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.

Local Outreach: Christmas with the Sailors

So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples. John 13:34-35 (NLT)

Though the name sounds self-explanatory — Christmas with the Sailors — the impact of this important outreach is not quite as obvious. Michelle Bychowski, one of the event’s organizers, shares the ins and outs of this opportunity to love our military service people.

IC: How is Christmas with the Sailors serving a need?

Michelle: The sailors, this year we’ve invited a battalion of 80, are all recruits in basic training boot camp. They have been isolated for weeks and are only allowed out because of the Christmas holiday. They have been isolated from all civilization for weeks: no television, news, radio, and no contact with family. Many of these recruits are very young (the average age is 18) and have never been away from home for Christmas before.

IC: What is some of the feedback you’ve gotten from the sailors?

Michelle: Usually we receive several letters expressing their thankfulness for our willingness to spend Christmas with them and make them feel at home. Some have said they were not sure what to expect when they discovered they were coming to “a church” but were pleasantly surprised and enjoyed the entire day.

MerryNavyWe send Christmas letters home for their families with a group photo and individual photo. This generally results in parents writing us back expressing their thanks for spending the day with their child. They usually let us know it made them feel better knowing they were not alone and they were able to talk to them or see their child via Skype. I love that this extends past us serving just the individual, it serves their families as well.

IC: What is your favorite part of the day?

Michelle: My favorite part is meeting these young men and women and watching the interaction with everyone. There have been different stories each year that are so memorable. For example, one year a young man walked around rubbing his face with Kleenex saying, ” you don’t know what we wipe with in the barracks!” Another time, a young girl cried when she saw someone’s baby and thought the baby looked a lot like hers.

I love seeing their excitement when they get to talk to their parents or their loved ones throughout the day. It is enjoyable watching them play games and just relaxing and enjoying food all day.

IC: What are your current volunteer needs?

Michelle: We could still use a few turkeys and more stuffing. We are in need of more appetizers and side dishes. I usually recommend that if you are making something special for your family, double the recipe and bring the rest over. I have often heard a sailor say, ” my mother makes this every year!” and it may be something different like enchiladas or Puerto Rican rice.

IC: How has this changed Christmas for your family?

Michelle: For our family it all began hoping our children would not be so wrapped up in the opening of presents and realize that it is better to give than to receive. We have seen that play out many times. One Christmas, their Christmas presents were still under the tree several days later and I had to tell them to open them. For days they will talk about stories they shared or fun things they experienced. They look forward to going to gurnee mills after graduation to see if we can find any of our guests. They also know they will not be getting many presents anymore the focus is on Christs birth and then serving others. They were given the option of going on vacation when we switched churches and unanimously all the children expressed they wanted to have Christmas with the sailors. That same weekend Immanuel announced “ICU” and my husband and I looked at each other with the understanding that Christmas was back on! The day is long lived in our hearts and minds; my children are forming memories and I am pretty sure it will be passed on to their families to not be so self focused at Christmas.

To volunteer for specific tasks, stop at the Info Circle this Sunday or call the church office for more information.

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 www.lauralisaforman.com.

Local Outreach: The Invitation: A True Story

By Marion Medina

The Invitation: A True Story

Mike is a quiet, thoughtful guy who, along with his wife, is part of a local church. Mike gave his life to Jesus a couple of years ago on an Alpha Weekend, but his story is just one link in a very long chain. This is the story of Mike coming to Christ from the beginning … well at least from one point in time. Everyone in this story is a real person who is part of Immanuel Church – you may recognize some of them along the way! Here’s where we pick up the story:

Deb is a hair stylist in Gurnee. She is also the poster child for “missional living” in that she has such a deep relationship with God that it just spills out naturally in conversation. She is always on the lookout for “God opportunities” and really loves people.

Deb had been Dave’s “barber” (that’s what he calls her) for several years. Dave was a cop, and I mean that in the strictest sense of the word. Dave was the kind of guy who, if you watched him marching toward your pulled over car, you would immediately know he was not coming to issue just a warning.

Dave was mad. He was mad at the “church,” he was mad at life and he was mad at God. But that didn’t deter Deb. She established a friendship with Dave right there in her salon and patiently listened to his questions about life and God. When Dave’s life hit the skids, Deb was there offering prayer and an invitation to try church again, which Dave did. Deb then invited him to Alpha and even accompanied him on the first day.

Dave gave his life to Christ and was a transformed man. He went from seething with anger to brimming with the joy of the Lord. Dave eventually married his sweetheart, Maite, who did the Alpha course the semester after he did where she grew tremendously in her relationship with God.

Dave then invited Rodney to come on the Alpha course at Immanuel. Rodney was a fellow police officer who had almost no church in his background. He was open, but after attending one Alpha information brunch, he decided not to come on the course.

But Dave just kept being a good friend to Rodney and kept inviting him to Alpha. Rodney got engaged to Cathy and decided he would try Alpha if she would do it with him. She reluctantly came along thinking she would be in for some bashing of the religious tradition from which she came, but that didn’t happen, and after a few weeks she warmed up to the group.

Rodney gave his life to Christ on an Alpha weekend, and Cathy’s faith came alive on that same weekend. The whole trajectory of their lives was changed, and they began to serve in various ways at Immanuel.

For several years, Rodney and Dave kept inviting their mutual friend Mike to Alpha, but Mike wouldn’t budge. Then Maite invited Mike’s wife Marita to come. Marita came off-and-on to a first Alpha course and then came back to be a helper on another. On the Alpha weekend during her second course, Marita had a powerful experience with God that included healing for a deep emotional scar. She was so transformed that her face seemed different – somehow brighter – after that weekend.

Mike saw the difference in Marita and came on the next course. He gave his life to Christ and came back to serve on the next Alpha team.

One memory that never fails to bring tears to my eyes is that of Mike, a helper on the Alpha team, surrounded by the other guys on that team being prayed for just before he went out to offer one-on-one prayer to Alpha guests during the prayer ministry time. So many years, so many invitations and here he was living fully for Jesus.

And it all started with Deb … well, someone told Deb about Jesus, but that’s another story.

So who has God placed in your sphere of influence? Will you be inviting them to Alpha this time around? You never know what might happen if you do.

Because of your generosity to Accelerate, we are able to partner with God in His work of transforming lives. Thank you!

Marion Medina is the director of evangelism and community outreach at Immanuel. She enjoys running, nature, exploring, traveling and spending time with the people she loves. 

The Monday After: Rescuing the Lost {Anita}

You know that Sunday feeling, right?

We leave church inspired by and filled with  Truth, encouragement and passion on Sundays … and somewhere along the course of 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, January 13, 2013: Rescuing the Lost; Gerard Long

By Anita Everly

Do you feel renewed in your desire to see those around you who do not know Christ to know Him, as well as your purpose in being a part to make that happen?

Gerard Long, executive director of Alpha USA, brought us back to basics yesterday.  At the core are the Greatest Commandments and the Great Commission:

 We must love God and love others.  (Matthew 22:37)

 We must go and make disciples.  (Matthew 28:19)

 The imperatives in these words from Christ are love and go.

As Long said, “We should want to know and love Him more, and everything flows out of that.” In terms of loving and knowing the Lord, I can’t help but think of the words of Matthew 6:33, to “seek first his kingdom and righteousness”.  Personally, I have to remember to seek God and the Holy Spirit continually before I can know Him and love Him more.

D.L. Moody’s quote really resonated with me: “I have to keep asking to be filled with the Holy Spirit because I leak.”  So true.

When we seek the Father first by talking with Him, listening to Him, reading the Word and asking His Holy Spirit to fill us, we begin to see life through His lens and to love with a heart like His.  It’s those very fruits of the Spirit that empower us to show the radical love of Christ to those around us.  And that love is a beacon of Light, reflecting Christ and drawing those who are lost to Him.  When we love them well, we show them God.

Then we have to go!   It’s really as simple as sharing our story of how Christ has changed our own lives.  As we are in tune with the promptings of the Holy Spirit, we are empowered with the courage to meet people where they are, then, at the Spirit-led time, the boldness to share the gospel, no matter what the cost.  Lives are at stake!  Heaven is for real and so is hell. 

 God has placed the people in our lives for a reason and will work through our obedience to His call.  Even if it seems we have messed it up somehow, He will grace over it all. 

As I reflected on this message, it reminded me of a kaleidoscope.  Remember those colorful changing prisms in a tube that when turned they melt one into another over and over again?  If you turn long enough, you get back to the same beginning prism and start the cycle all over again. 

That’s how I picture these purposes for which we are all here to do work on earth, an ethereal kaleidoscope.

When we seek Him first, we know Him and are better equipped by the power of the Holy Spirit to love others.  When we love others well, we are better able to go share the transformational power of the gospel of Jesus Christ. 

It’s a daily process and a lifelong commitment to this cycle that can yield beautiful, deep-dimensional results for the Kingdom.

Who do you want to be standing alongside you for eternity?

Who in a million years could you never even imagine being in heaven with you?

He wants them all!

Seek Him.  Love them.  Go share!

Seek!  Love!  Go!     

Seek!  Love!  Go!  

Seek!  Love!  Go!

Over and over–until the whole world hears.

Editor’s note: Immanuel is kicking off a new round of The Alpha Course, where we explore the basic questions of Christianity in an open, non-judgemental environment. The informational brunch kicks off this Saturday, January, 19, 2013 at Key Lime Cove in Gurnee with a 9 a.m. start time. To register for the FREE information brunch, go HERE and scroll all the way down, or call 847-336-4800.

Because of your generosity to Accelerate, we are able to partner with God in His work of transforming lives. Thank you!

Anita Everly is the wife of David and mom to their three sons.  She can be found watching the lives of her men unfold, creating a home, and encouraging other women in life and motherhood.  She is striving to live life on purpose because she is crazy in love with the One who is crazy in love with her.

Local Outreach: Christmas with Sailors {A Merry Navy Christmas} Recap

What began as a way for John and Michelle Bychowski to teach their kids about the gift of giving and serving others has become a true gift for sailors in the thick of their basic training during the Christmas season.

“If I would have been at base today, it would have been the holiday routine — shining my boots and studying in the barracks,” said Taylor Safford, one of the 44 sailors from Great Lakes who spent Christmas Day at Immanuel for the church’s first-ever Christmas with Sailors/A Merry Navy Christmas celebration.

Merry Navy ChristmasThe Bychowski family began hosting Christmas with Sailors at their former church several years ago along with Kasey and Sharon Hamilton, each year becoming more deeply committed to making Christmas into a special, memorable day for the sailors.

“Many are so young and have never been away from home,” Michelle said. “It’s like taking them out of confinement. They are so grateful for the meal and the fellowship. We even have had one sailor cry over a dish prepared because it was just like his mom made … we have a real opportunity to show them the love of Christ through serving them.”

Marcus from New Jersey was among one of the sailors who grateful for the break, as he was having a hard time being at boot camp.

“It’s been tough,” he said. “My daughter was born during boot camp, and it’s been really hard to be away. Everyone here has been so nice, though, and the best part of the day has been getting to talk to my family.”

Computers were set up in stations around the church so sailors could Skype with family back home and donated-for-the-day cell phones also were available for the guests to call their families.

Brian Rivera from California said being at Immanuel on Christmas Day was the next best thing to being at home.

“Today has been great,” he said. “Everyone here has made me feel like I’m at home. They’ve given us lots of affection.”

Immanuel attendee Scott Compton, who spent the day at the celebration, recalled one young woman who burst into tears after calling her family.

“I could tell those tears represented so many emotions,” he said, “homesickness, happiness to hear her loved one, excitement that she knew it was almost over and she might see friends and family again after two months of very little and primitive communication. I could see that all in just about five seconds of tears. Then a team helper pulled her aside and gave her a hug and some comfort. You don’t realize the impact this event might have on someone until you see it yourself.”

Aside from community and the means to call family, volunteers at Immanuel also provided a large Christmas dinner including desserts and planned fun activities in which everyone could engage including games and karoake.

“We would definitely like to do this again next year,” Michelle said.

To see more pictures and video from the day and read responses from Immanuel volunteers, the sailors and the sailors’ families, check out the Facebook group A Merry Navy Christmas.

If you’d like to be involved with Christmas with Sailors/A Merry Navy Christmas next year, please contact John and Michelle Bychowski at allknowhim1{at}yahoo{dot}com.

Because of your generosity to Accelerate, we are able to partner with God in His work of transforming lives. Thank you!