Unworthy

Today means different things to different people, and people celebrate today in many different ways. I celebrate something different today, all the while realizing that I am unworthy to do so.

28 years ago today, I walked in to a Halloween alternative event at Laurel Baptist Church in Greenwood expecting something totally different, but I walked away with a relationship with Jesus Christ. It was the start of something beautiful.

I do things almost every day to prove my unworthiness, but He was faithful that night and has been faithful ever since and always will be faithful – because that is who He is.

Romans 5:8 HCSB
But God proves His own love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us!

So my encouragement to you today, even if (especially if) you feel unworthy, look to the cross. Yes, especially on this day when our thoughts might tend to bend toward things dark and sinister, Jesus can take that darkness and emptiness that you feel inside you and fill you with His light. What a special day this could be!

And to our churches, there is no need to “demonize” this one day, the enemy prowls around every day looking to devour us. Teach the importance of standing firm every day, not just one.

And keep doing your Fall Festivals. ..even if it might seem like they are unfruitful, there might just be a guy like me in the crowd somewhere needing to hear about Jesus. In fact, I am pretty sure there will be more than one.

Thanks be to God that even though we are unworthy, He is love. ..the greatest personification of the word ever. ..Father, please forgive me for forgetting that sometimes.

Happy Reformation Day…
Happy anniversary (to me)…
Happy ___________ (whatever you want to call it)…

Psalm 118:24 – This is the day the Lord has made; We will rejoice and be glad in it.

April is Ripe with Opportunity

By the time that most of you read this, we will have had the amazing opportunity to celebrate Easter – Ressurection Day together.

I want to take a moment and thank you for your faithfulness to the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering this year. It is a privilege and an honor to help support North American missionaries as they take the Gospel to places where it is needed most, including right here and now.

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If you have been with us in our services for the last few weeks, then you have seen the videos, and you know just how much this offering means to OUR missionaries. If you have missed any of these videos, please click the link below:

AAEO Testimonies

The truth is, missions isn’t what we do, it is the heart of who we are.

The heartbeat of our churches, big and small, is a heart for Christ who calls us to be missional… we MUST be passionate about reaching the lost for Christ !!!! The moment we lose that is the moment that the enemy starts to gain ground… placing our friends, our family, our communities, and our churches in his crosshairs.

Living in this reality, how will we respond?

14 How, then, can they call on Him they have not believed in? And how can they believe without hearing about Him? And how can they hear without a preacher? 15 And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written: How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news. 16 But not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, Lord, who has believed our message? 17 So faith comes from what is heard,and what is heard comes through the message about Christ. – Romans 10: 14-17

If you are looking for more opportunities to support and be involved in missions (and I know you are), the month of April is ripe with opportunity. Please take a moment to consider these:

Wednesday, April 4th – Missions Classes, Bible Study, #3Circles Training

Not just on April 4th, but every Wednesday this month, we have classes for everyone. Missions classes for the children. Evangelism (#3Circles) training for our teenagers, and Bible for our adults. There is something for everyone. And all these things prepare us to Go and tell the world about Jesus. Let’s be missional on Wednesday nights !!!!!

Sunday, April 8th – Forrest View Worship Service

Have you ever wished that there was a “built-in” way that you could #ServeMcCormick and the surrounding area without having to plan it yourself? An activity where you could just show up and be you? I have good news for you… there is. Please join us as we serve the residents of Forrest View Manor alongside of our friends from the Chapel In The Pines on April 8th (followed by missions meetings and food!)

Tuesday, April 10th – E.B.A. Men’s Ministry Supper @ Parksville

Men… come out and hear about what the Lord is doing in our association and how you can be part of it.

Saturday, April 14th – Children’s Ministry Day

Join our children as they go to distribute items collected for homeless veterans to the Kinard House in Greenwood. Our children are leading the way in missions !!!!

Thursday, April 19th – E.B.A. WMU Spring Meeting @ Red Oak Grove

Women … join with other WMU groups from our association and hear about what the Lord is doing through WMU!

Saturday, April 21st – Disaster Relief Training @ Mt. Airy Baptist (Easley)

Would you like to be trained to respond in times of need? Here is your next opportunity. Please see Wendy Gable for more information.

Sunday, April 29th – 5th Sunday Community Service with Chad Hartis @ Berea Baptist

Come and hear from the 2017 Mission Dartmouth mission team and from church planter Chad Hartis. Chad is the pastor of our church plant partner, South Coast Church, in Dartmouth Mass.

There are 5.9 million people living in the city of Boston, but the overwhelming majority are either practicing Catholics or those who claim no religious beliefs. There’s only one SBC church for every 39,257 people. The need for gospel-centered churches is very real in New England !!!

A little further south is the city of Dartmouth, Massachusetts; a city that Barna once named “the least biblically minded city in the nation”.  There, North Carolina natives and church planters Chad & Jodi Hartis have planted their family and their church to reach those who are far from God.

Come and hear from Chad as he shares his heart for this underserved region of our country.

Don’t miss out on these amazing opportunities to grow and walk closer with the Lord as He leads you in missions !!!!

I love you all,

Pastor John

 

March Is For Missions

I love the month of March. There is a little more sunshine and fewer cold days. There seems to be a spring in everyone’s step as they anticipate the dawning of a new spring. We begin to prepare for Easter and to focus on one of the things that flow out of our deep appreciation for Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross: Missions

This time last year, we introduced our “Missions Mantra” for 2017: #KnowGrowGo.

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Yes, there is a double meaning to #KnowGrowGo graphic:  We do want to know Jesus and God’s Word, we do want to grow in our faith and in our walk with Jesus, and we must go and make disciples, baptize, and teach….  yet, if you look closely at the graphic, the globe is focused on Northern Africa; where our 2017 summer missionary spent his summer ! 

This mantra has served us well over the last year and we will continue to refer to it often. But today, I would like to introduce to you a new “mantra”, if you will, for 2018:

#ServeMcCormick

Last week, I was able to spend a say at a conference in Columbia, SC with hundreds of other pastors. I was a great day. I enjoyed the fellowship and encouragement greatly. I also loved being challenged by what was preached.

One of the main speakers, J.D. Greear, told a story that really challenged me (I will place a link to the video below). In this story, he tells of a time where he did not understand why he was invited to speak at a certain event……. (please click the link below).

JD Greear Video from Impact (start watching at 26:30 for this story)

What struck me about this story was the following quote:

Everywhere in the city… where there is something broken, there is somebody there from your church who is trying to fix it.

I have asked many times since I have been at First Bethany, “What is the biggest problem in McCormick and how do we impact it for Jesus?“. Maybe what I should have been asking is, “Where are the broken things in this city and how can we help love on those in need?“.

You see, if we limit our focus to one or two issues, we miss out on amazing opportunities to serve. Yet, if we will simply lay ourselves out before the Lord and say “use me”, I believe that He will show us numerous opportunities to serve Him by serving those in need in His name. Oh, what a blessing!

34 When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they came together. 35 And one of them, an expert in the law, asked a question to test him: 36 “Teacher, which command in the law is the greatest?” 37 He said to him, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. 38 This is the greatest and most important command. 39 The second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. – Matthew 22:34-39

Thus #ServeMcCormick was born….

It seems simple, maybe even too simple, yet I believe that the Lord will not bless us with greater opportunities until we improve in this area. How are we going to do this?:

  • We have to keep inviting the community to attend events that will contain a Gospel message; like the upcoming Easter Egg Hunt and Easter services.
  • We have to keep preparing for times where the community might need us; by taking advantage of opportunities like the Disaster Relief Training happening throughout the year.
  • We must continue to perform acts of radical service to the community, like the annual Back-To-School-Bash; while looking for ways to #ServeMcCormick every day.
  • Most importantly, we must PRAY for those who know Him not, to be drawn to Him and to respond accordingly.

How will you #ServeMcCormick?

It is not a one-time event… it doesn’t happen just in one place… It is a lifestyle of service born out of a deep appreciation for what Christ has done on the cross.

 

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First Bethany Baptist Church is currently raising money for two missions efforts: A local mission trip to Edgefield, SC called C.C.C.  &  a return trip to Dartmouth, Mass. to work with church planting partners. If you would like to order a t-shirt, we are selling them throughout the month of March at the following link:

T-shirt order form

Let’s go out there and be the church… let’s be about our Father’s business… let’s #ServeMcCormick !

I love you all, Pastor John

Of Early Morning Apologies and Late Night Blog Posts….

I probably should hold off writing this until tomorrow… Or at least stop before submission and save the final draft for later, but I can’t sleep, my heart is heavy, so here goes….. If any of the 3 ( or so 😉 of you who actually read this blog feel offended, I am sorry… It is not my intent.

I had an argument with my 10 year old this morning before school. She wasn’t as enthusiastic about getting to school on time as I thought she should be… We both kind of handled it badly. I left the house to go to work and didn’t get too far down the road before I turned around. I couldn’t let her go to school being mad at me…. I had to say that I was sorry.

That would be the right thing to do on any morning. But, you see, this morning I could not stop thinking about what happened just a few days ago in Parkland, Florida. And I couldn’t stop thinking that IF ( God forbid ) something was to happen at my daughter’s school today, what would be last thing we said to each other.

It’s a terrible thing to think about. But I couldn’t stop. So I had to make sure she knew that I loved her.

It’s a terrible thing to think about because, right now, there are 17+ families and and entire community thinking about the last things they said to their students before they went to school last Wednesday.

My heart is heavy for those families… My heart breaks for them. I pray everyday for them, that somehow in the midst of all this, they feel God’s presence holding them close.

I keep this picture in my phone to remind me to pray

And that is the proper thing to do .. Pray. For these families, for their comfort, for their peace…. Pray. For this school… Pray. For this world… Pray. Pray that parents would once again value the Word of God and bring their children to church. Pray that the distractions that keep us from focusing on the Lord’s instructions would decrease so that our understanding of the Lord would increase. Pray that we (as the church) might play role in the revival of this nation.

Those are all proper responses

And then there have been the improper ones.

Of course, in a time like this, there is going to be some focus on reducing gun violence. There are going to be those who call for stricter laws and more thorough inspection of procedures. Of course there are going to be those who let their emotions surpass what they would normally think, say or do. It is a trying time. In many ways, a little introspection on how we feel about these issues is warranted.

(And I am neither proposing or opposing the implementation of tighter restrictions here)

Those are not the people that bother me. Those are not the ones who have caused my heart to break. Those are not the ones that are keeping me up tonight.

I am more concerned with the ones who are supposed to know what the following words mean, yet have seem to forgotten them here lately:

Do not be hasty to speak, and do not be impulsive to make a speech before God. God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few. – Eccl. 5:2

What we need is less divisive conversation and more praying. We need those who know the Lord to worry more about the Gospel and loving others than their own desires and opinions.

Here is the thing:

There is nothing more important than the Gospel.

Let’s make sure that when we are expressing our opinion on non-Gospel related issues, that we do not let our speech (or text) prevent us from sharing ultimate TRUTH with someone down the road.

Let’s pray.

And let’s be who we are called to be.

“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt should lose its taste, how can it be made salty? It’s no longer good for anything but to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet. – Matthew 5:13

I love you all , all three of you 😉

Keep fighting the good fight.

Pastor John

988 Miles

A few days ago, I had the privilege of leading a twelve-person mission team from the Edgefield Baptist Association to assist South Coast Church in Dartmouth, Massachusetts on an extended weekend mission trip. Five of the twelve team members were from our church. There are 988 miles between First Bethany and South Coast; it would take over 15 hours to drive that distance, thankfully we did not.

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But travel we did. And a great time was had by all. The mission was a success, and ministry opportunities were presented at every turn… even some unexpectedly. This article is not meant to be a full report (that will come at a later time), yet it is meant to give you a glimpse of what we experienced. I hope that you will find the following encouraging, exciting, and challenging:

Friday – 12 missionaries from 6 different churches departed from Edgefield at 4am to travel to Atlanta. From Atlanta, we flew to Providence, Rhode Island. Once there we picked up two rental vans (Red & Grey… you had to be there) and proceeded toward Dartmouth, Mass. Once on location, we met with Chad and Jodi (church planters) to get an overview of the weekend before going out to pass out invitations for the next night’s event.

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By the docks, we met a man named Yusef who needs much prayer. Please lift him up in your prayers as you read this.

Saturday – We started off the first full day by serving alongside South Coast at a ministry called Anchor Ministries (anchornb.com) that serves the local homeless population. They have a really effective mobile ministry

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“site” that is a school bus. Imagine your standard yellow school bus with the rear portion of the seats removed. People in need can come in, sit down and warm up, move to the rear to receive coffee doughnuts, and encouragement consisting of smiles and hugs. It was awesome and humbling to serve alongside South Coast and Anchor Ministries in this endeavor. I will never forget that morning. Please pray for Anchor Ministries.

We finished up this day by assisting South Coast with a free family fun night at their ministry location. We were able to help by serving hot chocolate and popcorn, as well as setting up and tearing down all the tables and props. It was a great night as many families and children came out to this event. Seeds of the Gospel were planted in many hearts; please pray for these families and for the ministry of South Coast.

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Sunday – South Coast is currently (but not for much longer) leasing space from an existing church; so their worship services are later in the day. After a morning of free time, we made our way to South Coast to help set up for the worship service. We all really enjoyed worshipping with South Coast and Pastor Chad did an awesome job delivering a great sermon. Afterwards, we had some time to spend with Chad and his family …. As well as some of their church members. Please pray for South Coast as they transition to their new facility and have their first service there on Christmas Eve!

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After dinner, we headed to the hotel where we had yet another unexpected opportunity to minister to a family in need. Let’s just say that few of us returned home with fewer warm clothes than we packed for the trip… and some new clothes were purchased. Please pray for this family… we don’t even know their names, but the Lord does.

Monday – The last day was a little bit of a whirlwind. After an extended breakfast time with the church planting family (and some tearful goodbyes), we headed for a brief tour of Boston, a little over an hour to the north. With the return flight time looming over us, we did not have much time to spend there. However, we were able to see a small portion of the city and take many pictures. We left the city and returned home via a very smooth flight to Atlanta. Please pray for New England and Dartmouth, Mass in particular, there is much darkness there even though the area is very beautiful.

Last Things

Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved – Romans 10:13

How, then, can they call on Him they have not believed in? And how can they believe without hearing about Him? And how can they hear without a preacher? And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written: How beautiful are there feet of those who bring good news – Romans 10:14-15

I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth – Acts 13:47b

It’s hard for me to explain the depth of my gratitude to the Lord for sending me on this trip. The amount of space above is completely inadequate for that task. To Him, I am thankful for:

  • His Word – it sustained us leading up to as well as all throughout this trip
  • His presence – wouldn’t want to get away from it if we could, He is always there. I am grateful
  • Traveling mercies– both by ground and by air
  • The Mission Team– 12 people, from 6 churches, many who did not know each other well (and some not at all) came together and acted as one. It was amazing to see how the Lord worked in and through this mission team. The cooperation and concern shown by each of them was truly remarkable. I will never forget these guys… And I would be more than happy to gather them up again and storm whatever gates the Lord places in front of us. I am blessed.
  • The Church Planters – as much as I was affected by the ministry that we did, I was even more deeply touched by the depth of the commitment of the church planters that we were working with. South Coast and the entire Dartmouth community is blessed to have a couple like Chad and Jodi leading them, fighting for them, and sacrificing their lives so that those who know Him not may be saved. I am forever grateful for their love for the Kingdom. I could say much more, yet I will leave it at the following: I am inspired and challenged by this amazing family…. All my love to them.
  • Our leadership – to our DOM, our Missions Development Team, our Convention, and to NAMB – thank you for making trips like this a reality. I can’t be more thankful to you all.

There is too much more to say, and not enough room or time to say it…. Praise God for His mighty works.

To our churches and our pastors, please know that we (the mission team) are forever grateful for your prayers and support for this trip… there are just not enough words to adequately relay how appreciative that I am for your participation in this trip. This will not be the last time we travel to Dartmouth as a church. Please begin to pray now to see if the Lord might lead you to join us next time.

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I love you all,

Pastor John

P.s. if you were on this mission team and would like to add to the above , please feel free to leave your comments on this blog. I love you guys and look forward to serving with you again. Go Grey Van 😉

3 Years Ago Today

It’s hard to believe, but today I will celebrate the third anniversary of being called as pastor of First Bethany Baptist Church. Three years since I stood before the congregation and rejoiced as we started our journey together. It’s been a privilege and and honor… each and every day since.

I am still the guy who pinches himself from time to time to make sure that it is real.

I remember thinking, back when my home church asked me to teach Sunday school, how much of an honor it was. And also how that I would love to do that for a very long time. Never would I have believed that the Lord would lead me from there to where we are today. God is good!

To my wonderful family. Thank you so much for your love and support. I couldn’t ask for better “partners” in the ministry. This journey would not be possible without each of you. I am excited to see how the Lord is not only working in you, but working through you today… from singing specials during the worship time, to helping with children’s church, to leading and preaching about missions, to helping me lead the youth group on Wednesday nights… it is a blessing for any pastor to not only have the love and support of his family, but to and see them serving the Lord actively around him. For that, and many other reasons, I love and appreciate you very much! I am especially thankful to my lovely bride, without her support, none of this would be remotely possible.

I love you guys very much

To my First Bethany church family, you have been a tremendous blessing to me and my family. Neither of us are perfect, but I appreciate your love and care for me and my family more than you will ever know. I appreciate the heart that you have to reach the lost in this world for Jesus even more.

You are truly a blessing to me.

In January, we will take some time on a Sunday morning to recap the last 3 years and cast some vision for 2018. But I wanted to take a moment to briefly speak about it here. I can’t wait to see what the Lord will do in 2018.

In all honesty, that first Sunday that I stood behind the pulpit as your pastor, I had no idea what to do and how to lead you. I was still getting my feet under me and learning how to be a senior pastor (something that I am still trying to learn to do). But the Lord was gracious and led us to (and through) the book of Acts.

The idea was that if we could just capture a bit of the passion and knowledge that this first church had, if we could just know what they knew and do what they did, then we would change this world for Christ! From that, a ministry model was born:

Scholarship – Worship – Fellowship – Outreach…. A simple idea taken from a passage of Scripture in the book of Acts:

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayer.
Acts 2:42

We have worked hard ever since to make sure that every ministry and every event in the life of our church falls into one of these 4 categories. I feel that we have been successful in this. And we have recently augmented this idea by asking the deacons to each pray for and serve one of these ministry areas in our church.

That was year one.

In year two, we undertook the the task of examining the doctrine of Southern Baptists, the denomination of which we belong. It was a great journey of which I am still thankful for. I think we need to keep this doctrine in front of us as the world continually tries to convince us to forget it.

Our doctrine of derived directly from the Word of God, may we never waiver in our adherence to the Word, even under the tremendous pressure of this world!

If you are still unfamiliar with, or need to be reminded of what (and why) we believe. Use this link below:

http://www.sbc.net/bfm2000/bfm2000.asp

That was year two.

Now that we had a ministry model, and we had a greater understanding of what we believe; it was time to take action. Year three took us to the book of Romans and to the following Mission Statement:

Know God – have a relationship with Him through Jesus Christ, give your life to Him as Lord.

Grow – grow in your walk with the Lord; deepen your relationship with him through worship, Bible study, and prayer.

Go – based on the Great Commission; go into all the world and tell them the Good News that Jesus saves!

Jesus came near and said to them, “All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Matthew 28:18

Even though year three has just come to a close, I feel that we have taken the teachings of Romans to heart; we have continued to embrace the Mission. First Bethany has always been great at missions, but this year the Lord has led us to continue to push forward with emphasis on things like:

  • Our continued service to Forest View Manor every month
  • Our increased attention to the area of Disaster Relief
  • Our strong missions giving, both regularly and to special offerings
  • Our regular fundraising for missions projects and sending at least one summer missionary out each of the last three summers
  • Our current project to reach the community around us through replacing smoke detectors
  • Our prayer partnership with a #SendBoston church plant in Dartmouth, Mass.
  • The upcoming mission trip to New England, on which we have placed 5 team members (see picture below)

These will be the legacy of year three.

Looking forward into year 4, it’s going to be all about leadership. I have prayed and the Lord is leading me to preach through the books of 1 and 2 Samuel….

I can’t wait to see what the Lord will do!

Finally, on a personal note, thank you again for your love and support of my and my family. It means the world to me. We are very blessed to have each and every one of you. From us to you, we love you!

(Sorry Wesley, I guess we need to get a new picture in front of the church with you in it)

“May the Lord bless you and protect you; may the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you; may the Lord look with favor on you and give you peace.” ’
Numbers 6:24‭-‬26

What Is God Calling You To Sacrifice?

How, then, can they call on him they have not believed in? And how can they believe without hearing about him? … – Romans 10:14a

The summer of 2006 was approaching and I was weighing plans for the family in my mind; trying to decide how to spend the few precious days of vacation time that I had earned from work. Those vacation days were (and still are) very precious to me and I wanted to make sure that I used them well. Never mind that I was also running a business on the side at the time… we were busy for sure!

It was already hard to decide what to do and where to go.; and then something remarkable happened. One Sunday, our pastor (we had just started attending our “home” church in late 2004) mentioned that our church was going to take a trip that summer to a small town in Mississippi to help a church rebuild from the devastation of Hurricane Katrina.

In that moment, I began to consider something that I had never thought of before.

I had never been on a mission trip, but what if God was calling our family to sacrifice our summer vacation to join Him in helping those in need? What if His summer plans for us included something much more than sand, water, amusements parks, bad hotels, and the like? What if He was sending us on a mission and this was His invitation?

“If Jesus Christ be God and died for me, then no sacrifice can be too great for me to make for Him.” C.T. Studd

It was not long after that that our family was sitting in a living room pondering this option… my wife was on board, the kids soon followed… and the Alexanders decided that the beach could wait! It was not an easy decision, not back then, and we may still find ourselves wrestling from time to time with some of the same questions. But I can tell you that this trip changed my life and the life of our family

We ended up spending a very hot, very humid week in Pascagoula, a town that I had only ever heard mentioned in an old song about a squirrel and a church. It was one of the most physically demanding yet spiritually nourishing weeks of my life. I thank God that He invited us, and that we listened.

“The mark of a great church is not its seating capacity, but its sending capacity.”Mike Stachura

I have come to not only value the opportunity to “go” on mission, but also to desire it greatly. There has not been a summer since 2005 that I have not been somewhere with some church on mission. I say that not to attempt place myself under your esteem, but only to mention that my vacation days from work have NOT really increased that much since then. And pastoring a church is much busier than running a business.

My point is clear and it is one of challenge: What is God calling you to sacrifice so that you can join Him on mission?

Not everyone can go, not every time… but we should all be “on mission”!

In order to help you, as my church family, I want to detail a couple of upcoming opportunities for you to prayerfully consider… I would love for you to join me in one of these efforts:

1) Prayer – it is the single most important thing that you can do for missions. Pray for the mission teams’ safety, health, and (most importantly) effectiveness for the Gospel!

2) One Day – On Tuesday November 7, South Carolina Baptists will be on mission, serving the city of Columbia, SC in the name of Jesus. Volunteers will join local churches and ministries to support the work being done in their communities. I have more details…. Please see me to sign up.

3) Mission Dartmouth (a.k.a. The EBA Boston Area Mission Trip) – On Dec 1st – 4th, the churches of the EBA will travel for an extended weekend to Dartmouth, Mass to assist our church planting partners (SouthCoast Church) with ministry. The really cool thing is that most of the cost for this trip is being covered by a grant; so your part is actually quite low. And even that should not discourage you from signing up. I will be leading this trip and would love for you to join me. This is your invitation! Sign up ends on October 31st.

In all this, please know that I love and appreciate every one of you. Whether you can participate in one or all three of these items that does not change. Yet, I would love to see you and your family be blessed by such an effort in the same way we were (and are). Please be in prayer over these opportunities.

I love you all,

Pastor John