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The phentermine buy fedex 2016-2017 has begun! We are excited about the five students God has brought us this year: Karen Merkel-Kopp, Doreen Daniels, Eric Robertson, Dominic Mwaura, and Ray Sanford. Dominic and Ray will be with us for the fall semester as they completed the spring semester last year; the other three will be with us for the entire school year.

We are also thrilled to have Natalie Hamm and Tara Glowacki involved this year. Natalie will be serving as a leader in the school after being a leadership intern last year. And as part of her theological studies, Tara will spend some of her time as a practicum student in WCV with the school.


The Vineyard School of Justice is a unique, six month program designed to foster a passion for loving God and loving your neighbour (especially those society deems “least”). The school facilitates a unique environment where those who are street-involved and those who are not, come together, learn side by side, and encounter Jesus and his kingdom of justice.

Please pray for our school and especially our students in their journey over the next few months.

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Unshakable Amidst Earthquakes

The spiritual vitality in the HRV defies the logic of the earthquakes and their aftermath. During our time, everywhere we went, we witnessed and experienced resilient, radical trust in God’s faithful presence, love, and power. There are some features of faith which are only discovered with experience, and the people in the HRV know what it means to place their hope fully in Jesus. Our time with these precious people reminds me of the Psalmist’s words in Psalm 46, words which the Holy Spirit – in some mysterious way amidst the shaking of the earth – has written indelibly on the hearts of the people in the HRV.

God is our refuge and strength
    an ever-present help in trouble
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
    and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea
though its waters roar and foam
    and the mountains quake with their surging

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God
    the holy place where the Most High dwells
God is within her, she will not fall
    God will help her at break of day
Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall
    he lifts his voice, the earth melts

The Lord Almighty is with us
    the God of Jacob is our fortress


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Below, Pastor Uddav Thapa of Chhampi Vineyard describes his experience in the earthquake. Beneath the video, there are several photographs highlighting some of the earthquake realities we witnessed first hand.


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NESSING

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Unlike Gatlang, Nessing is a mountain village without road access. With Pastor Prem’s brother as our guide, we trekked for two hours through the mountains to get to Nessing from Gatlang.

Serving in Nessing

Pastor Raju and Suresh Tolange (worship leader and intern) from Kathmandu Vineyard had spent several weeks in Nessing prior to our arrival. They had been rebuilding homes, befriending villagers and learning their language (Tamang), and facilitating gatherings at the Vineyard to encourage people in Jesus. Of the approximately 70 homes in Nessing, around 50 of them are believers, with a few people getting baptized just days before we arrived. It was a joy to see Pastor Raju, Suresh, and Pastor Kunni (pastor of Nessing Vineyard).

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Suresh plays guitar outside Nessing Vineyard

Pastor Raju took us for a brief walk around Nessing and we especially enjoyed hanging out at the far end of the village, with its stunning mountain views. That evening, the Vineyard was screening “The Passion of the Christ” and many people came to watch. We had supper and eventually went to bed, sleeping on the floor of Nessing Vineyard.

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View of “neighbouring” village from Nessing

Saturday Service

The next morning was a gorgeous Saturday morning, with clear views of the Himalayas. People began trickling into the Vineyard in their very best traditional clothing and eventually the Vineyard was packed with people for the morning service. Suresh led worship and the people poured themselves into it, filling the room with singing. Nessing Vineyard was commissioning several new leaders and I had the great privilege of praying for and blessing them.

I preached on the story of Jesus’ interaction with Bartimaeus, how Jesus asked “What do you want me to do for you?” At one point, I asked everyone how many of them had experienced Jesus healing them – nearly everyone raised their hand. People seemed to engage deeply in ministry time and several people expressed a desire to take the gospel outside the village and share Jesus beyond Nessing. It was so very inspiring; Nessing Vineyard is alive and on fire.

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Those raising their hands have experienced Jesus healing them

After the service, we took a group photograph and then trekked down two hours or so with Pastor Raju and Suresh to Syabrubesi, the normal point of origin for treks in the Langtang Valley. We met Sonam (who drove us everywhere during our time in Nepal) and our vehicle there and eventually arrived in Kathmandu late in the evening.


GORKHA

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Pastor Raju is from Gorkha and we travelled with him there for an overnight stay. Gorkha was the epicentre region of the earthquake; it’s about a six hour drive north-west of Kathmandu, south of the China border. Though many homes (including Pastor Raju’s parents’) were destroyed in the earthquake, thankfully the Vineyard building remained intact.

We stayed at the Gorkha Vineyard (some of us sleeping on the floor of the church and others in a tent outside) and Pastor Paul and Subadra (pastors of Gorkha Vineyard) took excellent care of us, providing us with great meals and gracious hospitality. Gorkha has a lot of fertile land and the food is all fresh, home grown, and organic.

Teaching and Training

Pastor Paul had invited people (as well as pastors from other churches) to come the next day for some teaching and training. I did three hours of teaching from the third and fourth chapters of Luke – on Jesus’ baptism, temptation, and the inauguration of his mission. Afterwards, everyone ate lunch together care of Gorkha Vineyard. We spent the evening relaxing and finished with another great meal at Pastor Paul and Subadra’s home. The next day, after lunch at Pastor Raju’s parents’, we drove back to Kathmandu.


REFLECTIONS

Words don’t do justice to all that we witnessed, experienced, and felt during our time in Nepal. Nonetheless, there were a few recurring themes our team discerned throughout the course of our activities.

First, the HRV excels in hospitality. One cannot possibly enumerate the cups of tea and snacks shared, the meals provided, the homes in which we were invited, and the plentiful ways we were not only welcomed but honoured. Right from the leadership to the very poorest of church members, the Vineyard in Nepal is an exemplary model of gracious, abundant hospitality. We were treated like close family everywhere we went, and it was overwhelming.

Second, there is a strong coherence of vision within the HRV. All of the Vineyard communities are deeply committed to worship, prayer, and outreach – these things are entirely non-negotiable. Worship and prayer were regular features of virtually every gathering or encounter in which we participated, regardless of whether we were in church services or at a farewell dinner. Jesus is welcomed, adored, and sought in every sphere of life.

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Wednesday morning prayer, Chhampi Vineyard

Outreach is also part and parcel of the way the gospel is lived out, regardless of the size or resources of the Vineyard church in question. Though Chhampi Vineyard, for example, takes in a weekly offering of around 250-400 rupees (around CAD$3-5), the church still reserves money for food hampers for Lugandol and visits the village faithfully every week. It is no wonder there is such growth in the HRV; the Vineyard churches go, and the sheer numbers of people who have experienced healing, deliverance, have come to faith, been baptized, and become part of the Vineyard is a testimony to this commitment.

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House visits and outreach in Chhampi

Third, there is high degree of strength and unity amongst the leadership. Pastors and leaders from various Vineyard churches, regardless of geographic distance, seem deeply connected in friendship. Leaders enjoy one another and there is a high degree of understanding, camaraderie, and teamwork amongst them. Perhaps this is in part a result of the earthquake, which required a uniquely concerted, unified effort on the part of the HRV leadership. Regardless of the exact reasons, it is obvious that the leadership is thriving.

Finally, there is a radical, obvious, and palpable passion for and faith in Jesus. You can sense this vitality in how people give their money during offerings and especially in times of worship, prayer, and ministry. Young children, youth, adults, and elders worship alike with abandon. During every occasion of prayer, people pray together in unison, with scarcely a bystander. There is significant engagement with and participation in ministry time, with people often streaming forward for prayer. There is real, prevalent belief that Jesus not only exists, but cares and acts in the here and now. And there is a beautiful sense of people being unashamed of Jesus, of people not being self-conscious in pursuing Jesus with everything they have. The Vineyard communities are alive and flourishing with faith.

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CHHAMPI

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Chhampi is another village on the outskirts of Kathmandu, within an hour’s drive of the city. We visited the village twice – once for a two-day stay and another time just for the day.

House Visits

Shortly after our first visit, we hopped into our trusty vehicle and visited a few Vineyard people’s homes in the afternoon. Two years ago, we met a lady named Thuli Amma; she’s since become a leader in the Vineyard. Her house was completely destroyed by the earthquake. Her new home is beside her old one, and we drank tea together and listened to her tell her story of coming to believe in Jesus. After praying for her, we went to visit David Tamang, who was the first believer in the village and whose home used to serve as the meeting place for the Vineyard. The next day we visited Maila Dai and his wife in their home. We had a good time visiting and praying for people.

Accommodations and Service

Pastor Uddav and Puja are the leaders of Chhampi Vineyard. Their home was also completely destroyed by the earthquake. A Hindu family gave them and many others shelter – 40 people lived together in close quarters as they were waiting for their new homes to be built. Pastor Uddav says this was a blessing as it enabled him to really get to know the people of his village. Now, Pastor Uddav, Puja, and their baby girl Ulani, live in a tin structure that shares a wall with the Chhampi Vineyard. I stayed with them and Erin, Natalie, and Laura slept in the Chhampi Vineyard building.

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Puja, Uddav, Ulani, and Jenish (from left to right)

On our first evening in Chhampi, we had a great time worshipping together. There are several ladies who love to dance during worship and inevitably they pulled a few of us into worship. At one point, there were several of us dancing together before the Lord, and it was absolutely delightful. The four of us from the School of Justice shared on loving God and loving your neighbour. Once again, ministry time was remarkable, with a sweet sense of the Spirit touching and filling people with the love of God.

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Afterwards, several of us went to the shop at the junction of the village to enjoy some tea with truly fresh milk. It was heavenly! We then went back to Pastor Uddav and Puja’s home for dinner and, eventually, bedtime.

Lugandol

The next morning, after a great breakfast with Pastor Uddav and Puja, a group of people from Chhampi Vineyard gathered for prayer before outreach to a nearby village called Lugandol. Lugandol is about a thirty minute walk from Chhampi and, as of now, currently has no believers – it’s an entirely Hindu village. The Vineyard has been reaching out with food hampers, relationship, and prayer and we were excited to participate.

We saw wonderful things in Lugandol. After handing out food hampers the first time we visited, we met an elderly lady whose knees had been troublesome for quite some time. We prayed for her and when we asked her to try walking, she did a little jig and said that the pain was gone – she was completely healed.

We also heard that there was a man who was paralyzed on one side of his body, and were eager to pray for him. People told us not to waste our time as they believed he was going to die. His wife was fatigued from having to take care of him. When we saw him, he looked like a ghost of a person – totally weak and lifeless. Apparently he had not moved from his house in 30 days. As we greeted him, he had to lift one of his hands with the other to greet us back. We prayed for him and after the first round of prayer, asked how he was feeling. He was responding and talking to us, and we came to find out that since his paralysis he hadn’t been able to hear. Yet now, somehow, Jesus had opened his ears and he was hearing and talking!

This of course gave us more faith to pray that he’d be able to walk. We prayed for him again and afterwards, asked if we could help him up. He agreed and as we helped him, his legs were strong enough to walk to the other side of his home! After this episode, and before we visited the man a second time a week or so later, Pastor Uddav told us that the man was walking around the village. When we finally saw him for the second time, he was lying down in his home. Entirely on his own strength, he sat up, greeted us (this time with both hands functioning) and then proceeded to pick up the mat he was sitting on, walk outside with it, and sit down and visit with us. It was incredible to see him so filled with life. We saw Jesus heal a deaf, paralyzed man!

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The second time we visited Lugandol, we prayed for a woman whose right eye was totally blind and had been for years. She had visited doctors, who had told her there was nothing they could do for her. As we prayed for her, she said she could see flickers of light and said that she now had confidence that she would be able to completely see. God’s presence was strong upon this lady as we prayed for her. We also prayed for a woman who described feeling “thorns” all over her body. Pastor Ramesh felt that this was a result of all the spiritual practices going on in her home – the lady’s husband is a witch doctor. We prayed for her and as we did, her husband joined us, so we asked him if we could pray for him too and he agreed! He said he had pain “from the gods” on his head and legs on occasion, so we laid hands on him and prayed. As we were doing so, he said the pain was moving from one leg to the other. We prayed that Jesus would reveal himself to the witch doctor as the one, true God. Afterward, the man looked brighter and more joyful. Lugandol was a special place for us indeed.


GATLANG

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View of Gatlang (the small collection of homes)

From Kathmandu, we drove around eight hours to Gatlang, a traditional mountain village in Rasuwa district which is near the Tibet border. The drive through the mountains is at once beautiful and treacherous, requiring some death-defying driving which Sonam (on staff at Kathmandu Vineyard, and our driver) handled expertly.

Our small, wooden guest house had quite a view of Lantang Lirung, the highest mountain in the Langtang Himal range. Even though Nepal is full of hills and mountains, seeing the Himalayas is always uniquely breathtaking. We met Pastor Prem and two other leaders from Gatlang Vineyard, enjoyed some tea together, and then turned in for the night after finding (and killing) around eight spiders in our rooms!

Post-Earthquake Devastation

The next morning Pastor Prem met us for breakfast at the guest house, after which he took us to visit various people from the Vineyard. We sat in their homes and prayed for them. The devastation and discouragement wrought by the earthquake was the most obvious here of all the places we visited. The rubble of stone houses is ubiquitous and though no one from the Vineyard here (or anywhere in the HRV for that matter) died during the earthquake, virtually everyone’s home in Gatlang was destroyed. This includes Pastor Prem’s home, his family’s, and the youth leader’s. In fact, all that remains of the old Vineyard building is one isolated, mint-green wall. The Vineyard is now meeting in a make-shift wood and tin structure. We felt for Pastor Prem and the congregation.

Lemba

Perhaps one of our most special interactions was with a man named Lemba. Lemba is unable to speak and has trouble seeing through one eye. His parents passed away and their graves are side by side on his property; he lives alone. He is part of the Gatlang Vineyard and Pastor Prem told us that he is one of their strongest believers, regularly praying for people for healing. He radiated the joy and light of Jesus. He was thrilled to welcome us into his home and seemed so pleased that we had visited. We prayed for him and afterwards, he excitedly showed us various fruit trees on his property. Pastor Prem told us that he wanted us to return to eat the fruit in season.

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We finished our time in Gatlang at Pastor Prem’s home, having tea, talking, and praying with the family.

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In May 2016, a little over a year after the devastating earthquakes in Nepal, four of us (Laura Dahl, Erin O’Neill, myself, Natalie Hamm, pictured above) from the buy phentermine online legally travelled to Nepal to be with the buy phentermine fresno ca churches there. This is the first installment of what will be a four part report.

There are currently six established Vineyard churches in Nepal – in Kathmandu, Kotgaon, Chhampi, Gatlang, Nessing, and Gorkha. Our team visited all six churches, which is a particularly special feat given geographic considerations – it takes an eight hour drive from Kathmandu followed by a two hour trek in the mountains to get to the Vineyard in Nessing, for example.

KATHMANDU

“The Mother Church”

One of the first things you notice when you arrive at Kathmandu Vineyard is that it’s a complex. There’s a large sanctuary where the Saturday service (Sunday is a work day in Nepal) and other meetings take place, a spacious courtyard in the centre of the premises, and an assortment of rooms surrounding the courtyard.

Children who live in outlying Nepali villages frequently have insufficient access to education; some also experience unstable family situations. As a result, the Vineyard has faithfully taken in children over the years, providing them with a place to live and a healthy family environment, and facilitating their education. One of the joys of staying at Kathmandu Vineyard is being able to live and interact with these children. Though people refer to Kathmandu Vineyard as “the mother church” because it’s the biggest, oldest Vineyard in the HRV and serves as hub, the phrase is also an apt description of practical ways the community promotes the wellbeing of children.

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The courtyard at Kathmandu Vineyard

Wednesday Prayer Meeting

Wednesday is a day of prayer and fasting and since our first full day was a Wednesday, we joined the prayer meeting. It began to rain as we started. During worship, a woman began to manifest a demon – engaging with these sorts of realities is a common occurrence in the HRV. The leaders told us that they’d been praying for this woman to be free. Several of us gathered around and prayed for her, rebuking the evil spirit in the name of Jesus and hearing it retort (in Nepali) things like “I’m not going to leave!” and “She belongs to me!” Eventually, the woman reported some respite and peace, though she sensed that she needed more prayer to be completely free. A few weeks later, one leader told me that she had since been totally freed.

Moments such as these are good reminders – especially for those of us entrenched in a Western cultural mindset – that we struggle against “powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil” (Ephesians 6:12). Being a kingdom people committed to the Lord Jesus Christ and to bringing his rule and reign everywhere inevitably puts us in conflict with the enemy’s schemes. Few things so poignantly illustrate the reality of this conflict (and ultimately the supremacy of Jesus and his kingdom) like deliverance from demonic oppression.

Saturday Services, Youth, House Fellowship

We attended two services at Kathmandu Vineyard. The first was “combined” – every first Saturday of the month, Kathmandu Vineyard hosts the Vineyard communities from Kotgaon and Chhampi (both villages are within an hour’s drive). The second service was a normal gathering with just the Kathmandu Vineyard community.

Though the former was more packed with people, both were equally electric. I have been with the HRV several times, and I am always undone by the sheer vitality of the worship and prayer. The passion and zeal with which people pursue Jesus is almost palpable. This is no doubt a testimony to the fact that so many have come to faith because of personal experiences of healing or deliverance. Such experiences render Jesus as real and as far as I can tell, the earthquake has in no way diminished people’s passion and zeal.

I preached at the two services: first on the story of Jesus raising Lazarus in John 11 and second on the story of Jesus healing a man with leprosy in Luke 5. On both occasions, many people came forward for ministry – it was awesome, to say the least. After the combined service, four people got baptized, which was a wonderful way to end our gathering together.

After the services, everyone mingles in the courtyard and enjoys juice or tea together. Several smaller gatherings follow – for fathers, mothers, youth etc. Natalie and Erin shared at the youth fellowship on the first and last Saturday we were in Nepal, respectively.

We also attended a house fellowship one evening. The host family has the farthest commute to Kathmandu Vineyard of anyone in the congregation. Natalie, Erin, and Laura shared spectacularly on women and the importance of women in ministry. As we were about to close in prayer, the family asked that we would pray for their son. He was traveling home from India and the family had not heard from him in a week. As we began to pray, the mother burst into tears – how unimaginable the torment of not knowing your own child’s whereabouts. Amazingly, the son got in touch two days later!

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House fellowship

Outreach

The exciting, beautiful things that happen within the walls of Kathmandu Vineyard are but one facet of the community’s life. A great deal happens outside, as a result of the leaders’ faithful commitment to go and share the love of Jesus with those on the margins.

Once a week, a group from Kathmandu Vineyard visits the so-called “riverbed” – a crowded slum alongside the highly polluted Bagmati River. There is quite a long, beautiful history of connection. Recently, the Vineyard began visiting a different part of the riverbed where people haven’t heard the gospel. The Vineyard provided a water tank so that those living in the area could access clean water.

We went to the riverbed one Monday afternoon, handed out food hampers, met with people in their make-shift shelters, and prayed for whatever needs arose as a result.

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Riverbed

Afterwards, we visited several single mothers who are part of Kathmandu Vineyard. Single mothers are often heavily stigmatized in Nepali culture, not to mention impoverished, so it’s entirely fitting for the church to make a bee-line for them and surround them with compassion and support. The Vineyard has provided seed money to many of these women so that they can start small businesses (managing a little snack or vegetable cart, for example) with a view to becoming self-sufficient.

We visited one woman (Sushila Didi, a leader in Kathmandu Vineyard who was in our School of Justice two years ago) in her home. She lives in tiny quarters with her children, three floors up in a precarious building that is especially so after the earthquake. As we prayed for her, she felt the tangible warmth of God’s presence on her head. Afterwards, she brought out Sprite and snacks that she had especially bought to share with us.

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Precarious housing

During our time in Kathmandu, we also visited two men who were sick: one in hospital and one resting at home. Though the latter is a believer, he’s not part of the Vineyard. Both men are friends of leaders from the Vineyard, which is why we visited them. It was yet another great example of how the people in the Vineyard care for those outside their own walls and circles.


KOTGAON

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View from Kotgaon guest house

Raju and Amit

Kotgaon is a 200-year old village, about an hour’s drive from Kathmandu, and situated in the hills above the Kathmandu Valley. Two years ago, our Nepali School of Justice went to Kotgaon and prayed for a man, Raju, who hadn’t left his bed in weeks due to depression and physical ailments. That evening as we prayed, we saw Raju walk to the other side of his home and by the end of our time in Nepal, he was sitting in Kathmandu Vineyard during a combined service.

I have often thought of Raju and the experience as it was a profound window into the compassion and power of God. As our team drove towards Kotgaon this time, I asked about Raju and was told that he was doing well. Even more exciting, we were going to visit him.

Raju’s family home was entirely destroyed by the earthquake. His new home is replete with light and colour, as is his countenance, which is a stark contrast to the way he appeared that evening when we first met him two years ago. We sat and talked with him and his father, Amit, who loves praying for healing and has acquired quite a reputation in the village. Hindu neighbours bring him their sick animals (goats etc.) and as Amit lays hands on them and prays, they get healed! We prayed for and blessed his passion for healing and he had a tangible sense of God’s presence touching his body. A few of us received prayer from Amit and Raju afterwards. Interestingly, just as with the Kathmandu Vineyard prayer meeting, every time we started to pray, it began to rain! By the third or fourth time, we felt delighted at the realization that the natural was somehow speaking of the invisible.

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Outside Raju and Amit’s new home

Water

We stayed for two days and one night in Kotgaon, at a guesthouse with a spectacular view of the Kathmandu Valley. During the days, Pastor Madan (pastor of Kotgaon Vineyard) took us around the village. Given its location, Kotgaon is in desperate need of water; Pastor Madan is involved with a drilling project and drilling was to commence the day after our arrival. He took us to the prospective drilling site and we prayed that water would be found and that somehow, even as the rains had come whenever we prayed earlier, that God would provide water for the village. We later found out that the project had successfully found water 300 feet deep into the mountain! The village is still in need of financing for all the associated costs of the water project.

Services

Pastor Madan arranged two special mid-week services at Kotgaon Vineyard for us to do some teaching and ministry. At one service, I shared on the story of Jesus forgiving and healing the paralyzed man who was lowered through the roof. At another service, Natalie shared on the story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well; how Jesus gives and is living water. On both occasions, many people came forward for ministry and we had a chance to lay hands on and pray for lots of people. The Spirit was moving deeply, and it was particularly humbling to see people – some very elderly and hardly able to walk – respond to the invitation to receive forgiveness by coming forward and falling to their knees. These people then prayed for others who were responding to the invitation to receive healing. What a touching glimpse of the kingdom.

Meals

We were shown such remarkable hospitality in Kotgaon. A Vineyard family prepared a wonderful dinner for us in their home, we were invited to breakfast at another lady’s home (the first believer in the village, in fact!), and had a fantastic lunch at Pastor Madan’s house on our last day.

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After six months of learning in the where can i buy phentermine hcl 37.5mg, we had the privilege of celebrating our four students this past Monday evening with a moving graduation ceremony. Below you can see the year-end video screened in their honour, read Suhail’s (the director of the school) commencement address, as well as the pieces read for each student prior to their receipt of their graduation certificate. It was a thrilling and celebratory evening, and we finished with photographs, cake, and some delicious punch! Congratulations Shawn, George, Cora, and Brad – the best is yet to come!


YEAR END VIDEO


COMMENCEMENT ADDRESS

In 2006, the BBC Natural History Unit premiered an 11-part television series narrated by David Attenborough called “Planet Earth.” The series was five years in the making, was the most expensive ever to be commissioned by the BBC, and was the first of its kind to be filmed in high definition. The result is a truly incomparable cinematic feat – both in terms of its global scope and its unparalleled footage of animals in their natural habitat.

The first episode surveys several locations across the planet, and happens to include my favourite segment in the entire series: the Kalahari desert in Southern Africa. Covering a surface of red sand of almost a million square kilometers in Botswana and Namibia, the Kalahari gets its name from two Tswana words meaning “the great thirst” and “a waterless place.” These descriptions thoroughly characterize the experience of a vast array of animals that inhabit the Kalahari.

During the height of the dry season, thousands of elephants embark on a journey hundreds of miles towards a vast inland area called the Okavango valley. The journey is arduous, exhausting, long, but the animals are propelled by a desperate thirst, as well as by the prospect of water. Water, you see – and all the life it holds – is its own motivation and reward.

But technically, water isn’t in the Okavango. It falls around a thousand miles away in the highlands of Angola and nearly five months later, after coursing, bending, and turning its way through the African landscape, it arrives in the valley, transforming the Kalahari into – as David Attenborough says – “a fertile paradise [and] a lush waterworld.” My favourite scene in the episode, let alone the series, is an underwater perspective of a particular animal moving through a newly formed Okavango lake. It’s an elephant, and all you see is its legs – once so coarse, dry, and cracked from miles of walking through the Kalahari – now paddling, swimming, and playing in billows of bubbles and water.

This year’s Vineyard School of Justice reminds me of this Kalahari tale: of the Okavango becoming an oasis, of deserts becoming pools, of the deepest thirst mingling with a steady stream of hope.

You see our neighbourhood, the North End, though brimming with life of all kinds, is so often also a desert. Economic disadvantage and poverty, coupled with the absence of major grocery stores, profoundly limits access to healthy, affordable, and fresh food. In their lives prior to school and even during their time in school, this year’s students have had to navigate the challenges of this “food desert” in one way or another. They’ve also all experienced their own wastelands of loneliness, suffered the desolations of charred families and relationships, and faced the cold, hard facts of trauma which flung them to the comfort of addiction, only to find it a disappointing mirage. They know, in the very marrow of their bones, the meaning of the Tswana words: they understand great thirst and they’re familiar with a waterless place.

Yet it is precisely in this kind of desert that thirst becomes real. And it was this real thirst – especially for belonging, for justice, for God – paired with some vague hope of satisfaction that drew our four graduates to the School of Justice this year.

You – students of this year’s school – have been the most noble of travelers. You heard the voice of one calling to you in the wilderness, and you responded. This year you have especially journeyed – often through the dirt, dust, and cobwebs of injustice behind, around, and within you – to move closer to this voice because you believe from it springs the words of life. I deeply admire your courage, belief, your faith even – you have demonstrated a stunning certainty about what you hope for and a surprising sureness about what you cannot see.

You have defied the expectations of your own histories – which are in so many ways filled with deserts in their own right – but you have also defied the expectations of our society. You have studied and lived contrary to what people think is possible, recognizing that you were made for more than what your environment claims and, in fact, that God – the creator – made you. And together you have been on a radical journey to recognize Him everywhere and to invite his kingdom into every traveler and desert till His glory covers the earth as waters cover the sea.

But yours is not the only journey to speak of this evening.

A few thousand years ago, in the highlands of Bethlehem, God – the fountain of living water and life itself – trickled into humanity as a baby in an animal feeding trough. This birth inaugurated ripples of a kingdom which would swell and surge around Palestine, and eventually spill into the ends of the earth.

It has been such a joy to see both journeys come together this year: to see the heights of heaven flow to the depths of your thirst; to see Jesus and his kingdom run into and overwhelm your shore, flooding your lives and transforming so many of the dry parts of your hearts into reservoirs of love, faith, and compassion. In so doing, heaven has come to earth; Eden has moved a little more into the North End; and you now know even more what satisfaction feels like. We call all of this justice – one of God’s deepest desires and greatest works – and together we have felt its power, healing, and delightfulness first hand.

I am so proud of you. For not giving up, for coming back when you left, for sharing when it hurt, for taking risks of faith and stepping onto water, for finishing well. And I am proud to have had you as my teachers and guides. My life is fuller because of you, and I thank you for trusting me and sharing yourselves so generously with me. All of us here this evening celebrate you and your achievements – many of which cannot be spoken of, much less listed. Nonetheless, it is obvious that you are different people – you have encountered God and become more like him – and we know that the Spirit has written on each of your hearts in ways that are too deep for words to express.

Tonight we find ourselves in peculiar moment. On one hand, we reflect on several months of excellent learning; on the other hand, we look forward to how all of this will translate into real living. With both hands we thank and praise God, who is and will be faithful to complete the good work that He has started in you. You are finishing one thing, and you are also beginning another. You see there are many more thirsty people out there, waiting to be satisfied – orphans, widows, brothers and sisters who are impoverished, marginalised, abused, addicted, prostituted, homeless, hungry, lonely.

Listen to what Isaiah 41:17-20 says:

“The poor and needy search for water,
but there is none;
their tongues are parched with thirst.
But I the Lord will answer them;
I, the God of Israel, will not forsake them.
18 I will make rivers flow on barren heights,
and springs within the valleys.
I will turn the desert into pools of water,
and the parched ground into springs.
19 I will put in the desert
the cedar and the acacia, the myrtle and the olive.
I will set junipers in the wasteland,
the fir and the cypress together,
20 so that people may see and know,
may consider and understand,
that the hand of the Lord has done this,
that the Holy One of Israel has created it.

This evening we bless you to be God’s answers; his very own rivers of justice sent from the creator to the lowliest and most desolate of places and flowing like a never-ending stream. We bless you to know what is good and what the Lord requires of you: to love mercy and walk humbly with God into the desert, flooding it with the rain of his kingdom and his Spirit. We bless you to especially notice and love parched people, that through you they might taste and see that the Lord is good. And we bless you to go into the unlikeliest of places, even right here into our very own neighbourhood, and to invite as many as you can to drink of living water and, ultimately, to paddle and splash in an impossible pool of God’s joy. Just as you have. Just like elephants in the Okavango.


PRESENTATION OF GRADUATION CERTIFICATES

The prospect of being in the school of justice so captivated this student’s heart that he decided to enrol months prior to the beginning of this year’s program. Even more, each month he would diligently set aside a portion of his Employment Income Assistance money to cover his school fees. He was the first confirmed participant of our program this year. A few weeks before we started, his mother – whom he loves so very dearly – passed away. Understanding his need for safety, support, and family, she encouraged him to continue with school as planned; she sensed that he was in good hands here with us. She was right. But we were in good hands with him too; the school would not have been the same without him. We have been blessed by his selflessness and service – he often prepares coffee before class, rolls cigarettes and shares them with his classmates, and even walks them home. Though understandably tempted to isolate himself, he has remained faithful to God, his classmates, to school, and to his mother’s wishes. And in great courage and bravery he has stepped far outside of his comfort zone, and flourished. Tonight, here and now, all of heaven is celebrating and says: “This is my son, whom I love, in whom I am well pleased.” Thank you for showing us what faithfulness that reaches to the skies looks like. George Matiowsky.

The real value of education is not what one can recite but how one’s life is transformed. The system labelled this student as being unable to process information normally. During our unit called “A Just Vision” on the importance of seeing people not issues, this student walked home and saw a man who was idling on the street. Though he would’ve normally judged the man – thinking he ought to be working rather than simply collecting welfare money – this student took a moment to see deeply, with the eyes of Jesus. He saw that the man was missing a foot and felt compassion and empathy for him. This student’s vision has changed dramatically throughout the course of this year, and he sees God much more clearly. In desperate times he has called out to Jesus and has seen God come through miraculously for him. On one occasion he was praying desperately for provision and at that very moment twenty dollars floated across the pavement. Now he sees the fingerprints of the creator on the lives of others and, perhaps most miraculously, even on his own life. It’s no wonder that he gets lost in worship and prayer, with eyes closed and hands raised in praise and thanksgiving to the God who saves. Thank you for showing us that that anyone who is in Christ is a new creation; the old is gone and the new has come. Bradley Morand.

With a sparkling intelligence, an avid curiosity, and a genuine openness to others, this student’s presence in the school was a true gift. She – and there was only one she this year – made class enjoyable with her consistent participation and enthusiasm about what we were learning. She is one of the most hospitable and transparent people you will ever meet – sharing her thoughts and feelings with great generosity of spirit. She makes others feel like gold because she easily recognizes people’s strengths and goodness, and doesn’t hesitate to affirm, encourage, and celebrate them. She cares. About the world. About justice. About people. About her family. About her children. She cares with a gentle ferocity and though it may not be loud and flashy, she will be with you through thick and thin, in humble companionship. This student has a very deep, profound desire for God, and it has been a joy to watch the Spirit lavishly pour himself upon her and to see how sensitive she is to even his most subtle whispers and movements. She is a woman full of faith in God who will not turn her back on what she knows and believes despite the many obstacles and challenges that may come her way. Thank you for showing us that in quietness and trust there is strength. Coralynn Stevenson.

This student has been a familiar fixture of Winnipeg Centre Vineyard. His hands have many times scrubbed and cleaned the very floor of this room. He has facilitated worship here in more ways than we can express. Even more, he loves and worships God with a rare, precious kind of honesty. He never pretends, he’s real about who he is and what he thinks, and is always honest about what’s going on and how he’s feeling. During the first weekly debrief of the school, he entrusted us with the most vulnerable story of his life and, by example, set the stage for the true community and sharing that has so characterized our school this year. He has consistently faced his demons and let Christ get the better of him, and he has been overtaken with the new life of the kingdom. Though he thought he was unable to feel emotion, his heart has beaten faster and faster to God’s drum. The Spirit came upon him powerfully during school, reducing him to tears, and subsequently motivating him to pray for around 30 people the following Sunday. Two weeks ago, we wrote letters to those persecuted for their faith, and in his letter to a Christian in prison in China, this student wrote “I wish I could trade places with you.” Thank you for showing us what it looks like to be the kind of worshipper the Father is seeking, one who worships in Spirit and in truth. Shawn Wood.