The Committee on Diaconal Ministries
of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church

For those who serve well as deacons gain a good standing for themselves

and also great confidence in the faiththat is in Christ Jesus.

1 Timothy 3:13
 

 

News and Items for Prayer 

Finding Joy in Sacrificial Love

by Chris Cashen, Refugee Evangelist in Clarkston, GA

As we are now in the Christmas season, many are turning their thoughts to serving, giving and mercy. This, then, is a wonderful time to encourage Christians to get involved in refugee ministry – which is chock full of serving and giving. In fact, as some write about refugee ministry, they remind us that Jesus Himself was, in a sense, a refugee as He fled from Herod. Just prior to His flight, our Lord was ministered to by the magi – who give us a sense of the central object of our ministry to refugees.

“Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, ‘Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him’” (Matthew 2:1-2 ESV).

While not meeting Jesus as a refugee, these were directly serving Christ as worshipers. They help us to see the kind of service we can offer to our new neighbors from foreign lands, as well as our attitude as we give of ourselves.

The privilege of serving: The wise men had the great privilege of serving the Lord Jesus. They had the time, the funds, the camels, to serve. God had equipped them to serve. He had given these magi not only the funding, but also the ability to understand and interpret the appearance of the star. And then the Lord gave them the desire to follow and to search out this divine child. God graciously gave them the privilege of serving Christ. We certainly see that they recognized this privilege as they rejoice in finding the Child.
 
As my wife and I conclude our time in Clarkston, GA we consider that this was a unique, and thus a privileged, time of serving Jesus Christ. He clearly gave us all that we needed and sustained us during each and every aspect of our work. The Lord equipped us for this privilege and provided the open doors. At times, we are tempted to reflect on serving or giving as a burden. In actuality, the privilege of serving others in general, and refugees in particular, is the great privilege of serving our risen Lord Jesus. Not all are given this opportunity of serving the King. As those saved by the shed blood of Christ, we should relish the opportunity and privilege of serving.

 

The sacrifice of serving: As Jesus clearly explains in His Word, there is a cost to serving. We see it in the magi as they took time away from their homes, families, friends and magi work to pursue serving – or worshiping – the Christ Child. Certainly these men brought costly and precious gifts to set before the One that they sought to serve. The magi even sacrificed their “relationship” with Herod to keep the Word of God – and returned home by another way. We see an even greater sacrifice as the Son of God condescended to take on human flesh and appear before men. We see it as Jesus was mocked and scourged. We see it as our Lord went to the cross and suffered. Refugee ministry uniquely, and in some ways, exclusively, enables those serving to engage in sacrificial service to Christ. To truly help those who have lost material possessions, daily interaction with lifelong friends and family, and their home countries, there is a pouring-out of self into these new and needy relationships. Serving comes at inconvenient times and, every so often, seems all consuming – kind of like the journey the magi endured to serve Jesus. Kind of like the precious gifts they brought and set before this One they worshiped. And yet, this is the type of service that our Savior calls us to as His followers. And it was this kind of service which – much more than helping our new neighbors – molded and shaped my heart, and that of my wife, to be more and more like Jesus Christ. This is what refugee ministry does to us – it changes us and conforms us to be more like Him.

 

The joy of serving: But while the serving was sacrificial, it was joyful. As the magi approached Bethlehem, seeing and being guided by the star, “they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy” (Matthew 2:10 ESV). Even as their journey was likely difficult and exhausting, in their service, as they approached the Person of their service, they were so joyful. It was hard, but yet they were rejoicing with “great joy”. As we look back upon the years spent in Clarkston, there were certainly times of exhaustion in serving. And yet there was joy. We found the joy not always in the response of the particular people we sought to serve, but in the truth that we were serving Jesus – the One who had gone to the cross for us, saved us and loves us. This then was, in my opinion, the greatest lesson and the greatest joy. While ministry to refugees is a sacrificial privilege, as we remember and meditate upon the truth that in every ride given to a medical appointment, in every immigration form completed, in every English class taught and child tutored, and in every bag of rice delivered, Jesus was being served (“as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me” Matthew 25:40 ESV). And that is a joyful truth and reality! As we leave Clarkston, we are joyful in knowing that the work will continue – that Christ will continue to be served as the session and members of Redeemer OPC in Atlanta continue to love and minister to their new neighbors.

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NDS IV Postponed to June 9-11, 2022

Special Notice!

Due to ongoing restrictions and uncertainties related to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Committee on Diaconal Ministries has regretfully decided to postpone the National Diaconal Summit IV, scheduled to take place June 10-12, 2021 in Wheaton, Illinois.

The primary reason for this decision is that ongoing state restrictions in Illinois, which forbid indoor gatherings of more than 50 people, will not be modified or lifted until an effective vaccine for the virus can be developed and widely distributed. Given the uncertainty of an effective vaccine being produced and distributed before the summer of 2021, and given the need for speakers and participants to make travel plans months ahead of the this Summit, the CDM believes the current year’s plan is no longer feasible. After considering various other possibilities, the CDM has decided to postpone the event and reschedule for the summer of 2022. The Committee has tentatively reserved June 9-11, 2022 for NDS IV and is working toward confirming the plenary and workshop speakers’ availabilities.

The CDM extends its sincere apology for this inconvenience. Many officers over the years have expressed a deep desire to attend these rich lectures, workshops and unique times of fellowship, which is why the CDM will be doing the best they can to resume in 2022.

In the meantime, please make use of the videos from previous summits to enrich your work as servants of the Lord. There is so much wonderful content in them and we would be pleased if you would use them for the benefit of your congregations and the glory of the Lord.

If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact the CDM: diaconalministries@opc.org.


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Meet Your Fellow Deacons: Redeemer OPC, Charlotte, NC

Matt Browning says, “I’ve lived in Charlotte for fourteen years now, and am a practicing “Mad Scientist”. Cassie and I met at Redeemer about ten years ago, and we’ve had two kids there, Jack and Lucie. Well, we didn’t actually have them at the church. They were born in a hospital, much like normal children. Lately, we’ve been pretty involved with the homeschool community among the reformed churches in the area. We enjoy gardening together, cultural warfare, and driving incredible distances to visit family during the holidays. 

I love getting to serve our church families in simple things like moving house or helping with home repairs. Building a Christian community and culture is so important, and getting down to some physical work together is a great way to build community, especially for dudes who need something to do. The quality time of physical service is its own reward! I also really love teaching kids’ Sunday school and generally organizing our Sunday school program. It has given many adults a chance to get involved where otherwise they’d be somewhat on the sidelines. 

A kind or encouraging word to a brother or sister can do much more than one might think. So can little things like dropping off a meal just to give a mom a break, or grabbing lunch with a brother. Time is usually more valuable than money. If there’s not a fire that needs putting-out right now, look for the little opportunities to encourage. Also, get your wife involved in your service. She’s a better cook than you.

Matt Posvar has been a deacon at Redeemer OPC since the summer of 2005. He grew up in the RPCNA and the OPC was always close by with school friends being at the OPC church in his town. He says he has always enjoyed helping others, sometimes to the detriment of his own family and duties at home. Being a deacon for over 15 years now has helped him to learn to balance those things and also to learn to allow others to serve in areas that he no longer can.
 
Matt was drawn to the local diaconate because he desired to serve the body in any way he could. This started out at first with more physically-oriented service that was easily visible as sure and obvious needs. He tells us, “It has been a joy to continue to do those things and to ‘wait tables’ so that the session can do their work, but I do greatly enjoy the more spiritual side of it, too.” He looks forward to broadening the focus to those outside of the church as the deacons grow in their outreach to those in need in their community.

Matt is grateful for the work of their diversely skilled diaconate and the love they have for their congregation. He has learned to be more compassionate in general, and especially when it comes to others’ needs. It is easy to go about your own work and to not see others in need or suffering around you. Matt explains, “Forcing myself out of my comfort zone to reach out to others has been wonderful and has been a true blessing to be on the receiving end, as well. It’s wonderful to be able to be an extension of Christ to the Body despite the weakness and imperfect nature of this feeble extension.”

David Vogel has been a deacon at Redeemer since 2015, and tells us, “My wife grew up in the OPC, but I have a varied church background. I met Leah at Redeemer and married her a couple of years before I became a deacon. We have two little girls and I’m a third-year student at Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary’s M.Div. program. I hope to become a pastor upon graduation. Serving as a deacon played an important part in my feeling a call to ministry.”

David believes the greatest strength of the men he serves with is their godliness and humility, “They truly exhibit the requirements of 1 Tim. 3 in their lives, and it is a joy to work together with them to serve the church. When we have a difficult case, I am confident it will be handled with prayer, patience, and diligence.” 

“Our community is largely upper-middle class, so we don’t have much natural exposure to many types of need which can provide a field for fruitful diaconal service. We are also all relatively young men with families, which helps in some ways but also means we’re consistently busy and our biggest limitation is usually our own time.”

David believes the biggest lesson is to be proactive about the big picture and to go slow on details—not to wait for trouble to develop. He hopes deacons will be aware, and have conversations before the crisis comes, if possible. However, once you’re having the conversation, take time to listen and don’t make assumptions. He admits, “Not saying I do this well yet, but I hope I’m learning!” 

The biggest encouragement to David has been a sense of caring for Christ’s bride during times of real need and feeling His help and blessing as he does so. He adds, “Being a deacon has given me a greater sense of connection to the church, as well as a greater love for her.”


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Ministering During Covid in the Developing World

What has it been like living during COVID-19 in Uganda? When the first cases arrived at the beginning of April, the president locked the country down tight. We had a curfew from 6:00 pm to 6:00 am. All public transport was shut down: buses, taxi’s and boda-boda’s (motorcycle taxis). All private transport without a permit was banned by the RDC (like the county sheriff). All schools were closed. All businesses were closed down unless they were essential—basically only grocery stores and farm supply stores. The regions looked like ghost towns. Public worship was banned from April to October.   

Like most, after a few months of this, we were really feeling cooped up but we continued our work at the mission. We continued the farm project, though scaled down quite a bit. Maintenance continued, though it was difficult to get supplies. For a few months, we gathered with the Robbins family for worship on Sunday mornings and with the Folkerts on Sunday evenings. After the Robbins left for furlough we gathered with a few families from the church in the village. This turned out to be a sweet time of fellowship and was encouraging to see the desire of the church members for the fellowship of the saints.  
As time went on, the government realized that this kind of lockdown was unsustainable economically. The virus had been contained to a few hundred people. Things have slowly opened up and many things are back to normal even as COVID-19 is spreading throughout the country.

One of the things the mission has been able to do is buy radios to hand out with recorded sermons, songs, and scripture. This has been a tool to penetrate into the villages and reach people with whom we would not normally be able to reach. Some of the church members have produced some new songs based on the Psalms and have recorded them for the radios as well. We are very thankful for the Lord’s goodness to us in all these trials, reminding us that he is still King and still in control, working salvation for his elect. We are thankful to be His hands and feet in such a time as this!


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Deacon Missionary Mark Van Essendelft Family Update in Photos

 
Thank you so much for your prayers and support! It is an exciting, humbling and challenging privilege to serve in this place. “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore, pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” Luke 10:2
 

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A Deacon’s Role in OPC Disasters Far Away

by David Nakhla, OPC Disaster Response Coordinator
 
Just a few years ago, the only official disaster response entity in the OPC was at the denominational level.  One of my roles is to serve the denomination as the Disaster Response Coordinator.  In God’s providence, just prior to the 2017 “triple-whammy”—three hurricanes impacting three presbyteries within three weeks—the Committee on Diaconal Ministries had begun to encourage presbytery diaconal committees to take more leadership in the realm of disaster response. After all, aren’t disasters inherently a local or regional event? The move in this direction proved invaluable in enabling these three disaster response efforts to occur simultaneously: Harvey (Houston), Irma (Florida), and Maria (Puerto Rico).
     As the OPC’s Disaster Response Coordinator, I have been, more recently, interested in seeing our church take this even one step further. I have been desiring to see local deacons take an active role in owning disaster response, not just those that impact your church locally (which should go without saying), but also those that impact the OPC outside the bounds of your local church. And, you know what? I am so encouraged to see many of you brothers begin to do just that!
     As of the writing of this article, we are now a little past the middle of hurricane season (June 1 to November 30). Hurricane Sally is currently threatening the Gulf Coast. Hurricane Laura roared on shore just a little over two weeks ago, deluging the coast and impacting at least one OP congregation from downed trees and power lines. Tropical Storm Isaias was only a few weeks before that, flooding the home of one OP family in Maryland. Beyond hurricanes, wildfires have been raging on the West coast for weeks now and last week consumed the homes of two OPC families in Oregon. The crazy “Derecho” winds stirred up the Midwest recently. Disasters seem to be around us on every side.
     It is likely that none of these disasters mentioned has directly affected you. But, for the few affected, the impact is immense. And this is precisely the importance and value of a connected church being organized to minister to one another, such that when one part of the Body suffers the impact of a disaster, the whole Body suffers with it (I Corinthians 12).
     Brother deacons, I need each one of you. First, I need the prayers you offer on our behalf. Nothing worthwhile is accomplished outside the prayers of God’s people. Second, I need the offerings you take up for the benefit of others. Assisting someone rebuild their home without FEMA dollars or insurance payouts requires money, and usually a lot of it. Those dollars mostly come through the generous gifts of God’s people. And third, I need the volunteers you send. The need for volunteers seems to be the most difficult piece of the puzzle. Lives are full. Time is short. The need seems so far away. So, would you be willing to take more of an active role in recruiting and sending (yes, sending…pay for their travel) those who could serve disaster response well? I can almost guarantee that they will thank you for the opportunity to participate in the relief of the saints! We welcome volunteers who are both skilled and unskilled, those who can serve long-term and short-term, and those who live close by and come from far away. Please send them!
     It is my dream to see more and more deacons actively owning the disaster response efforts of the OPC. The victims of disasters, those who are blessed by the influx of support and gifts, will and do testify to the refreshment of this care and compassion showered upon them. But this is only possible through the generous giving of time, talents, and treasures toward this ministry of mercy.
     On August 18, I was concerned because we had been receiving gifts for the Midland Flood Response effort for almost three months and yet had only received $40,000 of the $100,000 we estimated that we would need. In sharing this with you brothers on the OPC Deacons Facebook page, I was so encouraged to see you respond. I believe that this may have been my first direct appeal specifically to deacons to share in a disaster response effort in this way. Brothers, I am happy to report that, now less than one month later, 50% more funding came in, mainly through generous gifts from local diaconates. That fund is now over $61,000! You responded. Thank you! Don’t stop supporting these efforts!

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