Why I Follow Jesus

31 05 2011

by CARLOS ENRIQUE MEJIA, Council of Twelve Apostles

Many times, people find themselves weighed down, tired, and overwhelmed. And they don’t know how to change their situation.

The scriptures hold a marvelous invitation from Christ to help alleviate this, but you know something? Many of us ignore that call, that invitation to follow Jesus and find rest and joy in him.

Personally I follow Jesus for many reasons.

Twenty-eight years ago I was in a very difficult situation, and I couldn’t share it with anyone. I was doing things that were destroying me, little by little. I was involved in a world of drugs. I started using when I was 11 years old, and I found myself unable to stop. I had to wrestle with this on my own because I didn’t know there was someone who could help me escape and restore my life.

In 1984 a missionary seventy came to my town to start a congregation. This man and his wife invited my now-deceased brother to church. Back then, we worked at a bakery that we had.

One day my brother, Ramos Salvador Mejia, became gravely ill. The missionary came to our house and explained the sacrament of laying on of hands for the sick. A miracle occurred in Ramos’ life. Something extraordinary happened in our family, which was stunned to see his healing. Something especially happened to me as I saw a light of hope for my own problem.

I didn’t hesitate to accept the invitation to go church and heed the call of Christ. I asked with all my heart that if he was real to heal me of my drug addiction. I promised to follow and serve him if he would help me. I gave my life to Christ, and what I asked for came to me. Everything changed.

My wife, Carmen, and I began a direct experience with God. We put God in the center of our relationship, and we have been blessed with two daughters.

Carmen Eloisa, a journalist, married Ronald Urbina in August 2010, and this July they will make me a happy grandfather! Our other daughter, Karla Corina, is single and a lawyer. She is a priest and a part of the praise ministry, “SION,” of San Pedro Sula.

In Christ and in this church I have found what I did not have and what I didn’t know existed. Today I am a happy man. I have many reasons to follow and serve Jesus and my brothers and sisters in the Central and South America Field, and wherever else God sends me.

Jesus and my family are the main supports for my ministry. Without their help I could not do this beautiful work, which I love. Every day it makes me feel responsible, and I always want to give the best of myself so that I can accomplish the purpose for which I was called…the good of others.

As for you, what is your motive for following Jesus? Tell it to your friends at school, at work, in your neighborhood, wherever you go. If you do this, you will help others find what I was lacking and what I found in Jesus.


The Dream of McGowan’s Lake

28 05 2011

by LARRY GALBRAITH, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

RVA volunteers provide many skills in completing work on shower and toilet facilities.

The Community of Christ RV Association became part of an ever-expanding dream at McGowan’s Lake Campgrounds in 2010.

The group’s volunteers provided the expertise and manpower to complete a full shower and toilet facility. The work enabled many more people to attend and join in God’s ministry. The campground no longer is for Community of Christ members alone. It is open to other people and other needs as God directs and opens doors.

The work lasted three weeks as association volunteers labored side-by-side with church members and nonmembers.

It was the latest development in a setting that church members dreamed of more than 60 years ago. At that time, people from the Ottawa Branch had to travel more than 700 miles to attend the nearest reunion at Eerie Beach Campground on Lake Erie. They prayed to find land closer to develop for reunion experiences for eastern Ontario and beyond.

Their prayers were answered with the purchase of land on McGowan’s Lake in Maberly, Ontario, Canada. Work started in the mid-1950s. By the mid-’60s, McGowan’s had become a “tent city.”

Members from Ottawa, Montreal, Cornwall, Kingston, and Belleville gathered to clear land, hold Sunday school picnics, and dig wells. They also organized a full reunion agenda with preaching services in a natural, outdoor chapel. It featured a huge rock that served as a choir loft.

Leaders bought a World War II airplane hangar from the Ottawa airport for use as the first building in 1969. Workers assembled the steel, interlock Quonset hut by hand. With no power tools or cranes, they relied on muscle and hand-built scaffolding to lift the heavy panels. By the end of summer 1970, the building overlooked the lake.

In 1977, they added a chapel, bringing blessings and gifts to young and old alike. The promise has been given that as opportunity to grow arises, the finances and key people will be there to fulfill the dream.

McGowan’s Lake has seen this time and again. God bless each volunteer who has helped make the dream a reality. You have inspired us to move forward with zeal for the Lord’s work.

We Are Transforming

26 05 2011

by SERGIO JUAREZ, Los Angeles, California, USA

For nearly five decades Community of Christ members were without a church in downtown Los Angeles, California.

This was partly because of the closing of a church at 39th and Grand streets. I don’t know the reason it closed, but I know a new congregation is emerging nearby.

Thanks to the generosity of contributors, La Nueva Esperanza en Cristo now ministers in a place where Community of Christ ministered before. Our brothers and sisters accepted the invitation to give to the ministries that our church carries to different places. Often we receive people whose lives are deeply wounded, their spiritual journeys ignored.

It now is our congregation’s turn to transform the vision of church leaders into reality by inviting coworkers, neighbors, relatives, and classmates to visit us. Many youth have taken this to heart. One is Saira Juarez.

About two years ago she invited a classmate to a Young Peacemakers Club meeting. Later this guest, Ana, invited her younger sister, Irene. In turn, Irene started coming and invited her friend, Sandra. Sandra invited her younger sister, Yessenia. Yessenia invited her friend, Natalie. Natalie invited Nicole.

All of this happened through invitation. With other youth in the church, these girls have formed a strong bond. Besides attending Young Peacemakers Club, they come to Bible study weekly, and some attend worship services.

All of this happened because of the contributions and tithing of others. We strongly believe in Doctrine and Covenants 163:2b.

Generously share the invitation, ministries, and sacraments through which people can meet the Living Christ who heals and reconciles through redemptive relationships in sacred community. The restoring of persons to healthy or righteous relationships with God, others, themselves, and the earth is at the heart of the purpose of your journey as a people of faith.

Many are waiting to hear the redeeming words of the gospel. Some need to be lifted from hopelessness. Others need the helping hands of servants. They would be lost without the generous response of disciples who share from their bounty that others might know the joys of the kingdom.

These are the powers of sharing and inviting.

Love in Any Language

24 05 2011

Children’s Peace Pavilion director

Spring often evokes a wish in people to sort, create, and rejuvenate their lives. As spring bursts forth, I find myself reviewing this last school year and realizing it has been a busy time for the Children’s Peace Pavilion.

I assumed directorship of the pavilion in July 2010. August found the pavilion with an expanded and enriched vision, reduced staffing, and a budget designed to provide fiscal stability.

This was a busy time as families, neighborhood groups, and private schools rushed to tour the pavilion.

During late October and early November, the Community of Christ RV Association refurbished the exhibits, prepared several areas for new displays, and completed some remodeling.

Outreach International, a humanitarian organization affiliated with Community of Christ, developed a display featuring African and Philippine villages for the museum’s Peace for Everyone area. Bryce Veazey, co-founder of Major Oak Productions, created and produced new, exciting, and enticing DVDs. As the new year rolled around, a new display of role models from around the world expanded the children’s understanding of peace.

Guests come from public, private, and charter schools; early childhood centers; faith-based groups; and Girl Scout troops. Families, neighborhood groups, and home-schooled children drop in daily.

The pavilion’s interactive displays teach children life skills that will help in their peacemaking journey. The exhibits introduce the four elements of peace: Peace for Me, Peace for Us, Peace for Everyone, and Peace for the Planet.

Peace for Me helps children discover the wonder, beauty, and worth within themselves, where peace begins. Peace for Us explores daily relationships, stressing cooperation, communication, and conflict resolution. Peace for Everyone encourages peace among groups and includes cultural appreciation and diversity. Peace for the Planet addresses stewardship, care, and appreciation for the earth.

The pavilion focuses on shalom for all of creation.

As I watch the reactions of the children and adults, I am convinced the pavilion is a necessary ministry for the world. It helps us fulfill our calling found in Doctrine and Covenants 161:2a:

Become a people of the Temple—those who see violence but proclaim peace, who feel conflict yet extend the hand of reconciliation, who encounter broken spirits and find pathways for healing.

One Saturday, as a Girl Scout troop viewed the conflict-resolution video Stop, Think, Peace. A middle-school student blurted, “I could have used this before I started a fight at school this quarter!”

Other students at the Children’s Peace Pavilion talked about using this conflict-resolution method with siblings and parents. As the children complete the exhibits, you hear voices say, “Stop, think, peace.” It’s a contrast from arguments, name-calling, frustration, and teachers’ raised voices.

When parents or grandparents bring children to the pavilion, the young ones scoot away from their parents, rushing to the displays. When they return, you hear, “Wow, this is neat! Come on, let’s go make a picture!”

The immediate impact is clear as you watch children—from urban core or suburban areas—complete the displays.

It’s also clear when you see a quiet, shy child grow in self-assurance and confidence. As the two hours pass you see such children become free to express their opinions as they work with a team to complete tasks.

Just a few days ago, a small family came for a return visit. They had given their child a list of 10 things she could pick to do that morning. Her quick and repeated response was to go back to the pavilion.

The children leave with broad smiles, shining eyes, and love on their faces. They chant, “I wanna be a peacemaker in my home, in my school, in my neighborhood, and in my world.”

It is with renewed confidence that we watch the impact of the pavilion on the children who are our future.

Share Jesus

21 05 2011

by LYNN BRADY, Chicago, Illinois, USA

I’ve had many opportunities to share why I live for Jesus Christ.

When sharing why I go to church, I tell people the church building is the physical representation, and Christians are the spiritual representation of Jesus Christ. As a believer of Jesus Christ, I am confident in witnessing to others.

John 4:7–26 gives us Jesus’ example of how to share our faith. In the scripture Jesus spoke to the woman at the well when she was alone. I often find people are more open and honest when alone. When Jesus began witnessing to the woman, she was truthful in her responses, but not remorseful.

Similarly, when I speak with people, I let them know they can tell me anything, but God knows all. Sometimes that enables me to share another trait of Jesus (omnipresence). When I tell people Jesus sees all and knows all, I confirm my statement with a personal testimony of how Jesus has been with me throughout my life.

I realize that convincing someone Jesus is present and loves them can be a great challenge if they are unemployed, depressed, or without hope.

One day I met a classmate in a wheelchair. Tony wanted nothing to do with Jesus and anyone associated with him. Tony was bitter and angry at God, but I continued to testify that God was good.

I told Tony that God wasn’t punishing him. Rather, God loved him, even if he couldn’t see it. I told him God gave his son, Jesus, to die for us so we could live eternally with God. I challenged Tony to think about being killed for someone he didn’t know.

Of course, he thought it was crazy. And there was my opportunity to share Jesus’ story.

I often share about Jesus’ crucifixion and his love. The sacrifice of his life is the basis of my faith, my unflinching reliance on God. According to Hebrews 9:22 (NRSV):

Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.

And without the Resurrection there would be no promise of eternal life. The cross is a symbol of Christianity. As a Christian I am compelled to tell people the meaning of the cross and its value in my faith. I own a cross necklace. I occasionally wear it as a tangible reminder of Jesus’ sacrifice and a tool that provides opportunities to share about Jesus.

I accept that my purpose is to bring others to Christ, and that involves reflecting the quality of Christ in and through my life.

In If You Want to Walk on Water, You’ve Got to Get Out of the Boat, John Ortberg writes:

Knowing when to get out of the boat and take a risk does not only demand courage; it also demands the wisdom to ask the right questions, the discernment to recognize the voice of the Master and the patience to wait for his command.

Well, I’ve gotten out of the boat. I’ve heard the Master’s voice. And I‘v e prayerfully listened to his command.

Further, Doctrine and Covenants 163:11b tells us:

There are many issues that could easily consume the time and energy of the church. However, the challenge before a prophetic people is to discern and pursue what matters most for the journey ahead.

I accept the challenge to pursue what matters most for the journey ahead, and that it is to share Jesus.

Listen for the Song of God’s Voices

19 05 2011

by LAURIE GORDON, Spiritual Formation Team

The morning is still and gently yellow with sunshine. A faint breeze rustles the leafy canopy. I anchor my wandering mind by listening intently, counting the variety of twitters, whistles, warbles, and trills. At least 10 bird species share this moment.

Some calls are easy to identify, like the scolding burr of an Anna’s hummingbird as it sips nectar in my flower garden, or the flurried peeping of bushtits foraging in the tree overhead. Some songs are less familiar; in this morning’s symphony is a solitary whistler whose rising and falling inflections I cannot place. And some voices are missing; I long to hear a mourning dove, whose haunting lament stirs my heart with intimations of God.

Hidden nuances in this avian chorus signal alien intentions I barely can grasp. So, too, God sounds infinite love everywhere and all the time in strange and unexpected tones that go unrecognized. Sifting through the noisy cacophony of competing voices in my life, I wonder: What does God’s voice sound like?

Consider Elijah. He cowers inside a dark mountaintop cave, desperate for God’s voice. He listens for it in fierce winds, but the breath of God is not howling in the storm. He listens for it in the earthquake but, no, the Divine Mover of Creation is not rumbling in splitting rocks. He listens for it in the fire, but again, no, the God of the Burning Bush is not in the crackling flames.

Then the world goes still.

In the depths of inner darkness, Elijah hears God in the “sound of sheer silence” (I Kings 19:12, NRSV). Unexpected, indeed.

The birder in me likes to think God sings, rather than merely speaks, to us—and not so much one-pitch vocalizations as multilayered harmonies. If God sings to us in tones of inner stillness and the sheer silence between words, how are we word-bound creatures to discern God’s melodies? If God calls us amid the complex symphony of life experience, how are we to intuit the divine invitation?

Like a birder identifying birds, or Elijah seeking God’s voice, we listen, we pay attention to what we hear (and don’t hear), and then we listen even more deeply.

It is daunting to recognize meaning beyond the safe familiarity of words. It requires deep, constant attention to learn the identifying variations of pulse and tone in a bird’s song. It takes intention, awareness, study, practice, humble patience, and wise companions to discern the unfamiliar thoughts and ways of God’s living mystery.

As spiritual seekers we listen for the sheer sound of God’s silence in the complex cadences of life. We examine the pitch, rhythm, tempo, and quality of our experiences. We pay attention to grace. We hear God calling in the desperation and sorrow of others, as well as in the joys of life and shared community.

Listen! God is singing God’s great love for you, and for all creation.

Always a Singing People

17 05 2011

Kansas City, Missouri, USA

Presiding Evangelist David Brock lifts his voice in song.

From our earliest days, singing hymns and songs has helped express our movement’s faith. We sing what we believe, and we believe what we sing. The two are intertwined.

As part of the committee that selected hymns for the 1981 Hymns of the Saints, I was aware we were living in a time of change. The texts and tunes of the 1956 hymnal no longer were adequate to express current understandings. Some 30 years later and still a people of change, we again need to update our hymnody to express who we are today.

The hymnal in preparation (due for release in 2013) recognizes we are an international church. While remaining an English-language resource, its contents represent our diversity of languages and cultures. Yet this hymnal will be unifying, as members in many nations sing its rich variety of new and old hymns.

As I have visited congregations in several English-speaking countries, I have been heartened to see Hymns of the Saints in the pews. This quickly reminds me I am in “my” church. This is reinforced as we sing together for worship.

As 2013 draws closer, congregations will want to plan to buy this exciting resource. It will bear our name: Community of Christ. It will witness of who we are and who we are becoming.As yet untitled and covered in a color still undecided, this hardbound book of about 600 hymns and songs will cost no more than $25. Consider how much use our members and friends will get from this modest expenditure—surely many times what we usually get from a book of similar cost that is read once and then shelved or discarded. And what a potential to witness of who we are as Community of Christ!

Plan to buy enough copies to fit your dreams of growth. Include this cost in your congregational budget, or challenge each active member to buy two copies: one for the congregation plus one to keep at home. Please visit http://www.CofChrist.org/hymnal for more details about congregational budgeting and project description.

This will be the fourth major hymnal representing a significant journey from the time I learned to play the hymns from the 1933 Saints Hymnal as a child. I can’t wait to play the new hymns in 2013, and even more to sing them together in worship!