Why I Feel at Home in Community of Christ

31 12 2012

BY URBAIN MBENGA MPIEM LEY, president of seventy

Urbain Mbenga and children of the Democratic Republic of Congo are finding joy in Community of Christ.

I was born in a Catholic family that gave me a Christian education. Because our home was near the church, I spent a lot of free time serving the church and priests.

I rose through all the levels a child could make: cantor, server, and finally sacristan. The way was open for the priesthood, Catholic evidently! But I was very disappointed. After my primary studies, my name was not on the list of pupils admitted at the small seminary. Two years later, I received encouragement from the priest of the college: “God knows those who God chose to be servants, and they will do so in spite of the meandering paths of life.”

The period that followed looked like a desert crossing with alternating secondary schoolwork and university studies. Despite the joys of youth and the liberty of life, I remained a good Sunday Christian. Toward the end of the 1980s, I had the opportunity to frequent the Catholic Charismatic Renewal, a movement that accents the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of the Christian (individual prayers in a high voice, speaking in languages, words of wisdom and knowledge, effusion of the Holy Spirit).

After my marriage with Séverine, we tried to lead a Christian life in our way. My wife was the first to join a Community of Christ congregation in the new district where we had just moved. My attitude was the one of Nathanael (John 1:46).

I distrusted this community that met under a mango tree. I distrusted the expansion of the churches and pastors. I went every Sunday to the Catholic Mass.

Conscious of the role she could play as a disciple (1 Corinthians 7:16), my wife always told me, “Come and see.” Thus, to please her, one Sunday I accepted and went to pray in “her church.”

Curiously, the simplicity, the transparency, and the spirituality of the service touched me. The depth of the message reminded me of services in the Catholic Charismatic Renewal. It was a new departure. As with Nathanael under a fig tree, it was under this mango tree that I agreed to give my life to Jesus and follow him because he loved me as I was.

My wife and the community loved me and brought me the support I needed. They also love and follow Jesus. Even in the hierarchy of the church I met people who love and follow Jesus. How could I not walk in the footsteps of these elders in the faith?

Finally, Community of Christ permitted the achievement of God’s vision for me and my childhood dream. I became a servant who furrows the continents to testify that Jesus is the way, the life, and the truth.





Embracing the Spirit’s Call

28 12 2012

A day care for the elderly is now an expression of compassion for the Makiki Congregation.

BY MOANA S. FAANA, Honolulu, Hawaii, USA

About five years ago we met Reiko Hayashi from Japan. Her mission was to find a place for an organization called Sakura House to open a day care for elderly people in Honolulu, Hawaii.

We met her through one of our church members. She visited our Makiki Congregation in Honolulu, saw potential, and immediately asked if her group could use our social hall for day care on weekdays. We met with her several times. She brought studies that showed the area was a prime location that desperately needed this service.

We shared the idea with members, who voiced many concerns. Like many congregations, we value the freedom of using our property. But other members expressed serious concerns about our stewardship. In 2009 a large majority decided to allow Reiko’s group to use our property.

It was a challenging moment because it meant not only major physical renovations, but a major spiritual renovation. Through the process of sharing concerns and hopes, the congregation recognized the call to share its resources and refocus its mission.

This difficult and time-consuming process allowed the Spirit to move and shake us into being a people responding to a call.

Of course, at the time the Mission Initiatives hadn’t been expressed. So when President Steve Veazey shared them in April 2011, we felt a quiet and affirming Spirit—a Spirit that told us we always had been called to Pursue Peace on Earth.

It was a humble moment of recognizing that our mission has always been about building compassionate relationships and creating sacred spaces to make life better for the burdened. It also was a moment that showed God’s Spirit moves through many lives to build sacred relationships.

During the opening celebration, it was clear that two Initiatives—Pursue Peace on Earth and Abolish Poverty, End Suffering—were in line with one another. And as we realized that, we also could Experience Congregations in Mission.

We truly are a community of Christ when we look to Jesus’ mission to shape our mission.





Advent Journeys: Pilgrimage as Spiritual Practice

25 12 2012

BY CAROLYN BROCK, Spiritual Formation and Wholeness Ministries

When I was 7 our family made the annual Christmas journey to Grandma and Grandpa’s house. The five-hour drive took us over a treacherous mountain pass and then long stretches of straight highway, edged by fir and pine trees.

It was dark, and the hour was late when large, soft snowflakes began to surround the car. The onslaught of thick, white crystals racing toward the windshield hypnotized me as I sat in the front seat between my parents. It was quiet, so very quiet, as the car traveled slowly through the snow-muffled forest.

I’m not sure why this particular Christmas journey etched itself into my brain. Beauty, peace, adventure, and mystery are feelings I can retrieve from my adult vantage point. Something strangely lovely and exciting—even slightly risky—was unfolding as our small vehicle moved through the vast snow-enshrouded silence.

We do not have Mary and Joseph’s travel diary to know exactly how the journey to Bethlehem looked and felt. The scriptural story and centuries of Christian tradition guide our thoughts and inspire our imaginations. Commentators say the journey of 80 miles probably took four days to a week, depending on Mary’s condition and the mode of travel.

The realities of traveling through hot, dusty terrain with difficult food and lodging challenges make the story less romantic. There almost certainly was hardship, discomfort, and fatigue.

Yet as the journey continued, surprising events transpired. Heavenly beings and signs appeared, ordinary people and places were bathed in light, and wonder altered setting and script.

The hardships and challenges of the holy family’s journey mingled with beauty, mystery, and adventure as a socially mandated “business” trip was marked by the birth of God’s peace in our midst.

The vast landscape of God is the backdrop that transforms all of our ordinary journeys into their much larger, lovelier possibilities.

The spirit of pilgrimage invites intentional travel to sacred sites, physical journeys with spiritual purposes and intents. It also invites movement into the inner depths of heart and spirit, where the Christ child is welcomed again by those who have eyes to see and ears to hear the soft, silent coming of God’s peace.





Catching Glimpses of God’s Kingdom

23 12 2012

BY ART SMITH, apostolic assistant

There were Tricia and Ashley, Carolina and Mariana, Rachel and Misha, Nelda and Celeste, Ernesto and Pablo. And now there are Katrina and Laurel. They’ve come from Brazil, Bolivia, Argentina, but most from the USA.

On their first day in Peru, volunteers Katrina Petz (center) of California and Laurel Eisler (right) of Missouri explored with World Church minister Wilfredo Carlos.

For years now, a little congregation in Peru has hosted young people from other countries who want to serve their church and have an intercultural experience through Community of Christ World Service Corps.

The good folks of Community of Christ in Peru are gracious hosts. Sitting in Sister Graciela’s second-floor living room (the same room that hosted all Callao church meetings for many years) I watch, intrigued, as Brother Wilfredo conducts the introductory meeting. Most of those in attendance are meeting Katrina Petz of Tracy, California, and Laurel Eisler of Blue Springs, Missouri, for the first time. He gives each volunteer a chance to speak. Then we go around the circle, and everyone introduces themselves. The introductions quickly turn into words of welcome and reassurance.

Laurel’s Spanish is a little fresher (Katrina hasn’t had Spanish since high school), but everyone is careful not to favor Laurel. They ask the volunteers questions in turn and take time to understand each response. Wilfredo reminds the group that the volunteers also are just getting to know each other. They hadn’t met until the previous week.

Laurel sings. Katrina plays the flute. Both are looking forward to helping with the kids in our congregations here in Filadelfia, Monte Sion, and Huanuco. Both are a little nervous about being on the preaching schedule. (Well maybe a lot nervous! But they’ll be fine.) There couldn’t be a less judgmental, more welcoming group of Christian brothers and sisters with whom to grow and challenge oneself.

Laurel and Katrina already have proven themselves to be open to new experiences and foods while venturing out on their own. They’ve eaten ceviche (that delicious Peruvian raw fish salad), cow heart on a stick, and a couple of flavors of masamoro (squash and purple corn puddings).

They’ve toured the market, wandered the ritzy seacoast part of Lima known as Miraflores, and been up the desert hill to meet the church of Monte Sion. They’ve taken taxi and bus rides through Lima traffic without even flinching (well, hardly flinching).

They’ll have a chance to learn about relationships and the challenge of forming friendships across language and cultural barriers. And they’ll do it while working on their relationship with each other.

Sitting in this introductory meeting and watching the first few days of interaction between these volunteers, I realize this is truly a laboratory for the kingdom of God. There will be moments of confusion and stress. Romantic notions of each others’ cultures may mix freely with feelings of nationalism and cultural superiority. But inasmuch as each person in this experience seeks to learn from the others, inasmuch as the gospel is the focus of their experience, and inasmuch as patience and love reign, all those involved will catch many glimpses of that kingdom of God.





Home of Hope in Odessa, Ukraine

21 12 2012

BY DAVID N. ANDERSON, apostolic assistant

Alexey from Home of Hope celebrates his baptism in the Black Sea.

 

Francis of Assisi purportedly said: “Preach the gospel always…when necessary use words.” A 21st-century example of this wise counsel is a drug- and alcohol-rehabilitation center called Home of Hope in Odessa, Ukraine.

Through compassionate ministries it helps those struggling with addiction. The center has 22 live-in guests, including a 2-month-old and a 2-year-old. Participants are people from Russia and Ukraine who need a healthy community and a safe place to help fight addiction.

Igor Bondarev, church member and director, and Volodya Glushkovetska, a World Church minister, work closely together in service to others. Igor provides vision and leadership. Volodya conducts pastoral support and spiritual formation.

At least twice a week, Volodya leads a Bible study with all participants gathering to discuss biblical principles in living out Christian discipleship.

Because of the cooperation and ministry of Igor and Volodya, Home of Hope has touched the lives of many people. Additionally, since these two met nearly a year ago, eight have sensed a call to live out their Christian discipleship in Community of Christ.

As a contributor to world ministries mission tithes, you have helped Igor and Volodya. Because of generosity by you and others, the World Church and Eurasia Mission Centre have contributed ministerial and financial support, including emergency assistance with basic living expenses for food and lodging at the center. Igor and Volodya are thankful for this generosity as they “preach the gospel” in the manner expressed by Francis of Assisi.





Who Is Waiting?

19 12 2012

BY JOHN WIGHT, senior president of seventy

As I visited with some of the 30 young adults who had come to Bluff Springs Campgrounds in northwest Florida last March, a picture of just how powerful invitation is began to unfold before me. I was attending the Azalea Reunion as one of two guest ministers; the young adults were at the campgrounds on a mission trip.

It became apparent that about one-third of the group did not hold membership in Community of Christ. Dan Gregory, young-adult minister in the Lamoni-Heartland USA Mission Center, confirmed the estimate.

Let’s get this straight. Thirty young adults had come to a church campground to spend their spring break raking leaves, painting, and cleaning, and a third of them weren’t members of Community of Christ.

“I think it’s two things,” said Gregory. “The cost is really cheap. We keep it well below what anyone would pay otherwise.

“The other is doing something that is attractive to them—this is how we’re going to make a difference. And once you get a few key people saying, ‘Hey I’m doing this; I think you would enjoy it as well,’ then others follow.”

So how did the invitation to participate get shared?

“Most people heard by word of mouth,” Gregory explained. “We have a pretty broad base of people who have gone in the past. This was our fourth trip. The word spreads pretty fast. We also use Facebook, a monthly newsletter, and mission center announcements.”

The power of such word-of-mouth invitation can be seen in one of many stories from this mission trip. One young woman from previous mission trips invited a friend to come.

“The friend had never been acquainted with the church before,” Gregory said. “Near the end of the trip, she and I had a conversation in which she said, ‘Dan, I was forced to go to church when I was growing up, but I never felt like I was at home. I think that I have found my home.’”

This young woman served on the staff of a senior high camp Gregory directed this summer. She ended up staying for part of a family camp the week following the youth camp.

“She continues to connect with the people,” Gregory said. “The lines of communication have really been strong.” It’s amazing what can happen when we issue an invitation to come share in accomplishing Christ’s mission.

Doctrine and Covenants 163:2b calls us to

Generously share the invitation, ministries, and sacraments through which people can encounter the Living Christ who heals and reconciles through redemptive relationships in sacred community.

It is good to remember that such sharing doesn’t stop at invitation. It includes walking hand in hand with newfound friends into paths of ministry and the sacraments, including baptism and confirmation, which can unite people with Christ and community in deeply meaningful ways. Who is out there waiting for an invitation from YOU?





Theological Foundations: Covenant

17 12 2012

Covenant is a gift of God’s grace for the blessing of human life and creation. Covenant is a foundational, scriptural, and spiritual concept that describes a primary way God defines and blesses Divine-human relationships for the sake of individuals, communities, and creation.

The concept of a covenant between God and man [humankind] is deeply rooted in the Old Testament, where it appears as an undertaking initiated by God and given to the people of Israel; an agreement under which God sets his people apart; promises fidelity to them, and requires fidelity in return. In Christian thought the concept is sometimes seen as the background of that divinely initiated bestowal of grace that enables Christians to do what otherwise they could not achieve by themselves.
—Geddes MacGregor
Dictionary of Religion and Philosophy

Of particular relevance to Community of Christ history and theology is the fundamental concept of the church as a “covenant people” or “covenant community” that lives according to “doctrines” and “covenants” that communicate divine nature and will.

Being a covenant people called by God for divine purpose shapes our identity as a church community. This identity is strengthened through the church’s sacraments. We are a highly sacramental church with eight sacraments. All the sacraments include vital expressions of covenant relationships with God, others, and the created order.

The church presently is exploring the overarching meaning of God’s commitment to a “covenant of peace,” which points to fulfillment of God’s ultimate vision for creation.

The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them…They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea. —Isaiah 11:6–9 NRSV

For the mountains may depart and the hills be removed, but my steadfast love shall not depart from you, and my covenant of peace shall not be removed, says the Lord, who has compassion on you. —Isaiah 54:10 NRSV

While the covenant of peace described in Isaiah initially was directed to Israel as an expression of God’s steadfast love in the face of Israel’s rebellion, its broader application is revealed in Jesus Christ:

…Remember that you were at that time without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace… —Ephesians 2:12 ff NRSV

God’s covenant of grace and peace established through the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, includes reconciliation, human salvation, and a coming fullness of peace on Earth. The broad nature of God’s covenant of peace anticipates that all of creation, including the Earth itself, will share in the blessings of the renewal and peace to come (Romans 8:18 ff).

The peace covenant God offers includes personal, interpersonal, global, and environmental peace. Community of Christ theology calls the church and the larger world to a holistic vision that incorporates all dimensions of salvation and peace.

Jesus Christ, the embodiment of God’s shalom (full peace), invites all people to come and receive divine peace in the midst of the difficult questions and struggles of life. Follow Christ in the way that leads to God’s peace and discover the blessings of all of the dimensions of salvation.—Doctrine and Covenants 163:2a

Community of Christ was divinely established to shape a prophetic people who would be witnesses and workers for God’s covenant of peace through Jesus Christ:

Actively and generously support the ministries of the church, which was divinely established to restore Christ’s covenant of peace, even the Zion of your hopes. —Doctrine and Covenants 164:3b

Application of the covenant concept and, specifically, God’s covenant of peace in Christ congregational relationships strengthens identity, commitment, trust, and faithfulness. It can significantly contribute to the establishment of justice and peace on Earth, “the Zion of your hopes.”