Every year as Christmas nears, I’m reminded of my childhood on Christmas Eve. Right after our church’s Christmas Eve service, filled with great fellowship, my family took a long ride to my grandparents’ farm about 15 miles out of town.
Little snow flurries floated in the cold, night air, and I can still see my dad carrying bags full of gifts into the house. My grandmother would have a warm meal filling every corner of her home with its savory aroma and before we ate, she would crack open her old Bible and read the Christmas story.
I grew up in a family where the true meaning of Christmas mattered. The festivities and food paled in comparison to the beauty and joy Jesus brought us, and we enjoyed celebrating Him as the Prince of Peace, together. We knew none of that other stuff mattered. It was being together as a family and keeping our eyes on Jesus that brought us joy each Christmas.
“But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people’” (Luke 2:10).
Few would mark the last couple of years as a joyful time. It’s hard to look back and find the joy in what’s going on in our world today. The world is still a dark place, but next year, the EFCA Theology Conference on February 9–11, 2022, will remind us that this world is not our home with the theme “Our Citizenship Is in Heaven: Exiles Who Are in but not of the World.”
I pray that the conference will be a time of encouragement for all who attend. For us today, we can take heart in the message the angel brought the shepherds keeping their flocks by night—Great joy for all the people!
Satisfied in Jesus
In the early 2000s, I was a pastor in San Jose, California, and I started traveling to Uganda once a year to train Sudanese refugee pastors. These pastors fled civil war in their country and from the oppression of a terrorist organization called the Lord’s Resistance Army. They lived in refugee camps with just enough food to not starve. I spent three years training them, but they also taught me something.
From a human perspective, they didn’t have much—no possessions, no home and no country. Yet, they yearned to see people come to Christ and desired to grow spiritually and plant churches among refugees. But also, when the civil war ended, they hoped to return and plant even more churches in their homeland. Deep in their soul, Jesus was enough for them and brought them great joy in their hearts.
This sincere joy touched my heart. It gave me new perspective, and it reminds me of the message in Luke 2:10. We need to look for the source of our joy, and the angel’s message offers the answer. Joy is found in the person of Christ. This Christmas, my prayer for the EFCA is that Jesus would be our great joy.
Reflecting on 2021
As I reflect on 2021, I’m reminded of just how much we’ve accomplished and the variety of people and topics we engaged. In January, we talked about how amidst all the anger and distractions, we can point people to Jesus.
Then we explored the EFCA’s gospel heritage, our forebears’ passion for the gospel and how we carry that same passion. We discussed the challenges and opportunities of sharing the gospel during the era of social distancing, and we learned how to shepherd the church well through difficulty. Then we transitioned in the second half of the year, discussing how we can further invest and develop new leaders for our mission, about developing female leaders and how we can develop new leaders life on life.
In 2021, God provided so many opportunities for listening to each other, for growth and perspective. Of course, the pandemic also placed plenty of obstacles to ministry. Yet, despite that, I saw God working in powerful ways. Here are a few ways I saw God at work in the EFCA this year:
- Uniting the hearts of EFCA district superintendents. In April, the EFCA district superintendents, myself and several leaders from the national office gathered in San Antonio. Many of the district superintendents started their leadership roles during the pandemic, so this provided a needed opportunity for the whole group to meet face-to-face. At this meeting, I saw God knit their hearts together, establishing a greater relationship and preparing us for what’s to come. The EFCA national office and districts partner together to serve churches, and at this meeting, I saw significant alignment and excitement to work together to accomplish our strategic goals.
- EFCA One. We gathered back in June for EFCA One, our biennial conference, bringing the EFCA family together to highlight and celebrate God’s work in and through the EFCA and to conduct important matters of ministry and leadership in our movement. This year we livestreamed EFCA One from Rockpoint Church in Lake Elmo, Minnesota. Though we all couldn’t gather physically at the conference, we found a way to be united in faith, purpose and mission. It was a significant time of worship where we saw and heard many wonderful stories of transformed lives, churches planted and ministries extended.
- Missional Summit and ReachGlobal Lead Teams. After nearly two years of being apart, God reconnected district and national leaders at the national office through events like Missional Summit and ReachGlobal Lead Teams. We were blessed to be physically present which allowed for greater development of relationship and strategic ministry initiatives.
- Church plants. The EFCA planted 12 new churches in 2021 during the pandemic. One of those churches is Encuentro Church, a Spanish-speaking congregation started by Daniel Perez in Odessa, Texas. It’s an incredible story that truly exemplifies “one EFCA”—local, regional, national and international ministries working together toward common ministry objectives with shared values and trusting relationships. We pray for God’s continued favor as we pursue strategic plans for more church plants.
- Responding to major crises. In just a few short weeks this summer, ReachGlobal Crisis Response responded to a Haitian earthquake, the Afghan refugee crisis and Hurricane Ida. In Haiti, food and supplies were brought to a local church to give to families and children in need. With Afghan refugees coming to the United States, ReachGlobal Crisis Response, in partnership with the All People Initiative and a local Texas church, mobilized resources to provide safety, tangible needs and discipleship pathways to Afghan refugees. In Louisiana, Crisis Response teams helped provide clean-up and relief after Ida devastated the community. Right now, Crisis Response is actively assessing the situation after tornadoes tore through six states, devastating many communities and families. Please pray for those suffering after the wake of these crises and learn more about how you can help the response.
These are a mere handful of ways God continues to move through the EFCA. I pray you find encouragement in this—that no matter the circumstances, whether pandemic or division or isolation, God is at work in our movement. He’s building His Church and we’re all invited to partner with Him for His purpose and glory.
With that said, I want to express my gratitude to all the pastors, missionaries and ministry leaders working toward our common mission. Thank you for your faithful heart and steadfast spirit. Your labor is not in vain, and I’m honored to partner with you in ministry. Thank you, too, to everyone who supported the EFCA financially and prayerfully this year. Your partnership in ministry means so much!
Christmas is a time to be present with family and friends, celebrating our Savior’s birth, but it’s also a time to look ahead to a new year and prepare for ministry opportunities, multiplying disciplemakers, extending gospel ministries and strengthening, revitalizing and planting churches. Whatever the time or season, my prayer is that we won’t be distracted by earthly things or dismayed by this weary world, but that we will come together with great joy and, like the old hymn’s refrain, “turn our eyes to Jesus, look full in His wonderful face, and the things of earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of His glory and grace.”
To hear from leaders and staff working at the national office about their Christmas experience, please enjoy this lighthearted and joyful Christmas video. Merry Christmas and a blessed New Year from all of us at the EFCA national office!
As you consider year-end giving, would you keep the EFCA in mind and help us further our mission to glorify God by multiplying transformational churches among all people? Thank you for contributing to the ministry of the EFCA. To give, visit efca.org/give.
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