One Hero, Many Heroes

23 07 2014

By Jimmy Munson, Chattanooga, Tennessee, USA

One of our 10-year-old boys has been attending church for weeks and is nicknamed Meal Ticket. He’s a hero.

Thirteen younger cousins live with him and his mom for many reasons. He would bring a different one with him to church each week so they could eat.
We finally found out Meal Ticket’s cousins all stayed with him. They had little food, little clothing, no medicine. So we spent $1,400 to get these kids what they needed. We also arranged for Family Services to come.

But listen to this: The last few years we have not been able to afford T-shirts for Memorial Day Camp. This year, though, somebody saved $700 for the shirts. Butwhen our kids found out about Meal Ticket and his cousins, they voted to help by giving up the T-shirts for camps and their trip to a Passion play.

The kids are really Jesus heroes.





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.





Serve the Poor and Hungry

11 06 2014

By Barbara Graeff-Vinck,
Independence, Missouri, USA

IMG_7862Every Wednesday people come together in fellowship from a citywide group representing different faiths, different civic organizations, and youth. They come to serve those from under bridges, from tents in nearby woods, from families with hungry children, and from places of isolation.

They come to Stone Church Neighborhood Dinners in Independence, Missouri.

Volunteers come from 21 partner organizations, including nine churches, four service clubs, six youth organizations, two community agencies, and three schools. More than 250 volunteers invest more than 2,500 hours annually, serving 9,000 to 10,000 meals. Each group hosts the dinners on a rotating basis, serving 180 to 225 people each week, including 20 to 40 children.

All volunteers are there for a single purpose: to let those in need know they are valued, respected, and loved. The volunteers accomplish this in several ways, including serving guests restaurant-style.

“Serving our guests this way, protects their dignity,” explains Arthur Butler, who has been with the program four years. “They don’t have to line up to receive their food.”

Many volunteers visit with the guests, offering compassion and care by listening to each person who wants to share a story, a concern, or ask for prayer. They demonstrate love for each person. Pastor Terry Snapp says, “Creating a caring and loving relationship with the people we serve is the most important and the most rewarding part of this ministry.”

Several volunteers have decided to do more than serve. One asked if she could sponsor a meal, and then she wrote a check for the amount. Two others decided to get gift bags containing socks, toothbrushes, and other essentials for each person at the Christmas dinner.

Some have shared other gifts, in addition to serving the meals. Erin Barrier, a music teacher at Van Horn High School, brings music students to serve the meals, and they occasionally perform.

When asked what serving at the dinners means to her group, Hilda Beck, mission director for St. Mark’s Catholic Church, replied: “A lot of people come together. I think helping with the dinner means something different to each one of us. We are trying to live the gospels. Jesus said go and feed the poor, and that is what we are trying to do.”

The program works closely with other community groups that help support this effort. Community Services League, which provides a wide range of services to those in need, donates food when possible. The Society of St. Andrews, which gathers freshly grown but not harvested—and therefore unused—produce also makes food donations.
Starbucks donates dessert items, and the Stone Church Community Garden adds fresh produce. The main source of food help comes from Harvesters Community Food Network.

But Stone Church’s program cannot survive on food donations alone. The contributions of several financial resources make it possible. The dinners originally were financed by donations from corporate entities and three years of World Hunger grants, an outreach funded by financial gifts to the Mission Initiative of Abolish Poverty, End Suffering.

“We are being successful at obtaining local community support that replaces the World Hunger grant,” Pastor Snapp said. “We have every reason to believe that the community will support it. This program is an example of how World Hunger ministries has started a program that will now be locally sustained.

“In addition to getting significant support from individuals, companies, and foundations, we have established a relationship with the Truman Heartland Community Foundation. This organization has created the Uplift Independence Fund. It allows us to be eligible to receive gifts and grants from various funders.”

Added Betty Snapp, Terry’s wife: “The Neighborhood Dinners began in September 2009 as a way to serve our immediate neighbors. We cooked the dinners in our home and took them to the church to serve.”

By 2010 there were 60 guests, up from the original 10. The number has continually increased with the ever-expanding need. The dinners now are weekly. Originally, the idea was to feed children not eating regularly when school was out during the summer. Now dinners are served every week all year.

Linda Craig and Chris Copeland plan and cook the meals. Linda also is responsible for scheduling volunteer groups. Through their management, the program prepares dinners—offered free—for $1.25 to $1.50 each.

Meal-partner groups include several Community of Christ congregations: Stone Church, Open Arms, Summit Grove, Walnut Gardens, and Cornerstone.

The need is greater than ever. The most recent figures from the Independence School District say 848 families in the district are homeless. In the two elementary schools serving the Stone Church area, 81 percent receive free or reduced-rate breakfast and lunch because of poverty.

So what happens when people from different backgrounds, different cultures, and different circumstances share a meal? They begin to talk and then to listen to one another. They form relationships. A sense of community takes hold. Those once isolated find companionship and caring, from volunteers and each other.





Opposing Human Trafficking

21 05 2014

By Barb Oldale, Athabasca, Alberta, Canada

The Edmonton Congregation sought to raise awareness of human trafficking.

The Edmonton Congregation sought to raise awareness of human trafficking.

The Edmonton Congregation in Alberta, Canada, sought to follow the Mission Initiative of Abolish Poverty, End Suffering by hosting an information session on human trafficking in September. The Action Coalition on Human Trafficking (ACT) and Mission of Mercy led the program.

ACT provided education about the widespread issue and explained ways to counter it. Rachel Hansen from Mission of Mercy spoke passionately about efforts in India to rescue girls and women from sexual abuse and sex slavery. Many congregation members bought sewn handicrafts made by women in India who have been rescued from sex slavery.

Also, six congregation members joined ACT on a five-kilometer walk around Edmonton’s south side to raise money and awareness.

Engage the Issue
Study, worship, and action resources to engage congregations in the issue of human trafficking are linked from the Community of Christ Human Rights Team website. Visit www.CofChrist.org/humanrights and click on Stop Traffic.





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…





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.





The Power of Story

16 01 2014

By Dan Gregory, Lamoni-Heartland USA Mission Center

clearing brush and trash

clearing brush and trash

What is your story?

We had just arrived at Power House Congregation, completely unsure of what we were getting into.

Though we had prepared for hours, the 19 young adults on our spring break service trip were aware we didn’t really know what we would find on the streets of Baltimore, Maryland. So when Pastor Kevin asked us within five minutes of our arrival what our story might be by the end of the week, we were a bit hesitant.

Each person has a story, and it is our holy stewardship to share and receive with grace one another’s stories. Our basic story was that we had traveled a thousand miles from Iowa to spend a week immersed in the stories of a community we had never engaged. We spent the days in a neighborhood park, clearing dense brush used as cover for prostitutes and drug dealers. And we walked the neighborhood with Pastor Kevin, talking with strangers and the kids who filled Pizza Church and Bible studies.

We spent evenings at the Laurel Congregation, 20 minutes and a world away, eating and reflecting together on the day’s stories.

Each day, we heard stories and testimonies from those whose lives were changing by the grace of God expressed through a loving community known as Power House. We shared our own stories of faith—the good and the bad—that helped shape us.

We made new stories, new memorable moments drawn from cramped living spaces, cold days, intimate conversations, Capitol tours, and meals cooked together. We were vulnerable to new ideas and life experiences, yet we found connection in the simple, yet powerful, sharing and receiving of those stories.
What is our story? Our story is God’s story being written daily through our lives.

I am grateful the story didn’t end when my last pair of socks was put away or the budget was balanced. I am grateful the story of connection, of blessing, of living in community doesn’t stay locked as some memento. I am grateful our story has been reshaped by encountering Christ on the streets of Baltimore and can be molded anew each day on the Iowa streets of Newton, Lamoni, and Council Bluffs. The story of faith continues to unfold, continues to be written, continues to be given life as we join with God today and every day.

We have stories to share, and we have stories to write. They’re woven together as part of God’s great love story to and with the world. What is your part in the story?