It’s a Peace and Justice Issue

8 07 2013

By John S. Wight, senior president of seventy

While having lunch with a friend recently, our conversation turned to the Mission Initiative of

Invite People to Christ and its first point, baptize/confirm many new members. My friend suggested that perhaps witnessing and inviting that lead to the waters of baptism could be seen as peace and justice issues.

The suggestion intrigued me, and I’ve been mulling it over ever since. My conclusion: Of course, they can and should be seen in such light.

Jesus quoted Isaiah to explain that his mission was (and is) to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free.

There is little doubt he was thinking of those who literally were in such conditions. But it seems equally clear that Jesus’ mission is to all people. Thus, this reference can be understood metaphorically as well as literally.

We often feel moved to support ministries that provide food and clothing for those without. We look for ways to bring healing to those who suffer. Such actions are also part of the Mission Initiatives: Abolish Poverty, End Suffering.

Many have written letters, demonstrated publicly, and otherwise stood against oppressive and unjust behaviors of individuals, groups, and governments. Others have spoken boldly and acted against violence and war. Again, these efforts fit into the Mission Initiatives: Pursue Peace on Earth.

If we are moved to fight poverty, oppression, and blindness in these ways, should we not be equally moved to share through words, as well as deeds, the good news of Jesus Christ? Should we not intentionally invite others to enter into sacramental, covenant relationship with him through baptism and confirmation?

People of all walks of life and socio-economic conditions suffer from spiritual poverty, oppression, and blindness. We unhesitatingly would share a loaf of bread with a person suffering the pangs of physical hunger. What a blessing we can be to those suffering the pangs of spiritual “hunger” as we share the bread of life—the knowledge of God’s immeasurable love for each life and the inestimable Worth of All Persons.

Intentionally and purposefully witnessing and inviting people to Christ is not about filling our churches with people. It is about freeing people from guilt, self-doubt, and other oppressive and blinding emotions. It is a peace and justice issue because by doing so, we help

to bring good news to the poor…to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.—Luke 4:18–19 NRSV

By not doing so, we leave people to suffer.

 





Refuge of Hope, Path to Peace

20 05 2013

By Steve Kellogg, Africa and Haiti Mission Field

Few things come easily for the Ivory Coast Congregation, but world mission tithes are providing hope for a new building.

Few things come easily for the Ivory Coast Congregation, but world mission tithes are providing hope for a new building.

Oufffffffffffff! Very hard the mission,” wrote Baka Blé, Ivory Coast Liberia Mission Center financial officer, as he described unloading sheet metal for the new roof of the Soubré Congregation in Ivory Coast.

Not only was unloading the material difficult, Baka wrote, but “we had some difficulties in sending the sheet metal to the site.

The big truck that we rented was sinking into a hole, and we (fought) hard from 10:00 a.m. until 2:00 p.m. to release it. …This is to tell you it is not easy in the field.”

True, but it is a labor of love for a future of hope in Soubré. Community of Christ continues to expand in Ivory Coast. As it does, its needs for worship and ministry space keep growing. World mission tithes are providing funding for Soubré’s new church building, which will accommodate 200 people.

Developing Disciples to Serve and Abolish Poverty, End Suffering are critical needs in this country of 22 million people. One-third are Muslim, one-third Christian, one-tenth indigenous religions, and the rest are other religions.

Since 2000 the country has been divided by a series of civil conflicts over control of the government. More than 9,000 United Nations peacekeepers have been there since 2004 in an effort to ensure peaceful stability.

Compounding the internal problems, civil conflicts in neighboring countries also affect Ivory Coast. Besides the half-million citizens displaced from their homes by civil violence, Ivory Coast now is home to about 25,000 Liberian refugees.

The Soubré Congregation is a refuge of hope. With people drawn from diverse faith traditions and personal experiences of acceptance and rejection, it welcomes all in the name of Jesus Christ and invites them to become disciples. The light of their collective hope illuminates the way to a future of peace.





Homeless for a Night

13 03 2013

BY RACHELLE SMALLDON, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada

(Reprinted from Young Adult Ministries blog: www.youngadultministries.wordpress.com)

Last night I was homeless. I slept outside on a baseball field in the middle of the city, surrounded by a few hundred other homeless people.

It was part of a fund-raising event called “Homeless for a Night” for Edmonton Youth Empowerment and Support Services. People signed up for a team and collected pledges to sponsor us. On the evening of June 1, we gathered at Telus Field to experience a night of what “homelessness” might look and feel like, and to raise financial support and awareness for youth who face that reality each day.

I arrived and made my way onto the field, looking for a spot to camp for the night. As I sat in left field, I looked around at activities, games, and tents set up with food and live music to entertain people.

It was great hospitality, but I couldn’t help thinking: “I kind of doubt homeless people get food and entertainment. I easily could have eaten dinner before I arrived. Maybe they should have given all this food out on the streets instead of to us, people who only had to endure being ‘homeless’ for one night.”

But, the sponsors probably had provided this in appreciation to those who raised money to support the shelter…and it was nice. So I set my cynical thoughts aside.

I sat at a table in a food tent and fell deep into thought, pondering whether I actually could see myself being OK without a home. As I sank deeper into my musings, a group of ladies at the other end of my table asked if I could move so their friends could join them.

I obliged but felt slightly uncomfortable and out of place, having no one to sit with and being shuffled from the table. I picked up my things and moved to the next table with just a polite smile.

Later, I wandered back to my sleeping bag and sat down to read. A group began throwing a Frisbee nearby. A few times I ducked to avoid being hit. After about the third near miss, I began to feel annoyed.

“Can’t they see me sitting here? Why don’t they move to that open space over there, away from me and other people sitting around me? Apparently I’m invisible to them.”

But I did not feel I could say anything to them. Who was I to tell them where to play? So I kept quiet and eventually moved.

These were only a couple insignificant incidents, but they left me irritated, discouraged, and lonely. I felt like I clearly was lost in this crowd. Nobody knew me. Nobody cared who I was, where I sat, or that I had made my place in that spot on the field first.

For the first time that night, I felt like this might be an inkling of what it’s like to be homeless. Sleeping outside was a low concern. What bothered me more about this “homeless” situation was the way people treated people.

I imagined a similar situation could take place when a homeless person set up on a street outside a shop. I wondered how often he or she might be asked to move—and probably not as nicely as the ladies at the table had asked me.

I wondered if he might feel invisible, out of place, or annoyed when passersby tripped over him or hit him with carelessly discarded litter, just as I felt when a small disc threatened me. This tugged at my heartstrings as I began to think about what my made-up homeless person might go through daily. Perhaps for him, too, finding a place to sleep at night was the least of his concerns. Perhaps his biggest daily struggle simply was surviving people.

As we focus our missional efforts on Abolish Poverty, End Suffering, financially supporting organizations that work for the same cause is a great thing. Providing shelter for those without is greater! But these are not the only things we can do.

Regardless of how much money we have to donate or how many empty rooms we have to spare, we all have the ability to help people who are homeless by simply making them feel at home wherever they are.

Providing a warm smile, respecting their right to exist, and upholding their worth as persons may make their daily struggle a little easier.

After one night of being “homeless” (sort of), I am no expert. However, I do know that having to find shelter each night would not be a stress-free lifestyle—certainly not one I’d want to live.

We might not always be able to change the dark living situations people face each night, but I think we all can do something to make the days a little brighter.

Ellen DeGeneres (comedian, television host, actress) put it this way: “Be kind to one another.”





Home of Hope in Odessa, Ukraine

21 12 2012

BY DAVID N. ANDERSON, apostolic assistant

Alexey from Home of Hope celebrates his baptism in the Black Sea.

 

Francis of Assisi purportedly said: “Preach the gospel always…when necessary use words.” A 21st-century example of this wise counsel is a drug- and alcohol-rehabilitation center called Home of Hope in Odessa, Ukraine.

Through compassionate ministries it helps those struggling with addiction. The center has 22 live-in guests, including a 2-month-old and a 2-year-old. Participants are people from Russia and Ukraine who need a healthy community and a safe place to help fight addiction.

Igor Bondarev, church member and director, and Volodya Glushkovetska, a World Church minister, work closely together in service to others. Igor provides vision and leadership. Volodya conducts pastoral support and spiritual formation.

At least twice a week, Volodya leads a Bible study with all participants gathering to discuss biblical principles in living out Christian discipleship.

Because of the cooperation and ministry of Igor and Volodya, Home of Hope has touched the lives of many people. Additionally, since these two met nearly a year ago, eight have sensed a call to live out their Christian discipleship in Community of Christ.

As a contributor to world ministries mission tithes, you have helped Igor and Volodya. Because of generosity by you and others, the World Church and Eurasia Mission Centre have contributed ministerial and financial support, including emergency assistance with basic living expenses for food and lodging at the center. Igor and Volodya are thankful for this generosity as they “preach the gospel” in the manner expressed by Francis of Assisi.





Learning from the Good Samaritan

17 09 2012

BY DONA KAE EMERSON, Addison, Maine, USA

A gardening program helps sustain the Spanish-speaking community in Main.e

In some ways my Tangible Love journey began with the story of the Good Samaritan. I was raised by good converts to the church, so I grew up with a firm foundation in the Restoration.

But real acts of tangible love, (and by this I mean in the pay-it-forward category) were not something I joined except for occasional offerings to worthy causes and the international church.

Some years ago a good friend invited my husband, Art, and me to an outreach program that helped distribute bags of toiletries and blankets to migrants arriving in Maine for the August blueberry harvest.

Art went a few times, but it was too far out of my comfort zone. Later, this same friend invited us to join her on a United Methodist mission trip to Nicaragua.

We went and were stunned. Not by the abject poverty, but by the joyous welcome we received! Excitement buzzed about the message God had for them, brought by these welcome strangers.

These events, along with a pressing desire, compelled Art and me along a path previously unknown to us. We immersed ourselves in the Latino community in our area and opened the doors of the Comunidad de Cristo Congregation in Harrington, Maine.

A Tangible Love grant, funded through the Mission Initiative of Abolish Poverty, End Suffering, helped us. We engaged the local Spanish-speaking community with classes and activities in our Family Center.

In the last year or so, we have begun a “grow your own vegetables” program and a revolving loan program. Art, I, and now our congregation, continue to partner with our first outreach program, Down East Maine Missions, to provide a used-clothing store, toiletry bags, and blankets for migrants and immigrants.

Our congregation stepped completely out of its norm and provided more than 100 emergency bed nights to workers who arrived early and had no money for food or lodging until work began.

Art and I have taken the message of Tangible Love to heart. We have provided a home for visiting ministers from El Salvador for up to eight months. And last year we sheltered a Latino man who we helped to receive major heart surgery. He had no money or place to go, so he lived in our home four months until he was healed and through cardiac rehab.

We never know what the day will bring. Members of our congregation often come to our home unannounced. They bring a wide variety of problems and people who need help.

Sometimes it’s as simple as documents that need translation for kids at school, or a medical bill. Other times it has been a worker’s compensation claim (the man was terrified he no longer would be allowed to work), or issues with papers to gain employment.

Each new day brings new challenges and ministry opportunities.

I finally understand the story of the Good Samaritan. Jesus said, “Go and do likewise.”





Angela

18 07 2012

by LISA M. ASH, Liberty, Missouri, USA

Angela(right) heeds the call to service with her family and many others.

She arrived halfway through the Sunday-morning worship of the Chiwempala Congregation in Chingola, Zambia. I didn’t notice as she took a seat on the sturdy wooden pew behind mine because I was busy hugging a one-shoed little girl whose preciously curly hair tickled my chin with each squirm.

My mind was preoccupied with deciphering the sermon’s translation—from Swahili to iciBemba to English—and my heart was preparing to participate in ministry through serving Communion. When it came time to worship together by taking the bread and the wine, I nearly tripped up the stairs to the rostrum in my tightly knotted ishtenge skirt.

As a visitor, I was nervous about fumbling with the dazzling white tablecloth or making a mistake while helping with the sacrament. Carefully, I made my way through the pews with the serving plate, head down, moving slowly to not spill the tiny plastic cups.

I was nearly to the end of my designated row when my eyes lifted and met Angela’s. I was surprised to see her. She had traveled over an hour by bus to worship with us. As she took the cup from my plate, my heart melted with admiration, gratitude, and humility.

Angela epitomizes Matthew 25:35, the call to service in the name of Jesus Christ’s compassion. She serves as pastor of the ZamTan Congregation in Zambia and is a founding member of the school board for the new ZamTan Community School of Peace. It serves orphans and vulnerable children.

Angela also leads a women’s group of home health workers (called Kafwa) and facilitates emotional support groups for orphans in her compound. Her gentle spirit inspires, leads, and cares for many, including her own five children, two grandchildren, and her AIDS-orphaned niece and nephew.

Angela’s smile is contagious; she is blessed with an overflowing heart. I recently received her generosity. She and her family welcomed me as a guest in their gorgeous but modest home for several nights. Angela rearranged beds, awoke early to heat the charcoal brazier for my morning tea, walked to the market to buy eggplant because she knew it was my favorite relish, and even bought a new mosquito net to hang in my temporary room.

While I ate my nshima and beans as a guest in the candlelit living room, Angela insisted on serving herself last, eating on the dark kitchen floor with the children. Knowing her family had little extra, I found it deeply touching—almost heartbreaking—to be the recipient of this gifted time and energy.

Her willingness to give generously demonstrated an inspired response to God’s call for creating sacred community.

I left Angela’s home with a heavy heart; it was difficult for me to accept her abundant generosity. I felt as though we should trade places. It clearly was I who should be serving her.

And then, there I stood on a sunny Sunday morning, with outstretched hands and hope in my heart. I was honored by the opportunity to give something back to Angela, this new hero of mine. As Angela and I shared in Communion, I bowed deeply, humbled by tears of awe and gratitude welling in my eyes.

The love that passed between us was stunning, palpable. I understood—from the deepest part of my soul—her joy in serving others. And I was able to offer the same gift to her. Together, we shared in Christ’s presence through one little cup of grape juice. Together we created shared community, sprung from a living sanctuary and the desire to serve others in the name and love of Jesus Christ.





Heavenly Match

16 05 2012

BY CHRISTINE PIGEON, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

A person they hardly knew provided help, health, and hope for the family of Sean Pigeon.

Doctors diagnosed my husband, Sean, with kidney disease when he was in his early 20s. He fought the disease about 20 years, but the fight became increasingly harder.

He spent most of his time in bed. He lost weight. Soon he suffered from muscle deterioration and a poor immune system. Kidney disease leads to a gradual shutdown of many organs.

When I learned about the national kidney-swap program, I quickly volunteered. But after much testing, I learned I wasn’t a match. Others offered to donate, but none worked out.

During this ordeal, Sean, our two boys, and I tried to make the best of our situation. We were never alone. We received the continual support of family, friends, and our church. God’s love, through the kindness and generosity of others, lifted us.

Still, Sean’s health continued to worsen. My children were losing their father, and I was losing my companion and best friend. I couldn’t shake the fear that threatened to consume me. Only my faith kept me from giving up. I had to let go, and let God be God.

Then Mathew came into our lives.

We met him at a family camp reunion, where he was the guest minister. Sean and I chatted with Mathew and his wife, Irina, over dinner one evening. Our boys liked them from the start. We talked for only an hour because Sean had to leave for a medical appointment.

“You can’t leave now,” Mathew kidded. “I’m just starting to like you!”

It was clear by Sean’s smile that he felt the same way.

Several months later, Mathew contacted me and asked how Sean was doing. He took great interest in the donor program. Eventually, we learned that Mathew and Sean had the same blood type. Mathew wanted to donate his kidney!

In a matter of seconds, hope was restored! I asked Mathew why he wanted to do this for someone he barely knew. He simply said he had prayed about it and felt this was something God was calling him to do. I later learned this would be Mathew’s first surgery. Who was this guy? What an incredible person!

Within months Mathew passed all the tests. Several times he drove from Barrie to Ottawa. Mathew’s kidney was such a good match that they almost could have been brothers!

The transplant took place May 12, 2011. Sean’s new kidney began to work within moments. By the second day, he went from being pale and sickly to vibrant and healthy. To the staff’s astonishment, Sean soon was walking with little to no pain. The transformation was amazing!

I can’t begin to describe my relief and the awesome gratitude that comes from such a tremendous gift.

I pray this testimony will bring hope to others struggling in the darkness. May they feel assured, God is with you, always!