We Choose Life!

7 03 2011

by DAVID R. BROCK, presiding evangelist

A 92-year-old member of our congregation died last week. At the memorial service I realized there was so much about him I did not know. The quiet priesthood elder I saw on Sundays and the photograph of the dignified man in a tuxedo before us at the memorial defined him in part.

But, Charles Self was most comfortable in jeans, boots, and a cowboy hat. His favorite seat was a saddle atop a horse. And, he was funny. He loved to tease, to share puns that brought groans from family and friends. He loved family, took special care of his home, and was a good neighbor.

To hear wife, grandchild, and son-in-law honor this good man with stories and memories, with laughter and tears, with scriptures of promise, in a spirit of respect and in worship of the God who gives life, was a generous gesture to a generous man and a generous God. I felt honored to be part of the community that gathered to pay respect and say good-bye.

As I drove from the funeral home parking lot, the voice of Rupert Wingfield-Hayes of BBC News was reporting from the Sinai Desert: African migrants entrust their desperate lives to Bedouin smugglers, who promise to deliver them to Israel or other countries in the Middle East. The promise is often broken.

An English-translation voice-over of the anguished words of an Ethiopian woman recounted the repeated rape and abuse suffered at the hands of those smugglers in the front seat of a pickup while her husband was forced to watch. The brutality so traumatized him that he fell ill and died. The woman blamed herself!

Wingfield-Hayes ended his report with the question, “How many Africans are held hostage, raped, murdered, or left to die along the desert trails in the Sinai Desert?”

Inhumanity is not confined to the Sinai or to Bedouin smugglers. The sacredness of life is soiled and destroyed on every continent. It is almost too much to bear. It should be! What can we do? What should we do to live sacramentally, given the incomprehensible horror of what is? How do we hold such disparate realities in our consciousness without breaking apart?

First, we choose life!

We do not hide from reality; rather, with eyes wide open, we declare the sacred worth of all persons. We honor the dead by gathering as congregations to remember and give thanks in worship, to stand at the graveside, and to offer meals and time to a grieving family.

We honor the living by listening more deeply, judging far less, affirming far more often, and celebrating them now rather than lamenting at their death that we did not know them better. We choose vocations based on the Enduring Principle of the sacredness of creation. We direct our resources to people and programs that heal spirits, reconcile relationships, respond to natural disasters, demand and fight for dignity in situations of injustice.

Charles Self lived a sacred life. Rupert Wingfield-Hayes risked his life to inform the world of that which dishonors and destroys the sacred. Community of Christ declares that all creation is sacred. Will we live out that declaration and relentlessly pursue the ways that make for peace?





The Blessings of Community

10 02 2011

The Jacksonville Congregation's Family Fun Day helped students, built community, and provided opportunities for ministry.

by Jane Watkins, Florida USA Mission Center

On August 7, 2010, the Enduring Principle that calls us to create community took life in Jacksonville, Florida.

The Jacksonville Congregation sits next to two public schools, providing unique opportunities to minister to children and youth. Two years ago the congregation received grants from United Way to create a computer lab for after-school tutoring, opening pathways to meet neighborhood children and families.

These connections led the congregation to celebrate “back to school” with the community by hosting a Family Fun Day with a backpack giveaway. Pastor Leonard Dantzler and congregational leaders networked with merchants, whose generosity made it possible for the congregation to pack 100 backpacks with school supplies for children from preschool to high school.

The congregation offered several attractions, including waterslides, a basketball court converted to a dance floor, and a Christian disk jockey. Four congregation children performed song and dance routines while onlookers enjoyed hot dogs, cotton candy, and snow cones. While children played, adults socialized and met other neighborhood families. Nearly 600 attended.

“As I walked around that day and saw the smiles on the children’s faces and families interact, I felt the Spirit of God in our midst,” said Bill Lancaster, one of the organizers. “The word ‘community’ came alive for me, and I celebrated the role our congregation had taken in creating caring community.

“It was a spectacular day. Planning already is under way for next year’s Family Fun Day.”
The Jacksonville Congregation has claimed the power in Doctrine and Covenants 161:1b to “be a joyful people. Laugh and play and sing, embodying the hope and freedom of the gospel.” 





Isn’t that the Whole Point?

7 02 2011

People in a series of community financial-managment workshops enjoyed food prepared by a woman who declined a higher fee for cooking to ensure the program would continue.

by John Wight, president of seventy

American actor Will Ferrell, in response to landing on the Forbes magazine list of most-overpaid actors, recently told a newspaper: “Isn’t that the whole point? I mean, aren’t we all striving to be overpaid?”

But in Kansas City, Missouri, at least one person sees helping others as more important than being paid as much as she can get.

Gabriella was asked to cook for a series of workshops planned by the credit union of which my wife, Carole, is president. The credit union sits in an area with large numbers of low-income people. It held the classes to help members learn how to manage.

It offered Gabriella $75 to cook for an estimated 35 people at each of six sessions known as “Building Your Bright Financial Future.” Though my wife was insistent, Gabriella declined. She preferred to receive only $50.

Gabriella needed the extra money far more than the credit union’s budget. But she wanted to make sure her fee would not cause discontinuation of the workshops. She feared people in her community might lose the much-needed financial-planning information.

Gabriella is not a Community of Christ member. But she is a good example of what it means to live out several Enduring Principles. Her unselfish attitude certainly recognizes the worth of persons and shows her willingness to give to her community according to her “true capacity.”

Similarly, she made a responsible choice that contributed to the purposes of God. Finally, her sacrificial giving helps provide the blessings of community.

Put in scriptural terms, Gabriella is a good example of what Jesus describes in Matthew 25:40 (NRSV): “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”

She could have made more money, but she instead sought to help “the least of these” in her community. And isn’t that the whole point?

I am grateful for Gabriella’s example of sacrificial and sacramental living. I pray I will remember it in my own efforts to be a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ.





The Power of Invitation

6 01 2011

Baptism, done in intimate settings or the great outdoors, is an invitational sacrament that reflects several Enduring Principles.

BY KRIS JUDD, president of seventy

Eight people found new life in Christ within Community of Christ in the waters of the Hills of Peace reunion last summer in Alberta, Canada

Canada West Mission Centre President Darrell Belrose had extended the invitation to consider baptism to several young people the summer before. He prayed for them as the year progressed.

When he arrived on the reunion grounds, he learned one had accepted the invitation. A few days later, another accepted. And as the week went on, the number continued to rise.

“Each time we met for service we heard there were more asking for membership into the community,” Missionary Elder Nancy Panting said. “On Wednesday eight candidates entered the cold waters at the same time with smiles on their faces and joy in their hearts.”

The new members ranged in age from 16 to 65, with several having visited the reunion for the first time. When asked why they joined after such a short period with the community, their common response was, “I have never felt such love, unconditional love, from everyone. I wanted to be part of a family and community that felt this way toward others. I was made to feel I was of worth and respected, just as I was.”

The worth of all, the blessings of community, and unity in the diversity of a body willing to love without condition helped transform lives through this powerful experience.
  
As disciples of Jesus, we are to invite others to share in this sacrament of new life into the body of Christ. Many lives are waiting to be freed by the liberating truths of the gospel and life in Community of Christ.

Invite, invite, invite!





Celebrating Christmas in Our Homes

23 12 2010

BY JERI LAUREN LAMBERT,
Children and Family Ministries

I have remarked that my children are working hard to raise good parents.

Authors Gary Ezzo and Robert Bucknam, who wrote On Becoming Preteen Wise: Parenting Your Child From Eight to Twelve Years, observed: “…[P]arenting is a process that leads to maturity, but what we don’t always realize is that the children aren’t the only ones maturing…”

Raising capable parents is not easy. It requires patience and the willingness to forgive mistakes.

As we decorated our home for Christmas, our preteen daughter, ever diligent in her responsibility to keep us on the right track, asked why the Nativity already had all the figures. She pointed out that in previous years we added the figures as we read the story of Jesus’ birth.

I did not realize how much this tradition meant to her until it was forgotten and recalled.

Each Sunday of Advent we read another part of the story, describing events surrounding Jesus’ birth. Then we add the figures in the story. Shouts of, “I’ll get the camel!” and “I’ll get the sheep!” spread through our home as each child helps recreate the Nativity.

Finally, after opening presents Christmas morning, we move from the Christmas tree to gather around the Nativity. There, we read the Bible verses describing the birth of Jesus. Our children share the honor of placing the small figure of baby Jesus in the manger. In this much-anticipated moment we experience a noticeable shift from gifts to the story that started it all.

As a parent-in-training, I am grateful for these young, patient teachers who eagerly place Jesus in the center of Christmas in our home.

Creating Space for the Sacred

You may have your own family traditions—particular ways you lift up your faith as a disciple of Jesus Christ during the Christmas season. Because many congregations do not have worship services on Christmas Day, it is even more important to create a space for the sacred in our celebrations at home.

Here are a few ideas from Karen Marie Yust, author of Real Kids, Real Faith, Practices for Nurturing Children’s Spiritual Lives:

  • Set aside a time to pray, at mealtime or before bed, for people represented by the holiday cards your family receives.
  • Have a birthday party for Jesus with other families and collect gifts for those who, like Jesus and his family, struggle to find safe places to sleep.
  • Set up a Nativity scene but add the figures slowly, holding back the Christ child until his birth (and the three kings until the religious celebration of their arrival at Epiphany on January 6). Note: On the Lambert farm, the three king figures sit atop the piano, (across the room from the Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus figures on the fireplace mantel), because they had to come from afar.




Generously Sharing from the Bounty

6 11 2010

by JOHN WIGHT, senior president of seventy

God’s gracious generosity overwhelmed me as I hiked in the Colorado Rockies recently. Chipmunks, deer, squirrels, rabbits, ducks, fish, elk, prairie dogs, coyotes, snakes, a seemingly endless display of flora, and food prepared over an open fire blessed my senses.

The Enduring Principle of grace and generosity filled my mind as I enjoyed God’s majestic creation. It reminded me of what an important part of our identity, mission, message, and beliefs this concept is.

One day, as I climbed narrow trails through the pristine wilderness, three strangers stopped me to share their excitement of seeing a deer standing nearby, looking at us. This scenario repeated itself the next day on a different trail when a boy of about 8 could hardly contain himself as he told me a deer was ahead. His younger sister added her excited voice to the chorus.

I reveled in the joy all of these people experienced because of God’s generosity. Even more, I reveled in their willingness—no, their impatience—to share that joy with me, a stranger.
It wasn’t much of a leap for me to think of Doctrine and Covenants 162:7a as I reflected on these encounters:

There are many lives waiting to hear the redeeming words of the gospel, or to be lifted from hopelessness by the hands of loving servants. But they will be lost to you without the generous response of disciples who share from their own bounty that others may know the joys of the kingdom.

The strangers I met were excited to tell me of their encounter with God’s generosity. It didn’t matter that they didn’t know me. They were not embarrassed to share. Indeed, they were willing to “share from their own bounty” so I might know the joys of this part of God’s kingdom.

“Bounty” is not only about finances. It also includes the time, talents, and testimonies God so generously has poured on us. Sacramental living involves being good stewards over all of this bounty from the Creator. It also means sharing time, treasure, talents, and testimony freely so others might know the peace of Jesus Christ.





“What Are You Going to Do About It?”

9 10 2010

 

Lidia and Carlos Roque are bringing ministry to Latino workers in New England

BY ARTHUR EMERSON, New England USA Mission Center

We never know when or where the Lord will touch our hearts with a call or challenge.

At the 2004 World Conference, during one of Grant McMurray’s challenges to respond in mission, I shared with my mission center president, Bill Gardner, that more than 500 Latino workers were living in the Down East region of Maine.

His response: “What are you going to do about it?” That was a clarion call to respond to the needs of a new people (other sheep) within our community.

The journey has been challenging, especially for those of us who spoke no Spanish. Many people have guided us on each step.

Carlos Roque, from El Salvador, originally traveled to Maine with the Methodist church to minister to migrant workers. Over the last six years we have become partners in ministry. A vision that began at the 2004 World Conference has provided a six-year journey toward a Hispanic congregation in Down East, Maine.

Last summer while returning from a New England USA Mission Center council meeting, Carlos shared that he felt it was time for a permanent Latino ministry in Maine. That conversation resulted in two families, fully committed, to build this ministry with the help and support of the mission center.

On a cold and rainy February day, Carlos and his wife, Lidia, arrived at Logan Airport in Boston to begin this adventure. In March 2010 he and Lidia were baptized and confirmed in Jonesport, Maine.

Carlos was ordained and set apart as co-pastor of the new Comunidad de Cristo in Harrington, Maine. As we embark on this journey together we remember the words of President Steve Veazey. “Forward or back? It is your choice now.”

The story continues…not just ours, but the stories of the many who choose to move in faith every day.