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Journal readers report on 2007 Feast observances
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Journal readers report on 2007 Feast observances

Following are Feast of Tabernacles reports readers have sent to The Journal. This is the first installment of brief articles covering the 2007 festival, printed here in alphabetical order by city of observance. See more reports in at least three future issues of The Journal.

Harrisburg and Amarillo

AMARILLO, Texas--I just returned from Harrisburg, Pa., where I was asked to be a speaker at the Pleasant Valley Christian Church's Sabbath services during the Festival of Tabernacles celebration.

I returned to Amarillo for the Last Day of the festival.

It was a delightful weekend with a warm and friendly group of brethren exuding a wonderful spirit.

It was good to see old friends like Bob and Beverly Wertz, Gene and Ruth Wertz and Calvin and Barbara Burrell, plus a number of members of the congregation I know from their presence at past festivals we in the Christian Church of God had sponsored over the years.

I enjoyed meeting and getting to know Bruce and Mary Chesney and their family. Bruce pastors the congregation, and Bob is the associate pastor.

The services, activities and hospitality were gratifying. I'm glad I made the trek!

Their theme was "The Tabernacling of God with Mankind: Past, Present and Future."

God has indeed shown from creation to the "restitution of all things" in the Kingdom (Acts 3:21) that He earnestly desires a deep and special personal relationship with us, for we were created in His image.

Quoting from the Harrisburg church's Web site:

  • In the past "God sojourned with His people in the wilderness . . . God became a man and dwelt among us in the person of Jesus Christ."

    In the present, God dwells with us through the Holy Spirit.

  • In the future Jesus Christ will return, "bind Satan, and usher in the Kingdom of God here on earth. Ultimately God the Father will descend from heaven with the Holy City, New Jerusalem."

I thank Bob and Bruce, along with the brethren of the Harrisburg church, for the privilege of sharing part of the festival, tabernacling with them and tabernacling with God. Jeff Booth, Amarillo, Texas.

Incredible Feast adventure

CHIANG MAI, Thailand--The Feast of Tabernacles 2007 was over way too soon! I commented in my sermon on the Last Great Day that I wish we could extend it an extra week.

In Chiang Mai we had more than 500 attendees from Burma, Laos, Thailand, Canada, Australia and the U.S.A. and even two former volunteer Legacy teachers. James Hostetter traveled from Beijing, China, and Bonnie Turner from Dallas, Texas.

It is hard to believe that the Feast could get any better, but this year's was the best we have ever had in Thailand.

The very first Feast in Thailand was in 1981. That was over 25 years ago. Today we continue to keep the Feast as God intended. Each year we learn new things and discover more about the meaning of the feast days and how they represent God's step-by-step plan of salvation for all mankind. God's gospel message is being spread abroad from Thailand.

This year we had members from six Church of God organizations in attendance! All gathered in Chiang Mai with one spirit and one heart to rejoice at the Feast and worship with one mind.

If anyone needs proof that the Church of God is a spiritual body, then the Feast of Tabernacles in Chiang Mai sure proves this point.

It amazes me that there are still those among us who think the Body of Christ is limited to one human organization, incorporated with a board of directors and a set of bylaws.

We were concerned that the recent protests in Burma would negatively affect our COG brethren and even prevent our Rangoon deacon, My Zaw, and his wife, Tu Mar, from coming to the Feast in Chiang Mai.

But they made it. On the day they left Rangoon, their taxi had to skirt around police checkpoints on the way to the airport. But once they reached the airport they had no trouble.

Just before the Feast, the Burmese military government, without warning, raised the price of oil and gas to more than four times what it was. The people in the main cities were unable to use the buses to get to work because the bus companies couldn't afford the fuel to operate.

This draconian move by the ruling junta created an unacceptable strain on the people, who were already under incredible financial stress. The people were forced over the boiling point, and they hit the streets in massive protests.

Then the monks joined in. There are hundreds of thousands of monks in Burma, and they are highly revered by the people of this Buddhist country.

Once the monks began to march, the military government became very concerned. They reacted by sending in the army and police, who began beating and shooting Buddhist clergy and lay persons alike. Even a famous Japanese journalist was shot dead point blank.

How many died or were arrested and hauled away? There can be no clear tally.

As far as we know, our COG brethren are safe. Communication via E-mail and telephone was cut off for a few days during the height of the street protests. Now communication is back to normal.

Even those not affected by the protests are affected by the fuel-price hikes. Prices for food and other commodities have doubled. Travel costs have doubled and even tripled.

For the last two years we have had a border Feast site for the Karen members who live in refugee camps. But, since the Feast last year, several families have been sent to live in England, Canada, Norway and the United States. This means we had only two families left who wanted to attend the Feast.

This put me in a quandary. I wanted to make sure our Karen refugee members were taken care of for the Feast. But how?

I prayed and asked God if this year we couldn't all meet together in Chiang Mai.

I contacted our old friend Gen. Anu, who is a retired Thai Special Forces officer. He made some calls, and the army agreed to guarantee their travel through the political and police checkpoints to and from Chiang Mai.

Now we needed permission for them to leave the camp for eight days. That decision was in the hands of the local ministry of interior.

The office of the official in charge of the ministry was in a small district village directly on the border. As I prepared to make the seven-hour journey by car to ask his permission, I received a call from a military-intelligence colonel who informed me that this same official would be in Chiang Mai for a previously scheduled meeting the next day.

So we prepared a letter and other documents and met him at the hotel where his official meeting was being held. He was hesitant to sign the permission papers, but he couldn't withstand the prayers we had been making. God gave us grace, and he signed them!

Then all we had to do was arrange transpiration and pick the Karen brethren up. There are no phones at their camp deep in the jungle, and cell phones don't get a signal, so we had no way to contact them in advance.

I sent two of our Legacy students, Jay and Buut, who are Karen, on a mission to get our brethren out and bring them to Chiang Mai for the Feast.

They had to travel upstream by boat from one of the remote border villages because the dirt road into the camp had recently been washed out by monsoon rains.

God was with them, and our students arrived in Chiang Mai with both families safe and sound.

Taking them back from the Feast was different. They started out in the hired van just fine and reached a main town in the mountains near the border without incident.

But, when they continued to the border village where they needed to pick up the boat, the weather turned nasty. Torrential rains made it difficult to see to drive on the winding mountain roads. Rocks began to fall, and the van was caught in a landslide. A boulder hit the front of the van as they raced to get out of danger. Behind them the landslide brought trees, mud and rock down the mountain, covering the road.

Now what should they do?

Our students decided to continue and hire a "long tail" boat to take the Karen families back up the river.

Everyone, including our Karen members, returned to the landslide site to help clean away as much mud and as many boulders and trees as possible for the van to safely navigate the landslide area.

After saying good-bye to our Karen members, Jay, Buut, our Legacy employee Khun Wian and the van driver also headed for home in the pouring rain.

The van made it over the mud-slide area and across a small bridge. Just moments after they crossed it, another landslide washed it out!

Khun Wian, who is a Thai Buddhist, told me later that he didn't want to die, so he prayed to Legacy's God the entire time.

God is gracious. He took care of our Karen brethren and Legacy students and staff and brought everyone safely back home.

The Karen members were able to fellowship with their brethren from many parts of the world.

It took a lot of work and some hair-raising adventures to get them to the Feast and back, but the efforts paid off in spiritual benefits for all.

We thank God that all could gather in Chiang Mai this year and keep the Feast as one family. Leon Sexton, Chiang Mai, Thailand.

A rare WCG Feast

HUNTSVILLE, Texas--The Huntsville congregation of the Worldwide Church of God hosted a Feast of Tabernacles site Sept. 26 through Oct. 4, 2007.

About 200 Americans and Canadians attended.

The goal of worship, fellowship and family fun was certainly met by the harmony evident there.

A wedding added to the excitement and was followed by a formal dinner and dance in an unusual bed-and-breakfast wedding chapel.

Organized activities were planned for all age-groups to enjoy, along with one free day. Donna Weese, Big Sandy, Texas.

Coming home

SAN ANTONIO, Texas--Warm South Texas weather greeted all who attended the Feast in San Antonio.

As the brethren made their way to the Elks lodge for registration and a catered get-acquainted reception, you could hear the excitement from the children finding their friends and happy brethren's greetings.

The San Antonio festival family always radiates the feeling of coming home to a family reunion.

Holy-day services began with the San Antonio Worship Team singing contemporary songs that team members had worked on all year to set the tone of the Feast for us.

Thanks go out for the wonderful job they did throughout the whole Feast. Thanks also go to Martha Chavez, who prepared the words of the songs for overhead projection so we could join in and sing with the Worship Team in rejoicing before our Lord each morning.

The children always play a big part at the Feast in San Antonio, with Scripture readings and prayers at the beginning of each service.

It is always a wonderful sight to see our youth willing to take part in services and joyfully participate in the youth choir that performed three times, singing uplifting contemporary songs under the direction of Ann Van Westen of Tyler, Texas.

Each day we heard inspiring messages brought to us by Julian Cruz, Michael Cruz, Jim Harding and Robert Graves.

Messages included "The White Throne Judgment," "Being Thankful in All Situations," "How to Stop Following and Become a Leader," "The Kingdom of God Over Time" and "Praising God Through the Music."

Each evening we were entertained by activities and meals. One of the most treasured was hearing Inka Gold, an unusual Andean musical group, playing traditional Andean and modern music on an interesting array of traditional Andean instruments.

This group performs daily on the River Walk in San Antonio for visitors. We were blessed that these musicians took time out of their busy schedule to perform for us.

Friday evening we gathered at the facility to sing songs of praise to welcome in the Sabbath. Afterward we enjoyed Mexican paletas (ice-cream bars) of various flavors including dill pickle.

Other activities we enjoyed were a country-western dance put on by the group Momentum, "The Spikey Mikey Cruz Magic Show," a hamburger fest, and the Family Fun Show hosted by John and Rita Orgel.

Acts included singing, readings of letters from the Alamo, fiddle music, harmonica playing, a karate demonstration and jokes told to us by one of our precious youths.

The children also enjoyed special activities such as pony rides, a petting zoo, face painting and the Dave & Buster's sports arcade, where they had a meal and played games.

Sunday, Sept. 30, was Focus on Your Family Day. Mr. Cruz had emphasized in the festival brochure that the Feast is a family affair. This was the day to spend extra time with our spouse or family and help one another build memories that will last forever.

With the zoo, Sea World, Fiesta Texas, the River Walk, the Witte Museum and the Alamo to see in San Antonio, those memories were easy to build on this day.

At sunset on Wednesday, Oct. 3, the beginning of the Last Great Day, we held the service of the blessing of the children. Julian explained to us that blessing our children is not just for the ministry but for every parent and for any age child.

Parents came forward to bless their children young and old. What a beautiful evening.

We were also shown the video A Father's Love Letter.

After this service we enjoyed a chocolate fountain with bananas, graham crackers, marshmallows, pretzel sticks, strawberries and cream puffs to swirl in the warm, flowing chocolate stream.

Another important part of the Feast that needs mentioning was the outpouring of love when the Elks lodge told us it was collecting food donations to make Thanksgiving baskets for the needy in San Antonio.

More than $600 of food donations were enough to make more than 10 Thanksgiving baskets. The Elks were thankful for our donations and planned to deliver the baskets sometime in November.

The Last Great Day brought us the Youth Choir's final performance, which included audience participation on the songs "He Reigns" and "Victory Chant."

After Mr. Cruz gave his final sermon of the Feast and with the final singing of "Here I Am, Lord" and "Till We Meet Again," there were few dry eyes in the audience. Tearful hugs and sad farewells were seen and heard throughout the facility as once again our Feast had ended.

Grateful thanks to the many labor-of-love volunteers, brethren from various church areas who served the brethren throughout the entire Feast.

Thanks also go to Julian and Ofie Cruz and the San Antonio brethren for their many sacrifices, prayers, planning and sponsoring of this Feast site, which is truly blessed by God.

We look forward to returning next year for another family reunion. Hope to see you there. Ann Van Westen, Tyler, Texas.

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