The Healing Power of Prayer and Community: Anthony Hernandez
This all got started when I went forward after a typical service because I wanted prayer for God to use me more.I attend Faith Center (Eureka Foursquare Church) in Eureka, Calif., led by Pastors Matt and Heidi Messner. I told Heidi how I was starting my life over with God, and all the stuff He had done. Then she asked, “Hey, would you be willing to be part of a video on people’s testimonies?”
At the time, I didn’t feel comfortable telling my story because it’s a small town, and I didn’t want people to know I’d become a drug addict, and that my addiction had made me homeless. Fears rushed at me: People you know are going to look at you differently. Then I felt like the Holy Spirit said, “You need to take this step of faith.”
I was thinking, Oh, man … But this is how God has made me comfortable with my story, and anytime I get nervous, He reminds me that it’s not about me. It’s about Him and how He works.
To give you a little background, my family and I are really close. Growing up, we didn’t have much—just God and family, and that’s pretty much all I need in my life. Mom would always pray with me about anything, so I’ve always understood the power of prayer.God has made me comfortable with my story, and anytime I get nervous, He reminds me that it’s not about me. It’s about Him and how He works.
I was about 17 when I started using, and that really hurt my family because they know how it can destroy your life. My mom was constantly praying for me while I was staying away from home, especially around dinnertime because, like I said, we’re normally together.
One night, my mom prayed: “God, I need you to help me. He’s my son—I can’t lose him.” Then she felt the Holy Spirit respond, “He’s my son, too.”
From that point on, she knew God was going to bring me back. A few months later, I decided to quit, and my parents let me come back home. If you don’t know what heroin withdraws are like, they’re some of the worst out there—pure agony—and I knew it because I’d tried to quit a few times.
This last time, I was in a world of pain, and I finally dropped to my knees and told God, “I can’t do this without You.” Instantly, I felt relief, then the next day I had almost no symptoms at all.My mom prayed: “God, I need you to help me. He’s my son—I can’t lose him.” Then she felt the Holy Spirit respond, “He’s my son, too.”
I knew I needed to turn my life over to God again. Mom told me about Celebrate Recovery at Faith Center, so I went there with her that first weekend after I got clean. At the end of the meeting, they asked if anyone wanted to turn their life over to God, and I did. Ever since then, I’ve felt God’s presence with me.
Shortly after that, though, I started feeling really sick. I went to the hospital and found out that my liver was on the verge of failing; they had to keep me overnight. The next day, a doctor told me I had Hepatitis C. So, my family and I went into prayer. It’s hard to be at peace when you get news like that, but I felt the Holy Spirit tell me everything would be OK.
Anthony with his nephews
About four months later, the doctor called with my blood work. “This is going to sound crazy, but you have no Hepatitis C cells in your body anymore. It’s gone.”
While God was repairing my body, He was also healing my soul, and a big way He did that was through community. In Narcotics Anonymous, we can only say that we have a “higher power”; but in Faith Center’s Celebrate Recovery meetings, we thank God for the changes He’s made in our lives.
Especially when trying to recover from addiction in church, there’s this anxiety that not everyone can relate to what you’re going through, and sometimes that scares you away. At Celebrate Recovery at my church, though, people completely understand because they’re going through the same things.
The folks at Faith Center are really friendly. They’re easy to talk to and feel like regular people—just way cooler. Since sharing my testimony in church, anytime people see me they give me a hug and say they’re proud of me.God has changed my heart. … I can reach out to others who are struggling with addiction, sharing how I was in their place and what God has done.
Pastor Matt came to a Celebrate Recovery meeting and worshiped with us. I think I actually got my nine months clean chip while he was there, and I was stoked that he got to see that.
With anybody at Faith Center you build a relationship with, you can tell them you need prayer for something, and they’ll put a hand on you and pray for you right there, and the prayer team will always pray for you, too. Prayer is really open here. I’ve never felt so close to a church before, and now I can’t imagine going anywhere else.
Because of my experience, I think I want to try to become a police officer. On the street, any user dislikes cops, and I did once, too. But God has changed my heart, and I feel like I can reach out to others who are struggling with addiction, sharing how I was in their place and what God has done.
Watch Anthony’s Testimony →
Anthony Hernandez attends Faith Center (Eureka Foursquare Church) in Eureka, Calif., co-pastored by Matt and Heidi Messner. This story is as told to Rachel Chimits, a writer in Reno, Nev.
How a Heart for Missions Rejuvenated Our Church
Missions. It’s the lifeblood of our congregation, founded in 1936 by Aimee Semple McPherson in the midst of a healing revival that attracted local media attention.Yet, when I arrived at Living Way (Seattle Foursquare Church) in 2011, attendance had dwindled below 30. The church wasn’t regularly supporting the couple we sent to the Czech Republic in 1997.
Things have changed dramatically since then. Thanks to an intentional decision to give regularly from church offerings, we now support seven missionaries overseas and Foursquare’s Global Missions Fund. Our once-modest missions gifts now total around $30,000 a year.
I don’t take any credit. We spent considerable time fasting and praying as we developed our revitalized missions emphasis. Many leaders came alongside me to bring us to where we are today: launching a 10-year plan to evangelize at least two unengaged, unreached people groups (UUPG).
We initiated this process in late October, right after deploying our first missionary in 20 years. Karen Grubbs is a retired widow who had been reaching out to eastern Africa for many years.
“I have to get over there,” she said before leaving for Uganda, where she works among South Sudanese refugees in Uganda. Karen’s heart for the Sudanese is just one example of how our congregation loves the world. With members from nearly a dozen different nations, we are attuned to reaching out to others and telling them about Christ.Size isn’t the determining factor when it comes to reaching your city, state and world for Christ. Faith and obedience are. So, what’s holding you back?
To build relationships with immigrants and newcomers, we eat their food, learn about their families and value their culture. Some of our dearest friends own an Egyptian restaurant; building that relationship took six years.
Along the way, we have also learned that—in many cultures—birthdays and other celebrations are a big deal. To reflect this love of ceremony, twice a year our church hosts a “Celebrate the Nations” service, where various flags, native dress and cultures are on display. Afterwards, we gather for a meal; the most recent was prepared by Indonesians who meet at our church for Bible study.
Not only do such outreaches build bridges with other ethnic groups, they help reveal future missionaries. Visitors who demonstrate a passion for other nations may be the very ones God can use to spread the gospel there.
Intentionality has been an underpinning of our missions program. We commit to a certain minimum of support for missionaries each month, and then add any earmarked gifts. This encourages generosity and allows members with a heart for a particular nation to direct their giving.
We have some additional help. In 2014, we sold the cell tower on our property to create a “Legacy Fund” that generates $21,000 a year for missions and church planting. The newest planter is starting a suburban church five minutes north of our property.
Though we have grown since 2011, our average weekly attendance is under 100. Size isn’t the determining factor when it comes to reaching your city, state and world for Christ. Faith and obedience are. So, what’s holding you back?
This article was written with Ken Walker, a freelance writer and book editor from Huntington, W.Va.
Eyes Wide Open
Ever since I was a teenager, I’ve been passionate about reaching the lost. Through going to Life Pacific College with plans to serve as a missionary, and later becoming a church planter here in the U.S., I’ve been fueled by what I thought was a strong, clear vision of God’s heart for the nations.And then I went to the Middle East, and discovered what I had been missing. Spending a week with some of our Foursquare family living and ministering in parts of the world where there are few, if any, Christians opened my eyes in a new way to the reality of unreached peoples. It was a life-changing time.
I knew that there are many who still need to hear about Jesus, of course. But somewhere, somehow, I had failed to really connect with all that means for His followers—you and me.
Shortly before my visit, I’d been reminded how far off most Christians’ radar unreached peoples are: less than 1 percent of giving goes to fund work among those who have yet to hear gospel, while only around 3 percent of the missionary workforce is focused there. Meanwhile, those unreached peoples total almost 3 billion—almost half the people on the planet.
I was shocked when I thought seriously about the huge mismatch between need and response—a wake-up call, if you will, that was magnified by my time in the Middle East. I heard Foursquare workers there speak matter-of-factly about the challenges they face. As one husband and father about my age spoke calmly of having received death threats, and how that was just an everyday part of the cost of following Jesus, I thought, And I’m worried about church budgets and how I am going to be perceived by people out in the community!
Then I got to meet some of the indigenous people, sitting with a group of men and talking as they enjoyed a hookah. As they spoke about their lives, I realized that they were not the fanatical enemy so often portrayed by much of the media back home. They were ordinary people trying to care for their families—who need to hear of the God who loves them.Having touched the land where Jesus is largely unknown, met the people and shared their food, I know that I simply can’t leave the task of reaching them to an underfunded few any longer.
That awakening has reshaped my understanding and vision as my wife, Jen, and I have been sent out from Faith Community (San Diego Foursquare Church) to plant Light Church in nearby Encinitas, Calif. As we seek to reach some of the disaffected and disenfranchised in this charming and vibrant but spiritually dry beach community, we have made the unreached a core part of our strategy and DNA.
One of the first things we did before starting to meet formally as a fellowship was to organize a non-churchy fundraising event, well supported by the local community, to help refugees in the Middle East. We also plan to be involved with refugee projects locally, and support Foursquare Missions International’s unreached peoples efforts.
Embracing the challenge of playing a part in reaching the unreached in this way isn’t a distraction from my church planting; it’s actually enhancing and enriching it, with a fuller sense of our part in the Great Commission. Having touched the land where Jesus is largely unknown, met the people and shared their food, I know that I simply can’t leave the task of reaching them to an underfunded few any longer.
Tener los ojos bien abiertosSi me hubiese preguntado hace una primavera, les hubiese dicho que mi vida giraba alrededor de la Gran Comisión. Pasé años en el ministerio de jóvenes y alabanza y ahora estoy plantando una iglesia. Siempre he tenido una pasión por ver a las personas llegar a conocer a Jesús.Y entonces fui al Medio Oriente y descubrí que me había estado faltando algo.
Ir a una parte del mundo donde pocos conocen de Jesús me abrió los ojos y fue descorazonador. Quedé realmente consciente del desafío de la gente no alcanzada por primera vez.
Quedé asombrado al comprender que a unas tres mil millones de personas aún les falta escuchar el evangelio. Y, aun así, solo una pequeña fracción de la fuerza misionera – y aún menos de los aportes cristianos - son destinados a esta tremenda necesidad.
Mi visita ha cambiado mi vida. Ha reformado la visión y estrategia que tenemos mi esposa, Jen, y yo en lo que plantamos Light Church en Encinitas, California. La gente no alcanzada ahora forma parte de lo que somos y lo que seremos – desde el involucramiento local con refugiados hasta el apoyo a las obras en el extranjero de Foursquare Missions International. Esto no es una distracción de nuestros esfuerzos por alcanzar a la gente aquí en los Estados Unidos. Mas bien, creo, los mejora y enriquece. Tenemos un mayor sentido del reino de Dios y nuestro lugar en él, no solo en nuestra comunidad sino hasta en los confines de la tierra.
A Pastor’s Struggle With Painkiller Addiction
When Ron Swor talks about how pastors need to shake off the got-it-all-together expectation that can be put on them by others and admit that sometimes they struggle just like everyone else, it rings a bell. Literally.Opening up about his own struggles at North Pacific District pastors gatherings that he hosts at New Life (Canby Foursquare Church) in Canby., Ore., he places desk bells at the tables for breakout small-group times. If there’s something you need help with, participants are told, ring the bell.
“The whole time, you hear these bells going off,” he says, choking back the tears. “Everyone is alerted that someone else needs help, and it creates this affinity among leaders and pastors that I don’t think they have felt before.”
Ron hopes that the openness he models and advocates may save other leaders from the pain he and his family have gone through. While pastoring a thriving church, for several years he secretly nursed an addiction to painkillers. He found that the medicines prescribed for athletic injuries from his youth didn’t just ease the physical hurt, but also took the edge off some of the emotional wounds of difficulties in his own and church family.
Shrugging off concerns of those closest to him, he avoided the escalating problem for several years until things came to a head in 2013. There followed a “hard but good season” in which Ron and his wife, Annette, pressed into healing individually and as a couple. That process included time with Foursquare pastoral care leader Chuck Shoemake at the Center for Spiritual Renewal (CSR)—East in Christiansburg, Va., one of two free counseling and retreat centers for Foursquare credentialed ministers.
In addition to CSR, attending recovery group meetings was a crucial part of Ron’s road to freedom, impacting his understanding and experience of God through the candor he found in those settings. “My image of the Christian pastor had been that we come in riding on a white horse to save you,” he explains. “I was in no shape to help anyone when I went to those meetings, but there were others there who did not even know Christ who helped save me by speaking the truth.”"Some Christians are like Zacchaeus, he observes—they look longingly at Jesus but from a safe distance, hiding behind the leaves of a tree." – Ron Swor
In due course, when he finally returned to leadership at the church—which he and Annette had still attended during their recovery—Ron spoke openly about everything. “I made a decision that because I was lacking in vulnerability in my life, I had to go the other way,” he says. “If I don’t, I am going to end up in the same situation.”
That stance sees him continue to “tell on myself”: Several times a year, when it’s appropriate to a message he is sharing, he will declare, “I am an addict.”
While Ron’s transparency has given others permission to admit and face their own struggles—the church now hosts a weekly recovery group on campus—not everyone has appreciated his vulnerability. Some who preferred what he calls his former “large and in charge” personality have left.
Some Christians are like Zacchaeus, he observes—they look longingly at Jesus but from a safe distance, hiding behind the leaves of a tree. But Jesus sees them, knows all about them, and wants to be welcomed into their most personal spaces, he says. “What are the camouflages we use to hide from Jesus?” he wonders.“I made a decision that because I was lacking in vulnerability in my life, I had to go the other way. If I don’t, I am going to end up in the same situation.” —Ron Swor
Though he is committed to walking in vulnerability, he admits that it still doesn’t come easy. “I still feel like a rookie,” he states. “Vulnerability is not my strong suit, but I understand the kingdom value of it, and I have to keep fighting for it.”
Hitting the desk bell he has in his own bathroom each day helps: “I have to remind myself every morning that I need help.”Contact the Center for Spiritual Renewal →
Healing From Porn Addiction
While soul care is about truly caring for yourself, it’s not an entirely solo pursuit. “We get wounded in community, and we get healed in community,” says Teri Craft, who with husband James shares their story of brokenness and restoration to bring hope to other troubled marriages.The couple’s world fell apart when James’ long-term pornography addiction, and an affair, came to light in 2013. “So many times, we put such effort into our ministry, but we don’t put the same level of care into ourselves,” James observes.
Fearful of what others would say if they knew, he’d kept his inner struggles secret through years of fruitful ministry as Foursquare’s NextGen national director and a senior pastor.
Now calling that crash-and-burn God’s “great kindness” to them, bringing them to healing, the Crafts have told their story in their book Exposed as a warning and a beacon of hope. They help couples rebuild their marriages through personal counseling, and warn of the dangers of pornography through their Novus Project.
Central to their message is the belief that soul care, being attentive to one’s own inner being, is the essential, first step in truly transformative discipleship. And that requires what they believe are the inextricably linked experiences of truth and grace—which are encountered through relationship with others.
“Isolation is the kiss of death,” James asserts. “When you isolate, that’s when you medicate ... Even the Lone Ranger had a partner.”
It is also important to focus “on the whole person—spirit, soul and body,” he says. “You can’t be broken in one area of your life and not have it affect all the others.” That means pursuing physical health as well as spiritual and emotional health; while not downplaying personal responsibility, he points to the part neurochemistry plays in porn addiction.
As part of their new way of living, the Crafts have established practices that help provide good boundaries—exercise, eating well, scheduling time together, a plan for media consumption, and a set of family values that is framed and hung on the wall. “It all comes down to time and relationships,” Teri summarizes.“If we can honestly be real with one another about the brokenness within—because everyone has brokenness within them—if we can be real about it, we might just have a chance of turning the next generation’s hearts to Jesus.”
Tracing the fault-lines in their own lives back to dysfunction they experienced when they were young, and still passionate about helping young people live well for God, the Crafts believe that soul care is a critical need for—and desire of—the next generation.
Many are leaving church because they are tired of formal programs and don’t see the personal authenticity they hunger after, James observes. “They think authenticity is a badge of honor,” he says, while many older people believe showing vulnerability is a sign of weakness.
“If we can honestly be real with one another about the brokenness within—because everyone has brokenness within them—if we can be real about it, we might just have a chance of turning the next generation’s hearts to Jesus,” he says.
One of the biggest challenges, the Crafts believe, is the shame many leaders feel at the prospect of admitting they don’t have it all together. They suspect that many, as they did for so long, feel they need to perform well to earn God’s approval and acceptance.
But they have discovered that it’s better “to be in a close, intimate, vulnerable relationship with Christ—and whatever comes out of that is ministry,” Teri says.
“What if we were able to open the door and create a cultural environment where people are safe, and their stories are told, and healing is brought, and restoration takes place?” adds James. “I believe that is the beginning place of revival.”
Visit James and Teri’s Website