Common Bonds

COMMON BONDS

I am proud of my Italian heritage. Italians have some of the best food, some of the most tight-knit families, and an overabundance of passion (for better or for worse!). I loved growing up in a large Italian family. When we would get together, everything was loud, crazy and fun. I remember the first time I brought Sarah to meet my extended family. She had flown in from Colorado, and we went to my Aunt’s house for Thanksgiving. I don’t think she had ever experienced anything quite like it!

This past weekend while we were at Fairwinds Baptist Church (Bear, DE), I felt like I was back with my family. Pastor DeStefano is not only a faithful servant of the Lord, he is also an Italian… and proud of it! When you pair exuberance for life and a love for the Lord (as is evident in Pastor DeStefano’s life), you have a winning combination. I would encourage you to take time to read his testimony of how the Lord transformed his life and saved his soul.

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Pastor DeStefano is not the only Italian within the congregation, though. There seems to be a healthy population scattered throughout the church body. In fact I think I heard the most “Amens” in the morning message while I was talking about Italian food and making a pot of “gravy” (what others might call spaghetti sauce)!

But what makes this church unique is that there are many other nations represented as well. Fairwinds is a multi-cultural congregation with folks from all over the world. In fact, while there on Wednesday night Lydia became fast friends with a dear lady within the church who was originally from Kenya.

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And of course, as we have found all throughout our travels, we even had the joy of greeting dear believers from the Philippines.

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This brings to light what I shared with the children on Wednesday from 2 Peter 1:1. The Scripture records: “Simon Peter, a servant and an apostle of Jesus Christ, to them that have obtained like precious faith with us through the righteousness of God and our Saviour Jesus Christ.”

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Peter is writing to those who have received the same, valuable faith he possessed. There was no hierarchy or division among those who share this faith. Peter, as an apostle, did not set himself on a higher plain above other believers. He says we share the same valuable faith. Something that made the early church unique is something that should make the modern church unique today. All those who place their faith in Jesus Christ are immersed into ONE body. Two thousand years ago this was a revolutionary concept. It did not matter if you were a man or woman; if you were a slave or free; if you were a Jew or Gentile. If your faith rested in Jesus Christ, you were a child of God. So it remains today—it does not matter where a person lives, or what their background might be. Simple faith in Jesus Christ places you into God’s family.

And just to note, the end of the verse makes it very clear that becoming a part of God’s family rests wholly upon what God accomplished through Jesus Christ, and has nothing to do with your own “righteousness.” Jesus did what no other person could do—live a sinless life. When He died, he bore the punishment for your sin. All those who will turn to Jesus and claim Him as their Savior are forgiven of sin and placed into the family of God. If you are not a child of God, you can be born into God’s family today!

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New Partners – Fairwinds Baptist Church

We are excited to announce that Fairwinds Baptist Church (Bear, DE) has taken our family on for support. With these faithful new partners, we are now over 50% of our needed support!

We presented our ministry at Fairwinds this past Sunday (and I will write a post about our time there in the coming days), but for now we would just like to express our gratitude to Pastor Carlo Destefano, and the wonderful folks at Fairwinds. Your partnership with us in the gospel means so much!

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Joyful Service

JOYFUL SERVICE

As children of God, there is no greater joy than to worship our Savior by serving Him. While we were at Independent Bible Fellowship Church (Harrington, DE) this past Sunday I had the opportunity to introduce my family to a man I have greatly respected over the years for his joyful service to the Lord. I first met Pastor Guy Simpson about a decade ago through a leadership outing hosted by Lighthouse. From the moment I met him, I could clearly see His love for the Lord, and his infectious joy in serving Christ. Although I have not seen Pastor Simpson for a number of years, he has not changed one bit!

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Something that has been important to me while our family has been on this journey of raising support for the work in the Philippines, is for our children to know what joyful service to the Lord looks like, and to experience it for themselves. Children of God should not be marked by a disgruntled or complaining spirit when it comes to serving Christ. Of all people in the world, we should be the ones filled with the greatest joy and excitement. This is why having our children get to know people like Pastor Guy and Susan Simpson is so vital during our travels. I want to make sure our children realize that we can serve God, and have great joy (not to mention fun) at the same time. In fact, I hope they will eventually recognize that the only way to experience true, lasting joy is to serve God. This does not mean we never face struggles, or difficulties, but that we can (like the Thessalonian believers) face those afflictions with joy from the Holy Spirit (1 Thessalonians 1:6).

As Nehemiah and Ezra encouraged the people in Nehemiah 8:10: May “the joy of the Lord [be our] strength” throughout life’s journey.

Independent Bible Church - Harrington, DE

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Open Doors

OPEN DOORS

This past Sunday, we had a great time ministering at Open Door Baptist Church (Lebanon, PA). Getting to know Pastor Craig Griffith better was one of the highlights of our time there on Sunday. He has a genuine “pastor’s heart” and an obvious concern for the people within his flock. I have witnessed his pastoral care firsthand as he ministered to the needs of those within his congregation. While there were also glad to reconnect with some dear ministry friends (the Thomas and Myers Families).

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Initially, we were scheduled to be at Open Door Baptist for both the morning and evening services. Unfortunately, the evening service needed to be cancelled due to wintry weather. Snow started falling before the morning services ended, and the roads were becoming somewhat treacherous. Later that afternoon, when we received word that the services were cancelled for the evening, we decided to begin making our way back to the Missions House in Delaware (about a 2 hour drive). Although the first 30 minutes of travel we had to navigate through snow and sleet, the remaining part of the trip was just rain. Traveling in daylight made our trip much safer than waiting until later that evening when the roads began freezing over.

We got back to the Missions House at 6:24 PM. This meant I would be able to watch the kickoff of the Super Bowl! As a life-long Eagles fan, I was grateful to have the opportunity to root on our team. Of course, I was thankful for the outcome, but there was something I was even more thankful for—OPEN DOORS. Being at “Open Door,” that day, I began to think about the open doors we have to minister to those around us. God provides us with countless opportunities to be a witness for Christ as well as to encourage fellow believers. Our life should be all about glorifying our Savior by serving Him and loving others.

All throughout the Eagles improbably Super Bowl run, I have seen many players (from the coach to quarterbacks to receivers to defensive players), share a word of testimony for Christ. It is exciting to see these men use football as a platform to share the Gospel. The chaplain for the Philadelphia Eagles, Ted Winsley, reminds the guys, “Football is a platform, it’s not your purpose.” I am thankful for many believers within the Eagles organization who are sharing Christ with the open doors set before them.

Interestingly enough, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania is not the first “Philadelphia” with an open door set before it. In fact when God speaks to a congregation in Revelation 3 in the ancient city of Philadelphia in Asia Minor, He proclaims that He has set before them “an open door, and no man can shut it” (Rev 3:8). And as counter intuitive as it may sound, God even tells this church the reason no man will be able to shut this door is because they had a little strength, yet have kept His word and have not denied His name (Rev 3:8). This is a great recipe for faithful service to God. Keep God’s Word and proclaim His name.

God gives each one of us “a platform.” Although we may not think we have much of a following, God has placed specific people into our lives that we are able to impact for the sake of the Gospel. And for those who are found faithful and are victorious, we partake of the same reward as the believers within the Philadelphian church 2,000 years ago. Jesus says I will “make [him] a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out: and I will write upon him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, which is new Jerusalem… and I will write upon him my new name” (Rev 3:12). As I meditated on this text, I wondered what the connection between a pillar and a name being written on a person was.  The connection is permanence and possession. A pillars stays put. You do not see a pillar in its place one day and out of its place the next. The pillar is a permanent fixture. In a similar way, a name written on something shows the permanence of ownership and possession. A child will often write their name on a favorite toy to show that it belongs to them. They own it. The toy is important and special to them, so they don’t want to lose it. Every child of God is important and special. God writes His own name on us, and He even writes our address (the name of the city of my God) to show that God possesses us and we have a permanent home.

May we all look for the open doors surrounding us, and by the grace and power of God walk through them with the message of the Gospel!

New Partners – Freedom Baptist Church

Today I learned that Freedom Baptist Church (Dundalk, MD) has welcomed us into their Missions Family! When I told our children, they were so excited. We had such a wonderful time with Pastor Barry and the church family at Freedom this past October in their Missions Conference.

We are so thankful for their support and encouragement. This puts us at 48% of our needed support. Almost half way there! We are grateful to the Lord.

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New Partners – Bensalem Baptist Church

On Sunday (1/28/18) Bensalem Baptist Church voted to welcome us into their Missions Family. We are excited to partner with them. Truly the sun never sets on the ministry of Bensalem Baptist Church, and we are grateful to have a small part in that!

This support puts us around 45% of our monthly need.

At present we only have 6 remaining Sundays open here in the Northeast through 2018. Our schedule for our westward trip toward the end of 2018 is also beginning to take shape. We are excited and grateful!img_1525

Boy or Girl?

We are excited about the new little one who will be joining our family in May. We wanted to have a gender reveal, so we decided to create a volcano, and color the “lava” to match the baby’s gender. The camera did not capture the color perfectly, but if you watch closely you should be able to tell. And if there is any confusion, just listen for the screaming after the reveal!

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Future Hopes

FUTURE HOPES

The future holds no fear for the child of God resting in His promises and grace. As our family trusts the Lord to continue to lead and direct us, I wanted to lay out the plans we are making for the future. Our goal is to arrive in the Philippines in May 2019 in order to launch Haven of Grace Seminary in June 2019. Our arrival in the Philippines is determined by two controlling factors:

  1. Birth of Baby Valiante – Lord willing, we will greet our new baby in May 2018. We felt that it would be beneficial for Sarah, the new baby, and the rest of the family to wait to travel overseas until everyone has a chance to get acclimated.
  2. Filipino School Year – The Filipino summer is April and May with most schools beginning sometime in the month of June. Since the seminary is an educational institution, it makes sense to launch the seminary at the beginning of the school year.

Based on our deputation experience thus far, we are very hopeful to have all of our support raised by May 2019. We have been raising support for only four months and currently stand at 41% of our needed support. Additionally, there are a number of churches that have expressed a desire to support our family who have yet to formally vote on us.

With regard to the seminary, we are already making preparations for the programs we will offer. God has been so good to direct us to godly men who have experience in theological training abroad to offer support and counsel as we lay out everything from our philosophy to the degrees offered. Mark Kittrell, Dr. Curt Lamansky and I recently had an extremely productive planning session to begin constructing a program that will provide the most effective platform to train Filipinos for ministry. To say I am excited would be an understatement!

Looking even further ahead, after we are on the field, we have plans return to the States every April and May. Since these are the summer months in the Philippines, the seminary will not be in session. This will allow us to report back to our supporting churches, and raise any additional support needed without having to be away from the work at the seminary for an entire year every four or five years.

At this time, I want to thank each of you who have prayed for us, as well as those who have sacrificially supported our family over these months. We are confident that Haven of Grace Seminary will be used greatly by God for the furtherance of the Gospel, not just in the Philippines, but all throughout Southeast Asia. We are humbled by the opportunity to equip and train national pastors in the Philippines.