When God Breaks through the Darkness

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by Mark A. Johnson

Matt lost his eyesight when his meth lab exploded. When he came home from the hospital, he learned to cook meth blind. Eventually, through remedial help and drug rehab, Matt left the drug scene and became a spokesperson in schools to promote an antidrug message.

However, the lure of his addiction was too much and he succumbed again to the pull of drugs. David and Steve, chaplains for Life Tabernacle, met Matt in the Elkhart County jail, befriended him, and led him to Christ. When Matt left his old lifestyle, his wife divorced him, wanting nothing to do with his newfound religion. Matt slept under the dining room table at his dad’s house until a loving Apostolic family from Life Tabernacle opened their home to him.

The first two years were a struggle as Matt sought to know Christ and understand the power of faith and its impact in his life. As he grew stronger, he witnessed to people on the streets and became a volunteer chaplain at the same jail where he found the Lord.

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Matt Yeater & Pauline Studt pray with a young girl at Life Tabernacle in Elkhart, Indiana.

Feeling a call to ministry, he enrolled in Indiana Bible College. It was quite a challenge for both Matt and his college instructors: they had to prepare material for a blind person, and Matt had to get the material in a form he could read. The government helped with computers, scanners, software, and Braille tablets to access material. Still, the task was arduous and took hours of work.

After Matt graduated from IBC he longed to further his education. A government program would help him with college costs, but how could he negotiate graduate school? There was no material, especially for ancient languages, in a Braille-readable format.

Matt chose Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary (AMBS) in Elkhart, Indiana, simply because they accepted him and promised to help him succeed at getting a master’s degree in theology. They also rented him a three-bedroom apartment so he could be directly involved in rearing his three children.

When Paul Keim, professor of Bible and Religion at Goshen (Indiana) College and an instructor of Hebrew and Greek at AMBS, learned he would be teaching Matt to read Koine Greek, the professor asked if he could resign and just be the janitor. He had no idea how to teach a language to a blind person. But Matt was not one to take no for an answer. He began contacting the companies that provided Braille readers and the software creators who convert text into Braille. They instructed him to map out the language so they could convert Greek text to Braille. Matt and his professors and some others went to work and eventually mapped all the characters and punctuation used in Koine Greek and sent it to Duxbury Systems, Inc. Matt told David Holladay, a senior technical staff member, he faced challenges in translating the Hebrew characters. Unbeknownst to Matt, David’s father was Bill Holladay, a well-known biblical scholar who had translated the Hebrew Bible from German to English. David told Bill about Matt’s problem.

With the help of his father, David and his wife, Caryn Navy, also a Duxbury senior technical staff member, created on their own time a new biblical language software profile in Braille that would help Matt and other blind scholars study the ancient languages.

They began building in the Braille software, the critical apparatus that gives scholars information about other manuscripts to find the best reading of a passage. Matt and Loren Johns, professor of New Testament, wrote the code; David and Caryn translated it into the software; and Matt worked through the text and identified needed revisions.

Matt says, “The critical apparatus gave me the opportunity to engage with biblical textual criticism, which has never before been done by a blind person.” Duxberry included it and made it the standard to converting Koine Greek into Braille. Matt then learned to read Koine Greek with his Braille pad and went through several semesters learning Greek. Then he went to the Hebrew professor and asked to learn first-century Hebrew. Discovering it did not exist in Braille, Matt, along with the professor and his helpers, created the mapping for ancient Hebrew and used it as the foundation to create fifteen other Semitic languages in Braille.

Matt donated this work so other blind scholars would have the advantage of reading the biblical text in the original languages. Before, if a student needed an academic book translated into Braille, it might cost $800 for someone to go through it and manually translate the book. With technology and digital books available in Logos, the process can be completed in minutes, and it can be done on a standard laptop and then read with a Braille tablet.

The Pentecostal Publishing House (PPH) has led the way by allowing Matt to translate several of David Bernard’s books into Braille versions. They are available at the same price as a normal book. This is a first for a religious publishing house.

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Pastor Mark Johnson and Matt Yeater eating lunch in Jerusalem

National Recognition
Matt applied for the National Federation for the Blind’s (NFB) Dr. Jacob Bolotin Award, named for a pioneering blind physician, which recognizes “individuals and organizations working in the field of blindness that have demonstrated exemplary leadership and extraordinary accomplishments toward achieving the full integration of the blind into society on a basis of equality.” Matt is also the past president of the NFB’s Michiana chapter.

In his application, Matt named everyone at AMBS and Duxbury who contributed to the work. He also included two other blind participants: Ray McAllister and Sarah Blake LaRose, an adjunct instructor at the School of Theology of Anderson (Indiana) University.

Matt said, “I felt I needed to honor the others’ work; they’re the giants and I’m standing on their shoulders.” He also expressed gratitude to AMBS professors and staff for “not being intimidated” by his needs and for their willingness to invest in learning how to meet them.

Matt, Ray, and Sarah received the 2016 $20,000 first-place award, which was presented July 5, 2016, at the annual NFB convention in Orlando, Florida.

This spring, thanks in part to those who invested in the project, he successfully defended his thesis, which was provisionally titled, “Yeshua Yahwism: The highest Christology in apposition to mono-Yahwism.” Matt graduated with a master’s degree from AMBS in May 2016, and enrolled in Bar-Ilan University just outside Tel Aviv, Israel, to study Hebrew and to understand second Temple perspectives on God, the foundation of New Testament oneness theology. He is seeking a second master’s degree with an eye for a doctorate from Bar-Ilan in the future.

Matt Yeater created something in partnership with others that has forever changed the way blind people access Scripture. You never know how much someone can contribute to society until you believe in and invest in them.

Mark A. Johnson is the senior pastor of Life Tabernacle in Elkhart, Indiana.

This article first appeared in the Pentecostal Herald, May 2017. Published here by permission.

When God Breaks through the Darkness

GENERAL SUPERINTENDENT’S NEWS BULLETIN – 5/3/17

News Bulletin from the General Superintendent
5-3-17

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General Superintendent David K. Bernard

A Call to Prayer from World Network of Prayer
The 66th annual National Day of Prayer will be commemorated on Thursday, May 4, 2017, with the theme “For Your GREAT Name’s Sake: Hear Us … Forgive Us … Heal Us!” (Matthew 1:23, Daniel 9:19). The Global Day of Prayer will be observed on Sunday, June 4, 2017. All churches are encouraged to promote and participate in these important events. In the midst of global crisis and uncertainty, there is a clarion call from the throne of God to intercede fervently more than ever. Please join us in selective days of corporate prayer and fasting on behalf of our nation and our world between May 4 and June 4. Through our united efforts, we can positively shift the course of humanity and make both a temporal and eternal difference in the kingdom of God!

Strategic Plan for Growth
Last year, at the request of the General Board, I appointed a special committee to study our process for the formation of new districts. After receiving the committee’s report, the General Board decided that instead of simply trying to improve the existing procedure, each district needs to develop a strategic growth plan. Such a plan could include regionalization or multiplication of districts as they grow. A new committee has now begun work on the first step, which is the formation of a standing committee to advise and assist the districts, to be called the Strategic District Growth Committee.

Over the past decade, the UPCI has established a strong base for growth through restructuring, strengthening financial operations, developing standard policies and procedures, implementing new information technology, acquiring a new world headquarters, increasing participation at every level, enhancing ministerial training, growing the number of ministers, improving communications, developing more resources for churches, launching a church loan fund, and emphasizing the starting of new works. Now we need to build on this base through church planting and church growth. Global Missions has developed strategic plans for each nation. In North America, we are seeing a small increase in the number of churches, but we need to accelerate our growth through strategic planning in each district.

Revising the Manual
In 2010 a special Restructuring Committee of the General Board solicited a wide range of input and made twelve major recommendations that were adopted by the General Board. Over the past seven years, we have acted on each of them, but one is still a work in progress: namely, revising the UPCI Manual. To date, we have added the General Board Policies section; added to the Position Papers; revised several articles of the General Constitution relating to Education, Media, and Publications, and adopted the new names of Global Missions and North American Missions.

This year, the General Sunday School Division and the General Youth Division are proposing significant revisions to their articles of the General Constitution. The purpose of these revisions is to conform the language to current operations, eliminate outdated provisions, clear up ambiguities, move operational details to separate policies, and implement a few recommendations. The General Board mandated this process of revision and approved the consideration of the two revised policies, but the respective general committees will submit them directly to the Resolutions Committee for presentation to the General Conference. The most significant changes are that the General Sunday School Committee proposes the new name of Children’s Ministries and the General Youth Committee proposes the new name of Youth Ministries. These changes will help each ministry focus on its distinctive mission.

Required Reading for Ministerial Applicants
Another of the twelve recommendations of the Restructuring Committee was to strengthen our ministerial training. In response, a Ministerial Training Committee worked on a plan that was adopted by the General Board. The General Board revised the list of books to be read, added video instruction for each book, and implemented a more robust testing program. The most significant change is that for the first time every book on the required reading list has been written by a UPCI author and published by the UPCI. For example, the Division of Publications has produced the Apostolic Handbook Series of eight books covering the entire Bible to replace books by Trinitarian non-Pentecostals. The required books and videos are available at MinistryCentral.com.

The educational plan for ministerial credentials remains the same. (See General Constitution, Article VI, Section 2, Paragraph 9.) There are still two ways to qualify: (1) Attend one year of Bible college, read the Bible, read the Manual, and complete any additional training required by the district. (2) Complete the required reading list (which includes accompanying videos), read the Bible, read the Manual, and complete any additional training required by the district. Some districts have approved certain training programs. For a training program to fulfill the requirements, it must include the required books, but live instruction on the books can replace the video instruction.

Accountability in Our Operations
It is important for everyone to be accountable, and even the highest leaders must be accountable to one another and to the general body. Every year we present an annual report to the General Conference, which is available to all ministers online. It includes reports from the general superintendent and general secretary (which are also given orally), audited financial statements, detailed financial schedules, and reports from every division.

As general superintendent, I report to the General Board, which meets twice a year, and the Executive Board, which meets three times a year. These boards typically make decisions through discussion, consensus, and voice vote, with secret ballots as requested. Periodically, I ask the General Board for verbal and written evaluations of our operations. Each year, I update the board on work accomplished and work in progress. Over the past several years, we have particularly worked on twelve plans for restructuring adopted by the General Board in 2010 and five priorities adopted at the biennial planning meeting of division heads in 2013. Among these were the elimination of the 4% surcharge on all offerings and the acquisition of a new headquarters building.

Financial accountability is provided by various types of oversight: general superintendent (whom the Constitution designates as the “general overseer and general manager of all divisions”), general secretary-treasurer, chief administrative officer, chief accountant, Finance Committee (composed of divisional representatives), Budget Committee (composed of General Board members), and external auditors. The chief accountant submits monthly financial statements to the Budget Committee and the Executive Committee (top four officials). The Budget Committee meets four times a year, reviews all major financial decisions, receives detailed reports from every division and ministry including Church Administration, approves budgets for the upcoming year, and reports to the General Board.

All operations of World Headquarters are governed by the UPCI Manual, the Executive Policies and Procedures Manual (adopted by the Executive Board), and the Employee Policies and Procedures Manual (adopted by Division Heads). These documents provide spiritual, legal, financial, and operational accountability for each executive and employee.

Sincerely in Christ,
David K. Bernard

GENERAL SUPERINTENDENT’S NEWS BULLETIN – 5/3/17