Team El Salvador: Going in God’s Strength

Well, plane tickets and hotel rooms are booked, preparation is winding up, and Team El Salvador is just about ready to go!

On April 5th, less than six weeks from now, we’ll leave Saint John at 12 Noon, arriving in San Salvador, the capital of El Salvador, just after 7 PM. We’ll leave behind the familiar to immerse ourselves in an intense two-week experience that will undoubtedly challenge and stretch us in so many ways.

Linda Naves, Mike Howlett, and I are humbled by, and grateful for, the support of an amazing church family, as we prepare for what lies ahead. We aren’t going to El Salvador on a “holiday junket.” Rather, we go as a visioning team, on behalf of our church, to explore the possibility of a long-term partnership with Canadian Baptist Ministries and Enlace, an organization working on-the-ground in El Salvador, doing Christian Community Development. If this partnership comes to fruition, we will invest people from our church in relationally-focused ministry in El Salvador in years to come. But as importantly, people from Enlace (or even local churches in the country) will in some intentional way reach out to teach and grow us, too.

We as a team are humbled by the fact that our church family would entrust this awesome responsibility to us. We’re also profoundly conscious of our obligation to you. We go as “sent people” on your behalf to discern God’s leading for this work, and to report back with a positive recommendation only if we receive a clear direction from Him that animates our imaginations about how RiverCross can become effectively involved in ministry.

Our team is also aware of the active support you’ve shown us over the past few months by your keen interest, faithful prayers, and generous financial giving. God has indeed been good! We have sensed that “God is in this” simply by how He has worked through you to make sure that the team’s financial needs have been amply met. THANK YOU!

Because you’ve supported us in the ways just described, our team has actually been freed-up to just focus on preparing for this experience. We’ve been hard at work in fact since August 2017. There has been a lot of homework on our own, and we’ve also met together as a team on an almost biweekly basis. We’ve also connected-up with various resource people – in person or virtually – to help get us ready.  

By reading books, watching teaching videos and documentaries, and spending time in conversation, we’ve invested ourselves in getting to know El Salvador, and in familiarizing ourselves with “best practice” principles for Christian Community Development work. More recently, we’ve begun a six-week crash course in basic Spanish – so that we can show respect simply by trying to speak a bit of the language. We’re also looking forward to a Skype conversation with a Salvadoran family in the near future – to provide us with a first-hand preview of what life is like in the country.

But the most important preparation we’re doing is spiritual in nature. We recognize that our task as a team is to go and envision God’s possibilities. So we’ve been practicing spiritual disciplines, individually and together, spending time in reading, reflection, and prayer throughout the past few months. And our preparation will culminate in a team spiritual retreat in mid-March. Why are we doing all this? To fine-tune our attentiveness to God’s voice and sensitivity to His heart.

What is God saying to us, in this moment, in this place? How is God’s heart being revealed to us among these people? These are the questions that will ultimately guide us throughout our time in El Salvador. And these are questions that we can only answer if we root our experience deeply in God. It’s as we recognize that we can’t do what we’re being sent to do in our own strength alone, that we will in fact be successful. “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13) – it’s in the truth of that saying, so wonderfully expressed by the Apostle Paul, that we are now preparing.      

So, we’re just about ready to go! But never ready to “go it alone.” Rather, we go in God’s strength to seek out His possibilities for the future. Please be supporting us with your prayers.

Pastor John     

El Salvador: Seeking God’s Leading In An Exciting Mission Venture

November 20, 2017

It’s my privilege to share with you an exciting Mission Venture that RiverCross Church will embark on in April 2018.    

But first the back story: In September 2016, Canadian Baptist Ministries (CBM) approached our church about spearheading a new Community Development ministry partnership in El Salvador with an organization called Enlace. Enlace is a Christian organization, largely staffed by nationals, who support a holistic approach to ministry in local churches throughout that country. CBM asked us to consider this opportunity because of our own experience with Community Development ministry in Saint John.

After several months of on-going conversation with CBM, and consultation with the Deacons at RiverCross, our church agreed to proceed with this partnership, in accordance with the following understanding of what it should involve:

We envision this partnership as involving a ten-year investment of people in local churches in El Salvador, providing an opportunity to really grow in our relationships with each other. Moreover, we anticipate that this should grow into a true partnership, with some yet-to-be-defined reciprocal action taking place – with RiverCross going to El Salvador to help-out in ministry, but people from Enlace (or even local churches in the country) coming to us, too, in order to teach and grow us.

As an initial step towards activating this potential partnership, we proposed first sending a small “visioning team” of people to lay the groundwork for the future. The team’s specific mandate is to go to El Salvador, meet the people among whom we might be serving, and listen and learn. Why? We need to sense God’s heart for this work, and receive a clear leading from Him that animates our imaginations about how RiverCross can be effectively involved, before we fully commit. Only if this team discerns a sense of God’s call to this work will we then begin to make plans for sending larger mission teams in the future.

The visioning team has now been assembled and is presently hard at work preparing for this experience. The team members are: Linda Naves, Mike Howlett, and John Knight. We are confident that God has brought together a team with the knowledge, thoughtfulness, and complementary giftedness required for the work ahead.

At one of the team’s first meetings together, Linda shared a word from the Lord she received based on teaching found in 1 Peter 5:5-9. Linda reminded us about the importance of humility, the need for faith, and the significance of Christian brotherhood – in our walk with God. It’s in the spirit of these things that we will be going to El Salvador: We go there, in humility, on behalf of our church, to listen and learn from our brothers and sisters in churches in El Salvador – faithfully believing that God is at work in the experience and will reveal to us what we need to see and hear.

Here are a few details about the visioning team’s mission trip:

  • We will be in El Salvador from April 5-17, 2018 (almost two weeks).
  • We will be accompanied by CBM’s Latin America Team Leaders, Bruno and Kathleen Soucy.
  • We will spend time learning about the life and culture of El Salvador, getting to know Enlace as an organization, working with people in some local churches, and praying and discerning what God is showing us through all these experiences.
  • The combined total cost for the trip will be approximately $9000.

How can the RiverCross Church Family support the visioning team?

  • Pray – please be praying that all preparations unfold smoothly, pray too for safe travel and good health, and for the team’s wisdom and discernment during their time in El Salvador.
  • Show interest – please take the time to talk to team members, ask them about the trip, and how they’re feeling about the experience.
  • Provide financial support – each team member has made a personal financial commitment to this venture, but the team as a whole is looking for the financial support of their church family, as well.
  • Your financial contribution can be designated, “El Salvador Mission,” and placed in the offering or sent to the church office. Information about making a contribution on behalf of the team directly to CBM can be provided upon request.

Thank you for your interest, support, and prayers!

Pastor John

Seeing is Believing

“The Word became flesh. … We have seen his glory.” (John 1:14)

A hot, muggy morning. A storm beginning to brew. Our family boarded a plane out of Mumbai headed to New Delhi – then on to Amsterdam. Our years in India – filled with soul-altering experiences for parents and children alike – were drawing to a close. This plane flight the beginning of our journey to a new life in Canada.

We took off, the turbulent air giving quite a ride, as the big jet struggled into the sky. The Captain soon announced that we were diverting. New Delhi was swallowed-up in a dust storm. We were unable to land. After a long delay, we continued on, descending into Delhi through an eerie dust-filled haze onto a tarmac we could barely see.

We took off again, our journey now taking us over the Middle East – looking down from cloudless blue skies onto desert – empty stretches of sand and barren mountains fading into the horizon. It was as if our whole world was consumed by heat and haze. That nothing else existed but the barren lands below.

Our plane finally reached Europe – blanketed in thick cloud – obscuring the view. We began our descent into Amsterdam – down – down – down – seeing nothing. Just short of the runway we broke through into a world so green that an audible gasp skittered across the passengers. All we had known was heat – haze – barrenness. It seemed as if that’s all there was. Now our eyes showed us a vibrantly different world. Seeing really is believing.

You know, we “see things” in so many different ways. Sometimes, like in the story I just shared, seeing can be a very concrete experience – about confirming with our sight that something is real – overcoming doubts we might have. “I would never have believed it,” we say, “unless I’d seen it with my own eyes!” Like believing that there is so much more than heat and haze – once we set our eyes on a vision of green.

But “seeing” can also provide illumination for the way: identifying landmarks as we travel through life – that lead us on – with a sure sense of where we’re going. Illumination that reveals the lost as found. Like what I experienced when I was ten years old, while attending a residential school in Kodaikanal, India. Hiking is a popular pastime in Kodaikanal, a town nestled in rugged, jungle-covered mountains.

Once a half-dozen of us got separated from the rest on a hike during a nasty rain storm. We spent hours literally lost in the wilds – cold and drenched – until finally recognizing a landmark. “Ah! Now we see where we are. Let’s go home!” Seeing is believing that we can find our way home.

The illumination that comes with “really seeing” can go even deeper still. It’s the source of great discoveries – those incredible moments when someone “sees” how things work in a whole new way and innovatively “visions” a vastly different future. It’s the source of all learning when, having wrestled in our minds with a complicated problem or big idea, we finally “see” our way forward. Wonder-filled moments that bust open our horizons to new vistas. “Wow! Can you look at that! I never saw it that way before.” Seeing is believing that we can discover and learn – and always grow.

But how does God “see” us?

Advent shows us how: “The Word became flesh. … We have seen his glory.” God sees people – you and me – as worth visiting “in the flesh” so that we can “see his glory” up-close-and-personal. In a beautiful world made whole again. Through the gift of a Son who offers peace and reconciliation all the way down to the toes of our souls. Deep down well-being. Shalom.

Now some might say of course that this isn’t “seeing” at all. It’s just an illusion that obscures real sight. Well, my neighbourhood friends might have a thing or two to say about that. They are the poor of the world – casually disregarded, largely ignored. Yet when these forgotten people meet up with God’s glory in Jesus, everything can change. As they discover a God who – does not disregard, nor ignore, nor forget – but in fact loves them. A God so deeply interested in them, in fact, that he offers the gift of a child born and a son given. A God who so completely believes in them, that they begin to see themselves as special, too.

Seeing people come alive in God’s love is believing that your life can wonderfully change, too.

Advent is over. And we are on the edge of Christmas. The waiting is finished. The dream is now real. God’s thoughtful gift is here: his glory revealed for us to see in a child born and a son given. That we might believe. And be changed.

Will you see and believe, this Christmas?

- Pastor John

It's the thought that counts

“God so loved the world that he gave …” (John 3:16)


A gift received: what does that bring to mind? Right now, as you ponder it, you’re probably recalling “something” a person once gave you – thinking that’s what I’m talking about here. But gifts are so much more: they’re about that moment when our mind and heart open to discover the many blessings surrounding us, enriching our lives every day.  


But let’s start with the obvious: There’s a kindness just in knowing that someone took time to find “something” whose thoughtful wrapping of love affirms that you’re special to them. As for the artful paper wrapping itself; well, don’t count on it. Perfect folds and straight edges certainly aren’t my thing! And other fumble-fingered folks are out there, too, no doubt.


Oh, and while we’re at it, let’s not worry too much about the actual gift, either. Yes, it might be a great gift: useful, even beautiful – more than you could ever imagine. Or it might be downright wacky and tacky – odder than even you could anticipate.


But does it really matter in the end? Because gift giving is about thoughtfulness – kindness – the love expressed in the “something” you receive. It really is “the thought that counts” – sometimes revealed in beauty, often in fun.


I was eight years old, my one desire for Christmas a brand new bike. I opened my heart about this to Dad – receiving what seemed a lukewarm response. So I moved on – not expecting much. Christmas Day: a big box under the tree with a small note buried deep inside. “Go look in the store room.” I go – standing on tippy toes – neck craning – searching deep into shelves – seeing nothing. “What’s your hand resting on, Johnny?” I look down. A BRAND NEW BIKE!


My thoughts – my imagination – so puny they’d blinded me to the possibility. While my parents – their thoughts generously shaped by love – had always known what my heart desired.   


We receive other gifts, too. The gift of time, for example, with loved ones; to make cherished memories together. Once again it’s the thought that counts: Times like these only happen as we make the conscious choice to leave room in our lives to receive the blessing of “good company.”


But provided we do that, this gift comes as a deep breath – inhaling love and gratitude as we exhale our go-go-go lives and linger over: a long coffee with a long-ignored friend; Sunday dinner, all the family gathered round; life-giving conversation with a Father or Mother in their twilight years. Blessing upon blessing – enriching our lives!


Then there’s the gift of well-being – shalom I suppose we should call it: That deep down sense that everything is holding together in harmony – that it is indeed, “well with my soul.” Every morning, my Mother offers a prayer for shalom. Over breakfast, in an ever-widening circle of gratitude, she thinks through and thanks God for the many people who quietly gift her days: for those who provide food for her table; for care workers who daily meet needs; for family who adore and look out for her; for church family who are attentive, generous, inclusive. Blessing upon blessing – enriching her life!


Come to think of it, Advent comes as a gift, too. From ONE whose God-size thoughts overwhelm our hearts!


“God so loved the world that he gave” – to think that a kind God took time to find “something” whose thoughtful wrapping of love affirms that you and I are special to him. Well actually, “someone.” A Son – who offers us the gift of shalom – of well-being deep down in our souls – forever. Taking a deep breath in God’s great company – inhaling love and gratitude – blessing upon blessing – riches without measure – time without end!

“God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”


Are you open to receiving this gift, this Advent?

- Pastor John

Hopes & Dreams

They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain …” (Isaiah 11:9)


We all have dreams – don’t we? Though there are different ways we dream, of course.


We dream when we sleep. Even if you – like me – don’t remember what your mind imagines in the night! But one time I did recall. So rare an event I’ve never forgotten.


Back when I was nine years old and learning to dive. I’d lose my nerve and fall bunched up into the water. Or keep myself straight – too straight – and belly flop SMACK. But one night I dreamt: walking up to the pool – calm – focused – a clean dive – slicing into water – not a ripple. JOY!    


We have hopeful dreams of a good life, too. For our friends: to find a better paying job that covers the bills and doesn’t “go south” when winter comes. For our children: to make it to their grown-up years with energy and ambition – ready to take on the world. For the lonely: to find a person with whom to share love every day. For the wanderer: to choose wisely, meet good people, and find their way home.


Then there are prayerful dreams for a better world: for peace “out there” sure, yet more personal, too. For neighbors living above us: to stop screaming – for once – with loud laughter pealing through the ceiling instead. For children playing outside: safe from worry about scary people who aren’t afraid to hurt and harm. For hate-on people holding on to anger: to just give it up and find a way to get along in love. For women living with Jekyll-and-Hyde: to break-out of their prison of harassment and abuse.


But prayerful dreams for a peaceful world take patience and work. And sometimes they don’t get past the dreaming to real. Just being honest. Frankly, life is hard and unfair because people are hard and unfair – with little regard for whoever gets in the way of me-myself-and-I. And peace is the victim – stomped on and shanked – left to bleed-out on the floor.


Unless of course God somehow becomes part of the dream!


The prophet Isaiah describes a God-size dream about a good life in a beautiful world made whole again: Where the wicked won’t have their way. Where all are taken care of – even the poor of the earth. Where peace breaks out – and the wolf will live with the lamb. Where children are safe – and can play near the cobra’s den. A world put back together on God’s Holy Mountain. What a dream!   


But is this just vain hope? Or can it possibly come true? Isaiah believed so. Because it’s a world where Jesus is: the child born and the son given. The God who comes to us – in the flesh – up close and personal – showing the way to life in a beautiful world.


And now God waits patiently for us: For you. For me. With God-size hopes and dreams that you and I will take the hand of this child who will lead us home to him. In a world made whole again.


Now there’s something to think about, this Advent.

- Pastor John

I Can Hardly Wait

December 1, 2017

Hey, folks! Well, Advent Season is upon us once again and, if you’re like me, you probably find yourself preoccupied with “Things Christmas” right about now: shopping to do, family plans to make, parties to attend, church events to take-in.

 In the midst of all this “busyness” it’s easy to forget what Advent is really all about: a time of preparing for the coming of the Lord. During Advent, we open our hearts once again – as if for the first time – to that wondrous moment when we meet God up-close-and-personal. Immanuel. God with Us. Born as a humble babe into our world. Who comes to “make his dwelling among us full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).

During the coming weeks, I’ll be posting a series of blogs that reflect on Advent from four different points-of-view. My hope and prayer is that you’ll take the time to prayerfully read these as part of your own preparation for a fresh coming of the Lord to you this Advent Season. And now here’s the first one:


I can hardly wait!

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given …” (Isaiah 9:6)

Waiting: a place where heart and head collide. Emotions running wild – “I can hardly wait!” Even as your mind reasons the purpose in it all – “It’ll be well worth the wait, just you wait and see.” But is it, always? Sometimes waiting is weighed down with frustration, even despair. How can that be worth waiting for – ever?

Back in the day, as a kid tagging along with missionary parents, waiting could be exciting – the emotion of adventure – tied up with jeep treks, train journeys, plane flights to points unknown. The anticipation of going somewhere! Meeting new people. Seeing things for the first time. Collecting fresh experiences. Mind-opening moments that have left a permanent impression on my soul.

But like I said, waiting isn’t always “great fun.” In fact, it can be excruciating – like banging your head against a wall. I have friends who can share a story or two about that. Friends whose Welfare cheques get messed up. And they wait and wait – living on nothing – while the bureaucracy slowly spits out a solution. Or friends working their way through the Courts. Where the wheels of justice always grind real slow. This kind of waiting – twisting in the wind – drifting in confusion – is hardly mind-opening. It chokes-off the soul – ever so slowly – until barely a breath of hope remains.

Waiting comes in all shapes and sizes. Waiting for adventure – the excitement of anticipation. Waiting for problems to go away – the frustration, the despair of: “Where’s it all headed!!??”

It’s fair to say that the Jewish folk of Jesus’ day experienced all these – excitement, frustration, despair – even as they put their faith in another kind of waiting altogether: waiting for hope to take on flesh and blood.


Hundreds of years they waited for Isaiah’s present tense words to become a future real Messiah: “

The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned. For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”

They waited in – “Could this be the Messiah?” – excitement. They waited in –“Will he ever come?” – frustration. Crushed under the boot heel of powerful people, they waited in – “I doubt he’ll actually come” – despair, too. But still they waited: clinging to a faith that hopes and dreams will one day come to life in a child born and a son given.

So what are you waiting for this Advent?


- Pastor John

Refugee family update #2

january 26 2016

Morning everyone,

I wanted to give you a quick update on the newest refugee family, from Syria, we are sponsoring, and I wanted to take a moment to introduce them to you.

They are the Al Qasab family, who are originally from Homs Syria, but who fled three years ago to Aqaba Jordan. You can read about the conflict in Homs and you will get a sense of the seriousness of the situation. They left last Monday from Jordan and arrived late Wednesday night where they were welcomed by a group from our church. They were taken to the hotel, they got settled in and were given a brief orientation. They were exhausted. Imagine travelling for 3 days with three kids, two who can not walk. 

Folks from our welcome team have been visiting with them each day. Each time we visit we are invited into their hotel room, asked to sit down, and although they have virtually no food or drinks in their room, they always offer us something. Hospitality is very important to them. They only speak Arabic, so using either a volunteer translator, a translation app on our phone, or through an animated game of charades we visit, sometimes up to 90 minutes. We are getting to know each other and they are learning that we are their friends, here to serve them. It has been a blessing for all involved.

Ahmed, the father was a cab driver and a construction worker before fleeing. They had a house, and a car and a good life in Syria, they loved their country and their city and the family that was surrounding them. He and his wife Salam have three boys, Feras who is 14, and who has Cerebral Palsy, Omar who is 12 and also has Cerebral Palsey and Hamzeh, who is two and a half, and is a ball of energy. They are a great family. Friendly, grateful, and really wanting to get settled in Saint John, and make this their home. 

In the last week, thanks to the help of many from our church, we have secured an apartment, helped them get a bank account, gotten wheelchairs for the boys and started the process of getting them the medical support they will need.   

At this point we have a team of people who have committed themselves to helping them get settled, and a team of people who are going to act as resources as needs arise. Thank you for your support and help. Our next step will be to help them move into their apartment, which will hopefully happen this week, and then to get them to the necessary medical appointments. As specific needs arise we will make the congregation aware. 

Let me say how thankful I am to the many ways RiverCross is being involved in supporting the refugees arriving in Saint John, here are just a few examples:

The Hope Mission team is preparing some meals for the refugees housed at the hotel

Members of our church are supporting other host teams in finding things like car seats, apartments, medical support, etc.,

Members of our church are donating household items to Lancaster Baptist, which is where host teams go furnish apartments for their families

Members of our church are helping their friends and coworkers in providing care to other refugee families

We were privileged to have a refugee family attend our church on Sunday who recently arrived from Afghanistan and they were given a warm "family-of-God" welcome

Members of our church have made financial donations to our benevolent fund

Members of our church have been volunteering as child care workers at the Howard Johnson hotel as the parents go to orientation sessions

Thank you. 

If you would like to be involved, please visit the YMCA website and find out where they need your help. Be ready to get involved on short notice, and be ready to do whatever they need help with, it may be outside your comfort zone, but you won’t regret it! Remember Jesus words “whatever you have done for the least of these, you have done unto me.”

As a church we have asked God to allow us the privilege of being HIS blessing to our city, I can think of no greater opportunity for us right now!   

Pastor Rob

Reaching out #3

September 2016

If you grew up in Saint John, it is hard to think of our city as multi-cultural, but its becoming one. Which is amazing. One of the great privileges we have, as RiverCross Church, is to share a vital minstry to Mandarin speaking folks in our city. God is doing amazing things, and if you were here last week when we showed the video of the baptism of Mr & Mrs Yu, you will know God is moving. 

We have recently named this ministry Chinese Outreach Ministries and let me outline some of the important work we are doing together:

1. Sunday morning Sunday School Class - there is a class offered to adults and also youth in Mandarin. It is not uncommon for us to have as many as 60 people attending these two classes. 

2. Firday Night Prayer Meeting: Each Friday night, members of our Chinese Outreach Ministry gather at George and Lydia Tongs house for a prayer time. During this time, George will summarize last weeks sermon and then they will gather in groups to pray.

3. Sunday Morning Translation: each week our services are translated into Mandarin, LIVE! Songs, announcements, prayers and sermon are all translated and folks can listen in on a translation system. This has allowed us to communicate more effectively.

4. Ministry Connections with other Chinese Communities: Our Chinese community will connect with Chinese Christians in Moncton, Fredericton, and Halifax at different times during the year. The biggest gathering is the annual summer camp, and in 2016, members from RiverCross Church will be the organizers of this event.  

5. Bus Shelter Ads: Starting this week, we will be advertising to university students on bus shelters at UNBSJ. The ads will appear in Mandarin, Japanese, Arabic, Hindi and English. Pray that God might use these ads to communicate that there is a Christian family awaiting these students.

6. Future Staff: we are at the point now where this ministry could use the help of pastoral staff. We are beginning to have conversations about what this might look like. Pray for us as we discern God's plan.  

Now, I would be remiss if I did not give a word of thanks to all who give leadership to our Chinese Outreach Ministries. They have an incredibly dedicated core of leaders who provide teaching, counselling, hospitality, tranlation services and a great sense of family to anyone and everyone. Lets continue to pray for the incredible minsitry happening each week

Pastor Rob