We Will Build

30 04 2011

 

By URBAIN MBENGA MPIEM LEY,
West Congo Kinshasa Mission Center president

Despite the economic downturn, the time has come for the challenge of constructing a building for the congregation called Parole Vivante or Living Word.

It will stand in the Mango district on the eastern outskirts of Kinshasa, capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Mango is one of the area’s poorest neighborhoods. It has no water, electricity, or transportation service.

The congregation meets under a canopy of cloth, twigs, cardboard, plastic sheeting—anything that shields from the tropical sun.

Yet it is a vibrant congregation. In the densely populated area, it will grow when the new building is done. Mission center leaders understood this three years ago, when they oversaw production of about 900 cement blocks.

They knew it was time to stop talking and start acting. We launched a fund-raising campaign, “With Jesus We Build Mango,” in mid-June.

For three days, three women speakers urged the faithful not to regard their poverty as inevitable, but to commit to Jesus to build their church. Each time a leader shouted, “Mango for Jesus,” the assembly responded with: “Peace is here! There is hope! We will build!”

Mission Center Financial Officer Tshiula Tshilumbayi launched a campaign that provided 10 bags of cement, equivalent to US$130. This barely is enough to meet the current needs, the first aim being to use the blocks already made to reduce the risk of theft.

But the mission center has two strengths: faith and the principles of A Disciple’s Generous Response.

Mango has fertile ground where everyone can sow and reap a hundredfold. What a blessing it will be when we complete our 18- by 10-meter building, a place where God deserves all honor and glory and will be adored—even when the weather is bad!

With Jesus, we will build in Mango!

 





Bringing Comfort and Hope

28 04 2011

By Ángela Ramírez de Hernández,
Dominican Republic Mission Center financial officer

Recently, some fellow ministers and I visited a hospital in San Pedro de Macorís, Dominican Republic, after hearing the daughter of one of our pastors had been admitted.

The life of this young woman, 26 and the mother of three, changed during the night of December 31, 2010. That evening, her jealous spouse attacked her with a firearm, severely injuring her in several places. She was pregnant, and the baby died instantly.

Doctors have performed two surgeries. She needs one more to repair the bullet wound to her liver.

She welcomed our visit, and we performed the beautiful sacrament of laying on of hands for the sick. We anointed her with oil and prayed over her. The Holy Spirit touched us all deeply.

That day was special for her. Not only were we able to pray, but we bought needed medicine to calm her pain. This Oblation ministry complemented our work there.

This young woman now is recuperating at home. She anticipates readmission soon for her follow-up surgery.

My brothers and sisters, the Lord is sending us to distant places to bring comfort and hope to those in need. Remember, you are important in these efforts, and it is through your support that we can help many.





God’s Grace Is Sufficient

26 04 2011

by RON M. WOOD, Cape Coral, Florida, USA

I sat across the kitchen table of some dear friends, playing a game. During our conversation, it came out the husband felt his wife’s medical problems were because of his transgressions—in particular his love for an occasional beer.

We began to talk about Jesus and why the world was such a mess. He said it was because people did not have Jesus in their lives.

I asked, “Do you believe Jesus died on the cross for your sins?”

“Yes.”

So I asked, “Totally?”

“Yes.”

I then asked if Jesus died for only a portion of our sins. “Is it possible he only died for a select part of humanity and not all, or that maybe his death accounted for certain sins and not others?”

He replied that Jesus’ death was for all of our sins—past, present, and future.

It was the right answer. Yet many of us, including my friend, shortchange Jesus. We think our issues are much bigger than Jesus’ sacrifice, and they are not worthy of being accounted for through the cross.

But Jesus’ ultimate gift, his sacrifice, covers every sin, every problem, every circumstance. Yet we sometimes believe an individual act or deed might be an exception.

As I looked at my brother, I could sense his pain. It was as if invisible shackles held him. He knew what Jesus did for him, but he could not apply it to his circumstance.

So I asked: “If Jesus died for all of our sins…why are you holding onto something you feel he is incapable of forgiving you for? And further, why are you torturing yourself over a matter in which Jesus never would hold you accountable?”

Section 163 tells the church to generously share the sacraments. Baptism is one way to bring someone closer to the Lord and set them on a course of newness.

In this case, my friend had been baptized, but then he subscribed to a limited Jesus.

If we believe Jesus was the Son of God and that he was born, died, and arose again, then we simply must believe he is bigger than the issues we confront.

This world does not need a limited Jesus. Instead, we have one who rises from the tomb, freeing us from our oppression. We worship a risen Lord who did the unthinkable in ways that are unimaginable.

God’s grace is not only sufficient, it is complete.





Praying with the Soul

25 04 2011

by KATHY SHOCKLEY, Spiritual Formation Team

The fourth dimension of prayer comes from the soul. Our soul is our direct connection to God. It is that piece of God that gives us life. It is the breath of God, which transforms us from dust into a living soul.

And I, the Lord God, formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.—Genesis 2:8 IV

To pray with the soul is to tap into the Divine within us and use it to reach to its source, God. Christ lived in perpetual spiritual connection with God as shown when he said:

Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me. —John 14:11 NRSV

How do we know when we have contacted the Divine? How do we discern between our own desires and God’s?

In Paul’s letter to the Galatians he lists the fruits of the Spirit, in other words, what God feels like. Paul had recognized that when we are aligned with God, the Spirit stirs our soul, increasing certain qualities that we feel. By naming those qualities, he gives us an important tool. He gives us a spiritual compass.

…The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.—Galatians 5:22–23 NRSV

As we align ourselves with God our soul resonates with the qualities of God. When the Holy Spirit touches our spirit, the fruits of the Spirit grow within us, and we take on the Christ-like life a little more fully.

For this exercise of praying with the soul create a worshipful space. Use something that symbolizes your soul, such as the flame of a candle. Assume a prayer posture with arms open and palms up. Breathe slowly and deeply. Select one of the spiritual fruits. As you breathe, imagine it expanding within you. Ask God to help you experience it as Christ experienced it.

Do this for each quality until you experience all nine. You may want to spread this exercise across several days, focusing on one or two during each prayer time.

Take a bit of time after praying with each spiritual fruit to reflect on what you felt during your prayer. Here are a few questions to help you:

  • What was your experience of each “fruit of the Spirit”? Was it strong or weak? 
  • Which ones come naturally? Which are struggles?
  • When have you experienced an increase in this spiritual quality before? At the time did you recognize the experience as God stirring your soul?

Finish your prayer time with a benediction: God of my soul, thank you for the work you have done in me today. Live in me more fully each day until I am full and overflowing with your love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. As in Christ, so in me. Amen.





The Power of Invitation

23 04 2011

by KRIS JUDD, Canada/Pacific Mission Field missionary coordinator

Belína Hio was a humble woman, barely willing to look me in the eye when I met her that morning.

Her congregation, Huahine, on Tubuai Island in French Polynesia, hosted our breakfast that day, as well as the evening service and class. The meal was filling, though simple, and we were greeted as honored guests.

My Tahitian was limited to a few words. So with the help of a friend and fellow missionary, Tahia Lee, I greeted the woman and introduced myself. She said she was not a member, but rather a “friend of the church.”

When I asked how long she had been a “friend,” she told me she’d been with the church 20 years.

I was surprised, and without thinking I asked if she would like to be baptized. Her response was immediate. Without pausing, she replied, “Yes.” I offered her a baptism that day but she said she needed to talk with her husband first.’

I was afraid she was being kind and had just wanted to please me with her response, so I did not say anything more. Later that night, she came to me and told me she truly wanted to be baptized. She had waited so long because she was not married to the man she lived with, though they were committed to one another. She did not feel worthy of baptism.

The next morning, I was thrilled to hear that not only would my friend be baptized, she also would marry her companion of 20 years. One invitation, quickly offered and readily accepted will lead to two sacraments in the lives of this family and congregation.

The power is in the invitation.





Film Uplifts Sacredness of Creation

21 04 2011

by BRAD A. MARTELL, Peace and Justice Ministries

In 2008, I saw the premier of the documentary, Renewal: Stories from America’s Religious-Environmental Movement, and I excitedly waited for the DVD to be released.

The film quickly filled my mind with ideas for use in my ministry. For me, it’s an invaluable resource, and I hope it will be for you and your congregation, too.

Renewal is a 90-minute film of eight inspiring stories. They show how faith communities are addressing today’s environmental challenges.

One story tells how Christians are seeking to prevent mountaintop removal in Appalachia. Another shares how Muslims are building relationships between urban communities and sustainable farms during Ramadan. A third is about a Jewish learning center that teaches kids about environmentalism and their Jewish tradition.

In addition, beautiful scenic nature meditations separate each story. The film was made to:

  • Engage people of faith in organized and individual environmental action.
  • Foster interfaith dialogue about environmental stewardship.
  • Break down barriers between secular environmentalists and people of faith.

I have used the film for youth retreats and camps, the Peace and Justice Ministries course at Community of Christ Seminary, and Peace Colloquy workshops. I recommend it for adult and youth church-school classes and congregational and mission center gatherings.

It is full of practical ideas for congregations to cultivate ecumenical and interfaith relationships in their communities and live out the Enduring Principle of sacredness of creation.

EARTH DAY
The date is April 22. Host a Renewal film night at your church. Invite family, friends, neighbors, and other congregations and faiths. Then move forward in faith and action! To learn more, visit www.renewalproject.net.





It Was Not up to Me to Judge

19 04 2011

by MARTI RESCH, Independence, Missouri

My friend, Tom, was serving a life sentence for murder when I met him. He always claimed he was innocent. Contrary to what you might think, that is not common.

Most people in prison admit guilt at some point. Tom, a former pastor, didn’t. Instead he wrote two books. One was titled In the Shadow of Joseph. It is a series of letters Tom wrote to another minister during incarceration. He wrote:

You and others have compared my situation with that of Joseph in the Old Testament. I, too, am prone to look at Joseph sometimes as a contrast, sometimes as a comparison. Joseph’s life was more difficult than mine and I often fall short of his strength of character. I admire Joseph as a phenomenal man of faith to be imitated, whether in or out of prison.

I seek the kind of determined, enduring faith that Joseph displayed as we look at the highs and lows of his lifetime. I can identify closely with Joseph. There are dangers here. I have fears, but like Joseph, my greatest fear is that I will be forgotten. Joseph was released, and I have believed that the Lord will work for the good of many and that I will wait for the day to be released and the Promise of Christ to restore me.

It was not up to me to judge Tom’s guilt or innocence. But one night when I traveled to the prison for our weekly meeting, we had a deep, two-hour conversation. It was about Tom, his alleged crime, and how he dealt with it.

I told him that only he and God knew for sure. But from what I had observed I thought he would be a good risk for parole.
  
For the most part, prisons don’t release anyone unless they admit their guilt. After over 20 years, Tom was released. He has been free for several years now. He has done fine except for finding a meaningful job.

He is happy, he is free. And he continues to help those he left behind the prison walls.





Finding Compassion Behind the Walls

18 04 2011

by MARTI RESCH, Independence, Missouri

Because of my long volunteer history in prison, I wanted to complete my degree. I dreamed of one day working in a prison. Toward the end of my career at AT&T I finished degrees in criminal justice and addiction studies.

Not long after being downsized, my opportunity came. The Kansas Department of Corrections hired me as the volunteer coordinator at the prison in Lansing, Kansas. My office was with the chaplain. We had 350 volunteers, and my joy was to coordinate and train them.

My first Wednesday morning on the job, I looked out the window of my office. My view was of the prison wall with razor wire on the top. We were four floors up with no elevator.
At ground level directly below me was the chow hall. I could see the entrance to B-cell house across the way. A guard was smoking at the entrance of the cell house, and a couple of inmates were talking.

Then I noticed a young man edging his way down the ramp. He was stooped, and his legs were bent. He used a walker. He went so slowly—it took him 10 minutes to go a short distance.
A strong inmate came up to him, took the walker, and flung it over the railing to the sidewalk below. My first reaction was, “What are you doing, he can’t even stand without that walker!”

I had my hand on the window to open it and call for help when I noticed what the strong inmate really was doing. He picked up the young man and carried him to the chow hall.
At this, my thoughts changed to “he ain’t heavy, he’s my brother!” Prison is not a place you normally think of seeing compassion.
At this moment, it didn’t matter that they were in prison, that one was black and the other white, one was weak and the other strong. The strong inmate simply carried his brother, who could not carry himself.

I am sure at that moment both of those men felt a healing spirit. It might not happen often enough, but compassion exists behind the walls. I saw it daily!





Resurrection—Witnessing a Transformation

11 04 2011

By GREG SAVAGE, estate and financial planning

In 2006, as the new pastor at the Stone Church in Independence, Missouri, I went through the membership list and came across an out-of-town address: Moberly Correctional Center, Moberly, Missouri.

Checking Google maps, I discovered it was about 30 miles north of Columbia, Missouri, just off U.S. 24 with no Community of Christ presence. I asked others in the office who this person was. They said, “He is in prison for abusing his child.”

That answer piqued my interest because I had spent 10 years as a director of foster care services for a private, nonprofit agency in Kansas City, Kansas. Each day of those years I dealt with abused, battered, and abandoned children, and often their parents, social workers, and other related services.

I wanted to meet Jay. I wrote a letter of introduction and asked if he was interested in communicating. He responded immediately and sent an application form for visiting clergy. Once I received clearance through the bureaucratic channels, we began monthly visits that continued until his February 2011 release.

The prison had a large, common visitation room. Among the crowd, we found each other. We talked about our families and ourselves.

Jay had many questions about what was going on at Stone Church, with Seekers (the Open Arms Congregation in Independence), and throughout the World Church. He talked about the charges that led to his prison sentence, the impact on his life, and classes he took to help him control his anger and behavior. We talked until the room’s blinking lights signaled the end of visitation.

Recommitting to Christ

This young man already was experiencing transformation before my visits. Tony and Charmaine Chvala-Smith set the foundation with their visits while he was at the Crossroads Correctional Center in Cameron, Missouri. They also started a pattern of sharing the sacrament of Communion. I continued offering this ministry because of its importance in Jay’s spiritual life.

Most of our three- to four-hour visits focused on religious and social issues affecting the church. Toward the end of each visit, I opened the Communion kit to prepare the emblems.

We sometimes reflected on a theme from our discussion, or I might share a message from the previous Sunday as preparation. I offered the prayers on the bread and wine, and we ate and drank, reflecting on what Christ was doing in our lives.

One month, I replaced the cracked plastic wine vial with a glass one. When I got to the first prison checkpoint, the guard reminded me of the rule against anything glass. So instead of grape juice that visit, I poured soda into our cups, and we celebrated the Lord’s Supper. I reminded Jay that God looks at the intent and attitude of our hearts, rather than the form or symbolic elements used for Communion.

It is my testimony that during these last couple of years, this young man has changed. Jay has moved away from a self-centered, “it’s all about me” attitude. He engaged in the struggle to discover how to use his talents effectively in service to others.

Using the We Share document (www.CofChrist.org/discernment/weshare), Jay was inspired to write music and lyrics for new songs. He sent the compositions to the Hymnal Committee. He also wrote a drama that expresses the need for our faith to be more inclusive of marginalized and left-out people in society.

He offered valuable suggestions for the new resource, Prison Ministries: A Guide to Resources (www.CofChrist.org/peace/PrisonMinistry.pdf).

Restoring Community

I am concerned that even though Jay has changed his attitude and behavior, others may not recognize the changes. People in the community, and some in the church, will see only his previous behaviors, attitude, and conviction.

To help overcome these images of difference, I firmly believe the restorative-justice programs can help. These programs offer opportunities for people to own their past criminal behavior and explain how they have changed.

Restorative-justice meetings can help people understand their behavior has affected not only the victims but their immediate families. The behavior also affects the church and community. The purpose is to explain, understand, learn, forgive, and eventually restore the community.

To “Be vulnerable to divine grace” (Doctrine and Covenants 163:10b) is what restoration is all about.





Resurrection—Now I Know

9 04 2011

By OTIS HARDY,
retired World church Minister

I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.—Matthew 25:36 NRSV

A woman who knew me from 1979 was my motivation to write this article. My wife and I were invited to Burlington, North Carolina, in 2001 to provide ministry at a Baptist church. After I shared my testimony, an elderly woman walked up to my wife and me.

“You probably don’t remember me,” she said. To my surprise, I didn’t. She continued, “I was the woman who testified against you.” Then she said, “Now I know God can change anyone.”
She kissed me on my cheek and walked away.

I thank God and Community of Christ (my church family) for giving me the opportunity to make a better person of myself and giving me another chance to change my path in life.
In 1979 I went to prison with double life sentence for robbery without a gun.

My eligibility for parole wasn’t going to come up until 2069. In 1998, I started attending Community of Christ inside prison walls. Without knowing, I began to change.

I met Elder Don Elliot from the Cary Congregation in North Carolina. He asked if I would attend his congregation. He explained the members’ efforts to begin prison ministry and wondered if I would be interested in getting involved. I was released from prison on February 15, 2000. Ever since, my wife and I have been heavily committed to Community of Christ throughout the community we serve.
I want to share with you about the importance of prison ministry, because like me, many souls in prison (some church members) are blinded by things they’ve done. They have the mentality of loners and outcasts.

Some may feel God abandoned and rejected them. Some may think no one is there to help them find God.

But prison ministry can help them. It can guide women and men to find God and change their outlook in life.