More than 20 years ago when I was searching for a church home, I visited a different church every Sunday. I liked First Church because those I met seemed to accept me where I was—without judging—and fed and shepherded me in God’s Word. I was drawn to the people; they were friendly and joyful. They even hung out after the service to have coffee and conversations. That was new to me.

Also new, for the first time I heard that I am supposed to have a personal relationship with God. The pastor explained that—as Christians—God expects us to grow in our knowledge of Him and in our faith in Him. So, we need to start reading and studying His Word.

In August 1998, I became a member. I eventually joined the Chancel Choir and came to the Wednesday night Bible study led by Pastor Paul Kirbas. I attended one of the monthly Healing and Wholeness services and heard longtime member Judy Teasdale pray. I had never heard anyone pray like she did. She talked to God with confidence and trust as if He were present. I wanted to be able to pray like that someday.

In 2004, I was diagnosed with a tumor and scheduled for surgery. Pastor Doug and his wife Jeanne came the day before surgery and prayed with me. That was immensely comforting and helped me to face what was coming. Fortunately, the tumor was benign.

During that experience I also learned that our church really cares about its members. Once it was known that I had undergone surgery, many offered to drive me around, to bring food and to help with whatever I needed. WOW! That proved to me that this church is a living church… and I had become a part of it.

Around 2005, I almost moved to Venice, FL for employment. But I decided to stay in Bonita Springs mainly because of the church family I was growing into—and I am glad I did. Serving as an Elder in our church was a great honor. It was also a great time of learning and growing. I am glad that First Church stands on God’s Word and does not shift its course as the wind of contemporary preference blows.

Pastor Doug and our pastoral staff have made this church a beacon in the community, in Southwest Florida and in the world. In all we do, we strive for excellence because we serve an excellent God.

I pray that God will continue to bless this church, protect us from harm and evil, grant growth, and help our faithfulness to His Word grow stronger. Holy Spirit, be our guide. In Jesus’ victorious Name. Amen!

by Maria Karl, Biblical Counselor

Given New Purpose

Because of the influence of First Church and the mentoring of former Biblical Counselor Ruth Ann Bruce, Maria spent five years preparing to become a biblical counselor herself.

“It was hard,” she said, “and I often thought to myself, ‘I cannot do this,’ But somehow I continued. It was not me—it was God! He gave me a new purpose for my life.”

Maria admits the Holy Spirit sent wonderful encouragement through Ruth Ann and the pastors. She became a Certified Biblical Counselor in 2012 and has been on staff at the Spiritual Development Center since it opened in September of 2014.