Recently I preached at one of our churches at their Saturday night service. After the service, someone handed me an envelope with my name on it. The envelope had been placed in the offering plate. It contained a three-page letter outlining concerns regarding the pastor of another church in the area. The letter was unsigned. 

Bishop Ron Ramsey and I have an agreed-upon policy regarding unsigned letters. We toss them. Not that we callously desire to ignore people’s concerns. There are times when people may have legitimate concerns that should be addressed. But sending an anonymous note to the Bishop (or a pastor or board member) violates the principles of Scripture. If I have a problem with a brother, I need to go to him. The whole process is outlined in Matthew 18. 

It is also unfair to throw out criticism (and many times venomous accusations) against someone and not be willing to face them or discuss it with them. I often wonder if the writers of these notes would want the same done to them.

So if you want to raise a concern with us regarding what is happening in one of our churches, you must understand two things. 

  1. Sign your name or it will be tossed without any action.
  2. If you sign your name, be prepared to answer in the affirmative that you have gone to the pastor yourself with your concern before writing to us. 

We must follow Matthew 18 in our relationships with each other or we are no better than the world around us. And we give Satan the opportunity to have a foothold in the life of our church.

We need to be change agents in our churches. Change involves a three-step process:

  1. Here’s where we are.
  2. Here’s where we want to be.
  3. The neutral zone in the middle. What you go through to get where you want to be.

The neutral zone is a tricky area. Change is occurring, but it hasn’t become fully implemented in people’s hearts and minds.

People may say, “Yeah, we’ll try that for a while to see if it works.”

No, that’s the wrong attitude. You do it because it’s what God called you to do.

The management of change occurs in the neutral zone. The problem is that you are implementing change, but a lot of stuff you left behind is clamoring for your attention. The challenge is to not get so tied up with what you’re leaving behind that you don’t get to where you want to go.

Bishop Emeritus Wilber L. Sites, Jr., was named “Citizen of the Year” by a local Lions Club in Chambersburg, Pa. (Please forgive the Public Opinion newspaper for saying he had served at United Methodist churches, rather than United Brethren.)

As I wrote on earlier, Pam and I spent an evening with Pastor Rubenia Bomatay and her Hispanic congregation in Jamaica Plain, Mass. We went out to eat with Rubenia, her husband Gerardo, and son Moses at a local pizza place. Then we returned to the church for the midweek service.

It was supposed to start at 7:00, but actually started around 7:30 with some singing and a prayer time. About 8:15, while the people were greeting each other, Moses told me that his mother wanted me to preach. I wasn’t expecting that, but I said I would be honored. I asked how long I should preach. I was initially told an hour, but they backed it down to 45 minutes, which is how long I preached. Moses translated for me.

I was able to say to them in Spanish, “We are United Brethren in Christ.” They clapped for me. It was a great breakthrough that I was speaking their language. That was a fun interaction.

The people at Iglesia Reformada Emanuel are very gracious, and full of life and vigor. They’re trying to reach their community. There’s a oneness of purpose in what they do. I sensed a great spirit among the people, warm fellowship, and heart-felt praying.

After the service, Rubenia’s family led us out to the road we needed. I said, “I think I know how to get there. Just point me in the right direction.” But Gerardo said, “We’ll take you.” It was night, and he wanted to make sure we made it safely out of that not-so-nice neighborhood. So he turned on his blinkers and said, “Follow me.”

Global Ministries is developing a strategic partnership with Samaritan’s Purse, a Christian relief and development agency headed by Franklin Graham. When a hurricane, earthquake, or some other disaster occurs, it’s much better for us to channel contributions from UB people to an organization that specializes in such situations, than for us to organize relief efforts on our own.

Why Samaritan’s Purse?

  • I previously had excellent experiences working with them in Darfur and Ethiopia.
  • Some organizations take the attitude, “Send us the money. We’ll do the job.” But Samaritan’s Purse is open to partnering with other groups to address all needs in a particular area.
  • In many places, they already have people on the ground and contacts with national churches.
  • Their administrative fees are very low–only 6% for fundraising and 4% for general administration.
  • Samaritan’s Purse has a good reputation, partly due to the connection with Billy Graham’s family (the president and CEO is Billy’s son, Franklin).

In early June, after spending some time with our brethren in Canada, I swung down for a visit with our churches in New York City. Then, on Wednesday, June 11, Pam and I arrived in Jamaica Plain, a suburb of Boston, to visit Rubenia Bomatay and her Hispanic congregation. I wrote about that visit earlier, but I’d like to say more about this isolated church.

Pastor Bomatay formerly served with our Honduras Conference. She came to the States about 13 years ago, but still has a house in Honduras. It is used to teach women the craft of sewing, so they can earn money to provide for their families. A pastor oversees that work and does spiritual development with the ladies.

The congregation in Boston is called Iglesia Reformada Emanuel. It consists mostly of Hondurans, but includes Hispanics from several other countries, too. They meet in a store-front. It is fixed up well, a warm place, They have a worship area, and some storage space.

While Rubenia is the senior pastor, her husband Gerardo and son Moses preach occasionally, and a daughter helps lead worship. It’s very much a family thing.

When Pam and I walked into the building, worship music was playing, and there was Rubenia on her knees, praying. That sight deeply moved me and taught me a lot about her.


Americans and Nicaraguans posing together. The Americans are (from left to right): Logan Penrod, Kirby Sink, Tom Datema, Anita Penrod, Aaron, Adam Datema, Cody Heckber, Cathy Johnson, Darrin Johnson, Tyler. Aaron and Tyler are college students staying with Jeff Dice. The rest are from Zanesville UB. The pastor of the church is the guy holding the orange cup. (Click image for a larger view)

A missions team from Zanesville UB (Zanesville, Ind.) returned from a trip to Nicaragua last Friday, June 27. Tom Datema, the senior pastor, sent this report.

“An eye-opening experience” was the term I heard most from the three other adults and four teenage boys we took to Nicaragua to work at the Emmanuel church just outside Masaya. We went to construct a wall around the church which will also partially serve as a couple of walls for a parsonage or classrooms in the future. Due to a missed flight in Fort Lauderdale, it was a short trip, but well worth it.

It was hard work and left us with a lot of aching muscles. Apparently they don’t believe in using normal-sized blocks down there, so we built the wall with large blocks that weighed in at nearly 100 pounds each. There was a lot of concrete and mortar to mix, too, but working together with our Nicaraguan friends we saw the wall go up with amazing speed.

The Nicaraguan people were warm and welcoming. Everywhere we turned we ran into beautiful smiles and friendly handshakes. They patiently endured our feeble attempts at Spanish and helped us out with whatever we needed. There is nothing like having someone offer you a bowl of the sweetest pineapple you’ve ever tasted right in the middle of a hard day’s work.

Jeff Dice and his family were fantastic hosts. I’ve been on several mission trips now and I have to say that this was the most stress-free experience I’ve ever had. Jeff took care of all the details, which allowed us to truly enjoy our experience and focus on the Nicaraguans we were working with. The accommodations he arranged were excellent and we felt right at home even though we arrived in the middle of the night.

Jeff also arranged for us to go on a canopy tour. When we went to pay, the staff said they would give us a 35% discount because Jeff has been such a good customer for them. Apparently a lot of people in Nicaragua like Jeff.

Jeff’s planning also made it possible to make the most of our time as everything was ready to go when we got there. It seemed like we were laying block just 15 minutes after we arrived on site. Kudos to the Brown Corners Church for making it possible for the Dices to be in Nicaragua this summer.

This was our second trip to Nicaragua in the last two years, and we will probably go again in another year or two. It is great to be able to minister to the people there, but the biggest impact is on our own lives. God worked in the hearts of both the teens and adults, and it changed our perspective of this great big world. We know we are blessed and with that blessing comes great responsibility.

Many of us have attended conferences at Willow Creek and have been greatly influenced by the ministry of Bill Hybels. Willow recently released the results of the Reveal survey, as they call it, which took a sobering look at the level of life transformation actually occurring at Willow and other churches across the country. As a result of that study, they are making some major changes.

Unfortunately, too much of the information about the reported changes has not been accurate. Bill Hybels finally felt compelled to address the misinformation. He did that through this video, which explains what Willow is actually doing–a mere “strategic adjustment,” he calls it. The video not only clears up the confusion, but gives some good insights into reaching the current generation and the way “seekers” have changed over the years. Willow staff Nancy Beach elaborates in another YouTube video.

When Jesus was ministering to his disciples, the mother of James and John wanted to know which of her boys would enter the Kingdom first. She wanted them at the front of the potluck line.

The issue is control. Churches too often have people who want to control what happens, because they think they know better. They want to decide which table goes first at the potluck. That is carnality.

I had a whole bunch of people at Mainstreet who didn’t agree with me, but we got along and were excited because we baptized another 12 people on Sunday. Give up trying to control what happens in your church, and focus on fulfilling the Great Commission. It’s not about who goes first at potlucks. It’s about lost souls.

Many people in the former Central Conference are familiar with Dean and Marilyn Yocum, who were very active in the conference and, in Marilyn’s case, Women’s Missionary Fellowship. Marilyn passed away on Monday, June 30.

There will be celebration of her life in Jesus Christ on Monday, July 7, at 3 p.m. The service will be at Dublin Baptist Church, 7195 Coffman Rd, Dublin, OH 43017.

Dean has directed that memorials be divided among her three favorite ministries: Global Ministries, Better Way Ministries, and Precept Bible Study.