Convention Planners Make Tough Decision

Nothing quite like this has been seen before — at least not in recent memory.

Wars and plagues have throughout history altered the lives of whole populations. But when public health officials asked the country to join together and take practical steps in slowing the spread of COVID-19, churches, schools, businesses, and others had to change their plans — as did the Fellowship of Christian Assemblies.

Pastor Dave Carlson, convention host and planning committee chair, was obviously disappointed when it became apparent that this year’s convention slated for late April in San Diego, California, would have to be rescheduled.

“We had high expectations and tremendous early response from ministers, both from the U.S. and Canada,” he said. “We told the hotel there would be at least 420 nights reserved, but we had almost reached 1,000 when we had to cancel.”

The enthusiastic response was just one factor that made the decision so difficult. It was also hard to imagine losing the chance to hear the dynamic speakers or miss the opportunities for mingling and connecting. There were also activities for kids and youth that had to be set aside. “We had around 85 children already signed up for their own events,” said Carlson.

So this year will go down in the history of the FCA as the year the convention was cancelled. Planners are working with the US national board to determine how best to reschedule the California event. When new information becomes available, notice will be distributed to the membership.

Meanwhile, those who have already registered for the convention will want to check out these further details:

  • Your personal hotel reservation at the Bahia Resort Hotel has already been cancelled. There is no need for you to call the hotel.
  • You may, however, reinstate your hotel reservation at the convention rate for personal travel if you wish by calling Bahia Resort Hotel (858-488-0551). Remind them that you were previously reserved to attend the FCA convention so you can receive the convention rate.
  • Meanwhile, your FULL convention registration cost will be refunded automatically. Funds will be credited (within four weeks) to the account you used to charge the costs.
  • You should, however, remember to cancel your own airline reservations. Airlines have taken a tremendous hit during this recession (as have many businesses), but they are working as best they can to accommodate their passengers.

One thing God’s people are certain of is that there is no problem or disappointment that can defeat God’s purposes. They know that the Lord will see them through any crisis.

Just as he’s done for his people through wars, disease, and pestilence all through the ages.

He will cover you with his feathers,
and under his wings you will find refuge;
his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.
You will not fear the terror of night,
nor the arrow that flies by day,
nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness,
nor the plague that destroys at midday
—Psalm 91:4-6

Why Watching TV News Is Bad for Your Health

by Richard Doebler

Little wonder that a story about a scary virus goes viral.

Sensationalism sells advertising. So it’s easy to understand why media outlets are motivated to tell the most compelling, even shocking stories. Routine stories cannot compete for attention — not in the crowded arena filled with alarming reports and frightening, disturbing events. 

Most reporters (tabloid writers excluded) pride themselves on being “objective, neutral and unbiased,” but it’s no surprise they are inclined to tell stories that grab attention — stories that sell. And if a story “goes viral,” so much the better. 

We might have expected as much. News hounds thrive on the sensational. Just as “rubbernecking” drivers steal a glance at a freeway crash, we can’t help being curious. We want to see what “crashed.”

It turns out a lot has crashed — not because of the virus itself, but because of society’s reaction to it. One observer speculates there will be more bankruptcies in America caused by COVID-19 than deaths. And the resulting frenzy feeds a cycle: reports lead to reactions, leading to more reports. News of cancelled classes, tournaments, churches, and sporting events send a message: “Be afraid! Be very afraid!” 

Public service announcements to stock up on groceries and sanitizer send a message: “This is bad! This is very bad!” The stock market tanks and we get the message: “We tried to tell you. This is the new normal in America.” Every report (people under quarantine; test kits unavailable; overwhelmed hospitals; government inertia) generates more alarm. The growing angst leads to more of the same.

This public fascination with tragic, shocking stories helps news outlets sell their broadcasts and publications. It’s almost addictive: terrible news creates a desire for more — a “snowball” effect. Incessant news of the sensational increases alarm and anxiety, so readers and listeners want more. 

But not everyone. Some people, quite understandably, choose to break the cycle. They opt out of news entirely; they refuse to ingest the negativity. Others find refuge in a caricature of news, relying on late-night talk show monologues as their primary source of information. What they typically get is specious or, at the least, misleading. 

In an old English folk tale, an acorn falls on the head of Chicken Little who jumps to a conclusion and then announces to all who will listen that “The sky is falling.” He easily convinces his barnyard friends to believe the news, and they all suffer the consequences of being misled.

Amid all the hysteria, it would be good to pause for a moment and reflect about the consequences: What is true? What is exaggerated? What is a balanced perspective? How should we then live?

As Christians, we can process the flow of information with a biblical view in place. We can do this for any alarming news, including pandemics. How can we do this? Here are a few ideas to get you started.

Maintain perspective. Even when global catastrophes or evil tyrants come, events of the day should not determine your well-being. God is still on the throne. Evil comes and evil goes; things improve, things get worse. “The sun comes up, the sun goes down…. The wind blows south, the wind blows north…” (Ecc. 1:5-6, CEV). To everything there is a season (Eccl. 3:1). In times of trouble, remember that better times will come.

Exercise discernment. Learn to separate fact from fiction. Don’t believe everything you hear. Examine everything carefully and only hold on to the good things (1 Thess. 5:21). We need more than a reality check; we need a spirituality check! We need to practice seeing the difference between good and bad (Heb. 5:14). It’s the truth that will “set you free” (John 8:32).

Focus on the good. As you maintain perspective and exercise discernment, you’ll be able to focus more on things that can build you up. Since God is good (all the time), your thoughts and prayers can center on God and his purposes. You’ll be able to take captive (lock up) the thoughts attempting to remove God from his throne (2 Cor. 10:5). You can learn to think straight — guarding your heart (Prov. 4:23) — or as one version puts it: “Be careful how you think; your life is shaped by your thoughts” (GNT).

Give your worries to God. Reduce your anxieties through prayer, petitions, and giving thanks to God for all he has done (Phil. 4:6). The result? The incomprehensible peace of God will guard your heart (so you’ll feel better) and your mind (so you’ll think more clearly) (Phil. 4:7).

Reshape your mental habits. As God takes your worries and your thought life is redeemed, you’ll be more able to overrule fears, negative thinking, and the lies that would normally confuse and disturb. Get rid of negative and destructive thinking even more by filling your head with noble, pure, and praise-worthy ideas (Phil. 4:8).

Be transformed. Work constantly to be thoroughly transformed by the renewing of your mind (Rom. 12:2; Eph. 4:23). It’s not enough merely to think the right thing. What’s important is that you do the right thing. Follow through from healthy thoughts to positive action! Allow your renewed mind to reshape your behavior, indeed, your entire life! 

With these steps in mind, how might we process the news about COVID-19? Is there anything we can say that will diminish fear and anxiety?

Start by maintaining perspective. Let’s track down the fuller story. What if we asked ourselves how the severity of the Coronavirus compares to other health threats and diseases. Do we (or did we) react to other threats the same way? Did we panic over measles, for instance? Did we shut down the NBA because of whooping cough?

Consider influenza, for instance. In the five months from October, 2019, through February, 2020, over 34 million Americans contracted the flu (despite a massive 174.5 million immunizations [see here]). More than 350,000 have been hospitalized, and over 20,000 have died (see the CDC website). That’s more than an average 130 deaths per day with about 0.56% of those infected dying. See note below.

Early statistics on the Coronavirus indicate it is more virulent than Influenza A and B. Worldwide numbers (as of March 12, 2020) report 134,488 sickened by the disease. Of those, 4,970 have died [see here]. That means about 3.7% of those who get it have died from it — more than the flu, but still not nearly as dangerous or fatal as other diseases. 

Every day around the world nearly four times as many people die from measles as are dying from COVID-19, according to the Information Is Beautiful website. Differences are even more dramatic when comparing deaths due to tuberculosis: 48 times more people die from TB (3,014 each day compared to 62 from Coronavirus). Keep in mind also that 99% of those under 60 who catch Coronavirus will recover. (Of course, numbers and comparisons may change as more data becomes available.)

We should take normal precautions in dealing with Coronavirus, of course. Like we would for any contagious disease. Practicing good hygiene, washing our hands, using disinfectant, covering our cough or sneeze — all of that. The saying, “cleanliness is next to godliness,” though not in Scripture, is still a good maxim to follow.

For the believer, however, our trust is ultimately in God. We focus on his goodness and give him our worries. Whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord (Rom 14:8). Paul said, “For to me, living means living for Christ, and dying is even better.” (Phil. 1:21, NLT).

First-century Roman citizens were impressed by the early believers’ actions when plagues and pestilence ravaged Rome. While senators and aristocrats fled the city with their families to avoid sickness and death, believers waded into the chaos, caring for the sick and dying. Their fearless response to human suffering caused many to rethink their own world views. [See Christian History magazine, Issue #101.] Mother Teresa made a similar impression on the world with her compassionate care for the poor and dying in the gutters of Calcutta. 

The question remains: what can the church today do to help in the current epidemic of fear?

As Christians we can live each day for Christ, looking for ways to be light to the world (Matt. 5:14). We can dare to stay in our place, steady and confident, helping others in need, fulfilling our call, and trusting God with the outcome. 

As citizens of heaven (Phil. 3:20), we need not fear sickness or death. Our goal and destiny is to one day live eternally in God’s presence where tears are wiped away and death is no more.

Richard Doebler is FCA Media editor. He was formerly an FCA pastor in several churches and an associate editor of Leadership published by Christianity Today.

Other resources:
Dealing with a Virus by John Sprecher, US FCA Lead Elder. Click HERE.
NW FCA — and Coronavirus by Dan Eide, FCA pastor. Click HERE.

Note: Because many cases of influenza go unreported, the CDC reports an estimated range of impact. Numbers cited reflect the low end. The upper end numbers are: 49 million cases; 23 million medical visits; 620,000 hospitalizations; 52,000 deaths.

Tribute to Roger Olsen

by Tom Flaherty

“Even if I am poured out as an offering on the altar of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you.” —Philippians 2:17

Roger Olsen

Roger Olsen passed from this life Thursday morning, January 30, 2020, to be with Jesus.

He was a father to me — and really to anyone who knew him. I don’t know that I’ve ever met someone who was more concerned about the spiritual welfare of others and who thought nothing of sacrificing to help them in any way he could.

I was privileged to be with Roger and Sandra in the hospital the day before he died. I got to hear one last time from the heart of this man who has guided me through my entire ministry. He wanted to know how I was doing! He talked about his children and his grandchildren with tears in his eyes, so proud of who they are, and so concerned about everyone’s walk with Jesus.

He talked about Grace Church (where he was pastor for years in New Glarus, Wisconsin) and how happy he was with Pastor John Lewis and Don Wickstrum. He had words of encouragement for me and for City Church. I was able to assure him that even as his family was carrying on his legacy, so was I, one of his many spiritual sons.

Roger showed us how to love people. He always had a book or a CD/DVD to share and it was always a gift to me, or to the group that was meeting. Almost every time we talked he told me he was proud of me and that he loved me. Whenever I left Roger, I wanted to be a better pastor and a better Christian.

Roger modeled for us how to follow Jesus. He was always excited about the new thing God was doing and saw the grace of God wherever it appeared. In our monthly FCA meetings I would always look forward to what Roger would say because it was always insightful, yet clothed with the humility he unconsciously walked in.

I am sad for all of us but rejoice for my father and friend. He suffered for many years physically, yet stayed for us. He has now gone to his great reward; he finished his race strong. Help us, dear Lord, to do the same. Thank you, Jesus, for Roger.

Thank you, Roger, for loving me and believing in me. Thank you for pouring out your life, so that our faith would be stronger. We love you!

Tom Flaherty is pastor of City Church in Madison, Wisconsin.

Note: There will be a Celebration of Life honoring Pastor Roger Olsen, 3:30 p.m. Sunday, February 9th at City Church, 4909 East Buckeye Road, Madison, following a time of Visitation which begins at 2:00 p.m.

Celebrating 50 Years

The whole world took note in 1969 when Neil Armstrong and Edwin ‘Buzz’ Aldrin became the first to set foot on the moon.

That same summer, however, something of even greater significance took root in the farm fields of northern Minnesota, just south of Fosston — Sand Hill Lake Bible Camp.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of ministry at the camp, which since its start has served the area congregations of the Fellowship of Christian Assemblies.

Humble Beginnings

In the camp’s early days, facilities and amenities were scarce. It began as a simple vision of several from Bethel Assembly in Fosston. The new pastor, Jake Toews, along with about a dozen men from the church soon arranged to purchase a farm on the east shore of Sand Hill Lake. Eventually more than a dozen churches invested in the vision and formed a board to oversee finances and decision-making.

Glen Forsberg, currently “Fellowship Pastor” to Canadian FCA pastors was the speaker at this year’s anniversary celebration. He recalled his first visit to the newly purchased farm just after he became pastor of Full Gospel Chapel in Steinbach, Manitoba.

Many from his Canadian congregation partnered with Minnesotans to clean up the grounds. Volunteers moved in an old church (purchased for $1) to hold services, setting it on a basement that became the dining hall. Kitchen utensils were donated from the air base in Duluth, Minnesota. A canteen was added. The farm’s granary became a girl’s dorm; the barn became the boy’s dorm. Later a large tent was pitched to hold bigger crowds until eventually the current chapel was erected.

Early campers overcame many challenges. They had no showers. (“Use the lake,” they were told.) For toilets they had rustic outhouses. They fought “duck lice” in the lake. They walked dirt paths instead of concrete. For years volunteers donated time and equipment to harvest crops on the property to defray camp expenses.

Over the years dozens of camp managers, cabin counselors, and pastors contributed their time and energy for ministry and to maintain and improve the grounds. Others joined in to pour concrete, erect buildings, shingle roofs, paint walls, and clean.

With God’s help, they gradually transformed the land. Hay, corn, and wheat gave way to a spiritual harvest. Those visionaries believed they would reap what they sowed — and they did.

50 Years and Counting

Year by year the impact of SHLBC has grown. “My greatest recollection,” says Forsberg, “is youth and adults discovering their personal relationship  with Jesus — [along with] the empowerment of the Holy Spirit.” He remembers the camp as a healthy social time and, even more, “the place where you went to meet God!”

Stories of miracles live on. When Pastor Warren Heckman’s son, Garth, took an awkward dive into the lake and broke his neck, some tried to determine how serious his injuries were and asked if he could move his head — precisely the opposite of what should have been done. God spared Garth from further damage, however, and the doctors soon had him in a protective brace.

Another time, more than 200 campers survived a deadly, night-time tornado. After it ended, campers and leaders searched by flashlight through the debris, looking for the injured. Despite many broken and splintered ironwood trees, the searchers found no casualties. “Everyone was whole and alive!” says Forsberg. “There was not a broken bone among us.”

One tree had smashed a small camper — just moments after Pastor Virgil and Ruth Rasmussen from Cloquet, Minnesota, had exited it. In the tent next to the camper was their young son, Steve, now pastor of Bethel Christian Fellowship in St. Paul.

On the Move

Today Steve Rasmussen remembers the powerful influence various camp speakers had on him as he grew up. Through them his heart was stirred toward ministry — and he wasn’t alone in that. Others also trace their own encounters with God’s Spirit to SHLBC, where they sought God and answered his call.

Other memories linger from those early days, of course. laughter and fun, great friendships (some for a lifetime), and even meeting a future spouse.

The list of accomplishments at the camp over the years is long and impressive. But physical improvements pale in comparison to the spiritual changes. Many, now serving as ministers, missionaries, or church leaders, look back to SHLBC as a significant, formative time in their walk with the Lord.

In 50 years, Sand Hill Lake Bible Camp has truly impacted the world. And that’s worth celebrating!

Pastor Glen Forsberg who attended camp in the early years and who has ministered occasionally through the years since returned to challenge and inspire this year's Family Camp.

Fifty years ago an old rural church building was trucked to Sand Hill Lake Bible Camp to serve as the first site for powerful preaching and altar ministry.

Soon the camp needed more space for services and erected a large tent.

Those attending this year's Family Camp took time in the chapel to remember, looking at photographs from previous years.

Passing the Baton

All Nations Family of Churches Transitions to a New Era

Pastor Jim Olson, along with pastors and elders of the ANFC, pray for Pastor Sam Snyder and Pastor Justin Byakweli.

The All Nations Family of Churches, eight multicultural and multilingual congregations that formed out of Bethel Christian Fellowship in Saint Paul, Minnesota, witnessed a major shift in direction as they gathered for their annual combined outdoor service and picnic on June 2nd.  This group of FCA churches, which have been led for a number of years by Pastor Jim Olson, is transitioning leadership as they step into the next season of their ministry together.

Jim, who stepped away from pastoral ministry a couple of years ago to minister as President of the Pilgrim Center for Reconciliation, passed the baton of leadership to Sam Snyder and Justin Byakweli. Sam is Pastor of Cross Culture Community Church in Minneapolis and current president of the USA Fellowship of Christian Assemblies National Board. Justin is Pastor of the International Christian Fellowship in St. Paul. Both of the new leaders were selected by the All Nations Family of Churches joint pastoral and elder team.

During the commissioning service and the messages by the two new appointees given in response, English was translated publicly into three other languages. The ANFC consists of congregations who worship in English, Haitian Creole, Hmong, Nepali, Oromo, Karen, French, and Swahili. Many of the members are refugees and immigrants who have settled in the Twin Cities’ area in recent years. The churches and leadership share relationships, resources, some facilities space, and a unified vision.

At their recent leadership retreat, the diverse group of leaders focused on a growing clarity of their calling for the future: To Manifest the Kingdom of God as they Mature, Mobilize, and Multiply life-giving and joy-filled churches that are houses of prayer for all nations.

Pastor Justin Byakweli sharing about the call to Mature together as individuals, as churches, and as a Family of Churches.

Pastor Sam Snyder sharing about the call to Mobilize and Multiply as individuals and as churches.