Inside United: Realtime

Exciting News & Updates from UCGIA

Statement About the Death of Sheryl Meredith

November 30, 2013

“It is with sadness that the Council of Elders, the staff and the members of the United Church of God note the death of Sheryl Meredith, the long-time wife and spiritual partner of Roderick C. Meredith,” said Victor Kubik, president of the United Church of God. “We all join with members of the Living Church of God in renewed prayer that God’s Kingdom come soon, marking the future happy and joyous time when Mrs. Meredith and many thousands like her will be resurrected as the literal children of God into an everlasting Kingdom.”

Mr. Kubik and his wife Beverly plan to attend the December 4th funeral of Mrs. Meredith in North Carolina as representatives of the United Church of God.

Mr. Kubik noted that the death of Mrs. Meredith was “especially poignant, given the fact that Dennis Luker had died in the faith less than a year ago.” Following the death of long-time minister and mutual friend Dibar Apartian, Mr. Luker, then the president of United, visited the headquarters of the Living Church of God before Mr. Luker’s death. Dr. Meredith had worked closely together with Mr. Luker on a number of occasions in their prior shared fellowship.

Prior to the death of Mrs. Meredith, Mr. Kubik had discussed the possibility of the Living Church of God and the United Church of God jointly providing aid to Church members afflicted by the recent typhoon in the Philippines. “We agreed to work together and it is now more fitting than ever that this joint effort should move forward,” Mr. Kubik said.

Victor Kubik—President, UCGIA; and Robin Webber—Chairman, UCGIA

November 30, 2013 Posted by | Council of Elders, Home Office, President's Office | , , , , | 7 Comments

Post-Feast Letter from Chairman Webber

October 10, 2013

Dear fellow elders and members,

My wife Susan and I came away from the recent festival in Oceanside, California, having spiritually experienced the “best Feast yet.” We always say “best Feast yet,” rather than “best Feast ever,” because we are expectant that our Heavenly Father has more spiritual “bests” in store for all of us, as He fashions us into the full measure of His Son’s image (Ephesians 4:13). Christians always lean forward with knowing expectation of God’s continuous grace and favor, grooming us in this sacred vocation to which we have been called (John 6:44).

If you are like us, God not only challenged and inspired you from the pulpit, but He utilized people in the hallways and parking lots—many in the aisles at services—and perhaps used individuals we had never previously met to enlighten and encourage us with answers to our personal challenges. Perhaps he used a local community member to show you how to properly represent your “citizenship that is in heaven” (Philippians 3:20). We must never limit the manner or ways or persons God may use to tell us, “This is the way, walk in it” (Isaiah 30:21).

In Oceanside, we had many children, teens, and young adults in attendance this year. It was so encouraging! We marveled at how important this fresh layer of dedicated youth is to our Church. It is evident—by the fruit demonstrated in their cheerfulness, in their infectious desire to volunteer and in their ability to seamlessly work with others—that something special is occurring. I believe we are seeing ongoing and developing results of many years of them learning about “the Zone” at camp; of our young adults volunteering to serve in various Church functions; as well as the positive results of the Ambassador Bible Center program. I believe all of these components factoring together are creating an indelible impact on the fabric of the Church. These younger Church members are excited about being involved in a way of life that works—and works best—because it has God’s blessings. They seem to sense that their time is now!

In 50 years of festival attendance, I can clearly state that I have never experienced such unity, cooperation and sheer joy from so many—from those of us who have been invited to experience a foretaste of “the wonderful world tomorrow.” It was thrilling! At our Feast site, we chose to remember an old adage: “Blessed are the flexible for they shall not be bent out of shape.” We chose not to allow every accident to become an incident and realized it takes “many hands and hearts to make a heavy load lighter.” These lessons apply to all of us throughout this coming year.

None of this comes naturally. It comes through understanding we have surrendered our lives to something greater than ourselves and by allowing God’s love and laws to rule our hearts and minds. It takes devotion and constant focus to have outgoing concern beyond our personal “kingdom of self.” What we witnessed at our Feast site was mirrored many times over around the world. Ultimately, the festivals are not about meeting halls and local attractions, but taking note of the Spirit of God on full display in ordinary people who are being enabled to do extraordinary things.

At a Feast site, summer camp site or in daily life, God can take that which seemingly is small and multiply it to His glory—that is, if we will give to Him whatever it is we have to share, no matter how small, and let Him fill in the rest of the story. I am mindful of the parable in which Jesus said, “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal till it was all leavened (Matthew 13:33, emphasis added). This is the leaven we hopefully take home with us that needs continual expansion in our daily lives, whoever we might be, wherever we are, and whatever might come our way.

Personally this Feast of Tabernacles and Eighth Day festival galvanized us as a couple, and I hope you as well, to more than ever put our “hand to the plow”(Luke 9:62) and to do our individual part before God, for Him to strengthen the Body of Christ. We tasted what a church full of godly joy can fully be. It’s not about looking over our shoulder at somebody else, but looking to our Heavenly Father and asking, “How can I live and serve you more fully?”

I’m mindful of three specific points mentioned in Isaiah 2:3: 1) “Let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,” 2) “He will teach us His ways,” and 3) “We shall walk in His paths.” Well, the Feast days are over for now, and in that sense “we have gone up” and been “taught His ways,” and it’s time to “walk the walk.” Now we all move into our personal spheres of influence, whether at home, in our neighborhoods, schools or workplace, to make a difference. It needs to be the same difference created by light when it penetrates darkness; the same difference created by salt as it seasons all it touches (Matthew 5:13-16). Everything changes, and we have the incredible privilege of being God’s personal instrument, to be a touchstone of His Kingdom now!

We on the Council of Elders and the administration of the United Church of God have the same responsibility as all of you to come away from these festivals with a renewed desire to serve God and our fellow man. God says, “Blessed are the peacemakers,” not “peace-wishers” (Matthew 5:9). Thus, we ask ourselves, “What would God have us do?” Micah 6:8 tells all that will hear: “He has shown you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with our God?”

Our future deliberations and decisions must be sustained by a genuine desire to echo the words of the prophet Micah through prayer and fasting and willingly lay down our lives as living sacrifices. Why? That we might glorify God and honor His name and guide this whole-Church endeavor to which you have been called as a coworker, to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ and the Kingdom of God, make disciples in all nations and care for those disciples (Matthew 28:19-20).

Dear friends in Christ, there are so many people in search of answers to the big questions of life: Why was I born? Does life have purpose? If there is a God, what am I to do? Is the Bible really the divine message for all humanity? Why is there no other name but Jesus Christ by which we may be saved” (Acts 4:12)? In this modern day religious confusion is there a church striving to worship God in “spirit and in truth” (John 4:23) as seen in the book of Acts?

Yes there are many anxiously desiring to understand how humanity is not an accident of cosmic nature, but a divine creation given breath by the Living God when He proclaimed, “Let Us make man in our image, according to Our likeness” (Genesis 1:26). Yes, there are people who seek the relationship promised by an Almighty Being who lovingly proclaims, “I will be their God, and they shall be My people” (Ezekiel 37:27, 2 Corinthians 6:16). Yes, there are people who will accept the call of God to “be holy, for I am holy” (1 Peter 1:16). Yes, there are men and women around this world who will surrender their lives now in living faith, because they have come to take God at His word when He says: “I have spoken it; I will also bring it to pass. I have purposed it; I will also do it” (Isaiah 46:11).

There’s an incredible set of words in Revelation 21:6 that are often mentioned on the Eighth Day festival. They describe the unveiling of the New Jerusalem, as God trumpets forth, “It is done!” In this conclusion, we rediscover and solidify in our hearts that ultimately God Almighty triumphs and Christ is the victor. In one sense the victory is already in God’s hand, but the details are yet to be worked out here below.

That’s where we come in. We are called to personal salvation by God’s grace, but we have also been granted a precious privilege of spreading the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ and the Kingdom of God as coworkers in Christ. Your prayers, faithful tithes, generous offerings and daily personal witness are all part of supplying very needed answers to those seeking that special “pearl of great price” (Matthew 13:46).

Thank you for your confidence in the efforts of the United Church of God as an instrument in the Body of Christ to share the goodness of God’s way of life to those whom He has called and will yet call and place into His spiritual Body. Let’s all make a renewed commitment to be about our Father’s business. May our collective anthem be the words of the apostle John: “Even so, come, Lord Jesus!” (Revelation 22:20). May the God of all comfort bless and keep you in all ways in all your coming days.

In Christ’s service,

Robin Webber—Chairman, Council of Elders

Webber_Robin_Portrait

October 10, 2013 Posted by | Council of Elders | , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Victor Kubik: Next UCG President

May 8, 2013

Victor and Beverly Kubik

Victor and Beverly Kubik

The United Church of God, an International Association, has been involved in a systematic process of selecting a new president (chief executive officer) since late February of this year.

At the current May session of the Council of Elders meetings, Council members, after prayer and fasting to gain a sense of God’s will, interviewed the final six candidates and collectively deliberated on the matter before choosing a president.

The Council is pleased to announce that Victor Kubik has been selected to fill this position for the next three years. Please remember Mr. and Mrs. Kubik as they step into this new opportunity to serve the church. Mr. Kubik assumes the presidency May 9.

Robin Webber—Chairman, Council of Elders

May 8, 2013 Posted by | Council of Elders, President's Office | , , , , , | 20 Comments

2013 General Conference of Elders Meeting Begins

May 4, 2013

Question and Answer Session with the Council of Elders and Home Office Administration

Question and Answer Session with the Council of Elders and Home Office Administration

The annual General Conference of Elders meeting of the United Church of God began with a Sabbath service on May 4, 2013. This year’s focus is on developing spiritual gifts and providing an environment for spiritual growth in the Church.

Elders and their families from the United States, Canada, the Caribbean, Latin America, Europe, Africa, Asia and Australia gathered in Cincinnati, Ohio, to worship and fellowship on God’s Sabbath day. The service included split sermons by Bob Berendt, pastor of UCG congregations in Alberta and Saskatchewan, Canada, and Gary Antion, an elder in Cincinnati and instructor at Ambassador Bible Center.

Mr. Berendt’s sermon focused on the need for the Church to have a strong vision of God’s coming Kingdom. His Kingdom will last forever, and it will span an eternity with no pain, suffering, grief or sin. Mr. Antion spoke about the fact that spiritual gifts flow from God’s Holy Spirit working in the life of a Christian. He stressed that any gift given through God’s Spirit must be used to serve God and other people, and never to serve oneself.

After a several hour recess for fellowship, the conference reconvened Saturday night. The chairman of UCG’s Council of Elders, Robin Webber, introduced the conference and spoke about the theme of spiritual gifts. He then led the entire conference in a question-and-answer session, which covered topics such as UCG’s gospel proclamation efforts, the presidential selection process, and how the Church facilitates parents in raising godly children.

The session ended shortly after 10 p.m. and will reconvene at 9 a.m. Sunday, May 5.

Milan Bizic—Media and Communications Services

May 4, 2013 Posted by | Council of Elders, General Conference of Elders | , , , , , | 10 Comments

UPDATE: United Church of God Presidential Selection

April 23, 2013

Dear fellow elders and church members,

We are pleased to announce the final nominees being considered for president of the United Church of God, an International Association. As with everything in the United Church of God, this selection process remains a “whole church effort.” Our membership has been praying for God’s guidance upon the General Conference of Elders (GCE) to put forth names of godly men in this selection process that would be humble, loving, wise and bold in moving forward the mission of the United Church of God to “preach the gospel of Jesus Christ and the Kingdom of God, make disciples in all nations, and care for those disciples.”

The GCE put forth the names of 27 men—of which 13 allowed their names to go forward and submitted their resumes for the Council of Elders to consider. All of these gentlemen, along with their wives, are wonderful servants of God and are out there every day in your midst sharing their lives with you. We thank them for their desire to serve their brethren.

The Council of Elders reviewed the nomination resumes of those 13 men and has each cast one ballot for a nominee, along with why each endorses that individual. The Council of Elders chairman (Robin Webber), the chairman of the Roles and Rules Committee (Gary Antion), and the corporate secretary (Gerald Seelig), reviewed the results and are pleased to announce the final lists of individuals to be considered for president of the United Church of God. They are in alphabetical order: Bill Bradford, Aaron Dean, Roy Holladay, Victor Kubik, Darris McNeely, and Randy Stiver. After prayer and fasting, the Council of Elders will interview them in person on May 6 and deliberate among themselves on May 7. Final selection for a new chief executive will be on May 8. Normally a new president immediately assumes office for a three-year term that can be renewed with Council approval.

In this discussion about men and process, let us always keep in full view the ultimate leader of the Church. Let us consider the words of Hebrews 3:1: “Therefore, holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling, consider the Apostle and High Priest of our confession, Christ Jesus.” Indeed, our Heavenly Father has set His Son, alone, to be our ultimate guide, inspiration, example and constant companion. At the same time, we need a man to guide and direct the daily activities of a worldwide endeavor to share the good news of God’s plan of salvation for humanity.

A president does have an impact on an organization by his cooperation with the direction of the Council of Elders, his loving Christ-like example among the employees and membership, his zeal and dedication towards fulfilling the mission of the Church, his ability to motivate our members in word and deed, and his example of reaching out to all in the Body of Christ. We invite you to join the Council in prayer and fasting in the weeks to come towards this end that God will direct the selection of such an individual, among so many fine and qualified gentlemen, “for such a time as now.”

In Christian Love,

Robin Webber—Chairman

Gary Antion—Chairman, Roles and Rules Committee

April 23, 2013 Posted by | Council of Elders | , , , | 6 Comments

Announcement from Chairman Webber

March 14, 2013

Dear Members of the United Church of God,

This letter is to inform you that United Church of God president, Dennis Luker, died today, March 14. He spent his last physical days residing in his hometown of Seattle, Washington, surrounded by his loving wife, LeeAnn, and their immediate family.

Thank you for your prayers and fasting during this challenging time for them, and for God’s blessings on this transitional period for the United Church of God. Our Heavenly Father’s will for Denny has been made known at this time—even though it is not news that we humanly desire. At the same time, I am reminded of his constant encouragement to reflect on the promising words of Romans 8:28: “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.”

Mr. Luker knew “that my Redeemer lives” (Job 19:25) and now awaits the trumpet call with so many other faithful saints down through the ages (1Thessalonians 4:13-18). I know that LeeAnn would ask us all to continue to pray for others who are challenged with spiritual, emotional and health issues—and that God will grant His peace to them (Philippians 4:6-7).

Dennis and LeeAnn, as a pastoral couple, have given 50 years of their lives in service to others. And yes, they truly came as a “couple.” They are loved far and wide beyond our own Church sphere, throughout the entire Church of God community. He brought an enthusiasm for speaking of the always-present love of God and the necessity of having Jesus Christ as the center of our lives.

Denny’s service to the United Church of God had a dynamic impact not just recently, but also in our formative years. He served on the original Advisory Council of Elders in 1995. Since then he has served as a member of the Council of Elders, as a church pastor, as a regional pastor, been part of the Ministerial Services team and of recent years, our Church president.

Please remember LeeAnn, the children, the grandchildren, the great-grandchildren and all their family members—in our prayers that God will grant them comfort in this most challenging of life’s chapters. More details will be forthcoming regarding pending memorial services.

In my role as chairman during this transitional time, I have maintained frequent contact with the Council and the home office operation managers to ensure stability. Now, in accordance with our governing documents (Bylaw 9.5, Vacancies in Offices), the chairman of the Council of Elders becomes the acting president of the United Church of God, an International Association, until a new president is selected by the Council and assumes office.

I look forward to working with the Council of Elders in the presidential nomination process currently underway. As Council members, we appreciate your prayers for God’s guidance for all in the weeks to come.

May the God of peace and comfort be with all of you at this time,

Robin Webber—Chairman and Acting President

March 14, 2013 Posted by | Council of Elders, Home Office | , , , , | 27 Comments

Council Chooses New Chairman

November 8, 2012

The Council of Elders met at 4 p.m. ET to discuss various items of United Church of God business. On the agenda was the selection of a new chairman.

Long-time church pastor and member of the Council, Robin Webber, was selected to be chairman for a term that will continue through May 2014. He and his wife, Susan, live in Southern California. Mr. Webber will serve as chairman of the Council, and also of the General Conference of Elders.

President Dennis Luker told the Council that he looks forward to working with Mr. Webber, and reminded everyone that their long friendship goes back to the time when they both served in the Southern California area.

Robin and Susan Webber

November 8, 2012 Posted by | Council of Elders | , , , , , | 12 Comments

Letter from Chairman Rhodes: “The Marriage of the Lamb”

August 20, 2012

Dear Brethren,

The exciting Feasts of God are drawing very near as we end the month of August. As we often see during the fall Holy Day season, world events seem to speed up during this time of the year.

In 1973, Israel was attacked on the Day of Atonement, in what has become known as the Yom Kippur War. In 1987 an international financial crisis took place, along with another in 2008.

This year the secular press is predicting the likelihood of another major financial crisis, euro-centered, sometime between now and October. In the Middle East we are witnesses to the ever-worsening Syrian conflict—a growing clash between Sunni and Shia Muslims. At the same time there are increasing predictions of an Israeli strike on Iran before the November U.S. presidential election. The speculation is that the current administration in Washington could not be too critical of Israel just before the election!

With impending world-changing events likely to take place in the next few weeks, what should we be focused on?

“Seek first the Kingdom of God” (Matthew 6:33) reminds us of where our priority should be at all times. “Thy Kingdom Come” (verse 10) should be a part of our daily prayers. We all know just how desperate this world is for the establishment of the Kingdom of God.

But for us, especially, it’s even more personal.

Preparing for the Marriage Supper

Revelation chapter 19 looks forward to Christ’s return and the marriage supper—the time when Jesus Christ marries His Bride, the Church. “Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honor to him: for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife hath made herself ready” (verse 7). Our priorities are clear—to seek first the Kingdom and to make ourselves ready for that very same Kingdom!

The prophet Daniel spoke of this time as a time “when many shall run to and fro” (Daniel 12:4). The literal meaning in the Hebrew here is “to lash at sea with oars”—implying travel. It’s only in recent decades that people have been able to travel extensively, a development that has led to us all feeling exhausted as we rush around trying to fit in way too much. The result? We neglect the spiritual priorities that are essential if we are to focus on what is most important.

Added to this is the other prediction in the same verse, that “knowledge shall be increased.” This implies a multiplication of knowledge that is overwhelming. It’s impossible to keep up with it all, but many try by reading books, papers and magazines, or surfing the Internet, or watching television—all at the expense of our seeking the Kingdom and making ourselves ready.

It’s ironic that at the same time knowledge is increasing, the knowledge of God is decreasing. Paul wrote Timothy that in the last days many would be “ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth” (2 Timothy 3:7). That reminds us of another priority we have: the need to preach the gospel with great fervency and zeal throughout the world so that others may come to the knowledge of the truth.

How Do We Make Ourselves Ready?

One way to be ready is mentioned immediately after the reference to the marriage supper. “And to her [the Church] it was granted to be arrayed in fine linen, clean and bright, for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints” (Revelation 19:8). My New King James Study Bible says this in the margin in explaining this verse: “The bride of the Lamb wears a garment of precious fine linen that symbolizes the good works of believers. In other words, the white garment signifies faithful obedience to God.”

In Matthew 22 we read of a guest attending the marriage feast in the parable “without a wedding garment” (verse 11). When asked why he was unprepared “he was speechless” (verse 12). It’s sobering to think that some of us may one day be in that same situation. How could that happen?

Earlier in the parable we read that some of those called to the wedding supper “made light of it and went their ways, one to his own farm, another to his business” (verse 5). In other words, the “cares of this world, the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things entering in choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful” (Mark 4:19).

But we are exhorted to be spiritually very fruitful: “By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples” (John 15:8).

We will have no excuse when that day comes. There’s plenty of warning in the Scriptures about the need for us to “walk just as He walked” (1 John 2:6). “If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love” (John 15:10). As we obey God’s laws and live as Jesus Christ lived, so we will increasingly understand His Love.

We cannot boast that we have ever lived up to Christ’s definition of a true Christian as explained in John 13:35. “By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” “He who does not love does not know God, for God is love” (1 John 4:8).

Preparing for the marriage supper means that each one of us has to become more like Jesus Christ—this is part of making the bride ready. Just as a bride prepares for her marriage by learning to please her future husband, so we must learn how to please our future husband, Jesus Christ. Just as a wife should submit to her husband, so we must learn to submit to Christ.

Much of this comes down to time management. What are our priorities? We must “redeem the time” (Ephesians 5:16). Our priorities were laid down for us two millennia ago when Jesus Christ walked the earth. Asked by a lawyer, “Which is the great commandment in the law?” (Matthew 22:35), “Jesus said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind’” (verse 37). Put God first. It’s that simple! But how many do that? “This is the first and great commandment” (verse 38). “And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets” (verses 39-40).

It really is that simple. We are instructed to live our lives according to the two great commandments—love toward God, which includes obedience to His commandments; and love toward others. Living according to the two great commandments is “the righteous acts of the saints” (Revelation 19:8).

If we want to be in that wedding supper we need to change our priorities to ensure that we are not preoccupied with the cares of this world, but rather we are focused on living in accordance with the two great commandments.

Have a wonderful, uplifting and truly edifying Feast of Trumpets, Day of Atonement and Feast of Tabernacles.

Sincerely,

Melvin Rhodes—Chairman

August 20, 2012 Posted by | Council of Elders | , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

United Church of God Chooses Two New Men for Council of Elders

May 9, 2012

The General Conference of Elders (GCE) of the United Church of God met in Cincinnati, Ohio, May 5 through 7 for their annual meeting.

Carmelo Anastasi

Amongst other business, the GCE chose two new members for their Council of Elders: Carmelo Anastasi and Mark Mickelson. They will each serve a three-year term. Two incumbents, Scott Ashley and Melvin Rhodes, were returned for another three year term each, and two councillors decided not to run for office again: Bill Eddington and Roy Holladay.

Mark Mickelson

All items on the ballot were overwhelmingly approved by the General Conference this year. This includes the annual Strategic Plan, Operation Plan and Budget, plus a number of amendments to our governing documents. In addition, one of the approved amendments prescribes that Council of Elders’ three-year terms begin this week, so the two new members are taking office almost immediately.

More details will be written up for you in the June issue of United News.

2012-2013 COUNCIL OF ELDERS. Top from left: Mario Seiglie, John Elliott, Scott Ashley, Robin Webber, Mark Mickelson, Bill Bradford. Front from left: Carmelo Anastasi, Gary Antion, Melvin Rhodes, Darris McNeely, Robert Berendt, Donald Ward

Peter Eddington—Media and Communications Services

May 9, 2012 Posted by | Council of Elders, General Conference of Elders | , , , , , | 14 Comments

Letter From Melvin Rhodes, UCG Chairman

April 20, 2012

Dear Fellow Ministers,

I’ve just returned from a very positive and uplifting trip to Zimbabwe and South Africa. It was really good to be with the members down there.

I spent Passover, the Night to be Much Observed and the First Day of Unleavened Bread with the brethren in Harare, the capital of Zimbabwe.

Members in Zimbabwe are scattered all over the country—a nation that is over three times the size of the state of Michigan—where I live—so it’s always a joy when everybody can get together for a couple of days. It costs us about $1,000 to bring them all into a central location. It would cost far more for me to travel around and visit everybody. They also benefit from being with each other.

In a country that not so long ago suffered from severe food shortages, the ladies put on a really nice meal for us on the Night to be Much Observed. Thanks to the generosity of a teen in Lansing, Michigan, I was able to give every single household a box of scripture cards prepared as a fundraiser by our Ambassador Bible Center.

At the same time, Marshall Takaindisa, a long-time member from a remote rural area, received his “new” (used) battery operated wheelchair. Marshall teaches at a sprawling school complex and, so far, has depended on others to push him around. But now he can get around by himself.

He asked for a wheelchair a few months ago. Finding a wheelchair was one thing—getting it into the country was quite another. Freight charges and customs duties are only part of the problem—the paperwork is quite daunting. It was suggested that I “ride” it into Zimbabwe. For this, I needed a letter from my doctor saying that I needed to use a wheelchair in Johannesburg where the new airport requires a lot of walking. For once the wound in my foot was advantageous!

I asked the office in Pretoria, South Africa, if they could help find the wheelchair. Finally one was found, but when our office employee’s husband, Neil Wallis, went to pick it up, he realized there was no foot-rest. That meant I would have to keep my feet up while using the chair. A foot-rest could be added once it arrived in Zimbabwe.

At the airport the battery ran out so I had to be pushed with my feet up, but we got it on to the plane and into Zimbabwe and into the hands of Marshall, who was absolutely thrilled to receive it. As LifeNets paid for the wheelchair, there was no cost to the church for a wheelchair that will make a big difference in one man’s life.

After Sabbath services on the first Holy Day, I was able to travel to Mutare, a four-hour drive away, where our deacon, Mike Mukurati and his wife Primrose, live. This beautiful mountainous area is close to the Mozambique border. I spent the remainder of the weekend with them. On the Sunday Mike and I visited a new member who lives in Mutare, an 83-year-old lady originally from South Africa, Claudia Harrison. Mrs. Harrison is the only person of European descent in the Zimbabwe congregation. If you’re ever in Mutare you must visit—she makes a really good cup of tea! (I can’t speak for her coffee!)

Following my visit to Mutare, we returned to Harare, and I then flew back to South Africa. I was able to spend the Last Day of Unleavened Bread and the weekly Sabbath with the members in East London, a congregation that recently returned to the United Church of God after they became more aware of recent events.

Their enthusiasm and the spirit of love, joy and peace (the first three fruits of the Spirit listed in Galatians chapter 5) was an exhilarating experience for me personally. I longed for my wife to be there to share the time with me, but she was not able to make this trip. Once again, it was a real joy to be with the members in an isolated part of the world.

After returning to Johannesburg, the three ministers serving in the region were able to get together Sunday morning to discuss future plans for serving the area. At the present time, there is just one elder resident in South Africa, Roy Demont, who was ordained last year exactly one week after his wife Jean died. Roy is in his seventies and has been speaking in all four congregations in South Africa, once a month in each. The churches are so far apart that three require flights to get there. While we were talking he offered to go to Zimbabwe a couple of times a year, which will help me out greatly, as I can only make it there twice a year from the United States.

Roy’s son in law, Grant Chick, was also present. Grant lives in Australia and, with the support of the Australian National Council, was able to help out in South Africa during the Passover and Days of Unleavened Bread. He and his wife will be returning to the area for the Feast of Tabernacles, where Grant will speak in both Zimbabwe and South Africa.

Also present at the meeting was Jason Webster, who has been doing an outstanding job taking care of the church’s needs in the Johannesburg and Pretoria area.

In both Zimbabwe and South Africa I had the very real sense of being on the frontline of the work that God has called us to do, the work of preaching the gospel and preparing a people. There are currently 120 attending with us in South Africa and about 30 in Zimbabwe.

South Africa does not need a great deal of help from the Cincinnati home office. They are self-sufficient. But we in the U.S. do take care of their magazine and booklet printing and some of their mailing costs. Occasionally they need help in other areas. For example, Richard Kennebeck, our information technology (IT) manager, was there during Unleavened Bread helping them with their computer and office system. His wife, Emma, also helped their office manager and treasurer in South Africa, Isella Wallis.

Zimbabwe requires slightly more help. The members in both countries are excited at the prospect of preaching the gospel in their areas—it is hoped to hold a Kingdom of God Bible Seminar in Harare next time I visit.

Spiritually, the visit to both countries was also a big boost for me personally. In Zimbabwe I very quickly realized my new iPhone did not work at all, which meant I was cut off from the rest of the world. I could not receive calls, text messages or e-mail—and it was wonderful! Very relaxing. I had more time for prayer and Bible study and more time to talk with the members—a reminder of the importance of living by the two great commandments, love toward God and love toward neighbor.

“Then one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, and saying, ‘Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?’ Jesus said to him, ‘“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets’” (Matthew 22:35-40).

Our priorities should always be our relationship with God, first and foremost, and then our relationships with other people—with our spouses, our children and members of God’s spiritual family. Electronic gadgets can get in the way—they don’t save us time, they consume time—sometimes at the cost of neglecting those important relationships. In the Western world our spiritual lives are constantly threatened by modern technology. It’s a joy to go to areas that are not yet spoiled in this way and where people still matter. It is not surprising that Africa is the only continent where the number of people claiming to be Christian is actually increasing.

“Look at the fields, for they are already white for harvest” said Jesus Christ in John 4:35. In the previous verse He said, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to finish His work.”

That work continues to this day and we have a part in finishing it. “And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come” (Matthew 24:14). “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20).

The African field is indeed “white for harvest.” Those turning in hope to Jesus Christ need to understand the need to be like Him, to keep His commandments, to walk as He walked, to live His way of life. Simply calling yourself Christian doesn’t do this. There’s a need for the truth of God to be revealed and for people to take God’s commands to heart. “You shall lay up these words of mine in your heart and in your soul” (Deuteronomy 11:18). “And you shall know the truth and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32).

Africa is an exciting place to be, especially when you are visiting those areas where God has called people to be a part of His spiritual family. Remember your brothers and sisters in Christ who live in Africa; and, if you are ever able, be sure to visit them and be inspired—and take a break from all those electronic gadgets!

Sincerely,

Melvin Rhodes—Chairman, Council of Elders, United Church of God

April 20, 2012 Posted by | Council of Elders | , , , , , , | 11 Comments

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