Friendship to Go!

Tulips offer hope for renewal as does our Christian faith in God for a better future!

Tulips offer hope for renewal as does our Christian faith in God for a better future!

And He came to the disciples and found them sleeping and said to Peter, “So you men could not keep watch with Me for one hour?” (Matthew 26:40)

If there had been coffee shops during Jesus’ time, I’m convinced He would have taken one look at the sleepy faces of Peter, James, and John at Gethsemane and said, “Hey, you guys, I’m going to need your support in the next several hours. You look like you could use help holding your heads up. Let’s go to the Bohemian Bean in Jerusalem and order super-large caramel lattes with caffeine to go!”

Unfortunately, the disciples had no legal artificial stimulant to keep them awake. As a result, they fell asleep three times, even after Jesus implored them to stay awake. Thus, they lost valuable time with their best friend during the most difficult night of His life.

My tendency is to point at those men and ask, “How could you disappoint Jesus so?” Then I see three fingers pointing back at me and ask myself, ‘How many times have I disappointed Jesus?’

Now, wherever I am, morning or night, I talk to God, You see, He’s my best friend and I’ve failed him in the past, but He’s given me a second chance. Now we have a lot of lost time to make up for!

Prayer: God, You are patient with us beyond measure. You know we are weak and tired and don’t deserve Your patience or grace, but You extend them anyway. Give us wisdom to know when a circumstance needs our full attention for Your sake.

Does God Listen to Poor Kids?

Tulips can remind us of God's promise of renewed lives.

Tulips can remind us of God’s promise of renewed lives.

If my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and I will forgive their sin and heal their land. 2 Chronicles 7:14

As a 10-year-old child, Joe thought life was one long struggle.

For five years his parents had moved their 14 children throughout the United States picking fruits and vegetables. One-room cabins with no heat or indoor plumbing, located in camps on the wrong side of town, offered shelter, but no safety or comfort. In these camps Joe saw violence and corruption. He asked God for a safer place to live, but nothing changed. Joe learned to trust no one.

Then a friend invited Joe to attend an evangelistic crusade at the high school football field. Joe didn’t want to go, but he gave in. There he heard the preacher say that Christ could make a difference in a person’s life if he surrendered his will to God.

Tough Joe made my way down to the front and accepted Jesus Christ as my Savior. He had arrived at the meeting with hate and anger, but left with peace. God had changed his life.

Today, Joe tells people that God can use them if they will surrender their will to His. That is a big statement, coming from someone who used to think God didn’t listen to poor kids.

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God, help me to remember there are lost souls who just need to hear the Word of God spoken to them once for them to turn to You. Help me to show people what You can do for them if they will surrender their lives to You.

Calvary Lutheran Church Helps Students Read

Pastor Jerry O’Neal ministers at Calvary Lutheran Church in Bluffton.

Pastor Jerry O’Neal ministers at Calvary Lutheran Church in Bluffton.

For the past year I’ve interviewed pastors of local churches as part of a new weekly column established by my local newspaper. This story was one of those columns. I particularly like the fact that members of the congregation have dedicated themselves to reading to children at a local school. What a vital part of the community’s needs they are addressing! Schools cannot keep up with the number of children who need read to/with. This church is helping. What can you /your church do to help children in your community?

In December 2012 the members of Calvary Lutheran Church
in Bluffton held an important congregational vote. “We voted on a new missions statement,” said Pastor Jerry O’Neal. “It is a faith statement really because at Calvary Lutheran Church Jesus is at work.”

The church, which averages 80 in attendance at worship services, approved a new outreach ministry of ‘adopting’ Lancaster Elementary School students. “We will volunteer at Lancaster in whatever ways are needed,” said O’Neal. “We will read to children, make copies for teachers, and provide refreshments for evening functions.”

Since he and his wife Amy moved their family to Bluffton in 2010, their children — Mary Grace, 14, and Andrew, 11 — have attended Norwell schools. Andrew attended Lancaster Elementary School. “I know it is a good school system and we want to support it,” said Jerry O’Neal.

A North Carolina native, O’Neal attended West Point Military Academy as a cadet after graduating from high school. The military bent was a family tradition. “Both of my grandfathers served in World War II,” he said. “One graduated from West Point. An uncle and I served together at Fort Bragg in Texas and Dad served in the National Guard.”

After graduating from West Point as an officer, O’Neal spent seven years with the Army Corps of Engineers. In 1994 he was deployed to Haiti for six weeks. His last position before being discharged in 2001 was of company commander for the 4th Infantry at Fort Hood.

Before his discharge O’Neal had thought of changing careers to become a pastor. “It was in the back of my mind since high school,” he said. “While in the military, I always attended church and served as the organist at an Episcopal church when stationed at Fort Bragg.”

Still he put it off. After his discharge, O’Neal earned a Master’s degree in operations research for math modeling. He worked a year for Delta Technology solving problems in logistics and transportation, then was employed for four years at Air Force Institution of Technology at Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio.

He taught math at Capital University in Columbus, Ohio, then pursued post-doctoral research. Though O’Neal was highly skilled in the sciences, he realized he would never be truly content until he followed his heart. “It finally seemed like the right time to become a pastor,” he said. “I was at the time of my life where I could see myself doing it long-term.”

With Amy’s support O’Neal attended Trinity Lutheran Seminary in Columbus. Upon graduating from Trinity in 2010, Jerry O’Neal accepted the call to minister at Calvary Lutheran Church in Bluffton.

The O'Neal family has been a part of Calvary Lutheran Church since 2010.

The O’Neal family has been a part of Calvary Lutheran Church since 2010.

Calvary Lutheran Church is part of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America synod.

Calvary Lutheran Church’s Sunday school classes meet at 9:00 a.m. and a worship service is held at 10:00 a.m. A Catechism confirmation class meets weekly for middle schoolers. “It is a three-year process during which they learn about the Bible and Lutheran theology,” said O’Neal.

The Youth groups of Calvary Lutheran Church and St. Mark’s Lutheran church in Uniondale are led by Erin Raatz. “They meet together for Bible Studies and take summer mission trips,” said O’Neal.

Proceeds from rummage sales held at the church in April and October are distributed to local ministries, including The Closet which provides clothing for people in Bluffton.

O’Neal is thrilled with the church’s response to him, his family and the church’s goals for its future. “The congregation has welcomed us with open arms,” he said. “The church is willing to set goals to strengthen its impact on the community of Bluffton. We feel God has led us here.”

Calvary Lutheran Church
1532 N. Main St.

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Children Experience Worship at Bethel Church

Ron Garner and his family pastor at Bethel Church.

Ron Garner and his family pastor at Bethel Church.

“Everything we do at this church is based on the word of God,” said Ron Garner, pastor of Bethel Church in Bluffton, Indiana. He replaces Pat Harris who pastored at the church for 26 years before retiring to the South.

Garner is a native of North Carolina, but graduated from Bluffton High School in 1994 after moving here with his family when he was in the fifth grade.

After high school, Ron attended Indiana-Purdue Fort Wayne but dropped out of college to work for an automotive company.

He met his wife Tonya at Bluffton High School. She attended Indiana Purdue Fort Wayne for nursing and later worked at Parkview Hospital.

After they married, Tonya and Ron attended Hope Missionary Church. Talking with Pastor Matt Hartzell about his spiritual life convinced Ron to accept Jesus Christ as his Savior. “God had brought me to the point where I finally wanted to surrender my life to serving Him,” he said.

Feeling called to pastoral ministry, Ron Garner enrolled at Taylor University-Ft Wayne where he earned a degree in Bible theology in 2004. The Garners pastored at churches in Ohio and Ron worked three years in a factory before accepting a call to minister at Bethel Church, a non-denominational congregation, in December 2012.

Sunday School classes for all ages at Bethel Church begin at 9:00 a.m. Worship services with nursery and preschool assistance begins at 10:00 a.m.

Children are an intentional part of the worship experience at Bethel. “We want kids to learn how to worship with their parents and view their parents as primary spiritual instructors,” said Garner. “For that purpose I always try to engage kids during the services.”

A Bible Study for adults, youth meetings and children services occur on Wednesdays at 7:00 p.m. The Garners, who have four school-age children, plan to move to Bluffton when their home in Ohio is sold.

Garner’s goal in preaching to the 70-member congregation at Bethel is to help them reach the place where they understand God is in control. “I’ve learned that He can use things for his glory and equip us how to live faithfully,” he said. “We must not run away from challenges to our faith but engage scripture and always stand firm with an answer for what we believe in.”

During his seven months at Bethel, Garner has become excited by the congregation’s friendliness. “There is a great sense of family here and people who love Christ and are committed to the authority of the Bible,” he said. “We invite people to visit us who seek a place with a family atmosphere and who want to hear what God has to say.”

Bethel Church
4500 E 300 South

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This article appeared in the Bluffton News-Banner.

Six Tips for Writing Celebrity Profiles

Bill and Gloria Gaither, famous Christian singers & songwriters, were easy to interview.

Bill and Gloria Gaither, famous Christian singers & songwriters, were easy to interview.

Articles about celebrities are one of the easiest types of articles to sell. Editors know readers want to learn what makes well-known people tick.

The good news is that you don’t have to be famous to interview celebrities. My name isn’t Barbara Walters, yet I’ve interviewed Bill and Gloria Gaither, Joe Bonsall of The Oak Ridge Boys, singers BarlowGirl, Tobi Mac and Steven Curtis Chapman, and comedian/singer Mark Lowry.

Interviewing celebrities takes skill, timing and practice. I interviewed dozens of people before attempting to talk with a celebrity. In addition, most celebrities are on a strict time schedule; each question and minute must count. A third challenge is accessibility. The more famous the celebrity, the more difficult it is to procure the interview.

Jerry Jenkins, author of Left Behind books, was full of information about writing books.

Jerry Jenkins, author of Left Behind books, was full of information about writing books.

Despite all of these obstacles, a celebrity interview is easier to conduct than you might think. Following these steps will help to produce sellable interviews with famous people.

1. Get an assignment

Famous people pay managers and agents great amounts of money to screen interview requests. Only the most deserving writers, i.e. those with an assignment from a publication’s editor, will be worked into the client’s schedule.

After publishing dozens of profiles on ‘regular’ people, I contacted the editor of the Ticket! Section of the Fort Wayne (Indiana) News-Sentinel newspaper and was hired to write freelance articles for them.

Now when I email a celeb’s publicist for an interview (having gotten the information from my editor), I begin, “Hi. I’m Kayleen Reusser from the Fort Wayne News-Sentinel and I’m calling to request an interview with Steven Curtis Chapman to promote his upcoming appearance in our area.” I may ask for a copy of the celeb’s latest work, be it CD or book, to be sent to me. Fortunately, with the advent of personal websites where celebrities’ public relations departments post press releases, the need to ask for hard copy press kits is extinct, saving time and expense.

Tracy Petersen has written dozens of popular Christian novels. She is seated in middle.

Tracy Petersen has written dozens of popular Christian novels. She is seated in middle.

If you’d like to write celebrity articles on assignment, send a few published clips from profiles you’ve published on Average Joes to the entertainment section of your local newspaper. Cutbacks in staffing at newspapers can mean more opportunities for freelancers. Tell the editor you’ve heard Joe Piper of 90 Minutes in Heaven fame has scheduled a book signing in your area. You’ve read the book and would love to do an interview with Joe and write a 500-word (or whatever word length they specify) article for the newspaper.

2. Be flexible

A celebrity’s time is tightly structured. You must be willing to work around whatever time the publicist offers you for an interview. If you work another job during the day, as I do, this can be challenging. I try to schedule interviews for evenings or weekends. When the publicist for Michael Tait informed me he could only talk on a certain week day at noon, I interviewed him during my lunch hour. The resulting article appeared in Whatzup!, a local entertainment guide.

3. Prepare

Find out everything you can about your subject before the interview to prepare your questions. Be aware of biographical information, career beginnings, discography, number of sales of hit records or best-sellers, family life, and quotes.

You’ve heard it before — don’t assume everything on the Internet is accurate. If something sounds questionable, ask the celebrity about it. When I read several years ago that Joe Bonsall, lead singer of the Oak Ridge Boys, had published a children’s book, I was puzzled. He enthusiastically explained his interest in writing for children. This all went into the article, creating an avenue of information readers probably were not familiar with. My editor was pleased.

Use your library to check out other sources of information about your celebrity. While preparing to interview Dick Smothers, I noticed his website skimmed the surface of his career during the 1970s with his brother. More information was available in books at my local library. The resulting article contained several of these facts. Databases are also helpful.

4. Record the interview

Years ago, I taped record every phone interview with a recording device from Radio Shack. It connected from my tape recorder to the phone. I always informed the celebrity that our conversation was being recorded, which is required by law. Today, I’m a faster typist and can get the conversations in the computer without using my device. This saves time and effort in transcription. Again this takes practice so don’t rush it and risk misquoting.

5. Think on your feet

Keep in mind that celebrities don’t live in ivory towers. They like to mingle with people. A writer must be ready for these opportunities.

Several years ago, while living in Port St Lucie, Florida, the town where the New York Mets hold their annual baseball spring training camp, I met one of the Mets, Tim Teufel, at church services one Sunday evening. After chatting with the outfielder for several minutes, I realized he’d be a good interview subject. He consented to an interview for an article about his Christian faith. He called me at home the next evening. The resulting article, “A Different Ballgame,” was published in Evangel, Gem, Live, and Sharing the Victory.

6.One more step

Okay, you’ve done your homework and got the interview. You prepared well and wrote an interesting article. Your work isn’t finished. Now you must send a copy of the published article to the publicist who helped you arrange the interview. She may decide to include it in the online press kit for her client. Someone’s articles have to appear there. Why not yours?

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Church profile: Abundant Life Christian Center

It has been a privilege to interview several dozen pastors from my county this past year to write a series of stories for the Bluffton News-Banner newspaper about their churches. This is one story that is unusual– the pastor preaches in 2 churches in different places each Sunday a.m.! His wife is an evangelist also. Please leave a comment if you have been ministered to by this church and I’ll be sure to let the pastor know. Please consider signing up to receive these blogs by including your email address on my home page. God bless.


Scott and Michelle Ochsner minister at Abundant Life Christian Center in Bluffton and Fort Wayne Christian Center.

Scott and Michelle Ochsner minister at Abundant Life Christian Center in Bluffton and Fort Wayne Christian Center.

Beginning in January 2013, the congregation of Abundant Life Christian Center in Bluffton added a sister congregation in Fort Wayne. Scott Ochsner who has ministered at the Bluffton congregation since 2004 is the pastor at both churches.
“The previous pastor at the Fort Wayne church died in 2012,” said Ochsner. “Our congregation wanted a branch in Fort Wayne so it was a good fit.” Ochsner preaches in Bluffton at the 9:00 a.m. worship service which lasts approximately 1 hour and 45 minutes. Then he and his wife, Associate Pastor Michelle Ochsner, drive to Fort Wayne where Scott repeats the same sermon at11:30 a.m. at Fort Wayne Christian Center.

The church is located at the corner of Hannah Street and US Highway 27. The Fort Wayne church has approximately 100 members while the Bluffton congregation numbers 120.

Scott Ochsner and his family moved to Indiana from Colorado in 2000. At that time he pastored a church in Decatur. “We found several people were attending who lived in Bluffton,” he said. “So in 2004 after engaging in a corporate fast to seek guidance from the Lord, the congregation founded Abundant Life Christian Center in Bluffton.”

The church is located on the south side of Bluffton beside the Dollar General store.

Ochsner’s wife, Michelle Ochsner, is a nationally known conference speaker ( who assists her husband with ministry. The Ochsners’ five children participate on the church’s worship team and with the children’s ministry. The church’s youth uses the former Star Video building situated adjacent to the main campus for meetings.

The decision to shepherd a second church was one the Abundant Life Christian Center congregation sought additional counsel for. “We are a non-denomination church but not independent,” said Ochsner who attended Christ for the Nations Institute in Dallas. “For any big decision we summit to the guidance of our board of trustees.” These include pastors at City on the Hill Church in Boulder, Colorado; New Life Christian Church World Outreach in Warsaw, Indiana; Calvary Christian Center in Sacramento, California. “I call these men any time our church needs to make a major decision or needs counseling and advice,” added Ochsner.

According to Ochsner, the mission of Abundant Life Christian Center is primary. “We want to impact the world for Jesus both at home and away by proclaiming the word of God with boldness in God confirming His word by signs and wonders,” he said.

One way he believes the church is impacting the world is through technology. “Thousands of people have streamed sermon podcasts from our website,” he said. The church also broadcasts sermons via radio station WZBD in Decatur.

“My goal as a pastor is to help people mature in Christ as the Bible commands,” he said. “My greatest joy is when a person gives his or her life to Jesus Christ. That compels me to do what I do.”

1409 S Main Street
Facebook: Abundant Life Christian Center

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Liberty Center Baptist Church: From Surviving to Thriving

In a change from my regular format of posting a devo each Sunday I’m posting a story about a local church in my area that I wrote for the Bluffton News-Banner with permission of the editor.

Each week for the past year I’ve been blessed to interview a different pastor in my county. The stories with photos are published each Friday. Believe it or not, our county, which is mostly rural, has 65 churches!

Each church has gifts and strengths and God’s blessing. There are so many opportunities for each to minister to people in need. What can you do to help your church’s mission today?


Pastor Aaron and wife Laura Westfall minister at Liberty Center Baptist Church

Pastor Aaron and wife Laura Westfall minister at Liberty Center Baptist Church

Liberty Center Baptist Church

Where is God leading us? Are we ready for it? How much do we care about people who don’t know Jesus Christ?

These questions are some that Pastor Aaron Westfall
of Liberty Center Baptist Church has asked himself and his congregation in recent months.

Liberty Center Baptist Church is located in Liberty Center, Indiana.

Liberty Center Baptist Church is located in Liberty Center, Indiana.

“We want to look at the health of our church. through prayer and seeking the Lord’s will,” he said. “We want to go from surviving to thriving and keep our eyes focused on the vision. It’s exciting to get people to trust each other to walk together.”

Westfall grew up in Liberty Center with his mother and brother. He attended church with his grandparents. After graduating from Southern Wells High School, Westfall attended Indiana Wesleyan University where he majored in Christian Ministries. “As a teen, I felt God calling me into ministry,” he said. He was licensed as a pastor in early 2011.

In October 2011, while working full time at Wayne Metals in Markle, Westfall accepted the position as pastor at Liberty Center Baptist Church.

Although he is considered part-time, Westfall’s duties include preaching each Sunday, leading Wednesday night Bible Study and church meetings, and visiting members of the congregation in need. He is the only paid staff member at the church.

Aaron and his wife Laura Westfall work as a team in caring for their three children, ages elementary and teen, and church responsibilities.

“My main concern as a pastor is to keep my priorities in line,” he said. “God is No.1, but my family has to be my focus.”

At the same time he places an emphasis on creating a welcoming atmosphere at the church. “Our vision as a congregation is to be a place where people matter and lives are changed,” he said.

To facilitate this mission he is developing leadership within the church of 70 regular attendees. “I can’t do it all,” he said. “I know everyone here wants to reach out and share their Christian faith.”

In addition to taking communion to shut-ins and praying with people, Westfall and his church have helped members of the community with food needs and Christmas presents. On Sundays the church offers special classes on relevant topics, such as parenting. During Easter week 2013, the church plans to host a Passover service that will be open to the public.

One area in the church Westfall hopes to address in 2013 is the church’s youth ministry. “We have a lot of kids in our community who could use a loving, Christian place,” he said.

Westfall has seen some growth since he’s tenure at the church. Attendance then was 45 and there have been five baptisms.
“I believe my family was led to Liberty Center Baptist Church,” said Westfall. “It’s nice to be in a place where we can use our talents to serve God.”

Sunday School: 9:10
Fellowship time with donuts & coffee: 9:45
Sunday worship: 10:15
Classes for kids and Youth are available.

3071 W Cherry Street
Liberty Center IN 46766

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