Anniversaries are times to celebrate and reflect, remember where we’ve been and dream of where we’re going. Such is the case with the Free Methodist Church – USA. We are 160 years old this month!
It’s appropriate to ask ourselves, are we the gospel movement that was intended at our founding? Are our senses heightened as much to our mission as they once were? Are we settled or unsettled? Such questions are intended to be answered communally, not just personally. The undercurrents of our founding were not viewed as merely good ideas that seemed to be more creative than other Christian sects; they were unstoppable impulses that to be undeniably Christian, must be part of the experience, practice and mission of the church. While some of the cultural specifics have changed, the condition of our hearts and the spiritual ills are much same. I’d like to draw our attention to three.
To believe, see, and experience holiness of heart and perfection of love. “Primitive holiness” was how B.T. Roberts described it, referring to John Wesley’s “A Plain Account of Christian Perfection.” The need for hearts and lives to be entirely sanctified should be self-evident in today’s toxic social climate. How do we re-ignite our urgency to see holiness spread through the land? Perhaps it begins with a personal cry that Wesley often quoted from Psalm 73:25, “Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you.” When is the last time you prayed to have the love of God shed abroad in your heart?
Freedom of the Spirit in houses of worship with free access to all. Is the Holy Spirit free to move in our churches? Perhaps it would be good to ponder that question with relentless repetition. Is the Holy Spirit – free indeed – entirely free – unhindered by human control to move in our worship? Let’s reexamine ourselves at this anniversary to seek full-on freedom of the Spirit in every worship gathering. Speaking of freedom, selling seats made houses of worship at the time of our inauguration inaccessible to many people. Although I don’t know of a single Free Methodist house of worship that charges a monetary fee to attend and occupy a seat, we should ask ourselves if we are still placing barriers of exclusion before people. I recall a message by Bishop Emeritus Richard Snyder at the Genesee Annual Conference in 2004, passionately reminding the delegation that we too often don’t like to let messy people into our churches for fear that they will mess up our church. Wherever there are deterrents to access, there is a “fee” whether monetary or through unrealistic expectations.
Freedom from oath-bound, secret societies. This might seem highly irrelevant today, but I believe, just like non-fee-based barriers to access in our churches, you can be a “secret society” in the heart of matter, even though you might not be in the letter of the matter. In September’s Light + Life Magazine I will be writing on the topic, so I encourage you to read my article, “What’s at Stake? A Lot!” Let me simply encourage us at this time to consider that there is a big difference between holy confidentiality and unholy secrecy. Let’s not kid ourselves into believing that certain dynamics of many private and secret social media groups are not secret societies merely because they’re not the Masonic Lodge. Wherever there is unholy secrecy, we are bound by oaths of secrecy and must be determined to live holy lives, above reproach in all our ways.
What will the next 160 years, barring the return of our Lord, say about our generation? I pray that tomorrow’s history books record the story of a generation that remained committed to our roots. Not because we are merely Free Methodist, but because our distinctives are biblically mandated. I pray that we are known as people who loved the Lord with our whole hearts and served our neighbor in love. In doing so, may it be said of us that earth looked more like heaven wherever the people called Free Methodists lived and ministered.
My Volunteers Aren’t Committed
Leadership has one frustrating ingredient: people. You can be the champion of the vision. It can be directly from God. But you can’t do it without people. And people can be tricky to corral.
There are going to be times in leadership where you feel like you are not on the same page as your volunteers. This could range from poor follow through, no communication, showing up last minute – or hey, not show up at all. Frustrations mount, then accumulate. As time goes by, your trust in your volunteers erodes, and your passion gets replaced by a sense of cynicism.
It may sound extreme, but this is true: feeling like you are ministering alone is the quickest path to burnout. A dedicated volunteer team who is bought in to the vision is essential to accomplish what God has called you to in your area. So what do you do if you feel like your team isn’t as committed as you need?
Human nature would tempt you to blame the team. But you’re better than that.
And since you are, here are four checkpoints to see what you, as the leader, can do to increase your team’s buy-in.
I remember one time where I was on a completely separate page of a prospective volunteer. I was running him through my typical interview process. I went deep into our vision, beliefs, program arrangement – all of it. He nodded along, asking probing questions as fit. Once I got to the expectations page, his face dropped a bit. About halfway through I could tell something was up. He then showed his cards when he said this: “I was thinking I could just show up.”
It was in this moment we found the gap of expectations.
Many feel that “just showing up” will satiate what we are looking for on a volunteer team. After all, they’re not getting paid. Isn’t something better than nothing? There are plenty of volunteers who think they are doing exactly what’s been asked of them simply because they have not been told what is asked of them.
If we do not front-load the expectations that showing up is not enough, then we only have ourselves to blame if a volunteer isn’t fulfilling our expectations.
When I was a younger leader, I tended to undersell my expectations to a prospective volunteer. The hope was to do whatever I could not to scare them off. Then, after logging some months of service, THEN hopefully I could ask more of their commitment.
What a disingenuous approach. Needless to say, operating this way will ensure a higher turnover of volunteers. It wasn’t that I was being intentionally deceptive; it’s just that I needed people – BADLY – and wanted to fill the position with hopes of flexibility on their part.
Write down expectations. Present them to the volunteer. Hearken back often.
Areas of Ownership
A mentor implanted a philosophy in me at the beginning of my time in ministry that has greatly informed how I operate. It is a notion that doesn’t come naturally for most leaders. Still, the leader that is able to harness this reality will be set up for sustainable fruit over the years.
Here’s the phrase: It is your job to give your job away.
Sounds like rough job security, doesn’t it?
Although you may have been hired because of your talents and gifts, your mission is to unleash that in others. The more you do this, the more you are able to entrust to others, thereby rendering you the opportunity to blaze new trails and disciple new people.
You love preaching, but would sharing the pulpit allow others to develop their gifts and fall in love with it too? You are the one expected to make hospital visits, but what if you brought someone along and enabled your church to see another shepherd operate in their gifting? Could another qualified individual plan that event almost as well as you could?
We have more inner turmoil delegating away the facets of the ministry that give us life more than the ones that drain us. But these areas – yes, even the ones often deemed “by lead pastor only” – ought to be distributed to qualified men and women. After all, Ephesians 4:12 says that your role is in place to “EQUIP the saints for the work of the ministry.”
Your work is to empower others to do the work. Hoarding the ministry leads to a lack of interest for your team. Give away responsibility and you will breathe life into a leader.
I want to be Joseph. No, not Disco Coat Joseph. And not the father of Jesus either. I want to be the Joseph of Acts 4. You know him by a different name. Apparently this “Joseph” was quite the uplifter, so much so that they gave him the nickname “son of encouragement,” which translates to us today as Barnabas.
We need to be the Barnabas of our teams.
Many volunteers are balancing jobs, schedules, kids, and everything in between, all the while trying to be faithful to their role in the church. Serving can often feel as one more thing on the to-do list, limiting their ability to recharge. Some roles have very limited visible return on investment too. It can get discouraging.
So how are we adding fuel back into our volunteers’ lives?
A leader ought to constantly evaluate if they’re taking more than they are giving. Do you only message that one volunteer to ask a favor or do you ask them how their day is going? Are your team emails only focused on the next task or do you celebrate what the team has done? Do you take opportunities to brag about a person’s willing heart when you are speaking to other people?
Serving in a thankless role will lead to higher turnover – guaranteed. Be the Barnabas of your team. Lavish them with praise. Send them random gift cards. Do everything in your power to let them know that they are appreciated for who they are, not what they give.
Space to Champion THEIR Vision
February 4, 2018 was one of the happiest days of my life. No, it’s not my anniversary. And no, it’s not the birth of a child. It’s the day the Philadelphia Eagles won the Super Bowl.
This event gave us one of the most memorable sports moments ever: the Philly Special.
Cameras caught a historic exchange between quarterback and coach. Conventional wisdom suggested that the Eagles ought to kick a field goal. But Nick Foles, the quarterback, suggests running the trick play. The coach, Doug Pederson, pauses, nods his head, then utters the phrase “Yeah, let’s do it.”
The play is executed perfectly and is instrumental in the Eagles 41-33 win.
But some, upon looking back on that play, have stated that the quarterback ought to receive the credit for the play. After all, he’s the one that suggested it. Isn’t it indicative of poor leadership that the coach didn’t make the play call?
No. The coach, the one obtaining the authority, recognized great vision and allowed his subordinate to carry it out.
The same is true when serving the church. There have been too many volunteers who, full of passion and energy, have been turned away by leadership. Nothing is more deflating.
Is there space for gifted leaders to create in your ministry? Are you coming alongside of their passions and ideas, or are volunteers just drones to carry out your mission?
The healthiest teams are able to create the “how are we going to do this” together. The mission and vision ought to be heavily directed by the leaders – no doubt. But is there enough room in your sandbox to allow other kids to build a sandcastle too?
If you are able to make a culture that welcomes new ideas and frees people up to run with them, you will certainly have a more bought in team. And the great news is that you’ll find that it will often turn out better than if you were the originator and executor.
When the whole team wins, it doesn’t matter if the coach or the quarterback called the play.
If your team is feeling less committed than you’d like, do the hard work and evaluate what you can do to change that. Perhaps one of these four areas needs a season of extra attention from you.
I’ll leave you with this final thought from James 1:5, “But if anyone of you lacks wisdom, let him ask from God who gives to everyone simply, and does not reproach, and it will be given to him.”
About the Author
Jonny Radcliff is the Student Ministry Director at Storehouse Church and the Philly Area Coordinator at National Network of Youth Ministries. He lives near Philly with his wife and the three little monsters that they rear together. His 10+ years of youth ministry have been spent in Indiana and Pennsylvania. He is a graduate of Liberty University and Grace Theological Seminary.
Long before I was a pastor, my experience with church ministry was that of a volunteer. Growing up in the FMC as a pastor’s kid, I helped with a little bit of everything–from teaching CLC and singing in choirs, to painting on church workdays.
My first pastoral position was children’s pastor at a fairly large church, where I oversaw more than 100 volunteers. I’ve also overseen volunteers in other ministry settings, such as mission trips, church retreats, and the elementary children’s program at General Conference. As someone who’s been on both sides of the volunteering equation, one thing has become abundantly clear to me: volunteers are the heart and soul of the church.
Even as I affirm my own pastoral vocation, I celebrate the priesthood of all believers. In Paul’s first letter to the church at Corinth, he compares the church to the human body: “As it is, there are many members, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you,’ nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you’” (I Corinthians 12:20-21). Paul gives us a vision of the interconnected nature of the church and reminds us that every single member has something of value to offer the body.
Part of our job as pastors and church leaders is to inspire and empower the volunteers we work with. If we truly desire to create a culture in which our volunteers can thrive, we must be intentional about equipping them. There is no formula for this process, but I’ve found a few things helpful in my own ministry settings.
- Fight the urge to settle for warm bodies. Keeping volunteer-driven ministries staffed is an endless task, and the temptation to recruit anyone with a pulse is strong. When you’re struggling to get volunteers, you may find yourself simply asking people you know will say, “yes”, regardless of their giftedness or actual interest. But this is problematic for a few reasons. First, these kinds of volunteers are much more likely to burn out quickly. If they’re not there because they want to be or because they are serving in ways that are meaningful to them, they won’t stay long. Second, just because they’re willing doesn’t mean they’re a good fit. I can think of some parishioners, for example, who may not be a good fit to work with children. The wrong person in a role could be worse than no person. Third, choosing anyone who will say, “yes” undercuts the value of the ministry you’re trying to support. It sends the message that you don’t care enough to find people who will be a good fit. When we take the time to discern who will best serve specific roles, our ministries are better for it.
- Don’t overestimate your own importance. As someone who hated group projects in school, I understand all too well the allure of micromanaging. It ensures that things happen the way you want them to, when you want them to. But operating ministries this way shows a lack of imagination. Who says that your vision of success is necessarily the best one? Micromanaging also ensures that ministries you oversee can’t succeed without you. That’s both unhealthy and unsustainable. Do the work of equipping your volunteers. Give them books to read. Mentor them. Let them try new things and take initiative. By empowering your volunteers to lead, you’ll remind both them and you that you’re replaceable. And that’s how it should be. Long after you’ve moved on to another appointment or ministry setting, those ministries will continue to thrive. (Thanks be to God!)
- Be honest about your limitations. As a leader, you want to be the one that people look to and trust. But you’re going to have bad ideas. And you’re going to make mistakes. Being honest about this doesn’t make you look weak. It makes you a better leader. Admit to your volunteers when you’re wrong. Ask them for their input and their advice. And when they have better ideas than yours, amplify and implement those ideas! If something isn’t working, don’t be afraid to change course. Not only will your ministries fare better, but your volunteers will be more invested (and stay longer).
- Help people move past an understanding of volunteer ministry as obligation. I’ll never forget the phrase I heard my first year as children’s pastor. When I asked someone if they’d like to serve in the nursery, their response was, “I’ve already done my time.” This person compared working with kids to a prison sentence. Ouch. This statement was telling on many levels. The person clearly didn’t enjoy working in the nursery, and I wanted a volunteer that desired to work with younger children where it was mutually beneficial for both the volunteer and the children. It also helped me realize that so many people see ministry as nothing more than an obligation. And that’s a problem. I recognize that a certain amount of sacrifice and self-denial is integral to the Christian life. But God gave us different personality traits and strengths for a reason. Let’s help people discover a fuller understanding of ministry: that in the body of Christ, ministering can, and should be, life-giving.
- Remember that your volunteers are more than what they can do for you. Sometimes we get so caught up in running effective ministries that we forget our volunteers have lives outside of the church. And we start to think of people only in terms of how they can benefit us. Fight this tendency by reminding yourself that your volunteers are made in God’s image and that their value doesn’t come from how much they produce or achieve. (For that matter, remind yourself that this applies to you too!) Find ways to get to know and support your volunteers outside the bounds of your ministry. And when you see that they’re overwhelmed or stressed out, encourage them to take time off — even if that means losing them as a volunteer.
When we do the hard work of investing in our volunteers and lifting them up, the body of Christ is richer for it. And so are we. What a gift!
About the Author
Katie Sawade Hall is Associate Pastor at Community of the Savior, a Free Methodist congregation in Rochester, New York. Before that she served as Children’s Pastor at Bedford Free Methodist Church in Bedford, Indiana. She is married to Andy Hall and they have a one-year old daughter named Ellie.
A Free Methodist congregation in Louisiana has nearly quadrupled in size after establishing the Blessing Boutique last year to show love to people and help meet their material needs.
Martha’s Chapel is a country church near Deville, Louisiana (population 1,007). Along with a small population from which to draw people, the church’s location poses a challenge to growth.
“The church is in a hidden area back in the country where a lot of people don’t just pass in front of it,” Pastor Gladys Miller said. “Our challenge is getting people to come to the church, because nobody is going to pass by here and say, ‘Oh, ther5e’s a Methodist church. I think I’ll stop.’”
Before arriving at Martha’s Chapel a year and a half ago, Miller was a retired United Methodist pastor but still preaching almost every Sunday for different pastors who were away from their pulpits, but she was not pastoring one congregation. Then she was asked to fill the vacant pulpit at Martha’s Chapel — an hour’s drive from her home — for a couple of Sundays. She soon heard from then-Superintendent Darrel Riley: “The people at Martha’s Chapel love your preaching and want you as pastor.”
When Miller became the pastor at Martha’s Chapel, the church had nine people attending. Now a typical service has attendance in the “high 30s/low 40s,” Miller said, and a recent homecoming service drew 82 people. The congregation has switched from discussion of possible closure to consideration of how to handle rapid growth.
“I get emotional a little bit when I think about how God is moving. People are coming in, and that’s what we want,” Miller said. “It’s not just the numbers in the church. It’s the number of souls that we can win for the Lord.”
One of the reasons for the growth is the Blessing Boutique, which is held once a month — typically on the second Saturday.
Miller learned of the concept from Sunrise Church, an independent church near her home. With Sunrise’s blessing, she presented the idea for a boutique at Martha’s Chapel to her receptive congregation that began hosting the Blessing Boutique last March. Miller printed a banner that said, “Shop free at the Blessing Boutique at Martha’s Chapel,” and word began to spread in the surrounding area.
“I had no idea when we started it that it would blossom as much as it has,” Miller said. “I was amazed at the amount of donations we had — that people were bringing quality items.”
Martha’s Chapel started the boutique in a small portable building but soon expanded it into part of the church’s parsonage.
The Blessing Boutique has caused the hidden church to become well-known in the area.
“We started doing this, and now they’re coming far and wide to see the church,” Miller said.
After visiting the boutique, some people take an interest in what the church has to offer spiritually.
“Slowly but surely, these people are beginning to come to church,” Miller said. “We will be taking in four new members that have come just because of the Blessing Boutique.”
Martha’s Chapel previously had no children attending, but the boutique has helped change that.
“It’s the best outreach I have ever done to bring people into the church,” Miller said. “We don’t have to beg them to come or anything like that.”
Miller said she is 73 years old, “but I’m a young 73,” and health challenges haven’t stopped her ministry. “I do have Parkinson’s [disease], but the Lord has blessed me. I take medication that controls it most of the time.”
Some boutique shoppers ask Miller if she is Martha because of the church’s name, which was inspired by a founding member named Martha. She tells them, “No, I’m not the original Martha. I’m Gladys.”
Praying + Partnering
Free products may have been most people’s initial attraction to the Blessing Boutique, but the boutique also attracts people seeking prayer.
“People are coming in, and we’re praying with them,” Miller said. “I just walk around all day and have a conversation with these people who have come to shop, and then they will start sharing with me.”
The shoppers often share that they don’t go to church but know that they should. In addition to praying with Miller at the boutique, people now call the church with their prayer requests. Some boutique shoppers now call Martha’s Chapel their church even if they don’t attend regularly, and that is leading their friends to visit church services.
“It’s just spreading, and, of course, that is what we want to do. We want to increase the kingdom of the Lord,” Miller said. “I’m just a simple woman. I preach a simple message, but God is using it.”
The Blessing Boutique introduces people to Christ while also connecting Martha’s Chapel members to other Christians in the area.
“We’re getting people from other churches who are coming to help us,” Miller said.
Variety and Value
Boutique shoppers appreciate the variety of items that are available, and some express shock when they learn the items are available at no cost.
“We have everything. We have shoes. We have clothing. We have toys. We have bedroom articles — sheets. You name it, we have it,” Miller said. “When people come in, they start shopping, and they say, ‘What does this cost?’ We say, ‘It’s free. Freely we have received, and freely we give,’ and that amazes people.”
Miller said that some people offer financial donations after receiving the boutique items, and Martha’s Chapel members use the donations to purchase toiletry items such as toothbrushes, toothpaste and deodorant that are then added to the boutique.
“Every month that we’ve had it, it has picked up in number, and the last time we had it, we had over 100 people that showed up,” Miller said.
Blessing Boutique volunteer Katy Price said that number is a big deal to Martha’s Chapel, which she has attended for 48 years.
“We’re in a very rural area,” Price said. “A hundred may not seem like many to people who live in town and have people going by their church all the time, but for people to come to our location, it’s three or four miles from the nearest store.”
The isolated church is now an important destination for people seeking help along with people wanting to donate items.
“It has just expanded almost beyond having enough room. It’s unbelievable,” Price said.
Although the boutique is held one day a month, volunteers work throughout the month to sort donations left in front of the church building or parsonage.
“It’s hard work though,” Miller said. “People bring us a lot of things, and we have to go through every stack and weed out things.”
Price agreed. “It doesn’t come easy,” she said. “It’s an ongoing process. Someone has to go through the bags and boxes and totes.”
The faithful volunteer said that Martha’s Chapel members want to ensure boutique items are in good condition, and she and other volunteers sort “mountains of clothes” to remove unsuitable clothing.
“We go through it and try to weed out the things that are not good. We don’t want to put anything out there that is dirty,” Price said. “No matter how needy you are, you want nice things.”
Volunteers inspect every donated item, and only items determined to be clean and in perfect condition are put in the Blessing Boutique to give away.
“We have many articles that are brand-new and still have the tags hanging on them,” Miller said. “We had a $150 men’s shirt that was donated. It still had the tag on it. We had several jackets that were $400 or $500 apiece donated.”
One area store is instructed by its corporate headquarters to throw items away when they don’t sell, but the store sets them outside and lets the boutique volunteers know.
“When people come, they know they’re going to get quality things, and we know that God is in this because of the huge amount of donations we have,” Miller said. “It’s been amazing. People say, ‘These things are new.’”
The December boutique especially drew people seeking winter clothes amid falling temperatures.
“We saw real needs met,” Price said. “There were people who really needed warm clothes, and we were so glad to be able to have those things available to them.”
News of the boutique is spreading far beyond Deville.
“Because of our church putting it on the Internet, I’ve had churches as far away as Arkansas call me and talk to me about it,” Miller said. “They’re doing it in other areas now.”
The Blessing Boutique concept has spread to the NOLA FMC church plant in the New Orleans area, and Miller hopes free boutiques will open in many other locations.
As Martha’s Chapel members bless others, they find their congregation receives blessings.
“You never know where you’re planting the seed,” said Price who expressed hope that “in the future more will come and join us and become part of the church family.”
Jeff Finley is this magazine’s executive editor. He also serves as a delegate for John Wesley Free Methodist Church in Indianapolis. He joined LIGHT + LIFE in 2011 after a dozen years of reporting and editing for Sun-Times Media.
Alyssa Galios lost her husband, Nick Magnotti, to cancer at age 27 when their daughter was only nine months old. While facing intense struggles and doubts, she eventually found renewed faith in God along with an unexpected relationship with one of Nick’s longtime friends, Jay Galios.
Alyssa, now a 32-year-old mother of three, is helping thousands of other people through her book, “Made for Brave: A Journey Through Devastating Loss to Infinite Hope,” along with sharing her story on podcasts and in other venues that don’t typically host Christian authors. Amid her busy schedule that includes running Made for Brave Fitness and Coaching, Alyssa graciously spent an hour on the phone answering LIGHT + LIFE’s questions about her life and her writing. Space constraints won’t allow this magazine to share many of the ways God has worked in her life, but the best way to learn more of her heartbreaking and inspiring life story is to visit alyssagalios.com and to order “Made for Brave.”
You may have seen Nick — who died on Jan. 7, 2014, of mucinous adenocarcinoma (a form of appendix cancer) — in a popular November 2013 video, “Young Man Battles Cancer With A Smile,” that is available at fmchr.ch/nickvideo via YouTube where it has more than 1.1 million views. The video was uploaded by Alyssa but never monetized to receive money from advertising. She has received multiple requests from media companies seeking permission to republish the video (some of which have added subtitles in other languages), and she doesn’t charge them to use it. Nick was still alive when the initial requests came, and he wanted the video freely available to spread hope.
“It’s been really incredible to see it go so far and so wide,” she said. “You never know how many lives you’re impacting for the better, and that is such a testament to Nick and the life that he lived and the faith that he lived up until his last day.”
Early in “Made for Brave,” Alyssa writes about “working insane hours in those first several years of marriage.” Alyssa told LIGHT + LIFE that instead of having an “eternity mindset,” she initially had a “here-and-now mindset that I needed to achieve certain things as fast as I could and that included getting a great big house, buying the right cars, wearing the right clothes.”
She said that when Nick was first diagnosed “with cancer and had his subsequent surgery and was declared cancer-free [before the cancer unexpectedly reappeared], that was really a wakeup call for us on how little time we had spent together. We had been married for three years, and our only vacation time had been our honeymoon. We had been working our tails off, each working 60-plus hours a week, and we both loved our jobs. We loved our clients, and we loved our community members, but, at the end of the day, we weren’t spending any time intentionally on our relationships with each other and not even close to enough time building our intentional relationship with God.”
The couple began making church attendance and weekly date nights priorities, and they examined their career goals and spending priorities.
“We realized when Nick got sick that all of the things we’d been working toward, suddenly didn’t matter,” said Alyssa, who recalled conversations from Nick’s hospital bed in which they discussed “how many hours we had spent just earning a paycheck to pay for a house we were hardly ever in because we were always gone because we were always working.”
Career advancement suddenly wasn’t as important.
“We made a complete shift when he first got sick, and that was an incredible two and a half years of my life. I was able to work from home almost right away,” said Alyssa, who took a new position doing content creation for a local startup. “I actually left my position as the chief operating officer of an incubator here in Seattle because there was no way to balance those hours.”
When she started dating Jay, she let him know, “I don’t live my life according to money. I don’t live it to try to earn a paycheck. I buy most of my stuff secondhand. My focus is on God, and my focus is on my family, and then it’s on taking care of other people, and eventually I want to build my business better.”
The book also reveals Alyssa’s own battle with Behcet’s disease, a rare autoimmune disorder causing blood vessel inflammation throughout the body.
“I’ve had so many incredible conversations with people who are going through their own chronic pain and chronic illnesses,” said Alyssa, who thankfully has not had an attack in four years.
“I choose to believe that I am fully healed in Jesus’ name,” she said. “Every once in a while, I have something that hints a flareup might be coming, and I use the tools that I’ve learned about anti-inflammatory eating and exercise, and general stress and anxiety care.”
Along with her health challenges, Alyssa discusses mistakes she made when she moved from Washington state to Florida for a year and dated a man who was part of a church worship team.
“For me it was very important to share about my experience in Florida, because I think there’s a popularity in choosing what looks to be correct to the rest of the world. There’s a popularity in picking and choosing things from the Bible, and the outline that God gave us for His version of our best life. We like to pick that apart and say, ‘Well, this one doesn’t make sense. Not sleeping together before you’re married, that doesn’t actually make sense in this day and age,’ and it’s really easy to fall into that trap,” Alyssa said. “I’ve lived that life of trying to put my own lines in the sand and change them from where Jesus has put those.”
She said that sometimes she finds it scary to share openly about personal experiences, but then she thinks “about those private messages I get — and I honestly get them almost every day — of someone who reaches out and says, ‘Me too. I’ve been there, or you’ve finally put words to something I’ve been experiencing, or I’ve been having these same thoughts, but I’ve been scared to approach it, and now I’ve read it and know that I need to make a decision.’”
Alyssa sensed God calling her to write the book in a way that shares her life story without telling other people how to live their lives.
“When I first started writing the book, I considered putting all my opinions in there,” she said. “I don’t think there’s anything wrong with people sharing their beliefs. I think that’s so necessary, but I feel like I have been called specifically, for whatever reason, to quell my quote-unquote ‘opinions’ and instead show people my experience that led to my opinions without overtly stating them, so that people can really put themselves in my shoes and understand where I came from.”
Alyssa said she has seen a lot of judgment — especially among Christians — about widows, remarriage and “what grief is supposed to look like versus what it actually looks like.”
A recurring character in the book is Pastor Eric who provides spiritual guidance and even career advice. For example, she writes, “After I got home, I touched base with Pastor Eric, letting him know I’d made it back to the Pacific Northwest. He knew I still had questions, but he had been undeniably happy when he heard what God had revealed to me, or rather what I had finally accepted, in Florida.”
Alyssa told LIGHT + LIFE that she first met Eric Spangler during her teenage years when her family began attending Lakeside Community Fellowship (now LifePoint Church), a Free Methodist congregation in Lake Stevens, Washington.
“He was a big part of my family, and I consider him honestly like a dad to me,” she said. “When Nick and I got married, he did our premarital counseling and married us. Then he did Nick’s celebration of life and was there the day Nick passed away. Then he did Jay’s and my premarital counseling and married us.”
Spangler told LIGHT + LIFE, “I remember one of the first times Nick and Alyssa walked through my office door. They had come for premarital counseling. That smile! I’ll never forget that defining, boyish, inviting smile! As a pastor, I’ve marked ministry over the years by watershed moments that open the door for the Father’s presence. Walking with Nick and Alyssa through the most challenging moments of life while at the same time sensing that powerful presence was defining for me, not just as a pastor, but as a follower of Jesus.”
The couple’s former pastor recalled Nick telling him, “God’s told me that I won’t die from this.” In his mind, Spangler heard the words of Jesus: “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25–26 NKJV).
He later realized, “Nick was absolutely right. And when I sat with him days before his passage into eternity, I asked him what he wanted me to say at his memorial service. Just a few weeks later, I passed that message on: ‘Tell them I’m blessed, I have no fear, and that they should trust in God. God’s got this.’”
He said “Made for Brave” is not only “about Alyssa’s extraordinary experience of faith and trust or Nick’s indelible confidence in Christ, but it’s also about the Savior who stared death in the face on the cross so that we might all share in the hope of resurrection life.”
The Galios family is now active in RockCreek Church, a Free Methodist congregation in Marysville, Washington.
“Alyssa is passionate about helping people get healthy and staying fit but also integrates her faith in every aspect of her business. Her story of loss, grief and redemption will encourage your heart, fill you with hope and ultimately help you trust God in greater ways,” RockCreek Lead Pastor Bryan Rees said. “Alyssa and her husband, Jay, are incredible leaders at RockCreek Church, and we’re so thankful they are a part of our community.”
Together for Good
The book is selling well. After its release in November 2019, it became the best-selling new release in Amazon’s “Christian Death & Grief” category. Alyssa is not profiting from the book, however; all of the net proceeds are donated to organizations fighting cancer.
“That was a total surrender decision — not one that I made easily,” she said. “I just had this feeling in my heart, that still quiet voice that said, ‘I want you to donate the proceeds. I don’t want you to have the money from this,’ and I fought Him on that.”
Other people also tried to talk her out of the decision, but “it didn’t matter what anyone else said, because I knew what God was calling me to do.”
The book closes with Romans 8:28, “We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God, who are called according to his purpose” (CSB). The book lists its publisher as Romans 8:28 Books, but when asked by Light + Life whether the dual use of the verse was intentional, Alyssa said the connection “wasn’t planned. It was a divine coincidence if you want to call it a coincidence.”
She explained that “Made for Brave” was picked up by Redemption Press, and the initial draft of the book listed the publisher as Redemption. However, the company surprised her by later deciding to publish her book under its new Romans 8:28 imprint that was established last year for higher-selling titles such as a devotional book for the movie “Unplanned.”
“Made for Brave” is one of the publisher’s best-selling books, and Alyssa said, “It’s been unexpected for me to see how far it’s gone and how many people are willing to get behind it and help spread the message of hope even in hopeless situations.”
The author is more excited by messages she receives from readers than she is by sales figures.
“There are so many people who are suffering and so many people who are scared right now, and I think that if we can allow Him to make good of it and take what the enemy meant for evil and turn it into good, then we have so much more potential as Christians,” she said.
“We can trust God no matter how hopeless it looks — no matter how bleak or how dark — to turn even the worst tragedies in our lives into opportunities to get closer to Him and into opportunities for good and opportunities for His glory. That understanding for me has allowed me to live through so many additional hard things.”
Zach Fleming is the new director of FM:Infuse, the national youth ministry effort of the Free Methodist Church – USA, but he’s not new to youth ministry or the challenges that youth pastors and volunteer youth leaders face.
“There was this feeling, especially when I first started, that I was supposed to have it all together, and I was supposed to know everything,” said Fleming, 40, who has served as the pastor of student ministries at the McPherson Free Methodist Church in McPherson, Kansas, since 2005 and will continue in that role while directing FM:Infuse. “The longer I do this, the more I believe in the wisdom of being able to ask for help.”
FM:Infuse is a resource that equips, encourages and supports Free Methodist youth leaders across the denomination regardless of the size of the church, whether they’re volunteers or paid youth leaders, or whether they’re in an urban or rural context. He doesn’t want the conversation about youth ministry to be limited to leaders from large churches with more resources.
“There is value and importance and kingdom work being done in small rural churches with maybe a mom or dad volunteering. … It’s no less important and it’s no more important than somebody who is paid by a local church,” said Fleming, who added that the COVID-19 pandemic is shifting the perspective of what it means to do youth ministry in 2020. “As all of us are figuring out how to go smaller and go more intimate, I really think right now that we should be listening to the youth workers in smaller contexts.”
Youth ministry has suddenly shifted to Zoom calls, which can make youth group meetings seem more like students’ recent online school classes. Fleming told LIGHT + LIFE that youth leaders are now learning what bears fruit in our changing world and what may not be a good use of their time.
“We can burn ourselves out easily trying to produce content,” Fleming said. “What my students need right now more than anything is relationship. My best energy right now is spent in handwritten notes to students and, as things are beginning to open up, interacting with students face-to-face when possible.”
Fleming becomes director after serving on the FM:Infuse team for 10 years. He joined the executive leadership five years ago, and he was heavily involved in planning and hosting the Free Methodist Youth Conference three years ago. Teens and youth leaders who participated in FMYC 2017 may remember him from his creative antics onstage as an emcee alongside Chadwick Anderson.
“I’m really excited about the opportunity to be able to serve the denomination in this way. I love the Free Methodist Church, and I love and am called to youth ministry,” Fleming said. “I am so thrilled, honored and humbled honestly to lead and serve in this way.”
He recently was asked by the Board of Bishops to lead FM:Infuse after being recommended by outgoing Director Jeremy Lefler. Fleming studied youth ministry in McPherson at Central Christian College of Kansas and, while serving at the McPherson FMC, later earned a master’s degree in youth ministry leadership from Huntington University.
Fleming said he sensed a call to youth ministry a little later than the typical youth pastor.
“I graduated high school in 1998. I really came to know the Lord and accepted Jesus as my Lord and Savior when I was 20,” Fleming said.
After his conversion, he began serving and volunteering through the local Youth for Christ organization. He felt God calling him to youth ministry and began to look into where he could receive more training. A Yahoo search changed the course of his future.
“Central was one of the hits that popped up,” said Fleming, who liked that the college would allow him an experience somewhere other than his hometown of Mattoon, Illinois. “I felt like a fresh start was really important and met with Lenny Favara who was teaching youth ministry and was the campus pastor at the time. I really connected with Lenny.”
Favara is now Central’s president, and Fleming is now the longtime youth pastor at the FM church bordering the Central campus.
“I came to McPherson in the fall of 2001, and I’ve been here ever since,” Fleming said. “I didn’t know what a Free Methodist was until I came to Central. I had no idea.”
Fleming soon developed a love for the Free Methodist denomination. He even met his wife, Suzanne, while they were both college students serving as summer staff at Sky Lodge Christian Camp, a Free Methodist campground in Montello, Wisconsin. They married in 2005, and they now have three children, Isaac, 11; Karis, 9; and Bella, 8.
Fleming emphasizes the freedoms of Free Methodism to students, and he and other FM:Infuse leaders believe FMYC is key to students understanding and connecting with the denomination.
“For any church, you have so many options for what to do with teenagers for a week during the summer,” said Fleming, who described FMYC as “distinctively Free Methodist in that we want to create an environment that helps our Free Methodist students know that they’re part of something bigger than their local church, that they’re part of a larger family that’s a global family.”
FM:Infuse leaders are currently planning the next FMYC to be held from June 28 to July 2, 2021, on the campus of Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colorado.
“We’re so excited with some of the things that we see being birthed for FMYC 2021 especially as it relates to helping teenagers identify calling, identify gifting and how to lean into that gifting,” said Fleming, who added that instead of merely using the resources of the Fort Collins community and then leaving, organizers are looking at ways to incorporate elements of service to the community that reflect “the heart of Free Methodism.”
More information about FMYC 2021 is expected soon. Follow the event’s Instagram page at instagram.com/fmyc2021 for updates.
The Rev. Dr. Sheila Houston has been interviewed on national television and on the stages of megachurches. Her expertise and courage have attracted the attention of politicians, journalists and scholars.
But Houston’s early life occurred far from the spotlight. She grew up in a family of 14.
“I barely knew my father as a child before he disappeared,” Houston said during a LIGHT + LIFE interview in which she recalled her father giving her a yellow pleather coat. “After that, I don’t remember my father being there as a child. However, throughout my adult life, I encountered him three times briefly before he died. I longed for my dad all throughout my childhood and teen years. ”
In a Superman-jumping contest with her siblings, she jumped the farthest, crashed through glass doors, and was taken to the hospital.
“I ended up messing up my eyesight, and wearing glasses, and not only did I end up wearing glasses, I had to wear thick glasses.” She was mocked and called “four eyes” until she eventually stopped wearing her glasses even though she couldn’t see well.
As a teenager, while walking home from school with friends, she felt something hit her head, and blood ran down her face. She later learned a shot from a BB gun was lodged in her head, and the doctor said the location of the shot nearly killed her.
“Throughout my life, I almost got killed 13 times, but God…” said Houston, who credited God with protecting her.
Her mother went to a Baptist church most Sundays, and she occasionally went along, but the visits were not helpful.
“Every time my siblings and I showed up, it seemed like the pastor never had a message,” she recalled. “When we came, he just talked about us, and so that was definitely not encouraging.”
Her mother would tell her as a teen not to get pregnant, and she would reply that if she got pregnant, she would marry the baby’s father.
She began dating an older teen, and he bought her a gray leather coat.
“After he bought the coat, then he wanted more,” she recalled. “I thought he was a nice guy. He wanted to be together, and so we ended up being together, and after that, we ended up getting married.”
She was only 16 years old as a pregnant bride in the courthouse, and she and the groom had an unusual wedding night.
“He went to his mother’s house, and I went back home to mine,” she said. “We did not move in with each other until one of my older sisters got us an apartment.”
Her husband, who was a couple of years older, eventually decided he wanted to quit his job, and he became violent.
“He began to talk about how we needed money, so that’s when he wanted me to start working the streets,” she said. “We didn’t call it human trafficking then, but that’s what it was.”
She began to work in the area of Seattle where men drove around to purchase sex.
“I never liked it, and I can remember that something on the inside of me just did not agree with this lifestyle,” said Houston, who added that like many other human trafficking victims, she told herself that she loved her husband who was selling her and that she was creating a better life for her family. “That’s what most victims of sex trafficking say.”
One night, a man picked her up, took her to his apartment, and raped her with a gun to her head. When she left the man’s home and told her husband, he gave her a butter knife and told her to go back to the streets.
“I walked the streets all night crying. I didn’t try to meet anyone,” she said. “I always called out to God.”
She wasn’t yet a Christian, but she appealed to God for help.
Her husband decided they would move to Phoenix with their son, and he promised a new life for them.
“We go to Phoenix. As soon as I get there, he puts me out of the car and says, ‘Go to work,’” she recalled.
A man picked her up, held a knife to her throat, and tried to rape her. Something more powerful than herself rose up on the inside, and she began to fight for her life through her words. The man let her go. He drove her back where he picked her up.
She eventually convinced her husband to let her and their son return to Seattle to avoid the Arizona heat.
“I went back to my mother’s house, and I never lived with him again,” she said. “But did my life get any easier? No, I went from one bad relationship to another.”
At age 25, her sisters convinced her to date a man whom they said was a good guy with money. He became “the most horrific man in my life story.” The Vietnam veteran tried to push her out of a moving vehicle and throw her out of a high-rise hotel room.
She moved into a domestic violence shelter but eventually “went back into that violent relationship, because I had nowhere else to go.” She tried to commit suicide by taking pills, but a voice — whom she now believes to be the Holy Spirit — immediately told her to drink coffee. She then told her abuser what she’d done, and he took her to the hospital up the street where the staff didn’t believe she’d taken the pills. He continued his abusive behavior.
She tried another shelter and then she — and the three children she now had — moved to Oklahoma with a woman she met at the shelter, but her abuser tracked her down and forced her and the children to return to Seattle. On the way back, however, he decided to leave her in the desert to die. After he left her, she cried out to God. She didn’t know God, but she cried out, and the man returned and picked her up.
In Seattle, she and her children escaped the man. A lawyer helped her obtain a restraining order to protect her from the man, who never bothered her again.
Finding Jesus and George
Friends and family members all around her began becoming Christians. While walking one Sunday, she saw the sun shining out of heaven on a church building that was down the street past another church building.
“It was seriously like Paul talked about,” she said. “I knew on the inside that I had to go to church. I ran home and I changed my clothes, and I told my kids, ‘I’ll be back.’”
She went into the church the sunlight had hit, and she realized, “All that time I have been calling out to God, it was Jesus that I needed, and I had no idea that in order for me to get to God, I needed Jesus. That day, I received Jesus as my Lord and Savior, and my life was changed. Since that day, I have never been the same.”
A few weeks after attending services at the small church, she was asked to help with the children’s ministry.
“It was one of the greatest things that ever happened to me. God began to teach me how to teach the children. That’s how I learned to study the Word of God,” she said. “I would just feast on His Word and take it back to the children’s ministry.”
Through a dream, she later sensed God leading her to another church, but she hadn’t heard of the new church’s name apart from the dream.
“I went to the phone book, and I began to look,” said Houston, who found the church and began attending. “That church that He sent me to was such a loving church. That’s where I found love.”
She also embraced teaching opportunities in the new church. In addition, she felt a call from God to begin cleaning the church building that was also home to a Christian school where her children started attending and she began working.
“One day, there was going to be a wedding, and God said, ‘Clean it,’ and I cleaned it for this wedding,’” she said. “I didn’t know when I was cleaning that church and that school, that was sowing a seed for my future.”
One day, she saw a young woman on a street near her home in Seattle’s High Point neighborhood.
“I went over and talked to the girl. I could tell she was being trafficked. I said, ‘If you ever need somebody, I live right over here,’” she said. “In less than a week, she knocked on my door probably at about 1 or 2 in the morning. I opened my door, and the Lord said, ‘Feed her and let her sleep.’ She woke up late that afternoon, and the Lord said, ‘Feed her and tell her about Me.’ I used my flannel board and shared how Jesus loved her and died for her. I led her to salvation, and then she showered and left.”
She eventually felt God leading her to a third church where she met George Houston, who is now her husband. Her previous church ultimately closed, and her then-church purchased and moved into her previous church’s building. George and Sheila asked permission to hold their wedding and reception there. She said they were the newly relocated church’s “first marriage in the church that God made me clean for a couple of years, so God is faithful.”
After her mother went home to be with the Lord, she decided to return to school and get her GED diploma because she had never finished high school. She didn’t plan on higher education, but she then heard a church testimony from one of George’s cousins who was the student body president at a local community college. After the cousin sat down, the pastor asked, “Who has fear of education?” Sheila stood up. The pastor prayed to break the stronghold off her, and she heard God telling her to go to college.
She attended the community college and earned an associate’s degree. Then she went to Seattle Pacific University and earned her bachelor’s degree in organizational behavior with a minor in communication. She then enrolled in Seattle University where she earned a master’s degree in executive nonprofit leadership, a pastoral leadership certificate and later a post-master’s certificate in transforming spirituality and a doctorate of ministry.
Houston was offered a job as a director of the Late Night Outreach program of New Horizons Ministries that works with victims of sex trafficking and young people experiencing homelessness. At a women’s retreat before coming to New Horizons, she had a dream of snatching women out of trafficking and helping them return home.
“Now before my second interview with New Horizons, I had another dream. I could see myself helping young women come off the streets from trafficking,” she said.
She accepted the job with New Horizons to help women escape sexual exploitation and human trafficking. She and her teams would stand on street corners every Friday and every other Saturday night and reach out to women.
God didn’t just place a burden on her heart for the women. She also thought about the men she encountered on the same streets.
“Would you think that God would not care about these young, broken men? Why are they out there doing this?” she asked. “The Lord put on my heart to start a ministry working with young men involved in pimping.”
As the mother of three sons, she said, she knew the men “didn’t need another woman hollering at them. They needed men.” Free Methodist Pastor Deryl Davis-Bell became the leader of a group of male volunteers reaching out to men who facilitated human trafficking on the streets.
George and Sheila started a church in Renton, Washington, and affiliated with the Free Methodist Church.
“We didn’t want to be a church out there by ourselves. We wanted to be a church that had accountability,” she said. “We wanted to be a church where we could go and get strengthened as we do the work. That’s why we became a part of the Free Methodist.”
Their church plant ultimately closed, and they became part of Living Hope Christian Fellowship (now the Renton campus of Timberlake Church, the nation’s largest Free Methodist congregation). Two and a half years ago, they moved to the Detroit area for George to become the lead pastor of Stone Haven Free Methodist Church in Troy, Michigan, and for Sheila to serve as associate pastor.
She became the interim pastor of the Detroit Free Methodist Church in November 2018 following the death of longtime Pastor William Mulwee, and she officially became the lead pastor in June 2019.
“One of the things I’ve learned through the years is that God has a plan and purpose for every person. It doesn’t matter your status in life, your income level or how educated you are. All that matters is your willingness to accept His call,” she said. “One of the biggest things I’ve been trying to instill in the people of the church in Detroit is that God has need of them and their importance to the body of Christ. Their gifts and talents are needed to bring deliverance, healing and love to the Detroit community and our world.”
Even though she’s now a Michigan resident, she returned to Washington state in January to receive an Anti-Trafficking Trailblazer Award from Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan. Durkan honored Houston as part of the Human Trafficking Awareness Day, and the city government credited her with “being directly involved with over 2,500 victims” and making “a difference in the sex trafficking world by leading outreach and victim support teams to work with survivors of trafficking.”
When she received the call asking her to receive the award, she decided to accept the award at Seattle City Hall as a testimony of a Christian living out her faith and also as the only African-American recipient. Visit fmchr.ch/shouston to learn more about the award.
Notre Dame Magazine might seem like an unlikely place to read an in-depth article about a Free Methodist pastor and church planter — especially considering that pastor, Heritage Murinda Munyakuri, isn’t an alumnus of the prestigious Catholic university that publishes the magazine. Munyakuri, however, isn’t a typical pastor, and award-winning journalist Abigail Pesta (a Notre Dame alumna) was drawn to his extraordinary life story.
In the article titled “The Lord Is His Shepherd,” Pesta recounted how Munyakuri, a native of what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo, “escaped a childhood of war, in which he was snatched up to serve as a child soldier for rebel groups — three times. Twice he was forced to fight; the third time, he refused to pick up a gun.” Pesta noted that Munyakuri “could have emerged a furious person. Instead, he changed his fate. He became a pastor and now runs his own church in Rochester, where he welcomes other immigrants and refugees.”
Pesta also interviewed Bishop Linda Adams who served as the pastor of New Hope Free Methodist Church in Rochester, New York, when Munyakuri and his family, who were Free Methodists in the Congo, moved to the United States 13 years ago and learned of New Hope from a taxi driver. Adams recalled how Munyakuri translated a message from his father, “We are orphans. We have no mother, no father, no motherland, no fatherland. The Free Methodist Church is our family, and you are our mother.’”
Adams also described Munyakuri as a “prayer warrior” who “would come and pray for eight hours at a time, processing what he had been through, crying, praying, sometimes shouting.”
There’s more to Munyakuri’s powerful life story that hasn’t been published previously. In a recent interview with LIGHT + LIFE, Munyakuri shared more about what has happened since his initial abduction and about his role as the founding pastor of El Shaddai Free Methodist Church.
Seeing and Praying
The lyrics for the hymn “Amazing Grace” have a literal meaning for Munyakuri — particularly “I once was lost, but now am found, was blind, but now I see.”
One aspect of his life that hasn’t been reported is the physical healing he experienced following the bodily damage of the intense brutality he experienced.
“When I was captured by the militias in Congo, when they cut me with machetes, they hit me in my eyes, and my eyes were bleeding, and I became blind for almost five years,” Munyakuri told LIGHT + LIFE. “My blind eyes led me to Christ.”
A doctor instructed Munyakuri to drink five gallons of water every day, which he did faithfully without a change.
“Nothing happened, so I said, ‘I need God. I need something that maybe will heal me,’” he recalled.
He started attending church, accepted Jesus Christ and decided to fast for two weeks.
“I keep praying. Nothing happens, and then one day I walk through the church,” Munyakuri said. “The pastor was preaching, and he started talking about somebody who was blind in the church, and he said, ‘God is going to touch you, and God is going to heal your eyes.’”
Munyakuri said he closed his left eye and moved his hand across his right eye, which had been completely blind. To his surprise, he saw his hand.
He told a friend in the church, “I’m no longer blind. I’m healed,” but the friend didn’t believe him. The friend covered the other eye and asked Munyakuri to read the Bible with his right eye. The friend then said, “For real, you’ve been healed.”
Munyakuri notified the pastor that he had been healed, and the pastor handed him the microphone to tell the congregation of his healing.
“From that day forward, I loved prayer, because it makes a difference, and nothing can stop your prayers,” he said. “When you pray, it may take a long time to happen, but God will deliver in His own time.”
Munyakuri’s restored eyesight wasn’t the only healing he received. He also was supposed to have his right hand amputated at one point, but he declined the amputation.
“I kept praying, ‘God, will you bring a doctor who’s going to heal my right hand rather than taking it off?’”
He finally met another doctor who said, “I don’t want anyone else to touch this man. I’m going to just be the one taking care of him.” Munyakuri added, “He did all he could. He saved my right hand, but that was through prayer.”
As Adams told Pesta, prayer is key to who Munyakuri is.
“If there is no prayer in my life, I won’t be the person that I am today,” he said. “I’ll be lost. Prayer helps me first connect with God.”
He follows the call to personal prayer found in Matthew 6:6.
“I take some time alone where nobody else sees me, where nobody will clap hands for me, when I go in my secret room and I pray with just God who sees me and hears my word and takes it,” he said. “It makes me develop my relationship with God. When I’m praying alone, it’s just me and God.”
Prayer has helped him through the difficulties of his life.
“When I pray to God, it’s like I’m communicating to Him. I’m speaking to Him, and He is able to listen to what I’m saying through the Holy Spirit,” Munyakuri said. “When I pray, I feel like God is standing next to me.”
Munyakuri also understands the importance of group prayer reflected in passages such as Matthew 18:19–20, Acts 4:31 and James 5:14–15.
“There are times also when we need other people to pray together,” he said. “It’s like they sharpen me. … I hear something that will lift me up.”
Suffering and Joy
Munyakuri offers a personal testimony of God’s faithfulness through the hard times of life, which he said God uses to shape us — not abandon us.
“I’m a living testimony that you can be in suffering, but sometimes God uses suffering to bring joy in our hearts,” he said. “I usually have a lot of joy, not because I have everything, but because I went through some hardship, and God came to my help.”
When asked what advice he would give for people going through hard times, he said, “You may cry through the night, and the joy will come in the morning. There was a time in my life I used to cry in the night, but through my prayers and my devotion to God, and in my journey of faith and keeping hope in the Lord, the Lord never left my side. He declared through Moses, He said that He Himself will go before us and will always prepare a way for us. He will never leave us or even forsake us.”
Munyakuri added, “Even if you are in your darkest time in life, I know that God is able to take you out of there.”
The Munyakuri family’s 2007 arrival led to increased diversity among Free Methodists in the Rochester area.
“There were no other people from Africa there. We were the first to arrive at New Hope. Then other people kept coming,” Munyakuri said. “I invited them. They all loved New Hope. Then it came to the point where people wanted to worship in their own language.”
Munyakuri eventually became New Hope’s assistant pastor, and then-Lead Pastor Michael Traylor (now co-superintendent of the River Conference) asked him to lead an afternoon service for African immigrants.
“We started the service as a New Hope service, and it kept growing and growing,” Munyakuri said.
Munyakuri said that after Scott Sittig arrived as New Hope’s pastor, Sittig suggested that the afternoon congregation could become a new congregation with Munyakuri as the lead pastor. El Shaddai Free Methodist Church launched in 2017. El Shaddai means “God Almighty” or “the Overpowerer” in Hebrew.
Services are held in two languages, Kinyarwanda and English. According to the National African Language Resource Center, Kinyarwanda is spoken by 20 million people who live primarily in Rwanda and portions of the Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda.
“Most of the people are first generation here. They are very blessed to have a service in their own language,” Munyakuri said. “Because we also want to make sure we adapt to American culture, I start preaching in English every Sunday, and I have someone else translate it.”
Cultural adaptation is not the only reason for the dual languages in worship.
“We don’t want to be the church for just Africans,” Munyakuri said. “Our worship team is now singing songs in English so that we can invite other people who don’t speak our language. … We came here not only to bring the good news to the African people but also to reach the people around us.”
Unlike Munyakuri’s family that was originally drawn to New Hope because they were Free Methodists in Africa, El Shaddai primarily attracts African immigrants who are new to Free Methodism.
“They just join because we invited them to the church,” he said.
El Shaddai members are becoming prayer warriors like their pastor.
“Prayer is one of our goals at our church. We emphasize prayer most to the people. We want to encourage them to learn how to pray, because when we pray, that’s when God moves in the hearts of the people, and that’s what brings revival to the nation, other places, and our heart,” he said. “We emphasize prayer is like the foundation of our church.”
Prayer and fellowship don’t just happen at Sunday services, and the church helps give its immigrant members a sense of belonging.
“Our small groups, when we meet house to house in prayer, encourage them. They don’t feel like there are foreigners,” he said. “They don’t have the neighbors like they used to have in Africa. So once you go to their house and spend time with them in prayer group and praying and reading the Bible, it makes a difference for them, and they enjoy that.”
One area of prayer is for El Shaddai to have its own building.
After launching at New Hope, the church plant received an offer from the family of former Free Methodist Church – USA Board of Administration member Norman Leenhouts, the co-founder of Broadstone Real Estate LLC, to use space for two years rent-free in a building close to downtown Rochester. The building meant that El Shaddai could hold services on Sunday morning instead of waiting to hold them on Sunday afternoon at New Hope.
“They [the Leenhouts family] owned the building, and they wanted a Free Methodist presence there,” Munyakuri said. “We said, ‘OK, we would love to go to a place where we could worship in the morning instead of afternoon, because it would be better and the church would grow more if we had the space in the morning.’”
The church began meeting in the building in 2017 (the same year that Leenhouts died) and met there through December 2019 when the building was donated to Youth for Christ.
El Shaddai is now meeting at the Park Ridge Free Methodist Church in Rochester’s Greece suburb on Sunday afternoons.
“The building is nice, and the people there are very welcoming,” Munyakuri said. “The problem is for the people we are focusing ministry on, that’s not the best location for us.”
Some members work on Sunday afternoon and can no longer attend, and transportation is a major challenge since the move.
“On Sunday, there is no bus over there,” Munyakuri said. “We don’t have a way to get people to the church. … I can’t drive them by myself to the church.”
El Shaddai members hope to obtain their own worship space closer to where most of the members live.
“My desire is that we raise money and buy our own building,” Munyakuri said. “We think we will be sustainable in the long run if we have our own place.”
He envisions an area of the church dedicated to helping people apply for jobs and providing transportation to job interviews.
“When they come to us, we help them to adapt to American culture and find jobs for them,” Munyakuri said. “I usually have dedicated time to take people for interviews and applying for jobs for them.”
El Shaddai members are using fundraisers such as a dinner with African food to raise money for a permanent home, but they know that money alone is not enough.
“Even now as we’re seeking to buy the building, the best thing we can do and the best support people can give to us is that they can pray,” Munyakuri said.
Visit El Shaddai’s Facebook page at fmchr.ch/elshaddai for video of worship services and to learn more about efforts to buy a church building in Rochester.
Seattle is famous for the Space Needle and its technology companies, music, frequent rain and coffee — but what about its spiritual vitality?
The Atlantic magazine notes in an article titled “The Non-Religious States of America” that one-third of Washington state residents don’t claim a specific religious faith. The website of KUOW, Seattle’s National Public Radio affiliate, includes the headline “Don’t Believe in God? Move to Seattle” with a report noting 10 percent of Seattle residents describe themselves as atheists — the highest rate of any U.S. metropolitan area.
Of course, Seattle is home to many committed Christ-followers and a leading Christian institution of higher education, Seattle Pacific University, that has drawn many believers to the Emerald City. Five years ago, Brice Sanders followed his then-fiancée Tracey Tucker to Seattle for Tucker to earn a master’s degree in industrial-organizational psychology at SPU. The couple met at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, where Tucker earned her undergraduate degree while Sanders, a native Texan, earned his Master of Divinity degree from the university’s George W. Truett Theological Seminary and served as the seminary’s director of ministry placement.
Sanders researched SPU and discovered it is a Free Methodist university, but, as he recalled in a phone interview with LIGHT + LIFE, “I had never heard of the Free Methodists before.”
One of his Truett professors, who previously taught at Seattle Pacific, told him that his theology would match Free Methodist beliefs well. Sanders called Matt Whitehead, who was then superintendent of the Pacific Northwest Conference and now is the lead bishop of the Free Methodist Church – USA.
Whitehead and Sanders met for Thai food, and Sanders soon became the family pastor of the Shoreline (Washington) Free Methodist Church one month before he married Tucker. Sanders became an ordained Free Methodist elder and next joined the pastoral staff of Timberlake Church, a multisite Free Methodist congregation in the Seattle area.
Coffee on the Side
The newlyweds moved into Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood and frequented the weekly Ballard Farmers Market but noticed it lacked coffee. They decided to start a coffee catering side business that would serve farmers markets.
“The goal was just to meet people. We felt like the city was pretty lonely,” said Sanders, who previously had worked at several coffee shops in Texas. “It was just something to do. Instead of playing golf, I decided to basically construct a cart and make coffee at the farmers market, and that went really well.”
The couple started a coffee kiosk in a workspace and then a roastery. In 2018, they leased their own space and opened the Cedar & Spokes coffee shop in Belltown — a popular section of downtown Seattle that is also one of the city’s most densely populated neighborhoods.
“The workspace that we were in was in Belltown, so we had a customer base there, and we really knew the area,” Sanders said. “I knew the people who were on the Chamber of Commerce and the Belltown Business Development Board. I knew a lot of landlords and business owners, and so keeping our Belltown community close seemed best.”
While serving at Timberlake, Sanders became familiar with leaders of the Association of Related Churches, a church-planting organization commonly known as ARC.
“All that ARC really desires to do is equip people who are called to church planting with a great plan for how to plant a church,” Sanders said. “It was really some of the ARC guys that kind of nudged me a bit and said, ‘Have you ever thought of this as an option for you and your wife?’”
He said no, but he eventually realized that church planting matched his calling.
“I really loved the message that ARC had, which was creating churches that were life-giving, creating churches where people felt like they could belong, creating churches that were looking to reach the uncommitted and the lost,” Sanders said. “The message that ARC had was resonating, and, at the same time, truly the Holy Spirit was doing something on my heart.”
Sanders said he eventually picked up the phone and called ARC, “and they put us through the ringer, and then I had a few mentors who put me through the ringer, and then the denomination put us through the ringer. …. It was never this huge moment of God knocking on the door and saying, ‘Go do this.’ It was a culmination of community speaking life into something that was starting to grow in our hearts.”
Plans began to take shape for a church plant, Sanders said, “but one of the things we had not nailed down was where we were going to meet.”
Then he received a call from Lawrence Fudge, a campus pastor from Mosaic (the Los Angeles-based multisite church led by well-known author Erwin McManus) who reserved Cedar & Spokes for launch parties celebrating Mosaic’s Seattle campus. Sanders said he entered his business during one of the launch parties and was “incredibly impressed by how they used our coffee shop to set up basically a place of worship.”
Sanders realized he already had a great location in which to launch Coastline Church. “We had in our possession the whole time the place where we were going to do church, and I just didn’t realize it.”
The decision to launch Coastline at the coffee shop was not easy for the couple, who had tried to avoid professionally mingling business and ministry. Now they had to figure out how to handle their church meeting in their business. They brought the idea to the board of ministry leaders they had assembled from around the country to guide them in planting the church, Sanders said, “and we all agreed it was going to be a great spot.”
The coffee shop offered a downtown location with storage and parking, but hosting Coastline Church also meant Cedar & Spokes would need to be closed for business on Sunday mornings — a key time to attract tourists visiting the nearby Pike Place Market. Still, they decided, “We’re going to close on Sunday morning, and we’re going to trust God with the finances of the shop.”
How would a church handle paying rent to a coffee shop owned by its lead pastor? Sanders said he and his wife decided, “Let’s make this not messy. This space is free. We can use anything in it [for Coastline], and the church will never have to pay a cent for using the space.”
Seeking the City’s Welfare
Coastline launched at Cedar & Spokes on Sept. 8, 2019, as the newest plant of the Pacific Northwest Conference. The church highlights Jeremiah 29:7’s call to “seek the welfare of the city to which I have carried you into. Pray for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” Coastline’s mission is “to see the message of Jesus bring real and lasting change to people’s lives, and to the city of Seattle.”
One of the ways Coastline demonstrates its commitment to the city is by sharing its finances.
“We’re doing things like partnering with nonprofits to make sure the church is more than about itself,” Sanders said. “Twenty percent of our giving goes to our nonprofits in an effort to truly change the city.”
Thus far, the church primarily attracts young adults (including college students ) along with empty nesters.
“It’s a very transient group — young people who might want to live downtown for a year or just moved here and want to be close to work,” Sanders said. “We’re 10 minutes from Amazon, so we are attracting that group.”
Some of the people already have a church background.
“We have found that we are meeting Christians left and right who have just moved here and have not been able to find a church,” said Sanders, who added that Coastline leaders also are meeting “Christians who are leaving the big churches and want to be part of something smaller.”
Of course, it can be unpredictable who will attend. On a recent Sunday, the 75 people in attendance included FMCUSA Bishops Whitehead, Linda Adams and Keith Cowart and their spouses.
The church’s website tells potential visitors to expect a casual atmosphere, vibrant worship and an engaging message. Sanders’ message typically lasts for 20 minutes, and preaching isn’t the only discipleship tool.
“I spend a decent time writing my message, but I don’t put a lot of stock in the message being the center of everything we do to drive people toward being better disciples. We meet with people constantly,” Sanders said. “I’m constantly raising up leaders where they feel like they have a group of 30 to 40 people to reach out to and minister to.”
Sanders said he has “about 15 people on my leadership team, and any of those 15 I would be glad to call them a pastor because we’re raising them up and teaching them how to love people and pour into people.”
Faith and Growth
Coastline aims for both numerical and spiritual growth.
“If we’re not truly, continually making disciples and leading people to Jesus, then, of course, we’re not going to grow,” Sanders said. “I don’t really pay attention to the numbers, but I do pay attention to whether people are engaging and choosing to take faith steps.”
Along with detailing the church’s beliefs and statement of faith, Coastline’s website emphasizes five values: “We are committed to the message of Jesus. We are committed to growing as a church. We are committed to the uncommitted. We are committed to raising the spiritual temperature of our area. We are committed to people’s spiritual growth.”
Coastline is attracting unchurched people along with people who stepped away from church, and it is moving them forward on their spiritual journey. The church offers baptism, small groups and the Growth Track.
“We’re doing six baptisms in three weeks, and we continue to encounter people who walk into our doors that haven’t walked into church in five, ten years,” Sanders said.
While some churches see small groups as in-depth Bible studies, Coastline’s small groups focus on connecting people, briefly discussing the church’s messages, and praying for each other.
One of ARC’s influences on Coastline is Growth Track, which meets after the Sunday church service with food and child care provided. Growth Track covers church membership and helps participants discover their redemptive purpose and how to life the life God created for them. Like going to the gym, Sanders said, people start to feel momentum each time they participate.
“Growth Track is a real game changer. It’s a four-step class that you can take in any order,” said Sanders, who added the flexible order is helpful because some people cannot attend every Sunday. “If it’s their first week in five weeks, they can take the step that day to grow in some way and walk out the door realizing that they have prioritized their faith.”
As people become involved at Coastline Church, they may decide to join the group of volunteers known as the Dream Team.
“We call it a Dream Team because we want people to catch the dream in effect — catch the dream that we are to seek the welfare of the city, and we do that by being an equipping church,” Sanders said. “They’re there to help push the dream forward of seeing a lifegiving church in downtown Seattle.”
Dream Team members serve in a variety of roles, and they are invited for a special time of worship earlier on Sunday mornings as members prepare for the morning ahead.
“We don’t want to put the wrong person in a serve role, but we want everyone serving,” Sanders said.
It takes work to make people aware of Coastline’s presence in a city of more than 740,000 people.
“We’ve done a lot of things to make it known that we exist. We have A-frames [portable signs] and yard signs everywhere. We do mailers. We’re pretty active on social media. We have a really aggressive follow-up and engagement process when we encounter someone,” Sanders said. “More than just doing good marketing, we’ve also been smart about what is the church supposed to be, and so we’ve gone into assisted living centers and senior homes. We’ve walked into apartments and said, ‘How can we serve you as the property manager?’”
As they walk the pavement of downtown Seattle, Sanders said, they find “we have lots of people who’ve been searching hard for a place to ask spiritual questions, for a place to encounter God, for a place to call home.” He added, “I don’t think this city is so post-church that it just hates the church, that it’s anti-church, that we’re getting fought hard on the opportunity to exist. I think what we’re finding is that the church has not met the needs of Seattle.”
Visit coastlinechurchnw.com to learn more about Coastline Church and to support its ministry.
A focus on prayer and love recently led the Crossing Free Methodist Church to turn its vacant parsonage into an emergency shelter for people facing homelessness in Shiawassee County, Michigan, and it didn’t take long for word to spread. The Crossing’s efforts to establish the House of Hope quickly attracted an award from a community group and extensive coverage from regional news media.
Church leaders weren’t seeking publicity, however. They were just trying to live out Matthew 22:35–40, Mark 12:28–34 and Luke 10:27.
“Our key scripture is the two commandments: love God and love your neighbors as yourself,” Pastor Lisa Lahring said. “That’s just our total foundation.”
Before the House of Hope even hosted its first resident, the Shiawassee County Homeless Coalition presented the shelter with its Building Hope award on Nov. 12. The award coincides with Homeless Awareness Month, and the coalition selected the House of Hope “in appreciation for supporting the community through recognition of need, assessment of situation, and building hope.” The award came as a surprise to members of the small but growing congregation in Durand, Michigan.
“I was kind of stunned because we weren’t even open yet,” Lahring said. “We’re humbled. We’re honored. We want to serve, but the main thing is just getting the word out that there is a need for homeless shelters. There is a need for prevention of homelessness.”
The Crossing went through the denomination’s Recalibrate process in 2018, and from January to April, Lahring’s sermons focused on prayer. Lahring said church members also went through a 20-day prayer reset while reading the book “Reset: 20 Ways to a Consistent Prayer Life” by Bob Sorge (who wrote the Connecting Points article in this issue), and, a few months later, the Crossing hosted Brett Heintzman of the National Prayer Ministry.
“I know prayer is the key absolutely to anything we do,” said Lahring, who also emphasized the decision to “take the church through confession and repentance.”
Members of the Crossing understand firsthand that homelessness isn’t just a problem in big cities. People also lose their housing in rural areas and small towns like Durand (population 3,400).
That was true for the Crossing’s John and Dena who previously received help from the church after John’s illness and job loss resulted in them losing their home. John and Dena have housing now, and John will help others who face homelessness by overseeing the House of Hope.
Lahring said the House of Hope is not a typical homeless shelter with many beds and multiple staff on-site. The house is a temporary emergency shelter.
“It’s like a rental home without us receiving rent,” Lahring said. “We’re not going to staff it, but we will be overseeing it.”
The House of Hope isn’t meant to be long-term housing for anyone.
“We want to make sure they are aiming toward permanent housing,” said Lahring, who added the House of Hope is for people who are actually homeless, not for a person or family wanting a nicer place to live. “We want to make sure we get somebody who needs the roof over their head.”
In recent years, the Free Methodist Church – USA has highlighted a strategic priority to “partner strong” through “mutually beneficial relationships” with “likeminded ministries.” The Crossing has done exactly that by developing a partnership with Light of Faith Fellowship, a nondenominational church in Durand that provides financial, spiritual and physical support to the House of Hope.
“Their church people have come over and helped volunteer in the house and getting it ready,” Lahring said.
Light of Faith Pastor Don White and his wife, Debbie, serve on the shelter’s committee and are available to provide counseling if needed. A social worker from the Crossing also is a key part of the House of Hope committee.
“We come together as the body of Christ. It’s not about me. It’s not about my overseer,” Lahring said. “It’s about all of us together, coming together to be able to help people through the love of Jesus Christ.”
The House of Hope is not just about keeping people out of the cold.
“Our vision is to help restore hope in the midst of the chaos of homelessness through the love of Jesus Christ,” said Lahring, who emphasized that people have physical, mental and spiritual needs. “It’s not just about housing but their whole self.”
Along with shelter, homeless people need transportation, food and clothing, and they also may need help with overcoming addiction, setting goals or learning how to create a budget.
Area newspapers have covered various stages of the House of Hope. The Argus-Press in Owosso, Michigan, provided indepth coverage with staff writer Sally York’s Nov. 29 article titled “Durand church members see shelter as ministry.”
Lahring received a call to ministry in the late 1990s. She became the Crossing’s associate pastor in 2009 while also working bivocationally as a nurse, and she transitioned to lead pastor in 2013. Because she already had a house, she didn’t need to reside in the parsonage, which made it available for the House of Hope.
One of the catalysts for opening the shelter was a ministry grant from the East Michigan Conference that helped fund the renovation of the parsonage. Lahring expressed appreciation for Superintendent Brad Button’s support.
The Crossing is increasingly becoming an intergenerational congregation with people of different ages doing ministry together. This past summer, the church hosted a community garden that was overseen by two congregants in their late 20s.
“They would take the produce that we would harvest and walk around town with it and drop it off to people,” said Lahring, who added that a couple of the produce recipients have since started attending the church.
“Even if you think you’re a small church, don’t count yourself out. Dale Woods [a Free Methodist pastor and missionary] said it best: ‘We don’t see problems. We see opportunities,’” Lahring said. “With God, it’s not impossible.”