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Walking Through the Valley: A Tsunami Update

I should not show much grief for the death of my three relatives,” said the translator who showed us around Banda Aceh, Indonesia.

To the question “Why not?” he responded that most of his friends have lost six, 10, or even 20 family members.

The same is true in Lhoong district south of Banda Aceh where the Christian Reformed World Relief Committee (CRWRC) and its Indonesian partner WALHI have started rehabilitation work in three villages that were home to 1,200 inhabitants before the Dec. 26 tsunami. Now only 243 are still alive, with just 121 remaining in the villages.

CRWRC is starting by building temporary houses. Finding fishing boats and nets, providing tools and seeds for farmers to plant rice crops, rebuilding schools, and digging wells will follow.

The needs are many and can be seen again and again in India, Sri Lanka, and Indonesia.

Being with the survivors, helping them to look up and go forward, and then offering the material means required will be our witness. Walking with them through the valley will be our often-silent testimony of the love of Christ. It’s a powerful testimony, accompanied by prayer. Thank you for being there with us.

—Jacob Kramer, CRWRC International Relief Coordinator

Walk With Me Revitalizes Sunday School

These days it’s becoming more and more difficult to find a successful new Sunday school curriculum. When Faith Alive launched Walk With Me last fall, the staff did a lot of praying—and more than a little breath holding. But a few months into the launch it became obvious the curriculum was doing well—amazingly well.

“We’ve never had a curriculum get such a positive response in such a short time,” said Gary Mulder, executive director of CRC Publications/Faith Alive. “It’s truly remarkable—especially given recent trends.”

Many denominationally owned publishers are losing sales to larger publishers. “Declining curriculum sales has been a hot topic at most of our meetings,” said Alan Meyer, executive director of the Protestant Church-Owned Publishers’ Association. “There’s no question that many of our members have lost ground in recent years.”

Mulder says the success of Walk With Me (WWM) shows that churches want a curriculum that fits their theology. But they also want solid pedagogy, engaging design, and ease of use. “They don’t want to sacrifice quality for theology. They want both.”

And it’s not only Christian Reformed churches that are looking for these qualities; more than half of WWM sales are to churches from other Reformed and Presbyterian denominations.

Walk With Me has received endorsements from the Reformed Church in America as well as Presbyterians for Renewal, an organization of roughly 3,000 churches within the Presbyterian Church (USA). “We looked at everything on the market and nothing came close to Walk With Me, said Meri MacLeod, PFR board member and a professor of education at Western Theological Seminary. “From both theological and educational perspectives, it’s outstanding.”

C.J. Gilbert, Sunday school director at Milwood CRC in Kalamazoo, Mich., heartily agrees. “As a teacher I was immediately drawn to WWM. I knew about Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences and saw how much better students learn when the curriculum appeals to their natural interests. I was hopeful that WWM would bring that kind of ‘fun’ learning to our Bible studies.”

Milwood CRC started using WWM in September 2004. Gilbert reports that the new curriculum has transformed a formerly “lackluster” Sunday school experience into a fresh and vital time of worship and learning.

“We’ve overwhelmingly found it to be a better curriculum for the children,” she said. “The younger kids are enjoying our common singing time more now with songs that encourage them to get up and move around, praising God with their whole bodies. The middle-school students appreciate being separate from the ‘little kids’ and having more time to tackle deep discussions about God, the Reformed faith, and their lives.”

—Sandy Swartzentruber is a freelance writer who works part-time for The Banner.

BTGH Helps Hone Christian Media Skills in Latin America

Several members of Back to God Hour (BTGH) staff were in Central America recently to conduct communication workshops. The purpose of the training was to help people use broadcast media more effectively in presenting the gospel.

“It takes more than just having a radio station or access to two hours of TV airtime to communicate the gospel,” said Pastor Ricardo Ayala, who was part of the team together with Rev. Guillermo Serrano.

This was a unique opportunity for BTGH to work in partnership with local ministry teams. “In many areas of Latin America, individuals and churches dream of starting radio or television stations, and before they are really prepared to undertake such an endeavor, this dream becomes a reality,” explained Serrano.

Ayala, a former announcer, producer, and Spanish radio ministry director for Moody Bible Institute who is now pastor of Iglesia Cristiana de la Comunidad in Southeast Chicago, said Christians in Central America see the need. “They love the Lord, they know they have to impact society with the gospel, they have the equipment, but they need training.”

He and Serrano, BTGH’s Spanish-language ministry leader, offered workshops in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, and San Salvado, El Salvador. John Clausing, BTGH video project manager, and Gerson Garcia, Moody’s radio program director, also conducted workshops.

Workshop planners anticipated 12 to 15 attendees, but the response exceeded their expectations. Journalists, media technicians, and university communications students were among the 30 participants in El Salvador, and 100 people attended the workshop in Honduras.

Participants spent two days on topics as practical as “Principles of Communication, Sound, and Lighting” and as challenging as “Theological Aspects of Communication.” The theological workshop was offered last in the schedule, and participants didn’t have to stay for it, Ayala noted, but to his amazement everyone did. The third day of the workshop offered hands-on training at a local radio/TV broadcast center.

“In Central America the gospel is booming,” Ayala said. “In San Pedro over 40 percent of the people claim they have had an experience with Christ and are born-again Christians. There is a good commitment to Christianity in society, but there is little discipleship.”

The need is filled in part by BTGH’s “La Hora de la Reforma” (The Hour of Reformation) weekly radio broadcast and “La Vida Ahora” (Life Today), a 30-minute weekly TV news magazine that applies biblical principles to daily life.

“It was a wonderfully satisfying experience,” Ayala reflected. “People realize that whatever they say [on radio or television] will change the life of the people who will hear. We can have a profound effect!”

The BTGH has received requests to take the workshops to other cities and Central American countries.

—Eleanor Lamsma, Executive Assistant, the Back to God Hour

Seminary Chapel Gets a Facelift

For many years, the chapel at Calvin Theological Seminary (CTS) was the place for Christian Reformed couples in Grand Rapids, Mich., to get married. Recently that chapel got a whole new look.

The original chapel served the seminary and CRC well for nearly 50 years, but it was time for a facelift, said Duane Kelderman, CTS vice president for administration. “It’s amazing how many people who hear about the new chapel tell us they were married in the sem chapel, many of them in the ’50s, ’60s or ’70s,” he added.

The biggest changes are the chapel’s orientation—worshipers now face west (toward the seminary pond) instead of east—and an increase in natural lighting, with windows on three sides instead of one.

The new chapel incorporates many features of the old. Most of the old pews were refurbished, but the front third of the new chapel has chairs for flexible seating. The new chapel includes a refurbished organ from the old chapel but also has electronic capacity for the full range of musical instruments used in worship today. The pulpit and sacramental furniture still have a central place in the chapel, but the space is also equipped with excellent audio-video technology.

“We didn’t want to make either-or choices on these sensitive matters,” Kelderman explained. “We’re excited about a chapel space that communicates dignity and warmth, reverence for God and appreciation of community.”

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