Why I Feel at Home in Community of Christ

30 11 2012

BY KARIN PETER, president of seventy

Traveling around the USA, I was surprised to discover different kinds of dirt. Seems the color and texture of the soil in fields and under roadways varies by region. In parts of the Midwest the dirt is dark brown. Driving south you find red clay. Farther south, near the Gulf of Mexico, roadbeds and fields are mostly sand.

All quite different from the dirt near my childhood home. Centuries of volcanic eruptions that flooded the valley from Mount Rainier to the sea deposited the soil there. Age upon age of ash, mud, and water left layers of rich black dirt that have grown fine crops of berries, hops, daffodils…

In The Parable of the Sower, Jesus is talking about dirt: the hard-packed dirt of a footpath, the thin topsoil over rocky ground, dirt that sustains a patch of thorns, and finally a freshly plowed field ready to plant.

The sower is scattering seed in all directions. Seed falls on rocky ground, the hard path, and prepared soil alike.

This parable makes me wonder about a God who throws seed on all kinds of dirt…rich or barren, freshly tilled or overgrown with weeds.

It seems God is big on dirt…

God shapes it, forms it, and breathes life into it. Jesus walked on it, drew in it, mixed it with spit, and healed the blind.
As I picture Creator God with hands in the dirt, I see this parable in a new way. I used to wonder—well, worry actually—if I were a seed landing in the right kind of dirt. Of late I realize I’m less a seed and more like the dirt.

My desire, of course, is to be good dirt, finely tilled, rocks removed, ready to nurture seeds of compassion, mercy, justice, and peace. But I must admit, sometimes I’m more like the footpath, packed down hard and unyielding. Other times I’m the thin soil, barely covering sharp and bitter stones lurking just below the surface.

But as God continues to shape, form, and breathe life in and through me, I become more and more like the good, dark, soil of the valley where I was raised. Through the care and nurture of this community of faith I am better prepared to receive and share God’s mercy and grace.

That is one of the many reasons I choose to live out my faith journey in Community of Christ. It is here I have found God scattering seeds of mercy and grace with wild abandon…in my life, in our congregations, and in communities around the globe.

In Community of Christ I find a home as well as a journey. Here I am becoming “good dirt,” where the ministry and message of Jesus can flourish not only in my life, but in the lives of all those I meet, welcome, invite, and serve.

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Spirit Catcher

28 11 2012

BY KRIS JUDD, president of seventy

Matthew and Irina at the Spirit Catcher sculpture near the waterfront in Barrie, Ontario, Canada

Five years after the Community of Christ congregation in Barrie, Ontario, Canada, sold its building, a new expression of the church, birthed by planter Matthew Swain and funded by the previous congregation, is living out Christ’s mission.

Matthew and his wife, Irina, felt led by the Holy Spirit to commit their lives as church planters and move to a new community. A signature symbol of the city is Spirit Catcher, a sculpture influenced by aboriginal people that represents the mythical Thunderbird, which carries dreams and desires to the Creator.

Matthew, Irina, and Carman Thompson, then Canada East Mission Centre president, stood under the sculpture in prayer on their first visit to explore the city. They felt led that this place was the destination of a new congregation.

During the early months, Matthew spent many days familiarizing himself with the city’s people, resources, and needs. He visited the mayor, social-service organizations, shelters, business owners, and pastors of other denominations.

He invited existing members and new friends to share in children’s activities, small-group discipleship formation, table fellowship in homes and local businesses, service projects, and experiments in connecting people with the Spirit.

Events designed to invite people into expressions of communion, community, and service now fill the congregation’s calendar. Congregational life also includes a monthly Christian coffeehouse, filled with musicians, conversation, and informal worship.

A monthly prayer for peace in a nursing home where one member resides provides ministry to residents and staff, and a children’s Peacecatchers Club provides ministry for younger disciples.

Matthew and his ministry team continue to look for ways to partner with other denominations and faiths to address unmet community needs. While Matthew and his team are not sure what the future holds, they are sure God is leading this new congregation. They are engaging in discernment, listening and looking beyond their own needs and routines to see what God wishes.

“The reality is there’s a lot of space to cover, and there are surprises around every corner,” said Matthew. “We need to be out looking around every corner.”

They are attempting to discover God’s will for the dream birthed as Operation Spirit Catcher. They form a group of intentional, challenging, and nurturing disciples who hope to discern God’s vision, live out Christ’s mission, and connect God’s dream of shalom with the people of Barrie.





Becoming a Living Offering

26 11 2012

BY MARVIN RICE, St. Charles, Missouri, USA

Reunion participants show their thankfulness by bringing offerings for a gratitude altar

The person responsible for food preparation at reunion was a big man. He was knowledgeable, knew what needed to be done, and gave direction with gentleness and patience as he led the typical rotating staff of reunion workers.

Because of the demands of his responsibility, he could not attend the daily classes, prayer services, or discussion groups. In the closing service, the mission center president asked the congregation to reflect on what meaning the week in community had held for them. After a few spoke in deeply personal ways, this gentle man made his way to the microphone. As he turned to face the congregation, tears began to flow down his cheeks. When able, he spoke in humility and from his heart with words similar to these:

I offered my best for you this week. I prayed the food we prepared would be wholesome, enjoyable, and filling. I prayed about the menu, I prayed about each meal, and I prayed for each of you as you went through the serving line. I offered what I could every day and at every meal for each of you.

His life had become a living oblation, a sacred offering for the people of the reunion. His prayerful preparation, his continuing prayer for each part of his service and each person, his offering of physical energy in caring for the needs of the people, and his humble, caring words at the closing service created a gift of ministry wrapped in the depth and simplicity of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

The example of this good man is not unique. Nearly everyone can speak of people who have been examples with a similar focus of loving ministry. And nearly everyone has taken a similar approach to life at times. But his offering—simple yet profound—was a prime example of living out the mission of Jesus Christ in a practical, understandable way.

It reminds us to approach each day and each effort in sincere and deep prayer. It reminds us to wrap even the smallest detail in constant prayer. And it reminds us to offer prayers of gratitude and blessing for each person we meet.

As we willingly live in humble service, enhanced by an avid prayer life, we indeed become living oblations, sacred offerings, for a world in need. The mission of Jesus Christ, our mission, will be richly enhanced.





Advent Is Coming…We Wait

24 11 2012

BY DAN GREGORY,
West Des Moines, Iowa, USA

I have a set of tasks that I try to do first thing each morning. It’s visit the bathroom, grab a glass of water, wish I were back in bed, put on my running shoes anyway, and head to the gym. Now that we’ve set the clocks back an hour, all of this—and half of my workout—happens before the sun would even dream of gracing Iowa with its presence.

My daily preparations usually pay off, however, as I face the eastern sky and watch the first rays of light burst over the land and turn into a beautiful sunrise. This rhythm of anticipation and beginning, of “not-yet” and realized, sets the tone for the rest of my day. Taking time to prepare myself allows me to receive with greater appreciation the blessings that rest before me. It increases my awareness of the closeness of God in each moment. These pre-dawn rhythms orient me for the day to come.

Such is the case of Advent. Advent means “coming” in its Latin form, reflecting our faith that not only has God come among us in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, but that there is a day coming when all creation will know the full presence of God’s peace and grace. For four Sundays before Christmas, Christians around the world dwell in holy expectation as we prepare ourselves for the symbol of Christ’s arrival that is Christmas Day.

Through prayer, fasting, focused scripture study, and reflection, we, too, wait to see the coming Son.

Advent is the beginning of a new definition of joy, hope, love, and peace that is realized by the entrance of the Christ into our world and lives. We wait, eager for the dawn that reminds us God is not distant but has chosen to be Immanuel, God with us.

This season of preparation, of anticipation, of setting to the joyful task of making paths within our hearts for the presence of the Divine, eventually will yield to the celebration of Light that bursts on us in the humble majesty of Christmas’ good news.

We wait expectantly in the “not yet” of the first shades of morning, having prepared through our pre-dawn rhythms, knowing the Son will soon emerge, clear and bright, to bring hope to a weary world. Soon the promise of our faith will be fully realized: We can see the first glimpses of light on the horizon.

But for now, we wait.

The first Sunday in Advent this year will be December 2.





Peace Perseveres in East Orissa, India

21 11 2012

Reconciliation efforts brought leaders and members together for a united gathering

 

Perhaps the largest concentration of Community of Christ members in the world is among the Sora tribes in East Orissa, India. In an area of 100 villages, one is Hindu, two to three are Catholic, two to three more are Canadian Baptist, and 93 are Community of Christ.

Some estimate an attendance on Sunday of about 20,000 women, men, and children. It is common for whole villages to be Community of Christ.

Sadly, in 2005 the church in that region broke into two factions. This division was painful and difficult. Leaders made various attempts to make peace, and some brought progress. In early 2011, five elderly men and founders of the Sora church came together to form a Peace Committee.

All were spiritual men, volunteers without any hidden agendas or mixed motives. They simply wanted the Sora church to reunite. The five were Sumbra Raike, Arun Gomango, Sirpo Reike, Sumbara Sabara, and Sadanga Gomango.

Sumbra Raike is an evangelist. Arun Gomango is the current volunteer president of East Orissa. They went from village to village, urging reconciliation and peace on a spiritual basis. They paid particular attention to five divided villages that had supporters of both factions. In four of them, they succeeded in bringing both groups together.

Sometimes those who wanted their faction to continue brought criticism, but the five men persisted.

After much work a peace meeting was held in December 2011. Lay teachers, elders, and pastors came together in full reconciliation. In February 2012, instead of two conferences—one for each faction—one united conference was held.

We are grateful for God’s Spirit working in the hearts of members.





Love Touches the Whole Community

19 11 2012

BY RUBEN LANDEROS, McAllen, Texas, USA

A brave boy’s legacy is reflected in the motivation of his friends to continue their relationships with Jesus Christ and their congregation.

Guadalajara, Mexico, is living the Mission Initiatives of Experience Congregations in Mission and Abolish Poverty, End Suffering.

The Guadalajara Congregation brought the initiatives to life by gathering in remembrance of a loving, perseverant, and brave boy who fought against cancer.

His name was Cesar. He was a happy boy, running with friends in a colonia (neighborhood) of Guadalajara. But unlike the other children, he had cancer.

His family started to attend the Guadalajara Congregation. Pastor Salvador Martinez, his wife, and the whole congregation started to give the family the spiritual support it needed.

Cesar’s story touched us during a men’s retreat near Saltillo, Mexico, as Salvador shared his story and asked us to keep the family in our prayers. He also mentioned the family needed economic help to pay for the surgery Cesar needed.

Several days later Javier Delgado, our financial officer, and I worked to provide the money through the Oblation Fund, supported by the Mission Initiative of Abolish Poverty, End Suffering.

The bishop agreed, and the family received the money. Days later, however, we were saddened to learn Cesar had passed away.

In many cases, this would have been the end of the relationship between the congregation and the neighborhood children who attended with Cesar. Yet, Cesar’s willingness to Invite People to Christ paid off. His friends felt motivated to continue receiving the good news in memory of their brave friend. They still attend.

Now, every Saturday the church holds activities for the community’s children. The whole congregation is involved by providing sandwiches and juice for the children, who gather to play and learn about Jesus. This is an example of how the church helped one family in its suffering, and in return the love of Christ touched the whole community.





God Is up to Something!

17 11 2012

BY VICKI MASON, Lincroft, New Jersey, USA

Seventy William Brian (left) and Mid-Atlantic USA Mission Center President Charlie Carter confirming Allen Broadus

I was three-quarters through my Easter sermon last year, when in walked a young-adult couple carrying their 1-year-old son. In many places this would not have raised eyebrows, but for the Middlesex Congregation in New Jersey, the family increased attendance by 30 percent.

Even more perplexing, I didn’t know who they were—and I thought I knew everyone in the Mid-Atlantic USA Mission Center! I wanted to know their story.

Allen and Kristin Broadus had been searching for a church family after finding their “fit” with another faith tradition was no longer comfortable. So Allen did what so many people do today—he went to the Internet. He found a website that asked him to fill out a questionnaire. It promised to match him with a denomination that met his criteria.

Allen had done much research about various denominations, so he was surprised when a small group called Community of Christ came up as his best match. He read everything on our website and found what he had been searching for but didn’t know existed—us!

He has said over and over that Community of Christ is the best-kept secret out there! What a wonderful testimony of new methods at our disposal to share the gospel.

On Easter morning he brought his family to Middlesex and found a home. Though few in number, we carried the love and caring of relationships and an authentic desire to follow the teachings of Christ. That affirmed for Allen and Kristin that they were in the right place.

It has been a little over a year since we first met the Broadus family, which has grown with the addition of little Elaine. We have joined in celebrating the sacraments of baptism and confirmation for Kristin and confirmation for Allen. Their addition has blessed us as a community.

We still are discerning God’s wishes for this family and our community. We continually need to ask ourselves, “What is God up to? What is it that we need to be doing to bring to life God’s plan for this family? How can their unique giftedness be used to support our Mission Initiatives?”

We don’t have these answers. But it’s clear that God is up to something.

Postscript: One week after this writing we learned the Broadus family soon will move to Nashville, Tennessee, because of a transfer in Allen’s job. God truly is up to something!