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Responding to Cultural Shifts

Responding to Cultural Shifts

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Storm Lake lived up to its name this winter. The Church of New Beginnings, an Assemblies of God congregation in the northwest Iowa community, canceled all but one Sunday service in February due to inclement weather, including a blizzard that dumped six feet of snow.

Michael L. Robertson, 39, has led the church for just under two years. It’s his first senior pastorate.

Realizing that the small church of mostly white elderly worshippers needed revitalization, Robertson and a leadership team from New Beginnings recently wrapped up attending quarterly seminars of the Acts 2 Journey. The four two-day sessions are designed to help local church leaders better impact their vicinity.

“Acts 2 gets back to the first century Church model, away from sacred cows,” Robertson says. “As culture changes, we must change, too. We must intentionally be multiethnic. Storm Lake is a multiethnic microcosm.”

Certainly the demographics of Storm Lake have changed this century. While predominantly white residents lived there two decades ago, the growing community of 10,770 now has a majority Hispanic population. Hundreds of Latinos from Central and South America have moved to Storm Lake for jobs at a Tyson Foods hog slaughterhouse, meatpacking plant, and turkey processing facility.

Robertson earlier worked as music pastor for 2½ years at LifePointe Church in Ames when his now-retired father, Randy, served as lead pastor. Randy also spent 14 years in Slovakia and Greece as an Assemblies of God world missionary. Michael’s brother, Robby, is missions/media pastor at Central Assembly in Great Falls, Montana.

Although he believes God called him into ministry at the age of 5, the tenderhearted and transparent Michael Robertson resisted because he says he saw his father mistreated over the years by various churchgoers. Initially, he went to work as a special education paraprofessional with behavioral issue kids. He studied in Master’s Commission, attended Central Bible College, and spent a year as an AGWM missionary associate in Germany. But instead of full-time ministry, Robertson became a home equity banker.

Iowa Ministry Network Superintendent Tom Jacobs urged Robertson to apply for the Storm Lake position when the opening came in 2017. Jacobs hasn’t been disappointed.

“I love Mike’s heart for the community,” Jacobs says.

A baby dedication of infant Kyrin Chanthavysouk had been scheduled for the March 10 service, but a two-inch layer of ice forced yet another cancellation.

Instead, Robertson decided to travel to the home of Jerry and Michelle Mason, Kyrin’s grandparents. Relatives had gathered for the occasion, the first time Robertson consecrated a child to the Lord.

Kyrin’s father, Cola, started attending The Church of New Beginnings last September at the invitation of his in-laws. He immediately bonded with Robertson, in part because of the similarities of their families. Robertson and his wife, Lindsay, have four sons, ages 12, 11, 5, and 3. Cola, 29, and his wife, Jessica, have five children.

Chanthavysouk, who works at a Hy-Vee distribution center, is a lifelong Storm Lake resident and the son of Laotian and Thai refugees. He has known Jessica, who is white, since sixth grade. Before he devoted himself to the Lord three years ago, Chanthavysouk spent years wandering spiritually, including time as a Buddhist and surviving a suicide attempt.

“Pastor Michael is friendly and inviting,” Chanthavysouk says. “I’m very close to him.” The two men enjoy the outdoors together, including occasional forays into airsoft, a competitive team shooting sport similar to paintball.

A Spanish congregation meets in The Church of New Beginnings building on Sunday afternoons. Argentina Ruiz, who has planted 14 churches across the U.S., leads the Hispanic body. Ruiz, 78, is originally from El Salvador. She became a Christian in the 1960s under the ministry of L. John Bueno, who went on to become executive director of AGWM.

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