Now all glory to God, who is able, through his
mighty power at work within us, to accomplish
infinitely more than we might ask or think. Glory
to him in the church and in Christ Jesus through
all generations forever and ever! Amen.
Greetings from Kent! What a wintry start to the New Year we’ve had here in northeast Ohio: bitterly cold temperatures, howling winds, piles of snow… Would you believe I spent two-and-a-half hours of this past weekend shoveling snow?!? It’s been awhile since our family has experienced a winter like this. Fortunately, we have a warm house over our heads and warm food for our bellies. We’re actually managing just fine. Anyway, even with all of the snow and ice, the return of all the students from Kent State University — after a month of Winter Break — has made our world come alive again. Thirty-thousand young people have a way of doing that, don’t they? We’re excited about everything that God is doing around here these days.
Just as the President of the United States delivers his State of the Union address at this time of the year — sketching out a broader picture of everything happening in the country — I have a tradition of using the first prayer letter of a new year to provide a sort of “state of the ministry address.” For the majority of our monthly updates, I like to tell stories of individual persons and events. Sometimes, however, it just seems beneficial to establish a broader perspective: taking extra time to look back and analyze the past, as well as evaluate possibilities for the future. These letters do tend to be longer letters, however, so please feel read at length or to skim and dial in on the areas of greatest interest to you. As always, the goal is simply to ensure that you’re well-informed and well-equipped to continue praying for us.
The past year has been a time of spiritual and numerical growth for H2O, as we witnessed students come to know Jesus and grow deeply in their walk with him. Just six years ago, in 2007, there was only one H2O Church, and it was located in Bowling Green, Ohio. Since then, however, God has given us a vision of starting an H2O on every major campus in Ohio. During the summer of 2008, 21 people left northwest Ohio and came to the northeastern part of the state to start H2O Kent. That same year, another group of people went out from Bowling Green to the University of Cincinnati and started a church there. At the same time, a church in Ann Arbor sent a group of people to start a church at Ohio State University and after meeting with some of the leaders of the emerging H2O Network, sensed that God was doing something larger than themselves and decided to call themselves H2O as well. In the spring of 2012, another group from Bowling Green went to University of Toledo to start an H2O there. And then in that fall another group went to the University of Pittsburgh. The most recent addition to the H2O Network came just five months ago, when a handful of us from Kent started H2O Akron!
Isn’t it amazing to see the gospel bearing fruit and growing?!? In 2007, there were only about 200 people who were members of H2O and all of them resided in Bowling Green. Now there are nearly 2,000 at seven different campuses! And we sense that this is still just the beginning! Less than 10% of churches ever plant a church. Only two out of three church plants like ours survive in five years, let alone seeks to reproduce! But for whatever reason, God indeed has His hand on our H2O Network, and we are humbled to be a part of His work.
Here at Kent State University, our students gather weekly in the University’s residence halls to discuss the Bible in small groups of 8-15 students. This is the place where life transformation really seems to happen, as students read God’s word and experience His Spirit pursuing them and transforming them with His truth. These “Life Groups” function as the primary spiritual community for our students, and they also provide an opportunity for leadership development. This year we made extra efforts to equip our 28 student Life Group leaders to study the Bible. For the entire fall semester, we studied the gospel account of John, with over 80 percent of our church gathering weekly to read about and talk about Jesus.
In addition, it’s been exciting to watch the growth of our Sunday evening large-group worship gatherings this year. We’re particularly thankful for the number of students who serve in some capacity to make this gathering happen on a weekly basis. Students volunteer faithfully in a wide variety of roles from setting up sound equipment and lighting, rehearsing songs for the band, greeting people at the door, transforming the ambiance of a lecture hall, setting up H2O banners and information tables, making coffee and snacks and designing visual media to accompany the worship and teaching. They give sacrificially of their time each week with the goal of creating an atmosphere that points their fellow students upward toward God in worship. This Sunday experience has truly become a key component in the vision to reach this campus with the message of Jesus.
To complement our core ministry programs, we also aggressively envision our staff and students to stay on mission at Kent State University. Recently, we were excited to witness a few of our students start a chapter of International Justice Mission on campus, through which they have become passionate advocates for the oppressed in today’s world. We have also started a ministry called Aletheia that is focused on reaching out to those in the fraternities and sororities on campus, and we are thankful to see that God is slowly expanding our influence! In addition, we’ve been making some significant inroads among the international students at Kent State, with weekly English conversation groups and several of our life groups serving as ‘host families’ for students from Brazil, China, Jordan, and elsewhere. Lastly, H2O is offering three mission trips in the United States this spring, and all three will have social justice and evangelistic opportunities! Please continue praying that God would bless our efforts at Kent State University and at the University of Akron.
Amsterdam and European Missions
It’s been a year-and-a-half since our move from the Netherlands to the United States, but our family still thinks of, talks about, and prays for our European friends regularly. The church we left behind in Amsterdam is still alive and well, and we enjoy opportunities to keep in touch with our friends and colleagues in the Netherlands through video conferencing, e-mail correspondence, and other social media.
More and more, I’m realizing that the lessons learned during our decade in Amsterdam have great usefulness in our current context as well. I’m especially excited that the Collegiate Church Network has asked our family to lead a group of staff and students over to the Netherlands this summer for a Leadership Training program. We’re currently in the final stages of team formation, and then we will begin preparing in earnest for going to be back in the Netherlands from early June until mid-July of 2014! Our small team will be made up of people who are specifically interested in international missions and church-planting. And while we hope to spend some time with existing “sister-churches” in Amsterdam and Köln (Germany), the majority of our time will be spent in Nijmegen, interacting with students from the Radboud Universiteit and exploring possibilities for future church plants down the line. We’re hoping and praying that this could be a highly strategic time of mission.
In a lot of ways, this is designed to be the next step beyond the Spring Break missions trip that I led in March of 2013: continuing the trend of seeing teams sent out from our collegiate church network to various population centers around the rim of the North Sea. Clearly, the spiritual need in northwestern Europe is great: a completely secular society in a drastic state of moral decay… thousands upon thousands of spiritually seeking young people… and yet, nearly a total absence of true, evangelical Christian influence among these millions! And simultaneously, we sit here in the Midwestern United States with an army of ambitious, idealistic, and available young men and women! If properly equipped, envisioned, and empowered by the Holy Spirit, I believe today’s college students can be a powerful force for good in the world today. But it all starts with them gaining exposure to the spiritual need and the exciting things that God is doing in that part of the world… and that’s what this summer experience is all about.
Suffice to say, we’re eager to see how God will continue His work of redeeming the people of Europe who we came to know and love so well during our years there. Your continued prayer support for this particular upcoming initiative would be greatly appreciated.
Ministry Team Development
Praise God: we met all our funding goals throughout the entirety of 2013! God has provided for us richly — and He’s done it through the generosity of people like you. I wish I could say it in a more innovative or original way, but: Thank you for your part in making this ministry work. We really couldn’t be doing it without you.
For the coming year, we expect our biggest challenge will be to discover the support we need for our family’s participation in the Leadership Training program in the Netherlands. At this point, we’re still about $12,000 short. Would you please pray about helping us to meet this goal? We need to book tickets by the beginning of March, so time is running short. If you feel led to lend your support, gifts can be made electronically at www.gcmweb.org/asp.eric, or they can be included along with any of your regular gifts as well.
In a separate vein, we are planning a special worship gathering and reception for our ministry partners here in Kent, on Sunday April 27th, and I would encourage you to save this date on your calendars. We did this last year — and it seemed to be an enriching experience for everyone involved. The general idea is to give you an opportunity to experience one of our Sunday worship gatherings, soak up the unique campus environment, and spend some time together with us where we live and work. More information will be forthcoming, but things will likely get started on that day in the middle of the afternoon, around 2:00 PM, and we’ll probably finish up around 7:00 or 8:00 PM. For the time being, I just wanted to make you aware that this is happening. Just know that if you come to Kent that Sunday, we’ll roll out the red carpet for you!
Our Personal Lives
On the home front, we’re all doing pretty well. It was kind of a rough six months immediately after the move from Amsterdam, but for the last year we’ve been feeling more and more “at home” in Kent. We really feel that God has been with us each step of the way. We feel blessed by our new home, our new neighborhood, the kids’ school, and the church community into which we’ve settled.
Elliot (now almost 12 years old) is doing great in his first year at middle school; his basketball skills have also improved greatly this year. Olivia (now age 9) has a beautiful smile, following a year of braces on her teeth, and she has developed a great group of international friends at her school. Cor (now age 6) just lost his two front teeth, which makes him look like an ice-hockey player — even though basketball and football are his favorite activities. We spreken nog Nederlands met elkaar (we still speak Dutch with each other) — and with another Dutch family we know in Kent — as often as we can. Still, I fear we’re getting a bit rusty on that front. I guess we’ll see when we get to the Netherlands in June…
Marci has started exploring what a return to her Physical Therapy career might look like, now that the kids are all in school, full-time. In the meantime, she volunteers with the elementary school’s parent-teacher organization, and she plays a valuable role in mentoring other women within H2O. As for me, one of the biggest developments from the past year has been the development of running as a personal hobby. Together with some friends, I started training for the Cleveland Half-Marathon in April, and shortly after crossing the finish line we all decided to keep on rolling towards a full-length marathon in Canton last September. For the coming year, I think just one half-marathon (maybe also a 5K or 10K) will probably be enough.
Just like the ministry stuff, our family life is constantly in process. We can look at our past and see God’s hand in our lives. We have some educated guesses about the future. But more than anything, we want to stick close to God and follow wherever He leads us. It’s always an adventure, and we’re just glad that you’re a part of it with us. Thank you so much, for the blessing that you are in our lives. We love you dearly — and we’ll be in touch…