FSM Staffs’ Adventure To The National Restored Hope Network Conference
RHN Conference Update on – HOPE 2017
An Update from Stephen Black
Leaving Oklahoma City – Sunday, June 11
Laura Leigh Stanlake, Joseph Thiessen and I head to San Diego, CA thanks to a supporter who supplied us with a rented new SUV. We left Oklahoma City at 7 AM on Sunday, June 11th. Each morning we would begin with the reading and hearing of Scripture. Laura Leigh was a reader, and it was wonderful to hear and discuss God’s word together as we drove to San Diego and back to Oklahoma City.
To keep our trip enjoyable the staff and I were able to get out of the car for a few scenic stops. Our first stop was for a quick look at the huge cross and life-sized sculptures of The Passion in Groom, TX. If you have never stopped there, it is truly worth the extra time to visit. The chapel and book store there are also terrific visits.
An Abortion memorial along the way – also viewed at www.crossministries.net.
First Stone Staff, Left to Right: Stephen, Laura Leigh and Joseph, praying :-)
Our next stop was Santa Fe, NM. We had a quick walk around the old city area, which is around the main park. As we made our way around, I had an encounter with a street musician. He cried out to me to help him financially; most-likely because he saw that I had my cross around my neck. It turned into an opportunity for me to sit down on the sidewalk with him and witness to him about the straight and narrow way as he declared himself to be a follower of Christ. His glazed-over eyes, burnt and dirty skin, and dirty clothes with the noticeable odor of alcohol made it obvious, he really needed a closer walk with Jesus, to say the least. It was a wonderful moment in time. I talked with him about the lovingkindness of our Lord, and His mercy to grant us repentance. I prayed with him. As I left, he was in tears.
I returned to Joseph and Laura who had stopped in front of the Galerie Zuger shop. We saw amazing art there. This shop housed some Gib Singleton sculptures. I was in awe of this man’s sculptures depicting beautiful biblical pieces of worship and meditation.
When I saw this piece of the crucifixion, I immediately thought of my dear friend Andrew Comiskey who is the author of the Living Waters program we run for First Stone’s healing support group. Andrew forever preaches the crucified Christ, and Jesus’ amazing sacrifice daily frees us from our temptations and sins. You can find out more about the artist here: www.gibsingleton.com.
The intensity of all these art pieces was breath taking for me, especially the crucifix and the betrayal. The meditation of the passion of Jesus Christ should take away anyone's breath.
After a nice dinner in Santa Fe, we got back on the road for a night’s stay outside Gallup, NM.
Day 2 – National Parks and Onward to Phoenix – Monday, June 12
We were overwhelmed with the beauty of the United States on our daily journey. Each of us commented, giving thanks to God. Stops for this day included The Painted Desert and The Petrified Forest National Parks. Both parks are along one route with one entrance fee. I don’t think any of us are huge desert fans, however, the scenery we encountered was a beauty all its own. It causes your soul to stop and pause at the majesty of God’s handiwork. There is so much beauty to enjoy! Like Joseph said, “it requires taking in the full-picture of how colors and textures play against each other—I would definitely stop and see it again!” We drove through the parks and made our way to a Taco Bell. I was really was not up for this; however, while there, I had another incredible experience with the Holy Spirit. He had given me a dream the night before, and the woman in my dream was in that very restaurant. The Lord gave me a specific word and prayer for her. It was a test for me as I did not want to follow through. I did, and it ended up being a miracle moment. The Lord was certainly with us on this trip.
We journeyed on to Phoenix. Somewhere between Holbrook and Phoenix, “we encountered a glorious surprise,” as Joseph remembers. “We crossed from high desert into forests we didn’t know existed. It’s like we started at the top of some peak and descended further and further into unknown and beautiful valleys.” Truly a beautiful experience for me as I love driving through mountains and valleys, like the story of my life. This geographic area is called the Mogollon Rim.
As we were looking for a stop, an elderly woman almost pulled out in front of me. We pulled into the gas station, and a few minutes later I look up to see Laura Leigh ministering to the elderly lady who pulled in for gas, too. Laura was ministering the love of God to this elderly lady by washing her bug and grime encrusted windshield. No wonder she almost pulled out in front of me, she was almost blind from her filthy windshield! What a great way to bless a stranger and minister Jesus to them. Laura is a precious woman of God, always ministering in secret. Well, this was one secret, I wanted to share to give a little insight. The Lord gave us an opportunity to minister in every stop along our journey.
We arrived in Phoenix, AZ at around 5 PM and met a ministry friend for dinner. Laura Leigh’s cousins hosted us for the night and we enjoyed fellowship and was blessed by an amazing breakfast the next morning.
Day 3 – On Our Way to San Diego, CA – Tuesday, June 13
The next day we headed for San Diego. Leaving Phoenix on Highway 347, we ventured across I-8. This path was mostly desert, a unique beauty in His creation. We stopped to get a picture with a huge cactus; they were everywhere. We had lunch in famous Yuma, AZ. Crossing into California, we encountered a large area of sand dunes in Imperial County. Truly it seemed as though we’d driven into the Middle East. We had never seen sand dunes this large.
We drove into San Diego with a few issues facing us. A rock hit our windshield hard cracking it. Later that day, we discovered that my ministry credit card number had been stolen and hijacked for a shopping spree in Lawton, OK. The bank was wonderful and had a new card sent FedEx to the hotel the next day. This was some minor warfare to try and steal my peace.
The beautiful Imperial Sand Dunes!
Day 4 – RHN Board Meetings for Stephen and Beach Time for Joseph and Laura – Wednesday, June 14
I was in an all-day RHN board and planning meeting. This gave Joseph an opportunity to get the windshield repaired. Joseph and Laura were then able to take in some time at the beach near the US/Mexico border. Serving on the RHN board has been very rewarding for me. Andrew Comiskey has been the chairman since 2012. He brought clear direction and formation to the RHN board, the Member Ministries and Anne Paulk. It has been wonderful to be on the RHN board as one of the founders and seeing all that the Father has done in our midst over the last 6 years. I’ve personally benefited and learned so much from serving under Andrew Comiskey who is a tremendous leader and man of God. We concluded our board meetings with blessings, prayer, and a wonderful dinner together and a walk on the beach.
Day 5 – RHN Leadership and Member’s Day – Thursday, June 15
Anne Paulk, Executive Director of the Restored Hope Network of Ministries did an excellent job leading our day. The membership voted on the new position paper on counseling and on branch ministries. We also received advice and legal counsel from Brad Dacus, the President of the Pacific Justice Institute. Garry Ingraham gave a very encouraging fundraising presentation. Andrew Comiskey finished his final year, due to term limits on the board, and Ron Citlau resigned early. Therefore, we voted on two new board members. Debora Barr who is the President of DBarr Ministries & the director All Things New in Landover MD, and Carl Conli who is a pastor and director of HIS Ministry in Fair Oaks, CA. I look forward to serving my last year with this new board. My term will be up next year; however, I want to finish well as the new Chair. Please pray for the new board!
2016-2017 RHN Board Picture: Left to Right: Dee Barnes, Karen Booth, Anne Paulk, Stephen Black, Garry Ingraham, and Andrew Comiskey with the microphone. (Missing Ron Citlau).
Days 6 & 7 – The RHN Annual HOPE Conference – Friday & Saturday, June 16 & 17
I had the pleasure of speaking in San Diego in October at the TruthXChange Ministries Conference. During that time, our conference coordinator and I communicated our desire to have the RHN conference in Southern California, preferably San Diego. Unfortunately, there was a participant that was not happy with Dr. Michael Brown’s and my presentations. He was actually angry with me for testifying so boldly. Some interesting people rallied together and cried out for a protest. They organized an online sign up for a protest that was covered by the media several times. The protestor’s Facebook page communicated that 750-1200 were going to attend the protest. As it were, only about 150 showed up at the Hilton, and maybe 100 at the church property. They were a very loud bunch, screaming, chanting with a megaphone and large drums beating! At one point, it was a little disconcerting when the paid BLM protestors showed up and tried to break the police barrier. These people were carrying signs, stating that “Rebellion” is their right. I walked down towards the front of the City View Church property to greet the police officers. I wanted to communicate gratefulness. While I was nearer to the protestors I used my camera to take some video and photos.
I really enjoyed to talking with the police officers. I apologized for the protest. I communicated to the officers that RHN was not about harming anyone. This opened up a dialog. One of the officers asked me, what was my connection to the conference, and why I was there? Excellent questions! It was a wonderful opportunity, to begin with why I was there. I shared my testimony. I told the officers that in 1981-82 I might have been one of those protestors. I shared with them about giving my life to Christ and talked with them about Christ's transformational grace that provided freedom from homosexuality. I told them my connection to the conference as one of the founders of RHN and that I have been serving on the board of directors since RHN's start in 2012.
After sharing with them for about 15 minutes, I was able to sincerely share the gospel with the police officers. Two of the officers had to walk away to stop the protestors from blocking the drive entrance, which left one officer beside me. He leaned over to me and said, "I'm Catholic." I said, "Oh great, then you understand." He nodded, yes. There was a protest sign communicating that it was their RIGHT TO REBEL. I asked the officer, "what's going to happen when they start saying it is their RIGHT TO REBEL AGAINST THE POLICE?" He looked at me with his sunglasses on, and I could tell he wasn't happy with the question. I said, "No disrespect, but it is headed in that direction, and I am so sorry for you men in blue." I told him that I have several friends back home in Oklahoma who are in law-enforcement and that we are all concerned. He nodded, yes. I thanked him for his service.
Thank God that the protestors were more bark than bite. Their rantings were very loud, annoying, and sadly misplaced. Their aim was at RHN, but the real issue was a distorted belief in the work of God through this ministry. Truly tragic to see this very immature demonstration with heavy sin-laden souls believing demonic lies. The “Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence” had a showing as well. Their slogans are, “Perpetual Joy Through Perpetual Lust” and “Go Forth and Sin Some More.” They are nothing more than perverted perpetual mockers of God. Truly bizarre! Yet, there was great good news at the conference!
The actual conference was amazing! We had the most attendees in the 6 RHN conferences - well over 400! Numerous testimonies and workshops with top-quality plenary sessions were packed into this 2-day event. My favorite delivery this year was hearing from Janet Mefferd, National Radio Talk Show Host who has several shows. (See janetmefferd.com for more information). Beautiful testimonies of God’s transformative grace were given from people from all over the United States. Look for video and audio files soon at RHN Website.
Joseph Thiessen helped serve during the Member’s Day, and he served the conference on several levels, especially in managing the bookstore. Joseph has terrific administration skills. Laura Leigh Stanlake served during Member’s Day. During the conference, Laura taught a breakout on healthy friendship. I had the honor of teaching a session on the statistics from the Freedom Realized project, and concluded with some biblical reasons on the “whys” people succeed and the “whys” of those who return to darkness. I also had the amazing honor in closing the conference with communion. I love communion services, especially the services I have the opportunity to teach and lead. Our worship experiences were terrific being led by Nate Oyle and his team from Outpost Ministries. Our closing worship and communion celebration was a beautiful time. I was personally blessed by several testimonies of people who had never heard a communion service presented as a means of grace empowerment. I was sincerely humbled and blessed!
More Testimonies – At RHN Conference
It was wonderful to see the Lord draw many hearts. We met at least 3 attendees who, although unfriendly to the mission of RHN, were respectful in their behavior. A couple of friends happened to sit at our lunch table. One young man, Matthew – 29, sat next to me. His friend, Madeline sat next to our ministry leader friend from Arkansas, Anita Eggman. Matthew said he was raised in a non-religious Jewish home. He said he was a gay-identified Jew. At one point in his journey that he had been involved in JONAH, the Jewish Torah-based offering for helping people overcome homosexuality. At first, he didn’t disclose his current status as a gay activist. I enjoyed taking him through the Old Testament and revealing Jesus Christ as the Messiah to him through the Scriptures that reveal Jesus as the Son of God. He listened carefully, and he seemed honestly interested. He was very interested in my personal journey out of homosexuality and had many questions. Some questions were very personal, but I tried to be vulnerable in order to present the gospel.
Matthew’s friend Madeline shared a personal story with Anita. Anita ministered pastoral care as Madeline broke down in tears. Matthew was genuinely surprised by his friend’s outburst of emotion. She was weeping in Anita’s arms communicating difficulties she had endured in her family life. Both Madeline, who was a member of the Human Rights Campion and Matthew, a gay activist were touched by God. We have Lily the protest organizer to thank. God used this protest organizer to bring people who ended up being touched by God.
It’s hard to know our real effect upon them. However, it was relayed to me that Madeline went out to visit with the protesters who were present outside the church. She was met with hateful vitriol and was treated poorly by them. She came back in and told our group that politically she was on their side, but her heart leaned toward our loving kindness and was very confused. Truly the protestors were so obnoxious at the Hilton that the citizens of San Diego were not amused, which hurt their LGBTQ agenda. The activists’ mantra that RHN is hateful and torturing children was screamed loudly. Ironically, the truth is clear scientifically and practically. What has been demonstrated by the LGBTQ lifestyle and in their protests, is that they torture children with hormone blockers and introduce them to perverse sex acts. Their protests are filled with hate and rage against the Truth.
At the end of the conference, I spoke with Matthew again. I told him I had heard that he was a gay activist. He confirmed it. I asked him why he was really at the conference, and he said to find out if there was hope. I asked him if he was going to take our conversation, my vulnerable story and the biblical truths and mock it all, and mock my journey. I asked him if he was going to write about me and my friends with scoffing ridicule. I asked him if I would find out later that he was actually my enemy? He knew exactly why I was asking, and with some shame and a forgiving assurance he said, “I am so sorry that’s happened, and please know that I am not like that, and I will not become your enemy.” He communicated that he might like to look me up to talk more. Please join us in praying for this couple, Matthew and Madeline; it seems God’s hand is on them.
We also heard that one of the protestors came into the conference from the protest line. She rededicated her life to Christ, communicating that the power of the Holy Spirit drew her away from the hateful protest and into the loving presence of the worship going on inside during the RHN Conference. I guess we have the protest organizer to thank for the souls that were saved from the protestors themselves.
During the last session, two men in their late 20s showed up. They entered the main foyer and began pickup literature off the tables. Laura Leigh spotted them and asked them what they were doing. They indicated to her that they wanted to register for the conference. Laura communicated she believed that registration was closed and would find someone to help them. Laura asked these young, arrogant and buff, attractive men, with their cool California summer outfits, dark sunglasses, and their typical millennially-tatted up arms, to step outside of the building with security. They swaggered out not pleased at all. Laura found me. I went to talk to them with two security officers standing a few feet away watching everything. Their names were Russ and Zak. I asked them how I could help them. They wanted to come in, but I told them that registration was closed and the conference was ending. They started immediately throwing all kinds of questions at me. I asked them to pause and let me answer. I told them who I was and why I was there. I shared the one-minute version of my testimony and then Russ turned on me and became completely vulgar. He began speaking to me in the most perverse way, graphically telling me how I long for certain sex acts. It was an x-rated communication inappropriate for anyone. I told him to stop, that he didn’t know me nor did he know what I wanted sexually. I rebuked him and asked him what kind of a person talks like this to a perfect stranger? He quieted down, and Zak asked me all kinds of causality questions, and questions about God and several “whys?” about God. I was able to answer clearly and concisely. The Holy Spirit was with me. He was dumbfounded. Truly, he could hardly talk after I answered him. He said, okay, enough, we're leaving. This is when I said, wait, what are your names. He could barely speak their names. Zak literally staggered away, and had a hard time walking down the stairs. It was amazing to watch. The security guard walked up to me and said, “man, I don’t know how you did that! Truly that was amazing, and your answers were so powerful. I just don’t know how you put up with that one guy. I wanted to punch his mouth out he was so disgusting.” He said, “Brother, you really showed them the love of God, WELL DONE!” I was blessed. However, at the time I was not so sure. I did like seeing Zak stagger away. I saw the Holy Spirit working. But honestly, my heart was heavy, and I wasn’t sure I answered as well as I wanted to.
We loved having fellowship with other leaders, many have their own stories of what took place at the conference. Our dear brother Andrew Comiskey wrote a short synopsis on the conference called, Take the Hit.
Days 8 & 9 – Chino, CA and The Grand Canyon – Sunday, Father’s Day, June 18 and Monday, June 19
On Father’s Day we left the hotel to go to the beach. It was an hour of walking down Ocean Beach, a lunch there and we started towards Chino, CA to stay with friends and to celebrate. Our celebration was a 2-hour prayer meeting. It was beautiful. So grateful to David and Lucretia Smithers, the Habashi’s, and the Castro’s for their love, prayer covering and hospitality.
Stephen & Alex Castro
The next day we traveled to the Grand Canyon to spend time looking at His beautiful creation, and worship God there as we enjoyed watching a beautiful Grand Canyon sunset! We enjoyed a wonderful dinner together and traveled to our last hotel.
Day 10 – Tuesday, June 20 – Back Home, Oklahoma City, OK!
We drove I-40 all the way back to Oklahoma City witnessing beautiful clouds and scenery. We have a magnificently beautiful country! There were storm clouds and huge thunder storms all around us. However, we were able to bypass most of it and arrived safely home. We are rested and are now back to work.
Prayer for Us as We Continue in the Spiritual Battle
The ministry credit card, Laura Leigh’s and my personal credit cards all experienced fraud before or during the trip. Joseph had an unexplained fever just before leaving for our trip. We all experienced warfare. When we arrived at the conference, we heard of many random stories of other ministry leaders or family members who are facing serious medical events and warfare at the starting of the conference. However, even in the midst of great adversity, God continues to take our lives and use them for His glory. Since we have arrived back home, we continue to see the goodness of God in saving souls. Several young people have surrendered their lives to Christ and we continue to hear good reports from the fruit of the conference in San Diego! We are so grateful! Please add the staff of FSM and ministry leaders in the RHN network to your prayer list. (Search #HOPE2017SD for more posted online.)