Celebrating 175 Years of Sacred Stories

27 06 2011

President Stephen M. Veazey's message honored the past and offered hope for the future.

by BARBARA WALDEN, Community of Christ Historic Sites Foundation

As I listened to the bustle of ushers, worship participants, and sound checks on March 27 in the Kirtland Temple, I looked out a window.

I saw hundreds of eager guests, waiting outside the doors. Their weekend of activities was about to culminate in the Sunday-morning worship commemorating the 175th anniversary—to the day—of the dedication of the Kirtland Temple.

The deep-blue sky, budding trees, and colorful crocuses scattered across the Temple lawn seemed to reflect growing excitement as the crowd waited for ushers to throw open the Temple doors.

The group must have been similar to the one that gathered 175 years ago. People then also waited with bated breath for the doors to open.

Where they were eager to dedicate the “House of the Lord,” we found ourselves eager to celebrate their sacred stories. Stories of sacrifice, generosity, perseverance, and missionary zeal.

We took our seats that morning in the historic pew boxes that have held generations of Saints. We enthusiastically listened to Richard Clothier tell the story behind each historic hymn. We received inspiration from President Stephen M. Veazey’s powerful sermon and were touched by Evangelist Steve Davidson’s testimony of growing up in the shadows of the Kirtland Temple.

We felt grateful for 15-year-old Tina Davidson’s artwork on the program cover, and we found comfort in Presiding Bishop Steve Jones’ pastoral prayer.

As more than 300 members lifted their voices in “The Spirit of God Like a Fire Is Burning,” they joined generations of Saints who have shared our journey with Christ to build the peaceable kingdom.

The service ended, and the congregation slowly left through the Temple’s large, olive-green doors. We knew our lives had been changed.

May we always be reminded that we are stewards of a rich heritage. May our sacred stories continue to be a timeless blessing.

 





Building Community in Taipei

25 06 2011

Bill Gunlock with members of Community of Christ-sponsored Community in Taipei

by BILL GUNLOCK, Maple Grove, Minnesota, USA

It’s sipping and eating chicken-claw soup and a concoction of corn silk and watermelon rinds, two ancient Chinese recipes to treat illnesses.

It’s singing a Taiwanese folksong with some Chan (Zen) Buddhist monks and nuns at a monastery in south central Taiwan.

It’s singing American and Chinese folksongs with wealthy business people at a high-class karaoke center.

It’s being inspired by 18-year-old Johnson Sun, who takes two buses for the hour trek across Greater Taipei to be in Community…and returns home late.

Community is where relationships enrich people’s lives. Community is the name of our Community of Christ-sponsored get-togethers on Saturday nights.

April marked the 35th anniversary of my first arrival in Taipei, which lasted almost 10 years. I vowed to immerse myself in the Taiwanese culture. Today, at age 71, I still hold that philosophy. My return to Taipei brings much satisfaction…and deep and varied relationships.

World Service Corps invited me to volunteer support in the Taipei Community of Christ, known in Taiwan as Fu Yuan Jesu Jidu Jiao Hwei. I recently had retired as an educator—English as a Second Language, English/language arts, and part-time corrections teacher. I taught students from kindergarten through the first two years of college. They came from many cultures.

I didn’t choose these careers accidentally. In my childhood, my parents taught me that whatever I chose to do I should dedicate those skills for service to the Divine and our church. I’m still reaping the benefits of that approach.

Saturday evenings in my home, we have Community of Christ-sponsored Community. Varied activities encourage intimacy among individuals and groups. We respect our diversity—mainland Chinese, Taiwanese, foreigners, Catholic, Protestant, Buddhist, Chinese traditional religion practitioners, and non-believers. Community is a holding pond to establish authentic relationships.

We don’t talk religion, though the church’s nine Enduring Principles are also Community’s. Folks sing, practice their spoken and written English, have fun, and eat. Community includes singing in three languages, oral reports of events and issues related to the nine principles, a lesson in English writing or speech, and time for quiet meditation for wellness and well-being.

Inevitably, someone wants to hear more about the sponsoring church. After three months, two Bible classes have formed. Another is being planned. They will become vehicles for the Divine’s workings and for sharing the gifts of our church.

It’s already happening. Chi Ming, Angela, and their 18-year-old son bring groceries to a member low on money. Le Wei encourages and supports 14-year-old Hsi Chao by attending his school play. Hsi Chao volunteers to help younger members with their English writing skills. Ten- and 11-year old Allan and Joseph Chueh volunteer to do deacon-like jobs. With the authority of being elders, Ben Hwa and I share our gifts of healing.

I will end with a story. I asked Kwan Chuan and his girlfriend, Wen Nin, “Why do you give so much time to motor scooter across town to my home to treat my sciatic soreness? And why do you bring the chicken-claw soup and watermelon rind-corn silk tea and spend two hours cooking it and massaging my leg?”

They had three answers. One: they were impressed that I gave up the comforts of my American home and family to come to Taipei to be a long-term volunteer. Second: I dropped some coins into a Buddhist nun’s begging bowl. The third was interesting.

Kwan Chuan said his ancestors led bands of marauders in Taiwan. By doing good works as a model for generations ahead, he and his father now want to turn that heritage around.

Kwan Chuan’s unselfish ministrations to people like me brought an unexpected return. His father, who formerly had distanced himself from his son, now has reconciled their relationship. Kwan Chuan is now to be the next son in the ancestral line to teach the ancient Chinese therapies kept in their family for generations.

Kwan Chuan and Wan Nin saw the Divine at work in their goodness. Understanding the relationship of goodness to the Divine is one of their goals. They will be two of those starting Bible classes.

 





“Be Examples to the Flock”

22 06 2011

Author Myles McCormick (front) with Marina (third from right), her family, and friends.

by MYLES McCORMICK, World Service Corps

I have been struggling with how to describe the life and work of Marina de Merino and her grassroots community-development organization in El Salvador. Instead of fleeing during the civil war atrocities of the 1980s, she stayed to struggle and save the soul of her homeland. “If we don’t set the example, who will?” she explained.

Having received her philosophy and work methodology directly from her 16-year mentor, Ed Guy, Marina is the embodiment of 1 Peter 5:2–3 NRSV:

…tend the flock of God that is in your charge, exercising the oversight, not under compulsion but willingly, as God would have you do it—not for sordid gain but eagerly. Do not lord it over those in your charge, but be examples to the flock.

Be examples to the flock. True joy for her community and its successes are evident on her smiling face at every neighborhood meeting, church event, planning session, and worship service.

Marina spends hours every week maintaining friendships with community members around the Program Center for ADCASMUS (Association of Community and Environmental Development and Multiple Services of El Salvador). The people are both members and nonmembers of Community of Christ. This places Marina in a position to try to guide the community to a better standard of living.

At the Program Center lives a family: Carlos, Francesca, and their 8-year-old son, Josué. Previously they lived under a sheet of plastic on the bank of a river. The parents collected plastic and glass bottles and shards to scrape a living.

As a social worker, Marina took on this family case, putting them in her center for shelter and work. They have lived there three years, helping keep the grounds clean. Last year, Carlos and Francesca were baptized under a small grove of yellow bamboo.

Marina understands that a key to bringing sustainable change to her country and community is children. During the school year ADCASMUS facilitates a free before- and after-school study program for students in middle and junior high schools. Books covering basic classes and a licensed librarian-turned-educator-turned-social worker reinforce the program.

Students come from the immediate and surrounding neighborhoods. A few even travel over 30 minutes to learn in a peaceful environment. Leaders encourage all students to bring their parents. Then, the staff involves them in helping their children study.

Marina also has confronted violent gangs that harassed some students for “safe passage” through the neighborhoods. She and her faith ended this.

Marina left her home congregation in Santa Rita, near the capital, San Salvador, to found a congregation that shares land with her organization’s center. They are not in a fancy building in a glistening metropolis, three blocks from a Starbucks. Instead, they work where the need is greatest, where struggle is visible, where the sheep wait.

Nearly all ADCASMUS funding has originated from Community of Christ’s World Hunger Fund and is channeled through World Accord. Programs and ministries like those led by Marina are possible through Spirit-filled generosity. Doctrine and Covenants 163:4a states:

Open your ears to hear the pleading of mothers and fathers of all nations who desperately seek a future of hope for their children. Do not turn away from them. For in their welfare resides your welfare.

God calls on us to respond with our gifts to foster reconciliation where there is brokenness. We answer by loving one another in a community of shalom. God calls us to shepherd the flock by being examples.





The Dream of McGowan’s Lake

28 05 2011

by LARRY GALBRAITH, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

RVA volunteers provide many skills in completing work on shower and toilet facilities.

The Community of Christ RV Association became part of an ever-expanding dream at McGowan’s Lake Campgrounds in 2010.

The group’s volunteers provided the expertise and manpower to complete a full shower and toilet facility. The work enabled many more people to attend and join in God’s ministry. The campground no longer is for Community of Christ members alone. It is open to other people and other needs as God directs and opens doors.

The work lasted three weeks as association volunteers labored side-by-side with church members and nonmembers.

It was the latest development in a setting that church members dreamed of more than 60 years ago. At that time, people from the Ottawa Branch had to travel more than 700 miles to attend the nearest reunion at Eerie Beach Campground on Lake Erie. They prayed to find land closer to develop for reunion experiences for eastern Ontario and beyond.

Their prayers were answered with the purchase of land on McGowan’s Lake in Maberly, Ontario, Canada. Work started in the mid-1950s. By the mid-’60s, McGowan’s had become a “tent city.”

Members from Ottawa, Montreal, Cornwall, Kingston, and Belleville gathered to clear land, hold Sunday school picnics, and dig wells. They also organized a full reunion agenda with preaching services in a natural, outdoor chapel. It featured a huge rock that served as a choir loft.

Leaders bought a World War II airplane hangar from the Ottawa airport for use as the first building in 1969. Workers assembled the steel, interlock Quonset hut by hand. With no power tools or cranes, they relied on muscle and hand-built scaffolding to lift the heavy panels. By the end of summer 1970, the building overlooked the lake.

In 1977, they added a chapel, bringing blessings and gifts to young and old alike. The promise has been given that as opportunity to grow arises, the finances and key people will be there to fulfill the dream.

McGowan’s Lake has seen this time and again. God bless each volunteer who has helped make the dream a reality. You have inspired us to move forward with zeal for the Lord’s work.





We Are Transforming

26 05 2011

by SERGIO JUAREZ, Los Angeles, California, USA

For nearly five decades Community of Christ members were without a church in downtown Los Angeles, California.

This was partly because of the closing of a church at 39th and Grand streets. I don’t know the reason it closed, but I know a new congregation is emerging nearby.

Thanks to the generosity of contributors, La Nueva Esperanza en Cristo now ministers in a place where Community of Christ ministered before. Our brothers and sisters accepted the invitation to give to the ministries that our church carries to different places. Often we receive people whose lives are deeply wounded, their spiritual journeys ignored.

It now is our congregation’s turn to transform the vision of church leaders into reality by inviting coworkers, neighbors, relatives, and classmates to visit us. Many youth have taken this to heart. One is Saira Juarez.

About two years ago she invited a classmate to a Young Peacemakers Club meeting. Later this guest, Ana, invited her younger sister, Irene. In turn, Irene started coming and invited her friend, Sandra. Sandra invited her younger sister, Yessenia. Yessenia invited her friend, Natalie. Natalie invited Nicole.

All of this happened through invitation. With other youth in the church, these girls have formed a strong bond. Besides attending Young Peacemakers Club, they come to Bible study weekly, and some attend worship services.

All of this happened because of the contributions and tithing of others. We strongly believe in Doctrine and Covenants 163:2b.

Generously share the invitation, ministries, and sacraments through which people can meet the Living Christ who heals and reconciles through redemptive relationships in sacred community. The restoring of persons to healthy or righteous relationships with God, others, themselves, and the earth is at the heart of the purpose of your journey as a people of faith.

Many are waiting to hear the redeeming words of the gospel. Some need to be lifted from hopelessness. Others need the helping hands of servants. They would be lost without the generous response of disciples who share from their bounty that others might know the joys of the kingdom.

These are the powers of sharing and inviting.





Love in Any Language

24 05 2011

by REBECCA BELCHER,
Children’s Peace Pavilion director

Spring often evokes a wish in people to sort, create, and rejuvenate their lives. As spring bursts forth, I find myself reviewing this last school year and realizing it has been a busy time for the Children’s Peace Pavilion.

I assumed directorship of the pavilion in July 2010. August found the pavilion with an expanded and enriched vision, reduced staffing, and a budget designed to provide fiscal stability.

This was a busy time as families, neighborhood groups, and private schools rushed to tour the pavilion.

During late October and early November, the Community of Christ RV Association refurbished the exhibits, prepared several areas for new displays, and completed some remodeling.

Outreach International, a humanitarian organization affiliated with Community of Christ, developed a display featuring African and Philippine villages for the museum’s Peace for Everyone area. Bryce Veazey, co-founder of Major Oak Productions, created and produced new, exciting, and enticing DVDs. As the new year rolled around, a new display of role models from around the world expanded the children’s understanding of peace.

Guests come from public, private, and charter schools; early childhood centers; faith-based groups; and Girl Scout troops. Families, neighborhood groups, and home-schooled children drop in daily.

The pavilion’s interactive displays teach children life skills that will help in their peacemaking journey. The exhibits introduce the four elements of peace: Peace for Me, Peace for Us, Peace for Everyone, and Peace for the Planet.

Peace for Me helps children discover the wonder, beauty, and worth within themselves, where peace begins. Peace for Us explores daily relationships, stressing cooperation, communication, and conflict resolution. Peace for Everyone encourages peace among groups and includes cultural appreciation and diversity. Peace for the Planet addresses stewardship, care, and appreciation for the earth.

The pavilion focuses on shalom for all of creation.

As I watch the reactions of the children and adults, I am convinced the pavilion is a necessary ministry for the world. It helps us fulfill our calling found in Doctrine and Covenants 161:2a:

Become a people of the Temple—those who see violence but proclaim peace, who feel conflict yet extend the hand of reconciliation, who encounter broken spirits and find pathways for healing.

One Saturday, as a Girl Scout troop viewed the conflict-resolution video Stop, Think, Peace. A middle-school student blurted, “I could have used this before I started a fight at school this quarter!”

Other students at the Children’s Peace Pavilion talked about using this conflict-resolution method with siblings and parents. As the children complete the exhibits, you hear voices say, “Stop, think, peace.” It’s a contrast from arguments, name-calling, frustration, and teachers’ raised voices.

When parents or grandparents bring children to the pavilion, the young ones scoot away from their parents, rushing to the displays. When they return, you hear, “Wow, this is neat! Come on, let’s go make a picture!”

The immediate impact is clear as you watch children—from urban core or suburban areas—complete the displays.

It’s also clear when you see a quiet, shy child grow in self-assurance and confidence. As the two hours pass you see such children become free to express their opinions as they work with a team to complete tasks.

Just a few days ago, a small family came for a return visit. They had given their child a list of 10 things she could pick to do that morning. Her quick and repeated response was to go back to the pavilion.

The children leave with broad smiles, shining eyes, and love on their faces. They chant, “I wanna be a peacemaker in my home, in my school, in my neighborhood, and in my world.”

It is with renewed confidence that we watch the impact of the pavilion on the children who are our future.





Hope Amid the Struggle

20 11 2010

Haiti Rebuilds

Rebuilding schools, churches, and communities in Haiti after the January 2010 earthquake continues to be hard work, and resources for adequate shelter and food are still scarce.

After the church in Bas Lavoute was destroyed, Oblation funds were used to purchase a large tarp to protect people from the sun when they gathered for worship. “When the tarp first arrived so many people came, and there was great joy,” said minister Wilner Deluxe. “We continue worshiping God, and we have hope that a permanent church will eventually be built.”

“The Croix de Bouquets Congregation has several large cracks in the building, so we are extremely thankful for the tarp purchased by Oblation funds,” said minister Faustin Charlestin. “The rainy season has been difficult, but people continue to praise the Lord, and more than 450 people come each week to worship.” 

Amidst the challenges of rebuilding, thousands of people gather around the country each week to worship in makeshift churches and offer prayers of thanksgiving and hope to a gracious, loving God.