#MyOne

 

Dear friends, do you think you’ll get anywhere in this if you learn all the right words but never do anything? Does merely talking about faith indicate that a person really has it? For instance, you come upon an old friend dressed in rags and half-starved and say, “Good morning, friend! Be clothed in Christ! Be filled with the Holy Spirit!” and walk off without providing so much as a coat or a cup of soup—where does that get you? Isn’t it obvious that God-talk without God-acts is outrageous nonsense?

James 2:14-17, The Message

 

Continue reading “#MyOne”

Human Trafficking Awareness Month

January is Human Trafficking Awareness Month: Here’s What You Can Do, Pittsburgh

Get your clicking finger ready: It’s time to test that “fake news IQ” you’ve spent the past year developing. Sure, you can spot a click-bait headline a mile away—“Joanna Gaines is Leaving ‘Fixer Upper’ to Become a Scuba Diving Instructor!”—but can you figure out what’s missing from the following real-news headlines? Hint: It has to do with where they happened. Go ahead and Google them; I’ll wait. Continue reading “Human Trafficking Awareness Month”

10 Simple Ways to Build a Culture of Life

On Sunday, January 21 churches across the country will acknowledge the Sanctity of Human Life Sunday. This is a day set aside each year for the Christian community to celebrate the incredible gift of life, and acknowledge and advocate for all of those still struggling in the margins. Continue reading “10 Simple Ways to Build a Culture of Life”

Building Bridges in Foster Care

I walked into Family Court with my two week old foster baby.

I’m immediately struck by the crushing sadness and anger that is around me. People in Family Court are immersed in brokenness. There are parents there who are angry that their children have been taken away. There are spouses there who are fearful that they might have to face an abusive partner. There are foster parents there who are feeling overwhelmed in their role for the day. There is just so much hurt and sadness. Continue reading “Building Bridges in Foster Care”

Wall-Breakers

The day’s light was just beginning to dim at the onset of a crisp, autumn evening.

The cool air made for perfect weather for a walk around the neighborhood. Children’s laughter echoed down the car-lined streets as friends gathered to play in the grass beyond the sidewalks. Some parents and other adults, recently returned from a day at work, trickled outside to share in the enjoyment of the beautiful evening.

As I strolled down the road, another gentleman was just reaching the sidewalk. We exchanged names and pleasantries and briefly talked about the nice weather, work, and family before our paths took us in different directions. I rounded the bend and squeezed to the side of the pathway to allow space for two young women, one of them pushing a baby stroller carrying a bright-eyed infant, to pass by on my left. They smiled warmly and said hello in passing.

I noticed one of my son’s friends playing soccer with some other boys from the neighborhood and stopped to greet him. I asked how school was going and listened as he told me about a recently acquired Pokémon card. His mom, a friend of our family, invited me in for tea, but I had to decline. I already had plans and couldn’t take her up on the offer this time. We said goodbye with the promise of getting our kids together to play sometime soon.

It is a wonderful neighborhood filled with loving families, friendly faces, energetic children, and joy in life.

But, how did you picture that neighborhood?

What did those faces look like in your mind’s eye? Where would you find this place? Who are the people who live there, what do they do for a living, and what is their background?

This brief story is an account of one evening walk that I had through a neighborhood in Pittsburgh. What I didn’t tell you is that the people I mentioned were from the Congo, Syria, and Nepal living in the United States as internationally displaced refugees. I did my best to paint a picture through my words, but they are not at all embellished or untrue in their description. This neighborhood is a welcoming and friendly place where I and my family love to spend time.

Is this what you would imagine as a description of a community largely comprised of diverse refugees?

These are our neighbors, and though they are typically very welcoming, hospitable, and generous, many of these people have never had an American friend or even had an American visit them in their home or apartment.

It’s not actually there, but you can almost see the wall that divides this neighborhood from the rest of the surrounding community.

Not long ago, I sensed the Lord speaking to me as He said,

people are building walls that are making it harder for others to get to Me.

My heart was broken at this thought! To the contrary, it is our responsibility to be wall-breakers, to bridge the gap, and to welcome our neighbors with Godly love and compassionate friendship.

Take a step out in faith and go for a walk…it’s amazing where God will lead you!


Adam Gebhart, Founder and Director Agapao Refugee Ministry

How Can You Combat Human Trafficking?

At 14-years-old, K (let’s call her) didn’t have the easiest childhood. Adopted out of her birth parents’ home at age 8, she was removed from her adoptive family only 6 years later due to abuse. With nowhere to go, she was homeless, spending her days walking around town, trying to survive. There, she met a man who offered her help—a home, a friendly face, a place to belong.

Instead, she found herself in his house surrounded by other women and girls, all who were trapped in prostitution. K faced unimaginable atrocities until relief and rescue came when she was arrested for her own safety. The authorities took down her story, went after her traffickers, and worked to help her get aftercare services like counseling, healthcare, and education. Even now, she still struggles to live a normal life, but she has come a long way and is working to help other girls just like her.

At first, without context, it’s a little difficult to tell where this story is from—maybe Mexico or Moldova, South Africa, India, Germany. Maybe even New York City or Los Angeles. It seems like a story that should be removed from our everyday lives, happening far away in a place where crime is high, poverty is rampant, and prostitution is common, if not accepted by society.

The reality is that this story is about a girl who grew up in the city we call home—Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

This is a reoccurring story, running through the lives of thousands of people living in America, happening in our own backyards—not just in foreign countries, huge cities, or sweatshops and large-scale farms. The true scope of trafficking is impossible to measure, but in the first 6 months of 2017, almost 5,000 trafficking cases had been reported to the National Hotline, ranging from sex trafficking to forced labor. And that only counts the cases that were called in, investigated, and identified as trafficking—so many more slip through the cracks. The average entry age into sex trafficking is 12 to 14 years old, and about 75% of child trafficking victims are now being advertised for and sold online. Labor trafficking is less talked about but it invades our hotels, farms, factories, and even homes. Almost 1/5 of reported labor trafficking cases were in domestic work.

In truth, trafficking victims look a whole lot less like the girl from Taken, kidnapped because she was acting carelessly and wildly in a foreign country, and a whole lot more like young girls from broken homes (rich or poor) who just want someone to validate their worth and show them love. Or like the Latino man who came to America for menial work to support his family, only to find himself overworked and unpaid with threats of imprisonment or deportation chaining him to an exploitive employer.

Human trafficking stems from broken systems failing vulnerable people and broken people taking advantage of them.

So maybe now you’re asking, “What can I do about this?” It seems like such a huge problem, and in reality, a lot of things need to change in order to really make progress, but that doesn’t mean you can’t or don’t have a role. As Christians, we should care because we are called to care. We are called to live like Christ, who acted in justice and who loved and showed mercy to the most vulnerable. Micah 6:8 says,

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.

There are so many ways we can do this! Here are a few other suggestions for ways that you can begin to make a difference in your own homes and everyday lives:

Think small.

This sounds counterintuitive to everything you’ve been told, but this is really one of the key points to not getting overwhelmed with these big, weighty issues. Keep in mind that you can’t do it all, but also remember that what you can do, however small, is extremely important. Educating yourself about human trafficking is a good place to start and can help guide you in the direction of taking action. It can also help you find ways to educate others in your life and to advocate for change and action regarding this issue. You can also give to reliable organizations who are combatting trafficking. Also PRAY, which is really thinking big—remembering that my God is bigger than any problem on this earth and that His heart is breaking for these victims!

Shop smart.

Many organizations have shops that financially support their anti-trafficking work and safe houses, and many companies exist to raise money to send to various organizations for this cause. Americans contribute a lot to the labor trafficking industry, and intentional shopping can make a difference. When consumers demand that the companies care, we can really start to change the lives of millions of trafficking victims around the world. Pay attention to who is making the things you buy. Are the clothes you wear made by children in sweatshops or women who are severely overworked and underpaid? Is your food harvested by unpaid workers who can’t leave because their employers have them trapped in debt? Almost every industry is affected by labor trafficking somehow. You can learn more about this at free2work.org and slaveryfootprint.org.

Volunteer!

Volunteer with a local anti-trafficking organization, or join a program that invests into the lives of local kids/teens or immigrant communities—show those who are most vulnerable to trafficking that you care about their well-being and that you think they’re worth something! Anti-trafficking programs often need volunteers in every area of their organization. Or find out how you can get trained to be able to teach others to identify trafficking and know what to do for a victim. Write to a congressman or sign an online petition about an anti-trafficking bill or policy. Whether you drive “taxi” for a safe house or are lobbying to your state politicians, volunteering is one of the most hands-on ways to make a change.

Below is a list of resources that can help you learn more and get involved.

Pick something; do something!

Whether you simply commit to praying for this issue once a week or decide to jump right in and volunteer, the one option we, as Christians, don’t have is to ignore it. In his book Real Christianity, William Wilberforce challenges the church to take action, saying,

You may choose to look the other way but you can never again say that you did not know.

Resources for local and global organizations (aka places to volunteer!):
globalmodernslavery.org
• Try a Google search for your local organizations!

List of educational & awareness resources:
polarisproject.org
traffickingresourcecenter.org
slaveryfootprint.org
free2work.org
notforsalecampaign.org
hopeforjustice.org

Shops that support trafficking survivors or anti-trafficking organizations:
Starfish Project
Love Gives Way (helps people find ways to have their wedding day support anti-trafficking efforts)
Thistle Farms (I can vouch for their lip balm and essential oils!)
Purpose Jewelry
UNCVRD Jewelry
The Hope Bag Mission
Elegantees
Freeset
Malia Designs
Sari Bari
Good Paper
Mulxiply
Sudara
To The Market (goods made by survivors of multiple tragedies, including human trafficking)
Made for Freedom
Made By Survivors
Relevee

Prayer guides, liturgies, & devotionals for human trafficking:
aheartforjustice.com
worldvision.org
overcomingviolence.org
globalfreedomnetwork.org
chausa.org


Allie Reefer
Freelance writer and Service Coordinator for Immigrant Services & Connections (ISAC) at Northern Area Multi-Service Center

Ordinary People Living Out an Extraordinary Calling to Love

Imagine 2017

Over 600 completely average people joined us for Imagine last weekend. We joined together because we believe that the gospel of Jesus Christ is that He came to seek and to save sinners just like us. We also believe that the whole of the Gospel is much more radical: it invites us to live as a disciple of the One who fed the hungry, clothed the naked, welcomed children, and spent time with those society deemed unworthy and outcasts.

 

This past weekend, over 600 ordinary followers of Jesus joined together to learn how to better seek justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God (Micah 6:8). We recognized the fears that often paralyze us, and we leaned into the truths from Scripture: that the same way our Savior walked right into the “Samarias” of His world, we are called to the “Samarias” of ours…the places others would rather avoid: the streets, the group home, the orphanage, the prison, the abortion clinic, the rehab center, and the strip club. He walked in, bent down, and looked people right in the eye because relationships transform. He not only calls us to follow Him, but equips us as we do.

 

“Imagine made me realize that my fear of stepping out is normal, and reminded me that God can use anyone.”

“Some moments my heart was breaking and at the same time my fears are lessening. Opening my mind to what it means to truly love others as God loves us!”

“It gave me further conviction to open up to more possibilities that previously scared me.”

 

Throughout the weekend together we considered the idea of “What’s my one?” Our God is an intentional God seeking out the one lost sheep, the one lost coin, and the prodigal son (Luke 15). He has designed and equipped each of us with a different, yet complementary role to play in living out the Gospel (Romans 12:3-6). As each attendee prayerfully considers, “What’s my one?”, together we are able to make an impact in our world.

Here are just a few of the “ones” God led attendees to:

  • Haiti
  • Foster Dad
  • Short-term missions
  • Mentoring
  • Cambodia
  • Refugees learning English
  • Sex Trafficking
  • Strengthening a culture of life in our churches
  • China special needs adoption
  • Foster mom advocate
  • Homelessness
  • Encouraging adoptive families

 

Our prayer is that each person to whom the Lord spoke one thing would respond with prompt obedience to this call. Imagine what would happen if followers of Jesus took a stand for the hungry, the hurting and the fatherless. Let us bring that to life each and every day of the coming year!

Our deepest appreciation to each speaker, exhibitor and to the team of volunteers who planned and executed this event. Our time together was encouraging, refreshing, and equipping. We look forward to seeing you at Imagine 2018.

 

We’d love to hear your story of how God is using you, a completely ordinary person to live out His extraordinary calling to love.

Email us at connect@imagineconferencepgh.com

For encouragement and practical help living out this calling year round, be sure to subscribe to our blog.

 

 

What to Expect at Imagine 2017

It’s Friday, November 10th, at 6:00 pm and you’re pulling into the parking lot in expectation of a great weekend at Imagine.

We’re ready for you! For SIXTEEN months we’ve been planning, praying, and preparing for an amazing weekend where people can gather with other believers, be equipped and encouraged in our call, and take a step of obedience to live out an extraordinary calling to love!

But do you really know what to expect?

 

A warm welcome!

First and foremost we are glad you’re joining us. You’ll find plenty of free parking, and warm welcoming smiles as you enter the Wexford campus of North Way Christian Community. Come right in. Pick up a registration packet, a cup of coffee, relax, and visit some exhibitors (more on our amazing exhibitors later).

At about 7:00 pm make your way to the sanctuary. We’ve designed an evening of worship that will roll out the red carpet for the Holy Spirit. We’ll share stories from people just like you who will encourage you to take that first step in living out Jesus’ love. You’ll also hear from our powerful keynote speaker who will challenge you with Biblical truth.

We pray that you will use this evening as a time to allow God to speak to your heart.

As Jesus followers we are called to live out His extraordinary love. This can be challenging, scary, tiring, messy and complex, but it is always worth it. We want this evening to be a time of refreshment for you, a time to have your heart broken for what breaks God’s, and a time of revelation as He reveals to you your part in His plan.

And we’re just getting started. Be sure to come back tomorrow!

 

Saturday: Dig Deep

After a restful night’s sleep, head back Saturday morning for a jam-packed day. We’re starting bright and early with a continental breakfast. Grab a plate and pull up a seat at a table. Join the conversation with a friend. Didn’t come with one? No problem, make one! Share your story and what God spoke to you last night. Join us in the sanctuary for some opening thoughts and to orient your day in prayer.

Now let’s head to the breakout sessions! There are over 20 breakout sessions to choose from.

This is your chance to dig deep. We’ve gathered speakers who not only know about their field, but are actively engaged in it. Whether you want to learn more about human trafficking, serving refugees, understanding some of the racial tensions in our world, adoption or foster care, what it means to be truly “pro-life”, short term missions, caring for children with incarcerated parents, parenting kids who have faced trauma, poverty, addiction . . . there’s something for you. Be sure to check out the list of breakouts now, so you know how to plan your day.

We’re providing you lunch too, and an opportunity to connect with people whose hearts are burning with similar passions as yours. If you prefer to eat quietly and process all you’ve been learning, that’s fine too.

After lunch join us for a special General Session. Because it’s really easy to be overwhelmed with fears and what-ifs, we invite you to hear the stories of four everyday people from the Pittsburgh region who God called to step out of their comfort zone. And because our God is faithful, you’ll hear how He’s met them, provided for them, and continues to walk with them on their journeys.

 

Exhibitors: Connecting God’s Call for You with a First Step
Between breakout sessions visit the Imagine Exhibitors. We’ve gathered over 45 amazing exhibitors for you to connect with.

To clarify, we don’t have vendors. We invite local and national organizations who are on the front lines of serving our neighbors near and far so that as God whispers a direction to your heart, you can connect with someone right there and step out in obedience.

If you’re on the front lines already, we recognize sometimes you’re the one needing some support – our exhibitors offer those services too. You will not want to miss the wide variety of quality organizations that are there to engage with you.

 

The end –just the beginning
As Saturday afternoon draws to a close, and you drive off the campus, it is our prayer that God has spoken at least one thing to your heart, and that you will respond by taking that one next step.

Can you Imagine the difference we will make in our city, country and world if we each live out this extraordinary calling to love?

We can. It gives us chills.

 

Be sure to register for the Imagine Conference!

 


Erin Brothers, Co-Director of OrphanCare Ministry, North Way Christian Community

The Open Table

I heard about the Open Table model a few years ago through the OrphanCare ministry of North Way Christian Community.

It’s a national model for providing small group support to a Brother or Sister functioning without a network or resources to move forward. I saw it as an opportunity to mentor someone but with other adult support… meaning all the responsibility wasn’t solely mine!

“Igniting human potential is simple: Relationship.”

Our Table of 6 adults met weekly for 1 year with our Sister, a 19 year old woman who had been on her own for several years. Our Sister set the goals for what she wanted to achieve in our time together and then as a Table we worked with her to help her achieve those. Relationships grew out of our meetings and we became a family. We shared meals, birthdays, shopping trips, prayer requests, countless text messages and so much more.

Was it all perfect? No…but what family is!?

 

While our official time to meet as a Table has ended, our relationships have not.

“95% of Table participants have long term relationships with one or more of their former Table members.”

I couldn’t be more proud of our Sister and all she’s accomplished. She is so smart and one of the hardest working people I’ve ever met. She’s been through so much and yet she remains positive and loves to encourage others. I feel privileged to have been a part of her journey and can’t wait to see all that the Lord has in store for her.

Learn more about The Open Table at the Imagine Conference!


Debi Coglianese, Wexford Campus Manager of North Way Christian Community and Open Table Volunteer


“Open Table’s faith-based model draws together the community and relationship life of congregations around the country. It provides technical support, training, structure, process.
Each Table is composed of a group of volunteers that make a year-long commitment to act–through relationship—as a team of life specialists, encouragers, and advocates. Over the course of a year, the Table works together to set goals, foster accountability, and implement a plan to create change.”

theopentable.org

 

Royal Family Kids: Summer Camp for Kids in Foster Care

The Need In My Backyard

I first learned about Royal Family Kids Camps from Glenn Garvin, the 2015 keynote speaker at the Imagine Conference (formerly known as The Expo).

He brought to light the need for a normalized summer camp experience for hurting children in foster care. Glenn said he relates to the lives of children of abuse, abandonment, and neglect and this prompted him to get involved in RFK. He wanted to help break the cycle of abuse in today’s broken families.

In America, 3.6 million children are reported as being abused, neglected or abandoned.

The primary purpose of Royal Family KIDS Camp is to give foster children ages 6-12 a week of positive memories and royal treatment in a Christian Camp environment. Since 1985 RFK has been encouraging children to take one step towards a brighter tomorrow. RFK is the nation’s leading network of camps, clubs and mentors for children of abuse, neglect and abandonment.

After his keynote, I joined Glenn at his breakout session, and I asked him where the closest camp was to Wexford, PA. He replied, “New Castle, PA”. Well, right there, I knew it was a God thing! New Castle is my hometown (and is 30 miles from Wexford). From that moment, God planted a seed in my heart, “You need to get involved. You need to give back to your hometown community!” So I sought out the leaders, interviewed to be a relief counselor, and joined the purple family!

My Camping Experienced

On August 13th I departed for Royal Family KIDS Camp and on August 18th I returned from a fabulous, fun-filled week with 26 children from Lawrence County’s Child and Youth Services. It was an experience I will never forget! Keep in mind I have never camped as a kid or young adult. It was my first experience in a sleepover camp in a cabin with bunkbeds. I was a buddy relief counselor and my job was to assist the counselors who had children assigned to them. I shared a cabin wing with 3 other adults and 3 girls who were 12 years old. Each of the girls would be graduating from the camp at the end of the week in a graduation ceremony.

From arrival of the charter bus with the 26 excited campers, until the time the bus departed camp to head back to the church for families to welcome the kids home, our schedule was full of exciting activities. Each day included breakfast club, praise and worship songs/dances, swimming, archery, adventure land, arts and crafts, riding bikes, kickball, and 9-square (4-square game on steroids). Each day ended with devotional time with the campers reading from their new Bibles.

The very special day in the middle of the week included a birthday party for the children. RFK believes each child should have an opportunity in life to celebrate their birthday. Each child received a very large personalized gift box of items selected especially for them (clothing, shoes, socks, backpack, school supplies, and toys). Each child was given the opportunity to open their gifts and play with their toys as we all joined in to celebrate with them. Of course, there was birthday cake, decorations, and a catered meal to celebrate the campers! This was the highlight of the week.

On the last day of camp, the 12-year old campers graduated from RFK with a celebration including a purple cap and gown provided from the home office. Also, each graduate received a beautiful framed portrait of themselves by a professional photographer to take home to their family. Along with the framed portrait, the graduate also received a personal photo album of action shots of themselves participating in camp activities.

Camp Ends

When the campers and counselors arrived back at Assembly of God Church in New Castle, the families joined us. There were video highlights of the kids from the week projected on the big screen and Coach Kim called for the kids to join her on stage. She led the campers in one final rendition of their favorite praise and worship song, “Your Love is Deep!” There wasn’t a dry eye in the place. The kids cried. The counselors cried. The staff cried. And even some of the family members were crying. What a proud moment for all!

The kids stood proudly on stage and acted out the motions while singing their hearts out to God!

Your love is deep.
Your love is high.
Your love is long.
Your love is wide.
Your love is deeper than my view of grace,
higher than this worldly place,
longer than this road I’ve traveled,
wider than the gap You’ve filled.

I could cry all over again thinking about it. Their sweet voices and their tears will be forever engrained in my memory and on my heart.

Lasting Impressions

I cannot imagine being removed from my family due to an unsafe environment and being placed in foster care. Though it is sometimes necessary, it turns a child’s world upside down. It was a gift to love these children and provide them a normal, fun childhood experience in the midst of their chaos.

Over the last ten years of attending the Imagine Conference I have learned to be the church . . . not just to go to church. When Scripture tells us to care for the fatherless, it doesn’t mean we all have to adopt.

Being a counselor for one week during the summer at Royal Family Kids Camp is one way anyone can live out Christ’s love.

RFK Camp was an experience of a lifetime. I highly recommend you volunteer next year and join the purple family. You won’t be disappointed! Kudos to the New Castle Camp Director, Lacey Koprivnak and her excellent staff members and the two churches, Assembly of God and Castlewood Alliance, who were involved in fundraising, training, programming, and all camp activities and supplies. Everyone was amazing! This new, first-time camper/counselor will be back for more fun and friendships next year.

About Royal Family Kids

In Pennsylvania there are approximately 4,437 children, ages 6-12 in the foster care system. There are five RFK camp locations in Pennsylvania (Chambersburg, Erie, Greencastle, Meadville, New Castle) serving these children with the help of wonderful volunteers who have dedicated thousands of hours to reach America’s abused, neglected, and abandoned children. For more about Royal Family Kids, visit http://royalfamilykids.org/ and be sure to visit with the exhibitors at the Imagine Conference to learn how you support kids and families in foster care.


Lori Kobayashi is a long-time member of the OrphanCare Ministry at North Way Christian Community. She has a heart to live out Christ’s calling to love kids from hard places. Over the years Lori has done this through child sponsorship, seven years of short-term missions trips to Honduras, providing consistent respite care to give foster and adoptive families a break from their day-to-day challenges, and most recently as a camp counselor for Royal Family Kids Camp.

 

 

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