Why I Follow Jesus

30 07 2011

Jim Slauterby Jim Slauter, Council of Twelve Apostles

Twenty-four years ago I left my veterinary profession and responded to a sense of call to become an appointee minister. After a year of seminary the church assigned me to the Florida Region.

I was rewarded by wonderful relationships that developed with strangers who shared a love for God, Jesus Christ, and the church. My sense of God’s call to full-time ministry deepened as I served alongside people whose faithful discipleship and humble servant ministry taught me what it means to be a true follower of Jesus.

Their acceptance of my leadership ministry with all of its weaknesses was then and continues to be a mystery. For me, it fits only under the all-encompassing umbrella of God’s grace!

In the spring of 1996 I was called to the Council of Twelve Apostles. Again, feelings of inadequacy and questions of self worth overwhelmed me. But I received confirmation of the divinity of my call through my prayerful discernment and the testimonies of others.

I was assigned to the Great Lakes Field and again began a journey with God and those I served alongside, seeking to discover what it means to be an apostle of Jesus Christ.

One summer as the sun was setting over the Detroit skyline, I remember sitting on the banks of the Detroit River and confessing to God that I could not do what I thought was expected of me. “It’s just too big!”

Suddenly, God’s Spirit spoke to me, “Yes Jim, you are absolutely right! It is too big!” I wanted to jump and yell—“I knew it! It is too big.”

But before I could respond, the Holy Spirit spoke again. “It is too big, but I do not expect you to do it alone! Do not forget there are others who have walked this path before, and there are faithful disciples who desire to walk with you. Join them in bearing affirmative testimony of my Son and my peaceable kingdom!”

This encounter was transformative and inspiring.

My journey as an apostle of Jesus has blessed me with opportunities for sharing my witness of God’s unconditional love and shalom in more than 50 countries. Each nation, culture, and tribe has welcomed me, accepted my ministry (and human weaknesses), and let me listen to their stories of transformation. In those stories I have discovered and continue to discover what it means to be an apostolic witness of Jesus.

Recently I shared in worship during my last meeting with the International Leadership Council before my retirement and release from the Council of Twelve Apostles.

I invited my sisters and brothers on the Council of Twelve to join me on the Temple stage as I shared appreciation for our church leaders from around the world.

Looking into the faces of the faithful disciples in front of us, I was reminded the challenge to embody the mission of Jesus Christ “is too big.” It is too big for any person, congregation, or faith community! However, we have been reminded again and again that God is with us, and God is at work in our world.

God has called us to join in sacred signal communities that embrace and embody the mission of Jesus. We all are called to be apostolic witnesses of Christ’s peace. Praise be to God!





A Steadfast Faith

27 07 2011

by Joey Williams, Translations

At the risk of sounding cheesy…my mother is an amazing woman! But I must admit, my perception of her has changed greatly over the years.

While there are many things since childhood I always admired about my mother, I now realize there are just as many things I learned to admire. And with summer camps here, I am reminded of the thing I admire most: her steadfast commitment, especially to our youth.

Not only has she served at many youth camps, she has maintained a relationship with those youth and mentored many into adulthood. The same can be said of the many youth groups she has led. And through it all, she has maintained an unwavering conviction in the faith and presence of Jesus Christ.

And she’s funny. Of course we don’t let her know this. We give her the usual “you don’t have jokes mom, so don’t try” line, but every once in a while she gets in a really good one. Like at the 1998 National Youth Workers Convention in Denver, Colorado.

My mother had been honored among 3,500 youth workers as having devoted the most years to youth leadership. (Whoa! And that was a long time ago.)

Anyway, the convention director asked how many years she had served as a youth leader. My mother (in her usual, shy, reserved manner) proudly shouted the astonishing number from her place on the bleachers.

Murmured approval swept through the crowd, and the director, with an astonished look, said, “Wow! Was Jesus in your youth group?” This brought a roar of clapping and laughter from the crowd. It became even livelier when my mother, without hesitation, shouted back, “He still is!”

That’s what it takes—a steadfast faith. No matter what our roles may be, we must keep God’s commandments, keep our commitments, keep holding onto that steadfast faith, knowing God will have our backs in everything we do.

That is the kind of faith that keeps the deacon in the church long after the crowd has left, making sure everything is in its place. That’s the kind of faith that helps us hold our head up every day in a society where our children are not always safe.

That’s the kind of faith that keeps the youth worker going year after year, without burnout, knowing beyond all doubt that no matter if everything is running smooth, or feels like it might fall apart…God has been. God is. And God always will be…in that camp, in that congregation, and in that youth group.





Can You Feel the Change?

25 07 2011

by Jerry W. Nieft, Blue Springs, Missouri, USA

Something new and transformative is happening in the world—something that gives hope despite the many local and global problems that confront us each day.

This “something” is subtle, yet widespread evidence shows it is emerging in many cultures. My wife and I find examples daily and point them out to one another.

We notice acts of compassion; gifts of grace; unexpected generosity; steadfast, unconditional love; genuine forgiveness; surprising healings; boundless creativity. They’re all signs of people awakening to the Spirit, awakening to the vast potential God has placed in each one. It is especially encouraging that young children are serving humanity. They’re succeeding, substantively and powerfully, where adults have not.

What is happening?

In recent years consensus has grown among researchers in disciplines ranging from religion to the sciences. It shows we are on the cusp of a spiritual awakening. It’s of a magnitude not experienced since the great change in human consciousness caused by new agriculture and settled city life at the dawn of recorded history.

We are on the brink of exploring our spiritual potential at a depth and breadth that suggest joy, hope, love, and peace are not only possible, but emerging on multiple horizons as we open to the Holy Spirit.

Individuals are responding to serve the needs of the world and its people. This looks and sounds like sacred community, something we seek to incarnate in our Christian discipleship.

Recent scripture declares our journey of transformation travels inward and outward. Jesus’ ministry insisted on the importance of a healthy, integrated inner life to gain positive transformation in daily living. The inward journey takes time and deliberate practice to yield the fruits of spirit that transform. Many people suspect this in their inner knowing when they seek spiritual nurture, rather than institutional religion.

Jesus provides keys to the way of abundant life. He says if we ask, seek, or knock at the threshold of life, he will answer. Let’s explore, discover, experiment, commit, and serve. He is showing us the way to be a transformative communion of disciples, Community of Christ.

As a faith community, we are poised, uniquely called, and positioned to be prophetic and transformative. We can join in the greatest awakening yet—experiencing the palpable presence and companionship of God on our journey together as disciples, servants, and stewards of creation.
Paul perhaps glimpsed our time when he said in 1 Corinthians 2:9 IV:

Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.

The day is dawning for us to awaken to God’s kingdom emerging before us and in us! What an adventure!





Retreat

22 07 2011

by Edith Gallaher, Spiritual Formation Team

About a year ago I bought my childhood home. It is in a rural, unpopulated area with woods and hills surrounding it.

I took most of the year having the place remodeled. I spent hours painting, scrubbing, decision-making, supervising, and traveling from one home to the other. It was exhausting and rewarding.

I knew from the beginning I wanted the place for family gatherings and for a get-away for me. I also felt like it would be involved someway in my ministry. I wasn’t sure how.

Slowly I began to dream of using the place for small retreats and started to develop ideas of what might occur and how. It felt right until I began to talk about it to others who might help and to those who might attend.

Then I heard a huge “Stop!” in my heart. As a group, we do some good work with workshops and instruction, but that was not what this place felt like it wanted to become. It called for a different sense of connection.

Through prayer and a little experimentation I began to sense a real need for true retreat. It feels now like this place is to be used exactly that way.

It is a sanctuary for those who need rest, renewal, and time to contemplate and pray. It is a space for those who want time to reconnect to the Spirit and again feel the breath of Christ. It is a place to remember the sacredness of creation. It is a place to again hear Jesus say, “Peace be with you.”

Jesus often went away to spend time alone and pray. When we take the time to be in nature, to release our schedules and busyness, we give ourselves a better chance of sensing and hearing the Spirit speak to us.

Take the opportunity to schedule some retreat time. Intentionally choose two or three days (or more, if possible) to leave your usual surroundings. Do not take work with you. Leave your computer at home, and turn off your cell phone. Don’t take an agenda other than just to “be.” Allow yourself periods of silence and “let the Spirit breathe.”

At the end of your time, journal about your experience and thank God for the time.





Initiatives Inspire International Group

20 07 2011

by Greg Clark, Integrated Communication

They exuded hope and trust, even while carrying stories of corruption in the Philippines, intolerance in Australia, and hardship in Haiti.

The stories dealt with just one of the mission initiatives—Abolish Poverty, End Suffering—introduced in April by church President Steve Veazey.

Each of the four other initiatives discussed May 9–12 at the International Leaders Council in Independence, Missouri, also brought a raft of stories. All focused on the mission of Christ.

“The Spirit that compelled Jesus Christ is calling Community of Christ…,” President Veazey said. “Mission initiatives…are the most-important ministries of the church that keep us faithful to who Jesus was and is.

“Initiatives identify what the church should focus on if it’s going to be a foretaste of the great banquet being prepared for all of us, the reign of God. These five priorities…help make sure our approach as a church is balanced, holistic, and complete.”

The four-day event at the Temple brought together roughly 90 people—church officers, leaders, and ministers from various nationalities and ethnicities.

They left after strengthening relationships, learning more about the initiatives, and leaving many comments and suggestions for a grateful First Presidency.

They worshiped, studied, talked, played, and ate together. Through the week they stretched their understandings of each other while exploring different views and cultures.

Sometimes it was hard. For example, a few people said the initiative to Abolish Poverty, End Suffering wasn’t specific enough or was too ambitious.

Others offered clarity. Francisco Trevino, a pastor and missionary coordinator from Coastal Bend USA Mission Center, cited a food bank in Houston. Its giant sign says, “End Hunger.”

“I know the food bank is not going to end hunger, but it will do what it can in its mission,” Trevino said. “We say we are going to abolish poverty and end suffering. We don’t have all the resources to make that a reality in this moment.

“But we can do something about it. We can do something in our communities. We can do something in our circles of influence. We can make a difference…with the little or much we have. What we cannot do, is do nothing.”

Others supported his opinion:

  • Robert Adie, president of the Kenya Mission Centre: “No matter how deep (the problem) we must start with a step or an initiative.”
  • Mark Euritt, apostolic assistant in the Caribbean/Mexico/South Central USA Mission Field: “It doesn’t say we will accomplish that, but I hope it says we will be engaged to our dying breath.”
  • Luis Dias, president of seventy from Honduras: “Poverty doesn’t stop me from talking about the peace of Christ and the hope for Zion.”
  • Richard James, apostle for the Eurasia Mission Field: “As we engage in this issue we can get dirty. To me, we have to get involved in the dirty stuff. It’s not just the fluffy side of peacemaking.”

The other initiatives spurred similar discussions as council members broke into groups to talk about successful efforts and obstacles.

People representing an array of nations voiced support for the initiatives. Trevino wore a shirt that was orange, the color of informational materials, “because for me it was a way of saying I believe in the mission, even though I still have a lot of questions.”

Urbain Mbenga of the Democratic Republic of Congo called the initiatives a wake-up call. Ken Barrows of Australia said the Holy Spirit already is affirming the words.

Jennifer de Guzman of the Philippines said she hopes the initiatives “will take us further in proclaiming Jesus Christ and promoting communities of joy, hope, love, and peace.”

Carlos Orellana of El Salvador found another benefit.

“For a long time now we have had difficulty with the church identity, with all the changes coming about with doctrines and fundamental practices. There was an empty space.

“So I am very happy with the document…because it fills that hollow space and puts us on the right path to have strong convictions so we can carry out Christ’s mission.”





Experience Congregations in Mission—Equip Congregations for Christ’s Mission

18 07 2011

by Jane Gardner, High Priest Quorum president

In a small factory town there was a Community of Christ congregation that counted it a good Sunday when 25 attended worship. At one point in the not-too-distant past, this congregation was blessed with a dozen girls within a five-year age range.

The congregation decided to make these kids the priority—programmatically and budget-wise. It put on hold, deferred, or vacated other expenditures to fund this priority. For example, the congregation:

  • Made money from the budget available for every kid to go to camp, including friends they wanted to bring. Going to family camp was a tradition, and the congregation found ways for all the kids to be present, even if their families couldn’t attend.
  • Performed special fund-raising to help pay for charter bus trips to Nauvoo, Illinois, and to the Temple in Independence, Missouri.
  • Provided transportation for the kids to attend the mission center’s Young Peacemakers Club every month.

In addition, weekly worship services purposefully involved all ages. These kids were important to the annual Christmas service, starting at the church in worship and traveling to all the care facilities in town to bring ministry and sing Christmas carols.

One Sunday at an afternoon business meeting, my husband, the pastor, noticed more voting-age kids were present than adults. He commented to me that the kids could out-vote the adults!

During the election of congregational officers, a 10-year-old raised her hand and asked Bob, “What does a secretary do?” Bob launched into a description, but the girl quickly lost patience and said, “Oh, never mind.” On our drive home, we both returned to her question and realized deeper questions rested under the surface. Questions like: What can I do in the congregation? Where do I fit in?

Her question birthed the idea to apprentice each kid to a congregational leader. For three months, we assigned each girl to work with a particular person (pastor, financial officer, worship planner, pastoral care, etc.). We rotated the assignments each quarter for about two years.

Fast-forward several years. At World Conference, Bob and I were in the Conference Chamber when we heard our names shouted from the balcony. We saw a group of young women from that small congregation—attending World Conference! One had been to Korea with World Service Corps for a summer; another recently had been ordained; another went to Bolivia with World Service Corps for two years.

When she returned, this last woman found the factory town now had a large Spanish-speaking population. Building on her World Service Corps experience, she started an English as a Second Language program at the church. The congregation couldn’t help teach, but it committed to babysit for the children of students.

Within a few weeks, the congregation also decided to organize a Young Peacemakers Club. It was well-received by the kids and their parents.

What an interesting journey in mission for these young women and the congregation. The prioritization of these youth impacted the World Church, mission center, and congregation’s mission. Most importantly, in that town and around the globe, it transformed lives.





Develop Disciples to Serve—Equip Individuals for Christ’s Mission

16 07 2011

by Andrew Fox, British Isles Mission Centre

“Why don’t you travel home in Uncle Andrew’s car?” my sister, Amanda, said to my 9-year-old niece, Cara. Amanda then turned to me with a knowing smile and said, “She’s got some questions she wants to ask you.”

Shortly into the journey the first question came. “I’ll start with an easy one,” Cara said, “Can angels fly?”

I looked to my wife, Cheryl, sitting beside me in the passenger seat. She offered no help, so I mumbled some vague answer of my own. More questions followed, including, “Can you get married in heaven?” and “If we are all God’s children, are we as closely related to God as Jesus?”

I shared my personal beliefs to some of the questions. To others I responded, “I’m not sure; what do you think?” Finally Cara got to the end of her questions, and I breathed a sigh of relief.

Then she said, “Oh, I’ve got one more. What is God?”

I’ve thought a lot about that journey and Cara’s questions over recent weeks. The questions children ask as they ponder spiritual matters are important, and we should encourage them. We help children develop their discipleship as we engage them in discussion about the wonders of the world and its Creator. No question should be laughed off as trivial.

Our responses hopefully will help them to continue the journey of discipleship.

Jean, a loyal and dedicated member of the church for more than 50 years, never desired or expected to be a priesthood member. About two years ago I had the joyful experience of presenting Jean with a call to the office of priest. Following the first reaction of shock, she spent several weeks in prayer and discernment before contacting me to say, “If this is how God wants me to serve, then I am willing to accept.”

My heart leaped with joy.

Jean’s congregation has only a handful of members. Before her ordination, Jean’s husband, Roy, was the only active priesthood member.

Shortly after Jean’s ordination I visited in the homes of some members with Roy. Returning to Roy and Jean’s home we found Jean sitting at a table, surrounded by Bibles and other books.

“I’ll preach on Sunday, if it will help,” Jean said to Roy. I knew this was a leap of faith for Jean, one of the humblest people I know. This was stepping from her comfort zone to serve her husband, her congregation, and God.

A major goal of the mission initiatives is to “fulfill God’s ultimate vision as we help all ages deepen their discipleship.”

Cara and Jean are at very-different points in their life journeys of discipleship. I am thrilled to be part of a church that acknowledges the discipleship journeys of the young and not-so-young are of value and need to be supported and encouraged.





Pursue Peace on Earth—Christ’s Mission of Justice and Peace

14 07 2011

by Kathy Sharp, Greater Pacific Northwest USA Mission Center president

What happens to divided families when social services judge the parents as unfit?

While they work on their individual problems, parents are separated from their children. Often they can see their kids only weekly, in cold, bureaucratic offices among the same social workers who removed the children from the home. Of course, parents and children feel conflicted during these reunions.

This became important to Jammie Apodaca, a Co-Missioned Pastor Initiative (CPI) pastor, and her mother, Donna Garner. They began a serious discernment for their tiny, aging, and shrinking Ellensburg Congregation in central Washington. Jammie learned at CPI that dying congregations could reinvent themselves—but only if they threw away the rule book of BIG CHURCH, assessed their members’ passions and callings, and then sought to learn what mission God was calling them to.

At the time, six people typically attended Ellensburg’s weekly services.

Jammie and Donna knew they had a passion for family ministry—so they made an appointment with representatives from the Department of Social and Human Services, the agency that works with hurting families. “What can we do to help you?” Jammie and Donna asked.

The representatives were flabbergasted! No churches ever had come to them to ask how they could help! The agency quickly came up with a request to benefit their family clients.

“Can you offer your church…to allow for a neutral, supervised visiting space for our families? A place where parents and children can safely maintain their bonds and learn to become a family again?”

Jammie and Donna said yes. They began to clear out the “church furniture” and turn the area into a warm and inviting living room for families that need to heal.

Out went the pulpit on the raised rostrum. In came a comfy sofa, love seat, and end tables. Out went church chairs, lined up like soldiers in rigid rows facing frontward. In came round tables, seating in the round, and a wipe-board easel for preaching and teaching.

Encouraging, inspirational art—the kind you might hang in your own homes—covered the freshly repainted, soft-blue walls.

Today, the congregation serves families working their way from crisis back to unity. Members offer parenting classes—often for mothers and dads working through addiction issues. They preach the gospel of Christ in Thursday-night church. The café-style church houses newly baptized members and an ever-changing group of families and children, all working their way back to wholeness.

The peace of Jesus Christ is shared, and peace and justice for broken families is restored!





Abolish Poverty, End Suffering—Christ’s Mission of Compassion

12 07 2011

by Jim Poirier, apostolic assistant

Each of us has many stories about being present with others in the ministry of Oblation. And many of us, as appointees, have stories about how our life’s profession or calling affects families, our children, and spouses.

Some stories are joyous. Others are filled with pain, loneliness, and separation. Some in this room have experienced the joy and pain of being a child of an appointee. Some have left the church only to return and recommit to a renewed calling.

This story is about one of many left behind. It is about a daughter who grew up in the church in a different time and who alienated herself from the church and her family. It is a story about Oblation meeting a need and through that ministry providing an opportunity to be heard and counted as a member of Community of Christ.

Growing up was not easy for the daughter. Her father was a dedicated appointee minister, loved and respected. Her mother was the perfect appointee spouse.

After singing, “I will go where you want me to go,” they moved to a community hostile to RLDS families.

The daughter spoke of her struggles. She developed serious medical problems and needed help. When she was able, she left and settled in a place far from her family.

When the daughter’s father passed on, her mother continued under the care of the church. After hearing the mother’s concern, we contacted the daughter about providing an opportunity for Oblation aid and—more importantly—reconciliation.

When we visited, I listened to her story. I learned of her health issues. I heard about her life. We provided aid and helped her mother with some travel expenses so they could reconnect.

“I am quite sure no one in my life ever acknowledged the challenges I faced as an appointee’s child and all that entailed,” the daughter wrote. “I was both moved and grateful. I was also pleased to hear my mother was recognized and valued. Her visit meant a great deal to me. I feel so privileged to be getting the chance to really get to know her at last.”

The daughter’s illness progressed to a point of needing surgery. She and her husband needed funding and a place to stay during treatment. A mission center outside our jurisdiction helped provide this. She returned home healthy and able to see the birth of two lambs on her family farm.

Her latest thank you card included a picture of the lambs, symbols of her new life.

Yes, we provided financial support. But more importantly the ministry of Oblation supplied a chance to extend the peace and reconciliation of Christ through the ministry of presence.





Invite People to Christ—Christ’s Mission of Evangelism

8 07 2011

by Jane Watkins, Florida Mission Center

We all live in a busy, fast-paced world where our weekends are precious times to catch up on personal work, run errands, mow the lawn, shop for groceries, or enjoy a little down time to bolster our energy for the Monday that looms ahead.

For all these reasons it is difficult to get full participation from congregational leaders when we plan workshops for the Florida USA Mission Center. But two years ago a surprising event occurred at MissionFest, a fall weekend training workshop for congregational leaders.

The new pastor from Jacksonville came. For many of us it was the first time to meet Leonard Dantzler. It was his first gathering with other pastors and leaders within the mission center. Imagine our astonishment when he brought two guests!

The couple with him were neighbors who he invited to “come and see” so they could learn what the mission center was all about. Knowing how difficult it is to recruit members to attend, we were delighted and amazed that someone would think to invite visitors to a weekend leadership retreat.

Cindy and Dick Duplessis seemed to enjoy the weekend and their new friends from all over Florida. Six months later Pastor Dantzler called me with a question.

“Jane, I don’t know if this is OK, but I would like to ask Cindy to be our congregational financial officer (CFO). She’s not a member, but I just know she will be some day. Can we have a CFO who is not a church member?”

Cindy began to help with the financial responsibilities. True to his prediction, six months after she became CFO, Cindy and her husband, Dick, both were baptized and confirmed into membership.

As we consider the scripture from Luke 4:18 where Jesus reads: “He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives,” I wonder at times if the captives might be those members sitting in the pews.

What would happen if we released them to invite their neighbors and friends to activities, church services, and even training workshops? Let’s find out by setting the captives free. Amen? Amen!