Voser Report Jan-Feb ’08

Newsletter 37 (January-February 2008)

Dear brothers and sisters,
I decided to write this newsletter on the question of evangelism and church growth. Events in the past three years made me reflect where we are as a congregation. I would imagine that some Churches of Christ in Western Europe may have reflected on where they are and have come to similar conclusions. I want to share these reflections with you and hope that you gain some insight as to how we have particularly grown as a church in the last three years. I start with some thoughts on the bad and ugly dimensions in the process of church growth.

Some “Bad and Ugly” Things in the Last Three Years
In the past three years we have had some very difficult situations. Much of it has been the final outcome of some unbearable burdens that has been part of the church for more than a decade. First, my sister opposed the leadership of the congregation before my returning to Switzerland in 2001 and when I was taking up some of the leadership, she opposed me as well. A week after our wedding in April 2006, immoral issue on her part came to the surface. The church acted patiently, but insisted on her being restored. My sister rejected it and went on with her lifestyle. She left the church months later. (Of course, I was also saddened, when my brother, who is a preacher in the little congregation in St. Gallen, Switzerland, experienced a heart attack at the age of 48. He recovered in the mean time and is doing well.)

Last fall another shock wave went through the church, when Ruedi Engeloch, a member who was restored to the faith three years earlier, committed suicide. We knew that he was struggling with alcohol and for that reason he was under psychological care. Every half a year he was totally depressed and withdrew so that no one could get in touch with him. All our efforts to reach him were in vain before he took his life. I even called him a few times during the week he committed suicide, but he did not pick up the phone and did not receive visitors.

In January 2008 we had another sad story when Andy and Eveline who had been members of the church for almost two years left the church. Andy came into the church with plenty of weird ideas two years ago, but the church gave its best to make the couple comfortable in the church. Andy though became too difficult to manage. He also wanted the preacher to leave the pulpit. The sermon he requested should have been especially about “what to do and what not to do”. He left the church and so did his wife although she was really happy in the church.

At the end of February 2008 another disappointment happened, when a young lady left the church with her boyfriend, who was a visitor to the church. Her comment was that we were too conservative. In addition she has had great struggles with her mother, who has been a faithful church member for many years. And yet again another sad story was written.

We were also sad that Regina Beyeler, who became a Christian in 2002, moved to Basel where she attends church now. Her boyfriend, Peter, will teach Ethnology at the University of Basel, when he receives his doctorate in about one year. They will get married in May 2008.

Some “Good” Things in The Last Three Years
Is there anything good left for the church? What has been good concerning church growth? We were glad for Angelica to move to Thun and get married to Mirko Gugger. We also had Lena, my wife, who joined the church from Bila Tserkva, Ukraine in April 2005, when we got married. Lena and I will celebrate our two year anniversary in April of this year. We also have had Martine Ferguson, 43, as a new church member since September 2007. I am especially glad to work with James, 47, Martine’s husband. Some years ago, he studied economics at the University in Oxford, England. He used to be an atheist, but everyone in the church says that “he talks like a Christian.” Lena and I try to have close connections with this couple. Every time we get together James lunches some deep discussion about the faith commenting a lot as well as asking questions. His latest comment was that he can now accept the fact that he cannot understand the process of Jesus Ascension, but he can simply believe that it happened. We usually have long discussions that can go from five to six hours. Last time James and Martine arrived at six o’ clock in the evening at our home and left at 11:30 p.m. when James was commenting that it was a bit late. James also has some regular discussions with Ueli, 18, who is a very mature young man and neighbour of him. He is at church at least once a month.

We have several more contacts that we work with. First, there is Margrit, in her late fifties, and Hanna, in her early sixties, who are more in contact with my parents than with Lena and me. Margrit’s husband threatened her recently that if she went to the home Bible study group at my parents’ one more time, he would divorce her. Her reaction was, “go on.” Also Hanna continues to go to the Bible studies at my parents’ in spite of some pressure by her husband.

I have a lot of discussions with Ruedi and Erika Mueller, in their late sixties, who own the office space which I am renting. Lena and I used to do a Bible study at their home with some other people until recently. A former pastor made it difficult for us to continue. Mueller’s sometimes attend worship service, but do not want to get committed. They contribute a small amount of money to the church each month which helps as the dollar has lost much of its value. It is now about 1:1 with the Swiss Franc. The church also have a storage place at their cellar, which are facilities underground for the whole neighbourhood in case of a war, for our furniture from church while we assemble in a restaurant (see next report).

We are also still hopeful for our teenagers (Anna, 18, Matthias 16, Maria, 14) to make a decision turning over their lives to Jesus. They are in the worship service on Sundays two or three times a month. Benjamin, 13 and Rahel, 11, Schnegg are kids of church members who still attend children’s class on Sunday. Last but not least is Alice, 84, who was baptised a few months ago. She struggles with health problems, but she has now the assurance of eternal life.

What Kind Of Church Growth Have We Experienced in the Last Three Years?
What kind of church growth have we experienced as a congregation in the last three years? The number of members has increased slightly during the last three years (membership in January 2002 -19; in January 2008 -22). That is though only church growth on the surface. The point that I want to make may be the least visible about church growth in Thun. We believe that some members had to leave as they were a hindrance to the further growth. We gained strength through three new members who moved to Thun. However, one member moved out of the area. Also, we have some people who are seekers of which one elderly lady was baptised last year. As a church we also have pulled together through the difficult times of the last three years. We gained a greater commitment for the Bible study group on Wednesday.

Prayer Requests:

  • -our many contacts (listed under some “good” things) -Alice’s health problems
  • -our finances in a time when the dollar is at its lowest in history

Please, send any one time or monthly funds to:

Park Avenue Church of Christ
5295 Park Avenue
Memphis, Tennessee 38119-3543

Grace and Peace,

Ivan + Lena Voser, ministering in the Church of Christ in Thun, Switzerland
E-Mail Address: voserivan@hotmail.com

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