The Gift

21 04 2014

By Pam Evans,
Integrated Communications

The author with her father and brother.

The author with her father and brother.

 

It was a gift I never thought I’d receive. The gift was peace, and I thank God for it every day. You see, my father, by his own choice, had been estranged from his children for 15 years. I never thought I’d see him again, and I feared I’d forever be stuck holding a big bag of painful emotions.

Then in January 2013 I received a message that my father probably would not live through the night. He’d faced many health issues, and over the years family members would update me.

When I would learn he was ill and in a hospital, I would travel there to pray. I would just sit in my car, pray, and then leave. On this particular night, I gathered up three of my grandchildren and told them we were going to have a prayer circle. We all got into the car, and I drove us to the hospital.

As I parked the car to pray, something felt different. I turned the car off, stepped outside, and said, “Come on, you’re going to meet your great-grandfather.”

We entered the hospital. I ushered the kids into a restroom to shine them up. Then we searched for the Intensive Care Unit.

We found it, but there was a locked double door. A sign said to push the button and wait for personnel. I just stood there, thoughts running through my mind. “What was I doing here? Would I be welcomed? Would I be turned away? What would I say?”

As I stood and contemplated my next move, one of the kids made it for me, pushing the button. A voice came over a speaker. “May I help you?”

“Uh-er-um yes, ma’am. I am here to see my father,” and I gave his name. The lock clicked, and the doors opened automatically. I could feel panic rise as we walked to the nurse’s station.

The nurse at the counter said, “Your father is in room number four, but I would warn you that he is non-responsive, on life support. He is intubated and ventilated, and with many other tubes and machines attached, it is kind of an overwhelming sight.”

We entered his hospital room. There was my father. Suddenly it didn’t feel so many years had separated us. Sitting at his bedside was a gentleman, holding his hand and praying. I did not recognize him. He walked to us, extended his hand, and said, “Hi, I’m Jeff, Bob’s friend.”

I said, “Hi, I’m Pam, his daughter, and these are his great-grandchildren.”

Jeff replied, “Welcome, can we pray?”

Whew, what a warm welcome and a relief! My father was non-responsive, but I still introduced the grandchildren. My 5-year-old grandson took his hand and said, “It will be OK, Papa.”

A nurse entered the room and asked if I realized my father would be seeing Jesus that night. I said I truly believed that is why I was there. God had brought this reunion together. Never before had I gotten out of my car and entered a hospital. Instead I would sadly think about my father leaving this life without reconciliation.

I phoned my husband to let him know where I was and asked if he would come to say his good-byes to my father and take the children home. I wanted to stay with my father and pray. For hours I held his hand, talking about all the years and about forgiveness.

I watched his vitals for about eight hours. They were up and down, and sometimes he didn’t have a blood pressure or a steady heartbeat. But by a little after 2:00 a.m., his vitals had been steady and his blood pressure normal for an hour. He seemed to be improving. Jeff and I were on each side of his bed holding one of his hands and praying.

I suggested to Jeff that because father’s condition was improving, we both go home and sleep a few hours. I would have to get the kids ready for school and would return at 9:00 a.m.

Jeff agreed. I let the nurse know of our plans, and we exchanged phone numbers. As I drove away I began getting lost in thought about spending that time with my father. What a blessing that was!

My cell phone rang at 2:15 a.m., and I fumbled through my handbag to find it. It was Jeff, calling from the hospital with the words, “Your father is gone.”

What? He had just seemed a little better!

In conversations with family members over the following days I learned my father had confided he was trying to find a path to reconciliation with his children. He had said that he just wanted to live long enough to see one of his children again.

Thank you, God, for allowing us the opportunity of spending the time we both so desperately wanted. Thank you for the words of forgiveness and for bringing us peace.





Sumbra’s Story

18 04 2014

By Sumbra Raika, Orissa, India,
as told to Wayne Rowe, World Hunger-Tangible Love Team member

world hunger 5 cobMy story starts in 1965. I was 23 years old, and my family members were Hindus. We worshiped Hindu gods. I lived with my father, mother, wife, and one child.

Unfortunately, we lost that child to disease. Because we suffered a lot from different diseases we made sacrifices to the gods to ask them to make our family better. Sacrifices included whatever food we had, any animals, and even crops in the fields.

I learned about Christianity from some visitors to our community, and they said we didn’t need to make sacrifices. We could pray to God and to Jesus Christ, and we would be healed. So I decided to become a Christian. The three visitors to our community were from Community of Christ.

Becoming a Christian caused a big problem in my family. Of the 40 households in the village, only a few became Christians. My wife and I removed all the Hindu worship items from our house, and this angered the rest of the village. When we became Christians we entered a different caste and were not acceptable to the community. We were told to leave, going to the top of a mountain. I tried to work the land on the mountain for crops, but it was very difficult.

My father and son died about the same time. My wife found all this very difficult to cope with and became very ill. I decided to take her to the Community of Christ congregation many miles away and ask the ministers there to pray for her.

I couldn’t bear to lose another family member. The Community of Christ congregation prayed hard for her, and by the grace of God, she was healed. The church leaders asked me to go back to the village that had thrown me out to see if I could persuade more residents to become Christians. I told them there would be trouble, but I would do it.

When I returned I started to tell about Christ, and my father-in-law was not happy. He threatened to kill me if I continued to talk about Christianity. So I began to pray to God. I said, “God, if you can change my father-in-law’s mind then I will be able to continue working for you in the village. But if you don’t then I probably will be killed.”

Though my father-in-law threatened me, I continued preaching and teaching. Eventually, four more people became Christians. This meant there was a place for my wife and me to stay while we were there. This made the village leaders very angry.

At that time, my father-in-law went into the jungle, and a snake bit him. He thought this happened because the Hindu gods were angry about what I was doing. The priests said he needed to sacrifice a water buffalo. This was a big problem because my father-in-law didn’t have the money to do this.

I told him he didn’t have to make the sacrifice. I said I would pray for him and take him to the hospital. So we carried him 19 kilometers over the mountains to get there. We prayed all along the journey. The hospital staff treated him well, and he healed within one week.

He then said: “My son, you have helped me a lot, and because of your faith I will also become a Christian.”

Then others in the village started to persecute him, too. During the next few years they gave us great trouble. But over time, the whole community became Christian.

After this, I started to spread the gospel to neighboring villages, even though I wasn’t a priesthood member. I went to Antarba, Buriguda, Chudangpur, Badakui, Gumiguda, Gilakuta, Kesiriguda, Jedaguda, and Bunipadan.

I have little education, but I can read. So I taught from the Bible. People heard the message and knew it was true. They all became Community of Christ communities.

Though they became Christians, I worried that some were drinking wine and smoking cigarettes. I told them they should respect their bodies and stop doing these things. They eventually changed their ways.





Resurrection: A Way of Life

16 04 2014

By Katie Harmon-McLaughlin, Spiritual Formation Ministries

There is always hope. This message is at the heart of Christianity. This is the essence of our story.

Whatever injustice we face, whatever hardship we bear, whatever we must release that keeps us from becoming who we are called to become, there is the promise of new life.

Knowing this can get us through seemingly dark and desolate times. But to live new life is a challenge and blessing of its own.

Many may not be aware that in the liturgical year, Easter is not just one Sunday, but seven! Whatever the historic reasons for this may be, it reminds me that resurrection is not a once-a-year event, but an ongoing activity. It is a process we are called into for longer than an egg hunt and a good sermon on Easter morning.

It is easy to imagine resurrection in an abstract way. We can see all around us the ways that death yields new life. It is different—and its own kind of terror—to imagine ourselves living in this new life of hope.

My mom preached an Easter sermon I will never forget. She confessed she didn’t know if she was ready to peer into the empty tomb. What would that mean? What would that require? With some things, once we know them, we can never return to life as usual.

Her observation struck me because I had never heard resurrection mentioned with timidity. It had always been about celebration and good news! It is all of those things and the door to deeper life. It is the invitation to keep walking forward into the fullness of what is possible. It is saying with conviction, “I have decided to follow Jesus, no turning back, no turning back…” (“I Have Decided to Follow Jesus,” Community of Christ Sings 499, S. Sundar Singh).

Sometimes it is easier to live death than new life, to imagine ourselves as defeated rather than living in the new thing God is inviting us to join. This can be true in our spiritual lives, our congregational lives, and our relationships. Living new life inherently is about transformation, which involves vulnerability and courage. It also involves the full promise of God’s vision for us, permeating the reality of our lives and beckoning our faithful response.

The journey of Lent was an opportunity to shed ourselves of things that distract and distance us from God and others—things that serve as barriers and excuses to living Christ’s mission.

May this Easter season remind us this is not the time to pick those things up again, but to move forward, embodying resurrection hope in a world aching for fuller life.





Blessing Families in Need

14 04 2014

By Fernanda Corsi Carvalho,
Sao Paulo, Brazil

Fernanda Corsi Carvalho and her family

Fernanda Corsi Carvalho and her family

An extended ministry of blessing to families in need has been very good in Sao Paulo, Brazil. They feel supported by us in difficult times.

Today we met with two families. In one, a son had been admitted to a clinic for recovering drug addicts. In the other, a daughter had attempted suicide.

We often are first contacted through a family member, a friend, or a brother or sister in the church. Then my husband, Carlos, as pastor, and I, an evangelist, visit with the family members. We become aware of their circumstance and problems. Based on their needs, we provide a focused ministry for seven weeks.

Then depending on the specific needs, we invite sisters and brothers in the church to accompany us and provide support to the family through encouragement and acts of pastoral care.

We come together, we pray, we sing, we share the word of God, we demonstrate to the people that God cares for every child, every son and daughter, and that they are never alone during difficult times.

The home visits have been so very important because families that were at the point of splitting were restored, and the sick were healed. Some families have visited the church and continued being our friends and collaborators in the work of Christ.





In My Darkest Moment…

11 04 2014

By Sorayda Oliveros-Balanta,
Roxas, Isabela, Philippines

Sorayda Oliveros-Balanta

Sorayda Oliveros-Balanta

I started to work for our church in 2010 as a part-time bookkeeper. The church has helped me a lot through good times, bad times, even the darkest moments in my life.

I am active in Bible studies and medical missions. Another example of my involvement was when I started introducing this faith to my husband and his family. With Pastor Chito, Pastor Josie, and other members of our congregation, we started to hold Bible studies in our house. It lasted a month, but my husband and his family were not ready to open themselves fully.

I decided and was advised by Pastor Chito not to force them to engage in such activities. But I remained determined to bring them closer to God. So I continuously encouraged them to attend Sunday services.

One day, my husband found himself enjoying the services. He even began initiating our attendance. I still hope one day to be able to invite my sister-in-law, with whom I have a conflict, and other family members into a harmonious relationship with the guidance of our Lord.

Though I am an active member, I know I still have a lot to learn. So a congregation sister and I started doing Bible study before I went to work.

About this time, with continuous blessings and my husband engaging himself in our church, I faced my greatest obstacle. I suffered a stroke, and half of my body was paralyzed. I didn’t know what to do, and I started to lose hope.

But my congregation supplied inspiration and strength. My love for my work, the financial and spiritual support of the congregation, and prayers have made me strong enough to recover quickly.

My left hand remains paralyzed, and I need to take a lot of medication, but I am thankful to Jesus Christ that I now can walk. Bit by bit I am taking my life back. The congregation has taught me how to be strong with the help of our Lord. The church has filled me with spiritual strength. Without my congregation’s support, I might have lost myself.

I hope the congregation members will continue to help and guide me. I also hope God will continue to touch their hearts. I am a willing servant in spreading the word of God.

I am so grateful I became a member of this church. In gratitude, I will forever be willing to offer myself to our church and our beloved Jesus Christ.

Whatever obstacles we go through, there will always be a family willing to help and guide us.





If All Are Called, Does that Mean Me?

9 04 2014

By Matthew Wait,
World Service Corps

Patrick Chunda of Zambia and Matthew Waite

Patrick Chunda of Zambia and Matthew Waite

 

If All Are Called, as the Enduring Principle says, does that mean me, too? Several months ago I felt like I should apply for World Service Corps, and I didn’t know why. It didn’t make sense for me to drop everything to go spend my summer in Zambia.

I had a good job, I was in the middle of school, and I would miss a lot of fun events at home. So I brushed the feeling away and moved on.

Then it came back. Again I brushed it off and moved on, and then I sought guidance. I prayed, and I opened myself to listen to God. Before I knew it, I was sitting in church in Zambia.

When I arrived, I felt less prepared and more out of place than I could have imagined. I thought “Matt what have you gotten yourself into? You’re in way over your head here.” I felt more alone than ever. So I prayed, and I prayed, and then I prayed a little bit more. When I opened my eyes, my eyes were opened to an amazing community thousands of miles from home, and yet I felt like I belonged.

Strangers took me into their homes, and after only a couple of hours they felt like family. I got involved in the community with every opportunity I had. I joined a choir (much to the community’s chagrin, I’m sure), taught Sunday school, led a youth group, and even preached three weeks in a row!

Although I’m not positive what the Lord is using me for, I know God is using me. I still haven’t figured out what I’m called to do, but I know I am called. I promise if God is using me, then God definitely wants to use you, too!

Africa has taught me to live John 15:16 NRSV: “You did not choose me but I chose you.”

We all are chosen. We all are wanted. And we All Are Called!





A Place Prepared

7 04 2014

By Marge Nelson,
Lee’s Summit, Missouri, USA

Hailey and William on the day they were baptized and confirmed.

Hailey and William on the day they were baptized and confirmed.

 

The first Sunday in May was filled with expectation. People had gathered in the New Walnut Park Congregation for breakfast, fellowship, classes, worship, Communion, and a baptismal service. Eight-year-old Hailey Smith had been looking forward to this day, and her grandpa was going to baptize her.

A few blocks away a young man was preparing to go to the church for the first time. His path had been rocky, filled with frustration and struggle. A minister friend had advised him to “find a church—any church. Just go.” Believing God knows our needs even before we ask, William Rivera had decided to visit the church he had walked past before.

He came through the door, and a member immediately greeted him. She took him to the gym and told him about breakfast. He saw an offering basket and put in a dollar. After he filled his plate, he looked at people eating and visiting. Someone leaning on a walker offered him a seat. “You can call me Grandma” she told him, smiling.

Later she took him upstairs for church and explained a little of what was going on. “You don’t have to put money in the offering because you are our guest,” she told him. But William wanted to. He remembered his mother saying, “Always put money in the plate,” so he gave his last 86 cents.

William watched as Hailey was baptized. Then he heard the presider offer an invitation. “Hailey’s grandfather will stay in the font. If others in the congregation this morning want to be baptized and give their lives to Jesus, please come forward.”

Pastor Ed Slauter described the next few minutes this way: “I looked up, and my heart leaped for joy as I saw William get up and move toward the front. The Spirit of God was present in such power in that room.”

As William was escorted to the baptismal font, others in the Independence, Missouri, congregation reacted. One woman jumped up to get a towel. A man ran to get William some baptismal clothes, kept on hand for such experiences.

“It was awesome!” said the pastor. “William was baptized and confirmed with Hailey, and they both took their first Communion. Their countenances were glowing with the joy of the Lord. I witnessed the peace of Christ fall on the congregation that morning. Our people were excited and reenergized to go forth to be about Christ’s mission. That was what mattered most!”








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