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!”





Suffering Love…Cross…Resurrection

4 04 2014

By Rick W. Maupin,
Council of Twelve Apostles

Rick Maupin, Council of Twelve Apostles

Rick Maupin, Council of Twelve Apostles

 

At the conclusion of the Brian McLaren video, “Jesus and the Kingdom,” he states, “…the kingdom of God is a liberating and yet disturbing message for people today.” How is it that the message of Jesus is one of liberation but also carries elements that disturb and disrupt?

As I explore this counsel I am challenged by the thought that faithfully living out the way of suffering love will result in experiencing some unrest and disturbance along my spiritual journey.

We are now moving through that part of the Christian calendar when we contemplate and celebrate the ultimate story of disturbance and liberation. This is the story of Jesus turning toward Jerusalem, resulting in his crucifixion and resurrection.

Because of his deep compassion, suffering with the marginalized and oppressed, he challenged government authorities and rigid religious traditions of his culture. Those challenges became stones of disturbance and disruption that paved the road to the cross. He spoke for those with no voice, and his voice disturbed the norms of society.

Jesus publicly called out the power structures. He created disruptions that institutions in power could not allow to go unaddressed. The cross was the authoritarian way of quelling these disturbances. The authorities used it not only as a tool to execute offenders, but to convey a message to all who witnessed the crucifixions.

The message was clear: “If you challenge and disrupt the system, disturb the status quo, the consequences will be grave.” Little did the authorities realize their intended message of fear and dominance, through a cross, would evolve into a much different message. Soon the message of the cross was about a God of love, a God who was on the side of the suffering, oppressed, and marginalized.

This new message of the cross said the institutions and traditions that use oppression and marginalization to protect and preserve the status quo would not win the day. This is the message we must celebrate at Easter.

In his book, The Cross in Our Context, Douglas John Hall discusses how the cross has been used in ages past as a symbol by imperial powers to claim ownership. Persons acting on authority of colonial powers would erect a cross to signify they had taken control; they were claiming a particular land. Hall suggests the significance of the cross for Christians is about a different type of claim. He states:

The cross of Jesus Christ is God’s claim to this world—the claim, however, not of a despot, yearning for greater power and glory, but of a lover yearning to love and be loved, and thus to liberate the beloved from false masters.

The cross signifies God’s compassion, God’s suffering with creation. The cross becomes an ensign that goes before all Christians, calling them to engage in ministries of suffering love.

It is difficult to consider suffering love and the cross at Golgotha without eventually confronting the question of what kind of God we claim. At times, I want to claim an all-powerful and all-loving God. However, would suffering love and the cross make any sense of that fully described God?

I recently received the news that a friend who was quite young had died of a rare cancer. We all can recall such tragic, seemingly senseless situations—situations where good people suffer catastrophic loss. We can always opt for a somewhat popular but questionable response, “It was God’s will.”

For some, however, that describes a God we would prefer not to follow. What God do we claim if we have difficulty connecting with a God who wills pain and suffering, and if we question the concept of a God who can wave a magic wand and take away all suffering?

I would suggest that in Community of Christ we claim neither a capricious God nor a God who waves a magic wand. The God we follow is defined in Matthew 1:23 NRSV:

“Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel, which means ‘God is with us.’”

“God is with us” does not describe an arbitrary God, picking and choosing who will suffer. “God is with us” does not describe a God who sits in some remote location of the cosmos, watching creation tumble to destruction. Hall describes God as “a lover yearning to love and be loved.” This God is fully in love with and fully immersed in creation—claimed by humanity’s plight. God is with us; God is in solidarity with us in our journeys of joy, as well as our journeys of pain and loss.

We align with a God who “weeps for the poor, displaced, mistreated, and diseased of the world because of their unnecessary suffering” (Doctrine and Covenants 163:4a).

To be fully “with” another requires one to become vulnerable to the other. However, we live in a world where vulnerability is not a valued virtue. People often view vulnerability as a weakness and go to great measures to be less vulnerable.

For good reasons we protect our sensitive information with passwords and activate electronic protection systems when leaving our homes and cars. But what about our vulnerability with God and others? Can we really be “with” another if our own spiritual journey has not been marked by moments of deep openness with God?

I would suggest that those who are best equipped to be “with” another are those who have responded to the invitation in Doctrine and Covenants 163:10a:

God yearns to draw you close so that wounds may be healed, emptiness filled, and hope strengthened. Those who would more fully understand the path of suffering love, which leads to communities of peace, will be those who have accepted the challenge to “be vulnerable to divine grace” (Doctrine and Covenants 163:10b).

Angela Ramirez, Dominican Republic Mission Center financial officer, tells of a 60-year-old woman who had been paralyzed since she was 17. The woman greatly desired to be baptized, but there was concern about a full immersion with her condition. After much planning the baptism occurred in a nearby river.

Angela indicated that following the baptism the woman did not want to leave the water. When asked why, she stated that this was the first time since she was 17 that she had been able to be bathed head to foot.

Angela said the woman views the day of her baptism as a point of liberation. Liberation that followed acts of vulnerability by this sister and the ministry team.

Jesus’ mission statement of 2,000 years ago in Luke 4:18–19 gets our approving nod. But what about our contemporary pledges to that message? As a faith community we have corporately agreed the call to disturb the world on behalf of the oppressed, the blind, and the captives is our call. This call is reflected in our Mission Initiatives of Abolish Poverty, End Suffering and Pursue Peace on Earth.

We also have taken the sacred step of canonizing this challenge to “courageously challenge cultural, political, and religious trends that are contrary to the reconciling and restoring purposes of God” (Doctrine and Covenants 163:3b).

My friend and colleague, John Glaser, often speaks of daily struggles by immigrants in our society. He speaks with deep passion, and it is clear he has opened himself to others. Though it sometimes is painful, he has become vulnerable to the plight of marginalized immigrants. John’s compassion has moved him to become an advocate for them.

Some, however, might consider him disruptive when he raises his voice on behalf of those who have little or no voice. John says:

When others finally confront the immigrant’s cross and feel the extreme burden of that cross, they come to understand the sacrifice and love of Jesus Christ.

This level of authentic compassion and vulnerability can become contagious. The challenge to move along the path of suffering love to the cross, to resurrection, and ultimately to Zion requires more disruptive and disturbing disciples.

SHE CAME from the dark corners along the street, fearing she might be seen. She knew touching Jesus would bring healing. Her actions caused Jesus to stop in his journey. She was healed, and peace in her life was restored.

The blind beggar was at his daily post along the street. As Jesus and his entourage neared the man, he screamed to be healed. Those with Jesus tried to quiet the man, but he became even louder. Jesus stopped and touched him, and the man regained his sight.

The house was full, and Jesus was teaching when suddenly pieces of the roof began to fall. Through a hole, a makeshift bed cradling a sick man was lowered. Jesus stopped and touched him, and the man left healed.

Interruptions, interruptions, and more interruptions. In each of these stories Jesus’ attention was diverted in ways that some saw as interruptions. Those cries to be touched, healed, and loved did not fit neatly into his schedule. It meant the agenda, the “more important work” of the day, would have to be modified.

However, Jesus demonstrated that suffering love does not see interruptions, but opportunities to invite others to liberation and peace.

IT WAS a typical hot Sunday morning in the Democratic Republic of Congo with about 200 present. I had been tasked with bringing the morning Communion message, and Apostle Bunda Chibwe was translating into French. Brother Chibwe and I had moved into a good speaker-translator pace, and I was feeling a bit confident in my sermon.

In the middle of my sermon I noticed a man standing in the back corner. I paid little attention to him. He began walking down the aisle toward the front. I continued working “my agenda,” but the man was becoming a distraction to me. He was beginning to annoy me because he was distracting the congregation. Only a few feet away, he fell to the floor.

I am not proud to admit it, but as we knelt and prayed for the man, I was more focused on how I would regain the attention of this congregation than I was on the prayer. Later that day I discovered this man had been wrongly accused of a crime. As a result, he had endured much pain. This was his first participation in church since the accusation.

He said that after hearing the scripture about the woman touching Jesus’ garment and words about releasing pain and fear, the Spirit had moved him. What I interpreted as an interruption was the beginning of this man’s journey to liberation and wholeness.

Suffering love, the cross, resurrection, and Christ’s community of oneness and peace. As I reflect on these final words of this counsel, it is clear that they can serve as a lens, helping us focus on the journey ahead. Let us be prepared for what we will see: a path paved with some of the same stones of disturbance and disruption that paved the way for Jesus.

But we also will see the Living Christ going ahead of us. The message to the disciples in Mark on that first Easter morning was that Jesus had gone ahead of them into Galilee. As we faithfully follow the Living Christ into new Galilees, we must claim the promise that this journey will lead to liberation, the peaceable kingdom, Zion.
Vulnerability

Faithfully living out the way of suffering love will result in experiencing unrest and disturbance along my spiritual journey.

God is fully in love with and fully immersed in creation—claimed by humanity’s plight.

Those who would more fully understand the path of suffering love which leads to communities of peace, will be those who have accepted the challenge to “be vulnerable to divine grace.”








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