Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Camp Outreach - A Success!

We just completed our 2011 Camp Outreach Indiana. 85 volunteers from 10 states converged on Indianapolis the week of July 11-16 to put authentic Christian values into practice. Our work had three main thrusts: projects that help rehab houses where there was a legitimate need for widows, the elderly, orphans, fatherless and the poor; teach Jesus Christ to children in the neighborhood and  lives and put our Christian faith into practice.

While the numbers don't begin to tell the whole story, they do reveal a little about how hard everyone worked. In the projects side we worked on 12 properties. In one house where a widow was taking care of her widowed mother, had a child with cerebral palsy and was raising three other children we:
  • Replaced her kitchen cabinets, countertops, rewired two kitchen lights and painted;
  • Repaired her bathtub, tiled her bathroom floor, brought in a new vanity, installed a new door and casing, painted the bathroom and reset her wobbly toilet;
  • Installed four bedroom doors and two closet doors. (There were no bedroom doors before);
  • Installed wainscotting to protect the sheet rock walls from damage by the wheel chairs;
  • Repainted the entire interior of the house;
  • Replaced all the outlets and switches and repaired electrical circuits. (We found there had been a bad short in one of the outlets that coud have caused a catastrophic fire);
  • Hauled away all the debris.
There were 11 more projects sites, including repainting the interior of a woman who is raising three young boys by herself; tearing out a crumbling porch and pouring 5 yards of concrete to fix the porch, the steps and the steps to another home; repairing gutters; purchased and spread 10 tons of dirt to cover a yard where lead in the soil was causing the child to test at dangerous lead levels; helped a woman who has multiple family members living with her while they search for work to sheet rock walls plaster walls that had air blowing through them; cut down the head-high grass and weeds on an abandoned property; filled a trench that had been left in a yard; tore off and roofed part of a house where there was a severe water leak and tore out dead bushes and scraped and painted a garage for an older couple suffering from COPD.

As good as the projects were, the children's program was equally a success. We had 70-75 children each day in our vacation Bible school based on the "Hometown Nazareth" program. Last year we had 30-60 each day and the previoius year was 22-35 each day. One lady pushed a stroller and walked with her young children a mile and a half each way to make sure her kids were part of the First Outreach program.

We also fed breakfast and lunch to all the children, some of their parents and to all 85 of our workers. Bob and Brenda Howard and the kitchen crew had a busy and appreciated ministry!

The "Hometown Nazareth" program was an enormous help. The children were divided into 8 tribes - each named after one of the tribes of Israel. Stephanie Smith played the role of Mary and told a story each day about Jesus when he was a boy. The story would relate to the children and everything was Biblically sound. (Even the story of the birth of Jesus had the kings coming later - as the Bible actually teaches.) When we talked about the name of Jesus we showed the children what their names meant. That was an eye opening event for many of them. When we talked about Jesus having a home we related it to them having a home ... it was very effective.

Jeanie Hinds would lead them in singing some rousing songs. Then the "tribes" would go to the market place which was located at the Common Ground Ministry House just a block away. There some of our volunteers played the role of capenters, bread bakers, synagogue leaders, quarry men, bead makers, etc. Some were believers in Jesus, some had doubts. (Remember what was said about Jesus not performing may miracles in Nazareth because of their lack of belief? Matthew 13:57-58)

My wife, Jennifer, played "Eunice." Eunice was a busy body who didn't believe that Jesus was what Mary thought. I wasn't sure how the children would react to someone play acting that they had doubts. Jennifer must have been a good actress - one little girl came up repeatedly and tried to assure Jennifer that Jesus really was the son of God. Toward the end of the week Eunice became more convinced that Mary was right.

In the tribe "huddles" they would discuss Jesus and what some of the doubting neighbors or Nazareth shopkeepers said or those who had open minds. In defending their faith, even the younger children seemed to become more convicted of their beliefs. I am reminded of a youth congress we had years ago. I found that young perople were examining and defending their faith in school at a much earlier age than I imagined.

It was very successful. The dramatic increase in attendance attested to the popularity of the program. Of course, not every child was there every day. We are still going through our attendance lists - 120 young people were registered and we estimate that about 100 or more children attended at least one day of the vacation Bible school.

People ask, "Why do we do this?" I am sure every volunteer has their own reasons. We do it for four reasons:
  1. We want to follow what Jesus taught and what Jesus did. Feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, caring for the poor, teaching the ways of life that turn us into a blessing to others and breaking the bondage and curses that come from sin are important to Jesus. Because they are important to him, they are important to us.
  2. We want to follow the leading of the Spirit of God and this is what we think we should be doing.
  3. We really, deeply, enjoy helping our neighbors and their children. Make no mistake - while there are many loveable neighbors, there are some that are not so loveable. But learning how to show them love in practical ways changes us. Showing them that God and Jesus are interested in their lives can help change them.
  4. We want to learn how to become more effective in evangelism. Evangelism to us means connecting people to the real, authentic Jesus and our Father in heaven. If we are going to talk about the love of God, we think we should be showing the love of God. Camp Outreach has become a learning tool for us locally and for congregations across the country.
Thanks to all the volunteers and donors who helped make this year's Camp Outreach a success. With our growth, we feel that next year we plan to make changes. We've outgrown our local resources to manage everything that is being done so we are going to ask for help. With so many young people coming, we want to ask adults to do more in mentoring job skills (like how to paint properly, tape drywall, etc.), mentoring in life skills and in the faith, and jobsite management.

If you have comments or are interested in being a part of this effort, give me a call or shoot me an email.

Until later,


Guy Swenson
Common Ground Christian Ministries

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Camp Outreach Indianapolis Starts July 10 - 16!

Update: July 3rd WISH TV Interview in "Religion In The News" about Camp Outreach and Common Ground Christian Ministries:

Six years ago my wife, Jennifer, overheard discussion about that year's church camp. One young person complained about not having air conditioning in their dorm. Another didn't like the games and activities - and so the conversation went.

It struck her that the "church camps" being discussed focused on a selfish experience. What would happen if we had a church camp that focused on serving others? From that perspective, Camp Outreach was born. It is a great place for young people to meet others who share a common faith in an environment of service. 

Camp Outreach focuses on four things:

1. Putting faith into practice through service to the poor, the hungry, the widows, the fatherless and the elderly. Whether it is putting a new roof on a house, painting, repairing bathrooms, yard cleanup - we help those who have a legitimate physical need. Donations to Camp Outreach pay for the materials and the labor is volunteer, so we can offer these services without cost to those whom we serve.

2. It is a family experience. In addition to the Christian "family" experience of working together with other believers, Camp Outreach is organized so individuals or an entire family can participate. One family last year year saw the grandmother sewing costumes for the children's drama, dad oversaw a work project, mom helped in the kitchen and the kids worked on service projects. Parents with small children helped out in "First Outreach" and their kids were with them through the entire camp experience.

3. We teach people about God our Father and Jesus Christ. Our "First Outreach" program is essentially a Vacation Bible School for young people ages 4 - 12. In the poor neighborhood we serve, many children don't go to a church and know little about God and His love for them.  Last year we served more than 60 children in the neighborhood and had more than 100 people from the neighborhood come to an outdoor Sabbath service on the last day of camp. We also  teach appropriate ways to share your faith with people in the neighborhood, as the opportunity arises.

4. We have fun. While working together in service to others is fun, so is talking with others over dinner, playing cards, going swimming on our activity afternoon or enjoying lively discussion about faith and our purpose. Sometimes "religion" can be divisive - serving others in loving atmosphere is enjoyable, uniting and creates great relationships and memories.

Applications for Camp Outreach and the 2011 Indianapolis Camp Outreach Brochure are available at under "Camp Outreach." The application deadline is June 15, 2011. Can't come, but would like to donate? See the "Donate" tab to the left. We appreciate your prayers and your support?

Hope to see you there!


Guy Swenson

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Ministry News and a New Feast of Tabernacles Site!

This Sabbath, March 19, at the Common Ground Ministry House, 331 Lynn Street, Indianapolis, there will be a breakfast and Bible Study at 8:30 AM.

Afterwards, Jennifer and I will travel to Terre Haute, where I will give the sermon at 2:30 PM at the Church of God, Terre Haute, 14th and Poplar.

We are so grateful to all of you for your love and support during the recent illness and death of Jennifer's brother, Jeff. It meant so much!

We also thought you might appreciate a little update about Common Ground Ministries and our activities, of late.

First Outreach for March was a big success, with 32 local children (plus a few of our own) participating. The children loved learning to “walk by faith” in the “A-mazing Faith” maze. Thanks to Brian Smith for teaching the lesson in Stephanie’s absence.

Creating Jobs: Activities in the neighborhood are putting us in touch with neighbors daily. Steve Durham has been hired by my company and is leading a daily work crew, making sure the men living in the Ministry House, as well as a few others, have work, training in values and work ethic. One member of his crew has just landed a full-time job, so the program is really working!

Discipling: Each Sabbath, neighbors have been gathering for a Bible Study. This week we began a regular Monday night Bible Study. Tuesdays Jennifer and I teach English as a Second Language, and at least one Tuesday night a month is a neighborhood association meeting. Thursday nights, Steve and I conduct a Bible-based recovery group for neighbors. These studies all emphasize basic truths that are really making a difference for those who are attending.

Camp Outreach: We’re also beginning to plan for Camp Outreach 2011. The First Outreach program this year will give the children a taste of what life was like during the time of Christ. We’re using a Vacation Bible School program called “Hometown Nazareth.” Working with the neighborhood children was a huge success last year.

New Feast Site: On another note, we’re excited to announce the Common Faith Network Feast of Tabernacles in Sandestin, Florida. Plans are for a doctrinally unified, family friendly, fellowship oriented, and spiritually rejuvenating festival environment for the Church of God. Learn more about it at the website:

Common Faith Network is just that - a network of ministries, churches and individual Christians who share our common Christian faith and want to work together where pooling our efforts and resources makes good sense.

Our love to you all,

Guy and Jennifer Swenson

Friday, January 21, 2011

Blessings or Cursings?

I am surprised at how many people do not understand the principle of cause and affect as it relates to what happens to them in their lives.

For them, really bad things happened all the time in their lives and they have no idea why. Bad things like angry blowups with a spouse, being fired from jobs, problems with neighbors, bills piling up, sicknesses and constant drama with their children seem to come out of the blue and sucker punch their happiness and drain them of joy.

Without understanding the impact of cause and effect, one might conclude that everything bad in life just happens randomly or that God is mad at you and was actively cursing your life. That feeling of helplessness or being a victim robs us of hope and the belief that we can do something that will make our lives better. Our hope for change is reduced to dumb luck - and how often does anyone win the lottery?

I wonder how much of this "cause and effect" deficiency stems from the common idea saying some behaviors are "right" and other behaviors are "wrong" means we are improperly judging the behavior of others. In a world of political correctness, one has to say "This is what works for me." One cannot say "This is what YOU should do." 

In our neighborhood Bible Study last Sabbath we explored the idea that not everything that happens to us is the result of random time and chance. We covered four key concepts that turn us from victims in life without any control over our current and future circumstances into active participants in life whose actions can make a difference - and bring hope for positive changes in our lives.

First, we discussed the concept that some decisions we make bring curses to our neighbors and ourselves. For example, stealing someones stuff creates anger, distrust, frustration, fear and discouragement. When one doesn't have extra money to replace something essential that was stolen, hope is lost.

The actions of a thief make him a curse to others. The thief also suffers from a curse - with guilt, self-loathing, fear and anxiety at being caught or betrayed.

Second, we discussed the idea that God has given "short cuts"  in the Bible to understand what makes us either a curse or a blessing to ourselves and our neighbors. Without this special revealed knowledge we are reduced to experimentation to discern what decisions work well and what work badly. Unfortunately, it is often hard to discern what decision is a good decision because a good choice can be smothered by curses brought by bad choices.

Without God's "shortcuts" to understanding, how can anyone know for certain what life choices work and which ones don't? Rather than stumbling on something that works, God wants us to be fully aware of how we can be a blessing to others. He also wants us to know what makes us a curse to our family, our neighbor and our community.

Third, we talked about what defines "cursed" life choices and what defines "blessed" life choices. Curses come from us sinning. But what is sin? Rather than some nebulous definition of "sin" like "something that hurts others" we explored the three definitions of sin in the New Testament:

1. Knowing to do good but not acting on it: James 4:17 "Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin."

2. Acting against our conscience: Romans 14:23 "And he that doubteth is damned if he eat, because he eateth not of faith: for whatsoever is not of faith is sin."

3. Breaking God's Laws: 1 John 3:4 "Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law."

It is good that we can understand what actions make us a blessing to others (obedience to God and Jesus and doing what they say) and what actions make us a curse to ourselves and others (disobeying God, violating our conscience and not loving our neighbor.) With that understanding comes insight into why many curses come into our lives and how we can become a blessing to others.

Finally, we talked about one of the roles that Jesus plays in our lives - that of removing the curses that come from our disobedience. In Galatians 3:13 the apostle Paul says of Jesus: "Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a pole.” Our willingness to believe and repent of our sins and rebellion opens the door for Jesus to die and absorb the curse in our stead.

Jesus has taken the role of redeemer in the lives of those who enter into a new covenant with Him. We who were slaves to all manner of sin can be freed from the curse of our disobedience and fashioned into a new person by the death and resurrection of Jesus. Those in whom the Holy Spirit of God lives and who exercise their faith through obedience become a blessing to others just as Jesus is a blessing to us. This new outlook on life is different from a self-centered, selfish and greedy way of living.

Rather than seeking to be blessed as our goal, we seek to become a blessing to others as we have opportunity, ability and understanding. A community of believers who focus on being a blessing to each other and their neighbors, who look out for each other and "have each other's back" is something of great worth and value. One of our goals in Common Ground is to foster the creation of many of those communities.

Our community of believers has a breakfast Bible Study at our Ministry House on Sabbath, January 22 at 8:30 AM. The address is 331 Lynn Street, Indianapolis, IN 46222. You are welcome to attend! Dress is casual and breakfast will be served.


Guy Swenson