Deacons of BelPres: Sean Neely & Ester Suan-Tjoe

Deacons of Belpres, Neely Family

Sean Neely & Ester Suan-Tjoe

Sean: I was born in Seattle and grew up in Bellevue.  Not necessarily unique, but my family always had tons of books.  Our basement was wall to wall with shelves of books – it looked like a mini library.   I have continued that tradition, much to the dismay of my family (we will need a bigger house soon – no more room for more shelves). Growing up, my family was nominally Christian, but we typically only attended church and activities during the holidays. By high school, I was firmly agnostic – God existed, but I wasn’t convinced about the details. As I grew older, I began searching for a stronger answer. Ester provided an “onramp” to the church and pretty much jump-started my faith journey.

Ester:  I grew up in Malang, Indonesia. We had no books. Christians are very much in the minority in Indonesia, so there were challenges at times to be able to practice my faith. So, my family placed great importance on keeping our faith and being faithful, regardless. In fact, our family hosted Sunday school for neighborhood kids out of our garage for a while.

Both: We met at work and were married in 2003. Sean’s aunt and uncle are long-time members at BelPres. Ester visited because of them and liked the church’s vision and message. After a while, Sean agreed to visit with her to see what “all the fuss was about.” He, too, found he liked it. We really like being able to support one another in the Deacon role. In fact, we can bring our daughter, Keira, into the mix to make it a family effort. Keira comes to the Deacon meetings and often helps out with various activities. It has turned out to be a wonderful way to both model service AND to provide a chance for her to practice it as well. Being a Deacon is deeply rewarding. Beyond the joy of coming alongside people to support and help them, we also have found wonderful community and connection with our fellow Deacons. It also has been great for our own faith journeys.  It allows us to engage in prayer more often than we probably would otherwise and helps keep us focused on being open to how God might want to use us.

Sean Neely & Ester Suan-Tjoe,

Deacons in Area 3, covering parts of zip codes

98031, 98038, 98056, 98058, 98059


For more information please visit:

The Age-Old Christmas Stocking with a Brand-New Tradition

SHOP THE AGM at AGM.BELPRES.ORG from Thanksgiving to Dec 31.

I have always loved the decorations and gift-giving that comes with Christmas. As a small child, I loved going through my Christmas stocking first thing in the morning. When I became a parent, our children’s Christmas stockings were a highlight of our morning festivities. And then when I became a grandmother, I continued the tradition at my own home for my seven grandchildren – each with their own custom name-embroidered stocking.

But what goes inside those stockings now is different than what went in them when I was a child and young mother. What’s in there now?  A gift card from the BelPres Alternative Gift Market!

Around Thanksgiving, I provide the opportunity to each of my grandchildren to purchase a $50 gift from the catalog for someone in need. They each select their own, based on their preferences, and tell me what to buy. On Christmas morning, we take turns opening their stockings. When it is their turn, they each pull out the card and tell their cousins, aunts, uncles, parents and me what they purchased, and more importantly, why they selected it.

Sometimes it is a chicken or a goat to produce food or a living for a family in a foreign land. Other times it is a soccer ball so other kids can have a ball to play with (something they can’t imagine living without). Sometimes it is equipment for wells to get clean drinking water, and other times it has gone toward an education so girls in Africa can create better futures (this one from a grandson). The youngest, enamored with starting school a couple years ago, wanted to purchase school supplies and books for children who couldn’t afford their own. Another time it was a wheelchair to help another person get around more easily (perhaps from observing his own grandfather use one.)

I love that they can review the catalog with all the needs, that they make informed decisions based on their interests and opinions, and that they can share their reasons for their choice with the rest of the family. In the midst of the “getting,” we are reminded of the importance of “giving” too.

For me, the BelPres Alternative Gift Catalog is more than a donation during the holidays, and it is more than a personal contribution to the less fortunate. For me, it is one of my favorite ways to pass on a lesson of love to my grandchildren about Christian giving and sharing, along with the age-old Christmas stocking tradition.




There but for grace . . .

Life is not always fair.  Many people bear more than their share of misfortune.  Life events such as the death of a loved one, loss of employment, divorce, abuse, addiction and physical or mental illness can result in loss of self-worth, depression and sometimes homelessness. Christmas can be a lonely time for those who are homeless, struggling with a self-destructive lifestyle or even transitioning to a stable living environment.

In the mid-1970s, two BelPres volunteers made Christmas just a little brighter at Seattle’s First Avenue Service Center for homeless men.  They shopped the sales, filled and wrapped 50 gift boxes with warm winter clothes and toiletries.  In the early 1980s, the need became greater than this generous and compassionate mother and daughter could provide alone.  BelPres’ Community Outreach Committee turned to the congregation and 200 boxes were packed for the Service Center. Seattle women’s shelters were added to the list of recipients and the project continued for twenty years.

In 2000, Seattle churches took over and BelPres focused on increasing needs of the homeless on the Eastside by preparing 50 gift boxes.   Chuck and Marie Olmstead have chaired this growing labor of love and generosity since 2001.  Last year, Karen Clark and Chuck Zuber began sharing the responsibility with them.

This year, the goal is to prepare 245 Christmas boxes:  180 boxes for men served by Congregations for the Homeless (CFH) in the Winter Shelter, the Rotating Shelter at churches – including BelPres and Transitional Housing for those approaching stability and independence; 25 boxes for Real Escape from the Sex Trade (REST) – a residential program for women; 40 boxes for Homeless Youth (New Horizons) for males and females, ages 13-24.

Boxes and gift lists are available in the Lobby after all services on November 12, 19 and 26.  Filled and wrapped boxes should be returned to the church on December 3 or 10.

If you have questions or need more information, call:

Chuck or Marie Olmstead                 425-223-9373 (cell)       425-947-7917 (home)

Chuck Zuber or Karen Clark             425-765-4763 (cell)        425-823-9057 (home)

My First Encounter with Afghan Refugees

It was a Sunday morning and I was invited to speak at a gathering of Afghan refugees in Athens, Greece. As I entered the room on the third floor of a commercial building in Omonia Square, I was surprised to see over 100 Muslim refugees – standing room only – waiting to hear a message that would bring comfort and hope to their troubled hearts. Most of these strangers had risked their lives to navigate cold, volatile waters from Turkey to reach the Greek Island of Lesvos – the first port of entry into Europe. Now, safely in Athens, they were at the mercy of the Greek people, who are enduring hardship from their own financial crisis.

As I stepped to the front of the room, I was warmly greeted by Farshid, a new Afghan believer, who speaks excellent English and was ready to translate my message into the Dari language (official Persian language of Afghanistan). Looking at the sea of faces, l felt an overwhelming sense of God’s compassion for these strangers who were like sheep without a shepherd.  They were eagerly awaiting some good news from this woman from the U.S.  My first words were to reassure them that they are not forgotten and that the American people deeply care and are praying for the plight of all the refugees.

It was now story-telling time and time to say something of substance. From experience, I’ve learned that revenge is a strong cultural value of the Afghan people. My story began about an Afghan man named Masoud who accidentally stumbled onto a Christian Conference of Iranians in Turkey. Surprised by their warm reception, he quickly felt at home among these Iranians. As Masoud sat listening to their strange message, a deep peace comforted his troubled heart. During training, he learned about the power of forgiveness, and that before Jesus’ death, He cried out, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they are doing!” Deeply touched by Jesus’ life and sacrifice, Masoud surrendered his life to Jesus.

To my surprise, at this point in the story, the audience broke out into loud applause. Their eager faces spoke volumes. They too were open to know the reality of Jesus. It was all I could do to continue speaking.

The story had an interesting twist. Masoud entered into a dispute with another man that turned into a bitter feud. Taking pride in revenge, they vowed that one or both of them would die if they ever met again. Now it was time for Masoud to make peace with his enemy. When the doorbell rang, the enemy’s wife saw who was standing at the door.  She quickly notified her husband. Walking into their home, Masoud was confronted by his enemy who was armed with a knife ready to strike. Masoud gently approached him and said, “You have every reason to kill me but before you do I have something very important I need to tell you.”  In trembling speech, Masoud shared about Jesus and knelt asking for forgiveness. At that moment, God’s loving presence flooded the room and both men were reconciled.  Soon the man and his wife also became Jesus’ followers.

As my story came to an end, the applause grew louder and people began to stand.  God’s presence filled the room. Jesus was there to save and to heal and He did!  To Him, be all glory.