the Lower 48, comprised of 17 countries in which more than 300 million people have a per capita income of $1 to $2 dollars a day.

I was intrigued by a talk he gave at Faith Christian Community’s Sunday service last month in which he said WACHE’s goal was “to bring people out of poverty into the love of Christ.” Contrast that with the goal of so many short-term mission trips we know of. My interview with Dayo was the next day.

WACHE is an affiliate of Community Health Evangelism a Christ-centered educational program used by hundreds of churches and organizations across the globe. Obaweya was visiting U.S. members. Faith Christian Community is a CHE member and has trained over 100 individuals in CHE methods.

CHE’s core strength is in training. The organization describes itself as “a plan for individual and community development through physical and spiritual teaching.” Trained CHE members don’t do development but “teach CHE to local trainers, who teach CHE to their own people in some of the poorest places in the world. These people do development for themselves.”

The CHE website describes how this all happens: “Local people do it for themselves by: Choosing their own people to be in charge; Choosing their own priorities of what to change; Choosing their own people to be trained to teach house to house; Finding their own resources; and accomplishing their own goals when and where they choose. Local people own and manage their CHE plans. We just train their teachers. CHE is big on ownership!” That’s empowerment at its best.

Obaweya described one such venture in West Africa where a village was asking for a multipurpose community center and school. Indigenous CHE trainers went to this village and did a simplified planning process. They asked if the village had sand, stones, gravel, land and water? They were told yes. Would they supply labor to build it? Yes! Wood for the roof? Yes, we’ll cut locally.

Asked if they had concrete, they said they had 10 of the 100 bags needed. The village was encouraged to pool bits of money to buy more concrete, acquiring 10 more bags. CHE asked government officials in to see the progress. Astounded by their initiative, and finding them the 80 bags the project required, they immediately authorized delivery of the needed shortfall. Local financial pooling raised funds for the tin to cover the roof.

The project turned out to be an unqualified success, using the CHE strategy to achieve community transformation, a major goal of CHE leadership. Obaweya said the building is now used as a meeting hall, church and clinic when government medical workers come to give children medical examinations, etc. Obaweya, who visited it recently, said other surrounding villages had asked this village for help planning needed projects.

Health work is an essential part of what CHE does. CHE trainers go into people’s homes and villages teaching proper sanitation and hygiene principles. They address family size issues by training through Women’s Circle of Life and Men’s Matters groups. Larger families in impoverished parts of West Africa sometimes struggle to survive. Individual couples receive training and instruction in family planning.

Another CHE program trains children in practical matters of hygiene, nutrition, gardening and Christianity. Children bring these life-saving principles home, sharing them with their parents.

CHE affiliates also support initiatives that include microfinance and group savings programs.

WACHE tackles water projects but shuns Western technology for drilling and water extraction, instead choosing low-tech approaches that can be made and maintained locally, when repairs are needed. Too many water projects fail when well-meaning groups from developed countries go in and overengineer projects with little local buy-in, and without the knowledge and ability to maintain them.

CHE’s process is holistic, empowering individuals to help themselves, tending to their mind, body, and spiritual needs. It’s transformative. It resurrects people’s lives which have often been destroyed by Western do-gooders with handout methods destroying personal initiative and depersonalizing individuals and families.

When I asked Obaweya his view of short-term mission trips, he responded by saying, “We don’t want to call it short-term missions. We’d rather call them evangelists. I see them as evangelists across the border. The word short-term mission can become a hindrance,” noting that people coming with this label are not thinking of something that is going to last. Rather WACHE involves them in initiating a process such as child or community health screening, an entry exercise. The ongoing process can then be initiated by the local community.

WACHE’s model weans people away from a culture of dependence by teaching people to organize, plan, build, grow food and learn about God’s love.

Short-term missions have problems. Here’s an alternative

Last week I wrote about the flood of missions tourists coming into Alaska, and those who are leaving Alaska with the same goal in mind. Since then I’ve had an opportunity to speak with a missions representative from Africa visiting Anchorage to support the mission efforts of Faith Christian Community.

But before I share more about Faith Christian Community, it’s important to set the framework.

In his compelling 2011 book “Toxic Charity: How Churches and Charities Hurt Those They Help (and How to Reverse It),” Robert Lupton wrote: “In the last fifty years, (Africa) has received $1 trillion in benevolent aid. How effective has this aid been? Country by country, Africans are far worse off today than they were a half century ago. Overall per-capita income is lower today than in the 1970s. Over half of Africa’s 700 million population lives on less than $1 a day. Life expectancy has stagnated, and adult literacy has plummeted below pre-1980 levels.” Lupton argues that this scenario resulted from created dependency and the destruction of personal initiative, due in part to government aid programs, well-meaning NGOs and missions programs. He also links this to U.S. efforts to eliminate poverty through entitlements, programs and charities, “creating a permanent underclass, dismantling their family structures, and eroding their ethic of work.”

Many Protestant denominations in Alaska host missions teams, primarily from the Lower 48, to work on churches, ministries and church camps. Often, these well-meaning individuals perform work for which congregations could and should be directly taking  responsibility, but create dependencies because the local attitude is that someone will always do it.

David George, director of missions for the 54-church Chugach Baptist Association (Southern Baptist), calls these groups “partners.” Cleaning up on the Kenai and Kasilof rivers or in Kodiak at the Crab Festival Outreach are important activities for their group of churches.

“In the summer these teams help us in 16 neighborhood parks where we feed children a healthy lunch (they don’t get school lunch in the summer) and conduct Bible Clubs afterwards. Our newer and smaller churches count on the mission teams to help them in promotion, prayer walking and the ministry at the parks,” said George.

“Along with the physical help, the teams bring financial resources that help our small and financially struggling congregations,” he added. “Without their financial assistance, we could not do the ministries noted.”

Some short-term missioners, here and in foreign countries, expect to be tourists, which creates problems. George noted that they’ve experienced this too.

“The only time a mission team has been a hindrance or problem is when they come and expect the local church to host their sight-seeing trip to Alaska. We know those on teams want to experience Alaska and we help them plan a day or two for that, but we need them to work while they are here,” he said. “Some teams, and only a very few, come expecting to be catered to and the churches be a guide for their Alaska vacation. When teams act this way, we make a mental note and never invite them back again.”

That happens in foreign short-term missions too. Many teams are more interested in local sightseeing than the mission itself.

Dayo Obewaya, who is based in Nigeria and serves as the West Africa area coordinator for Community Health Evangelism, told me some ridiculous tales of “short-term missionaries” who were uneasy with local food, water and housing accommodations in the countries he covers. Some went so far as to refuse to drink local water, requiring it be imported from Great Britain — clearly not an inexpensive proposition.

Last year, Southern Baptists announced cutbacks of 600-800 foreign missionaries and support staff due to financial shortfalls. Earlier this year, the total lost was revealed to be 1,132 missionaries. I wonder if any of this is due in part to short-missions adventuring by Southern Baptists, leading to a decline in giving. The saddest part of this story is that many were already the most seasoned, knew the landscape and had made the commitment to serve.

Over the past couple of years, Faith Christian Community has trained more than 100 members in their community health evangelism program, part of the Global CHE Network. They equip local members to serve in their own community, and, if God calls, to other parts of the world. CHE is a worldwide program with training at its core. It addresses poverty in all its forms (physical health, economic, spiritual and social). Obewaya networks with mission organizations and churches in West Africa and beyond. I think CHE and Faith Christian Community have discovered part of the solution and have already put it to work in our local community. I wish more churches were as Alaska-focused as they are.

I’ve come to the conclusion that most branches of Christianity contend with short-term missions problems. Alaska is spectacular and more convenient for Lower 48 churches than other destinations. As such, it is a magnet for people who desire to do a “mission” because it’s such a great place. However, the resources most useful here may not be those being provided. How many come to Alaska to serve without an adequate knowledge of our cultures and their differences from those of the Lower 48? How many think that showing local churches money, hard labor and service projects will rectify our dismal church attendance rate of 1 in 4 attending weekly?

As with foreign-directed short-term missions, we need to seriously think about what is accomplished by missions in Alaska. Is it adventurism, tourism or patching issues? How much good can one week in Alaska accomplish? Proselytizing, or sheep stealing, is clearly not the answer and has provoked distress in many villages. Thoughtful training and preparation of local members, such as at Faith Christian Community, might possibly be the best answer.

About the Author

Chris Thompson

Chris Thompson is a religion scholar who has been visiting Anchorage and other local area churches for over 15 years. Go to his website, churchvisits.com, or follow him on Twitter  at twitter.com/churchvisits or email at churchvisits@gmail.com.

Saturday Evening Church: Faith Christian Community

[img_assist|nid=142422|title=Faith’s Musical Service|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=350|height=263]Summary
In response to reader queries, I’ve begun visiting churches offering Saturday or Sunday evening services, and the same sermon content as regular Sunday services. My first visit of this nature was to Faith Christian Community on July 11. The account of my last visit to Faith can be found by clicking here. With a service starting at 6 p.m. Faith offers a warm welcome, lively music, good preaching, and weekly communion. I did detect several visitor-unfriendly slipups, but these should not deter you from giving Faith an opportunity to meet your church going needs.

What I Liked
-Music
-Preaching – well delivered, Bible-based
-Communion
-Casual dress
-Mexico mission trip participants brought up front

What I Disliked
-No mention of visitors
-No reference to who was preaching
-Taking an offering for the poor without identifying recipients
-Bringing offering to the front of the auditorium
-Long song, during offering for the poor, became performance
-Website is pretty but difficult to find items (try to find service times)

Faith’s sermons are usually posted by clicking here. It may not be this specific service but will be the theme sermon.
[img_assist|nid=142423|title=Pastor Bob Sloan Preaching|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=350|height=466]

Faith…It’s Not Just a Religious Term

[img_assist|nid=125040|title=|desc=This simple sign on Wisconsin Ave. identifies Faith Christian Community’s complex.|link=none|align=left|width=350|height=248]In West Anchorage on Wisconsin just north of Lake Hood, there is an unassuming building going deep into the lot. The only identification is a simple sign with Faith Christian Community displayed. Close to that sign is another with the times of worship noted. On March 16 I turned my car into the parking lot for the 11 a.m. service. There is ample parking here, although I was quite a way back in the rear parking lot.

Warm greeting, beautiful music upon entering
Coming through the rear entrance, I was warmly greeted and given a bulletin by a mother and her two younger children. Once in the worship auditorium I was struck by the beauty of a musical duet accompanied by guitar. This was a treat and well before the service started. Promptly at 11 a.m. a 9 piece band started playing. They played fairly upbeat tunes the words of which were projected on a huge screen in the front of the church. I like the way Faith displays the words, as they tend to be against inspirational pictoral backdrops. Thankfully some of the music was familiar prompting me to sing along.

Casual and comfortable
The auditorium is comfortable and spacious, aided by a balcony. It is a very casual church with lots of blue jeans, and few coats/ties. The typical “meet n’ greet”, which I do not particularly enjoy, was held. I shook about five hands and sat back down. They do not take up a regular offering at Faith. It is totally free-will and there are receptacles for it in the foyer. What a great idea and better use of church time!
[img_assist|nid=125041|title=An unassuming exterior hides Faith’s warm sanctuary.|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=350|height=138]
For God so loved…
Steve Holtsinger is the senior pastor and he spoke this day. The theme of his sermon was John 3:16, a beloved text of hope. The title was 3:16, a takeoff on Max Lucado’s latest book 3:16. As this was the Sunday before Easter, I felt this was a most appropriate theme for the sermon. There was a large cross lying at an angle in front of the pulpit, a tangible reminder of this time of the Christian year.

Pastor Holsinger helpfully had key lesson thoughts projected on the screen. The keywords he employed were “Whoever”, “However”, “Whenever” and “Wherever” tying the theme of the sermon to Jesus’ parable of the laborers in the vineyard. It was a beautiful sermon and well presented.

This do in remembrance of me…
The service concluded with communion as is offered at each Faith service on the weekends. I always feel that the offering of the bread and wine, especially at Easter, is a meaningful expression of the Christian faith. This time was no exception. The band came back up to play worshipful music during communion.

Faith is fortunate in that they maintain a coffee shop in their fellowship area in back of the sanctuary. Many of the parishoners gather here either before or after the service for their favorite coffee beverage and some good conversation. It’s been my experience Faith treats newcomers well, but is uneven in that regard. That being said, this is a warm and comfortable church, worthy of a newcomer visit.