Spending Time with Jesus

4 07 2011

by Marge Nelson, Lee’s Summit, Missouri USA

The church parking lot for New Walnut Park sits beside a busy Independence, Missouri, street. Everyone passing sees the cars and knows something is going on. The entrance from the parking lot—steps and a ramp—opens into a gymnasium.

Inside, nets and basketball goals say, “Kids play here.” Round tables and chairs fill one end of the room and say, “This is an informal gathering place.” The smell of food says, “We eat here.” The laughter and smiles say, “People are enjoying life and each other.”

As soon as you come through the door, someone waves as if they’ve always known you. Someone else greets and steers you toward a long table where hot and cold cereal, eggs, fruit, milk, and juice await. “Come on over. There’s plenty. And someone will be at the end to help carry plates if you need it.”

It doesn’t matter if they have known you for ages or are meeting you for the first time.

Wherever you sit, conversation happens. When someone asks, “How are you?” they really want to know. The closing prayer is tender and pastoral, including all who have gathered.

For those new to the breakfast and anyone else, there is a “Newcomers’ Class.” Everything is Christ-centered. The class begins with a prayer, followed by a sharing time of needed and answered prayers.

Study materials relate the scriptures to everyday life. The class includes seekers and residents from the neighborhood, homeless friends, and congregation members. Some have heard about the class from flyers in the neighborhood or at special events such as Easter in the Park or Vacation Church School. But the most-successful methods are word of mouth and personal invitation.

The breakfast and the class form a great bridge as seekers learn more about Community of Christ. Worship attendance is rising, and nine people have been baptized and confirmed since the class started.

What we are doing is nothing new. Author Joseph F. Girzone, in A Portrait of Jesus, put it this way:

If someone wanted to spend time with Jesus, the thing to do was to gather a group of friends for dinner and invite Jesus.

Learning to Lead

5 05 2011

Alabama-Northwest Florida USA Mission Center

There we were, a handful of young adults talking about life—our personal lives, the life of the church, and the connection between the two.

We shared our fears for the growth of the church and the responsibility that soon would rest in our hands. As the reality set in, we grappled with how to respond as individuals and as a group. We left that conversation with a commitment to God and each other. How and where to begin became the theme of our next conversation.

Our conversation began with a question about how the church in our area grew through home meetings of traveling ministers. “Do you remember the stories we’ve heard about the old ‘witnessing weekends’?”

That question spun us into wonderful, exciting, uncomfortable, growing, and changing experiences. It launched our mission center’s young-adult traveling ministry, which has continued nearly two years.

Every-other month, the young adults of Alabama and northwest Florida travel to congregations throughout the mission center to provide ministry. With our children in tow, we travel as a group. Before each trip, we meet to plan the service. Then we wait with great anticipation to find out how God will use us.

Donning our signature “In Christ Alone” t-shirts, we never leave a service without each person sharing a testimony. Whether we use cardboard testimonies, PowerPoint slides, or spoken words, we always share our stories of God’s power.

We have found freedom in telling our stories and seeking our place in God’s church. As painful as growing sometimes has been, we are developing our gifts while experiencing great joy.

We leave each service, shaking our heads. How is it that we get so much from the services? How is it that we try so hard to bless others, and we are the ones blessed?

The answer is simple: Because the God of the Alabama- Northwest Florida young adults is an awesome God!

More than Hammers and Nails

10 01 2011

The Central USA Mission Center's annual South Texas Mission Trip delivers lessons in fun, food, and fellowship that break down barriers and lift up the value of people.


By Carol McLaughlin, Independence, Missouri, USA

It’s 5:30 on a Saturday morning as 18 teenagers and seven staff members sleepily load a bus. It is the 14th year for the Central USA Mission Center’s South Texas Mission Trip.

In partnership with Outreach International, we offer our skills and eagerness to serve where there is need. We come to learn about a different culture, the struggles of poverty. And we come to experience people with joy in their hearts, longing to be loved and accepted.

It is the mission of Jesus Christ that matters most. So we ask our youth to make this journey not as a project, but as a way to enter transforming relationships.

We travel to the colonias of Los Ebanos and El Paraiso (near Mission, Texas). We arrive at the Paraiso-Ebanos Community Center to the eager greeting of children and their moms.

Janie Donahoe and Val Leal, field specialists with Outreach International, help us spread out our air mattresses, unload, and unpack. Then that wonderful aroma hits. Lucy and Berta, women from Mission, are cooking tamales, frijoles, and coleslaw for us.

We know the rest of the week will bring sweat, cuts, bruises, and new friends. Outreach International has created trusting relationships, and residents now feel ownership in their community.

We see a large crowd in the field behind the center. We see games on two soccer fields, crowds under picnic shelters, and children on swing sets we helped build in previous years.

Our group of seventh- through ninth-graders listens intently as Val and Janie tell about the philosophy of Outreach International and outline our projects.

And so it begins. We clear brush and trees for a third soccer field. We build benches for the teams. We clean the surrounding area for a carnival. We paint, remove a wall, build a doorframe, and more.

Most importantly, we interact. We cross a language barrier through hugs, smiles, and work. As we prepare for devotions each evening, we discuss our work, relationships, and how to make tomorrow even better.

The week culminates with the carnival. Our group helps at the booths and with cooking.
Later, many members of the communities gather to see us off. We circle together, arms around one another, and (with the help of an interpreter) say our thank yous and good-byes. We share our love and joy.

We experience Christ’s love and acknowledge we are God’s creation, rich and poor, weak and strong, old and young. We are loved with an everlasting love, and we seek to share and receive joy, hope, love, and peace.

How Can I Not Smile

4 11 2010
children from Clarksville, Tennessee

The enthusiasm of children has spread throughout the Clarksville Congregation in Tennessee.

BY PAULA WILLIAMS, pastor, Clarksville, Tennessee

I really look forward to Sunday morning!

Sometimes the busyness of life can sap joy from the day. But then you drive to a family’s house and three bundles of energy come running at you, shouting, “Pastor Paula, Pastor Paula, we’re going to church!”

How can I not smile?

While driving them home afterward, they repeat all the songs from the service. Their voices touch my heart and renew me. Those I have been called to minister instead minister to me.

The Clarksville Congregation in Tennessee delights in children and families. Because Clarksville public transportation does not run on Sundays, members make multiple trips to pick up kids and others.

The ministries are in and with transitional communities near the Fort Campbell, Kentucky, military installation. Some people in the Clarksville Congregation are connected to military families. Others find their lives in transition because of the economy and other circumstances.

The congregation is a diverse network of new members, friends, families, and lifelong participants. This transitional ministry leads the congregation in witness and invitation, welcome and hospitality, peacemaking and relationship building.

But things aren’t perfect. Sometimes we forget to be flexible. Fortunately, sometimes we remember.

One Sunday morning as we were beginning our service, a 7-year-old boy asked if we could play “Do you love your neighbor?”

I had introduced the game months earlier. This boy is a friend of the church. He and his siblings attend without their parents.

When he asked about the game I looked at my worship plans. I paused and thought, “I didn’t plan that.” But then I told him, “Sure, we can do that.”

As we played, I noticed the boy’s attitude change. He sat up straighter and looked proud. His suggestion had been accepted. He had contributed something important. Later he shared a testimony.

What would have been lost if I had insisted on keeping the service as planned? I would not have the memory of the sense of worth shining from that child’s face

Work Continues in Haiti

4 09 2010

Work—with buckets and heavy machinery—continues in Haiti in response to the January 2010 earthquake.

Severely damaged buildings that housed churches and schools have been demolished and removed at Pétionville and Mon Repos in Port au Prince. Structures in the nearby areas of Carrefour and Léogâne have been studied
for possible repair. Elsewhere in the earthquake zone, buildings are being evaluated.

Because the damage was massive, available resources cannot respond to all the needs involving trauma recovery, adequate housing, reconstruction, and more.

Your contributions to Oblation and World Ministries support efforts in Haiti. Give online at www.CofChrist.org/give.

—Greg Prymak