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Appreciating the Candidates

New U.S. missionaries receive tangible rewards from an obliging congregation.

Life360 Park Crest in Springfield, Missouri, recently hosted a special Sunday service and banquet for all 15 missionary candidate families who took part in the AG U.S. Missions fall 2016 candidate orientation.

The Sunday morning service and accompanying banquet are not an official part of the orientation schedule, but candidates know not to miss out. Life360 Park Crest has been honoring U.S. missionary candidates with special gifts during both the spring and fall orientation sessions for the past three years.

Ted Cederblom, lead pastor of Life360 Park Crest, says the banquet began when he asked U.S. Missions Executive Director Zollie L. Smith Jr. for permission to invite every candidate attending orientation to the church for a special celebration.

“We know that these candidates face challenges when raising their budget,” Cederblom says. “When Brother Zollie and the team were willing to take a risk and say yes, we had a plan to make it worthwhile for each candidate.”

On Sunday morning, each missionary candidate is invited to speak to one of Life 360 Park Crest’s Sunday School classes.

Cederblom says that when he and his team sit down to assign candidates to these classes, their intention is to place them with every age group in order to reinforce the church’s commitment to multigenerational ministry.

“We acknowledge that God calls people of all ages,” Cederblom says. “When an older missionary speaks to our youth, it might subvert their expectations of what a missionary is or looks like.”

During the Sunday service, missionaries stand on stage and receive a standing ovation from the congregation, with applause extending for several minutes.

“Even the missionaries with the most composed stage presence become overwhelmed with emotion after a while,” Cederblom says. Every aspect of the day is designed to communicate one message to the candidates: Life360 Park Crest believes in them.

Following services, the group is ushered to the church’s gymnasium, where personalized banners are presented to each candidate to use as they raise funds. During the banquet that follows, the church lavishes the new missionaries with a number of other presents, from Amazon gift cards to laptop computers.

David and Linda Maracle, U.S. Mission America Placement Service candidate missionaries, had been pricing banners in recent months.

“We were thrilled to have the banner taken care of, and we could tell the church was just as excited,” David says. Later in the banquet, Linda won an Apple Watch.

Life360 Park Crest’s extensive planning to honor missionary candidates is not limited to a single day during orientation. The church sets goals each year designed to propel the congregation toward fulfilling a 30-year vision Cederblom implemented when he arrived as pastor in 2003. The lists of yearly goals, which are framed on the walls of Cederblom’s office, involve increasing the church’s missions budget in order to add to the number of missionaries supported.

The missions giving goals that Life360 Park Crest has achieved in recent years have enabled candidate missionaries to reach their own fundraising goals. Airika Blankenship, a candidate missionary in orphan care chaplaincy, exceeded her monthly fundraising goal during her first week of itineration following the banquet.

Blankenship, who planned to include a laptop and a tablet in her itineration budget, received both items as presents at the banquet.

“The gifts were special as gifts, but God used them and the people at the church to show me that He heard my heart and was moving on my behalf before I even knew it,” Blankenship says. “This was a divine moment for me, and I was so much more confident as I began itinerating.”

The Maracles echo Blankenship’s sentiment.

“The church’s enthusiasm for us has strengthened our resolve,” David says. “I can’t think of a better way to begin itineration.”

Austin Jacobs

Austin Jacobs is the Assemblies of God World Missions Unreached People Groups specialist. A research enthusiast, avid reader, and marathon runner, Austin holds a master of arts in Religious Studies from Missouri State University and completed his thesis on memorial responses to the Boston Marathon bombing. He and his wife, Hillary, serve in various ministry roles at Solid Rock Church in Springfield, Missouri.