What the Cross Means to Me

31 03 2014
Dan Nowiski

Dan Nowiski

By Dan Nowiski
Michigan USA/Canada Mission Center

The cross calls me to live Christ’s mission. It serves as a reminder that Jesus’ ministry to the marginalized involved challenging structures that devalue human beings and separate people from living in community.
Crucifixion by the Roman government was reserved for those who threatened the stability and control of the empire. Jesus’ death on the cross teaches me that his ministry with the poor, the sick, and the captive disrupted the normal flow of life for those who exercised power and dominance in first-century Palestine.

To be a disciple of Christ in ministries of evangelism, compassion, justice, and peacemaking requires one to encounter and challenge the forces of empire.

Above all else, strive to be faithful to Christ’s vision of the peaceable Kingdom of God on earth. Courageously challenge cultural, political, and religious trends that are contrary to the reconciling and restoring purposes of God. Pursue peace. —Doctrine and Covenants 163:3b

Unrestrained consumption destroys creation, families, and communities in places around the world. It is my responsibility as a disciple to challenge those structures by making Responsible Choices in my own life, advocating for legal reforms, and engaging with neighbors in my community to withdraw from mindless consumerism in the material economy.

Ignoring those who toil in sweatshops or seeing their land destroyed so I can benefit from lower prices and disposable products designed only for convenience is no longer an option when I look at the cross.

Jesus’ bold action to live with and speak for the excluded and forgotten set him apart as a troublemaker. I expect the path of discipleship likewise will bring me into conflict with many who choose to pursue comfort and convenience at the expense of impoverished persons around the world.

I was born into a position of privilege. I could use my standing as a means for selfish advancement, or I could choose to follow the model of Christ and give voice to the abused and neglected.

Many days I fall short and take in more than my fair share of energy and resources from our environment. The symbol of the cross pushes me to continual repentance for my role in the abuse of my brothers and sisters around the world.

Christ transformed the Roman crucifix from a symbol of dominance and oppression to one of humility and freedom. The image of the cross drives me to personal transformation and sends me into the world as a witness of the coming reign of God.

If you truly would be Community of Christ, then embody and live the concerns and passion of Christ.
—Doctrine and Covenants 164:9d





Sit a Bit in the Ball Pit

28 03 2014

By Carla Long,
Eurasia Mission Field

On Facebook, I recently saw a video entitled “Take a Seat & Make a Friend.” I usually don’t watch the videos on my friends’ walls (“This Kitten Is SOOOOOO CUTE!!”), but for some reason, this time I did.

The video opened by showing a ball pit, like the ones in children’s play areas (the kind any adult with a germ issue would never go in). It was on the sidewalk of a busy city street. A sign behind the ball pit said, “Take a Seat & Make a Friend.” The video showed five pairs of people who sat in the ball pit together at various times.

There also were bigger balls in the ball pit, ones with starter sentences on them like, “Find something the two of you have in common.” Or “Share three things on your bucket list.”

The answers for each pair ranged from ridiculous to touching. One pair realized someone they both love has multiple sclerosis. Another pair found deep similarities, though they seemed so different. (“Someone planted us here for this reason!” “Destiny!”)

There were tears in my eyes when the video ended. I found myself thinking, “It’s so beautiful when people really stop and listen to each other. We always find that we are more similar than we are different. We should do something like this at camp!” That’s when I mentally slapped myself! “No! This is nothing spectacular or amazing! This is merely people connecting on a level that God calls us to connect! This is what we are called to do!”

How many times do we not listen? How many times do we recognize someone desperately wants to connect, and we don’t think we have the time? How many times do we walk away from a meaningful conversation because it is scary or intimidating?

God calls us to connect with each other on a deeper level—a level more profound than, “How are you?” “I’m fine.” It’s a level that realizes similarities between people who are not similar. It’s a level that changes perceptions and redefines reality. It’s where God lives.

We don’t need to be in a ridiculous, forced situation to find these moments of connection. We can have them every day if we become aware. Perhaps a co-worker seems low on energy. Look her in the eye and ask how she is. Maybe your spouse can’t seem to find the words to say something hard to say. Offer encouragement. Maybe your parents feel anxiety about getting older and are unsure which way to turn. Sit with them, have some tea, and be open to what comes. Perhaps you’re on an elevator with a stranger who sighs and sinks into him or herself. This is your opportunity to make a difference in someone’s day. Do it.

So, go out and find your “ball pit” today. I promise you (and someone else) will be glad you did.

 





Helping to Pursue Peace

26 03 2014
Chaplain Ken Stobaugh discusses the unique cross  in the Temple with a visitor.

Chaplain Ken Stobaugh discusses the unique cross
in the Temple with a visitor.

By Ken Stobaugh,
Independence, Missouri, USA

Being a chaplain at International Headquarters is challenging and most rewarding. Several faithful ministers, charged with being a presence, fill this need.

At times we express this presence by visiting offices in the Temple and Auditorium. Other times we are called to meet the needs of those who come to headquarters for a friendly ear or the sacrament of laying on of hands for the sick.

Recently a woman and her husband came to the Temple. She felt deeply in need of administration. We spent time sharing, followed by a rich experience through the presence of the Holy Spirit.

Sometimes the chaplain accompanies guided tours. This is to help answer questions without interrupting the flow of the tour. Such questions may address doctrine, history, or the architecture and construction of the Temple.

The Temple holds two notebooks, one at the top of the Worshiper’s Path, the other in the Meditation Chapel. People can write down concerns. Chaplains check these entries each day and offer prayers.
The chaplains are faithful to their mission statement:

The Temple Chaplaincy is a ministerial witness of Jesus Christ—providing the ministry of presence, pastoral care, and counsel for headquarters complex visitors and staff. Chaplaincy ministries are focused on the divine call to peace; affirming that life is sacred, that it is affirmed only when all persons are acknowledged as worthwhile and loved.

Those who serve help to Pursue Peace on Earth.





Go Buy a Piano

24 03 2014

By Jena Wight
Blue Springs, Missouri, USA

Jena Wight uses her gifts and passions to pursue Christ’s mission.

Jena Wight uses her gifts and passions to pursue Christ’s mission.

I recently read an article by a famous pianist. In it, he challenges the reader to “find what you love and let it kill you.” He says maybe you love the idea of being able to play the piano. So instead of watching TV after work, he says, why don’t you spend a hundred bucks on a used piano, get yourself a teacher, and spend 40 minutes a day practicing. After a few weeks you could play a Chopin nocturne.

Or maybe you love to write. So you’ve joined a book club. But wait—you love to write. So what are you doing in a book club? Go find a writers club. One where you bring a few pages of writing to each week’s meeting.

The point is, push yourself. Make your life about progress and growth rather than acceptance and complacency.

As followers of Jesus, we should be joining writers clubs and buying pianos—metaphorically speaking. What does it look like for you—you personally—to be working to build the kingdom of God on Earth? What does it look like—and I mean really, really look like—for you to embrace and live out one (or all five) Mission Initiatives?

Stop and think about it. When you have your answer, stop and think again. If you like writing and you join a book club, you haven’t put yourself in a position of true growth and opportunity. If you love God and want to help the world, allow yourself to really do that.

Doctrine and Covenants 163:1 says:

“Community of Christ,” your name, given as a divine blessing, is your identity and calling. If you will discern and embrace its full meaning, you will not only discover your future, you will become a blessing to the whole creation. Do not be afraid to go where it beckons you to go.

Replace “Community of Christ” with your name. Read that scripture as if it’s meant for you. If you will discern and embrace your full meaning, you will discover your future—and you will bless the whole of creation.

If you, as one person, can “bless the whole of creation,” what can a group of people accomplish? Apply this concept on a larger scale! What does this mean for your family, your congregation, and the church on a local, national, and international scale?

We’ve been called to Develop Disciples to Serve. Will you encourage your congregation to read a Bible verse every day? Will you challenge and equip each individual to devote time each day for study, prayer, and spiritual practice? Will you encourage yourself and others to learn skills that can help carry out the mission of Jesus Christ?

We’ve been called to Experience Congregations in Mission. If your congregation is being called to reach out to the neighborhood, will you put flyers in door handles? Or will you develop ongoing relationships by meeting, visiting with, and intentionally inviting people in a personal, real way?

We each should push ourselves. Go deeper! Ask questions, find answers, and then ask the questions again. Embrace your gifts and your passions, and then go buy a piano.





“How Will You Show My Love?”

21 03 2014

By Abby Nowiski
Lansing, Michigan, USA

I have often referred to Luke 10:27 as a summary of my beliefs and my duty as a Christian. In this scripture Jesus tells us that to inherit eternal life we must love God with all of our heart, soul, strength, and mind and our neighbor as ourselves.

Until recently I hadn’t realized the true challenge lies in Luke 10:29 (NRSV), when a lawyer, “wanting to justify himself,” asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

In the small Michigan town where I grew up, my neighbors looked mostly like I look and had beliefs mostly like mine. My perceptions were challenged a few years ago, when my husband and I moved to Memphis, Tennessee, so I could earn a master’s degree.

We moved into an apartment near the university in what was once the zip code with the city’s highest crime rate. It seemed that everywhere people looked different, talked differently, were less educated, and had values different from my own.

One day I decided to walk to the bank. I walked past a pawn shop and a liquor store with bars on the windows. A man greeted me and asked if I wanted to have lunch. I smiled, said no, and kept walking, perhaps more quickly.

I never found the bank, and eventually the heat persuaded me to head home. I realized I was too faint to make it without stopping for water. I reluctantly walked into the liquor store and saw the man I had ignored earlier.

He greeted me again, gave me his seat in front of a fan, and handed me a bottle of water and half of his sandwich. We shared a meal after I earlier had determined he was not worth joining for lunch. We talked until we were kicked out for loitering.

I met a new neighbor that day, a kind man with good intentions. I had assumed he had nothing good to offer me, and he ended up filling my need for food and water. More importantly, he taught me a lesson I will never forget.

Until I met Deion, I had justified myself by defining my neighbors as people like me. It became apparent that I sometimes valued people based on education, race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, or status.

Those who were not in my neighbor box were people to be feared, or helped—not loved. When those boundaries were removed, I experienced the true power of God’s love through my neighbor.

As I begin to open my eyes to the worth of God’s people everywhere, I often hear God whisper, “She is your neighbor; how will you show my love to her?”





Hope for a New Era

19 03 2014

By Tanoh Assoi, Ivory Coast Mission Center president

Members of the Kenema Congregation in Sierra Leone  came together for a church class.

Members of the Kenema Congregation in Sierra Leone
came together for a church class.

The Ivory Coast and Liberia mission centers, as indicated by their names, involve two countries. But we wished to expand into new countries, and President Steve Veazey’s 2011 address about the Mission Initiatives helped us.

We wanted to plant the church in two more countries. We welcomed the address because we wanted to carry the Spirit anywhere we could, regardless of difficulties. For us it is the hope of a new era as we dream of touching people’s lives.

Invite People to Christ

The republics of Sierra Leone and Togo, both West African countries, were our goals. We informed our field apostle about the possibility of using the Mission Initiatives and carrying the church into those nations.

Seventy Sackor Dixon from Liberia had made the first trip to Sierra Leone in September 2010. Then, in December 2010, we went to Kenema, the country’s third-largest city. For 10 days we taught about what our church believes. We also taught a pre-baptismal class. Afterward, 15 people were baptized as grassroots members in this country.

Later, Apostle Bunda Chibwe visited and taught for three days, with about 80 people attending the closing day. During his visit in June 2011 we registered the church in this nation. We are moving to get a piece of land for a church building.

In Togo, an effort to establish the church failed several years ago. We explained to the field executive team that we still dreamed of starting the church in Lome, Togo’s capital city. We received approval.

In September 2011, Mission Center Financial Officer Baka Ble, Missionary Elder Sylvestre Ban, and I made our first contact in Lome. Sylvestre went again later to deepen our contacts and attract people to this new church. He taught about 25 people. We baptized and confirmed 15. We also registered the church with the Togolese government.

Now we would like to go to many other nations.

Abolish Poverty, End Suffering

Most Africa nations are third-world countries, facing issues of justice and peace in the lack of basic needs and an abundance of problems (food shortages, lack of health care, HIV, AIDS, etc.).

When people hear our initiative to Abolish Poverty, End Suffering—Christ’s mission of compassion—the message is very welcome! People think we are a church that brings hope and concern to people in poverty.
Many nongovernmental organizations are addressing the same matters. But when we, as a church, say we want to abolish poverty, it sounds different because many nearby Pentecostal denominations do not teach that. They just teach the gospel of prosperity, which never changes daily lives.

Tangible Love and World Hunger projects, funded through this Mission Initiative, are helping in our countries and mission centers.

In Liberia, the church is bringing hope and joy to many rural people by providing safe drinking water through two boreholes, or wells. The same joy has been felt in southeast Nigeria because of a borehole enabled by church funds.

People’s lives in various places, like Zambia, are changing with the hope the church is bringing to our members and communities, including nonmembers. Each dollar given to Africa is helping to change lives daily, moving us toward our goal to abolish poverty. Many thanks to all those who give.
Pursue Peace on Earth

In Africa, people generally live in communities. But sometimes these communities lack peace because of war, political instability, economics, drought, disease, and more. This Mission Initiative is well received and probably has a bright future in the two new nations.

Togo once was called the Switzerland of West Africa because of its stability, peace, and economic status. But it began to experience unrest in 1992 and experienced a difficult transition when a former president refused to leave office after about 30 years. (He died in 2005, and his son replaced him.)

This led to political instability, with the killing of hundreds of people and more than 10 years of an economic embargo.

People who are hopeless welcomed the church with its message of joy, hope, love, and peace. Someone told me: “Why did you wait so long to bring such a peaceful message to the Togolese? It should have been here for many years!” We are sure the church will grow fast because our message is about peace, and people do need peace!

The church’s message of peace was well received in Sierra Leone, too. This nation went through a devastating civil war from 1991–97. Thousands were killed. Many were maimed, and some took refuge in surrounding countries.

The demand for our church exists in many areas, but for strategic reasons we are concentrating on building the first congregation, established in the diamond-dealing area at Kenema. Then we will go to new locations.

When we disclosed the five Mission Initiatives, one person said: “I have now met my church after so many years. It’s a church that not only is bringing the gospel, but is concerned with our daily lives, our well-being, and a message of peace.”

Related to this matter, we have a Young Peacemakers Club in Liberia to teach and bring peace in communities through our youth. It is important because Liberia went through its own civil war from 1990–2005.

Develop Disciples to Serve

We took the opportunity of having Angie Elliott-Koene, former World Church minister, present in the Ivory Coast Mission Center to train our members and leaders. Over four days, she taught about 35 leaders who serve in different capacities in Ivorian congregations. She focused on improving their understanding of church theology and preparing some for calls to priesthood.

A similar workshop was held in River Cess County in Liberia, where about 50 leaders from across Liberia gathered for a week to worship and learn about different topics.

Experience Congregations in Mission

I was encouraged by fund-raising in a new Liberian congregation to buy a jazz drum to help make worship services vibrant! This exemplifies the spirit of giving we try to encourage in our congregations.

Also, several congregations are involved in evangelism. For this year, we are committing all our congregations in urban areas to evangelize at least once a month. Mission center leaders are emphasizing this, and they hope to extend it to rural congregations!

Thanks

We are grateful to President Veazey and the First Presidency for visionary leadership by bringing the address with the Mission Initiatives to the church. This gives us more strength to move the church forward. May the Spirit continue to guide and direct our leaders and bless the entire church on our journey with Christ. Shalom.





Honoring Our Ashes

17 03 2014

By Carolyn Brock, Redmond, Oregon, 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.

When I was 5 years old our house burned to the ground. We arrived home from church and found it engulfed in a fireball. I can still remember the heat on my face, the orange flames shooting high, the look on my mother’s face, the grief in my heart. We had been told to take our new Christmas dolls from the car, back into the house, before leaving for church earlier that day.

For a while it felt like we were homeless refugees who had lost everything and didn’t know where we were going. But family, church friends, and the community took us in and began to provide supplies to rebuild our lives. I had loved living in that place on the edge of a pine forest in southern Oregon. But I found that I could live in a new place, create new memories, explore new landscapes, and keep growing.

The memory of all that happened is still clear and precious. I am who I am, in part, because of having lived in that place. Every place where I have lived, put down roots, loved the land, and connected with people is the stuff that continues to form me. Though they become “ashes” to me in a physical sense, they are the substance of my deep bone marrow, my story.

As a church, we are who we are because of all the places we have “lived” physically, theologically, and spiritually. We may think the old places were abandoned as ashes, but they are still within us, bound in our memories, woven into our stories. They continue to tell us who we are and where we are going. Let us remember and revere the ashes of past places, and carry them with us into the new.





Online Chats: 15 Years of Invitation!

14 03 2014

by Brad Bryant, Steve Ferguson, Richard Hawks, and John Wight
Sunday Night Live

Sunday Night Live, our church’s online text chat for seekers, sponsored by the presidents of seventy, recently celebrated a key anniversary!

Every week for 15 years, one or more seventies has logged onto www.CofChrist.org/pathfinder, expectantly and prayerfully waiting to see who God would bring to our 9:00 p.m. (central time) chat room. For an hour, we explore Jesus, the church, sacraments, our spiritual journeys, scriptures, and other topics. We also offer prayer and support during every chat session, helping first-time visitors and longtime attendees with life situations.

Over the years, our moderators have included Mike Richard, Vern Foster, Ron Wood, John Wight, Steve Ferguson, Richard Hawks, and Brad Bryant. Several hosts have moved to other ministries and callings, but chat ministry continues. Sometimes, the moderator also will invite a “guest minister” or other supporting minister to share with seekers.

The chat’s format and focus have evolved over time, but the foundational message of Jesus Christ and Community of Christ continues to be “what matters most.”

It amazes us how God uses Internet communication through chats, e-mail, and other tools to change people’s lives and help them find the blessings they need through ministries around the world.

Besides visitors from across the USA, folks from other nations and time zones join us. Because chats are English-based, we struggle a bit when a visitor who speaks only Spanish, Portuguese, or another language shows up. These experiences help us realize how big this type of ministry can be. It is a portal to the world, allowing God to bring together people who never would have met otherwise.

Throughout the years, we also have encountered many “lost” members, helping them re-engage the church. We are a vital open door with a message of hope and invitation. For others, who because of geography or life situations are unable to attend a brick-and-mortar church, the chat has become “their church,” offering a special time to evaluate life, personal journey, God’s call, and other factors that bring blessings and help them reconnect with God.

We also have shared with ministers from other religions and denominations who chatted with us in our safe format. They’ve included a Jewish rabbi and an Anglican priest.

Our experiences have brought us to where we are today. The Spirit continues to stir among people of the world, and we must continue to grow, develop, and adapt to their needs. Perhaps our future will include offering chat ministries in other languages and time zones with new moderators or new technology.

Steve Ferguson, while reading a devotional, recently had an interesting thought about chat ministry. While our mission intent has remained constant since Jesus told his disciples, “Go ye and teach,” our missionary strategies have evolved. In each age, missionaries have taken advantage of the travel and communications afforded them.

Our chat rooms may be the modern equivalents of the itinerant “tent revival” preacher!

Our goal is not merely to provide a safe and welcoming gathering place for seekers, though that is important. Our goal is to get folks interested and excited about connecting with the church and participating locally.

We’ve seen that happen as God uses chats to introduce the church to folks, who then find a congregation and are loved into relationship. Baptisms, confirmations, administrations, attendance at retreats and reunions—they’ve all occurred, at least in part, because people passed through our chats on their journey to God.





How Great is Our God

12 03 2014

Ron2by Ron Wood
Warner Robins, Georgia, USA

As a chaplain for a trauma center, I am flooded with families that are thrust into nightmares. Persons who were whole just hours earlier come in by helicopter, clinging to life. From a baby who will not live though its first night to a child whose brain has been damaged in an auto accident, the doors I walk through are full of Goliaths. As a minister, I am called to represent the God of love, who is much bigger than these traumas.

Through these experiences I have a short time to run for the door in intimidation or to proclaim a God who transcends darkness and provides comfort.

When church members look at issues that appear insurmountable, will they see a God who is much bigger than all circumstances of the world combined? Will they flee from these issues, or will they trust that God is much bigger than any problem they may confront?

How great is our God!





Finding Encouragement from His “Bud”

10 03 2014
Nicholas Hoerchler (center) encourages younger kids to join in a children’s moment at his congregation in Dittmer, Missouri.

Nicholas Hoerchler (center) encourages younger kids to join in a children’s moment at his congregation in Dittmer, Missouri.

By John S. Wight
senior president of seventy

I have long been amazed, impressed, and inspired by the ministry of children and youth.

I’m not talking about the kind of ministry where people smile and clap because a group of children sang a cute song (although that often has ministered to me, as well).

I’m talking about the kind of ministry that causes one to pause and thank God for a deep insight gained from something a young person said. The kind that touches one’s soul as a 6-year-old girl sits next to an old guy (me) and provides the ministry of presence because she thinks he is sad. The kind that reminds one that all people of every age are children of God. They can—at any moment—be God’s hands and feet to reach into a hurting world and invite people to experience the joy, hope, love, and peace of Jesus Christ.

I received such ministry again a few months ago when I met and spent time with Nicholas Hoerchler at a reunion (family camp) in southeast Missouri. Following the reunion, I was to spend three days leading a workshop on community outreach, personal witness, and invitation. I had enjoyed getting to know Nicholas during the reunion, but it is what happened during the workshop that ministered to me.

We “talked the talk” the first two days. Then on the third day we went into the community to meet neighbors around the Rolla Congregation, where several of us had felt called to make an intentional effort to reach out.

I had assumed Nicholas was at the workshop because his mother and grandparents were there, leaving him no choice. But when it came time to “hit the streets,” Nicholas asked if he could go, too. That was the first moment of ministry. What a thrill and a blessing to hear a 12-year-old ask if he would be allowed to do something adults often avoid.

The next moment of ministry came at the first house. We knocked on the door. When some residents came to the porch to visit with us, Nicholas didn’t stand quietly in the background. He became a wonderful witness of Jesus Christ and intentionally invited the family to be a part of the ministry being expanded in that neighborhood.

I felt deeply touched and uplifted as I listened to this young disciple excitedly practice at least three Mission Initiatives: Invite People to Christ, Develop Disciples to Serve, and Experience Congregations in Mission.

The next moment of ministry occurred a few weeks later when I had the great pleasure of attending Nicholas’ baptism in his home congregation of Dittmer, Missouri. Nicholas was part of a family with a deep Community of Christ heritage. But family members had wisely not pushed him to be baptized at 8 years old. They wanted to give Nicholas time to make his own decision. They wanted him to make that sacramental commitment when he was ready, rather than just getting baptized and confirmed at 8 because that was what was expected.

Nicholas had made his decision earlier in the year, before the reunion and before walking the neighborhood. He was living out his discipleship before he was a baptized and confirmed member of the church. It came not from a sense of obligation, but because he had felt the ministry and love of Jesus in such a way that he wanted to share. In the process, he blessed, inspired, and ministered to me and many others.

Nicholas is my “bud,” and I am thankful for those times we’re together so I again can be encouraged by his enthusiasm for Christ’s mission and his clear desire to be a disciple of Jesus Christ.

I also am thankful for all the other children and youth whose ministry I have had the privilege and pleasure to experience through the years. Jesus is quoted as telling his disciples to let the little children go to him so he could bless them. Sometimes it is good for us older folks to go to the children and be blessed by them.

We also can follow their example by willingly and intentionally witnessing to and inviting people into relationship with Christ and becoming active in his mission. With whom is God calling you to be in a witnessing relationship?