World Outreach: Christmas Around the World

by Laura Forman

December is a season of preparation, of both hearts and homes.  Advent stems from the Latin adventus, or coming. We wait expectantly for the most special of days. Beyond the glittering tree, gifts from Santa and even Holiday dinner, Christmas is a celebration of the moment the Word, God’s Word, blessed us in person.

So the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son. John 1:14 (NLT)

Christmas is particularly meaningful to our missionaries living half a world away and the new (and not yet) Christians they minister to. Choosing to spend the Holiday with brothers and sisters most in need, these special families reach out to share the love of Jesus in ways that are both selfless and inspiring.

In Jos, Nigeria, preparation for the “biggest Christian celebration” begins at least two months in advance. The Galadima family started their planning in October by joining in the purchase of a cow to be shared at Christmas.

The gift of food is an important part of the Holiday; the meat will be shared with parents, poor family members and orphans in their extended family. Rice will be gifted to widows the family is acquainted with and yet more food is to be distributed to international students remaining on a nearby campus for Christmas.

Cooking begins several days before the Holiday with Rose preparing pastries with the help of the girls living with them. The family attends church both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, culminating with fellowship and the sharing of a special meal.

“Children visit from one house to another all day long. They expect to eat something and get a gift of money. It’s like trick-or-treating.” This tradition continues throughout the day after Christmas, when Rose and Bulus visit their respective mothers, having spent the Holiday entertaining.

In Central Mexico, Chris and Kathy Gouzoules welcome many into their home, “Christian and non-Christian, [who] for a variety of reasons will not be spending Christmas with their families. Some of [them] have been ‘expelled’ from their families due to their faith in Jesus, others due to family feuds, and yet others due to living away from their families.”

The large and late meal served on Christmas Eve, and into the wee hours of the morning, is the focus of the Holiday. Traditional fare for this area is “pozole, turkey, ham, shrimp soup, hot fruit punch and plenty of alcohol.” The Gouzoules serve a cidra, or non-alcoholic cider in place of the latter. Small gifts are shared with the guests, often poor and/or single mothers, and “all go home with a plate of homemade Christmas cookies, candies and sweet breads” (lovingly baked by Chris himself).

Many years Chris, Kathy and their children participate in outreach, such as serving a meal for families of patients at a local hospital or delivering food and warm clothing to poor areas of their city of Tenancingo. According to Chris, “these outreaches are usually accompanied by a brief message on the great gift of God’s love in the form of Jesus. The kids have LOVED this part of Christmas and [it] always makes them appreciate a little more the many blessings we have.”

To read about these and other missionary families Immanuel partners with, visit

100_1824Laura Forman is married to David and they live in Gurnee with their five children. She is a fitness instructor, freelance writer and can be found at church or

World Outreach – Missionary Updates

Prayer Request

Recently we received an urgent prayer request from our missionaries Tom and Michele O’Brien about airstrikes that were happening in Zamboanga City in the Philippines. The military had been launching airstrikes to flush out rebels of the Nur Misuari faction of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNNLF) in the embattled zone of the city. Thankfully soldiers were able to rescue 26 civilian hostages that were being used as human shield in the city. The rescued hostages included men, women and children are recovering.

zamboanga-hostage-300x225We also received news that one of their coworkers in the Philippines, Pastor David, was freed over the weekend. he was held for eight days but is now back with his family.

Please continue to pray for the other hostages, the safety of the city and for those that are still there ministering amoung the Tausug Muslims.

Good News

We also received news from Chris and Kathy Gouzoules.  They were happy to share good news after a church retreat they hosted in June. Here is a peak at the great things God is doing in Tenancingo:

Many pastors and church planters were challenged to plant churches that transform communities during a retreat in Tenancingo (June 2013) organized by Pastor Richarte.

This retreat was one answer to our prayers that a vision to reach and transform our region be led by Mexican pastors and church planters.

Remond and his wife, Conchi, (along with their two daughters) are potential church planters with passion and vision to plant churches with us in this region. They feel called to relocate to one of the 70 unreached cities. Please pray for them and us as we visit and pray over various cities together, asking God for his direction.

Please keep praying that God would raise up church planters and City of Refuge workers for each abandoned city.
Thank you for your continued love, support and prayers for our missionaries as they spread God’s word to those who need it most!

World Outreach: Give This Christmas Away – Part One

Once upon a time there were lands where people had not heard about the gift that God had sent.  That through his son Jesus Christ, people could have LIFE and HOPE.

Thousands of miles away there was a group of people who knew about this gift and decided not to keep it to themselves.  They realized that God wanted them to ENGAGE in sharing this gift of hope, love and salvation with everyone.  So they sent people to share this gift. This group of people promised to ENGAGE by praying, giving and caring for their friends that they were sending.

Over time, the people in other lands accepted this gift and an amazing thing happened. Their lives were completely changed and they began ENGAGING and sharing it with others…and more and more began accepting this gift. The friendships grew between these groups of people…regardless of distance, race  or culture.  In working together they saw that God began changing communities!

YOU are the group of people who have engaged in these partnerships! YOU are the ones who are praying, giving and caring for those in far away lands. YOU are the ones who have seen God at work in your own lives and have not kept it to yourself. YOU have ENGAGED and have been giving CHRISTmas away!!


Through your financial gifts World Outreach sent $4,000 for scholarships for the students at the Learning Resource Center in the Philippines.  These students have graduated from the Bible School and are missionaries to unreached Muslim villages.  $7,000 was sent to help with flood relief (water, food and rebuilding homes) after the devastating mud slides and flooding surrounding Iligan City, Philippines.  We continue to support Tom & Michele Obrien there!


rose:bulusThrough your financial gifts, World Outreach sent $11,000 to help with scholarships for students at JETS seminary!  You can read those stories in previous blogs.  We continue to support Bulus & Rose Galadima in their ministry!


We celebrated with Chris & Kathy Gouzoules as the church in Tenancingo was given over to godly leadership, Pastor Richarte and his wife Isela and keeps on growing.  We continue to support Chris & Kathy Gouzoules!

GOD is multiplying our gifts (time, finances, prayer) and using it to expand His Kingdom! What a JOY to work alongside Him and keep sharing the gift of LIFE and HOPE. Thank you for Engaging!!  MERRY CHRISTMAS

Serving together with you,

Christy Davis, Alison Knoll, Beth Marshall, Michael Matteoni, John & Kat Tierney and many others!!

Planting New Foundations

Our missionaries, Chris and Kathy Gouzoules, are determined to bring God’s presence to those living in Mexico. They know the gifts that God has for each of his children, if only we are willing to open them. I love this story of how God can change, even the hardest of hearts, and wrap them in His everlasting love.

Isaiah 58:12 And they that shall be of thee shall build the old waste places; thou shalt raise up the foundations of many generations, and thou shalt be called the Repairer of the Breach, the Restorer of Paths to dwell in.

After school, nine-year old, Mario, walked into his house and passed his parents’ bedroom. The door was open. His father yelled out from the room, “Mario, this is what real men do.” His father was [sleeping with] with his mistress while Mario’s mother was at work. That day, Mario’s tender heart began to turn to stone.

Years later, Mario became a teacher in Tenancingo and began drinking and doing what his father had told him that men do, sleep with other woman. He zealously participated in the generational evils of his family.

The week before Mario and his wife, Sarah, attended a Sunday worship service at our church plant in Tenancingo, Mario had visited three prostitutes. He and Sarah had been clients of a local witch during ten years of their marriage, and her occult powers deranged their lives and dismantled their marriage. Mario and Sarah had been fighting, and Sarah was planning to file for a divorce when they visited Comunidad Cristiana (The Christian Community Church of Tenancingo).

Their daughter, who had invited her parents to church, lead Sarah into the prayer room. While Mario sat in the Sunday worship service, listening to songs that exalted the power of Jesus, women began to pray for Sarah. God touched Sarah, and she began to sob and then wail, releasing her pain to Jesus. Jesus enfolded Sarah with his love, and she received his embrace. Shortly after, Mario joined her in the prayer room. He was told of the power of Jesus to forgive them and heal their marriage. He cried out to God for forgiveness and reconciliation with his wife.

Since that day, Mario and Sarah became courageous followers of Jesus. Jesus resurrected the frayed remains of their souls and created whole, cheerful, spiritual warriors. They have broken the multi-generational cycle of marital unfaithfulness, alcoholism, and occult practices in their families. When Victor and Angelica, who recently died in a car accident (see last update), came to Christ, they had been going through a marital crisis. Mario and Sarah counseled and taught them from their own experience and the Bible. From his new life in Christ, Mario was able to tell Victor that a real man is one who is faithful to his wife and family.

Kathy and I are returning to Mexico because there are many more couples like Mario and Sarah whose lives have been bulldozed by the Aztec witchcraft of the region, and need Christ to give them life, rebuild their marriages and families, and lay life-giving foundations for the future generations.

We thank you for your prayers and financial support. Your prayers and giving are helping break Satan’s grip on the Central Mexico region and transforming families and communities through the power of God.

Thank you,

Chris and Kathy

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.