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Eric Strom’s recent trip to Liberia

Trip to Liberia 2/7 – 2/17/17

I just returned from my second visit to Liberia, Africa working with Joshua Milton Blahyi, the former warlord, General Butt Naked. The trip was mainly relational, restorative and reconciliatory. The focus of the mission, Journey Against Violence, is recovering ex-child combatants from the civil wars. I am currently working with two such young men, Abraham Fahnbulleh and William Wilson. Abraham was previously a Muslim, a fighter and heroin addict. He recently graduated from high school in June 2016 at 31 years of age. He currently is operating a business in the Mount Barclay township outside of Monrovia. He services and charges cell phones, takes passport photos, copies and produces documents, conducts mobile money business, rents sound equipment for celebrations and sells various electronic items. He was recently broken into and had his computer, camera and printer stolen. I was able to provide replacements with the money donated from my church family and friends. He is now working at full strength as a respected businessman in his community to the glory of the Father.

Wilson had tried working on his own for the past nine months. He was able to purchase a motorcycle for a taxi business. Through infrequent maintenance, the motorcycle broke down. He has construction skills and was working with some men building a structure. When he went to ask for his pay, they beat him, leaving him with two broken arms. After healing, he was unable to use the motorcycle because of the injuries to his arms. He asked if I could help him in a business. The Father instructed me to set up a gas and fuel business for him. We purchased all the necessary equipment and put him to work the very next day. He sold ten gallons of gas the first day. He was ecstatic. Since the first day, he has purchased two more 70 gallon barrels for fuel (diesel) and is selling close to his capacity daily which is above two hundred gallons combined. He is so thankful to the Father for providing him with a means of living and resources for his family. Again, finances were provided by my church family and friends.

Abraham took me to the ghetto where he used to live as an addict and gang member. We entered a house and found a small room with four men sitting around a table smoking heroin. These were his brothers. Once they got over the shock of seeing a white man enter their world, they invited me in and received me. I hope I was able to convey some hope to them that facilities were being built to receive them and get them out of this bondage. They begged me to take them now. My heart was so broken for “the least of these”. Their country ignores them. Their society is afraid of them. I assured them that the Father has not forgotten them.

Journey Against Violence is currently building facilities in the bush to house 480 men upon completion. Once the first dormitory is finished, men will be able to enter the program. I am able to provide consultation for education and drug and alcohol treatment. I will return upon direction from my Father. My current schedule of Refirement fits this very well. Your prayers are coveted and needed.

Dewey Wilmot and the Christian Home Fellowship

Written by Charles Barnes:

The Post Register of June 17, 1977 contained an article entitled “Poll shows US in early stage of profound religious revival.”  Various evidence and expressions of this revival can be found in the history of Idaho Falls.  The following is a brief story of one man God brought to Idaho Falls who was affected by the revival and then greatly used by the Lord to affect the lives of others.

Dewey Wilmot grew up on a farm near Boise.  He was a high school student when Pearl Harbor was bombed on December 7, 1941.  Dewey was so angry with the Japanese that he joined the Navy, and was given the job of fireman on the USS Wasp aircraft carrier.  About the time the ship reached Japan, atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki brought about their surrender.

Shortly after coming home to Idaho, Dewey married Virginia McCullough, a girl he had known in high school. A few years later the couple moved to Idaho Falls where Dewey began a long career working for local television stations, including Channel 8 and Channel 3 in Idaho Falls and Channel 3 in Pocatello.  And in Idaho Falls, Dewey and his wife raised their three children.

The Wilmots were involved at First Christian Church in Idaho Falls, and were faithful members there for many years.  In the early 1970’s Dewey started attending a Friday night Bible study in the home of Ben Lunis, an INL project engineer and program manager.  One reason Dewey was attracted to the group was the diversity of people attending, people of all ages and from walks of life, from church goers to former drug addicts.  Ben had started the group as a chapter of the Full Gospel Business Men’s Fellowship, and it was here that Dewey became exposed to the teaching of the charismatic renewal movement of the late 1960’s and early 1970’s.  It wasn’t long after he started attending this FGBMF Bible study that Dewey was sharing in teaching the group.  He says that after he received the baptism of the Holy Spirit, his teaching improved.

The Friday night group grew too large for Lunis’s house, and so they moved it to the Wilmot’ house, at 227 11th Street.  This house had a very large combined dining and living room, and it wasn’t long before they were consistently seeing over 70 people come each week.   At this point, Dewey and four other men in the group felt led to look for larger facilities and transition from a Bible Study to a church, which was named Christian Home Fellowship.  Over the years they met in several buildings, and at their peak grew to about 275 people.

Dewey is still amazed at the number of people the Lord brought to him to minister to in the 1970’s.  With faith that Jesus could help each person, Dewey sought the Lord’s direction, whether to counsel, lead to Christ, pray for healing or deliverance or whatever.  Because of his job, most of this ministry took place in the evening, and Dewey shared with me that no matter how late into the night his counseling sessions went, he never got tired.  Seeing how God could use him, Dewey trained a dozen other men to do what he was doing.  Also, he also became responsible for starting FGBM groups in Wyoming, Utah and other towns in Idaho.

One of the men Dewey helped was Jim Spencer.  In Jim’s Through the Maze Newsletter of November 2000, he reflects, “I consider Dewey Wilmot to be a ‘Father in the Lord.'” Just after Jim was born again, he learned about the Bible study in Dewey’s house.  Referring to Dewey and other leaders, Jim writes, “They saw me struggle, just hoping my wife would be saved.  When she was saved, they saw us struggle to hold our marriage together.  During those early years Dewy and Virginia Wilmot counseled us into the wee hours.”

While the Christian Home Fellowship disbanded in the mid-1980’s (the last reinstatement of its incorporation was in 1985), Dewey’s local ministry continued, as have those of people he influenced.  Turning 90 this year, he leads a weekly Bible study at Cornerstone Assembly of God, currently studying the atonement of Christ.  His final comment to me was, “Anyone can do what I do, but you have to do what He (Jesus) wants.”

Be Thou My Vision

Steve Morreale of Mount Royal Ministry (MRM) in Idaho Falls recently wrote this in his February newsletter:

Visions are important, especially in the middle of cold and difficult seasons, such as an Idaho winter or worse, times of despair. The worship time at MorningStar Christian Fellowship recently included a great old hymn, Be Thou My Vision. It is actually an adaptation of an Irish hymn from the 8th century. The words, while classic King James vernacular, are timeless. Read them, and extend grace to me as I integrate an attempt to be encouraging.

Be Thou my Vision, O Lord of my heart – Naught be all else to me save that Thou art; Thou my best thought by day or by night – Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light.

Let God be the Vision of our hearts, our innermost being, and let nothing else get in the way. He can be our best thought any time of day (such thoughts chase away fears and doubts). Indeed, He is our true light in the dark seasons of life.

Be Thou my wisdom, be Thou my true word – I ever with Thee and Thou with me, Lord; Thou my great Father and I Thy true son – Thou in me dwelling, and I with Thee one.

Let God be our source of wisdom and not the temporal and ever-changing ideas of men. Let God’s word be the word we live by because it is the truth that sets us free! Let God the Father be our eternal Father and let’s choose to be His eternal children. Our decision to believe (and it is a decision to be made) in Jesus as God the Son, makes us children of the Father and together we are one.

Be Thou my shield and my sword for the fight; be Thou my dignity, be Thou my might; Thou my soul’s shelter and Thou my high tow’r, Raise Thou me heav’ward, O pow’r of my pow’r.

Remember the only One who can truly protect us is God – He is our shield and our sword. He is the source of our dignity and our might, not our accomplishments or our position.  He shelters our soul: our thoughts, desires and feelings. He is our fortress and He raises us to heavenly ways and all of our power, all of our ability, is rooted in His omnipotence.

Riches I heed not nor man’s empty praise – Thou mine inheritance now and always; Thou and Thou only be first in my heart – High King of heaven, my treasure Thou art.

Forego the riches of the world and the approval of men. Instead, let’s earnestly pursue real treasure. Let God be first in our hearts because He alone is the eternal treasure we were created to desire.

Colombia report from Rachel Barnes

Her husband, Charles Barnes, notes:

Here are a few excerpts from Rachel’s report of her trip to Columbia.  If you would like her 3-page report that contains more specific answers to prayer, let me know.

Your prayers really created a thick protective covering over me the entire trip to Colombia and back.  There was evidence of the Lord’s help at every turn, not just for me, but for the bigger picture as well.  So thank you from the bottom and top of my heart.

The thing I see as most important is that my missionary friend Terry was able to complete the checking of Luke 2:41-chapter 10, combing through remarks and questions brought up from a consultant check.  That portion is now about ready for publication.  This was a big accomplishment.  They finished this the day I was to leave to come home.  Terry felt a very definite sense of the Lord’s enabling in their work sessions so that they were able to dive right in and make progress as well as they did.  It is a tedious process since the language helpers are still learning to read their own language.  The sessions not only involve figuring out what the Scripture is saying and how to say it in their language in a way that will not be confusing, but also working with reading skills, so it goes slowly.  But the goal is not only to leave them with a book, but to leave the people with skills as well.  This takes a lot of commitment, patience, diligence and love.

Along with me being able to do little odd jobs, learn the system for filtering water and sterilizing dishes and fruits, sweep up dust every day, keeping on top of laundry, opening up and closing windows and doors for airflow, getting meals on the table when the hired cook was not there, etc., probably my most important contribution was to take the morning session each day to pray for the work in progress, and all the things I was aware of that were connected to our presence there.  Also, it was very helpful to Terry to have someone to pray with about anything and everything as it came up.

Water

Water!  Life for a community!
Except for the name “Eagle Rock,” water is implied in all of names of Idaho Falls. In the early days of the community, the water brought by canals gave life to the town as the barren land was transformed to one of farms, homes, trees and lawns.  The name “Idaho Falls” was chosen purposely to change its image from a bleak, dry, barren place to one of life and abundance.  And water was critical in creating the opportunities to do that.  The name “Idaho Falls” was selected to indicate abundant water which in turn meant hope for life and community. The sandy area along rocky banks of a river that was once called uninhabitable developed into a community.
Barrenness transformed to life and community through water – that’s one way Idaho Falls can be characterized from a historical perspective.  There are other ways.  Most everyone who lives here has their own opinion and perspective of what Idaho Falls means, why they came and why they stay.  They may live here because of their occupation, family connections, recreational pursuits, or many other reasons.  Or it might have something to do with their religion.  Anyone moving to Idaho Falls sooner or later discovers the dominant role religion plays in this community.  Another name for this part of Eastern Idaho is the “Mormon Corridor.”
Idaho Falls, as every community, is constantly changing.  Families move here and people move away from here.  Babies are born and residents die.  Businesses start and grow and others close.  New churches start, some churches grow; others decline and close.
In the flux of history and people, what can we say about Idaho Falls, and its immediate surroundings?

Idaho Falls Power Generation and the INL

Idaho Falls Power Generation

Power is another important theme running through the history of Idaho Falls that combines the people, the river and geology, and the economy of the city.

Since 1900 the City of Idaho Falls has operated an electric generation system, initially using water flowing in a canal.  This first power generated by the city was used only for street lights.  Three hydroelectric facilities were built on the river in Idaho Falls between 1912 and 1940, two of which were virtually destroyed when the Teton Dam failed in 1976. The Bulb Turbine project replaced these two and a third was added by 1982 to enable the generation of up to 24,000 kilowatts of energy. Along with the Gem State Power Plant, located just south of the Bonneville County line, the total annual generation of electricity is approximately 220 million kilowatt hours, supplying electricity to all within the city limits and at times exported surplus energy.  As a result of these power plants, Idaho Falls Power Company’s rate for electricity is lower than any other state in the nation.

Idaho Falls and the Idaho National Laboratory

Power has also been a primary focus of the Idaho National Laboratory and its predecessors.

While agriculture dominated the business life of Idaho Falls from roughly 1900 to 1950, since then the Idaho National Laboratory has played a major role in the economy of Idaho Falls.  Appendix 1 contains a brief history of the INL and its predecessors, and several books have been written that provide a more complete story.  How has the INL affected Idaho Falls?

One obvious answer is that the Department of Energy and INL contractors have provided jobs and brought people to town who otherwise wouldn’t have come here to live and work.  The Bel Aire subdivision was built in the early 1950’s to provide affordable housing to the first “Site workers.”  The rush to build the first facilities on the Site involved over 2,000 construction workers; and the spurt in Idaho Falls population growth in the 1950’s is clearly due to these employees, as well as others who came to work in those facilities once they were built.  Employment by INL contractors grew to 5,000 by 1965, and in that year 65% of them lived in Idaho Falls.  Three years later, that percentage increased as the Department of Energy decided to move all office personnel into town.  By 1990, 3,223 INL employees were working in 22 buildings in Idaho Falls, and of course many others who worked at Site facilities lived in Idaho Falls.  Besides DOE and contractor employees, about 39,000 Navy sailors spent from 3 to 6 months in the area from 1953 to 1995, while being trained to operate nuclear submarines at the Naval Reactors Facility. Many lived in Idaho Falls during their training.  Recent data from the Idaho Falls Chamber of Commerce shows the INL as Idaho Fall’s top employer, with 7,500 employees, followed by School District 91 with 1,700, Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center with 1,311 and Melaleuca with 1,300. So the economic impact of the INL has had on Idaho Falls is obvious, and has been detailed in various studies.  But has the Site affected the character or identity of the city?  Here’s my opinion.

The early years of the INL (then called the National Reactor Testing Station), even the first two decades, were filled with optimism of nuclear power as the answer to the nation’s energy problems.  There was much optimism also in using nuclear power as well to improve areas of national defense – not in bombs but in powering submarines and airplanes and military power installations.

The projects at the site provided much of the knowledge needed to build nuclear reactors and power plants in the United States and the world. In 2014, 100 nuclear reactors were operating in the United States, which produced nearly 20% of the nation’s electricity.  As of 2015, 435 reactors were in operation worldwide; France produces 77% of its electricity through nuclear power and a dozen other nations from 30-57%.  Whether you are a proponent or an opponent of nuclear power, there’s no question that the work done at the INL was essential in providing the basis for the design and operation of these facilities.  So one contribution of the INL to the character of Idaho Falls is that it has brought greater involvement in the needs of the nation and the world. That involvement consisted of resolve and creativity in designing tests to prove theories and then engineer them into useful and safe processes.  That sense of mission and purpose, and working to meet challenging national needs, has been infused into the character of the city.  One reflection of it is the title of probably the most comprehensive history of the city, Mary Jane Fritzen’s Idaho Falls, City of Destiny. Chapter 20 of that book, written by Ben Plastino, long time Post Register editor and unofficial INL historian, begins: “(The INL) wrote its history in the nuclear and scientific field of unsurpassed achievement.”

That sense of mission and achievement was somewhat dimmed and darkened at times in the 1970’s, 80’s and 90’s, as questions were raised about nuclear and hazardous wastes generated at and/or shipped to the Site, as controversial and sometimes complex environmental agreements were hammered out between the state and federal agencies and as opposition groups to nuclear power and nuclear waste treatment arose.
In the past 20 or so years the INL has gone through various changes in mission, at times seeking to refocus the development of nuclear power and at times diversifying into new missions.  Contractors have come and gone; employees have come, contributed, some having moved on and many retiring and staying in Idaho Falls.  Some the Lord has brought to Idaho Falls to bring to Himself though the witness of the gospel.  Some INL employees have become leaders in churches and ministries while employed at the INL.  The Lord brought others to Idaho Falls through employment at the INL and then called them into other areas of service or ministry in the city.

Jesus

A lot of books have been written about Jesus, starting, of course, with the first four books of the New Testament.  N. T. Wright, who has written Simply Jesus (2011) and The Challenge of Jesus (1999) notes that he has 20 shelves of books about Jesus written over the last two centuries.  Philip Yancey, the author of The Jesus I Never Knew (2002) writes that in the front pages of John Ortberg’s Who Is This Man? (2014), 1500 books about Jesus are published every year.

A recurring orientation of many of these books is a search for the “real” Jesus or a discovery or rediscovery of Jesus in a new way.  Some look no farther than cultural expressions of Jesus, others seek “new” or refined or reinterpreted historical understanding.  A few claim to have new information about Jesus’ “lost years” that require (in the opinion of the authors) a radical reinterpretation of who he was.

This book does not attempt to wade through the contradictory claims of the vast collection of books written about Jesus, nor does it attempt to critically evaluate Biblical sources, nor summarize all Biblical and historical material, nor does it focus on particular American cultural expressions of faith in Jesus.  Instead, a few Scripture verses are cited to outline the perspective of Jesus that underlies the remainder of this book, the vantage point from which the authors sought to discover Jesus in the history of Idaho Falls.

Jesus, the Creator

For by Him [Christ] all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him.  Colossians 1:16

More than three million people come to see Yellowstone each year.  While not unique in the world, the geysers, canyons, animals, waterfalls, and backcountry of Yellowstone have been a place of refreshment and wonder to millions of people for nearly a century.  The beauty of Yellowstone, and other National Parks, can illicit moments of awe, of sensing something beyond the ordinary matters and concerns and worries of everyday life.

Yet one need not go to Yellowstone to have such encounters.  They can surprise us most anywhere.  Jesus, as Creator, is reflected in His creation.  This is a theme we want to explore in that part of creation within the loose boundaries of what we call Idaho Falls and Southeast Idaho.

Jesus is the creator of the visible and the invisible.  He supplies the water that has made a barren desert into a vibrant community, both the surface water and the rainfall.  He displayed His creative power in the volcanic activity that formed the Snake River Plain; He planned the processes that created the soils in which potatoes, sugar beets and other crops have been grown in Southeast Idaho.  The beauty of His creation is seen in the Teton and Snake River Canyons, in the colors of the seasons, and the clouds and sunsets over the city.

But also in ways more mysterious he created the invisible foundations of the life of this community.  He has given us peace throughout the history of our city.  In ways I’m sure I don’t comprehend, Jesus reigns in Idaho Falls, leaving marks of his creativity and handiwork in many places.  May Jesus be acknowledged as King!

Jesus, the Word made flesh

In these last days [God] has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world. Hebrews 1:2
And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.  John 1:14

Statements like John 1:14 imply that people who encountered Jesus on earth experienced a concentrated and personalized form of our encounters with Jesus through His creation.  The gospels record that many who in some way saw or heard or met Jesus were amazed at His teaching, awed by his healings, set free by His power and drawn to follow Him.  Some, that is.  Others, primarily religious and civil authorities, were threatened by Him, ultimately leading to His arrest, trials and death.  And others were too busy with their own affairs to seek out or listen to Jesus.

The One who created the world entered into His creation as a man with a message.  He was a teacher, a prophet and more.  Many of the recent books on Jesus have sought new insight into and understanding of the “historical Jesus,” and His message.  It is certainly important to understand Jesus’ life on earth in the context of His time and culture.  The Jesus that we hope to see in looking at the history Idaho Falls and the message of Jesus we hear today must be traceable to Jesus of Nazareth, who actually lived and died in first century Palestine.

For example,

Jesus called men and women to follow Him; we believe He still calls men and women to follow Him.
Jesus responded to requests of people in need; we believe He still responds to prayers of and for people in need.
Jesus’ words and power relieved people of sicknesses and other afflictions; we believe He still heals, bringing about positive changes in those that seek Him.
Jesus sent His disciples to proclaim the good news of God’s kingdom and to make disciples; we believe He has sent men and women to Idaho Falls and from Idaho Falls for the same purpose.

Jesus, raised and seated at the right hand of God

But from now on, the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the mighty God.      Luke 22:69
[God] raised Him [Jesus] from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come.   Ephesians 1:20-21
Now the main point in what has been said is this: we have such a high priest, who has taken His seat at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens.  Hebrew 8:1
He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead.  Colossians 1:18

Most anyone can imagine Jesus living in first century Palestine, walking the roads of Galilee, teaching the Sermon on the Mount, attending the wedding in Cana, enjoying a meal with Zacchaeus the tax collector or Simon the Pharisee, and praying in Gethsemane.  The stories of the Gospels are a weekly diet for some; others who rarely attend church have still seen the Jesus film or Mel Gibson’s The Passion of Christ or older films about Jesus such as Cecil B DeMille’s King of Kings.  The Gospels also document that after Jesus was crucified and his body placed in a tomb, He was seen alive by numerous people at numerous times. He was and He was not like He was before His resurrection.  He invited Thomas to touch His wounds; He ate meals; He walked with two disciples to Emmaus, He spoke with His followers.  But also He would appear and disappear.  And His appearances as the resurrected Jesus stopped after the disciples saw Him ascend into the clouds.

The fact of Jesus’ resurrection is the best explanation for the history of the early years of the church.  The fact of Jesus’ resurrection allows us to look for Jesus at work in the history of Idaho Falls and today.

Yet seeing Jesus in recent history, whether looking in the church that identifies with Him or elsewhere, is not an easy task.  Seated at the right hand of God, Jesus is in some sense ultimately behind much that happens in our world. Yet tracing from specifics through the multiple layers of causes can be difficult.  We have tried, and you can be the judge of how well we’ve succeeded.

Jesus, living in His followers

In that day you will know that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you.  John 14:20
God wanted to make known to them the glorious riches of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.  Colossians 1:27
…Christ lives in me…  Galatians 2:20

In writing this book we have looked for Jesus in creation, we have used the lens of first century history to help identify Him, and we have allowed that as the One seated at God’s right hand, His influence can be observed in various human organizations.  Yet we have concentrated our search by looking for Him in His followers, people who acknowledge they know Him and who claim that He lives in them, people who have encountered Him and been changed by Him, people who are seeking to live out His kingdom here in Idaho Falls.

As we’ve sought to find Jesus in His people, our approach has been to look at the whole history of the city and the whole body of Christ within the city.  Neither of these has been easy, or to our knowledge, has been ever attempted before.  We make no claims to completeness.  History is blurred both by processes that erode and erase – memories fade, details of experiences are forgotten and/or were never documented, people die etc. – and also by evolving ways that experiences are viewed and interpreted.

And where exactly are the lines that define the body of Christ?  The wheat and tares are intermingled, appearances can be deceiving, and God’s Spirit can be at work in surprising places.

As hard as this is, we were convinced that we needed to try – to preserve stories of Jesus at work through His followers to inform future generations and to throw open the door to a broader sense of God at work than is usually seen within any particular group or church.

So we have looked for Jesus in His creation and in His new creation.  We have waded through the history of Idaho Falls seeking to find clues to what exactly Jesus has done based on what He said He would do, such as,

 “…I will build My church…” Matthew 16:18
“If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it.”  John 14:14
“As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” John 20:21
And as we talked with people who identify with Him, we have caught glimpses of His kingdom and power and glory.  All of this we want to share with you.