PSWC: Relationship with Jesus Must Drive Ministry

By Stan Friedman

OAKLAND, CA (April 25, 2012) – Attendees to the Pacific Southwest Conference (PSWC) Annual Meeting were exhorted throughout the gathering to participate in new ministry initiatives, but also were encouraged that their involvement must flow from deepening their personal relationships with Jesus.

Efrem Smith enjoys Gary Walter's joke

It was a rhythm emphasized during last Friday morning’s worship service as Gary Walter, president of the Evangelical Covenant Church, and Efrem Smith, PSWC superintendent, each preached a portion of the message at First Covenant Church in Oakland.

“Jesus asks, ‘Who do you say I am?’ ” Walter said. “He didn’t say, ‘What do you think of my teaching?’ If that’s what Jesus asked, we could have thought we were being asked to consider a philosophy.”

He cautioned against giving in to the subtle temptation of answering the wrong question. “It’s too easy for Christians to be lured into speaking more about issues than about Jesus,” said Walter. “He’s the one who brings the shalom of God to our lives.”

We can deceive ourselves when we believe we are working for Jesus, he added. “We must be careful not to look like we’re being faithful when we’re not.”

Smith echoed Walter, saying, “Missional empowerment has to come out of being in the very presence of who Jesus is.” The entire PSWC staff now takes one day a month from their other activities to spend in prayer, he noted.

A deepening relationship will lead to greater ministry locally and globally, the leaders said. A new project, Wheels of Hope, does both by providing ambulance trailers that can be affixed to the back of bicycles and motorcycles in rural areas of the Democratic Republic of Congo, as well as teaching job skills to homeless men on Skid Row in Los Angeles. The specially designed ambulance trailers are built to handle the rough terrain in the world’s poorest nation, which has only meager infrastructure.

Homeless men in Los Angeles who are being taught welding and fabrication skills are manufacturing the trailers. Rolling Hills Covenant Church launched the ministry in cooperation with the Fred Jordan Mission in 2011.

The partnership also has involved Zambikes, a ministry in Zambia co-founded by Vaughn Spethmann, who grew up in Clairemont Covenant Church. Zambikes provides training programs and pays livable wages to employees. It invests all profits back into the business, which now employs more than 40 people.

Bike and ambulance trailer

Zambikes initially made only low-cost, high-quality bikes that enabled Zambians to travel over rough terrain to work or even start their own micro-businesses. As the workers’ skills advanced, the company started making bikes that can carry cargo, a bike trailer, and a bike-drawn “Zambulance.”

The conference is now partnering in the program. One of the bikes and trailers was displayed on stage. The audience was told that during the weekend, another bike and trailer were being displayed at the nondenominational mega-church Willow Creek, which also is interested in the mission.

Carlos Ramirez, who had been homeless less than a year ago, shared that the ministry has changed his life. A recovering alcoholic, he has learned to weld and just passed his California certification test.

The project started when the mission’s president Willie Jordan approached the Rolling Hills church and asked if there was anything they could do to help the homeless develop job and life skills. Over the next several weeks, the first 140 bikes will be shipped to Congo and an order for another 1,500 already has been placed.

Delegates also were encouraged to participate in the Covenant Kids for Congo project. The historic partnership involving the denomination, World Vision, and the Congo Covenant Church will provide millions of dollars for holistic development in what the United Nations has called the poorest country in the world.

Referencing both initiatives, Smith told the gathering that the world’s problems can seem overwhelming, but each church could save and transform lives by supporting at least one child and one bike.

Personal transformation of the clergy also was emphasized. Pete Scazzero, author of Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, spoke to the ministerium on Thursday. Various workshops, including one on human trafficking, also were conducted. Judy Peterson, North Park University campus pastor, spoke Friday night.

Click here to see additional photos.

In other business:

  • It was announced that eight new churches have been planted in the past year, and a total of 22 plants are receiving appropriations
  • New church planters were commissioned
  • Delegates approved a $1.9 million budget

Editor’s note: Certain photos courtesy of Bill Walton.

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