A Spiritual—and Physical—Workout

21 07 2014

By Marilee Martens, Pickerington, Ohio, USA

During the spring of 2012, I attended a 10-week Bible-study class on Monday evenings at my home congregation in Grove City, Ohio. Each week class leader Tara Cummings chose a song that we would listen to before we started our class.

2013-06-09 17.24.20At the time, I also was taking a ZUMBA® Fitness class on Tuesday evenings. After listening to upbeat music from our Bible-study class, I had an idea. Wouldn’t it be great if we had some form of a ZUMBA® class at church?

We could start by sharing prayer concerns and then work out, using Latin and Christian music. We then would finish with a meditation or spiritual discipline.

I asked my fitness instructor if she would be interested in teaching, and she loved the idea!

We started in September 2012 with a few members from our congregation. Soon we began to invite friends. Then the friends began inviting their friends. The class has evolved so that a friend of the church now leads the group. She invited a friend who leads yoga stretches at the end, and a Community of Christ young adult leads meditations.

I envisioned this group as an opportunity for congregation members to meet with each other and those from other congregations in the Columbus area.

Instead this group has become an opportunity for invitation and outreach.

We all look forward to our “Body & Soul Fitness” class. Last week I even heard someone ask if we could meet twice a week.

“This ministry has really blossomed, and it’s obvious that we enjoy each other’s company as much as we enjoy the act of building up our bodies,” said Karin

Blythe, a group member. “I have grown to value these new friends because we are able to share in a physically, emotionally, and spiritually rewarding activity. I also love how the group has been able to…remind us that we each have a gift to share with one another.”





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.

 

 





Welcomed and Wanted

16 05 2014

By Austin Zamora, Caraway, Arkansas, USA

I firmly believe God’s timing is perfect, and it’s never been more evident to me than in my journey to Community of Christ.

During the summer of 2012 I met a customer at work, and we soon began discussing faith. I was thirsting for a church where I felt welcomed and could be used. She invited me to visit her Community of Christ congregation. I told her I would consider it. But time passed, and I didn’t get there.

My thirst, however, continued. I prayed harder than ever that God would guide me according to God’s time and will. On February 15, 2013, Mrs. Janie messaged me on Facebook and invited me to her Wednesday class at the Caraway Congregation.

I asked God if this is where God wanted me, and I had never felt more led by the Holy Spirit.

The first moment I walked into the church I felt the Holy Spirit, and I felt welcomed. I had found where I belonged.

On June 2, 2013, I was confirmed as a member of Community of Christ. I have found where God wants me and where I can be used. God’s timing is perfect.





I Follow Jesus to Tell Others

17 02 2014

By Igor Karpachov, Donetsk, Ukraine

Igor Karpachov finds joy in reaching out to young adults in Donetsk, Ukraine.

Igor Karpachov finds joy in reaching out to young adults in Donetsk, Ukraine.

The Lord is working in our little congregation. In the beginning of this century I allowed the Word of God to live in me through the sacraments. It was the best thing that ever happened to me. Christ became flesh and walks among us.

It is important for me to know why I am Christian. When this world insists on telling me who I am, I have another story to tell. When this world tells me what I need and who I must become, I have another voice to offer with a future that is whole and hopeful. Jesus Christ tells who I am and changes me to be more loving.
For me the most helpful part of Community of Christ is that we try to make life better on Earth and not wait until we die for a better life. Baptism and confirmations illustrate the good news that results when we Invite People to Christ. People love to hear how the gospel became real in their lives. They want to learn about the ways of peace, the cultures of nations, and better ways to live.

I have this huge challenge to make God visible in the Donetsk region of Ukraine. We are the bridge between the world we live in and the world we want. We visit in our homes, we pray together, and we worship together. I am thankful this church and Jesus Christ have come into my life.

God sent me all these wonderful people—people who love me, accept me, and catch me when I fall. I love these people. Baptisms, confirmations, ordinations, and blessings are happening because the Spirit is moving ahead of us.

Many stories of invitation continue to bring new life to Donetsk. These stories tell how people first encountered Jesus and how they continue to encounter him every day. People study, live, share the sacred story, and recognize its connection to their stories.

Congregants eagerly celebrate birthdays, cheer for graduations, help on moving day, and walk shoulder-to-shoulder during a multitude of life challenges. No matter your age, who you are, or where you come from, Community of Christ makes it safe to take off the mask and be your true self.

Said Vladyslav, a young adult: It was August 2003 when my parents, Valentina and Ilya Ulyanov, decided to become part of this community of faith. They have received wonderful Christian hospitality. I am not officially a member of the church yet, but I plan on getting baptized soon.

I want to become part of Community of Christ because here I feel at home in a big house with diverse cultures. I have never seen Jesus, but I’ve seen he is present in many people who follow him. For me Community of Christ became that place of hospitality in the everyday moments of my life when I can protect or restore my dignity.





You Can’t Put God in a Box

18 11 2013

By Riva Teihotaata and Chrystal Vanel, Paris, France

The tomb is empty as we can’t put God in a box. This is what Community of Christ members and friends learned during the Paris Congregation’s Easter service in France as they celebrated Christ’s resurrection and took part in several Mission Initiatives.

The warmth of an Easter celebration attracted many people to the Paris Congregation.

The warmth of an Easter celebration attracted many people to the Paris Congregation.

Among the participants, many were nonmembers, friends encouraged to come by members in an effort to Invite People to Christ.

During Sunday school, participants sought to Develop Disciples to Serve by continuing their discovery and discussion on Community of Christ Basic Beliefs, from the We Share document. The focus was on creation.

After our little brother, Kimi, read from the Basic Beliefs, participants turned to the Genesis stories of creation and learned how God made female and male equal partners for Earth stewardship. Members sought to Pursue Peace on Earth by discussing how poor human choices can have terrible repercussions on nature and humankind. As an example, they cited French nuclear testing on the seashores of French Polynesia, which caused numerous cancers.

Then they shared in an Easter worship. As most participants were from Tahiti, music and songs were important parts of the worship, which centered on scriptures and Communion. Participants learned about the magnificent living God, too big to enclose in a box (“tomb”). They were reminded that Easter is not about chocolate only, but about deliverance from slavery and death, about the hope of a new “first day,” a new “early dawn” (Luke 24:1 NRSV).

Following the service they Experienced Congregations in Mission by welcoming the visit of Thierry and Amélie. They celebrated Amélie’s cancer remission and shared a snack.





Simple Bridge to God’s Unconditional Love

15 11 2013

By Brian Ober, Lake in the Hills, Illinois, USA

Have you ever experienced something extraordinarily simple that profoundly impacted your life? A simple gesture? A simple encounter? A simple story? A simple song? This testimony is about the simple phrase: “We are proud of you.”

Several kids from a school club are finding acceptance and welcome  in the On Edge Congregation in Chicago, Illinois.

Several kids from a school club are finding acceptance and welcome in the On Edge Congregation in Chicago, Illinois.

About a year ago, my daughter, Ashlyn, attended her high school freshman orientation. It included a place where teenagers could learn about the school’s social clubs. There were booths for art, music, athletics, and other interests. One club in particular caught our eye. In front of the booth were the letters “GSA.”

Ashlyn approached and learned that GSA stood for Gay Straight Alliance. Their leaders passionately and respectfully spoke about their club and a deep desire to create a place at school where all teenagers could feel loved, accepted, and invested in. A club where bullying had no place.

The vision of the club and the deep conviction of the leaders moved us.

I introduced myself as a minister. They quickly reacted as if preparing to receive a vicious attack. I smiled and told them that as a minister and as a church “we are proud of you.” I gave them my e-mail address and told them they and their club would be in my prayers and that they could consider me and our church in their service.

God used that moment to richly bless us.

A little less than a year later, 10 teenagers from that club attend our congregation and are deeply investing in our church. We hold weekly scripture studies, learning about God’s grace and Jesus’ calling in our lives. We have had the opportunity to speak in two high school GSA clubs, teaching of a God whose grace is without condition or apology and talking about a church that upholds the Worth of All Persons.

As I look forward, I am confident God’s blessings have only started. Teenagers will respond to the Spirit’s lead and be baptized. Young adults will grow into disciples of Christ and ordained ministers of our church. Lives previously consumed in anger and hurt will begin to heal and learn about a God who calls them into relationship and a Christ who calls them into mission.





Jesus at the Truck Stop

9 10 2013

By Dan Gregory, West Des Moines, Iowa, USA

The men’s restroom at a truck stop is probably one of the last places I would imagine sharing Jesus with someone.

Driving through Illinois, I found myself in need of a pit stop, so I ducked into the bathroom. As I went to the sink to wash my hands, I noticed him. To say this man was broad and intimidating would be an understatement. His barrel chest and thick red goatee were even more formidable because of his height and resolute facial expression.

Thick arms stuck out as he turned on the water, lathered up, and scrubbed his massive paws. My goal was to finish as quickly as possible and scurry to the safety of my waiting car. But God had other plans.

As he turned off the water, a look of disgust swelled in his face. We had both noticed the cause: Unlike many modern truck stops and rest areas, this one had no air-powered hand dryers. It had only paper towels.

“Ugh,” he grunted. “Darn people not caring if they trash the planet.” (I can assure you he wasn’t gentle enough in his vocabulary to say “darn.”) “Doesn’t anyone care what happens to this place? Get with the program, idiots.” (“Idiots” is far softer than what he actually called the truck stop owners.)

I could have just nodded assent. But something inside me prompted a different response. “I’m just really glad there are a lot of people who do care,” I offered.

He paused, looked at me, half-surprised I had answered his musings, and grunted again. “Yea? Not enough, though. All they care about is praying that their God will save them, or their government will fix everything.”

“Yea, I hear ya. But in my church, we believe it really matters how we treat the Earth. It’s important to us that we take responsibility to do our part.”

He was stunned. Wait, a church that cared about the environment? I had to be joking, right? As we left the bathroom, he couldn’t help but express his desire to see if it was true. So we talked.

We talked about the Enduring Principle of the Sacredness of Creation. We talked about churches in Canada that committed to buying only fair-trade coffee, and churches in the USA that gave up Styrofoam and examined their buildings for ways they could be more energy-efficient. And we talked about how this world wasn’t just a junkyard to trash, but a stewardship to protect.

If this was the Jesus we believed in, he wanted to know more. This certainly wasn’t the Jesus he had heard about. So we looked up the website on his iPhone. He thanked me and said he’d check it out.

As I walked, numb with shock, to my car, I couldn’t help but think: I just discovered the passion of Christ for the Earth in a rough trucker on the road through Illinois. Apparently God had other plans for my little pit stop that I never could have imagined.





A Sacramental Community

16 09 2013

By John G. VanderWalker II, Hayden, Idaho, USA

Community of Christ is a sacramental community. This means more than being a church with sacraments. We have been challenged to be the incarnation of Christ’s peace in our communities (Doctrine and Covenants 163:3a), making pathways for others to experience and enter peace through ministries that enflesh the gospel.
The sacraments we practice inform us as we try to understand our relationship with the world and God.

Baptism is an important step in the life of discipleship. It may not be the first sacramental step, but it is the most significant personal decision in the life of a disciple. When a seeker says yes to God’s act of redemption in Jesus and decides to step into God’s saving covenant, the next step is baptism of water.

At baptism we enter into community, the community of Trinity. Our act of submission is a door to communion with the Divine. It is a physical way of saying we want to be close to God, we want to know and do the will of God, we want to engage in the work of God’s redemption in the world. We enter the work of salvation not only as recipients, but as participants.

Because of baptism we not only claim God’s salvation, but God’s work in our lives.

Confirmation of membership is another step in the life of a disciple. In this sacrament we enter into another community. This community is made of people who have opened the door to God in their lives and are bound together through the blessings of the Holy Spirit in the mystery that is God. It says we are aware of God’s redeeming activity with us individually (baptism) and communally (confirmation). It also says we are willing participants, working to understand God’s will and make it known in the world.

By making God’s will known through action, the church becomes a sacrament in the everyday lives of members and people the church impacts.

When reaching out to the broken and suffering, the church becomes the healing hands of Christ (Abolish Poverty, End Suffering). When the body spends time in worship, prayer, and discernment it becomes a prophetic voice (Experience Congregations in Mission and Develop Disciples to Serve). When that prophetic voice takes root, and action takes place, peace comes to our communities (Pursue Peace on Earth). When the incarnate peace of Christ is expressed in mission, others will want to join in the redeeming work of Christ (Invite People to Christ).

Community of Christ is a sacramental church, but that means more than having eight sacraments. We are the evidence of God’s graciousness expressed in Christ. We are Community of Christ.





Come and See the Risen Christ

14 09 2013
Joseph Kabaso, Lusaka, Zambia

Joseph Kabaso, Lusaka, Zambia

By Joseph Kabaso, Lusaka, Zambia

It is important to note the mission of Christ was based on inviting people to come and see, to show them what he was doing, and to invite them to stay with him in mission.

Luke 4:18–19 (NRSV) is precise about the agenda of Christ’s mission on Earth:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me 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.

Jesus quoted from the book of Isaiah about liberating oppressed communities. Jesus underscored good news by inviting a hopeless community to join him in his mission of compassion, justice, and peacemaking. For Jesus to be relevant to his audience he set the agenda and then invited and showed followers how to carry it out.

Our Mission Initiatives today in Community of Christ have become a pillar for us to understand our mission and live our vision. They are impacting the church in communities around the world.

In the South Central Africa Mission Centre, where I live and work for the church, several programs have been born from these Mission Initiatives. Some have empowered people with skills, financial support, improved health, and better education.

What a sense of joy, hope, love, and peace!

One program is the Chembe farm project, which produces maize in the Luapula Province of Zambia. The project provides seasonal, short-term jobs during the rainy season and harvest. It reduces poverty, provides food, and empowers people with farming skills.

In Lusaka Province, a tailoring project has enriched more than 30 women with skills. Though the program lacks funding, it has impacted many women who were trained. Some use these skills to support themselves and their families.

Another project is the sinking of boreholes (wells) in Luapula and Copperbelt provinces. They have given people clean and safe drinking water, enhancing good heath in the surrounding communities.

Most of these projects get financial support from Tangible Love grants funded through the Abolish Poverty, End Suffering Mission Initiative. The partnership between the South Central Africa Mission Centre and HealthEd Connect also helps. HealthEd Connect has improved education in the towns of Chingola and Ndola by constructing classrooms, supporting teaching staffs, and providing health knowledge.

Also, to Invite People to Christ, a grant has helped us expand our church into the North-Western Province for the first time. More than 20 people have become members. We have continued to invite others to come and see the risen Christ through various ministries.

Indeed, Mission Initiatives are inviting, helping, and empowering families. Through them you can come and see the risen Christ!