Ministering Where You Live

7 08 2011

by JOHN WIGHT, senior president of seventy

Individual preparation and effort is not enough. We especially need congregations that are living expressions of the personality, love, spirit, and mission of Jesus Christ. What we do as congregations must be much more than routine social activities. Where is the love, spirit, and mission of Christ calling us to focus or redirect congregational activity in response to the needs of the people in the community around us? Each congregational activity must be evaluated in terms of its mission alignment and be developed to strengthen mission.

—Steve Veazey video of “The Mission Matters Most!” address
http://www.CofChrist.org/presidency/sermons

As I heard President Veazey utter those words, my mind raced instantly to two tools available to help congregations identify the needs of people in the communities around them. My mind also made a connection with Doctrine and Covenants 163:4a: “For in their welfare resides your welfare.”

The first tool consists of demographic reports available free to congregations in the USA. Produced by the Percept Group, the reports are called First View and Ministry Area Profile. These reports provide valuable insights into the makeup and needs of neighborhoods. They include basics (number of people, age groups, etc.) and information on specific needs and interests that can help identify ministries.

For example, one congregation’s study showed 33 percent of the neighborhood homes were single-mother households (compared to the national average of 23 percent). And 10 percent were single-father households (national average of 7 percent). Such information suggests several possibilities for ministry to meet the needs of single parents.

Another example on many reports involved programs preferred by neighborhood residents. Often the highest interest is for recreational programs. Many people want family activities in a wholesome environment.

The second tool goes hand-in-hand with the first. It is a six-question, seventy-developed community survey conducted door-to-door. The first question directly addresses President Veazey’s admonition: What do you think are the greatest needs in this neighborhood?

Congregational responses to this question have resulted in ministries ranging from a Jesus and Me Club for children to a series of so-called Town Hall meetings where city officials talked with and answered questions from neighborhood residents.

While the Percept data is available only within the USA, congregations everywhere can use the community survey. These tools and others help congregations “focus or redirect congregational activity in response to the needs of the people in the community around us.” For more information about these and other tools, contact the president of seventy assigned to your field.





Blessed to Be a Blessing

11 06 2011

Ministry is helping children escape the pangs of hunger.

by Jeri Lauren Lambert
Children and Family Ministries

It started with a simple message: “You need to know kids in this area go hungry when they are not in school.”

Standing in the aisle of the Tunnel Hill Congregation in Illinois following a worship service, I was met by a former school administrator with this unsettling news. Three more times I received this same message from the same person, always brief, always disturbing.

I began to picture children riding the bus with mine, eager to get to school on Monday, though not to see friends or a favorite teacher, but to have breakfast after a weekend with little or no food. And I began to be sick to my core, often in tears on Sunday evenings as my own children bickered over meals.

I shared my discomfort with the Tunnel Hill Congregation. Following a service a tearful woman approached me and said, “I will help you do whatever needs to be done.”

While researching childhood hunger we discovered an organization based in Louisville, Kentucky, called Blessings in a Backpack. Angie Harner and I learned we would have to raise $8,600 annually to do the program, given the need in our school.

Within five weeks we had the money from a rural community with a population of fewer than 1,000. Now each Wednesday volunteers assemble 60–75 bags of food delivered to the school by a grocery store. On Fridays, while the children are at recess, teachers put the bags into children’s backpacks.

When we participate in the sacred meal, the sacrament of Communion, we take upon ourselves the name of Jesus Christ, and we recommit to being the hands, feet, eyes, and ears of God in our community. We are energized for the work of bringing the peace of Jesus Christ to the world.

For Angie and me, we are blessed to be a blessing.





Blessings in Abundance

9 06 2011

Linda McDaniel (l.) provides Lenten ministry

by David R. Brock
presiding evangelist

I can’t decide.

 

Do I tell about Evangelist Digna Altamirano of Honduras traveling (through the generosity of tithes and offerings) to Cartagena, Colombia, to offer ministry of blessing where it has never before been offered?

 

Do I tell about the 10 evangelist blessings, four baptisms and confirmations, and the classes and visits with Pastor Yaneth Hernandez to members and friends in just a few activity-packed days? Or maybe I should just tell about 80-year-old “Abuela” (grandmother), who hugged Digna and gave her a blessing with a prayer of encouragement and the accompanying presence of the Holy Spirit.

 

Or, maybe I should tell about the noon-hour Lenten journey experiences at Shalom Place in the Temple each workday from Ash Wednesday to Maundy Thursday. I could describe the Native American “Wiping of Tears” ritual with sage and eagle feathers and ceremonial tobacco and the silence and the prayers and the drumbeat and the song to the four directions and the Presence that freed some to ask Community of Christ elders to offer the sacrament of healing afterward.

 

Should I tell about the pain and struggle that so many carry as secret burden: the child who suffers from mental disease; the struggle for strength to break a debilitating habit; the loss of trust in a relationship? Or, I should try to describe my own feelings as I lay my hands on one of those heads, with no answer, no solution, yet knowing God heard and responded as tears of relief flowed?

 

But, there also is the homework club in Spokane Valley, Washington, USA, or the Homestead Community Café at the Guildford Congregation in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, or the amazing story of how Edwin Wanyando came to be ordained as evangelist in Nairobi, Kenya, a few weeks ago.

 

So many instances of sacramental living daily brought to my awareness in our faith community, in the human community, in creation. Which one do I choose?

 

I can’t decide.





The Start of Something Great in Spain

9 05 2011

President of Seventy, Keith McMillan (left, on couch) sees the beginnings of ministry in Spain.

by JOHN S. WIGHT,
senior president of seventy

The admonition to “generously share the invitation, ministries, and sacraments through which people can encounter the Living Christ” (Doctrine and Covenants 163:2) is being lived in exciting ways in Spain.

Recent efforts have resulted in baptisms, confirmations, and sharing in the Lord’s Supper.

“The Macedonian call found in Acts 16 is very strong for me,” Apostle Richard James said. “The Message Remix version of the Bible says, ‘We knew now for sure that God had called us to preach the good news to the European (v. 9).’

“And I have heard this call, ‘Come over to Spain and help us.’”

James, who oversees the Eurasia Mission Field, shared that scripture and sense of call with people in Spain. They said they had been praying for six years for a Community of Christ congregation in Madrid.

“They felt God had heard their prayers and had been faithful to them,” James said.

“We shared in Communion, perhaps for the first time in history, in Madrid (in November).… A new fellowship is now meeting every week there,” said Keith McMillan, field missionary coordinator and president of seventy.

During that November visit, McMillan met a young man named Santiago Laz Aparicio, who wished to be baptized. On February 7, his wish came to fruition. Laz Aparicio and McMillan entered the cold Atlantic Ocean near Cadiz, Spain. Afterward, McMillan and James confirmed him.

“We also met with a person who was baptized in 2008 and lives in nearby Rota. They have agreed to stay in contact with each other,” McMillan said.

James added: “This is just the start of things in Spain.” “God is doing great things here, and we need to be more open where the Spirit will lead us. It is our testimony that if we step in faith, God will lead us to people.”

But this is not just a story about answering a 21st-century “Macedonian call.” It is about answering a call in modern-day revelation.

To accelerate the work of sharing the gospel, the Twelve and the Seventy should be closely associated in implementing wholistic evangelistic ministries. The seventy are to be the forerunners of Christ’s peace, preparing the way for apostolic witness to be more readily received.—Doctrine and Covenants 163:5b

The experiences of McMillan and James show what can happen—and is happening—when apostles and seventies work in close association. However, the responsibility for “generously sharing the invitation, ministries, and sacraments” rests with every disciple.

Scripture reminds all disciples of the exciting events that happen when they unreservedly respond to the ever-present opportunities to share their witness and invite all people into community.

(The Holy) Spirit is even now touching alive the souls of those who feel the passion of discipleship burning deeply within. Many others will respond if you are persistent in your witness and diligent in your mission to the world.—Doctrine and Covenants 162:3b





Generous Congregation Takes the Chill Out of Winter

7 05 2011

by JANE D. WATKINS,
Floriday USA Mission Center

The Holley-Navarre Congregation sits in an area many observers might equate to heaven-on-earth. Located in the northwest Florida panhandle, the area is known for its beautiful white-sand beaches and the emerald waters of Santa Rosa Sound.

Yet like many communities, the Holley-Navarre region has significant challenges. After devastating hurricanes (Ivan in 2004 and Dennis and Katrina in 2005), the latest “storm” was last year’s oil spill.

Like many communities on the Gulf of Mexico, Holley-Navarre saw families’ livelihoods threatened by contaminated waters and a downturn in tourism. Unemployment and home foreclosures made many families financially vulnerable.

Making matters worse, the winter of 2010 was colder than usual, creating significant problems for homeless families and those without utilities.

The Holley-Navarre Congregation of about 70 members knew about the lack of cold-weather shelters. So it opened the church, providing showers, beds, blankets, warm clothes, and meals to people when the temperature dropped below 40 degrees Fahrenheit.

Movies, games, and music entertained those staying in the church. As word spread, people in the community began to give food, sleeping bags, clothing, blankets, and toiletries.

This fledgling ministry gave birth to the South Santa Rosa Resource Center, now serving people three days a week. This center links people with help to restructure mortgages, aid with utilities, and connections with food banks.

Local organizations give diapers, baby food, and children’s clothing to help young families.

“Thanks to the warm hearts of church members and the community,” Pastor Diane Revere said, “we are making a difference in our small corner of the world.”





The Power of Invitation

23 04 2011

by KRIS JUDD, Canada/Pacific Mission Field missionary coordinator

Belína Hio was a humble woman, barely willing to look me in the eye when I met her that morning.

Her congregation, Huahine, on Tubuai Island in French Polynesia, hosted our breakfast that day, as well as the evening service and class. The meal was filling, though simple, and we were greeted as honored guests.

My Tahitian was limited to a few words. So with the help of a friend and fellow missionary, Tahia Lee, I greeted the woman and introduced myself. She said she was not a member, but rather a “friend of the church.”

When I asked how long she had been a “friend,” she told me she’d been with the church 20 years.

I was surprised, and without thinking I asked if she would like to be baptized. Her response was immediate. Without pausing, she replied, “Yes.” I offered her a baptism that day but she said she needed to talk with her husband first.’

I was afraid she was being kind and had just wanted to please me with her response, so I did not say anything more. Later that night, she came to me and told me she truly wanted to be baptized. She had waited so long because she was not married to the man she lived with, though they were committed to one another. She did not feel worthy of baptism.

The next morning, I was thrilled to hear that not only would my friend be baptized, she also would marry her companion of 20 years. One invitation, quickly offered and readily accepted will lead to two sacraments in the lives of this family and congregation.

The power is in the invitation.





Step up to the Call of Generosity

10 03 2011

by MICHELLE McAULEY BOOTH, Integrated Formation Ministries

After buying a home and going through a divorce, life was going well for me and my three children, then ages 6, 8, and 11. I was working two part-time jobs, at my home congregation and as a hairdresser. With my salon clientele increasing, I was in a place of comfort, enjoying the work I did to provide for my family.

One Sunday afternoon, while at a congregational business meeting, I received a phone call saying the owner had closed our salon and taken everything with him. As I took that call, the congregation met and decided to cut my hours.

That was no surprise. As a congregation member I understood the need and would have voted in approval. Earlier, knowing the decision was coming, I felt grateful because I figured I’d be able to increase my hours at the salon.

But the phone call changed everything.

Not only was the salon closed, but the computer there had my clientele information.

In a few minutes I went from two jobs I loved, to one job with fewer hours. The following months were difficult. I did find work at another salon, but because I lost my clientele database I lost many clients and was not bringing in enough income for my family.

One day I opened my door to my sister and brother-in-law, their arms filled with groceries. They continued to bring in bags, and I stood in my kitchen, watching their outpouring of generosity as tears streamed down my cheeks.

My sister hugged me and said, “Wipe away the tears and put the food away!” I hadn’t felt generosity like this before. I promised myself I someday would provide that generosity to others. I haven’t kept that promise well. I think God brings these testimonies to our minds as little reminders.

It’s time I step up to the call!