Monday, January 25, 2016

Telling Stories

We had a guest in the pulpit this morning, David Ullstrom.  David and his wife, Ruth, are Missionaries in Taiwan with OMF International.  They have served there since 1988.  During that time they were involved in planting new churches, starting a program to partner English teachers with OMF missionaries and Taiwan churches and, in David's case, serving as a pastor with a congregation.  Ruth taught kindergarten at Morrison Academy, an international missionary school in Taiwan.  David and Ruth are now involved in a new ministry reaching out to working class people in Qiaotou, a semi-rural district of Kaohsiung City.
  In discussing their work, David told how they had prayed for guidance in deciding where they should re-locate in Taiwan.  A short time later, they were given a free house by a non-Christian acquaintance. The question of "where?" was settled.

  Although they and their friends were eager to begin a church right away, they did not want to run ahead of God.  They began to reach out to people slowly and in in small groups.  Because of Ruth's work in schools, they were allowed to go into a school and tell Bible stories.  They weren't allowed to preach or pray or proselytize, but they could tell stories.  The children loved it.

  Telling Bible stories became the key to their mission.  They took part in summer camps, telling Bible stories. 

   They developed a three minute version of some stories so they could tell people they met on the street about Jesus in story form. One of their favourites for new hearers was the story of Zacchaeus, a rich man who knew he lacked something.  That something was Jesus.  The story resonates with many in Taiwan.

  Since story-telling has been such an effective tool for the Ullstroms, they have developed a series of cards to hand out to those who have heard the stories.  The cards contain these questions:
  1.  What did you like about this story?
  2.  Do you have any questions about the story?
  3.  What do you learn about people from this story?
  4.  What do you learn about God from this story?
  5.  What will you do this week as a result of hearing this story?
  6.  Who will you tell this story to this week?

As well as telling stories, David and Ruth seek to "show" the gospel.  One of the ways they do this is by fostering orphans.  Recently they've cared for two children who were eventually adopted into Canadian families in Edmonton. 

    As they wind up their time in Canada, they ask that we pray for them and for their vision of their work in Taiwan, as explained in this slide.

  Thank you to David and Ruth for sharing your vision and your story with Saanich Peninsula Presbyterian Church.

Monday, January 18, 2016


Sunday marked the beginning of a "Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, 2016,"  an annual ecumenical celebration under the auspices of the World Council of Churches, traditionally held in January. During this week, we join with the people around the world to pray for Christian unity – in worship, reflection, study, and fellowship.
 The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity as we now know it was first proposed in 1908 Fr Paul Wattson, founder of the Franciscan Friars of the Atonement in Graymoor, New York, although a Penticostal movement in Scotland, ca. 1740  included prayer for and with all churches in its revivalist message.  The tradition in various forms until 1948 when it was formalized by the World Council of Churches.  
  On Sunday afternoon, a service was held at SPPC under the auspices of Faithlink as a start to the prayer week.  The service was prepared by the a team in Latvia, made up of representatives of many churches, on the theme "Called to proclaim the mighty acts of God," inspired by 1 Peter 2:9 – You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light.   Christians around the world are invited to reflect on what it means to be the people of God, and how we are called both to proclaim and to respond to the acts of God in the world.

The service on Sunday was only the kick off to the week.  There are seven more days of prayer.  To see a complete list of suggested scriptures, reflections and prayers see  here.  Feel free to use the resources listed there for your personal prayer in the coming week -- or the coming year.  God listens any time.

Monday, January 11, 2016


by Martha McCracken

Saanich  Peninsula Refugee Initiative Group (SPRIG)

"Syria's civil war is the worst humanitarian crisis of our time. Since 2011, it is estimated that 12 million people have been killed or forced to flee their homes, representing over 50% of the country's pre-war population. As of November 2015, over 4.2 million Syrians have registered as refugees, most of them women and children."   Inter-Cultural Association (ICA) of Greater Victoria, fact sheet.

   We have all seen the horrific images stemming from the Syrian refugee crisis - it is a truly appalling situation.  So, back in November 2015, when I heard that interested people (more than 80!) here on the peninsula were getting together to hear an ICA presentation about the refugee situation, I knew that I needed to attend.  And I did.  Two community gatherings later, hosted by St. John's United Church at St. Paul's United Church, SPRIG came into being, and I found myself signing on to its fund raising working group and steering committee.
   So what has SPRIG been doing?  SPRIG's stated goal is to undertake the private sponsorship of a refugee family to settle here on the Saanich Peninsula.  To do this, SPRIG first needed to amass sufficient funds to prove that it could support a refugee family, at least one-third of an initial estimate of $40,000 for a family of four.  This has been done.  In fact, SPRIG has been overwhelmed by the kind and generous financial support so far, all coming through word-of-mouth.
    In the meantime, SPRIG is fortunate that St. John's United Church is continuing to  accept cash or cheque donations payable to St. John's United Church,  Refugee Sponsorship Fund, 10990 West Saanich Road, North Saanich BC V8L 5R9 and is issuing the related income tax receipts.  As well, on its website, St. John's United Church has established a PayPal account to accept credit card donations.  All these donations will be transferred to the ICA case-specific account once it is in place.
     Now, SPRIG is preparing to enter into a formal constituent undertaking with the ICA, which is a government-approved Sponsorship Agreement Holder (SAH). Once the undertaking is signed, a refugee family will be assigned to SPRIG and the ICA will set up a case specific funding account for SPRIG, to which tax receiptable donations can be made.      While a refugee family is not likely to arrive on the Saanich Peninsula for at least six months, there is a lot to be done.  To find the most recent information on how you can help, steering committee updates, and the progress of our community and refugee family, I would encourage you to visit: SPRIG website:  
SPRIG email:

As for me, I am busy chairing the fund raising committee with the support of a great team.  Our first actual event is a benefit concert, featuring the West Coast Chamber Players and the Sooke Harbour String Quartet.  It will take place on Sunday, February 7, 2016 at 3 p.m. at St. John's United Church, 10990 West Saanich Road, North Saanich.  Tickets are $25 and are available at Tanner's Books in Sidney.  I hope to see you there.

Monday, January 4, 2016


(SM)2T.  No, we're not about to add math classes to our Sunday worship.  The acronym above stands for Malahat South Mission Study Team.  
  As we enter 2016 SPPC (along with four Presbyterian churches in Victoria and one in Sooke) is seeking new ways to engage with our community and to make a difference in the lives of those who live in our neighbourhood.
   It's an idea we'd all like to jump into, feet first, but no program can be effective without careful planning.  That's the job of the (SM)2Team.   Our minister and one elder have already been in discussion with representatives from the other churches.  On Dec. 17 a meeting was held at SPPC and interested congregants were invited to attend.  At that time we were given more information about the process.  To begin with, we need to create a congregational profile, to identify the gifts we have to offer.  We also need to study our neighbourhood to identify needs that SPPC could address.  This information is vital to defining the mission we finally undertake.
    There is another meeting on Wed. January 6, 2016 at 9:30 am.  Any member of the congregation is welcome to attend.  At that time we'll be getting down to the specific work of preparing church/neighbourhood profiles in advance of a visit by Rev. Bill Lawser.
     Rev. Lawser is a Teaching Elder in the Presbyterian Church (USA).  He was ordained in 1979 and served as a pastor in various positions.  Since 2000 he has worked as faculty at several sites for interim/transitional pastor education for the Presbyterian Church (USA).  Rev. Lawser has been hired by Synod to be a facilitator for the Malahat South Mission Study.  He will spend time with each of the six congregations in our study area. He will visit SPPC January 14 through January 16.  For the first days, he'll be gathering information, on the last day he'll lead an educational day on themes helpful to the study.  
    This is an exciting time for us -- a new year, a new mission, a renewal of the best parts of SPPC.  Please join in the work in whatever way you can.  Be a member of a committee.  Meet with Rev. Lawser.  Share your ideas with a member of session.  Pray for the team and their work.
    As Rev. Irwin said last Sunday, "put on your running shoes and get going!"