Listen as Dennis Casteneda shares his testimony of God's transformative work in his life, and his call to start and lead the Every Day is Christmas ministry.
Learn more about Dennis' ministry Every Day is Christmas.
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July 21 2015 at 9:16 am 0 Comments
God has blessed the last two days of Joy Camp tremendously. On Thursday evening we had our traditional site cookouts at Laytonia and Johnson’s Park. We cooked hundreds of hot dogs and were able to interact with the campers and many of their families. At the Laytonia cookout the campers were even able to come up and share the “Gospel Chant” they had been learning all week.
Friday was our last day with the campers. At South Lake they had a brief ceremony to celebrate the end of the week since they didn’t have a cookout. Parents were invited, and we called each camper by name to receive their Bible and camp t-shirt.
Friday was also our last day together as a team. We took time in the evening to recount God’s faithfulness by singing, listening to a short teaching, and hearing about how God worked at the different sites.
- Because renovations going on at Washington Square and Emory Grove, we weren’t sure how many kids would show up to camp. The leaders visited surrounding neighborhoods on Saturday and handed out flyers to tell people about camp. By the end of the week we were up to 54 kids.
- During one-on-one time one of the youth was explaining to a camper that in all the Bible stories throughout the week, each person had faith and God loved them. The camper responded, “Wait, God loves us? What if you don’t love God back?” So our volunteer was able to explain the gospel to him.
- We averaged between 40 and 50 campers.
- Many campers at Laytonia have professed faith throughout the years, so it is encouraging to go back and remind them of truth.
- Many of the campers have reached their middle school and high school years and have been coming since the beginning of Joy Camp. The experience is geared for younger kids, but by the second and third day the older kids were able to jump in and participate.
- Laytonia has a very diverse group of kids, but it's a tight-knit community with a strong sense of love.
- Because this site is an elementary school, our youth went into different classrooms and helped with summer school classes.
- We heard one first-time camper ask his friend, “Hey, do you believe in God?”
- Even some of the high school students expressed an interest in coming back next year to Joy Camp, not as campers but as volunteers.
- Many kids expressed that this was their favorite week of the whole year.
- During the upcoming school year we are going to partner with the school’s English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) program by providing child care and mini Joy Camps. God is working in unique ways here at South Lake, so please continue to pray for us.
Overall, all of the leaders were encouraged by the youth who have grown up in the church their whole life and are very familiar with the gospel. But seeing them fully invested and being able to apply that knowledge to local missions was incredible. Our group demonstrated love toward each other as well as the campers and grew in unity. Many of the rising freshmen also stepped out of their comfort zones and were bold and courageous in sharing the gospel this week.
Now that Joy Camp is done, pray for each of the families and campers. Pray that they would be reminded of the gospel daily as they look at their Bibles and camp t-shirts. Pray that they would be able to share what they learned at camp with others in their community. Pray for the different churches in our area and around the world. Pray that they would send more laborers for the harvest and that the gospel message would go forth. The same Holy Spirit who helped us this week understand that faith in God’s promises leads to courageous obedience, is the same Spirit working throughout the entire world.
We are looking to do follow-up ministry throughout the year. Here are some ways to get involved:
-Monday nights (starting September 28), 6:30 p.m. - 8:30 p.m.
-Fun, games, Bible study, friendship and help with homework
-To sign up, email Travis Earles
-Saturday, August 15, 10 a.m. - noon, at the Laytonia Community Center
-Fun, games and Bible study
-To volunteer, email Carlos.
-Saturday, July 25 and August 15, 10:30 a.m. - noon, at the Emory Grove Playground
-Fun, games and Bible study
-To volunteer, email Neal Stuckenschneider.
Lastly, we want to thank you for praying for us. This week could not have happened without you interceding for us. We are grateful for you!
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July 16 2015 at 1:47 pm 0 Comments
Today we focused on the life of Moses. The lessons started with a brief overview of Moses’ life: how he was saved at birth, ran as fast as he could away from Egypt, seemingly was content with his new life as a shepherd, and then came across the burning bush where God speaks to him. Campers read different verses from Exodus and continued to learn about Moses through different skits.
The story of Moses also references the Joy Camp theme: Faith in God’s promises leads to the courageous obedience of God’s commands. God commanded Moses to go to Egypt and tell Pharaoh to let God’s people go. God promised Moses that he was going to deliver his people, and all he needed to do was go. Moses obeyed with courage even though his life might be at risk.
Planning is going well, and each site is doing a fabulous job reaching out to the kids and sharing the gospel. Despite our weary bodies God is giving us energy to persevere.
Tonight we had the privilege of attending the Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting. We gathered together with faithful prayer warriors from our church and took time to worship and pray. We prayed for our camp, for the specific communities, and for the glory of God to spread throughout the Gaithersburg area. It was refreshing to be together and be reminded of God’s faithfulness to hear and answer our prayers.
Tomorrow are our traditional site cookouts. We would love for you to come, participate, and see how God is working!. There will be many parents and families from each community to talk to, and opportunities to share the gospel.. The cookout locations are Laytonia (diagonally across the street from the church) and Johnson’s Park (behind the Flower Hill Starbucks).
If you are interested in coming, please feel free to email Corinne at the church office for directions.
As we enter our last few days of camp, here are some ways you can be praying for us:
- Physical and mental strength for leaders and youth
- Sufficient sleep, energy and joy to persevere through our last few days of camp
- Healing for minor scrapes and bruises that happened today
- That our youth would have clarity during the one-on-one times in the afternoon and be able to communicate the gospel effectively to campers.
- That God would send more laborers to the harvest in Gaithersburg and that the follow-up ministry of making disciples in our community would grow exponentially and thrive for the glory of God
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July 14 2015 at 10:22 am 0 Comments
It's Youth Local Missions week, and about 70 youth and adult volunteers from Covenant Life are out getting to know our neighbors! We are serving kids and their families at three sites, playing a variety of games, hearing short talks, singing, and acting out skits related to what is taught.
The Joy Camp theme this year is “Faith Leads to Courage.” Throughout the week we are learning that faith in God’s promises helps us to have courage to obey God’s Word. We will also be talking about how we can be courageous if we put our faith in Christ. We will specifically be learning about five examples from the Bible (Noah, Abraham, Moses, Joshua, and Daniel) who courageously obeyed because they had faith in God’s promises.
God has already blessed us even on the first day of camp. Here are some specific ways God has been at work:
- A new site this year, pulling from the Washington Square, Emory Grove and surrounding neighborhoods
- We had about 20 campers today.
- We were blessed by many expressions of love from the kids.
- The campers were involved and excited to learn from the Bible.
- We had over 30 kids that came back today. This is amazing! Numbers are usually lowest on the first day of camp.
- There are a lot of new families in the neighborhood who are also new to Joy Camp.
- Campers jumped in and got involved right away.
- It started raining a little bit during the Noah’s Ark skit (right on queue!), and sure enough, it stopped at just the right part of the story, too!
- Sometimes it’s hard for campers to retain Bible knowledge from previous years, but as the lesson goes on, it all comes back.
South Lake Elementary School
- Campers were ready and waiting when we arrived.
- The volunteers were joyful and entered in with the kids despite the heat and not having air conditioning.
- There were about 30 campers today, ages 4 to 21.
Although God is already doing a lot, we would still love your prayers!
- Please pray for continued physical strength for the youth and leaders of Joy Camp. It is a very long, and busy week, and we all get extremely tired.
- Pray for courage and boldness in sharing the gospel to others, for our youth specifically.
- Pray for opportunities to share the gospel and that hearts would be softened.
Thank you! We look forward to sharing more about how God is working in our community.
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June 23 2015 at 9:28 am 1 Comments
This school year just wrapped up, but Discovery Land, our children’s ministry, is already busy preparing for the fall. The season to sign up to serve with the kids is here! Cara Wilcox gives us a joyfully honest look at serving with the 1st-5th grade class:
Just over two years ago, I received an email from Josh Cooley asking if I would consider serving as a Tree House Gang director in the 2013-2014 Discovery Land year. Tree House Gang is the student drama team that does skits to help illustrate the lesson in the first through fifth grade Adventure class each week. I was already acquainted with the responsibilities of a Tree House Gang director, which is why my immediate mental response to Josh’s email was: No. Way.
Let me explain my exemplary attitude. First, I had just completed a seven-year stretch when I almost never participated in an entire church service. Because of my husband’s work responsibilities here at church on Sunday mornings, and because we had four children in just over six years, I was usually either feeding a baby, strolling a baby, or trying to coax a terrified toddler to stay in his or her classroom. Serving? I’d been serving my family nonstop for a looooong time. So I was looking forward to some down time at church, some me time, some spiritual replenishment time.
Second reason for my “no way” outlook? Being a Tree House Gang director would require several hours of scriptwriting and rehearsal in addition to showing up very early on Sunday. And because of my husband’s work schedule, I would need to bring my four, small, energetic children with me to rehearsals. How was I supposed to juggle parenting little ones and directing teenagers at the same time?
Oh, and speaking of teenagers, I was flat out scared of them. I had no experience with teens! I’m not cool! Would they like me? Would they listen? Lastly, if I was going to serve in Discovery Land, I wanted to be in the nursery, loving on some babies. The first through fifth grade class was huge, noisy and rambunctious. And I felt like my noisy and rambunctious quota was pretty much filled at home.
So when I got Josh’s email, I felt vaguely justified in ignoring it, which is exactly what I did, all summer long. I did not reply when he sent a follow up email many weeks later, though I did start to consider it and pray. And then, late in August, in God’s sense of humor, I ended up in a small room where I could not help but overhear some women who were in all innocence talking about… what else? The desperate need for Tree House Gang directors and the fact that nobody was stepping up. “Ok, Lord! I get it! I hear you! I’ll obey!”
With no slight trepidation, I filled out my volunteer application and became the official Week 3 Tree House Gang director. I showed up that first weekend, wrote my script at home, rehearsed on Saturday, rehearsed again on Sunday, and oversaw the performance during class and it was love at first serve. I went home on Sunday afternoon exhausted and high as a kite. God met me with such joy in serving those children that I’m still marveling. Everything about it was fun and fulfilling for me: my team of irrepressible teens, the laughs we shared in pulling off our first skit (it involved a magic act and a dead parrot), and the first graders I led during breakout time at the end of class. Suddenly that noisy and rambunctious class of elementary kids had become a passion, and I wanted to help make the class better and better. It was a simple instance of Matthew 6:21, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” I had begun to invest time and energy in Discovery Land, and where I invested, my heart quickly followed. In another year, in fact, the Lord opened a door for me to work part time planning the Adventure class breakout times.
Now is it always as glorious as that first week I served? No. We have weeks where my scripts aren’t funny or actors forget their lines, weeks where I’m running late and my children are challenging, weeks where the class seems unresponsive. But when the work is dull, or the outcome seems dubious, I take heart from Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 15:58: “My beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.”
One other benefit of serving has been the relational encouragement and stability it provides. In the last five years, many of my closest friends have moved away or found other churches, and that has been difficult. Building friendships with others who serve in Discovery Land has been an anchor for me. My serving friends are not my closest relationships, but when I see their faces, I remember how we have labored and laughed together. And that makes them feel like family.
I asked to be able to share this story with you today in hope that you might be persuaded to join me. Please come serve with us in Discovery Land. We need many hands for this good work. Now maybe you’re already maxed out. Maybe you have legitimate reasons not to serve. Or maybe you’re like me, and God is extending his hand to you, inviting you to be part of what he is doing among our children. If so, if there’s even a little stirring within, may I challenge you to act in faith? I don’t promise that your experience will be just like mine, but unless you sign up, how will you ever know how God may meet you, or what good works He has prepared for you there?
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March 17 2015 at 9:42 am 3 Comments
by Almasih Kahdost
What he said caused my eyes to well up. It wasn’t anything dramatic per se, but still I found tears coming to my eyes and a smile landing on my face. What he said was precipitated by a question.
“How often do you go back to visit your home country?”
He stumbled a little, calculating how best to answer. He finally said something to the effect of, “It’s not really safe for me to return. You see, I’m a Christian and…”
That’s when the tears came.
I almost cried because my new friend is from Iran and I have been praying for his people for years now. But my tears weren’t because he can’t safely return to his country. Nor were they for the fact that his relationship with his mother took a dramatic turn for the worse because of his decision to follow Jesus. While those things were indeed sad, my tears were tears of joy.
FREED FROM A REPRESSIVE REGIME
It made me immensely happy to hear that this Persian brother had escaped the oppression of an evil regime and was coming to enjoy new freedoms he’d not previously experienced. Whereas before he had been the subject of repressive tyranny, now he was out from under the thumb of his captor, free.
His story is mine. While I’m not from Iran, he and I both responded to Jesus’ proclamation of freedom to the prisoners and were thereafter set free from oppression (Luke 4:18). Both he and I had been blinded by the god of this world (2 Corinthians 4:4), and were in fact following him (Ephesians 2:2). But now we’re both free.
CAN’T SHARE OVER THERE
Of course, not all Persians are like my friend. Many are still in captivity to sin, lost in darkness (like anyone else outside of Christ). But what sets Persians who’ve moved to the States apart from your typical been-here-for-generations American is that they have had little opportunity to hear the gospel. In fact, according to the self-styled Iranian Christian News Agency, Mohabat News, Iranian president Rouhani’s Advisor on Ethnic and Religious Minorities’ Affairs has said that “...no one has the right to promote his or her faith…it is not acceptable, for instance, for a Christian to invite a Muslim to Christianity.” (Incidentally, Iran has one of the fastest growing Christian populations in the world, albeit underground). While Advisor Younesi does say, “...everyone is free to practice his or her faith…” he seems to not grasp that inviting others to Christianity is part and parcel of practicing our faith.
WON’T SHARE OVER HERE
As believers, sharing our faith is non-negotiable and as Americans it is a privilege to be able to do it without fear of imprisonment (or worse). But many American believers won’t do it. Too busy or scared or something. Yet the Persian people at our office, in our neighborhoods, or who we bump into at Starbucks are now in an environment where they can freely listen and respond to the gospel. Could it be that God has dispersed Persians to countries where evangelism is legal “...so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him” (Acts 17:27)?
BUT I DON’T KNOW ANY PERSIANS
Of the 25,000-plus Iranian-born residents in the Baltimore/DC area, over 8,000 are in Montgomery County. Chances are you’ve met some, maybe even without realizing it. If you don’t know any, why not change that and learn about their culture? One way to do this would be to head to Black Hill Regional Park in Germantown on April 12 for Sizdah Be-dar. (A similar event will be held at Bull Run Park in Centerville on April 5). On these days thousands of Persians will enjoy spending time with friends, families and maybe even people they’ve just met. (Hint: that’s you!)
You can also meet some Persian folk around town AND get some really great food at the same time. Check out Caspian House of Kabob or Moby Dick, both in the Kentlands. Very warm, friendly staff and incredible food. Yekta in Rockville is wonderful as well. You can also stop by a couple of Persian stores (Caravan Deli or Potomac Gourmet) and meet folks there.
Persian’s ancient culture and history has much to offer and the high value placed on hospitality is something many many western Christians could learn from. That being said, we believers have something to offer non-believing Iranians; that is Christ Jesus, who lived, died and rose again to redeem those from every nation.
“Almasih Kahdost” is a long-time friend of Covenant Life who desires to see the nations come to Christ. Though preferring to publish anonymously, Almasih Kadost welcomes your comments below.
See all the posts in this series.
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