Why I Follow Jesus…

29 03 2013

BY MIKAL FARLEY, Zionsville, Indiana, USA

firedepartmentI was born and raised in Community of Christ, and my grandparents have been my spiritual mentors as long as I can remember. They have exemplified Christ in their lives.

At age 8 I knew I wanted to be baptized. I wanted Jesus to be part of my life. Seven days after my eighth birthday I accepted Christ Jesus as my Lord and Savior. I was awestruck at the idea that this man, Jesus, was willing to die on the cross so my sins could be forgiven.

My mom and dad had divorced when I was 2 or 3 years old, and yet my grandparents on my dad’s side of the family continued to love my mom, my brother, and me unconditionally. Even as I grew older and my mom and then-stepdad were going through trials and later a divorce, my grandparents were there for us.

They demonstrated and explained the importance of loving Jesus and living as a disciple of Christ. By mom’s second divorce, I had grown a little more independent. But I still put my trust in Jesus. I developed a relationship with Jesus, and any time I needed comfort, he was there.

As I entered high school, I began to see Jesus as my best friend. I knew I wanted to make Jesus my priority in life. I decided to join a fire department as an Explorer to give back to my community and to share my testimony. I found great joy in helping people at their lowest.

I often was asked “Why are you helping me, why do you do what you do?” My time with the fire department, responding to fire and emergency medical calls, was a blessing.

John 16:15 NRSV reminds us of Jesus’ words:

You did not choose me, but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last.

I don’t follow Jesus for the sensationalism or the mountaintop experiences. I follow Jesus to tell others the good news. I’m not proclaiming to do so all the time or without hesitation, but I feel the urge and the nudge to go. Jesus calls all of us to step outside our comfort zones. He calls our names and asks, “Will you come with me?”

Philippians 4:13 NRSV reads “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” I follow Jesus because he deserves it. Jesus is the Son of God. He showed us how to live our lives. He showed us how to love. Jesus sacrificed his life for ours. Jesus continues to forgive us though we continue to live in sin. Jesus gives me strength to overcome the obstacles in life.

I follow Jesus because I want to know him and love him during the joyous moments of life and amid its struggles.





Garden of People

27 03 2013

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABY LU MOUNTENAY, Integrated Formation Ministries

A plant’s roots follow the perimeter of its pot. When plants start to lose vigor, a quick investigation reveals the problem. Lift the plant, exposing its roots. If you see circles of roots going round and round, it doesn’t take guesswork to know the plant is root-bound.

The roots have turned in on themselves and are choked by the confines of the pot. They’ve absorbed all the energy and nutrition the spent soil has to offer. Their inward journey is complete in this space, and it’s time to guide the roots in a new direction. So we provide a larger pot or even let the plant go free in our garden.

To repot the plant, we put fresh soil in the new, larger pot. We manipulate the roots to change their direction outward toward the fresh, expanded soil. We may even cut off the bottom inch of rooted soil for a healthy “letting go” of offending roots. If you “talk” to your plants you might say, “It’s for your own good, dear,” or “This hurts me more than it hurts you.”

We water the plant and say a prayer to make it (and us) feel better. We might change its location to a sunnier window. We stand back and watch it thrive, spreading joy and foliage, happy to live in the home of a good gardener, like yourself. You also might put a doily under the plant—that helps a lot!

Seriously…we, like plants, sometimes get too comfortable on our paths. We are root-bound on our inward journey.

Once we get to a still and centered place, we can gather strength and do some letting go, starting an outward journey on Christ’s mission. A new direction opens, and we create room to grow. We stimulate our roots with learning and spiritual practices, finding a new place at the expanding table of grace.

Re-rooted in our foundation, soaking up the light of the Holy Spirit, and refreshed with Christ’s living water, we flourish and develop into disciples to serve the community, God’s garden of people.





“I Am at Peace at Last”

25 03 2013

BY PAT NORTON, Auckland, New Zealand

My journey started shortly after my birth, when my father left. My mother and I went to live with my grandparents—my mother’s parents.

My Gran and Granpa brought me up, and I came to love them dearly. Although they are now dead, they still influence my life.

They had 10 children—six girls and four boys. The addition of one small girl was no problem. For years I was confused as to why I called five ladies Aunty and one Mummy. But it really wasn’t a worry because I had my Gran, and she filled all my needs.

But I taxed her stamina. As the aunts married and left home, I was sent to them for various periods to give Gran a rest. With three boys also married, there was a great reservoir of places to go.

Unfortunately, they had as many churches as homes. Over the years I went to Sunday school in every denomination to be had.

The one thing they all had in common for me was that I did not belong. I always felt like an outsider. I came to crave acceptance. I felt as one with them only when I told them it was my birthday and received special treatment.

Thereafter, I always had a birthday, no matter the time of year!

I grew up, did nursing training, married, and had two children. My marriage was wonderful, and we had 52 years of fun and love before he died.

I still felt the need to find acceptance within a church and a way to God. I wanted to be baptized!

Community of Christ was the last stop in my odyssey. I had been to this church before because Ron Oxley, my brother, and his wife, Janie were both priests.

What kept me there? I felt I had come home at last. I was where I wanted to be. I was no longer an outsider; I was welcomed as part of the congregation. Now to be baptized. I wanted that more than anything. So I went ahead. What joy!

I felt liberated from a lifetime of not belonging. Here I was in my late 70s, and I finally had found my way to sit at the feet of Jesus, knowing he and God would listen and forgive.

Going to church has become such a joy!

I was asked to accept the call to become a deacon and thought I would not be “good” enough or “wise” enough. Now being 80, I worried I was too old. How foolish to not know that God was guiding me. I feel invigorated and blessed in this service.

Thank you God, for all my blessings. I am at peace at last.





The Blessings of Diversity

22 03 2013

BY BARBARA HOWARD, Independence, Missouri, USA

In 1946 I attended General Conference, now, appropriately called World Conference. Few non-Caucasians were at the week-long event. French Polynesia was represented, and delegates came from the British Isles, Germany, Norway, and Netherlands. The Auditorium Chamber held park benches because the building’s interior was not complete.

Next month, when the 2013 World Conference meets, more than 50 countries will be represented. The assembly will be a rainbow of diversity. We are blessed to be part of such a rich community of people and nations.

Our cultural and ethnic differences are visible to us, but we also are diverse in theological perspectives, social customs, and beliefs. How wonderful that we are so different!

At World Conference we will sing selections that will be included in the new multilingual hymnal, Community of Christ Sings (available in October). As usual, translators will help Conference participants communicate in an array of languages. In the future, perhaps we will gather in a country where those who speak English will be in the minority.

God keeps nudging us toward unity, toward loving each other in our differences. Sometimes, however, we are willing to accept a person who is from a different nation and speaks a different language more easily than we can accept a person who shares a different point of view on a legislative issue.

Naomi Shihab Nye has written about two young people—a Muslim and a Jew. In a poem, “Trenches and Moats and Mounds of Dirt,” she describes an encounter between them:

“Let’s change places,” the teenager said.

“For a week, I’ll be you, and you be me.”

Knowing if they did, they would never fight again.

Listen to them.

It may be an impossible ideal to become another person. But to listen to others without immediately closing them off because of their ideas, to deeply listen to them, is the meaning of love. Each person comes from a different background, even in the same family. One only has to have a family reunion to realize how varied the memory of the same event can be.

When we struggle with issues, the greatest gift we can give others is to listen in love, to hear their feelings, to try to understand the reasons for their feelings. When we are able to open our hearts to others, we become an authentic community of compassion and love.

God demonstrated divine love in Christ Jesus, who was God in human form. The life of Jesus affirms the power of incarnational love. “For God is in Christ reconciling the world” is the foundation for our faith. May we look to Christ as the model for our discipleship as we approach World Conference.





Learning from Our Feathered Friends

20 03 2013

 BY NANCY EVANS, Kennesaw, Georgia, USA

Four sets of birds (eastern bluebirds, titmice, chickadees, and house finches) are nesting near our garden. As I was planting peppers, a baby titmouse decided to leave the nest.

Out he fluttered…onto the ground right in front of me. I stood perfectly still so as not to frighten him or his frantic parents. I could not believe what happened next.

Within seconds, a pair of fussing cardinals flew to a nearby fence, and then a pair of robins settled near the birdbath. Before I could wonder what was happening, the bluebirds and chickadees assembled nearby. All five pairs of birds were trying to distract me from that baby!

Was I imagining this…a community of different parenting birds all coming to the rescue of a baby chick? By the time I turned back to the baby, he had managed to fly to the nearest tree limb.

I can’t help but compare this experience to my family, neighbors, and church. When one of us is down, the entire community gathers to protect, encourage, and lift. I give thanks for the expression of Blessings of Community and Unity in Diversity as brought through God’s creatures. It was a delightful example of how we can Pursue Peace on Earth.





Abolish Poverty, End Suffering

18 03 2013

BY BARBARA WALDEN,Community of Christ Historic Sites Foundation
and LACHLAN MACKAY,Historic sites coordinator

Charles Neff with children

Charles Neff with children

Community of Christ is called to Abolish Poverty, End Suffering. Many of us find this Mission Initiative especially compelling.

Our attempts to live in gathered community and conflicts with neighbors meant we often were moving from place to place in our earliest years. As a result, struggles to overcome poverty and illness fill our past. History tells us as a people what it is like to go hungry, to be homeless, to be ill, and to struggle to survive during times of crisis.

Our history of hardships blesses us with a heightened sense of compassion and empathy for others.

Living in Poverty
Historians have not had to struggle to document the poverty of our early members. Truman Coe, a Presbyterian minister who lived in 1830s Kirtland, Ohio, said of our community:

Many of them live in extreme indigence…A grotesque assemblage of hovels and shanties and small houses have been thrown up wherever they could find a footing, but very few of all these cabins would be accounted fit for human habitation.

Others described our members as “living on air, water, and a little hominy” during the Kirtland years. In September 1832, the bishop of the church in Kirtland was instructed by revelation to travel round about and among all the churches, searching after the poor, to administer to their wants by humbling the rich and the proud.

One solution to feeding the poor was “fast meetings.” Author Mark Stake says members abstained from meals and brought butter, bread, and other food. They took the excess items to the bishop’s storehouse, and the food was distributed to the poor. Historians believe the “fast meetings” surfaced about the same time as the “feasts for the poor” held in Kirtland. A pattern developed that combined meetings at which members received patriarchal [evangelical] blessings from Joseph Smith Sr. and a dinner for the poor of the community.

In 1834, Ira Ames described such a meeting:

I received my patriarchal blessing under the hands of Joseph Smith Sr. at a feast and blessing meeting, which I made at my house for the widows and orphans… It was a very pleasant time, a glorious meeting.

Early church members drew connections between serving the needs of the less fortunate in their communities and receiving spiritual blessings from their Creator.

Like the early church members in Kirtland, former Apostle Charles Neff knew poverty. While growing up in Stillwell, Kansas, his family suffered during the Great Depression.

The job of Charles’ father was limited to part time. As a result, the family supplemented its income with a “big truck garden.” The entire family contributed to growing and selling the produce.

Neff learned at an early age the connection between human dignity and a self-sustainable life. He said:

I can remember that during the days when the government program gave away surplus food, my father was too proud to stand in line, so he sent me… Our being spared physical hunger meant accepting charity. I learned then, and have been reminded many times since as I traveled the poor countries of the world, that being hungry means humiliation.

Ending Suffering
Neff drew upon his childhood experiences in Kansas to connect with impoverished people while on church assignment in the Philippines, India, Nigeria, Kenya, and South Korea.

In the 1970s he helped found Outreach International in response to the pain and poverty he saw in the Philippines. Under Neff’s leadership and with the support of the church, Outreach International emphasized the need to lift up the poor by alleviating poverty, encouraging self-government, and improving health and education.

As a people whose past includes significant periods of poverty and suffering, we have a special obligation to follow Christ’s example and dedicate ourselves and our resources to eliminate both.

From 1830s Kirtland to the Philippines of the 1970s to the world of today, Christ’s mission is our mission.





Finding Joy in Mission

15 03 2013
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Karelle Bada (left) and her team worked with joy at the event.

 

BY BAKA BLE, Abidjan, Ivory Coast

I would like to share an experience that recently touched my congregation, Abobo North, in Abidjan, Ivory Coast. It was based on the Mission Initiative to Abolish Poverty, End Suffering.

After a terrible war, misery, poverty, and suffering have increased to the point that some of our members no longer can afford even a meal a day.

Early this year, God inspired me to do a program on the five Mission Initiatives. Then we organized four special worships, one per quarter. At those gatherings, we share a meal with the poor members of the church and invite neighbors who are in the same situation.

During our worship May 26, 2012, Jesus put joy in the hearts of people who gathered. Christ said, “Feed them.”

As pastor of the congregation and financial officer of the Ivory Coast Liberia Mission Center, I was pleased to address a Mission Initiative.





Homeless for a Night

13 03 2013

BY RACHELLE SMALLDON, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada

(Reprinted from Young Adult Ministries blog: www.youngadultministries.wordpress.com)

Last night I was homeless. I slept outside on a baseball field in the middle of the city, surrounded by a few hundred other homeless people.

It was part of a fund-raising event called “Homeless for a Night” for Edmonton Youth Empowerment and Support Services. People signed up for a team and collected pledges to sponsor us. On the evening of June 1, we gathered at Telus Field to experience a night of what “homelessness” might look and feel like, and to raise financial support and awareness for youth who face that reality each day.

I arrived and made my way onto the field, looking for a spot to camp for the night. As I sat in left field, I looked around at activities, games, and tents set up with food and live music to entertain people.

It was great hospitality, but I couldn’t help thinking: “I kind of doubt homeless people get food and entertainment. I easily could have eaten dinner before I arrived. Maybe they should have given all this food out on the streets instead of to us, people who only had to endure being ‘homeless’ for one night.”

But, the sponsors probably had provided this in appreciation to those who raised money to support the shelter…and it was nice. So I set my cynical thoughts aside.

I sat at a table in a food tent and fell deep into thought, pondering whether I actually could see myself being OK without a home. As I sank deeper into my musings, a group of ladies at the other end of my table asked if I could move so their friends could join them.

I obliged but felt slightly uncomfortable and out of place, having no one to sit with and being shuffled from the table. I picked up my things and moved to the next table with just a polite smile.

Later, I wandered back to my sleeping bag and sat down to read. A group began throwing a Frisbee nearby. A few times I ducked to avoid being hit. After about the third near miss, I began to feel annoyed.

“Can’t they see me sitting here? Why don’t they move to that open space over there, away from me and other people sitting around me? Apparently I’m invisible to them.”

But I did not feel I could say anything to them. Who was I to tell them where to play? So I kept quiet and eventually moved.

These were only a couple insignificant incidents, but they left me irritated, discouraged, and lonely. I felt like I clearly was lost in this crowd. Nobody knew me. Nobody cared who I was, where I sat, or that I had made my place in that spot on the field first.

For the first time that night, I felt like this might be an inkling of what it’s like to be homeless. Sleeping outside was a low concern. What bothered me more about this “homeless” situation was the way people treated people.

I imagined a similar situation could take place when a homeless person set up on a street outside a shop. I wondered how often he or she might be asked to move—and probably not as nicely as the ladies at the table had asked me.

I wondered if he might feel invisible, out of place, or annoyed when passersby tripped over him or hit him with carelessly discarded litter, just as I felt when a small disc threatened me. This tugged at my heartstrings as I began to think about what my made-up homeless person might go through daily. Perhaps for him, too, finding a place to sleep at night was the least of his concerns. Perhaps his biggest daily struggle simply was surviving people.

As we focus our missional efforts on Abolish Poverty, End Suffering, financially supporting organizations that work for the same cause is a great thing. Providing shelter for those without is greater! But these are not the only things we can do.

Regardless of how much money we have to donate or how many empty rooms we have to spare, we all have the ability to help people who are homeless by simply making them feel at home wherever they are.

Providing a warm smile, respecting their right to exist, and upholding their worth as persons may make their daily struggle a little easier.

After one night of being “homeless” (sort of), I am no expert. However, I do know that having to find shelter each night would not be a stress-free lifestyle—certainly not one I’d want to live.

We might not always be able to change the dark living situations people face each night, but I think we all can do something to make the days a little brighter.

Ellen DeGeneres (comedian, television host, actress) put it this way: “Be kind to one another.”





Open Table “Feeds My Sheep”

11 03 2013

BY JOHN WIGHT,
senior president of seventy

Jesus’ commission was and continues to be one of holistic evangelism. He calls us, just as he called Peter, to “feed my sheep.” He also calls us to intentionally invite people into sacramental relationship with him through baptism. As an old song puts it, you can’t have one without the other.

Open Table friends surrounded Andy Maybee (plaid shirt) on the day of his baptism at the Council Bluffs Central Congregation in Iowa.

Open Table friends surrounded Andy Maybee (plaid shirt) on the day of his baptism at the Council Bluffs Central Congregation in Iowa.

At the heart of such holistic evangelism is the importance of not merely “talking the talk,” but “walking the walk” in dealings with people every day. Such a practice gives us the opportunity to make new friends and benefit from their gifts and talents. It gives us the chance to possibly address a need they might have. A trusting relationship also gives us the chance to share the most important information known to humankind—the love of God as expressed through Jesus Christ.

The Council Bluffs Central Congregation (CBC) in Iowa lived out a wonderful example of this in 2012.

It involved Andy Maybee, who describes his childhood as traumatic and tumultuous because of addictions and violence in his home. At 17, he received a 25-year sentence in prison for “badly beating somebody” he said.

“I spent most of my prison sentence in trouble, fighting the system, trying to show them something,” Andy said. “I’d do good for a month, and then I’d go back to the hole.”

Andy’s journey turned when “I woke up one morning and I was asking myself, ‘Is this it? Am I OK with this?’
“I decided that I’d done it my way for quite a while,” he explained. “I decided to shut up. I asked about what courses I needed to take to get out of prison.”

This led to completion of his GED and a college welding course.

“I flew through all my classes until I came to anger management,” Andy said. “I failed three times. You start to understand that just because those things were done to you, you don’t have a green light to just do what you want.”
His new understanding and perseverance paid off. In September 2011 he was released from prison, well short of his full sentence. As he left, a sympathetic and supportive prison official told him, “Now go be all that you can be.”

That’s when CBC members came on the scene. After struggling on his own for a few months, Andy happened into the Community of Christ Thrift Store, looking for food aid.

“I told my whole story to Shari Poffenbarger, the Thrift Store manager,” Andy explained. “She said I needed to go talk to Pastor Don (Welch). In 10 minutes I was in Don’s office, and he and Chad (Hensley) were telling me about Open Table and how this could make a difference in my life.”

The Open Table ministry involves 10 to 12 volunteers who bring vocational and life experiences and personal networks to mentor an impoverished family or individual for about one year. The table group, with the individual being served, develops and starts a customized plan to help the family or individual fulfill God-given potential.

Don Welch and his wife, Carrie, were involved in Open Table ministry in Arizona before moving to Council Bluffs. They started the ministry in Iowa to address the needs of people surrounding the church.

“To know that my table family is there for me is something I can’t explain to you,” Andy said. “At first I didn’t have to say anything. Everybody explained why they wanted to be there. It was a big moment for me; all these people with their own reasons for why they wanted to be there.”

Many members of Andy’s Table have said the relationship has blessed them, perhaps even more than Andy.

Those relationships helped Andy get a good job and an apartment. They also opened a door through which the intentional invitation to Christ could be shared freely and without the hesitation often felt by individuals wanting to witness and invite. Andy accepted the invitation. He was baptized and confirmed July 15, 2012. He has become an integral part of the CBC family.

The five Mission Initiatives provide an excellent framework for holistic evangelism. They clearly express the need to “feed my sheep”—taking care of the needs of people. They also make it clear that intentionally inviting people to Christ is an essential part of that feeding. The beauty of such relationship building and intentional invitation is that it often is mutually beneficial. All involved experience the Blessings of Community.





Are You Helping?

8 03 2013
Learning the concept of generosity begins at a young age.

Learning the concept of generosity begins at a young age.

BY GARLAND LAND, Blue Springs, Missouri, USA

Recently someone told me about a family that was homeless, without work, food, or transportation. A Community of Christ member spent several days taking the family to government agencies, not-for-profit associations, churches, and employers for help.

A church member who owned a vacant house solved the housing need by offering to let the family stay there.

Community Services League made allowance for not having the proper residence documentation and immediately provided food. Some might even have come from our congregation, Colonial Hills in Blue Springs, Missouri. The league also provided a voucher to the “necessity pantry” at St. Michael’s Episcopal Church in Independence.

A Community of Christ member mentioned several employers who were hiring, and the family contacted them. The family also applied in response to newspaper ads and a reference from a friend.

After several contacts, the family landed a job. Church members then helped the family get a reasonably priced car so the worker could get to the new job.

I’m not sure what I would do if my family were homeless, without a job, and without a car. But I suppose I, too, would draw on congregational resources.

For a couple of weeks, Colonial Hills talked about the congregation’s physical, individual, economic, and other assets.
We listed more than 140. Assets we never—or rarely—think about can benefit those in need.

Doctrine and Covenants 163:1 tells us that our name, Community of Christ, was “given as divine blessing” and that it is our “identity and calling.” I have wondered if the church’s Mission Initiative to Abolish Poverty, End Suffering is unrealistic.

But when we Experience Congregations in Mission, there is power in the resources of those who wish to make it happen.