Brokenhearted over returning from China much earlier than expected, Dave and Anne Westra were in rough shape as they began to serve Gold Avenue Church (GAC) in the spring of 2010.
The church itself was also hurting. Having no clear sense of God’s intended future, the church had spent a year trying to discern God’s plan. Membership had dwindled to less than forty members and the church was nearly ready to close.
The Westras began their ministry into this near vacuum of personal and congregational hope.
As Dave preached, he noticed, repeatedly, that people who claimed to be followers of Jesus were living lives riddled with bondage and brokenness.
While Dave preached and led, Anne would push the stroller with their newborn twins back and forth across the narthex, interceding for God to bring change and healing in peoples live, yet unsure of what that would even look like.
The desperate cry in prayer
Seeking God’s face for answers, the Lord led them to Isaiah 61, over and over, which speaks prophetically, of the anointing Jesus would have to
“bring good news, bind up broken hearts, set captives free, bring comfort and beauty and joy that would replace ashes, mourning and despair.”
The cry of their hearts became:
“Lord, we know you still do these things, and that you want to do them through your people, but honestly, we have no idea how. Please teach us!”
First steps in the answer
The Lord answered their prayers by leading Dave into friendship with Mary Sterenberg, a long-time PRMI board member and adjunct faculty member.
The Holy Spirit used Mary to launch Dave, Anne, and GAC onto a journey of learning.
In the spring of 2012, Mary led a seminar at GAC called Praying for Hurting People. As they prayed together, in advance of the seminar, the Lord used one of Mary prayers to speak directly to Dave, saying, “I want this church to be a place of healing!”
In that moment, a vision was conceived. But the vision would take years to become reality.
Thankfully, the Lord also gifted (again, through Mary) a copy of Brad Long’s book, Prayer That Shapes the Future. Recognizing that God’s vision for GAC would only come about through faithful cooperation with God in prayer, Dave and several others began to commit to meeting weekly to pray the future into reality.
How God began to awaken the church
This prayer group met regularly to seek God’s face. Their prayers ranged from desperate cries of children needing their Father to move and provide, to prayers for God to remove obstacles and change hearts and bring in resources.
God began to move mightily. As the church began to grow and the church saw new converts coming to faith, God stirred on the hearts of the leaders to call a second pastor, even through there was no money. They created a position in faith, and into this position God called a woman that he’d been preparing for leadership in context like GAC for years, Gina Dick.
With a heart for healing and a call to raise up an empowered, multiplying church, Gina joined the team who was praying for God to make GAC a place of healing.
Shortly after her arrival, God removed a final obstacle blocking GAC’s leaders from embracing the dynamics of cooperating with the Holy Spirit to do the work of Jesus.
Through a miraculous series of events, the Lord orchestrated forgiveness and reconciliation around the topic of the Holy Spirit, helping to debrief painful events in the church’s history.
Pastors take the Advanced Healing and Deliverance Course
As church leaders were able to embrace the principles of the Growing the Church in the Power of the Holy Spirit book as their core approach to ministry, Gina and Dave were blessed to continue their personal learning by participating in PRMI’s Advanced Healing and Deliverance Course.
During the two years in which they were participating in the Advanced Healing and Deliverance course, they estimate leading over a hundred prayer appointments.
People seemed to ask for prayer from all over—from the congregation, the neighborhood, from neighboring churches. Fellow pastors and ministry leaders came for prayer.
They ministered healing and deliverance in jails and in hospitals, on the streets and in their office.
Seeing God work repeatedly to save, heal, deliver and bind up broken hearts, and growing in a shared approach to this work, they began to pray for others who could share the work of healing ministry.
More people take the Advanced Healing and Deliverance Course
Dave’s wife, Anne, continued her faithful intercession, asking God to raise up this team. As Anne prayed, she felt the Lord prompt her to attend the next Advanced Healing and Deliverance course that PRMI offered, taking a team from Gold Avenue Church.
To this homeschool mom of four young children, the call seemed more than daunting. But it persisted, and as Anne said yes to the Lord, nine others responded to the same call to follow Jesus by learning more deeply how to work with him to bring healing.
At the same time, the regional group of churches to which GAC belongs was sensing the need for prayer ministry. Led by prayer coordinator Katy Spangler, the Classis stepped out in faith and designated funds to help send this new team of ten, plus a few others from Classis, with the vision of planting multiple prayer ministry sites.
Graduation September 2017
This past September (2017), we had the immense privilege of watching this group of 15 complete the Advanced Healing and Deliverance course.
We could barely contain our tears as we listened to them share how the Lord has used us, from start to finish, to nurture this work of Jesus Christ in the Grand Rapids area.
We praise God for this fruit, and ask that you join us in praying for these fledgling prayer ministry sites, that God would protect, resource, bless, and encourage the leaders who’ve stepped out in faithful obedience to Jesus Christ. And that thousands would indeed experience the freeing, healing, renewing, comforting love of Jesus Christ our Lord, through their ministry!