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Tanzanian bishops dream big

By , and on May 29, 2017 in Latest Issue, News | 0 comments

ARUSHA, Tanzania — New bishops have big dreams for the Tanzania Mennonite Church.

Among other ambitious goals, the bishops have a strategic plan to share the gospel with a million people by 2034, the 100-year anniversary of their church, known in Swahili as Kanisa la Mennonite Tanzania, or KMT.

Participants gather at a retreat for new bishops and their wives in Arusha, Tanzania. Front row, from left: Bestina Sigira, Sharon Mkisi, Rachel Kisare, Phanuel Mesha, Jewel Showalter, Takasa Wambura, Gloria Bontrager, Jessica Wadugu, Agnes Matuntera, Debbi DiGennaro and Winnie Mutorela. Back row: Kennedy Sigira, Albert Randa, Nelson Kisare, Gerry Keener, Noah Kaye, Richard Showalter, John Wambura, Joe Bontrager, Enosh Wadugu, Emmanuel Mwita Matuntera, Rwanga Chris Kateti and Joseph Muterola. — Joni Kellar/EMM

Participants gather at a retreat for new bishops and their wives in Arusha, Tanzania. Front row, from left: Bestina Sigira, Sharon Mkisi, Rachel Kisare, Phanuel Mesha, Jewel Showalter, Takasa Wambura, Gloria Bontrager, Jessica Wadugu, Agnes Matuntera, Debbi DiGennaro and Winnie Mutorela. Back row: Kennedy Sigira, Albert Randa, Nelson Kisare, Gerry Keener, Noah Kaye, Richard Showalter, John Wambura, Joe Bontrager, Enosh Wadugu, Emmanuel Mwita Matuntera, Rwanga Chris Kateti and Joseph Muterola. — Joni Kellar/EMM

When more than half of the KMT bishops retired at the end of their terms in January, younger leaders were elected to take their place.

Emerging visions for the church’s future were shared and encouraged at an Eastern Mennonite Missions-hosted retreat for the new bishops and their wives April 25-28 in Arusha.

With “Foundations” as its theme, the retreat emphasized strong beginnings. Seven bishops reflected on the fundamentals of relationship-building, leadership and Anabaptist theology.

After a session in which the main speaker, Richard Showalter, EMM’s former president, shared stories of healing, deliverance and church planting among former KMT leaders, participants began a soul-searching dialogue.

Esther Muhagachi, wife of Bishop Amos Muhagachi from the Dodoma Diocese, said she had not seen such church activity since she was a child. “What has happened to us?” she asked.

KMT leaders urged each other to give sacrificially of their energy and finances, focusing on the early church of Pentecost as their model for church life.

Speakers and discussion facilitators included KMT general secretary John Wambura and Esther Muhagachi. Contributing EMM missionaries and North American leadership trainers included Joe Bontrager, Noah Kaye, Richard and Jewel Showalter and Gerry Keener.

“We had the best of the Tanzanian Mennonite community in dialogue with the best of the North American Mennonite community,” said EMM regional representative Debbi DiGennaro.

Congo Mennonites suffer ‘major wounds’

By , and on May 29, 2017 in Featured, Latest Issue, News | 0 comments

The Mennonite Church of Congo has sustained “major wounds” to its people and infrastructure, said Adolphe Komuesa Kalunga, the church president.

Komuesa was reporting on the annual administrative council meeting May 19-21 in Kikwit, Democratic Republic of Congo.

Mennonite Church of Congo leaders head the graduation procession at Kalonda Bible Institute in 2012: Joly Birakara, vice president; Adolphe Komuesa, president; and Marcelin Mbalo, Komuesa’s wife. Classes had to be suspended this year due to violence. — James Krabill/MMN

Mennonite Church of Congo leaders head the graduation procession at Kalonda Bible Institute in 2012: Joly Birakara, vice president; Adolphe Komuesa, president; and Marcelin Mbalo, Komuesa’s wife. Classes had to be suspended this year due to violence. — James Krabill/MMN

He named 10 congregations unable to gather for worship due to violence before saying he could not list all the places people had fled. Fields are left untended, so hunger is pervasive.

“It will get much worse in the coming weeks,” Komuesa said. “Most of our members are hiding in the bush and forests.”

In the Tshikapa region, with about 50 Mennonite congregations, only a dozen have not reported damage to their church and school buildings.

The Mennonite Church of Congo — one of three Mennonite conferences in the country and a partner of Mennonite Mission Network — is organizing a relief effort to collect gifts of clothing, food and funds for their members who have lost everything.

Fighting around Kalonda Bible Institute, where most of the Mennonite church leaders are trained, forced the suspension of classes when some of the students were just six weeks from graduating. Efforts are being made to reunite students at the Tshikapa Welcome Center on the church national headquarters, to help them complete their year of study.

The husband of the regional president of the Mennonite women’s association was decapitated May 19. He was chief of a village about eight miles from Kalonda.

A Mennonite pastor in Lubami was arrested along with a pastor from a Neo-Apostolic congregation. The Neo-Apostolic pastor was executed immediately. The Mennonite pastor was beaten and whipped, but those who tortured him fled the scene without killing him.

Located in Bandundu Prov­ince, Kitwit is calmer than the Kasaï provinces, where most of the Mennonite congregations are established. Komuesa indicated most of the current violence was in the regions around Kananga in Central Kasaï, Mbuji Mayi in East Kasaï and Tshikapa in Kasaï.

Jesus is ascended, not absent

By on May 25, 2017 in The World Together | 0 comments

Ascension Day. It’s the most obscure of all the major holy days on the Christian calendar. Coming 40 days after Easter, it commemorates the Ascension of Christ. The Christian calendar is designed to tell the gospel story from Advent to Pentecost. But most Protestants think the gospel story can be told with Christmas, Good Friday and Easter alone. It’s safe to say that Ascension Day (Thursday, May 25) will come and go unnoticed and uncelebrated by most American Christians. (It may have a bit more recognition in Europe, where it remains a public holiday.) That Ascension day for most American Christians is just another Thursday in spring is telling. It tells of a deficient gospel and reveals a central problem in our political theology.

Too often we seem to regard the Ascension of Christ as a kind of awkward explanation for the absence of Christ. Well, after his resurrection, Jesus lifted off for outer space and is now hanging out with God in heaven until he comes back.

No. The Ascension is not about the absence of Christ, but about the ascendancy of Christ. The Ascension of Christ to the right hand of God is the ascendancy, the rise, the elevation, the promotion of Christ to the position of all authority in heaven and on earth. The right hand of God is not a cosmological location, but a poetic way of saying that God has now given all authority to Christ (Matt. 28:18). The ascension of Christ does not lead to the absence of Christ, but to his cosmic presence everywhere. This is why the risen Christ says, “Behold, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:20). In the Ascension, Christ now “fills all things everywhere with himself” (Eph. 1:23). There is now no place where Christ is not, and there is now no domain over which Jesus is not Lord.

But that is not how most Christians have thought about the Ascension over the years. And this has had a detrimental effect upon our theology — especially our political theology. Let me explain.

If we end the gospel story of Jesus by saying… And then Jesus went off to heaven (which is why he’s not here), but someday he will come back and bring the kingdom of God… then we are free to run the world the way we want in what we assume is the absence of Christ. What this does is demote Jesus from being the Eternal Lord “seated at God’s right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion” (Eph. 1:20-21) to being Lord-Elect in exile. If we imagine Jesus as being off somewhere in heaven waiting to come back someday and begin his reign, then we default to the idea that Caesar needs to rule the world in his Caesar-like way in the absence of Christ. No! The Ascension is ascendency, not absence! Jesus is Lord. Now. Not Lord-Elect, not Lord-Gonna-Be, not Lord-Someday, but King of kings and Lord of lords right now!

The kings (governments) of the world are not free to ignore Jesus Christ and his commands so they can run the world by violent and self-interested pragmatism. The kings of the earth are to be called to submit to the rule of Christ. The primary role of the church in regard to government is to be a prophetic witness in the name of the Lord Jesus advocating for peace, mercy and justice. The church calls kings (governments) to obey Christ by promoting peace among the nations, prioritizing provision for the poor, and providing justice for the most vulnerable. The church is not to function as a toady to the king, but as a prophetic witness and an embodied presence of the King of kings.

It’s not the task of the church to “make America great again.” The contemporary task of the church is to make Christianity prophetic again. We must recover our vocation as a prophetic witness for the risen and ascended Christ. But to do this we must actually believe that Jesus is Lord of the nations here and now, and that all kings and governments, peoples and nations are called to obey the Son of God. This is what the pre-Imperial (pre-Constantine) church believed. These early Christians read Psalm 2 as speaking of Christ now.

Therefore, O kings, be wise;
be warned, O rulers of the earth.
Serve the LORD with fear
and rejoice with trembling.
Do homage to the Son,
lest he be angry,
and you perish in the way.
— (Psalm 2:10-12)

In the Apostles’ Creed, we confess of Christ…

He ascended into heaven,
and is seated at the right hand of the father.
He will come again to judge the living and the dead.

But when we speak of Jesus coming again, it’s best not to think of Christ changing location, but of Christ appearing. When Christ “comes again” (the Parousia), the curtain is lifted and that which has always been the case is revealed. This is moment of judgment — when we have to face how we have lived under the reign of Christ. The Parousia is not the beginning of the reign of Christ, but the moment in which we are judged by how faithfully we have obeyed the King.

Christ is not absent.
Christ has ascended.
Christ is not Lord-Elect.
Christ is Lord-Eternal.
Christ is not waiting to begin his reign.
Christ is reigning now from the right hand of the Father.
Christ is not far off.
Christ is with us always.
Christ is not separate from us.
Christ now fills all things everywhere with himself.
Amen.

Brian Zahnd is the founder and lead pastor of Word of Life Church, a non-denominational Christian congregation in Saint Joseph, Mo. He wrote about being influenced by Anabaptism in his book, A Farewell to Mars. He blogs at brianzahnd.com, where this post first appeared.

Goshen College announces candidate of choice for president

By and on May 24, 2017 in Latest Issue, News | 0 comments

GOSHEN, Ind. — The Goshen College Presidential Search Committee announced alumna Rebecca Stoltzfus as its candidate of choice to become the college’s 18th president during an all-campus gathering May 24.

She would follow in the footsteps of her father, Victor Stoltzfus, who was president of Goshen from 1984 to 1996.

Rebecca Stoltzfus

Stoltzfus

Stoltzfus is vice provost for undergraduate education at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y. She oversees initiatives to enhance undergraduate instruction and campus efforts to support inclusivity and academic success. She also has experience cultivating major financial gifts for the university. Since 2011, she has been part of the leadership team of public engagement initiative Engaged Cornell.

Stoltzfus is also a professor in Cornell’s Division of Nutritional Sciences. Before joining the faculty in 2002, she taught human nutrition at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore. Her research focuses on the causes and consequences of malnutrition in women and children in low-income countries.

“The transformative education I received at Goshen College has fundamentally shaped my understanding of the world and my work as a global health researcher, as a teacher and as a leader in higher education,” she said. “Thus, I am deeply honored by this call to return to my alma mater to serve and lead at this time.”

Stoltzfus graduated from Goshen in 1983 with a major in chemistry and received master’s and doctoral degrees in human nutrition from Cornell.

“We believe that Rebecca’s extensive leadership experience at two of the top academic institutions in our country as a distinguished professor and administrator will serve her as president and the college very well as we together continue to build on the positive path we are on,” said Conrad Clemens, chair of the Goshen board of directors.

Stoltzfus will be formally introduced to the college community when she visits the campus June 14-15. The search committee will review feedback received during the visit and present a final recommendation to the college and Mennonite Education Agency boards.

“In addition to being someone who knows how to listen well, ask good questions, solve hard problems and put everyone around her at ease, Rebecca’s passion for and commitment to the college’s Anabaptist-Mennonite core values of compassionate peacemaking and global citizenship exemplify her life and work,” said search committee chair Faith Penner.

Stoltzfus graduated from Eastern Mennonite High School in Harrisonburg, Va., which honored her with an alumni award in 2009. She also served on the Goshen board from 1998 to 2007.

Stoltzfus is married to Kevin W. Miller, a 1985 Goshen graduate with bachelor’s degrees in biology and nursing and a master’s degree in public health from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

They are parents of Lydia Miller, a Goshen College senior majoring in mathematics, and Gabe Miller, a Goshen College sophomore majoring in environmental science. Her parents are alumni Victor and Marie Stoltzfus of Goshen.

Goshen provost Ken Newbold will serve as interim president beginning July 1 until Stoltzfus takes office in early November.

Are we practical atheists?

By on May 24, 2017 in The World Together | 0 comments

There are people who say they don’t believe in God.

In our own moments of faith and confidence, we look at them wonderingly and think they must be crazy deluded, or else they’re lying to us.

Because God is obvious.

He’s everywhere, all around us, as far distant as the stars and as close as our own heartbeat. The world could not function without him; there would be no pleasure, no thought, no morality, no meaning. Reality would be a myth; there could be no existence.

But then . . . we see other people, and they are church people, full of programs and plans. And we think that that even though they say they believe in God, they must be lying. Because they don’t. Not really. Not down in the deep places of the heart where believing in God actually makes a difference in a life.

I read a blog post once that I will never forget. In it a man was talking about the church. He was saying that young people are leaving the church, and what can we do to hold them? We need better programs, he said. A more relevant message. If we don’t figure something out soon, then soon there will be no church.

And I could see, clear as glass, that this man did not believe in God.

He did not believe, from what I could tell, that God had created the church or that God sustained the church. He did not believe in the call or empowerment of the Spirit or in the final reigning victory of Christ.

He believed only in programs and in the efforts of man to fix those programs. By extension, he must have believed that man owned the programs and, by further extension, that man had created the whole concept of the programs, and the whole concept of God, in the first place.

I learned a term for this phenomenon. It is called practical atheism.

Practical atheism is saying you believe in God, and then living a life that shows differently. It is investing in programs instead of prayer. It is saying you trust your children to God, and then building a system of elaborate rules and regulations to hold them in place. It is saying you believe God holds the stars in his hands and maps the course of the future, and then going around stoop-shouldered, like Atlas, with a stone in your heart and the world on your shoulders.

It is stepping gingerly into the glass box from the Sky Deck of Willis Tower, like my sister and I did recently, and believing that if you stomp too hard or lean against the glass, you will plummet 1,353 feet to earth. Or it is refusing to step out at all, because while in theory you believe that three layers of glass half an inch thick will hold you . . . in reality you just can’t take that chance.

Practical atheism is trying very hard. It is walking the line. It is holding your breath. It is worrying and fretting and building walls. It is the opposite of peace, of letting go, of relationship.

Don’t be a practical atheist. We have too many in the world already, and everything they do is man-centered and man-sustained and exhausting.

Relax. Lean in. Stomp your feet to test the soundness of the floor. We have a God who can hold us.

Lucinda Miller writes from rural Rusk County, Wis., and attends Sheldon Mennonite Church, an unaffiliated conservative Mennonite church, down the gravel road from her house. She blogs at Properties of Light, where this post first appeared.

How to pray for your enemies

By on May 23, 2017 in The World Together | 1 comment

What does it mean to pray for our enemies? For the terrorist taking many lives in response to other grave wrongs, for the known or unknown assailant afflicting apparently senseless violence, for the thief who breaks into your house in the middle of the day and steals your things and sense of safety, for the boss who treats you carelessly and with disrespect, for the frenemy who pretends friendship but spreads lies about you behind your back, for anyone who does us harm.

Lord, are we really to pray for THAT person?

In 3 Ways to Pray for Our Enemies, the author outlines praying for those who persecute Christians by:

  1. Praying for their conversion to Christ — that God might be merciful to them in the same way that we have received God’s grace.
  2. Praying that the evil they do might be restrained — both for their benefit and for the benefit of those who suffer.
  3. Praying they will receive divine justice — not to get around the call to love our enemies, but as a plea of last resort.

Is this enough to pray for our enemies? And what if, instead of outright persecution, your “enemy” is the one who verbally abuses you, who continually finds fault, who may even be part of your own family or church community?

The Psalms include prayers of lament against one’s enemies.

1 Lord, how numerous are my enemies!
Many attack me.
2 Many say about me,
“God will not deliver him.”
– Psalm 3:1-2

Many go further with prayers of vengeance:

8 May his days be few!
May another take his job!
9 May his children be fatherless,
and his wife a widow!
10 May his children roam around begging,
asking for handouts as they leave their ruined home!
11 May the creditor seize all he owns!
May strangers loot his property!
12 May no one show him kindness!
May no one have compassion on his fatherless children!
13 May his descendants be cut off!
May the memory of them be wiped out by the time the next generation arrives!
– Psalm 109:8-13

 

7 Remember, O Lord, what the Edomites did
on the day Jerusalem fell.
They said, “Tear it down, tear it down,
right to its very foundation!”
8 O daughter Babylon, soon to be devastated!
How blessed will be the one who repays you
for what you dished out to us!
9 How blessed will be the one who grabs your babies
and smashes them on a rock!
– Psalm 137:7-9

Is it really okay to pray for our enemies in these ways? To pray that they lose their jobs and then their lives? To pray that even their children will suffer cruelly? These prayers are recorded in Scripture, but are they meant as models of prayer, or as examples of people pushed to extremes, as illustrations of how violence gives rise to more violence?

When Jesus’ disciples ask him to teach them to pray, Jesus responds:

9 So pray this way:

 

Our Father in heaven, may your name be honored,
10 may your kingdom come,
may your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
11 Give us today our daily bread,
12 and forgive us our debts, as we ourselves have forgiven our debtors.
13 And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.
– Matthew 6:9-13

Later on the cross, Jesus prays for his own enemies in just this way. Instead of prayers of lament and vengeance as in the Psalms, he prays for those who crucify him:

“Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they’re doing.”
– Luke 23:34

I can hardly bear these words of Jesus.

I would be calling for release and vindication, calling on those legions of angels and on God’s justice to reign. Given Jesus’ innocence and the cruelty of his crucifixion, given all of the good he had done in his life and the injustice of his death, his words simply don’t make sense — at least no earthly sense that I can tell.

Is Jesus’ way, then, the way of heaven? Does Jesus’ teaching in the Lord’s Prayer and his own example on the cross teach us how to pray for our enemies today?

I’m still working this out in my own mind and life, but here’s what I’ve come up with so far on how to pray for our enemies even when we may not want to, even when it seems impossible.

1. Pray with love

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor’ and ‘hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be like your Father in heaven. . . . – Matthew 5:43-45

 

Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. To the person who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other as well, and from the person who takes away your coat, do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who asks you, and do not ask for your possessions back from the person who takes them away. Treat others in the same way that you would want them to treat you. – Luke 6:27-31

2. Pray in silence

From Barbara Cawthorne Crafton in Let Us Bless the Lord, Year One cited by Spirituality and Practice:

The madder you are about it, the more assiduously you should avoid any words at all in your prayer for your enemy. Leave the details to God. God doesn’t need our suggestions anyway — he is fully informed about our affairs. We don’t need to tell God things. God knows.

3. Pray as you would pray for yourself

From Prayer for Enemies by Anselm of Canterbury (1022-1109):

You alone, Lord, are mighty;
you alone are merciful;
whatever you make me desire for my enemies,
give it to them and give the same back to me,
and if what I ask for them at any time
is outside the rule of charity,
whether through weakness, ignorance, or malice,
good Lord, do not give it to them
and do not give it back to me.

You who are the true light, lighten their darkness;
you who are the whole truth, correct their errors;
you who are the true life, give life to their souls.

4. Pray for mercy

As Jesus prayed on the cross, “Father, forgive them,” I appreciate the example of a young Iraqi woman, Christina Shabo, who prays:

have mercy on ISIS and on the whole world.

5. Pray for transformation

From Catholic Online:

We pray for our enemies and those who oppose us.
With the help of the Holy Spirit,
may all people learn to work together
for that justice which brings true and lasting peace.

I can’t claim any expertise in praying for my enemies — after all, that’s why spiritual practice is called practice. But at least this is a start, and I invite you to join me.

April Yamasaki is lead pastor of Emmanuel Mennonite Church, Abbotsford, B.C., and the author of Sacred Pauses (Herald Press, 2013). She blogs at aprilyamasaki.com, where this post originally appeared.

Do you want to be made whole?

By on May 22, 2017 in The World Together | 0 comments

There are reasons why we are not whole.

Sometimes the fault is not our own; sometimes our un-wholeness is a result of the choices of others. Sometimes we are dealt illness that cannot be cured; we are captive by diagnoses and that cannot be restored.

Sometimes?

Sometimes we are ill because it’s easier to be sick than to do what it takes to become whole.

There’s the story of the paralytic man who stayed by the pool of Bethesda. This pool was located in Jerusalem near a sheep market, and it had five porches. There’s not much description about that pool in the fifth chapter of the Gospel of John. We know that every day people gathered there waiting for the moving of the water. At a certain season, an angel would come down and stir the water. Whoever stepped into that water first was healed. It didn’t matter what the disease was — there was instant healing.

I’ve never been one to want to stand in line for hours to be the first person in a store or an event. But I can guarantee you that if I had an incurable disease, I’d make certain I was as close to the pool as I could get to increase my chances for healing. I’d be as near to the front of the line as possible, that’s for sure.

So there is this man who had this infirmity for 38 years. We don’t know how old he is; we just know he’s been paralyzed for 38 years. He’s there by the pool, hoping for a chance to be the first to get into the pool. He’s lying on his make-shift bed, waiting for the angel. Problem is, he doesn’t have anybody to help him, so his chances of getting there first are slim to nothing. Then Jesus comes.

Because Jesus is God, he knows all about this man. He knows he’s been there a long time in this same situation.

Jesus simply asks, “Do you want to be made whole?”

Really?! What kind of question is that? If he didn’t want to be healed, he’d never have been there in the first place. Of course, I know Jesus knows that.

The question wasn’t so much for Jesus as it was for the man: Do you really want . . . ?

The man doesn’t really answer the question. Rather, he explains why he hasn’t been healed — yet. He doesn’t have anybody to help him get into the pool, and others always get there before he does. Is he whining?! I don’t know, but I do know I’d probably be saying the same things if I were on his poolside bed.

Jesus gives him three things to do. John 5:9 says that he was made whole immediately. On the Sabbath, no less.

Imagine the disgruntlement of the Jews, who didn’t believe in working or healing on the Sabbath. Imagine the amazement of the neighbors who had known this man and his illness for years. Imagine their surprise to see him up, walking around. I’m sure there were quite a few people shaking and scratching their heads that day.

Jesus gave this paralyzed man three things to do. In the past, when I’ve been feeling despondent or think there’s no use in trying; when I figure I can never change; when I feel paralyzed emotionally or physically, I remember these three things.

I turn to that chapter in John and I ask myself, Do I really want to be made whole?

But of course, I want to be well. I do want to be whole.

Then why, I ask myself, is it so hard to take the next step, to do the next thing?

Jesus simply says, “If you want to be made whole, then there is something you must do.”

Or, in today’s voice, he would say something like this: Okay then. If you really want to be whole, then this is what you’ve got to do:

Rise. (Get up). Don’t just lie there feeling sorry for yourself. Stop wallowing in the place you are. Get up and get moving. You’re not getting anywhere by just staying there. You’re not getting anywhere waiting for someone else to do it for you. Stop being despondent. Do something. Move in the right direction. Don’t keep lying there.

Take up your bed. Yeah. You simply can’t lie around there anymore. Pick up that bed, because you’re not going back to where you were. If you pick up your bed, then you won’t be camping there anymore. It’s time to change your station by changing your location as well as your focus.

Walk. Just like that. Take one step, and another step; then another step. It was Lao-tzu, a Chinese philosopher, who said, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” It’s that thousand-mile trek that seems daunting. But taking one step at a time is the way to begin — and the way to continue. Easier said than done, I know.

Jesus says, “If you want to get there, you have to take that first step.”

Jesus healed that man because he obeyed. That paralytic man did those three things.

He got up, rolled up his bed, and walked. No physical therapy, no stretching and toning of those leg muscles; no massaging those legs to increase circulation. Just like that, he walked. It wasn’t any kind of magic potion or new concoction. It was a miracle.

I know Jesus still does miracles today. He still heals. He still tells us what to do if we ask. He finds us where we are, and he speaks to us. If we listen, we will hear him speak. Trouble is, (for me anyhow), I don’t always want to listen because I’m pretty sure I won’t want to do what he will ask of me.

Sometimes he speaks through his Word; sometimes he speaks through others. Sometimes he talks to us through songs. If we will listen, he will speak. He will tell us what to do. Then it’s up to us to do what he says we must do.

Sometimes I have prayed, “Lord Jesus, I do want to be made whole. Show me what to do.”

You’d be surprised at some of the things He has told me to do. He’s asked me to do simple things: make a loaf of bread for someone who has wounded me; pray for someone and ask God to bless them when I’d rather he blessed me instead; speak well of someone when I don’t think they deserve it; give a hand in the name of Jesus to someone who continually drains me and never returns grace to me; praise the name of Jesus when I feel like pouting; say his name — Jesus — when I can’t muster out any other word. It’s hard. Oh, sometimes it is so very hard. Yet it’s the only choice I have if I want to become whole.

That’s all a part of getting up and rolling up my bed of fears, my hurts, and my woes. I can’t wallow in it if I’ve rolled it up.

Yes, Jesus, I do want to be made whole.

I will get up.

I will roll up this bed.

I will walk!

When I do what you say, I will be healed and I will be made whole.

Gert Slabach is a member of Faith Mennonite Church in South Boston, Va., which is part of Mountain Valley Mennonite Churches. She blogs at My Windowsill, where this post first appeared.

Serving with Mennonite Disaster Service leads to baptism

By and on May 22, 2017 in Feature, Latest Issue | 0 comments

Serving with Mennonite Disaster Service led to a personal experience of resurrection, symbolized by baptism on Good Friday, for Kory Jones.

At the time of his April 14 baptism, Jones was an MDS volunteer. He also was recovering from substance abuse, was unemployed and had lost his wife, home, truck and reputation because of his addictions.

Jeff Haight, right, pastor of West Point (Calif.) Community Covenant Church, baptizes Kory Jones, a Mennonite Disaster Service volunteer, on April 14 in the Mokelumne River. — Mennonite Disaster Service

Jeff Haight, right, pastor of West Point (Calif.) Community Covenant Church, baptizes Kory Jones, a Mennonite Disaster Service volunteer, on April 14 in the Mokelumne River. — Mennonite Disaster Service

He started attending Vine­wood Community Church in Lodi, a Mennonite Brethren congregation about a hour from the MDS project camp in Calaveras County. There he learned of a need for MDS volunteers to rebuild houses after wildfires.

He spotted a bulletin announcement asking for volunteers to drive the church van to pick up workers at the train station and take them to the MDS camp in Cala­veras.

Jones started as a weekly volunteer March 19 in Lake County, about two hours northwest of Lodi, where he lived. He served there two weeks.

Jones was amazed at the way he was accepted and trusted from the start. He loved the way serving with MDS made him feel valued and useful again.

“I had a nice house, a brand new truck, a great job — all that stuff — but I was most miserable when I had all that stuff,” he said. “When you work for disaster survivors you realize what the necessities are. It’s a different way of looking at things.”

Jones described his condition prior to volunteering with MDS as being stuck. He was spending his nights at the Salvation Army and attending Vinewood Church’s Celebrate Recovery program.

He had been looking for work for two years, but doors closed in his face. He had been in law enforcement and loved helping other people. This chance to help people as a volunteer seemed like a good opportunity.

After two weeks at Lake County, the project closed, and the project director asked Jones if he would transport the MDS truck to the Calaveras County site. Jones was impressed that after just two weeks of working together, they would entrust him with an MDS vehicle.

He didn’t have anything to go home to, so he asked if he could continue as a volunteer in Calaveras. After a week volunteering there, Jones went back to Lodi for the weekend to attend his Celebrate Recovery group and go to church.

After the worship service one of the members approached him and said he would soon need a project foreman for his landscaping company. He wanted Jones to come work for him.

Jones went back to Cala­veras for a second week, thinking about the offer. It was a difficult decision. He found his MDS work fulfilling and healing but also felt God was providing for him through the fellow church member. He decided to take the job. He started April 17.

Although Jones was new in his Christian faith, he wanted to be baptized. An MDS project director pointed him to West Point Community Covenant Church and Pastor Haight.

From there a decision was made to baptize Jones on Good Friday. West Point Pastor Jeff Haight joined family and friends on the banks of the Mokelumne River. Emerging from the water, Jones fell into the arms of an aunt and cousin who he says “never lost faith in him.”

Jones described it as a personal resurrection.

“While I’ve been building MDS houses, I’ve been building my own house, building on the foundation of Christ, something that will be there forever,” he said.

His time with MDS did more for his rehabilitation than any 30-day rehab experience.

“People were trusting me to build them a new home,” he said. “People who were homeless made me not homeless. My recovery is so much stronger now.”

And so is his faith, thanks to the waters of the Mokelumne.

Bible: The weak made mighty

By on May 22, 2017 in Bible, Columns, Latest Issue | 1 comment

My wife, Gloria, tells about the time her mother used the story of Jael, Sisera and the fatal tent peg for the children’s story in church. Parents were aghast, but she just said, “It’s in the Bible.”

Indeed, it is found in the bloody Book of Judges. The book covers a 200-year period when Israel went back and forth between being faithful to God and worshiping the Baals, the gods of the Canaanites.

When God allowed the Israelites to suffer defeat, they cried for deliverance. God answered their cry, but the results were mixed. The judges delivered the people of Israel, but their unfaithfulness continued: “They did not listen even to the judges; for they bowed down to other gods. They turned aside from the way of their ancestors who had obeyed the commandments of the Lord” (Judges 2:17).

Of all the judges, Deborah, a prophetess, was the only woman. God spoke through her to call up a commander named Barak and told him to bring an army of 10,000 Israelites from the tribes of Naphtali and Zebulun. They were to fight a Canaanite king with 900 iron chariots. But Barak would go only if Deborah went with him. She agreed, but because he asked her to go along, she told him he would not get the glory.

They won the battle, but Sisera, the Canaanite general, fled on foot. Jael, a secret ally to Israel, told Sisera he could hide safely in her tent. While he slept, she drove a tent peg through his temple and killed him. Yikes! I wonder how my mother-in-law told that story to the children.

The story of Gideon is better known. When an angel appeared, called him a mighty warrior and said God was with them, Gideon asked: So why are we being oppressed? Why isn’t God doing mighty works like he did in Egypt?

Though the angel called Gid­eon a mighty warrior, he protested that he was from the weakest clan in Manasseh. Not only that, he was the least in his family — the weakest of the weak.

This story is all about God using the weak, but Gideon, in fact, was a man of courage and resolve. Before his famous battle with an army pared down to 300 men with pitchers and trumpets — even before his famous laying out the fleece for a sign from God — Gideon tore down his father’s idols and cut down his sacred trees. That took courage.

From these stories of deliverance we learn God uses the least and the weakest so no one can boast of their own strength or ability. Both Deborah and Gideon are leaders of great faithfulness to God.

We might take issue with an underlying assumption of the writer of Judges that God rewards the righteous and punishes or chastises those who stray. Things don’t always work out quite that neatly. Did the writer pick stories that bear out the presuppositions of his own faith?

The other underlying assumption that might raise questions for us is spelled out in Judges 1:19-36. The writer believes the problems the tribes of Israel struggle with stem from their failure to rid the land of all its other inhabitants. Each tribe of Israel is mentioned, along with the Canaanite tribes they failed to drive out of their land.

For all the bloody battles, the writer apparently believes it wasn’t nearly bloody enough. While it is true that these tribes influenced Israel to worship their gods, it doesn’t follow that the only faithful option was to destroy everyone who worshiped those gods. The people of Israel developed a theology based on an ideal of purity. But they put this into practice by imposing ethnic purity, enforced by ethnic cleansing. They had much to learn about blessing all nations and loving their neighbors.

Duane Beachey, author of Reading the Bible As If Jesus Mattered (Cascadia, 2014), is a Mennonite pastor serving two small Presbyterian churches in eastern Kentucky, where he and his wife, Gloria, served with Mennonite Central Committee for eight and a half years.

Kehrberg: Means, ends and baking pies

By on May 22, 2017 in Columns, Kehrberg: Cramer Avenue, Latest Issue | 0 comments

As we walk through the world, even along the dangerous paths we have chosen for ourselves, God worries about where we put our feet. — Tony Earley

Each year my church has a smoked chicken dinner and bake sale fundraiser for our mission budget.

Sarah Kehrberg

Kehrberg

I have always enjoyed baking, particularly making pies. When I was invited to contribute to the bake sale, I went straight to my kitchen and grabbed my rolling pin.

I made eight pies and could not have been prouder. Eight!

I took photos. I called my mom. I couldn’t wait to show up with my contribution.

At the church I found tables upon tables of food. Sandy had made 50 loaves of bread. Charlene: 60 fruit pies. Bonnie: 60 cream pies. Judy: cakes and rolls and pans upon pans of cinnamon twists.

Talk about shock and awe. It was a marvelous sight. And I was chagrined to be standing there with a measly eight pies.

Not that anyone was disparaging. My pies were more than adequately complimented and fussed over.

You better believe I upped my game.

It is chicken dinner time again, and for two weeks I’ve been in prep mode. Freezing crusts, preparing fill-ing, making crumb toppings, tracking down obscure ingredients, writing up detailed shopping lists.

A solid week before the sale I was lying on my bedroom floor completely angry with the world and wasn’t sure why. A few deep breaths later I heard the Spirit whisper, “It’s all this crazy baking.”

I almost laughed at the stereotypical figure I cut there on the rug: One of those people “doing good” while feeling mean and miserable.

I wondered if the end justified the means and knew in an instant that no, it did not.

God does not want the most luscious of apple pies if it means I snapped at my family all week. God is not pleased with money gained through cranky self-righteousness.

Does the end ever justify the means? I think not.

Our “means” always have multiple ends. Ugly, twisted means may achieve one beautiful result, but lurking in the shadows will be the undesired consequences that come with it.

I teach violin to young children. Invariably, there comes a moment when the student encounters a skill that seems insurmountable. The level of frustration is both surprising and jarring. Particularly for the parents.

“I just want him to enjoy violin and love making music.”

In my younger days, I caved to the ideal of “keeping it fun.” With particularly discouraged students I stopped insisting on correct technique. I let tone and intonation slide.

I achieved my end. They were having a ball sawing away on the fiddle.

But the other, quite natural consequence was that they didn’t sound good. It isn’t fun to make bad music, and eventually they drifted away.

I think about this often with parenting. Regardless of what the issue is — strong work ethic, good manners, a healthy amount of screen use — the end can almost always be reached through dictatorial, punitive methods. I’m the parent, and I can force them.

Yet we all know that hardworking, polite bookworms can dislike their parents.

This is the truth we find multiple times in the Psalms and Old Testament prophets. God doesn’t want a bull brought in pride or obligation. Rather, God desires obedience, loyalty and a broken and contrite spirit.

If these are our means, I trust the multiple end results will be kingdom work that brings glory to God alone.

Sarah Kehrberg lives in Swannanoa, N.C., and attends Asheville Mennonite Church.