ICYouth: Worshipping with Everything

Every Friday, we’re taking a peek at how God is working in the lives of our high school students. These servants of Jesus are walking daily by faith as they navigate the hallways and relationships inside their school walls and beyond. Our weekly series will highlight what God is up to in their lives in their voices. Leave them some encouragement by commenting?

by Tyler Brooks

Worship. It can fill a solemn room with joy, a dark place with light.  The beauty behind a multitude of voices singing out praises to a holy God is indescribable. A sense of jubilation and serenity infiltrates the room, and One can genuinely sense the Holy Spirit’s presence, making this experience like nothing else. There is truly nothing like being in a place of pure worship, of pure praise to our God.

This past summer I was blessed with this experience several times in the starving country of Haiti. God had given me the chance to serve alongside side 20 fellow believers from Immanuel Church on a trip that changed our lives — a trip that would alter our perspectives on worship and paint a true picture on what it meant to praise God with everything. One can’t truly comprehend what life is like with the bare minimum until placed into the situation. Even still we were only there for one week. The Haitian peopled live like this, in extreme poverty, their entire lives.

During the six-day span in Haiti we visited four to five churches, each one having its own heart-warming story, its own set of struggles. Yet each one glorified God with more than it had.

On the fourth night, as usual, we crammed into the back of several trucks and took an adventurous ride to one of the nearby churches. Upon our arrival the local Haitian people would come up and greet us, rejoicing in any sort of acknowledgment we gave them and more than eager to show us around. We would spend time fellowshipping, not through words, but hand motions and physical touch. There always seemed to be some unspoken friendship between us and our Haitian friends.

This particular night, as we found our seats in the tiny, two-car garage sized church, amid a multitude of young children, all squeezing in between us, jumping onto our laps when room on the wood benches was gone, even sitting on the dirty concrete floors, patiently waiting for the service to begin. When it finally started it was unlike any church experience I had ever been to. It was truly a night of pure, beautiful worship.

Two young girls walked up to the front the building, no lights on them, no microphone in hand, not even an instrument to be played, simply the purity of their voices. When they began, almost as if they had been practicing for months, the children jumped in full force. They belted out praises to God in Creole, rejoicing with everything they had. They held nothing back. Never in my life had I seen kids, no more then ten years old, down on their knees, hands raised high, glorifying God.

How could someone with nothing show so much gratitude to God? Compared to them I have everything, yet I constantly can’t find it in myself to show God the level of praise He deserves. Seeing and hearing them sing for truly nothing but Jesus broke me down. I felt God’s presence in the room. And although they were singing in a different language we will all promise to you that we could understand what they were saying. Whether it was the power of the moment or truly an act of God, we worshiped Him and all His glory side-by-side, hand-in-hand with our Haitian brothers and sisters in Christ. Shamelessly and completely.

From that day on I challenged myself to worship God as the children of Haiti did. With everything. Why hold anything back? We are praising the creator of this Universe, the giver of life! Why do we, why do I struggle to give Him proper praise? He continuously blesses me in so many ways.  We must stop approaching worship as an obligation but instead view it as a way to display our gratitude for God – to simply say, “Thank you!”

IMG_0212-2Tyler Brooks is a senior at Warren Township High School; he’s involved with numerous student ministries along with the Tech Team during Sunday morning services. He also shoots videos for the church and other because his passion is photography/videography!

World Outreach: Beneficiaries of Immanuel Church Provost’s Scholarship

Through World Outreach and our missionaries Bulus and Rose Galadima, we are able to help and give students training for Christian ministry in Nigeria and the Philippines. We wanted to share a few updates and prayer requests from students at the JETS Seminary in Nigeria. THANK YOU for your continued support of World Outreach.  YOU are blessing these individuals.

Here are two more stories about students that you have helped through your generosity!

“My coming to JETS has been a journey of faith and God indeed has proven himself faithful all along. When my parents died, it was like all hope was lost concerning sponsorship and welfare, but as the conviction became stronger in my spirit I took a step of faith. I enrolled in JETS, not knowing how or where support would come from. I only knew that my
passion or desire was to gain knowledge and spiritual discipline that will enable me serve God and his church better. The Provost’s scholarship has really benefitted me and it has enabled me to find fulfillment in the passion I have for teaching God’s word to as many as I come across.

Presently I am in the M.A. (Christian Education) program and also teaching at ECWA Theological College, Zabolo. This is a dream come true to me and all thanks to God and the Provost’s Scholarship.”

Elizabeth Bulus Zhime
Graduate Student

“All Christians are called to full time service of God; however, each of them is called to serve God in a slightly different way. As a Christian, I have been called to be and do what is expected of every Christian. More specifically however, I am called by God to devote myself to the ministry of the Word by teaching the truth and opposing false teaching both inside
and outside the church.

It was with this in view that I enrolled at JETS for my theological training in 2006 and graduated in 2010 with my Bachelor of Arts degree as the valedictorian. I was then informed of the JETS’ Provost Scholarship. I enrolled for my graduate studies and was awarded the scholarship.

The Provost’s Scholarship has helped me:

  • Enroll for my graduate studies on time and at JETS. Without it, I would have had to enroll for it at a later time.
  • Reduce the burden on my parents who shouldered the responsibility of sponsoring my studies.
  • Most importantly however, it has helped me to pursue God’s purpose for my life with greater speed. Being an apologist and a polemicist in this generation requires serious and costly training. This scholarship is a milestone in the pursuit of God’s purpose for my existence.

My gratitude goes to the sponsors of this scholarship. My prayer to God is that they and their descendants will be remembered by God, for he who gives a cup of cold water to a little one because he is a disciple will not miss his reward (Matthew 10: 42).”

Ngutor Isaac Anga
Graduate Student

Celebrating Christmas: Unwrapping Christmas Advent Guide

Behind the scenes at Immanuel, we’ve been thinking about Advent and preparing our hearts for the celebration of Jesus’ birth.

Because that’s such a big deal, Pastor of Student Ministries Josh Peterson and Pastor of Family and Adult Discipleship Bryan Bicket called a special meeting to discuss how Immanuel can best help our families and individuals engage in Advent celebration:

So after discussion about trekking to Bethlehem was nixed, we decided instead to do what we’re already doing this Christmas season: wrapping presents, spending time with family, baking cookies, decorating and the like.

Our Advent guide, Unwrapping Christmas, seeks to bring intentionality into such Christmas preparations as well as place a major emphasis on joyfully preparing our hearts to receive the real gift of Christ wrapped in humanity.

Each Sunday, a new conversation guide will be accessible via our website; a printed guide will also be tucked into your Immanuel Life each week.

The conversation guide is designed to inspire intentional times of discussion anchored around the Sunday message so as to help bring the Sunday message into Monday morning and beyond. {Hint: the first week, we’re encouraging families to set up their nativity scenes during the discussion! So dig out that nativity box!}

Advent Services 

9 and 10:45 a.m.
Sunday, Dec. 2: Wrapped in Prophesy
Sunday, Dec. 9: Wrapped in History
Sunday, Dec. 16: Wrapped in Mystery
Sunday, Dec. 24: Wrapped in Humanity

Want more? We have a few favorite {free! online!} daily Advent guide resources:

Jesse Tree Advent Family Guide from A Holy Experience
Desiring God
Focus on the Family 2012 Online Family Advent Guide

Lastly, our Immanuel Advent Wreath Guide, found at our website, is perfect for adults or families with teens who want an additional resource intended to help them go deeper into Advent.

 “Take time to be aware that in the very midst of our busy preparations for the celebration of Christ’s birth in ancient Bethlehem, Christ is reborn in the Bethlehems of our homes and daily lives. Take time, slow down, be still, be awake to the Divine Mystery that looks so common and so ordinary yet is wondrously present.” – Edward Hays, A Pilgrims Almanac

May your Advent season brim with a deep awareness of His coming.

The Monday After: Splashes of Joy in the Sea of the Insurmountable {Ted}

You know that Sunday feeling, right?

We leave church inspired by and filled with  Truth, encouragement and passion on Sundays … and somewhere during the the day, after the music fades and our cars leave the parking lot, pieces of the message tend to fade, too; somewhere along the way, we often lose that Sunday feeling. 

The Monday After {the Sunday Sermon} is our attempt to carry the Sunday message into Monday mornings by walking together and sharing how what we’ve heard on Sunday morning is making a difference in our Mondays, our weeks, our lives. Each Monday, a voice from the pews will give personal perspective to the words we soaked in on Sunday. 

So follow along each Monday as we seek to integrate that Truth into our daily lives; leave your thoughts in the comments below. 

The Monday After: Sunday, November 25, 2012: Living a Generous Life: Splashes of Joy in the Sea of the Insurmountable

By Ted Brooks

Chris and Kathy Gouzoules’ Sunday message had extra meaning for me as I was privileged to actually be there for many of the stories they told.

I vividly remember the day we first came to the village of Agua Bendita and to the home of Jose Luis.  It was my first trip to Tenancingo; all I knew was that we were going to do some home repairs. I grew up working in our family business building homes and I had been in some high-poverty areas and thought I was prepared to help.  I expected poorly constructed homes with leaky roofs, broken windows and rusty pipes but nothing had prepared me for what I saw that day.

We scrounged up whatever tools we could find and after an hour drive on a scary mountain road, finally parked in a field on the top of the mountain next to the house we were to fix.  But where was the house?  In front of us was a small structure, not quite the size of a one-car garage.  It was made from rough tree limbs buried into the ground and tied together with bits of rope.  The walls and roof were covered with old yellowed plastic sheeting that had been “recycled” from one of the many local greenhouses.  Inside the structure I could make out a worn mattress on a dirt floor along with some clothes and random household object scattered around.  Standing near the hut was an older woman and several children.  We were told that altogether eleven children and two adults lived here.

My head began to spin. No matter how much I tried I simply could not imagine that this could be a family’s home.  Maybe some homeless person’s temporary shelter but a family with eleven children ranging from a baby to a young teenager?  How was that possible?! One of the lessons that God had taught me on a previous trip was that poverty does not equal unhappiness.  I had been with people who lived on only a couple of dollars a day but who were rich in the joy of life and relationship with God and learned that the proper response was friendship and admiration, not pity.  But as I spent the day trying to make that poor structure into a home I was absolutely heartbroken.

Several of the children gathered together in a quiet group watching us work on their home.  They were timid and thin and very dirty, but what I remember most was their eyes.  There was no excitement about the work being done on their home.  Years of abuse and neglect had driven out all hope.  They simply existed from day to day like wild animals living in the woods.

As we finished our work that day I took a few pictures of the home and the family.  I took them not out of pride to show the work we had done or the people we had helped, but to remind me of how much more needed to be done.

One of the pictures was of “Cristo Rey”, the huge statue of Christ that towers above the town of Tenancingo.  The statue depicts Christ with his arms outstretched to the people below, inviting them to fellowship with him.  But the picture I took doesn’t show this.  From the front door of that poor home in Agua Bendita all you could see was the back of the statue.  I am not a very emotional person, but as we drove away at the end of the day my eyes were filled with tears for the people who lived there.

I couldn’t imagine living in that cold, wet, dirty hut with no hope for a better life and every day waking up to find that even Christ had turned his back on me.  Gretchen and I didn’t know what God had in mind for us, but we knew that He had called us to be a part of helping the people of Agua Bendita.  As we spoke with Chris and Kathy and the leaders of the church of Tenancingo they also felt the same call from God.

Over the last few years we have seen God do some amazing miracles on the side of that mountain. Our first prayers were for better housing for the people and God answered that in a miraculous way.  A few months after we left, a group of university students came and built houses for about fifteen families.  These were simple structures that would be barely adequate as a garden shed for us, but they had a floor to help them stay clean and safe from insects, solid walls that kept out the wind and cold, and a roof that kept them dry during the heavy rains.  To the people of Agua Bendita they were miraculous plywood mansions that God had sent them.

There was still no electricity in the village so we had gotten donations of solar powered lights that we brought with us on our next trip to Mexico.  We went from home to home, offering to install them so that they could have some light at night.  I remember going into a home that had a teenage girl.  Her bed was in one corner and tacked to the walls were pictures of her favorite “boy bands”.  The small table by her bed was covered with lip-gloss and makeup and hairbrushes and all the other assorted stuff of teenage girls.  I was struck by how incredibly normal it all looked compared to just a year before.

It was wonderful to see the material changes that had occurred in people’s lives, but witnessing the mental and spiritual changes has truly been incredible.  When I went to install the lights in the homes I took a couple of assistants.  One was Sam Adamek, a high school senior from Immanuel, who was my translator, and the other was Jose Luis.

Before that day I would have had a hard time telling you what Jose Luis looked like.  He always hid in the back of the group, a hat on his head and his face to the ground.  He had never known anything but abuse and neglect and had learned that the only way to survive was to literally keep your head down and hide from the world. He had started coming to the church in Tenancingo and now this shy teenage boy, who we first met living in that plastic hut and hiding from us, was volunteering to help.  All day long he climbed ladders and hung from rafters helping to run wiring and screw in light fixtures and solar panels.  At each home his smile got bigger and bigger and he became bolder and bolder.

At the first home he hardly said a word and just stood quietly by assisting, but by the last few homes Jose Luis was the leader, explaining to the people what we were here to do and installing the lights almost by himself.

The change was amazing, but the biggest miracle of all came the next night.  As Chris described in his sermon, the church in Tenancingo held a Good Friday service in Agua Bendita.  They brought up chairs and a band with a sound system and a generator and a large portable screen and projector to show the movie “The Passion of the Christ”.  Nothing like this had ever happened there and the entire town showed up.  There was food and singing and it was a great celebration.  Just before the movie began, Jose Luis stood up and went to the microphone.  It was the greatest miracle I had ever witnessed to see him standing before his entire town, telling them how Jesus Christ had changed his life. I think he said more in that fifteen minutes than his town had heard from him in fifteen years.  This young man, who the day before had brought physical light into their homes, now brought the spiritual light of Jesus’ love into his village.  Unfortunately I don’t speak Spanish, but I didn’t need a translator to understand the passion in his voice as he shared his testimony and then lead them in prayer.  It was awesome to hear God speaking through him.

God has continued to work miracles in Agua Bendita.  The church has helped with donations of food and clothing and medicine.  They have done tutoring programs and VBS.  Most of all they have brought hope and the love of Christ to this little village.

On our trip this summer with the Immanuel team one of the projects we worked on was the construction of a playground in Agua Bendita.  One of the young leaders of the church, Pilo, had “rescued” a playground that had been removed from a park in Tenancingo.  He had raised money and even paid out of his own pocket for it to be welded back together, stored and then shipped to the top of the mountain.  Our team was privileged to help dig the holes and pour the concrete to put the playground in place.  It was an amazing undertaking.

What struck me the most was the change in the children.  Four years before when we first came the children would hide from us and even cry when we reached out to touch them.  Now they covered the hillside, watching the playground being erected.  They were laughing and talking and playing with us and were so excited we could barely keep them off the equipment long enough for us to bolt it back together.  To them it was like Disney World had just been built in the middle of their village.

When I left that day I once again had tears in my eyes for the people of Agua Bendita.  This time they were tears of joy for all that God had done for them.  God has heard our prayers and taken our meager offerings and done a fantastic miracle.

There is still a lot pain and suffering and work to be done, but He has given them hope.  Jesus has shown that He did not turn his back on them.  He has shown His face through Chris and Kathy Gouzoules and the people in the church in Tenancingo, and even through the people of Immanuel who have prayed and donated and even come to their village.

Yesterday Chris asked us to pray for the things that seem impossible in our lives.  Whatever that is in your life it may be hard to believe that God can fix it or even cares to fix it.  You may feel like you are out of hope and that God has turned his back on you.  If you are feeling that way then I wish that I could bring you to a little village on the side of a mountain in the middle of Mexico.  A place that was once more desolate and hopeless and alone than you could ever imagine.

A place that was impossible to help – unless you have an impossible God. 

A God through whom all things are possible. 

Ted Brooks is husband to Gretchen and dad to some wonderful kids. He works as a tech director for a local school district.

ICYouth: On Giving Thanks in Reflection

Every Friday, we’re taking a peek at how God is working in the lives of our high school students. These servants of Jesus are walking daily by faith as they navigate the hallways and relationships inside their school walls and beyond. Our weekly series will highlight what God is up to in their lives in their voices. Leave them some encouragement by commenting?

by Alexus Jones

The sweet aroma of spices has overrun my senses since the moment I awoke. The music and cheering of the televised parade can be heard in every room of the house. My mother sets the table with the best silverware and the nicest glasses that won’t be used for another four or five hours. Grandparents have come to visit, and we anxiously await the arrival of other long-since-seen family members.

It is Thanksgiving morning.

As I sat down to write to you, I took a retrospective look over this past year, as many people do on this day. I was able to see how staggeringly different life has become since last fall, and I felt the need to share the amazing things that God has blessed me with in the past four seasons. There is something new and amazing to be grateful for every day, and having only one day in a year to really reflect on that seems a bit ridiculous to me. Nevertheless, I am thankful for a day dedicated to thankfulness. I realize that another year lived is something to be eternally grateful for all on its own, but the last twelve months in my life have seemed particularly rich in blessing. God has opened doors that I never knew existed.

A year ago almost to the day, my friend Jesse I began working as stagehands at our Immanuel Church—a job that entails arriving at the church at 6:30AM every other Sunday and working nearly invisibly for six hours. At first glance, the volunteer job didn’t seem very fitting for me. What did I know about working backstage, and why in the world would I have any desire to show up to church at 6:30 in the morning? Getting there at 10:45AM seemed like a struggle enough. Yet, by the working hand of God, I am able to type to you today as a year-long volunteer employee of Immanuel Church. I have met phenomenal people through this opportunity, and I’ve learned more than I could have imagined.

God also blessed me with the chance to attend a family reunion in Oregon this summer. I was reunited with a great many people that I hadn’t seen since my childhood summers on the left coast. One of the biggest events of the entire year was finally meeting my long-lost older sister, Leslie. I’ve known about her for probably eight years now, but I never had the chance to meet her and my nephew Joseph. Also, it had been seven years since I’d seen my older brother Nick, and we’d both changed quite a bit. That week in Oregon was truly a blessing beyond belief.

God’s plan is most evident in my journey through music. The lack of passion and excitement that I had for music just 52 weeks ago leaves me astounded. A year ago, I didn’t even own an acoustic guitar, but now I play one in my own band with my best friends. I had hardly discovered that my voice didn’t sound like the noises of a dying pig, and now I play my own shows. I had hardly written any original music, but by God’s grace, my band was able to get an original song recorded and produced by Daniel Yates, a good friend that we met completely by chance in April. God brought all of the right people into my life at the right times.

Ever since my family started attending Immanuel Church, it had always been my dream to play in the worship band. Five years later, on November 4th, 2012, God allowed me to do just that. His unbelievable plan never ceases to amaze me. In the darkness of the night, God can provide an inextinguishable light. In the terror of a storm, God can be an inalienable comfort. I thank God for His love today, and I pray that you can feel this joy-inducing gratitude, too. “This is the day that the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” (Psalm 118:24).

I hope you were able to learn a bit about me, and I look forward to writing to you again soon! God bless.

Alexus Jones is a junior at Lakes Community High School. She plays in the high school youth group worship band and works backstage on Sunday mornings at Immanuel Church. She is a singer/songwriter that desires to glorify God with the abilities that He’s entrusted to her.