Why I’m Home in Community of Christ

31 08 2012

BY LUIS DIAS, president of seventy

It was October 1999 when I came to Community of Christ. I was recuperating from a hospital stay in the small town of Taulabé in central Honduras.

A hospital stay set Luis Dias on the road of discipleship.

One day a pastor from Puerto Rico arrived and shared the gospel of Jesus Christ. I listened carefully, and I decided to follow Christ. After this, my family—seven brothers and sisters already serving the Lord in different denominations—began to ask what church I was going to join. I told them my decision was to be in Community of Christ.

My wife was active in another church, but she told me she was willing to go with me to Community of Christ so we could serve Christ together.

Two days later my older brother, who lived in another town, arrived and asked me what church I had decided to join. I responded, Community of Christ. He told me to get in his car so he could take me to the church. He introduced me to the pastor and told him of my decision. “Here is one of your sheep,” my brother told the pastor. “Take care of him.”

That was 13 years ago, and until a year ago I had never reflected on that welcome given to me in Community of Christ. It was given the night of a worship service after I understood the restoring gospel of Jesus Christ.

And, how was I able to reflect on this? Last year, one of my older sisters left her church and began looking for another. My mother asked her, “Why don’t you decide to go to Community of Christ?” My sister answered, “Why do you recommend I go to Community of Christ?”

My mother responded, “Because in that church they gave your brother, Luis, a wonderful welcome. They gave him much support, not taking into account what condition he arrived in. We have to be grateful to God and with the church.”

When I heard these words from my mother, who is 88, they touched my heart. I immediately reflected on her words and realized they formed a great truth.

The grace of God has been working in me so through my ministry many people also have received that wonderful Christian hospitality when they’ve decided to become part of this community of faith.

Now I understand why I continue being a part of Community of Christ…because here I feel at home, a house so big with a diversity of cultures that enriches our ministry.

A MEGA Adventure in Canada

30 08 2012

BY MATTHEW SWAIN and MICHAEL WHONE, Barrie, Ontario, Canada

Several Canadian congregations in the greater Toronto area saw a need to provide young adults with greater ministry and congregational relevance. They came up with a solution of MEGA proportions.

They decided to hold a young-adult weekend to foster relationships between young adults and pastors. Matthew Swain, pastor of the Barrie Congregation in Ontario, said he sensed an overwhelming desire of Canadian churches to see more young adults active in congregational life.

A video game of tennis helped spice up a weekend for young adults.

“The present reality is that it has become more difficult for traditional congregations to appeal to young adults,” he said. “In some cases, both groups have given up on interacting with the other out of frustration.”
So last November young adults and pastors from all over the Canada East Mission Centre gathered to discuss ministry and mission while sharing in fellowship with the Toronto congregations.

This wasn’t the first MEGA (Make Everyday a Great Adventure) weekend for young adults. But it was the first time organizers purposely invited pastors.

Planners set the weekend to allow young adults to come from all across Ontario without the burdens of expensive lodging or buying food.

The planning team reduced costs by holding all activities in church buildings. Natalie, a newcomer, admitted she “didn’t leave the church all weekend and still had fun!” Families in the Toronto area brought in food, and a historic church building in downtown Toronto provided sleeping quarters.

Giving time to do community service has become a life-changing ingredient in MEGA weekends. In preparation for this year’s service project, the organizers received a large bunch of new, factory-rejected winter coats. The group repaired the coats and then gave them to shelters.

On Saturday night, participants formed small groups and discussed issues of faith, mission, and community. Guest minister Kris Judd passionately guided the conversation to include what it means to be a community of faith in Canada today.

As pastors listened and offered prayers, the young adults shared the final question: “What are some of the spiritual or religious difficulties you are going through right now?”

Concerns included everything from people worrying about being a Christian while questioning faith to being frustrated about not having a consistent church home.

Bryce Huffman shared a bold, powerful statement as the Call to Worship in the final service Sunday morning:

We come from many different walks of life at various stages in our spiritual journey. We come together as one community with different struggles and different points of view. As children of the Living God, we come together…to praise the One who gives us life and breath.

Perhaps Scarborough Pastor David Donoghue best summarized the comments of other pastors. “It was spiritual! It was dynamic! It was fun! It was great to see younger and older adults working, worshiping, and celebrating in church for three days straight!”

God “Touchest” and Shapes Me

28 08 2012

Priesthood and Missionary Ministries

Ministries of Love” was the theme of a girls’ camp I attended at Camp Doniphan in Excelsior Springs, Missouri, in the 1970s. This was in the “rustic days,” when campers couldn’t “isolate” themselves inside. Except at night and during meals, no one stayed indoors. Without air-conditioning, it was just too hot. It was enough to suffer through the mandatory rest period each day after lunch. We couldn’t wait to get outside.

Camps at Lake Doniphan touch and minister to people of all ages.

I loved walking around the lake. Most of the lakeshore is open. A gravel drive services the lakefront, pool, and cabins. There is also a secluded, wooded area. This part of the walk was the best. It was a bit scary to encounter large bugs, spiderwebs, poison ivy, and other assorted “hazards” that are part of wooded areas. At the same time, it had “treasures”—flowers, leaves, rocks, and creatures. I feel most alive and connected to God when I’m in these places.

During one walk I discovered Camp Doniphan also had an upper lake. I recall gasping in astonishment when I climbed the hill of the dam separating the two lakes and discovered this large lake and undeveloped shoreline. I thought it was the most beautiful part of the grounds. I wondered when it got there, and how I didn’t know about it, and why the camp didn’t use it. I was astonished! There was more to the campgrounds than I knew.

After this discovery, I decided to continue to explore. I found service roads that led to unused parts of the grounds. It became a tradition for me to look for new discoveries as I attended camps and reunions. I felt like I was honoring these unused, but not vacant, places. I often entered them with reverence.

“Ministries of Love”—the theme for the week at that camp—came from a line in Mary S. Edgar’s hymn, “God, Who Touchest Earth with Beauty” (Hymns of the Saints, 172). I remember that theme from so long ago primarily because I stumbled over “touchest” in the title. (Really? Who speaks like that?)

The hymn was our theme song that week. It became part of me. I still softly sing it when I encounter God through the Sacredness of Creation. It speaks to me in images that I love: springs and running waters, towering rocks, dancing waves, sunlight, trees, and arching heavens. It is full of qualities I want to describe me: pure and strong and true, sure, glad and free, upright. It is a prayer for what I want God to do: Make my heart anew, re-create me, lift my thoughts, turn my dreams to noble action, and make my actions “ministries of love.”

The experience of discovering that upper lake reminds me I don’t have the full picture, especially when it comes to discipleship and understanding God’s work in me and in the world. I’m reminded to watch for surprises among the familiar and well-known landscapes of my life.

I am grateful for this insight. I am grateful for the many faces and places and words and images that develop me as a disciple and shape me to serve God’s creation.

Hiking Boots Walk in Pursuit of Peace

26 08 2012

by BRAD A. MARTELL, Peace and Justice Ministries

These boots are made for walking…and walking…and walking.

I have a pair of 16-year-old hiking boots in my closet. The toes are scuffed, and the leather is gouged in many places. The soles are degrading from the miles of trails I have walked, the streams I have waded, and the rocks and roots I have stumbled over.

I have worn them while backpacking along beaches in the Gulf of Mexico and across glaciers in Alaska. They have been on my feet while hiking in the Green Mountains along the Appalachia Trail in New Hampshire and in the Rich Mountain Wilderness in north Georgia. I bought these boots because of an answer to prayer.

Almost 16 years ago my spouse, Lori, and I were newlyweds in Seattle, Washington. We moved there so I could get residence within a year to pay in-state tuition for graduate school at the University of Washington. During that year I worked as a bank teller. I didn’t like it much, but it paid the bills. Lori did freelance graphic work for several companies in downtown Seattle.

We had great friends and a lovely congregation. Living in Seattle was a wonderful experience, but we were restless.

I thought I was restless because I could not wait to go to grad school. But that was still almost a year away. We began praying together before going to sleep at night, asking God’s Spirit to guide us and bring us peace.

After weeks of prayer we received a phone call from my college roommate. He lived in Chicago and disliked his job. I told him he needed to quit and enroll in an experiential-education, environmental-studies graduate program. You travel, live on a school bus, and sleep outside every night.

Lori had learned about the Audubon Expedition Institute (AEI) years before we married. While on the phone I asked Lori where she kept the Audubon catalog. With a puzzled look she told me. I found the catalog and gave my friend the 800 number.

Once I hung up, Lori asked why I wanted the catalog. As I explained, her eyes grew with excitement.

“Brad, last week I was working downtown, and I asked myself: ‘If I could do anything, what would it be?’ Guess what it was? It was the AEI program.”

Feeling the Spirit’s presence and knowing God was answering our prayers, it all clicked in that moment for us. That night we ordered a new catalog. And soon we were accepted into the master’s program in environmental education for that fall. We laced up our hiking boots and prepared for the adventure.

Our two years on “The Bus” transformed our lives. It brought us closer in our relationships to God and each other and cultivated our ministry for the healing of God’s creation. I bought these boots because of an answer to prayer.

Sixteen years ago we felt God’s Spirit moving in our lives. It was guiding and preparing us to more fully live out and share the Enduring Principle of Pursuit of Peace (Shalom) and the Mission Initiative of Pursue Peace on Earth. A pair of hiking boots might seem a strange answer to prayer, but the paths I’ve walked in those boots have brought me to an overflowing passion for peace and justice ministries.

I challenge you to pray to God for direction in your own life. And then be open for God to surprise you.

A Child’s Lesson in Giving

25 08 2012

BY JENNIFER HOLM, Lee’s Summit, Missouri, USA

Children help Abolish Poverty, End Suffering by using their talents to raise money for food.

Children from the Colbern Road Congregation in Lee’s Summit, Missouri, are helping to Abolish Poverty, End Suffering.

When my 4-year-old daughter, Hannah, learned some children in the world and her own community never have enough to eat, she insisted that “we need to help them.”

First, she thought we should give them all of our food. When she understood that might not be enough, she decided we should give all of our money, too.

I found myself torn. As a parent and teacher, I want to nurture her generosity. I want to teach her she can share Christ’s compassion with others.

But I am overwhelmed because I know there are so many hungry children. How can we help them all? And, if I follow my daughter’s approach, how broke will I soon be? While I was pondering this, she exclaimed, “We can have a talent show! People can pay money to come watch, and we can use the money to buy enough food.”

Then it hit me: I’m not the teacher here; she is.

Within minutes she had loaded a few purses and backpacks with food, trinkets, and toys from around our house. Inside one purse was an envelope overflowing with her own money.

We spent the next hour or so practicing for the talent show and tossing around ideas. We called the other youth in the congregation. They were just as eager as Hannah to help.

In April we held our talent show, collecting food and money for Coldwater, an organization that provides sack lunches for more than 500 children who live in low-income housing.

If we are to carry out our mission to Abolish Poverty, End Suffering, in many ways, we need to act like a child. Children give generously, joyfully, and immediately.

Sometime along our journey from childhood to adulthood many of us become entangled in cultural webs and become reluctant givers. We sometimes struggle to let go of our hard-earned money, worrying whether we will have enough to meet our needs and wants.

But like Hannah, most children are eager to give what they have to help others. Have you ever seen small children as they place money in an offertory plate? I love when our congregation encourages them to bring their offerings to the front of the sanctuary because it allows our adults to see what giving should look and feel like. Our toddlers, smiling, often run to the offertory plate. Some even make multiple trips.

Our preschoolers and older children look forward to A Disciple’s Generous Response because they have filled their purses and pockets with coins and dollars from their own piggy banks. Children give with so much joy.
They have faith their needs will be met, just as we should have faith God will meet ours.

Baptisms + Beach = Beauty

24 08 2012

BY ART SMITH, apostolic assistant

A beach provides a special baptismal setting.

Baptisms at the beach are beautiful.

I seem to remember my baptism as a solemn—if not somewhat staid—ceremony in the font of the old Ottawa church in Ontario, Canada, when I was 8 years old. People in the service, as well as congregants, certainly would have been well-dressed, the men in various suits and ties and the women in nice dresses. Things were conducted in formal order.

At the beach in Cartagena, Colombia, baptisms have a nice family feel. It turns out I’m the only one wearing long pants. The official attire seems to be a combination of shorts, t-shirts, and bathing suits. Should we have suggested in some class that people wear plain white? Did we, and was that advice wisely wiped from the congregational memory? The lack of white doesn’t seem to ruin the good spirit of things on this Sunday morning.

The 10-minute walk from Pastor Yaneth’s home in the Canapote neighborhood to the shore of the Caribbean Sea is a time for visiting and occasionally breaking into song. Choruses of “Caminando en la luz de Dios” (“Walking in the Light of God”) begin in Spanish but flow into Bemba, French, and English.

Singing in English leads to reviewing English lessons with the children. “Repeat after me: Hello! How are you? I’m fine, and you? What is your name? My name is…”

Kids hold hands, sometimes with a parent but just as often with another adult or child from the congregation. Lines of legal kinship blur, and bonds of brothers and sisters in Christ become dominant.

Prayer is offered and choruses sung as we form a circle on the shore. We become the center of attention because the beach already is filled with Sunday sun seekers. Vendors try to figure out if we might be potential clients.

Unfortunately the mango vendor loses patience and wanders off before our service ends. A mango would have been great at that time.

It’s Wilfredo’s first visit to Cartagena as mission center president. These are his first baptisms in Colombia. He baptizes Snyder and Valentina. Snyder has several family members in Community of Christ. Valentina lives across the street from a house church. Valentina’s mom says it’s OK if she wants to be baptized. She says her daughter loves the church and the church family.

After the baptisms, on the way back to shore, Snyder and Valentina can’t resist taking their first swim as newly baptized disciples.

Baptisms at the beach are beautiful.

Stay Calm—God Has Not Abandoned You

22 08 2012

BY ART SMITH, apostolic assistant

Recently, while traveling in Cartagena, Colombia, I spent some time with one of our Community of Christ members. I’ve known Ervelyne Bernard more than 10 years. We met when she’d just been hired as a French-language translator for the church and was interpreting at the 2001 International Youth Forum.

Erv now stays connected to her translations job via the Internet. She’s taken up scuba diving and had been inviting me to try it. Over time she dismissed all my excuses, including what I thought was my showstopper, that I’m not a strong swimmer. Turns out scuba is more like floating in outer space than swimming competitively.

Art Smith (let), Ervelyne Bernard (center), and Darwyn Copa enjoyed their time together above and under water.

So on this trip to Cartagena with my good friend and fellow minister, Darwyn Copa of Bolivia (you know, Bolivia, that landlocked country in South America!) I decided to accept Erv’s invitation.

I could go on and on about learning to use the gear, eliminating the risks, seeing sea creatures, and exploring a sunken ship. On that day in Cartagena, a whole other portion of God’s creation opened before my eyes.
But for me, a big part of scuba was about overcoming fear. If you’re going to succeed, you have to stay calm, keep your wits about you, manage the pressure in your ears and your lungs, watch your gages, and breathe slowly and steadily through your mouth.

On my first dive, we got familiar with our gear and the sensations. Then Erv led us deeper. I was following closely, not so much watching sea life as the ends of Erv’s fins. I started to feel more comfortable.

There came a moment when I watched Erv double back behind me, apparently to check another diver. I’d become comfortable enough that I let her out of my sight.

A moment later I glanced back to look for Erv. She wasn’t there. Nobody was there! I looked over my other shoulder.

Where’s Erv? Where’s anyone!

I felt my heart start to race and my breathing increase. The bit of water that had trickled into my mask suddenly bothered my nose more than it had been. I spun in a 360-degree turn. Still no Erv! I started to panic.
I’d recently preached a sermon, picking up a text that I’d heard President Steve Veazey preach in El Salvador. It was a story that starts in 2 Kings 6:8 about Elisha, Israel, and the Syrian army. In the story Elisha’s servant gets up one morning and discovers the place surrounded by the mighty Syrian army.

He rushes to the prophet, waking him and asking urgently: “What are we going to do?” And Elisha tells his servant not to be afraid. He prays a beautiful, simple prayer, asking God that the eyes of his servant might be opened. His servant comes to realize God had not abandoned them, and they had no reason to fear.

Even after all the amazing experiences Elisha and his servant had been through with God, how easy it was in a moment to think God had abandoned them.

Breathe in…breathe out.

The thing about the world I normally walk around in is that if companions duck away for a moment, a check over the left shoulder, the right shoulder, or turning completely around is sure to bring them back into sight. But the scuba world is different.

It finally dawned on me to look up. I discovered Erv, hovering what seemed a fraction of an inch above my head, near Darwyn.

I learned a little about scuba in that moment. But I couldn’t help but think about how this experience is like my walk with God. How easy it is to become frightened and feel abandoned. Yet, all the while God is so close that if one is not careful, one could bump one’s head.