Dear brothers and sisters,
I want to begin by thanking you for your gracious support of our ministry! Barbara and I are immensely grateful for your sacrifice and belief in us and in this ministry.
I wanted to write and give you a recap and update on what has been happening in our lives and ministry. As we shared earlier, we arrived in Clemson in mid-August and spent the first three months attending the existing ICOC church here in Clemson. Keith and Abby Winship, who lead the Clemson Foothills Church, are dear friends of ours and graciously welcomed us to come to Clemson. During that time I was given the opportunity to speak about the house church concept, and to invite volunteers to be a part of our house church. We also had the opportunity to get to know the leaders and answer any questions they had regarding what we were doing. Five people volunteered to join us and we began our house church on November 1st of last year. I am happy to report that this partnership with the Clemson church is healthy and strong. This was very important to us as one of our purposes in coming to Clemson was demonstrating that unity can exist between an existing church and a house church. Of importance to note is the fact that our house church is a separate church and not just a cell group within the Clemson Foothills church. Our house church group visits the Clemson church regularly and we are always received with much warmth and love. When we visit, our friends come as well and have been very encouraged by the brothers and sisters at Foothills. Below are a sequence of pictures from a recent visit to the Clemson Foothills church service.
Our house church members participate in different activities with the Clemson church as related to their life stage. I also get together with Keith Winship (the leader of the Clemson church with me in the picture) every two weeks. I consider him a close friend and am thankful to God for our partnership in the gospel. As far as I know, this arrangement is rare, and we are thankful to God for it. We believe that in order to advance the gospel, many types of churches are needed and different opinions about ecclesiology needn't affect our unity in Christ.
We are very encouraged by what God has done in our group since we began to gather in November. We have been excited to see many of our friends, acquaintances and family members visit us. It has been especially encouraging to reconnect with "old friends" from the past that were part of our fellowship many years ago. One of these friends, who has been in different fellowships in recent years, has decided to be a part of our house church. We are all very excited to see God renewing his faith.
Another old friend who visited us has begun to experiment by hosting a house church in a neighboring city of Clemson. This brother and I regularly get together for prayer and to help one another learn the "best practices" of house church. Part of our vision is that the gospel would spread through the establishment of house churches in the many communities around Clemson. We believe that house churches offer the best hope to establish churches in many of the smaller communities around the world.
We are also very excited about a couple from Rome, Italy that has been attending our house church group for the past several months. The man is doing post doctoral work at Clemson and they have become dear friends. We are studying the Bible with them and they desire to be disciples. We believe that house churches afford an opportunity to reach and reconnect with people that generally would not come to our typical church gatherings.
Also of tremendous significance is the personal transformation that many of us are experiencing as we strive to serve God together in community. One brother, who has been a disciple for over 30 years, described this as his faith "coming alive" again. House church has been a pathway to renewal for many of us. Gathering together around a table and sharing our hearts has been very refreshing and we have found it very natural to invite people. I have been volunteering with "meals on wheels" and our house church has had two gatherings at the local retirement center to sing to patients with Alzheimers disease. At Christmas time, our house church caroled in our neighborhood and met people we are currently reaching out to. For Easter we hosted a Christian version of a Jewish Seder; the candlelight Seder was attended by neighbors and we were all very moved by the meaning of the rituals. You can see the pictures below. Gathering together as a small group has been revealing as well. There is nowhere to hide. Our sins and selfishness are available for all in the group to see. This has led to many good talks and repentance (although we would all agree that we have a long way to go).
On a larger scale we began a website named fromhousetohouse.org. The purpose of this website is to share our journey and to humbly offer information on house churches. Many people from all over the world have contacted us. I spend a significant amount of my time speaking with, sharing, writing to and collaborating with these brothers who are interested in establishing house churches. People from Ecuador, Brazil, Bolivia, Canada, Mexico, China, USA and many other places have sought me out for advice about house churches or to share what they have learned in their part of the world. Many of them are well ahead of us and I have been able to learn important practices from them.
Recently, I was invited to teach at a gathering of 28 people in North Carolina about house churches. Of particular interest was the fact that these brothers and sisters were from three different branches of the Restoration movement (ICOC, church of Christ and Christian churches). I have also received calls from brothers from the International Christian church that have begun house churches. I have been very encouraged by their faith and eagerness to learn. I have found that house church is a great way to build bridges with different groups and to begin to understand one another in a better way. I have been doing my best to maintain unity and to teach and to clarify about what we are doing. House church is not very well understood and can be seen as a threat by some. Please pray for me to have wisdom and humility.
On a personal note, Barbara and I have been pursuing "tent making" jobs. Barbara began to pursue this as soon as we arrived and in late October began to work as a consultant for Hope Worldwide. Initially, I was tying up loose ends, doing some missions work and seeing about the possibility of being supported full time as an evangelist. We are very thankful for the donations we received as they have allowed us to get this ministry "off the ground", establish the website, and do what I described above. While we are still accepting donations it has become apparent that I will need to get a tent making job as well in order to support us. I have been pursuing many different possibilities including working at Clemson University and as an Executive Coach/Life coach for teenagers. Please pray for me and my "tent making" job. We are also very thankful to be here as my mother has had significant health challenges and we have been given the opportunity to be near and help out. She has been to the emergency room several times recently and has had problems with her balance resulting in several falls. Please be praying for her. We love you all and are greatly encouraged by your faith and love for us. May God bless you all.
Love, John and Barbara