Dear First Pres,

   I was so sorry to miss Mother's Day at FPC. Of course, missing worship is always a bummer for me, but also missing the Mother's Day Brunch feels like a loss. However, I'm so glad I made the decision to participate in the graduation ceremony at Eastern University in St. Davids, PA. On July 23, 2018 when I finally defended my dissertation, May 11, 2019 seemed incredibly anti-climatic and detached. But it was the good encouragement of folks from FPC that gave me the nudge I needed to participate in the commencement activities. Thank you.
   Diane and I, and the kids, flew to Philadelphia this weekend. My parents joined us there. It was the first time for all of them (except Diane) to see the University where I had spent so much time during the early years of the program. The graduation was on Saturday afternoon with a special reception following for the PhD graduates. Yes, there were some teary moments for me. As I walked in with beret and gown hearing the tune of "Pomp and Circumstance" and spotting my family, I was overwhelmed at the absolute completion of this journey and the incredible sacrifices that were made by others for me to be one of those graduates. And in that moment, I thought of you, FPC.
   I couldn't have done this without you. Yes, I'm sure the move to Fresno lengthened the time it took to complete my dissertation. But, it was your encouragement, your generosity, and your loving care that helped me to stick with it unto completion. Thank you, First Presbyterian Church, Fresno. I will forever be grateful for your incredible support. I can only hope that you will reap the benefit of all that I learned in my study as I continue to serve as your Senior Pastor for many years to come.  

Blessings,
Jeremy

P.S. This week's Scripture reading for our Flawed and Flawless sermon series Judges 14-15.

Jeremy Vaccaro's picture
Jeremy Vaccaro
Senior Pastor

by Meagan Bergam

   How many volunteers and partnerships did it take to host 20 Ignite students for a Spring Break Serve and Learn trip? There were over 27 adults who invested time, energy and resources into making the Spring Break trip possible! When they say it takes a village to raise children, I found that to be true in the discipleship of youth. It is good to have the problem of writing so many thank you notes your hand is tired! 

   Over our 4 night and 5-day trip serving in downtown Fresno, we experienced great hospitality through: 
  • 4 FPC families hosting us for dinner each night
  • 3 Dads staying overnight
  • 5 Youth Leaders building relationships, washing feet, and praying over students
  • 7 Partnerships- Martin Park, World Impact's Sonshine Thrift, The Lighthouse Recovery Center, The Pink House, Cornerstone Coffee, Every Neighborhood Partnership, and our very own Children's Director Mrs. Margie!
  • 5 Parents providing an abundance of breakfast foods and snacks
  • 3 Parents driving students all over the city

   My heart was overjoyed as I witnessed people young, and not so young, serve whole heartily all week. On Sunday night we split the students into four groups in order to prepare for a week of serving one another and the city. A few students led us in singing worship songs and morning devotional lessons every morning. Others served the group well by preparing the lessons and games for the children at Martin Park. A group of students took charge of making our breakfast buffet each morning and writing thank-you notes. And finally, another group made beautiful notes and care packages for the women at the Light-House. It is a privilege to watch students discover their gifting and find joy in hearing the stories of others who are different from them.

   Our days were centered on serving and learning from others, which turned out to be a counter-cultural experience for these Jr. High students. Then in the evening, we ventured to our student's school campuses for a time of Youth Leaders washing their feet while each student shared how we could be praying for them specifically. Followed by a time of their peers laying hands and praying over them. This sacred space was a time of commissioning our students to be a light onto their various campuses. We have over 11 middle schools represented within our youth group, can you imagine the impact these students can have on our city?

   Ava Crantz, 7th Grade: "I discovered that I am at a point in my faith where I am very secure in what I believe and one of my passions is helping others become secure in their faith. I learned that God is working everywhere and he is working in the craziest ways that we can't even understand or see. God is working in our city and there are many people who need to know the love of Christ. I was opened up to the variety of people that believe in Jesus. I was exposed to people in our community that have difficult life circumstances and still remain faithful believers. I saw God's love for all the Junior Highers when everyone used their talents for Jesus. I also saw God's love for the kids coming to Martin Park, playing, and interacting with the bible stories. I think that I now know that serving someone means so much more when it's personal and that taking time to learn people's names and stories makes a big difference."

  Alex Meadors, 8th Grade: "I learned that it makes me feel very good about myself when I help people, especially when I don't get anything in return. I already had known this but it was refreshing to be reminded. I learned that God is working in everyone's lives and everywhere, even Downtown Fresno. I learned that some people choose to live in Downtown Fresno so they can follow God's calling on their lives. I also learned that you don't have to have a full sanctuary or band in order to worship God and feel His presence. I learned that God's love for others even reaches little Martin Park in Downtown Fresno, His love works through every one of every background too. As a follower of Jesus, I learned that simply being with people and talking to new people can be a way to love and care for others. I found this while spending time with the kids and people from Martin Park and the women living in the Light-House. I learned that I should be more open about my faith and that even if it might not be my favorite thing to mix the cultures of my school friends and my church friends, I have to invite my friends from school to church."

P.S. Alex brought a friend from school who has yet to know Jesus the following Wednesday after Spring Break. Jaycee has been coming for the last month! So join us in praying for her to experience Jesus' love and grace in tangible ways!

Meagan Bergem's picture
Meagan Bergem
Director of Junior High Ministries

by Beth Paz

   Gleanings for the Hungry received 21 youth and adults from Teen Night and FPC youth with welcome arms to serve in their nonprofit volunteer Christian ministry for 3 days. We packaged thousands of pounds of walnuts and persimmons to be sent out to folks in need around the world, while other students sewed and made 8 quilts! 

   We learned through missionaries about the church engaging global conditions in China, Israel, and Syria, and studied the significance of gleaning in the Bible and its implications for the Church. After working hard, we headed to the beach to reflect and play! Our trip ended with a powerful night on the beach singing in worship as we watched the sunset and processed a significant call to live our lives as an offering to Jesus! Praising the Lord for God's love packaged in walnuts and blankets that we sent around the world, new friendships, significant prayer ministry, and a new life in Christ!

   Here's what some student's had to say about what it meant to them:

   Ben: Something I am taking home with me, I am not always the most thankful for my food when I have it. During this trip, my eyes were opened to the fact that there are millions of people who face food shortage in their household. They are not sure if they will even get a meal that month whereas we know (normally) that we will have enough food for several months to come.

   Jacob: What I am going to take away is how much the people at Gleanings showed to us what Jesus talked about - how we should love each other. That is the vibe they gave to me. I want to be that person that shows who Jesus is and wants -humans to be kindness and love. 

   Chris: I learned that if you actually put your mind and heart to God he will help you if you want it. I've always said 'I can't do it' until we went to that beach and that is when I confessed my problems to Beth and Hector. What I'm taking away from this trip is that God is a very powerful person and he will always be there when you feel alone or broken.

   Alejandro: I want to be a better version of myself. I left my pride and anger along the beach and have my heart open completely to God and ready for me to follow him. 

 

 

 

Beth Paz's picture
Beth Paz

Dear First Pres,

 2 things I'd like to update you on here:
   First, this Sunday is Mother's Day! Yes, I know you know that, but one of the special things we do as a church on Mother's Day is to host the Mother's Day Brunch. What you may not remember is that the Mother's Day brunch is actually a fundraiser for our Mission department. This summer we have two Serve & Learn Trips: Albania and Guatemala. Personally, I'm very excited about the Guatemala trip because one of my own kids will be participating. It's her first trip like this. She is excited and anxious (very similar feelings). And I'm confident that God is going to move in and through her in powerful ways. All the folks on both of these teams have been asking family and friends to support the trips, but the Mother's Day Brunch is an opportunity for the whole church to get behind them. So, even if you're not thinking of Sunday morning as part of any Mother's Day celebrating, please consider participating in the Mother's Day Brunch. You can eat wonderful food. And/or you can bid on some fun silent auction items. And/or you can simply make a donation to the trip. All of it will be to send our folks to participate in the Lord's work around the world. You can find sign-up details below.
   Second, you may have seen our church in the news this week. In the early morning hours of Holy Saturday (the day before Easter) there was a break-in at our church. The primary loss was a few computers stored in the nursery that are used for checking in our kids on Sunday mornings or Wednesday nights. None of our people were on campus or put in danger by the burglary. We, of course, filed a police report and submitted the evidence caught on our new security camera system (thanks to Allan Knepper and team for installing this new system). This week the primary suspect was arrested, and his arrest made the news. We had a few questions about this come into the office this week, so I decided to give an update here. May the Lord have His way in this man's life.  

Blessings,
Jeremy

P.S.  Finally, as we continue to move through the book of Judges, it's time now for us to focus on the last judge, Samson. His story certainly illustrates the title of our series (The Flawed and the Flawless). He may be the most well known of all the judges, but he is likely the most flawed as well. I encourage you to read our text before Sunday.  It's Judges 13:1-25

Jeremy Vaccaro's picture
Jeremy Vaccaro
Senior Pastor

Dear First Pres,

   I've been in pastoral ministry since 2002. I still have a tremendous amount to learn about leading God's people, but one thing I have learned for certain is this: no marriage is immune to trouble. When a couple begins to think they are immune, they make their marriage very vulnerable. But when a couple, who understands their vulnerability, keeps working to make their marriage the healthiest it can be, God's Kingdom comes on earth as it is in heaven. That's because a healthy marriage isn't only good for the married couple. The whole community benefits from a healthy marriage: kids, friends, neighbors, coworkers, etc. Can you think of how different our city would be if every marriage was healthy and thriving? That's the kind of city we pray for when we pray for God's Kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven.

   And, that's why I'm so excited about Marriage Night at FPC on May 18. Have you signed up yet? It's $15 per person ($30 per couple). That's close to what it costs for me and Diane to go out to dinner (unless I chose the restaurant and we go to Del Taco). We're taking $30 out of our entertainment budget and spending it on Marriage Night. Will you please join us? The line-up of speakers is top notch. Michael Jr. is one of the funniest comedians I've heard. Les and Leslie Parrott are well-known marriage experts. I've used their stuff for years in premarital counseling. And Lisa and Francis Chan are seasoned ministry leaders. It'll be positive, uplifting, and fun. I guarantee that you'll find something helpful in the content. If not, I'll pay for your ticket.  

   Finally, this is the kind of event that you can invite your unchurched friends to attend. Yes, it will be a Christian event, but it won't be like a regular church service. Invite some others to come with you and then plan for some hangout time afterward.

   You can register here for Marriage Night at FPC. Just make sure to register for First Presbyterian Church Fresno.  

Blessings,
Jeremy

P.S. This week's Scripture reading is Judges 10:6 - 12:15. I encourage you to read it before Sunday.

Jeremy Vaccaro's picture
Jeremy Vaccaro
Senior Pastor