What the Cross Means to Me

28 02 2014

By Shandra Newcom, Rocky Mountain USA Mission Center

Shandra Newcom

Shandra Newcom

I am called to live radically, just as Jesus lived—to love the unlovable and feed the hungry; to free the captive and heal the broken. The cross represents this call to me.

It is this call that took me from my home in Colorado across the world to Chipulukusu in Zambia, Africa. I traveled there with HealthEd Connect, a nonprofit that believes deeply in the Worth of All Persons and works to end suffering.

I hadn’t realized that my disciple’s journey had become routine, that I had lost a sense of the radical reorientation the cross provides us as followers of the way of Jesus Christ. As I worshiped in the congregation in Chipulukusu, I saw what the cross means to my new Zambian friends.

The hope and praise I experienced as we sang, “There’s No One Like Jesus!” was more than meaningful. It changed my life. I began to understand, to remember that in our brokenness and struggles, Christ brings us all peace. As much as we are human beings who experience diversity in a wide range of ways, the unity Jesus brings ties us together and points us to a life of healing and renewal.

In Zambia I met women and men who have allowed the cross to change their lives. Some serve as health workers, volunteering their time and spending most of their day caring for the sick. Others teach orphans. Many have taken in children after parents died of disease.

While some might have seen death and despair in the places I visited (and there certainly were those things), I saw a fierce willingness to bring joy to life. I saw people who live with hope and who believe deeply in Christ as the one who brings freedom from the hopelessness that can come from a life lived in struggle. The smiles on the faces of the orphans who reached for my hand as I walked through their compound not only melted my heart, they reminded me that the peace of Christ passes all understanding.

I have changed my life because of that trip. I have looked carefully at how I live and what I do. I have realized that I do not live my call as deeply and fully as I want. I have allowed the example of my brothers and sisters in Africa to move me to a new way of being, a new way of seeing, a new way of acting in the world.

To say that following Christ and the cross has turned me upside down would be an understatement. It has taken me from complacency to a life lived in praise, celebration, and action in the name of the One who brings new life to me, you, and a waiting world. And I am grateful.

Sometimes We Struggle with…Parenting

26 02 2014

By Erica Blevins Nye, Oakland Township, Michigan, USA
(Excerpts from the Young Adult Blog at http://youngadultministries.wordpress.com)

Motherhood has given Erica Blevins Nye a new perspective  on a person’s relationship to the welfare of others.

Motherhood has given Erica Blevins Nye a new perspective on a person’s relationship to the welfare of others.

One year ago I worked for International Headquarters as our Young Adult Ministries specialist. On any given day you could find me at my desk, busily connecting with Community of Christ young adults to lend ministry and support. You could find me at an airport, traveling to meet with young-adult ministers around the globe and to hear their vision for the future of the church.

And the staff meetings! I loved the meetings (if you can believe it) because at our best we would discuss how we could influence the mission of this church I love.

Now, one year later, on any given day you can find me reciting my alphabet. Or frantically scrubbing crayon off my furniture. Or cutting peanut butter sandwiches into bite-sized squares. Or hurrying to a potty chair.

In the last year I have transitioned from full-time minister to full-time mommy.

This journey has been a joy! It also has brought its share of grief. While it is rewarding to spend my days caring for one of God’s precious children, it has required a good deal of “letting go.”

Letting go of career and ministry expectations. Letting go of my personal plans, priorities, and timelines. Letting go of some ego. Letting go of part of my identity.

This life shift isn’t uncommon, especially for young-adult women, but it still hasn’t been easy. I have been learning to re-center my life off my own hopes and onto those of someone else. It’s scary, and it feels a little out of control.

It is dangerous to invest so much of oneself into someone else. To love and invest so deeply in another lays a person open to receive authentic joy. But it also leaves one exposed to the potential of searing heartbreak.
I have discovered my own welfare is deeply, inextricably linked to the welfare of my child. I now understand the power of this concept in a way I hadn’t before.

Though this new journey has been a challenge, I am learning and growing. I’m gaining fresh perspective on the nature of a God who is Creator and Caretaker. And I’m gaining insight into what it means to be a disciple in a faith community called to live in service to others.

Uniform of Invisibility

24 02 2014

By Karen Brown, Blue Springs, Missouri, USA

This is an excerpt from one of the entries appearing each day in the Daily Bread blog. Visit http://CofChristDailyBread.wordpress.com to subscribe for free.

I went back to college recently to enable a career change. I spend most of my time in one building, and I often cross paths with a housekeeping staff person named Rosemary. I always smile when I see her, but I became aware other students ignore her.

I thought it must be lonely to work in a place where no one even acknowledges your presence. I, too, have experienced that to some extent, being older than most students.

I introduced myself to Rosemary and began speaking to her whenever I saw her. That seemed to cause a transformation. She went from avoiding eye contact to her face lighting up. Then she began starting conversations with me. At first we just engaged in “small talk” such as the weather. Now we share more about our families and challenges in our lives.

One time I was going to class with another student, and I stopped to talk to Rosemary. When I caught up, the other student asked what I was doing. I said, “I wanted to talk to Rosemary.” She said, “Do you know her?” I said, “Yeah, Rosemary’s my friend.”

Many times I have failed to respond appropriately in similar situations, but I’m glad I had the courage to speak to Rosemary and then say she was my friend. All people matter to God, no matter what their job or life circumstance. Every person should matter to us. Treating others with love, kindness, and respect—wherever we happen to be or whatever the uniform—is what Christ did and would do today. He expects the same from us. Can you make a difference today to a person made invisible by their position?

The Stench of Poverty

21 02 2014

By Alex Kahtava, World Hunger-Tangible Love Team lead
Excerpted from the Community of Christ evangelist blog

For children in poverty, water from a borehole, or well, can be life changing.

For children in poverty, water from a borehole, or well, can be life changing.

Years ago I was in an overcrowded city to share in a congregation. It was in what some describe as an urban slum. As I plodded toward the church, it seemed this was not my first visit. Yet I had never been in the city. What was so familiar?

I saw buildings, signs, markets, and people. All were new…yet everything tugged at my inner being—I’ve been here before.

Finally I stopped, closed my eyes, put my hands over my ears, and realized: It was the smell. It was the stench of poverty. The odor had filled my nostrils in many parts of the world. The people and languages were different, yet the smell remained. The experience repeated over and over for years.

It was the stench of unfulfilled hopes and dreams, despair, and hopelessness. Yes, poverty has a smell, described by someone as being like “dried fish, burning garbage, and body odor.”

That stench remains with me today and causes me a dilemma. On one hand there is a passion that the stench of poverty be gone forever from all places. On the other hand is a passion that the stench permeate every worship service, business meeting, conference, reunion, and retreat—whenever two or more gather in his name—so decisions are made and actions taken to replace the stench with the hope of the peaceable kingdom.

Each worship service I am reminded of the stench when I realize about 29,000 children under 5 die each day from poverty-related causes (http://www.unicef.org/mdg/childmortalityhtml). What is being said and prayed in that worship that challenges us personally and collectively to confront the evil at the heart of hunger bred by poverty?

In Compassion: A Reflection of the Christian Life, authors Henri J.M. Nouwen, Donald P. McNeil, and Douglas A. Morrison follow a reference to Matthew 25:31–46 NRSV with this statement:

Action with and for those who suffer is the concrete expression of the compassionate life and the final criterion of being a Christian. Such acts do not stand beside the moments of prayer and worship but are themselves such moments. Why? Because Jesus Christ, who did not cling to his divinity, but became as we are, can be found where there are hungry, thirsty, alienated, naked, sick, and imprisoned people. Precisely when we live in an ongoing conversation with Christ and allow the Spirit to guide our lives, we will recognize Christ in the poor, the oppressed, and the down-trodden, and will hear his cry and respond to it wherever he is revealed.

My journey continues, my nostrils still filled with the stench of poverty. And I am aware the stench permeates my neighborhood, my community, my city…

Join the Online, Interactive President’s Address April 6

19 02 2014

By Kendra Friend, Integrated Communications

The studio in the Temple will buzz with activity during President Steve Veazey’s address in April.

The studio in the Temple will buzz with activity during President Steve Veazey’s address in April.

Opportunities to come together as a worldwide church through the Internet continue to grow. On April 6 we will take advantage of this with an online-only, interactive event. President Steve Veazey will share a live webcast address with the worldwide church. Afterward, he will take your questions live through e-mail, Twitter, and Facebook.

During his address, President Veazey will take us deeper into the words of counsel given at the 2013 World Conference, focusing on the first six paragraphs. Prepare by studying and reflecting on this portion of the words of counsel found in the May 2013 Herald and http://www.CofChrist.org/presidency/041413wordsofcounsel for video and text.

During the live question-and-answer session following his talk, you can e-mail questions to AskSteveVeazey@CofChrist.org or post them on Facebook or Twitter with #AskSteveVeazey. You don’t have to wait for the live event to send your questions. Feel free to send or post them early to get them into the queue. He will answer as many as possible during the live event.

The April 6 President’s Address is one of two interactive, webcast-only addresses President Veazey will make in 2014. The second will be October 5. Both will be webcast live at http://www.CofChrist.org in English, French, and Spanish.

Find the webcast time for the April 6 event and other details on how to receive a live webcast at http://www.CofChrist.org/broadcast/upcoming.asp.

I Follow Jesus to Tell Others

17 02 2014

By Igor Karpachov, Donetsk, Ukraine

Igor Karpachov finds joy in reaching out to young adults in Donetsk, Ukraine.

Igor Karpachov finds joy in reaching out to young adults in Donetsk, Ukraine.

The Lord is working in our little congregation. In the beginning of this century I allowed the Word of God to live in me through the sacraments. It was the best thing that ever happened to me. Christ became flesh and walks among us.

It is important for me to know why I am Christian. When this world insists on telling me who I am, I have another story to tell. When this world tells me what I need and who I must become, I have another voice to offer with a future that is whole and hopeful. Jesus Christ tells who I am and changes me to be more loving.
For me the most helpful part of Community of Christ is that we try to make life better on Earth and not wait until we die for a better life. Baptism and confirmations illustrate the good news that results when we Invite People to Christ. People love to hear how the gospel became real in their lives. They want to learn about the ways of peace, the cultures of nations, and better ways to live.

I have this huge challenge to make God visible in the Donetsk region of Ukraine. We are the bridge between the world we live in and the world we want. We visit in our homes, we pray together, and we worship together. I am thankful this church and Jesus Christ have come into my life.

God sent me all these wonderful people—people who love me, accept me, and catch me when I fall. I love these people. Baptisms, confirmations, ordinations, and blessings are happening because the Spirit is moving ahead of us.

Many stories of invitation continue to bring new life to Donetsk. These stories tell how people first encountered Jesus and how they continue to encounter him every day. People study, live, share the sacred story, and recognize its connection to their stories.

Congregants eagerly celebrate birthdays, cheer for graduations, help on moving day, and walk shoulder-to-shoulder during a multitude of life challenges. No matter your age, who you are, or where you come from, Community of Christ makes it safe to take off the mask and be your true self.

Said Vladyslav, a young adult: It was August 2003 when my parents, Valentina and Ilya Ulyanov, decided to become part of this community of faith. They have received wonderful Christian hospitality. I am not officially a member of the church yet, but I plan on getting baptized soon.

I want to become part of Community of Christ because here I feel at home in a big house with diverse cultures. I have never seen Jesus, but I’ve seen he is present in many people who follow him. For me Community of Christ became that place of hospitality in the everyday moments of my life when I can protect or restore my dignity.

They See What We’re Doing

14 02 2014

By Andrew Fellows, Derbyshire, England

I have always considered myself fortunate to live in the United Kingdom. We have one of the world’s best welfare systems. Not only is there a state pension, a minimum wage, and free medical care, but the government provides financial support for the sick, injured, disabled, and unemployed.

At least that’s the idea. So why are 12.3 million people in poverty?

When a homeless person finds accommodation and moves to a new benefit system, financial support is halted, and the individual needs to reapply. This results in a funding problem. Whenever a family moves to a different house or applies for a different benefit, there is a delay. During this time nothing is paid.

Wages are static, but the basic cost of living, food, heating, and electricity are rising above inflation. A recent report from The Guardian newspaper suggested that hundreds of thousands of families have used up all their savings. They’re just one unexpected bill away from falling into debt and poverty.

This is where Clay Cross Foodbank comes in.

Clay Cross Foodbank shows the compassion of Jesus in offering food to people going hungry. We offer three days’ worth of nutritionally balanced meals. We provide a stop-gap, non-judgmental listening ear and referral to other organizations, charities, and churches.

We collect our food from public donations, engaging the community in becoming part of the solution. In one weekend we collected over 1.6 tons of food by asking shoppers, as they entered a supermarket, to buy an extra can or two for us. We are persuading schools and churches to collect, too.

We empower 30 professional agencies to refer families and individuals to Community of Christ, where we operate Clay Cross Foodbank.

The result of all this is reflected in James, who has a wife and two children. He works, but at a low wage. He arrived at our church in Clay Cross on his motorbike. We accepted his food voucher and offered him soup and bread.

He and his wife have mental-health issues. They were having problems claiming benefits. I called his case worker, who explained the family had applied, but there had been a delay. The family had spent all its savings and had not eaten properly for four days.

We were able to help. There were so many bags that James had to take what he could and come back for the rest. He returned with a friend and son. The boy exclaimed, “Look Daddy—food!” James just grinned!

It all started when my wife, Helen, and I had the vision of doing more to aid our communities after I attended the Tackling Poverty Together Conference. Many churches were represented. The event showed me churches could regain relevance in our communities and start to fulfill the mission of Jesus.

So with new vigor I started to look at the community’s needs. I learned about the Trussell Trust, a Christian organization that heads the largest network of food banks in the United Kingdom. My congregation was amazingly supportive. A World Hunger grant through the Mission Initiative of Abolish Poverty, End Suffering ensured we could make it happen.

I have begun to realize how all the Mission Initiatives have to fit together to complete the picture, and how one project can give so many opportunities.

Running the food bank has been a steep learning curve. We have had to learn to accept people as they are and to train our members and volunteers. We face challenges at each step. As we coach our volunteers, I realize we’re practicing the Mission Initiative of Develop Disciples to Serve.

Our whole congregation is involved. Through this we Experience Congregations in Mission.

At Clay Cross Foodbank we get to know our clients. We are attracting non-Christian volunteers who value what we’re doing. We offer both groups a chance to become part of our church family. It’s a step toward the initiative of Invite People to Christ.

When I meet care professionals, counselors, and church leaders they sometimes say our food bank is letting the government off its welfare promises, and that it’s not our responsibility. But we believe we are carrying out Christ’s mission. Doing nothing is not an option. The Trussell Trust uses our data to campaign nationally to bring justice to the people we serve at food banks across the United Kingdom. We help to Pursue Peace on Earth.

A wonderful by-product is that for the first time in years churches are starting to work together. We meet other Christians and encourage them to help.

Our volunteers come from several supporting churches, non-Christian friends, and local people. We are starting to attract previous clients who want to give something back.

In the first 2½ months, we fed 150 people with 1,350 meals. We are changing lives in our community and showing people what being a Christian is all about.

We are called to be at the forefront of such organizations. I now feel other Christians judge Community of Christ in Clay Cross by what they can see us doing.