Opportunities to serve

written by Ellyn Schellenberg

“We’re blessed to be in a church that is teaching, reaching and loving others—not just within our walls, but out,” explained Jim, the missions pastor at Calvary Chapel Sarasota (CCS). “So when the call came to serve [others], people felt the burden [to respond].” Calvary Chapel Sarasota in Florida, USA, heavily emphasises God’s Word and worship. The leadership is committed to exposing church members to the Word and encouraging them to live out God’s teachings daily to their families, in their workplaces and to people who do not yet know Christ.

The church first connected with OM 25 years ago when OM’s founder, George Verwer, spoke passionately at a missions conference they hosted. “You can’t help but get fired up when you hear George speak,” Jim remembered. For a long time, CCS financially supported George financially, and when one of their own members committed to moving to Western Asia to serve with OM, after nearly 25 years of doing annual short-term visits, the church leadership journeyed with her. “You can’t read from Genesis to Revelation without seeing the importance of entering into God’s work to go out and tell others,” said Jim. “Missions is God’s work yet unfinished. It’s God’s plan A for people, and there is no plan B.”

In 2014, CCS was invited, through the missions worker serving in Western Asia, to attend a retreat for OMers from across Western, Central and Southern Asia and to serve the children by doing a special programme, Jim recalled. The missions committee advertised a short-term opportunity for volunteers and formed a team of varied ages and abilities to entertain, teach and love the children of OM workers serving in challenging places where the church is small and Christian resources for children are minimal. Since then, CCS has been invited back two more times to host the children’s programme. “A lot of faces have changed; some haven’t though,” said Cameron, an CCS member who has served at all three retreats. “It’s good to see long-term [OM workers] again and we want to allow them to focus on the spiritual teaching at these retreats—and to love on their children, so they know how special they are and that God loves them.”

“My heart and passion is for kids and their parents. If the parents aren’t getting poured into, they can’t pour out for others,” Cameron shared. “[This retreat] is an opportunity for [parents] to fellowship together, to be refreshed and receive teaching; and for their children to get that same love, the Word and worship.” Cameron explained that his father’s early death and absence in his own life instilled in him a desire to help point children in the right direction—something he did not have. “God just created me with a passion for children to enjoy childhood; not to rush growing up, because when the responsibilities come, there is no going back,” shared Cameron. “I want to see these kids not just living a good life but living for the Lord and pointing towards Him. If I can be a vessel that points them to Him, then I am using my giftings.”

Using their giftings

In 2022, despite the added complexities that COVID-19 posed regarding travel restrictions and challenges in confirming dates, 22 people from CCS travelled to Asia for the retreat in June. The team spent hours preparing for interactive lessons that would teach the children more about God and then tirelessly served and loved the children during the four-day retreat. Jim explained, “Bringing along people who've got the same passion, who want to come and serve the children, meant that the intense work was important: that it was an opportunity to serve.”

Partnering with OM in this way, by providing a special programme geared for the children of workers, provides an incredible blessing to these families. “But it also puts us as a round peg in a round hole. It allows us to serve God how He has called us to be,” Cameron said. “First comes the invitation, if you want to go do this, and then if God has suited us to do the task, we see if we can go do it.” While there are countless needs that CCS could respond to, Jim talks about the strategy behind the missions committee’s plan to continue investing in people and programmes they are already partnering with. “We want our short-term efforts to augment our long-term efforts. And I think this is going to bear fruit,” Jim said. “And it’s also going to deepen our partnership with and our exposure to OM. We love the people we have met, and that’s exciting.”

Collaborative efforts like this are a blessing to OM, the churches, and every individual who uses their talents to serve God where He has called them. OM continues to partner with churches around the world in a variety of ways to see those who don’t have access to the gospel and Christ’s love reached with the good news.

South Asia: OM workers at a special retreat celebrate their different cultures and the opportunity to worship God together. Photo by Ellyn Schellenberg.

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