Most of my letters to you are communicated via email, but I have intentionally "borrowed" my blog to do this one so that all of you might see some pictures and video you might not get through your email service.
Let me begin by telling you that I will conclude this letter with a report of our church giving and financial status through the first quarter of 2013. If you are like Joe Friday on Dragnet -- "Just the facts, ma'am; just the facts" -- you can always cut to the end of the letter and skip all the good stuff in between. In my opinion, that will be like cutting past the main course and the dessert to get to the toothpick, but that's your right.
We began 2013 with a challenge to take our "Accelerate 1 8" emphasis from 2012 to a new level. Many of you know that "Accelerate 1 8" is based on Acts 1:8 "But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (New Living Translation) Last year we emphasized prayer, training in personal evangelism, text-message reminders and a sharp increase in sharing Christ during our service projects. 2012 was pivotal, because we began to live out our purpose of Declaring and Demonstrating the Gospel throughout the region.
We also discovered an "aha!" that gave us a laser-like focus as a church: adopting neighborhoods. When our Children's Ministry took VBS On The Road to a nearby neighborhood, the entire church seemed to "get it" and seek ways to serve the people living there. That reality led us to "Accelerate 1 8, Second Gear: Adopting Neighborhoods." We will continue our work in the Sierra Pacific neighborhood, but are praying for God to show us a second neighborhood to adopt this year.
As we talked about "Second Gear" in January, God surprised us with a level of "buy-in" that totally caught us off guard. Instead of simply settling for a second neighborhood as a focus for the whole church, Small Groups began to ask how they could adopt their own neighborhoods. Soon we were getting reports like this:
Here is the short version of our serving project, there were so many little miracles along the way, it's hard to make it this short but here goes!
This serving project was an ultimate success. Where to begin? One evening in small group prayer when this idea came to me, from then on, the plans flowed and the doors from God were opened with absolute ease. Contacting the field foreman, getting the permission, the date, organizing the menu. Getting the people together. And always always praying from start to finish. Stress and worry was shot down pretty darn quick no matter what came up. God had His hand in this and the plan was already made by Him. Everyone in small group came through with something, and helped and we made it to the field on Tuesday as planned. My last little stresser was finding a Spanish speaker who would accompany us. The Sunday before our date, I met a woman sitting behind me in church. Came to find out she was not new to Stone Ridge, and had been going about as long as I have, but we had never crossed paths. She even lives on the same street as I do, Yolanda M is her name. We talked, I told her about our neighborhood serving project, and found out she spoke fluent Spanish. She agreed to meet us at the field. I am so thankful to God for that, she translated for us and the workers knew we came to show God's love. I am so so humbled right now. The men and women who work the field to harvest the food we eat, they work so hard in the hot sun all day. They started at 5am (still dark out) and worked all day. Not to mention what time they must get on those buses to arrive by 5 am. They were very kind, hungry and thirsty and so grateful for the lunch we served them. So thankful to Clark and Kimberly W, Lisa T, Lauri D, Rita O, Yolanda M, Cheri W, Rubio from T&A, and all of the people who prayed for us. Mostly thankful to Our Great God, who "fed" us that day as we fed them. If there was something to be learned when serving God it is this, Just Trust Him and Go!!!
Here is the verse we passed out to all in Spanish
-- For the LORD your God will bless you in all your harvest and in all the work of your hands, and your joy will be complete.
Other Small Groups were looking for ways to "adopt" their own neighborhoods. Most of these began by prayer-walking...
Just this week, a girl's Small Group from our Student Ministry is giving away homemade lemonade (with Scripture verses on the cups) at Gateway Park. They, too, are our neighbors!
Meanwhile at Sierra Pacific, the doors keep opening wider. We have a weekly after school club there for kids and bring a number of the kids to our AWANA program on campus. We have also been seeking a way to begin an adult Small Group in the neighborhood and realized that a Financial Peace University might be a great approach to meet a significant need. Neighborhood management opened the door for us to start FPU on April 18 -- please pray! While our pastors were there to talk about FPU, the manager told how much they need an English class in their neighborhood. The successful class that had been there ended when funding was lost. We are working with them to establish a new class.
Sierra Pacific is full of kids, as you can see...
You may not know that Stone Ridge learned missions from our partner church, Primera Iglesia Bautista in Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic. They have taught us much about how to have a presence in the neighborhood. We sent a team there again in March, where they worked on construction and evangelism projects. Many people received Christ and the team was overwhelmed by the presence of God. In addition, we continue our cross-cultural work in Hyder, AZ and Morelos, Mexico.
15 people gave their hearts to Christ
1479 in attendance
I told you at the beginning of this long letter that I would give you a report on our finances for the first quarter of 2013. I am overwhelmed by God's goodness and your generous gifts. Here are a few highlights:
January - March 2013 income is almost $50,000 above January - March 2012.
January - March income is over $63,000 above expenses.
As I give you those numbers, I can imagine two questions from you. 1. Why has giving increased so much? 2. What will we do with the surplus? On the first question, I can think of a few possibilities including the growing number of our people have completed Financial Peace University. One primary reason, though, is that our staff sensed God's leadership to reallocate some of our budget early this year because it was out of balance. It was a hard decision, but God immediately blessed our obedience.
What about that surplus? The short answer is, "I don't know, but our Elders will be praying over it to discern God's will." I think that God is getting us ready to take further steps of faith with a desire to reach more people. Please pray with us!
What a great joy to bring this report to you. From the bottom of my heart, thank you for praying, giving, serving, telling, inviting and believing. By God's grace, we will see things happen this year we could never have imagined!