Friday, March 30, 2012

Easter Memories: Escaping the Commercial Trap

by Jerri Savuto

As I am in the US for the first time in many years, I find myself longing for the simplicity of Maua, Kenya, during Easter time. There Easter has none of the commercial trappings we find here. As I enter grocery stores, discount stores, and department stores I am shocked at the amount of space taken by the Easter candy, bunnies and stuffed animals, baskets, decorations, and new spring clothing. These items take more space than any grocery store has for all their goods in Maua.

I recently read that an estimated $2 billion will be spent on Easter candy this year in the US. Two billion dollars to celebrate the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, who asked us to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, give water to the thirsty, house the homeless, care for the sick and imprisoned, and welcome the stranger.

Easter in Maua didn’t include Easter egg hunts or Easter candy, gifts or new clothes bought for Easter Sunday, or even for spring. Ash Wednesday is celebrated with a morning service, ashes, and prayers. Palm Sunday involves the children bringing in branches of a variety of trees available to celebrate Christ’s journey into Jerusalem. There is much singing and dancing.

It is difficult to have any nighttime meetings or services as most people walk, and it is dangerous to walk to and from church at night. Thus Maundy Thursday is celebrated with a service at 5:00 pm. Friday and Monday are national holidays, so from 12 noon to 3:00 pm businesses close, and most people attend a service to pray, sing, and thank God for His most incredible gift to mankind.

On Easter Sunday the three usual services--English, Ki-Swahili and Ki-Meru--are combined with a joyful service that will last three to four hours and be filled with songs of praise and thanksgiving, dancing for the joy of the Lord that permeates the people and the service, drama, prayer, sermon, communion, and testimonies to God’s goodness and love. Often the service will include the youth and adult choirs from each service and dancing from the Girls and Boys Brigade members.

At the end of the service, we all know that Christ died for all of us and has risen; joy and thanksgiving fill the church and the people with overflowing hope and renewed faith. Though there is no dinner with delicious vegetables, bread, salads, ham or other meat, and desserts, we all leave feeling we have feasted on the living bread and blood of Jesus Christ. One wants to dance home, for the joy lingers as we leave the church, greeting each other with a heartfelt, "Christ is risen!"

The $2 billion that will be spent this Easter for candy--let’s match every penny we spend on “Easter stuff” and send it somewhere that feeds the hungry or cares for the sick or in some way touches the least of these in the name of Jesus Christ.

If you don’t know one, let me suggest sending funds to Maua Hospital Service Fund, Advance #09613A. Service Fund pays for the hospital bills of children whose parents cannot afford to pay the hospital bill (approximately $180 for one week in the hospital) or AIDS Orphan’s Program Advance #140161: for $20 you can pay for food and education for one AIDS Orphan.

Jerri Savuto is a missionary with the General Board of Global Ministries of The United Methodist Church, and with her husband, Bill, serves at Maua Methodist Hospital, in Maua, Kenya.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Panama Update: The Bridge

By Reverend Rhett Thompson
United Methodist Missionary, Panama

March 2012
After several days of torrential tropical downpours, the whole side of a mountain slid downhill and crashed into the San Juan River, just above the bridge connecting Cienaguita and Potrero de Palma. The mass of dirt, rock and trees created a dam behind which a huge volume of water began to accumulate. After a couple of days, the force of the water finally broke through the natural dam and a massive wall of water and debris roared downriver. One of the gigantic trees carried by the flood became entangled in the cables of the bridge and finally pulled down the tower on the upper bank of the river and even uprooted and dragged the other tower into the middle of the river. Read more (PDF).

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

US-2s at Ecumenical Advocacy Days in Washington, DC

Joe Hopkins and US-2 colleague, Marjorie Hurder, on the steps of the Supreme Court on March 26, 2012.
by Joe Hopkins

I remember when I was in college as an undergrad at Bucknell University, my response to learning about mass, systemic injustice and oppression was revulsion. I had grown up believing that the United States is a nation founded and maintained by Christian values. Then I learned about so many programs that continue to oppress ethnic and religious minorities, women, and poor folks who were an awful lot like my neighbors in central Pennsylvania.

So I tried to remove myself from the system, and I called myself a Christian anarchist. It seemed like a good idea at the time, and I still admire intentional communities that practice radically counter-cultural lifestyles.

However, I soon also learned how transforming bad policies, especially government policies, can have an enormous, positive impact on people. For example, imagine how the country would benefit if all immigrants could confidently join our political systems without fear of detention and deportation. Friends, that's a beautiful vision.

The hard part is how we get there. Over the past 30 years, across the nation it has become unpopular to stand on our Christian, and yes, our Methodist values to advocate for justice for the oppressed. I was a product of that movement, but now I stand firm on Christian Scripture, church tradition, human reason, and my personal experiences to confidently advocate for justice.

I attended the Ecumenical Advocacy Days in Washington, DC, as a United Methodist young adult missionary and future seminarian. We were unafraid to speak the name of Jesus in the same breath as "health care" and "budget." We were unafraid in praying for our elected and appointed government leaders.

And we were unafraid to talk about our faith in Jesus Christ even in the offices of our elected leaders. I shared my personal story of how my neighbors on the South Side of Chicago joined a campaign to shut down one of the dirtiest coal-fired power plants in the United States. I shared how my sisters and brother in my local parish could not stand to sacrifice our neighbors' health to the god Mammon, which in the United States is denoted with a dollar sign. I shared how we won that fight—that power plant will stop polluting the South Side by the end of 2012.

Sisters and brothers, God gives us a voice to sing praises for what God has done, is doing, and will do. But God also gives us a voice to speak up when others are silenced. This is what advocacy is. We use our voices in worship services, Bible study, and one-one-relationships.

We also use our voices in public. I think it's so appropriate that the Ecumenical Advocacy Days came one week before Palm Sunday, when we celebrate Jesus' triumphal entry in Jerusalem. Jesus was making a Daily Show-style mockery of the political system of the day, and a lot people tuned in. When the powerful people from Capitol Hill demanded that his followers stop shouting and show some respect, Jesus answered, "If these keep silent, the stones will cry out." (Luke 19:40)

Sisters and brothers, why should we let the stones have all the fun?

Joe Hopkins is a US-2 missionary serving as an organizer in the national office of Interfaith Worker Justice in Chicago. He will be remaining on the South Side of Chicago to begin his M. Div at Chicago Theological Seminary this fall.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

New Beginnings: Back to L'viv

Many things have changed in my life over the last few months.  After eight wonderful months in the states visiting old friends and making new ones, I was brought on as a GBGM standard support missionary and sent back to L'viv Ukraine.  It has been my dream since I was 12 years old to work as a GBGM missionary and it is a great joy to be serving in that role.

It was a joy to spend two months itinerating and raising money for The Advance.  We raise money for the entire missionary community.  My way has been paid for by the last generation of missionaries and I raise funds for the next generation.  Thomas Kemper, the leader of our United Methodist mission board, continues to be a huge advocate for young adults in missionary service.  The money raised for The Advance continues the tradition of empowering young adults in mission service.  This is a great time to be a part of GBGM.

Everything is going well with the University student ministry, Molod' do Isusa.  The students are out in full force as spring begins to bud.  Everything is beautiful and the students are taking full advantage of this warmer weather.  We will be moving into the new Student Center soon, as we have simply outgrown the current space we occupy.  It has been a big campaign to raise the necessary funds and there is still a need as we look to renovate the new, larger space.

I always enjoy nice emails and communicating with supporting churches and individuals back in the states.

Thank you, Michael Airgood. 

St. John's UMC

First steps toward a youth ministry: Lviv's first United Methodist church, St. John's, has experienced many important milestones.  Beginning with seven committed young adults; it has become a community filled with people of different ages and backgrounds.

Valodiya Prokip (serving communion, on the left) has been brought on to begin a youth ministry.  We have many teenagers who come to the student center for English activities, for the University student worship services, or just to spend time with friends.  Our hope is that St. John's will be able to harness some of their energy and begin ministering to the specific needs teenagers in Lviv have.  Valodiya and his wife, Ira, are a wonderful Christian couple - and St. John's is lucky to have them worshipping and working with us.  If you would be interested in pledging a monthly amount toward his salary - please email me for details.      

Happy 2nd Birthday!

St. John's UMC: One of the big milestones this church has reached is its second birthday.  Many new church plants don't survive to see this milestone.  Many people came out to celebrate this happy event and we all shared two cakes together.  This community has come together to send out a young couple to begin a new community in a smaller town, has started a giggle-filled children's ministry, and is beginning to reach out into the community to serve its needs.  St. John's is so blessed to have a wide range of backgrounds represented.  There are students and professors, rich and poor, and children and older folk.  It is truly a blessing to be a part of this community.

Please be in prayer for Valodiya and Gregory - two young men who are beginning seminary and explore God's call on their lives.

Also, pray for our community as we continue to grow and reach out into our community and into the rest of Ukraine.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Lent: A Time to Fast, and to Feast

Biblical Text: Matthew 4:1-11
Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness…

How do you prepare for a new job, new ministry, or new church?

Jesus' preparation for his public ministry was something else. After having been baptized by John and blessed by the Holy Spirit, Jesus went to the wilderness alone to pray and fast. There is something powerful in spiritual journey that begins with solitude, prayer and fasting.

The tempter came at Jesus' most vulnerable moment: extremely hungry, thirsty and tired in forty days and forty nights in the wilderness. Waves of temptation came, preluded by "If you are the Son of God…" turning stones into bread (create miracle to prove to me who you are); do the unnatural (angels will save you anyway); and idolatry (worship me and all these worldly treasures and power are yours). Both Jesus and the tempter quoted the Scriptures. The former for truth, the latter for his own motive. When we read the Holy Scriptures, we are careful to align our reading with God's good purpose in our lives and creation.

People do not live by bread alone, but by the word of God, the Scriptures says. Bread, rice and jobs are important, but they do not define who we are as people of God. Jesus, the Bread of Life, comes to us and show us the Way, the Truth and Life. But the powers-that be-of his time did not like Jesus' way, so they got rid of him. At Lent, we reflect on what is essential and what is not.

God's mission is about holistic salvation; material food and security as well as spiritual nourishment; abundant life and reconciliation; health and peace with justice. Authentic living is not about frenzied consumption, absolute power and privilege, but about living out the Gospel and the reign of God daily and collectively.

Suggested Question for the Group: The tempter, at times, is inside of us. What kind of temptation you struggled within your life recently?

Or, How has the Scripture guided your ethics and decision making?

Spiritual Practice:

This lent, in solitude and in a group, confess your sin and shortcomings to God and neighbor. To flaunt one's privilege and exercise power over people is misuse of God's blessing. Gandhi once said, "If I have two coats and my neighbor has none, I am a thief."

Fast from indifference, prejudice, or any form of idolatry. Feast on the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5: 22-26).

Element of Service:
Today, do something concrete to strengthen your love with God, neighbor and yourself. Reach out to someone in need in your neighborhood, or beyond. Pray that new church will overcome temptations and see new visions. Offer flowers on the altar as sign of fresh beginning and hope.


Let us pray, in the words of Dag Hammarskjold…

"God, give us pure hearts that we may see You,
       humble hearts that we may hear You,
       hearts of love that we may serve You,
       hearts of faith that we may abide in You."

Elizabeth S. Tapia is a United Methodist clergy/theologian from the Philippines, now working as Mission Theology Director at the General Board of Global Ministries of The United Methodist Church, based in New York City.