Sunday, August 30, 2015

Ebola ... and Feeding the People of Liberia

By Kathy L. Gilbert
July 6, 2015 | NASHVILLE, Tenn. (UMNS)
Nyamah Dunbar’s calling to feed the people in her native land of Liberia collided with the worst outbreak of Ebola in history.
“Ebola, for me, has been the gift that came wrapped as a plague,” she said.
Since the first case was reported in Guinea in March 2014, more than 11,000 people have died of the disease and 27,000 cases were reported. Liberia had the most deaths at 4,806 but was declared Ebola-free in May 2015. However, a 17-year-old boy died of Ebola in June and two other cases were reported in the same village.
But the country that was shut-down for almost a year is struggling to find a way to come back to life. Dunbar wants to be one of the seeds that will grow Liberia back stronger than before.
Dunbar worked for the United Methodist Committee on Relief for six years doing health and relief work. Two weeks after she resigned from a job she really loved and flew to Liberia, suddenly she was living with quarantines and panic. Airports were closed. Hospitals were shutting down.
“My mother said, ‘We’re only here in the hands of God.’”

Friday, August 28, 2015

You Keep Using that Word (Denim Faith #3)

23 Aug 2015
Message by Joel
Selections from Leviticus 19


In that most eminently quotable of movies, The Princess Bride, there is a scene near the story’s beginning that (believe it or not) offers us a starting place for considering these verses from Leviticus. In the film, a rather bombastic character named Vizzini the Sicilian has the bothersome habit of repeatedly – and usually inappropriately – using a particular word. Whenever he is confronted by an opinion with which he disagrees, or by a possibility he thinks too improbable to entertain, or by the very suggestion that another person might be his intellectual equal, he declares – emphatically and always annoyingly – “inconceivable!” In the scene in question, after yet another of Vizzini’s outbursts, one of his traveling companions, a laconic mercenary named Inigo Montoya, looks at him and says, in a low voice tinged ever so slightly with sarcasm, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

Well, “that word,” in today’s text – and for that matter in all of Leviticus (it appears there more than in any other book of the bible) – is “holy.” It is a word we think we understand, and are pretty sure we don’t much care for. Perhaps because we are burdened by our common inheritance from those wacky Puritans, or because of our exposure to a certain brand of fundamentalism, or perhaps just because we have all been acculturated to a world that is anything but holy, many of us would just as soon stay as far from holiness as we possibly can.

It’s not that holiness frightens us so much as it depresses and annoys us. Holy people have withdrawn from the world into little cocoons of religiousness and abandoned the quest for the good life. They seem, or so we think, to have no joy, and what’s worse, they are killjoys. They hate their bodies and think sex is dirty and avoid it except maybe as an occasional evil necessary for the propagation of presumably holy children. They don’t care for good food and drink – neither wine nor beer nor bourbon ever passes their lips – and seem to live on bread and water if they eat at all. And don’t even get me started on the religiosity – all the inane “God bless yous,” the pious dismissals of the realities of pain and suffering, and the endless string of Bible verses they seem to have prepared for every occasion. Who in his or her right mind would want to be like that? Who, given the choice, wants to be holy? Or so we imagine…

But, as Inigo Montoya might remind us,  “that word” does not mean what we think it means. Holiness, properly understood, has only the most tangential of connections to the attitudes and behaviors I just named.  Holiness is gospel – not just good news, but really good news – and it is indispensable both to our flourishing and to the healing of God’s good Creation.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Christians in Iraq and Syria

Iraqi children bounce on a bed in the basement of Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Amman, Jordan, where 60 Iraqi Christian refugees are living. Lutheran World Relief has helped the church feed the refugees and remodel the basement to provide some privacy for the 10 families. Photo by Paul Jeffrey for ACT Alliance

Photo by Paul Jeffrey for ACT Alliance
Iraqi children bounce on a bed in the basement of Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Amman, Jordan, where 60 Iraqi Christian refugees are living. Lutheran World Relief has helped the church feed the refugees and remodel the basement to provide some privacy for the 10 families.
By Linda Bloom
Aug. 14, 2015 | NEW YORK (UMNS)
The Syrian refugee crisis continues to be an international concern and active threats remain against Christians and other minority religious groups in Syria and Iraq.
Tarek A. Sater, office director and program coordinator, Middle East Council of Churches, told United Methodist News Service the council and Secretary General Father Michel Jalakh are “in constant communication” with churches in both countries.
“Christians in Syria, unlike their brothers in Iraq who have suffered from internal threats for over a decade, are used to living comfortably in Syrian society,” Sater said in an email message.
“The war in Syria has shaken the foundations of the Christians in Syria and caused many to flee, while others refused to leave their homes and have remained stalwart only to suffer from abductions and violence.”
Many faith-based and nongovernmental organizations are aiding Syrian and Iraqi refugees of all religions. The United Methodist Committee on Relief has committed more than $2 million in response to the crisis in Syria and Iraq since late 2013.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

New School in Sierra Leone

(Top) Early arrivals at the new building sit and wait for the dedication ceremony. (Bottom) The old school building contrasts sharply with the improved building.
By Phileas Jusu
July 2, 2015 | MILE 91, Sierra Leone (UMNS)

A new building is always cause for celebration, but the celebration is louder and more emotional when the new building revives the dignity and pride of a school.
The new $98,000, six-classroom building for United Methodist Primary School at Mile 91, in northern Sierra Leone, replaces an unsafe building that had collapsing bricks on one side. Parts of the roof had been blown off in a storm.
“This building is a manifestation that when we and our partners work together, a quality result is achieved,” said the Rev. Elizabeth Kamara, United Methodist Yonibana district superintendent.
She said she still hopes the school can get a library, since the children’s reading standards are still low.
Enrollment at the school, once more than 300, had dropped to less than 30 by 2014, as parents withdrew children in droves, said Joseph Pormai, Sierra Leone Conference’s education secretary for secondary schools.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Welcome New Member!

Steve and Sandi presented Ashlee as she made her vows on Sunday during the 8:30 service. Welcome!

Sunday, August 23, 2015

World Methodist Peace Award - Algeria

Dr. Hugh and Shirliann Johnson are given the World Methodist Peace Award Medals by World Methodist Council General Secretary Ivan Abrahams and Vice-President Gillian Kingston. Photo Credit: Sigmar Friedrich
Dr. Hugh and Shirliann Johnson are given the World Methodist Peace Award Medals by World Methodist Council General Secretary Ivan Abrahams and Vice-President Gillian Kingston. Photo Credit: Sigmar Friedrich
From the Life and service of Hugh and “Fritzi” Johnson(remarks by Bishop Heinrich Bolleter – retired Bishop and former WMC Geneva Secretary)

Aiming to characterize the life and service of Hugh and “Fritzi” Johnson, I use a quote of Hugh, which for me is crucial and unforgettable: “The church needs to be where the needs are the greatest!”
When I accompanied them in their service, there were many alarming situations in regard to the Christians in Algeria and also in regard to the safety of Hugh and Fritzi Johnson. From time to time friends from the USA and from Europe put pressure on me and told me that it would be time to get Hugh and Fritzi out of the danger zone. But when I once visited them worrying about their safety and trying to evaluate the situation, Hugh responded to my concerns with the following words: “The church needs to be present where the needs are the greatest!” To temporarily leave the area of political and social conflicts was beyond question for them. But the price was high: One day Hugh was attached with a knife and only hardly escaped death. And when visiting the local churches spread over the country, he always had to take roadblocks into account – and it was never clear whether they had been prepared by military or by revolutionary forces. Therefore he always had to be worried about his and his fellow travelers’ lives.
Hugh and Fritzi always showed a deep solidarity with the people in Algeria and Tunis – with Christians and Muslims, with the poor and with migrants. Whoever knocked on the doors of the church center was welcomed. This solidarity was echoed in an impressing way one day. During the time of the war in Iraq, a furious crowd of Muslims attacked the house where Hugh and Fritzi lived. The situation was very dangerous – and then the neighbors surrounded the house with a protecting human chain.
The solidarity of the two missionaries was also directed to the Sahraoui people (West Sahara), which then and still today live without a right to their own state in a refugee camp close to Tindouf in the Algerian desert. Together with Fritzi I visited these camps and was able to see the ministry particularly with women and children. Fritzi was involved in the education of the kindergarten teachers, and she took care that fresh herbs were brought into the camp so that the families could discuss their problems while preparing and drinking their traditional tea. The young people were often sent from the camps to the former socialist countries in Europe. After the political changes in 1990, these students lost their study place and their financial support. Fritzi was symbol for the narrow bridge between the camps of the Sahraoui and the world.