Every year we look forward to the Santa Cruz fall retreat with the Jr. High Students where we come together to get to know God (and each other) during a weekend away from home. We asked Jr. High Students to reflect on when God showed up during retreat and here is what they had to share:

“I saw Jesus on Sunday morning when all of the youth group surrendered their lives to Jesus. I loved the trip!” -Shaya Shultz

“At Santa Cruz God really touched me the whole time, from the quiet time to pray to the time of running on the beach, I could feel his presence. It was fun!” -Jesse Ellis 

“I learned God walks with me all the time, even if it’s bad or good.” -Adrianna Rodriguez 

“Audrey spoke on Sunday morning and her lesson was eye-opening for how to live out our faith. I thought it was super sweet that Meagan and Audrey took time to look up the definition of our names to tell us we are special and God gave us our names for a reason.” -Claire Predmore

“God moved us closer to the light of Jesus. The leaders talked to us and prayed for each of us.” -Elliot Fortmeyer 

“God opened my eyes to appreciate his creations. For example, the beach and ocean. God also showed me that my great friends are a gift.” -Alex Meadors

“God gave us hope that leads to freedom.” -Yanelly Solorio 

“…the leaders looked up our names and told us all encouraging words about ourselves.” -Bella Johns 

“I felt closer to Jesus by being at the beach and spending time with him.” -Andrew Vaccaro 

“I got to go the beach for the first time and spend time with my friends. I learned God walks with me through the good and bad.” -Dyann Ramirez

“We stood up on the last day and the leaders told us what our names meant and how they thought it applied to our lives. This was neat because it allowed us to get to know each other on a deeper level.” -Riliegh Armstrong 

“I felt like God was at work during the quiet time at the beach. It made me pray about all my worries and stresses and I felt peace about all of it, so I could enjoy the rest of my weekend not worrying.” -Laura Crantz 

Wow! Praise and glory to our God! Our student’s reflections are profound and encouraging. They remind me of the very purpose in a fall retreat where we get to grow in relationship with God and one another. We bonded as a community with a beautiful place to connect, laugh, and worship together. God showed up in big ways as we internalized what it means to Walk in Jesus in Faith, Hope, and Surrender. In the quiet spaces God met us and the Holy Spirit moved us to fully believe, find joy, and give over all the worries we carry daily. We will, “rejoice always, pray continually, and give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for us in Christ Jesus” -1 Thess. 5:16-18. God did a good work in our hearts and minds and continues to move us towards him and one another. He is worthy of all our praises and hears our prayers. God knows our name, God knows our hurts and God loves us right where we are today. Thank you Jesus for encountering the leaders and students in a special way during this Santa Cruz Retreat! Also, big thank you to all who give generously to the church offering that makes these types of trips possible! 

Meagan Bergem


Dear First Pres,

   Once again we are faced with incredible wickedness in our country. On Sunday night, Stephen Paddock, a man made in the image of God but overcome with evil, sprayed deadly bullets across a sea of humanity in Las Vegas. His senseless attack killed an unprecedented amount of strangers, injured hundreds of others, and makes a mark on all of us.  We can be sure that Jesus weeps with us in this as it continues to expose the deep pain and anger and isolation and brokenness that exist in our country. And, while updates to policies and laws are incredibly important, as people of the Word, we know that "our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms." So, while pursuing the right policies and laws to most adequately protect our citizens from violence, and while praying for God's comfort to minister to the thousands who are now grieving the loss of a friend or family member, we press in to the mission that God has given us in Christ.
   That mission, given to us in Christ, is what we express in our Purpose Statement: to engage together in Christ's work of making disciples for the redeeming transformation of our city and world. What our world needs more than anything else is for Christians to live as people surrendered to Jesus (disciples who make disciples) and Gospel-centered churches to plant Gospel-centered churches. Do you believe that? I think it especially rings true when we remember that becoming a disciple of Jesus doesn't only change a person's afterlife, it changes their whole life. It especially rings true when we remember that Gospel-centered churches don't only want people to get saved, we also want them to participate in God's redeeming transformation for their city and world. When our evil and brokenness is made manifest like it has been this week, I am even more motivated to see the work of Christ increase and His Kingdom come. How about you?
   So, Beloved, please pray with me that our congregation grows in courage to live out the Gospel in our everyday lives. Pray with me that we will not be led by fear to withdraw from the world in self-protection. Pray with me that God will strengthen us, even in our times of trouble, to be His Gospel witnesses in our words and deeds. And pray with me, as Jesus taught us, that His Kingdom comes and His will is done on earth as it is in heaven. 


P.S. We've been talking about Preemptive Prayer. Here are some upcoming things to be praying for: Art Hop (tonight); Women's Conference (this weekend); Fulton Street Grand Opening (October 21). Please join me in praying that God uses these events for the work that He wants to do in us and through us.

Jeremy Vaccaro
Senior Pastor

Dear First Pres,
   One of the priorities of our Session (elder board) for this year is that we would grow in the area of Preemptive Prayer. As I've said before, preemptive prayer is kingdom-minded, mission-minded prayer that lifts up the ministries of the church ahead of the ministry activity. It's prayer like Jesus told the 72 sent-ones to pray in Luke 10:2 - "the harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest." 
   One of the regular and primary opportunities to join with others in that kind of prayer is on Friday mornings from 6:30 - 7:15 am in The Commons. I really encourage you to join me at this time. The group has doubled in size over the last several weeks, but there is still plenty of room for you.
   But now, Chester Goodale, our Deacon leading the FPC Prayer Team, is launching another opportunity for corporate prayer. For 3 Sundays, starting this Sunday morning, there are going to be prayer opportunities before each worship service. For many years, there have been members of our church praying during both worship services in the Prayer Room (through the door at the front of the Sanctuary on the pulpit side). Now we're going to expand that to include a short prayer gathering in the Prayer Room before each service. The first gathering will be from 7:45 - 8:15 am and the second gathering will be from 10:25 - 10:50 am. If you'd like to join with others in prayer for our church's mission and ministry, please feel free to come this Sunday and/or October 8th or 15th.
   I also want to encourage any of you who are meeting in smaller groups during the week. Whether you're here for WednesdayNights@FPC or you have another group that you regularly meet during the week, please consider adding preemptive prayer to your regularly scheduled activities. Take time to pray for the upcoming worship services and ministry activities. And pray for the congregation as we seek to live our everyday lives on mission with Jesus.
   The more we pray like this, the more God will align our hearts with the work He wants to do for redeeming transformation in our city and world. There is no greater joy than joining God in that redeeming work.


Jeremy Vaccaro
Senior Pastor

Dear First Pres,

  On Sunday I preached from one of my favorite passages: Luke 10:1-3. It's Jesus' call for the sent ones (the 72 who were being sent ahead of him for ministry) to pray as they go. Jesus says, "The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore, pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. Go your way; behold, I am sending you out as lambs in the midst of wolves." It's a reminder to us that we are also called to pray as we go. We're called to pray for the Lord to send workers into His harvest field. And, we're called to go into the harvest fields ourselves as the sent ones of God.
   That's exactly what Geraud Brumfield and a team of folks from FPC did on Friday night. First, they prayed. They prayed that God would grant them the favor as they went to set up a table near some of the Fresno State fraternity houses and hand out hot dogs and waters to passers-by.  The college group prayed the week before. The staff prayed a few days before. The Friday morning prayer gathering prayed early on Friday. And then, Geraud and team prayed as they prepared the hot dogs (I'm sure there were plenty of other prayer moments as well). It was preemptive prayer; we were asking God to open opportunities for them to connect with college students for the purpose of building sustainable relationships. We were asking God to use this simple effort for His glory. And then ... God did. You'll hear more about it in the coming weeks, but God answered those prayers in a significant way.
   Isn't it amazing that God invites us to participate in His work of redeeming transformation?  He is the Lord of the harvest, and yet He invites us to play a significant role in helping others to know Him. One of the primary ways we do that is to pray as we go. But if going seems a bit of a stretch for you ... or you're just not sure that works in your daily life, then I encourage you to start praying the prayer that Jesus told the team to pray in Luke 10:2.  I believe that as you begin to pray that prayer regularly, God will begin to give you the courage to go as well. Praise Him!
   I heard a great suggestion on Sunday after worship. How can we remember to pray for God to send workers into the harvest? Set your alarm for 10:02 to remind you of Jesus' prayer in Luke 10:2. Then when you hear that alarm, take a moment to pray, wherever you are, for God to send workers into His harvest. You can do it in the morning or at night (or both). If you don't like 10:02, try 9:38 ... that's where it is in Matthew's Gospel.
   I am convinced that when we start praying more regularly like this as a church God will use it to do His thing in us. God will use it to align our hearts with His - giving us a heart for the harvest that compels us to go, and pray as we go. So, will you commit to praying this prayer with me?
  Oh God, thank you for the harvest that you are constantly tending.  Please Lord, send more workers into the harvest fields of our city, into our neighborhoods, into our workplaces and into our schools. Send workers into the harvest fields of Downtown Fresno. Send workers into the harvest fields of the places in the world where the Church is yet to be established. All of it God for your glory alone. Amen.


Jeremy Vaccaro
Senior Pastor
"I see the fruit of this endeavor right now, it is a positive experience. No one expected this in Raisin City. It brings hope and community collaboration. The leadership development has been an example by service of love. This school and the community of Raisin City won't be the same."

- Principal, Raisin City Elementary School

Local church and partners collaborate with community and school to bring Good News Camp to Raisin City!

Camp Good News, held on the grounds of the lone Raisin City elementary school from July 31st to August 5th, was the first in memory for the community of Raisin City. It was both educational and Christ-focused for 80 kids from around Raisin City who otherwise would never be able to go to camp! 21 young adult assistant counselors also grew in service, work, spiritual life, and ministry. A community carnival run by FPC volunteers invited all families into the uplifting spirit, culminating the 4 days of teaching, games, and ministry.

The collaborative camp was the fruit of a year of prayer, service and relationship-building by the local Raisin City church, Iglesia Fuerza Del Calvario (Power of Calvary Church) and its partners, with the community of Raisin City. It began in prayer first seeking the Lord’s plan and agenda, which He progressively revealed as the church got out of their walls and served the local community, beginning with mowing and caring for the local park. This grew into greater service opportunities and cooperation with the community leaders through local festivals, an Easter Vacation Bible School in the park, an end-of-year school carnival (run totally by the church and partners), culminating in their request for an educational and developmental camp! When it was clear the church could also share the Good News of the Gospel while on the school grounds during the summer, the rush began with only 2 months to go!

And boy, did the Lord provide! God quickly raised up volunteers around the Iglesia in Raisin City from First Presbyterian Church and River Park Bible Church, four non-profit ministries and Children’s Hunger Fund, and many donor/sponsors who blessed the community and the name of Jesus! Not just another vacation bible school (though it included many such elements), it was uniquely a collaboration of the community, public elementary school and local church (with supporters) to bring hope through education, crafts and games, and the Gospel to impoverished children and families of Raisin City. The openness and desire and invite of the school to uplift the community was a clear response to the work and service of the Iglesia, and an open door to teach and share the real Hope of Jesus at a new level.

What did the Lord do at the camp?
  • He brought hope to Raisin City, its public school, and families in a way none had seen before.
  • Fully displayed the heart and unity of Jesus’s church.
  • He redeemed some young hearts AND even some school staff.
  • Called some young adults to start a journey of child and camp ministry leadership.
  • Mentored 21 young adults from valley towns and Bethany Inner City Church in job skills, camp and children’s ministry.
How did the town respond?
  • Teachers have shown the camp video in class and many children are now excited about next year’s camp. (You'll find it embedded below.)
  • The school has already invited the church and supporters to come back and run another event during the Christmas break.
  • The attendance at Iglesia Fuerza Del Calvario has doubled in the last six months.
Closing Thoughts

This work by Our Lord is a collaborative model via the local church to approach, engage and bring real hope to other communities. And it all began in prayer, first seeking the Lord and His agenda, for the salvation of many and His glory in the impoverished community of Raisin City! May the word of this work in Raisin City far go out far and wide, opening new doors for collaboration and development and disciple making across the valley, giving glory to His name!

The Lord’s Servants in Raisin City 

one of whom is Paul Marr