What the Cross Means to Me

30 06 2014

By Kris Judd, staff pastor

My physician wears a simple silver cross on her lapel. I had not noticed it until a recent visit, and I was not aware of her religious preference. But I knew she was a woman of faith by the way she spoke and treated her patients. I told her I appreciated that she was not afraid to wear the symbol of her faith, and she responded, “I wear it close to my heart. It’s my work.”

Jim Wallis of Sojourners made a similar comment when he wrote about the popularity of Pope Francis. “Francis is just doing his job. The pope is meant to be a follower of Christ.” I love Pope Francis, not only for what he does for the poor, the oppressed, the excluded, and marginalized, but for what he is doing for all Christianity in its diverse shapes, forms, and denominations.

He’s not ashamed of Jesus. People not only are noticing, they’re celebrating this humble leader who lives and loves like Jesus because that is his job, and that is who he is.

Feeding the hungry, crying for justice for those without voice, empowering the powerless…these are more than good deeds performed to build community. These are the actions, intentions, and inclinations of one who knows and boldly lives the invitation to follow Christ.
Wallis also comments:

The remarkable acts of kindness and grace we see with Pope Francis are the natural response from a disciple who has known the kindness and grace of Christ in his own life. The pope’s moments of Christ-like compassion and love point not to “a great man,” but rather point to Jesus. He is not asking us to follow him, but inviting us to follow Christ.

Many of us struggle with the Mission Initiative of Invite People to Christ. It is perhaps the most important, yet most difficult, to do. It challenges us to leave our comfort zones and face our egos, which prefer to avoid rejection at all costs; to state our truth rather than remain silently respectful of all other truth-tellers in our pluralistic societies; to boldly live our faith in actions and words that tell the source and reason for our faith.

Actions are critical because it’s through the work of our hands and feet that poverty is abolished, peace is pursued, and communities are built. However, if we fail to speak of the life and ministry of Jesus, the source of our faith and community as Christians, then we and our community become the worshiped. And when either the community dies or we are no longer present, so, too, does the hope and faith of the ones we’ve invited in.

We are called to point to the One who gives hope and is worthy of our faith, not to be the recipients ourselves.

Jesus Christ is worth speaking of through bold and generous lives, through story, testimony, invitation, and the simple and ordinary work of disciples, like Francis, my doctor, and each of us.

A Dude and a Donkey

27 06 2014

By Zac Harmon–McLaughlin, Wickliffe, Ohio, USA

mclaughlin-donkeyI had an hour of spiritual-practice time dedicated to reflection and connection with the Divine. I was in the Rocky Mountains. A racing creek was right outside, snow-capped mountains waited for my eyes, and birds flew back and forth. Other blessings were waiting to reveal themselves.

I walked to a bridge over a raging creek and sat down. I communed with God. I reflected on what had been a terrific weekend—a retreat experience at Peaceful Valley Dude Ranch.

As I was letting my heart dwell in God, flowing with the breeze and the water, I felt prompted to cross the bridge. In a small pasture I found a donkey gently grazing, having some dinner. As soon as the donkey heard me, we made eye contact.

Now, I am a city boy. I don’t know how donkeys behave, what they like, or how to touch them. But I thought I would give it a go. I was in the middle of connecting with the Divine. I thought, “What a wonderful opportunity to experience God through this creature!” So I made my way closer, and he made his way closer to me.

We met, and I stuck out my hand in the same way you do when you meet a dog.

The donkey rubbed against my hand as if to tell me to start rubbing his nose and head. I began to pet him, and I swear he smiled at me. He opened his big, old mouth and bared his teeth in a grin. I felt a connection to this creature.

His coat was coarse and dirty. As I patted his neck and back, dust flew into the air. His owner had mowed his meadow clean. I picked from the plentiful grass outside the fence. As soon as I leaned forward with a handful of greens and dandelions he smiled again.

The donkey is the lowliest of creatures in the equestrian world. It is not a beautiful stallion or a giant Clydesdale. It isn’t exotic or fast. Yet, the donkey is what Jesus rode into Jerusalem—what Jesus used to flip this world’s understanding of power and status into love and peace.

The donkey for Jesus is an ambassador for peace. I was at peace with an animal that doesn’t hold honor and glory or even the tourism appeal of a zebra. I was with God, having a peaceful agape meal.

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 Want to Do that All over Again

25 06 2014

By Shauna Ferguson, Kansas City, Kansas, USA

Shauna familyI love going to reunion at Camp Chihowa, west of Kansas City. I didn’t get to go often when I was a kid, but I have been able to go with my children since they were small. I also have the special privilege of taking other children.

Doug and I are foster parents. Over the last 13 years more than 55 children have passed through our house. Some have stayed a few days. Others have stayed a few years. One we adopted, and we are adopting another. Most have returned home or to a different relative. We have been able to keep in contact with some.

One child calls me every January and asks, “When is reunion?” He and his sister lived with us about six years ago and spend a few weekends throughout the year with us. They go to Camp Chihowa every summer.

Their living situation is not what I want it to be. It frustrates me that I can’t change that, but I can let them come with me to experience the peaceful and safe surroundings at reunion. Now he’s almost 13, and his behavior has changed—not for the better. I talked to him about my expectations of him during reunion and said if he didn’t follow the rules, we would take him home. He said softly, “I won’t mess up. I really want to be there.”

A 16-year-old came with me last year. He had lived with us when he was 10. We had lost contact with him for a while but recently reconnected. He has been coming over for short periods as we rebuild a relationship. He had some difficult behaviors to manage, so we have been taking things slowly.

Last June, he said, “Remember that camp you took me to? Do you still go to that?” I spoke with his grandmother, and she agreed to let him go. I had the same conversation with him as with the other boy. He asked, “Are you still strict and make us follow the rules?” I responded that I was. He replied, “Good, I need that.”

Because of immaturity and poor choices, he isn’t often placed in roles with responsibility. At reunion, I told him he would be expected to help with cleaning, serving, and washing dishes. He loved it! He volunteered for all kinds of jobs.

He washed pots and pans. He offered to vacuum the chapel. He liked serving in the food line, and he got to cook hot dogs on the grill. People kept telling him they appreciated him and his good work. His smile was huge, and he was very proud of himself.

The theme one night was God’s Grace and Generosity. What a great theme for our family. We get to see God working every day in the lives of these kids. So many people work to make Chihowa a safe, clean environment. People show up at work days, serve on the board, plan reunions, shop creatively to keep food costs down, and quietly work behind the scenes. I can’t thank them enough.

My kids and my “extended family” need this place. Too many of them have experienced pain no child should have to face. At reunion, they find acceptance, fulfillment, and a sense of belonging they desperately need.

Friday, on our way home from reunion, my van was very quiet. An 8-year-old girl with us sighed deeply and said, “I wish it was Sunday. I want to do that all over again.”

So did I.

Ho, Ho Helpers

23 06 2014

By Bill Cleveland, Dripping Springs, Texas, USA

Moving to a new city always involves surprises. One my wife, Carolyn, and I got when we moved a few years ago was the community activism by the Austin Congregation in Texas. One popular outreach program is the Santa Shop.

It’s a once-a-year event that serves Food for Friendship breakfast guests and neighbors who have economic and social challenges. They come into our sanctuary and “shop” without charge for Christmas gifts.

A longtime worker, Cathy Bennett, said Austin had been feeding homeless and needy people for some time when one member, Sue Nevill, saw an opportunity. The folks who came to the breakfasts didn’t have much money, and Christmas gifts were scarce for them.

The Austin church is in a working-class neighborhood with low-income housing. These were hungry, poor, and forgotten people who needed to know someone cared. Sue wanted to provide more than a Sunday-morning breakfast.

So in 2000 she started the Santa Shop.

She and others began collecting change in coffee cans to buy simple gifts. Then our guests would “buy” these presents with tickets they received as they arrived. Early in the program, the congregation passed out flyers near the church, and word spread. One guest even rode a bus from across town. Children also received tickets.

Some guests shop for themselves; some get gifts for others. Volunteers even wrap the gifts.

Santa Shop volunteers work hard to maximize assets. This includes buying gift cards from Goodwill and getting cash and good used items donated from congregation members, friends, and businesses. Going online to solicit gifts also has helped.

The latest Santa Shop featured six tables overflowing with gifts. More than 100 guests left with big smiles and “Merry Christmas” or “God bless you” on their lips. While we attach no strings to participation, it is a bonus when someone comes back for church services. On one occasion, two families returned, and their children even joined in when the bell choir performed.

Pastor Eric Cox says Santa Shop tangibly demonstrates the Enduring Principle of Grace and Generosity. Gifts multiply just as God’s grace multiplies.

Cox recognizes that many in the congregation work hard to put the program together. Neighbors, friends, and community members support it. Perhaps best of all, we share the message of a loving God with people who most need to hear it.

An Invitation to the Church

20 06 2014

By the IYF Committee

International Youth Forum (IYF) will run July 15–18 in Independence, Missouri. IYF events also will happen in the Dominican Republic and Honduras this summer. We invite you, as members of Community of Christ, to hold these events in your prayers and spiritual practices that allow this type of intentional focus.

Why are we asking you to place IYF in your prayers and spiritual practices? Because it is through the Blessings of Community that events like this are possible. Two statements from the Enduring Principles, Blessings of Community, may help frame this (www.CofChrist.org/ourfaith/enduring-principles.asp):

  • We are called to create communities of Christ’s peace in our families and congregations and across villages, tribes, nations, and throughout creation.
  • We value our connections and share a strong sense of trust in and belonging with one another—even if we never have met.

IYF is about creating those communities of Christ’s peace. We all are connected to those communities, and by entering into prayer and spiritual practice for those communities we strengthen that connection. Though we may not have met, or may never meet, we all are part of the fabric that creates Community of Christ.

Three areas that might be highlighted during your reflection:

  • Those who are planning and preparing to serve at IYF
  • Leaders of delegations who will be shepherding the youth
  • Most importantly, the youth of our church

While it would be natural to focus more intentionally on those youth who will journey to IYF, we also ask you to hold up those who cannot attend. You also may feel led to focus on some other aspect of IYF in your reflection. That also is welcomed. May all know that God’s Spirit is with them as they prepare physically, mentally, and spiritually for this IYF experience.

Thank you for the time you put into this invitation. May it bless you as you share in the IYF community.


Dreams, Decorations, Disciples

18 06 2014

By Angela Ramírez de Hernández, Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic

RamirezFinding ways to bring people to Jesus Christ and share our vision and mission can be challenging. But sometimes we find great surprises and blessings.

Several months ago I heard about a congregation in the Dominican Republic Mission Center. It has a family that is bringing great joy to services. I wanted to know how it had come to the congregation.

Everything started when the pastor and congregational members visited a young man who had been coming to spiritual family retreats and had been dedicated to prayer. He was charismatic with youth.

Through him they began to meet and get to know the rest of his family. A few months later family members became involved in a conflict with a neighbor. The neighbor was a policeman who disliked their small dog.

One day as the neighbor was coming home, the dog started barking, and the man began to beat him. The dog then bit his shoe. An argument between the neighbors ensued, and the situation spun out of control.

The policeman, who often was verbally abusive, swore a complaint against this family. There was an order of arrest for four family members.

The family decided to pray. It prayed several times a day, asking God to do justice. A few days later several policemen came to the house with the arrest warrants. They took three family members: two women and the young man.

Though incarcerated, they continued to pray. The older of the two women described the situation to other women in jail, and they all began to pray.

On the third night in jail she closed her eyes. While sleeping she saw a decorated church. In the morning she remembered her dream and said this was the church God wanted her to attend.

The next day they went before the judge. The judge found discrepancies and falsehoods in the policeman’s statement.

The family went free.

When they arrived home, a young woman from the congregation was waiting. She suggested they all go to church to give God thanks. The woman who’d had the dream in jail had never been there.

When they arrived, she realized the church was decorated just as in her dream. She’s been a fixture ever since.

Recently she, her sister, and her son, were baptized. Other family members come to the congregation, too, and happily join in the services.

Invite People to Christ

16 06 2014

By Ini Edet, Nigeria Mission Centre president

congregationIn my office I decided to read one of my favorite parts of the Bible, Isaiah 6:1–8. Instead I was drawn to Luke 4:18 NRSV: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me…”

I wondered why this verse leapt to my attention instead of the one I had intended to read. Finally, I decided to read it again. This time the verse seemed to talk to me directly. Then I realized I have two purposes:

  • To help people realize their God-given potential and be in harmony with creation.
  • To tell the good news about Jesus.

Christ came to begin these major missions. He left them for us to continue.

I had taught Sunday school about 26 years before the church employed me in 2006. My major task was buying clothing and life necessities for the less privileged—the downtrodden within and outside our church. This generosity attracts people to the church.

We started a branch at Abak, a nearby town. With help from Apostle Bunda Chibwe we launched with two families. The first baptism was carried out with five people in 2007.

With house-to-house evangelism and visiting the sick, the number rose to 24, including children, in 2008. A women’s fund-raiser in 2009 enabled us to buy musical instruments, chairs, and more. Individuals donated other things. Our numbers increased steadily, so we sought land for a permanent structure.

After two years, we found it. The next step was to put up a small structure to enable us to move in faith. The congregation embraced fund-raising through thanksgiving, and three months later a temporary structure with a capacity of 100 was ready.

We dedicated it June 9, 2013, and two children were blessed. People were very happy. Even the area ruler was there.
Also, we had a three-day revival at the Ekim Congregation. It was a Spirit-filled meeting. We visited former attendees in their homes. Most responded, and new people showed up for baptismal classes.

During the house-to-house visits, a man said, “Pastor…we are members in the Spirit, and the church is a blessing to us.”

Then the Spirit reminded me of Doctrine and Covenants 163:1: “‘Community of Christ,’ your name, given as a divine blessing…” I knew God would make this a worldwide church.

Our uniforms make us a signal community. Who we are and our message are embedded in the clothing. The uniforms put us at the forefront in any ecumenical gathering.

I adopted a principle to help in this field of soul-seeking: “Catch them young.” This seeks to bring children and youth into the church. And in a bid to mobilize women more efficiently we began the Pastors’ Women Association. Members meet with women at a grassroots level. They rotate meetings from one congregation to another. Wives of pastors from other denominations are joining.

At the recent wedding of Lagos Pastor John Nyah, four people from the wife’s family decided to become members.

They are now receiving pre-baptismal lessons.

I feel God is calling us at the right time and in the right direction to spread the good news. Truly, we are a worldwide church.