Changed & Changing

Delivered September 12, 2004
by Rev. John Schmidt, Bill Pitts, Rebekah Davis, Kathy Vaselkiv and Pam Schwendy.

John Schmidt speaking:

We are going to look back for a moment at what God has been doing among us; the changes that God has worked in people’s lives and the changes that he is continuing to do, and so I would like to invite Bill to come forward and lead us this morning.

Bill Pitts speaking:

I’m director of the Storm student ministries here at Central and I am excited to be here with you this morning and to share a little bit about what it means in our ministry and the people in this church to be changed and changing. I would like to start with a scripture reading this morning, Acts 14:27 and I am going to read it out of the Message Bible. It’s a little bit different a translation that the Pew Bible and you can follow along there, but I just love how this brings it alive. It’s talking about Paul and Barnabas here and it says:

“On arrival, they got the church together and reported on their trip, telling in detail how God has used them to throw the door of faith wide open so people of all nations could come streaming in.”

I am here with you this morning to share with you how God has thrown the doors wide open on our mission trips this summer. We were privileged to take two trips this summer. One for a week to Newport, Tennessee with about 60 students and leaders, middle and high school students. For a week down there we worked with the people of Newport, helping along side them in a thrift store, working with their children in a Vacation Bible School, being part of an ongoing boys and girls club in the neighborhood and helping to rehab homes, scraping and painting and getting covered in mud and just having a great time doing it. We also got to spend a lot of time, a couple of teams spent four days at nursing homes just loving all the residents there and just getting to hear so much of their life stories and the journey they have been on. We got to share in that and to be part of the journey.

Another trip we did, was we took 22 high school students and leaders to Romania for two weeks this summer. We got to work with a man names Iosef who this church supports and be a part of what’s going on in the church of Romania and it was so exciting and I could tell you so many great things of what happened and what impressed me, but you know what, I am not really all this important. You are going to hear from some people who went with us and just the stories they have to tell and I am so excited about it, because its what missions is all about. You are going to hear three things this morning. The first is that missions is just about going and doing something and that’s what these students and leaders did. They went. They just decided to go and do something and to that end I would like to ask Rebekah Davis to come up and tell you a little bit about what that means to her.

Rebekah Davis speaking:

Hi, my name is Rebekah Davis. I am 16 and I am going to be senior in high school this year and I wanted to tell you a little bit about what God has been teaching me this summer, but first I want to tell you little bit about myself. I have been going to Central my whole life and I grew up in a Christian home. I started going to a Christian school when I was in Pre-K and when I was seven I gave my life to Christ. When I was 12 I was going into 8th grade and my school needed a history teacher and they found a man named Mr. Briddick. Mr. Briddick was a little scared on his first day because he was tall and he walked with a cane and he had no hair and we came to find out later that he had no hair because he had cancer and he was also not a Christian and the other students and I, we got over the fact that he was scary and he was tall and we grew to love him so much and we loved having him teach us. About two or three months into school he had to stop teaching us because he had to receive chemotherapy again and I wrote to him a lot in this time and I prayed for him daily and he was able to come back at the end of the school year, but he wasn’t able to teach the next year and so during the summer and during the next couple of years I was still able to write to him and I was still able to pray for him and I went to see him a couple of times.

But when I was 14 I learned that the cancer was so enlarged that he wasn’t getting better and I had a lot of questions. I didn’t understand why he had this cancer because he was such a great person and we all loved him so much and I just couldn’t understand why he didn’t want to accept God’s love and last year before I went to summer camp, I had thought about writing him another letter just to share God’s love with him one more time and I figured I could do it when I got back, it’s not a big deal. When I was at camp my parents sent me a letter and said that he was in a hospice and that he was getting even worse and I was at that camp for two weeks, but when I got back my parents told me that Mr. Briddick he had died and I was so confused, but the one thing that I kept thinking about was why didn’t I write him that letter when I had the chance and to share that love and peace with him and then I thought about that for a really long time and through that God has just taught me that you can’t wait until tomorrow to do what you need to do today and as I was thinking about this, I thought of a song and it says

“yesterday is a wrinkle in your forehead, yesterday was a promise that you had broken, don’t close your eyes, don’t close your eyes, this is your life and today is all you got and now yesterday is all you will ever have”

and it reminds us that today is all we have. That’s all we know that we have. We don’t know what is going to happen tomorrow.

The things that are asked us of to do aren’t always easy and I think that is one of the reasons that we wait for tomorrow because we are scared to do it today and we are nervous and we’re shaking, but God promises us that he will never leave us to go through life alone. He will never abandon us and Joshua 1:5 says that

no will be able to stand their ground against you as long as you live. For I will be with you as I was with Moses. I will not fail you or abandon you and we cannot stray from this promise because he knows the plans of our lives.

We can just trust him. And it always doesn’t make sense to us because we are like, well why would he want me to do that, but it’s always the best thing and my teacher was most likely not Christian, but it’s really hard for me because I don’t know that he’s in a better place now, but I really believe that God put Mr. Briddick into my life, now. I don’t want anyone to have to go through life without God’s love and because of that desire that when they announced they were taking a team to Romania, I just felt God saying that this is a chance for you to go and share your faith with the kids in Romania and the people in the villages and God has just given me that excitement about my faith and I hope I can share that with people, because a lot of time people think well being a Christian is boring you know, that’s no fun, but it is so much better than we can ever plan our lives, because God knows you inside and out and he knows you better than you know yourself and that’s because he made you and you can have faith that he will make your life wonderful. It’s not always the easiest thing, but the best thing, the most wonderful thing that Jeremiah 29:11 says,

For I know the plans I have for you, “delares the LORD, They are plans for good, not for disaster. Give your future and hope.

Bill Pitts: Thanks Rebekah. It is exciting to hear how she did something. She knew what God had done so far and that now he was calling her to do something else and be part of the work that he was doing. I think not only that our trip had an impact on nonbelievers though, and it did do that, but that it had an impact on believers as well, as we got to experience how church there is like church here, how believers there are on the same journey that we are on here. And so I would like to ask Kathy Vaselkiv to come up and John is going to do some questions with her to give you a little bit more of our experience.

John Schmidt: Well Kathy, I have a few questions that I would like to ask for you to share with us. The first for all of us, just tell us a little bit about the church in Romania.

Kathy Vaselkiv: Okay. Prior to WWII most Romanians belong to either a Romanian Orthodox Church, a Catholic Church or a protestant church from a reformed tradition. But from the end of WWII until 1989, Romanian had a communist government, which did its best to stamp out religion. During that time if you identified yourself as a Christian, it was difficult to get a job or decent housing and there were many other ways that your life was made difficult. We spent most of our time this summer in the City of Timisoara and there was actually a pastor in that city that sparked a revolution that overthrew the communist government in 1989 when he called people in his congregation out into the streets to pray. Unfortunately since 1989 though there has not been a great rush back to churches. Many Romanians are distracted by the difficulty of making ends meet in a very depressed economy and the influences of western culture and consumerism that has flooded into the country.

John Schmidt: Kathy, you all were there only a short time, you didn’t have language skills. How did Central’s students work together with the Romanian church during this particular mission trip?

Kathy Vaselkiv: Actually everything that we did while we were in Romania was along side Romanian churches or individual Romanian Christians in support of their outreach effort. Most of our time was spent helping with a Vacation Bible School for unchurched neighborhood children in the yard of a local church in Timisoara Our kids went out and a few people from that church in to the local park meeting children and inviting them in to this camp and there were 80 children that came that had never been to church before. It was interesting too that the members at this church had chosen to relocate their church building to an area of the city where there was little Christian witness.

In addition, we traveled to a small village church one Sunday evening, where our kids were able to share testimonies, skits and music. This service was held in an outdoor courtyard open to the main street in the village so it was easy for neighbors to walk by and stop in to see what was going on. And then finally, we visited two small orphanages run by Christians as an outreach to indigent children. The whole team will be sharing more about our experiences this afternoon at 5:00 o’clock here at church in Calvin and hope that some of you might be able to join us at that time to see some of our pictures and hear a little bit more about what we did.

John Schmidt: Well, this was a church-to-church experience. Are there things that we have experienced to learn at Central Presbyterian Church that you were able to share as a group to the Romanian Christians as an encouragement to them?

Kathy Vaselkiv: Yes. Bill has mentioned that we were hosted and directed by a long time friend of Central who many of you have heard speak from this pulpit, Iosef Innodaway?. Central supports Iosef as the regional direction for the International Bible Society in Romania and we were the third team that Central had sent to work with Iosef, but during our stay Iosef frequently shared his convictions that he thinks the Romanian church needs to be more intentional about evangelism. He believes that many Christians in Romania are tempted to be simply content only with their new found freedom to worship and study together openly and that he would like to see them develop more passion for sharing the gospel with people who do not go to church. So he invited our team to come in to his church on the Sunday morning that we were there any speak to them and we had the privilege of sharing with them some of our experiences over the last few years, some of the challenges and joys that we have been through in trying to become more outwardly focused. Many people who sat in that service responded that it was a real encouragement for them to hear about our journey here at Central and that the picture that we painted of a church without walls was helpful to them in thinking about how God might be calling them to move forward in the mission and vision for their congregation.

John Schmidt: Well certainly they then learned things from us and I am sure that our students learned something from them as well. What do you think our students have brought back that will help us to fulfill the vision that we have to be a church without walls?

Kathy Vaselkiv: I think this is a life changing experience for everyone that went to Romania in different ways. But I know that every one of us learned by observing the example of Iosef, that God can do more than we can ever ask or imagine if only we will give ourselves wholeheartedly to his service. This man was a powerful example of contagious Christianity. He had a joyful relationship with Jesus Christ that translated into a passion for introducing other Romanians to Jesus. He committed his time, talents and somewhat limited treasures to building the kingdom every day. For example, he lived in a small apartment in a rundown, Soviet era apartment building. Yet by prayer and faith, he personally has managed to purchase a summer camp for orphans outside Timisoara, a house for the ministry of the International Bible Society, plans to build a recording studio, which he shares with many Christians throughout Eastern Europe who desire to witness through music. He is busy, busy, busy, morning, afternoon and late into the night serving God. Yet his energy always appears boundless. He never seems in a hurry and his sense of humor keeps everyone laughing. He told our kids many, many times that the greatest joy in life is serving God and being involved in his plans for bringing other people in to the kingdom. He said he would far rather be consumed with that task, than have anything that the world has to offer in terms of riches or anything else. I think everyone of us were challenged to be more passionate for our lost world after working with him to two weeks and I am convinced that as our kids just come back, that will translate into their relationships with their friends at school, to their work here at Central and really throughout their whole lives in learning to talk to others about Christ.

John Schmidt: Thank you, I appreciate your sharing.

Bill Pitts: We go on these trips and we plan and make preparations and we go and do the work and as much as we get excited about meeting nonbelievers and believers and the things that God has called us to do, when it comes down to it, so much of the trip is just about putting our faith in God. Dangerous or unknown situations, culture shock, uncontrollable situations, those are all parts of mission trips and that’s kind of the third thing about missions. We got to just go. We got to do something. We get to share with other believers around the world and then the third part is just putting our faith in God that whatever happens he is going to see us through. I would like to invite Pam Schwendy to come up and share her testimony with us.

Pam Schwendy speaking:

Hi. I am Pam Schwendy as he just said. I am currently a freshman at Messiah College. So that’s just a little intro to who I am. I went to Romania this summer and it was just really an incredible time and I knew that God wanted me to go, but I really didn’t know why. Even getting on the plane I was like, “okay I am this far. I don’t know why I am going though.” But now that I am back I know why I went and it was to share my testimony with a Romanian, which I had the opportunity to do a few times and that’s how God used me there and I would like to share with you my testimony today.

I am sure a lot of you guys know a lot of my testimony, but for those who don’t, it’s not exactly the most comfortable thing for me to talk about, so you kind of have to bear with me. It all started out when I was little, I was probably about four years old when my mom was diagnosed with a brain tumor and so she went through radiation and that actually helped. It made it become inactive. So I grew up in a normal family doing everything that kids do and I just praise God for that, that I had that opportunity to just have a normal childhood. And it was around middle school and she began to feel the symptoms of the tumor again and she began to get sick and so she went through all this chemotherapy and all the different surgeries and stuff like that for it. And it was September 7th of 2000 when I just remember my guidance counselor coming in and saying that the tumor had won. So that made me go through all the questions that one thinks, like why me, what does this mean? All the questions that just kind of circle, that don’t really have answers to them and you just go through your head.

But as many of you know my story kind of keeps continuing after that. It was actually this past February and I was out in Chicago at Willow Creek with a bunch of youth from here with Bill and we were at a student leadership training session. And so we were out there and Bill gets a call from my brother going apparently my dad is in the hospital and I don’t know why. So Bill calls the hospital and pulls some strings and finds out that my dad as well has gone to be with the Lord and after that I was just completely shattered. I have no clue what on earth is going on. There are just so many questions that were going through my mind. I am like how on earth is this all going to work out? For any good at all, how do I manage to function normally and my life is a completely and total mess now. But God has been there every single step of the way and he’s still there, cause I’m still picking up the pieces and stuff like that and it has just been so amazing how God has just laid his love and his care towards me because there was just nights when the pain is just so big because I miss him and so I would be like in bed crying because that is all you can do and all you want is to just a hug from him, one last hug, one last kiss and I would be a crying mess in my bed and then I will just feel like this warm hug from God and its like a whisper from him saying, it’s going to be okay. It’s going to okay. I’m here.” And this is just the point when he displays his power and his great love and all of his care and even though you want the hug from your parents, this hug from God is so much bigger, it’s so intense and its just so incredible and I just thank God so much for that.

And along with that, he also has plans for your life; just like all the nitty gritty details that he has worked out that even though its kind of a mess, it’s not really he managed to just work through everything, all the paperwork and all that mess. It was just so easily taken care of as far as planning and another thing, another big thing is just like there is just times when you feel you are so sad and your are just so confused and going, “well what’s going on? Why am I here? I don’t want to be here anymore. There is no reason for me to be here.” And not actually being suicidal, but just kind of wishing that God would just kind of strike you dead, but obviously I am still living, so I know that God has something for me and he has used me within the past few months and I am just so excited to see what God is going to do with me and I am completely and totally thankful that he has just brought me through all of this so far and I know that he is going to keep bringing me through it and I am just so excited to see what God is going to do with me. And part of that is my first mission trip was to the Dominican Republic in 2001 and after going there I was like … this is what I am supposed to do with my life. I can’t picture myself doing anything else but this. And I feel like God has given me this story so I can go and share it with people about how much He loves us, and how intensely He cares about us, and His plans for us and stuff like that. And I am just so grateful for everything that God has done even through the mess, He is there and it’s just so incredible. Thanks.

Bill Pitts: So God calls us to go to do something, to get up and not just watch others. He lets us know that when we do that, we are going to be able to share in what’s going on around the world. Share the journey with other believers, and know that we are not alone and that is so important because we get to this place where we don’t know exactly what’s going on, but we have faith that God is going to see us through it and sometimes that’s all we have – is the faith that He is going to see us through. It is a privilege to do that this summer. Thank you for your prayers this summer, for sending us out and being part of our communion that way. I just challenge you this morning, don’t let that be all that you have done. This fall you are going to be hearing more about opportunities hear at Centeral – to get involved, to be part of the work going on in this community and I challenge you, that you will take that step, and you would be willing to do those things. Le me pray for us.

Father God, thank you so much that you have called us. Thank you for the students and leaders that were involved this summer and being part of the work that you are doing. And it is just amazing Lord that we get to be a part of that. You don’t just have us here to praise you all day and be robots saying we love you, we love you, we love you, but you invite us in to be a part of your world. You invite us in to have the privilege of being used by you to change people’s lives and we do it all for your glory and honor. In Jesus’ name. Amen.