Saturday, September 23, 2006

Taking Tulsa for Christ!
High School Mission Trip 2006 – Tulsa, OK
by Dennis Jaeger
“God has conquered the world, Tulsa should not be a problem.” These words, sent to us by Bill and Maureen Graham, echoed in the hearts and on the lips of our youth as we journeyed to Tulsa, OK in order to serve alongside Contact Church of Christ, Tulsa’s inner-city church. As we walked through the doors of Contact for the first time, our group of 40 was deemed an army - and our youth proved this calling true as they stormed Tulsa with the love of Christ.
Our teens conducted a VBS for 3 different government housing apartment complexes. Despite the 100+ degree heat, I have never seen a group more energized and share more love with children than this one. Many of our youth have grown up on the receiving end of youth groups from across the country coming here for their mission trip. It’s so exciting to see them step-up and be the mission group. Their “impact” on the Tulsa children was evident from the joyous smiles, laughter, hugs, and sad questions of “when are you coming back” that filled the air all week long. The lessons taught and the lessons learned will be eternal. God has conquered the world, and – thanks to Him – Tulsa was not a problem!

“And in Christ you are being built together with his other people. You are being made into a place where God lives through the Spirit.”
-Eph. 2:22 ERV
Somos El Pueblo de Dios
We are the People of God

Let me introduce you to part of our large FAMILIA. You know about the various programs, ministries and activities at Impact, but those are only areas of service done at or through this place. Impact, like any church, is a body of people who meet together to glorify God and build each other up in CRISTO. Within this body are members and friends from all walks of life, but due to our location and mission, our demographic is atypical. One very large portion of that demographic is a group that works and worships together in Spanish.
Though there are many Hispanic churches in the city, Impact is among the largest churches of Christ in Houston with 150-200 members. One of Impact's 6 elders, Dimas Velasqez is Hispanic. He currently is enrolled full time as a student at the Texas Gulf Coast Bible institute where they train men to minister to and plant churches in the Spanish-speaking population. Six of our young Hispanic members are taking night classes at the institute along with Alfredo who drives them down to Pasedena 3 nights a week. Growing churches through cell groups is part of TGCBI’s strategy, and although Impact is an existing church, Dimas is hoping to infuse what he is learning into the DNA of the church here. Steven Wells, the newest bilingual minister is excited about the process, having experienced its success in his church planting efforts in Mexico. He and his wife, Ami are about to begin classes to train members who want to dedicate themselves as small group facilitators. All three Spanish-speaking ministers have attended a class together at the institute; are meeting weekly in a small group of ministers; have developed a strategy; and are working with church members to educate them in the importance of ministering in small groups and celebrating together in the large assembly. Alejandro Arango, who has been ministering with this church since close to its beginning, is offering a class to new Christians on basic principles of the Christian walk. Late September (this weekend), the Hispanic women will be having a retreat to encourage and strengthen their participation and passions in the body.
The Hispanic family at Impact is good at checking on one another and helping meet each others' needs. Weekly, several women volunteer at the Distribution Center. (More than 90% of the families served at the Distibution Center are Hispanic, and many of our members are a result of the contacts made there.) The Tuesday night activities are primarily for the Hispanic families. Other English-speaking Impact members dedicate time to teach children classes allowing adults to concentrate on classes and connecting with other adults. All the activities that are done are with the hopes of glorifying God by being a body that cares for one another and shares the message of hope in Christ to the world.
The Hispanic part of the congregation works towards a unified direction with the English speaking portion. There may be a barrier with the language, and it can be frustrating to not be able to communicate everything that needs to be said, but there is a growing desire to be a body that can overcome. The barrier may dictate a separation in worship, class times, and some areas of service but the body could not function with out ALL members. That is a lesson that needs to echo in our ears. Even with our different gifts, backgrounds, struggles, functions and limitations, we are all nonetheless important in the kingdom of God. May we also echo our thanks for your part in what God does here through Impact through your prayers, contributions, and support. That is what makes a great family, and like the song that we like to sing in our Spanish worship, “Somos el pueblo de Dios.” We are God’s people doing our best to serve our Lord and share God’s truth and His love with the world.

The last Family Night brought a large crowd of new faces. Most of our regular attending families came to enjoy the fun, food and fellowship, but we were surprised by an unexpected number of visitors. (We actually had to go out to get more hotdogs!) One visiting father was so touched by the activities that he felt compelled to give a testimony, encouraging the other families to embrace the importance Impact is placing on family participation.

Making it Her Own

The present head of the Distribution Center, Barbara Mantooth, is settling into her new position. She began her training in May working under the tutelage of Darlene Cervas ( pictured below)who had been at the helm for 17 years. Passing the torch to the eager new administrator was a little difficult for Darlene having cared for and nurtured the program almost since its inception. To many, the Distribution Center was synonymous with “Darlene,” so thinking of the place without her was hard for many to imagine. However, Barbara already is making the office her own, she goes out and talks to the folks in line, she patiently tries to communicate, she provides a soothing demeanor for nervous first-timers, she but she also has learned to put her foot down when necessary. She holds her ground as she makes the weekly orders from the food bank, she wisely sticks to the standards set before her, and she helps people understand the procedures that must be followed to serve everyone best. Somehow, Barbara manages to “lay down the law” while still being genial and communicating great compassion.

The distribution center still serves food to families on Tuesdays, items for the homeless on Wednesdays, clothing for households on Thursdays, and the different ministers take the opportunity to study and pray with all who come through. Every day is begun with prayer and prayer sustains the work throughout each day. God has answered our prayers by sending Barbara here, and continues to answer prayers through the ministry she is shepherding.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Rest for the Weary

“Just a simple room, three rows of tables, a T.V., a microwave and “The Word”. From 35 to 60 people every Monday and Wednesday they come from all walks of life. From every area of town—for rest….

Rest from the elements, rest from all the cares of life, rest from emotional and mental scars. Now I know when you look at this room, that physically all you can see is a simple room. But I believe it’s more. I believe these men and women are not just coming to a room. But I believe they are coming to the hands of our loving Lord. It was him who extended the invitation: “Come unto me all ye who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest.

I believe they are not coming to a room, but to rest. That’s what we want to be about at Impact. We want to be the Lord’s church where there is rest for weary souls!” -Les Rose

Having come in away from the sun, an “outdoorsman” (what we call those who live on the streets) finds refuge, repose and the refreshment of the Word of Life inside an Impact building. Services offered to those who live on the street include meals, Bible studies, counseling, showers, laundry, clothing, food supplies, and lists of other services in the Houston area. The aim is to make a difference in a life today, and change a heart for Christ.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

An Impact Member, who is heroically struggling with cancer right now, was recently mentioned in the Christian Chronicle. Here is what was published:

Barbara Garcia, who is battling cancer, receives encouragement from Jean Salas, a cancer survivor, after services Sunday, Sept. 4, at the Impact Houston church. Charlie Middlebrook, an Impact Houston elder and minister whose wife, Mollie, has been diagnosed with breast cancer, said a special prayer for Garcia during the service. “I just want to thank everybody who’s been helping me because I could not make it without the church,” Garcia told the congregation. (Photo by Bobby Ross Jr.)

The past two weeks have been saturated with hospital visits and prayers for health and recovery. Two weeks ago is when we first learned about Mollie. That's hard-hitting enough, for all who know her and Charlie. Yet, God is shining through the way He is showing His strength in her. Around the same time, we learned about Mayra Cuenca, the 14-yr.-old daughter of Onesima, a long time member and current custodial staff member. Mayra was taken to a clinic for a high fever, was rushed to the nearest hospital due to an unusually low blood count, eventually fell to seizures 4 days later needing to be resuscitated twice, and eventually regained consciousness a day or two after. Now, two weeks later she is beginning to move the right side of her body and say a few words. One day she was participating in my Sunday night cell group, and the next day she was in the hospital. Thankfully, things are on a slow but steady upswing, and the once devastated mother is now a pillar of strength, peace, and thankfulness. She, like Mollie Middlebrook and Barbara Garcia, are testimonies to the power of prayer. Onesima is amazed at the support, love, and prayers that have been poured out to her family and just wants to say "Gracias y Thank you."

The Impact family has been rocked by these events, as if their world wasn't teetering enough as it is. Men have been made physically weak with concern. Men, like Darrell Washington, who depends on God's strength and any opportunity to serve up at the building to get him through each day, hang onto every word of news to best know how to pray. Maria Saldana, whose newborn boy is still trying to breath on his own, is redirecting concern to Mayra. Many others are waiting by the phone to take food to family, clean the church building, pay hospital parking expenses, and fervently pray and encourage. People who are struggling with family issues, facing financial horrors, looking desperately for work, fighting the addictions that have destroyed their lives, and then the others who only thought their minor headaches were too difficult to figure out or handle, all came together in different ways and in different times and in different groups to let Barbara, Mollie, Mayra and Onesima know that their hurts and concerns were important to them too. Last week a church shared its struggles. This week a church will share its struggles. Every week the church is to share its struggles, because God wants us all to know that we are not alone. God wants us to know that the ability to "make it" is not on our own, but together, and in Him. Like a prayer partner of mine likes to say, "It’s not about what I can do. Its all about what You can do, Lord." Our weak and feeble prayers, may not seem like much, and really shouldn't, but the power is in He who is listening, and answers.

It is amazing to see people who are hit by hard news and hard times. We want to help, and should do what we can. Prayer however is not just for the desperate. It is for the hopeful. Our hope comes out in praise, but it can also come out in tears. The women that have been mentioned each have been hurt and challenged, but have kept faithful. They are a testimony to the power of God in our lives. The church can and is called to be a great testimony to the power of God in our lives. Keep praying in strength and in weakness, and let God continue to shine through what He wants to bring.