A Picture-Perfect Life Gets Turned Upside Down

by The Gideons International on February 27, 2015

The Sleeth family: Nancy, Clark, Emma and Matthew.

The Sleeth family: Nancy, Clark, Emma and Matthew.

We recently received the following testimony of how a Gideon-placed Scripture impacted a family and would like to share it with you.

Several years ago I was a successful emergency room doctor living the American Dream. My wife, Nancy, and I owned a picture-perfect house on the coast of Maine, filled with two young children and lots of beautiful furnishings. However, there was an emptiness inside, and when bad things happened to us, as they eventually do to everyone, we had no moral anchor.

I had been raised Protestant and Nancy had been raised Jewish. When we married, we walked away from our religious traditions. By the time our children started school, they were so confused they thought at Christmastime the character from The Fiddler on the Roof slid down the chimney.

A turning point in our lives came when Nancy’s only brother drowned in front of my family at the beach. Around the same time, a former patient began stalking me. When I notified the police, they found that the patient had murdered his mother and stuffed her in a closet. And then one beautiful fall morning our neighbor called and asked if I could help tell her son—who was the same age as my son—that his father had been in the first plane that hit the World Trade Center.

My family was crashing against a wall of evil. My marriage suffered, and I struggled with understanding the point of living. I began looking for help outside the boundaries of my secular worldview. I read Hindu, Muslim, and other sacred texts, but I did not find the answers for which I longed.

One slow Sunday working at the hospital, I wandered into a patient lounge. I had forgotten to bring a book, and was looking for something to read. The coffee table was strewn with magazines. Then I noticed a book.

It was a Bible placed by The Gideons International. I looked at it and thought, I’ve never read the Bible before. I’d like to read it, but I don’t want to start a book that I can’t finish. So, I took it home.

I began by reading the Gospels. There, I encountered Jesus. Christ turned my life upside down, leading me to radically simplify my life. I got rid of half my possessions and many bad habits. Eventually, I came to the point Billy Graham describes as the moment when you know that you know that you know. I was saved by accepting God’s gift of his holy Son.

In all this good news, there is better news. I gave the same Gideon-placed Bible to my son, Clark. He read the Gospels and C. S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity, and surrendered his life to Christ. He is in medical residency now and has been called to be a medical missionary, along with his wife.

My wife met Christ after listening to the Bible on audiobook. She describes meeting the Lord while walking down a mountain one Sunday evening. She realized that the Lord was walking beside her.

Our daughter, Emma, was the last in our family to meet the Good Shepherd. Since then she has graduated from a Christian college, authored a book that was published, and works for a ministry.

I no longer practice medicine or live in a perfect house on the coast. Instead, I have spoken at more than 1,000 churches and seminaries about Biblical stewardship. The Bible we hand to a stranger or place in a hospital waiting room is a living Bible. I give my thanks to all who labor to spread the only words that give eternal life.

God bless the work of Gideons. It saved my family’s life.

M. Sleeth, M.D.

Edited by The Gideons International

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Pastor Brett Dinger: Innovative Thinking In A Small Community

by The Gideons International on February 24, 2015

Pastor Brett Dinger leads a church service.

Pastor Brett Dinger leads a church service.

There’s a pizza shop in the town of Coral, Pennsylvania called Whitey’s Peetza and Eatery. With its exotic specialty pizzas and a touch of urban decor, it’s the kind of restaurant you’d expect to find in a progressive, metropolitan area. However, in this older, coal-mining town with a declining population, Whitey’s is somewhat of an anomaly. Perhaps that’s why it’s a favorite dining spot with the locals.

If you were to walk into Whitey’s, you might find Pastor Brett Dinger at a table with some church members from the three congregations of the Black Lick Circuit in which he preaches. This is one of the locations where they have frequently met to share innovative ideas for how God might use their congregations to impact this rural part of Western Pennsylvania for Christ. After all, if a pizza shop could be innovative in its approach to pulling in the community, is there any reason why a church couldn’t take an innovative approach to reaching the same community with the Gospel?

Raised In A Gideon Environment
Growing up in Pennsylvania, Brett Dinger was no stranger to church. His parents made sure they were in church every Sunday, even if they were out of town. His dad also served as a Gideon and his mother in the Auxiliary. Brett recalls seeing different colored New Testaments around the house, as his parents were very active in their Gideon camp.

He gave his life to Christ in high school. After graduation, he attended Slippery Rock University of Pennsylvania. Like many young Christians, he quickly discovered that living out his faith in a secular college environment was challenging to say the least.

“I wasn’t living the life that a follower of Jesus should,” says Dinger.

By his junior year of college, Brett was starting to take a more serious look at his life. He was growing discouraged about his educational path. And his father was battling cancer. Brett says that during that time, the witness of his parents and their involvement in The Gideons International was a strong reminder of what it meant to truly walk as a follower of Christ. “I was bound to know that I’m never alone and that God’s Word has the chance to reach me wherever I am.”

Brett then entered into a serious season of prayer. “I had never prayed that way before.” One evening, he had a dream in which he experienced God calling him again, specifically through a passage in the book of Joel:

And rend your hearts and not your garments. Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster. – Joel 2:13 (ESV)

Brett awoke and immediately gave himself fully to the Lord. “That was one of the key transforming moments in my faith,” he says.

Entering Into The Ministry
Brett soon began to feel the Lord was calling him into full-time ministry. “I started praying for opportunities to preach, and for people with whom I could share the Gospel.” A pastor began to mentor Brett, which led to events transpiring that would confirm the calling Brett felt the Lord was placing on his life.

After graduating from Slippery Rock, he entered Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. That led to Brett interning with an innovative church plant in a new shopping mall. “That was a formative time for me and gave me a heart and a burden to thank God for churches that are traditional, but also thanking Him for those who reach out and worship in non-traditional ways.”

Upon graduation from seminary about six years ago, Brett accepted an opportunity to serve as the pastor for a group of three very established churches in rural western Pennsylvania’s Black Lick Circuit of the Methodist denomination. It was a huge step of faith for the young pastor. After experiencing the freedom of being a church planter, he was now returning to a more traditional church model, serving in congregations that had been around for many decades. He knew it would be a challenge to gain trust and find a willingness among church members to experiment with innovative approaches for building God’s Kingdom.

“What I couldn’t see at the time was that it was going to be a good fit for me and an exciting challenge,” says Dinger.

Seeking God’s Preferred Future
Two years ago, the Black Lick Circuit began to seek a new vision for impacting its communities. The church leaders began to ask, “What is God’s preferred future for us?”

And that’s when the meetings at the pizza shop began. “We wanted to open our eyes to new and creative ideas, to help produce results that would be different than what we had experienced in the past,” says Pastor Brett.

“We met monthly and we started asking simple questions like: ‘Who is Jesus’ and ‘why do people need Jesus?’ Sometimes, we forget the reason we gather is ‘Jesus.’ As much as we like to fellowship with people, at our core, God has called us to be the body of Christ because people need Jesus.”

Through the prayer, Bible study and discussion at those meetings, Brett and the rest of the ministry team began to catch a vision for what God wanted to do through their congregations.

The heartbeat of the mission statement that resulted was “to ignite a movement of fully devoted followers of Jesus.” To help the rest of the congregants catch that vision, Brett preached a sermon on what it means to be a fully devoted follower of Jesus. It was in this sermon that he shared the vision of “igniting” a movement.

His congregants caught the vision.

Today, Black Lick Circuit churches are reaching out to the community in ways they haven’t before. They are partnering with a local campus ministry to reach out to students at a technical college. The hope is that as they minister to the students who move into the area to attend school, they can ignite faith into those students’ lives. Then, as those students move on, they will carry the mission with them to the communities where they eventually settle.

They are also reaching out to provide for the homeless and others who are in need. From donating items to preparing free meals, the members are serving as the hands of feet of Jesus, all the while loving others into a saving relationship with the Lord.

Partnering With Gideons
“I just got a call from a local Gideon who wants to come speak at one of our church services, and I’m looking forward to setting that up,” says Brett. “I’ve tried my best to let the Gideons know how much we appreciate them. We are partners in ministry.”

Brett is accompanied in ministry and in life by his wife Joanna and their daughter Reagan. His father passed into the presence of the Lord in 2010 after a ten-year battle with cancer. However, his mother continues to be active as an Auxiliary Area Director.

We praise God for how He is using Pastor Brett to reach the lost for Christ. We also thank the pastor for his desire to see people come to know Christ and for partnering with The Gideons International.

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