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Monday
Feb132012

The Dowlings: Off the Streets by the Grace of God

CBC graduates, Kevin and Rachel Dowling, operate In Jesus Ministries in Colorado Springs, Colorado. (Click to enlarge)Kevin Dowling and his wife, Rachel, lay huddled together in a cardboard box to stay warm. It was a chilly spring night in New York, but not cold enough for nearby shelters to open their doors to overnight homeless guests. The Dowlings would have to remain in their box for the night, pushed up against a rundown alleyway building. Too tired, too cold, and too high on drugs to worry about it at the moment, they would resume their quest for food in the morning.

Kevin and Rachel first met in Grand Central Station in the heart of New York City. After a quick, casual conversation, Rachel boarded one train and Kevin another. But, as fate—or God—would have it, they met up again that same night in a different part of the city. They have been together ever since.

Kevin and Rachel soon married, but the honeymoon was short-lived. Trapped in the tentacles of drug addiction, the couple found themselves living on the streets without a dime to their name: “Every penny we were able to hustle, steal, or con someone out of went straight to the dope man,” recalls Kevin. “Drugs were absolutely an idol in our lives.”

At one time, Kevin and Rachel slept on the streets of New York City.
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“We wandered the streets hungry,” adds Rachel. “The first time we ate out of a dumpster was when we saw a pizza box sitting right on top of the garbage heap. Most of the pizza was still in the box, so that was our dinner.”

Aside from dumpster diving for their meals, the Dowlings also ate at soup kitchens, churches, or homeless shelters—anywhere they could scavenge free food. Then they heard about a Lutheran church that provided breakfast for the homeless on Sundays. “You didn’t have to go to the services,” explains Kevin. “They just let you come and eat. We started eating there every Sunday.”

Little did Kevin and Rachel know that their newfound breakfast spot would soon change their lives. After a while, the Dowlings began hanging around after breakfast to help the church staff clean and put tables and chairs away. They also took time to chat with some of the church people.

Kevin and Rachel have been together since the day they met in Gand Central Station, New York City.
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It wasn’t long before they began attending the services as well. “Although we were going to the church, we were also still living on the streets and getting high. We never told anyone what our lives were really like,” says Kevin. He and Rachel were certain that those at the church would not approve of their lifestyle.

But at least one lady in the church didn’t care. “We met a lady named Pat, and even though she knew we were homeless and had nothing to give back, she invited us into her home,” says Rachel, still amazed at her generosity.

Kevin continues the story: “Pat sat me down at her kitchen table, looked me right in the eyes, and with such compassion, she told me that God loved me no matter what I was like or what I was going through.” At that moment, Kevin felt something move deep within his heart—something he had never before experienced.

Pat continued sharing God’s love with Kevin and, when she felt he was ready, asked him if he wanted to give his life to the Lord. He did, and he received Jesus right there at Pat’s kitchen table.Kevin distributing food at Charis Bible College. (Click to enlarge)

“I was so excited…so joyful,” recalls Kevin. “I told Rachel that I had gotten saved, and I asked her to do the same.”

“I remember saying to Kevin, ‘But I’m not worthy. I don’t deserve Jesus,’” says Rachel.

The very next day, Rachel had her own conversation with Pat: “Pat told me, just like she told Kevin, that God loved me very much—no matter what. I’d never heard that before. I didn’t know God could love someone like me.” Rachel also gave her life to Jesus, and she and her husband experienced an immediate infilling of God’s unconditional love and grace.

Although they were completely transformed on the inside, the Dowlings’ circumstances were still dire. Their drug habit was so ingrained, they knew they wouldn’t be able to get free on their own. They checked themselves into a Christian rehab center that took in married couples. Kevin and Rachel and their ministry, In Jesus Ministries, supplies bread to shelters and individuals from Colorado Springs to Woodland Park, CO.
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While Rachel was able to stay in the program, Kevin had to first clear up past issues with the courts due to his probation. After his year of probation was up, he informed his probation officer that his only hope of staying out of trouble was to get out of New York City.

God moved on his probation officer to stand in for Kevin before the judge so he wouldn’t have to appear in court and run the risk of having to stay in New York. She only made Kevin promise to call her as soon as he and Rachel arrived in Chicago. He did, and he and Rachel began with a clean and sober slate in the Windy City, where they lived for five years. Afterward, they decided to move to Pennsylvania. It was there that they heard God calling them into the next chapter of their lives:

“When we were in Pennsylvania, I stumbled across Gospel Truth on television. I was hooked,” says Kevin. “We started watching Andrew every day and ordering his books and CDs.”

Kevin opening the trailer in a local parking lot to distribute food.
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Once, when Kevin was tuned in to the program, he heard about Charis Bible College(CBC). He mentioned CBC to Rachel, but neither gave it much thought initially. Meanwhile, the couple was trying to purchase a home in Pennsylvania, but every time they thought they had an open door for a place of their own, that door would slam shut.

Kevin recalls, “It was funny how every avenue we tried for a home suddenly became closed off to us. About this same time, God started bringing the thought of CBC alive in my heart. One night, I came home from work and woke Rachel up. I said, ‘Why don’t we just move to Colorado and go to the Bible college?’”

“I just looked at him and said, ‘I’ve been waiting for you to say that.’”

As soon as the Dowlings made their decision to attend Charis, they received a phone call informing them that they were owed money that they never even knew about! Although it wasn’t a large sum, The Dowlings distribute more than baked goods to the homeless and needy. (Click to enlarge)it was enough to pay off their car and help them save for their move out West. Kevin and Rachel enrolled in CBC in 2008 and have never looked back from this new beginning God gave them.

“Sitting under the teachers at CBC has totally changed our lives,” says Kevin. “We’ve learned that we don’t have to earn anything from God; He just loves us and gives us His gift of salvation absolutely free.”

One of the biggest changes Kevin has experienced is how God’s grace has transformed him into a brand-new person: “Simply by studying God’s Word and staying focused on His love, I’ve realized that God has changed things in my life and inside my heart that I didn’t even try to change. Over time, I’ve just become a very different person.”

Kevin and Rachel knew they weren’t going to just sit in classrooms and listen to lectures every day. This was a hands-on school Kevin and Rachel have become members of a Christian motorcycle group called the Black Sheep. Kevin is the Assistant Chaplain of the organization. (Click to enlarge)that equips the students to be world changers. And that was fine with them. God had given them more than they could ever repay, but they wanted to do something to serve Him by serving others.

One of the ministries the school offers was a perfect fit for the Dowlings: an outreach to the homeless. Kevin and Rachel jumped at the chance to be involved in this food ministry and led it throughout their entire second year at Charis. Now they’ve graduated, but they continue serving in the ministry by bringing food to CBC students at the school three times a week and providing ministries and churches within Colorado Springs and surrounding areas with all the food they need.

Kevin and Rachel stand amazed at how God has grown this ministry. “We receive thousands upon thousands of loaves of bread every week, plus meat, canned goods, and dry goods,” says Kevin. “Each Saturday, I pick up a trailer full of food, and people from all around come and take whatever they want. We had no idea it would turn into something this big.”

Kevin leading prayer for the Black Sheep. (Click to enlarge)When they started leading the food ministry, they made a promise to God to never turn anyone away. God has helped them honor that vow by consistently providing for their every need so that they always have enough to bless others.

But God hasn’t limited Himself to only meeting the Dowlings’ needs; He has also given them the desires of their hearts. Kevin explains, “For many years, I’ve always wanted a brand-new Harley. And, once I became a Christian, I wanted to be part of a Christian motorcycle group.”

Not only did God provide Kevin with his Harley and lead him to a Christian motorcycle group, but Kevin is now an assistant chaplain with one! The group is called Black Sheep because their goal is to be different. While a lot of motorcycle groups are on the streets looking for trouble, Black Sheep riders are out looking for ways to serve.Rachel and kevin are happy in the Lord. (Click to enlarge)

“This group loves to serve and give in any capacity,” says Rachel. “God has brought us into this group because it’s an extension of our passion.”

Whether it’s feeding the homeless or ministering to the hopeless, Kevin and Rachel never want anyone to feel that they’re useless or worthless just because they’re going through hard times. They’ve been there themselves, and now they want to be able to see people through God’s eyes: “We want to treat people like kings and queens,” says Kevin, “because when you love God first, then love your neighbor as yourself, everything else falls into place.”

For more insight into the Dowling's heart to share the love of God, be sure to watch the video below.

For more information about the Dowlings and their food ministry, In Jesus Ministries, contact them by calling 719-393-5581.

Story reprinted from the 2011 Fall/Winter edition of the ministry's Gospel Truth Magazine.

Thursday
Feb092012

Judy Gonnerman's Call to Missions

CBC graduate and full-time missionary, Judy Gonnerman, on the mission field in Kyrgyzstan. Here she stands with young ladies modeling dresses donated by ministry partners. (Click to enlarge)Charis Bible College graduate, Judy Gonnerman, has been serving the Lord as a full-time missionary since she finished her studies at CBC-Colorado in 1999. Judy and her husband, Bob Gonnerman, were born again and baptized in the Holy Spirit in the late 1970s. A short time later, the couple heard Andrew speak in Kansas City, Missouri; both appreciated Andrew's down to earth ministry and were excited to learn more about God's love and grace. "Like many people, we had not heard much about God's grace and Andrew's teaching had a defining effect on our lives," said Judy.

Bob Gonnerman and the team he traveled with to Russia in 1997. In this photo they were in Murmansk.
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The Gonnermans both held secular jobs into the 1990s; Bob worked as a stock broker and a postal employee, and Judy worked in the health insurance industry. Judy retired from her job in 1992, choosing instead to be a stay-at-home mom and to homeschool the Gonnerman's twin, seven-year-old sons, Joshua and David. They settled their family on a farm in northwest Missouri where they worked, raised their family, and served a small rural church. All the while they continued to listen to Andrew's teaching.

Judy remembers hearing contemporary Christian music artist, Carman, sing the song, Lazarus, Come Forth in the mid 90s—only she heard the words, "Judy, Come Forth." Map of Russia indicating the location of Murmansk. (Click to enlarge)After listening to that song, the Lord began to speak to Judy that, like Lazarus, God had something more for her life. "Lazarus was in Abraham's bosom, which was a good place to be, but God had a better plan for him. In the same way, what Bob and I were doing was a good, but He had a better plan for our lives," said Judy.

In pursuit of what the future held for them, the Gonnermans turned their attention more fully to the things of God. In 1996, after listening to Andrew for nearly two decades, they worked their way through the CBC Correspondence curriculum for first-year students. In 1997, Bob and Judy, 63, and The Gonnermans (right) in Ufa, Russia. (Click to enlarge)51 respectively, moved their family to Colorado Springs to attend second year classes.

During the Gonnerman's second semester in Colorado, Linus LeFever, the CBC missions director at the time, asked Bob to consider going to Russia to help start at CBC extension school. Bob joined a short-term mission team and went to Russia. While he was away Judy would often say, “Bob is God's sheep and he knows His voice—the voice of a stranger he will not follow.” When Bob returned, and announced that he thought they should go to Russia, Judy had to remind herself that Bob knew His voice. "As a faith person, all I could do was gulp, smile, and say, "Okay," Judy recalled.Flying home. Bob in the airport in Portugal as the family headed back to the US a year and a half after his ALS diagnosis.
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Judy was unable to visit Russia prior to making a final decision about serving there; she simply put her faith in God and trusted her husband's decision. The Gonnermans sold all their belongings and moved their family to Russia to assist in the launch of a new Bible college. Judy fell in love with the Russian people and has always been glad she took those steps pf faith.

Things went well for the family for their first year or so on the mission field; however, in the summer of 2000, Bob was diagnosed with Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS/Lou Gehrig's disease) a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord. Bob's doctors advised the Gonnermans not to stay on the field. Considering that the doctors also said there was nothing they could do for Bob, the couple chose to continue to serve God.

Judy and her two sons, Joshua and David. (Click to enlarge)Determined to continue their work, the Gonnermans headed to Murmansk, Russia, but because of Bob's condition, the pastors they were assisting asked them to leave. Due to their love for the Russian people this was a hard time for the family. The Gonnermans turned their attention to Portugal where they helped another couple start a Bible college. They spent another seventeen months there before Bob became too weak to continue. "All Bob wanted to do was teach the Word. He taught his last lesson on April 15, 2002; we flew to the States on April 28 and he flew home to Jesus on May 10," said Judy.

Judy with Charis Bible Training Center students. Many of these are also university students in St. Petersburg. (Click to enlarge)Fifteen months later, at the age of 57, Judy and her boys headed back to the mission field in Russia where they joined Carrie Pickett at the CBC extension school, Charis Bible Training Center. Judy said, "It was like coming home to be reunited with old friends."

A short time later the boys returned to the States; Joshua to go to college and David to serve in the United States Navy. While Judy did travel to see them off, she returned to Russia knowing her work there wasn't finished.

In 2004, Judy was part of a CBTC mission team that went to Kyrgyzstan, and the Lord began to speak to her about a ministry there. Reluctant to move several thousand miles southeast, Judy at the children's home in Kyrgyzstan. (Click to enlarge)Judy made tentative plans to relocate in 2007. Circumstances and God's timing allowed her to stay in Russia an extra year. During her extended stay, the Russian Visa laws changed, making it necessary to leave Russia three out of every six months. This worked out perfectly for Judy as she was able to work and minister in both places. For Judy it proved to be the best of both worlds.

Today Judy still balances ministry in both locations. In Kyrgyzstan she works in a children's home and has also taken the opportunity to minister in many churches and to church leaders. In Judy teaching at CBTC in St. Petersburg. (Click to enlarge)St. Petersburg, Russia Judy steps in for Mike and Carrie Pickett during their three month visa rotation. While at CBTC she teaches and is involved with the foreign student groups.

Judy said one of her greatest joys is to see the Word of God change people. "There is nothing more wonderful to me, than to go back to some place I have ministered previously and hear their testimonies," said Judy. "The purpose of my ministry has always been to be where God wants me and be available to do what He wants, and that is still true. Teaching, hospitality and giving have always been a part of this, and as long as I receive God's provision in finances and health, I hope to be able to keep ministering to the body of Christ for years to come," Judy said thoughtfully.

Monday
Feb062012

Healing Journeys Reunion with the Deckers

In December of 2010 we posted a story called, The Breath of Life, in which we shared the healing testimonies of the Decker family, Tom, Lesley and Mary. The story shared the family's struggle to overcome Asthma and celebrated their victory over the life-threatening lung disease.

Last summer, Andrew had the opportunity to meet with the family at a special Healing Journeys Reunion held at The Sanctuary in Woodland Park, Colorado. A full decade has passed since Lesley and Mary Decker received their healings. Be sure to watch the interview below as the Deckers share with Andrew how the Word of God transformed their lives back then and what the Lord is doing in their lives now.