“I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5)
Greetings from Kent! Can you believe we’re already one month into 2017?!? Truly, the years seem to go by quicker and quicker as time goes on. I spent some time organizing family photos over the holidays, and it was crazy to see how much happened over the course of 2016: thawing out my ice-encrusted beard from last winter… making a half-dozen new friends from Oman over Spring Break… spending the summer among the snow-capped mountains of Colorado… cheering the Cleveland Cavaliers to an NBA championship… Cor grinning with a new set of braces… Olivia mastering the art of drawing cartoon llamas… Elliot working his first job… Celebrating baptisms in the snow… All kinds of stuff to remember and appreciate!
I’m often reminded of the annual cycle when the President of the United States delivers his State of the Union address, providing a broader perspective of everything happening in the country. But did you know that a newly-inaugurated president does not typically give an official State of the Union address until after he’s been on the job for a year?!? (It kind of makes sense, but somehow I didn’t remember that!). In any event, I like to use the first prayer letter of a new year to provide our own sort of “state of the ministry address,” in written and photographic form. These letters tend to be longer than usual — but I sincerely hope that you will feel free to read at length or to skim and dial in on the areas of greatest interest to you. The goal is simply to ensure that you’re well-informed and well-equipped to continue praying with us and for us.
We’re so glad for all the ways that God continues to work at Kent State University. 2016 was a year of spiritual and numerical growth for our church on campus, as we witnessed students come to know Jesus and grow in their walk with him. Our Sunday morning Worship Gathering functions much like a “front door” for new students who are looking for spiritual community or who just have questions about God and Christianity. A team of 40-50 young people show up early to help make this weekly gathering possible (some show up four hours early!). We transform one of the biggest lecture halls on campus into a worship space by bringing in our own sound and media equipment, lights, decorations, food, and coffee. During the worship gathering, students find a live band playing songs they can sing and connect with, hear a story of how God is working in the life of one of their peers, and hear a message from scripture that can be applied to their lives as they journey through college. And as excellent as the programmed elements of the morning may be, we also recognize that much of the life transformation occurs in the dialogues developed and the friendships built both directly before the gathering begins and after it ends!
Life Groups function largely as a “family room,” where students experience God in community and are transformed by His power. There is nothing fancy about these mid-week meetings. We read the Bible, we pray together, we serve together, and we simply walk through life as a spiritual family. This year we launched a new structure to support our Life Groups by providing more equipping and experience for our student leaders. Each week the Pastors and Staff host a group of Life Group leaders for a coaching time where we study the Bible and equip each other with practical leadership skills. These times are rich with love as they provide space for our student leaders to have deep relationships with one another and for our Staff to personally provide care and support for them along their journey.
In terms of outreach, it has been a fun and fruitful year of building upon many rhythms that our church has started in recent years. We continue set up a station once a week, during the warmer months, to offer prayer and pancakes to students as they travel from bar to bar in late-night escapades. In addition to our outreach on “Thirsty Thursdays,” we have continued to pursue relationship with the families at the Cherry Estates housing project in Kent. Students from our church, along with a few Staff, have committed to spending time twice a week to encourage, play with and tutor students from the local elementary and middle school. We also continue to engage international students with Thursday evening sessions of “American Culture and Conversation” that leads directly into the meeting time for our Thursday-evening Life Groups.
In all of these ministry opportunities on campus, relationships have deepened, the Gospel has been shared, and lives have been changed. What more could we possibly ask for in this strategic mission field in which God has placed us?!?
Five years ago, we shared the news with our church in Amsterdam that we were relocating to Ohio, after a decade of life and ministry there in the Netherlands. The time has passed quickly since then, but we’ve never forgotten about the spiritual need in that part of the world — nor have we overlooked the opportunity to see workers raised up to join the spiritual harvest in Europe. Through short-term missions trips, updates at network conferences, personal connections, and much prayer, we’re seeing God move to develop successive generations of missionaries among college students.
Most exciting of all: we’re getting ready to send a team from H2O Kent to Stockholm (Sweden), starting in 2017! I got to be a part of an exploratory trip in September of 2015, which led to a larger team of Staff and students from Kent checking things out in May of 2016, and now God is preparing this team for a big move over the course of a year, starting in August of 2017. Please pray for this group: Aidan, Chelsea, Michelle, AJ, Janelle, and Bennett! We’ve already seen God open doors for ministry in some pretty spectacular ways — but there’s still a good bit of support to be raised, immigration paperwork to be sorted out, and connections to be made. We’re looking forward to keeping you updated on these developments in the months and years to come.
Ministry Team Development
It used to be, when we lived overseas, that every other year provided a special opportunity for “Home Service Leave.” We’d bring everyday life to a full stop, pack up a couple months’ worth of luggage, and travel thousands of miles for the express purpose of reconnecting with family, friends, and ministry partners. Such epic summers! These summers were challenging at times, but also very invigorating to share stories of God’s work in the mission field. What’s ironic, of course, is that since moving back to Ohio — far closer to our base of support — it seems that we’ve actually seen less of all the individuals, families, and churches that make up our ministry team. So I’m thinking we need to do something about that…
As weird as it may sound, I’m hoping and planning in the direction of a creative sort of “Home Service Leave” in the summer of 2017! I’d love to see you again and catch up face-to-face, if possible. If you’re up for that, please just let me know that you’d like to be included in our itinerary and if you have any special circumstances that may need to be kept in mind. We’re going to be trusting God for some additional financial support through this Home Service Leave, but it’s really the personal connections that get me excited about this summer. Also know that if you ever feel that God may be leading you to help out with any of our financial needs, you can just visit www.reliant.org/asp.eric to contribute on-line.
Our Personal Lives
It’s been a good year for our family. Elliot (now almost 15 years old) has done very well with his transition to high school. At the beginning of the year, his involvement in the marching band, and the soccer team, and a unique, accelerated, integrated educational experience called the Expedition Academy were challenging, but these school rhythms are very manageable and life-giving now. Olivia (now age 12) is thriving in middle school. She’s in the middle of a switch from playing flute in the band to singing soprano in the choir. She’s also been officially certified as a babysitter, through the Kent Parks and Recreation Department — so if you’re ever looking for a night out, she’s ready for hire! Cor (now age 9) got braces at the beginning of the school year, and at every follow-up appointment he chooses another set of colors based on his favorite sports teams (currently blue and white for Chelsea FC soccer). All three of our children are continually developing spiritually, socially, academically, and physically. Marci and I are very proud of them.
Marci was offered an assistantship in Kent State University’s English Department this year, accelerating her studies in Teaching English as a Second Language (TESL). In addition to taking three classes per semester, she teaches two or three classes of international students from around the world. It keeps her busy, for sure, but she really seems to thrive in the academic environment. As for me, I’m getting better and better in my ability to read the New Testament in its original language, thanks to weekly Greek lessons with my Dad. And I’m going to be celebrating my 40th birthday at the end of February, which feels like a special milestone.
More than anything else, we’re grateful for God’s grace and goodness in our lives. We rejoice in our salvation, by faith! Truly, everything we have is the gift of God — not our works — so we cannot boast in any of the reports we have to share from the last year, any more than we can boast in our eternal standing (Ephesians 2:8-9). Whatever good works God may have prepared for the past year or for the year to come, we’re just glad to be teamed with you in ministry. Thank you so much for being a part of our lives and ministry. We’ll be in touch…