Partnering in Puerto Rico

In October, our Monthly Prayer Focus was on Disaster Recovery, and during the month we mentioned that we were working on connecting with a C&MA church in Puerto Rico to partner with them in recovery. 

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There are 63 C&MA churches in Puerto Rico, as well as an extension campus of Alliance Theological Seminary (ATS). The island of Puerto Rico, their economy, these church properties, the people who make up these churches, and the neighborhoods they are located in were devastated by the hurricane. The road to recovery is long and hard, but there are also many opportunities to offer hope and love in the name of Jesus.

If you’ve ever been to Puerto Rico, the island is much different now because of the destruction. If you want to gain a good overview of the condition of the island, check out the video from C&MA President John Stumbo’s visit to Puerto Rico here

We’ve made contact with the Theopolis C&MA church in Mayaguez, Puerto Rico. They are excited and encouraged about us partnering with them in these days. The church is pastored by William Pacheco. Their facility did not experience much damage, but many homes around them did. They only recently regained electricity in their area. Pastor William shared these 3 prayer requests with us:

  1. For their school, Theopolis Christian Academy, and the teachers and students. They need to maintain enrollment, but many people are leaving the island for the states. This will make it harder for the school to continue functioning.
  2. They have teams that continue to go out to help the people next to them and in other communities. They want to be able to continue doing the work needed around the church and in the neighborhoods.
  3. Please pray for the people that still don’t have electricity or water, who have health problems, who lost their home, etc.

We’ve also made contact with the extension campus of Alliance Theological Seminary in the San Juan area. They are the leading seminary on the island. They have experienced extensive damage to their facility (roof, carpet, windows, etc), but are thankful that there was very little damage to their books and other education materials. That being said, they need to meet an $80,000 deductible before their insurance will kick in, and they are also facing an enrollment crisis after starting the academic year with record enrollment. 

Many of the Alliance districts have already sent money to sustain the district office in Puerto Rico. One of the poorest Alliance churches in Africa has sent $1000 to provide relief to those in need in Puerto Rico. 

Not only are we calling you to partner in prayer, but we also want to rise up in love to bless our brothers and sisters in Puerto Rico financially. To that end, we will be taking a special offering on Sunday, 26 November, in both services to send to Puerto Rico for both the Theopolis Church and the ATS extension campus. Please begin asking God how He would have you participate in an above and beyond way. The people of the C&MA have a long tradition of rising up and giving sacrificially when needs arise. May we embrace that tradition and give to bless these brothers and sisters as they not only work to get back on their feet, but help others get back on their feet in the name of Jesus. Digital giving is available as well (choose Puerto Rico), especially for those of you who will not be in the service that weekend.

Thank you for praying and for giving to bless and love these brothers and sisters in Puerto Rico who have suffered much. 

Tidings of Comfort & Joy?

Facing the Holidays after bereavement...

When you’re grieving the death of a family member or friend, you may dread the holiday season from Thanksgiving through New Year’s. Thoughts of social gatherings, family traditions, and obligations leave you anxious and overwhelmed. Your sadness can seem unbearable. You may wish you could skip these next two months and go straight to the routine of the next year—but you can’t. What can you do to lessen your stress and loneliness?

Holidays trigger tough emotions

You can start by learning what emotions are normal and to be expected when facing the holidays without your loved one. “If you’re feeling overwhelmed as this holiday season approaches, that’s very normal,” advised psychologist Dr. Susan Zonnebelt-Smeenge, whose husband died. “You’re probably wondering how you’re going to handle this and are unsure of what course to take. I want to assure you that you can get through these holidays, and hopefully you can even find moments of joy.”

When you know what to expect, you won’t be rendered helpless as holiday events trigger unexpected emotions. Make a point to spend time talking with people who have experienced a past loss and have already been through a holiday season without their loved one. They can help you have an idea of typical emotions and emotional triggers to expect. These people can also provide much-needed comfort and support.

Creating a holiday plan will help

Another important step in surviving the holidays is to create a healthy plan for the coming season. “Planning does help you to have a little control, even when you feel totally out of control,” said Dr. Zonnebelt-Smeenge. A healthy plan involves making decisions in advance about traditions, meals, time spent with others, holiday decorating, gift-giving, and commitments.

You will likely not have the energy or the interest in doing as much as you have in past years. Decide ahead of time which invitations you’ll accept, and let the host or family member know that you might leave early. Consider whether your decorating will be different this year: perhaps a smaller tree or simpler ornaments. If you cook or bake, cut back.

Make a list of every holiday tradition you can think of, from music to presents to outings. Then decide which traditions will be too difficult without your deceased loved one, which traditions you’d like to maintain, and what new traditions you can start this year.

Communicating with family and friends

What’s also helpful in facing the holidays is to communicate your specific concerns and needs with your family and friends. People in grief are often tempted to put on a mask and pretend things are fine, especially over the holidays. “I didn’t want to put on a damper on anyone else’s joy,” shared Mardie. “So I put on a happy face and tried to be the sister, the daughter, the aunt, that everybody wanted to see. Putting on that happy face was a heavier burden than I was emotionally able to carry at the time.”

Your friends may want you to “cheer up” and “have fun,” when that’s the last thing you want. Others will avoid you because they don’t know what to say and don’t want to make you feel worse. Some family members will give you wrong advice in a misguided attempt to help. All of these people likely mean well, but will only end up hurting you if you don’t communicate what you truly need from them.

As difficult as this may be, it’s important to tell people what they can do to help and what they are doing that isn’t helping. And if you don’t have the energy or inclination to talk to people face-to-face, then write your thoughts, concerns, and needs in a letter or email. What’s important is that you are being honest and gracious in your communication.

In describing the first holiday dinner after she was widowed, Dr. Zonnebelt-Smeenge said, “It seemed like no one wanted to talk about my husband. I kept waiting for somebody to bring up [his name]. After a while I couldn’t stand it anymore. I excused myself and left and bawled all the way home. Later I decided maybe they were waiting for me to decide if it was okay to talk about him; maybe they were afraid if they said anything, they’d make me feel worse. From that time on when I went to an event, I found a way to let people know I wanted to talk about him and I wanted to hear their stories.”

So where can you find out what emotions to expect over the holidays, how to create a healthy plan and how to communicate with family and friends these coming weeks?

“Surviving the Holidays” seminar on Saturday, November 11, 2017.

A GriefShare Surviving the Holidays seminar, held Saturday, November 11, 2017 at First Alliance Church in Toccoa, GA (located at 220 Alliance Drive across from Wal-Mart) from 9:30-11:30 am, offers practical, actionable strategies for making it through the holiday season. At this two-hour seminar, you’ll view a video featuring advice from people in grief who’ve faced the holidays after their loss. You’ll hear insights from respected Christian counselors, pastors, and psychologists. You’ll receive a Holiday Survival Guide with practical strategies, encouraging words, helpful exercises, Q/As, and journaling ideas for daily survival through the holiday season

At GriefShare Surviving the Holidays, you’ll enjoy a holiday brunch as you meet with other grieving people who have an understanding of what you’re going through. They won’t judge you or force you to share, but will accept you where you are and will offer comfort and support. “When I went to GriefShare,” said Marion, “I realized there are different ways to grieve.”

Your holiday season won’t be easy; your emotions may ambush you and suck you under at times. But you can choose to walk through this season in a way that honors your loved one and puts you on the path of health and healing.

To register or find out more about GriefShare Surviving the Holidays, visit www.toccoagriefshare.com or contact First Alliance Church at 706-886-5948 or office@firstalliancetoccoa.com.

Provide Spiritual Nourishment in Toccoa

An opportunity to engage the world...

In Toccoa, there are two great facilities for folks as they enter the later years of life. One is the Wilkinson Center, a 40 unit retirement living facility that provides each resident with their own living space without the normal hassles of home ownership, and the other is the Clary Care Center, a 42 bed assisted living facility for those with physical limitations or that need a little extra help. Both are located next to Stephens County Hospital and Toccoa Falls College.

First Alliance has been given the opportunity to be part of providing spiritual discipleship and teaching as part of the schedule of activities at both facilities. Even though the residents find themselves in a different living situation, it doesn't mean that connecting to Christ, growing with others, and engaging the world isn't still vital. 

There are two ways that you can serve our community.

  1. Be part of a rotation that provides a simple worship service on Sundays at the Clary Care Center. The service can be anywhere from 30-60 minutes and can include a 15-20 lesson, singing, prayer for one another and for the nations, and/or times of testimony. There are opportunities on the first and third Sunday of the month, and the service can be at either 10am or 2pm.

    This is a great opportunity for an individual, family, friends, or Discipling Community to do together. There's no need to be a pastor; just have a willingness to share Jesus and the Word of God with the residents. 

    You don't have to do it every time. In fact, it would be great to build a schedule so many can participate a few times each year. If you have questions, contact Pastor Chris, or if you are interested in taking a few turns, complete the form below as a first step.
     
  2. Lead a weekly Bible Study at the Wilkinson Center. On a particular day of the week, preferably after lunch around 2pm, head over to the Wilkinson Center, gather with a group of residents, and facilitate time in the Word of God. You could start a Discipling Community right there for residents.

    Spend time weekly connecting to Christ through Bible Study, simple acts of worship, and prayer. Grow with others by sharing with one another, praying for one another, and spending time together. Engage the World through prayer for our community, people far from God, and for the unreached people of the world to experience Jesus' love firsthand. Not only would you encourage the residents, but you would probably be just as encouraged from the time spent together.

    If you have questions, contact Pastor Chris, or if you are interested in this ministry opportunity, go ahead and complete the form below as a first step.

Continued contact with other believers and time in God's Word is a great encouragement to people, especially when life is changing rapidly. Can you be part of facilitating these opportunities? Complete the form below so we can get things going.

Ending 2016 and Beginning 2017 at FACT

Greetings, First Alliance!

As we conclude 2016, we are thankful for all that God is doing in our midst. Over the past year we have sought to connect, grow, and engage as disciples of Jesus Christ in love. He is working in and among us to fulfill His purposes both in us, and in our community and our world. May we continue to live in pursuit of Jesus as the people of God. We look forward to 2017 -  the doors God is opening, the paths that He is leading us in, and the new lives that will become part of the kingdom because of our faithful living as holy people of God.

The end of 2016 also means the next steps in Sanctuary Renovation. After our Christmas services, work will begin in earnest. We are excited about the new space we will have to gather to worship the Lord our God and invite others to as well. To make sure we are all on the same page, please make note of the following:

  • Worship Services will be held in the Fellowship Hall beginning 1 January 2017. There will be one service at 10:45am on 1 January, and we will resume our regular 2 service schedule on 8 January 2017. When services are in progress, please do not enter or exit the Fellowship Hall through the doors by the big screen near the library. Please use the doors that go into the Children’s Area Hallway. This will help reduce distractions for others during a worship service.
  • Coffee & Connection will not happen on 1 January 2017 but will resume on 8 January 2017. During the time services are held in the Fellowship Hall, Coffee & Connection will temporarily move to the Family Life Center.
  • The Fellowship Hall Sunday School Community that meets in the Fellowship Hall will be temporarily relocated to the Family Life Center during this period.
  • Weekly Activities normally meeting in the Fellowship Hall will take place in other rooms on our campus. Be sure to check with your group/ministry leader to confirm temporary locations.
  • On-Deck Youth will continue to meet in the Fellowship Hall on Wednesday evenings during this period. They will resume on 4 January 2017.
  • The Front Lobby Area will be closed for a few weeks during renovation work. We will communicate with you when this will be, and will post signs. 
  • Signs will be posted to inform and direct. Please follow them for your safety, the safety of others, and to help things flow as smoothly as possible.
  • The Children’s Area Hallway will be a main route to the Fellowship Hall during this time. If you are not a parent, child, or Children’s Ministry Volunteer, please do not linger in this area.
  • Parking spaces near the Fellowship Hall will be blocked off during this time to allow for safety and easier pedestrian access.

Here’s how you can help make this period a positive one:

  • Be flexible and work together. This is an opportunity for us to grow in grace toward one another during this time of ministry changes/dislocations. Our relationships with one another in the love of Christ is the most important.
  • Consider attending the 10:45am service during this time if you are not part of a Sunday School Community. This would create some space in the 9am service seating. Everyone who currently comes at 9am can fit in the Fellowship Hall, but it will be “cozy."
  • Help with heavy lifting and some demo work on Monday, 26 December 2016 in the sanctuary to prepare it for the actual renovation work. If you are available, please be at the church at 9am.
  • Come and get a pew if you are interested in having one on Monday, 26 December with a way to get it to wherever you would like it to go. We are unable to store pews for later pickup.
  • Grab any bibles, hymnals, Connect Cards, and pens in the area you sit at the end of the Christmas morning service at 10:45am and place them in the designated areas.
  • Follow all posted signs during the renovation period.

Thank you for your cooperation and flexibility during this period. We look forward to returning to the Sanctuary and dedicating this refreshed space to the glory of God. We also thank you for your continued support and prayers in regards to this project. Please continue to pray for the work to be done, for those doing the work, and for God to be glorified. Please also continue to seek the Lord regarding your financial participation in this project. While we are excited to have over 80% of the estimated project cost (which has allowed us to start), we are not quite there yet. We are not borrowing money for this, and desire to finish in a timely fashion which requires us reaching the 100% mark. The Lord has provided, and we are trusting Him to help us cross the finish line.

May the Lord continue to bless First Alliance. Not only in this specific project, but as we continue to seek Him, grow as His disciples, and invite others to surrender their lives to the fullness of Christ in us, the hope of glory.

May you and your family know the blessed presence of the Lord this Christmas season.

P.S. Please don’t forget about our Christmas services on Christmas Eve at 6pm and Christmas morning at 10:45am. Invite friends and others you know who are not part of a local church to come with you, especially on Christmas Eve. Don’t forget we’re collecting clean coats and blankets on Christmas Eve evening for the Salvation Army to give to those in need in our community. 

FACT Life News...

Greetings, First Alliance!

Trust that you all are having a joyful Advent/Christmas season as we both wait for and celebrate the coming of Christ. May you continue to experience the fullness of Christ in moments of waiting, and may you express kindness and joy to those you cross paths with in the love of Jesus Christ.

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Our Christmas Eve Candlelight Community Service this year on December 24 will begin at 6pm. We want you to be aware, but more importantly we want you to be inviting people to come with you to this service. This hour long service is designed for our greater community, especially those who aren’t connected with a local church. Who do you know in your neighborhood, at work, at school, at the gym, etc. that you could invite to come and hear the good news of Jesus Christ this Christmas? More people attend Christmas services than any other time of the year, especially if a friend invites them. Please invite people you know to come with you on Christmas Eve to pause and hear the truth of Christmas. Be praying not only for the people you invite, but also those that others invite that all would clearly hear and respond to the good news of Jesus this Christmas. 

We are also collecting clean coats and blankets for the Salvation Army this Christmas. Bring them on Christmas Eve so we can bless those in need in our area generously.  And be sure to let the people you invite know about this as well. Christmas is a time of giving.

Feel free to share about the Christmas Eve Candlelight Community Service on social media. We also have some flyers that can be distributed around town. If you would like to put some up, please contact Pastor Chris this week.

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Also, as we let you know on Sunday, the next phase of Sanctuary Renovation involves us holding our regular worship services in the Fellowship Hall. This begins 1 January 2017, and will involve a bit of flexibility and patience on everyone’s part. Some activities and events that normally happen in the Fellowship Hall will be temporarily moved to other parts of our campus. Things may be a little “challenging” for a number of weeks, but this is also a time for us to draw together, show grace to one another, and see how God works in and through us in these days as a church body. Let’s work together to make this period as joyful as possible. The Elders, Administrative Board, and Pastoral Staff continue to see this project as an important part of the next season of life at First Alliance. Please be praying for the smooth completion of the work, safety for those doing the work, that the remaining funds to complete the project would come in quickly, and that above all God would be glorified both in the work and in our attitudes.

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Finally, we hope to see you all on Wednesday evening, 14 December 2016, for the FACT Christmas Banquet. We’re looking forward to being together, and especially looking forward to an evening of Christmas cheer without an annual meeting. If you need a reminder of what to bring, click here.

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We’re thankful that you are part of First Alliance. May we continue to connect, grow, and engage as disciples of Jesus Christ for the fulfillment of the Great Commission both in our own backyard and around the world.

Engage the World at Open Arms Clinic

Open Arms Clinic is a non-governmental, not-for-profit medical clinic dedicated to serving Stephens County residents. It is funded by private, individual and public donations. Located directly across the street from the Toccoa Clinic, they focus on providing primary health care with compassion and respect, and provide services on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays.

This may be a way that some of us at FACT could Engage the World practically and locally using the gifts, abilities, and/or education that God has given us to be good stewards of as a disciple.

There are two areas of opportunity: 

  1. Provide supplies that Open Arms needs. This allows them to direct more of their funds to actual medical care. Items you could donate include 13 gallon kitchen trash bags, stamps, and coffee & creamer. They are also in urgent needs of bottled water, copier paper, paper towels, and sticky notes. Many of the patients walk or ride their bike to the clinic. Bottled water is an essential items that helps to keep patients healthy and hydrated.
  2. Volunteer time to serve. Potential volunteers should be comfortable with using a computer, and they will train for all positions. The computer program is easy to learn, and help is readily available if needed. Student nurses and community service individuals are welcome, and Open Arms will work with you and sign off on your volunteer hours for clinicals or community service hours. Current opportunities include:
  • 1 position open for a Thursday morning nurse, one Thursday a month.
  • 1 position open for a Tuesday evening nurse, at least one Tuesday every other month.
  • 1 position open for a Thursday morning receptionist, at least one Thursday a month.
  • 1 position open for a computer literate individual who will assist with Patient Assistance Program applications and renewals.
  • Seeking an individual who has organizational skills and (perhaps) a basic knowledge of medications to offer assistance with organization and upkeep of the Pharmacy.
  • Morning and Afternoon receptionists on Wednesdays.

For more information, or to express interest, contact Open Arms Clinic directly at 706-886-0940 or at openarms@windstream.net.

A Call to Prayer for Aleppo

On Friday, 9 December 2016, the National Office of the Christian & Missionary Alliance has issued a Call to Prayer for all in The Alliance to pray for Aleppo, Syria in light of the fighting and the continued ministry of the Alliance church in Aleppo.

Syrian government forces’ battle to reclaim all of Aleppo from rebel fighters has gained momentum in the past two weeks. The rebel-held eastern portion of the city is experiencing heavy bombing and incredible damage.
The Alliance church in Aleppo continues to minister in the midst of the fighting. Funds for aid and relief from Compassion and Mercy Associates(CAMA) have been delivered.
Today we call upon Alliance people across the United States to pray for the city.
  • Pray for an end to the terrible fighting.
  • Pray for the opportunity for those under bombardment to regain opportunity to exit and to have access to food and medical supplies.
  • Pray for the Alliance church’s ministry to those in dire need and those who seek the Lord amid such stress and suffering.

Please be in prayer in these days.