“What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory— even us whom he called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?”
Romans 9:22-24 (emphasis mine)
When Pastor Daryl asked us to write a testimony about the work at Flagship Church, I didn’t know where to begin or what to write. I tried chronicling my family’s personal journey to Erie, Pennsylvania beginning almost three years ago. However, it just didn’t feel right. There is so much more to the story than just us, or just me. There are so many faces, so many stories, so many miracles that God has put in place “for such a time as this.” So, I’d like to take you on a stroll through our little town and introduce you to some of the people and into their lives where God’s love, grace and mercy has forever left a mark.
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On the corner of Maple Leaf and Pebble Drive, you will find a small white church nestled in an Erie neighborhood. The sign out front reads Flagship Free Will Baptist Church, and it is the place that many people are beginning to call home. On any given Sunday morning, you can expect to walk through its doors and be greeted by friendly handshakes, warm smiles, loving hugs and the wonderful smell of coffee—we love our coffee!! If you go up the stairs and into the sanctuary, you will see a wide array of people from all ages, life experiences and even countries! On the back pew sits a couple that just makes me smile to think of them. While he was born and raised here in the States, she is from the Philippines! She makes a mean egg roll and a delicious peanut butter cookie! But it’s her smile that lights up my heart! So friendly, so caring. Her testimony will move you to tears and their deep level of love and commitment for each other and for God is clearly evident.
Across the aisle, sits another couple that can relate, at least in part, to their story. While as a missionary to China, he met his beautiful wife. Following his return to Erie, it has taken her almost two and half years to finally make it home! Now, we are rejoicing with them. Yet, during these past years, especially these last several months, it has been difficult on the both of them. Flagship came together to love them, support them and most importantly, to pray for them. At times, it was difficult to see God’s plan in it all. Yet, her extended stay in China gave her an open door to witness to her family and some have been saved!!
At the front of the church, filling up two pews and growing, sits our youth. When Flagship first began in a room at the local YMCA, our youth only consisted of sons and daughters of the staff. Now, we are seeing exponential growth! I am so pleased that it is not just the growth in numbers we are seeing, but a growth in souls!! Last summer, our wacky, fun and amazing summer intern braved taking a wild group to church camp. When they came back, they were almost glowing. Over and over this past year, I have seen them raise their hands in praise to the Lord or give a word of testimony. Some have accepted Christ into their lives for the first time; while others have knelt in prayer to recommit. Some of our young men are following the Lord in service to other countries and in ministries away from home. As I write these words, my eyes fill with tears. For it was just this morning, that another youth knelt at the altar to rededicate his life to the Lord. They are our church, and I am so proud of them!!
Standing behind the pulpit, you will find one of our dedicated pastors. Each week, they allow God to use them, and they become a mouthpiece for the working of the Holy Spirit. Countless lives have been touched by their passion and resolve for this ministry and its people. But you just won’t find them behind the pulpit on Sunday mornings. It’s no surprise to see them surrounded by a crowd of little ones as they teach Children’s Church or playing games with the teens on Thursday nights at Flagship Youth Impact. One of them was even crazy enough to take a busload to a Christian concert in Cleveland! During the week, you might catch them at the hospital visiting a church member or loved one. You would probably see them knocking on doors and inviting someone to church. They might be in their office or at a coffee shop sharing the gospel. And I’m sure, you can find them in the Word and bowing their heads in prayer. I am so thankful for these men that have answered God’s call on their lives. I know it has not always been easy and choosing to step out has taken immense faith and courage. Their passion for the Lord and His people cannot be missed.
Not all the faces of Flagship can been seen in one Sunday morning. I’d love for you to join one of our Sunday night Bible studies or, if you are a girl, one of our Latte Ladies Saturday morning Bible studies. Just listening in to our time together, you are bound to hear sounds of laughter mixed with tears. We know how to have a good time and enjoy the company of one another, but we also know how to be genuine, sincere and carry one another’s burdens. Being the women’s ministry leader, Latte Ladies has a near and dear place to my heart. I never would have imagined God using me like this, but I feel so honored that He has! I can close my eyes and imagine the ladies as they sit around a table with their Bibles and hearts open. I see the one on one, heart to heart conversations. My heart overflows with a deep love for each one! Some of them are grieving over the loss of a child. Others are burdened for their husbands, who are walking far from the Lord. There are those who are diligently seeking the Lord’s direction in their life or in the lives of their children. They come seeking answers, healing and direction. I am humbled that God has chosen me to help, but at times, the need can be overwhelming. All it takes is one glance around the room, to know that I am not alone. Each of these ladies have invited their friends, shared their stories and lent a helping hand. They are AMAZING!
It’s not just the lives around me that have been touched by the powerful working of the Holy Spirit. My own family has been changed and used by the grace of God. The first summer after we moved here, my eldest son was part of leading another young boy to the Lord. We have been welcomed by so many loving arms—including a sweet, sweet couple that have “adopted” my children as their own grandchildren. They are always willing to help in any way they can. I appreciate especially their tender prayers. So far from my Ohio home, they have been a blessing to us!! Fresh in my mind are the events of this past weekend. We held our second couples’ retreat. What a blessing! My prayer had been for God to show Himself in a new and powerful way to my husband, that revival would begin in our home. He answered that prayer with a resounding YES! In our Friday evening session, my husband took my hand and led me down to the altar to pray. As we knelt, with our fingers intertwined, I felt his warm tears on my hand. I cannot express the joy that flooded my heart. Even today, I feel as though I might burst! What an incredible God we serve—powerful, mighty, patient, and willing to pursue those He loves!
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There is a long list of people I missed. Friends, family, people that God has brought into our lives and into our church. They all have a unique story to share, all are vital to our ministry. I wish you could meet them all!! If you get a chance sometime, take a drive up to Erie and visit us! You won’t want to miss the majestic beauty of Presque Isle, but even more wonderful are the people you will meet. We want to thank you for your prayers. Please continue to be persistent in prayer for us! God is doing a mighty work, and Satan is battling back. Some days, our strength grows weak, and we become weary from the constant battles. That is when we need your prayers and encouragement the most! For we know that “[H]e who is in [us] is greater than he who is in the world” (see 1 John 4:4). And pray for me that I may continually be used as a vessel for His glory, always for His glory!!
“He must increase, but I must decrease.”