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 

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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A Mission of Mercy: Disaster Advanced Response Team

 

by Mike Cloy
Elder, Reformation OPC,
Gastonia, NC
In 2017, the Presbytery of the Southeast (PSE) Diaconal Committee committed itself to develop a way in which to respond to disasters so that churches could resume worshipping together after the impact of natural disasters. Providentially, the Lord provided proof of principle for a coordinated and trained disaster response team through Hurricane Florence.
     Six Dorr brothers contacted David Nakhla, OPC Disaster Response Coordinator, who referred them to me. They were able to assist the Presbytery of the Southeast during Hurricane Florence and provide mercy ministry to the OP churches in New Bern and Wilmington, NC. 
     This experience enabled the PSE to select qualified men from within the PSE to serve on their organic D.A.R.T. (Disaster Advanced Response Team), to train them, and to purchase the necessary equipment and tools to perform their duties.
    Teams are equipped with a skid steer (Bobcat), fuel transport tanks, chainsaws (extra bars, chains, and service tools), protective gear, many other tools needed for immediate response aid, food and water for the number of days they intend to be deployed, as well as the ability to sleep in the trailer if needed. 
     There are currently 13 certified members of the DART. Members of the DART are required to attend a FEMA CERT class within their local county Emergency Management Services system. This gives them some credentials to be allowed into disaster areas sooner than a regular volunteer, although they are not attached to FEMA in any way. They are currently working on getting a forestry certificate for storm-damaged tree removal to further their credentials in disaster zones.
     Unlike regular disaster response efforts, where the Committee on Disaster Response asks for volunteers, the DART does not receive volunteers. It is an organization of its own with 13 men on the list of approved and vetted volunteers. A minimum of four and a maximum of six men are required to drive the two trucks that pull the two trailers. As little as a twelve-hour notice is given to deploy each group on call. We try to schedule at least three times as many as needed in order to ensure 4-6 team members are available. These men must be members in good standing of a local church.
     When a disaster strikes one of the churches within the presbytery footprint, I (as the PSE DR Coordinator) make contact with the impacted church’s leadership to make them aware of the DART’s capabilities, as well as to obtain an initial assessment of the damage and research lodging accommodations.
     The deployment comes after the DART leader alerts the team with an imminent notice of deployment. The impacted church will then provide a more detailed assessment to determine the extent of damages to the property of the church, the property of church members, their extended families, and also their neighbors. The church will send proof of the damage in the form of pictures and a priority of work. The men on the DART receive the church assessment with these pictures in order to refine the equipment they might need to perform their mission of tree removal, tarping roofs, and water removal from flooded areas. Once the DART arrives at the impacted church, the church will assume the lead for directing the DART in service to the church. 
     The DART records all of its actions and creates daily reports. Updates are sent to David Nakhla, so he can begin to shape follow-up support for the long-term mission of helping the church minister mercy through a site and volunteer coordinator. 
     Since Hurricane Laura, the PSE is seeking to come alongside the Presbytery of the South (PSO) and assist them with DART capabilities. When the DART deployed to Pineville, LA, they were able to help seven families avoid the cost of tree removal in a total amount of $40,000.In the wake of Hurricane Laura, which hit the gulf coast of Louisiana and Texas just a couple of weeks ago, the DART was deployed to help churches and families affected by the storm. 

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Refugee Relief

by Pastor Chris Cashen
This article first appeared in the September 2020 edition of The Mercy Minute, the Committee on Diaconal Ministries’ quarterly e-newsletter.
 
What comes to mind when you hear of “refugee ministry”? Possibly ministry that requires travel to a particular place, hours or days of training, the acquisition of difficult language skills, and certainly sensitivity to cultural differences.

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What is the National Diaconal Summit?

 “What is a diaconal summit?” “When is it?” “Who can go?” “How do I sign up?”

These may all be questions you’re asking.

  • What: This three-day event is a denomination-wide conference for deacons, full of lectures and workshops on various topics pertinent to diaconal work, as well as facilitating fellowship with other deacons from across the country. 
  • When: June 10-12, 2021 starting on Thursday at 4:00 with a welcome barbeque, and closing with a devotional Saturday morning at 9:30 AM.
  • Where: This year’s Summit will be held at Wheaton College* in Wheaton, Illinois.
  • Who: If you are a pastor, elder or deacon, have been a deacon but are now retired or on sabbatical, or are a deacon-in-training, you are most welcome to attend. 
  • How: Registration for the Summit is now open!
  • Cost: The cost of the Summit is covered by the Committee on Diaconal Ministries for OPC members if you register before April 1, 2021.
    • After April 1, you will need to pay a $25 registration fee.
    • Non-OPC members will pay $125 for the Summit (the $25 registration fee will be waived before April 1).
Any questions, please contact diaconalministries@opc.org.

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Diaconal Care During the Pandemic

by Scott Pearce, deacon, Christ of the Covenant OPC, Hackettstown, NJ
 

What does diaconal care look like during a pandemic? Specifically, what does Christian charity look like during a time when the government is distributing monies to most citizens with one hand and limiting the opportunity for millions to earn daily bread with the other? How can deacons help and give counsel to the self-employed, the business owner, or the “non-essential” worker? How can deacons encourage the members of the congregation who find their cups suddenly overflowing to give from their abundance to those whose cups are hollow or empty?

Perhaps you and your diaconate have had to wrestle with one or more (or all!) of these questions during the last three months. Perhaps the list of considerations above falls far short of the breadth and depth of diaconal matters that have challenged your congregation. Or perhaps your biggest hurdle to overcome has only been figuring out the new means and methods of taking up the collection of the saints without passing an offering plate! Whatever the challenges, unique or common, kingdom work in any age is wrought with sweat and toil and thorns, and we look to our King Jesus to sovereignly rule and overrule all the decisions and actions of his undershepherds.

If your experience as deacons was anything like ours in northwestern New Jersey, you reacted to the shut-down of “non-essential” businesses and the ever-broadening stay-at-home orders of late March by bracing for the worst and preparing for a host of needy families. How many breadwinners would be out of work—and for how long? How many households would find a month (or more) without income to be more than they could endure? Our pastors prayed for our congregation and specifically for us deacons every week from the pulpit. They prayed for our church’s giving, and for the wisdom to be good stewards of it.

Since we weren’t seeing them in person, we deacons started regularly calling all the households under our diaconal care—checking to see if income was interrupted or lessened, if family members were healthy, and to ask if there were any diaconal or spiritual needs. Praise the Lord, it was mostly good news through April, even from many of the families with young children. But then, by the end of April, the first signs of distress showed: a young hairdresser laid off, a woman in town visiting the Food Pantry and asking to speak with a pastor, a doctor in the congregation whose patient load at his private practice was reduced to a trickle. What’s more, we assumed that others were suffering in silence and we continued to check up.

Even once some specific needs were made manifest, it was still a challenge to know how to respond—and to what degree. We had our deacon discretionary fund from the church budget, but what would the congregation’s giving be like while not meeting in person? Would members continue to tithe? Or would some hold back in fear of an uncertain future? What if the first families that needed assistance drained all our resources? It became very apparent that we needed the Lord’s wisdom to know how to respond promptly to immediate needs without ultimately knowing how many other families would eventually need help before things were “back to normal.” We also needed to discretely communicate the needs of the church and community and solicit the help of the congregation to meet them.

The first and most tangible way that our congregation responded to our request for help was keeping the Food Pantry stocked with food and gift cards. The Food Pantry is not a very visible ministry even when we meet in person for worship, and how much more potentially forgotten when we worship from our living rooms! But an announcement in our bulletin and our private Facebook group was all it took to prompt the Lord’s people to drop off food, diapers, and gift cards to the church building on weekdays. And we’ve been able to express our gratitude and encouragement back to the congregation since the donations have been distributed and used as quickly as they’ve been dropped off.

Our congregation has also been stirred to give to the needs of others through financial gifts as well. I have had more than one conversation with a member of our fellowship who, when asked if he had financial needs, responded essentially, “No, my paychecks have been uninterrupted and I feel almost embarrassed to receive a stimulus check from the government. There are so many people who need it more than we do.” It’s encouraging to hear testimonies like this from fellow members of Christ’s flock—brothers and sisters looking at an unexpected financial windfall as a means to help meet the needs of others. This is a practical living out of Philippians 2:4, “Let each of you look not only to his own interests but also to the interests of others.”

What a blessing to be a deacon during COVID-19! What an honor to be called to care for our Lord’s precious sheep during a pandemic! It has prompted me and my fellow deacons in our fellowship to be much more intentional and proactive in our conversations with families. Would that we were always this active. Each press conference and governor’s edict have caused us to take a fresh look at our church’s needs and abilities and to pay careful attention to those at highest risk. Would that we were always this attentive.

The financial turbulence has weakened or dried up the income streams of many but has filled the cups of others to overflowing. When these cases take place side-by-side in Christ’s church, however, we are reminded of the Israelites gathering God’s manna: “whoever gathered much had nothing left over, and whoever gathered little had no lack.” Throughout all generations, He is always the source of our daily bread. The eyes of all look to Him and He gives each their food in due season. In feast or fallow, in plenty or pandemic, or He does not let His children go hungry.


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COVID-19 Pandemic Response Fund (CPR)

COVID-19 Pandemic Response (CPR) Fund

UPDATE AS OF 06/08/20:
With thanksgiving, we are glad to report that the OPC’s COVID-19 Pandemic Response (CPR) Fund has received over $20,000 in gifts. With the gifts, the Committee on Diaconal Ministries has already been able to respond to some requests for financial assistance. Last week, in response to their request, a gift was sent to our brothers and sisters in the Africa Evangelical Presbyterian Church (AEPC) in Kenya, a denomination with whom the OPC has fraternal ties, where they have been in coronavirus lockdown since mid-March. This week, the CDM is sending funds to OP missionaries laboring in Uganda to provide funds for food for some churches there. There have also been gifts dispersed to Ethiopia and Uruguay.
     A significant impact of the novel coronavirus lockdown in the developing world is hunger. While many in the West are accustomed to pantries loaded with weeks of food, many others in the world work each day to earn their daily bread. As such, being prohibited from working to earn food for the day brings tremendous suffering. As such, we are thankful to be able to play a small part in extending mercy in these difficult days, particularly to those who have the least.
The Committee on Diaconal Ministries recently opened up the COVID-19 Pandemic Response (CPR) Fund. This fund will be used to help churches and individuals especially hard-hit by the COVID-19 virus. We anticipate great needs locally and regionally. All those who are able ought to be encouraged to contribute generously to their local deacons’ fund and to their presbytery diaconal fund. (Soon, many will be receiving economic stimulus checks, despite having lost no income; could that be shared with those in need?) For those who are able to give above and beyond local and regional needs, we invite to give toward this fund to participate in meeting needs in the OPC or within our sister churches around the world.

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COVID-19: Deacons Mobilized in Response (As seen in May 2020 Issue of New Horizons)

by David Nakhla

The coronavirus pandemic may be the biggest call to action for OPC deacons in most of our lifetimes. This pandemic is certainly a disaster! But, it’s a special kind of disaster in several ways: it is characterized more by an invisible wave of fear and sickness than by a visible fire, rain, or earthquake; it is local, regional, national, and even global; the impact of this disaster is physical (sickness, even to the point of death), spiritual (fear of the unknown, especially the fear of death), and financial (lost jobs and incomes).

Ministry of Mercy

What better time for an active, even proactive, ministry of mercy? In one of the most comfortable nations in the world, deacons in our churches are rarely on the front lines of disaster. Until now! The ministry to “shut-ins” has gone from a ministry to a few individuals to a ministry to the whole church in just a few weeks. Deacons in most churches are actively seeking to assist the elderly and most vulnerable with groceries, enabling them to shelter in place without risking exposure to this virus that is so threatening to their health and well- being. Deacons are also making preparations for caring for those who may contract COVID-19 and need to receive care without infecting others. Deacons are planning for the impact of lost income on their families and looking for ways to bring financial assistance.

Further, many deacons have been called to action to assist with the logistics of online worship services and the collecting and receipting of the gifts of God’s people.

Work of the Committee on Diaconal Ministries

The Committee on Diaconal Ministries of the OPC (CDM) serves to encourage local deacons in their service locally. CDM has sought to facilitate discussion and idea-sharing amongst the deacons, particularly via the OPC Deacons closed-group Facebook page and the Mercy Minute, our quarterly e-newsletter sent out to church officers. CDM has also opened the COVID-19 Pandemic Response Fund, to which churches and individuals can contribute above and beyond the giving to their local and regional diaconates. These funds will enable CDM to participate in significant diaconal needs presented in our churches as well as to minister to sister denominations around the world, many of whom might find themselves suffering in ways far beyond what we are experiencing.

Of course, travel has been significantly curtailed by COVID-19. This may affect short-term mission trips this summer and has already prevented CDM from meeting face to face at the end of March. Planned speaking engagements and visits to fields have had to be postponed. And there are short-term visitors to fields who are having significant difficulties returning home.

The Lord Is at Work

While it is easy for us to focus on how the coronavirus may negatively impact our daily lives, we must continually remind ourselves that the Lord is at work in this. As Beaver in C. S. Lewis’s Narnia whispered, “Aslan is on the move!” The Lord is mobilizing our deacons to lead well in our churches and communities in active mercy ministry and drawing our families into an intense period of togetherness, something for which we have longed in recent years. Further, in this time of crisis and fear, true and everlasting hope that is only found in Jesus is the best ministry we can offer friends, family, and neighbors. This is not a time for despair but for looking to the Lord for strength and guidance as we seek to “give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for [us]” (1 Thess. 5:18). May we steward this unique season well!

 


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COVID-19 Local Resources–POAH

Helpful Resources
POAH, (Preservation of Affordable Housing) is a national nonprofit organization whose mission is to preserve, create, and sustain affordable, healthy homes that support economic security and access to opportunity for all. POAH Communities is responding actively to mitigate the threat that the COVID-19 virus poses to our residents, our staff, and the communities we serve.

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Tornados in the South

We are keeping in touch with the churches in the south where they experienced another round of tornadoes last week. Deacon Dan Zuldema from Cornerstone OPC in Chattanooga sent us this note:

Greetings from Cornerstone OPC in Chattanooga! We wanted to send this note of update to you in the wake of the storms that swept through the Chattanooga area last night. While there were areas of the city that were devastated, we are praising the Lord that everyone in our church is unharmed, and our church building is intact. One of our members was in a rental house that was completely destroyed, but by God’s grace, she was not home at the time. She is currently staying with her brother, who lives in town. (Update: She has since moved with help from the deacons at Cornerstone into a rental unit and will work with the deacons to develop a support plan.)
We would ask that you be praying for the body of Christ at Cornerstone in these ways:
  • That the Lord would be giving us all opportunities to share the reason for the hope we have with neighbors who have experienced loss, are afraid, and feeling helpless and hopeless.
  • That we would be bold in seizing opportunities to bless each other (within the church) and our neighbors (outside of the church) in their times of need and thereby bring glory to our God.
  • That the Lord would provide for Theresa in terms of a new rental arrangement and in regard to the materials that she can’t recover from her house.
As we are currently without a pastor, we have been joining Harvest OPC (in Michigan) via live stream every week. We have derived much comfort, encouragement, and support from the Presbytery of the Southeast and the broader denomination over the years, and we are extremely grateful. As a representative example, just this morning, bright and early we received a text from Mike Cloy, checking in on us to see if we were okay and if we had needs. We praise the Lord for the love and support of our sister churches in the denomination!
In a time when we don’t have a pastor, in a time when we can’t physically be together due to the COVID-19 restrictions, and in a time that our city has been ravaged by storms, we can truly say with Job that the Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord! He has blessed us beyond measure—and like Job, we celebrate, even while we mourn, because our Redeemer lives! In times like these, make no mistake about it, the church of God is under attack. But by the grace of our risen Savior, as we draw near to the throne of grace, and draw together, we pray that we will emerge from these trials a stronger, purer church.
Sincerely,
Dan (for the session)
Dr. Daniel R. Zuidema

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The Love of Christ Shown

The Love of Christ Shown

Nearly a month ago, before COVID-19 had been known in the States, we attempted to send masks to our brothers and sisters in Asia but weren’t able to because of supply issues. Now, with the virus sweeping through the United States, our brothers and sisters in Asia are sending masks to us! There are currently 7,300 masks coming to us! What a wonderful testimony, not just of the global nature of this pandemic, but of the global nature of Christ’s church as one body.If you need a mask or would like to distribute them to your neighbors, please speak to one of your deacons and ask them to contact OPC Disaster Response Coordinator, David Nakhla for more information.

The map indicates everywhere that these masks have been distributed in the United States to date. Inset photos: Deacon David Watson from Reformation Fellowship OPC in Roseville, CA, gave masks to an RN in his church to take to her hospital and the flyer that went along with the masks! Praise the Lord for this provision!


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