I first learned the importance of knowing Christ when I met my husband—it was the beginning of becoming the person I wanted to be. I knew about Christ but not the importance of Him. Not knowing that and having so many insecurities led me to many bad choices: partying, sex before marriage, etc. I knew what I wanted in life but not how to get it. I knew the person I wanted to be but didn’t know where to learn from. I had no example. When my husband and I were having problems, I had an overwhelming feeling that I needed to get to church ASAP. I’m so glad I went—it felt like the sermon was just for me! It was exactly what I needed to hear. Every Sunday, and every word since—I have felt the same way. Christ has changed me—my personality, the way I think, the way I see things, all things good and bad, the way I handle problems, anger and insecurity has changed drastically. Each Sunday, I still feel like the message is meant for me. For problems that I had through the week, the answer is given to me on Sunday. I knew of Christ but didn’t know Him. I wanted a relationship with Him and to know Him as He knows me. I have that now. I was also baptized this year because I want to walk in Jesus’ footsteps. I want to be a great person as well; get as close as I can to God; to be an example for my family and I feel like God is calling me to do it. I wanted to wash away the old me and soak up God’s Word!
Kentwood Community Church has played an incredible role in my faith journey. I have attended KCC since I was born, and was dedicated to the Christian faith as a child here. I participated in children's ministries programs and eventually attended the middle school program. I started singing in the worship band during middle school and over the course of a few years, God took away my fear of leading worship in front of crowds of people. I now feel comfortable even singing in "Big Church", which I never could have dreamed of when I was in middle school.
My transition from middle school to high school was tough, and I could not have done it without the support from my church family. My closest friends are those who go to church with me, and they were always there for me when I was struggling. Going to NTS camp with those friends as part of student ministries played one of the biggest roles in shaping my faith. The atmosphere of camp allowed me to be myself and challenged me to grow in ways I didn’t think were possible. Those experiences brought me closer to God and my church family, and I will cherish those memories forever.
I now serve as a small group leader for 7th grade girls on Sunday mornings, and it is beautiful to watch the growth happening in the lives of my girls. I also attend Elevate, our Sunday evening program for high schoolers, where I am constantly being filled up, so that I can pour out God’s love in my everyday life.
Wow! Pastor Kyle’s message about orphans is something I’ll never forget. I too was an orphan. Given up for adoption at age five because I was the product of a black man. After breaking up with my father, my mother was allowed back into her Indian community, only to watch her son be subjected to abuse and be ostracized by that community. Seeing this, she decided it would be better for me to be in a black family. To make a long story shorter, I ended up bouncing around in several foster homes for about a year and a half before being adopted. It was a mess … I was so troubled because I thought that if I messed up I would be given another ticket to the next place. I never really connected to my parents until I was grown. I was drinking at age 12; drugs soon followed. I did horrible in school and was soon labeled as a discipline problem and was thrown into special education classes for being emotionally impaired. It wasn’t long until my fist trip to juvenile detention and then prison by age 20. There I met Christ through my cellmate. After a four-year sentence, I was released back into society, but with no skills, I went back to what I knew to support myself — hustling. This time I felt different about it, though. I didn’t have the ability to be unconscionable any more. Skip ahead twenty years … I married the love-of-my-life; I have a beautiful family and all the trimmings of life. My wife persuaded me to switch from another church to KCC. Although I was resistant to the change it has now been six months and I am so glad that I did! It brought up feelings in me that I hadn’t felt in some time. The way God used Pastor Kyle for the message about orphans helped me confirm that I want to make KCC our permanent church home. I look forward to growing in Christ with our new KCC family!
I have lived long enough to have walked many hills and valleys in my life. Some brought on by my own choices, others the consequences of another's actions. I can testify that God has walked with me – every step – even when I thought I was making the trip on my own. He has allowed me to learn at my own pace, while encouraging me to draw closer to Him through every experience. I have had to walk some paths more than once, seeing more of the experience and learning a deeper lesson each time. A forty-year journey I have been walking — up hills and through valleys — is my marriage. Although we have shared some significant hills and valleys, the last five years may have been the most difficult valley we have walked through. It has felt like one of the longest hills we have had to climb. On our 37th anniversary, we spent our time separately and did not celebrate together. On our 38th anniversary we were in counseling. There have been many steps (years) in this climb out of the valley. About seven years ago, I felt God gave me the words, “fervent prayer”. So I began praying, picking up disciplines (study and fasting) that I had not practiced in some time. In praying, crying out and listening intently, I began to see more layers of lessons I thought I had already learned. I gave Jesus TOTAL Lordship over my life and gave up. Oh what freedom! I am not in control — and never was. Then, step by step, the hard climb began. God worked in and through me as well as in and through my husband. God is healing us. We are learning to live on the hilltop in our marriage. I am sure that we will have many more valleys and hills to climb but it will be together with God as our guide. I have learned that the hard work of climbing out of the valley to the hilltop is worth it! There is great beauty in each step. With God, every valley will lead you to a hilltop.
On a recent trip to India, Pastor Kyle encountered a young woman who has experienced persecution. She recently became a Christian and he was inspired by her courage. Here is her story:
I was raised by a very well-to-do Hindu family, but heard about Christianity through my co-workers. After experiencing some unexplained pain, one of my co-workers prayed in faith that my pain would be healed. I experienced healing! I decided to follow Jesus. When I told my family, I was locked in a room with a loud speaker blaring Hindu prayers, chants and affirmations. Only minimal food and water were provided. In the mind of my family, I had become unclean. I managed to escape and a local Christian pastor helped me to relocate to another state in India. I currently attend church, and I am going through a Bible training curriculum. Because of my conversion, I am no longer able to work in my former profession. I pray my family will also come to faith in Christ.
After I left, my family began circulating pictures of me on social media hoping to track me down and kill me, as they feel it would be better for me to be dead than follow Christ. I still hope to return home to marry the co-worker who prayed over me for healing. While working together we had fallen in love. I feel I must someday return to face my family, and if I can be married before I do, I won't have to stand alone.
Pastor Kyle asked her if she knew that this was going to happen when she decided to follow Jesus, and she replied that she had a pretty good idea that this would be the case. Please pray for her protection, for her family to come to know Jesus and for so many in the world who face persecution for following Christ.
I’ve become a widow and it has been really hard for me. However, God has been there to comfort, strengthen and help me when I need it the most. Since I put my trust in Christ, I’ve seen a difference in my life. Without Jesus I would be totally lost. With Jesus I can have peace and direction — even when life is hard or confusing. I want to be baptized because God is good and I want to obey Him by taking this step. I desire to grow closer to God because I know with Him I can overcome! His love helps me move forward.
I was a mess … addicted to drugs and alcohol since a young age. I was always searching for a way to feel comfortable in my skin. The anxiety, shame and guilt of substance abuse, lying and the hurt I caused to others in my attempts to keep my addiction hidden held me back from many of life’s good moments. I dropped out of sports in high school, didn’t finish college, had many broken relationships and a miscarriage — all of this increased my fear and self-hatred. When I met my husband he re-introduced me to Jesus Christ, bringing me to KCC four years ago. During praise and worship without fail the Holy Spirit would bring me to tears. Watching baptisms throughout the years made me feel happy and envious for those who had turned their lives over to Jesus. I wanted that so bad but didn’t feel I was worthy. I couldn’t let another person down in my life and once I let God in my heart I knew I would hurt him too. After a relapse and dealing with the consequences of that, I knew I didn’t have the strength to fake my way through life. I needed help, I needed to feel loved. The Mistaken Identity sermon series started to stir in me faith, belief and a sincere love of God. It helped me to see that I am worthy through Jesus suffering for my sins. Who am I to tell myself I am not good enough when the bottom line is God loves us just the way we are! Since surrendering to Jesus, my connection to God is stronger. I feel the release of guilt and shame lifted from me and I feel loved. I feel alive again. I want to be baptized as a testimony of His great love for me and my love for Him!
Before learning to trust God I would carry my problems on my shoulders. Stress and anxiety would fill me and I didn’t know how to deal with it. I have been a believer since I was a small child but as an adult I finally have learned to trust God and have seen Him work miracles in my life.
My youngest son was born in need of a new liver. I questioned, “Why Him? Why us?” I struggled with anxiety but realized it was out of my hands. I made a decision to give it to God. I trusted Him. I knew whatever would happen with my son was not in my control. However, when I acknowledged that is was in God’s control — instantly, I could feel God around us. Anxiety melted away and I knew He was guiding us. Then in June of this year, my 10-month old son received a liver transplant! I had a front row seat to a miracle! The way everything worked out, its timing, his recovery … I could see and feel God’s hand in all of it. It was so beautifully orchestrated and I knew He answered my prayers.
I want to be baptized because I love God. He loves me too. I want to do this for Him … and myself. Because God is so generous and loving, I want to live my life with Him, together.
Before I knew Christ I was a proud Atheist and I thought I was in control of my life. Growing up I always felt unloved, unwanted and alone. At the age of 16, I started to use drugs and alcohol to deal with the loneliness. I became an addict and was in and out of jail, falling deeper and deeper into my addiction and feeling more alone and unloved. My life was out of control. I cried out to God and prayed for Him to take my addiction away and to change my life, no matter what the cost … even if it meant sending me to prison. Two weeks later I was arrested and incarcerated. While on my journey through incarceration, I started attending church in jail. I couldn’t help but to hear the word of God and the Holy Spirit moved inside me. Matthew 22:14 says, “many are called but few are chosen.” I felt like Jesus had chosen me, of all people, and was starting to do a work in me. Jesus opened my eyes, my mind and my heart to Him. I finally realized I was loved and not alone. Jesus had been with me the whole time; I just didn’t see it. So I started to read the gospel and attend church as much as I could. While in prison I realized my body was in chains and finally I became free from my addiction. My prayer had been answered and that was when I surrendered my life to Jesus Christ! Since then, I was accepted into a faith-based halfway house. Jesus has blessed me in every step that I have taken … now I have a home, a job, a church and over two years of being drug-free. I have chosen to be baptized because I have been transformed by Jesus Christ. He has given me a new life with Him as my foundation. I am here to repent of my sins and my old way of life and publicly declare that Jesus Christ is my Lord and Savior!
Sunday morning, as I got dressed, I looked on my dresser and noticed a few vials of oil that I had mistakenly “stolen” from KCC. You know what I mean … someone asks to be anointed and prayed over on a weekend … I do it, then put the vial of oil in my pocket and forget about it. For months I’ve been thinking I should probably return the vials that have accumulated on my dresser. Well, this Sunday, I felt prompted to grab them. Later that morning, a woman approached me at KCC and told me that doctors had found a spot on her husband’s lung. He was scheduled to go in for more tests later that week. I asked if I could pray for him, so she led me back to their seats where I met him. I asked him if he believed that Christ could heal or fix whatever was going on in his lungs. He affirmed his belief in the healing power of Jesus and, with his permission, I anointed him and prayed. I prayed in the Name of Jesus that by the power of the Holy Spirit, he would be healed; whether God wanted to do it supernaturally, in a way that would confound the wisdom of the doctors and nurses, or through a course of treatment from doctors and nurses. I acknowledged that God does not have to heal just because we ask, but that God delights in us asking. After saying Amen, the couple thanked me for my prayers.
Two days later we got a call with a praise report from this gentleman. He went in for another scan. Guess what? No spot. No nothing. It completely disappeared! WOW!! Praise the Lord! These are the moments that happen, week in and week out in the life of KCC, that remind us that the Holy Spirit is on the move!
I was raised going to church, attending Sunday school each week. Even though I knew Jesus, I only knew who He was, not who He is. During my teenage years I quit going to church. I lived on my own and God was there, but He certainly was not first in my life. After some time, I started coming to KCC occasionally, but that wasn’t enough. One day Pastor Kyle preached a sermon and I thought I might have been the only one there that day, like it was meant just for me. It hit home so hard that I stuck around for the second service just to hear the same message. That was the day everything changed. Since truly becoming a servant of Christ, I know He is always with me. I am now able to forgive what I could not forgive in the past. I am able to love who and what I could not love without Him. All things really are new, but most importantly God is first! I was baptized to show publicly that my faith is in Jesus and Jesus alone. He is who He says He is!
I bought our foster daughter a stash of clothing, guessing at sizes and seasons according to how her older brother had grown. But she grew surprisingly faster than he did! So we found ourselves with a stash of summer clothes when the weather was still decidedly more wintery. That’s when we were introduced to the Closet of Hope! I visited during an open house. All of the volunteers were so friendly and helpful, and we were very encouraged to go home with some gently used clothing to get our little darling through the cold snap until she could enjoy her rompers and shorts. The Closet of Hope is an excellent resource for foster and adoptive families! --Kent County Foster Parent
Closet of Hope | located at our Wyoming Campus, is working to show the love of Christ to foster, adoptive and Safe Families and the children they serve by providing clothing and other items free of charge. Children often come into care with little more than the clothes on their backs, and the Closet of Hope can often help to meet needs where government assistance falls short. Our volunteers aim to help all those being served at the Closet of Hope to leave feeling encouraged and supported in continuing this challenging and valuable work!
Last week I was convinced I had lost my cell phone for the second time since we’ve been missionaries in Macedonia. In reality it was God just working behind the scenes once again, turning my brokenness into something beautiful.
Hurrying to get to the refugee camp after a youth baseball practice that ran a little late, I put my cell phone on top of the rental car as I was putting things in the trunk. After a history of losing coffee mugs, DVD rentals and other cell phones—because of poor logic in car roof placement—I don’t know what I was thinking! I’m just always glad I haven’t set one of my children up there being absent minded! After driving 10-15 minutes, I finally realized my cell phone is gone, panic, and return to the parking lot with my brothers, Maci and Christian, only to search in vain. “It’s a goner,” we all commiserated! Then my wife, Tiffany, calls and informs me that a 16-year-old boy has found my phone and would like to return it to its rightful owner. Are you kidding me? This just does NOT happen here in the land that invented the black market for stolen passports, bicycles and cell phones! True to his word, we meet Maksim on the way out of town and he delivers my cell phone. No strings attached.
Check that, there was one string attached. He casually mentioned that he looked me up on Facebook and saw I was a volunteer with the Evangelical Church here. Then instead of the usual barrage of questions that follow that one, he asks me if I have a Bible he could read and if I know of any youth groups he could join to learn more about the Bible. Ummmmmm …yeah! Maci and Christian are still picking their jaws up from the ground one week later!
Long story short, Maksim has now been connected with my colleagues at Campus Crusade and is officially registered for a teenager camp with the local Child Evangelism Fellowship chapter. All because of my scatterbrained moment!
What a cool reminder that in spite of all the setbacks and challenges and lack of fruit we see here, God is still in charge and is redeeming His lost people to Himself—sometimes through our best planned strategies and talks—but more often than not, just through our being here and sticking it out!
Joel Toonstra | the Toonstra family are serving in Macedonia through Global Partners and are supported missionaries of Kentwood Community Church.
"The volunteers get to help us with our homework, 'cause not everyone has someone at home to help them ..."
-Ben, Woodfield Community Center Participant
Sometimes it can be hard for people to see or measure our impact, but then you realize that kids like Ben are able to articulate the mission of the community center ... without any prompting. I couldn't be more proud of him, our kids and all of the volunteers that make this place what it is. -Mandy VanderHill, Woodfield Community Center Leader
At the Woodfield Community Center, we strive to build relationships with children and families by providing Christ-centered activities to promote community. We offer summer programming for kids of all ages that includes sports, Bible stories, games, arts and crafts, and much more! We also have weekly cookouts for all Woodfield residents. It is a wonderful opportunity to connect with the heart of a child, right in your own backyard. If you want to join us in making a forever-friend, contact us today to find out more!
My son, Jacob and I were reading the Bible as we do almost every night. We read the story of the farmer who sows seed on the road, on rocky ground, among thickets and on good ground.
We talked about the difference between the road, thickets, rocky and good ground; about hell and being separated from God and all of His good gifts forever. Then I told Jacob, “Everyone will sin in their life—only one person in the world has ever lived a life without sinning—Jesus. Jesus said, ‘I am the Truth, the Way, and the Life. No one enters the Kingdom of Heaven except through me.’ Then I explained that when you accept Jesus into your heart, you are like the seed growing in good ground.”
I told my son how “Daddy had asked Jesus to live in his heart when he was not much older than Jacob is right now”. But, when I was older and in college, I thought I could do things my own way. I did lots of naughty things, and it ended up leaving me sad, lonely and hurt. I knew I could come back to God, my Father, ask for forgiveness, and be welcomed home. God will always love us, forgive us when we repent, and welcome us home.
We talked about it a little more and Jacob said he wanted to ask Jesus into his heart. He understood that Jesus was a real person, the son of God who lived on Earth, and died on the cross for our sins. I prayed and Jacob repeated after me ... acknowledging Jesus as God's Son. We said we were sorry for our sins, and asked Jesus into our hearts to be our Savior. Just a few weeks short of six years old, Jacob is now forever a child of God. Thank you, Jesus, another son of yours has been born again!
My husband was let go from his job about six months ago and at the same time the transmission in his car went out. We had zero savings and he had to get his first unemployment check before we could even pay the rent. Six months passed by and he was still without a job and without a running car. He was angry, impatient and frustrated to say the least. Despite these emotions, he took a bold step of faith and continued to tithe our full income every month.
He wanted to give up just about every week, but I told him how many times God has come through for me and to just trust His timing. Two weeks ago he got the exact position he had been wanting for the past three years at the very company he’d always wanted to work at. His mom let us use her credit card to charge the car repairs so he could have transportation to work. As of today, we owed her $980 and he was going back to the mechanic tomorrow to charge another $300 as his steering also went out. In the meantime, I missed my car payment this month because he hasn’t got his first check from work yet. Tonight I came home from work to find a note on our table from my chronically unemployed, couch-surfing brother. It said he stopped by and then my phone rang. It was him and he told me to look under our mattress and said he wanted me to “fix our cars up so we don’t have to worry about them breaking down and that it was a way for him to thank us for letting him sleep on our couch so many times.” There was $1500 in cash under the mattress. That’s the credit card/repair bill AND my missed car payment PAID IN FULL!! God used the least likely source to provide because he wanted to make sure we knew it wasn’t a coincidence. I am completely overwhelmed and bawling my eyes out.
Pressing on through suffering is the pathway to God's power. God empowers us with His Holy Spirit to press on.
God made it clear to me that He was moving me. To be honest, I was okay with being “moved” as long as I knew where (aren’t we all this way?). For months I pondered the “where”—a different place? A different job? The answer was a complete mystery. Becoming a foster-care parent was an area often suggested to me. Sure, I enjoyed working with kids, but this idea was the farthest thing from my mind. I was single—and I loved my single life. I tried to shut it out, but for some reason, the idea of foster care was always in the back of my mind, slowly simmering. One evening on my way to church I had a serious talk with God, acknowledged that He was indeed preparing to move me and I knew I was okay with it. I had let go emotionally of where I was but felt I was in a holding pattern. Where was I supposed to GO? That evening, the whole service was on orphan, adoption and foster care. It blew me away! When God speaks, He gets your attention. I walked out of church convicted, ready to take the steps towards becoming a foster care parent. I also knew, however, that God wanted me to do this full-time.
When God speaks, He gets your attention. I walked out of church last November, convicted, ready to take the steps towards becoming a foster care parent. I also knew, however, that God wanted me to do this full-time. Therefore, I made the decision to leave teaching after 21 years in the classroom. It wasn’t easy —spiritual warfare immediately ensued. I left my job and the security of a paycheck for the unknown. I had nothing for kids in the house—no beds, clothes, blankets, pillows. Friends stepped in and took care of everything. Everything from car troubles to issues with my home—no matter the problem, God provided a solution. People have provided meals, games, rides and most of all prayers for my little international family. It still isn’t easy. Kids arrive at my doorstep broken, traumatized. My life caring for these children is very different from my life a year ago. But through it all I get to help them work through difficult times, hold them while they are crying, hear their stories. Soon I start to see smiles on kids faces who I didn’t think would smile. I get to make them feel like they belong. I get to plant hope. I recently asked my kids how they would describe a good foster family using only one word. Without hesitation, all four responded at the same time: “Love.”
A family friend of 30 years was diagnosed with liver cancer. He was an alcoholic and did not quit drinking after doctor’s had told him he needed to stop. Knowing him like an uncle, I started to pray for him. I asked to have him be on a prayer chain. Knowing he was unsaved, it became more urgent to pray for his soul and especially after his doctor told him he had only three months to live. The Holy Spirit prompted my husband and I to GO, SPEAK and DO. The pastor's message that weekend was about that very subject! Not only did we feel the prompting of the Holy Spirit, we wanted to make sure we obeyed! So we went to GO see our friend, in order to SPEAK to him about Jesus, and we asked him if he wanted to DO, by saying the sinners prayer and invite Jesus to be his Lord and Savior. Our obedience to God led to a great blessing! A week later our friend made a decision for Christ and has joined Him in eternity! We will see him again!