Guest editorial for the Portland International Church of Christ!

By Kyle Bartholomew.

(Webserver’s note: This article first appeared on the Portland International Church of Christ’s web site on November 18. Kyle Bartholomew specifically wrote this article for the Portland church.) 

Kyle and Joan Bartholomew stand with their son. (Photo by Kelly Bartholomew.)“This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: ‘When I bring them back from captivity, the people in the land of Judah and in its towns will once again use these words: ‘The Lord bless you, O righteous dwelling, O sacred mountain.’ People will live together in Judah and all its towns—farmers and those who move about with their flocks. I will refresh the weary and satisfy the faint.’” Jeremiah 31:23-25

In this passage, God promises to bring the Israelites back from captivity and lead them back to their former glory so they can once again be depicted as a “righteous dwelling” and a “sacred mountain.”

During the past four years, I have often felt like we as a church (the Hilo International Church of Christ) were in a state of captivity. Church growth was at an alarming decline, going from close to 60 disciples to just 38 in four years. Along with the decrease in numbers, faith and hope started to dwindle as well. With a lack of faith and hope, commitment to the body and to the mission became an idea, but not the standard. Our Sunday attendance went from over 70 people on Sunday to 35 (including the kids), and only about 15 members attended each midweek service. In 2006, we had not seen a baptism all year, and the marrieds’ ministry had not even seen a baptism in 5 years. A few people visiting our fellowship made the following comments: my mother stated, “You guys are like any other church here in Hilo except you are smaller.” After the discipleship study, a college basketball player named Chris remarked when hearing our church existed for 15 years, “If you guys are all disciples and fishers of men, then how come your church is so small?” My co-worker remarked after service, “Your fellowship seems really tense and negative.” It was obvious even to non-Christians something desperately needed to change.

In late July of 2006, I began to serve the Hilo Church as their minister. In August, the leadership decided to send me to the Portland World Missions Jubilee entitled, “Follow the Fire”. It was there that I once again saw the church that I was baptized into! It was undoubtedly a church that could be described as a “righteous dwelling” and a “sacred mountain.” In meeting with Kip McKean, I asked him and Elena if they would be willing to disciple both my wife and me in Hilo. He and Elena consented. So the Hilo leadership extended an invitation for the McKeans to come and preach to the Hilo Church. On September 14, 2006 (Thursday), Kip and Elena arrived and stayed in Hilo through the weekend. After a weekend of preaching and teaching from the Bible on following Jesus, there were only 12 members left. However, of the six couples in the Hilo leadership group, only one couple left. Sadly, some of the members who left formed a new church with the help of leaders from Honolulu and LA. This new church in Hilo was initiated solely because of their opposition to the efforts of the Portland Church. Interestingly, the leaders of the LA and Honolulu Churches have taught it is “sin” to start a new congregation where there is an existing ICOC Church, though we are of the conviction it is fine.

Kyle Bartholomew is baptizing Brian, a University of Hawaii student. This was the first baptism this year in Hilo! (Photo by Chris Directo.)After the weekend revival, although we were few in number, we were excited as we renewed our commitment to be sold-out disciples of Jesus Christ. Once again our vision is to evangelize the Islands of Hawaii and the world. Ten days after the McKean’s visit and a rebuilding of the foundation of the church to be sold-out disciples, God gave us our first baptism! A young campus student from the University of Hawaii at Hilo, named Brian decided to make Jesus Lord of his life after much Bible study. Two Sundays later, the Lord added three more to our number! Michael, Richard and Krystallyn were all baptized into Jesus Christ. Then just this past Sunday, (one week later) Jessica was baptized! She is the first married person baptized in five years! There are also many more who are currently studying the Bible and Lord willing will become disciples soon.

Along with the encouragement and the refreshment of five baptisms in five weeks, the passion and compassion of being a disciple is back. Since the McKean’s time with us, we have received many positive comments from those who visit our fellowship and from our membership. Two people who have been attending the church off and on for the past two years recently spoke up about becoming members of our church asking, “How do I become a member of this church?” When asked, “Why the desire to join now?” They stated, “We have been looking for a group who is serious about living out the Bible.” My mother recently remarked after visiting the church, “This is the church I have been looking for my whole life. One that its members live out the Scriptures.” One of our shepherding couples, the Andersons, stated that they have never felt stronger spiritually since becoming disciples!

God has truly led our congregation out of captivity, and although we are not perfect, He has been molding us into a “righteous dwelling” and a “sacred mountain” through which He can use to “refresh the weary and satisfy the faint.” To God we give all glory and all our thanks!