Sunday, July 20, 2014

Philippines: at-risk children

A recent grant from The General Board of Global Ministries to the Kapatiran-Kaunlaran Foundation, Inc. (KKFI) will provide preventative and protective services to out-of-school children in the Philippines who are at-risk for substance abuse activities, prostitution, or exposed to other violent situations. 

In some areas of the Philippines, young children are usually sent to public elementary school, but attending school regularly is a challenge for most. Many students do not have allowances for food, transportation, or other means to meet basic school requirements. The children eventually drop out of school and are forced to work on the streets or commercial districts to help support their families' income. Some children are left to beg, steal or scavenge for food as a means of survival, while other children succumb to drug use, prostitution, or drug dealing. 

Global Ministries' support will focus on out-of-school children ages 6-17 years old who reside in Navotas, Magsaysay, Parola, Tondo and Manila—areas which all have a high prevalence to substance abuse. The project will be carried out in partnership with United Methodist area churches and the Manila Annual Conference.

Through this project, children will receive basic education, health and other psychosocial services, as well as equip young students with the necessary life skills training. The program will also enhance the capacities of churches, parents and community leaders in responding to child development and protection issues. - See more!

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Take Me Out to the Ball Game

Just some of the many folks who met at the June 6 Railriders game. Thanks, Tammy, for organizing!

Friday, July 18, 2014

Faithful in Exile (2): Sour Grapes

Faithful in Exile (2): Sour Grapes
2014/07/13 Christ Church
Prayer, Psalm 32
Children, John 9 (Who sinned?)
Message, Ezekiel 18.1-32

This passage is all about judgment. “The soul that sins is the soul that shall die” (Ezk 18.4). And, we love judgment, don’t we? The passage exposes all kinds of questions, misconceptions, and anxieties we have with judgment in general, and God’s judgment in particular. Did God have a personality change between the OT and the NT – or perhaps a good psychiatrist? Didn’t Jesus tell us, “Judge not, lest you be judged” (Mt 7.2)? To what degree could sin and judgment be an inherited trait? To what degree are we responsible for the sins of our children and grandchildren? Can we “bank” our good deeds enough to wipe out whatever wrong we have done? Or can one wrong deed wipe out a lifetime of otherwise good behavior?

Last week, as we were introduced to Ezekiel, we learned that, among other things, Ezekiel was a great visionary. This is not one of his visions. The other messages in this series are from his visions, but this is not one of them. This is a sustained argument with the exiles of Judah, now living near the Chebar Canal in Babylonia, and the argument is about the justice, the judgment, of God.
      Remember that the exiles have lived through horror – the rape, murder, and torture of friends and neighbors – and now find themselves in a foreign land, without the comforts of home, temple, or king. Nevertheless, they – on one hand – hold on to the promise of God to Israel, to the house and line of David, to Jerusalem and the Temple, and they believe, fancifully, that God will bring them back. Ezekiel has been proclaiming that God’s judgment has just begun, that exile will be long, that Judah, the temple, the palace, the city of Jerusalem, will be totally destroyed. On one hand, the exiles are holding on to a naïve hope.
      On the other hand … there is cynical despair. If they are being judged, it is for the sins of their ancestors over many generations. They are, in the words of Katheryn Darr, “bound by chains they did not forge”. And, if I am not responsible for the fix I am in, then there is nothing I can do to get out of it. It’s all someone else’s fault – cynical despair. And, isn’t it a whole lot easier to blame someone else – whether the baggage from our parents, the injustice of God, or the randomness of the universe – than to take responsibility for our own sin, our own injustice, our own random disregard for our neighbors, for the earth, for our God? (See Darr.)
      Ezekiel argues with the exiles, first with reason, then with passion, attempting to break through the naïveté and the cynicism. “What do you mean by repeating this proverb?” (18.2) “Yet you say, ‘Why shouldn’t the son suffer for the iniquity of the father?'" (18.19). “Yet you say, ‘The way of the LORD is unfair!’” (18.25). Ezekiel argues, and it’s all about judgment, what judgment means, whether judgment is just. And, here’s the crazy thing: In the judgment of God Ezekiel finds the grounds for hope.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Misfit Collective

By Suzy Kridner Wymes, The Daytona Beach News Journal.

Two separate visions for attracting younger people to church in DeLand (Daytona, Florida) merged into a self-described “misfit” faith community known as Collective.

Collective, says Pastor Ben Collins, appeals to those on the thresholds of faith — those with a foot out the door and those hesitant to step in. That group tends to include many young adults, 18- to 35-year-olds who have become dissatisfied with the religions in which they were raised or have never belonged to a traditional church. Research calls this unaffiliated generation the “nones.”

Recognizing that many “nones” still seek meaning in faith and in community, members of First United Methodist Church, DeLand, voted a few years ago to help start a congregation for those they couldn't reach with modern traditional church services.
Meanwhile, Pastor Collins and some friends — Clark Orr, Louise Rigdon, Bill and Renee McCullough, Mike Furlong and others — were already working on that. Since 2009, they had been meeting at Cafe DaVinci, the old DeLand Artisan Inn, the former Bonkerz Comedy Club and other local spots that were open to renting or hosting Sunday night services.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Zimbabwe flood relief

In February, heavy rains caused unprecedented flooding and landslides in the Tokwe-Mukosi river basin in Masvingo Province, Zimbabwe. The Government of Zimbabwe declared the flooding in Tokwe-Mukosi a national disaster due to the severe impact on local communities. 

The floods inundated the homes of more than 4,000 families (about 20,000 people) and caused huge losses in livestock and property. About 3,125 households relocated to Chingwizi Resettlement Camp in Mwenzi District. 

The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) issued an grant to the Zimbabwe Annual Conference to provide vulnerable households with psychosocial support, a one-month supply of malaria-prevention materials (such as mosquito repellent), and school kits for 1,200 primary and secondary school children. 

Monday, July 14, 2014

Independence Day festivities

Don serving up free hotdogs with the local Kiwanis, Pastor JP offering the invocation for Mountain Top on the Move's program.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Labor for the Lord

From mulch to storm water drainage, our teams have been hard at work!

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Faithful in Exile (1): Wheels in Wheels

2014/07/06 Christ Church, Mountain Top; Holy Communion
Prayer, Psalm 29
Children, Matthew 17.1-9 (Transfiguration)
Message, Ezekiel 1.3 – 2.2, 3.1-3, 3.12-15

A year ago, on the first Sunday of July 2013, I preached here for the first time as the new pastor of Christ Church. The passage was one of my favorites – Isaiah’s vision of the LORD Almighty in the temple after the death of King Uzziah (Isaiah 6). It is a vision that is related to Ezekiel’s, a vision including amazing angel creatures, poetically described in vivid details and at the same time leaving many details to the imagination. It is a vision that totally destroys Isaiah. He cries out, “Woe to me! I am undone!” “Oy! I am melting!” Ezekiel has a similar reaction: “I fell on my face” (Ezekiel 1.28) and “I sat there stunned, for seven days” (3.15). In both visions, the prophets experience their call to ministry. Isaiah hears God wonder, “Whom shall I send and who will go for us?” and jumps up to declare, “Here am I, send me!” Ezekiel is too stunned to speak, too deep in grief to react. God picks him up, as if by the shoulders, and carries him about, declaring, “Mortal (the traditional “Son of man”), I am sending you to the people of Israel, to a nation of rebels who have rebelled against me” (2.3). Isaiah, too, gets the difficult task of preaching to people who have no interest in listening. “Say to this people: Keep listening, but do not comprehend” (Isaiah 6.9). I’m grateful that I am sent to people who listen (mostly).

As much as these two passages have in common, there are huge differences. Isaiah’s ministry comes when Judah, the southern kingdom, is still vibrant and stable, though they have begun the always deadly walk away from their God. He speaks of a coming catastrophe, of conquest and exile. And, in the final portion of the book, he addresses the future exiles – long before their birth – with comfort, with the promise of return – return to their LORD, return to their land.
      Ezekiel’s ministry happens in that gap. He is part of the first generation of exile, and Judah remains a vassal state of Babylon. He is part of a brain drain (Darr, intro), a deliberate and cynical attempt to take the head of the civilization so that there will be no more rebellion, no more declarations of independence, no more “Tel Aviv Tea Parties” – just empire. But these exiles do not need comfort, they need a dose of real-politic, and a total dismantling of their sense of privilege in the world. They still believe that Judah will rise, that their return and triumph are imminent, that – as God’s chosen people – this is just a bump in the road. Ezekiel declares otherwise: Judah and Jerusalem face total destruction, exile will be longer than your life, and you have no spiritual privilege that exempts you from the call to live in obedience to God.

There are also huge differences in the personalities of the prophets. They both preach judgment to people who won’t listen. Yet, Isaiah’s life and message are filled with beautiful songs, texts that even today we keep putting to new music. The songs that come from Ezekiel? Spirituals, slave songs, music for the oppressed, not music for the privileged. Ezekiel saw the wheel. Them bones, them dry bones. (I do have to say that some of the Isaiah songs are for the oppressed as well – but they were songs to begin with, not converted into songs later.) Ezekiel grieves, but he shows no emotion. He sees incredible visions – many of them – unlike most prophets who mainly hear from God. He uses absurd imagery and weird sign acts – laying siege to a figurative Jerusalem by lying on his side immobilized by God for 390 days, shaving his hair with a sword, and cooking his food over dried cow dung. Among all the eccentrics who served as Israel’s prophets, Ezekiel takes the cake.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Ebola response update

New York, NY, June 27, 2014—The United Methodist Church is launching an Ebola Emergency Response Plan in the face of an outbreak of the deadly disease in the West African countries of Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia.
The area of concentration is the Kailahun District in Sierra Leone, which joins Guinea and Liberia but extends beyond. The 599 cases reported as of June 20 suggest the largest Ebola surge in history. The disease has a death rate of 50 to 60 percent.
The church effort involves treatment, prevention and public education. It is a joint effort by West African United Methodist church leaders and regional health boards, denominational health facilities, missionaries, and the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR), the church’s humanitarian aid and health unit. UMCOR is part of the church’s mission agency, the General Board of Global Ministries. The United Methodist response is being coordinated with government and other private agency responses.

Bible School program (2)

Friday June 27, Bible verse and songs. Thanks especially to the music leadership of Amy and Judy!

Thursday, July 10, 2014

The Water of Life: Sudan

Between sand and sky, villagers of El Saharig in East Darfur State, Sudan, line up just outside a water yard recently renovated by UMCOR. Every day, 15,000 people draw water from this source.
By Linda Unger*
June 4, 2014—Slowly roasting in the heat of the mid-day sun, residents of El Saharig in East Darfur State line up just outside the local water yard with their donkey carts, horse carts, camels, and on foot to draw clean, safe water into barrels, tanks, and jerry cans and bring it home to their families.
The dusty line bunches up at the entrance to the yard, which is ringed by homes of dry grass and thatch and by a few trees. Everyone and everything, including the endless sand under foot is tinged with a slight harsh blue, a reflection of the cloudless sky above. The “line,” a loose term, may not be straight, but on a recent Saturday in May, it was orderly, patient and peaceful.
Mohammed Ali Ahmed, a father of six, comes every day to the El Saharig water yard to draw water for his family. It used to be, he says, that people would wait for hours on such a line, only to have some neighbors cut in—anxious for their turn—and violent fights break out.
Between sand and sky, villagers of El Saharig in East Darfur State, Sudan, line up just outside a water yard recently renovated by UMCOR. Every day, 15,000 people draw water from this source. PHOTO CREDIT: Sharad Aggarwal
But the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) refurbished the water yard, overhauling the pipeline that feeds the taps, building new tap stands, and repairing the elevated storage tanks, among other improvements.
Now, Ahmed says, he waits only about 20 minutes for his turn at the tap, and conflicts around the scarce resource have diminished. Every day, the water yard is used by some 15,000 residents of both El Saharig and nearby El Neem Camp for persons displaced by the ongoing conflict in the Darfur region.
“There is less competition because there is more water available. The water is pure, and not contaminated.  There are separate taps for humans and for animals, so there is less risk of disease,” Ahmed says. “I appreciate UMCOR for the great service it has provided.”

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Cambodia Consultation

By Neill Caldwell

ALEXANDRIA - Representatives from around the world gathered May 1-3 to talk about the growing Methodist mission in Cambodia.The United Methodist Church is one of five denominations working in the Southeast Asia nation of 16 million that is still recovering from the 1977-79 genocide that wiped out millions, mostly the educated and professional. Aldersgate United Methodist Church, not far from George Washington’s home at Mount Vernon, hosted a gathering of Cambodian guests and others from California to Switzerland who are involved in ministry there. 
During the three-day gathering participants worshiped together, shared America meals, danced to Cambodia music and heard ministry reports.Perhaps the most special of the special guests was the Rev. Sok Sovandy, the first native Cambodian to hold the position of Mission Superintendent, or head of the Cabinet in Cambodia. Prior to his taking office last September the position had been held by a Korean pastor.“Our vision statement is ‘To grow stronger and grow more rooted in Jesus Christ,’” he said. “We are working to equip clergy and lay people, encourage young people as leaders, create self-supporting churches and plant new churches.