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People learn about God in various ways. Some read the Bible, religious books or magazines, hear sermons about God's loving grace or learn about Him from what other people people say. Christians are commanded to make disciples all over the world and testimonies are powerful. 
One of the most powerful tools for advancing the kingdom is testimonials. 
Everyone has a story to tell, life experiences that have gotten them to where they are now and hope for tomorrow. There is power in testimonies where people learn there is a God, his son Jesus Christ died for our sins on the cross to earn us eternal life and communion with God the Father. There is no more important decision we will make in this life than to accept Jesus Christ's offer of eternal salvation for those who believe in Him. 
We are going to try to provide more impactful testimonies on the Christian Life Center website and several other church endeavors. Testimonies can show how God saved us, turned us around from a life of bad choices and right thinking about divine providence. 
Please contact me at (209) 658-3197 or and your testimony might just be the one that leads others to the Lord. 

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Gwen Breinig Write up by Doane Yawger

Gwen Breinig, Christian Life Center's administrative pastor, is retiring after 51 years of service to the Merced congregation. This Thursday is her last day of service at the East Olive Avenue worship center complex. 

Gwen has three grown children, six grandchildren from ages 8 to 23 and now a 3-month-old great-grandson who lives in North Carolina. She has bought airline tickets to visit all of them now - but hasn't purchased the return ticket yet.

Not to worry, Gwen's coming back to Merced and intends to stay with the church children's ministry.

"I never planned on retiring and was going to stay here until God takes me. This is my home; this is it. My kids and grandkids were raised in this church. I don't feel led to leave this town," she says.

One of the things Gwen cherishes was being able to raise her children and grandchildren here. She said she hasn't made any commitment on future plans yet. 

Gwen said she has never preached or handled the men's ministry but just about everything else was fair game. She says she's a direct person, is up front with people and never sugar-coated anything, expressing what needs to be said in a loving way. 

This behind-the-scenes organizational ability and knowledge of what works and what doesn't is what characterizes her role here. She jokes when she hears the operative phrase over the years: "Let's ask Gwen."

Gwen was born 69 years ago in Yuba City, the daughter of evangelist pastor Dr. Earl McMilin and his wife Betty. Dr. McMilin was big on starting new churches and then would move on to another challenge. 

Gwen said the family traveled a lot for many years and never stayed in one place too long. Gwen graduated from Merced High School in 1971. She received a bachelor's degree in church administration in June 1991 from Merced Bible College. Four years earlier she became a licensed minister of the Gospel from the Congregational Christian Fellowship. 

The founding pastor of CLC, McMilin served here from 1972-81. Gwen started helping her dad as secretary, in the days before computers, cell phones, the Internet and modern printing and graphics methods. Over the years she would help the church bookkeepers and took on the administrative pastor role 36 years ago. 

Gwen's roles have included being in charge of programs for senior citizens and youth. She and her late husband, Eugene Breinig, were youth pastors here for some time. At children's church, she and Eug had about 100 young worshippers in the program that included skits and puppets. 

Gwen was the leader of an eight-person youth singing ensemble which performed before President Jimmy Carter when he came to Merced for a Fourth of July address at Merced College. She also produced a children's Christmas musical program called "Candyland Lane" which involved about 100 youngsters and junior high students. Her work included set deign, costuming, drama and music. 

While women's director, she organized periodic retreats for the church's women's groups.

Over the years Gwen has worked with pastors including her dad, Dr. Bill Stephens, Randy Bissell, Kevin O'Connor, Bruce Metcalf, Mike Hull and Ceasar Johnson. 

Gwen has fond memories of the late Dr. Stephens. She said he loved people and taught her a lot. He was strict but taught all the staff how to minister to people. 

Her son, Ronnie Coyle, is a former CLC youth pastor and now is youth pastor and associate pastor at a church in Harrisburg, Ill. Her daughter, Kim Carrillo lives and Merced and daughter Cori Breinig lives in Santa Rosa. 

The CLC congregation recently gave Gwen a going-away dinner reception and she said it was wonderful and overwhelming. 

After visits to her family have concluded, Gwen will return to Merced and work with the children's ministry and possibly outreach to seniors. 

"I am open to what God wants me to do," she says. 

Mission 2 Merced Write up by Doane Yawger
Reaching out to the community is vitally important to Merced's Christian Life Center and the congregation recently completed a three-day Mission-2-Merced outreach over the Easter break. 
Mission trips can be anywhere in the world, including our own neighborhoods. So church efforts were centered around local Christian relief organizations and some improvements at the East Olive Avenue sanctuary. In the past mission trips were conducted mainly by the youth but the latest project involved people of all ages and collaboration with the Merced Rescue Mission, Alpha Help Pregnancy Center, Love Inc. and people in the flood-stricken Planada area. 
CLC Senior Pastor Ceasar Johnson is very pleased at how the outreach turned out and thinking of ways to improve it in the future. 
"This was open to all adults and teens 16 and older who have a heart for service and a desire to make a difference in their community. During the three days we had the opportunity to work on multiple service projects and outreach activities, all aimed at bringing hope and help to those in need. It is sharing the hope of Jesus with those around you," Pastor Johnson said. 
About 20 individuals active in CLC programs were using the RTS (Reach Teach Send) approach, which meant they reached out to the community, taught them about the love of Christ and sent them forth with renewed hope and faith. 
"Through our work and our words, we hope to make a positive impact on the lives of those we encounter and to build meaningful relationships that will last long after the trip is over," Pastor Johnson said. 
At Alpha Pregnancy Center, volunteers helped sort through many bags of donated children's clothing, organizing them for donation to needy children. At Love Inc. volunteers helped reorganize storage areas at the Christian clearinghouse. CLC members also took dinner twice to about 40 clients and staff members  at the Merced County Rescue Mission. At CLC other volunteers helped install security cameras, fix bleachers in the recreation center and reorganize closets for future uses. 
Pastor Johnson stressed the outreach was an excellent opportunity for missionary-minded individuals to step out of their comfort zone and challenge themselves to grow. The church's Missions Committee has been studying other ways the congregation can continue its outreach in the Merced area and support those engaged in missional projects. 

Natasha Gibbions

Life changed dramatically for Natasha Gibbons of Merced 29 years ago but she is using the adversity to show God's love and mercy to her and others.

As a 6-year-old Natasha was run over in 1992 by a car as she was riding her bicycle. The hit-and-run driver left her for dead, only stopping to pick up the muffler that fell from her car before fleeing the scene.

Natasha spent six months in the hospital, two months of those in a coma. She stopped breathing and her injuries included a bruised heart, crushed pelvis, head injuries, broken femur bones, collapsed lungs and a broken leg. She said it took two to three years to bounce back

from that accident on a Winton street. 

"But, hey, there's a good part, the Lord taught me how to walk and talk again. You know life has been a struggle in some way but yet I know that the Lord is with me always, guiding me to where he wants me to be," Natasha says. 

Now 35, Natasha suffers short-term memory loss and is on disability. She can't multi-task. She is fervent about sharing the miracles the Lord has done. She hopes to help with children's ministries, maybe become part of the Christian Life Center worship team or some other opportunity with the congregation. 

"I want to encourage, be an example, and be about working for Him. What I call work is anything and everything I can do to glorify Him, whether I get paid or not," she says. "I am doing the best I can to continue my walk with the Lord. My job is everything I do for the Lord."

Natasha says we are all living miracles of Christ, in so many different ways. 

"In all He has done for me, He lets me be a walking miracle to shine for Him and to also let others know that they are one in the same way." The miracles of Jesus healing a blind man and healing a leper are foremost in her mind. Each new day is a blessing because of God; we are all made in the beautiful image of Jesus. Because He has given himself for us and we are to give ourselves to Him return. 

'"The accident was sad and it hurt but now I think 'look where it brought me now.'"

Keith Kimbro
Lucy Bartolo

As a 5-year-old Lucy Bartolo witnessed things no one should have to endure. Her rough beginnings embittered her at first but faith in God has turned her around and given her a resolve to better the lives of others, especially those with special needs.
Lucy and her mother decided to escape to the United States from the gang cartels in the Mexican village they were living in but her rescuers turned into tormentors. The "coyote" who was taking Lucy and her mom across the desert forced her to watch her mom's sexual assault. 
Then Lucy was kept in an empty room for three days with a woman who hit her repeatedly. Finally Lucy was drugged and three days later found herself somewhere in San Diego, waking up in the arms of her mother who made it to this country after more ransom was paid to her captors by their relatives. 
About six months after this ordeal, Lucy's brother Cande was born. Wheelchair-bound and non-verbal, Lucy's brother is severely handicapped and doctors told them he would not live beyond 5 years of age. He's now 20 years old. 
"That's why I am a special education teacher. Over the years I have been able to appreciate that things happen for a reason. It's part of the journey; you have to go through hardship to appreciate everything God puts in your life and learn from it," Lucy says.
Now 26, Lucy has been an eighth grade resource specialist at Tenaya Middle School for four years. She graduated from UC Merced in 2016 with bachelor's degrees in sociology and anthropology with a minor in psychology. She is finishing up another master's degree in instruction and curriculum from Christian-based Concordia University and is working on another master's degree in technology and curriculum.
She is hoping this newly acquired knowledge will help her design technology that will help people like her brother communicate. He now is able to use a special typewriter which speaks for him.
Lucy says she saw her mother lose her faith and said she was angry and questioned everything. Lucy says her mom didn't know how to answer her daughter's questions about why bad things were happening but ultimately did regain her faith, apologizing to God for straying away from Him.
"My mom told me if I did good in school I could escape from the 'projects' in San Bernardino where they were living, which had frequent drive-by shootings.  God put me on Earth to be a special education teacher, to support my students emotionally and physically however I can. Now I appreciate the little moments and being able to wake up one extra day and follow the path God has for me," Lucy says.
Lucy has been worshipping at Christian Life Center for two years. In pre-pandemic times, she was helping with youth programs at CLC and taking part in couple's activities. 
"Most of all I can appreciate what God has given me, opened doors for me and He has helped me with my journey to be a teacher," Lucy says. 

Seventeen near-fatal accidents, drugs, alcohol, six drunken driving arrests, a hardcore biker-influenced lifestyle, long stints in jail, an understanding boss and a praying grandmother all are key elements of Keith Kimbro's life but the biggest game-changer of all was an encounter with God.
Keith, 63, is the founder and president of the Sons of Thunder motorcycle club which meets at Christian Life Center. Clean and sober since 1988 and armed with the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ, Keith's faith bubbles over as he recounts the events in his once-troubled life.

"When you are not with God you have this big hole in your heart and you are trying to fill it with girls, drugs and alcohol. That spot in your heart is where God should be; nothing can take that place but the Lord Jesus Christ. I learned it the hard way."
A retired soft drink bottling company production worker who worked for 30 years, Keith now ministers to his neighbors and isn't shy about sharing his faith. He says he has this passion in his heart for helping others. He says those bikers who used to ride with him and also did alcohol and drugs know they can talk to him and that he understands.
Born in Merced, Keith grew up in the Planada and Le Grand area and lived on a ranch. He said he was very sickly as a child but fancied life as a cowboy. His family moved to Corcoran when he was a sixth-grader. He got into riding minibikes, and saw the biker movie "Easy Rider" with Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper, where the outlaw motorcycle rider's life was glamorized and made a big impression on him. 
"Bikes really impressed me. I chopped my bicycle and in junior high school started drinking with my buddies. My dad had an alcohol problem and I thought it was just normal. I thought everyone drank. Drugs were all over the place and I started smoking pot, then uppers, downers, and LSD. I was pretty wild and I almost died a couple times," Keith says.
Keith recalls he wanted to get all he could out of life but picked the wrong lifestyle. 
Over the years Keith has been in 17 life-threatening wrecks and admits he could have died. Here's where he concedes God has had His hand on him and was watching over him. In one of the accidents with his motorcycle, he broke his back twice and broke many ribs. 

During all this, Keith managed to stay close to his grandmother who lived in Atwater. She was a woman of God and she would witness to her grandson when he helped her in her garden. He says she would always tell him he wasn't living right and he needed to get his life together. Then she would read many passages of the Bible to him. 
"My grandma would read me Scripture verses pertaining to how I was living and would tell me this is the word of God. For more times than I could count she would witness to me and advise against the druggie-biker lifestyle. My mother and grandma were always praying for me."
Keith says his grandmother saw that he successfully completed drug rehabilitation at Parkside/Phoenix and was living a clean and sober lifestyle. She died before he became a Christian. 
A woman friend of his coaxed him in 2009 to attend Sunday services with her at Christian Life Center. He said he wasn't searching for God at the time, but he soon responded to an altar call where he surrendered his life to Christ. 
"I felt the Lord on me really heavy. I felt my grandmother and know she saw me get clean and sober. I know she would be proud of me."
When Keith was wrestling with accepting the principles of embracing a different lifestyle and resisting the right path, God spoke to him.
"He said 'I have had my hand on you all these years and protected you. But if you go back and use again I will take my hand off you and you will not survive.' I had goosebumps. I knew it was the Lord and it gave me strength. God gave me a warning and I have never relapsed once. And I got my life together, Keith says."

Later, his mom gave him a big surprise. She gave her son the Bible that his grandmother had read to him years ago. 
Keith also credits retired Superior Court judge Robert Quall with giving him another chance to straighten up and avoid a certain five-year sentence to state prison for repeated offenses if he messed up again. He says his boss was understanding about him having to spend his nights at the county's honor farm correctional facility and then come to work during the day. He spent 30 years with the company. 
It was at this point that he realized that the lifestyle he followed would not have a good ending and could lead to death or prison. He says many of the guys he grew up are gone now, and were shot, murdered or killed in accidents. 
When he came to CLC, Keith says there wasn't a Christian motorcycle ministry although other churches in Northern California had them. Soon thereafter he drew the design for the T-shirts and jackets for the "Sons of Thunder" motorcycle group, which now has about a dozen members. Bikers don't have to join CLC to join the motorcycle club which holds regular rides, when the coronavirus pandemic doesn't intervene. They do, however, need to belong to a Bible-based, Christ-centered church. 
Keith says over the years a lot of guys he associated with in earlier years have come to the Lord. He said now it's not a matter of what you ride; it's who you ride for.
"It's not me. It's the Lord."

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