Most of the letters in the New Testament open with a hearty, “thank you!” This gratitude isn’t random. Whether it’s Paul or John, the New Testament authors intentionally voice their gratitude for the faith and transformation they see in Christ’s churches expanding through the world.

Take a look at the underlining in the 11 passages below:

  1. “First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed in all the world.” - Romans 1:8
  2. “I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus…” - 1 Corinthians 1:4
  3. “For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers…”- Ephesians 1:15–16
  4. “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.” - Philippians 1:3–5
  5. “We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints…” - Colossians 1:3–4
  6. “We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers, remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.” - 1 Thessalonians 1:2–3
  7.  “We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers, as is right, because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of every one of you for one another is increasing. Therefore we ourselves boast about you in the churches of God for your steadfastness and faith in all your persecutions and in the afflictions that you are enduring.” - 2 Thessalonians 1:3–4
  8. “I thank God whom I serve, as did my ancestors, with a clear conscience, as I remember you constantly in my prayers night and day. As I remember your tears, I long to see you, that I may be filled with joy. I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well.” - 2 Timothy 1:3–5
  9. “I thank my God always when I remember you in my prayers, because I hear of your love and of the faith that you have toward the Lord Jesus and for all the saints, and I pray that the sharing of your faith may become effective for the full knowledge of every good thing that is in us for the sake of Christ. For I have derived much joy and comfort from your love, my brother, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you.” - Philemon 4–7
  10.  “I rejoiced greatly to find some of your children walking in the truth, just as we were commanded by the Father.” - 2 John 4
  11.  “For I rejoiced greatly when the brothers came and testified to your truth, as indeed you are walking in the truth. I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.” - 3 John 3–4

Paul thanks God for the faith of the churches he is writing to, while John describes their faith as his “children walking in the truth.” But both feel compelled to begin their letters with gratitude.

As I close this year, I feel compelled to say, “thank you” to God for his work in our lives. I don’t do this in a sentimental or light-hearted way. The year has had its share of heartbreaking sadnesses, consistent sicknesses in our family and I know many at Harvest have walked through significant suffering. But, following in the pattern of Paul and John, I have to say “thank you” to God for the grace that I see at work in the lives of Harvest members.

One of the clear examples of this, is the Witness Ministry Team’s development and growth the last two years. When I arrived in the summer of 2021, we began with a team of 3 or 4 people who predated my time at Harvest. The first steps, as a team, were a bit wobbly as we were uncertain of what working together as a witness team should look like. 

Learning to lead a team was an area where I needed to grow significantly. I had never done anything like this in previous ministry. By God’s grace, two years later, we have 9 witness team members (Elley Buehler, Chris DeRuischer, Nicki Gotch (treasurer), Don McCrory, Joseph Turnbull, Derek Stumph, Carol VanWyke (clerk),  Brennen Winter & me). In our last meeting, we also had two additional visitors who were interested to learn more about the witness ministry team. If you would like to visit, please don’t hesitate to send me a note (adrian.crum@harvestopc.org)!

In our last two meetings, we have developed and implemented witness team subcommittees: 

1. Events
2. Short/long-term missions
3. Evangelism training. 

These three groups will be: 1. Developing, planning and recruiting volunteers for our evangelistic events, 2. Expanding relationships with foreign missionaries, vetting, promoting and coordinating short-term mission trips, and 3. Training Harvest members to grow in joy, clarity and boldness in learning how to talk to non-Christians.

Our witness ministry team meets on the same evenings as ESL. This gives us the opportunity to sit down with the students over their snack break, and get to see the wonderful work that the Lord is doing through our volunteers on Thursday nights.

Another area of growth and stability I’ve seen is Harvest’s Anchored Youth group. I am so grateful for 12 solid adult volunteer leaders: Rick and Sarah Bierling, Justin Bromhead, Bani Li, Jim Noorman, Scott Post, Josh Richline, Steve and Susan Vanderwey, Sonia Wielhouwer, Brennen Winter & me. We have also resumed a practice, from a few years ago, of encouraging our seniors to lead the Bible study discussions. This is a great opportunity for leadership development, and to see older students challenging those younger than them to grow in the Gospel. The youth group is about to complete a series in the book of Philippians using an excellent study written by Elaine Monsma.

This coming summer, Anchored Youth plans to return to Boardwalk Chapel (June 22-29). For the first time, Grace Fellowship has been praying about sending some of their youth group members to join us on this trip. We look forward to a Boardwalk Chapel themed Missions Banquet (March 9, 2023). Mark your calendars! More information coming soon.

I could list the hundreds of encouraging conversations, times of prayer and growth I’ve seen in our church in 2023 with so many Harvest members. But I’m running out of space in this post! Praise the Lord for his faithfulness another year as we make our pilgrimage of faith to our everlasting rest in Heaven. May God do wonderful things in us and through us in 2024!

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