Local Outreach: Micro Alpha Reaching Teens in Recovery

by Laura Forman

There is no cure for addiction. You will never hear the words, “I used to be an addict.” If you do the person is mistaken. There is only treatment, the most successful of which involves the 12 steps of recovery.

In the process of working the steps, the addict must identify and learn to rely upon a “higher power”, whom some choose to call God. Many who struggle with chemical dependence also struggle with the concept of God, who He is, how He works in our lives, and what it means to surrender to His will.

Teens in an outpatient substance abuse program were invited to attend Micro Alpha, hosted by my husband, David, and me earlier this year. Our goal was to reach out to these vulnerable youth and help them define God in a non-threatening, non-judgmental environment.

Alpha is an invaluable tool for Christians to share Jesus’ love and message to a hurting world. In our home on Friday nights after their rehabilitation group, youth ranging in age from 15 to 20, male and female, gang member to star high school athlete met to talk about Jesus.

We shared a meal and heard stories of how addiction surfaced in these young lives: pain pills after surgery, skipping school to get high with friends, a drug dealer met on the school bus. David and I talked about the hope and healing Jesus gives, the unconditional forgiveness and love, the promise to be our strength.

The Youth Alpha video was a hit; neither of us expected it to be so well received. Only 20 minutes long, one teen’s favorite was the cartoon snippet. We paused to answer the built-in questions, one of the first was, “If you had one day left to live, how would you spend it?”The initial thoughts focused on using drugs, then upon realizing the unconsciousness that would result, minds changed to spending time with family, traveling and hanging out at the beach and with famous people.

There was plenty of laughter to accompany the serious discussions. Relationships were forged. No response was stupid or out of line. We invited the truth to be told.

One night a picture of a swimming pool came onto the screen. People were shown lounging near the pool, dipping their toes in, wading or swimming full force. They were asked to pick out the figure that best represented their readiness for a relationship with God.

Some of the kids were closer to the pool than they were prior to recovery and some identified with tentative swimming, slowly renewing their trust in God. Yet others were seated at a table, looking on curiously.

Alpha is a method of seed planting. Through this Friday night tradition, we hope to have worked where God is already taking hold.

One 12-step slogan likens addiction to a “God-sized hole.” The only thing in this world that will fill the inner hole we try so desperately to fill with quick fixes is reliance on God.

Jesus told us,

“I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.” John 14:6

God has put it on our hearts to reach out to those with a gap in their souls where God is waiting to rush in. Nothing is more fulfilling.

Local Outreach: Stories of Being the Light

by Laura Forman

The words aggressive and Christian should perhaps never be paired. Maybe you’ve known someone that fits the description; if not, you’re probably not interested in meeting such a person. That said, when Immanuel’s Go! Group leader David Forman was asked to describe its purpose, he responded that it is to help the church be more “aggressive” in sharing God’s love.

Jesus said:

You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on a stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.  Matthew 5:14-16 (NIV)

It takes intent and initiative to share our faith, to shine our light. In these ways, we are “aggressive” by being fired up to love one another as Jesus intended, listening to and answering God’s call on our lives, praying for each other and nurturing our own relationship with God in order to mentor others.

Each member of Go! is committed to missional living, seeing our everyday lives as our mission field. Here is how some of us are doing just that:

Deborah Jensen prays for her neighbors as she walks past their homes. A former Micro Alpha host, she is currently on the summer Alpha Team. Deb’s outreach includes inviting neighbors, friends and her daughter’s friends to attend Alpha. She is looking forward to hosting an upcoming summer neighborhood block party, complete with a campfire, s’mores and a game of tag for the kids.

Also starting right where she lives, Beth Mccullough has led three neighborhood women’s Bible studies in her home since she felt God’s call to do so a year and a half ago.

Beth explained, “I have found that a neighborhood study seems to reach a group of women who are perhaps intimidated to enter a church building for a study, or who are short on time and appreciate a casual meeting right in the ‘hood that they can walk to. The women that have been coming are quite diverse in their spiritual backgrounds, and several do not have a home church. Two of the women who joined last time had never opened a Bible before- which was SO exciting to me!”

Lisa Stewart is working with Bridge House, a substance abuse treatment center.

In Lisa’s words, to share “how the programs that we offer at Immanuel have helped me to develop a personal working relationship with Jesus Christ has kept me clean and saved not only my soul but my life as well.”

As an employee of A Safe Place, a domestic violence shelter, Cindy Johnson is working on approval to lead Micro Alpha at the facility. Those in need of abuse services would be invited on a voluntary basis.

David and I currently host Micro Alpha in our home for a group of teens in substance abuse recovery. We felt the call to reach out to this vulnerable population because many drop out of twelve step programs due to confusion over the definition of “higher power.” In our fifth week, we continue to be amazed by their openness and excitement for the program.

Beth sums up our sentiments well, “The Go! Group at Immanuel has been a tremendous source of encouragement and support; I always leave the group meetings feeling refreshed and re-energized. It is wonderful to hear how God is working through the other group members’ lives, and to see glimpses of Him on the move in Lake County.”

Hear more stories of Go! members and get support or ideas for your outreach at our next meeting, the first Sunday of the month at 10:45 in room B113.

100_1824 Laura Forman is a follower of Christ and Immanuel Church member. She is  married to David and they live in Gurnee  with their five children. Working as  both a personal trainer and a freelance writer, she can be found at church  or www.lauralisaforman.com.

Journey to the Cross: “A moving, quiet and profound experience”

by Laura Forman

We all know the signs of Easter: candy-filled egg hunts, pictures with the Easter bunny, baskets, a special family dinner. Preparation includes not only the physical, planning all of the above, but also mental and spiritual readiness for the celebration of Jesus’ resurrection.

As Christians, we are witness to a journey of the greatest magnitude, God’s love letter to us, through his only Son. The story of the greatest struggle and triumph the world has ever known is about to be retold.

Take yourself back 2,000 years. What if you were part of the crowd watching Jesus with his crown of thorns, carrying his cross, stumbling through the streets of Jerusalem? What emotions would you have when this innocent man, whom you believed equally God, was nailed to the cross and ridiculed? What would your reaction be to his empty stone tomb three days after you saw Him die?

This Holy Week, between Palm Sunday and Easter, defines Christianity. Through Jesus, the veil between the spiritual and material worlds was torn, making it possible to bring God’s love to Earth.

“Jesus’s resurrection is the beginning of God’s new project not to snatch people away from earth to heaven but to colonize earth with the life of heaven.” – N. T. Wright

Jesus’ life and fate were predicted in the Old Testament and chronicled in the New. Light came into a broken world and showed us what is Holy. We are called to now be His light. Let this season transform you in a new way through an experience of Jesus’ death and resurrection story.

In the words of Eugene H. Peterson, “It is not easy to convey a sense of wonder, let alone resurrection wonder, to another. It’s the very nature of wonder to catch us off guard, to circumvent expectations and assumptions. Wonder can’t be packaged, and it can’t be worked up. It requires some sense of being there and some sense of engagement.”

This year, go beyond reading or hearing the Easter story by entering into it.

Journey to the Cross will be held at Immanuel Church April 15-19. By literally stepping into the pages of the story, this self-lead exhibit consists of 12 interactive stations that chronicle the Resurrection Story, God’s story.

Designed for all ages, whether or not you attend Immanuel (or any church), it is promised to create a sense of wonder. There are activities geared toward adults and children at each station. Allow approximately one hour for viewing and contemplation.

A station at last year's Journey to the Cross.
A station at last year’s Journey to the Cross.

 

For leader Marion Medina and approximately twenty volunteers, Journey has been “a growing labor of love” in its fourth year, which continues to improve. She describes it as a “moving, quiet and profound experience.”

A progression toward redemption and personal surrender is this year’s focus. Near the end, you are invited to continue your own journey. At the very least, Marion suggests, the experience will evoke questions. And at the most? Who knows?

You’re officially invited.

Location: Immanuel Church. April 15-19.

Hours:

Tuesday – Thursday 10 am – 3 pm and 6:30 – 8:30 pm,

Friday 10 am – 6:30 pm,

Saturday 10 am – 3 pm.

Please note: volunteers are still needed; if you are willing to help set up on Sunday April 13 or tear down on Saturday April 19, please contact Marion at marionm@immanuelhome.org.

 

Laura Forman is a follower of Christ and Immanuel Church member. She is married to David and they live in Gurnee  with their five children. Working as both a personal trainer and a freelance writer, she can be found at church or www.lauralisaforman.com.

 

 

 

Small Groups: Stories of Renewal, Service and Love through 40 Days in the Word

40 days

by Laura Forman

Rarely do we participate in something together, everyone as an entire church community. Sure, most of us come to services weekly. Outside of Sunday mornings, are we ever truly on the same page? The answer is yes — if you’re in an Immanuel small group!

40 Days in the Word, a devotional method of Bible Study by Rick Warren, has inspired new ways of reading, interpreting and applying God’s words.

We all come to the Bible with our needs, and Joan Boyce is no exception. She has two grandchildren, ages 4 and 7, battling Sanfilippo syndrome- a rare, progressive and fatal disease. The experience has focused Joan on the power of God’s word, prayer and Bible study.

“God has used my grandbabies to literally re-align my thinking of who God is through his word,” Joan explained. “I’ve been in the word for many years; I found for me this (40 Days) was a refresher course, helping reestablish new ways of looking at the word and how it can be applied. It’s like fresh, cool water I’m taking in.”

Joan describes her experience in 40 Days as “wonderful”.

As part of the study, each group must plan and complete a “Micah 6:8” service project.

No, O people, the Lord has told you what is good,
and this is what he requires of you:
to do what is right, to love mercy,
and to walk humbly with your God.  Micah 6:8 (NLT)

Immanuel staff member Hyacynth Worth and husband John are in the process of preparing to adopt an older orphaned child from Eastern Europe. Having hosted her over Christmas, with the help of New Horizons, they shared their adoption dream with their small group.

“They were so giddy when talking about it, like a young person talking about a first love,” group member Chesney Leafblad said.

When it came time to decide on a service project, the Worths were unable to attend.

“We were throwing around a couple of ideas, but they were uninspired. None of them were perfect. All of a sudden we started talking about them (the Worth family) and the journey they embarked on,” Chesney shared.

The group deliberated and asked, “Why don’t we have an event to help them fund their journey? Perfect, we thought, it was exactly what we wanted to do”.

Chesney believes, “It’s about seeking out opportunities to serve- instead of it falling into your path- sometimes you have to be proactive to find ways to serve. It may be totally different than anything you’ve ever done.”

Love Walks: Mile for Mile will take place in May. The walkathon and bake sale will be kid-friendly, as the group has a combined sixteen children. With a goal of raising  $10,000 toward adoption fees, the group believes in doing their best and “letting God take care of the rest.”

Trusting God means trusting his Word; loving God means loving his Word.

Bible Professor and Immanuel member Michael Vanlaningham, writing from Israel, sums it up well:

“We must be people of the Word. How can we hope to remain confident in God during hardships if we do not know His power and goodness? How can we avoid moral and spiritual mistakes and foolish, sinful decisions unless we know what they are? The Word of God is sufficient for us to know God and enjoy Him forever.”

Amen.

Hear more stories from our church-wide study of 40 Days in the Word during service on Celebration Sunday, March 23. If you missed it, learn about 40 Days in the Word here.

100_1824Laura Forman loves Jesus. She is married to David and they live in Gurnee with their five children. Working as both a personal trainer and a freelance writer, she can be found at church or www.lauralisaforman.com.

iCKids: Hope in Upward Basketball

Thank you so much for your generosity to Accelerate, our one-fund generosity initiative! Because of God’s goodness and His people’s generosity, we are able to share stories of how He is at work at Immanuel, in our community and around the world.”

by Laura Forman

Many of us take for granted our child can play the sport of his or her choice. The decision is a simple one — baseball or soccer, volleyball or track — not whether participation is even possible. One child playing in Immanuel’s Upward Basketball this winter has risen above the odds, a possibility only God could facilitate.

Hope is a fitting name for this inspiring girl, born severely premature at 25 weeks and given a 50 percent chance of survival. Now at age 11, Hope is not only walking, which doctors thought impossible, she is competing in a sport she always dreamed of playing.

The teams were full and practice had begun when Ruth Karner, Immanuel’s Children’s Ministry Director, got the request from Hope’s mother, Angela. This, combined with the physical challenges Ruth predicted, was enough to turn her away. However, being turned away wasn’t in God’s plan.

Ruth emailed Angela to let her know the answer:next year was a smarter choice as they could be better prepared to accommodate Hope; though she really wanted her to join, they just weren’t ready. Angela replied there was a misunderstanding; she had already told Hope she could play.

After much prayer and further discussion with Upward commissioner Jurrell Belonga, Ruth decided to place Hope on a team.

“We talked to coach Katcie, and she was thrilled to do it; then she talked to her assistant coach,” Ruth said. “This is where God came into the whole thing. Not only was Katcie thrilled about it, her assistant was a special needs teacher. They were both like, ‘Absolutely, let’s do this.’”

“It ended up being a beautiful experience for everybody,” Ruth explained. “What was humbling for me was even when I was hesitant to step out and do something because I didn’t see all the ducks in a row like I usually do before we kick something off, God put all those ducks in a row first, behind the scenes, before I could get to it.”

Hope has progressed from taking her first steps at age 3, to becoming a “professional faller” (her mom’s description), falling more than 100 times a day through age 6, to an active pre-teen playing an organized sport with her peers.

HopeHope, proudly in uniform.

Ruth believes the experience benefits the children without physical challenges in Upward even more than Hope.

“It teaches them so much more. It gives them the opportunity to be Jesus and to experience what this child has to offer that they normally wouldn’t necessarily know,” Ruth elaborated.

“She is an inspiration to many, especially her family,” Angela shared. “It has been a long uphill road all the way … but I would do it ALL again. God has a special plan for Hope; that is why she survived and continues to thrive.”

And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.  Philippians 1:6 (NLT)

How does Hope feel about playing basketball?

Angela said, “She was given a first-hand dose of the reality that being in a mainstream sport without an aide is more challenging, but as she states, she is ‘free’”.

To learn more about Upward Sports and Immanuel’s Special Needs Inclusion ministry please visit: http://immanuelhome.org/kids.php 

100_1824

Laura Forman is married to David and they live in Gurnee with their five children. She is a personal trainer, freelance writer and can be found at church or www.lauralisaforman.com.