Sunday, 30 November 2014

Another One of Those "Little" Miracles

This almost slipped my mind, but it's just another example of how I'm convinced God orchestrates things while making them seem like coincidences.

I was on my way to my meeting at the Wold Creek Community Church in Lacombe last week. I had previously spoken with the administrator and arranged the date, time and space. On the highway on the way down I called the church and got the following message, "Our office hours are 1:00 PM to 4:00 PM, Tuesday to Friday."

Obviously, every time I had called must have been within these hours, but this was the first time I was aware of these hours - and I was planning to be there by 11:30 to set up for lunch. My heart sank. I was in trouble. I pictured having to wait, along with all my expected guests, outside a locked building until the administrator arrived at one o'clock. So, just like the last time, I shot up an arrow prayer that God would somehow redeem this disaster.

The rest of my drive was spent alternately cursing myself for my lack of thought and planning, and asking God to get me out of my predicament.

I stopped in to the local Subway to pick up my platter of subs, then proceeded to the church. Imagine my delight when, from a distance, I saw an old Nissan in the parking lot. The church door was open. I walked in and asked loudly if anyone was there. No one answered. I strolled around inside for a few minutes, when finally, someone appeared. It was a fellow named Bernie, who, "just happened to be there" to do a few things around the place. Bernie had no idea I was coming, or why, but when I explained, he showed me a room where I could get set up, then left, leaving me alone in the church. I must have looked trustworthy, I suppose. Long story short, I ended up having my meeting and had a very encouraging conversation with Pastor Leon Johnston of Wolf Creek Church.

Now, perhaps it was a coincidence that Bernie just happened to be there, outside of normal office hours. But I'm becoming more and more convinced that God saves me from these embarrassing predicaments, not for my sake, but  for His. One of my constant prayers is that I not embarrass God in anything I do.

Deep down, though, I'm torn as to whether it is His embarrassment or my own with which I'm concerned.



Thursday, 27 November 2014

My Week Last Week

Wanda, Elaine and I (I'm the one in the middle, lest there be any confusion)
It has taken me a while to get this post done. I posted here on my plans for last week. Things went approximately according to plan, but by the time Thursday rolled around, I was pretty well beat. I always tell people I love Alpha and I love driving, so I have the perfect job, but even I, I have realized, have limits.

The drive to Grande Prairie is about 5 hours. That was my wife and I with Elaine Young, Sunday afternoon after church. After a fitful sleep on a rather hard bed (my granddaughter lent me hers, as we saved a hotel bill by staying at my daughter's place in GP), we hosted a two-hour Relationship Central meeting at the Christian Fellowship Assembly on Monday morning. Numbers were a bit disappointing, as at least two churches who had committed to attending were not there, but the response from those who did attend was quite encouraging.

From there it was a two and a half hour drive to Whitecourt for another meeting, at the Family Worship Centre. Again, numbers were disappointingly low, but I believe we may see some fruit from our visit. I'm finding, when I try to include the Relationship Central courses in my discussions with churches, there is an increased interest arising from nothing more than an increased awareness that they exist.

Now, allow me to take time out to vent on a particular point of frustration. At one of our stops I said to the pastors who attended that I had hoped to see the pastor of another particular church in town in our meeting. One pastor present said, "O, I just spoke with him this morning," then proceeded to call him on his cell.  When he hung up, he said, "He didn't know anything about it, otherwise he would have been here."

Now, there had been at least three e-mails from Alpha Canada regarding this meeting, in the month or so leading up to it, plus one personal one of my own, and a voice mail message left by me the Friday before. The pastor called back and said, "I just checked my messages and found it, but unfortunately, I can't make it now."  This is not a criticism. I would not begin to judge the workload or the busyness of our pastors. It's just a point of frustration that messages don't always get through.

After the balance of the 5-hour drive back to Leduc, it was down to Lacombe the next morning. Another hour on the highway. On my way down I dialed the Alliance Church in Innisfail, which is about 35 or 40 minutes south of Lacombe, and lined up an appointment with the pastor there. Again, in Lacombe attendance was disappointing, but I had a wonderful and encouraging meeting with Pastor Leon Johnston of the Wolf Creek Community Church. So, down to Innisfail, then back home. Wednesday and Thursday were spent on the road around Edmonton meeting with Chinese churches with Wanda Ho, our National Chinese Alpha Director (more on that on another post).

All this to say that by the time Thursday night rolled around, I found myself perhaps more weary than I can ever remember feeling.

I guess I'm not as young as I used to be.


Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Chinese Alpha

What a great encouragement it is to have Wanda Ho come to town. Wanda is our national Chinese Alpha Coordinator, and as much as I enjoy Wanda's company, that's not the only reason.

No; among other things, the reason I like her visits is that we get to visit with Chinese Churches. Last Wednesday, Thursday and Friday were spent in a number of meetings in various areas of Edmonton, seeing and hearing what is happening in the Chinese community. There are a number of Chinese churches running Alpha in Edmonton (and elsewhere, of course) and a real growing interest in our Relationship Central materials, the Marriage Prep Course, Marriage Course, Parenting and Parenting Teenagers courses.

I am not a sociologist or whatever kind of ologist I would need to be to have my opinion carry any kind of professional weight, but there are some things I see in our Chinese communities. There are at least two communities, if you like, the Cantonese- and the Mandarin-speaking. Many Chinese churches have three congregations and hold three services; both the above as well as an English-speaking congregation.

Speaking very generally, the Cantonese are the ones made of up of immigrants from Hong Kong. Several pastors have told me that these congregations face at least one of the problems that some of our own western churches face - that of aging congregations. These are first-generation immigrants, and their grown children tend to gravitate toward the English-speaking services, even if it is in the same church. Mandarin-speakers, on the other hand, are mostly from Mainland China and consist of more recent immigrants and international students, here to attend our universities, so the problem of age has not yet caught up with them.

Many Chinese churches are concerned with, "the next generation," to use a term I heard over and over again, so Alpha's Youth Film Series is on special interest to many of them. So also, as I said above, are the Parenting courses, both for young children and for teenagers.

The Chinese churches are a pleasure to deal with. They are extremely courteous, extremely hospitable, and extremely concerned that they are doing Alpha right. Many of them go out of their way to ask, often several times, if they are doing things properly. And they are so pleased to show us how they are doing.

Hospitable? Every time we go to lunch I am treated (?) to a new food experience, not always sure what it is I'm eating. Every restaurant we go to seems to have only chopsticks around the table, but they have only to see me and are immediately concerned if I would like a knife and fork.

And we've been invited to join the Chinese Ministerial in Edmonton. Cool.



Friday, 21 November 2014

Alpha Makes the Harvard Business Review

From here...
This excerpt seems almost like another language, "pretentious businessese", to coin a term, but it is interesting that HBR references Alpha as a model of something new and effective.
Consider also an initiative that grew not out of Silicon Valley but out of a church in London. The Alpha Course is a template for introducing people to Christian beliefs. Anyone wishing to host a course can freely use its materials and basic format—10 meetings devoted to the central questions of life—with no need to gather in a church. Catalyzed by a model that empowers local leaders, the course has reached 24 million people in living rooms and cafés in almost every country in the world.
 What’s distinctive about these participatory behaviors is that they effectively “upload” power from a source that is diffuse but enormous—the passions and energies of the many. Technology underpins these models, but what drives them is a heightened sense of human agency.
All things to all men, I suppose, but any time Alpha is mentioned in a positive light, especially in a secular publication, I'm happy.



Saturday, 15 November 2014

My Week This Week

I picked up Elaine Young yesterday afternoon. She flew in from Halifax for a bit of a whirlwind tour.

We presented a training seminar this morning at Leduc Alliance Church on Alpha's Marriage, Marriage Prep and Parenting Courses. Registrations were not as high as we would have liked but the seminar went very well and every bit of feedback was very good.

Right after church tomorrow it's off to Grande Prairie for a meet & greet Monday morning at the Christian Fellowship Assembly, then a stop off at the Whitecourt Family Worship Centre on the way back at 3:00 PM.

Tuesday, I'm down to Lacombe for a Pastors' lunch, while Wanda Ho, our National Chinese and ESOL Alpha arrives, and will be visiting various Chinese churches in Edmonton on behalf of the Marriage and Parenting courses, chauffeured around town by Elaine. Elaine leaves for home Wednesday morning and I take over driving duties for Wanda and myself , visiting other Chinese churches on behalf of Alpha.  

I love the Chinese congregations. They are so detail oriented; so concerned that they are doing things right; questioning themselves, wanting to be perfect; pressing us for feedback even when they are doing things perfectly and could give the rest of us lessons.

Every day is a new day; every week a new week. Got to get one more trip down to Lethbridge and Calgary, either the following week or the one after.



Friday, 7 November 2014

New Family, New Home

This is one of my favourite stories. It is about the heart of Alpha. It is about the power of Christ and his Spirit to transform lives. It is about the way God can make everything right.

The words to the old hymn by Fanny Crosby just popped into my head;
"For I know whate'er befall me Jesus doeth all things well." (from All the Way My Saviour Leads Me)
And again, from the prophet Isaiah
 "...[to] provide for those who grieve... bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair."
Indeed he does.



Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Let Me Count The Ways

I'm writing this post for a reason. I intend to send it to as many churches in Alberta as I can. It's all about opportunities and needs. How many are there? How many ways and places are there to run Alpha? These are both needs and opportunities.
  1. First of all I think of the Youth Film Series and the many opportunities there are to run it in schools. We can't do it. By, 'we,' I mean adults, leaders, pastors. It has to be the kids. and it has to be a very special kind of kid. One who has a heart for it and the courage to approach their principal (with the backup support of a church, a Youth Pastor or a Christian teacher) with a proposal to run it in their school. It is being done. There are at least 20 Alpha's being run in high- and junior high schools in Edmonton alone. We now have a very committed and knowledgeable Youth coach for Alberta and there is lots of help to get things going.
  2. Campus Alpha. Do any of you churches out there have students in universities, community colleges or Technology Institutes. Let us help you help them get one going on their campus.
  3. Seniors Alpha. Several Alpha's have been run by and/or for seniors, in churches, seniors' centres, community halls or other venues. It's never too late for someone to come to a saving relationship with God through Jesus Christ. One of my own Alpha stories is of the senior's table I led a year or so ago where two people in their '80's came to a new or renewed relationship with God.
  4. Prison Alpha or ex-offender aftercare. Here is a real need, a real opportunity to make a real difference, and it's not as intimidating as one might think. I ran Prison Alpha for 3 years and it can give an Prison Alpha team a real sense of making a difference where it counts.
  5. Alpha for English Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL). Here is a growing opportunity to communicate the Gospel to those whose first language is not English. We now have a team to help you in this area. Our National Chinese Alpha Director, Wanda Ho, has taken ESOL on in her portfolio, and we have an ESOL Alpha coach right here in Alberta. Between us, we can give you all the tools and advice you need.
  6. Alpha Marriage and Alpha Parenting courses. These come under the umbrella of Alpha's, "Relationship Central." They are not so outrightly evangelistic as Alpha itself, but for that reason they may actually be more attractive to those in the community outside the church. They may serve as a doorway into your church. You can actually advertise, for instance, a Marriage Prep Course, and find that young people planning a wedding will respond.
All this is not to ignore Alpha in the, 'normal' venues. There are lots of opportunities, lots of needs, and lots of help. Just like Home Depot,

"You can do it. We can help."



Today Was Another Good Day

PS: Today was another good day. I went to Wetaskiwin. Had another encouraging conversation with Pastor Greg at Wetaskiwin Full Gospel Fellowship, then called on Sacred Heart Catholic Church.

This is a Catholic parish I have been praying about and pursuing for some time. The first Tuesday of each month they have an evening service called, "Effusion," which I attend whenever I can. It is a praise and worship service with a great guitar player, albeit with some Catholic aspects with which I am not entirely familiar.

But Sacred Heart is a wonderful, Spirit-filled parish and will be the ideal Alpha church when (not if, because I'm praying) they discover, run and commit to Alpha.

Last night was a testimony by a young man whose wife, Cristy, has just taken the position of Youth Minister there. Cristy has just come from Miami (yes, Florida) to take on this position. We had a nice chat this morning, and I resisted the temptation to make any smart-alec comments about her move to Alberta and our weather. I'm sure she has had enough already.

In any case, Sacred Heart has been on my own heart for some time now. If you are a praying person, please join me in praying that, if it is the Lord's will, they become an enthusiastic and effective Alpha Parish.



Tuesday, 4 November 2014

God Knew I needed Encouragement So He Sent Me To Tofield

I was a little bit down Monday. I get that way sometimes. It's often because I wonder if I'm doing enough in my position with Alpha.

I remember that in my former position with Raven Truck Accessories, I composed the company training manual. My advice to store managers was this: either you should be doing something for the good of your store or you should be thinking of what you can be doing for the good of your store.

So that is also my attitude with Alpha. My constant prayer is that for the effectiveness of this ministry and my part in it. But sometimes I just get the feeling I'm spinning my wheels. So yesterday, God told me, almost out of nowhere, "Go to Tofield."

So I did, and called on one of my favourite places, Tofield Mennonite Church. I also called on three other churches, but Tofield Mennonite was just what I needed. Pastor Ken is a real Alpha fan. In fact, he was first introduced to Alpha when he was in Nicky Gumbel's own small group at Holy Trinity Brompton in the early '90's.

We had a great conversation and time of prayer together. When I first arrived, he introduced me to another gentleman who was in his office, a man in his '80's who was about to fly back to Ontario for a Christian Businessman's conference. It reminded me that a Christian should never really consider him or herself fully retired. There is always work to do; there are always areas to serve.

There. I feel better already.