God is doing amazing things in the life of the Edmond Church of Christ. To read about some of the interesting and exciting things happening, click on one of the images (view pdf) or scroll down to read additional feature stories.
‘These people are amazing,’ says an Iranian immigrant grateful for the love shown after his family’s home flooded.
By Bobby Ross Jr.
HOUSTON — The homeowner was shirtless and sweating.
He was still angry — he admitted that much — over the devastation caused by Hurricane Harvey two months ago.
But he was curious, too, about the strangers who showed up in white vans in his neighborhood and raked trash and debris from his barren yard.
“They came all the way down here for this?” he asked, intrigued that these Christians drove 465 miles to serve victims of a storm that dumped a record-breaking 52 inches of rain on the nation’s fourth-largest city.
A slight smile formed on the man’s face.
“I usually tell people from Oklahoma to head north,” he joked.
These days, though, southeast Texas can use the help — even it comes from across the Red River.
Emotional scenes of boats rescuing Lone Star State residents from flooded homes have faded from television screens. But for thousands who lost possessions and livelihoods, needs remain immense.
That’s why the Edmond Church of Christ — a 1,200-member congregation north of Oklahoma City — felt compelled to send help.
Right after the storm, the church — like countless others across the nation — took up a special contribution for Harvey relief. As of this week, the total raised from Edmond members stood at $66,675, elder and administrator John Trotter said.
But along with money, many in the congregation desired to donate time and sweat.
“We want to go to Houston to help,” campus minister Evan Burkett said students from nearby Oklahoma Christian University told him.
It’s in church’s DNA to serve
As Oklahoma Christian’s four-day fall break began on a recent morning, 150 Edmond members — young families, retired craftsmen and a bunch of college students — gathered to pray for safe travel.
Then they grabbed their sleeping bags and soft-sided luggage. They filled 18 white rental vans and began an all-day journey to southeast Texas. Some travelers would sleep the entire way. Others would plug their iPhone cords into the van speakers and sing Disney show tunes and 1980s pop hits for hundreds of miles.
Participants were warned ahead of time: Don’t fill up on a super-size drink if you have a tiny tank — this caravan would stop only every few hours at predetermined rest areas and at Buc-ee’s, a Texas-sized convenience store able to handle a group this large.
After two decades of organizing mission trips to a remote mountain village in Mexico and — later — to the border town of McAllen, Texas, the coordinators know how to move a faith-based army down the highway.
The drivers, all of whom completed a required safety course ahead of time, communicated via citizen band radios installed on each van. The radios helped them maneuver interstate traffic and — with a few strategically placed comedians — avoid any chance at boredom.
At the lunch stop, a special food team handled unloading giant containers of pre-made chicken-and-bacon wraps, cookies and beverages. The return trip would feature “walking tacos” made by slicing open individual bags of Doritos and dropping meat, cheese, lettuce and other ingredients inside.
“It’s in our group’s DNA to go en masse to an area that needs lots of help and to be a self-sufficient blessing and not a burden,” said Burkett, who recalled traveling to Galveston, Texas, to help after Hurricane Ike struck in 2008.
The church used a portion of its Harvey relief funds to send this group to Houston.
“The Edmond Church of Christ has put their heart and their pocketbook into this trip and said, ‘If you’re willing to give up your fall break as a student or an adult or a family, then we want to make that possible for you,’” Burkett said. “So they raised enough money to send all of us at no cost and fund a lot of the projects and still give a very generous amount as a contribution to the victims.”
‘Not everybody can muck’
The Edmond church has a special connection to Houston’s Memorial Church of Christ, which has become a disaster relief hub after Harvey.
Memorial preacher David Duncan formerly served on the ministry staff at Edmond. His daughter Emma and several other Oklahoma Christian students who grew up at Memorial joined the mission trip to their hometown.
The Houston church offered its family life center for the short-term missionaries to stage operations. Male and female students slept in separate rooms on opposite sides of the Memorial gymnasium, while local church members housed many of the older volunteers. The young people showered in a mobile disaster relief trailer provided by the College Church of Christ in Searcy, Ark.
For breakfast one morning, Rachel Burkett — the Edmond campus minister’s wife — and her crew prepared inch-thick cinnamon rolls dripping with icing, with sausage and bacon on the side. After eating, the volunteers packed brown-bag lunches such as peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches to take to their work sites. Then everybody signed up for one of a dozen-plus projects listed on a giant whiteboard in the church gym.
“It’s a big encouragement to have people come in with energy,” said Jennifer Baxter, a member of the Memorial church.
“Not everybody can muck,” Baxter added, referring to the grueling process of cleaning out flooded homes. “But everybody has different talents and things they can do.”
Paying God’s love forward
Two of the Edmond vans headed 60 miles east of Houston to the rural Hankamer Church of Christ, a 20-member congregation with only four men on its roll.
During Harvey, the fading yellow church building, just off a two-lane stretch of Texas Highway 61, sustained major damage.
Edmond member Lorrie Renfro joined her husband, Mo, at the gutted church, next door to a volunteer fire department. She held a paint brush in one hand and a container of white goo in the other.
“I’m spackling the walls,” explained Renfro, wearing a red Churches of Christ Disaster Response Team T-shirt. “I’m covering up all the holes … and filling in anything that needs to be filled in to make the walls look better.”
Other volunteers used screw guns to hang dry wall at the church.
Renfro became teary-eyed as she listened to minister Troy James and his wife, Fefi, describe how 5-foot-high floodwaters washed through the auditorium.
“The situation was very devastating,” Troy James told The Christian Chronicle. “The water covered the entire building, all the way through the classrooms, and we couldn’t get in there for a week. And then due to lack of manpower and brothers in that congregation, we weren’t able to clean it out.
“It just broke me down to tears to see the church had been destroyed like that,” added James, whose home also flooded. “But I knew God was going to bring it back.”
The Jameses said they thank God for the Christians from Tennessee and Oklahoma who have come to help — and for the Memorial church, which sent a check to assist with the rebuilding.
“It’s just overwhelming. God is good,” Fefi James said. “The outpouring of love they were able to show us — we’re ready to pay it forward.”
Group brings ‘energy and momentum’
Across the nation, Christians have responded with love and compassion to victims of recent disasters not just in Texas but also in Florida, Puerto Rico, Mexico and elsewhere.
Here in southeast Texas, countless members of Churches of Christ have offered prayers, donations and volunteer labor.
“We’ve had people from Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Texas,” said Cruz Hernandez, minister for the flooded Hidden Valley Church of Christ in Houston.
As Hernandez visited with the Chronicle, a crew from Edmond worked to repair damaged classrooms.
Others from the group fanned out across Houston — and beyond — to clean, paint, hammer and do whatever else they could to help.
“The energy and momentum of them being here gives us hope and encouragement,” said Hernandez, who preaches in English and Spanish at the 200-member Hidden Valley church. “We see people working together demonstrating their love to us, and we really appreciate it.”
‘It’s just step by step’
Vahid Tayyar’s wife, Dina, was eight-and-a-half-months pregnant with their second child when Harvey struck.
“We had 6 feet of water in the house,” said Tayyar, whose daughter was born a few weeks ago. “We lost everything.”
But in the wake of the storm, the Iranian immigrants received help from the Memorial church to rent a temporary apartment. Meanwhile, Christians from out of town — including the Edmond group — have helped to gut their residence’s mushy remains and start refurbishing it.
“It’s just step by step. It’s like climbing a mountain,” Bobby Orr, a former missionary to Ecuador, said of making the family’s home livable again.
Orr serves as operations director for the Serving God by Serving Others ministry, which is sponsored by the Prestoncrest Church of Christ in Dallas.
He and two minimum-wage workers he hired — including a flood victim who is a member of the Fifth Ward Church of Christ in Houston — hammered near the ceiling as volunteers from the Edmond group installed dry wall, washed windows and cleared debris out front.
“It means a lot,” said Tayyar, whose family has started attending the Memorial church. “These people are amazing.”
Food for the body — and soul
For Rebekah Kashorek, the motivation for the trip was simple.
“People close by are hurting, so it seemed like a good opportunity to help out,” said Rebekah Kashorek, an 18-year-old sophomore at Oklahoma Christian.
“Close by” is relative, of course.
Kashorek is from northeastern New York state, where her father, Doug, preaches for the Plattsburgh Church of Christ. Her hometown is roughly a 24-hour drive from Oklahoma City. By that measure, a 10-hour trek to Houston — counting the stops — would seem short.
For Kashorek, the journey brought a handful of firsts: She had never been on a mission trip, never been to Texas, never eaten Tex-Mex — and “never seen anything like this,” she said of the storm damage.
“We don’t have hurricanes or tornadoes where I’m from, so this is completely new to me,” she said. “We have had minor flooding, but it was never this much destruction all at once. It’s really heartbreaking to see.”
But the experience proved heartwarming, too.
Kashorek stuffed dried brown shrubbery in a black garbage bag as she worked in the Tayyars’ yard. She later joined a few others across the street at the unidentified shirtless man’s place.
Earlier, Kashorek had gone to the flooded home of Felicitas Covarrubias, who cares for her mother, Maria Moran. Both are longtime members of the Hidden Valley church and have been living temporarily with a relative.
For Moran, who has dementia, the time away from her normal surroundings has been difficult and confusing.
“The daughter was trying to get the house back in order so the mother could move in and start to feel better,” Kashorek said. “So we painted the entire inside of her house, took out rotten wood and the doorframes, and today we painted their trimmings.”
While spending parts of two days at the house, Kashorek and the other volunteers visited with the women and got to know them.
“They were so sweet,” Kashorek said. “They had us come back today. They cooked us a meal, and we prayed with them. They were just so grateful for everything.”
On the menu: hot tamales, Spanish rice and a bean soup.
Kashorek enjoyed the food — and the company.
“This has been a really good experience,” she said. “I’m definitely going to go on more mission trips in the future, whenever I get the chance.”
by Tamie Ross
To speak of Kent and Brenda Risley’s 30 years of service to the Edmond Church is more like turning the pages of a family album than tracing a timeline of years. (That scrapbook is beginning to bulge at the seams with a multitude of photos of their most recent addition, 13-month-old blond-haired grandson, Tate.)
Such is their combined heritage of faith that both of their earliest memories are of parents who personified church leadership and hard work—Kent’s in ministry and Brenda’s in eldership. Open homes, extra places set at dinner, answering calls of help at any hour? They saw it all. After Bible major met special education/elementary education double major as students at Oklahoma Christian (College) in the late 1970s, Kent finally persuaded Brenda to go out with him in the fall of 1980. Later he convinced her to transfer her local membership and join him at Edmond—or “in the hole” as Brenda laughingly recalled, when the congregation met in its previous home on Ninth Street.
After graduating in the spring and marrying in the fall of 1981, the Risleys left Oklahoma to work full time, first in Shreveport, LA, at the Sunset Church, then as co-minister for Brenda’s home congregation in Pauls Valley before coming to the Edmond Church in 1987. What then was known as the college ministry, a temporary assignment at first before he began in adult education, became a position and a passion for Kent. And as their family grew, Brenda creatively found ways to support the children’s education program and integrate their three children into both of their areas to maximize time spent together. Those are some of their happiest memories, both agree, like the yearly Spring Break mission trips that began in 1989 and were spent leading more than 200 Christians—plus Caleb, Sarah and Hannah—to Aquiles, Mexico.
As parents of adult children (coincidentally, Caleb turned 30 this year too) and grandparents, they say they continue to teach and learn, work and try to make an eternal difference in the lives of all they possibly can reach. Kent now is executive minister after holding a variety of titles, ones which Brenda says ultimately meant he could answer most questions or find any item a member might request.
Recently, they reflected together on the past 30 years with this congregation and what time and God have taught them along the way.
Q: What do you remember about the Edmond Church of Christ in 1987?
KR: I’ve always described the Edmond Church as people who grew up in the country and all of the sudden found themselves in the city, so it was a big church with a small-church feel. When we came, Richard Jones was the preacher and the leadership style was very different. Back in those days, you had your area and that’s what you worked in. Multiple staffs were just coming into being, so teamwork among the staff was definitely not anything like it is today, that’s not how we were built in that day and age. We didn’t really have a model to work from with what we wanted to do, so we just developed goals and felt our way along.
BR: We felt so supported during that process, I remember very well. Loved, supported, helped, prayed for.
Q: Tell us about the ministry in Mexico and the role it played in the college ministry and in your lives over the years?
KR: We used to tell our college students, “You might not be a missionary someday, but I hope missions is a part of your life. Someday you’ll most likely be part of a missions committee wherever you are, and you’ll be supporting them well because you’ve built a passion for it.” Look at our Missions Committee here today and you’ll see people who were part of that time, those trips. It was so great to get our congregation involved, praying, and seeing how all of it evolved over the years. I think it’s been a wonderful exercise for this church family.
BR: Kent logistically was perfect for this role, I think. Aquiles started out with about 20, and then the next year it was 40, and then 60 and 100...and one year I think we had 220 people going in 25 rented vans. And the numbers and event of going down there to serve people was one part, but it was incredible to see every year how those who went on the trips benefitted so much from seeing God at work in ways they probably never expected. It was such a faith-building experience, and that was always a goal, to get those students involved in helping people through service.
KR: And our students loved that service aspect, and getting to know people of other generations, and vice-versa. They loved working alongside John Trotter and Big Don, the Driskills, Mark Coleman, the Willises, so many others. It was relationship-building that happened there and came back here.
BR: Even the years when it rained so badly that we were hanging out sleeping bags to dry and couldn’t keep people warm!
Q: How hard has it been in this hiatus when the church hasn’t been able to safely make the trip to Aquiles?
KR: I think there would be great value in us being able to go back, for them to know they weren’t forgotten. But because of the leadership that is there and our connections, the church is as strong as it was.
BR: As hard as it is for us not to go, I think it has helped the church there grow in ways. And the camp, LaSierra…they’ve been able to take that example and grow it and take it even further.
Q: Is it true, would both of you say, that Kent is a bit of a workaholic?
BR: (Laughing) If you want to know where a ladder is, if you need help with the sound booth, ask Kent Risley. He probably doesn’t necessarily see himself that way, but he wants to do everything he can to help other people. He unclogged a toilet the other day somewhere here in the church building. In any way he can, whether it’s organization or execution, if there’s something to be done, he’ll do it. Anything to help people get involved or support others, he’ll do it. I’m so proud of him. He’s very faithful to God, his family, this church. Workaholic has a negative connotation, I like the word ‘faithful’ more.
KR: It’s a real blessing to be around here. We’re of a size now when no one knows where everything is. I don’t try to do that anymore! I have been here a while, and I do love to help. One of the biggest compliments Don Vinzant ever gave me was to tell me I was the glue. That could have meant I was an old horse, but I took it as a compliment. I used to work too hard and there was a price. There was a time right after Sarah was born when I was at camp for several weeks then helping with a student’s tragic accident. Only a few weeks old, Sarah wouldn’t let me hold her because she thought I was a stranger. That forced me to look hard at things. I had to learn to balance my life.
Q: What keeps you here?
BR: This is our home, it’s the only church our kids have ever known. You do something for this long and you get good at it! (Laughing).
KR: There are parts of ministry even after this long that are challenging, but there also are the parts I think I’ve got down pretty well so I can devote more time to the challenges. The teamwork we have here is outstanding. We truly complement each other. It was very hard when Don Vinzant left us, because he left a big hole even though we were working on a transition plan before that happened. But it truly is my hope that I can continue to be aware and be sensitive to how best I can serve this church family, and I hope it’s forever. I really do.
Reflections from others:
Sarah Risley Marshall: “Some of my earliest and fondest memories were during my dad’s time as campus minister. My parents did a wonderful job of involving us in their ministry, which had an immense impact on Caleb, Hannah and me. Their ministry has always been very intentional and real and their involvement has never been about obligation, but their love for God. That kind of service is such an affirmation of their faith. Getting to serve alongside family is such a special experience, especially our annual trips to Aquiles, even riding on a van for hours!”
Randy Roper: “I have been blessed to work with Kent on staff at Edmond for the past 23 years. God has gifted Kent and Brenda in many ways and instilled within them a deep love for and loyalty to the Church, and especially the Edmond Church. I am thankful for the humility, strong sense of cooperation, and deep devotion to God that Kent models for us all, and I value our friendship. Kent and Brenda are to be commended for their many contributions to the Kingdom and to this congregation over the past three decades.”
Karen Driskill: “Kent and Brenda have given so much of themselves to this church over the years, in ways people know about and ways they never will. The work that went into the annual Spring Break trips to Mexico—there’s no way to even describe it. Even when it became a system, the execution of it was tremendous. I’m really thankful for them.
After filling—and refilling—thousands of communion trays, an unsung servant reflects on his quiet ministry
By Ann Jayne
More than 30 years ago, John Davis began a mission of service.
At least once a month since the mid-1980s, Davis helped prepare the communion meal for the Edmond Church of Christ.
In Matthew 26, Mark 14 and Luke 22, Jesus sends Peter and John to prepare the Passover meal. This would be Jesus’ last Passover on Earth as he would soon be crucified. It was at this time that Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper — a way for us, some 2000 years later, to remember and honor his death. And just as earthly hands prepared the Passover meal of lamb, bitter herbs, unleavened bread and wine, so, too, must someone at every church throughout the world prepare the Lord’s Supper.
Here at Edmond, that person often has been Davis.
The work for the next Lord’s Supper begins the previous Sunday after evening worship: Thirty-seven bread trays and 37 juice trays are used for the first and second services. The trays are washed and dried. New juice cups are inserted. The trays are placed on carts and covered.
The following Saturday, the trays are checked to ensure they are still clean. Then they are filled with bread and juice, ready to go for the first service.
Each juice tray holds 40 cups. So 1,480 cups are filled with grape juice! (That’s 76,960 cups per year for the first service alone!)
The trays are reset for the second and evening services. Then the process begins all over again.
After moving back to Oklahoma from New York, John Davis and his late wife, Phyllis, placed membership at the Edmond church because it was close to their house. Occasionally, Phyllis helped John prepare the communion trays. But mostly, John did the preparations. “She had too many kids to take care of,” he said.
John and Phyllis Davis raised four children: Todd, who lives in Oklahoma City; Rance, of Sherman, Texas; Jill Beggs, of Norman, Okla.; and Jason, who still lives in Edmond. The Davises’ 10 grandchildren range in age from 5 to 19.
Edmond executive minister Kent Risley fondly recalls spending time with his Uncle John and Aunt Phyllis, including a summer he lived with them. Their house was on a street named Easy Street. “So I love telling others I spent one summer living on Easy Street.”
But times weren’t always going to be easy. Phyllis Davis died on Feb. 26, 2007. John Davis had quietly cared for Phyllis until her death, like a husband is supposed to do.
“John took such good care of Aunt Phyllis during her health struggles,” Risley said. “And then when she died unexpectedly, he showed that same love and care for his mother who lived with them until her death,”
Davis said it was difficult for a while without Phyllis. “But it was important to continue to serve.”
Many times, our services to the Lord have ways of finding us. For Davis, preparing the Lord’s Supper was no exception. “I think it selected me. It was a simple request. I was asked to do it, and I did it. I continued to do it because it was important work for the church.”
Davis said he enjoyed this service because not everyone was willing to do it. And making sure that someone prepared the communion trays was a big task. He had to step in when it wasn’t done. “Doing something important to the church was gratifying,” he said.
And it was also not without mishaps. After all, grape juice is involved.
“Of course, we can confess now that there were a few spots on the rug that needed to be cleaned from time to time,” he said. “One time, a big stack fell off of the cart, making a pretty big mess at the old building. And quite a few shirts were lost to stains, but all in all, the accidents were few and far between.”
Davis retired from his job at IBM after 30 years and also CompSource after almost 15 years. He likes to work Sudoku puzzles, do physical labor in the yard and watch sports, particularly the Sooners and Thunder. And recently, in October 2016, Davis “retired” from his service of preparing the Lord’s Supper. “I liked helping in a task that was important, regular, and I could contribute my time and energy towards.”
Galatians 5:13 tells us to serve one another through love. John Davis has quietly done this for more than 30 years.
Risley said when he thinks of the many people who quietly serve, or have served the Lord, without any special recognition or fanfare, he thinks of the service his Uncle John provided. “What beautiful, quiet service from a man who loves both his family and church family. John is a testimony of faithful Christian service.”
Honor Jesus Christ above all else for his sacrifice. But when you take communion, say a prayer of thanks for those who prepared it in love. And whose shirts bear a few grape juice stains.
By Keaton Ross
For the 22nd straight year, the Edmond church’s young people developed their God-given talents through the Leadership Training for Christ (LTC) program.
About 80 students and 33 coaches traveled this weekend to the annual Great Plains LTC convention in Rogers, Arkansas — joined by a number of parents and other supporters.
During LTC, students in third through 12th grades devote time and talents to events such as puppets, sermon delivery, chorus and Bible quiz.
“I think it’s very important that we as adults continue to train our children for leadership in the church,” children’s ministry director Brenda Gordon said. “Our kids need to know how to feel confident in standing up in front of people in order to read a Scripture or lead a song.”
Preparation for LTC begins long before the actual convention takes place. From mid-January through April, students involved in LTC spend Sunday afternoons rehearsing puppet shows and memorizing Bible verses. Dedicated coaches guide the students as they master these spiritual skills.
While the practices can become tedious, the end result makes all the time spent worthwhile, said Andy King, who participated in LTC with Edmond from fourth through 12th grades.
“My favorite part of LTC was being at the convention itself,” said King, now a freshman at the University of Central Oklahoma. “All the work you put in leads up to the payoff at the convention when you get to perform in front of everybody.”
Getting to the convention is a major goal of LTC, but to be prepared, students must practice diligently. Practice times are incredibly valuable in more than one way: Students not only perfect their crafts, but they also form lasting friendships.
“I like LTC because you’re able to fellowship with friends you might not know as well at the time,” said Jarod Alsup, a ninth-grader who is home-schooled. “Through LTC, you hang out every Sunday afternoon, in between practices and stuff. You build pretty great friendships through that.”
At the center of these practices are the coaches. LTC coaches spend countless hours with their students, guiding them through practices and encouraging them as they perform at the convention.
Coaching LTC is an opportunity available to all members of the congregation, not just parents of children participating, Gordon noted.
“One thing that I think is really neat: the amount of people that help coach, and their children are not involved in LTC,” she said. “We have some people who are grandparents or just love LTC who come and help coach. Roger and Terry Morton, Paula Reed, as well as some people whose kids have gone through LTC, and they’re continuing on to be a part of it. And I think that means a lot.”
The congregation first became involved with LTC in 1995 when newly hired youth minister Randy Roper, now Edmond’s preaching minister, took a small group of students to the North Texas LTC convention in Dallas.
After interest and participation in the Dallas event grew the first two years, the Edmond church joined the first-ever Great Plains LTC convention in 1997. Edmond has participated in the Great Plains LTC for 20 years — first in Tulsa, Okla., and now 120 miles east in Rogers, Ark., where the event relocated in 2009.
Across the nation this spring, LTC and Lads to Leaders/Leaderettes conventions drew more than 40,000 members of Churches of Christ at sites in a dozen states. Most of the conventions occur over Easter weekend — a slow period for most hotels when organizers can take advantage of reduced rates.
Jeny Roberts was a student participant when Edmond went to its first LTC convention in 1995. More than two decades later, the wife and mother remains active in the ministry, coaching girls’ Bible reading and two puppet teams.
“It’s fun getting to spend time with the kids and make friends with them,” Roberts said. “I also love getting the chance to hone their leadership abilities and kind of guide them through making something that they can present and be proud of.”
In Roberts’ view, LTC is one of the most impactful programs available for students in both the children’s and youth ministries.
“I think LTC is important because it gives our kids spiritual goals,” she said. “It’s one thing to go on fun activities, but with this they’re actually working for a ministry purpose instead of just doing something fun together.”
For students involved in LTC, the program has a profound impact on their faith.
Learning how to be confident speaking in front of others has been the biggest blessing for Mitchell Roberts, one of Jeny Roberts’ four children.
“LTC has made me more comfortable doing things that lead people to God,” said Mitchell Roberts, an eighth-grader who attends Cimarron Middle School. “Things like song leading (and) sermon delivery have helped me get a grasp on being able to share God’s word with others.”
While LTC helps to train those interested in preaching and song leading, that isn’t the only focus. In addition to performing at the convention, students can also take advantage of pre-convention events like personal evangelism and poetry.
“One thing LTC has taught me is you don’t have to be a big speaker to make a difference in the church,” Alsup said. “You can do great things through one on one.”
By Tamie Willis
Tony and Norma Sepulveda have a deep faith in Jesus — and a story that will bless your life.
The couple came to work full time with the Edmond Church of Christ’s Hispanic ministry in 2012, and they have made a lasting mark on the heart of our congregation. Tony is from Michoacán, Mexico. After high school, he planned to attend a university and follow in his uncle’s footsteps by becoming a Catholic priest.
However, his father, a beekeeper, had a setback that changed the course of Tony’s life: African bees invaded the area and destroyed the family's bee stock, taking away their livelihood.
Additionally, Tony’s brother was in a serious accident that required two major surgeries. His father said they would sell everything and live on the side of the street.
Financial stability for his family became Tony’s first priority, so he moved to Dodge City, Kan., to work and help his family recover economically.
Norma is from Chihuahua, Mexico, and also grew up in the Catholic faith. When she was 18 years old, her mother passed away at the age of 43. Norma, the oldest of six siblings (the youngest was 3), immediately became their caretaker and served her family in that role for eight years.
After Norma moved to Juarez, Mexico, her neighbor invited her to attend the First Christian Church, and she did so until she moved to Dodge City, Kan.
She had been comfortable attending the First Christian Church so she looked for a Hispanic First Christian Church in Dodge City. Thinking she had found one, she mistakenly attended the Church of Christ Hispanic congregation and was welcomed so warmly by the minister’s wife that Norma continued to attend, and the friendship continued to grow.
Since Tony and Norma were now living in the U.S., they both wanted to learn to speak English. Dodge City provided ESL (English as a Second Language) classes, and while attending these classes, Tony and Norma met.
“Tony became such a good friend that I could tell him everything!” Norma said. "I could tell him all my problems.”
Norma invited Tony to church with her, and that was the beginning of two lives eventually committing to each other through marriage and to God through their faith. In early 1995, after they began dating, Norma was baptized into Christ. And in November 1995, Tony was baptized.
Tony’s family was very upset with his decision to leave the Catholic faith and be baptized. Two weeks after he was baptized, he returned to Mexico.
Over 17 years ago, when Tony’s grandfather was in a great deal of pain dying of cancer, Tony’s family was holding vigil on his last night. The family believed it was Tony’s fault their grandfather was suffering because he had left the Catholic Church.
All during that night the family told Tony he needed to say he was sorry and to promise he would marry in the Catholic Church, baptize his children in the Catholic Church and be a member of the Catholic Church.
“With one condition,” Tony replied. “Bring me your Bible, and show me with your Bible, (and) teach me with your Bible. You are my father and my uncles, but I’m not going to do what you say. I will do what the Bible says.”
Tony’s uncles’ called a Catholic priest to talk to Tony, and the priest was told the same thing – “show me in the Bible.”
“Now things are better with my family,” Tony said. “Two years ago, one of my brother’s was baptized — now we are two.”
In 1999, Tony was planning to go to preaching school in Ecuador. The scholarship fell through, and the director of the preaching school in McAllen, Texas, contacted Tony and said he could attend the school in McAllen, and they had a mobile home where the family could live.
Tony and Norma had the opportunity for a good job and a big house — or preaching school. Although they had never seen the school and had only talked to the director by phone, they chose to move to McAllen and attend preaching school from 1999-2003. Tony worked two jobs while attending school: tossing newspapers in the morning and working with the watermelon business.
Every Sunday he would help with the church in San Juan to gain experience. He later worked in Pharr, Texas, and surrounding areas. A group from Muskogee, Okla., came to Pharr on a mission trip, and one of the elders told the Sepulvedas that he wanted them to come to Muskogee and start a Hispanic congregation. They worked in Muskogee for eight years.
A man named Julián Cruz went to the Muskogee to church and had car trouble. Tony invited him to their house and repaired his car. Julián told them that a preacher was needed for the Hispanic congregation with the Edmond Church of Christ.
The Edmond elders made contact with the Sepulvedas over four years ago, and they began working with the Hispanic Ministry in May 2012.
But God had big plans for Meredith Graham.
Member Spotlight by Ann Jayne
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” — Jeremiah 29:11
Meredith Graham enjoyed a typical Church of Christ upbringing: raised going to worship, baptized as a teen, graduated from high school and enrolled in a Christian university.
Then she went to Africa. Rwanda. After the genocide.
At age 22, Meredith went on a missionary trip to the Imbabizi Orphanage in Rwanda. She fell in love. She decided that once she finished her studies at Harding University in Searcy, Ark., she’d return to Imbabizi and take over for the director who was leaving. She just knew this was where God wanted her to be.
Meredith graduated from Harding in 2003. But she needed to save some money to go back to Africa, so she began teaching at Searcy High School. She lived in Little Rock and commuted to Searcy.
One day, while driving to Searcy in the rain, her car hydroplaned. It crossed the center median and was hit by two other vehicles at a speed of 70 mph. She suffered a collapsed lung, a concussion and was not able to walk.
The doctors who cared for Meredith were unsure of the long-term effects of her injuries. Africa would have to wait.
Meredith wondered why this had happened after the commitment she made to Africa. “I’d said ‘yes’ to God,” she recalled. We are supposed to say ‘Yes’ to God.”
So instead of moving to Rwanda, she relocated to Searcy. She was in a wheelchair, but continued to teach at the high school. Her parents came to help her. And unbeknownst to Meredith, her father filled out a profile and signed her up on ChurchofChristSingles.com. “He put down crazy stuff,” she said. “Like I loved poetry and long walks on the beach.”
Her mother persuaded her to check out the website. “Let’s just look,” her mother said. “You can’t walk or do anything else.” So they began looking at matches and eliminated the “crazy people.”
They got to the last match. Jason Graham had been a medical missionary in South America. He was now in pediatric residency in Tulsa, Okla. So Meredith emailed him a couple of times. They began talking on the phone. They met twice.
“We eloped a month and a half later!” Meredith said. “Why not?”
God has plans.
Jason and Meredith have been married for 12 years. They have two biological girls, Gracie, 10, and Bella, 9. They began caring for a little girl, Carolina, with special needs a few years ago and were able to adopt her in 2016. Carolina is 3 years old. Jason is a pediatrician in Edmond, and Meredith is the high school English teacher at Oklahoma Christian Academy.
“I didn’t understand why I was being led to Africa,” Meredith said. But she also couldn’t understand why God didn’t allow her to return.
Looking back, it’s easy to put the pieces together. Meredith and Jason both worked in orphanages. They knew how badly those children needed loving homes, just like the little girl they adopted.
So a car wreck that was terribly serious, but not fatal--except for the dream of returning to Imbabizi Orphanage--allowed Meredith and Jason to meet, marry and raise three girls.
“I never intended to be a teacher,” she said. “God has other plans and wants you to be willing to do what He wants.”
So now Meredith has made teaching her mission. “I can make my mission anywhere,” she said.
By Bobby Ross Jr.
Wissam Al-Aethawi is the funniest Iraqi refugee I know.
Actually, he’s the only Iraqi refugee I know. Still, he’s the funniest. Trust me on this.
For example, he makes jokes such as: “What is the favorite music band in Iraq?” Answer: “New Kids on What Used to Be the Block.”
When people ask Al-Aethawi how he got out of Iraq, he’ll joke that it’s pretty simple: “I ran!” (Get it?)
But his wonderful sense of humor is only the second-best thing about my good friend and Christian brother: First is his devotion to God and spreading the good news of Jesus.
Al-Aethawi, 37, was born in Baghdad and grew up in a Muslim family. He came to the United States in 2011 seeking asylum because of his conversion to Christianity. He finished his studies at Sunset International Bible Institute in Lubbock, Texas, in 2013 and works full time sharing the Gospel with the heavily Arab community of Dearborn, Michigan.
He’ll speak at the Edmond Church of Christ on Sunday, Oct. 2, on “From Islam to Christianity: A Journey of Faith.”
“In my visit, I hope to educate Christians about the Islamic religion, help develop a healthier attitude toward the Muslim people and promote my Arab Christian ministry,” said Al-Aethawi, who also will speak at the Oklahoma Christian University Lectureship on Monday, Oct. 3.
I was blessed to get to know Al-Aethawi last year when I traveled to the Detroit area to profile him for The Christian Chronicle. Former Edmond outreach minister David Duncan, who now preaches for the Memorial Church of Christ in Houston, had connected with Al-Aethawi and recommended a story.
Later, I introduced my Arab missionary friend to IHOP. That acronym stands for International House of Pancakes, as you probably know, but please don’t tell Al-Aethawi that. I convinced him it was the Iraqi House of Pancakes.
In all seriousness, the one-time Iraqi soldier and engineer believes God led him to Dearborn, Michigan — the epicenter of Arab life in America and the home of the largest mosque in North America — to share the hope he found in Jesus.
This former Muslim’s dream: to establish an Arabic-speaking Church of Christ in Dearborn.
“Wissam has a heart for Muslims, knows their culture and is actively trying to find ways to reach them with the good news of Jesus in a way that only someone on the inside can,” said Roger Woods, minister and elder for the Detroit-area Walled Lake Church of Christ.
Each Tuesday finds Al-Aethawi working with Arab immigrants at the Angel House, a Dearborn nonprofit that helps meet families’ social, vocational and spiritual needs.
“The main way to preach the Gospel to the Arabs here is to teach them English because, unlike the Spanish-speaking people, Arabs cannot survive if they don’t know English,” said Al-Aethawi, who learned English from formal studies as well as American books and movies in his native Baghdad.
Using passages from the New Testament, Al-Aethawi teaches English to students such as Aziz Awadh, a 32-year-old Muslim father of two from Yemen.
“Wissam is a really well-liked man and does a really good job,” Awadh, who works in a pizza restaurant, said in his limited English. “He’s more than wonderful.”
In his home country, Al-Aethawi waited 12 years to find someone to baptize him. So he said he has the patience to win souls to Christ.
A U.S. flag hangs on his living-room wall in a neighborhood where he relishes the sounds of birds chirping and trees whistling instead of bombs exploding.
At times, his emotions overwhelm him as he reflects on his freedom to follow Jesus — and tell others about him.
“Sometimes,” he said, “when I have nightmares or when I first wake up, not knowing where I’m at, thinking that I’m still in Iraq and that somebody will die today like somebody died yesterday and the day before, I look at that flag and then say, ‘Thank God, it’s not going to happen now.’
In his adopted country, Al-Aethawi’s travels and speaking engagements have taken him to 20 states. However, this will be his first trip to Oklahoma.
“I honestly used to confuse Oklahoma with Yokohama,” he said, referring to the second-largest city in Japan. “I can't think of any distinguishing feature other than the buffalo. Can you imagine I have still not seen one?”
By the way, Al-Aethawi is single and open to finding a Christian wife. “At 37, I have made every compromise I could make,” he told me, “so I practically don't have any requirement for my potential significant other.”
There’s that wonderful sense of humor again.
Edmond sends group to encourage church in Montreal
By Josh Watson
Montreal, Quebec, is roughly 1,600 miles from Oklahoma City.
But for a small group of Edmond Church of Christ members who recently traveled to the French Canadian city, it’s “home.”
For 30 years, the Edmond congregation has supported Roger Saumur and his family as he ministers to the Ville-Emard Church of Christ. During the recent trip, a Ville-Emard member battling brain cancer surprised the Edmond group with a grapefruit cake that had “Welcome Home” written on it.
“She wanted us to know that anytime we visit that church, we are home with fellow Christians,” said Bev Pearman, an Edmond member who traveled to Montreal to encourage the members there.
Building up through fellowship was exactly the goal of the Edmond group. Rather than engaging in a traditional evangelistic campaign, the group sought to remind the Montreal Christians that they are not alone.
“It was so great for our members to fellowship with those from Edmond,” Roger Saumur said. “Sometimes visiting and getting to know other Christians is more beneficial than a campaign to strangers.”
Mike Cain, an Edmond elder who traveled with the group to Montreal, gave a communion talk while there and sought to build up the local church.
“Being a small group in a big, metropolitan area, the members can feel isolated,” Cain said. “Visiting with our group was a huge encouragement and a reminder that they are not alone. One member mentioned to me that they are few among many in Montreal. I wanted them to know that there is a ripple effect around the world every Sunday during the Lord’s Supper. It is one of the most significant acts of fellowship that goes beyond the walls of a church building.”
While in Montreal, the Edmond group prepared and served a fellowship meal that was planned by Pearman. That experience strengthened her belief in the work in Montreal.
“It is so important for us to support this great church,” Pearman said. “At the meal, you could just see how sharing the church is. They are all like family and doing a great job living like brothers and sisters.”
Pearman also noted the diverse nature of the church in Montreal.
“Members are from so many different countries: China, the Congo, Albania, Mexico and Spain, just to name a few,” she said. “There was a recent baptism of a lady there, and she converted her daughter soon after.”
According to Neil Ferguson, an Edmond deacon who helps guide mission projects, the Montreal church’s friendliness is an extension of the group’s diversity.
“The church is a true melting pot with about every third member speaking a different native language,” Ferguson said. “Since nearly every member is not native to Montreal, they are incredibly friendly and welcoming to visitors. The Ville-Emard church is family for people as they are often away from their earthly family.”
That friendliness is also exhibited in the Saumur family. Roger and Diane have helped convert hundreds to Christ in Canada. Roger came to Christ in 1986 after watching and seeking out a local minister whose television program, “Bible Talk,” was sponsored by Edmond. Roger quickly decided to become a preacher and baptized more than 50 people in his first year. Edmond has supported him ever since.
One of the best lessons that the Saumurs have taught in Montreal is how to live as Christian examples. Many people in Montreal identify as nonpracticing Catholics who do not feel a need to make changes in their lives. Others have been so hurt by the Catholic Church that they are turned off to religion entirely.
“I can show what Christianity looks like here in Quebec by living as a Christian, being faithful to my wife and raising godly children,” Roger Saumur said. “Many here really don’t have an example of true Christianity.”
Roger and Diane’s daughters are vital members of the church in Montreal, too. Next year, Myriam, 19, and Lydia, 17, are starting university and college, respectively. Lydia’s church influence has led her to study languages, and she serves as a translator for the church.
According to Cain, God has uniquely equipped the Saumur family for the work in Montreal.
“Roger and Diane are a great example of the kind of people in Quebec who are looking for the truth,” Cain said. “It is important to support the church there for others who are searching God’s word. The Ville-Emard church is more stable today than ever before, but the members appreciate encouragement, too.”
Six years ago, a Colorado teen first connected with the Edmond Youth Group. The relationships she formed would lead her to give her life to Jesus.
By Bobby Ross Jr.
Each summer, the Edmond Youth Group (EYG) lets its light shine in a Colorado mountain community more than 600 miles from home.
Why do teens and adult sponsors from our congregation pack into white vans and drive all the way to Poncha Springs?
They go to host a Vacation Bible School for children eager to learn more about Jesus.
They go to make a difference in the lives of young people like Micaela Lowe.
“I met the Edmond Youth Group six years ago after my mom had encouraged me and my siblings to attend their VBS held in Poncha Springs,” said Micaela, who was 14 at the time and joined by her younger brother, Nate, and sister, Olivia. “On the first day, we immediately hit it off with several of the teens in their youth group. We had so much fun that we decided to go the whole week.”
Friendships blossomed, and the Lowe kids couldn’t wait to return to VBS the next year — and the year after that.
“This is a time when our teens shine,” youth minister Jeremy Robertson said. “They lead and serve in every capacity, as they prepare their classes, decorate the church building and, most importantly, touch the hearts of many kids.”
Kids like Micaela.
“The people from Edmond were so joyful and kind,” said Micaela, now 20 and a nursing student at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs. “They were always greeting us with big smiles, and they made us feel welcome and (like we) belonged. People like Maryn Kingsley and Casey Farrar were just such real and authentic people. The EYG showed me how to love Jesus and have fun along the way.”
Poncha Springs is not a place where church is a high priority, youth ministry deacon Darren Adams said.
“You live in the mountains, and you’re getting up Sunday morning and riding your bicycles or climbing a mountain,” Darren said. “Church is the furthest thing from your mind.”
But the EYG is helping change that. The mission effort has resulted in at least nine or 10 baptisms, Darren said.
Via text messages and Facebook, Micaela and her siblings stayed in touch with their Edmond friends all year long.
Over Thanksgiving break of her senior year of high school, Micaela flew to Oklahoma to visit with the Kingsley family — Geoff, Rhonda, Maryn, Caleb and Asa — all of whom had participated in the Poncha Springs mission trip year after year.
This past December, Micaela returned to Oklahoma for the wedding of Maryn (now Thompson), who is about to graduate from Harding University in Searcy, Ark. While here, Micaela asked Darren — whose entire family also has made the Poncha Springs trip several times — to baptize her.
“What’s a better feeling than that — somebody asking you to baptize them?” he said. “It’s pretty awesome.”
“Amazing,” Rhonda Kingsley said of Micaela’s decision to give her life to God.
“I wanted to be freed and forgiven from all of my sins and be included in His Kingdom,” Micaela said. Maryn was so happy to hear the news.”
Darren immersed Micaela and welcomed her to the body of Christ on Dec. 28, 2015.
A big group of EYG teens — many of whom will travel to Poncha Springs again this summer — came to celebrate the spiritual milestone that night.
It’s a night that would not have been possible without the entire church’s support of missions, which is funded through our Commission Sunday contributions.
“Financial times are hard, and that helped us go,” Darren — whose wife Nicole and daughters Mariah and Paige all traveled to Poncha Springs six years in a row — said of Edmond making mission trips affordable. “We couldn’t do it without the funds the church gives.”
Rhonda Kingsley agreed.
“It is expensive to go on mission trips,” Rhonda said. “When the church started paying for more of it, it became more reachable.”
Because of Edmond’s commitment to missions, Micaela’s life won’t ever be the same. She now belongs to Christ.
“It was the best decision I could ever make,” she said of her baptism. “I felt so humbled that members from the EYG group put a pause on their daily lives that night to come and support me. I also will never be able to thank Darren Adams enough for baptizing me that night. I was so humbled by everyone's support, and I will never forget that night.”
By Bobby Ross, deacon
For Paul and Bonnie Howard, the need for “marriage mentoring” became clear years ago when they lived in Oregon.
This realization struck as they watched friends in their home congregation divorce.
“It was born out of the frustration of friends getting divorced,” Bonnie Howard said of the couple’s passion for helping strengthen fellow Christians’ marital relationships. “We had no idea there were any marital problems at all.”
Until it was too late.
After moving to Oklahoma, the Howards helped develop the Edmond church’s “marriage mentoring” program — matching older couples with younger couples who get together at least once a month for food, fellowship and frank conversations.
Paul and Bonnie oversaw the ministry from its formation in the fall of 2010 until just recently, when they handed the reins to Neil and Jeny Roberts and Jay and Holly Parks.
“It kind of runs under the radar,” preaching minister Randy Roper said of the ministry, “but it is a great blessing to many couples.”
Matt and Carly Batchelder had been married just a few months when they signed up to be mentored by older couples in 2010.
“At the time, we were part of the Honeymooners Bible class, which placed a special emphasis on building strong marriage foundations,” Matt said. “Marriage mentoring was a natural extension of the focus we had in the class. It provided the opportunity to not only share with couples our age, but also with couples that have been married 20-plus years.”
Above all, the ministry provides the encouragement to keep the marriage relationship a high priority, Matt said.
“Rarely would a spouse consciously make the choice to put his or her marriage on the back burner,” he explained. “However, when the demands of life start to pressure us, it’s easy to get distracted.”
Edmond elder Mike Cain and Helen, his wife of almost 36 years, have mentored seven couples.
“We welcomed the opportunity to bond with and serve younger Christian couples,” Mike said. “We have rarely missed a month where our group has been together — which is quite an accomplishment given the size of our group. We always pray for all marriages and families. The most important benefit has been the friendships that we’ve developed.”
The Cains’ group includes one other older couple and five younger couples with a total of six children.
“Everyone has someone else in the group with whom they share an interest,” Mike said. “Our time together is relaxed and enjoyable and always includes a meal. We plan the next event every time we meet.”
He and Helen hope that their relationship with the younger couples “makes us more approachable in times of need.”
“Our first young couple stayed with us for a couple of weeks when between homes,” Mike said. “We have been able to watch children so couples could have a night out. We have been there when some have needed to talk. While our goal is to serve,
Helen and I always enjoy the time together and cherish the friendships we’ve developed.”
As Paul Howard points out, “There’s something powerful about five (or more) couples getting together and investing in each other’s marriages.”
Matt Batchelder said he’d definitely recommend marriage mentoring.
But he cautions that “you’ll get out what you put in.”
“The mentor meetings are just the start,” he said. “The conversations with your spouse between the meetings are where the real growth occurs. We’ve formed deep, lasting relationships with people we wouldn’t have otherwise.”
And the Batchelders’ 1-year-old son, Myles, “has a few more sets of adopted grandparents and aunts/uncles!”
John and Jill Schadegg and their six children inspire fellow Christians as they labor in a domestic mission field
By Bobby Ross, deacon
LOGAN, Utah — At night, an opulent Mormon temple built in the late 1800s lights up the mountain-adorned skyline.
In this predominantly Mormon community 85 miles north of Salt Lake City, domestic missionaries John and Jill Schadegg serve a small-but-growing Church of Christ.
The Edmond church helps support the Schadeggs, who were baptized through a Wyoming campus ministry in the early 1990s and have six children: Silas, 19; Rylan, 16; Simeon, 15; Sydney Joy, 13; Titus, 11; and Joshua, 9.
“I don’t know if we’ll ever grow to be a self-supporting congregation, honestly, because of the demographic,” John Schadegg said. “It’s such a high Mormon population. But it’s a mission field.”
With typical Sunday attendance of 1,200, the Edmond church boasts more men, women and children in its pews than all the Churches of Christ in Utah combined.
Adherents of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — known as Mormons — comprise roughly 60 percent of Utah’s 2.9 million total residents.
A decade ago, the Logan church had just a handful of active members, including Tony and Tanya Pirtle.
“Tony would preach, do the Lord’s Supper, lead singing and baptize people,” Tanya Pirtle said of her husband, who recruited the Schadeggs.
In recent years, the church has grown to an average Sunday attendance of 60 to 75 — in part because of a focus on campus ministry at nearby Utah State University.
This past summer, 31 people from the Edmond church — ranging in age from 3 to 75 — made a 1,200-mile journey to offer sweat and spiritual support to the Logan congregation.
For nearly a week, the short-term missionaries from Edmond worked alongside their Utah brothers and sisters to renovate the Logan church’s auditorium, refurbish its classroom floors and reinvigorate its flower garden.
Edmond deacon Caleb Dacus and his wife, Deidra, organized the inaugural mission trip to Utah.
The Dacuses came to know the Schadeggs through both families’ involvement with the Wyoming Bible Camp — the state where Caleb grew up before leaving to attend Oklahoma Christian University.
“What makes the Schadeggs special to me is that they spend their time, money and energy serving others. Always,” Deidra Dacus said. “And it’s very clear that they love people deeply — old friends and new friends.”
David Griffin is one of those “new friends.”
The 24-year-old Edmond member took a week off from his engineering job to go on the mission trip — and came away highly impressed with the Schadeggs.
“John and Jill have instilled a love for God in all their kids,” Griffin said. “It’s evident after spending time with any of their kids. The family is very mission-minded toward their friends and neighbors. They are always looking for people and opportunities to share God’s love and His wonderful message.”
Edmond member Jen Foster, who made the trip with her husband, Josh, and their four young children, agreed: “The Schadeggs are special in the way that they give their hearts to whoever needs them. They — children included — open their family to minister whenever a need arises.”
John Schadegg said his philosophy of ministry has stayed the same since he became a Christian more than 20 years ago.
“That is, to help people understand the Gospel and help people to learn about the grace of God and help them develop to a point where they can also go out and share the Gospel with others,” he said.
People in Utah are more than willing to talk about God and engage in spiritual conversations, John Schadegg said.
The challenge is that many of the Mormons he encounters believe they have “the whole truth” already.
In their view, he explained, “everybody else that is a good person will still go to whatever level of heaven. So they’re not really as concerned about converting you. But when you start talking to them (about doctrinal matters), there are a lot of people who get uncomfortable or are like, ‘Oh, well, you know we’re OK, and we don’t need to get into all those details.’”
However, ministering to disgruntled Mormons or non-Mormon students at Utah State offers plenty of opportunities for sharing the Gospel, he said.
The Logan church’s third annual youth challenge event is scheduled for Nov. 7-9, with the theme “Defending the Faith.”
“We look forward to another great weekend challenging our youth to grow in their faith,” John Schadegg said, noting that a teen invited to church by a friend was baptized in late July and has started bringing his sister to worship with him.
Jill Schadegg, meanwhile, voiced her appreciation for Edmond members’ willingness to travel so far to encourage the missionaries and the entire Logan congregation.
“We have one high school girl — we’re talking 1,400 kids at her high school — and she is the only Christian in her entire school,” Jill Schadegg said. “When you all come up and she gets to meet other teens that are Christians, it’s huge.
“As far as the adults, a lot of these adults are the only ones in their workplace that are not LDS (Latter-day Saints),” she added. “For you all to come up and edify us and support us, it is huge, and we are so deeply appreciative.”
The Edmond church works to show its love for the Schadeggs and the Logan congregation throughout the year — from children sending colored pictures with their favorite Bible verses to members such as Deidra Dacus and Jen Foster flying to Utah recently to attend Logan’s annual women’s retreat.
In recent months, Jill Schadegg has experienced health problems, and Edmond members have offered both prayers and financial assistance to the family.
“I really don’t know how you all could encourage us more or be more involved in the work,” Jill Schadegg said. “What you’re doing now is super.”
By Bobby Ross Jr.
Growing up in the small farming community of Lockney, Texas, Jana Miller — Edmond’s newest missionary — learned to love her neighbor.
Really love her neighbor.
“No one ever said, ‘This is how you love your neighbor.’ They just lived it,” said Miller, 28, an Oklahoma Christian University graduate who recently moved to Zambia to work full time with The Haven, which provides temporary, home-based care for orphans.
Miller attended the Edmond Church of Christ for 10 years — first as an Oklahoma Christian student and later as a faithful member of the Pathfinders class. She regularly joined the campus ministry’s spring break mission trips to the small mountain village of Aquiles, Mexico.
For a young woman from rural Texas, those trips helped nurture a love for mission work.
“I still vividly recall the first time I worshiped in Aquiles and fully realized what it was like to be a part of the global community worshiping the same God on the same day and how powerful that was,” Miller said. “It doesn’t look the same or sound the same, but we’re all serving and praising the same God.”
‘The Holy Spirit kept whispering’
Five years ago, two of Miller’s best friends decided to serve at The Haven. She instantly decided to go, too, and ended up spending nine months at the Namwianga Mission, which includes The Haven.
After that, Miller traveled to Zambia three more times and began to dream — and pray — about what it would be like to live there.
“There were many times when I would try to push those thoughts away and label them ‘crazy,’” she said. “But the Holy Spirit kept whispering to me in those moments, reminding me of the ways God was working through The Haven and the ways he could work through me if I let him. The door in Zambia stayed open for the past several years, which doesn’t happen very often in life.
“Luke 12 says, ‘From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded.’ Sometimes, that means you end up on a different path than the one you imagined. But if you are stepping out in faith, the Lord can take away your fears and use whatever you are giving him.”
Almost all of the children served by The Haven are under age 4. Most end up at the home because their mother has died, and other family members are unable to care for an infant at that time. The Haven arranges to care for the children during the years they are most vulnerable, with a goal of reuniting them with extended family.
“Families are encouraged to visit as often as possible, and our end goal is for our kids to have a home with family in their village,” Miller said. “The Haven is Zambian run and could not happen without the love and work of 45 women who work as Aunties, providing day-to-day care.”
James 1:27 says: “Religion that God our father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted in the world.”
Providing financial and spiritual support for Jana Miller’s mission work in Zambia is just one way that the Edmond church heeds God’s call to serve the marginalized and vulnerable, specifically orphans, preaching minister Randy Roper explained.
Other examples include the congregation’s annual mission trip and ongoing support for Hope for Haiti’s Children and its assistance with Jochebed’s Choice Home in Indonesia.
“All provide global opportunities for us to practice pure religion while reaching children in desperate need,” Roper said. “God uses our efforts — through going and giving — to help children have a safe and nurturing place to grow up and to grow in faith.”
‘More blessed to give than receive’
In Haiti, short-term missionaries from Edmond stay at an orphanage in Thomazeau.
“A big part of how we serve the orphans there is simply by interacting with them,” Edmond member Brian Eastman said. “They don’t get a whole lot of individual attention.
“For those of us who have been to Thomazeau multiple times, it has been such a treat to come back and feel like they remember us, but also to see how much they have grown and learned since we saw them last.”
Besides the one-on-one interaction, the Haiti mission teams conduct Vacation Bible Schools at two orphanages serving 90 children and donate sweat to improve the living conditions at Thomazeau.
In the past, the group has purchased new mattresses for the children and a new freezer for the kitchen.
“I believe it is a very important mission for us as Christians to help orphans,” Eastman said. “As Christians, we are told to look after the orphans and to defend them. Our theme verse for our trip this year is Acts 20:35, which stresses that we must work hard to help the weak and that ‘it is more blessed to give than to receive.’”
‘A real picture of what Christ does’
Back in Zambia, Miller said she sees her efforts as “a beautiful and real picture of what Christ does for us.”
“He guides us through the difficult times with the promise to make us whole and provide his children a place to thrive in our church family,” she said. “There isn’t a child that comes through The Haven that doesn’t learn that God made them and loves them and can provide for them.
“As they go back with their families, they are given a Bible, and we talk with the families and pray with them. Anytime someone asks why we are helping, the answer is always, ‘Because we love Jesus, and he calls us to help.’”