“IT’S WHAT I DO” Final chapter of my book

I am an avid Pittsburgh Steeler fan.  My favorite player for them was Jerome Bettis.  Jerome was big bruising running back who could run over people but also had quick feet that could juke an opposing linebacker out of his socks.  I have a Jerome Bettis t-shirt with an image of him barreling straight at you and the caption reads, “It’s what I do!”  For many years Jerome did what he was gifted to do.  He ran over would be tacklers until he could not do it anymore.  He played his last game in the Superbowl in his hometown.  How cool is that?

I have taken on Jerome’s mantra.  Ministering to children who so desperately need the love of Jesus, “It’s what I do!”  A couple of years ago I was interviewing for Children’s Pastor’s position for a church in the heart of Seattle, Washington.  The church was located in the very heart of urban Seattle.  The demographics of the population were very diverse, which I am drawn towards.  There was a large Asian population which my years of experience in Southeast Asia would have benefited.  My extensive experience working with inner city children would have enhanced the children’s ministry at the church.  

The pastor and his wife seemed very intrigued with my wife’s and my experience and passion for ministering to children.  I was fifty-five years old at the time of the interview. I dare to say that I was a young fifty-five years old with a lot of energy to still be relevant to the children. In addition to the Pastor and his wife there were some church board members at the interview.  I was excited for the position as it seemed like a great fit. Also two of our daughters and grandchildren lived near to Seattle.  I felt like the interview was going well until a board member, the exiting Children’s Pastor’s mother, asked with disgust in her voice, “Why at your age do you want to be a children’s pastor?”

I was insulted and hurt.  I am sure my body language and facial expression showed it but I tried to answer respectfully.  I did not get the position and I often regret that I did not stare that board member in her eyes and declare, “…because It’s what I do!”  Ironically I am currently back in my hometown in Baden, Pennsylvania where Debra and I are ministering to many children at risk.

Most people view a Children’s Pastor’s position as a step up position.  The popular view is that you start there then move up to a Youth Pastor, then Associate Pastor and eventually graduate to Senior Pastor.  There is nothing wrong with this progression as the eventual Senior Pastor will get experience in all these needed areas, but this was not my call.  My call is and has always been to minister to children.    

It really does not matter where we live.  Everywhere we go there are children who are neglected, abused, alone, and in need of the love of Jesus.  Circumstances led us back to western Pennsylvania, where I was born and raised.  But we have learned over the years that God will use circumstances to get us where He wants us.  The children we are now ministering to would be lost and living horrible lives if it was not for us reaching out to them.  We know we are where God wants us.  

God is bringing us more children who are left alone all day.  Children who are fatherless.  Children whose families are living dependent upon government assistance.  They are are everywhere.  Today’s society is laying decisions and circumstances upon children that God never intended for children.  

They are in your town and city.  They are in your neighborhood.  You do not have to be trained Children’s Minister to make a difference in their lives.  You just have to be available and willing.  I have met many missionaries who do great work around the world.  There is a kind lady in our church who lives in an apartment building with some of the children I am referring to.  She makes sure that these children get to our children’s ministry.  If she cannot bring them, she makes sure we know so we can find them a ride.  Her name is Sandy.  Sandy is as much a missionary and doing as great a work as any I have met, but if you asked her about what she does she would probably say, “It’s just the right thing to do.”

I hope the true events in this book and the life that we have been privileged to live will inspire you to share the love with the children in your world.  Matthew 10:42 says, “If you even give a cup of water to one of these little ones… you will no way lose your reward.”  I will testify to the truth of this promise.  Our rewards for sharing His love with children have been amazing.  We have been allowed to travel around the world.  We have relationships in may countries and cultures  Our needs have always been met.  I could add numerous more rewards and blessings but none compare with knowing that the child we minister to today will share in the eternal life that Jesus promises to everyone who believes and receives Him.  

Find that child in your world and find time to pray for them, take them to church and help them in their troubled times.   It does not take much.  The promise of Matthew 10:42 is for you!

Like Jerome Bettis I will continue to “Do what I do,” until I do not have the ability.  Hopefully I am not in my last Superbowl but if I am I thank Jesus for an incredible life and ministry.  “It’s what I do!”  Image

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“it’s what I do!”

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Power Hour Sidewalk Sunday school has kicked off for another summer In Rochester, PA.  Last year’s was a great success as we met on an empty lot near the little league field.  I am a fisherman so when you catch most of the fish out of a good spot you move a little and find a similar spot.  Many of the children from last year’s Power Hour now attend our church regularly.  Many others attend other churches so se found another empty lot about five blocks closer towards our church.  I found out that the city owned the lot so I me with an official and they gave us the permission to use lot pending we ask neighbors if they would be okay with it.  I visited the neighbors and they gave us the go ahead!   Our team from R.E.A.C.H and Grace Lutheran opened season 2013.  Once again we are teaching the Ten Commandments. Nineteen children showed up even though the Rochester school picnic at Kennywood was that day.  We had games, memory verses, a relevant Bible lesson, object lessons, a life applicable story, prizes and hot dogs, drinks, and chips for everyone.  The neighbors came off theirporches and joined us and it was a great start.  

Jerome Bettis, former running back for the Steelers, was asked why he played and ran so hard.  He commented, “It’s what I do!”  When you do what you love and do it for many years it somehow  works out great.  Thanks Grace Lutheran and R.E.A.C.H., “IT’S WHAT YOU DO!”

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Just Had to Share This On My Blog

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SPONSORING CHILDREN TO DEVELOP THEIR TALENTS

March 2012, R.E.A.C.H. Ministry (Reaching and Equipping All Children for Him), teamed with local churches to have an Easter Egg Hunt at the baseball park in Rochester. We had over 4000 eggs and 6 brand new bikes to give away. Even though it was a very cold and rainy Saturday morning, we had over 100 attendees.

We asked the kids if they would like to have a weekly program similar to this Easter program. With a big “Yes!” we gladly decided to come back.

Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church (GELC) of Rochester teamed with R.E.A.C.H to host Sidewalk Sunday School. We met every Tuesday evening on an empty corner lot graciously donated by the owner. She said we could use it as long as the neighbors agreed.

President and Co-Founder of R.E.A.C.H., Tim Blanarik, and Senior Pastor Greg Clag of GELC began to walk the neighborhood. They knocked on as many doors as they could and got a favorable response!

As we weekly began to share with these kids, we all began to feel like family. We began to notice how precious and special these kids are.

Judy Bingle of Rochester expresses it very well. “There I met a sweet,vivacious and energetic little 6 year old girl named Ayanna Eady who loved gymnastics.” She had never taken a professional lesson before but could do flips and cartwheels better than any little girl we had ever seen. R.E.A.C.H decided to sponsor Ayanna to “Rochester Turners.”
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Judy picks Ayanna up once a week for class. “She has already advanced from a ‘beginner’ to an ‘intermediate’ status. Taking Ayanna each week has brought a ray of sunshine into my life and I think hers also. Gymnastics gives her a sense of accomplishment by doing something at which she excels!”

Now, Ayanna has an older brother, Scott, Jr. He loves to climb and jump and run! He is always full of energy. With three sisters and their girlfriends always around, Scotty needed an outlet for that energy and an escape away from girls, girls, girls!

photoR.E.A.C.H decided to sponsor Scotty to the Beaver County ATA Academy of Rochester for Tae Kwon Do. During his second lesson, Scotty held on to the chin bar for 60 seconds! He was honored to achieve such a goal on his first try! His dad walks him each week to class. What a great way to get some alone time and “man to man” bonding!

I thought you readers might like to hear some good and rewarding stories of what we hope will continue to grow as we team together to “reach” more kids to help them achieve their hopes and dreams. Take the time to sit and listen to a child. Look into their precious eyes and see their plans and future. Dare to be a part of a great reward! As Mrs. Bingle puts it, ” a ray of sunshine!”

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Chapter 16 “Africa Will Break Your Heart”

It seems like everyone’s first image of missions is going to Africa. Maybe it was watching Tarzan while growing up or the stories of world famous missionary David Livingstone. There is definitely a fascination with Africa with most people. What most of us do not realize is that Africa is a huge continent and not a country. It is so diverse with many cultures, climates and people groups. Most of us have visions of jungles, elephants, giraffes, zebras and hippos. They are certainly there but so is poverty, disease, corruption, orphans, widows and many more things that will break your heart.

Upon finishing Bible School I was offered an internship in Singapore. From there Southeast Asia opened up to us. We have spent so much time there and feel very comfortable with the oriental cultures. It was during a short term trip to Southeast Asia that I met a pastor from Kenya. He was attending a leadership school in Singapore. Upon striking up a friendship, he invited and almost insisted we come to Kenya to visit him and see the ministry there. By faith I accepted and a year later Alex Evan, an intern with our organization, and I headed to Kenya for the first time.

Upon arriving the Pastor, Patrick Aikona, met us at the airport and transported us to his sister’s home in Nairobi where we would stay until we could depart for his hometown in Kisumu. Kisumu was a ten hour drive over bumpy and dusty roads. It is on Lake Victoria. According to the pastor, there are more orphans there than any other part of Kenya. Orphan ministry is a large focus of our ministry so it seemed like God was leading us there.

We spent the first two days in Nairobi. We walked throughout the city with the pastor and his assistant. They needed a new sound system for his church and we seemed to be shopping around finding the best deal. The pastor kept warning us to stay close as it was not safe for us there. He did not have to warn me as Alex and I sensed the danger of being white foreigners in this dirty, crowded third world city. Paul tells us we do not wrestle with flesh and blood but with four forces, principalities, powers, rulers of this world and spiritual wickedness. (Ephesians 6:12) The last force, spiritual wickedness is defined in the Biblical Greek as a spirit of malice. Malice is the premeditated harm of another. You could literally feel this force or spirit as we walked the streets of Nairobi. Beggars also were aware of our presence and we were constantly approached by desperate souls. All of them were dirty and dressed in rags. Many were deformed, sick or mentally challenged. We dared not give to any in public as we would be hoarded by the others. I so desperately wanted to give or help but there were so many and it was not safe for us to stop and try to minister to them. This was the beginning of overwhelming helplessness that I felt in Kenya. My heart was breaking but little did I know the extent of the heart breaking I would experience.

I was happy to begin our journey to Kisumu. As we travelled you could see poverty everywhere but it was also balanced with excitement of seeing wild zebra’s and other animals for first time. Kisumu was a small city on beautiful Lake Victoria. Although third world poverty was evident, it did not overwhelm me like Nairobi. It was not as crowded. I felt safer. The pastor took us to the home of Tom Aknanyanya and his wife. Tom was in his late fifties. He was retired from a government job and now pastored one of the churches under Pastor Patrick’s care. They were the sweetest and most welcoming couple. They lived in a fenced compound in a simple home. The compound’s security guard was a Massai. This is a people group where the men all seem like they are six feet and taller. They are always dressed as warriors and carry a spear and large knives. Alex was fascinated by him and tried to strike up communication and build a friendship with him. Goats roamed the small compound. The neighbors were Muslims but it felt safe.

Everyday we were picked up in cars that looked like were ready for the junk pile but they ran and got us around. Pastor Patrick showed us his church which included some small run down buildings which housed orphans. The children had dirty uniforms and most of their shoes had holes and were well worn. They were probably hand-me-downs from other orphans. Although their clothes were dirty, they appeared to be healthy and happy. They were fascinated with us. We took the opportunity to sing some Christian children’s songs I knew. They repeated my English with their awesome African accents. I’m not sure if they understood but it was fun for them and us.

Pastor Patrick’s home, church and orphanage were squeezed into a crowded ghetto area. The people were poor but seemed happy. There was a small open area on the property about the size of a driveway in the States. Pastor Patrick informed us that he would like to build another building that would house the orphans and also have a second floor for a school. I asked the estimate of the cost to build it and he said probably about ten thousand US dollars. That seemed reasonable and also possible to secure donations for it. After consulting with Alex and taking it to prayer I offered to raise the funds for the project. When we went back to the States I solicited for the ten thousand dollars to build the orphanage and school. It came in quickly which led to my second trip to Kenya to deliver the money and hopefully manage the purchasing of materials to build the home and school.

Pastor Patrick took us to other churches that he was over and each one was filled with widows and orphans. The local tribe or culture of the Kisumu area allowed for man to have more than one wife. AIDS was rampant so with the men having many relationships it spread quickly through the area leaving many orphaned children to fend for themselves. The widows were so poor yet many would take in orphaned children. The brokenness in my heart was growing with each orphan and poor widow I met.

We have all heard of the plague of AIDS in Africa but you will never know the horror of it until you visit an AIDS hospital there. A church member was in the hospital so Pastor Patrick asked that we visit to pray for them. The hospital was in a compound and there were many poor people lined up to try to get their loved ones care. The patients were in large wards with no air conditioning. Rusty metal beds lined the walls with very ill people in each one. The smell was horrendous and I did all I could to keep from gagging. As we walked by the beds many of the patients saw us and reached their hands towards us begging for help. Most were no more than skeletons covered with black flesh. Flies covered the faces of so many. A simple mosquito net would have been of so much help and comfort to many. The hospital was severely understaffed and the patients were left in the beds to die. It did not seem like a hospital to me, but more like a morgue where the patients were waiting to die. We arrived at the church members bed. He was not as near death as many of the others. When we laid hands on him and prayed, I had never seen such hope, desperation and value upon my prayers as the one I prayed for this sick brother. We left and I felt so helpless. I know God works through our prayers but these people needed so much more. All I could really do was pray. I can honestly say this was one of the worst things I had ever experienced in my life and ministry.

We made our way back to Nairobi. We passed a long line of cars that seemed to be waiting for something. It was like cars lined up going to our malls at Christmas time. I asked the pastor what the traffic was lined up for? He said we just passed a cemetery. The cars were lined up for funerals!

I went to Kenya one more time. I also travelled and climbed Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. The needs of Africa so overwhelmed me that I and one of my board members, Leroy James, climbed Kilimanjaro to pray for Africa from it’s highest point. Prayer was the only way I knew how to handle the brokenness in my heart that Africa has put there. I also travelled to Zimbabwe where I had a much better experience but still was exposed to the poverty and desperation that plagues so many in Africa. Africa will break your heart but in a way that is probably necessary for all of us. I describe it this way, Africa opens a dark room in your heart that when you visit that room, tears flow and prayer is released. I am there as I write this chapter. The tears are flowing and prayer for Africa is going up. This has been the hardest chapter to write so far. Lord, please help and save Africa!

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Chapter 15 “The Church And Children”

I have recently moved back to western Pennsylvania, more specifically the Beaver Valley which is about seventeen miles from Pittsburgh. During my childhood the steel mills were thriving. The air and rivers were polluted but the economy was great. The only unemployment was during the two week shutdowns of the mills for maintenance. There were many thriving churches of many denominations. Catholicism was the dominant faith at that time. Even today there are many incredible church structures throughout the Pittsburgh area. Unfortunately many are closed and some made into restaurants and bars. It always breaks my heart when I see a former church made into a secular facility.

Since moving back to the area I have been involved with two different denominational churches. If you stood in the back of the churches during services you would see many empty seats and a lot of grey hair folks. Few if any young families were attending. Both had a remnant of a Sunday School but nothing that the children seem to be attracted to. The current situation was not the fault of the current pastors. They sought our help to build a children’s ministry that children loved to come to.

I went prayer walking with one of the pastors. He and I are part of a small group of men who meet for breakfast and Bible study once a week. In our effort to help our pastor friend we decided to prayer walk his town. We would intercede for his town in effort to get people back in his church. The pastor led us through his town. He showed us church buildings that were sold and ready to be made into offices or restaurants. Some of the churches had closed and many were on the verge of closing as there was not enough members to sustain paying the heating bills in the winter months. It was heart breaking. Certainly the recession of the eighties and the current recession changed the demographics of the town, but there were still families with children who needed Jesus!

This is the story of many towns and many churches in America. Many churches have lost their relevance to meet the needs of families and especially children. The values war that we are fighting in our country has deeply affected the church. The economic struggles we are facing in our nation have added stress to families. Television, movies and video games have dominated our children’s attention and time. Divorce and fatherless homes have been another factor for the decline in church attendance. Children split time in custody battles and affect their church attendance. All of these reasons are real but quite simply, most declining churches have lost their value for children and youth. Buildings, trust funds, traditions, etc. Became more important than reaching the next generation.

Elder boards have freaked out at crayon marks on the walls of the sacred Sunday School rooms. They would rather have clean, unused, empty rooms than rooms filled with kids who can make a mess. Budgets are used to enhance already adequate buildings instead of employing and compensating anointed children and youth pastors. Most of the congregation sit in the pews each week not willing to give up one week per month to teach a sunday school class. They feel like “they” will miss something. If they only would read Matthew 10:42! “And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is my disciple, I tell you the truth, he will certainly not lose his reward.” (NIV) When you give up and sacrifice your comfort, your talents, your finances, your time to share Jesus’ love with children, you will absolutely be rewarded and those rewards are for now and the life after according to Jesus.

What has caused churches to lose their value for children? Paul warned us of what we would have to wrestle with concerning building God’s Kingdom in Ephesians 6:12. (And children are a part of building God’s Kingdom) “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.” Paul told us that four forces would resist our efforts to build His Kingdom. Principalities, powers, worldly rulers and spiritual wickedness!

In efforts to develop dynamic and relevant children’s ministries, I come across people who would say, “We have always done it this way!” They were so accustomed to doing things a certain way that they were not willing to change, even if it was not working. This is part of the first force of devilish resistance that Paul talks about is called “principalities”. The Biblical Greek word for “principality” in Ephesians 6:12 is the word “archas”. It is the same word we see in Gospel of John 1:1 “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” The word “beginning” is the Greek word “archas”. It carries a sense of preeminence. “Who was here first?” or “We have always done it this way”. I believe it is the force behind the generation gaps. Older generations get stuck on doing things the way they know and have experienced and closed to new creative ways of presenting the Gospel. We must always remember that the message of the Gospel never changes but the delivery methods constantly change with time and cultures. Thus the resisting force that does not allow children to use classrooms because of the possibility of crayon marks on the walls. It is good to remember that we are not fighting the elder board or church council. They are our brothers and sisters, we are commanded to love them! We are wrestling with the “archas”!
Have you ever heard the saying “Children must be seen and not heard.”? This is the second force of resistance Paul gives us, powers. The Biblical Greek word here is “exousias”. It is the same word Jesus uses in Matthew 28 “Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” It is the word “authoriity”. Simply it means, “The right to speak.” It is in operation when church decisions are made leaving out representation from the children’s ministry. The children’s praise and worship it too loud! You might as well face it children are noisy! It does not seem to bother God for He says, “From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise!” Psalm 8:2. The children in our ministries over the years have prophesied, preached, given words of knowledge and yes, even speak in tongues! If you give them the right (exousias) and opportunity you will be amazed how God will speak through children.

The next resisting force is the “rulers of this world”. The Greek word here is “kosmokratos”. It can be defined as “worldly ways”. It is in the context of using people to get things. It is the force behind debt that causes personal budgets and church budgets to cut back on children’s ministry resources. It is the force that makes even young children demand the Brand Names and hundred dollar athletic shoes. Advertisers focus most of their efforts and ads towards children and youth. Parents exhaust their budgets on Jordan’s, Xbox’s, and whatever else is the current fad for kids and youth. Most people do not budget in their tithes and offerings to the church so church budgets suffer and unfortunately children and youth budgets get hit first.

The last force Paul gives us in Ephesians 6:12 is “spiritual wickedness”. The Greek words for this is “pneumatika tae ponerias”. It is defined as the “Spirit of Malice”. It is the demonic force behind the shootings at Columbine and most recently the killing of little children and teachers at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut. I weep even as I write this. The only way to have any comprehension of this is to understand that there is a devil who hates mankind and maliciously plans these awful events by using troubled souls. These incidents have caused people to question a loving God who would let this happen so they turn away from church. I once heard Pastor Bill Wilson of Metro Ministries say, “Do not take for granted that the children you teach in your kids church today will be here next week!” Pastor Bill ministers in Brooklyn. He has lost children in his kids church from gunshots, abuse, etc. As a children’s pastor working in our kids churches I never could imagine one of my kids being shot or killed. Maybe they would not be back next week because Mom or Dad got offended with the church and left. A visit or phone call could always try to help that situation. It was not until I was outreaching into an inner city community in Hampton, Virginia. Every week we came with our Power Hour Sidewalk Sunday School Ministry. I was watching the local news one evening when they told of a three year old boy who was abused so badly by a mother’s boyfriend that the little child ran out of the home and crawled under a tree and died! I hope stories like this always affect us and drive us to pray, but I never imagined what I heard the next day at the Power Hour. As soon as I arrived the children gathered and asked if I heard about the little boy who died? I told them I saw it on the news. They then informed me that this little boy sat on the front row on the corner of our tarps the week before! I was devastated. Pastor Bill also said, “Live in the urgency!” I try to live in that urgency. It is not a safe world any longer. Two other times in history there was a war to kill kids. When Moses was about to be born and then again when Jesus was about to born. Two delivers were coming and the devil did not know exactly who or where so he just killed children at random. Perhaps once again he is afraid of not only a deliverer but a generation of deliverers. A generation of children who are equipped to take the Gospel and bring salvation and deliverance to their generation.

I believe that these are the forces and demonic influences that have closed the doors on churches and made churches no longer relevant to young families and their children. Perhaps we have focused too much on our programs, our buildings, our dinners, and everything else except prayer. Prayer is the only way to wrestle and win against these Ephesian 6:12 forces. We know that Jesus has given us authority over the devil and any force he can throw at us. This is truth so the only answer to losing the value of reaching children is that we are not praying?

I mentioned the two pastors that we are helping with their children’s ministries. I am happy to say that both church’s children and youth ministries are growing. It is reviving many of the mature folks in the church. I believe with all of their efforts coupled with prayer that they will once again be a relevant force in their communities that will overcome the four forces set on taking down their communities.

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New Years Fishing

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R.E.A.C.H. 2012 Year in Review

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R.E.A.C.H. 2012 YEAR IN REVIEW

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Celebrate the Incarnation in Your Community

Christmas is the time to celebrate the “Incarnation”. The word “incarnation” refers to Jesus laying down His glory in heaven and humbling himself to be born of a woman on this earth. He came to live out His mission among humankind. He engulfed Himself with the needs of people and let His life touch those needs to bring healing, provision and the love that people so desperately needed. I love the phrase “incarnational living”, referring to us, the local church, coming out of our comfort zones to touch the lives of lost people.

One of the ways that we have tried to be incarnational to our communities is through a program we call the Power Hour. It is a Sidewalk Sunday School program much like what Pastor Bill Wilson of Metro Ministries pioneered and developed in Brooklyn New York. To put it simply, it is a children’s church that we teach outside in inner city communities.

Our Power Hour is a one hour structured, fast paced, fun time, teaching the children Bible lessons. The kids love the games, snacks and prizes! They also love the upbeat praise songs, the creative ways to learn the memory verses, the relevant Bible lessons with all the fun object lessons used to illustrate it. All we need is an open area (park, basketball court, etc.), and our portable sound system and we have Kids church in the neighborhood.

This past year our Power Hour was located in Rochester, Pennsylvania. It is an economically depressed town that never recovered from the steel mills closing. Although now it is too cold for the Power Hour the kids are hungry for more of Jesus and they are coming to our church on Wednesdays and Sundays. A family was saved from total destruction through this year’s Power Hour. The Father was in jail. The mother had the six children taken away by Children and Youth Services. The nine year old son asked for prayer at the first Power Hour and through that prayer and our incarnational program this family is restored. Dad is back home with mom and kids. Through a Power Hour team effort they are progressing towards healthy living in all ways.

The greatest gift you could give to a lost community is Jesus living through you. We can help you start a Power Hour in your community. Please contact us at reachkids@gmail.com.

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