Penny’s Pen: Blessings and Encouragements

We have had a very exciting start to the New Year, with an average attendance of 34, which is more than 25% higher than this time last year.  A significant part of this increase in numbers has come from newcomers right here in the Bluff.

A new and exciting development is that on the first Lord’s Day in February we launched a morning worship service in addition to our regular afternoon/evening Sunday school and service.  With seventeen in attendance in the morning, and twenty different individuals coming in the evening in addition to four “overlaps” which included Pastor Frank and myself, we ministered to thirty-seven people with a total attendance between the two services of forty-one.

Another new development has been the activity of one of the members of our fellowship, Robert, who spends a number of days in Atlanta each week, and has been enjoying talking to residents of the Bluff as he is out and about.  He has engaged many people in conversation, even to the point of taking the hungry for a meal and sharing the gospel with them.  Over the months this has led to a number of people starting to attend worship on the Lord’s Day and continuing on a regular basis.  One of those men recently professed faith in Christ as a result of the witnessing of this man, and under the preaching of Pastor Smith.

Robert has now begun a mid-week meeting for men from the area, and at the conclusion of the first one, they decided to meet again the next morning for breakfast and continue the conversation. He engages in this type of activity almost every day that he is in the neighborhood, thereby exercising a kingdom presence there.

One man who meets with Robert regularly was someone that he had known from twenty-three years ago when he owned a motorcycle shop and this man was one of his customers.  He ran into him providentially when he was driving in the area and now they are working together to reach more of the neighborhood for Christ.

We have been extraordinarily blessed by encouragement from a number of people who have visited for worship whilst passing through the area.  One of those men, a member of a group of Reformed believers in Birmingham, Alabama, which is desiring to be taken under the care of a presbytery in the RPCNA, wrote a very descriptive account of his visit which, along with photos, was published in the January/February issue of our denominational magazine, the Reformed Presbyterian Witness.  For those who do not receive this magazine, we intend to post the article as the next Penny’s Pen.

An encouraging note came from Chandler Fozard, a truck driver passing through from Texas, who wrote the following on his Facebook page:

I want to tell you about the Atlanta Presbyterian Fellowship, a congregation of the RPCNA.  APF is in one of the worst neighborhoods in Atlanta.  To say it is a poor, crime-ridden neighborhood would be an understatement.  Dr. Frank Smith, a tall, slender, highly educated yet remarkably humble man is the pastor who took me on a ride along.

Every week, he and another member drive through the community picking up people in an old, worn out van and a personal vehicle.  “While I was picking up a person there,” he said, “I heard pop, pop, pop, and I turned around and saw men exchanging fire directly behind me.”  The tour continued, “That’s where one member was stabbed and stumbled down the street to his death.”  One of the people who helps told me the pastor helped rescue one lady from the neighborhood from the arms of her drug dealer.

 It worships in one side of a duplex in the same neighborhood.  (I promise you I know people who couldn’t bring themselves to cross the threshold and grace the church with their presence.)

There is no seeker friendly stuff here, no dumbing down the music or the message.  The pastor faithfully leads worship like he would anywhere else.  Do you know how cool it is to see an old guy with a hardened expression, dreadlocks and a cane sing a Psalm a’ capella, and sing well!

Chandler asked us if we would provide a link on our website to his prison ministry, which we are happy to do.  It is as follows:  http://www.hopeprisonministries.org.

Yet another encouragement has come from our new friends, the Hollo family.  Ben, who recently retired from the Air Force and now flies for Delta Airlines, was excited to discover an RPCNA ministry in Atlanta where he is frequently passing through.  Though living in Florida, their entire family was able to worship with us one Lord’s day in February.  We have met with Ben on multiple occasions both in worship on the Lord’s day and mid-week for lunch and we have all rejoiced at the encouragement and blessing God has provided us in each other.  Ben writes the following:

Having worshiped in Stillwater, Oklahoma, and been one of the original families in the Enid congregation, moving to different churches with the Air Force I have long desired to sing the Psalms in worship.  Therefore, I rejoiced at the Lord’s provision and the opportunity to worship at APF.  As many have mentioned the church is a unique mix of diverse social, racial and economic backgrounds.  I was thoroughly impressed by God’s work in the lives of the poor, needy, fatherless, and downtrodden people who worship there as well as the love for the body of Christ and faithful service of those driving in from the surrounding area.  The adult class before worship was remarkably simple, presenting foundational biblical truths to spiritual babes.  But then Dr. Smith’s preaching was full, expositing God’s word in a manner that would convict and encourage any lifelong believer yet with a clarity that everyone in the room could understand and attain to.  And what a sweet thing to sing the Lord’s song together.  This is the gospel in action, and praise God for the work he is doing at APF.  Also, if you have the chance, encourage Frank and Penny as they do the dirty work of putting Psalm 41:1 in action!  Psalm 74:21.

As a final encouragement let me finish by sharing with you the comment from a lady visiting from out of state:

I was so happy to have been able to visit and see what God is doing in Atlanta through the RP work there. My heart was captivated by the evidences of his mercy in those in attendance from the Bluff and surrounding area. I won’t soon forget those faces and their stories- and the sight and sound of them all, including all those precious children! singing Psalms to God with such reverence and joy. It broke my heart with joy and hope. I trust my memories will stay refreshed through future visits. 

As much as by the “regulars” from the area who attend, I was captivated by the quiet commitment of those who are helping you there; the children’s workers and those who help with transport, and help with a hundred other things, I’m sure.

 . . . May the Lord bless and bring more and more increase from the labors there; “hear thee in the day of trouble; the name of the God of Jacob defend thee; send thee help from the sanctuary, and strengthen thee out of Zion.”

Amen.

The Italian Chef, the English Chef, and the French Chef

[We are pleased once again to welcome to “Penny’s Pen” our guest blogger, Miss Amy Work, who serves as our Sunday School Superintendent.]

It takes a village to raise a child. I am part of the village for the girls in my Sunday school class. I only see Miyani (age 16) and Diamond (age 12) once a week for a few hours, but an idea has been bubbling around in the back of my mind for a way that I could do more to address specific needs and weaknesses I observed. I wanted an opportunity to show the girls a healthier way to eat and how to do some basic cooking. I also noticed that practicing table manners would benefit the girls. I knew that they could also benefit from learning various domestic duties. And, listening to the kind of questions they’d ask and comments they’d make during Sunday school, I am convinced that we need to address some specific issues from a Godly point of view. So, I invited them to come to my place for an evening of cooking together, eating together, cleaning up together, and studying together.

A couple weeks in advance, I broached the idea to the girls and their parents, all of whom enthusiastically agreed to the girls’ night out. I sat down with Miyani and Diamond to go over food allergies and likes and dislikes. But then we ran into a little trouble.

Me: “Ok, I thought we’d cook something called Barbecups. It’s biscuits filled with barbecue flavored beef and—”

Diamond: “I don’t like barbecue sauce.”

Me: Sigh. “Ok. We’ll make you a couple without the sauce. Also, we’re going to have some vegetables. What kinds of vegetables do you guys like?”

Silence.

Me: “Do you like corn?”

Diamond: “Yes!”

Miyani: “No!”

Me: “Hmm. Ok, Miyani. Do you like peas? Beans? Asparagus? Broccoli?”

Miyani: “No, no, no, no!”

Me: “You don’t like any vegetables?”

Miyani: “I like collard greens.”

Collard greens? I’ve seen those on TV, but I’m not sure I could even pick them out in the grocery store, much less cook them! Plus, I’m pretty sure collard greens is something everybody has a different way of making, so I’d never make it the right way. And I bet anyway that Miyani would like it cooked would be unhealthy! Uh-oh.

Me: “Ok. We’ll come back to vegetables. So, we’re also going to have salad. We’ll have lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers—”

Diamond: “I don’t like cucumbers!”

Miyani: “I do!”

You get the idea. No matter what I said, one girl liked it and the other didn’t. It was a discouraging start. We ended up sticking to the original plan and I just explained that sometimes we have to try a little bit of something, even if we don’t like it.

I spent the next week making final preparations, most of which consisted of a lot of prayer. I was so excited about the event that I had trouble going to sleep the night before. The day at work seemed to last forever, but finally I was able to leave and drive down to Atlanta.

I picked up the girls from their apartments, and we headed to my place. We chattered about the days off school they’d had because of weather, books they’re reading, and the fact that, no, Miss Amy is not going to teach Miyani how to drive on the highway! Miss Amy needs her car!

When we arrived, Diamond was so excited about being at my place, she insisted on closing her eyes as she stepped in so it would be a surprise. I don’t think I disappointed! I gave the ladies the grand tour and kept laughing at their comments.

“This is exactly like what I imagined your apartment to look like!”

“It’s so peaceful here!”

“Everything is so decorated!”

“Is it always decorated like this?”

“There’s a picture of your mom! And your dad! Do they ever come here?”

They were interested in everything. I showed them my room and my bulletin board where I have several of Miyani’s drawings on display. I showed them my keychain collection of goals I’ve accomplished and some of my childhood toys.

Then we got down to the business of cooking. Miyani was in charge of browning the meat and Diamond and I tackled making a tossed salad. Miyani had never heard of browning meat, but she took to the task quickly after a short demonstration.

Diamond and I washed the vegetables and I gave her a knife to start slicing the carrots. After a little coaching, she was on a roll and slicing like a pro. I complimented her and she said, “My mom never lets me do this. I don’t know why.” I fought down a small moment of panic when I realized I had given her a very sharp knife before asking how experienced she was. But I figured I had plenty of bandaids and the best way to learn is by doing. And then I handed her the cucumber to cut up, too.

As she sliced away, I popped a piece of cucumber in my mouth and crunched in satisfaction. “Mmmmm,” I said. “This is what you get to do when you’re the cook, and we’re the cooks!”

Diamond raised an eyebrow. “Can I try one, too?” she asked.

“Sure!”

She tentatively put a cucumber slice in her mouth and chewed thoughtfully. Then both eyebrows shot up. “I do like cucumbers!” she exclaimed. “I don’t know why I said I didn’t!” I had to laugh.

In fact, there was a lot of giggling that went on as we sliced and diced, stirred and mixed. Miyani declared she was an Italian chef, so Diamond became an English chef and I was a French chef. We proceeded to narrate what we were doing in our respective accents. That is, until the giggles made it hard to understand!

There was also a lot of mess-making. Run-away carrot slices made a break for freedom across the kitchen floor and barbecued beef dribbled down the stove. But, the girls learned my favorite cooking adage: Good cooks make a mess! So each time some messy mishap occurred we laughed and declared what good cooks we must be! Diamond was fascinated by the designs on wash cloth, napkins, and paper towels we used to clean up our messes. “Miss Amy,” she said to me later. “Your house is like a dollhouse. Everything is decorated—even the paper towels!”

When our meal was ready, we sat down and put our napkins on our laps like proper ladies. I even let the girls light the candles so we could dine by candlelight. Wanting to make sure the girls were comfortable with this new dish, I was going to show them how to eat it with their hands. “Oh, no, Miss Amy,” Miyani chided. “We’re ladies. We have to eat it with a fork and knife.” I laughed again. Here I was so concerned about teaching these ladies proper table manners and they had shown me up! So, like ladies, we ate with forks and knives.

I was so pleased with the girls. They were polite, respectful, eager to please, and quick to help. I had envisioned a battle getting Miyani to try some of the corn, but she took a small helping without complaint and finished it all. Diamond even made sure to eat all of her barbecued beef, saying she didn’t want to be rude. Everybody helped clean up and did so cheerfully.

Next, it was time to bake brownies for dessert. More messes were made, but they were chocolate messes and a lot of fun to clean up! Diamond was excited to use a spatula that was also decorated!

While the brownies baked, we sat down to do our study. Diamond cuddled up with a couple of my stuffed animals and both girls were attentive and interested.

I am using the book, Lies Young Women Believe and the Truth That Sets Them Free by Nancy Leigh DeMoss and Dannah Gresh. It covers a range of topics teen and pre-teen girls may face such as, “Beautiful girls are worth more,” “I can’t overcome my sin,” “It’s not really sex,” “I need a boyfriend,” “God is not really involved in my life” and “Having a career outside the home is more valuable and fulfilling than being ‘just’ a wife and mom” to name a few. We covered the introduction and took a little quiz to see in what areas of our lives we may be believing unbiblical lies.

The evening ended with packaging up samples of our cooking for the girls to take home to their families. I drove them home and watched to make sure they got to their apartments safely.

It had been an incredibly fun time and I am still thanking God that everything went so smoothly and pleasantly. I was, however, pretty tired. How do you parent people do this all day every day?

Still, I am very much looking forward to next month and will pray, as I have been, that our times together will be glorifying to God and will cause us all to grow.

Now, what shall we cook in February? Hmmm…

In Memoriam: Rose Lee Hillman

In the last issue of Penny’s Pen we reported on the celebration of Miss Rose Hillman’s birthday in January, when we surprised her with a birthday cake.  She was 55 years old.  But now, it is my sad duty to tell you of her death.

Rose started feeling poorly in early April but, however sick she felt, she still dressed up and came to church for as long as she could.  The last couple of times she attended it became obvious that she was in considerable pain, specifically, she told us, in her side.  She was eventually diagnosed with stomach cancer and she passed away on June 23rd.

Everyone remembers Miss Rose as being a very sweet person.  She was loyal and faithful, and had a servant’s heart.  She worked hard and was always volunteering to be of help in whatever way she could.  And she did so with a big smile.  She is sadly missed.

When it became obvious that her life on Earth would soon be over, Rose’s family asked Pastor Frank to conduct her funeral service, but that didn’t work out because, when she did pass away, it was only a little over a week until we left for a vacation in the UK.  So it was conducted instead at a funeral home.  However, when we returned to Atlanta, we held a memorial service for her at our church building, which four of her family members and a friend of the family attended.

The sermon at the memorial service was entitled “Counting our Days”, an exegesis of Psalm 90, verse 12.  This psalm, which was originally a prayer of Moses in which he reflected on the shortness of life, urges us to be wise in how we live.   Utilising the entire psalm, Pastor Frank talked about what it means to count our days, and why we should do that.  Rose, he told us, lived 20,234 days which may seem like a big number but, in point of fact, it is a finite number, and every second moves us closer to the end of our days.  And, of course, when our days are up, we enter eternity.

Knowing this, we count our days so that we may seek wisdom.  What is wisdom?  Pastor Smith made the point specifically to those who live in the Bluff, especially the children who were present, that on one level, wisdom means not getting into trouble: for example, not getting addicted to drugs and not doing stupid things.

But the wisdom of which Psalm 90:12 speaks is much deeper than that.  True wisdom, he averred, is based on knowledge of God.  It shows itself in repentance of sinful deeds, and in faithfulness.   Miss Rose, he said, showed faithfulness, not only with her servant’s heart but with her faithful church attendance even when she was in physical pain.

True wisdom is found in the word of God, and Miss Rose also showed her commitment to this by hanging on every word that the pastor spoke.  And, even though she was illiterate, she would be able to join in the singing by hearing and lip-reading so quickly that she could reproduce the words immediately and sing along with us.

Towards the end of the sermon Pastor Frank made the point that Miss Rose, in her simple way and with her simple commitment, was wiser than many people in this world who may have a lot of knowledge and intellectual ability but reject the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Finally, he said, we should all count our days and respond to the gospel now, because we don’t know how many days each of us has left.

If you would like to listen to the whole sermon, please go to: http://atlanta-rpc.org/sermon-audio/?sermon_id=362

 

Downtown Update

Over the last twelve months we have had to say goodbye to some old friends and hello to some new ones.  We were very sad to lose the Myers family (Chris, Misty, Trinity, Houston, Elissa and Anastasia) in May when the United States Army transferred Chris, who had been recently promoted to the rank of captain, to Fort Lee in Virginia.  The family had been an invaluable asset to the ministry for more than two years.

We then had to say goodbye to Paul Struwe, who, with a big heart for inner-city ministries, used to travel about 45 minutes from his home in Dallas, Georgia, to be of service in whatever way he could.  For many months he taught the teenage Sunday School class and was beloved of everyone in the Fellowship.  Paul moved to North Carolina to take up a new teaching position in a school in Gastonia.

Having lost these seven people in such a short space of time, we felt very thin on the ground in terms of helpers, with only Pastor Frank and myself, and our three stalwart Sunday School teachers.   The Lord was most gracious, however, in bringing a new family, the McPhersons, to join us.  Frank first heard from Sean McPherson while we were on vacation in early July.  It was while we were sitting on the balcony of our hotel, looking out over the breakers of the Atlantic Ocean at Old Orchard Beach, Maine, that the surprise phone call was received.  Sean told Frank that he and his wife Anne were intending to move to Georgia which was very exciting news, of course, and we were thrilled to welcome them to the ministry in late July.  Starting in August, he has been teaching the adult Sunday School class, and has demonstrated not only a deep theological understanding but also a tremendous knack for patiently answering deep questions.  Anne has been serving as our regular precentor, and also is a substitute children’s Sunday School teacher.

As you already know, since June 2015 we have been worshipping in one half of a duplex, which has worked very well for us.  Our Sunday School teachers are particularly thrilled as they have their own rooms that they can decorate, and in which they can store their teaching materials.  The occupants of the other half of the duplex, however, turned out to be your friendly neighbourhood crooks!   The first of two sets of neighbours comprised a ten year old girl living there with her grandmother because her mother had passed away.  At some point a male friend of the grandmother moved in and problems started to develop.

On arriving at the building one day in the middle of a week in early April a year ago, we found a heavy-duty extension cord running from the neighbours’ side to our outside light fixture.  To begin with we tried to be gracious and allowed them to continue to use our electricity until the weekend.  After that, we threw the circuit breaker to that light whenever we left the building.  A week and a half later as we got to the church on the Lord’s Day, I noticed a number of bits of pink attic insulation on the floor in the upstairs hallway.  At first I couldn’t imagine what it was doing there, but then it dawned on me, with a shiver, that someone had entered our locked building via the attic stairs since we were there last.  It was one of our helpers who suggested that the most likely explanation was that someone from next door had cut a hole in the attic wall separating the two halves of the building and had accessed our side in order to steal electricity.  This was confirmed after the service when someone climbed up into the attic and reported that there was, indeed, a hole big enough for a man to climb through.

We said goodbye to these people when they were evicted in the middle of the year and shortly afterwards we said hello to the new family that moved in―a man and a woman and seven children.  To begin with we had a good relationship with them.  We were happy to have their children come to Sunday School and church and they were not too badly behaved.  Very quickly, however, another couple moved in with four children.  The man was quite an unpleasant character and the children were very badly behaved, which rubbed off on the first family.  Then the grandmother of the first family moved in, making five adults and eleven children living there.

The children from next door came to the Vacation Bible School which was held in June courtesy of a group of seven members of the Columbus (Indiana) RP Church (See Penny’s Pen dated June 24th, 2016), and every week a few of them came to Sunday School and/or church.  Sometimes we were overwhelmed by the sheer numbers who “invaded”, and, because they lived next door, they wandered in and out as they pleased.  Some new rules had to be written to prevent serious disruption of the worship service.

As time went by, our relationship with the adults really deteriorated.  The grounds became a real mess, with enormous amounts of trash which grew every week.  Many Sundays when we arrived Miss Amy or I would walk around picking up trash, often ending up with a bag-full.

The water bill was paid by the landlord because there was only one water meter.  We aren’t sure what the neighbours were doing with regards to water, but the landlord ended up with a $6,000 bill.  Even taking into consideration the high cost of water in the city of Atlanta, this was extraordinary.  The landlord had the water turned off for a while which really angered the men in the house.  To do that was illegal, however, so he had to turn it on again.  Eventually these families were evicted, leaving a dreadful mess behind them which was quite costly to clean up.  As a parting gesture they turned all the water taps on full as they left the house.  Thankfully the property manager came by the next day and turned them off.  When we arrived on the Sunday, however, we found that water was pouring onto the ground from beneath the kitchen and running down both driveways.  As the door was unlocked we went in and found that someone had torn out the kitchen sink leaving it in the living room, and had stolen some of the pipes leaving the main pipe gushing water without any way to turn it off or cap it.  One of our men had a tool with which to turn it off at the street.  In addition, a truck parked on the property which the owner had purchased for the property manager to use was stolen.

Not surprisingly, the owner, a church in the Los Angeles area, decided to sell the building.  So we now have a new landlord and an uncertain future.   We are hoping and praying that we will be able to stay on here, at least for the time being.  And one would think that, even though our lease calls for a monthly rent of less than the going rate for the area, the new owners would be more than happy to have us continue as tenants given the fact that we actually look after the property.

We have started a building fund so that we can raise funds in earnest for a property of our own.  One challenge is that, with the increasing gentrification of our ministry area, prices have gone up rapidly.  However, as Pastor Frank has said, “Nothing that half a million dollars can’t solve!”

We celebrated two birthdays this year―the first was a celebration for Miss Rose’s birthday in January, when we surprised her with a birthday cake:

           The second was in March when we welcomed the arrival of Wynter Nicole Franklin, whose              mother, Tawana, is a regular attender.  Baby Wynter is pictured here with her mother during her first visit to APF, and with big brother Cornelius:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Those of you who have visited Atlanta Presbyterian Fellowship will remember Jenario and Miyani Robinson who, along with their mother, Miyoshi, have been part of the group since shortly after we started ministering in this area in 2010:

Our prayer requests include the following:

– That Tawana would continue to seek the Lord and that she and her other children would soon be able to enjoy the blessings of the covenant as expressed in Christian baptism.

– That Jenario and Cornelius would soon find work.

– That those to whom we minister would be protected from the fiery darts of temptation.

– That one or more workers, such as a ministerial intern or pastor assistant, would be raised up.

– That we would be able to acquire our own permanent location.

Overall, the number of people attending the service on any given Lord’s Day is down relative to last year.  But this is a community that moves around a lot so we never know for how long we will have the opportunity to minister to any given person before he or she moves on.  Even Jenario and his family have moved nine times in the six-plus years that we have known them but, thankfully, always to somewhere close enough that we have been able to pick them up and bring them to church.

Even though we are averaging fewer people in attendance we do feel as though we have a stronger core group, which gives us the time to minister to individuals more effectively.  With fewer undisciplined children attending, and with the addition of a nursery/cry room into which the service can be piped by intercom, our worship services have been quieter and more reverent.  This has been much appreciated by the adults who are thereby developing a deeper knowledge of biblical doctrines and the application of them to their lives.

Penny’s Pen: Father Knows Best? Maybe Not!

Proverbs 1:8-9

My son, hear the instruction of thy father, and forsake not the law of thy mother: For they shall be an ornament of grace unto thy head, and chains about thy neck.

As mentioned in the study notes of the Hebrew Greek Study Bible, these instructions are “addressed to the young to warn them of dangers that they, by reason of their inexperience, know nothing about.  [T]he emphasis is upon training in the home as a means of moral protection.  It will prepare the young person against temptations from immoral people and the end which results.”

But the question is, what kind of instruction does any given father give?  And what kind of law does any given mother lay down in her household?  Are they gold chains around the necks of their children or are they millstones?

King Solomon, the writer of Proverbs, consistently uses the words “wisdom”, “knowledge”, and “understanding”, insisting that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of such wisdom.  He was, undoubtedly, not only lecturing his son (and, by implication, future generations) how to live, but was providing an example for him and for us all to follow.

Children who hear godly instruction from their fathers and godly law from their mothers are being taught how to seek knowledge and wisdom.  They fear the Lord and they trust him to direct their paths.  Godly parents teach honesty, kindness, generosity, compassion, forgiveness, gratitude, modesty, and how to develop a gentle and quiet spirit.

Such is not often the case among residents of the Bluff.  We have found that parents have, themselves, been raised in loud, messy, chaotic homes in which a spirit of anger pervades, voices are constantly raised, children are yelled at, and there is no useful discipline.  Occasionally there is also serious abuse, even rape by a family member, which happened to one lady we know when she was ten years old.  In many ways these women are victims of the circumstances in which they were raised and they do not know any better.  So their children tend to be incorrigible, loud, inconsiderate; they often dress immodestly, steal, show no gratitude and almost never do as they are told.

Besides drug and alcohol abuse the most prominent and obvious problem in the Bluff is sexual sin.  The concept of staying celibate before marriage is essentially unknown.  When one of the ladies in the fellowship resolved to break out of her immoral lifestyle, she began to be taunted by neighbours who accused her of being a lesbian.

When I have mentioned that we know a number of young people who kept themselves pure before marriage and take seriously their vows to remain faithful to each other until death, I am greeted with wide, uncomprehending eyes, and utterances of disbelief.  When one of the members of our Board of Advisors was taking two local men home, he happened to mention that he had been married for 43 years, and the two men, in concert, said “to the same woman?”  When the reply was in the affirmative, the men were genuinely shocked.

This situation impacts the notion of fatherhood in our ministry area.   To be sure, there are fathers of a sort―the kind for which having a child is merely the unintended consequence of lust and conquest.  Very rarely does the arrival of a baby result in any kind of concern for the future of the mother or the child.  Or, heaven forbid, giving up one’s current lifestyle, finding a job and raising a family.

Here are a few examples of fatherhood in the Bluff:

  • One of the ladies to whom we minister suffers from serious health issues. She had a man living with her who was the father of one of her two children and who, for a while, brought a mistress into the home, even though the two children were also living there.  He also stole her Social Security Disability income.
  • While we were still meeting on the steps of the old church building, a prayer request was received for an eighteen year old young man who was very thin and sickly and was now in hospital with two gunshot wounds he had received the previous week. He had already fathered two children.
  • One day when a young teenage boy who attended regularly was missing from the Bible study that Pastor Frank was conducting, the mother told us that his step-father had taken him into the city to teach him how to hustle (i.e., how to get stuff without having to pay for it though not necessarily stealing). Thankfully the man is now out of the area and the young man is nineteen, doing very well, training for a job, and recently told his mother that he wants to provide for a real family one day and stay pure for marriage.

Here are a couple of examples of motherhood in the Bluff:

  • From May until just recently, the other half of the duplex which serves as our church building housed five adults and eleven children. Some of these children responded to several months of Sunday School and church attendance with improved behavior.  Most, however, did not.  On one occasion one of these children stole chewing gum out of the purse of one of our Sunday School teachers and ran with it towards her home.  The teacher ran after her and told the mother what had happened.  The mother rebuked the child―not by telling her that it was wrong to steal, but that she hadn’t been sneaky enough.
  • The step-mother of one thirteen year old boy who lived with his father and step-mother in a rooming house near our meeting place would sell herself on the streets on a regular basis. The boy had come to Vacation Bible School in the summer and since then had seemed to enjoy coming regularly to Sunday School and the service, sometimes taking good sermon notes.  But it was obvious, although not surprising, that he had a total disrespect for women.

Over the years I have heard some excellent sermons in which young people are admonished to learn from their parents.  But these sermons are being preached in contexts in which parents take seriously the admonitions of King Solomon.   For obvious reasons, preaching such a sermon in the Bluff and telling young people to learn from their parents would be inappropriate when these parents are teaching contrary to the will of God.

However, the children who attend our fellowship regularly are hearing and, in some cases, memorizing the catechism and Scripture verses.  They also see the modeling of faithfulness by our helpers and other Christian families who attend occasionally.  They hear sermons which have application to their lives, and we can only pray that, by God’s grace, the messages will take root in their young hearts even if we are not privileged to see the fruit ourselves.

In addition, our Sunday School teachers are doing a wonderful job teaching basic Christian doctrines and how to apply them in ways that, in a Christian home, would be reinforced by the parents.  Sadly, for many of the children to whom we minister, not only is the Biblical message not upheld in the home, but in many ways it is undermined.

And so it continues.  One generation after another, unless and until the Lord intervenes.  May He use Atlanta Presbyterian Fellowship to bring wisdom, knowledge, and understanding to the children and the parents, that they may be able to enjoy a life of dignity and decency in Christ.

 

Penny’s Pen: As the Saying Goes . . .

. . . it was a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.  August the twenty-first, that is.  Even though, as Christians, we understand that God is sovereign over all things, and that even terrible, horrible, no good, very bad days are foreordained and intended for our good and to drive us closer to Christ, we insist on kicking at the pricks and allowing ourselves to become depressed when we find ourselves having to deal with such days.

Such was the situation a few Lord’s Days ago.  It was a grey and dismal day, but dry with no particular signs of rain as we left the house.  On the way to the building Frank indicated that he was not feeling all that well―a little bit shaky, a little too hot, definitely under the weather but willing to carry on.

We arrived at the duplex only to discover that we had left our “Atlanta Box” behind at the house, and there was no time to go back and get it.  The Atlanta Box contains such not-so-minor things as the sermon outline and the bulletins, and sundry other things such as printouts for little children to use during the worship service and large-print Scripture printouts for those who need them.

There was a spark of hope, however, because I always carry a spare copy of the sermon outline in my Bible.  “Where is your Bible?” says Frank.  “In the Atlanta Box,” say I.

I immediately took the blame for this state of affairs―in fact I suffered a full-blown guilt-trip because I had been the one lining up the things we need to take, near the car, ready for Frank to load them.  I felt crushed at my incompetence and immediately felt physically sick and, shortly thereafter, somewhat shaky as well.

Frank, however, found some notes on Genesis that he had prepared for a Bible Study and said he could preach from those.  So, again, we decided to carry on, and he left in the van to go and pick up the family that lives furthest from the church building.  When he was about five minutes into the drive he called to say that he was feeling so unwell that he needed to come back and pick me up to travel with him to help him concentrate on driving.  As I waited for him I realised that maybe we should think about calling off the service and getting to our family’s house (where we were going to be spending the night) so that he could lay down.

As we discussed this, Frank received an extraordinarily distressing text message from someone who used some horrible, disrespectful language followed quite quickly by something else which was distressing in another way.

We laid a sleeping bag and pillow on the floor in the worship area and Frank laid down.  Struggling in his own mind about what to do, he decided to call a trusted friend for counsel.  He got to his feet as they talked, and I, now close to tears and weak with guilt, laid down in his place.  There was an air of spiritual darkness in addition to the darkness of an approaching storm.   A nearby clap of thunder added to the drama and the heavy rain started.

The handle on the back door turned, and as the door opened I leapt to my feet, very grateful to see Miss Amy arrive.  Not surprisingly she was a little bit stunned at what she saw and I think her words were, “This is ridiculous!  This is a bad idea.  You cannot carry on.  Everyone will understand.”  Those words were similar to those that Frank was hearing from his trusted counsellor, who reminded him that though it would be a hard thing for him to call off the service, it would be an act of faith in affirming that the Lord is the one in charge of the ministry.

Shortly after that our two other Sunday school teachers arrived and concurred with the decision, and we set about calling people who would be driving to the service, including our own family.  Several of them were already on their way and had to turn around.  Frank was then able to call those who would be relying on him to pick them up.

It was a happy Providence that we were going to be spending the night with our son and his family because they were able to welcome us warmly and shower us with tons of TLC―just what we needed.  Frank, it turned out, just needed to rest.  I just needed to calm down.

I am not proud of my “melt-down”.  But I learned a lesson.  I may be full of confidence in the Lord’s promises in an academic way, but I showed that evening that, to all practical intents and purposes, I was unable to act upon them.  I know that this ministry will continue to put us in trying situations and I trust that I will be better able to deal with the pressure in the future.

The following Lord’s Day we felt physically and spiritually refreshed, and we arrived at the duplex in good shape.  We were warmed by the love and concern that our congregation showed us and we had thirty souls in attendance.   That evening was not without drama of its own, but, by God’s grace, I remained spiritually strong and able to fulfill my duties with a cheerful demeanor.

But God really is sovereign, and we need to understand this not just academically but absolutely, as we reflect on each trial and see how it does indeed bring us closer to Christ, upon whom we can absolutely cast all our cares for he absolutely does care for us.  Even on terrible, horrible, no good, very bad days.

Penny’s Pen: A Tale of Two Neal Streets

The temperature in Portland, Maine, on July 1st was a balmy 79°.  Balmy, that is, compared with the 90°+ temperatures we had been experiencing off and on since late May in Georgia.  Pastor Frank and I were visiting the city on a short vacation following Synod in order to add three more states (Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont) to the forty-two that Pastor Frank had already travelled by train, leaving only one remaining (Oklahoma) of the forty-six states which are served by Amtrak.

Portland train tracksView from Amtrak’s train No.19, the Crescent

When we are away from home Pastor Frank and I also enjoy visiting local church buildings that have some special significance, and in Portland, this was the Orthodox Presbyterian building on Neal Street, located in an historic area of the city.  Not having a car, we travelled into the city by train and bus and thence by foot the half a mile or so along Neal Street to Second Parish OPC.

Portland 2nd Parish church

Second Parish Orthodox Presbyterian Church, Neal Street, Portland

We had not spoken to anyone at the church to tell them that we were hoping to stop by, so we were quite delighted to find the pastor there.  He was glad to see us and was very willing to show us around and share some of the church’s history.  The original church building, with its beautiful white spire which had towered over Portland, had been too costly to maintain and, without a thought for its historic value, was demolished in the 1950’s.  Their current building is a more modest red brick edifice but still a very attractive building which meets the needs of the congregation well.

Neal Street, Portland, is located in an old section of the city as evidenced by the charming row houses with their elegant facades, bow windows and stately front doors.   It is a delightful and very photogenic avenue lined with mature shade trees on one side of the narrow sidewalk, and adorned with small bushes and flowering shrubs thriving in the little patches of soil and sunlight on the other.

Portland Neal Street

       Portland doors

In Neal Street, Atlanta, other than a few exceptions, the buildings are in bad shape.  Many, such as the one pictured below, have been abandoned and boarded up.  Others are falling down or have burned down.  Several children from Neal Street used to attend APF, and they were among the Neal Street Atlantaworst behaved group we have had to deal with.  They were very destructive, causing hundreds of dollars worth of damage to the front porch of the small Baptist church from which we were renting at the time.   We referred to them, for understandable reasons, as the Neal Street Gang.  On one occasion an eight year old in the group struck out at me as I was taking his cell phone away from him following several attempts to stop him playing with it during Sunday school. These children were warned repeatedly about their behavior and their parents were informed.  Every so often they were told that they could not attend for one week.  Even then on one occasion, they showed up after the service, adopted a very menacing attitude and demanded snacks.  Eventually they decided they didn’t want to come back and we never saw them again.

Neal Street, Portland,vis-à-vis Neal Street, Atlanta:

In Neal Street, Portland, children can be assured of a decent education.  In Neal Street, Atlanta, children attend schools which, from our experience, can leave a young person able to read only at a fourth grade level when he or she graduates from high school.  In Neal Street, Portland, children do not have to fear the possibility of a sibling being murdered.  In Neal Street, Atlanta , there is always that possibility.  We have had children attend our ministry who have had siblings injured by knife attacks and killed by gun violence.  In Neal Street, Portland, children are, generally speaking, part of a family that includes both a father and a mother who are neither criminals nor drug addicts.  In Neal Street, Atlanta, most children are born to unmarried parents, many of whom have committed serious crimes.  And they have so many half brothers and sisters, half aunts, uncles and cousins that the construction of a family tree would be well nigh impossible.

However:

In light of eternity, the residents of Portland’s attractive, affluent Neal Street and their children who reject the Gospel of Jesus Christ are in no better a situation than are the residents of Atlanta’s impoverished Neal Street who do the same.

We  know that others have been called by God to reach out to the prosperous Neal Streets of this world.  However, having received our own calling, we continue to strive to reach the children and adults of “our” Neal Street and the surrounding ‘hood known as the Bluff.  And as we do so, we want to express our gratitude for your financial support, your notes of encouragement, and your prayers as we sow with tears even as we look for the harvest.

Penny’s Pen: The Atlanta Seven

Earlier this year an elder and his wife from our Columbus, Indiana, congregation, Gary and Cynthia McNamee, visited the ministry in order to experience it for themselves and to make plans to return in the summer with a small team of workers in order to conduct some door-to-door work and run a Vacation Bible Study program.

As a result, on Saturday, June 11th, Gary, Cynthia, their son McCheyne, Bryan Planalp and his son Thomas, Joy Decker and Sam Goble, otherwise known as the Atlanta Seven, left Indiana in Gary’s 12-passenger van towing a trailer carrying all their supplies and headed south.

However, the team ran into a challenge, as the air conditioning in the van soon became intermittent , most likely due to pulling the trailer in hilly country in temperatures that spiked into the 90’s.  But the situation wasn’t dire and our stalwart crew carried on undaunted.  About three hours out from our house, however, they broke down completely and found themselves stuck on the side of the road―still in very hot temperatures.   It was about 2:30 pm, and there was much concern that they wouldn’t make it to Atlanta that evening.  But the Lord provided the right people with the right skills at the right time to get them back on the road and they arrived at our house at about 8:30, tired but looking forward to their adventure.

But air-conditioning woes would continue to plague the endeavor.  The next day when we arrived at the duplex for Sabbath School and the worship service, we found that the temperature in the building was 99˚!

VBS - thermostat 2

We had been dealing with air-conditioning issues for several weeks and someone had come by during the week to fix the problem.  However, he reattached wires incorrectly resulting in the furnace coming on instead of the air conditioning unit resulting in it being hotter inside than out.  Thankfully there are a number of shade trees around the property so we were quickly able to set up two children’s Sunday School classes and the adult class outside.

VBS - Amy's class praying

Mercifully, the worship service went well in terms of comfort and blessing.   In spite of an outside air temperature of 97° and the edge of a small squall passing near us accompanied by the sound of thunder, forty-four souls remained dry and comfortable under the shade of the trees singing Psalms, praying, and hearing the Word preached by Gary McNamee.

VBS - worship service from Jett

VBS - worship service

VBS - worship - Gary Preaching

On Wednesday afternoon one of the Atlanta Seven, Thomas Planalp, conducted a basketball clinic at the Boys and Girls Club as an outreach to the community.  He was assisted by his father Bryan, and Gary.  It was a huge success, with eighteen local boys participating.  The club leaders were also very grateful for the effort put in by the group as well as the balls and other equipment they donated.  At the end of the workout Thomas did a really fine job presenting the gospel to the boys, even though two of them were unwilling to listen because they were Muslim.  Those who remained were given wrist bands and head bands with scripture verses written on them.  Each boy was also given a Bible containing Atlanta Presbyterian Fellowship’s name and contact details inside.

Following initial preparations and set-up at the beginning of the week the Atlanta Seven were raring to go with VBS starting at 5pm on Wednesday afternoon, following the basketball clinic, and going for three hours.  The air conditioning  situation had been improved upon but not completely fixed.  We started off cool but warmed up rather quickly.  A total of 38 people were in attendance including fifteen local children and four local adults.  The theme was “God Always Wins”, and began with a lively song, “Don’t Be Afraid”.  The skits aimed to illustrate how God does indeed always win.

The skit on this day  told the story of how God led Moses to victory against Pharaoh.  It was exceptionally well done with magnificent acting featuring Sam as Moses persistently confronting Pharaoh played by McCheyne, and a tall, menacing soldier portrayed by Thomas.  The costumes and props were very cleverly done, especially the portrayal of the plagues, including the river turning to blood.  Finally Moses leads God’s people to the Red Sea and the pursuing soldiers are swallowed up.

VBS - River

VBS River 2

 

 

 

 

 

The players held their audience captive―everyone loved it.VBS children 2

Chick Fil-A had kindly agreed to provide meals for the group.  Before the appointed dinner hour boxes of chicken sandwiches, bags of chips, and cookies were delivered, and they were very much enjoyed.VBS Boy eating dinner

Following dinner the children split into two groups, one to play outside and one to do craft activities.

VBS Crafts

VBs - crafts 2

At the end of the evening everyone reassembled to practice the song and pick up their completed crafts.  Here, too, a Bible was given to every child present.

The following day we had 47 in attendance with nineteen local children and ten local adults.  The same schedule was followed.  The skit this time, continuing the theme that God always wins, illustrated the story of Elijah and the prophets of Baal which, again, was extremely well done.

VBS - Amicalola 2

 

 

On their final full day in Georgia, the Atlanta Seven relaxed and enjoyed Amicalola State Park featuring Amicalola Falls, the tallest waterfall east of the Mississippi.  The group is pictured here with Pastor Frank and one of our Sunday School teachers who joined us on the outing.

 

 

It was tough saying goodbye to our new friends whom we had grown to love, and with whom we had shared so many experiences during the week.  They were willing to find sleeping places where they could, line up to take a shower, squeeze around the dining table and spread themselves out as required across our house with never a word of complaint.  Cynthia and Joy did a wonderful job gathering and preparing all the meals in an unfamiliar kitchen.  Gary, Bryan and the younger men were willing to engage in anything that needed to be done, including replacing a broken vanity and mirror in one of the bathrooms at the duplex and brightening up all three bathrooms with fresh paint and cheerful shower curtains.  All the men engaged in door-to-door outreach, returning excited about the contacts they were making and never complaining about the blistering hot and humid conditions.

We are so grateful to God for the willingness of the Atlanta Seven to use vacation time to come here and work so diligently and tirelessly to reach out to the residents of this depressed area with the gospel and to bring encouragement to us and our fellow ministry workers.VBS - farewell

Penny’s Pen: When Little Things Make A Big Difference

[We are pleased once again to welcome to “Penny’s Pen” our guest blogger, Miss Amy Work, who serves as our Sunday School Superintendent.]

Lately, I have been learning about big things and small things, and that my perception of their effect is usually way off.  What I perceive to be a big deal turns out to be much smaller than I thought; what seems small and insignificant to me ends up being a much bigger deal than I ever imagined. Let me explain.

I’ve been leading my Sunday School class, comprising middle school age kids, through a study of 1 Corinthians 13.  One week, we were focusing on “Love suffers long and is kind.”  It had been one of those disruptive and distracting days, and I was really struggling to maintain both my classroom management and my cool.  Before I knew it, it was time to end class.  In fact, we were already late, and I was feeling the time pressure to get downstairs and settled.  One class holding up the show has a ripple effect on the kids already downstairs on time.  They get bored, which leads to them getting rowdy, and that makes calming them down and focusing everybody for worship much more difficult and time consuming.

Knowing that I had new kids in the class who were unfamiliar with our procedures, I wanted quickly to explain how to take notes, and my expectations.  “Ok, guys, as you line up, let me just quickly go over why you’re taking your notebooks and pens downstairs.  What we do—”

Knock, knock, knock.

I stopped, opened the door, and found a pair of bright brown eyes and a small impish face grinning up at me.

“Hi, honey. You need to stay in your classroom.”

I shut the door, called for the class’s attention, which took a moment to regain, and then began again.  “So, during the worship service, we use the notebooks to—”

Knock, knock, knock.

I glanced at the clock as I opened the door again.  We were really late.  I just needed two minutes to give simple instructions.

“Hon,” I said gently, but firmly.  “I told  you once.  Stay with your teacher.”

The little girl giggled and ran back to the head of her class’s line.  What a fun game!  “Sorry, guys,” I said, taking a deep breath.  “I just need to tell you—”

Knock, knock, knock.

This time I wrenched the door open.  There stood Miss Penny.  I was sure she was there to fetch us down to worship since we were seriously late by now.

“We are on our way,” I snapped.

“Ok. Well, we just need to use your bathroom,” Miss Penny sweetly explained.  I stood aside and let a mother and young child come through to the bathroom.

My face was burning as my class looked at me.  I became intensely aware that I had just spent the last hour teaching them to love others with longsuffering love and patience, and we weren’t even out of the room before Miss Hypocrite showed them a shining example of what not to do.

And that’s about when I began to consider the effects of what I had done.  What a failure.  What kind of teacher was I when I didn’t practice what I preached?  What kind of witness was I being to these kids?  How could I be worthy to represent Christ to these kids?

Throughout the following week, my injured pride allowed the guilt of that failure to hang over me.  But, by the next Sunday, I was determined to make it right.  While I had apologized in private to Miss Penny, I wanted to make my mistake into a learning opportunity for the whole class.  The kids needed to know how to handle things when they messed up, as I so clearly had.

So, the next Sunday, we reviewed the passage up to the fateful “Love suffers long and is kind” verse.  “So, guys,” I began.  “Remember last week when I lost my patience with Miss Penny when she knocked on the door at the end of class?”  I waited for the snickers and the shared knowing looks.  All I got were blank stares.  They had no idea what I was talking about.  This thing that I was sure was such a big failure turned out to be a very little thing in their eyes.  I did go ahead and use it as a learning opportunity, though, and reviewed how mess-ups like that should be handled.  But, my perception of the devastating impact that my personal failure would have to the progress of the ministry and to my relationship with the students was, in God’s gracious mercy, way off.

Then there are the small things that end up being much bigger than I imagined.  One day, one of our regular attenders brought a small stuffed toy to class.  Now, this is a very bright young man with a stubborn streak to match my own.  We have gotten into a number of battles over whether or not he will comply with instructions. Building a relationship with him has been challenging.

As a teacher, I am sometimes overcome by goofy moods so, one day, on my initiative, we all chose nicknames for ourselves, and I had to refer to the kids exclusively by their nicknames.

“Ok, Wonder Woman, what does verse 3 mean?”

“Yes, Batman, would you like to add to that?”

“Cool Cat, put that down and stop bothering Sonic.”

Amy with kids 4Amy with kids 3                              We can only go so long. . . . . . . . . . before bursting into laughter in Sunday school!

Well, on the day in question, I was in another of my goofy moods.  When the aforementioned boy entered the classroom, he was walking on his knees as he carried that stuffed toy.  (As a side note, that boy never enters or exits the room normally!  Last week, he balled himself up and rolled in.)  Anyway, he propped the toy up on the table, and I immediately addressed the toy as though it was a new visitor.  I carried on the game through the whole lesson: I wrote down the toy’s name on my attendance chart, to the owner’s immense delight (“Look, guys!  She really wrote his name down!  Look at that!”).  I required the toy to read the verse along with the class—a bit of a sneaky trick since one of our battles is this boy refusing to read the verse with us when I know he is more than capable of doing so.  I asked questions of the toy and allowed the toy to give input to discussions.  I even had the toy write a prayer along with the rest of the class to close the lesson.  All through the lesson, this young man was more compliant, controlled, and engaged than I’d ever experienced.  It was like magic!  Before going down to worship, I told him that he could either leave his toy in the Sunday school room or put it in my bag where I carry all the confiscated items (phones, sunflower seeds, notes being passed, ipads, etc.).  He opted for my bag.  Under his careful supervision, I nestled the toy comfortably into my bag.

The next step in the day is ensuring all my students are seated appropriately: those who need note-taking assistance are seated next to me, those who are too chummy and distracting are separated, and those who are independent note-takers may choose where to sit on their own.  This boy is an independent note-taker and generally chooses to sit far from me, but directly under Pastor Smith’s nose, which I think is a good place for him.  I was noticing that several of my students were lingering in the kitchen getting drinks instead of finding their seats.  I went to chase them out.  “Ok, guys.  Take a last sip and then we need to find our seats.  It’s time to start.”  I addressed this young man directly: “You too. Let’s go.”

He didn’t move.  He didn’t say a word, and he certainly didn’t do as I asked.

Calling him by name, I said more firmly, “Go find your seat.”

He merely blinked up at me, still saying nothing, and inched closer to where I was standing. That drove me nuts.  He did this all the time.  I’d tell him to do something, and he’d just look at me with that insolent expression.  Why wouldn’t he obey?  Why was he still just standing there beside me?  Then it clicked: he wanted to sit next to me!  He wasn’t choosing his seat because he was waiting for me to choose mine!  I gave him a hug and headed off to a strategically located seat, closely followed by a grinning boy.

We got settled and the sermon began.  It was like I was sitting next to a completely different kid.  Gone was the boy who was either sulky and sullen or mischievously pushing every boundary.  This version of the young man was fully engaged, making relevant comments and asking thoughtful questions throughout the sermon.  It was almost to the point of becoming a distraction, but I couldn’t bring myself to silence his enthusiasm.  It was amazing.

Since that Sunday, he has chosen a seat as close to me as he can get.  Now, I suspect that a primary reason he wants to sit next to me is to monitor my note-taking progress to ensure that he takes more notes than I do.  The deal is, anybody who takes more notes than I do can earn two stickers instead of one.  However, there is a change in him, and the small, seemingly insignificant act of being goofy with his toy opened a door for me to connect with this boy who sincerely seems pliable to the workings of the Spirit.

There are dozens of example, I am sure, of small things that have had an unexpectedly large impact.

– The two-sentence note I quickly jotted to a teenager telling him I missed him since he had been gone for the last couple weeks brought him to church the following week.  He made sure to tell me it was because of the note.

– The games we play up in the Sunday school room before class starts build our sense of community without our even realizing it.  I watch the reaction of a teenager when he finally gets the hang of the game and wins a round, after long being intimidated by the complexities of the game and refusing to play with us.  It’s so important for a guy like that to have a win, however small, in some area of his life.

This ministry is a Goliath of a task. There are major, major issues among the people, and it is overwhelming to see all the work, effort, struggles, and cares in which Pastor Smith and Penny engage.  I suspect that what we know of the details of their work is just the tip of the iceberg. We deal with big sins, big problems, and big failures—lots of big things.  But, I’m learning firsthand that the God who brought down Goliath with one little stone—a small thing that had a very big impact— is our same God.

My prayer is that while we work to deal with the big things, which are truly small challenges compared to God’s power and plan, we will also be mindful of and prepared for the small opportunities that come along, which can end up being the tottering steps we take along the path of righteousness.  Enough small steps—enough small things—put together can add up to some pretty big, pretty wonderful things through the power of God.  May His kingdom come and His will be done in both the big things and the small!

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Duplex - bougainvillea 2

                                                                   Beauty and the Bluff

Penny came across this gorgeous bougainvillea bush gracing a dilapidated, boarded-up and abandoned house just a few doors down the street from our meeting place.  Its beauty illustrates the hope that the Gospel will blossom among the ugliness of so much of this area.

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Penny’s Pen: Presbytery Update

At the Spring Meeting of Great Lakes-Gulf Presbytery held March 3-5, 2016 at the Bloomington (Indiana) Reformed Presbyterian church, the Atlanta Commission’s report on Atlanta Presbyterian Fellowship was presented and approved.

In it, the difficulties of being a somewhat distant outpost of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America (RPCNA) were highlighted, the main one being that there are no other churches in the denomination within easy reach, with men available to give advice and encouragement.  However, given the unusual nature of the ministry, and the lack of other Reformed works in the area, a number of men from sister denominations such as the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) and the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC) who are in the area and interested in urban ministry, have become invaluable workers and advisors.   The Commission reported that it had established a Board of Advisors comprising local men, to be available to the pastor for advice, including with regard to diaconal matters.  The group has already met twice and has set up a monthly meeting schedule.

It was reported that, in addition to the normal Sabbath school classes and worship services, a communicants class with several youth has begun meeting midweek, usually on alternate Wednesdays.  Pastor Smith also began a men’s leadership training class, including teens as well as adults, studying the Westminster Confession of Faith.  In addition to the three Sabbath school classes for children already in existence, an adult class has also begun.  (Penny’s note:  We do not have a regular teacher for the adult class but Pastor Smith and three other mature Reformed and Presbyterian men have been taking it in turns to lead it.  All of these men have really enjoyed the experience, and have been surprised at the extent of the participation by those who are attending.  Evidently, some of these people have considerable Bible knowledge, but are only now coming to understand how to apply it to their lives.)

The report noted that Atlanta Presbyterian Fellowship is financially supported entirely through outside giving, both from individuals and families as well as many churches, and that the ministry ended the year in the black.

Among the challenges faced by Atlanta Presbyterian Fellowship, however, the report noted that “Muslim missionary efforts have begun to move into the Bluff, fixing up houses, renovating the neighborhoods, and preaching a false gospel of peace, with some of the local churches supporting them!”  As related in the most recent issue of Penny’s Pen, these men are not from the traditional Muslim sects but are members of the radical “Nation of Islam” group, which is a militant “black superiority” movement.

The report did note that “The APF has a good reputation in the community.  The neighborhood seems to appreciate the time and energy the Smiths and others have spent in the Bluff.  Dr. Smith has the ability to go into dangerous areas with a relative ease and communicate the Gospel to people who need to be set free by Christ from sin and misery.  Frank also meets with the local ministerial association serving as a bridge to community interest.”

Having been given up to seven minutes to make a presentation to the presbytery, Pastor Frank thanked those of the assembled men and their congregations who had given financially to the ministry over the preceding twelve months.  He also expressed gratitude for those who had been of encouragement by visiting us in Atlanta.   Finally he mentioned by name some of the individuals to whom we minister, both young people and adults, sharing something of their backgrounds and the spiritual growth that we have seen in them.

As was averred in the Atlanta Commission’s report to Presbytery, “The[se] challenges represent the very need for the Gospel to be proclaimed in the Bluff and for Christ’s Church to be gathered there.

duplex - wisteria

Spring is here!

This is the first spring that we have experienced in our new location, and we were very excited to discover this fragrant wisteria bush growing on our property.