Friday, 18 December 2015

Tuesday December 15/16; Calgary.


 


I accompanied Youth Coach Amy Croy and Catholic Coach Mark Richards to a meeting at St Paul Centre in Calgary to present Alpha to a group of Catholic school chaplains in Calgary, and to encourage them to implement Alpha in their schools. Amy and Mark both have a passion to empower young people to be able to share their faith with their friends, and Alpha in a school context is one of the best ways to do just that.

The response was very positive. Some of the chaplains have actually done Alpha in their schools, while others were very excited to start. My part in this was actually rather minor. The picture above was snapped during one of my brief appearances. Mark and Amy did a wonderful job of organizing and presenting.

On the same trip we had a couple of very good meetings at Centre Street Church, one of the largest congregations in Canada. One meeting was with their Alpha Coordinator, and one with one of their Youth Pastors. Spent the night with friends Rob and Mary in Okotoks and met with leaders from the Anglican and Alliance churches in that community.

The vehicle I rented for the trip was a yellow Kia Soul.
(For trips over about 250 km round-trip, it is cheaper to rent a car and expense it and the gas than to charge Alpha for mileage on my own car.)Enterprise gave me a choice of a Nissan Altima and that one. Since I had never driven a Soul, and since I am personally interested in all things automotive, I took the Soul. I picked it up late Monday and drove myself and my wife to our personal Alpha at Christ the King Edmonton. Eva said she found the seats comfortable, but that the car was ugly. I said that they were just trying to be cute. I guess if we were Millennials, we might have felt differently.

It has been a while since I last posted, but that is not to say there is nothing going on: Alpha courses starting here and there and getting ready for a big year in 2016, with new product coming out and a Global Advertising Campaign with Bear Grylls beginning in the fall.

If anyone wants to keep abreast of what's happening, you can sign up for Alpha's Inside Track here.

Blessings, and Merry Christmas, if I don't get to post again before then.

John
 

Saturday, 21 November 2015

Effective Evangelizing

OK, so I've been thinking. Again.

You may have heard this example of a number of blindfolded people examining an elephant – one the trunk, one an ear, one a leg, etc., and each coming up with a different answer as to what it is. This is supposed to be an argument for the idea that no one can have an exclusive lock on the truth; that everyone’s idea of truth is equally valid; that many paths lead to God, and therefore all religions are equally valid.

First of all, it occurs to me that it’s a self-defeating example. It disproves itself, because it, in itself, requires that the observer, us, see the whole picture – see that there is a truth - see that it is indeed an elephant, and that a number of points of view can actually miss the truth. So this example actually illustrates that there can be an ultimate truth, but that various points of view can be wrong about it.

Is Christianity the ultimate truth? Well, we’re not to that point yet. That’s where we invite, saying, “Come and see.” This is exactly what Alpha, done properly, does. This is the heart of Alpha. In Alpha, people receive good Christian teaching, but in a non-threatening context. It  is 7 to 10 weeks over which people develop relationships as they learn about the Christian faith, ask any question or express any opinion without threat, intimidation or condemnation.

But here's another thought, from my former pastor and friend Terry... (Wait, that didn't come out right. He is my former pastor - I hope he is still my friend... especially after this...) But here is what he gave me...

What if the elephant could speak up and say, “Hey everybody, remove your blindfolds, I’m an Elephant!”

Because that’s what God has done.
In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by His Son… (Hebrews 1: 1a)
He has revealed Himself fully and finally in Jesus Christ. Jesus said, “I and the Father are one." (John 10:30) He said, “If you’ve seen me you’ve seen the Father.” (John 14:9)

But people need to hear it from God Himself, and only God Himself can change a mind or a heart. I believe the key to evangelizing in these times and in this current generation is to engage in a narrative, not to hold up authority; to discuss, not lecture. Scripture can be used in two ways. We can confront with, "The Bible says!" Or we can engage, with, “Here is what the Bible says. What do you think?"

Want to reach someone for Christ? Invite them to Alpha.

Blessings,

John


Wednesday, 18 November 2015

How Encouraging!

http://www.alphayouthfilmseries.com/stories/#jassie

Last night my wife and I attended a fundraising supper at Harry Ainlay High School in support of Young Life. We were served by a group of 30 or 40 terrific young people from that club in that school, and heard testimonies from people, who are now adults, of how Young Life had changed their lives.

Then this morning I received an email form a woman who had coordinated an Alpha Youth Film Series in a high school, with some amazing and encouraging Alpha Feedback stats.

Among them:
  • BEFORE ALPHA: 18% of respondents said they were Active Christians or Christians on Fire; 60% said they were Christian but not active.
  • AFTER ALPHA: 60% of respondents said they were Active Christians or Christians on Fire; 25% said they were Christian but not active.
  • BEFORE ALPHA: 23% of respondents said they did not believe in God or were spiritual but not religious.
  • AFTER ALPHA: 10% of respondents said they did not believe in God, were spiritual but not religious, or were not yet Christians, but wanted to know more.

The world and our culture seems to be marching resolutely in a completely different direction from what we, as Christians, might say is compatible with our faith. And it seems to me that young people today stand in danger, perhaps more than ever, of being caught up by this misdirected throng.

It must take a great deal of personal courage to resist. But I believe this courage can be found in the knowledge that any young person is not alone; that there are others who share their same beliefs and values. We just have to find a way to bring these kids from a sense of moral and spiritual isolation, to the knowledge that they are not alone in how they think and feel. Both Young Life and Alpha, among other organizations I'm sure, can do this by giving students a safe and encouraging place among their peers where they can realize they are, "not the only one."

 

That's for starters. Then we progress from there to introducing other young people to a right way of living - to a knowledge that a relationship with God is the greatest they can ever know; that He will be with them in whatever they are going through, and that He will never leave them or forsake them.

With your prayers and support we can make a difference; for a young person, or for society.
 
Blessings,
 
John 





 

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Way Down South (Alberta, That Is)

Church for the unchurched - what makes our guests feel welcome?

My latest trip was a fast blast through Lethbridge, Medicine Hat and Calgary, in that order. I had a lunch appointment with Pastor John Albiston of the Victory Church in Lethbridge, so I was up at 5:30 and out of the house by 6:30. I dialed the church address in to my Garmin and it told me I should be there by 11:39. However, because I take some liberties with the speed limit, I was able to make up about 40 minutes on the trip. Victory Lethbridge is, to my mind, a wonderful success story and an example, perhaps, from which many other churches might take at least some lessons. They are very intentional in everything they do. They examine every aspect of their church, every area of their building and every portion of their Sunday services, asking themselves, "Will this be an attraction to new people, or will it put them off?" They even went so far as to replace all the tiles in their building with carpet to make it seem warmer and more inviting. Four years ago they averaged 200 people on a Sunday; now they have 1100.

From lunch with Pastor John I visited Westside Community Church and Park Meadows Baptist; both of whom are running, have run or are planning to run Alpha as a program in their churches.

From there it was a visit to Third Day Worship Centre to line up a future interview session on Hope TV for myself and Shaila Visser, Alpha's National Director. If everything falls into place, this interview should be recorded in late January and air sometime in March, 2016.

After my afternoon appointments in Lethbridge it was off to Medicine Hat for the night and several appointments next day. I was looking forward to my meetings in, "The Hat" because  I discovered that two pastors from Alpha churches in other cities have moved there. One, Pastor Lyle Berg from Lloydminster and about whom I previously blogged here, is now at First Assembly in Medicine Hat. His church is running two Alpha's, and he is very enthusiastic to take a leadership position in the local church community in the upcoming Global Media Campaign featuring Bear Grylls. I even recruited him as a coach for the area.

From there it was a first-time meeting with Dave Maneschyn Lead Pastor at Bridge Church, a young, growing and pretty hip church being mentored, in a sense, by the above mentioned Pastor John at Victory Lethbridge. Very encouraging... and they are running Alpha.

The other pastor now in Medicine Hat is Jamie McDonald, formerly of Sylvan Lake, now at Hillcrest Church, one of the largest in the city. Lunch with Pastor Jamie at Tim's.

Next was a meeting at St Barnabas, an Anglican parish established in 1884. Formerly pastored by the somewhat famous Gene Packwood, their new Rector, Dustin Resch, I learned, is having to leave and head back to Saskatchewan after only a few months.

One more stop, in Calgary at McKenzie Towne Church in Calgary with Pastor Brad Moffat. (Have I ever told you how I wince when people add an 'e' to the end of a neighbourhood word like 'towne' or 'pointe'? Well, in this case I can't blame the church - it was the city who named the area.)

I had hoped to meet the Anglican Bishop of Calgary, Bp Greg Kerr-Wilson, but then, as in all my tries, have been unable to connect with him.

So... back to the Edmonton area, drop off my rental car (a pretty quick Dodge Charger, by the way), pick up my own beater, and in to the city to help set up church for a memorial service. When I say whirlwind, I mean whirlwind.

Blessings,

John

Monday, 26 October 2015

Smoky Lake AB, pop. 1022

My wife and were at a fundraiser the other night for Smoky Lake Baptist. They have bought a new building, an old milk plant, and are making it their new church building. Below are the 'before' and the proposed 'after' pictures.

From this:
 
To this:
 
 
As mentioned, the population of Smoky Lake is 1022 - I have that directly from the Mayor, with whom we sat at the fundraiser. The church's new sanctuary will seat approximately 400 people, over 1/3 the population of the community. Interesting.
 
They are converting the building in stages, so it will not instantly look like the second picture, but Eva and I were so encouraged by their vision and their willingness to step out in faith for this project. Here is a link to their own video page on the project
 
And guess what... they run Alpha like crazy! In fact, two of my most loyal coaches are from there. I don't think I can claim this as the church that Alpha built, but I like to think that Alpha might have played a part.
 
Blessings,
 
John

Thursday, 22 October 2015

Bonnyville, Lakeland District, Northeast Central Alberta

Once again I was invited to the Pastors' Appreciation Lunch at Bonnyville Community Church. It's about a three-hour drive from home, but well worth the trip. This is my third.

Pastor Ken Jagessar has such a heart, not only for the Lord, but for his fellow labourers for the kingdom as well. The event seems to attract more and more church leaders each year and each year I have been allowed a bit more time to talk about Alpha. This year there were 50 or 60 church and ministry leaders and their spouses, and Amy Croy, our Alpha Youth Coach for Alberta, were allowed some exclusive, "stage time," to communicate some of the new products and initiatives coming down the pipe this year and next. Amy shared her passion to see young people equipped to share their faith with their friends especially in schools.

New and coming soon from Alpha include:
  • Nicky Gumbel's latest talks, shortened from 45-50 minutes down to 30 or so;
  • Next year's global media campaign featuring Bear Grylls, who has lent his name and brand to Alpha for one year beginning fall 2016;
  • A new Alpha Film Series for twenty-something young adults, following the fast-paced format of the Youth Film Series.
  • The fact that pretty much all Alpha materials; talks, training and promo materials, are available online for the low, low price of... free!
I was so busy otherwise that I forgot to take any pictures. So did Amy, whom I usually rely on to do so. I have emailed Pastor Ken to see if he has any, and if I get some, I will add a picture to this post.

I have been asked as part of my feedback to Alpha Canada, whether I would do it again. YES, in a heartbeat, mainly because I love the free (and excellent) food, and I love seeing Pastor Ken, but as I mentioned, each year I have attended I have been given a bit more opportunity to raise Alpha's profile in the area. After our 15-20 minutes with Power Point presentation, I'm afraid the only way to do more might be to present a feature film.

But that decision doesn't have to be made for another year.

Blessings,

John

Monday, 19 October 2015

Catching Up

The second week of October was our annual Alpha Canada retreat at beautiful Loon Lake Lodge in BC. Here's the whole gang in one of our less serious moments:
The final 'A' seems to be hiding. We are not 'Alph."
It was a time of wonderful sharing, wonderful speakers, learning and praying together, in addition to spending time with such a wonderful team, many of whom we are in touch with only by e-mail or conference call for most of the year. I was in the business world for over 45 years and this is the best team, under the best leadership I have ever experienced, (and that includes when I worked for myself.) Shaila Visser, our National Director, is holding the 'H'. I'm thinking we didn't want to emphasize too much our Canadian identity, so we hid the final, "eh?"

Last week I travelled with Amy, our Alpha Youth Coach for Alberta, to Ponoka Alberta for a Youth Champions meeting she helped organize with a number of Youth Unlimited reps at First Baptist Church there.

And here we are there, all except me (I took the picture) and one youth worker who went upstairs for a minute:
 
In the group, in addition to the Youth Unlimited folks, were a young teacher from a Catholic school in Camrose who plans to run the Youth Film Series for her grade 10's and a young lady from Stepping Stones, a group who reaches out to single moms. On the left is the Rev Donna Willer, Rector of St Mary's Anglican Church in Ponoka. Last I spoke with her, a year or two ago, she was in Barrhead Alberta.
Barrhead is the northernmost parish in the Anglican Diocese of Edmonton, Ponoka is the southernmost, so we joked that she has nowhere else to go, unless she wants to hit Jasper in the west and Cold Lake in the east (the Anglican church in Lloydminster is in the Saskatchewan side of the city).
 
 
It's off to Bonnyville Community Church tomorrow for Pastor Ken's wonderful Pastors' Appreciation Lunch. Pastor Ken is giving Amy and I time to make an Alpha presentation. I expect I'll have a good report on that event. 
 
Blessings,
 
John

Monday, 5 October 2015

A Pretty Good Weekend!

Well, it wasn't technically a weekend. It was a Thursday, a Friday and a Saturday, but I lose track of days anyway, so I'm taking the liberty of calling it a weekend.

After picking up Wanda Ho, Alpha's National Chinese Coordinator, we hosted 11 guests from 3 Edmonton area Chinese Churches at Transcend Coffee Shop. There was a slight mixup - I thought I had reserved an entire upstairs room; they understood I had just reserved a table, but staff there were very gracious, things were resolved and we had quite an encouraging meeting - sharing, listening and planning for future Alphas within the Chinese community. I may have posted before, but many of the larger Chinese churches have three congregations (Cantonese, Mandarin and English-speaking) with as many as 9 services on a weekend.

Then it was off to Calgary on Friday for a fast meeting at Tim Horton's with Rich, who along with his wife is coordinating an Alpha in his home through Eastside City Church. Our lunchtime appointment was for 11:45, and having left Leduc for a 2 1/2 hour drive, we arrived at 16th Ave and 9th Street NW at exactly 11:40. Pretty good timing I think. Later that afternoon we met with the South Calgary Chines Evangelical Free Church and heard encouraging stories of how they have run Alpha for at least eight years, and still have at least 60 guests on every course - some as many as 160.

Saturday morning we had a meeting at Waves Coffee Shop where Elaine Young (4th from the left, below), Alpha's Coordinator for the Atlantic Provinces, and National Coordinator for the Marriage Courses joined us for a get-together of local Calgary Marriage and Parenting Course coaches and coordinators.

And here we are there:
 
Saturday afternoon we were at Westside Calgary Chinese Alliance Church (WCCAC)for a presentation on The Marriage and Parenting Courses, and Alpha in Chinese. I was able to give a brief talk, with translation by Wanda, on the importance of evangelism in the post-Christian world before Wanda gave her own talk on the principals and practicalities of Alpha itself.
 
And here we are there:

There we had a crowd of over 50 people from just that one church. they are committed to running a Marriage Course and Alphas for various ministries within their church, both Chinese and English, Youth and Adult.

I have said before that I love driving in Calgary when traffic is good, hate it in rush hour. But WCCAC is just a stone's throw from Stony Trail, Calgary's ring road, so we had no trouble hitting the highway for our ride back home to Leduc.

It was a bit of a whirlwind tour, but as I said, it was a pretty good weekend.

Blessings,

John
 


Thursday, 24 September 2015

Summer Camp Follow-Up

Maybe I'm late to the table on this, but it's a new idea to me.

We've been thinking a bit about summer bible camps recently. The subject has been on a number of our hearts; how to follow up with kids who attended a summer camp, perhaps referring them to a local Alpha to make sure they are properly spiritually cared for and/or discipled. I just had a great meeting with the executive director of a Bible here in Alberta. His heart is, what to do about kids as they leave camp - how to connect them with Youth Groups.
He told me of one kid who he picked up and delivered directly to a local church, but not every camp director can do that with every kid. It's also not practical to run a full Alpha Youth Film Series during one week at camp. So... how to integrate these kids into a group following camp?
A few possibilities:
  • Tell kids of local churches who are running Alpha and hope they contact them
  • Give parents the same info and hope they encourage their kids to do the same
  • Ask kids or parents permission to forward contact info to local churches so Youth pastors can contact and invite them.
In any of these scenarios, some kids are going to fall through the cracks, but here is what we're thinking as another possibility. What we plan to do for next year is run a Youth Alpha training for all his counsellors and cabin leaders before camp starts. It also might be a good idea to give kids a taste of Alpha while they're there; maybe run one session.

Then, at the end of camp season, each of his cabin leaders will run an Alpha in his/her own area (both campers and cabin leaders come from various locations in the surrounding area), so kids in those areas who already know them can attend. The relationship will already have been developed, so kids won't be walking through strange doors.
We still might still not capture everybody, but I think it's a genius idea, if I do say so myself.
Blessings,
John

Thank You For Your Prayers - The "Teepee" Church

Our Lady Of Seven Sorrows Catholic Church, Maskwacis Alberta
I was invited, on one day's notice, to make a presentation on Alpha to the board of Our Lady of Seven Sorrows Catholic on the Samson Cree First Nation reserve at Maskwacis, Alberta. I think it may have been a, "put your money where your mouth is" kind of moment, because I have been communicating for some time with Fr Nilo at Sacred Heart in Wetaskiwin about Alpha in that parish. Fr Nilo also oversees Maskwacis. Fr Nilo, by the way, is familiar with Alpha, and likes it, having taken a course at another Catholic parish a few years ago. I love Sacred Heart. They are a very active parish full of the Holy Spirit with a number of faith formation programs going on.

I called him, perhaps on a whim, perhaps on the prodding of the Holy Spirit, on Tuesday. After the usual pleasantries, he said, "Come to Our Lady of Seven Sorrows tomorrow night and make a presentation on Alpha to our board meeting."

Have you ever had a target you were striving for and, when you reach it, you say, "Wow, now what?" Well, I had achieved a sort of goal of, "breaking in" to this parish, but suddenly I felt overwhelmed and intimidated; totally unprepared on such short notice. Normally I can speak enthusiastically about Alpha at the drop of a hat, but this was different. This was for Catholics; a Catholic Church board, no less, and on one day's notice!

I did a couple of things: I prayed a prayer of thanks; I prayed a prayer for help; I called Amy, our Alpha Youth coach in Alberta, who had just been a part of a wonderful Alpha on another reserve in the area; I fired off emails to Josh, alpha's National Coordinator for Catholics, and Mark, our Alberta Catholic coach, Christ the King, Edmonton prayer chain and others at Alpha Canada. Then sat down and started working on a Power Point presentation.

Sister Anunciata gave me directions; "Come down Hwy 2A, turn right at the Fas Gas and look for the teepee church (see pic). Great directions. Found the place no problem.

I believe our presentation at went well. We were well received by the dozen or so board members there. Amy says she saw heads nodding during my presentation (I hope out of agreement, not boredom), and people were very interested in Amy's testimony about her recent Alpha for Youth experience on the Alexis Reserve. First Nations elders are very concerned with their youth.

Amy and I made our presentation in the first 15 - 20 minutes, then left, so I have calls in this morning to both Fr Nilo and Sr Anunciata to get their feedback. I am hoping there may be opportunities for courses in several parishes in several contexts from this meeting. (Parishes plus RCIA)
 
I await eagerly what fruit the Lord plans to bring from this opportunity. We will continue praying and hope you will too.
 
Blessings,
 
John
 
PS: just had an encouraging call from Fr Nilo. I will update as things develop.

Friday, 18 September 2015

Here We Are Again


Leaning on the Everlasting Question Mark


 Me and Mr Big Question again, at the Vanguard College (Edmonton) Ministry Fair, yesterday. This event is mostly for first-year students to investigate possibilities for placement opportunities to earn their field education credits.

Youth Coach Amy and I were there to 'raise awareness' (I hate that term; I sound like a supermarket checkout clerk) of Alpha, especially the Youth Film Series, as an opportunity for student interns to do just that, either solely by running an Alpha or by running one as part of an internship in a local church.
We were also there (at least I was, and I think it worked well for both of us), not only to meet the students, but to network with leaders and Youth Pastors of various local churches and ministries. We were joined by the Rev Jon Connell, who was hoping to find an intern for his own church.

I think the event was a great success for each of us. It was encouraging to see how many ministries who had tables there were either running Alpha's currently, who were familiar with Alpha or who were open to hearing how Alpha can be an effective tool in their own ministries. And that was just the other ministries present.

Many Students stopped by our table; some of whom had attended Alpha in their own churches or schools. Others, unfamiliar with Alpha, gave us the opportunity to promote it. We gave away lots of information and had lots of great conversations. And Jon, by the way, thinks he found his intern.

Just before the event opened (it lasted only over the lunch hour, from 12 to 1) I saw a young woman I thought I recognized. And I did. We had met at a Youth conference held at Centre Street Church in Calgary. She manned(?) a table for Vanguard while Amy, myself and Ben Woodman had an Alpha table there. She is involved in admissions at Vanguard and told me they are having their second-best year in their history, as far as enrolment is concerned. I find that extremely encouraging.

The Church is in good hands.

Blessings,

John


Token Old Guy?

Me and (Big Question) Mark
Amy Croy is our coach in Alberta for the Alpha Youth Film Series.  It is her passion to equip students to reach their friends with the good news of Jesus Christ. So she and Chet Kennedy of Beulah Alliance in Edmonton organized a gathering of Youth Pastors and workers at Beulah to network, strategize and hear about what's happening in that area in the Edmonton vicinity. It was about a week ago and for some reason it has taken me this long to finish this post.

One of the key aims is to see Alpha run in as many schools as possible. The ultimate dream is that every student in Alberta would have the opportunity to hear the gospel, to learn about the Christian faith and to have a safe place to discuss their big questions.

I love attending these youth events. It gives me great encouragement to see our Church in the hands of these dedicated workers and to hear of the wonderful things happening in this next generation. I believe the Alpha Youth Film Series is having a major impact on the youth of not only Canada, but increasingly around the world.

I am going to do another post right now on another event that both of us in the above picture attended yesterday, so scroll up or click the link.

Blessings,

John



Wednesday, 2 September 2015

Do It Again (Beach Boys Evangelism)



OK, so the context isn't quite right. But my point is that Alpha is most effective when it is run multiple times, one season following another.

For one thing, in my own Alpha's, and many others I know, guests reach the final evening of a course and don't want to stop getting together. And then again, finishing one Alpha is the perfect time for guests who have had a meaningful spiritual experience to begin looking forward to who they can invite to the next one.

It's also the ideal time ask potential leaders from your course just finished to serve on team for the next one.

Several times I have spoken to church leaders or Alpha coordinators who have wonderful reports on what happened on their Alpha, but for some reason felt that was it and there was no reason to run it again. Just this past week one Alpha coordinator was telling me how wonderful their Alpha was - they had at least 3 baptisms among the guests. I asked, "Are you running Alpha again this fall?"

He said, "No." I thought, "What?!" I didn't say anything, but graciously suggested that the perfect thing to do was to run another Alpha so that those who were baptized could invite their friends, or take advantage of their enthusiasm to encourage other church members to invite friends of their own.

Yes, each Alpha can work wonderfully on its own as a single event, but how much more effective it is when run as a continuous program.

Blessings, (and di di dip..., di di dip..., dip di di di dip)

John

Thursday, 27 August 2015

In the Western Catholic Reporter...

Josh, Alana and me
During Alpha's Alpha for Catholics Coordinator Josh Canning's recent Alberta visit, we were interviewed by a reporter for the publication, "Western Catholic Reporter."

Or rather, he was interviewed and I sat in. The article is now out and you can read it here.

I think it is a fairly balanced article, reflecting Alpha in a positive light, although I don't remember giving the final quote attributed to me.

Everything we can do, every effort we can make, every inroad we can establish to make use of Alpha as a tool for reaching our communities and our country, is worth the effort we put into it.

Cross-posted here.

Blessings,

John

Friday, 21 August 2015

We Are Called To Go



Jesus said, "Go and make disciples." He also said we would be his witnesses to the ends of the earth. He also said he would be with us.

I like this video. I think it speaks to all of the above.

Thanks to Elaine.

Blessings,

John

Saturday, 15 August 2015

Here We Are

Amy, Alana, me, Josh
In front of the Western Catholic Reporter, after our appointment with the Catholic Archdiocese of Edmonton.

Josh Canning is Alpha's National coordinator for Alpha for Catholics. He was here for three days this week. He and I had a number of appointments with various Catholic parishes in the Edmonton area. Every one of them was extremely encouraging. There is a lot of awareness out there of Alpha as an effective tool for evangelization, and a certain eagerness among pastors to get Alpha going in their parishes. Some are already going ahead, most notably, Our Lady of Perpetual Help (OLPH) in Sherwood Park. The driving force in that parish is Alana (in the picture above.)

Amy, (also above) is our Alpha Youth coach. It is her passion to see Alpha in every high and junior high school (both Catholic and public) in the province, and equipping students to run it.

After a meeting in the Archdiocesan office, we went over to the offices of the Western Catholic Reporter where a reporter interviewed Josh. We hope to see the interview featured in a future issue. Although the interview was with Josh, I may even have contributed one quote to the article when I said that Alpha is, "...evangelization for those who don't have the gift of evangelization."

So please pray for fruit from Josh's visit - that Alpha would be run in more Catholic parishes and that many more would come, or come back to, the Lord.

Blessings,

John

Saturday, 8 August 2015

Up to Us; Up to Them

Saturday morning and I'm in a writing mood. It is my turn to give the devotional message on our Monday morning Alpha Canada conference call, and I've been thinking of Isaiah 65:1-2:
 
I revealed myself to those who did not ask for me; I was found by those who did not seek me. To a nation that did not call on my name, I said, ‘Here am I, here am I.’ All day long I have held out my hands to an obstinate people, who walk in ways not good, pursuing their own imaginations—

God longs for every one of us, all His people, to come to Him. He so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, not just for certain preselected people. He offers everyone, throughout all time and over all the earth, the opportunity to know Him. There are various ways in which He has done this.

He has made himself known through His Creation:
The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge. They have no speech, they use no words; no sound is heard from them. Yet their voice[b] goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world. (Psalm 19: 1-4)
 …since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. (Romans 1:20)
He has made Himself known through the human conscience; 
…Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts… (Romans 2:14b-15a)

And He makes Himself known through us, and what we do – the messages we communicate. So we have a crucially important place in His plan to reach the whole world.

It is our responsibility to communicate the message. It is not our responsibility how people receive it. Some will, some won’t. Just like the time in the desert when the Lord sent venomous snakes among them; they bit the people and many Israelites died. The Lord said to Moses, “Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.” So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, they lived. (from Numbers 21)

I believe it is obvious that this snake was available for all to see, but the Bible uses the term, “looked at,” indicating a wilful action. People had not just to see it, they had to “look” at it; focus their attention on it. This is a picture of faith. “Looking at” the snake is analogous to actually putting faith in something. In that case it was faith that God would be true to His word; that if they turned toward that bronze snake they would be healed, as God had said they would. It was a matter of trusting in God, even if it seemed to be against all human reason.

And it`s the same today. The idea of God coming to earth in human form, offering Himself to die in our place as a sacrifice for our sins, may make no sense at all from a perspective of rational human thought, but it is what He did and He asks us to trust Him; that that is what is necessary for us to be able to spend eternity with Him.

But not all will believe. Go back to the Isaiah passage. Verse 12 says: 
…for I called but you did not answer, I spoke but you did not listen.
Even God realizes that not all will believe the message, and he speaks of the fate that awaits those who reject it. Those who reject His offer of eternal life with Him through Jesus Christ will perish. He will grant their wish and allow them to spend eternity apart from Him.

It`s our job to proclaim the message; to make the good news known. It`s up to the hearer what to do with it.

Blessings,

John

Sunday, 26 July 2015

Dog Days?

Summertime. Not so much travelling, but still lots to do In amongst addressing questions and inquiries from various people, in various areas of Alberta, I'm currently working on at least four upcoming projects;
  • Alpha's presence in Break Forth next year. The event itself is several months away, but our application and details of our elective presentations must be completed by July 31. We will be presenting two elective sessions, one on reaching youth, and one on rethinking evangelism in a post-Christian world.
  • A visit to Calgary in October by Elaine Young, our National Director for Alpha's Marriage and Parenting courses. Along with Wanda Ho, our National Director for Chinese Alpha, we hope to reach out, mainly to the Chinese community, with our Marriage and Parenting resources. Having said that, all will be welcome. The challenge here is to find a venue. One by one, various Chinese Churches and others have found themselves unable to host such an event. Please pray for the proper venue and God's blessing for this event.
  • A "tour," also most likely in October, with Shaila Visser, Alpha Canada National Director, with stops in Edmonton, Red Deer and Calgary, meeting Senior Church Leaders in a discussion focusing on evangelism.
  • A visit in mid-August from Josh Canning, Alpha's National Director for Catholics. This is one I'm particularly excited about. We are hoping to expand the participation of Catholic Parishes in Alpha, especially in the Archdiocese of Edmonton. We have lined up a number of appointments in local parishes, and with a number of "key players" as well. Please pray for favour with the Archbishop Smith's office
I'd appreciate prayer for all these initiatives, that God's will would be accomplished, His name exalted and that many would be added to His kingdom.

Thanks & Blessings,

John

Friday, 3 July 2015

Jesus Is Greater Than All Our Sin



There is no one beyond redemption, no matter what you've done, no matter what you think.

Blessings,

John

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Calgary Alpha Envisioning & Leadership Morning: June 13

A report on our Calgary, "Envisioning and Leadership" event in Calgary Last Saturday:

It went very well, although you can see by the picture that we didn't have an overly large crowd.

My sense lately has been that we need to be adjusting our focus back toward evangelization. Indeed, the re-evangelization of our society. Or at least strengthening the focus we already have in that direction.

Sometimes I think we who are so familiar with Alpha assume that everyone knows all about it, but of course, that is not the case. So I have tweaked some of my presentations to reflect this new attitude. I have lately been especially convicted by Judges 2:10, thinking of the current state of our Church;
After that whole generation had been gathered to their ancestors, another generation grew up who knew neither the Lord nor what he had done for Israel.
The focus, then, in Saturday's event, was to readjust our aim, if only ever so slightly, to an increased emphasis on the need for evangelization, then Alpha as an extremely effective tool for it. We did so, both in regards to Alpha in general, and with the Alpha Youth Film Series, with a specific focus on empowering students to run  it in schools. We finished off with training and a demonstration of prayer ministry. This latter we felt was important, because we have found that one of the most commonly omitted areas in an Alpha is prayer ministry, both on the Holy Spirit day/weekend away, and on the healing evening.

I was very encouraged by the feedback. Every guest gave the event top marks. I'm thinking I will use this format again, i.e., half day seminar, reasonable admission cost, same agenda.

Thanks & Blessings,

John

Wednesday, 3 June 2015

Alpha Event in Calgary

Calgary: Alpha Envisioning & Leadership Morning – June 13, 2015

Date: Saturday, June 13th, 2015
Time: 9 am – 12 noon (registration opens at 8:30 am)
Location: Foothills Alliance, 333 Edgepark Blvd NW, Calgary (map)
Cost: $10 per person | Students FREE

signupnow
Take Alpha to the next level! Learn about exciting new resources, how Alpha is an effective tool for evangelism, top tips to reach high school students and prayer ministry with hosts John Kivell (Alberta Regional Director) and Amy Croy (Alberta Youth Coach). Special invitation to Pastors, Lay Leaders, Youth Volunteers and Student Leaders – bring your whole team!

Sign-up Now  |

Tuesday, 2 June 2015

Alpha Leadership Conference 2017

The Alpha 2015 Leadership Conference was a great experience. Already, they are preparing for LC17. Anyone who sees this blog is welcome to keep it in mind and register when the time comes (still a year and a half or so away). I guarantee you will love it!


Blessings,

John

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Thriving Metropolis of Clive

Or rather, the pretty village of Clive, Alberta.
 
Clive Baptist Church
I first heard about Clive Baptist Church from the folks at First Baptist Church in Ponoka when I visited there. First Baptist seemed to be the most thriving church in Ponoka. They ran Alpha.

So on my trip to Stettler today, I made a slight detour to the village of Clive, pop. approximately 700, if everyone is home. Clive is basically in the middle of nowhere, and I say that in love.

This is Clive Baptist Church. They just completed a brand new addition - a sanctuary that seats, I'd guess, up to 300. In a village of 700.

They're an Alpha church.

Go figure.

Blessings,

John

Thursday, 21 May 2015

How Did I Find Scotland?

As you know, Eva and I recently attended Alpha's Leadership Conference at Holy Trinity Brompton in London England, then, thanks to Air Miles, Wyndham Rewards points and Enterprise Car Rental points, visited Oxford, then Edinburgh.

After our return, a friend from church asked, "How did you find Scotland?"

"Easy," I said, "Just headed north on the M6 and there it was!" (Ba dump chhh)

For anyone interest, and with a few hours of extra time, here are the talks, both plenary sessions and seminars, from the conference.

Blessings,

John

Fast Blast to Calgary

I picked up my rental car at Enterprise at 8 this morning and headed down to Calgary for a 2 hour lunchtime meeting and a few church calls in the afternoon. The trip down was fairly smooth, except for a stretch of about 15 minutes behind a very dusty SUV with the message, "Bound for Tennessee" scrawled in the dust on the rear window.

This fellow was driving in the passing lane, neck and neck, at about 109 km/hr beside another car in the slow lane, and no amount of light-flashing would either speed him up or move him over. Arrgh!

But I made my meeting on time. It was at the CMA (better known perhaps as the alliance Church) head office on the grounds of Ambrose University. The meeting was not specifically Alpha related, but more of a get together of church planters looking for buildings on the one hand, and representatives of denominations finding they had church buildings for sale or at least available. My purpose, Alpha-wise, was to make connections with churches, whether ones being planted, growing, or looking to find ways to grow (or regrow), and to make myself available to help them use Alpha as part of that process.

I made a few other church calls, then headed back home, arriving back at Enterprise before 6:00. I walked into their office and it was just as if I had been gone about 5 minutes. Everyone who was there in the morning was still there. They were all in the same place, but I had driven about 700 kilometres.

It just seemed weird.

Blessings,

John

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Millenial Evangelization

Just a thought:

The key to evangelization in this current generation is to engage in a narrative, not to hold up authority; to discuss, not lecture. Scripture can be used in two ways. We can confront with, "This is what the Bible says!" Or we can engage, with, "This is what the Bible says. What do you think?"

This is exactly what Alpha, done properly, does.

Blessings,

John

Sunday, 10 May 2015

LC15 - An Experience, An Encouragement, A Blessing

 
Eva and I attended Alpha's Global Week and Leadership Conference this past week. I must apologize for not posting anything on it until now. There were many highlights, aside from just being in London with so many friends.
  • Worshipping at Holy Trinity Brompton |(HTB), where the Alpha course began, is amazing in itself. Hearing and seeing Nicky Gumbel teach live is a wonderful bonus.
  •  Meeting and networking with so many fellow, "Alphaholics" was great. There were well over a hundred delegates from Canada, representing Alliance, Baptist, Catholic and many other denominations; all the way to a half-dozen from a United church in Bramalea, Ontario. A number of Canadian Catholic bishops were there. I hope they caught the Alpha bug and can see how Alpha can help rejuvenate their parishes.
  • Seminars were great, especially one on Prayer and Worship, and one on Prioritizing the Poor. From this latter I learned what I think is a valuable ministry leadership byword:
    "Nobody should be trying to do everything, but everyone should be doing something."
  • The central focus of the conference was the unity of the Church, and a wonderful manifestation of this unity, desired by all, was the presence of a Catholic cardinal and the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury sharing on stage together and professing a mutual trust for one another.
  • Friday evening, before the conference actually started, Eva and I, along with Amy Croy, Youth Coach for Alpha in Alberta, happened to visit St Paul's Cathedral just in time for Evensong with a homily and a sung Eucharist.
Nicky gave us a new vision for Alpha:
  1. Evangelization of the Nations
  2. Revitalization of the Church
  3. Transformation of Society
Adding # 2 as an additional stratum between 1 and 3; one step leading to, and necessary for, the next.
 
I mentioned the term, Alphaholics," a kind of pet name for those of us who are so in love with Alpha as a tool for evangelization. Eva coined another term, I think because of the three of us |(her, myself and Amy). She called us the Three Alphateers.
 
I thought it was funny, but quite appropriate. We'll be on our way back home at the end of this week, encouraged and envisioned and ready to get back to work in Alberta again.
 
Blessings,
 
John


Friday, 24 April 2015

I Still Love My Job

Have I said that before?

I love cold-calling on churches.

I have a few standard lines I use when calling on churches. Often I will break the ice by saying, "It sounds phony to say, 'I was in the neighbourhood and I thought I'd drop in,' but, I was in the neighbourhood and I thought I'd drop in."

It usually gets at least a smile. When describing my position as Alpha's Regional Director for Alberta, I say, "I love Alpha and I love driving, so I've got the perfect job. And besides, this is my retirement career, so I've got nothing better to do."

Yesterday I made a round trip to Devon and Drayton Valley. One of the things I enjoy is that I am usually welcomed genuinely, and if a particular church is not interested in Alpha, at least politely. Practically every church, or at least someone on their staff, is familiar with Alpha.

I find it oddly curious when, as I experienced in one church yesterday, I am told they have no real interest in running Alpha, yet the pastor I spoke with said, "I know Alpha is effective. We have a number of people in our congregation who came to faith on Alpha and were baptized." I smiled politely, and said, "That's great!," but inwardly I was shaking my head.

A few highlights of my trip:

There are three churches in Devon who would self-identify as, "evangelical." I had encouraging visits with all of them. Two have run Alpha, one might.
The Anglican church, St George's, was in the process of getting ready for a community meal they serve on Thursdays. When I walked in the front door, I could smell food and hear conversation coming from the basement, so I walked down. The whole group was very friendly and invited me to stay for lunch, but this was my last stop of the morning (11:30: and I wanted to get to Drayton Valley for the afternoon, so I declined, in spite of rather persistent invitations to stay. It turns out that their Rector was also Rector in St Catherine's in Edson when we lived there. Small world.

So... lunch at Tim Horton's in Drayton Valley. There was no one in at two of the churches on my list, but among the others I visited was one I have visited before, and is one of my most encouraging; St Anthony's Catholic Church. They have run Alpha for years and plan to again in the fall.

On my way out of town, I passed the Drayton Christian School, so popped in there, using my, 'in the neighbourhood...' line. One of the people at the front desk happened to be the Principal, and we had a great conversation. I will put her in touch with Amy Croy, our Albert Alpha for Youth coach, whose vision it is to see Alpha in every school.

I also made contact with the Almond Tree Life Centre, who registered with Alpha and are planning to run Alpha in the fall. Its director attends Drayton Valley's Life Church, another church not on my list, but whose neighbourhood I just happened to be in. The pastor wasn't there but the two women I met had great things to say about Alpha.

That was my yesterday.

Blessings,

John

Friday, 17 April 2015

Alpha is Changing


No, not its message! But often in the way it is being run. When I first became involved with Alpha, over twenty yearss ago, the customary way to run it was in a church hall with as large a group as possible. Mind you it is still done, and is still effective, that way. Some churches still regularly have a hundred or more guests at their Alpha.

But more and more Alphas are being run in more intimate settings, with much smaller groups. Groups of half a dozen or even fewer are not uncommon, in coffee shops or homes. It may be a sign of the changing times that it seems more difficult to gather large groups for a course on the basics of Christianity. The wonderful thing about Alpha is that you don't have to.

So I'm hoping to remind Pastors and other interested parties that Alpha doesn't have to be a big deal. It's nice when it is, but it works just as effectively in more simple formats.

Everything needed to run a 7-week or an Alpha for Youth is available online for free download, including all the talks, training, promotional material and guest and leader notes. Learn more about how to get started here. Even more exciting is that more new products are coming soon - also downloadable for free: new Nicky Gumbel 30 minute talks, and an early-twenties Alpha based on the faster-paced Alpha Youth Film Series.

So in short, I'm hoping pastors who are looking for an effective and proven tool to reach those who do not yet know Jesus, will consider (or reconsider) Alpha, even in a smaller setting such as a program for their home groups. It is still the easiest and most effective way I have ever seen to communicate the Good News to people who desperately need to hear it.

Blessings,

John

Monday, 13 April 2015

Alberta Champions' Retreat


Here is the crowd who attended the Alpha for Youth, "Champions' Retreat" in Red Deer, Wednesday evening and Thursday. This was an event to gather specific, key players who play, or we hope will play, strategic roles with Alpha for Youth in Alberta. Although not all such people from all areas of the Province were able to attend, I think the event turned out to be exactly what God intended. I, for one, was incredibly encouraged. It was attended by people of multiple denominations, Catholic and Protestant, old (me) and young (everybody else).

Ben Woodman (fourth from left) and Jason Ballard (centre, rear, short), the, "stars" of the Youth Film Series were there and did a great job facilitating. I remember driving down to Red Deer with Amy Croy, Alpha for Youth coach in Alberta, and remarking that I wish more people were coming. Now, however, I am completely convicted. God brought together just the right people. It was an amazing time together, and I, for one, left feeling completely encouraged.

One highlight, for me, was meeting a teacher from the Sacred Heart Catholic School in Wetaskiwin, who uses Alpha in her religion class. She attends Sacred Heart Church in the same town; a Parish I have been pursuing with some vigor for some time, because in my opinion it will be the perfect Alpha Parish - contemporary and filled with the Holy Spirit. Now, it seems, that, completely apart from my own efforts, they will be using Alpha as part of their RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults) process. Praise God!

I was also pleased to meet a young protégé of my friend and Alpha for Catholics coach Mark Richards, from St Michael's Parish in Calgary. How encouraging it is to meet and hear about young Christians who truly love the Lord and are faithfully taking the torch that we who are approaching the end of our years are passing them.

Blessings,

John

Sunday, 5 April 2015

My Favourite Country Bluegrass Pickin' Song

Nothing to do with Alpha, but I just love this:

Only Leo Kottke is still with us, but thank God for Youtube.

Blessings,

John

A Tiburon Miracle?

I sometimes hate to call something in my life a miracle, for fear that someone who needs a, "real" miracle would wonder why they didn't get one, while I, in some more minor matter, did.

But here goes: I got into my Tiburon in my garage the other day and turned the key. It cranked over once, then made a very loud BANG. Immediately, the sound of the starting motor sounded different; almost as if the engine had lost compression.

I have been in the car business all my working life, and I know the sound of a car with major problems. When I was a sales manager at a Chrysler dealership in Oakville ON, I had to appraise potential trade-ins; check for blow-by (smoke coming out of the oil filler cap, indicating bad piston rings, listen for knocks in the engine - a deep knock indicated a serious problem, a lighter, "tap" was a minor issue, just a valve lifter, but nothing serious. In short, I know what a sick engine sounds like.

I tried several times over the next day or two to start it, all with the same result; it just wouldn't go. So I called AMA on Monday Morning and had it towed to the local dealership, fearing the worst. I even began searching Kijiji for $1000.00 cars, figuring that if it cost that much to fix the Tib, I would just buy another clunker. Monday night the service department called me saying they hadn't yet had a chance to get to it, but would tomorrow (Tuesday).

Tuesday  morning I got a call from the service writer at the dealership, but I was on the road and couldn't understand the caller, other than to grasp that they were going to try again in the afternoon. I remember telling them, "It's not going to start," but, because I couldn't make out want she was saying, I just said, "Thank you very much," and disconnected.

I then proceeded to a lunch meeting I had with Amy Croy, our Alberta Youth Coach, at Café Rista, a great trendy coffee shop (and gracious host of my most recent Alpha, hence the commercial). We discussed a few things, and at the end of our lunch we both mentioned things that were on our hearts for prayer. I tossed in, "Well, you could pray for my car. I can't really afford another one." So, among our other prayers, for Alpha, for Youth, she tossed in a prayer for my car.

Before we left my cell phone rang. It was the service writer at the dealership. "Your car started every time we tried it," she said, "In fact, we can't get it not to start."

I was blown away. "What???" was all I could say. As I said before, I have spent just about all my working life selling, servicing or equipping vehicles. I KNOW what a car with problems sounds like, and my Tib was definitely one. So I have no other explanation than that God did something here.

That's all I can say.

Blessings,

John


Monday, 30 March 2015

We Will Never Have To

I heard Ravi Zacharias say something that I thought was quite profound:
"My God, my God, why have you forsaken me." Jesus spoke these words so that we would never have to.
This Passion week, ponder what Christ has done for us and be grateful. Then think of how we can communicate this greatest of all news to those who have not yet heard.

#Runalpha

Blessings,

John

Saturday, 28 March 2015

The Greatest of These is Love

There was a Dial deodorant soap commercial when I was younger. Their slogan was, "Aren't you glad you use Dial? Don't you wish everybody did?"

Well, that's my slogan now; "Aren't you glad you know the Lord? Don't you wish everybody did?"

I'm thinking about three things;
  1. Love,
  2. Evangelization 
  3. Alpha.
In that order. Because that's the order of their priority.

1a) The greatest of these is love. First the love of God for us. Before we knew Him, He loved us. He so loved the world that He sent His only Son so that whoever came to believe in him would not perish but have eternal life, and while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. That is the greatest love.

1b)Next, our love for God. When we realize His love for us, then what He did in expressing that love - sending His son to die, and when He fills us with His Holy Spirit, we realize the true depth of this love and we want to repay that love by serving and glorifying Him.

1c)Then our love for others, and as a result, the second thing;

2. Evangelization. If we love others, then we want to communicate this wonderful gift of God's love to them. We serve and glorify God by telling others; by introducing others to that first wonderful love and telling them about the beautiful relationship with God that is available to them.

Which leads to the third thing:

3. Alpha. Alpha is the best way I've ever found to accomplish that second thing; telling others. It is the simplest thing. All one has to do is invite. All one has to say is, "Would you like to come to an Alpha course with me?" It is so simple I'm amazed how difficult it is to get people to do it.

Jesus told his followers two things: he told us to go into all the world and make disciples, and he told us we would be his witnesses. The first was an order, the second was a statement of fact. In other words, he did not tell us to be his witness, he just told us we would be. What that means is, however we live our lives, the world is watching, so we can be good witnesses or we can be bad.

But the first was an order. We are to make disciples. Imagine if your earthly employer gave you a project and you didn't do it. You would be fired, or at least disciplined. Imagine then standing before Jesus and saying about the project he has given you, "I didn't do it." What do you think will be his attitude? 

So find an Alpha course, or start one, and invite someone to it. Those things Jesus said? You'll have them both covered.

Blessings,

John

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Front Page News

Nelson LaPerle, a non-practising Catholic, is happy he attended the recent Alpha program at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish in Sherwood Park.
So begins this article from The Western Catholic Reporter, dated January 20, 2014.

So, why am I just getting around to mentioning it now? Well, the issue in which it appeared as a front page story was part of a stack of material that John Kuran, Faith Permeation Coordinator for the Holy Family Catholic School Board, Peace River, brought in with him to our recent meeting (mentioned in my previous post.) I expect it will be part of his, "ammunition" when he approaches the powers that be in his circle of influence to make Alpha an important tool in evangelizing the Peace Region of Alberta.

Praying for his (and His) success.

Blessings,

John

Monday, 23 March 2015

More Alberta Travels

This is a picture of St Paul's, a small country church on Goodwin Road, visible from Hwy 43 between Debolt and the Smoky River Valley on the way to Grande Prairie. I'm not sure I've ever noticed it before, even though it is plainly visible from the highway. I learned about it from the Rev. Rose Howell at St Anne's Anglican in Valleyview, as it is part of her charge. The church is not in use at the moment, because it has no running water, just a 25 meter walk to an outhouse, and is heated by an old wood-burning stove.

But I thought I'd check it out anyway. There was a fresh 10 cm of snow on the ground, and the only tracks in the snow (before mine) were animal tracks. I was unable to get past the foyer, but took a couple of pictures through a window. The pews are all in place, and here is one picture that turned out (others didn't as there was too much reflection in the window glass). Note the ancient pump organ  in the bottom left. Once again, I find myself thinking of the people who built and once worshipped in small country churches like these, in contrast to others I visit with sanctuaries seating over 1000 and sound systems that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. Quite a contrast. But as I've said before, we Christians today stand on the shoulders of those who came before and exercised their faith modestly in places like these.

Having said all that, let me report on my trip to Grande Prairie and the Peace Country.

I had a number of interesting, encouraging and productive visits. I connected with churches who are currently running Alpha's, some who are new to it, a couple who have in the past, are not right now, but who intend to later in the year, and some "cold calls" to churches where I found some interest.

One of my most encouraging meeting was with Sister Louise of the Diocesan Office of Evangelization and Catechesis for the Archdiocese of Grouard-McLennan, and John Kuran of the Holy Family Catholic School Board in Peace River. They are both very excited to get Alpha going at both the parish and the school level, so we'll see what God will work out there.

Blessings,

John

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Does God Answer Prayer? Are You Kidding?

A rhetorical question of course. Does He make things work together according to His will? Rhetorical again. Of course He does!

In preparation for an upcoming trip to Grande Prairie and the Peace Country. I fired off a letter last week to both new and experienced Alpha churches in those areas and enroute, offering to pay a visit and chat about Alpha. One of them was to a teacher in a First Nations school where she was running the Youth Film Series for her junior high kids. Here initial reply was, "Yes!!!!!!!!!," with a promise to fill in details with a longer reply later.

It turns out that my e-mail may have been one of those wonderful, "God coincidences," (coincidence #8970). She really felt the need for a conversation. Her community was really hurting and she was finding things really challenging. Three of her kids, just in grade 7, had lost family members to suicide since Christmas! She needed help.

This was last week, before my trip to the Youth conference in Calgary, so imagine my completely pleasant surprise when she came up to my Alpha booth and introduced herself there in Calgary (#8971). She had spoken to the principal of her school and pleaded for permission to attend this conference. In fact, both she and her principal came. I was so blessed and encouraged to see her there. I have had a real heart for our First Nations people since I ran Alpha in the Fort Saskatchewan jail and saw the challenges they have had, both in the environments of their growing up and in the difficulties they face upon release.

I introduced her to both Amy Croy, our wonderful Alpha for Youth coach in Alberta and to Ben Woodman, co-star, if you like, of the Youth Film Series itself. Ben is the centre of attention wherever he goes, with hoards of kids wanting selfies and conversatiions with him. (You can find both Ben and Jason Ballard, his other half on the Film Series here, as part of our Alpha team.)

I thank this young teacher and I thank God for her, for her heart for her kids and her willingness to step out of her comfort zone to help them. She said, in her original note, that she felt so inadequate to present the course, but it would be even more awful not to. Bless her heart! We parted with prayer and the idea that Amy herself would go to the school and help with their Alpha, which was tonight (Tuesday)

Please pray for her and for these kids. I realize I have given few specific details, but God knows who she is and He knows them.

Blessings,

John (composed at 8:30 PM, March 10, 2015)

Update, 11:00 PM, March 10, 2015 (Coincidence #8972)

I began this post sitting in a McDonald's, on my laptop. (Just to clarify, I composed it on my laptop, seated at a table - I wasn't sitting on my laptop.) I was waiting for my wife who was attending a church board meeting, scheduled to be over at 9. At about 8:40 I fired off e-mails to both Amy and this young teacher asking if Amy was there at their Alpha tonight and how it went. She replied that she and Amy were in Edmonton having a coffee together and debriefing regarding the Alpha, which Amy did indeed attend. I answered, asking where. She replied. They were a couple of blocks away from where I was, at a Starbucks. I hopped in my car and was there before they had received their order.

We chatted for a bit, then I got a text from my wife to come and pick her up. When I did, I asked if she would like to come and meet Amy and the teacher, so we did, and shared a bit of conversation and prayer time there in Starbucks, until closing time at 10.

She has given me permission to share this, so that is why I included the picture above, of her, the school principal, Ben, Amy, Me (with the cross growing out of my head). We heard tonight what a blessing we have been to her, and that, plus her love for her school kids, has been an amazing blessing to me.

How did their Alpha go? Apparently, chaotic, but well in the end, but they still need prayer.

So please don't stop.

Blessings again,

John

PS: She showed the picture to her kids and, mistaking me for Jason Ballard, they said, "He looks way older."