Morning Star Our People. Our Stories. Our God.






Last November we sent our first “year in review” email. So much has happened in the past 12 months. You’ve brought friends and family to faith in Christ. You’ve reached around the world with the good news of Jesus. You’ve fed the hungry. You’ve paid the bills for those in tight circumstances. You’ve laughed with those who rejoice. You’ve comforted the mourning. You’ve helped the weak. You study and live God’s Word. You shine and share His love. We’ve got stories to tell! Here’s a snapshot of 2016 . . .

"Hi, my name is Keni. I did not grow up with a Christian background. It wasn't frowned upon, it just wasn't a teaching in my immediate family. Some of my relatives have Christian backgrounds, but I didn't live near them.

I have struggled with depression for many years. My husband passed away in 1998 and my mom in 2003, each leaving a huge void in my life. I later lost my job and home due to the declining economy. My depression continued to deepen. I thought my children would fill that void in my life, but asking them for help caused huge hardships. I became bitter, angry, jealous, and very negative. I began to alienate my family and had no one to talk to. My heart was shattered. I sought out professional help, but hit a lot of brick walls.

I was talking with a friend, Carol, one day and explained to her I was hitting rock bottom and did not like being this person I had become. She asked me how I felt spiritually. I told her that I thought someone was up there, but really didn't know or believe. We had a good talk. I went home and prayed to God. I prayed and talked to Him for hours. I asked Jesus to forgive all my sins and asked Him to guide me on a path of faith and help me not to be the person I had become. I didn't expect anything and knew my mental state was not going to be an overnight fix, but I just kept praying and asking for guidance.

"I woke up one morning and it was like a heavy burden was lifted off my shoulders. A feeling that is so unexplainable. I had a huge smile on my face. The Lord has answered my prayers and I no longer have that bitterness, anger, jealousy, or negative attitude. It was then I realized there was only one Person who could fill that void—Jesus. I know in my heart that God has lead me on a good path and I have wholeheartedly accepted the Lord Jesus Christ as my Savior, and will continue to have faith in Him as He has faith in me. My heart is whole again. I know I am not alone!!

Carol introduced me to Bible studies at Morning Star that I have been attending. Easter 2016 was the first time I had ever been to church. I’ve been attending Sunday services ever since. I walked into Morning Star with an overwhelming welcoming. Everyone was so nice and caring and positive—something I have not had in my life for a long time. I was baptized on May 1 and felt so cleansed of my past . . . I have a new life; everything felt right and so positive!!! I can't praise God or worship Him enough for all that He has done for me.

I also attend Celebrate Recovery, where I am now the Kitchen Director. I prepare the meals for our group on Tuesdays evenings and love being able to serve as the Lord has always wanted me to. I am also taking my first Step Study course and have learned so much about myself—things that I would have never given a second thought about before. I have already decided that I am going to take this Step Study again because I see now that I have a lot to cover and let go of. I want to be one with the Lord.

"I read my Bible regularly; Scripture and devotions daily. I’ve realized that by praying and taking the time to talk to the Lord that He will give me the answers I am searching for. I just have to be patient and listen, 'breathe' when things are bothering me, and ask Him for help when I need it. He is there. He is always there. I just have to have faith and believe that our loving God will never let me down. I praise Him, thank Him even if I don't have anything bothering me. Sometimes my heart is overflowing with so much joy that I raise my arms and shout, 'Thank You, Lord, thank You!! Thank You for all that You have done for me and for guiding me onto the path that I am on today.'

He is so full of grace and love for us all . . . and life doesn't get any better than that. God is good, all the time, and all the time, God is good. In Jesus’ name I pray, AMEN!"

Keni Slane

(pictured at her baptism with Pastors David Thaten and Larry Courtain)


70 people took another important step as believers and were baptized!
"This year at Vacation Bible School, I was approached by a second grader who asked if she could lead our snack time discussion questions with some of the friends she invited to church. I told her she could do it as long as I could be in her group too, and she agreed. I watched in awe as she confidently read one question at a time for her group of three friends. She finished with prayer over each of her friends. It was precious!" Lucy Younis, Children's Ministries Director


Our Benevolence Fund is money that YOU designate specifically to help those in need. In the last year, we were able to bless 45 families directly and meet multiple needs. In addition, we gifted four organizations (Hope Station, Simonka Place, Hope Pregnancy Center, and an orphanage in Riga, Latvia) with $5,000 each, and you responded with even more! You were able to help countless people in our city and across the globe because of your faithful and generous giving to Morning Star.

Christmas Blessings is another great opportunity to give to those in need . . . and it's happening right now for Christmas 2016!



The Van Dewalker family have set up communion month after month for 34 years.

Doreen Bay has sung in the choir for 34 years.

Bob LaDuke has played in the band for 34 years.

Deena Golden has taught our little ones in Children’s Ministries for 33 years.

Terry and Janie Shike have been involved in Children’s Ministries and prayer for 33 years.

Dave Winters drummed for about 30 years . . . and now his son Tyler drums on Sundays!

Pat Hammond has greeted people at the front doors for 30 years.

Geary Furukawa has served with Children's Ministries for 23 years.

Michael Coursey has served on the Board of Directors for 17 years.

"We’re a military family and were transferred to Salem from Texas in early May. Within three weeks of our move, we found out that we were going to be expecting our third child. We tried several churches in the area and toward the end of June we found our way to Morning Star. Three weeks later, in mid-July, we learned that I was miscarrying. After an ultrasound to confirm the loss on a Sunday afternoon, we went to the Sunday evening service. Completely devastated and heartbroken, we went forward for prayer and that is where we met Mike and Lee Ann Zanon. The Zanons prayed for us and truly loved on our family. They brought us dinner, kept in touch, and gave us comfort and encouragement. With no family or friends here, God knew we needed that.

The Ehler Family (from left to right): Jason, Austin, Julie, and Ellie

"Lee Ann also gave my name to Jen Tompkins and invited me to the monthly gathering for the Mama Tribe, which happened to be at a park near our house that week. So I made myself be brave and I went. I saw them across the park with all of their precious babies and a few pregnant bellies and it made the loss of my child even harder. I seriously considered going home, as I didn’t think I could make myself go over to them. But then they saw me, and I was warmly welcomed into the group. When I left the park that day, in the midst of my heartache, I felt full of hope. We soon joined a Community Group and I also started going to a women’s Bible study. There I met other women who had also suffered the loss of a child and who completely understood my pain.

Part of the Ehler's Community Group, led by Josh and Erica Gordon

"When we left Texas, I prayed that God would prepare a place for us here and that He would surround us with others who love Jesus and want to follow Him. I feel so encouraged and hopeful in what we have found here at Morning Star. The Lord put us just where we needed to be at just the right time. Morning Star is a real answer to my prayers. I am so grateful!"

Julie Ehler


"When I came out my coma and realized what had happened to me, I thought a lot about what I needed to come to grips with before I got out of the hospital. The small physical injuries I sustained when I was hit by the car were healed. The downside to the accident was a traumatic brain injury which was and is the cause of the physical problems I still have: numbness, a significant loss in motor function of my right side, clarity of speech, double vision, short-term memory loss, and an assortment of many other challenges. I remember immediately forgiving the guy who hit me, and thanking God for the good that would come from this near-death experience.

During my recovery, I relocated to Salem. My uncle and his family go to Morning Star and I knew that the church had been praying for me. I began to go to church when I could and then with my cousin Emily to a Young Adult Community Group as my work schedule allowed. They’ve helped me in many ways to recover, as my speech and social skills need significant rebuilding! They also help me to keep going after Jesus.

I always think of what would have happened if I didn't get hit. But I never think badly about this accident in that it has ruined my life! I absolutely know and see God’s love in my slow healing! No matter how down I have felt at times, I can't run away from His incredible love and the joy that this accident has brought me through Him." Luke Daily

Luke's Young Adult Community Group, led by Pastor David Thaten


3 days. 2 nights. 204 women. #mstarpurejoy

"Wow, how powerful it is to be surrounded by so many women who are Jesus-loving truth speakers. Joy is a choice founded in God's Word."

"I have enjoyed deepening friendships and building new ones."

Speaker Jen Thompkins (now our Women's Ministries Director!)

"It's been inspiring and refreshing! I am making a renewed commitment to "access joy", knowing it is a fruit of the Spirit, available at all times and in all circumstance."

"Women's Retreat showed me that God sees me and cares about me; He has not forgotten me."


We were blessed to have many local law enforcement and first responders worship with us that day. We were able to thank and acknowledge them, give out 44 First Responder Bibles filled with handwritten notes, and provide a hearty BBQ lunch for them and their families.



Sharing Our Faith . . .



"For a great deal of my life I was a 'closet Christian.' I grew up in a home where I wasn't allowed to express my faith. My stepfather took away my Bible when I was five and said I couldn't have it back until I proved there was a God. My mother was volatile and abusive and I was never quite sure how she would respond to it; a love for my God greater than my love for her. I continued to be awkward and hidden in my faith well into adulthood. Even as a member of Morning Star for all those years, I didn't make friends or find community because I kept my faith silent. Through the death of my daughter and then the death of my first husband, I stayed strong in my faith, just very quiet and private. God has always been my Protector and my Counselor, but it took my daughters and their innocent faith in order for me to become vocal and loud in my love for Him, be baptized, and testify my faith (33 years after I was told to be quiet). It's been almost six years now, and I am so grateful that my faith has a voice that can't be silenced ever again.

Here's an example:

Recently a man had posted an ad saying he was selling children's movies to which I responded. He asked if I could meet him in south Salem the next morning, so I told him I could meet him but not until after church. He asked if Walmart was close enough and I told him it was perfect because I went to Morning Star. The next morning I got a text saying he was in service and could meet me in the lobby with the movies. It was the Sunday that Pastor Bill Ritchie had come to speak about being glad in the Lord. After service he confessed that he hadn't been to church in a very long time and that with all of his financial struggles he had become closed off and put church at the bottom of his list. He said that all his anxieties kept him from church, but that when I said I went to Morning Star, it compelled him to come to church and the message was just what he needed to hear. He thanked me for simply saying, 'I go to Morning Star Church' because it reminded him that he should go, too, and he was exactly where he needed to be." Michelle Barkmeyer

Michelle and Jim Barkmeyer
Getting Connected

We believe there's nothing better than seeing people get connected into the church body and grow in their walk with Jesus! In 2016, many more people are making real and lasting connections than in the previous year.

Over and over again, we've heard more people say that they feel that they've come home as they've been welcomed and loved by the Morning Star family. A big shout out to our volunteers who faithfully serve in our parking, greeting, ushering, Guest Connect, and guest follow-up ministries. You all are making a HUGE difference!

If you've never been part of a Connect event, we encourage everyone to come! Whether you are brand new or been around since the Nelsons' living room, we would love to have you join us!
We decided to try something new for our Student Ministries camps this summer. We asked you, our church, to provide scholarships so we could bring unchurched students for free. Not only were we able to bring 24 students to camp on scholarship, 13 of them accepted Jesus for the first time!

Alyssa Looney was one of the students impacted by your generosity. Here she is with her twin brother, Bryce, telling their story.

Our first Trunk or Treat did more than hand out a few hundred pounds of candy; we also had 11 brand new families attend Morning Star the next day because of the event!
As they have for the last 11 years, our high- and middle-school students staged a garage sale to raise money for their Spring Break missions trips. If you donated, volunteered, or shopped at the garage sale, you didn't just make a difference for the 73 students on our 2016 trips; you made it possible for them to bring the love of Jesus to countless others!
26 students went to Lincoln City, OR and served local churches, schools, and shelters. This was our first year in Lincoln City, and we look forward to cultivating a long-term relationship with them!
"The [Spring Break] missions trip made me realize how important it was to serve, not just go to church and do all that. It made me more willing and after the missions trip it made me more active in church." Matt Leirissa
34 students went to Modesto, CA where we have been sending teams for 25 years. Our students served the city with a variety of work projects, ministered to local high school students, and did outreach with the homeless population.
13 students stayed here in Salem to serve our own community and local churches.



One Week. Seven Men. An Attic Transformation.

"I want to thank my Morning Star family for the great blessing that we have received through the construction team this year 2016. We prayed a lot for more Sunday School classes for children of our new church in Vecmilgravis and the space was only in the dark and cold attic. For the new church alone, it would have been a project for three years. But the Morning Star construction team did it in less than a week. It was a big testimony for the new believers and for Sunday School teachers and children. We received two wonderful Sunday school classes of total 650 square feet space. It is God's miracle. God provided people and funds for construction materials. It was beyond our imagination. Working together, it is much easier to change the world for Christ. On behalf of the Sunday School teachers and children, I want to thank one more time for such a big blessing!" Petr Samoylich Vecmilgravis, Riga, Latvia

Ten Days. Ten Men. A Church Renovation.

"This year we were sooooooo blessed by a tremendous team of men who helped us to renovate our church facility. It's difficult to overstate the importance of this event for our community. The team built for us the sanctuary, the stage, and changed the sound system. We have now good quality worship. They built also the kitchen which gives us opportunity to host a lot of people. We are extremely blessed to have Morning Star as our big sister church and can't even describe the joy. We love you all. We thank you all and we don't take it for granted." Max & Tanya Garkavenko Bat Yam, Israel


One couple noticed the soggy sheetrock and drip buckets in the north lobby and decided to do something about it. They contacted Pastor Ken, helped get the repairs in motion . . . and paid for the whole project. Who does that?! Someone who quietly loves Jesus and His church. Someone who doesn’t want anyone to know who they are so that God gets all the glory for their generosity.

It’s always good to look back and remember God’s faithfulness, to count our blessings—which are myriad. But it’s even more important to look ahead, to fix our eyes on Jesus and give ourselves for His glory. In a world of uncertainty where fear, anxiety, and anger make their presence palpably felt, we have challenges to face, obstacles to overcome, hope to give, lives to rescue and redeem, peace and joy to share. The light still shines in the darkness . . . and the darkness cannot overcome it. May our light shine brightly in this coming year! -Pastor Scott
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