An interesting side trip for many was a tour of four-time champion Martin Buseri's Iditarod dogs and kennels.
Many families came early or stayed late to take advantage of six-hour journeys on cruise ships leaving from and returning to the picturesque port village of Seward at the head of Resurrection Bay on the Kenai Peninsula. Ellis W. Stewart, Big Sandy, Texas.
Briefly in Branson
BRANSON, Mo.--We were at the Church of God Big Sandy's Feast site in Branson with my former sister-in-law, Lanora Campbell, and her husband, David.
They have a small group in Springfield, Mo., that is associated with the congregation Dave Havir pastors in Big Sandy, I believe.
Not really much to report. We enjoyed the fellowship during the brief time we were there. John Dickerson, Fayetteville, Ark.
Nine baptisms at CGI Feast
OCHO RIOS, Jamaica--Continuing an established tradition of the Church of God International (CGI) in Jamaica, the church again in 2007 had a baptism at the Feast, this time immersing 12 persons at their "best ever" festival gathering in the tourist resort town of Ocho Rios.
The baptism was a highlight of a spiritually rejuvenating, high-impact Feast of Tabernacles celebration that saw an attendance of more than 340 persons. This was the largest gathering of indigenous Feast-keepers in the Caribbean. The CGI is the largest of the ex-Worldwide Church of God groups in the entire Caribbean region, with a weekly attendance of about 300 persons in four congregations.
This year we were happy to be joined by a few of our Canadian brethren, led by our Jamaican deacon, Horane Smith, who leads the Toronto, Ont., congregation under the direction of our regional pastor, Bill Watson.
There were two unusual things about our baptism this year: It was the first time we baptized three couples and the first time we baptized Canadians, two of whom went under the waters of baptism after attending the CGI for some time in Canada.
We were blessed with the presence of our visiting minister from the United States, Roger King, and his charming wife.
From the start, the Feast generated enthusiasm and energy. On the opening night was a praise-and-worship session in which our God was glorified and exalted, setting the right tone to start the Feast.
On the opening day of the Feast Deacon George Ramocan gave an inspiring sermon on living today with the Kingdom in mind.
In the afternoon Mr. Smith mesmerized us with visions of the world tomorrow and how it will solve mankind's seemingly intractable problems.
He also gave two other fine sermons on the Kingdom and the pressures of living in Satan's world.
On the second day Deacon Ramocan returned with a sermon emphasizing the importance of doctrine, forcefully making the point that the church should not let go of the "faith once delivered unto the saints."
He stressed that some in the Church of God were relaxing the distinctives, seeking to gain a detente and accommodation with evangelical Protestantism, all in the name of tolerance and cosmopolitanism.
He bemoaned that those standing up for the truth were sometimes seen as narrow-minded, intolerant and bigoted. He showed why it is important to keep the Church of God's identity as the exclusive bearer of the gospel.
I spoke about the importance of committing to God's way of life, showing why secularism is bankrupt and giving facts to indicate that materialism and hedonism are unsatisfying to most people.
I also brought the church up to date with recent scholarly books and journal articles that show the Hebrew roots of the early New Testament church and that the holy days and the Jewish calendrical observances continued to hold significance to the New Testament church, including the gentile churches.
Then I gave a sermon on the Last Great Day on "Finishing Strong," showing how some people mentioned in the Bible started out weak, transgressed and botched up but eventually finished strong. This was encouraging to brethren struggling to overcome, giving them hope that they could start over and still finish strong.
There were other thought-provoking sermons and sermonettes given, among them "The Seven Things to Overcome" (Paul O'Connor), including, interestingly, "Overcoming the Church" and "Overcoming God."
This was one of the finest addresses given at the Feast. Others were "Imagine a New Kind of Life" by Noel Scarborough; "Fear and Faith" by Fenton Tracey; and "The Pull-Push Factors in Motivation" and how they can be utilized for spiritual growth, by Glenford Smith.
Roger King gave us a vision of the Kingdom and its incomparable glory and showed us God's plan as unveiled through the Last Great Day.
The music was especially delightful and memorable as the special-music teams, soloists and the choirs--youth, children's and senior--all did marvelously.
There was a Jamaican Night session during which Jamaican culture was emphasized along with Jamaican food and great fellowship; the Family Fun Show, which saw participation of the whole family; and an enthralling sports day.
In addition, there were the singles' rap session and dance, the couples' rap session and dance, and the youths' and children's get-togethers.
On the last night of the Feast there was a party to put the cap on a wonderful festival observance.
But before that there was the usually highly anticipated Herbert W. Armstrong Memorial Speaking Competition, which is designed to test apologetic skills and encourage participants--lay members, including women--to display their research skills and exposure to scholars and thinkers outside the Church of God movement.
Every year a different doctrinal subject is chosen and the winner is judged by his or her familiarity with the best arguments of the opponents of the particular teaching of Mr. Armstrong (and the Bible, we believe). Participants must present convincing rebuttals to the arguments against our teaching.
This year the topic was the ever-burning hell. Participants researched the arguments put forward by Catholic and Protestant scholars and were judged by a panel including the pastor and two other members (including one with a theology degree) familiar with theological arguments.
This year for the first time the Kingston church lost the trophy to the relatively new Spanish Town church, whose representative, Stacy-Ann Hall, did a spell-binding presentation showing why an ever-burning hell is false and why the arguments of its defenders don't stand up to biblical scrutiny.
Second prize went to Trevor Murphy, defending champion from Kingston. Spanish Town is determined to keep that trophy, and Kingston is equally determined to wrest it back, so there is excitement already to see who will emerge winners in the 2008 competition!
This competition is a matter of provoking brethren to good works, in this case good apologetic works, vital in a church that emphasizes evangelism.
Speaking of which, 2008 has been dubbed the Intensified Evangelism Year.
The year kicks off in January with a public lecture, "Should You Keep the Sabbath?," which will be held on the last Sabbath of the month.
There will also be regional public lectures as well as regular advertisements of our church series in the press.
There will, in addition, be publication of special advertorials on controversial doctrines, all designed to show that God does have a church that has the deposit of truth.
The CGI is the most active of all the ex-WCG groups in Jamaica. CGI Jamaica has a fruitful and warm and productive relationship with the Tyler, Texas, leadership and is efficiently supervised by Bill Watson of Bath, Ohio.
CGI Tyler's Armor of God television program can be seen all across Jamaica on two satellite stations, Uplift Network and Word Network, at 9:30 Saturday mornings and 10:30 Sunday mornings, making us potentially the most visible of all the COG groups in Jamaica.
We ask for the prayers of our brethren in all the Churches of God (those not too exclusivist to ignore the call) to petition our Father in heaven to further rain down His blessings on us as we seek to fulfill His great commission. Ian Boyne, Kingston, Jamaica.
Gathering of the clans
CALOUNDRA, Australia--The Feast of Tabernacles season is certainly a time for the gathering of the clans as people come together to celebrate before the Lord.
Catching up with friends and relatives whom one has not seen for a year or longer is one part of the pleasure. Spending time away from everyday cares and pressures, relaxing as if all one's work is done, is another.
Yet another, and the best, is a banquet at the Lord's spiritual table from which we depart ready to face the world once again.
In Feast reports over the years, the same themes appear again and again: excitement, reunion, spiritual and physical nourishment, refuge from the world, meetings of minds, swapping of ideas, sharing of experiences. This year was no exception.
The Feast in Caloundra was organized by Christian Educational Services Australia, or CESA, a nondenominational organization that aims to provide resources to promote Christian growth and development. One of its sources is material from Ron Dart and his CEM in the United States.
Caloundra is a subtropical town about 90 kilometers north of Brisbane. The state of Queensland provided its usual fine weather for the duration, although it was rather too hot and humid for southerners!
The United Church of God had its site about 12 kilometers and 18 traffic lights further to the north, in Mooloolaba. People from the two groups visited each other during the week.
It is so gratifying to see people able to move freely from one clan gathering to another. Christ sets us free, after all.
Apart from the usual range of sermons and quiz nights, perhaps the most outstanding, important and worthwhile feature of this Feast, as it has been for a number of years, was the session for the children run by Barbara Eldred (Auntie Bee).
Barbara's method is to sit the children down in the front of the hall, in full view of everyone else, and there to involve them in a series of lessons: seven during the Feast, with a finale on the Eighth Day.
Barbara uses a variety of themes and props. Our first encounter with this was in 2003, when she did a series on the armor of God, for which she had purchased a plastic suit of armor.
A young man put it on, one piece each day, until he was completely clad. Each day Barbara talked about the piece being donned, what it was for and why.
In 2007 the theme was dual: famous people of the Bible and the fruits of the Spirit (which are, to refresh your memory, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith).
The life story of each famous character illustrated one of the fruits.
The children don't just sit on the floor and watch. Oh, no, they're involved--by being asked questions and challenged to put their hands up quickly when a key word is spoken.
Barbara hands out chocolate frogs as rewards. Amazing how the prospect of a reward concentrates the mind wonderfully.
The key to the success of this method is preparation: theme, props and scripts. Barbara's scripts, written in the vernacular, explain religious concepts clearly and accurately and, while directed to children, are great for refreshing adult memories.
They can be quite hilarious. If you'd like to read them go to fellowship-in-god.org and look for Auntie Bee's Archives.
This is a splendid way of involving the young people, helping them to feel involved in the whole, to give them instruction at their level and to help them remember what they learn.
The adults benefit hugely also. The two sessions we watched four years apart remain bright and vivid in our minds, while just about all the other presentations have faded to gray! Walter Steensby, Canberra, Australia.