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  • July 11, 2014 - Reflections

    By Jean S. Horner
    The other day while walking down a corridor in a public building, I saw what appeared to be someone walking toward me. On coming closer, I found it was my own reflection in a huge mirror. For a moment it frightened me. Somehow a full-length reflection of one’s self is a startling thing. ...

Single Does Not Mean Alone

By Scott Harrup
Oct. 24, 2010

When the 1992 Chevy Suburban veered off the overpass on Interstate 25 near Johnstown, Colo., it plunged 50 feet before hitting a concrete embankment. The impact crushed the vehicle, and the resulting fire burned the seven passengers’ bodies beyond recognition.

Three adults and three children of the Rempel family of Alberta, Canada, and a family friend had been traveling home through the night after visiting relatives in Mexico. Authorities believe whoever had taken the last turn behind the wheel had fallen asleep. It was 4:30 a.m., Thanksgiving 2008.

For Louis Greek, 30, an investigator for the Larimer County medical examiner, death is part of the job almost daily — whether from homicide, suicide or accident. But this accident scene, about 40 miles north of Denver, was hard to process emotionally.

“It was a tough scene for me and everyone else on the team,” Greek says. “Especially on Thanksgiving. A difficult scene to see, and very emotional for the family members we contacted in Mexico and Canada. Especially when it involves children.”

The youngest victim was only 21 months old.

When Greek’s pager goes off, he knows he will be responding to a situation involving tragedy at some level. Larimer County encompasses urban Fort Collins as well as the wild expanse of Rocky Mountain National Park. Cause of death can vary from gang-related homicides to skiing accidents.

“I will go to the scene and take photographs,” Greek says. “I will interview family members, doctors, friends, teachers and counselors if necessary.”

He is also responsible at times to transport the decedent to the hospital and assist the forensic pathologist in the autopsy to try to determine the cause of death.

“People ask me how I can do my job,” he admits. “But I think it’s an opportunity to serve people. They are experiencing some of the worst times of their lives. I believe God has given me the strength to serve them.”

Greek believes much of that God-given strength comes through his involvement with nine70, the young adult ministry at Timberline Church in Fort Collins. Named for the local area code, nine70 attracts participants from across the community, including students from local colleges and universities. The Tuesday night small group Bible study, Thursday night service, and weekend activities give a spiritually positive framework to each week.

“I feel I cannot make it through my week without being plugged in some way there,” Greek says.

Jackie Dittman, 47, encounters the same kind of support at Saturday Night Alive, a citywide singles ministry she co-leads in Rapid City, S.D., where she has attended Bethel Assembly of God the past 25 years. Bethel and about a dozen other churches are represented at Saturday Night Alive, and Dittman also heads up a singles Sunday School class.

As a health unit coordinator at Rapid City’s Regional Behavioral Health Center, Dittman assists patients in need of cognitive, behavioral and emotional care. She believes her faith is her greatest asset in helping patients and their families.

“I pray every day that I will be a mirror that reflects Jesus to the world,” Dittman says. “There’s a lot of darkness out there. I feel like my unit is a ministry field.”

To be effective in that ministry field, Dittman relies on emotional and spiritual support from the friends she has made through her class and in the larger group. And she is always ready to return that support.

“Bonnie in our class is a schoolteacher,” she says, offering one example. “Her school closed just as she was dealing with her sister’s brain tumor and her brother’s cancer. We have gone through some struggles together.”

It was a very personal struggle that connected Ingrid Aguilar, 34, of Kernersville, N.C., with Calvary Church in nearby Greensboro and the singles community there. For Aguilar, living as a single person was a painful reality following her divorce. After the final court hearing in September 2005, she had moved to North Carolina from Connecticut with two young sons and her third child on the way.

“I did not think my husband and I could ever get back together,” she says. “But part of me could not see myself with anyone but the father of my children.”

Aguilar had attended Seaport Community Church in Groton, Conn., with husband Alberto.

“The Lord really used that church to help me in my spiritual choices,” she says.

Now she was praying to find the right church for her broken family in their new community. Calvary was the third church they tried. When Aguilar attended a divorce care group, she experienced a spiritual breakthrough.

“I prayed, ‘Lord, I am open to whatever You want from me. I want You to heal my heart.’”

Ministry opportunities

Aguilar’s journey to recovery points to the restorative power singles ministry offers, both to group members and the community.

In Colorado, Greek and his nine70 friends use weekends for much more than social interaction. On many Friday nights they visit Fort Collins’ bars to offer patrons a safe ride home. Greek’s personal struggle with alcohol before coming to Christ makes that ministry especially relevant.

“I made a lot of poor choices when I was younger,” he says, “especially with drugs and alcohol and violent behavior. I was only 15 when I left home.”

A friend from nine70 with a similar past has teamed with Greek on nighttime outreaches.

“People respond,” Greek says. “We recently gave two guys a ride after they had been drinking downtown. They asked what made us different. We explained how God has changed our lives and saved us. They started coming to nine70.”

In North Carolina, Aguilar continued to attend a support group in the wake of her divorce. As her pregnancy progressed, she wondered how she would care for three children alone. She remembers one encouraging encounter in particular.

“I was at a Bible study on Feb. 4, 2006,” she says. “A lady approached me and began to pray for me. God gave her a specific word for me — that He had heard my cries, that He saw me as a woman of God, and that He had a wonderful plan for the son I was carrying. She did not know I was having a boy.”

In the following months, God began to restore the Aguilar family. Alberto had moved to North Carolina just a couple of months after Ingrid to be near the children.

“The Lord started changing him,” Aguilar says. “He gave himself to the Lord. We were remarried in September 2007.”

Dittman has seen a number of friends make lifelong connections through Rapid City’s singles ministry network. As married friends transition out of the singles group, she finds endless opportunity to continue ministering to those joining. Her Sunday School class offers an eclectic mix of supportive topics.

“We did one series on memorizing Scripture,” she says. “We did a series on the Book of Ephesians, then focused on the armor of God. We recently got back into The Purpose Driven Life.”

There is no hard and fast schedule. Most topics are completed in a quarter, Dittman says, but they spent a year going through the Book of James.

Dittman also sees great value in a national network of singles ministry groups. She joined the November 2008 Caribbean cruise sponsored by Dennis Franck and the national Single Adult Ministries office. About 400 singles from the Assemblies of God and the Church of God (Cleveland, Tenn.) participated.

“There was lots of music and worship and powerful teaching on sharing our faith with others,” she says. “It was wonderful. The experience of sailing over the ocean in that huge ship just reminded me of how God is in control of everything. Creation is enormous. I am very thankful for Dennis Franck and others who work to bring singles together. He really has a heart for us.”

The most important decision

When Dittman was 16, her boyfriend lost his mother to cancer.

“She was only 38, and that shook me up,” Dittman recalls. “Both my sisters were Christians, and I was visiting one sister the weekend of that funeral. My sister led me to the Lord.”

Greek accepted Christ while in his teens and credits his grandmother’s influence and prayers for that decision. At her invitation in 1996, he went to a Christian Renewal Conference in Estes Park, Colo.

“I really did not fit in,” he says. “I came from a very difficult family background. But after one youth pastor talked about his life in drugs and prison and how it changed his life when he met the Lord, I began to think about what was missing in my life. No substance or person had filled that void.”

The intervening years have been challenging. Greek is a long-time member of the National Guard, with two tours in Iraq and one in the Balkans to his credit.

“I have made some wrong choices,” he admits, “but I feel blessed God has come into my life. He has used the things I have experienced, even the poor choices, and I am happy to share those experiences with others. People like my grandmother and the leadership at nine70 have shown me a whole new way to live life and view things.”

Aguilar renewed her childhood commitment to Christ when she was 22 and expecting her oldest son. Her involvement with the singles group at Calvary Church helped that relationship to grow and proved to be the means for a restored relationship with her husband.

“Sometimes during those dark times in your life you feel as if God is not there,” she says. “But God is there. He is there all the time. He is helping you get through the things you need to get through by putting people in your life to help you and uplift you. That was the only thing that allowed me to deal with all the craziness and chaos I was going through at the time.”

Alberto and Ingrid are now raising sons Justin, Joell and Jayden with the goal of seeing each of them make a life-changing commitment to Christ.

More than just families

For Dittman, staying active with Saturday Night Alive and her Sunday School class helps her integrate more effectively with Rapid City’s Christian community. She is concerned that not all singles find the level of involvement she enjoys.

“I appreciate hanging around with other singles in ministry,” she says. “Then I do not feel like a fifth wheel. Unfortunately, that happens in a lot in churches where they have families sit together at potlucks. Most churches are very family-oriented, which is not bad, but when 44 percent of the U.S. is single, that leaves a large chunk out.”

Greek concurs.

“I think everyone in every walk of life has a need,” he says. “Singles and young adults are really deciding who they want to be, and it is critical that college-age and young professionals make the decision to follow Christ.”

Even if a church is too small to maintain a specific ministry to singles, Dittman says, there are other simple ways to make them feel included.

“Little things like acknowledging them from the pulpit to let them know they are included go a long way,” she says. “We know a pastor’s plate is full. We do not expect the pastor to take on the whole ministry. But just a word of encouragement, just coming alongside a team that wants to reach out to singles — that can make all the difference. Pastors need to use singles’ talents and gifts. They have a lot to offer. Plug them in.”

With the encouragement of church leadership, singles can come together to create the kind of support network they need.

“My divorce was such a difficult time,” Aguilar says. “The people the Lord put in my path lifted me up and prayed for me. I saw God’s hand in the whole thing.”

“My brother is currently in prison,” Greek says. “But for a while I was able to get him to come to our group. The friends from his past do not write him or visit him. But the group from nine70 does. They take the time to care about him. Jesus really shines through some of these people in our ministry.”

For Dittman, singles helping singles is a natural outgrowth when any healthy local church has a vision for reaching its entire community for Christ.

“The whole concept of ‘single’ is huge,” she says. “There are so many different dynamics. Singles represent all different age groups and life stages. When it comes to singles ministry, no one person can do it all. The key is to encourage people within the church to develop their own gifts and take where they have come from in life to help others facing those same challenges.”

SCOTT HARRUP is managing editor of the Pentecostal Evangel.

From Enrichment journal, Summer 2009. Reprinted with permission.

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