Forgiveness and unforgiveness are matters of the heart, they are not merely topics to address by way of intellect. Yet how many of us legalistically proclaim “forgiveness” from behind the bars of our spiritual prisons of secretly and not-so-secretly harbored cynicism, selfishness, sadness, emptiness, hatred, and anger?
Far too often and far too easily we talk of Truth and propriety with no intention of truly being proper in our ethic, except, perhaps, before those who would expect such decency. And we are proudly unrepentant of this, forgetting that there is freedom in being forgiven. For when we cease to forgive as we have been forgiven by Jesus Christ, a spirit of un-forgiveness flourishes and births all manner of evil (2 Cor. 2:10-11).
So why do we fear men and their judgment rather than the One Who ultimately judges our hearts? Do we know who we are? Do we know Whose we are? My heart aches to see so many of Jesus’ own “leaving their first love,” which is Jesus Himself (Rev. 2:4). Their former eagerness and fierceness in holding fast to Christ has faded and been exchanged for a holding fast to self, adopting a faint-hearted devotion to Jesus’ teaching while neglecting Him as Teacher, leading to faint-hearted prayers that seek only what God can give rather than worshiping Who He is.
Indeed, a darkness has crept into the Church Body that steals hope, breaks the human spirit, and wears down the soul to the point of despair. The world itself is broken, though Jesus offers comfort in His counsel that because lawlessness abounds, the love of many will grow cold; but he who endures to the end shall be saved (Matt. 24:12-13). And who can endure to the end? No one, save those who cling to Christ alone as Savior and Lord.
The enemy is sowing doubt, suffering, and despair as never before. In turn, the testing of Jesus’ followers (particularly in the West) will demand discipline and sacrifice as never before. Being that the prison of un-forgiveness of self and others is the root of most people’s emotional and spiritual pain, it is our objective via Isaiah 61:1 and John 14:12 to work with Christ through relationships and revelation toward freeing those around us from such darkness. Though we must ask ourselves, Have we been set free from bondage through the same? If not, then speaking of being unbound from any bondage will ring silent, for it is our living example of being liberated in Christ that fills the hollow of hearts in desperate need. Just as the Word became flesh and dwelt among men, so our words must become flesh that supplies substance to what we preach lest our counsel be barren.
Think of the adulteress who sought forgiveness at Jesus’ feet, and received it. She had been brought to Jesus by the Jewish “judge and jury” to be stoned according to the Law (Lev. 20:10; John 8:1-11), but Jesus fulfilled the Law by loving her and offering grace (Matt. 5:17). The infinite power of forgiveness was demonstrated as Jesus expressed His love for the woman by averting swift judgment and emboldening her to “sin no more.”
Surprisingly, there is also a commonly overlooked expression of mercy toward the woman’s accusers embedded within this incident. Upon being pressed concerning the stoning of the adulteress, Jesus began to write on the ground with His finger, then challenged that any among them without sin should cast the first stone. Of course, all standing in judgment of the woman encountered a conviction of conscience and so left with no stones pitched.
But what was Jesus writing on the ground? Jeremiah 17:13 provides revelation: “O LORD, the hope of Israel, all who forsake You shall be ashamed. Those who depart from Me shall be written in the earth, because they have forsaken the LORD, the fountain of living waters.”
The forgiven adulteress undoubtedly has her name written, not in the earth, but in the Lamb’s Book of Life (Rev. 21:27). The potency of forgiveness cannot be trivialized and should never be undervalued in the life of one who claims to follow Jesus.
Jon Birch is cofounder of Recover Church, a discipleship-driven movement purposing to recover and promote the early church model as recorded in the book of Acts where Christ, close relationships, and discipleship-apologetics
were the pillars of Christianity. He is also the author of Simplifying the Complex.
Rich and Geri Campbell of Hebron, KY are living a normal life raising two young children, and are doing their best to serve God with everything they have. In 2003 they started a traveling drama outreach called In-Step Ministries, and now, eight years later, they are still at it. In 2012, they logged 5,700 miles of travel with over 20 bookings! Their ministry faithfully exhibits the message of God’s love and forgiveness which reaches across denominations, ethnicity, gender, and age. Signet Ring had the pleasure of discussing with Geri the heart of In-Step Ministries.
What is In-Step Ministries?
In-Step Ministries is a drama ministry with four original programs, but one underlying theme: the message of God’s love and forgiveness. I am the actress and writer, and Rich is a behind-the-scenes tech guy, so when God called us to full time ministry, visual arts seemed the perfect way to proclaim the Gospel to a lost and dying world. We travel all over the US ministering the message of God’s love and forgiveness in churches, conferences, camps, half-way houses and prisons.
What is the vision and mission of In-Step Ministries ?
Our Mission Statement:
“Since we live by the Spirit let us keep in step with the Spirit.” Gal. 5:25
Dedicated to serving the Lord through the arts by proclaiming God’s unrelenting love and unending mercy while partnering with, unifying, and uplifting those who also heed His call, thus keeping in step with the Holy Spirit, and each other, in order that we might reach a lost and dying world with the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
How did God call you into this ministry? When? Was anyone else involved to start the ministry?
Rich grew up in church, but I have a different story. I was saved at the age of 14 but turned my back on the Lord. There were some dark years. Something happened to me in my early 20’s that broke my heart, and I felt that God didn’t care about me, that He didn’t love me. I decided to leave church and walk away from the Lord forever. I tried to forget that I ever knew Him and I returned to my sinful life.
The trouble was, I couldn’t forget Him. It was like Jesus was running after me, pursuing me. After seven years of being away from church and away from my Christian friends, God was still there, trying to get my attention. One night I was alone in my bedroom, and out of nowhere the presence of God and His love just filled the room. I remember thinking, “No Lord, go away, I don’t deserve to be in Your presence. Don’t you know what I have become? Maybe once I could have served you and loved you, maybe once when I was a good girl, maybe once when I was in Bible college, but not now. Not after all I’ve done.”
Then for the first time in my life, the only time, I literally felt the arms of Jesus wrap around me. Then, in my heart, I heard the Lord whisper the words, “You are my beautiful bride.” I wondered how He could still call me that. Yet it was that night I fell to my knees in tears and repentance, and said, “Lord, if You’ll take me back, I promise I will use my gifts and talents to tell other people that there is always a way back home to You.” It took me a whole year sitting in my car on my lunch hour, but I wrote The Story of Gomer during that time. I performed it at my home church for a ladies’ tea and word of mouth spread. I had fourteen bookings in the first year! That is how it all started.
In what ways have you seen In-Step Ministries help with an individual’s spiritual development?
We have testimonies of marriages being healed and of people experiencing unconditional love for the first time during our plays. We know a lady who told us two years of marriage counseling suddenly became real to her as she watched Hosea forgive Gomer. That is what keeps us going.
How does your ministry exemplify Christʼs love?
One of our original plays is called Eve Remembered. It shows how sin came into the world through man’s disobedience, and that sin is what hurts us, not God. The play points toward the love of a Savior, and toward the hope-filled promise of Genesis 3:15. Eve Remembered is an in-depth look at the day that Cain kills Abel, and at Eve’s reaction to the pain of sin. I wrote this play because so many people in today’s world turn away from God because they wonder how a loving God could allow such pain. I know, I’ve been there. It is only when we realize we brought suffering upon ourselves by disobeying God (Adam was the first to disobey and thus we are all sinners) that we realize God is not hurting us. He is not to blame, for through His love He kept His promise to provide a way out, to provide a way back to Him through Jesus Christ.
Of the portrayals that you have done, do you have a favorite and/or which one has impacted you the most?
The Story of Gomer, which is the love story between Hosea the prophet and Gomer the prostitute (see the book of Hosea). Of all my shows, the message of Hosea is really my heart. In this hour long, one person play, I pour out my personal testimony into the script. I can truly identify with Gomer, a woman who had to be forgiven time after time. Every time Gomer ran away, her husband Hosea was running after her, waiting for her to turn to him. That is so much like Jesus.
Where do you see the Lord leading this ministry in the next 5 years?
We had always hoped that our drama ministry would support our family at some point, but after eight years we both still work full time jobs and travel as much as we can using weekends and vacation time. Sometimes people give up because they see success as making a living at their ministry. But every time I get tired or discouraged all I can think of is that God’s heart is broken, and He wants to run after those sheep who have wandered away. Therefore, I need to be His arms, His hands, His feet- just as any disciple of Christ should be. I know He has used me and the shows that I perform to call His people back to His heart.
I have taken 2013 off from traveling to commit to writing the novel of The Story of Gomer. The book can reach people I could never reach just doing the play, so I hope the next five years finds us with the novel published and perhaps even a feature length film. Only God knows where it will take us; all I know is I’m keeping In-step with Him!
You can read more about us and watch for info on the release of the novel, The Story of Gomer, at in-stepministries.com
Rich and Geri live in Hebron, KY and in addition to running their own drama ministry, they are also both employed by Answers in Genesis, a non-profit apologetics ministry where Rich runs the print shop and Geri is in Guest Services at the Creation Museum. They have a twelve year old daughter Mercy, a nine year old son named Chris, and two cats, Big Kitty and Little Kitty. What do they do in their off time? SLEEP!
Primarily all of the North African nations are classified as “restricted” to Christianity, a few are even classified as “hostile” toward Christians with some nations progressing toward such hostility due to Islamic jihad, civil wars, and outright barbarism. A collective survey of North Africa yields a concentration of 82.9% Muslim, 13.9% Christian, and the remaining 3.2% consisting of indigenous religions and animism.*
Signet Ring recently contacted “Beth” and inquired of both her evangelistic outreach and status in her country of service. We are truly thankful to have disciples of her caliber spreading the Gospel in places where it is most urgent.
Beth started following Jesus early in life and by the time she was in her teens she knew
she wanted to share Christ with the orphans and the destitute in lands that have yet to be reached with the Gospel. Beth is currently living in North Africa learning the language and working with street boys’ centers, teaching art and serving as needed. She states that “It’s a crazy life and there are hard days, but it’s such a gift. I can’t believe I get to live here!”
For the sake of sensitivity and security, some specifics have been altered. [As of early 2013 the safety of Beth and those with whom she works and lives (in her country of service) has been threatened. Please pray for her protection and strength to fulfill Jesus’ call on her life wherever He leads her.]
How did God lead you into this mission work and what is your role in the ministry?
I have wanted to live in Africa since I was about 16. I never pictured myself living in a Muslim country, but after a period of working and waiting this was the door that God clearly opened, and I ran through it! Presently I am almost
two years into my first term in North Africa. It has been spent learning the language, building relationships, and mostly working with two street boys’ centers. I teach them art and handicrafts, using it to build revenue for them and the centers, and I spend time trying to pour the love and attention into their lives that they are aching for.
Are you able to share the Gospel and disciple people freely in your country of service?
No. I live in a closed Muslim country. I can speak of Christ, but any whiff of evangelization to the government will get a person kicked out of the country and/ or imprisoned. I have seen both things happen to friends and fellow workers. I speak freely of my love for Christ with friends and language teachers, as well as at the centers. But I do need to be careful, especially at the centers. There is more scrutiny lately from the government and it is illegal to do Christian teaching with the boys from Muslim backgrounds.
3. Please tell of someone whose life was impacted with the Gospel and of the change you saw in their life.
This country is still largely unreached with the Gospel. It is very much still in the “sowing of seeds” stage, if you will. There is “harvesting” going on, but that’s with workers who have been here for many, many years. I have only been here two years. That may sound like a lot, but it’s not. I have absolutely heard and seen the evidence of the Lord moving in hearts and lives here, but I have not personally led anyone to the Lord. Since so much of my time is spent at the centers, that is where I have largely seen the Lord moving.
Jesus Christ is transforming boys from the streets from drunk, glue sniffing, angry kids to boys who are happy, joyful, and doing well in school. I see them stop running away, learning to trust and receive love. I see them transition from not knowing anything of Jesus to singing songs about Him. I see graduated boys, who ten years prior were in the same place in life as the younger ones, taking the time to invest in them, loving them like brothers. These boys are walking witnesses of God’s redemptive grace. They are the future of the church here. Pray that the seeds planted in them will be spread far and wide. The impact of the Gospel can be sudden and huge, but sometimes it is a kingdom that is slowly built. That is what I have seen in my time here so far. As I, Godwilling, continue to live in this land, I long and pray to see it spread even more
4. What has been your most noticeable spiritual change since you began ministry as a missionary?
Oh goodness! I still don’t feel spiritual enough to even carry the title of “missionary,” and I still have so much to learn. Each season brings change. We can always die to self more.
My first year I learned a lot about God’s provision and resting in His provision for all my needs- mental, physical, emotional. In this most recent season I have learned about courage, and that fear is a sin. Fear is opposite of faith and trust, two essentials to a life following Jesus.There is so much I don’t know, so little in my control in this life. Maybe I won’t get a return visa, maybe I’ll be kicked out, maybe the centers will be shut down. Maybe I’ll be robbed again or have another house fire. Probably I will be treated inappropriately by men… perhaps even every day this week. But I will not fear. No matter what comes, I will not fear. I will speak the truth, even if my voice shakes. I will trust in the Lord, leaving only my fear for Him and none for man. God is for me, what can man do to me?
5. What is the greatest spiritual need in your ministry? Physical need?
There is increasing persecution against Christians. Earlier this year a church compound where one of the boys’ centers I work with was attacked. Destroyed. Christians have a great deal of uncertainty about the future. Even the futures of our street boys’ centers are not certain. So the greatest spiritual need is prayers for protection and peace. The physical need is for believers to simply be in country, but more so to be a good witness even under pressure, lending surety to those around them. Many Christian “workers” here face uncertain futures about visas and such. There is no guarantee any of us will be able to stay in the country. There is fighting and war all over. Racial and cultural wars, religious persecutions and genocides. It is overwhelming, really. But we trust in the Lord Who goes before us and is over all!
6. Please share your church experience and worship in your country of service (How are church services different or alike?).
I live in the capital city and there is an international church that has an English service. The service is on Friday (coinciding with the Muslim holy day) and there are probably 150-200 people from all over the world that attend. It is maybe 25% Western with a few Asians, and the remainder of people are from all over Africa. Every week it’s like a taste of what heaven will be like. Worship is semi-Western, but heavily African. Though there is a pastor, he shares the pulpit often and we frequently get to hear from people all over the world. It is a much longer service than most in the US and you never know what a service may bring, but it is a Spirit-filled place and one I am so grateful I get to attend weekly.
7. Please describe your personal Bible study and prayer schedule in the mission field. Is it difficult to maintain?
I try to spend time in the Word every day. I am usually able to. Lately I have also been enjoying the writings of Henri Nouwen. I spend a good deal of time during the day on foot or public transport, spending much of those times talking with God. Journaling has been an integral part of my spiritual growth for many years. This is how I process and slow down to listen to God. There absolutely are occasions where I find it difficult to find time to be in the Word, and if I do, to have the concentration to glean anything from it. There are days or weeks that I am so mentally, emotionally, and physically drained (9 months of the year here the temperature is in triple digits!) that it’s an easy thing to neglect. I meet at least weekly with other believers for corporate prayer. It functions as a sort of accountability as well. It’s so important to be saturated with God’s Word if I hope to have anything to give. Time with other, older, wiser believers has certainly been integral to my growth here.
8. What most encourages you and what do you enjoy most in your missional work/service?
There is a deep-rooted joy and satisfaction in being here. I feel entirely confident that this is where the Lord opened the door for me to go. When times are rough I still absolutely want to be here. This certainty keeps me going. Positive encouragement from other workers about the work I’m doing with the boys is great emotional fuel as well. The absolute best thing has been that as I have increased in language and communication ability, I get to build direct relationships. When I feel like I am able to share life and go deeper with people, especially people that I could not be any more different from, it is altogether amazing!
Are you going to Hell? If we truly understood and took to heart the implications and the reality of hell, we would take more seriously the Word of God, finding truth and consequences in all that it says. The last vestige of our transient possessions in this life is our ability to determine whom we like or dislike.It’s the last place that we must go the moment before we die: Do I forgive or do I hold on to my anger forever?
On answering this question there hinges heaven and hell, life and death, freedom and imprisonment. Why are we taught so little of this when our lives are so very dependent upon it? Forgiveness is the most basic foundation of our beliefs. It is the reason we believe in Christ, it is the reason He placed himself upon the cross, and it is through this that we are allowed eternal life with Christ in Heaven. Moreover, eternity is entirely dependent on forgiveness, yet we are taught belief in Christ and not the reason why He is the Christ at all! This is the cross of Christ and why He died for you, that you might live forgiven of your sins.
God says that to not forgive is to not be forgiven, for Jesus said, “Judge not, and you shall not be judged. Condemn not, and you shall not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven” (Luke 6:37, NKJV). Thus, as we are forgiven we must also forgive. How can that be interpreted any other way?
Worldly souls condemn themselves to eternal judgment in hell, imprisoned by their sense of self-pride and lack of forgiveness. We are told to not judge them for they are already judged. If we are allowed to do anything at all, it is to forgive them of their trespasses in this world and toward ourselves. They are imprisoned within the walls in which they were born and still abide. Sadly, we Christians often imprison ourselves within the walls of unforgiveness even after we have been freed from such prisons by Christ’s love.
When we fail to forgive, we re-condemn ourselves and in this we need to understand the implications of eternal damnation, for harboring unforgiveness forces ourselves into positions that cause us as much suffering as if we were never saved from Judgment.And the question must be asked, “If I fail to forgive, how can I remain forgiven?” There is a dire need for this teaching in the church today. Many continue to harbor the cancer of unforgiveness within their hearts, imprisoned by their own need for vengeance or retribution (Romans 12:19).
Often I have wondered how Stephen could forgive while being stoned, how the Lord could forgive upon the cross, how Peter and Paul forgave those who mocked, beat, tortured, and killed them. And only by the Spirit can I understand the nature of their forgiveness when, in terrible contrast, unforgiveness is a need to hurt a person in return. It is demanding a penalty of pain and damage against another while we sit in our self-created prison cell coldly awaiting our own judgment. Understanding this fact will hopefully open our eyes to the emotions we are allowing to control us. To hate or resent someone is an emotional response to a perceived wrong, and places blinders on our eyes.
The Lord taught us saying, “And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors” (Matt. 6:12, KJV). We cannot disregard the applicability of these verses in our walk with the Lord. Additional Scripture reveals to us the need for and power of forgiveness not only from the Lord towards us, but from us towards others (John 20:23). Unforgiveness is a poison that we sometimes perpetuate within others as well as ourselves. By resenting and feuding with someone, we have created sin in their life, for which we are accountable before God (Matt. 5:22-26).
Again, If we are to be forgiven then we must also forgive. We have received the gift of forgiveness from Christ, thus we must extend that gift to others as freely as we have received it. God gives us nothing that we are to hoard within ourselves, but all of His gifts are for us to grant to others.
As Stephen was being stoned, he was extending the forgiveness of God towards those who meant him harm. He was effectually cleansing his own soul so that he would be forgiven of his own sins the moment he crossed over into heaven, yet this was not done out of any legalistic sense. Rather, Stephen understood wholly the implications of unforgiveness because he knew Christ and cherished His love, and in the last moment before he was to meet the Lord, love prevailed.
We, therefore, must aspire to forgive for we are all a moment from death. Even Jesus understood the effects of unforgiveness. He knew we would create prisons for ourselves, and He provided His Word so that we may all know the perfect freedom of His love.
I have nothing to say about myself other than I think my forte might be in the ministry of the nuts and bolts of God’s word. It’s an active word that necessitates the action of its participants. It is a “If he abides in me and I in Him, ask what you will and it will be done for him,” ministry.