Prison Ministry Transformation

Prison Ministry Transformation

Prison Ministry Transformation

By Joey Butler (UM News) –

“I was in prison and you came to visit me.” — Matthew 25:36

When he was 18, Dusty Merrill decided that he wanted to go to prison. Of course, that decision was made a little easier because he could leave whenever he wanted.

Merrill is part of a team from LIFE United Methodist Church in Fairmont, West Virginia, that participates in Kairos Prison Ministry, an international ecumenical ministry that addresses the spiritual needs of incarcerated men, women, youth, and their families.

After that first experience, he went back twice a year for the next 12 years. “It’s easy once you’re in there to forget that you’re in a prison, then something will happen that reminds you really fast where you are,” said Merrill, a video specialist at LIFE.

Similar to The Upper Room’s Walk to Emmaus, Kairos begins with a weekend of structured talks, meditations, and individual and group activities led by a volunteer team. That introductory weekend is followed by monthly continuing ministry visits from the team while the inmate participants hold weekly group prayer meetings.

“We try to build the groups inside the prison so they can start sharing prayer without us there. A lot of them know more about the Bible than I’ll ever know because they study so much,” said David Merrill, Dusty’s father.

“Kairos was special – just to see the love from those guys and to see them every week, every month,” said Brent, a resident at St. Mary’s Correctional Center and Jail in St. Marys, West Virginia. Brent said he had a Christian upbringing, but he had “one foot in the church and one foot in the world.” He spent the next 17 years in and out of prison and rehab. He recommitted himself to God following a failed suicide attempt – around the same time he was indicted for murder.

He began pursuing a religion degree through Catalyst Ministries, a prison ministry based in West Virginia. In a partnership with Appalachian Bible College, Catalyst was able to establish Mount Olive Bible College, an accredited school inside the Mount Olive Correctional Center.

Upon his graduation in 2020, Brent was transferred to St. Marys, where he serves as part of Catalyst’s peer mentor program. The program sends the incarcerated Bible College graduates into the mission field of West Virginia’s prisons to tend to the spiritual needs of other inmates and administration members.

“Our peer mentors came in and tried to encourage others, which is exactly what we wanted. We hoped they would come in and change the culture, and they’re doing it a person at a time,” said the Rev. C.J. Rider, deputy director of reentry & offender activities for the West Virginia Division of Corrections & Rehabilitation.

Peer mentors have privileges to go into any part of the facility, and may be called to minister to anyone, be it inmates or staff, at any time. They also pray over the administration during daily meetings.

“People are dealing with issues inside here, and I’ve seen Brent get up late at night and talk to someone who’s going through something,” said Anthony, a fellow resident at St. Marys. Though not a certified peer mentor, Anthony tries to serve as a role model for other prisoners and encourage them to attend church. He said he grew up in the church, but after losing his father when he was 13, he also lost his faith walk. At 19, he received a 35-year sentence. Things turned around for him after accepting another inmate’s invitation to a worship service.

Now he tries to reach new inmates and let them know that he once was “that angry guy with the tough persona,” but that it got him nothing but trouble. Anthony said he also benefited from the Kairos weekend experience. “You hear about how good the food is and it attracts people, but by day two, they want to come not for the food but because they enjoy themselves,” he said. “I’ve seen a few affected to where they started going to church. I’ve seen that transformation.”

Brent said his goal as a peer mentor is to help eliminate recidivism. “I used to get out with the best intentions and always wound up back here,” he said. “I want these guys to get it before they come back with a life sentence.”

Brent is eligible for parole in 2025, and feels called to preach and to continue working with Catalyst. He said he’s been in contact with a local pastor in his Ohio hometown and wants to make good on a promise he made to his father before he passed that he was done with the life he’d been living. “I want to come back, just not in (a prison uniform). I want to share my experience with the guys still here,” he said.

The Rev. Tim Meadows, chaplain at St. Marys, considers peer mentorship to be the discipleship process in action. “These guys are highly respected. They carry themselves as Godly men, and they’re genuine,” he said. “People can tell the love of Christ, and that is what attracts them.”

Meadows’ assistant, Thomas, said the atmosphere at the prison makes all the difference in the experience for the inmates. After receiving a 53-year sentence for a serious crime he insists he didn’t commit, Thomas said he constantly had a chip on his shoulder.

“I heard what they were doing at St. Marys and knew I had to get down here,” he said. “I see the impact and the trust the mentors have with others here, crying with them and praying with them. Once you’ve been to the bad places and you get to somewhere decent, you can see the difference.”

Meadows said he credits the “genuine Christian heart” of the administration with creating an environment where these ministries are allowed to flourish. Not all facilities or their administrators have been open to allowing such programs.

The Rev. Mike Coleman* was serving as the acting warden at Mount Olive when Kairos events began at the prison. He said the previous warden he’d served under had approved everything but was forced to retire for health reasons before it could come to fruition. Coleman worked with the ministry partners to get the program off the ground.

“The first weekend was such a success that we committed to doing a new one every six months, plus all the reunion stuff in between,” said Coleman, who is now director of the Division of Administrative Services for the West Virginia Department of Homeland Security. He retired from also serving as a United Methodist pastor in 2022.

He traveled with a leadership group from the West Virginia Department of Corrections to Louisiana to observe the workings of the prison ministries at the state’s maximum-security penitentiary, known as Angola. This led to the formation of the Mount Olive Bible College. “We were making sure that we were using all the tools that God was giving us,” Coleman said. “One of the goals that corrections rehabilitation has is to make you a better citizen, whether you’re leaving or not.”

J.D. Sallaz, superintendent of Lakin Correctional Center and Jail in West Columbia, West Virginia, shares Coleman’s sentiment. “It benefits everybody to send the inmates out a better person than how they came in,” he said. “For those serving life without mercy, this is their home and they’re not leaving. They want things to go smoothly.” Lakin is the only women’s prison in the state, so it has a mix of minimum- and maximum-security inmates, with about 40 members of the population of 540 serving life sentences.

Rebecca is one of those serving a life sentence without mercy (possibility of parole), for murder. She has been incarcerated for 30 years. When she arrived, she frequently acted out of anger and fought with other residents. After repeatedly being sent to a segregation unit, Rebecca said, “God said to me, ‘I told you to be still and since you won’t listen, I’m making you still.’ Now I understand that I’m doing all this time in segregation because God wanted me to listen and I wouldn’t.”

Now, she serves as one of several peer mentors at Lakin. She cites a Kairos weekend as life-changing, saying that “it’s the first time in my life I ever felt loved, and I was probably 35.”

Michelle, another of the peer mentors, said the “unconditional love” from the Kairos volunteers left an impression on her as well. She’s 12 years into a drug-related sentence, and said that pursuing the peer mentor certification taught her to help herself and others. “I have an associate’s degree in human services from before I got in trouble, and I like to teach and help,” Michelle said. Now she leads classes on dealing with depression and low self-esteem. She also leads Celebrate Recovery 12-step services and is studying at the Mount Olive Bible College.

A common theme among the inmates United Methodist News interviewed is the inability to forge or maintain healthy relationships. The peer mentors at Lakin had to learn how to have them and now try to teach those lessons to others.

If you speak to anyone who’s been through a Kairos weekend, you will learn about the “forgiveness cookies.” Kairos volunteers bake many dozens of homemade cookies to send with the teams going to the prisons. One dozen is given to each inmate participant to eat themselves, but they are given another dozen and instructed to give that bag to someone for whom they need to either seek or grant forgiveness. “It’s amazing what God does with a bag of cookies,” said Coleman.

The Rev. Dianna Vinscavich, chaplain at Lakin, said the leadership of the peer mentors helps to create unity at the prison. “I’m seeing those walls come down, and it’s because of the mentors. If they hear of someone with a grievance, they try to help keep the peace,” she said.

Dee, one of the peer mentors, said that two years ago, the prison’s segregation unit stayed full all the time, but “since the mentorship program started and we can counsel and pray with them before they get to that point, segregation stays almost empty. God is really using individuals in here to grow a church instead of a prison.”

Since coming to Lakin, she’s earned associate’s degrees in both Christian leadership and Christian ministry, became an ordained minister and is working on a bachelor’s degree in communication. “My passion is preaching,” she said.

A former nurse, Dee has served almost 20 years on drug charges that took everything from her. She lost her house and because of the length of her sentence, she gave her young children up for adoption so they could have a more stable family environment. She said she felt the anger that many prisoners do, and now she tries to help those she sees struggling with the same issues. Dee is eligible for release in about six years. For now, she said, “My goal is to help change Lakin from the inside out, so I want to get to the ones coming in and start that change in them.”

Amber, a peer mentor serving a life sentence without mercy, said she was one of those who arrived with anger and resentment. “The more I bucked, the worse life got and that led me here,” she said.

Amber is another for whom Kairos was life-changing. “It was great to know people outside our families cared,” she said. After her weekend, she got more involved in church at the prison, and that’s how she found out about peer mentorship. “It’s been rewarding to mentor to ladies who come to you for advice because they see the walk you’re on,” Amber said. “I’ve had girls come to me and ask how I could be so happy, knowing the sentence that I have, and I say, ‘Why not? I’ve got God.’ Just because I’m spending the rest of my life here doesn’t mean that I can’t live a rich and fulfilling life doing God’s work.”

Rebecca sees her life sentence as a sort of mission field. “God gives us a cross to bear, and because we’re gonna be here a long time, Amber and I can reach 500 girls a year,” she said. “Just think how many people we see in five years. You can work through God that way.”

After a two-year hiatus due to COVID-19, volunteers have begun to return to prisons. David Merrill acknowledged that the Kairos model prepared inmates to continue their ministry in the absence of visits from volunteers.

“They support themselves. They still hold prayer groups, and we’re available to answer questions they may have,” he said, “but there are some ways they don’t get to participate because we’re not there.”

Vinscavich said that when COVID-19 prevented volunteer visits, the peer mentors were able to lead church themselves. “They’re essential parts of our church services. They preach, lead singing, share devotionals – they do it all,” she said.

“When we didn’t have opportunity to have church on the inside, we were out in the rec yard having prayer circles,” Dee said.

Vinscavich sees parallels between the peer mentors and Christ’s life. “Jesus died for something he didn’t do and he embraced it. These girls who’ve had their lives transformed are having to serve a sentence for something done by the person they used to be,” she said.

Not everyone shares this grace-filled view of rehabilitation. There is certainly a segment of society that adheres to the belief that a convicted person is in prison to be punished, not rehabilitated.

Cheryl Chandler, director of offender services for the West Virginia Division of Corrections, understands this view. In her role, she works both with inmates and with crime victims and their families. She’s heard complaints about some of the opportunities available to inmates, such as culinary classes and yoga, that may not be readily available to the general public.

“Sometimes the public will get frustrated that there are all these programs,” she said, “but I have to ask whether they want to live next to a lady who gets out of Lakin who’s angry and been mistreated and kicked down, or one who’s gotten to train in yoga and knows how to control her temper.”

As a pastor, Coleman said he initially got pushback when he encouraged his congregation to become involved in Kairos. “They were like, ‘You want us to do what with those prisoners? Why would I want to bake cookies and give it to a bunch of murderers?’” he said.

However, Coleman said, they bought in once they saw the impact they were having. It even became a competition between churches to see who could bake the most cookies.

Dusty Merrill said he still struggles to speak about Kairos to his congregation because he doesn’t know who in the pews may have been harmed in some way by a criminal act. “It’s a really sensitive thing if you’re not the person who’s experienced this wrongdoing or hurt,” he said, “but if you’re helping people who need to be helped, they’ve probably hurt someone along the way.”

He does try to remind people to consider the life circumstances that may have led someone to commit a crime or surrender to substance use. “I’m blessed that I had all the opportunities to make the right choices. Some of those guys didn’t get that opportunity.”

Joey Butler is a multimedia producer/editor for United Methodist News. Editor’s notes: *The Rev. Mike Coleman, who was interviewed for this story, passed away shortly before it published. UM News offers condolences to his family. By request of the West Virginia Division of Corrections & Rehabilitation, only the first names of incarcerated individuals have been used.

Photo by Mike DuBose, UM News. Anthony (foreground), who is incarcerated at the St. Mary’s Correctional Center in St. Mary’s West Virginia, says he tries to serve as a role model for new inmates at the facility after seeing the transformation brought about by the Kairos Prison Ministry.

Dust on the Emmaus Road

Dust on the Emmaus Road

Dust on the Emmaus Road

By B.J. Funk –

Two followers of Jesus are walking from Jerusalem on the road to Emmaus, engrossed in conversation (Luke 24). Jesus has been resurrected just this morning.  He walks up behind them and initiates the conversation. “What are you discussing?”

Can you see the faces of the two? They stop walking and stand still. They are incredulous, apparently resenting the stranger’s curious question when surely everyone should know! Scripture describes them as being downcast.

“Are you the only person who doesn’t know about the things that have happened?” Though looking straight at him, they do not recognize him. Jesus continues, “What things?”

I can hear the exasperation in the voice of the one named Cleopas.  “The things about Jesus of Nazareth! He was a prophet mighty in deed and word. Our chief priests turned Him over to be crucified.” And then this huge unexpected reason comes forth, the reason for their sadness. “And we thought he would redeem Israel. We had hoped he was the one.”

Seriously? This is your big take away? This is why you are upset?  Even after the events of this morning, you don’t understand? You two are disappointed because he didn’t rid Israel of Rome’s oppression? You are stuck inside the smaller story.

Cleopas continues. “Today is the third day. Some women saw a vision of angels who told them Jesus is alive! Some of our friends went to the tomb this morning and found it was just as the women had said. But they did not see Jesus.”

I have two questions. Why does Cleopas refer to Jesus as a prophet? Has he not caught on to this unfathomable mystery? What about Savior, Redeemer, Lord, or the Promised one?

And then there’s this total misinterpretation of what the women encountered. A vision of angels? No. Not a vision. There were angels. Actual angels. Luke 24: 4 reads, “…suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them.”

As with any huge newsworthy item, facts become compromised as each hour of the day moves on. It was time for Jesus to kick up some dust on the Emmaus Road and bring these two into the bigger story. He begins by calling them “foolish.” Then he adds, “You don’t believe the prophets? Don’t you realize that Messiah had to go through suffering in order to go into glory? In fact, his suffering was necessary.” They get quiet and listen.

As they continued walking, Jesus interprets every Scripture that refers to him. They don’t ask questions. They don’t interrupt. They experience only one thing. They burn inside with the living presence of Jesus. Darkness descends. “Stay with us,” they ask. So, he does. Time to eat. He takes bread, breaks it, blesses the bread and then hands the bread to the two men. A spectacular moment occurs! Their eyes open. They recognize Jesus in the breaking of the bread. And just like that, he disappears.

This news is too good to keep to themselves. They start running the seven mile trip back to Jerusalem. There, they join other followers who are exclaiming with great joy. “The Lord has risen indeed and has appeared to Peter!” Then the two told how their eyes were opened when Jesus broke the bread.

I stand in the margins of this Scripture, my heart pierced by the dynamic moment when Jesus is recognized.  I am like these two men. Sometimes, while looking straight at Jesus, I don’t recognize him. Sometimes I miss the big story he is bringing me because I sit inside of the little one. Often, I am disappointed because he didn’t answer my hopes and dreams the way I wanted.

I walk the Emmaus Road every Sunday when I hear a sermon, and I allow doubt to override truth; when my heart attitude is as the dirt under my feet, tightly compressed with no room to expand; when my sad countenance carries with it the overriding possibility of losing a beautiful, spectacular moment with the living Christ.

Lord, forgive. Remove my safe walk to Emmaus. Kick up some dust on my Emmaus Road. Amen.

B.J. Funk is Good News’ long-time devotional columnist and author of  It’s A Good Day for Grace, available on Amazon.

The Hope of Reconciliation

The Hope of Reconciliation

The Hope of Reconciliation

TMS Global Interview featuring Bishop Eduard Khegay –

February 24th marked the one-year anniversary of the war between Russia and Ukraine.

Bishop Eduard Khegay is the resident bishop of the Eurasia Episcopal Area in the Northern Europe and Eurasia Central Conference of The United Methodist Church. He lives in Moscow and serves churches in several countries of the former Soviet Union, including Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Belarus. Until last spring, his area also covered Ukraine. Ukraine is now with the Nordic and Baltic Episcopal region.

Bishop Khegay recently spoke with TMS Global about what it’s been like to serve the Body of Christ in a time of deep division.

What has it been like to serve the Body of Christ in these places that are currently at war with each other?

This war is probably the worst nightmare of my life. People are dying in Ukraine. I’m a Russian citizen and I’m ashamed of this war, but most Russian citizens do support the Russian operation. It’s a complex situation. Even people in my churches in Russia are divided. The majority support the operation and some people don’t.

Some churches have a hard time staying together and reconciling. People just don’t talk to each other about this topic. It is painful. And it is painful to watch the relationship between Russian and Ukrainian Christians on social media, the way they keep blaming each other and attacking each other instead of helping each other. I’ve never seen that before.

How can Christians model unity in the Church while living in a world with conflict?

I read the gospel and see teachings of Jesus about humility and solidarity and love and forgiveness. This is the time when we can put those teachings into practice in a very real way. If I don’t have humility, I think I’m right and everybody else is wrong. But if I practice humility, then we can sit at the table and learn from each other.

As a result of the war, churches in Russia and Ukraine have become more nationalistic.

And I don’t believe in the national church. I believe in a Christian Church, universal. That’s in the Apostles’ Creed. But it feels painful to practice being a unified Church now. Sooner or later, we need to send our friends and sisters and brothers to visit each other and try to build bridges. It’s going to be painful. But the Body of Christ must work together.

I feel very blessed to be connected to the worldwide Church. I receive a lot of messages and have a lot of conversations with people around the world who pray for us and show their compassion in other ways. That’s encouraging for us as Christians in Russia and I’m sure in Ukraine. People do want to send offerings, raise funds, and do works of mercy and help people with food or clothes and whatever needs they have. There are refugees from Ukraine and Russia in many different countries now. They are all in need. I’m glad we have churches in those places where people can find love and support and encouragement.

Why is it important to listen to those with different perspectives?

If you look at the media now, there is propaganda everywhere. The different sides show only the negative stuff about each other. And I think that’s the danger of the modern world and social media and mass media. If you live in Russia and watch TV for a year, you will hate everybody in the West. And I think if you live in America and watch TV, you will hate everybody in Russia.

That’s a very sad situation. I think that’s why we as Christians need to keep in touch with each other and tell each other our stories. That way, we will understand that it’s not all just black and white. It’s a very mixed bag of nuances and geopolitics. And we are, first of all, Christians and citizens of the kingdom of heaven. And I think in Christ we have more of a chance to build a foundation and common ground. If we can do that, I think there is much more hope for the world. If Christians can talk with each other with attitudes of humility, solidarity, love, and forgiveness there is a chance that we can practice unity.

What spiritual practices have become more important to you during this time?

The common prayer has been important for me. We pray individually, but praying together has been important. I think during this year especially, there were more online meetings with pastors and lay leaders praying and fasting together. We encourage people to practice fasting. In the Bible, there are many situations when the people of God were stuck, or in a difficult situation, and they were fasting and praying and crying out to God to help. It’s encouraging to not just fast by yourself, but to do it together with sisters and brothers in your country or in your area. That’s Christian solidarity, which is very important.

What are you hopeful for?

I keep preaching on hope, even though I myself need more hope. But what gives me hope is that I try to imagine the future. I imagine myself advocating for, and maybe facilitating, peace dialogs between Ukrainian and Russian people, between Russian and Russian people, between Russian and American people, where we can share our stories and our pains. These talks can allow us to open up and disassemble our stereotypes. We can see each other’s blind spots and forgive each other at the foot of the cross of Christ. We can help each other to accept one another for who we are. I think that work is needed.

Even today in my churches in Russia, some people say, “Bishop, let’s not touch this topic of war. No more about the conflict with Ukraine.” And I say, “No, we need to talk about it, and we need to reconcile with each other, first in our churches.”

If we as Christians cannot do that, then what’s the hope for the world? So my hope is to facilitate those peaceful dialogs. It would be risky and painful. But my hope is that they could bring healing and reconciliation and clarity about where we stand and what we believe in. In other words, dialogs like these could also help us to think more intentionally about what it means to be a Christian today. That’s my hope. I’m also hoping I can be a good shepherd for my people.

We are people of hope and faith. We go by faith. We may not see, but we believe.

I also have hopes that we would devote ourselves to works of mercy. We have refugees in Europe from Ukraine. We have refugees from Ukraine in Russia. And they need help. Instead of just staying in a state of depression and hopelessness, I think it’s important for us to direct our energy and attention to others who are in need. We suffer maybe spiritually and morally, but physically we don’t have any problems living in Russia now, so we must help those in need. And I think when we serve others Christ transforms our hearts and lives.

What does a unified Church in a divided world look like to you?

It’s like a big, extended family. I have 20 cousins in Kazakhstan, and we gather together at certain family events. And like in big relative circles, there are always one or two who you are not comfortable staying with. But the important thing is to keep the conversation going. We may not resolve all the issues between us. In a family, we realize this person may or may not change. We don’t know. The same is true in the Church.

But as Christians we are called to love, and love can unify us. We may strongly disagree theologically. We may be separating structurally. We may be on different sides politically. But can we all have Christian love? I think that’s how the Bible says others will know that we are Christians.

I think 2022 was probably the most challenging year, at least in my life, where the practice of Christian love was tested. When the world sees how we treat each other on social media, do they see love or not? Where Russian and Ukrainians and Americans meet together, do other people see Christian love or not? I think that’s the basis of our unity. Again, It’s like a family. We may not agree on all points. But if we have love, we can continue to stay together and grow together.

Bishop Khegay is on the board of directors for TMS Global.

First Wave of GMC Conferences Launched

First Wave of GMC Conferences Launched

First Wave of GMC Conferences Launched

By Chassity Neckers –

Bishop Mark Webb of the newly-formed Global Methodist Church recently wrote about being in an airport and seeing a book entitled The In-Between: Embracing the Tension Between Now and the Next Big Thing. He didn’t buy the book (so it’s not a recommendation), but he did take note of a thesis summary:

“Moments of breakthrough are not where life’s greatest transformation happens; the stuff that God uses to shape us often lies in the in-between. It is the bus stops and layovers and DMV lines and moments of unintentional pause that force us to become better people. That’s not to say there aren’t moments of epiphany. There are. It’s just that most of us find ourselves living somewhere in the in-between,” the summary stated. “Learning to live in this tension, to be content in these moments of waiting, may be our greatest struggle – and our greatest opportunity to grow.”

In what may prove to be a lengthy and drawn-out process for some United Methodist congregations in some annual conferences, this is an “in-between” season of time. Congregations and clergy have been working through the discernment process regarding disaffiliating from the denomination.

More than 2,000 local churches have either begun or completed the process of disaffiliation. Of that number, more than three-quarters of those congregations have aligned  with the Global Methodist Church. Hundreds more are in the process.    

Bishop Webb points out that the Bible has a lot to say about living in the “in-between.” Found in its pages are the stories of “God’s people experiencing seasons of wandering, waiting, and wondering. Sometimes these in-between times led to confusion, fear, wallowing in self-pity, and murmuring against God, while other times they created a spirit of expectation and a season of preparation,” he wrote. “No matter the response, every in-between time led to a new movement of God in the lives of those willing to surrender in faith and follow.” Counted within the “new movement of God” are those local congregations that have moved from the in-between.

Convening Conferences Launched. The first wave of convening conferences of the fledgling Global Methodist Church took place in three locations in Texas in January and February. They paved the way for many others to follow them. Provisional annual conferences are being created during this transitional period before the new denomination’s convening General Conference to organize its work globally.

“As Global Methodists, it is our mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ who worship passionately, love extravagantly, and witness boldly,” said the Rev. Keith Boyette, the Transitional Connectional Coordinating Officer of the  Global Methodist Church. “Our annual conferences are designed to be an extension of that mission. In the GM Church, the real work of the annual conference begins when we come together for worship and prayer – crying out for revival and seeking God’s healing in our lives and commitment to our shared ministry.”

According to the GM Church’s Transitional Book of Doctrine and Discipline, these convening conferences are created “for the purposes of coordinating and conducting the mission of the Church around the world.” Those purposes include the ordination of clergy and discerning God’s will together through conversation and the casting of votes that help unite the connection.

“Personal faith formation, shaped in accountable disciple groups, is essential to authentic connection,” observed Bishop Scott Jones of the Global Methodist Church. “It is in moments of prayer, worship, and Bible study where the church is strengthened for its outward mission. When hundreds of Global Methodists joined together in January and early February these were the core convictions of their gatherings.”

The Mid-Texas Provisional Annual Conference’s first gathering was held in Waco, Texas. Conference leaders devoted the majority of the time at the two-day gathering to preaching, teaching, and prayer. They dedicated only one hour to approve budgets and various annual conference positions.

The historic conference celebrated the 90 congregations located in its region and ordained 28 men and women for service in the church. “We had such high expectations – and God exceeded everything we had thought could possibly happen,” said the Rev. Dr. Leah Hidde-Gregory, leader of the Mid-Texas Annual Conference of the Global Methodist Church. “To God be all glory for the great things he has done and he is doing.”

The West Plains Provisional Annual Conference held its convening conference in Lubbock, Texas. “We love Jesus, we love his church, and we believe that God isn’t done with the people called Methodist and that the best years of the Christian movement begun by the Wesley [brothers] are still, in fact, ahead of us,” the Rev. Dr. Jessica LaGrone told the assembly. LaGrone is Dean of the Chapel at Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky, and a member of the GM Church’s Transitional Leadership Council.

The East Texas Provisional Annual Conference was held in College Station, Texas. The new provisional annual conference ordained 90 clergypersons and welcomed 254 Global Methodist congregations in its region. Like the other convening conferences, the East Texas Annual Conference held a limited business session, providing additional time throughout the two-day gathering for worship, prayer, and connection.

The East Texas Provisional Annual Conference also made space for learning with a variety of workshops. The workshops included sessions on evangelism, small group discipleship, the new GM Church catechism, social witness, and worship.

While the Global Methodist Church is deeply rooted in the history of Methodism, the provisional annual conferences have embraced the Church’s mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ who worship passionately, love extravagantly, and witness boldly. GMC leaders pledged that denominational structures support congregations as they reach the world for Jesus.

From the testimony of those who participated, the convening of GM Church provisional annual conferences was a joyous and historical moment for the fledgling denomination. For the first time, people in these areas gathered to celebrate and begin a journey together as Global Methodists. The three Texas provisional annual conferences join two others in the United States – North Carolina and South Georgia – and four provisional bodies outside the United States in Bulgaria, the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Philippines, and Slovakia.

Chassity Neckers is a freelance writer who lives in Ft. Wayne, Indiana. She is also a member of the Global Methodist Church’s Indiana Transitional Conference Advisory Team.

Prayers offered over the leaders of the new church start congregations in Eastern Texas Conference of the Global Methodist Church. Its Convening Conference was held at Christ Church in College Station, Texas. Photo courtesy of Camile Fenner and the Global Methodist Church.

Looking Back, Moving Forward

Looking Back, Moving Forward

Looking Back, Moving Forward

By K. Lynn Lewis

Revival. Awakening. Outpouring. Manifestation of God’s presence. Gentleness. Glory. Peace.

There are many descriptors spawned from the chapel service that began on February 8, 2023, in Hughes Auditorium at Asbury University in Wilmore, Kentucky. Thousands have shared their testimonies and opinions on media platforms far and wide.

Although these recent events are new, others have similarly met the Almighty in the past. How did they respond?

In the Bible. When God told Noah to “Build,” Noah did everything just as God commanded. Through his faithful actions, a remnant survived and the earth itself was blessed.

When God told Abram to “Go,” the seventy-five-year-old set out with his family on a new adventure to a new place that resulted in new names, new opportunities, and new challenges. Following that invitational encounter, Abram was never the same, and neither was the world.

When God appeared to Moses in bushy flames of fire, the 80-year-old first responded with questions, feeble faith, and less than wholehearted obedience. But, as their relationship developed and their shared experiences multiplied, Moses grew in faith, boldness, and holiness and led a movement that helped save a people, shape a culture, and build a nation.

When David experienced the unexpected anointing of the Good Shepherd through the obedient hand of a faithful prophet, he submitted himself to public service, to training (even under an oppressive mentor), and to active engagement in strategic military, political, and religious leadership in association with other key leaders. Though flawed, the godly spirit of his discipleship shaped the template of a kingdom for centuries, and that kingdom helped shape the world as we know it.

When the eventual Apostles first met Jesus Christ, they were ordinary men. But their encounters with the Messiah changed all but one of them into world changers whose lives planted seeds of faith and hope that continue to produce the Gospel harvest today.

When Saul met the risen Lord on the road to Damascus, he was blindly headed in the wrong direction for the wrong reason and with evil intent. He responded by repenting, believing, and dedicating himself to learning and living a life of wholehearted service to the Lord and others. His glorious encounter redirected his life toward traveling in the right direction with right reasons and godly intent. His passionate writings intended for training believers in doctrine, faith, holiness, and righteousness continue to shape individuals and movements of Christian faith throughout the Church today.

In Wesleyan History. On May 24, 1738, John Wesley felt his heart strangely warmed. Known as his Aldersgate experience, he felt he did trust in Christ, Christ alone, for salvation, and an assurance was given him that Christ had taken away his sins and saved him from the law of sin and death.

Prior to that pivotal and life-changing event, however, Wesley had embarked on an unsuccessful religious venture and dating disaster in the pioneering coastal colony of Savannah, Georgia. Threatened with imprisonment and plagued by mounting legal proceedings against him, Wesley wrote of his hasty nighttime escape, “I saw clearly the hour was come for leaving this place: and as soon as evening prayers were over, about eight o’clock, the tide then serving, I shook off the dust of my feet and left Georgia, after having preached the gospel there (not as I ought, but as I was able) one year and nearly nine months.”

Among his reflections about his own lack of faith at the time, he lamented, “I went to America, to convert the Indians; but oh! who shall convert me?”

For anyone familiar with disappointment, failure, and wondering, two incidents during Wesley’s unfortunate foray offer potential insight.

Following his 16-week voyage from England to America in 1736, Wesley met a German pastor, Mr. Spangenberg, and solicited his opinion regarding Wesley’s own behavior.

“My brother,” Mr. Spangenberg responded, “I must first ask you one of two questions. Have you the witness within yourself? Does the Spirit of God bear witness with your spirit that you are a child of God?”

Surprised, Wesley admitted he did not know what to answer. Spangenberg observed his response and further inquired, “Do you know Jesus Christ?”

Wesley answered, “I know he is the Savior of the world.”

“True,” Spangenberg replied, “But do you know he has saved you?”

Wesley answered, “I hope he has died to save me,” to which

Spangenberg added, “Do you know yourself?”

Wesley answered, “I do,” but admitted privately that he feared they were vain words.

Now, as then, it is probable that seekers will make inquiries of believers, especially those who drink from the wells of revival. Probing questions can often serve as productive prompts in people’s journeys of faith. Spangenberg – and others with whom Wesley conversed during his journey – was most likely nowhere near Aldersgate Street a little over two years later when Wesley finally came to faith. But the seeds of inquiry, reflection, and faith he planted in Wesley grew, matured, and eventually produced an abundant harvest that shaped and continues to shape people and nations worldwide.

Jesus often answered questions by asking deeper questions. Paul encouraged making the most of every opportunity with conversations “full of grace, seasoned with salt so that you may know how to answer everyone” (Colossians 4:5-6). Peter encouraged vigilance to “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect” (I Peter 3:15).

Found in his journal, Wesley had enlightening conversations with a ninety-plus-year-old Indian named Tomo Chachi (or Tomo-chi-chi), who had previously traveled to England with the Savannah’s founder, James Oglethorpe. On February 14, 1736 (a week after Wesley met Spangenberg), the old chief told Wesley through an interpreter, “I am glad you are come. When I was in England, I desired that some would speak the great word to me and my nation then desired to hear it; but now we are all in confusion. Yet, I am glad you are come. I will go up and speak to the wise men of our nation; and I hope they will hear. But we would not be made Christians as the Spaniards make Christians: we would be taught, before we are baptized.”

Later, when Mr. Wesley urged Tomo-chi-chi to act on becoming a Christian, the observational chief replied scornfully, “Why these are Christians at Savannah! Those are Christians at Frederica! Christians drunk! Christians beat men! Christians tell lies! Me no Christian” (found in Charles Colcock Jones’ Historical Sketch of Tomo-chi-chi, 1868).

Herein we see that even “heathens” understand the need for teaching, as well as expect godly examples of that which is taught. We recall the startling comment centuries later made by Mahatima Gandhi to missionaries, “I like your Christ; I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”

May we drink deeply from the well of experience, dive deeply into studying God’s Word, and live lives that evidence conversion and sanctification so that no one can say of us, “They claim to know God, but by their actions they deny him” (Titus 1:16).

Recent revival history. The aftermath of the famous 1970s Asbury Revival offers additional insights. My wife and I had the opportunity to live and work at Asbury College while I attended Asbury Seminary for three years. She served as Resident Director for the 250 female students of Glide-Crawford dormitory, located at the entrance to the drive that passes in front of Hughes Auditorium. We will never forget our first night on campus when students arriving for the fall 1986 semester gathered spontaneously in our dormitory’s huge parlor for an informal time of worship and prayer. We were blown away by the godly spirit of beauty, harmony, holiness, and joy abundantly evident among our students that evening. And we enjoyed similar experiences at the college and seminary over multiple years in the 1980s and 1990s. Many of the staff, faculty, students, alumni, and families that we met who were associated with one or both Asbury institutions were influenced by the 1970s revival and others, and their lives reflected the glory of God over the following decades and continue today worldwide.

I later served as pastor of a church that hosted a group of Asbury students back in the early 1970s. My congregants shared with me the powerful impact of their visit, including numerous members of their church (mostly younger adults and older teenagers) who believed in Jesus and accepted him as their Lord and Savior. Eventually, some in the congregation started a new church, a dynamic K-12 Christian school, and various other non-profit ministries. In my experience, the fruit of the 1970s Asbury revival in that town included the revitalization, creation, and growth of multiple ministries and hundreds of individuals living admirable lives of strong faith in their circles of business, education, healthcare, ministry, politics, and more.

My own journey, influenced and nurtured by the same spirit of the Lord abundant at Asbury, has included an amazing array of opportunities and adventures around the world. Like many Christians, I have sought to live out my faith in Jesus through the power of the Holy Spirit in my careers and avocations, the latest including helping start and serve as president of The Bible Seminary in Katy, Texas.

Recent revival history indicates that the fruit of what has taken place at Asbury will seed, grow, and produce abundant harvest over decades and probably centuries. At the same time, Jesus’ Parable of the Sower (Matthew 13:1-23) will characterize this one as it has others throughout history. In the meantime, we rejoice that God is exalted among the nations.

Responding to revival. In response to a move of God, our local congregations need to be mindful to do five things.

1. Create opportunities for people to worship, including space and time to be still, so that more will come to know that he is God (Psalm 46:10). Through our preaching and teaching we can nurture faith and belief in the name of God’s one and only Son so that people will not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16).

2. Offer Christ. “God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him (Christ Jesus), and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation – if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel” (Colossians 1:19-23).

3. Study God’s word. “The Holy Scriptures are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:15-17).

4. Teach about holiness. “As obedient children do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: ‘Be holy, because I am holy.’” (I Peter 1:14-15).

5. Love wholeheartedly. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30).

When the human heart is touched by revival, we are wise to follow the teachings of the Apostle Paul. “Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Colossians 3:16-17).

K. Lynn Lewis is an ordained clergy member of the Global Methodist Church and serves under appointment as president of The Bible Seminary in Katy, Texas. Dr. Lewis may be reached at

Thousands showed up in Wilmore, Kentucky, to be part of the revival in February. Photo by Suzanne Nicholson.

The Rollercoaster After Revival

The Rollercoaster After Revival

The Rollercoaster After Revival

By Alexandra Presta

My blood sugar is 47. Currently, I sit in the student center at Asbury University with tingling and numb lips. My fingers shake every time I pause in between typing on my laptop. I’ve already eaten dinner. I’ve chugged the bottle of Gatorade I keep in the side pocket of my backpack and forced myself to also eat half of the whoopie pie my friend gave me earlier. But it’s not going up.

This is the eighth time in the past 24 hours my blood sugar has dropped below 70, which is when my symptoms of hypoglycemia typically begin. My blood sugar is supposed to be above 80 and below 200.

You would think that since I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes when I was eight that I’d have better control of my blood sugar by now. Yet some days I do all the right

like change my site, exercise, monitor my blood sugar, give myself insulin, etc. and will still experience what we diabetics call “rollercoastering.”

It’s not fun. Imagine a day where you ride a rollercoaster over and over again for an entire day – up, down, up, down, up, down. Stomach pains, dizziness, sweaty and flushed skin, dazed eyes, and one thought making you groan when the ride begins again before you have even caught your breath from the last time: “Oh, Lord, please, not again.”

Slap that messy mountain range in a graph format and there’s what my life has been like today.

I think with our faith we also experience this “rollercoastering” phenomenon. We have days and seasons where we do the right things – pray, read Scripture, worship, and tithe – yet find ourselves in the dips and sudden jerky turns of the ride. There’s anxiety, depression, temptation, arrogance and hurt, oh gosh, so much hurt. It’s not fun here.

We miss being at the top, where the skies are clear and an eager joy fills our hearts. At Asbury, we just experienced this due to the revival, outpouring or whatever you call it. The Holy Spirit fell and there was peace, reconciliation, repentance, and confession that led to complete transformations of the heart and soul. We took postures of humility as the world tuned in and God continued to move, heal and encounter his beloved children. We were enjoying the ride. Some of us never wanted it to end.

But now our campus is quieter. The overwhelming crowds have gone. And while for some it seems better now because they’re still at the top of the rollercoaster, others have crashed and crashed hard. Unfortunately, I fall into this category.

I wasn’t doing great before the revival occurred in all honesty. I had attempted to heal my broken and bitter heart. Counseling, journaling, prayer, Scripture – I did it all. Even in the midst of revival, I took time to do these things. So how, after all of this – after I watched God bring some of my friends back to him, felt his tangible peaceful presence, testified and watched him answer some of my other prayers – could I feel overwhelmed in the dips and jerks of this rollercoaster we call life?

How did I even end up here? I was doing the right things; I am doing the right things and am watching God continue to move. Yet, as I sit here recovering from a hypoglycemic moment, I recognize that my heart is in a similar state.

I am in a spiritual low, one that doesn’t make any kind of sense. It reminds me of Elijah in 1 Kings 18. He had a mountaintop, peak of a rollercoaster moment with God, literally on Mount Carmel. God used him to defeat 450 prophets of Baal before he outran King Ahab’s chariot to the entrance of Jezreel.

But do you know what happens in 1 Kings 19? Elijah runs again, but this time, it’s because he’s being chased. Queen Jezebel had sent people to kill him; she wanted him dead. He went from being a witness to God’s glory to being overwhelmed with fear and exhaustion so much so he begged God to take his life.

And it doesn’t make sense. He just watched the blazing fire of God come down. It completely consumed a burnt offering drenched in water and the water itself in the trench. Elijah just watched God prove that he is YAHWEH, the one true God. I just witnessed God prove the same thing thousands of years later. It doesn’t make sense, it feels wrong, to feel this temptation and bitterness creep into my heart again.

Yet that’s unfortunately a key concept of life. It doesn’t stop. It goes on. And there are highs and there are lows. The important thing to remember is God is there through it all, every part of the ride.

He doesn’t just encounter us once as the rollercoaster sits on the top of the very first hill and then disappear before the car tips over the scary edge. There are certain moments where we experience instantaneous peace and healing. That’s beautiful, but a relationship with God is ongoing. It’s a continual spiritual journey. And God’s here with us on the ride, allowing us to tightly grip his hand and bury our head with our eyes squeezed shut for every single twist and turn.

He didn’t abandon me because I am experiencing bitterness and exhaustion after revival. He’s not leaving me to fix my blood sugar on my own. In fact, in my prayers for healing – prayers he always listens to – he’s the One reminding me that sometimes healing isn’t instantaneous. He’s helping me learn patience and how to truly forgive others inwardly and outwardly. He sees my dusty, broken, and bitter heart and is mending it back together through his love in his timing.

Life is going on – but praise God that he goes on with us. Praise God that his love is too great and his grace is too rich. Celebrate him for being so kind and patient that none of my negativity, none of my bitterness, keeps him from loving and forgiving me.

I want to love people like that. I want to forgive people like that. Luckily, day by day, in small steps and acts of surrender, he is showing me how. He’s revealing the people I need in my life, the decisions of obedience I need to take for my heart to soften and be wholly restored by his love. He’s showing me how to forgive people through action and conversation with trusted friends and him.

He loves us so much that he doesn’t want us to stay in our hurt, our pain and our processing. His desire is to lead us through it, right by our side. God was here before, he’s here now, and he’s not going to ever leave. It’s our choice whether or not we accept his hand.

For Elijah, God provided food, rest, and a friend. And for us, no matter how we feel about the rollercoaster after revival, if we choose to let him in, he will provide exactly what we need, too.

Alexandra Presta is the editor of the Asbury Collegian at Asbury University in Wilmore, Kentucky. Reprinted by permission of the Asbury Collegian.