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.

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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.





Called from Love, Not Fear

7 11 2011

Linda Booth, director of Communications and member of Council of Twelve Apostles, recently visited with Barbara Carter. On May 11, Steve Veazey, president of the church, presented Barbara as an apostle-designate for the North East USA Mission Field with other responsibilities for SPECTACULAR and International Youth Forum. She fills a vacancy created following the resignation of Jim Slauter, who took early retirement to care for the special needs of his grandson. Here are excerpts from the conversation between Linda and Barbara. To view the interview visit www.Cof Christ.org/broadcast/2011archive.asp.

Linda: Welcome, Barbara! How are you?

Barbara: I’m good. I’m excited. I’m nervous. I have great anticipation. I have a wonderful team in the North East USA Mission Field, so I’m ready to go.

Linda: You also have a wonderful family. Tell us about your family.

Barbara: I have a wonderful extended family. My family lives in Oregon, and my parents are both still living, Art and Ruth Tooze. I have brothers and sisters, and they are all very supportive. My intimate family is my husband, Charlie, who also serves the church as a field specialist, and my daughter, Chelsea, who is 23. I couldn’t do this without their support.

Linda: I know you’re a woman of great faith, Barb. Can you remember the first time you were aware of the Spirit moving in your life?

Barbara: I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t aware of Jesus and God. I do have a hallmark time. I was about 11, and I was preparing for an early Sunday morning devotion. And in the middle of night I wrote on the paper by my bedside, “I the Lord God call you out of love, not out of fear.”

I had friends at that time who were presenting a different picture of God, and that was one of condemnation and of God being very displeased. And that wasn’t the God I knew. That gift has continued to guide and give me a foundation.

Linda: I would assume that has profoundly affected the way you have relationships.

Barbara: Yes, because out of that comes the assurance that God’s love is for everyone. There are times I am so aware of God’s love for people that it overwhelms me.

Linda: And as God’s love pours out on you, are there passions developing in your life? How do you fuel your soul to live out those passions?

Barbara: The ocean fuels my soul. I grew up three blocks from the Pacific Ocean. I could hear the waves crashing at night if I had my bedroom window open. In my teenage years I spent a lot of time walking on the beach. So when I need to separate and be with God, it’s the beach that calls me.

From that comes a really strong passion that people are accepted, and avenues to reconnect with God are available. Sometimes that means Sunday morning in a congregation, and sometimes it looks different.

Linda: You’ve talked about your family, and it sounds like you’ve been raised in the church all of your life.

Barbara: I have been. I’m a fifth generation.

Linda: So you’re steeped in the tradition, but also in the call of this faith movement into the world. How has God been preparing you to serve as an apostle?

Barbara: I think God is working with all of us to prepare our gifts and skills at all times. As I look back, I think, “Oh, well that was a point when the road could have taken a different path.”

One of those was when we were living in South Carolina. I got a telephone call from Larry Pool, who was the regional administrator. And his question was, “Barb, do you know how to sign checks?” Well, yes, I do, and that began the discussion about being a self-sustaining stewardship commissioner for the Southeast Region.
That was in 1993. I was a stay-at-home mom. It was a decision that began a preparation of service to the church…and began to open other opportunities.

About 1½ years later I went into appointment as a stewardship commissioner for our region and then became a bishop. I served as a bishop about eight years. Then I went into stake presidency for the San Francisco Bay Stake and mission center president for Northern California.

In each position…I would say I have been prepared to step into this role.

Do I feel prepared? I get glimpses of times I feel prepared, and there are other blocks of time—not glimpses, but blocks—that I think, “Oh, my gosh, I know so little!” And it’s by the grace of God that I look forward to serving as an apostle-designate.

Linda: You’ve also served as an apostolic assistant in the field in which you now are serving as a designated apostle. I’m assuming that’s helped to build relationships.

Barbara: Yes. It’s very comfortable. We’ve had three years to get to know each other. It’s a very nice foundation to start with.

Linda: It is. Also, on April 10 as you well know, President Veazey presented to the church five mission initiatives. He said Christ’s mission is our mission, and he talked about Christ’s mission of evangelism to Invite People to Christ. He talked about Christ’s mission of compassionate ministries to Abolish Poverty, End Suffering. He talked about Christ’s mission of justice and peacemaking as Pursue Peace on Earth.

Then he talked about the next two mission initiatives…to Develop Disciples to Serve and to Experience Congregations in Mission. How will these influence your leadership as an apostle?

Barbara: The initiatives, in what they stand for as Christ’s mission, are not something new. But it is exciting that they’re being focused, and I believe it to be a very powerful tool to help us wrap our brains around where God is and how we join with that.

In looking at the field and our resources, we will be working to make sure our energy and focus are in alignment with that. …The world hungers for living out Christ’s mission, and I’m excited to see us responding.

Linda: It seems as if the Spirit is pulling all these threads together. The enduring principles are what we’re called to be, and the mission initiatives are telling us what Christ is asking us to do. All these strings seem to be coming together in a profound way in which we can move forward.

And Barbara, I’m so pleased you’re going to serve in the Council of Twelve. I welcome your leadership and ministry. So, now my brothers and sisters, I ask that you pray for our sister, Barbara, as she begins this journey toward the World Conference of 2013, where the Conference will have the opportunity to support her. And then she will be ordained to serve as an apostle. So God’s blessings to you, and may Christ’s mission always be your mission.





Finding Love, Finding God

4 11 2011

Each July they play sports. They study in classes. They explore fine arts. And of course, they sweat as they swarm over the Graceland University campus in Lamoni, Iowa.

But more than anything, nearly a thousand students and staff members focus on relationships with one another and—most importantly—God.

It’s SPECTACULAR. And the name is apt. It fittingly describes a camp experience that helps Develop Disciples to Serve, Pursue Peace on Earth, Invite People to Christ, and more. Sample the testimonies from this year’s theme of “Uncharted” and feel the joy!

from GLENN:

While at SPEC, I’ve always experienced some type of transforming power.

SPEC’s mission to level the playing fields of love for all people has really shone through this year. I can testify that the number of African Americans here is the most since I’ve been coming. Only love, or the love of God and Jesus, can receive the credit for this. However, God works through people, and that means the ones putting SPEC together worked long and hard to bring us all together.

I’ve witnessed the competitiveness from the campers, as well as their emotions. A rocky start was evident, but God’s purpose prevailed. The campers are expressing themselves. The ones who originally wanted to go home are still here. Praise God.

At the end of the day, EGO’s (Edging God Out) must be buried in a bottomless grave for God’s mission to be effective. The whole world—not just a building on Sunday mornings—is a platform to spread the gospel.

SPEC has given us plenty of opportunity to do just that every day. It also has afforded us the opportunity to witness how love can connect—regardless of our size, shape, color, gender, age, knowledge, financial status, religious beliefs, or anything else.

from ASHLEY:

Have you ever felt marginalized,
and all you wanted was someone to confide in?
Well I have, and this week at SPECTACULAR I have had the pleasure of realizing so many people care, including God.
Growing up, I never had the best home life. We lived week to week and paycheck to paycheck. We still do. But my immediate family is made of the most amazing people. My parents make it their mission to make sure I do not go without what I need, even if it means making sacrifices. For that, I thank God.
SPECTACULAR 2011 has the theme of “Uncharted.” I have had many uncharted times in my life, and God has carried me through.
During class and devotions we were asked to share the storms of life with each other. At first I thought that no one knew what I go through, and no one wanted to listen to my story. But they did.
Everyone has a story, and being able to experience the love we shared with each other was phenomenal. We broke into groups of five and went around our little circle, saying statements about ourselves that started with, “If you really knew me, you’d know that…”
Each time we went around the circle we shared something deeper. That was my “aha!” moment. I learned many of us have the same life storms, uncharted moments. I know I do not have the worst home life, because many others have far less than I do.

When I’m at home I feel as though no one in society understands where I come from, and it’s so hard to connect to others when everyone walks around with a wall up. This week I have realized everyone is worthy.

I strive for the day when we actually can say everyone is equal, and no one feels left out or marginalized. I strive for the day when we have achieved Worth of All Persons (www
.CofChrist.org/enduringprinciples/).

I want everyone to take what we have learned beyond SPEC and change the world. It’s up to us to carry on the teachings of Jesus, to show we care. If it weren’t for SPEC I wouldn’t be who I am today.

The world needs change. It’s ready for change. So I will go home and learn to listen more so no one feels unloved. I will be the rock someone leans on to make it through life’s storms.

So now I ask, who’s with me?

From CHRISTIAN:

My past week at SPEC has been incredible. I have never experienced anything like this. The people are nice, and the counselors are role models. However, my most enjoyable and memorable time at SPEC has been learning.

This week has opened new doors and new possibilities for my life. I have been transformed, brought closer to God, and inspired to become an active member in Christ’s mission.

The role models here are truly involved in Christ’s mission. In our “SPEC Today” theme class I have been taught to put myself out on a limb and trust my peers to help me with my struggles.

I was taught to accept others and understand them. Theme class has allowed me to see new points of view on an array of subjects. However, perhaps the most important thing I’ve learned this week is to see the similarities of others, despite how diverse we may seem.

from HANNAH:

A few days before leaving for Graceland, my dad and I got in a huge fight. We yelled and screamed. I cried. I didn’t talk to him for two days, and the third I barely said four sentences to him. When I left for SPEC, I didn’t even say good-bye.

When I got to SPEC I was so ready to forget all the recent events. I played basketball and met new people.

I played Ping-Pong and learned so much. It was great.

One required class is called “SPEC Today.” It’s a mix of genders and delegations and is taught by two people. On Wednesday, we were having a serious class. I was bummed. I wanted to have fun and joke around. I didn’t want to talk about life storms and feelings.

But we got grouped up. We were told to use the phrase, “If you really knew me, you would know that…” and then tell a fact about ourselves. I was with three people I’d never met. I don’t like talking about my problems, especially with strangers. But I shared, and it wasn’t so bad. I felt supported.

When I thought it was over, we were all told to go into the hallway and line up on one side.

Our teacher started reading phrases like, “If you’ve ever had to take care of a drunk parent…” You were supposed to go to the other side of the hall if the statement was true for you.

If you’ve ever had to take care of a sibling, yes. If you’ve ever felt alone, yes. If you’ve ever bullied; if you’ve ever stood up for someone being bullied, yes and yes. If you have family issues, yes. If you’ve ever thought about harming yourself, yes.

The phrases got more and more painful, and I crossed to the other side of the hallway. More and more wounds opened. Finally, the teacher said, “If you wished you were never born.”

I felt tears. I do wish that sometimes. I feel worthless and alone.

I looked at the people on the other side who hadn’t crossed. They all were saying, “I love you,” and holding up the sign-language sign for I love you.

I didn’t feel so alone. I felt supported, felt they truly cared. No one was judging, just hugging. My heart melted as I realized how many people did care for me, did love me.

Later that night I learned my sister was in the emergency room. She had been run over by a steer at a county fair. I felt the same support from my delegation that night as I had that morning.

God sent me all these wonderful people—people who love me, accept me, and catch me when I fall. I love these people. They’re my best friends, my family. And they bring me closer to God.





Money Follows Mission

2 11 2011

Steve Jonesby STEVE JONES

As I write, members in the USA and Canada are receiving the new Contributors Guide and offering envelopes with our new mission initiatives on the right side. Later this year, members in Australia and the British Isles will have their new mission initiative envelopes.

I wonder what you are thinking. I wonder what questions you are asking. I wonder how you will respond.

We believe you want to fund Christ’s mission directly. So whether you give your tithing to “Use Where Needed Most” or a specific mission initiative, it now will directly fund Christ’s mission in the church.

By an interesting personal coincidence, Sister Marcia, a wonderful friend and a Sisters of Mercy nun, passed away this week at the age of 89, having spent 72 years in religious life. I worked with Sister Marcia for 10 years when I served as a hospital executive before coming to work for the church.

Why are these events related? Sister Marcia, along with other Mercy nuns, always made sure I clearly understood, “Money follows mission.”

I believe we are embarking on the path of money following mission. Doctrine and Covenants 164:9a states:
Beloved children of the Restoration, your continuing faith adventure with God has been divinely led, eventful, challenging, and sometimes surprising to you. By the grace of God, you are poised to fulfill God’s ultimate vision for the church.

Eighteen months ago, we thought our journey was one of needing more tithing. And while this was true, God had a larger vision for us. A vision focused on Christ’s mission for us. Through the Holy Spirit, God brought us to a deeper and clearer understanding that Christ’s mission is our mission.

As leaders, we believe members, friends, neighbors, and strangers will be generous and want to share their tithing for mission when they experience Christ’s mission through one or more of our mission initiatives:

•    Invite People to Christ
•    Abolish Poverty, End Suffering
•    Pursue Peace on Earth
•    Develop Disciples to Serve
•    Experience Congregations in Mission

Sister Marcia was right. When the mission of Christ is made real in our lives, we are made whole, and money (tithing) follows.

I know this is true. Since the sharing of these mission initiatives in April of this year, you have responded with more tithing. At the end of our fiscal year June 30, tithing was up 8 percent. For the first month (July) of our new fiscal year, tithing is 10 percent ahead of budget.

Christ’s Mission is becoming our mission. Money (tithing) is following in support of our mission.
I thank God for the wisdom of a friend.