New Youth and Family Ministries Director Hired

On Palm Sunday, Bethel Christian Fellowship (St. Paul, MN) announced the appointment of a new Director of Youth and Family Ministries, Justin Finton.

Justin Finton comes from his role as youth pastor of Abundant Life Church in Blaine, MN, where he grew the youth program even during the worst months of the pandemic as well as through a pastoral transition. Raised as the son of a pastor, Justin is credentialed for ministry through the Assemblies of God.

“We were really attracted to Justin for several reasons,” reports Steve Rasmussen, pastor of Bethel Christian Fellowship, recounting his love for God, the Word, the church, and youth. He also noted Justin’s experience and success in youth ministry along with his desire to grow in intercultural relationships and understanding, which are high values at Bethel Christian Fellowship.

Justin began his duties in April, bringing his wife, Michelle and their new baby, Ezra.

Pentecostals You Should Know

If you grew up in a Pentecostal church, as I did, you may think you’ve heard all there is to know about Pentecostals, charismatics, and their history.

I know I did.

I thought I could list the important names, the movers-and-shakers connected to the twentieth-century outpouring of the Holy Spirit. I could recall the anecdotes. I knew the exploits from the lives of Charles Parham, William Seymour, Smith Wigglesworth, and Aimee Semple McPherson. I had read about the trail-blazing, innovative ministries that brought a fresh encounter with the power of God to spiritually hungry people.

This was my tribe, and I thought I knew them pretty well.

That, however, was before I picked up Dean Merrill’s new book, 50 Pentecostal and Charismatic Leaders Every Christian Should Know (Minneapolis, Minnesota: Chosen, a division of Baker Publishing Group [2021]).

Merrill, well-known author and FCA friend, has done it again! In his inimitable style and engaging manner, Merrill introduces us to 50 key influencers of the modern Pentecostal movement, beginning with stories from the mid-nineteenth century! Here are names you’ve heard before (David du Plessis, Gordon and Freda Lindsay, Kathryn Kuhlman, Reinhard Bonnke, Jack Hayford) but also names you may have missed in history class (Maria Woodworth-Etter, Francisco Olazábal, Leo Josef Suenens, Bernard E. Underwood, Ithiel Clemmons, Wonsuk and Julie Ma).

Turns out there was a lot I didn’t know! In uncovering details of our spiritual roots, 50 Pentecostal and Charismatic Leaders delights even as it informs. You’ll discover new personalities in the Pentecostal family tree, of course, but you’ll also discover new details and insights about familiar Spirit-filled leaders you thought you knew.

The stories are inspiring, but they are not sugar-coated. You’ll read about both the miraculous and the missteps, both doctrinal insights and theological idiosyncrasies. In his introduction, Merrill notes that “none of the fifty was perfect” and that many displayed “human flaws and misassumptions.” He does not gloss over their faults, but he reports them charitably, displaying a respect for leaders who, while daring to seize the kingdom, occasionally went too far.

What impressed me most about Merrill’s book, though, was how it inspired me. I found myself wishing I had been there when these pioneers sought God and prayed. Reading the book sparked a desire to have seen the early days of the Pentecostal renewal, as well as a desire to pray yet again for a new day.

Merrill’s book is sure to inspire and stir its readers to seek for more from God.

—Richard Doebler

 

The Legacy and Impact of Harmon Johnson

Long-time FCA minister, Harmon Alden Johnson, 87, of Brooklyn, NY, passed away on September 28, 2020, in Decatur, GA, due to complications from Parkinson’s disease. He was born May 22, 1933, in McGregor, Minnesota, to Alma and Arthur Johnson, a Minnesota pastor who later served serve Salem Gospel Tabernacle, an early FCA church in Brooklyn, New York.

Harmon attended North Central University (then North Central Bible College) in Minneapolis and was ordained to the ministry by Lake View Gospel Church in Chicago, Illinois in 1955. He served pastorates in Delavan, Wisconsin, and Montpelier, Vermont. At an interchurch rally in Vermont, he met Carol. They married on October 17, 1959.

Within two years, God opened the door for them to become missionaries to Brazil, where they lived on and off for 15 years. During those years, while earning an MA in Theology at Fuller Theological Seminary, Harmon served with Paul Zettersten as youth pastor at Immanuel Christian Assembly in Los Angeles and co-authored the book, Latin American Church Growth. An active member of the FCA, Harmon assisted Zettersten with editing Conviction magazine (later Fellowship Today) and served several other Fellowship churches.

After returning full-time from Brazil, Harmon pursued various ministries—as Dean at Salem Bible College in Brooklyn, New York; pastor of Christian Fellowship Church in Bergen County, New Jersey; editor for Edification Ministries, president of NUESTRA in Washington D.C.; Provost of the American University of the Caribbean in Haiti; and Vice President of Beulah Heights Bible College in Atlanta, Georgia. He was also member of the American Society for the Scientific Study of Religion, the American Society of Missiology, the American Society for Church History, and the Society for Pentecostal Studies.

Harmon believed training leaders occurs through discipleship, and he mentored hundreds of church and lay leaders over several decades and continents. He also had a passion for music, however, and conducted orchestras, choirs, and praise and worship teams. He is survived by his wife, Carol Johnson, two brothers, a sister, four children, ten grandchildren, and 15 great-grandchildren.

The family hopes to hold a memorial service for Harmon in May of 2021, circumstances permitting.

Transformed to Reconciliation

By Pastor Jim Olson

Editor’s note: FCA pastor Jim Olson writes for participants and supporters of the reconciliation ministry he leads. His unique perspective on race relations and the journey many of us are on, especially at this critical time in our nation’s history, is a story that needs to be heard.

Today I want to share with you the Story of Transformation which led me, a young white boy from segregated south Chicagoland on a journey towards becoming an ambassador of racial reconciliation here in St. Paul and in the world (My Story). I also want to share with you my personal and pastoral response to the cry for racial justice in our country (My Response).

My Story

I’m going to start at the very beginning of my journey because the work of reconciliation has to start at the beginning. So my story begins over 60 years ago when I was born during Thanksgiving week, 1959, in Harvey Illinois, between Chicago and Gary, Indiana. I grew up in Homewood, Illinois, a block off of 183rd Street, in other words 183 blocks from the center of Chicago, in the south suburbs. It was a blue-collar suburb, lots of folks worked in the steel industry, my father was a die sinker and my mom was a nurse. It wasn’t until my late elementary years, and into my Junior High and Senior High years from 1968 into the 70’s that I began to realize just how segregated the environment I grew up in was, actually more than segregated, it was racist.

White flight from South Chicago in the 60s created strong white enclaves in the south suburbs that both resisted and resented any possible encroachment from Black citizens. I clearly remember lines of demarcation that you did not cross, lines that were enforced both implicitly and explicitly. Though I was too young and unformed to fully articulate my experience, nevertheless I was aware that a vast gulf existed between my experience and the experience of “those” people, people I did not know, nor did I understand.

After graduating from Homewood-Flossmoor High School in 1977, a school that had 4,000 students of which perhaps a handful were people of color, I went off to attend Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois, the far western suburbs of Chicago. Wheaton too was an almost exclusively white suburb, and the college too was predominantly white. It was there that I had my first significant interactions with people from different backgrounds and cultures than my own. It was also there that this conservative baptist boy was first introduced to the charismatic movement as well as other broader expressions of the Christian faith.

After college, I returned home briefly to Homewood, began dating my wife Annette whom I had known since I was 5 years old, having grown up in the same church, and in 1983 got married to her in the church we were attending at that time, Homewood Full Gospel Church. It was there in that church that I was first immersed in a truly multiracial congregation, a forerunner church, a large and growing church that was about 50% White, 40% African-American, and 10% from other backgrounds. There I saw a picture of Kingdom reality that I had not seen before and that was tremendously attractive to me.

After our wedding and honeymoon my wife and I moved here to the Twin Cities in July of 1983. We came so that I could pursue my Masters of Divinity at Bethel Seminary and Annette went off to work at 3M as a Systems Analyst. We got involved at a local church here in St. Paul, Bethel Temple (now Bethel Christian Fellowship) where I did a ministry internship for a year before moving up to Central Minnesota to pastor Westside Church in Kettle River, 5 miles outside of a town of 174 people.There I discovered that I had a great deal to learn from people that were quite different from me. It was a lovely time, graced by the favor of the Lord. Both the church and we grew tremendously, and after five and a half years we moved back to Saint Paul when I became the senior pastor of Bethel Christian Fellowship in 1990.

In 1994 God spoke very clearly to us from Isaiah 56 and Isaiah 35 that we were called to “Radiate Life and Joy as a House of Prayer for All Nations.” At the time, there were only a small handful of people of color in the church. We weren’t sure just what to do next so we prayed more and began to prepare ourselves to receive whomever God might bring us. Soon he brought us our first refugee family, a family from Haiti. Then another family from Haiti joined us, then others from various places and backgrounds began to come, and over the next 15 years our church family grew to embrace folks from over 25 different nations and members from multiple American cultures. Then starting in 2010 we began to welcome whole people groups and our All Nations Family of Churches was established, now encompassing eight congregations with services in 7 different languages. Over those years my constant prayer was, “Lord, we don’t know what to do, but our eyes are on you” (2 Chronicles 20:12).

Along the way, I went back to get my Doctorate of Ministry in Global and Contextual Leadership from Bethel University from 2006 – 2010. Through my lived experience and that season of study, over and over again I was confronted with my privilege and myopic perspective. I clearly remember one day when I was speaking to the Lord about my gratitude that He had brought all “these foreigners” into our congregation (Isaiah 56) who had enriched our life together so much. And then I heard His gentle but clear rebuke, “Jim, don’t you know that you are a foreigner too?” That day marked a major step on my journey of transformation.

In 2016, I accepted the invitation of the Spirit (through the voice of Molly Rouner) to lead the Pilgrim Center. This beautiful work has only served to bring me to a deeper place of humility and dependence on the Lord. Like the Apostle Peter in Acts 10 – 11, I have been on a journey all these years, first becoming aware of my cultural biases and prejudices, then beginning a learning process about other cultures and the necessity for me to adapt my perspectives to come into alignment with His. Along the way, God began to reveal the specific actions that I needed to take to begin to build bridges and walk in the way of reconciliation. And now I find myself leaning into the work of becoming an advocate for those whose voices need to be heard, whose stories need to be told, who’s lives need to be valued. All preparation for becoming an “ambassador of reconciliation.”

My Response

And what does that mean right now, in this pivotal moment? What is God requiring of me, of you, of the Pilgrim Center? There are three words that I have been hearing Him speak to my soul:

On June 3, 2020, Jim and his wife, Annette, took part in a silent march in St. Paul, led by the Twin Cities Black Clergy, bearing witness to the unjust death of George Floyd. They walked together with the police chief, mayor, other clergy, and people of all backgrounds.

Lament: Psalm 10

It was five years ago this week, June 17th, 2015, that another horrible tragedy took place in our country, the shooting of 9 African-American parishioners at Emanuel AMEChurch in Charleston South Carolina at the hands of a young white man who had joined them in Bible study before taking out a gun and opening fire. As a pastor, as a human, my heart was shredded open when I heard the news. As I went to the Lord to seek wisdom, understanding, and a way to respond He brought me to Psalm 10, a Psalm of lament. Please click and read it now and listen carefully to what the psalmist says.

The first invitation from the Spirit is to respond to the injustice and the resulting brokenness that we see all around us with lament. Lament is a very common biblical posture. It is when we, as God’s people, unflinchingly face the reality of the way things are broken, divided, and not working. We bring our own, as well as others grief, suffering, and pain to the Lord, focusing not only on” the issues,” but placing those issues before the Lord and asking Him to help us repair where things have been broken, reconcile where things have been divided, and restore where things are not working. Everywhere God has brought us in our Pilgrim Center work there have been rivers of tears, sometimes with words, more often with just groans. God stores up those liquid prayers and pours them back in healing and hope.

Repent: Nehemiah 1:5-11; Daniel 9:4-19

The next step that comes out of our lament, is to repent. As we face the injustice and brokenness we see around us, the Spirit invites us to take responsibility for our part in how things are as opposed to how they ought to be. Not only our sins of commission but also our sins of omission. Not only our personal sin, but, as Nehemiah and Daniel did, we identify with the sins of our people. Not only the sins of the present, but also the sins of the past. Please click and read the Nehemiah and Daniel passages.

In the Pilgrim Center, we have an amazing example of the prophetic power of this type of repentance. When our founders Dr. Arthur and Molly Rouner first went to Rwanda immediately following the genocide there, Molly asked the Lord why it was that He had brought her there. His answer was profound, “I have brought you here to go to your knees before them, to ask the forgiveness of these people for what your own people of the West did, to divide them from each other.” Everywhere she went, Molly got down on her knees, and the door for reconciliation was opened.

In the Pilgrim Center we still enter this holy work on our knees, both literally and figuratively. Many times, in many places, I have followed Mama Molly’s example and gone to my knees in repentance, asking for forgiveness. We have an opportunity to come in that same posture now, repenting and seeking forgiveness, for ourselves, for our people, for the past, and for the present. All so that we might begin to write a new story for the future, a story of repair, of restoration, of reconciliation, of shalom.

Foment: Isaiah 42:1-4

After we have done the deep work of lamenting and repenting, I hear the Spirit’s invitation to foment. But what does that mean? I searched for an answer to a concept I do not fully understand.

I started in Noah Webster’s 1828 dictionary where I found the definition of foment means to apply warm lotions in order to ease pain. So, I discovered, our first responsibility in fomenting is to come alongside to comfort and care for those who have been afflicted. Our Pilgrim Center work has always been a work of comfort and healing, bringing a balm to those who have been deeply wounded and traumatized. Starting in Rwanda, with leaders whose lives, families, and communities had been shattered by genocide, the Pilgrim Center for Reconciliation has come alongside all these years to encourage the “bruised reed” and empower the “smoldering wick.” Read Isaiah 42:1-4.

Another meaning of fomenting is to rouse, to instigate, to catalyze for change. I have lived here in the US my whole life and have also traveled to many parts of the world, and I have found that every culture and system has both beauty and brokenness in various ways. I have also discovered that there is a Kingdom culture that transcends and transforms all these earthly cultures and systems.The Pilgrim Center is called to follow the King, serving as Ambassadors of Reconciliation to catalyze Kingdom transformation in lives, relationships, and communities, until we see His justice established on the earth.

I am committed to continuing to walk together with you on this journey of becoming Ambassadors of Reconciliation. My confident hope and prayer is that together as Ambassadors we might see God’s shalom here in our world. Maranantha, even so come, Lord!

Pastor Jim Olson has served FCA churches for years. In 2016, Bethel Christian Fellowship (St. Paul), where he served as pastor for 26 years, sent Jim to be President of the Pilgrim Center for Reconciliation. In that role Jim ministers Christ’s grace and healing in reconciling individuals and groups of people in both the U.S. and internationally.

NOTE: As a next step, you can join Jim via Facebook Live for a “Living Reconciliation Evening”: Engaging the Powers: A Principled Approach on Thursday, July 30. Please click HERE to find out more information or visit our website www.pilgrimcenter.org for ongoing updates and additional opportunities.

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