Why I Follow Jesus

31 10 2011

By RON HARMON, Council of Twelve Apostles

Apostle Ron Harmon sees Jesus calling ordinary people to give extraordinary ministry.

In his 2005 World Conference sermon, President Steve Veazey shared, “Through Christ something not fully explainable but utterly transforming has occurred. It can best be described as the movement of God to bring reconciliation and wholeness to all dimensions of life.”

Those words describe well my experience with Jesus.

I recently completed a master of arts in religion. But I confess I still am without adequate words to describe what God has done and is doing in Jesus Christ. As a child I remember sitting on our living room floor during prayer service.

People I knew on a first-name basis shared their testimony of Jesus in ways I did not hear when we met at our church building. I wanted to follow this Jesus who brought such meaning and purpose into people’s lives.

Over the years I have come to experience Jesus in powerful and disturbing ways among those who suffer most in our world. It is as though Jesus grabs me in these situations and says, “Do you see what could happen here?” It is in these situations of desperation that I have come to understand that loneliness, disease, hunger, oppression, and hopelessness will not have the last word.

This is the mystery of the “not fully explainable but utterly transforming” nature of the living Christ. God is always moving, often in ways beyond my limited capacity to understand, to bring healing and wholeness. It is in this space between our current reality and God’s emerging future that Jesus is most powerfully revealed to me.

In many ways I still am like that little boy on the living room floor. I feel I catch only glimpses of the depth and meaning of Jesus’ ministry and message. I follow Jesus because he simply calls ordinary people like you and me to do extraordinary things for the sake of the world.





The Red Towel

29 10 2011

By GEORGE FARNELL, Mobile, Alabama, USA

Ben and Angie, a homeless couple, received ministry through a soup kitchen and cold-weather shelter in Crestview, Florida.

Ann Sprague, a member of the Crestview Congregation, was involved with the shelter and had donated a stack of towels for those in need.

Someone told Ben if he could get to Dallas, he might find a job, so they set out for Texas. After arriving in McKinney (just north of Dallas) they decided to attend the local Community of Christ congregation.

Rod and Kathy Tillman, members of the McKinney Congregation, invited the couple to stay with them until they could become settled.

Some days later, Angie did some laundry and was walking down a hall when Rod spotted a red towel. He asked about it, and Angie told him she had received it while staying at the Crestview shelter.

Rod then asked Angie and Ben to come with him. He took them into a room filled with golf-related items. He showed them a collection of various colored towels.

From 1999 to 2009 Rod and Kathy had sponsored an annual golf retreat in memory of their son, Chad, who had died in a climbing accident. Each year every participant received a towel on which was printed the retreat logo, their son’s name, and the year of the retreat.

The red (though faded) towel Angie had was from the 2004 retreat. Rod and Kathy could not believe their eyes! They all wondered how it found its way to Ben and Angie and then the Tillman home.

All agreed: This was not a mystery. It was just another of those small miracles that happens when people are brought together through the Spirit of Christ.





The Three F’s of Discipleship

27 10 2011

by MARKETER ASH, Glenwood, Illinois, USA

“Our fourth mission initiative is Develop Disciples to Serve. We will help all ages—from the youngest to the oldest—continuously grow as disciples of Jesus Christ…
—President Stephen M. Veazey
April 10, 2011, address

As I reflect on the mission initiatives, it is clear that to realize the other initiatives we must Develop Disciples to Serve!
In July my family, three generations of women, went on a trip to move my daughter into a new apartment. We left at 2:00 a.m., aiming to arrive at her school by 10:00 a.m. Because of the hour, my daughter generously volunteered to drive.

Typically, because we “seasoned’ women are quite comfortable with driving, we would have said no. However, because we don’t see well at night, we agreed. This would be the first time for her to drive on the highway at night in an oversized SUV. Imagine our feelings, fear, and concern. We just knew we would not sleep.
Well, we didn’t sleep.
But it wasn’t because of her lack of ability. Instead, our focus became helping her by sharing tips on road safety. We bonded, laughed, and talked. My daughter joined the ranks of driver for family trips.
As we rode, the Holy Spirit revealed we had prepared her for this day by applying the three F’s of discipleship: faith, focus, and follow-through.

  • Faith: We trusted God; now we are teachers.
  • Focus: We taught her responsibility and took her to driver’s education.
  • Follow-through: We coached her along the way. All she needed was an opportunity to drive.

If we hadn’t done the work, she would not have had the confidence or been prepared to drive when opportunity arose.
The same applies to Developing Disciples to Serve. We must be fiercely intentional about teaching our young and old.

The gift of salvation is free, but disciples must be developed and allowed to drive.

That is why in Matthew 28:19–20 (NIV) Jesus commands us to “go and make disciples of all nations…teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”

We are commanded to go and make disciples. A critical element is life application. If people don’t have life application, it won’t benefit God, them, or community.

There is a time for everything (Ecclesiastes 3:1 NIV). It clearly was my daughter’s time to drive. Good disciples understand they are both teachers and learners.

I am having the invaluable experience of attending Ministerial Education and Discipleship Studies, two sessions left. Hooray! Take advantage of the learning resources the church offers. And remember, the three F’s require:

  • Faith: action
  • Focus: commitment
  • Follow-through: ministries that reflect mission initiatives

 

By the way, did I mention my daughter has been driving four years? We are such mother hens!





Reverse Mentoring

24 10 2011

by ERICA BLEVINS NYE, Young Adult Ministries

I stood behind the pulpit at a campground tabernacle. My aim: express the significance of genuine relationships to our Community of Christ mission.

“Older members,” I encouraged, “don’t hesitate to reach out to young adults. Though they may appear disinterested or hard to relate to, I assure you, they have similar fears of approaching open relationships with you. We’re simply people, too. Vulnerably investing in relationship is scary for everyone. But this is our call to community.”

Then I turned toward the handful of young adults in the back row.

“And young adults, you have the same call. Be sensitive to older members when they reach out to you. Be gentle and receive them openly, as you would have them treat you.”

I looked up and discovered one young adult was looking back at me. One. The others were gazing into the glow of their cell phones. I felt myself sink into self-doubt. How could young adults risk relationships with others if they weren’t willing to climb out of cyberspace when I was preaching to them? It felt like I had hit a big wall.

I’ve met many folks from older generations who are peering at the same wall. They hesitate to befriend young adults and accept them into congregational leadership. It’s a steep, dangerous, and tiring climb that risks change and rejection.

After my not-so-compelling sermon, I approached the text-messaging young adults. “Did it make any sense? Was I way off?” I asked. “I felt insecure when you weren’t looking at me.”

“Oh yes, I was right with you! You’re right on.” They were listening. But all the while they were linked into the Internet! This generation relates to people in a new way. I have something to learn about maintaining relationships electronically. And I suppose they have something to learn about engaging with people in person.

Talking was the first step.

Overcoming the generational divide is intimidating, but there is hope. Intergenerational relationships can be doors into mission, rather than walls. Reverse mentoring explores this possibility.

It develops relationships between younger and older people, recognizing all will learn. Older adults commit to approach young adults, vulnerably ask questions, listen earnestly, and learn.

In return, older generations offer young adults spiritual maturity and ministry experience. They can help young adults recognize their potential for new ministry.

Young adults are a gateway to the mission field. Approaching relationships and mission as partners with them is the only way for us to fully share the peace of Jesus Christ.





Satisfying a Thirst

22 10 2011

by ANDREW M. SHIELDS, World Church secretary

Living water is a gift from Christ.

As a new father, I learn many things by watching my baby.

He is not very good at drinking from a glass. He tends to get more water on himself than in himself. Still, he has reached a point where he wants to drink from the cup on his own.

I smile as I watch him seriously grip the cup, look into it, and gnaw on the rim. He can see the water, he has his mouth up to the cup, but he’s not getting anything.

Most annoying!

I help him, touching the bottom of the cup and tilting it so the water flows to him. It’s not just holding the cup, not just putting your mouth up to the edge, you’ve got to tilt it; water flows down, that’s just how water is.

This experience reminds me of my prayer life. It is not enough just to make the time for prayer, or to tell God everything you’re thinking. So much of prayer is listening. Most of prayer is listening. Being in the presence of the Divine is more important than the form, or the words. The point is to stop, to clear distractions, to be as fully present as possible, and to allow myself to listen for the presence of God.

It’s about attitude. In English, the same word can mean your perspective, and the tilt of an aircraft in flight (or a cup in a child’s mouth.) Prayer is not just about what I’m doing. It is more about me making myself available to God, acknowledging that God is above me, and preparing myself for the divine presence to pour into me.

Yes, sometimes prayer feels like chewing on the edge of the cup and still being thirsty. But Jesus promised us, “the water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life” (John 4:13 NRSV). That is the gift of the peace of Jesus Christ, a right relationship with God—always looking up to God instead of down at our own ideas and desires. Always in relationship with God, the source of life.

When we look up to God, truly listening, I think we will receive more life than we can absorb.





Revelation

20 10 2011

artwork by Jack Martin

by CAROL NORRIS VINCENT, Independence, Missouri, USA

It was early morning. I had finished my tea and read the newspaper. I stepped outdoors to enjoy the fresh-washed earth, the sun streaming through the trees, and the brilliant hibiscus blossoms beckoning bees and butterflies.

Suddenly noise from one of those pesky machines that trim, mow, or blow assailed my ears. I looked up in aggravation and noticed a worker. To say I noticed him is really incorrect—I just realized he was carrying the source of the noise. I saw him heading toward my neighbor’s side yard, power trimmer in hand.

As I watched, disgustedly—hating the noisy intrusion—I gasped in fear. He was heading toward Alice’s rosebushes!

“Oh, no! I must stop him! He can’t trim those. They’re not ready yet!” As I tried to decide whether to traipse over in my housecoat and slippers to stop him, I saw him bend, cradle a rose in his hand, and smell the lovely peach-colored blossom.

My first thought was, “Ah, how sweet.” My second was one of horror!

For that moment revealed so much about me! I always have prided myself on being without prejudice. I have never used a rude word to describe a person of another race. I cringe at ethnic jokes.

Yet now I was realizing I had the worst kind of prejudice. I did not notice workers who are my fellow humans. I did not see them. They were mere workers—without face, without soul, without humanity. They were an entity on the other end of a pruner, mower, or blower.

At that moment, I remembered scriptures admonish us to love everyone as we love ourselves.

I turned and went inside. I bowed my head in shame, asking forgiveness and vowing to look—really look—at all other humans as residents of God’s Earth with me. Only when I love and serve them can I begin to think there might be hope as we Pursue Peace on Earth.





“Won’t You Join Me for a Dance?”

18 10 2011

by VAN WILSON, New Orleans, Louisiana, USA

For the last year, I have lived in New Orleans, Louisiana. To capture the spirit of the century-old oaks and soul-shaking rhythms of this city, you’ve got to tilt your head and put your bare feet on the ground.

From Hurricane Katrina to centuries of stifling poverty and violence, dark waves of suffering and sorrow have washed over this city too many times to count. I find it miraculous that humans can transform such sorrow into gold.

Here people take the turbulent, sorrowful waves and turn them into tapping toes on a Saturday-night dance floor. They perform alchemy as the tight beat of a snare drum mixes with the whine of a trumpet and trombone. If you put your ear to the floor and listen close, the sound of all those shuffling feet will whisper a secret: This music can never be made alone.

Shortly after I moved into my apartment, I befriended my neighbors, Maida and Mark. They represent a far-too-common and increasing demographic in our country: dual-disability, no-income households.

Maida is increasingly immobile and has type-2 diabetes. She is an innocent, jovial, and thankful woman despite her circumstances. From my living room, I can hear her high squeal of a laugh when she stands on her porch.

Mark suffers from a rare neurological condition that severely affects his motor skills, and he must follow a strict medication regimen. He has a steel handshake and a fierce desire to maintain his quality of life.

Over the last year they have challenged my notion of family, causing me to reflect on relationships within my immediate family. I help any time Maida calls—bringing groceries into the house, changing lightbulbs, and even setting up electronics—sharply honed skills that previously required a mother’s guilt to employ. Maida entices me with home-cooked pralines and gumbo. I have the better end of the deal.

I find it reassuring that every significant experience in my life has pointed me to a fact humans have known since the beginning of time: Our relationships with one another matter.

Sometimes I fear humanity never will overcome its contrived and arbitrary boundaries and labels. But then Maida looks me in the eyes, kisses me on the cheek, and tells me, “I really don’t know what we would do without you.”

At such times I hear the whispers of humanity’s feet shuffling to the eternal beat. This music can never be made alone. So I beg of you, won’t you join me for a dance?





Vivid Memories of Growth, Love

14 10 2011

by RENE ROMIG, World Service Corps

One version of my time in the Philippines as a World Service Corps volunteer goes something like this:

Not long ago I was sitting in a church building in Binalonan, a mid-sized town where I spent 10 months as a World Service Corps volunteer.

Each Sunday, the church service brought familiar elements: opening prayers, scripture readings, and sermons. But many hymns were new to us, the scriptures were read in a different language, and the church leaders regularly used bits of three languages.

My volunteer partner, Haley, and I would sit on the wooden benches, listening to the youth play in a praise band with keyboard, guitar, drums, and vocals. We’d pick out the few words we could understand and follow the scriptures in our English Bibles. This scene, so unfamiliar at first, became comfortable over time, and we settled into our lives in the Philippines.

My main assignment was to teach short, informal English classes at the elementary school two blocks from my apartment. Haley and I participated in community and congregational activities and traveled occasionally.

OK, that’s one reflection, but maybe this version captures things a bit better:

I taught English to students who already juggled two languages and had a good grasp of a third. I watched the rice fields transform from watery pools to seas of green and back. I learned noodles and rice come in many forms and flavors. I routinely beat back armies of ants with paper towels. And I didn’t leave my house without an umbrella—not to keep the rain off, but the sun.

Life in the Philippines was varied and often surprising. At once, it was hectic and slow-paced, familiar and strange, challenging and rewarding.

Through it all, I came to know a church community whose members believe in ending poverty and suffering by expressing love for each other and the world in many ways. I came to know a church community that has taken the enduring principle of Sacredness of Creation to heart.

Rice fields in the Phillippines fascinated Rene Romig.

During the first few months of our stay, we hiked up numerous hills to plant trees in deforested areas. Students from the school and young adults from the congregation pitched in, along with others, ready to brave the blazing sun. The church planted thousands of seedlings, beginning the process of healing these stripped hills.

I came to know a church community that responds immediately when its members are in need. A typhoon hit the Philippines in October 2010. It flooded and damaged several church buildings, and it destroyed one. It also flooded and destroyed the homes of some members. Community of Christ members quickly prepared relief aid packages and delivered food, medicine, and supplies. Their organized relief efforts reached many people even before government aid arrived.

I came to know a community committed to learning and discovering. One of my joys was teaching a violin class to six students ranging from 7 years old to college age. I hadn’t brought a violin to the Philippines, but when people learned I played, violins started popping up. When the violins appeared, so did enthusiastic students. The only person who actually had to buy a violin was the youngest girl, who needed a special size.

We started by learning the names of the instrument’s parts and strings. Eight months later, everyone played a solo for their friends and family. Organizing two concerts, watching these students learn, and sharing my love of music were joyful and fulfilling ways to grow closer to the community.

As I packed to leave, it was a great joy to announce the creation of a scholarship fund that would pay for lessons to continue with a local teacher throughout the summer.

I came to know a community that had no hesitations in allowing two foreigners to live and worship with them. They didn’t invite us simply to sit in the congregation, but they encouraged us to come up front, sing, teach, and share in ministry with them. It didn’t matter that I had never given a sermon and I wasn’t a trained teacher. Because of the confidence they placed in me, I was able to grow.

During the holiday season, the congregation invited my partner and me to speak at their Christmas worship service. This would be my first sermon, and I was anxious. But as I looked at the congregation, I realized the room was full of friends. These people had been strangers to me months ago. Now I knew them as neighbors, fellow teachers, pastors, playful kids, and my brothers and sisters in Christ.

I had no reason to worry.

World Service Corps gave me the opportunity to grow and love. The experience was a gift that went way beyond airline tickets or organizational support. It expressed itself through international music, conversations with new friends, words in a different language.

It brought caring friends, vivid memories, and fresh perspectives. Above all, it brought a better understanding of my neighbors across the ocean and our worldwide community of Christ.





Using the Right Building Code

10 10 2011

by ART SMITH, apostalic assistant

Standing beside the wreckage of an apartment tower toppled and lying broken on the ground, I found myself pondering our work in the church.

Someone always asks me how my latest trip into Central and South America has gone, and I usually focus purely on the positive. But the reality is that our work in pursuing the mission of Jesus Christ is a combination of building something new and trying to figure out how to rebuild something that has collapsed or appears at high risk of falling.

On February 27, 2010, an 8.8-magnitude earthquake struck the Biobio region of Chile, including the city of Concepción. It left a trail of devastation. Though Chile generally prepares well for earthquakes, this powerful tremor exposed buildings (even new ones) that had ignored construction codes. The apartment tower I stared at was only a few years old.

In Honduras there’s another “Concepción,” Concepción Sur. Honduras badly lacks government support for rural schools. But Concepción Sur has benefited from a decades-long partnership with Community of Christ. The church has positively influenced the town, which is home to one of our first Honduran congregations. Members lobbied government and years ago won unds to build a school. But it remained underfunded and inadequate for the growing enrollment.

It needed a new classroom for students and the church-supported Young Peacemakers Club. The World Hunger-Tangible Love Team approved a grant of almost $14,000 to help build it. A plaque outside recognizes the gift funded by Community of Christ contributors.
Leaders named the classroom in the memory of Apostle Carlos Enrique Mejia’s mother, Alma Corina Mejia, who served as principal from 1965 to 1981.

Visiting these buildings makes me think about congregations I have come to know.

Scandal devastates a promising, young congregation, which more or less collapses into rubble. In another congregation, key leaders must move away to find work, leaving a new church plant no longer viable. An older congregation carries on from habit, its testimony long since having lost its spark. It’s a struggle to remember when one of its members last invited someone to Christ through baptism and confirmation into church membership.

I’ve visited more than my share of congregations that this tumbled over building reminds me of. But I’ve also visited countless congregations that are growing and full of promise just like the school and new classroom in Concepción Sur.

Someone moves to a new town for work or schooling and feels called to plant the church there. People meet the church via the Internet and want to establish Community of Christ in a new part of the world. A missionary goes to begin a new congregation in a new country.

What does one say or do in these circumstances? What is the “building code” we use as we try to help that new congregation?

Huddled around the computer screen with brothers and sisters of the thriving, growing, new, little congregation in Monte Caseros, Argentina, we listened as President Steve Veazey reminded us in April that it’s the mission of Jesus Christ that matters most.

The church pursues Christ’s mission—our mission—through the mission initiatives: Invite People to Christ; Abolish Poverty, End Suffering; Pursue Peace on Earth; Develop Disciples to Serve; and Experience Congregations in Mission. I looked into the faces of these new, dedicated members and thought of the many ways they are living out this mission.

This is surely the code for building new and healthy congregations. I think it’s also the way to rebuild.

In Concepción Sur, I watch Honduran craftsmen splatter stucco onto the exterior of the new Alma Corina Mejia classroom. I easily can see the fine quality of work going into this new school. A few weeks later, as children occupy the desks and a teacher writes on the board, I know we have done something good.

In Concepción, Chile, I look beyond the rubble of the earthquake-broken building. I see a worker standing on the balcony of a new apartment tower under construction. He’s several stories up, but he smiles as I snap his photo. I’m sure this new building is being built 100 percent according to code.

I’ve never been more enthusiastic than now about our challenge to focus on what matters most—the mission of Jesus Christ—as we use his building code to construct and rebuild our congregations around the world.





What I Know about Ivory Coast

7 10 2011

by PAUL DAVIS, Kansas City, Missouri, USA

In August 2010 I spent several days in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, teaching and visiting in two congregations, Abobo-Nord and Abobo-Sagbe Deux. Ivory Coast then had 10 Community of Christ congregations, totaling about 1,600 members. Four of our congregations were in Abidjan, the country’s largest city with 3.3 million people.

I’m using past tense because in November 2010 the nation held a long-delayed presidential election. The outcome was disputed, and both of the main contenders attempted to take power. Clashes between their supporters spread throughout the country, with the heaviest fighting in Abidjan.

By March, Ivory Coast was in full-scale civil war, and a million people had fled Abidjan. All four of our congregations there closed. Most of our members, including church leaders Tanoh Assoi and Baka Ble, had to leave their homes.

In early April, international peacekeepers intervened. The disputed election was settled in favor of Alassane Ouattara.Laurent Gbagbo, who had served as president since 2000, was arrested. The violence subsided. Some people, including Tanoh and Baka, were able to return to their homes.

The conflict killed thousands of civilians, including a Community of Christ man named Augustin.

In late July Tanoh e-mailed an update. Here are some excerpts:

The church was seriously affected by the war.

At Sagbe Deux attendance dropped from 80–110 to 30–35. Here the battle was seriously heavy, and most people have relocated…The consequence is they…need assistance to pay five months’ rent (about $75 per month).

Abobo-Nord resumed services a month ago, and it has the same difficulties of paying rent of $75. Their attendance dropped to about 35 because of relocation of members. The prospect is to raise the attendance to 70 within two months. There are persons…who could not go back because former rebels, who are now regular soldiers, want to kill them for partaking in Gbagbo’s party meetings! People are still afraid, and it affects seriously the operation of this congregation.

Abobo Sogefiha is still closed. All its property was stolen or destroyed. The pastor also lost most of the contents of his house. We hope to reopen in two weeks.

At Yopougon Maroc, most members are family of soldiers in Gbagbo’s army, which used to be the regular army. We are working on regaining attendance—it had dropped to under 20.

Generally Abidjan congregations are recovering from the war progressively. But the pastors’ situation is mostly difficult because all of them have rent problems. I will suggest them to be assisted if possible from Oblation.

Of the up-country congregations, only Liliyo is doing well. Soubre is closed. There was a terrible battle after Gbagbo was arrested. Many people were killed, and our members scattered. In Galebre, the church building served as refuge to rebel troops until it collapsed. They are worshiping in the pastor’s house, and I (gave instructions) to help build a temporary structure in emergency.

It is the same in Komeayo, where members ran into the bush when the rebels came. The building is also destroyed. The good news is that despite the difficulties people are still faithful to the church.

We intend to go there for a week to provide ministry to these brothers and sisters.
—Tanoh

If I had not visited Ivory Coast, I probably would be unaware anything had happened there. If it registered at all, it would play in my mind as a set of prejudgments: a failure of democracy, tribal violence, and the consequences of colonization and subjugation. I would use the distant facts to tell myself a story I already believed—a story whose main points are: What’s happening there can’t happen here, and it has nothing to do with me.

But here’s what I now know about Ivory Coast: We have members there. The lines Paul wrote in his letter (Romans 12:4–5 NRSV) work in Ivory Coast, too: “For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another.”

And because we are one body, we are vitally engaged in what happens not only to our members in Ivory Coast, but to all people in their communities, cities, countryside, and nation. That’s a gift that frees us from our illusion that this story has nothing to do with us.