Why I Follow Jesus. . .

30 04 2013

By Erica Blevins Nye, Troy, Michigan, USA

Erica Blevins Nye (upper-right corner) finds energy through sharing the message of Jesus Christ with young adults.

Erica Blevins Nye (upper-right corner) finds energy through
sharing the message of Jesus Christ with young adults.

I’m naturally an introvert. Sharing in community is difficult for me.

At times I’m envious of extroverted people. Interaction with others typically energizes them, making compassionate ministries and inviting people to Christ feel more natural. They assume people want to hear what they have to say and share their perspectives liberally.

We introverts often find ourselves drained by extended interaction with others—even people we care about. I have to rally myself to make new friends. Sometimes it’s even a challenge for me to chat with people before or after church.

I like to imagine Jesus as an introvert. Perhaps he was; we don’t know. The gospels describe him as frequently thronged by crowds that were pleading for healing and teaching. In these settings he did more than pass out blessings and truth. He offered servant ministry just by extending himself to interact with others. I can relate to that.

Whether he was introverted or not, one reason I follow Jesus is because he proclaims hope for the coming kingdom of God. And the kingdom comes when we reach beyond ourselves to embrace others.

Jesus extended himself in expanding concentric circles of community, dismissing boundaries as he went. It started with breaking his personal boundary, maybe one that would prefer privacy and the simplicity of solitude. He built an intimate community of 12 disciples and friends. Just keeping up with them was probably an effort.

Then he extended himself to the Jewish community. Then crowds of diverse followers. Then the circle of skeptical outsiders who hovered at a distance. Then even to those hostile toward him.

Jesus demonstrated an important element of the kingdom of God. He redefined “brother and sister” and “neighbor.”

Though I often am tempted to retreat into quiet seclusion, Jesus’ example of sharing freely in community inspires me. I much prefer sharing in a few close, intimate relationships—like sisters, best friends, or a spouse. I could even do 12, on a good day.

But Jesus challenges me and all of his followers to widen our circles. We can bravely extend ourselves to all people as “brother and sister” to see the kingdom together.





Kids Share, We Share

28 04 2013

By Bob Kyser, Independence, Missouri, USA

We Share picture book and resources

We Share picture book and resources

 

An awesome thing happened recently in my congregation, Good Shepherd of Kansas City, Missouri! After hearing about a new book for all ages entitled We Share, we decided to give a copy to every family with children.

Members were invited to contribute toward the cost and sign their names inside the front cover. On the Sunday when we observed Children’s Sabbath and 8-year-old Emma Stabno was baptized, we handed out 20 books. The kids were excited, the congregation was excited, and I was excited. Emma, who distributed the books, had studied We Share while preparing for confirmation.

More excitement came when our newly formed “shepherding groups” took 15 more books to the homes of children who were not present. What a blessing of caring and invitation!

The next idea to come from this book is to consider forming We Share groups for kids. Can you picture kids meeting twice a month for study, crafts, stories, and spiritual formation? Newly released lessons based on We Share for ages 3–5 and 6–11 will provide the resources. There seems to be no end to the sharing.





Praying the Worshiper’s Path

26 04 2013

By Kathy Shockley, Independence, Missouri, USA

Since first walking the Worshiper’s Path at the Women’s Conference in 1993, I have found it a special place of meditation and prayer. In the 20 years since, I have returned again and again to experience its thought-provoking and prayer-invoking images.

On either side of the glass archway that forms the entrance to the Worshiper’s Path stands a great urn. This is where I begin, where I prepare for my journey up the path. The urns invite me to empty myself of the cares, responsibilities, to-do’s, ego—anything that will interfere with coming into the divine presence at this time in this place.

So in my imagination I pour all those things into the urns. They hold them until I am ready to take them again at the end of my walk. And many times, after completing my walk, I find I no longer want or need some things I left there.

This act of emptying is an intentional way of making room for God. It helps create the transition from secular time to sacred time. More importantly, it helps us move to a stillness, a receptiveness that can more fully encounter the Divine.

In my reading of the Gospels, I see Jesus’ time in the wilderness as a time of his great emptying. It also was the time of his great filling, when he took on the full nature of his divinity and his humanity. Just so, each time we empty ourselves and let God fill us, we become a little more Christ-like.

As a personal spiritual practice try an emptying exercise when beginning your prayer time. Select a cup, bowl, or other vessel. Holding your vessel, breathe slowly and deeply at least three times. With each exhalation, empty yourself into your cup. With each inhalation, breathe in God’s light and love for you. Having completed this as your preparatory exercise, move on to your prayer or study time.

Joyce Rupp writes in The Cup of Our Life:

The spiritual path is a constant cycle of emptying and filling, of dying and rising, of accepting and letting go. The full cup is repeatedly emptied so it can be filled again and again.

My prayer is that we may more fully embrace the rhythms of the spiritual life.

 





What Does This Mean? A Translator’s Perspective

24 04 2013

By Steve Graffeo,
Human Resource Ministries

The Spirit helps translators spread the words of President Steve Veazey and others across multiple languages.

The Spirit helps translators spread the words of President Steve Veazey and others across multiple languages.

How the Spirit moves is anticipated but remains unpredictable in the development of disciples. The good news, when received and understood, changes life, life’s purpose, and the reason for being. The Spirit reaches into the heart and the emotions and touches the mind and intellect of those who hear, see, and understand.

But when we don’t understand the meaning of the sounds, what will help our understanding? On the Day of Pentecost, we read the amazing story of the disciples being filled with the Spirit and speaking to the crowd gathered in Jerusalem. People heard in their own tongues, as they were gathered from “every nation under heaven.”

The Spirit translated the thoughts of the apostles into meaningful words, understandable to all who heard. Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?” (Acts 2:12 NRSV). Those who accepted Peter’s message were baptized, and about 3,000 were added to their number that day. The 11 apostles were translators of the message. The Spirit gave them utterance, and their spoken words became the avenue by which people understood.

In a highly diversified community sent to the world, the translator of sounds and meanings is a key in the ministry of outreaching love, peacemaking, and mission. Every tongue and nation, every ethnic group and culture, needs to hear the gospel of grace and peace in its own tongue as understood in its own culture. And when filled with that same Spirit expressed at Pentecost, people ask, “What does this mean?” Lives change, and paths of love and peace open.

Translators act as facilitators of understanding from one who speaks in a language foreign to listeners. The translator is to be as neutral as possible in transmitting the thoughts, meanings, and emotions of the speaker. The translator is a human bridge of understanding who conveys the spirit of the speaker’s message.

However, from experience, I am aware the translator still may be touched in unpredictable ways.

Often, we cannot control the Spirit that moves within us and through us.

When the speaker’s message and Spirit touch the translator, remaining unmoved is difficult. Often, emotion boils over in the speaker’s words, and the translator is caught in that very emotion. When this happens, those who are seeking meaning and understanding are not privy to what is being said until the translator conveys the meaning.

The translator who allows the spirit of truth to speak as conveyed in intellect and emotion serves as the means of the Spirit to touch the lives of speaker and listener, asking the question of Pentecost, “What does this mean?”

The translator has become the conduit by which the spirit of love and friendship is expressed. Speaker, listeners, and translator become one. They are connected by the Spirit of God.

As you listen to an unfamiliar language and people around you, understanding what is being said, begin to laugh or cry, you hunger to be part of the emotion of the moment. You wait with anticipation for the translation so you, too, can feel what those beside you are feeling. What has been said is apparent at this point only in the visual, not yet the verbal.

As the translator is able to convey the message, the movement of the Spirit is confirmed when the verbal supports the visual. Having to wait for good news is hard. You eagerly—sometimes anxiously—await the understandings and feelings of those around you.

Translators are deliverers of the good news and facilitate the movement of the Spirit. They give themselves to the task of bringing understanding and meaning between peoples. They, too, become participants and recipients of the movement of the Spirit. This is always what happens at intersections where people meet people in interpersonal relationships.

What a wonderful place to be, when the Spirit causes us to ask, “What does this mean?”





Campers “Pause” to Help Others, Know God

22 04 2013

By Janet Muse, Leeton, Missouri, USA

Youth from the Central Missouri USA Mission Center helped Joplin on its journey back to health after a devastating tornado.

Youth from the Central Missouri USA Mission Center helped Joplin on its journey back to health after a devastating tornado.

High school youth from the Central Missouri USA Mission Center took time to “Pause” in last summer’s camping experience to help those in need through Rebuild Joplin.

The youth set aside their classes and craft time to travel 12 miles into Joplin each day. In doing so, they honored the camp theme, “Pause,” and recognized that it takes only a committed second to begin a relationship with God. This second then grows into minutes, hours, days, and finally a life of following and talking with God.

Joplin, devastated by a 2011 tornado, needed groups to survey each home and learn about needs. The youth graciously accepted the challenge of walking the neighborhoods and knocking on each door.

They heard devastating stories of the loss of loved ones and homes, as well as miraculous stories of houses untouched and blessings of life. Through it all, they took time to pause with God.

Next, they helped clean and paint a church with a congregation that was 90 percent elderly women and their grandchildren. The youth tackled the challenge of sprucing things up with God’s love. They dusted and polished the wood interior, picked up trash outside, and painted doors, stairs, entryways, and a ramp.

Finally, an older couple graciously accepted help from the youths on a day well above 100 degrees. The couple’s daughter had been working at Mercy Hospital when the tornado hit. They shared stories while the youth scraped and painted their home and garage. The couple told how being at Mercy allowed their daughter to touch and bless many lives on that tragic day.

In taking the time to “Pause,” the youth moved forward in the Mission Initiatives of Abolish Poverty, End Suffering and Develop Disciples to Serve. Their unselfish efforts blessed many.





Growing a Living Church

20 04 2013

By Laura Phillips, International Headquarters intern

I didn’t want to just sit in church. I believe we’re called to action, to be in the community doing stuff, and I have a hard time believing that we as a people are meant to go into a church building and just sit and worship. You need to be out helping and doing that on a day-to-day basis.

Kirtland, Ohio community garden

Kirtland, Ohio community garden

Kevin Williams’ belief led him to start the Kirtland, Ohio, community garden with Andy and Blake Smith. They wanted the opportunity for families to teach children about fresh produce and to provide food to people in need.

They envisioned a world where the abundance of God’s food is fairly and justly distributed, all are fed, and there is peace on Earth. They needed volunteers and financial support to start. So they applied for a World Hunger grant (funded by contributions to Abolish Poverty, End Suffering), and found more support in other local churches.

With that backing, the Kirtland community garden was all green thumbs up! The garden holds some plots where people can grow food for themselves, and others are set aside for a pantry.

But who maintains the garden?

That is where volunteers like Bill Bauman come in. Because of last summer’s heat and lack of rain, the garden needed daily watering. Every day, you could see a sweaty Bill caring for the plants.

“I help at the garden because this is a brilliant idea,” he said. “There are people in great need of vegetables. I’ve seen neighbors starting to get to know each other and support coming in from the community.”

The garden strives to minister to a community that needs it. The leaders want to Abolish Poverty, End Suffering by feeding people. They have big hopes. They’d like to get more beds to increase their harvest. They’d also like to teach people how to grow and use fresh produce.

“The community really gets involved when it comes time to get the garden ready,” Williams said. “The missionaries from the Kirtland historic site help set up the beds, and I don’t think it would have happened without them.”

He summed up the mission: “At the end of a hard day of work, I just love the quiet. I love seeing my work come up in the spring and knowing the impact it will have in the fall. …That’s not sitting in church. That’s living it. It’s what we’re supposed to do.”





All Are Transformed!

18 04 2013

By David Lloyd, Integrated Formation Ministries

Baptism is an outward sign of inner transformation.

Baptism is an outward sign of inner transformation.

Most of us know the joy felt when someone chooses to unite with our church family. It’s a blessed experience that calls us to consider the waters’ renewal and the Spirit’s fire within us.

I’ve watched as people decided publicly to proclaim that choice through baptism and confirmation, each event as unique as the people themselves. I’ve also clarified my perspectives as I’ve witnessed those who recently have declared their discipleship in these ordinances.

The act of baptism is strange in my North American culture; our rituals of washing usually are private. Yet, there we are together, standing on smooth river rocks, sandy ocean beaches, swimming pool decks, or in sanctuaries near a font. We re-create this ancient tradition, sometimes failing to recognize that all of us are experiencing baptism. “New life” enters though this “new creation.”

Community of Christ changes. Our willful separation washes away as we become one in Christ. We each transform!

I’ve come to understand that sacraments are outward acts of what already is happening within. A baby is blessed by God long before the ordinance, but the community experiences the “aha!” moment as we celebrate this good news. We usually recognize a person’s call to priesthood before ordination, but we “get it” as we bow in prayer together.

Likewise, we move past the thought of baptism and confirmation as the spiritual “starting point” of discipleship. Instead, the two sacraments proclaim where the journey now intersects with the community. Baptism becomes the invitation to “pack together” as new obstacles and vistas open to us.

Confirmation is another ancient and emerging concept in our faith movement. Just what do we believe we are “confirming”? Maybe confirmation is less what we’re doing, and more what the community is witnessing. Maybe we’re saying, “Yes, we see it!” The body confirms a witness of the Holy Spirit’s presence within the disciple. What an exciting celebration for all involved!

I recently witnessed the baptism and confirmation of two wonderful young-adult women who over several years became a part of my own family. I don’t know the moment they became family, but I found great joy when I recognized it. I’m equally unsure when they discovered the Holy Spirit’s presence (though it was long before they came into my church) or became part of our church family.

Both recognized God and their inclusion within the community before asking for baptism and confirmation. We never pushed them to join but are humbled they chose to explore their faith adventures with us.

This intersecting blessing between God, individuals, and the community has always been present in the church. Past assurances crisscross with future possibilities in the present sacrament. Finite and infinite connect. All are transformed!





“And I Will Bring My Family”

16 04 2013

By Adam Wade, East Asia Mission Center president

An invitation to one person led to a congregation being blessed by an entire family.

An invitation to one person led to a congregation being blessed by an entire family.

I recall a moment at the end of our Korean youth camp more than two years ago. I sat down after our final worship in the weeklong event at the Seoul Community of Christ building and unrolled a few small notes I had received.

In breaks between activities, campers had written to each other and the staff on these little pieces of paper. The encouragements, thanks, affirmations, and prayers then were placed in a glass bottle marked with the individual’s name.

The note that struck me the most was from Sean. It was the first time he had come to a church camp. In fact, it was the first time he had come to anything church related. Sean was encouraged to join camp by his English academy teacher, who also attends the church.

Education is the major part of a being a teenager in South Korea, and perhaps this was a great opportunity for Sean to practice English with native speakers. Realistically, that probably was the same for at least half the youth at camp. Spending a week immersed in English can make a difference in language ability, particularly at Sean’s age. So I admit I was a little surprised when I read his note.

In Korean, it read, “I want to start coming to church. And I will bring my family.”

I admit I was somewhat skeptical. This was not the first time in Korean culture something like this had occurred. People often had told me what they thought I wanted to hear. Still, I was hopeful, and I told Sean before he left that I hoped to see him Sunday.

It was my great joy to see Sean and his entire family the following Sunday. It was even more joyous to see all four of them—Sean, his brother, father, and mother—enter the waters of baptism 18 months later. They joined six others who were baptized that day: two other Korean families and my son.

It still amazes me how quickly Sean identified the value of being a part of Community of Christ. Through his experience at a camp where people usually weren’t even speaking his native language, he caught the mission and exemplified what it means to Invite People to Christ.

Then the discipleship of his family was able to evolve within the witness of the congregation, which welcomed, nurtured, and guided them. Because of Sean’s invitation, we have been deeply blessed by his family.





Bread for the Journey

12 04 2013

By Joann Fisher,
Boise, Idaho, USA

JoAnn Fisher

JoAnn Fisher

About five months ago, I was sitting quietly in my home congregation, waiting for the worship service. Jared, my 9-year-old grandson, sat next to me.

After a few moments, he leaned over and said, “Grandma, can I tell you something?” “Of course,” I whispered.

“Well, I have been thinking about something for a while” he whispered back. “I have been thinking of how I could have a job in the congregation.”

I asked, “What kind of job do you have in mind?” He shared, “I have thought a lot about what I am good at and what I am interested in. What I have decided is I am good at cooking.”

He had concluded he could serve the congregation by helping the woman who bakes Communion bread each month.

For many years, Barbara Horner has prepared unleavened bread for the sacrament. Jared wanted to apprentice under her and learn to perform the task himself—should she ever be unavailable. I encouraged Jared to talk with Barbara.
I was amazed and humbled by what he had shared. Jared is on the journey of discipleship. He is finding his way as he tries to discern God’s will. He feels a part of a loving community and wants to participate fully. He responded from a sense of passion for serving and from a sense of compassion for Barbara.

My exchange with Jared prompted me to think about others in the congregation with gifts and talents to share in discipleship. Are we encouraging them to find a good “fit” for themselves? Are we empowering them to claim their place in sacred community? Are we accepting enough for them to feel “safe” in making the offering?

I am proud of Jared, (not just because he is my grandson). I also am proud of our congregation for making him feel like his giftedness would be accepted, valued, and appreciated.

And I am grateful for Barbara Horner and all the people like her who quietly and faithfully serve and generously welcome others into the serving.





Christ’s Mission on the Move

10 04 2013

By Ralph K. Anona, Honolulu, Hawaii, USA

In New Caledonia a congregation’s support has deepened the spirituality of a family as it struggles with a debilitating illness.

In New Caledonia a congregation’s support has deepened the spirituality of a family as it struggles with a debilitating illness.

I often reflect on this scripture as I think about the Mission Initiatives. This passage makes me think about the many changes on shores of islands in the Pacific Ocean. Some have been good, and others have brought unhealthy results.
As people have shifted from a village or multiple-family setting to an urban location, the thrill of being in a new place sometimes turns to tension and frustration.

Unfamiliar or new ideas replace many cultural values. Traditions fade. Families become less connected and struggle with changes. Unable to handle the shifts, people sometimes turn to crime, alcoholism, drugs, and domestic violence. They feel disconnected, isolated, fearful, and alone.

However, our mission is to live out Christ’s mission and bring Christ into the lives of people who yearn for connection, peace, and belonging in a loving and caring community. Christ’s mission calls us to create communities of Christ’s peace in our families and congregations, across villages, tribes, nations, islands, and throughout creation.

Christ’s mission urges us to end suffering and promote communities of joy, hope, love, and peace.

When I think of Christ’s mission, I think about the church in Fiji responding to several families jolted by recent flooding. One family lost personal belongings and a son. With faith grounded in God, the family remained thankful to God and asked only for sheets, pillows, pillowcases, blankets, and bedding from the church. Such a small request, but a large one for the family.

The church in Fiji responded immediately, making sure the family received the items. The church also held a prayer service in the family’s home. The family was thankful to God and the church. It was blessed. We also were blessed to witness the family’s faith—despite its losses—in a loving God.

In New Zealand, the Auckland Congregation also responded in love to a family in Fiji. The congregation heard about a Fijian father, unable to pay for his medicine and medical care. The congregation wanted to help. But before it could, the man passed away. His family could not pay for his funeral expenses.

The congregation helped with the funeral expenses, extending love and compassion across the sea to another island family. The family in Fiji found joy in celebrating the father’s life and moved forward with hope. The family was thankful to its friends from New Zealand for sharing the peace of Christ. The congregation found the peace of Christ in its response of compassion.

I also rejoice with the congregation in New Caledonia for bringing the peace of Christ to a family with a daughter who had a rare disease. Her illness left her bedridden with limited movement. She needed around-the-clock care. Doctors said she would not live long, but six years later she is still alive.

Her parents are so appreciative for the congregation’s prayers and support. The spiritual care has brought the family inner strength. Most of all, the family found the love of Christ revealed through its daughter.

When family members first heard about their daughter’s illness and prognosis, they became bitter and angry, especially with God. Now they see their daughter as a great blessing. And they’re thankful to God and the congregation for helping replace anger with abundant love. The peace of Christ has brought healing and newness of life.

Congregations in Hawaii have joined in Christ’s mission in various ways. They have focused on joining the community in regularly providing items to a food bank. Some congregations provide meals, clothing, and other support to homeless families.

Another congregation is supporting the Compassionate Care program, sponsoring and helping a child find joy, hope, love, and peace. Recently, the Hawaii reunion contributed to Outreach International for a community far away.
Congregations all over the Pacific are fulfilling Christ’s mission by making it our mission.

When people can remain faithful and committed to Christ after losing belongings and a son through a flood, we fulfill Christ’s mission. When we can help a family in Fiji that has just lost a father, we make Christ’s mission our mission. When we witness a family in New Caledonia transformed from anger and bitterness to love and peace, we see the Living Christ and mission on the move. When we gather food for the hungry and feed the homeless, we are on Christ’s mission.

When we can share the hope of Christ with others across the sea and on other continents, we are hearing the cries of people who are searching for hope out of hopelessness.

Yes, life holds many challenges, but we know the peace of Christ brings good and everlasting changes. For all of us, the well-being of others becomes well-being for us.

Christ’s mission is alive and on the move!