Category Archives: Local

We Shall Overcome


Imagine a group of church leaders sitting down to pray and dream about the future, drawing up their long range plan. Included are two new Saturday services, hiring additional personnel, partnering with another church in reaching out to the community, strategically joining with a ministry in another country, starting a building project. Sidelining the lead pastor. WHAT?

Imagine being the lead pastor at a large church. You are a visionary who foresees, with God’s blessing and grace, amazing things ahead. You are greatly loved by your congregation, respected in the community. You are in excellent physical condition, running marathons. You are working on your doctorate. You are steering the largest building program the church has ever undertaken. In the blink of an eye, it seems, you can barely talk and can’t get around without a walker. WHAT?

The week of October 19th, 2008, John Stumbo, the lead pastor at Salem Alliance Church, thought he was coming down with the flu. When he didn’t improve he was checked into the hospital. He stayed there for 77 days. Five times his wife, Joanna, was advised that she needed to come quickly because he wasn’t responding. It was bad and it was frightening.

Fast forward, months later…

John is suffering from a disease that the doctors call dermatomyocitis, an autoimmune disorder that attacks the muscles and has left him in a very weakened state. He has lost 45 pounds from his original weight and because the muscles that aid in swallowing were affected, he has to receive his nourishment through a feeding tube. The average person swallows 1,000 times each day, but John can’t even swallow his own saliva. His voice is an agonizing whisper. His heart and his vital organs are fine. His memory and mind are as sharp as they’ve ever been. But since he was allowed to go home last February he has been in constant discomfort, dependent on Joanna and other caregivers to help him with almost everything he does. Doctors cannot tell him what the future holds. John is 48 years old.

In the meantime, what has happened to the church whose dynamic, brilliant leader was struck down in his prime? Everyone, to a person, would agree that, even though we are a better people for John’s ordeal, our hearts have been broken by the things he and his family have had to experience, and never-in-a-million-years would we have wished for this to happen. As we walk with him through this journey we have all shed many tears, asked many questions of God, and have had to come to grips with the knowledge that, simply put, God’s brain is not like ours, operating on a different dimension. We do believe that God weeps with us and that what John, his family, and Salem Alliance are going through deeply matters to him. We also know that God is in the business of redemption. He will use this for his purpose, and the good will be magnified to a much greater degree than the pain. We continue to hope. One night last November, over 1,000 people gathered – with four hours notice – to pray for John.

Others prayed in their homes. That was one of the times God brought him back from the brink of death. John later told the congregation, “I had my hand on death’s door, but I had about three thousand of you pulling me back. I didn’t have a chance to get into heaven with all of you people praying for me.”

There have been other corporate prayer times – at Salem Alliance and at churches all over the world – and millions of individual prayers offered on John’s behalf because we believe that John is “one touch away” from being completely healed, that God is able to remove this curse from John in an instant – if that is his will. As we anticipate that day we are sensing the Holy Spirit’s closeness in a new way as we lay John’s needs, as well as those of the church, before our all-powerful God. Many people, young and old, are making decisions to become followers of Jesus Christ. Life isn’t going on as normal. We’ve changed. We go deeper. Things we took for granted are now reasons for thankfulness. God, through John, has touched the hearts and lives of his people in unique ways.

And John perseveres. He can slowly walk a mile on his treadmill. He continues to minister to literally thousands of people throughout the world on his blog ( or where he shares insights into his mysterious journey. John writes very well, and his story is an honest, gripping, encouraging, heart-breaking, challenging, and sometimes humorous tale. The comments that are left on the blog demonstrate that he speaks to many people where they are, helping them with their own trials, their own pain.

On recent blogs John discussed fifteen elements of persevering that he clings to, that have helped him personally. Included in those are suggestions to keep praising God, to rely on what you know to be true and not what you feel at the moment, to intentionally look for humor in the circumstances, and to take on day at a time, knowing that some are going to be more difficult than others.

This past June, John, of his own initiative, stepped down as lead pastor of Salem Alliance Church and has been reassigned to a part-time associate pastor role. As we wrestle with exactly what that will look like, we know that God has a plan and it is perfect.

We are thankful that, in God’s providence, Salem Alliance has a preaching TEAM. Ours has not been a “one man show” so even though John is terribly missed, his absence has not been devastating and the church has moved forward in health. One of the associate pastors, Steve Fowler, has been appointed as interim lead pastor. Others – staff and volunteers alike – have stepped up to the plate, filled the gaps, worked many extra hours, poured their hearts into their calling – to honor God and to honor John.

We are all in this together, for the long haul. John is not leaving us and we are not leaving him. We are committed to the Stumbo family, in whatever form that may take in the future. (John and Joanna have three children – one married and two in college.)

When asked about how the family is handling this crisis, Joanna said, “After being married for 26 years, we thought we knew our script pretty well. We thought we had a good idea of what our future looked like. But working through this illness has forced us to learn improv. We’re making it up as we go.”
On John’s office wall is this prayer: “O Lord, may the power of my example far exceed the authority of my position. Amen.” It is evident that John’s awe-inspiring example is touching lives in ways he never imagined and in ways that are more far reaching than a “position” could have taken him. And we don’t know the end of the story yet.

God does.

On June 24th, when John spoke briefly to the congregation (at all five services!), he said, “God is in this and God is good.” At another time he commented, “I never would have chosen to lose my health and be in the situation I am in, but I am trusting that God’s ultimate purposes will be fulfilled.”

That is the embodiment of faith.

a-002Before retiring, Natalie Warren served on the pastoral staff at Salem Alliance church for eleven years. She graduated from Westmont College and took several short-term mission trips to Guinea, West Africa, and Jordan. Currently Natalie serves on the Governing Board of Salem Alliance, enjoys spending time with her eight grandchildren and, along with her husband Jim, lives in rural Monmouth, Ore.


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Now Is The Time To Go

Almost daily, a young white woman walks through the streets of a South Africa shantytown that is still hurting and divided after the oppressive former “Apartheid” government. Young children with crusty noses and mouths run up to grab her hand, barely dodging a honking taxi. She passes by large, humming South African mamas standing over open grills, cooking animal entrails and sheep’s heads, surrounded by mangy, rib protruding dogs, hoping for just a morsel of meat to fall to the ground. Hip Hop music vibrates out of the local “Shabeen” as the thumping base notes seem to resonate through her chest as she avoids with a smile the beer inspired men on the streets, hoping to lure her over for a suggestive conversation.

As her pedestrian trek continues past drafty tin roofed shacks, she passes a seated Sangoma, (sacred woman) who brings empty promises to this poor township of cures for HIV, broken hearts and the usually empty pockets of the tribal Xhosa people of Masiphumelele. The Sangoma will employ charms and chants designed to summon up the help and power of long dead tribal ancestors. Bethany O’Connor keeps walking and smiling and waving to friends and acquaintances, but this 27 year old American woman, who seems maybe a bit out of place, projects a different kind of presence and power as she moves through this poor township that has captured her heart. O’Connor’s mission is to bring healing and hope through extending what she believes is the most powerful force on the face of the earth — The tender kindness and unconditional love of a living God.

If you had told O’Connor just a couple years before that she would be strolling through an infamous black township where many local white people would tremble to find themselves, she too would have laughed in your face. Originally from Salem, Oregon (Sprague High School 2000) , and a 2004 Social Work graduate of Oral Roberts University (Masters Degree from University of Oklahoma), she was first introduced to the rich and complicated culture of South Africa through a business and community development trip with her father in mid 2007. Her father, Joe O’Connor and a non profit foundation he runs ( has been involved in designing & advocating for new Christian based community enrichment centers in poverty stricken neighborhoods. Little did Bethany know that this fun, father-daughter bonding trip overseas would play a pivotal role that would change the course and direction of her life.

“During that trip, Capetown struck me as a complicated, beautiful and yet sad place where I could for sure see my self living and working some day in the distant future”. O’Connor continues, “But my vision and goals at the time were pretty focused and I felt obligated to get back to Portland, Oregon and further my Social Work career in a fulfilling and good paying job”.

But God seemed to have another timetable. After 3 months of excellent and encouraging job interviews, O’Connor started to wonder if maybe God had different plans for her immediate future. O’Connor remembers, “On the drive home from one interview , I had this “revelation moment” and I heard this inner prompting seem to say specifically – “Now is the time to go, I have different & better plans for you”. O’Connor found herself pondering the meaning of this inner voice as she found her mind wandering to the poverty, squalor and large beaming smiles of the people in the slum townships around Capetown.

In a surprisingly quick staccato of events, O’Connor found herself making some critical life changing decisions. Within weeks she was selling her car, storing her possessions, researching airfare and housing and launching headlong into an orientation course with a creative outside the box ministry founded by Floyd McClung, the legendary leader and pioneer of the large YWAM ministry in the infamous Amsterdam red light district. During this training course in Capetown, called CPX (Church Planting Experience) O’Connor was encouraged and counseled by McClung to dream big and find the cultural keys that can touch the hearts and needs of people living in fear and repression, especially in poverty stricken areas.

“Masiphumelele” is the name of the informal settlement where O’Connor works. Also known as “Site 5” by the former apartheid government, “Masi” was one of many squatters villages that sprung up in the 60’s and 70’s under the white dominated governing party as a “solution” to try and limit the mixing of different races. At that time, it was not unusual to see forcibly evicted families and their belongings loaded in trucks and literally dumped on the barren ground on the outskirts of the populated areas. Masi developed as a squatters camp during this same era, and even today hosts many refugees, living in sparse and drafty shacks, who have come to South Africa from other African nations, seeking a better life.

It has only been 14 years since apartheid has ended. O’Connor says she can still sometimes detect the wounded and rejected spirit reflected in people’s eyes when she, a white person, engages them in conversation. There is also a palpable tension between black people of tribal origin and the mixed race “coloured” people that further creates cultural complications.

In the midst of this rich and cultural dynamic, O’Connor moves about on her daily mission to bring hope and practical tangible services to families, abandoned mothers and vulnerable children. In her early days working in Masi, O’Connor encountered a white South African woman, Michelle Pughe-Parry, who also reflected a passion and concern for at risk mothers and the secret shame of baby dumping. Together they teamed up to research and address the causative issues head on. O’Connor’s heart was both outraged and pierced at the thought of a mother being so desperate for food, shelter and basic survival needs that she would literally throw her baby away in the garbage. O’Connor’s research and resulting community networking led her to create a remarkable solution known as “The Baby Safe” which has now become known throughout much of the Capetown region (population 2 million +) . O’Connor says – “If there is one thing I have become more and more convinced of, it is that God is a refuge to the oppressed and He loves to channel His love and hope to the brokenhearted, the fatherless and to the desperate. A scripture that O’Connor clings to that reflects this is – “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, defend the cause of the weak, advocate for the rights of the needy.”

After 8 months of research, networking with government officials and involving other faith based poverty initiatives, The Baby Safe was launched as an official ministry/sub organization of McClung’s organization- All Nations of South Africa. The Baby Safe, installed at a church owned site within walking distance of Masi, is a simple engineering marvel consisting of a safe, tamper proof steel deposit door with a small weight sensitive shelf with a mattress inside. The technology, developed by a volunteer Christian engineer from Sweden, is wired and monitored to detect the presence of a baby by sensing the weight of .5 kilograms or more (about 1.2 lbs). O’Connor explains – “When the door is opened and a baby is placed inside, the sensors detect the weight and activates the system which simultaneously locks the door and sends out electronic messages to Baby Safe team volunteers who can literally respond within 3 – 4 minutes.”

As important as offering the Baby Safe itself, a myriad of services and resources are now also offered to at risk young mothers (often as young as 14 years old). Word of mouth and colorful posters that are plastered all over Masi and other nearby communities have gotten the word out about The Baby Safe. Word has also spread beyond Masi and O’Connor is now deluged with invitations from government groups, radio talk shows, hospital counseling staffs and other agencies that have opened doors for her to become involved in pre-natal counseling, pre-abortion counseling, job development, and identifying and intervening in vulnerable households. “I feel like the heart of Baby Safe is to connect with women, babies and children to offer life, hope and options”, says O’Connor. “ I have been profoundly blessed as I have watched many women (on almost a weekly basis) cancel their scheduled abortions, explore the options of adoption, and many have received encouragement and other resources that actually empower them to choose to keep and raise their babies.”

O’Connor has also been instrumental in helping to launch the Vulnerable Children’s Project ( that provides food, clothing, bedding and also addresses the safety of groups of children living alone in shacks in the township. These child headed households often have a parent who is either sick in the hospital (usually with AIDS) or already deceased , leaving brothers and sisters all on their own, with only the eldest child to care for them. O’Connor comments- “This VC program allows us to link compassionate supporters and donors in the West with a Masi child headed household to meet their basic food, housing and clothing needs, all for only $40 a month for each child headed family, which is pretty amazing.” She continues- “We also are able to provide bible clubs, after school mentoring and tutoring, better school placement and other “Big Brother- Big Sister” type friendship to these incredibly resilient kids.”

O’Connor observes that it would be easy to have a sense of utter hopelessness in the face of the cyclical ravages of poverty, crime and the AIDS epidemic that she sees daily in Masi. “ I often struggle with the weight of the immense need and wonder how I could ever make even a little dent” says O’Connor. “But always, almost every day, I am amazed and stunned at the extravagant love of God for the poor. Jesus and his loving kindness comes shining through when I meet women and children in crisis and wonder what on earth can I do? I used to be very self sufficient, smart enough to figure most things out and not really feel the pressure to rely on God for every day things in my life. But now, many times a day, His voice, direction and peace are literally my lifeline.”

This remarkable American girl shares that one of her biggest personal lessons while serving in a poor township has been grasping the meaning of John 15 where it says “I can do absolutely nothing apart from Him. He is the vine, I am the branches”. She continues, “I have come to the realization of how ridiculously dependent I am on Him, to try and bear fruit and to have wisdom in the face of decisions that bear so much weight- many involving life and death of little ones.”

O’Connor is an ordinary young woman who has found herself doing extraordinary things. She is a full time mission worker who is 100% dependent on the financial gifts and monthly support of people that have heard her remarkable story. If you are interested in finding out more about her work and mission you can visit her website at There is a “Give” page on her website for people who want to get involved and have a tangible impact on serving the poor through her efforts in South Africa. You can also learn more about The Baby Safe at

lindsayaboutus If you know of an ordinary person who is doing extraordinary things, then feel free you can share their story with Lindsay Goodier who is a writer and author living in Houston, Texas. She has enjoyed being published in numerous magazines including Relevant Magazine, Rethink Monthly Magazine and other publications. You can contact Lindsay at

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The I Heart Revolution Documentary

For 3 Years, Hillsong United traveled with a documentary and production team to record the worship experiences, culture, and history of young people around six major regions of the world. WITH HEARTS AS ONE was released in 2008. WE’RE ALL IN THIS TOGETHER the eagerly awaited documentary is about the movement, a call-to-action. It’s about you, and how you can get involved.

When: Wednesday, November 4, 2009 at 8PM PST
Where: Regal Cinemas / Lloyd Center 10 / Portland, OR (Click here for other theaters)
Tickets: Click here to purchase tickets
Group Sales: Click here for group sales

“We’re All in this Together”- Part apologetic, part documentary, part call to action, the film is a story made up of many stories, told by many voices, no individual voice any more or any less important than any other, yet every voice working together to ultimately tell the ONE story – A story that involves everyONE; that seeks to capture our collective and idiosyncratic purpose in ONE.

And so… WE’RE ALL IN THIS TOGETHER will officially be launched this November. We’re taking it into cinemas for ONE night only – our prayer; that the Church across the earth would rally together and do whatever it takes to see as many people as possible gather at the same time in cinemas everywhere and be stirred and inspired by the message of Christ, to ultimately work closer together in seeing the real needs of humanity collide with a love that can only be found in God who by definition – IS Love.

W.A.I.T.T. isn’t for a second about Hillsong UNITED.. It doesn’t serve to document the music and the adventurous nature of travel, nor has it been designed even to quench our thirst to be entertained.. This is ultimately about YOU – It’s about all of us.. And so our hope is that we would ALL get behind it.. We never had a big budget.. No corporate sponsorship or professional help.. It has been pulled together by a small team of incredibly selfless and dedicated people who have tirelessly given of themselves and persevered to make it a reality.. And our prayer is that we all as individuals would play our part and take it upon ourselves to see as many of our friends, youth, churches mobilised to be a part of this event. It has the potential to be HUGE!! – READ MORE

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I Heart Dream Center

It all began with an idea, a passion, and a simple drawing.

Have you ever wondered what could truly happen when God’s children join their hearts, gifts, and passions together? Not only that, but with a sole purpose of blessing others while expecting nothing in return? I was honored to catch a glimpse of what that would look like this weekend at Salem Dream Center.

Every Saturday morning, a group of volunteers walk a few blocks to a low-income apartment complex that we have “adopted.” We round up the ready, waiting, and giggling kids to take them to Walker Middle School. We then proceed to play games, make crafts, eat snacks, and provide a safe and loving environment for them. Every week it’s an adventure to say the least.

This Saturday seemed no different than the last few Saturdays. But this time, we had a surprise for the kids. Rethink Monthly offered to partner with us, along with the community, to provide 140 custom T-shirts for the kids. They were able to use artwork that had been “face painted” on a little girl’s arm that said “I Heart Dream Center.” Little did we know the blessing that image would become.

Today was the day the kids were waiting for. The T-shirts had finally arrived.

The first thing every child did was put it on. Immediately. And every single little face that popped out of the shirt was covered with some of the most precious smiles I have ever seen. I began to think. What was it about a T-shirt that could bring that sort of joy? What was the real reason for that smile? As I began to look around I saw white “I HEART DREAM CENTER” shirts absolutely everywhere, it dawned on me. I believe the kids realized that the t-shirts symbolized something bigger than just “something to wear.” It symbolized someone cared for them. Someone gave them a gift. Someone they may never have met loved them enough to bless them. All of a sudden they were not alone as they looked around. They were included, accepted, and had a place to belong, together. It wasn’t just about a t-shirt anymore. It was about what those T-shirts represented. And what they represented was that they were ALL valued and wanted.

What a gift to give a child.

To you and me, it may just be a shirt. But every precious smile we witnessed today said so much more. Thank you to every single person who selflessly gave their time, resources, and gifts into blessing these precious kids. We couldn’t have done it without you.

Article by Lindsay Blackman, on behalf of Craig Oviatt and the Salem Dream Center. You can find out more about the Dream Center by visiting their Facebook site at

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