Mission

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By Dustin Damitz

Have you ever had an experience you go back to in your mind as a reminder of where you came from? Maybe it is a person that upholds strength and truth in your life and you can always count on them. For me, the answer to both of these questions is my parents. I’m not saying my family has had the roughest of pasts, but I know for a fact nothing has been handed to us. We have plenty of stories and I have plenty of experiences in life to draw from, but I want to focus on just one of those experiences in my family’s past today.

I was asked to write about a time in my past when my parents gave up everything to follow Christ. Let me preface this by saying, YES. Yes, I think my parents are the greatest people on this earth, so I apologize if I get a little gushy or passionate in this blog. 🙂 I also don’t want you to read this thinking I am looking for sympathy or that my parents are on some glorified status, because they aren’t. They just took a chance. A lot of the experiences we have been through have formed me into the person I am today and I would not change a thing. With that said, let’s go back to around 1988-1989 and I was around three-years-old. I have a horrible memory and a lot of my past is really lost in my mind, but an experience like this tends to stick with you. My parents were realizing life just wasn’t working. Living in Davenport, Iowa, three kids, dad was getting ready to lose his job, and a decision needed to be made. Make moves or make excuses. My parents never made excuses, they made moves…literally. They decided to give up what they thought was right and after a discussion with a friend, decided to sell everything, move and lead a mission in Indiana because they felt this is what God called them to do.

I don’t know about you, but I have a constant error in my brain when things go wrong in my life. I tend to try and work harder and lose focus on God…a lot and it is something I am constantly working on. But, here were my parents at an all-time low, deciding to do something crazy (although biblical) insane…right? Sell everything they own to move and help others in need. I was young enough to not really know how much trouble we were in, but I can only imagine how my two older brothers were thinking at this time. They probably thought my parents were nuts, but they were only doing what they felt they were called to do. So, here we were in a two bedroom apartment inside a five-story building in downtown Linton, Indiana. I take so much pride in my time there at The Mission. At three-years-old, I knew what was happening. Even at 29, I can still go back in my mind to those experiences. My family never asked for “wants” and we never went without “needs.” It was through these experiences I understood what it meant to see and feel the love of Christ. This was the Gospel…they gave up everything to help people they hadn’t met. I know of the cookouts at the park in order to form relationships with the homeless. Giving them a place to sleep and food in return, they would help clean and do various tasks in the building. The times dad would get up at 4AM every day, pray with the family, and go ask local business for continued support with food, clothing, and appliances. Not only were people wanting to help, they just needed the avenue. They wanted to help in abundance. There were countless times that families were given second chances and only through the love of Christ and reliance on him was this possible. Mom woke up early to make sure everyone was fed three times a day and constantly cleaning to maintain standards for the guests; never complaining but realizing Christ was changing lives and continually knowing they were following the call of Christ. Not only was this felt by my parents, but as I said earlier, this was an experience I go back to in my mind today. A foundation of who I am was built during this time at The Mission. I can remember the Saturday night sings. Before rounding everyone up for Sunday morning services at a local church, my parents would lead a worship service next to the kitchen in the open area, mom and dad both singing and dad playing guitar to songs like, “I’ll Fly Away” and “Old Rugged Cross”. Think about it…three years old hanging out with the homeless, people who have come straight from jail, liars, thieves, all singing worship and living the dream.

There is one story that sticks with me to this day. This is the time when I wanted a new bike for my birthday. It was an awesome bike and I would have dad go by the store when we could to see it. Because I know the full story now, I know dad didn’t have a dollar to his name, but you know what? Jesus got me that bike. At least that’s what I ran around saying when a wealthy friend of my dad who went to the same church, pulled it out of his truck one day and said, “Dustin, I want you to know that Jesus got you this bike.” It was because of the graciousness of others and the selflessness of my parents that I was able to know and see what true reliance on Jesus looked like. I know I was young, but I will be forever in debt to my parents for that experience. It was modeled to me, not just in this experience, but in my whole upbringing what it means to live a life devoted to Christ.

In all of our ups and downs and even to this day, the echoing of words I hear in my mind every time I go through a dark time is “Everything will work out.” If my mom said the sentence, “I love you,” to me most in life then, “Everything will work out” has to be second. It may seem like a simple sentence, but I know what is truly behind it….FAITH. My parents trusted Christ and what he had for their life. They jumped in head first for what he had for them and I wouldn’t change a thing. In that time and all of the hard times after that, we got through it. We had each other and The Mission would serve as the catalyst for the submission to Jesus. Let me be clear, as I get older, personally I am still trying to figure this out. Even though this was something I lived, I still have a very hard time applying this. Submitting and letting go to something you think is insane is extremely difficult, but I know I can get through anything today because Christ had my parents’ back then and I know he has mine now. Maybe you know what it means to submit to Christ and never see it as a negative. It is because my parents jumped, I know they experienced a true closeness to Christ that I hope to even comprehend, let alone experience one day.

To do something completely opposite to what the world tells you and leave everything you know to help people you haven’t met, is not exactly the definition of success in the world. So, I want to try something. I don’t know how it’s going to work, I don’t have all of the details yet, but in honor of the lives my parents changed in submission to Christ, I want to return the favor. I don’t have a building, but I know technology and I have an idea. I call it RISE and I need your help. I want to help people who I haven’t met yet. I envision the website as an area where people who need help can go and people like the man who was able to get me that bike for my birthday can go to give to those in need in the Des Moines area. I made a website and a Facebook, but I need your help in developing it. Do you know someone in need or would you like to be put on a list of people who can help others? If you have a need or want to help I want to post it to our site, www.risedsm.com. I would like to see this as an ever evolving Mission by helping people right where they are, just like my parents did. Not only that, but if you would like to get involved in helping people right now, I encourage you to contact John Porter at our church and ask to help. I see a lot of my past in John Porter and am thankful we have him at FFC. He is helping people right now, right where they are and could always use your help. I hope to develop RISE closely with John and consider this your invitation to do something crazy. Take a leap, join me and thanks for reading! Respond in comments or contact me directly at ddamitz@firstfederated.org if you would like to help or have ideas!

Eternal Seeds Planted

By John Porter

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What happens when Christians take the time to pour their lives into people who don’t know Jesus?

This is an actual story from, one of our FFC members.

Ever since I can remember while growing up, my parents would be inviting missionaries over to stay at our house and be sponsoring refugees from various parts of the world. The day before Ann and I went to Colorado for Christmas this year, my mom told me that there would be 2 ladies joining us for our family Christmas.

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These ladies were at one time refugees from Azerbaijan and my parent’s church had sponsored them to come to the United States about 10 years ago. Through the years my parents took it upon themselves to invite these ladies over to their house for holidays and special occasions. They also took them on trips around Colorado, to dinner plays, to different restaurants around Denver, and invite them to church activities.

Last year, these ladies invited Jesus into their lives and were baptized as a result of my parents and others relationship with them, being obedient to the Holy Spirit and sharing Christ love and the gospel with these ladies.

It was great having these ladies with us this Christmas. I had never met them before, but had prayed for them and learned of them from my parents. They were so fun and interesting to talk to and they were so appreciative for what my parents had done for them and now they are part of the family of God, through Christ.

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On Christmas day another lady and her family came over to my parents. Her name is Binh, she was a refugee from Vietnam that my parents sponsored in the mid 70’s when Vietnam fell to communism. When they came to the United States, they had never heard of Jesus, they were all strong Buddhist. My parents shared with them about Jesus, took them to church and developed intimate relationships with them. Several became believers in Jesus, one is now a pastor, and Binh started an orphanage in Vietnam which is helping thousands of children abandoned or who have aids, in the name of Jesus.

These stories show what can happen when we Christians just take the time to pour our lives into people who don’t know Jesus.

What impact will your life have on those that God brings into your life in 2015?

Out and About

I love how Des Moines is small enough that I run into people I know as I am out and about in our community!  Lately, my family has seen several FFC families while we are enjoying community events and frequenting our favorite restaurants. After the initial line of, “Hey, what are you doing here?!”, I find myself consistently thinking and saying, “It’s so much fun seeing FFC people doing normal, fun things in our city! We do exist outside the walls of our church building!”  Yes, of course, each of us do, but in years past I have typically seen my church friends only on Sundays for worship service, Wednesdays for Awana, designated Life Group nights, or scheduled FFC events. To be honest, I didn’t think anything of it, until I started seeing our FFC family outside the prescribed schedule and location. Chalk it up as another God-intervention. He gets all the credit for this new-found realization and joy!

Last month I took our two oldest kiddos out to the Des Moines Open Streets event (dsmove.org). The Des Moines Move website describes the event as: “a safe public space in a car-free setting where communities can connect, families and friends can exercise and play, and businesses can engage the public.” Sounds like a perfect match with FFC’s mission statement! For this event, University Avenue was shut down to vehicular traffic from 23rd Street all the way to 42nd Street, creating a safe environment for people to ride their bikes and community organizations to set up stations. As my kiddos and I took a stroll down University with $1 cotton candy fueling our systems, a familiar face came into view.  Clayton Kennedy? I should have known – Clayton has been recommending this event to me for a couple of years. We had a great time discussing highlights of the event and where the best vendors and free stuff was located. Clayton teased my kids, which they always enjoy, we shared a few laughs (most likely over the unique array of individuals filling the street) and we continued enjoying this unique opportunity to interact with our community. I can’t wait until the next Des Moines Move event! We should totally set up a station and bring our bikes!

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A couple of weeks later, my family took advantage of Gateway Market’s Tuesday night special: kids eat free with the purchase of an adult meal (gatewaymarket.com). We are self-admitted foodies, and if you tell us we can eat incredible food and fill young, hungry bellies for free, we are there! Shortly after receiving our meals (you have to try the blackened tuna sandwich!), I noticed a pastor friend of mine from Walnut Creek Community Church at an adjacent table. God has been connecting me to brothers and sisters outside FFC, and there has been a special joy in spending time with other people in the Kingdom who are not part of FFC. Both our families were fully engaged in keeping the familial peace at our dinner tables, but we had a moment to mention our favorite Gateway dishes and provide some encouraging parting words, including a, “hope to see you soon!”

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Most recently, my family attended the Downtown Farmers Markets (desmoinesfarmersmarket.com), fulfilling our kids’ craving for kettle corn while my wife and I drifted between stands offering fresh veggies, flowers, ethnic food and pastries from La Mie pastries, and the honey stand and…did I mention I am a foodie? While standing in line waiting for an Indian potato cutlet, I noticed Ashley Griffin walking up to say hello, with her family following a minute later. Our kids love Ashley (as do we) and we have developed a friendship over the last couple of years while together in the Shift ministry. We traded tips on where to get some great food and most of the Griffin family entered the Indian food line right behind us. Both of our families were drawn to the same place because we share common interests. At the market we shared in each other’s joy, and this joy occurred within the natural rhythms of life: walking, eating, recreating. We all like to eat and recreate!  We have found those activities are most fun when shared with people we know!

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Now God is telling me to take this experience to the next level.  All of my stories exclusively involve people who are already following Jesus. God has been telling me lately that many of my friends enjoy these same activities, and many of these friends have never experienced the joy of Jesus. So, the next step, which again God has initiated as He continues to transform my heart and life, is to utilize my family’s interests as opportunities to spend more time with my friends who need Jesus.  I know we will have fun together, regardless of our spiritual similarities or differences, and hopefully in the process, Jesus will begin a similar transformation process in their lives too.

So I have to ask, where do you like to eat?  What do you enjoy doing in Des Moines?  Maybe God will have each of us invite someone from FFC and someone who is not yet part of the Kingdom of God to join us in having fun in our community!

The Importance of Building Relationships

Tom Clegg Executive Pastor

Tom Clegg
Executive Pastor

I’ve had the wonderful privilege of realizing that my life has made a life-or-death spiritual difference to others. When we were first married, Jodi and I lived in Illinois, where we shared a four-unit apartment building with three other newly married couples. We got to know the others quite well, especially the guys, because we usually ended up out in the hallway…

“Hey, what’s up?”

“I’m doing the laundry.”

“Liar! You had a fight with your wife, and you’re in the doghouse.”

“Yeah?”

“We heard you through the walls. Do you want to guess why I’m out here, too?”

It was a significant bonding time for us guys. Our downstairs neighbors, Kenny and Tiffany, were active Mormons. She’d grown up in that faith. He had Christian roots but connected to the Mormon religon when they were dating. We shared a growing friendship with Kenny and Tiffany.workout1

We regularly ate pizza as one big family, shopped for Christmas trees together, our wives prepared their Sunday school lessons together, and Kenny and I often played racquetball or worked out together. We had a lot in common. Kenny and I came from loud, boisterous families where the importance of an issue was measured by the decibel level of the discussion. We both discovered that our respective wives came from families where their parents never had arguments in their presence. My first disagreement with Jodi devastated her. I couldn’t understand what was wrong–all I was doing was making my point! At times like these, as we sat in the hallway, Kenny and I tried to help each other figure out our wives, or at least admit to each other that we just didn’t have a clue.

Kenny and Tiffany seemed more interested in how we lived than in what we said. They wanted to know about the struggles in our marriage. We talked as couples about how we handled money, time, intimacy, and other adjustments.

They accepted invitations to church with us half a dozen times and went with us to a marriage conference, concerts, and other special events. But in conversation, discussions about religion seemed forced or unnatural–even on our special pizza nights.

Jodi and I tried going through various pamphlets and formal presentations. We watched the Jesus video with them. We probably tried a dozen other “techniques” to help them become authentic and devoted followers of Jesus, and we prayed all along. Nothing connected.

A year and a half later, Kenny and Tiffany helped us pack our boxes as we prepared to relocate to another city. On the night before we moved, Kenny said to me, “Ok, would you explain it to me one more time?” I was so shocked that I asked him why he was interested.

“I’ve seen how you live, and I want that, too,” he said. None of the “programs” made the connection as much as how we lived. What we said had credibility not because of how we delivered the message, but how we lived it.

 

I had believed that humanity’s basic problem was a lack of information. If I just helped people understand, they’d certainly turn away from their sins and receive salvation through Jesus Christ. But I learned a better way from Kenny. His responses confirmed that no one wants or deserves to be my project, but many people would like to be my friend.

Nothing works better than a personal relationship that addresses a person’s needs and interests in a relevant way. The most important first step you can take is to make sure your friends know that you personally care for their well-being. You’ll be surprised at how true relationships naturally lead to conversations about faith, and even more surprised at how God uses you when a friend makes a spiritual decision to accept Christ as Savior. As much as we might love our churches, we can’t simply hope people will somehow make their way through the doors of a church to find their way back home spiritually. The greatest impact on the unchurched begins friend-to-friend.

**This blog post is an excerpt from Tom Clegg’s book, Missing In America: Making An Eternal Difference In The World Next Door

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Shoebox Queen

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“Will you still be The Shoebox Queen, Grandma?”  As I approached retirement after twenty-one years as the administrative assistant in Federated’s Children’s Ministry, this was Chloe’s question.  “The Shoebox Queen”… Wow, such a royal title could only be bestowed by a seven-year-old grandchild!

I never planned to be in charge of the shoebox project.  It just kind of happened.   About sixteen years ago, Pastor Charlie Farrell introduced Operation Christmas Child to our Sunday School classes.  A contest between the classes generated a few shoeboxes…some with just one or two small gifts inside.

While there have been a number of changes in the Children’s Ministry staff over the years, the shoebox project has continued…AND GROWN each year.  At first it was just a part of my job on staff to care for some of the details of the project, but soon I was hooked on Operation Christmas Child.  I began wrapping shoeboxes, stalking the stores for sales, and spending winter evenings sewing tiny quilts to wrap around the dolls I would pack in my own shoeboxes.  My husband Mike partnered in my passion for OCC by doing whatever was needed– helping to set up display tables, distributing empty wrapped boxes, bagging candy, collecting filled shoeboxes and more.

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Why Operation Christmas Child when there are so many great ministries we could support?  I could go on and on!

  • This is a ministry that reaches children. God loves children.  I love children and I know that their hearts are the most open to the good news of Jesus.  And when children come to Jesus, families will follow.
  • Shoeboxes go where I cannot. These gift-filled boxes go to needy children all over the world and open doors to the Gospel, even in countries where Christian missionaries might not be welcome.
  • Anyone can do this project…singles, seniors, families, small groups. All it takes is small gift items like toys, school supplies, toiletries, clothing, hard candy and $7 to help with shipping.  We’ll even provide the wrapped shoebox.   Larry Jones and I have wrapped thousands of them over the years.

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You can be a part of this amazing ministry by picking up a shoebox on Sunday, October 26, and then return it to church filled with goodies on Sunday, November 16. Want more information about Operation Christmas Child?  Go to samaritanspurse.org or give me a call (515.277.9459).  I would love to talk with you and help you get started on your own shoebox adventure.  Just be careful.  Packing shoeboxes can be addictive!

The Importance of a Brother

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Michael Howland Youth Pastor

One of the biggest blessings I have found in running, biking and swimming is that I have developed so many friendships inside and outside the church with fellow athletes who love to do these things. Marathons, 5K’s, Dam-to-Dam, triathlons, etc., have helped me burst my Christian bubble and build relationships. Through our training together and dialogue, I have developed some of the most precious friendships. Not only do these friends inspire me to do well during the race, but they encourage me, care for what’s going on in my life, hold me accountable, challenge me and simply enjoy the same things I enjoy.

Most recently, my friend Troy from the gym, decided to run from Ames to Iowa City on the Thursday through Friday before the big Hawkeye/Cyclone match-up, in a relay race called, “The Rival Game Relay”. The race is 125 miles total, but Troy decided to run it solo (a true ULTRA run!). He couldn’t do this alone, he needed a team and I was so happy to volunteer. I partnered with his brother and a friend of Troy’s from high school to be his support team, nutrition guide, driver, and I vowed that I would also run with him during some of the hardest points of the run so he was not alone.

It got HARD! Troy ran the first 40 miles solo and then it started getting dark. Out came the head lamps, country roads, rolling hillsides and green-eyed animals on the sides of the roads. You can imagine how surreal this would be! I decided to start sleeping from 8:00-10:00PM, so that I would have enough rest to run through the night with him. What was awesome to me was that his slightly heavy-set friend from high school didn’t even flinch. He took off running with Troy, not even wearing running clothes or having much running experience. He kept Troy company during the first part of the night (maybe a 2-3 mile run).

After some sleep, troy asked me earlier than expected if I would run with him, so I jumped out. I wasn’t really sure how far we would go, but other than a 45-minute “nap”, I ended up running with Troy all throughout the night until sunrise.

Then the rains hit! Troy hung in there on a two-lane highway (HWY 6) with relentless, sometimes torrential rain coming down, semi-trucks whizzing by spraying water on him. It was awful and here he was starting to run 60-80 miles. At 80 miles we were very aware that he would not make 125 miles in time. Most people would finish Friday around 5:00-7:00PM. 80 miles was so respectable that he was tempted to end it right there, but we wanted him to know that 100 miles was doable and we would help him run 10-mile stretches at a time until he finished. All of us took more turns running with Troy. When it was all done, Troy finished by running 102 miles across Iowa! INCREDIBLE!

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It’s so cool when you know you have a friend running a race with you (even if we are at two different paces). The Bible says we have a friend that is closer than a brother, Jesus Christ, who was the ultimate in endurance, enduring all the way to the cross! (Hebrews 12:1-3).

Do you have a brother or sister in Christ to help you through, share the ups and downs with, encourage you, hold you accountable and challenge you? Do you have intentional relationships with those outside of church who share your interests (a mission field)? Are you putting yourself out there to BE a friend when your friends are in need? I value these relationships so very much. It’s been a mission field, a source of accountability, and it’s fellowship in its truest sense. I see God and His principles at work in every race I’ve run and much of this is because I never truly ran alone. There is a finish line awaiting and we’ve got more training to do.

Where Jesus Is Not Known…

Stepping off the train I felt like I had just put my head in an oven.  I was drenched with sweat. Have you ever had a day that made you wish you had rubbed antiperspirant deodorant over your entire body?  This was one of those days.  The sea of humanity before my eyes at the train station was overwhelming, even more than the intense 115 degree heat.

Arriving at the train station.

Arriving at the train station.

Families from all over India had descended upon this sacred town at the edge of the Ganges River.  Everyone was entranced in their pilgrimage experience, while my trek team and I clearly stood out as foreigners in a very foreign land.  The train station walking paths had been transformed into makeshift waiting and sleeping zones as people waited for the next train to arrive.  I couldn’t help but wonder if the fatigued expressions of the passersby resulted from tirelessly waiting for a train, or if they were suffering from the disappointment from once again not finding at the river the divine answers they were seeking.

This ancient city in North India, known as one of the seven holiest Hindu places, is also known for drawing hundreds of thousands of pilgrims during sacred festivals, but that day we joined a “small” gathering of only several thousand pilgrims.  Though I was briefed prior to my arrival on the significance of this sacred site, I didn’t anticipate what I would encounter over the next two hours.  Each step we took revealed a deeper level of despair and darkness buried within the sacred objects and rituals of the people we were observing.

Along the Ganges River.

Along the Ganges River.

Despite the fact that the Ganges River is known to be one of the most disease infested waterways in the world, thousands of Indians were submerging themselves in the water.  Many were swimming in the river as if it were a community swimming pool.  This activity seemed ridiculous to me at first, until I learned that the bathers were seeking ritualistic cleansing of their sins, hoping to be purified and justified before their gods.  Disease infested water is bad, but even if it were crystal clear and clean, a person can only use water to wash the outside of the cup, leaving the inside as filthy as before.

A few paces down the river’s edge we encountered a pedestrian bridge crossing over a split in the river.  A handful of elderly women had stopped to rest their weary legs, or so I thought.  Our guide explained that these women had in fact been abandoned by their families during a pilgrimage.  I figured they could just ask someone for help and explain their predicament, but then we learned that these women most likely didn’t speak the local language.  They were pilgrims; strangers in their own land which boasts over 1,600 languages.  Further down the river pilgrims were assembled to have their heads shaved.  They had recently lost loved ones, and they were grieving. Once their head was shaved, they would visit an adjacent merchant and purchase a hand-sized boat with flowers they would sail down the Ganges in honor of their family member.  Even further down the Ganges a series of shrines were available, each outfitted with a human-sized sculpture of a deity.  At this point the team and I were shoulder to shoulder with worshipers, seekers, the abandoned and the grieving.

A shrine of a deity.

A shrine of a deity.

I had to stand there and pause for a moment.  I was surrounded by people yearning for answers, consolation and reconciliation.  But none would be found. Not today, not tomorrow, not ever; at not through this water, any rituals or anything made with human hands.  Sadly, I was surrounded by thousands of people who knew no better option.  The visual sight was as overwhelming as the heat, but even more overwhelming was the realization that many, if not most, of these people were rejecting Jesus not because they didn’t want Him, but because they didn’t even know about Him.

I yearned for this crowd to hear about the water source (the Living Water) proven to satisfy every longing.  I wanted to proclaim that Jesus has promised to give water that will well up inside them into eternal life, starting right here, right now.  You don’t have to earn it, you don’t have to prove yourself worthy, you don’t even have to wait for it!

That day at the Ganges River reaffirmed this Great News in my heart and initiated a new burning in my soul for regions of the world that have no witness about Jesus (Acts 1:8).  God really changed the trajectory of my life that hot, steamy day in India, and my life has never been more exciting since God connected my life to serving those who have never heard of Jesus. India and many other countries are filled with people groups, tribes and clans who have never heard of Jesus, the Living Water.  How might God want us to join Him in reaching them?  The journey will be difficult.  The journey will be long.  But this is part of the greatest story ever told, and we get to have a role!  Now I have the privilege of connecting people in our church to God’s global rescue mission. The need is great, and each of us are invited by God to join the rescue team. The Gospel of Jesus is far better than just good news. It’s “Hallelulah—I’ve been saved—Jesus is my everything—You have to hear about it!” news!