Our 2017-2018 fiscal year is coming to an end on June 30. This is a good time to reflect on the past year and what we have accomplished through God's blessing, and also to consider what we can do better with God's direction and help. While we don't have final numbers for this year yet, it is evident that we will easily exceed the "income" budget (in all categories, including General Contributions, Festival Assistance, and Holy Day offerings) and the "net income" budgets for the year. We are ever-grateful to God, our members and the many coworkers and donors who support this work.
Beyond financial statistics: during the year more than 120 people were baptized in the United States (a number comparable to recent years), plus many more in other countries around the world; three additional ministerial trainees were hired, the Beyond Today TV program was moved from the Word Network to WGN-America, the circulation of the Beyond Today magazine print run has held even at around 300,000 copies each issue; and Internet and print advertising efforts resulted in over 100,000 new people requesting literature and adding their names to our data base.
Construction of the new Video Recording Studio is about 80 percent complete and will be finished in early July. The studio has been financed through donations that exceed $875,000 as of this date. Just this week, painting neared completion and the pipe battens that will hold the studio lighting have been hung. You can see a brief video clip of this at twitter.com/UCGmedia. In addition, a company to help us design and build the on-camera set has been chosen and drawings are being reviewed as I write this.
We pray that the tools provided by the new recording space will enable us to make an even greater impact for our mission. We know that God has a purpose in our efforts to more effectively and dynamically preach the gospel. We are grateful to God for the opportunity to serve Him and for the blessings He has provided for His Church and His people.
Yesterday our media team met to discuss one of our new products which will be a documentary series engaging people who are already searching for life's purpose (and there are plenty of people who do wonder, but don't know where to find answers) and to direct them towards God's Kingdom and His plan for mankind. As we humble ourselves and let God use us, we are confident of good outcomes. That is my unceasing prayer.
And, as reported in the May 31 eNews, we mailed a cover letter and a complimentary copy of the May-June 2018 issue of Beyond Today magazine to various government officials in the United States and Israel, and to a number of public and private organizations. This week we sent out our third and final mailing to additional consulates, embassies and government officials. We did receive a very nice reply from the Consulate General of Israel in New York's director of regional affairs that said in part: "On behalf of Ambassador Dani Dayan, I wanted to thank you for sharing your insightful magazine with our office. We are grateful for your support and friendship." We pray that this effort will bear fruit in our overall mission to preach the gospel of the Kingdom, and also provide a witness of God's way of life. I appreciate the work of John LaBissoniere and our media team in getting these mailings taken care of.
On Tuesday evening we held an online class as part of our Pastoral Development Program on the subject of modesty that was moderated by Steve Nutzman, Steve Myers and myself. We had a good discussion about what is sometimes a sensitive subject, yet one not to be dismissed because talking about modesty is far more than just talking about appropriate dress.
The definition of modesty is the quality or state of being unassuming or moderate in the estimation of one's abilities. Some synonyms for modesty are self-effacement, humility, unpretentiousness, self-consciousness, reserve, reticence, timidity. It is also behavior, manner, or appearance intended to avoid impropriety or indecency.
Modesty is a trait of character that transcends and embodies appearance, speech and attitude. But, often when we bring up modesty, it centers on specific codes of dress at specific events. In discussion we talked about how important it is to educate our brethren about what the Bible says about public behavior as part of our conversion and maturation. By discussing the subject and educating with a holistic view of modesty for all, we can all become the kind of person Jesus Christ would like us to be.
Visitors from Ukraine
Ivan Yurishko, a leader among Sabbatarians in western Ukraine, visited the home office last week. I first met him in 1992 in Rokosovo, Ukraine, when we discovered that there were thousands of people keeping the Sabbath and espousing similar doctrinal views about the Passover, Holy Spirit, non-use of the cross, not keeping the Roman holidays, and the state of the dead to name just a few. Many Sabbath-keepers in Ukraine emigrated to the United States over the past 20 years as a consequence of the Helsinki Human Rights Accord adopted in the days of President Jimmy Carter. Under that accord, many small persecuted religious groups were given preferential status to come to the United States. Thousands did and settled mostly in Portland, Oregon. Two of Ivan and Nina's children have settled there and Ivan was in the United States to visit them.
Over the years we have worked together on various projects through the Ambassador Foundation when we sent eight Ambassador College students and volunteers for a summer to Ukraine to teach English in 1994. We have worked together on humanitarian projects. For 15 years we supported a street children's program run by a Sabbatarian pastor.
Ivan Yurishko is an entrepreneur who owned several businesses. He owned a print shop. We called it the "Kinko's of Ukraine." He reprinted a lot of our Russian-language literature, including thousands of copies of the entire 12-lesson Bible Study Course which they passed out freely among their brethren. Their favorite booklet is Sunset to Sunset which they have declared to be the best treatise of any Sabbath-keeping group about the Sabbath.
One area they had resisted doctrinally was the keeping of the Holy Days. Some groups who had tried to do so slipped into Judaism and away from Jesus Christ. On my visits to Ukraine, I would preach about various topics of common understanding, but in the summer of 2006 I spoke about Pentecost, the day that New Testament Church was established. I pointed out that not only was Passover centered around Jesus Christ, but Pentecost was also commanded by Jesus Christ to be observed as the day of the founding of the Church of God. The fall Holy Days point towards Jesus Christ's return and the establishment of His Kingdom. In 2011 Ivan and his family came to our Feast of Tabernacles in Estonia. Since that time, we have talked about a combined Feast somewhere in Hungary, but this has never materialized. The good news is that his congregation in Khust has adopted the keeping of all the Holy Days. Most Sabbatarians still balk at their observance.
On this visit, Ivan proposed a closer association with the United Church of God as we have with the Sabbath-keepers in Misiones, Argentina, Mizoram, India, and in Angola. One of his sons who has a European Union passport is applying for Ambassador Bible College.
This was a wonderful visit in our 27 year-history. You can read more about our visits at: http://lifenets.org/ukraine/.
Colombia Trip Travel Blog
Scott and Gayle Hoefker are in Colombia to do pre-Feast planning in Cartagena, Colombia. The Feast of Tabernacles is the only time that all the brethren in Colombia can see each other at one time. From there they will travel to San Gil, Santandar, Colombia for the annual church camp. You can follow their travels here: http://v2.travelark.org/travel-blog/gayle_hoefker/25.
Inside United Podcast
We are regularly producing podcasts featuring interviews with people of note in the Church. We have recently spoken with ABC students and pastors. The interviews are usually about 15 minutes. While we give you a URL to click or tap into a podcast, you may consider installing an app on your mobile phone to more easily find and listen to them.
On my Android phone, I have found Pocket Cast to be very convenient. I can see all the podcasts starting with the latest one and then listen to them while driving my car or taking a walk. Those using an iPhone may find Overcast to be good.
Today's podcast is my interview with Stephanie Bissessar from Trinidad who just returned from UYC camp at Cotubic and gives her impressions about camp and her home country of Trinidad.