Why I Follow Jesus

30 11 2011

BY DALE E. LUFFMAN, Council of Twelve Apostles

I still recall with clarity my family gathered around the kitchen table to color, cut, and prepare Book of Mormon flannel-graph figures and scenes. (For those not familiar with flannel-graph technology, it was a precursor to PowerPoint.)

I can still smell the crayons! My father, a convert to the gospel just a month before my birth, had become adept in his knowledge of the Book of Mormon and frequently was asked to teach classes. These classes included flannel-graph presentations. And we were his helpers.

As we cut and colored Lehi and his family, Samuel the Lamanite prophet, and other heroes and characters, my father would relate the Book of Mormon story to us. I felt I was right there with the adventures of the sons of Mosiah. Our family lived these stories. And then relived them as they were taught in the branches and missions of western Oregon and southwest Washington.

The witness of the Book of Mormon was significant in bringing my father into the church. My mother had introduced him to the book. Seventy Arthur “Pete” Gibbs aided my father in discovering the message of the Book of Mormon. And the truth my father found in the book transformed his life!

Over the years the Book of Mormon has continued to present itself to me, exerting its uncanny claim. That claim has been sometimes troublesome, sometimes perplexing. Yet it is an instrument of witness I cannot deny.

Although traditional approaches to understanding the Book of Mormon have for me hampered conversation with the text, I increasingly have found in a 19th-century reading the message of this unique foundational work exerting its claim on me. And at the heart of its message, as I heard it around our kitchen table and in various settings in my life, is its witness of the triune God’s revelation in Jesus Christ and the invitation to “come unto Christ” (Omni 1:46 AV).

The community formed the scriptures so the scriptures might form the community. For me, as a result of my family and the witness of the gospel shared around the kitchen table, the Book of Mormon has contributed to my reasons for following Jesus.





Rainbow Kids

28 11 2011

BY KAT HNATYSHYN, Kansas City, Kansas, USA

Twelve years ago the Shawnee Drive Congregation in Kansas voted to close its doors. One week later, newly converted Laura Huyett, a young adult, stood at a business meeting with tear-filled eyes and asked members to reconsider. She said there was more ministry to be done in the community. They were moved to respond.

Lanelle Radcliffe started a vacation Bible school, and Laura volunteered. At its fourth and final meeting, somebody asked, “What’s next week?” Laura said, “I don’t know, but it will be fun!” And so Rainbow Kids began. Laura has led it ever since with the help of many wonderful volunteers.
After more than a decade, she said, they have seen many of those first Rainbow Kids go to college, get married, and start families. Some now bring their own children to Rainbow Kids and volunteer. Over the years the number of children participating has averaged as high as 50. Now, this Wednesday-evening program is going strong with about 30 each week.

It isn’t easy. The kids may or may not “get” the lesson. They may or may not even get along. But year after year—they find they are loved! They are loved by Rainbow Kids leaders, loved by the congregation, and most of all loved by their Savior, Jesus Christ.

They have been fortunate to have the money to support this outreach, Laura said. How many congregations, she wondered, have the skills, volunteers, and passion to do something but do not have the funds to make it happen?

As a young adult, pastor, priesthood member, member, volunteer, and financial contributor, Laura gives to the mission initiatives of the worldwide church to enable more congregations to fulfill Christ’s mission. She committed to increasing her mission tithes by giving $10 more each week to help people around the world.

“Our congregation is known in the community,” Laura said. “Several kids turn to us when they are in trouble because they know Community of Christ is a safe, accepting, and Christ-filled community. I would love for other communities to know the unconditional love and acceptance they can find in Christ.”





Young Adults in a New Ministry

26 11 2011

BY ERICA BLEVINS NYE, Young Adult Ministries

I’ve worked for Community of Christ for a few years now. I was blessed to serve as a pastor in the Co-Missioned Pastor Initiative, and I recently graduated from Community of Christ Seminary.

Still, my newest assignment makes me nervous. I have agreed to serve as worship coordinator at my congregation. Why would this relatively simple role make me apprehensive?

I moved to the Detroit, Michigan, area about three years ago when I got married. The congregation has welcomed my husband and me warmly, encouraging us to join various ministries. I’ve contributed as much as I can, but travel for World Church often makes me unavailable. In August our worship coordinator, a longtime pillar in the congregation, moved away. I agreed to take the reins.

As I consider this responsibility, I realize my situation is similar for many young adults. Frequent life transitions mean young adults often are still settling into their congregations. University education, new jobs, relationships, and young families not only transplant us, but they can keep us from attending consistently.

Other young adults may still be in their home congregations, but they are viewing church anew as adult participants, rather than youth.

It’s difficult to catch on to the congregation’s unique routines, diverse personalities, sensitive past conflicts, and unsaid expectations that longtime members might take for granted. I want to be careful not to introduce changes that are too disruptive or hurt feelings. I know I’m filling big shoes.

Young adults also typically bring big visions for congregational life. I have my own ideas about how my congregation can enhance our worship and become more young-adult-friendly. But I recognize this will take a lot of work.

Adequate preparation is time-consuming, as is developing relationships to support the members I’ll be working with. I have a full-time job, and my husband and I are expecting our first child in early December.

Will I be able to fulfill this new ministry assignment as well as I wish? And how long can I sustain it?

Some young adults fear if they don’t succeed in their first leadership attempts, they will not receive future opportunities to serve. Though this isn’t the case in my congregation, I still want to retain the members’ confidence.

I’m particularly blessed at my church. My gifted pastor and her counselor have committed to team with me. They take time to explain how things have operated in the past and what I can expect from the congregation. They clarify what is expected of me.

They introduce me to other members and familiarize me with group dynamics. They do more than give me a phone number to call when I have questions; they actively help me get started. And they advocate for me when I’m trying something new. My nervousness about this new ministry role won’t last long.

Are you prepared to do that for a young adult? As experienced or confident as some of us may seem, most of us would benefit from even one or two longtime congregants offering this intentional support. And we would love the friendship.

What young adult can you invite to participate, invest in with encouraging friendship, and team with in ministry?





Let Them Teach

23 11 2011

by LARRY TYREE, Translations

One of my favorite activities as a child was to climb mango trees. Partly this was because the goal was the delectable mango that I would soon devour. The other reason is that I just liked climbing trees.

As I swung from the branches, my tree became the mast of a ship that sought to rid the world of pirates. In those years I learned a lot about different ways of eating foods, including mangoes. I sang in French and Tahitian, heard stories, and played games that were different. My Tahitian friends and church family taught me to live and view the world around me as their culture does.

I grew up in a missionary family assigned to the South Pacific on the island of Tahiti, in French Polynesia. Our family’s assignment covered 1953 to 1964, so I attended French schools.

In those years, it was common to send appointee families all over the world. Our world view as a church emanating from the latter part of the 19th century was to take what we had and share it. It was a sincere attempt to follow the scriptural injunction to “go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19 NIV).

The Greek word matheteusate in this passage is difficult to translate accurately because the verb in Greek has no equivalent in English. It can be translated: “…as you are going, disciple ye the nations…” In this case it can have the meaning “go and teach.” This is precisely what Christian missionaries did…they went and taught.

One could say the beginnings of our church—and many denominations with missions around the world—was a form of Christian colonialism. We basically went about making a reproduction of ourselves in other places. This technique was not particularly new in the late 1800s. It had been the main way of taking Christianity to the world, and it’s still seen today. In fact, denominations too often taught Christ’s message of love and peace by intimidation and with the sword.

Our method of sharing resources was simple. Take an English resource and translate it.

Increasingly as an international body, we began to see the wisdom of developing local leaders. At first, we did this only in congregations. Gradually we added other levels of responsibility. However, appointees brought into a nation held administrative and financial oversight.

This did not change until a watershed event in 1966, when the Joint Council decided to decentralize leadership around the world. In essence, the church gave ultimate decision-making to local leaders at the jurisdiction level.  The consequences were enormous and remain critical to the future of sharing the Christian message in cultures that cannot possibly be touched in the same way or as effectively.

The way we produce resources today is changing, too. We can translate some things as they are—direct from the writers at International Headquarters. We need to produce other things with linguistic, social, political, and historical realities of the destination culture in mind. Increasingly, we bring together teams of qualified people who write from their perspectives. For example, we have had sessions in which Africans created resources for Africans, French people for francophone nations, and Spanish leaders for Hispanics.

Using this method, 18 books have been written in countries around the Earth. They did not use resources created for the English-speaking church. Rather, they looked with international eyes to the task. In fact, some of these resources since have been translated into English and then into other languages precisely because they were written with international eyes.

November 2011 is when the next such event will occur. A team will gather in French Polynesia to write disciple-formation materials (Christian education) for youth—in French. Then in March 2012 a similar event will take place in Honduras. The material there will be written for children—in Spanish. Eventually these both will be translated into English and other languages in other nations.

The notion of going and teaching is no longer the same. We cannot simply take the message of one culture and reproduce it exactly for another. Sometimes it must be different. A concept of apple pie for one culture might be better expressed as banana poê in another. Other topics such as divorce, politics, or human sexuality cannot even be discussed in some places because of cultural differences in dealing with such issues.

I still think fondly of mango trees. I also enjoy adding mangoes to various foods. They can spice up dishes, enhance salads, and freshen fruit drinks. As it happens, mangoes grow around the world in tropical climates, not only in Polynesia. Yet I never would have gained that information and much more had I grown up only in the USA. It came from another way of knowing God’s world…through different cultural eyes.

In the church, however, we are evolving from that older model of “Go and teach.” We are learning it is better to begin to “Let them teach.”





Living in Community

21 11 2011

BY MARGARET SWARTZENDRUBER, Saginaw, Michigan, USA

There are so many ways to pursue peace.

Every morning except Sunday, my husband, Lowell, and I walk at Fashion Square Mall in Saginaw Township, Michigan. The mall doors open at 8:00 a.m. specifically for this purpose. Everyone is welcome.

Many middle-aged and retired people want to exercise. Mothers push infants in strollers as preschool children walk beside them. Some people use a cane or walker. It is not unusual to see a motorized wheelchair.

St. Mary’s of Michigan sponsors the Fashion Square Mall Walking Club. A table displays a large banner and booklets for people to document the dates they walk. Physicians and other health-care professionals present educational offerings during the year. Each spring the walkers are recognized and receive prizes.

Lowell and I walk five rounds, including the food court, totaling about four miles. The food court is lovely, and many people come to socialize. About 9:00 a.m. the walkers begin to congregate in groups of two to 12 people, drinking coffee, talking, and enjoying themselves.

An older person named Bob had walked at the mall for years. He spoke to everyone, usually making a humorous comment with a straight face. When he missed a day, people asked about him. I recently learned Bob had been quite ill, and several days later he passed away. People still miss him, his smile, and his dry sense of humor.

Usually we leave home mid-morning and go to a local coffeehouse. We see many familiar faces, often someone we know. Many people read a newspaper or a book. Mothers come with schoolchildren. Others come to talk business and make plans while working on their computers. Some people sit alone, enjoying a little quiet before returning to work.

I belong to a group called “Friends of Zauel Library.” This library is a busy, service-oriented community center that offers the latest in information and technology. A main project is an annual used-book sale. I often recognize people coming and going. It is a joy to greet them and chat. Other times I see familiar faces and smile.

Lowell volunteers for Michigan Blood. He drives a van and travels around Michigan to pick up blood at donation centers. As we move through our community we often see people we know. As our eyes meet, we smile and wave to one another. There is a common bond between us, and it brings a warm feeling of acceptance and inner joy.





We Are Changing Lives

19 11 2011

by DEBBIE HOGAN, New Port Richey, Florida, USA

Come as You Are.” Our theme at the New Port Richey church plant in Florida guides us to reach children, teens, and young adults who generally would not enter a church.

They look rough—many have tattoos and piercings—and they come from every walk of life. More than 95 percent are on government aid. Some are in school, many are unemployed, some have no home, and others have been in jail.

Thanks to a World Hunger grant, we serve a hot breakfast before service on Sundays. It’s the only hot meal many of them get. We have brought many to Jesus because we can feed them physically.

We are making a difference in our community, too! Because of a Tangible Love grant, we are helping families that are victims of house fires. We get referrals from the American Red Cross, Salvation Army, and our fire department.

We buy household items (some are donated) and take them to these families. Sometimes it’s the difference between being homeless or starting over. We also share Jesus with them, give them a Bible, and invite them to join our group.

Many teens and children in our neighborhoods don’t know about Jesus! He isn’t someone they learn about in school. So we go into the streets, tell them about Jesus, and invite them to our new church. We are bringing people to Jesus and baptizing them in the Gulf of Mexico.

We are changing lives! No more drugs. No more alcohol. Now they are witnessing with us and inviting others.
Pasco County has about 4,500 homeless, the most per capita in Florida. This does not include about 3,000 children and adults who are doubling up with friends or family after losing their homes.

Life is rough here. SWAT teams have been called out twice within three miles of our building. People live on the streets and in cars. The shelters overflow. People fight, kill, steal, and do drugs because they feel helpless.

Someone shot our building, and the bullet went through my name on a banner we hang in our window. Some say the church was shot because “we are changing lives,” and drug dealers don’t like that. I don’t know why it happened; only that it did.

So, please keep us in your prayers as we spread the news of Jesus. God loves you, and you are never alone!





Beacon of Hope

17 11 2011

BY SHERRI KIRKPATRICK, Independence, Missouri, USA

“OK, children, time to take your seats.” Though this is a request most of us heard many times from our grade-school teachers, it is a new and exciting one for some 450 orphans and vulnerable children in Zambia.

For the last two years these children had sat on floor mats or makeshift furniture made from concrete blocks and rough boards. They painstakingly copied their lessons into small exam books. Now, thanks to a Tangible Love grant, they are enjoying school desks and textbooks.

Nearly one of 10 Zambians is an orphan. One of the world’s poorest countries, Zambia has alarmingly few ways to provide even basic necessities for these children. The Copperbelt Province once was a thriving mining area. The closure of several mines in recent years evaporated jobs while HIV/AIDS was becoming prevalent.
Many little communities are struggling. The task of raising children left when their parents die often falls on grandmothers who already live on the margin.

The Kafwa, longtime health workers I trained, have provided invaluable volunteer health services for more than 20 years. Regularly making home-based visits to help people suffering from AIDS and other debilitating diseases, the Kafwa began seeing rising numbers of children not attending school.

Concerned about their welfare, Evangelist Margaret Chilolo, Pastor Dismas Mulenga, the Kafwa, and other church leaders decided to open the doors of Community of Christ churches in Kasompe and Chipulukusu and turn the one-room sanctuaries into schools.

Staffed by volunteers, the schools started with no budget. With the help of HealthEd Connect, and eventually World Hunger and Tangible Love grants, the schools have been able to hire and train teachers, provide textbooks, begin building classrooms, provide school lunches (three days per week), and develop a solid organizational and financial infrastructure.

A World Hunger grant provided funds for a holding tank, metal stand, and submersible electric pump so the school at Chipulukusu could have a reliable water supply for preparing meals and keeping students hydrated and clean.

Antony, 13 and in the third grade, dreams of becoming a pilot. He is among the orphans enjoying the new amenities. He and his grandmother struggle daily to meet basic needs. School, however, is a beacon of hope. When asked about his teacher, he smiled infectiously and said, “We love her!”





What Is Most Important?

15 11 2011

by LUKE YOUNG, Kansas City, Missouri, USA

At the age of 20, I discovered the key to ending poverty. I spent my first two years of college in the middle of Kansas, at Bethany College. I then transferred to Park University in Parkville, Missouri.

It was like freshman year all over again. I had to make new friends and find a new place to fit in. I played soccer at both colleges, but because I transferred late, I initially was not eligible at Park. Instead, I was “redshirted,” which meant I could practice but not play in games until the next year.

I felt insecure, but the assistant coach made me feel welcome. He liked to collect apparel from different colleges and universities. Because he had never heard of Bethany College, he wanted to swap gear. I gave him a Bethany soccer sweatshirt. In return he gave me an Adidas jacket. It was red and black, the same colors as my high school. I enjoyed wearing it.

After a tough start at a new school, I was able to go on a mission trip to Honduras with my mission center. The weather in Honduras in late December and early January is rainy, but the temperatures are in the mid-70s to upper 80s. My new jacket was perfect because it was light and kept me dry.

In Honduras, many people struggle with poverty. They live off only a few dollars a week. Many things we buy are out of reach for them. Our leader brought with him a suitcase filled with jeans, t-shirts, and shoes, because these are hard for Hondurans to afford. A $50 pair of jeans equals a month’s worth of food for some families.

On the last day, we all gave away what we had brought with us. I enjoyed giving away the hammer, saw, and tools I had bought for the project.

I gave away my shirts, hat, sandals. Almost everything. As we handed our belongings away, a teenager complimented my jacket. Then he asked if I was going to give it away.

“Gracias, pero no.” Thank you, but no, was all my limited Spanish allowed me to say. He asked three or four times, but I could not seem to part with it.

After returning home, I put the jacket in the closet. I haven’t worn it since. I’ve kept it, though I cannot seem to put it on. It reminds me that as generous as I may think I am, I found my price, my limit.

I used to think the key to ending poverty lay in the people who had, giving to the people who had not. Now I think the answer rests in understanding what is important.

You see, the jacket wasn’t important. It only reminded me of the acceptance and encouragement I felt when remembering my assistant coach and that tough year. This is a common thing, to put importance on objects.

My grandmother, Norma, loved elephants and had collected many figurines. After my grandmother passed away, my mother insisted that each of her children take a figurine. Really, the little elephants were not important. What was important was that my mom wanted me to remember her mother. She wanted Norma to be remembered.

We do the same thing with church, sometimes. We have to be there and participate. Sing the songs and say the prayers. But that is not what is important. It is about worshiping God. It is about coming together as a community, to uplift each other in prayer, and to find unity in Christ.

It really comes down to one thing. When you peel all the layers away, you find love. The gospel is that God loves us. We go to church to find that love, to share that love, and to find a greater understanding of that love.

Love is the answer. Before we can end poverty, we first must find love. Only when we understand what is important, can we then know what is really unimportant. We can let go of those things that we place importance on and get to the heart of love.

I do not need a jacket to know I am loved. I do not need a figurine of an elephant to remember how much my grandmother loved me, and I her. I do not need to sit in a pew and sing, “Amazing Grace,” to feel God’s love.

But as my understanding of love grows, these things that I once put importance in, come back to me in a new and different way. I want to go to  church and sing, because I understand God loves me. I wanted an elephant because I understand the love between my mom and grandmother. I kept that jacket because I understood it was given to me in love, and one day I will be able to do the same.

In love, I am freed. You see, I used to hold onto these things that held false importance. Now they have no hold on me, and I am free to love.

I plan to return to Honduras in January to help the people of Orica build a church. The jacket will go with me, and I will be sure to pass it on as an expression of the love God has given me.





The Spirit’s Warm in Odessa, Ukraine

12 11 2011

by Volodya Glushkovetskyy, Odessa, Ukraine

Brrrr!

Matthew 28:19 tells us Jesus commissioned the disciples to go and make disciples of all nations. In our congregation in Odessa, Ukraine, we take this commission seriously—so seriously that people set aside their personal comfort. Natasha, Irina, and Lubomir wanted to be baptized as soon as possible to become part of our Odessa community.

Their baptism was scheduled for the beginning of the summer, when the water in the Black Sea would warm to a suitable temperature. The water is so cold here that few of us expected them to desire this sacrament sooner. But, like the eunuch who came to Philip (Acts 8:26–40) and did not want to postpone the baptism, they also didn’t want to wait.

They wanted to quickly become productive members of the extended family in Community of Christ. Of course, we couldn’t refuse their request.

So three weeks later, during the celebration of Easter on April 24, we baptized and confirmed all three. The water temperature was 4 degrees Celsius (39 degrees Fahrenheit), but the Spirit warmed our hearts.





“Accident” Leads to Invitation

10 11 2011

by JOHN WIGHT, senior president of seventy

It was an accident,” Anne said of how she stumbled onto the Sunday Night Live (SNL) chat room sponsored by the Council of Presidents of Seventy. “I thought I was on a different site.”

The Canadian mother of three was teaching at a Christian school at the time and was doing some online research on church history. That was in the summer of 2007.

“I saw that it was chat time, so I went on,” she explained. “I kept coming back because it was fun, challenging, and unique. There was nothing out there like it.”

Sunday Night Live, which is online every Sunday from 9 to 10 p.m. Central (USA) Time, started more than a dozen years ago in an effort to reach people in the cyber world with Community of Christ’s message of joy, hope, love, and peace through Jesus Christ.

Initially, the quorums of seventy and “guest” ministers from church leadership provided the support. It evolved to the current system in which three seventies—Steve Ferguson, Brad Bryant, and Richard Hawks—rotate moderator duties. Other seventies occasionally provide support.

Anne’s foray into the SNL world caught the attention of her son, Ben, then 5 years old.

“Ben went on to share about being bullied,” Anne explained.

“They always let him go first. He liked it because he could share his feelings openly. Ben started out wanting to do a Cub Scout merit badge and ended up wanting to be baptized.”

Ben developed a relationship with Brad Bryant, and Anne would sit with Ben as Brad conducted online pre-baptismal classes while husband and father, Peter, a college professor, watched the couple’s two young daughters.

“We were trying to decide where and when Ben would be baptized,” Anne explained. The family lived far from the nearest Community of Christ congregation.

“From the get-go, Brad had been talking about reunions, but I just deleted them (because of the name “reunion”). This year he mentioned family camp and kids camp.”

Meanwhile, Anne’s own journey toward baptism began.

“I felt a need,” she said. “I wanted to be baptized, and I decided to be baptized.”

Arrangements were made for Anne to travel to Kirtland, Ohio, in March of this year to be baptized at the local congregation. The ceremony was on the weekend of the celebration of the 175th anniversary of the dedication of the Kirtland Temple. The co-pastors of a Canadian congregation traveled to Kirtland to share in the service.
Three months later Ben was baptized during a family camp at Brush Creek Reunion Grounds in Illinois. Also, Ben’s two younger siblings, Danielle and Ariella, were blessed at that camp.

“Ben was so excited after being baptized and told Peter (who was not able to attend the baptism),” Anne continued. “Peter said he thought he should be baptized, too.”

“It seemed to be having a positive effect on everything,” Peter explained. “It seemed to be a good thing for me.”
The family made plans to attend three more family camps over the summer: one at Brush Creek Reunion Grounds in Illinois, where Peter was baptized and confirmed; one at Temple Grove Campgrounds in Pennsylvania; and one with Chesapeake Bay USA Mission Center in Virginia.

The family’s story isn’t just about finding Community of Christ in cyberspace. The family members began attending the Lowbanks Congregation in Ontario, Canada, in January—before they were baptized.

“Kudos to the congregation for welcoming them,” Brad Bryant said. “And for giving the kids their own activity bags and cubbies.”

Anne added, “The support from the congregation was exemplary.”

Their family journey lived out the mission initiative to Invite People to Christ in several interesting and remarkable ways. The use of modern technology, the involvement of caring disciples, even the witness of their own son, Ben, all contributed.

Ultimately, however, as the Apostle Paul said in his letter to the Corinthians, “the Holy Spirit brought the increase.” The Holy Spirit will bless our efforts if we reach out whenever possible and through whatever means are available.

The family has been and will be blessed because of its association with Community of Christ and its continuing journey with Jesus. It is certain the body has been blessed as this family has visited congregations, mission centers, and family camps.

We all can look forward to being blessed as we share together in community.

Sunday Night Live
If you’d like to connect with other members and seekers in an online chat room, visit www.CofChrist.org/PathFinder/chat.asp on Sundays from 9 to 10 p.m. central time. Ministers will be available to answer questions and listen to you.