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Why Youth Group?

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I’ve been a part of FFC’s children and youth programs since Wednesday nights meant Gamemo and Sunday mornings meant helping fold curtains at the Nevele Center, and it’s been awesome. I’ve experienced the growth and progression of our ministries, from activities to Awanas, through different leadership, even through different types of snacks (I miss the gummy worm days).

These days, I still hang out with the kids (it’s funny to hear them call me “Miss Zoe”, because I’m sixteen and I have no authority. I just sing Veggie Tales), but I spend most of my time in the youth ministry, hanging out and sharing with my fellow high schoolers and singing and talking with the middle schoolers.

These are the highlights of my week.

I don’t know how much of adult-kind knows this, but First Family Church has the best youth group in Ankeny. I listen to my friends from other churches describe their youth groups, and they make it sound like dragging themselves to youth group is a ten thousand mile run they slog through just so they can flop down in a chair, be yelled at for being a terrible person, maybe play dodgeball, and go home. I don’t know how accurate that is, but that’s how it comes across to me. Sometimes, these friends learn I volunteer not just with little kids, but also with middle schoolers. Gasp! The horror! Like I’m herding rabid squirrels or something. Then, when these friends visit my youth group, they’re like, “Hey, you’re right, your church is pretty cool.” Well, yeah, we have the best youth group in Ankeny (in my opinion, at least). And to think, these people haven’t even gotten the full experience yet!

The full FFC Youth experience is an amazing thing.

It’s when you walk into the youth room and all these people are hanging out together in the back, and when you walk over, it feels comfortable, like you’ve known them forever, even if it’s onlyyour first week.

It’s when you play stupid games and don’t have to feel awkward because you know nobody cares how gross you look trying to sing while gargling. It’s a regular opportunity to praise God with your friends.

It’s when you sit down and listen to Travis preach the Gospel every week, and even though you accidentally choose the seat where the air conditioning would chill a penguin, and who knows what’s wrong with the projection screens this time. That doesn’t matter because the message cuts through. It reverberates through us.

Any baggage is checked at the cross, any prayers are pored over in small groups. Any question can be answered, every ear open.

Our youth group is great because it doesn’t matter where we are, what we’re doing, or what we’re talking about. We’re going to have a great time and walk away encouraged even if we’ve just spent a half hour reading and talking through Ecclesiastes 7 (which is great for providing perspective but not so much for breeding joy).

Our youth group is great because we’re great at being all for each other and all for Jesus.

That’s why we have the best youth group. That’s why I spend as much time as I can there. That’s why I want my friends to come. We support each other and we lift up our saving Creator, all while playing ping-pong and eating junk food.

And come on, if that’s not good community and fellowship, I don’t know what is.

Unity in Community

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Gary, along with his wife and children, minister to the people of Lille, France.

Jesus prayed in John 17 for us—his Church, his Bride—that we may be one. When I look at our small church plant in France, I marvel at how God put us together. After all, it is God who builds the Church, and we rely on him for unity.

Some church bodies in the U.S. are formed with people of the same type of socio-economic status, some with the majority falling in the same age group, and sometimes with those who dress practically the same way. Only after looking deeper into the matter would we find that the location of a meeting place or the doctrinal alignment with one’s beliefs were considered in someone choosing a church. In our new church, most of the above considerations, as important as some are, seem to be discarded.

How would you react and how could you pursue unity in a church where…

  • 22% of the married women in your church have gotten divorced this year alone?
  • Only 2 of 7 families come regularly with all their children (under age 18)?
  • 10% of your couples live together outside of marriage?
  • 5 distinct cultures are present and many affect the way our services are run?

As far as divorce, it happens when reconciliation is not possible. The response of the church in terms of community is to see that each person is loved, and each person is accompanied in spiritual growth. We praise God that even with our small number we are able to accompany each divorced person so that they are one with us.

As far as children who don’t come to church with their parents, there would seem to be a clear lack of unity. However, when I or others on the leadership team conduct family visits, we actually see the “missing” children in their homes. They know us, and we can have at least a limited relationship with them. Yes, we would love to have them participate in our community and in our classes and programs for their age. Surprisingly enough, our small church does have something regular for all age groups, and many of our leaders are involved in a teen ministry and in a children’s group. I also have college student ministry ties for the young adults. Family ministry is critical for us, and we really do need God’s help for there to be unity in the community.

As far as unmarried couples living together, we work with them towards marriage or living apart, despite heavy economic burdens that may result (yes, also from marriage; no time to explain that here). Purity inside and outside of the boundaries of marriage will help us towards unity, in accordance with God’s will.

As far as our distinct active cultures present in our community, we praise God for diversity, which actually brings us to unity. We hear prayers in other known languages, and we rejoice that God hears them. We have Bibles present in different languages, and we praise God for Bibles in English, French, Arabic, Kabyle, and Spanish, so that God can speak directly to the hearts of each one.

Unity is not possible in our church context if we try to base it on similar clothing styles or economic background, or even age. It is only based on God unifying us in Him, in the blood of Christ, and in love, that which Jesus said is the distinguishing mark of his disciple (John 13:35), of unified Christians everywhere.

Just Another Day?

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Anissa, with her husband Eric and their three children, are artists/musicians and IMB church planting catalysts living in Sweden.

We often wake up and quickly fall into our usual routine, whatever that may be.       

We start the day with coffee, and end it with tea.

When we leave our home, we are often tunnel-focused on what we have to accomplish; headed from point A to point B. Sometimes we are in such a hurry that we don’t even leave the smallest margin for God to interrupt our day or surprise us with a beautiful divine appointment.  

We’re rushing out the door; no time for anything more.

Each day like that before, and all we see is Just Another Day.

What if we are missing something special that God has planned?

What if each day the sunshine and rain were set into motion before life began? And what if each person we met was on purpose, a divine intersection, a part of God’s Plan?

Psalms 139:16 says “All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” 

How would that affect the way we live? The way we wake up in the morning? The way we go from point A to point B?  

A few Saturdays ago, I had such a moment, a divine intersection... but this time I was ready and available to let God interrupt my schedule and use me while I was “on my way.” I was headed to a Social Media Workshop Event that Eric and I were hosting for all our local artists at Stockholms Groove, a community of songwriters in Stockholm. As I was almost to my bus stop, I heard a voice saying

“Can you help me?”

I could see my bus stop just ahead, and knew that if I helped this lady, I would miss my bus and be late for our own event we were hosting to bless artists in practical ways. (Luckily, Eric was already there early.)  I remembered God strongly saying the day before…"Let me interrupt your plans…be available…I am speaking in between here and there."

So, I talked with this lady (about my age) who was lost and looking for the king’s palace on the street that I live on; quite far off from where we were.  I live on a completely different island than the palace. So I spoke with her and found out that she is a musician/pianist from Russia visiting Stockholm for just a few days for a meeting. She was so excited to hear that I was also a musician. She was free that day and wanted to see the palace and music hall.  

“Do you have a transportation card?” I asked.

“No.” she replied. “Where do I get one of those?”

“I will take you and show you.”

So I walked with her to the train station to help her buy a pass and show her how to get to the palace. On the walk, she asked me if I was Swedish, and I shared that I was not. She asked why I lived in Sweden, and then I had the opportunity to share a bit of my story and what God had done in my life to lead me across the world. She was immediately interested and asked “So you believe in God?” I said “Yes, what is your experience with God or church?”

She explained that most Russians don’t really believe in God and don’t go to church. She said that she does not go to church, but believes there could be a God. She was so excited as I told her that Eric and I were kind of like pastors to those who don’t have a pastor or church. I shared with her from Psalm 139 how much God loves her and created her uniquely and wonderfully. He cares for her and sees her. He saw her before she was even created in her mother’s womb and He longs for a relationship with her.

She just smiled.  

I told her that maybe the reason why she was on my street that day and we met was so that I could share God’s love with her. She was so happy when she got on the train, and neither of us wanted to say goodbye. I gave her my contact info and said she could call me if she needed anything else while in Stockholm. I truly pray that God will continue to water the seed of hope that was planted within her!

What if I wouldn’t have taken the time to stop and help her? What if, like the countless other times, I was in too much of a hurry to get where I was going? I would have missed out on the blessing of meeting this young woman and the joy of sharing God’s love and message of hope with her. God certainly didn’t need me and could have used anyone else he wanted to speak to this woman. But what a privilege we have to join Him in His resurrection work of bringing dead things to life; bringing light to the darkness!  

2 Corinthians 4:6 says “For God who said, ‘Let the light shine out of darkness,’ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.”  

We are to share this light at all times. May we be so full of God’s light and hope that it overflows out of our hearts and spills onto all those we meet, as it says in Romans 15:13:

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

If we would just slow down, be intentionally aware and available to God, we could experience His blessings in such a beautiful way while we are “on our way.”  

Each day is so much more than Just Another Day.


Rest at the Cross

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I was planning to write a blog about faithfulness. How it is important to be faithful in the small things. How impact is not found in quantity but in quality. How sometimes the day-to-day feels monotonous, one day melting in to the next, with nothing extraordinary to show for it when the clock ticks 12:00am. How change oftentimes happens in slow, incremental shifts that go unnoticed; unseen until hindsight sharpens to 20/20. How seemingly insignificant words and actions have far reaching impact.

It’s funny how the best laid plans can go awry.  

Because these words have been wiped from the slate of my brain, which feels uncharacteristically empty; a reflection of a heart that is broken, battered, and bruised.  

A heart that is aching for all things to be made right.

It’s easy to think of Haiti as a place of never-ending summer, beaches, and sunshine. Sometimes, believe it or not, it’s easy to forget how broken Haiti is; how broken humanity is. After living here for just over a year, the things that were initially shocking have become normal life. The sights, the smells, the experiences; I find myself on autopilot more often than not. I settle into my daily routine, content and happy in the sphere God has placed me in, forgetting the messiness of life. And then something happens to bring the neat, self-constructed scaffolding of my falsely secure world crashing down around my feet. I am reminded afresh of the ugly nature of sin and the brokenness of this world.

And my heart breaks.

Two weeks ago, a bridge in Port Au Prince collapsed, causing a chain of events to unfold that resulted in the brutal, senseless murder of three Deaf women.  


The word feels as ugly as it is. Three beautiful, vibrant, precious women gone, who just days before were laughing, loving, and living. When I was in their village that Monday after the bridge collapsed, the worry was palpable. No one had seen or heard from Monique, Vanessa, or Sophonie since Friday when they left for Port Au Prince. One of Sophonie’s sons grabbed my hand to tag along as I visited friends to catch up on life. And life was okay. Relatively speaking. There were, of course, the normal concerns of clean water, jobs, and night-time lights for a community of people whose language is visual. But the underlying current of concern pulled and tugged at conversation, was seen in the way my friends looked at Sophonie’s little boy, and was felt in the way they grasped my hands to say goodbye. And then the call came Monday night.

Those three women would not be returning home.

Shock. Anger. Confusion. Fear. Doubt. Sorrow. Weariness. My heart felt like it had imploded. And as I looked across the table into the eyes of a dear friend and one of the leaders of the Deaf community, I saw my own emotions magnified and amplified. The tenuous blanket of security felt by the Deaf community had been cruelly and suddenly stripped away. The grief leaked out of the corners of my eyes, tracing a hot path through the sweat and grime on my face.  

Six children now without a mother. A community that lost a skilled artisan and entrepreneur. A church that will miss the joy and grace of one of their song leaders and members. A tightly knit community of people who will keenly feel the loss of three beloved women. This is the raw reality of life, the ugly, savage nature of sin. And it’s horrible.  

How does one even begin to process this? How do I quiet the tumult of questions in my mind? And how can my broken heart and the shattered hearts of a community of people find healing and rest?

The answer is the cross.

The past two weeks have been wrought with heaviness, hurt, and darkness. But in the midst of the oppressive weight, I can feel the Spirit drawing the eyes of my heart to the cross. And I know the truth that is there. But sometimes what I know to be true is overwhelmed by the lies and deceit of my sinful heart. And that is why I must let truth dictate thoughts and emotions. Not the other way around.

I know that at the cross the One who said He would never forsake me was forsaken by His Father. The One who had lived in perfect unity with the Father and Spirit was suddenly bereft of that unity and experienced the agony of utter abandonment. He underwent hell so we wouldn’t have to.

I know that at the cross the perfect, sinless One willingly chose to drink the full cup of God’s wrath for me. He emptied it.  The furious anger meant for me was absorbed instead by the Spotless Lamb. He knows suffering that we cannot begin to fathom.

I know that the cross is indisputably the best and most perfect picture of God’s love for me. “For God so loved the world…” (John 3:16).  “He did not even spare His own Son but offered Him up for us all…” (Romans 8:32).  “Yet the Lord was pleased to crush Him severely…" (Isaiah 53:10)  All this for us. There is no doubt of God’s love. The cross persuades us of this.

I know that at the cross there is victory. Because sin and death did not overcome. It is at the cross we find hope for future restoration, hope for a King who will rule and reign with justice and goodness.   for a day when He will right all wrongs.

In Matthew 11, Jesus beckons those of us who are weary and burdened to come and learn from Him. And every single one of God’s promises finds their “yes” in Him (1 Corinthians 1:20).

So, when I am doubting the promised goodness of God, I look to Christ and remember that He is unspeakably good and loves me and this community of hurting people beyond measure.  

When I am feeling lost and broken, I look to Christ and remember that He was forsaken so that we never will be.  

When I am feeling the crushing weight of sin and despair, I look to Christ and remember that His power is greater and that He has already overcome.  

When I am feeling suffocated by hopelessness, I look to Christ and remember that He is our hope.  

When I worry for these six children, I look to Christ and remember that He is a father for the fatherless.  

When sorrow threatens to overwhelm my soul, I look to Christ and remember that that He intimately knows our sorrows and tears.  

When I falter in my weakness, I look to Christ who is my strength.  For it is in Christ that we find healing. He is the mender of broken hearts, and the giver of hope. It’s simple really; just a rehearsal of God’s promises, but, oh, the life-giving power that is found in God’s words to us. It is here, as my heart settles on these truths, that I find rest; rest at the foot of the cross. And it is here I want to stay.

in Hope

Reversed Prognosis

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Like everyone, I hate death.

We should.

It's a result of the Fall, and is due to my, and your, rebellion against a Holy God. However, how glorious it is that God used the Fall, which brought death to all, and turned it upside down to bring life back to His children!

After working as a nurse on a cardiac unit for over a year now, God has assured me that my own death is a healthy reality to think about. Being mindful about my own dying one day leads me to remember Christ's death which brought me life and humbles my soul as an undeserving sinner who daily receives grace upon grace from her Savior.

In the medical world, I have observed many patients who assume that doctors and medicine in our first world country can cure anything.

In America, we have the tendency to avoid thinking about dying because of the abundance of opportunities and resources in our culture and society which give us things to look forward to constantly. The danger in this is that we long for things of the world more than we long for Christ's return and being in Heaven.

I am convicted when I find myself desiring marriage and having a kids more than I desire God. I believe this is a good, God-given desire, but when I start to think, "it would be nice to at least have a family and raise children before Jesus comes back or I pass on", I am not treasuring and longing for God as I should.

Caring for patients who have terminal illnesses has led me to question how I will respond one day if or when I hear similar news about myself. Several times I have been with a patient while they listen to the blunt, cold statements from their physician regarding a poor prognosis.

Driving home from work, I have asked myself, "If I were that patient, what would be going through my head after receiving similar news?" At 23 years old, I imagine I would be grieving all the milestones, future memories, and experiences I was planning on making throughout my life. This would not be a bad thing to grieve; it's to be expected. But eventually, I have confidence that the hope only God can give would set in, for my life on earth is a millisecond of grace in comparison to the fullness of life I will receive in eternity from my Creator.

Scriptural Backup

In Ecclesiastes 2 & 4, King Solomon shares his God-given wisdom to tell us that "It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, for death is the destiny of everyone; the living should take this to heart." Way to be a Debbie downer, King Solomon! However, humility and longing for the Lord is gained more through trials and suffering than times of abundance and indulgence. Being mindful of how short life is, God heightens my desire to bring Him glory in how I spend my time and how I interact and converse with others.

Christ tells us in John 10:10, "The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full." This world is rubbish; Satan runs rampant, and satisfaction will never be found on this earth because of our rebellion against God. Yet out of His loving jealousy for us, The Good Shepherd laid down His life for our redemption. He wants us, knows us, and is pleased to give us His joy and life.

Revelation 21:4–5a "And He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall their be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. And he who was seated on the throne said, 'Behold, I am making all things new.'" Maybe this is just me, but it's almost hard to imagine what it will be like without trials or pain. All we've ever known is a world where evil and sin exists, but I cannot wait until "death shall be no more!" Many of us will probably have passed on before Christ's return, and perhaps some of us will still be alive on Earth. Either way, our outcome as believers will all be standing, dancing, kneeling, faces planted, etc. (who knows?) before Yahweh in New Jerusalem.

Let us daily remember the complete reversal of the hopeless, and fatal prognosis of our souls which Jesus' death and resurrection provided for us. We, as believers, on this side of heaven, have not even tasted the infinite extent of life our Savior will drench us with in Heaven. I pray His Spirit gives us daily humility as undeserving sinners before our abundantly gracious Savior, to look forward to the continuation of eternal life with Him when we arrive Home!

Listen to John Mark Mcmillan’s song, Death in His Grave here.