Tuesday, August 21, 2012

School of Congregational Development 2012

By Laura Allen

I’m attending (and covering) the School of Congregational Development in St. Louis, Missouri, this week, along with Rev. Thomasina Stewart and Rev. Amy Shanholtzer. The thing I took from yesterday’s opening plenary session is something I’ve heard a lot of in the past few years:

Changing the church happens one person at a time. It happens when we listen to the stories of those outside the church walls and focus on serving the needs we hear about.

We can’t do that well unless we are becoming better disciples every day. That’s the message I hear from a wide range of church leaders. How does that transformation happen? How do we become better disciples so that we can reach out?

Bishop Robert Schnase (Missouri Area) told me a story this morning about how one congregation shifted its perspective by reaching out to a single mom with a special-needs child.

The audio is part of a story package I collaborated on today with my good friend and colleague, Melissa Hinnen. Melissa is the public information officer at the General Board of Global Ministries in New York City. You can also read our story.

I’m also going to catch up with Bishop Steiner Ball, who arrived late last night. What would you like me to ask her about congregational development?

SCD 2012

The Fortieth Day

By David Goran

August 18th, 40 days have passed. Forty days since that sinister crack of wood boomed through my consciousness, stole two incredibly precious lives, and left me underneath a gritty, heavy, frightening darkness, wondering how I was still alive.

Forty days are the period we set aside for mourning in Ukraine after death. Just as Israel was 40 years in the wilderness, Jesus 40 days in a desert, 40 is a unit of time by which we understand some sort of completion to this chapter of trial in our lives. And then, at 40 days, still hurting and remembering, we stand again at the grave of our lost one, and then do our best to move on.

Today, on the 40th day, I'm trying. Honestly, I'm not sure what that means, I am not sure what it is that I should do. The memories are still so present and oftentimes vivid; the tears are still so frequent and uncontrollable. As I write, rain is steadily falling from the sky, clouds almost completely blanket the sun. In some ways, I wish this dreary weather would stay for weeks. I'm not ready to move on.

Nothing that happened that day was okay. It was not reasonable; it was not fair. This was a terrible, shivering reminder that this decaying world we live in is under a curse. How did this wonderful man, who was giving himself in the service of God, working so diligently with whatever task he was given, happen to walk into the room the moment of the collapse? Why of all lives, why was it Illya whose life was cut so short? He was one of the most wonderful, loving, pure-hearted people I have ever known.

Why was I spared?

Tomorrow, the weather will get better. Shannon, Jesse, Jeremiah, and Shannon's parents, Bob and Betty, are coming for a visit. I cherish their visits. I love watching Jesse tear through the grassy yard, jumping, kicking, laughing, and making sure that Daddy is watching. I cannot believe how happy and large Jeremiah is, as he plays with his favorite toy on visits, my crutches. Shannon is always next to me, holding me, comforting me; her touch has been more soothing than any opiate pushed through my veins. My family more than anything is helping me heal, feel joy, and with little bits of hope look to the future.

As much as I physically still feel like a dinosaur, I have come so far. Just weeks ago I could scarcely move my legs, turn to my side, breathe without constraint, or have the courage to look at my almost alien leg. Originally, we were told it would be six months before I was on my feet. But God has been merciful to me, to my body. Forty days later, and I have been on crutches already for a week. Pain is subsiding, numbness in my left hand is diminishing; two muscles in my right hand, even if ever so slightly, are responding to signals from my brain.

I am healing. I am doing better. And although I still feel so emotionally and physically broken, nothing consoles me more than the mercy I received to continue being husband and father, son and brother, friend, and soon again, I pray, pastor and missionary.

I want to thank you, all of you, for everything you've done for us. Your support and prayers and encouragement have upheld us, especially in those first days, and they continue to sustain us as we push ahead and keep fighting. Your prayers have been truly heard; I have every confidence in that. Please continue to pray that what Satan intended for evil, our Heavenly Father will make good.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Weekend of Mixed Emotions

By Michael Airgood

This weekend will be hard. That's just a fact.

Today I will preach a sermon at Pilgrims that David Goran and I wrote together.

We planned a sermon series for English camp, and after the accident I decided to preach through these sermons with our community instead.

As we prepared these sermons, they really felt like they would be perfect for English Camp. In hindsight, I can't imagine preaching any of these sermons for new people. They deal with the themes of tragedy, loss, death, and resurrection. They are deep and poignant sermons that help us all search out the pain and sadness in our souls and to move past it. David and I both wrote sermons and parts of sermons that are incredibly revealing and emotionally vulnerable for this series.

In this present state, each sermon fits perfectly with the needs of our community. These sermons were written for such a time as this. Today's sermon is mostly from David's point of view. It's a hard and a sad sermon, but it is a sermon of resurrection as well. It will be one of the hardest sermons I've ever preached.

An email reminder popped up in my inbox this morning that tomorrow is Illya's birthday. On Saturday we will attend the service in commemoration of 40 days since his death.

On Sunday we welcome a new mission intern. As we work toward normalcy, one of the normal things we do is welcome new mission interns. We are very excited to have her join us and to receive her gifts and graces. Her new face will help other new faces find a place. This will help in the healing process.

On Monday we will have our staff retreat day. We will begin planning for the future. We will move forward with a future and hope.

This weekend will be very difficult. It will have lots of joy and some sorrow. We put one foot in front of the other and we celebrate who our God is.

M. B. Airgood's Blog

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Individual Volunteer Training

Photo courtesy of Alice Langehennig
Our recent Individual Volunteer training was held August 1-5, 2012, at the Wasatch Retreat and Conference Center in Salt Lake City, Utah. One of our volunteers, Terry Langehennig, offers the following reflection.

When thinking about the experiences of Individual Volunteer training, perhaps the most lasting impression will be the remembrance of having worked with such a diverse group of leaders and participants in preparation for our future work, yet being firmly united in our common calling of spreading the word of Jesus Christ to the world. It was truly humbling to discuss and learn how to present the image of Christ through our actions in mission and to keep the servant attitude about us always.

The time spent in learning more about the work of UMCOR and the experience of participating in the ministry of the UMCOR Depot West has helped me to have a better understanding and appreciation for how these organizations assemble and coordinate the activities furthering humanitarian aid. It is a blessing to understand how the simplest of activities, such as folding blankets or sorting pencils, will help someone without such basic comforts and needs. We can all carry this appreciation with us in our mission work.

Individual Volunteers

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Alumni Share Their Stories

By Julia Kayser 

This is our story, this is our song, praising our Savior all the day long! These slightly modified lyrics of Fanny J. Crosby's hymn "Blessed Assurance" came back as a frequent refrain in the worship services at last weekend's Living Stones for Transformation conference in Arlington, Virginia. One of the most wonderful things about this celebration was getting a chance to hear alumni tell the stories of how the Mission Intern and US-2 programs shaped their lives. The following is a collage of stories that were shared during worship services.

Rachel Cornwell was a Mission Intern from 1986 to 1989. During her time as a Young Adult in Mission, she served in Okinawa, Japan. She bore witness to the heavy load of the US military presence there, and to the desperation of Filipina sex workers. "Go back to the United States," they told her, "and tell them what you saw and what our lives are like." Rachel says that the responsibility of carrying those stories helped her find her voice. She later went on to ordained ministry in The United Methodist Church.

Elizabeth Cuevas-Wallace fled from her home in Chile seeking medical care after the 1976 military coup. Missionaries brought her to a Methodist hospital in Georgia, and she met her husband at a local church. Immediately after they were married, they went to Texas as US-2s, where they served as house parents for 12 orphaned Mexican students. "That was the best way that we could have started our marriage," Elizabeth said. It taught the young couple how to be parents, and helped them discern their calls. They have been married for 34 years so far.

Doug Cunningham is an alumnus of the Mission Intern class of 1983. He was sent to the Philippines, where he discovered a "connection between Jesus and justice." He joked that he left his mark on the Philippines when he accidentally chose a seat on a block of ice during a long bus ride: "the mark you make may be more embarrassing than powerful." But he attested to the fact that his work abroad was transformative for him, and taught him the importance of community-centered living.

Harris Tay served as a US-2 in Dayton, Ohio, when he was fresh out of college and thought he had everything figured out. He worked on leadership development for teens. Although he traveled far and wide after his US-2 term was finished, he ended up right back in Dayton, Ohio, and now works as the executive director of the Wesley Community Center. He says, "You can run away from your mission, but your mission will not run away from you."

Joanne Reich served as a US-2 in Georgia and a Mission Intern in Palestine in the 1990s. She became aware of her privilege when one of her Palestinian coworkers was in a wheelchair because of polio—a disease for which Joanne had been vaccinated as a child. Joanne is compelled to share stories of inequality, and now serves as a deaconess. "No one can take stories away from you," she says. And she's right, of course. Sharing our stories never dilutes them; it only makes them more powerful.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Keynote by Rev. Rudy Rasmus

By Julia Kayser

Rev. Rudy Rasmus gave a keynote speech on August 3, 2012, to more than 150 people at the Living Stones for Transformation conference celebrating 60 years of US-2s and 35 years of Mission Interns in Arlington, Virginia. Rev. Rudy is not an alumnus of either of these short-term mission programs with The United Methodist Church; instead, his life is a long-term patchwork of mission to the marginalized. He gave the young adults in mission an insight into what it looks like to continue ministry with the poor beyond a traditional missionary appointment.

Rev. Rasmus was funny and self-deprecating, summarizing his impressive biography by saying, “I’m a hustler for Jesus.” He gave the audience members a collective moment at the beginning of the speech to ask one another about his braided goatee. Once the stand-up comedy routine was over, his sermon was grounded in both Scripture and personal experience. He read from John, chapter 4, about Jesus meeting the Samaritan woman at the well.

Rev. Rasmus said that everything he knows about Jesus boils down to love. His keynote speech was organized around love as a central theme and a guiding acronym:
  • L is for liberation. “To get where you’re going,” he said, “you’ll have to go through Samaria… and Samaria is everywhere as a need for liberation.” People need to be liberated from anger and from fear.
  • O is for others-focused. In his ministry with the Samaritan woman at the well, Jesus was focused on her—on liberating her from the social constructs that would have normally kept her away from him. “Imagine what the woman’s internal experience was as classism was deconstructed,” said Rev. Rasmus. We are called to move beyond structures and focus on the other.
  • V is for veracity: “a dogged determination to maintain truth.” Rev. Rasmus argued that we need to embrace our own truths before we can truly share and receive the truths of others.
  • E is for engage. “Engage the community,” Rev. Rasmus encouraged the crowd. Love everyone unconditionally.
Rev. Rasmus also expressed his deep appreciation and admiration for missionaries. “I really believe that this step that you’re taking is the only hope for the church,” he said to the young people who would be commissioned later that night. Hearing Rev. Rasmus speak was an honor. To read more about his incredible work with the poor, visit the website of St. John’s Downtown Church, where he serves as a pastor in Houston, Texas.