What the Cross Means to Me

30 11 2013

By Mark Scherer, World Church historian

In 2009 I had the honor of visiting members in Papeete, Tahiti. This was my second visit as church historian. As people left my class in the Tarona Congregation sanctuary, a young boy ran up to me and enthusiastically pointed to the ceiling.

A panel that fell from this part of the ceiling played a role in the history of the Tarona Congregation in Tahiti.

A panel that fell from part of the ceiling played a role in the history of the Tarona Congregation in Tahiti.

He spoke French, and I could not understand him. At first I thought he had seen a small lizard in the rafters and wanted me to see it, too. My translator said the boy was telling how a heavy ceiling panel had fallen during a similar class. His well-known story was about Elder Taiura Piehi.

In January 1969, Taiura fell asleep on his couch. He dreamed that a personage told him “his work is finished.” After he awoke he told his wife, Adele, and her brother, “A spirit has come to tell me that my work is finished. I know that I am going to die. Here is how it will happen: Your eyes will not see it, but someone else will come and tell you. That’s how you will learn of it.”

Family members and friends tried to dissuade Taiura from such notions, suggesting he just had a bad dream. But Taiura knew what he saw, clearly understood the message, and rejected their rationalizing. No one slept well that night.

Over the next several days Taiura did chores that needed completion before his passing. He did painting and carpenter work, and he reminisced with neighbors about good times. In his farewells he expressed the joys of witnessing and missionary service in the outer islands. He shared stories about those he baptized, those he ordained, and of the churches he helped to build.

On Saturday, January 18, Taiura attended a district conference at Tarona. Adele was unable to join him. Everyone knew where Taiura would sit—always in his pew at the rear of the sanctuary. However, on this day he unexpectedly moved toward the front and sat in a pew just behind the Graffeo family.

While he quietly listened, a sudden movement from the ceiling caught his eye. Two heavy wooden panels dislodged from the tall ceiling. One landed in the center aisle. As the other fell, Taiura lunged forward to protect the Graffeo family.

Judy Graffeo received lacerations, was rushed to a nearby clinic, and then was released. Taiura was hospitalized with a crushed skull. To his visitors, Taiura testified that his accident was the result of God’s love and not revenge. Then, on Wednesday morning, January 22, 1969, Taiura died, thus fulfilling his dream.

This event creates an existential crisis for me because the details do not fit neatly into the many years of my secular education in the historical discipline. Normally I would approach this account with healthy skepticism. But everyone in the sanctuary that day and all those who visited Taiura’s hospital room and heard his testimony authenticated exactly what happened.

Veracity is beyond question. So I strongly hold to my computer-generated e-mail signature: “Willing to search for truth beyond reason but not against it.”

Both the meaning of the cross and Taiura Piehi’s story affirm that there most certainly is “truth beyond reason.”


We Give; God Gives More

28 11 2013

By Byron Robison, Springfield, Missouri, USA

In today’s world it is tempting to think we cannot afford to contribute to the church’s Mission Initiatives. I remember when I got married, the first trip to the grocery store was a harsh experience. My wife and I kept reminding each other that we needed to stick to our grocery list because we didn’t have money for extras. We left with only the bare necessities.

 Still, we managed to live on our small income and still save a little. By the end of 1984 we had a small nest egg. Then came an opportunity to buy my own business. It meant leaving my secure job and the paycheck that went with it. In addition, I would need to use a good portion of our savings for the business.

I worked out a business plan and bought half-ownership in an insurance agency. With that decision made, I found myself struggling about whether to use more of our savings to pay our tithing. Feeling the business opportunity was a blessing, I decided to pay our tithing.

Business was incredible! God blessed our efforts more than we would have hoped. My partner and I paid off our loan in three years—much sooner than we had expected. I never could have done it without God’s help.

No matter how much we give, God gives much more in return.

Becoming disciples means truly caring about the welfare of our brothers and sisters around the world, caring enough to give even when we have to trust God that we also will be provided for. God continues to bless me, and I have found I can give without fearing for my own welfare. After all, if God cares about the sparrows, God surely cares for me.

Looking Back, Looking Forward

25 11 2013

By Paula Rummel,
Health Ministries Association

I find myself reflecting on times and places that have molded who I am. Last week my husband, Gary, and I spent a week traveling to historic sites and to our own genealogic sites.

Paula Rummel

Paula Rummel

Some locations had markers and memorials so we could remember the events and those who had given their lives for a cause that they believed. Other places helped shape the core of who we are as individuals and what we value.

Locations maintaining the appearance of history-making days helped us understand why and how events unfolded, changing countless lives. Discovering details about our ancestors and how they lived helped enlighten us about the foundation for our personal values and beliefs.

Memorials, tangible and intangible, enrich our lives. Finding John Blumenschein’s grave in Honduras last year made his health-care dream for Central America become more alive to me. I go to Honduras because of the love of these people that he and his wife, Marion, inspired in me when I was 8 years old.

We will never know the impact or how far-reaching the actions of our lives will be. While my ancestors lived in a time of limited contact with the world, I want my life to impact places I will never see and people I will never meet.

I want my life to reflect God’s guiding hand, a recognition that all persons have worth with activities that address the basic needs of hunger and health and a genuine appreciation for those who have blazed the trails I follow!

“I Have Food”

22 11 2013

By Jim Holloway, Murfreesboro, Tennessee, USA

My wife, Sue, and I were visiting Bonnie, a friend in Mississippi who with the help of several churches was providing leadership for a pantry in Ocean Springs.

One day, I spent the entire morning at the pantry doing whatever Bonnie asked. The next day, about 10 minutes before closing, a young man came in to see about getting food for his family—himself, his wife, and two preschool children.

Bonnie had him fill out required paperwork while volunteers filled bags with food.

Then a volunteer offered to help him carry the food to his car. He told us he had walked about four blocks to the pantry. A volunteer offered to give him a ride, and I decided to go along.

When we got to the efficiency motel where he and his family were staying, I got out of the car to help unload the food. I cried when I heard the young man tell his wife, “I have food.”

The scripture from Matthew about feeding the multitudes came to life for me that day, and all I had done is ride with a volunteer. Thank you, Bonnie and all the volunteers at the Samaritan Ministry Food Pantry.

Mama Katarina

20 11 2013

By Margaret Mwamba Chilolo,
Chingola, Zambia

Mama Katarina

Mama Katarina

I met Mama Katarina in the late 1980s. She was tall, slim, in her late 60s. Katarina had no children and depended greatly on the church for support. She had poor vision, caused by cataracts on both eyes. While walking, she usually used a stick to find her way.

She stayed with an elderly friend in a small shelter with little food. It was hard for Katarina. Being old and barren was a big issue among the people in the community. Some called her a witch and left her alone to suffer.

The church saw the need to help Mama Katarina and her friend by taking them to the hospital to remove the cataracts. I was assigned to escort them to Kitwe Central Hospital, about 50 kilometers from Chingola.

The day before we left, I went to Kasompe, where Katarina lived, to make travel arrangements.

I sat on a small stool outside her hut. My heart filled with sorrow. Mama Katarina was lonely and had no proper clothes. I was touched and asked the congregation’s pastor to come to a shop I was running to pick up dresses for Mama Katarina and her friend.

When we arrived at the hospital, both women were booked for surgery. They were in the hospital for one week, and then I brought them back to Kasompe.

Mama Katarina and her friend felt the love of God through the church and the members. Their sight improved tremendously, and they were grateful for what God did in their lives.

Christ’s mission was made real in Mama Katarina’s life. She felt loved and was accepted into the community. Discrimination and hostility became things of the past. Peace was restored in her life.

You Can’t Put God in a Box

18 11 2013

By Riva Teihotaata and Chrystal Vanel, Paris, France

The tomb is empty as we can’t put God in a box. This is what Community of Christ members and friends learned during the Paris Congregation’s Easter service in France as they celebrated Christ’s resurrection and took part in several Mission Initiatives.

The warmth of an Easter celebration attracted many people to the Paris Congregation.

The warmth of an Easter celebration attracted many people to the Paris Congregation.

Among the participants, many were nonmembers, friends encouraged to come by members in an effort to Invite People to Christ.

During Sunday school, participants sought to Develop Disciples to Serve by continuing their discovery and discussion on Community of Christ Basic Beliefs, from the We Share document. The focus was on creation.

After our little brother, Kimi, read from the Basic Beliefs, participants turned to the Genesis stories of creation and learned how God made female and male equal partners for Earth stewardship. Members sought to Pursue Peace on Earth by discussing how poor human choices can have terrible repercussions on nature and humankind. As an example, they cited French nuclear testing on the seashores of French Polynesia, which caused numerous cancers.

Then they shared in an Easter worship. As most participants were from Tahiti, music and songs were important parts of the worship, which centered on scriptures and Communion. Participants learned about the magnificent living God, too big to enclose in a box (“tomb”). They were reminded that Easter is not about chocolate only, but about deliverance from slavery and death, about the hope of a new “first day,” a new “early dawn” (Luke 24:1 NRSV).

Following the service they Experienced Congregations in Mission by welcoming the visit of Thierry and Amélie. They celebrated Amélie’s cancer remission and shared a snack.

Simple Bridge to God’s Unconditional Love

15 11 2013

By Brian Ober, Lake in the Hills, Illinois, USA

Have you ever experienced something extraordinarily simple that profoundly impacted your life? A simple gesture? A simple encounter? A simple story? A simple song? This testimony is about the simple phrase: “We are proud of you.”

Several kids from a school club are finding acceptance and welcome  in the On Edge Congregation in Chicago, Illinois.

Several kids from a school club are finding acceptance and welcome in the On Edge Congregation in Chicago, Illinois.

About a year ago, my daughter, Ashlyn, attended her high school freshman orientation. It included a place where teenagers could learn about the school’s social clubs. There were booths for art, music, athletics, and other interests. One club in particular caught our eye. In front of the booth were the letters “GSA.”

Ashlyn approached and learned that GSA stood for Gay Straight Alliance. Their leaders passionately and respectfully spoke about their club and a deep desire to create a place at school where all teenagers could feel loved, accepted, and invested in. A club where bullying had no place.

The vision of the club and the deep conviction of the leaders moved us.

I introduced myself as a minister. They quickly reacted as if preparing to receive a vicious attack. I smiled and told them that as a minister and as a church “we are proud of you.” I gave them my e-mail address and told them they and their club would be in my prayers and that they could consider me and our church in their service.

God used that moment to richly bless us.

A little less than a year later, 10 teenagers from that club attend our congregation and are deeply investing in our church. We hold weekly scripture studies, learning about God’s grace and Jesus’ calling in our lives. We have had the opportunity to speak in two high school GSA clubs, teaching of a God whose grace is without condition or apology and talking about a church that upholds the Worth of All Persons.

As I look forward, I am confident God’s blessings have only started. Teenagers will respond to the Spirit’s lead and be baptized. Young adults will grow into disciples of Christ and ordained ministers of our church. Lives previously consumed in anger and hurt will begin to heal and learn about a God who calls them into relationship and a Christ who calls them into mission.