2013 was incredible. A new pope brought verve to the Roman Catholic Church by doing “Jesus” stuff. The Middle East experienced an “Arab Spring” that is dangerous, hopeful, and unprecedented. China put a rover on the moon. The Philippines were hit with unprecedented typhoon damage. Human stem cells were successfully cones. Terrorists struck Boston. Meteorites injured hundreds of Russians and did mega-damage. Nelson Mandela died. And we learned, sadly, what “twerk” means.
A lot has happened more locally, too. I asked NCC churches to report what they saw as major highlights of 2013. A few responded:
“One of the highlights of this year here in Livingston has been to see a great group of people from the church (and several from the community as well) come together to feed hungry families two Wednesday nights a month. We are averaging 45 people each meal night and expect it to grow over time. We are also planning a once per week lunch in the park during the summer to help families who depend on the schools for feeding their children lunch.” -- Greg Marsh, Livingston WI
“One highlight for sure was the resurrection of our VBS after 5 years and having 65 kids.” – Mark Phillips, LaFarge WI
“We had a number of highlights in 2013 including our Holiday Help programs in which we served 3012 families with Thanksgiving baskets, 1200+ hot meals for Thanksgiving, 500+ families with Toys For Tots and sponsored 150 families through our Adopt-A-Family program. In addition, we have seen more volunteer participation from our community which produces wonderful opportunities for witnessing our faith. Finally, we have incorporated testimonials during our Sunday morning services during the month of December. It was such a joy to hear the God-sized stories of His amazing work in lives and how the Cedarcrest Church family was key in creating a safe environment for people to grow in grace.” – Shawn Morrison, Bloomington/Minneapolis MN
“I am happy to be here at the beginning of 2014 to share about God’s grace and mercy during 2013. Betty and I believe God touched our son Tim through the hands of many doctors and nurses as he was treated for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma with chemo therapy and a bone marrow transplant. We are deeply grateful for the many prayers of God’s people for Tim. We are also thankful for His provision since the change in my work hours and His protective hand upon me during my cycling mishaps. We know God was with us in 2013 and we know that 2014 will be another year of experiencing His abundant grace. NO DOUBTS!!” Randy Waller, Woodstock, IL.
“A man were helping (living with us) was incarcerated, which has given us access to the prison and I have been able to minister to many of the convicts, and even lead a Bible study each week with the prisoners. Our relationship with the Safe Home –a residence for chronic, homeless alcoholics – has led to monthly breakfast ministry with the men. Relationships are being built. More and more are open to members of our community praying with them and sharing with them. 2014 will be a good year as we continue to grow these relationships.” Pat and Marge McClanahan, Sioux Falls SD.
“Probably the highlight of this past year was our baptism service last August. My 9 year old daughter was baptized and that was highlight #1. She has grown tremendously in Christ over the last year. Because she was being baptized my family came to support, which brought my father, who had not been baptized. On the spot after our 3 planned baptisms I asked if any others would like to be baptized. My dad stepped forward!!! I got to baptize my Dad and daughter on the same day! But wait there's more… My childhood friend who had been attending our church for a couple months was at this service and gave his life to Christ that day, and when I gave the invitation to be baptized, he came forward as well! I continue to meet with and disciple Ray and we are excited to hole our next baptism service Feb. 16th. Stay tuned to see what God might do!” Kevin DeVries, Monee IL
“As I look back on a most blessed year in the Lord I see His grace, truth and love in abundance. Twelve months ago we were content to be ministering in Clearwater, Florida. Vunita and I were comfortable walking on the beach in January, focusing on making a difference as a Chaplain and associate pastors of our loving church (Lake Palms Community Church) in Largo, Florida. . . [And now we are back in our home town of Clarinda, IA] God has such a great sense of humor that He will work things around to where it is our desire to go back to the cold and the closest thing to a strip mall is a grocery store, a mom and pop restaurant and a Dollar General. We are renewing old friendships and making sure we are in the center of HIS good and pleasing and perfect will. We are most assuredly overwhelmed by God's grace and truth and love. Blessed most abundantly to be a blessing to those we come into contact with. Hang on 2014 the Iskes are here and we want to help restore, rebuild and expand God's kingdom work here in Clarinda and the North Central Conference.” Richard and Vunita Iske, Clarinda, IA
“World Missions has been one of the highlights in ministry for the Fillmore (MN) Church in 2013. In January, a team of 6 individuals traveled to the Christian Orphanage in Honduras to construct a house as well as minister to needy families. Then $1,800 was raised to help eight Free Methodist churches in the Philippines to replace or repair their roofs following a December typhoon. Over $1,000 was later contributed to help two pastors in Haiti receive Bible training through the FM ministry through helping purchase a motorcycle for ministry and for transportation to the training. Two persons from the Fillmore Church provided medical care to individuals along the Amazon River in Bolivia, South America. In November, 59 shoe boxes were collected to be sent to children around the world through Operation Christmas Child. Each month our church supports ministry in Jordan and Asia. Finally, $1,616 was raised for typhoon relief in the Philippines. During 2013, this rural Minnesota church has had the opportunity to support ministry in Honduras, the Philippines, Haiti, Bolivia, Jordan, and Asia in 2013.” Mike and Janet Hopper, Fillmore MN
Several churches were started in 2013: Loyal Community Church, Pastor Zeke Kunkle, Loyal WI; Just Church, Pastors Howie and Nicole Snyder, Aurora, IL, Revolution, Pastor David Condry, Cedar Rapids/Vinton IA, Rey de Gloria, Pastor Uriel Duran, Salem Church, Darryl Martin, Lafayette IA, The Connection, Elgin, IL. We also saw the formation of new churches from church plants: Iglesia Bethel, Glencoe (Fellowship from Affiliate), Resolution Church, Oswego IL (Society from church plant), Common Ground Worship Center (Fellowship from church plant).
Some churches closed. The Faith, Hope and Love Fellowship in Pekin IL (5 people), disbanded. The First FMC of Elgin IL disbanded and reformed to plant a new church, noted above as “The Connection” leaving the building to be used by Nuestro Redentor FMC. The Loop, a missional church plant launched by Pam Braman, disbanded after introducing many college students in particular to faith in Jesus.
Three churches targeted for “Revitalization” in 2013 by the NCC, Richland Center FMC (WI), LaFarge FMC (WI) and Lighthouse FMC (Waterloo, IA) have all experienced significant, sustained conversion growth.