It’s one year later!

By Evan Bartholomew.

“Now those who had been scattered by the persecution in connection with Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch, telling the message only to Jews. Some of them, however, men from Cyprus and Cyrene, went to Antioch and began to speak to Greeks also, telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus. The Lord’s hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord. News of this reached the ears of the church at Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. When he arrived and saw the evidence of the grace of God, he was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts. He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith, and a great number of people were brought to the Lord.” Acts 11:19-24 (NIV).

Kyle, Brian, Stefano and Evan (l-r) are fired up after Stefano’s baptism, which happened back in March. (photo by Chris Directo)

Just one year ago, the leadership of the Hilo International Church of Christ made a decision to join in  a movement of churches who believed in calling every member within their congregations to the same commitment of being a “sold-out” disciple. It was not a decision that was easy for many of us within the church. Many of our relationships were severed, many criticisms were expressed, and at many times we had to look into the scriptures to get our bearings on what is right and not who is right. At the end of the day, we were left with just 12 people with a vision to evangelize the world in a generation, a conviction to live out and call others to live out the scriptures, and with a commitment to love each other the way Jesus called us to.

Just as the disciples in Acts 11:19, who were struggling to put things back together again in the midst of heavy persecution, we also felt like it was up to us to get it together again and rebuild God’s church. We were encouraged that, even though the disciples in Acts 11:19-21 had every excuse to be “hurt” or “damaged,” they would not stop talking about God. Later, those first century disciples became the church of Antioch, where the Bible says that the “Lord’s hand was with them,” evidenced by the “great number of people who believed and turned to the Lord” (Acts 11:21). 

Mike, Mardiorie, Joan and Kyle soak up the sun after Mardiorie’s baptism in May. (photo by Kelly Bartholomew)

With a group of only 12, and the odds seemingly stacked against us, it would seem almost delusional to think that God could use such a group. However, after only one year’s time, we have seen 20 people get baptized into Jesus Christ, and 1 woman place membership. Surely, the Lord’s hand is with us.

Perhaps the most memorable of the 20 was a woman who was literally on her “deathbed.” She had been Buddhist for over fifty years, and was terrified of dying. She was studied with for just a couple of hours, and she decided to repent and give her life to God. She had the Buddhist shrines and idols removed from her house, and was carried to the baptismal, where she was buried with Christ in the waters of baptism, and was brought out of the water, and into a new life. She spent about a month after that on that same bed, using every opportunity to talk to her son about Jesus. At the end of that month, she passed away. This newborn sister wasn’t scared of dying anymore, because she knew her true life was only beginning. 

Ashley, Bridgette and Mel (l-r) examine the scriptures after Bridgette’s baptism. All three women have been baptized this year. (photo by Chris Directo)

It is stories like this that helps me to understand exactly what is meant when the Bible says that Barnabas saw evidence of the grace of God (Acts 11:23). God’s grace is obvious when you see it at work in people’s lives through their repentance and their receiving of salvation. 

With a year gone by, and all that has been done for the glory of God, I can only imagine how God will work in the years to come.