From house church to education leaders

Gina Grate Pottenger
Wednesday, March 30, 2016
When she was 6 years old, *Ruth was sitting at the kitchen table doing her homework, and for the first time began to wonder about the meaning of her life.
 
It began as she wondered what she would do after finishing her homework. Her thoughts rolled forward as she imagined herself eating supper and going to bed, then getting up the next day, going to school, coming home to do homework, and doing it all over again. She realized she would do this every day until graduating high school.
 
“After that what will I do?” Ruth remembers asking herself. “I will get a job, maybe get married. Then I will have a child and then that child will be just like me: Sitting here doing homework. That was a sad moment: I realized life is meaningless. Pointless.”
 
It was four years later, at the age of 10, that she learned there really was a beautiful meaning and purpose to her life.
 
Her older sister, an atheist, left town with a friend who happened to be a Christian, who, during the trip, shared with Ruth’s sister about Jesus.
 
“When she came back, I remember it was 5 a.m. When she knocked on the door, I got out of bed. She was standing at the door with the most radiant smile I had ever seen. She said, ‘Sister, you know what? I found God. His name is Jesus.’”
 
Ruth had never heard a Bible story in her life. She had never heard the name, “Jesus.”
 
“When I heard that name, I knew right away that is the answer to the question I had when I was six years old. That was the key to the lock. I knew that was the meaning of my life.”
 
Ruth’s sister said, “Do you want to know Him?”
 
“I said, ‘Of course I do!’ In that moment, I made a decision I will serve Him.”
 
Her sister gave her a Bible. That day, they told their mother about Jesus, who soon gladly followed her daughters’ example to receive Christ. Their father was an engineer who put his faith in science. But three years later, their witness won him, and he also accepted Christ.
 
ImageThe family didn’t know where to turn for discipleship. They weren’t aware of any churches in their city.
 
“If you want to have a church, you start one,” Ruth says. “You share the gospel and then you meet together. We will read the Bible, but always you will come across some passages you don’t understand. So you skip it. We just wait until the right time that the Holy Spirit will teach us.”
 
When theological books are smuggled into the country, groups might pass around the precious copies. People who want to possess specific passages will hand copy them out to keep before passing the books on.
 
“I felt that was really a wonderful experience, even though we don’t have those resources. God was there the whole time. He was holding our hand.”
 
A church movement began in their city. On typical weekends, up to 20 people would be baptized. Once, they baptized 60.
 
When Ruth graduated from college and began teaching, she met a Nazarene missionary couple that her sister and her family had connected with. Through them, Ruth learned about a Nazarene seminary in another country. She sensed God leading her there to study, and that she would return home later to continue serving God.
 
At the seminary, Ruth met *Mark. He was a foreign student studying to become a missionary. Their relationship formed quickly and soon they were married. After finishing their studies, they moved back to Ruth’s country and started a family.
 
They were connected with another Nazarene family who had been conducting biblical education classes on weekends for working people. The two couples planned to work together, but shortly after Mark and Ruth arrived, the other family resigned, so Mark and Ruth took over. In the past five years, they’ve graduated 65 people. They bring lecturers from outside the country, which provides a wide variety of perspectives and knowledge, as well as cultural backgrounds.
 
ImageChristians [here] have been disconnected with Christians in other parts of the world,” Ruth says. “In the classroom setting, one thing that really touches their hearts is to see teachers of different skin colors speaking English with different accents and different backgrounds – how they grew up and when they had a calling, what kind of job they had before. Those stories, that really encourages them. They said one of the best parts is not only the courses, it’s the life stories of the teachers – to see that God is with every nation in the world and to see that He actually uses everybody despite what your past is.”
 
Because many Christians in the country have developed their faith with any resource they can obtain, many don’t have a “clear theological position,” Ruth said. The Nazarene education program presents Wesleyan-Arminian theology to the students, many of whom have never been exposed to it, and the message of holiness is transforming the lives of the students, Mark said.
 
*Cynthia attended the program in 2011. She was from a nominal Christian family. She joined the program to learn more about her faith, but until then she had been satisfied to just attend church on Sundays as her main commitment to God.
 
Halfway through the year-long course, she admitted to Ruth that, in regards to her spiritual life, she felt like she was just a hamster running inside a wheel, never going anywhere. Ruth asked if she had ever given her life completely to Jesus and invited Him to be the Lord of her life.
 
“No, I can’t,” Cynthia replied.
 
“Why not?” Ruth asked her.
 
“Because, I’m afraid God will call me and that means I cannot live a comfortable life, cannot buy nice clothes. I will be poor. I might marry someone who will become a pastor.”
 
Ruth told Cynthia she didn’t have to give herself completely to God, but that such a decision would result in a continued sense of going nowhere in her faith.
 
“Do you want to have a breakthrough?” Ruth asked. Cynthia said she did. So they prayed together, and Cynthia told God she would submit herself to Him completely.
 
After they prayed, Cynthia’s life became a mess, “but it was a good mess. God started to stir up that water. She has gone through a lot of difficult times, but she started to learn to rely on Him. She’s changing. Today she’s very dedicated.”
 
ImageCynthia married another theological student who is now serving in lay ministry, caring for six or seven house groups. Cynthia is also passionate about caring for younger believers.
 
Each year when the course starts again, the new group of students are strangers to each other. Sometimes the classroom is a place of tension, as the students are faced with different personalities and opinions. But over the year, the group bonds and develops unity.
 
One couple took the class together. They had struggled to get pregnant, having experienced at least one miscarriage. When the class studied the sacraments, they decided to anoint the couple and pray for a pregnancy.
 
The couple became pregnant. But near the end of the program, the wife, *Melissa, began to experience the signs of another miscarriage. She entered the hospital, and her pregnancy was in such danger the doctors suggested that she have an abortion to save her life. The other students were greatly concerned and disturbed. They all prayed fervently for Melissa, visited her and demonstrated their care in other ways.
 
The night she gave birth to a healthy baby, the whole class was on their knees praying.
 
Melissa’s mother was not a believer, but when she saw the group of students – who were not related to the family – coming to comfort her daughter, bringing practical items and driving her to medical check-ups, she said, “I have never seen anybody that can love my daughter the way I saw. If this is the way their God loves them, this God must be a very good and kind God.”
 
Melissa's mother is now a believer in Jesus.
 
Mark asks for prayer as they grow and develop the theological education program, and to also pray for the graduated students, who are scattered across the country, many involved in some form of Christian ministry.
 
*All names are changed and locations omitted for security reasons.