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By Rev. Rich Leatherberry, Associate Pastor for Mission
Recently I met with a guy who told me about a bicycling group he was part of. It started with a few friends from the church but grew to include neighbors and colleagues from work. Some are Christians but some are not. They meet on Saturday mornings and ride off on these long excursions. Up and down hills. For miles and miles. If you ask me, it would be a whole lot easier by car. Maybe a convertible. You’d get nearly the same effect right?
Well, these guys start every trip off with prayer. They invite everyone to huddle around and then one of the three guys who started the group prays. Then they hop on their bikes and the adventure begins. The coolest part, he told me, is that several of the guys have talked with him about beginning the bike ride with prayer. Turns out they love it. And talking about prayer has opened up conversations to a lot of other topics like church, family, seeking God, etc.
Today I read this article from Relevant Magazine, titled Is Missions About Words or Deeds? and my gut reaction was “Both!” Missions is both! Without deeds, our witness about Jesus lacks credibility but without Words, our deeds lack a witness. People are never going to guess why we are helping them, unless we tell them. And, they aren’t interested in what we have to say about the love of Jesus until we care enough to serve in ways that meet their real life needs. Missions is both.
The debate in Missions has historically been an either/or debate. On one side are those folks who argue missions is about preaching the gospel, saving souls, converting people to faith in Jesus and planting churches. On the other side are those who view missions as serving people’s needs; providing an education, clean water, food, health care, housing, etc. They have adopted some version of St. Francis of Assisi’s famous quote: “Preach the Gospel at all times, and when necessary, use words.”
The problem with the either/or debate is that we reduce missions to one or the other; either telling people about Jesus or serving people. Door number one or door number two. And as Presbyterians, let’s face it, we prefer door number two; “I’ll take acts of service please.” Talking about Jesus feels scary, because we have been taught faith is a private thing and because we live in a culture that prefers we keep it to ourselves.
One of the reasons I like missions as both is that it is respectful and loving. Respectful because we are building relationships with people and helping them where they need it most. Loving because we are deeply concerned about them physically and spiritually.
So what can missions as both look like for you? Who needs your help? What would you say that points to Jesus? Maybe you know someone who is going through a difficult season, giving you the opportunity to reach out to them, stick with them and offer to pray with them. Maybe it’s volunteering for a ministry here or maybe God is putting something else on your heart.
Missions as both is an adventure. Words and Deeds are a life changer for everyone. Just ask my friend who’d rather ride his bike than drive a convertible.
By Rev. Rich Leatherberry, Associate Pastor for Mission
Helping others is one of the best ways we can demonstrate the love of Jesus. Here are four principles that will make you a better volunteer and improve your experience.
1. Relationships come first. We live in a task-oriented culture filled with micro-wave fixes to multiple source problems. We rush to solutions, try to fix or change something without really getting to know the other person. Relationships are God’s stage for life change. Regularly meeting with someone, loving them, listening to them, earning trust, staying with them no matter what is going on in their life, help us find out where someone is really aching and where they are faking in life. That’s when we discover what people really need. Relationships come first.
2. Come as a learner. We are lifelong students in God’s global classroom. We have so much to learn from the people we serve. They expand our hearts and help us become more compassionate people. They show us more about Jesus and what it means to be one of His followers. They teach us about love and grace and forgiveness. God not only uses us to make other people better. He uses other people to make us better, if we will let Him.
3. With not for. Jesus’ ministry was about empowering and releasing others. The feeding of the 5,000 is a great example. The disciples told Jesus there was a problem, i.e. there were lots of hungry people who needed something to eat. But instead of solving the problem for them, He did it with them. Jesus collected the food they had, blessed it and then gave it back to them to give away to the masses. The miracle happened as the disciples gave the food away and everyone was fed. Jesus didn’t do it for them. He did it with them, empowering and releasing them. Whatever you are doing to volunteer and serve, find ways to empower and release. Do it with others not for them.
4. All About Jesus. There are lots of reasons why we volunteer. One reason is because it feels good, i.e. “I do it for me.” A second reason is because it helps someone else, i.e. “I do it for them”. These are great reasons but they can also have a dark side. For example, when “I do it for me’ then I am in danger of exploiting other people for my benefit and my greatest concern becomes whether this is working out well for me. Similarly, when “I do it for them”, I am in danger of placing all my expectations on them. They need to become who I think they should be, do what I think they should do and improve according to the timelines I have set. But when this happens, burn-out, frustration and deep disappointment are not far behind.
A third reason to volunteer is for love of Jesus, all that He is and all that He does to rescue this world. (I do it for Him). There is no dark side here. Jesus is the reason we serve and the one who serves through us. We serve with His love and compassion, act as His hands and feet, accept and forgive others with His grace. And when it’s all for Jesus then everyone gets better; the volunteer and the people we serve .
Let me know what you think. What has been your greatest challenge as a volunteer? What principles have helped you the most?
In early July, three women from Bellevue Presbyterian Church traveled to Rwanda for a two-week impact trip. We had been praying and planning for the trip since January. Our desire was to engage in ministry of presence—going to listen, learn, pray with and for people, and foster good relationships with ministry partners and Christian women who are living in Rwanda long term.
Our missionary, Jean McAllister, identified eight other women who were leaders in ministry to participate in a retreat on Lake Muhazi, which is an hour and a half from Kigali, Rwanda’s capital. One woman, Torey, is the American executive director of a non-profit that works with former street boys. We visited her ministry site on a Saturday afternoon. She had returned from a month in the United States a few days prior and said, “I don’t know if I’ll be going to the retreat. I just got back. I have a lot of work to do, and I may not be able to take the time off, especially since I just had a month off in America.”
I was disappointed and—I must confess—I was not hopeful that she would attend the retreat. I had been praying for her by name for some time, and BelPres members had written notes to her by hand with Scripture verses and words of encouragement that we would give to each participant on the retreat. I knew the retreat would be good, and I didn’t want her to miss out, but, of course, I couldn’t control her decision-making.
The following Wednesday was the day of the retreat, and I was glad to see Torey sitting in the minibus. She had decided to come after all! But on the bus ride, she largely was quiet and serious, busily typing texts and emails on her phone.
The retreat was restful and meaningful. The theme was storytelling, looking specifically at the story of the Samaritan woman and Jesus in John 4 and our own stories. We spent a day and a half praying, singing songs, reading Scripture, journaling, and talking in pairs and in the larger group. Each woman reported feeling more connected and rejuvenated as a result of the retreat.
The transformation in Torey was particularly marked. She was smiling and talkative. She shared with me, “I had thought that the United States was supposed to be restful, but it wasn’t really, not like this. So many times when I’m sharing in the States, I can’t tell a story that is messy or hard; it has to have a neat and tidy ending, resolved in some clear way that promotes the ministry. It was refreshing to just tell stories without having to spin it.” She also said, “You know, when I get together with other ex-pats here [other Americans], we often tell stories about how hard life is in Rwanda…but at the end of the evening, we often feel more depressed about living here. What I appreciated about the storytelling on the retreat was that it was not about commiseration. The storytelling was done in a blanket of hope and truth.”
I give glory to God for using the retreat in Rwanda to minister to women ministers. It was gratifying to see and experience mutual spiritual encouragement. I am so glad that Bellevue Presbyterian sent the three of us to engage with the women in Rwanda. At the end of the retreat, the women wrote thank-you notes to Bellevue Presbyterian for funding the retreat. Here’s what Torey wrote:
“These past two days have been a huge gift and a powerful blessing. I have felt tired, weak, and dry. I have forgotten my father’s promises. This retreat renewed my hope and my joy. It opened my eyes to my father’s faithfulness. My heart is thankful and full.”
Thanks be to God!
Where do you find your hope and joy are renewed? How does this post inspire you to share your struggles with your community?
I am returning from The Dominican Republic with a full heart and spirit of deep thankfulness and gratitude. Our team spent the week in relationship with 25 – 30 of the boys that are currently enrolled in the I Love Baseball program in Barahona. We had the opportunity to teach baseball clinics to some of the younger boys in the outlying communities, to play baseball with the older boys, and spend lots of time just talking with the boys and getting to know their life story. There are several boys that live with a family member because their parents are no longer around. There are several more that participate in the program, then go to school, then go to work because they are the sole provider for their family at home. All of them are becoming leaders in their communities and trying to make a change in their families for generations to come, thanks to the servant hearts of the people of I Love Baseball and Children of the Nations.
I have seen impoverished countries before, but none of them have ever struck me as much as these boys did. After spending a week with them and truly getting to know them, it touched my heart in a way that I’ve never felt before.
Because of that, I decided to sponsor one of the boys that is enrolled in the ILB program. His name is Juan Isael Cueva Feliz He is 15 and has been part of the program for a few years. It became very evident to me that he will truly be given a much greater chance to graduate high school and grow closer to God through my small donation and the relationship that I could provide. If you are interested in this, let me know and I could tell you about the boys!
One of the things we did was bring a bunch of paper, markers, and stickers to make signs for each of the boys on the day that they played their game. We started to bring the signs out to cheer and the boys flocked to us, asking us if they could use the markers and stickers to decorate their signs. I’ve never seen high school boys get so excited to decorate a sign with their name on it. We ended up completely interrupting the game and spent an hour and a half decorating signs, taking pictures, and laughing a lot. I apologized to the coach for the interruption and he quickly stopped me and thanked me for the light we were bringing to the boys through the simple gesture of just being with them. He said it had been some time that he had seen the boys this excited.
Here in America, I am constantly trying to fill my day with activities and tasks and find it a great accomplishment to check things off of my list to show progress. In the DR, they thrive on living in community with one another and you will often find them just sitting in front of their homes, chatting with neighbors and watching the kids play. This was a huge reminder for me to slow down, pay attention to what God has in store for my life, listen, be in relationship with those around me, and eliminate distractions.
Thank you for being on this journey with me, your prayers and support were appreciated beyond expectation and I am grateful!
By Mary McCracken, Director of Community Outreach
As the new Director of Community Outreach, I have been slowly making the rounds to the various agencies and groups who partner with BelPres in our surrounding community and at the church. This past Thursday morning I decided to hang out with some of our home crowd, the ladies who make up the BelPres Fireside Knitters. As a person who loves all things yarn, I was looking forward to meeting women with a like-minded passion and to the conversation I knew would ensue.
Having just moved to the area, some of my “non-essentials” are still packed away. I woke up early to search for my knitting needles, but to no avail. Not wanting to embarrass myself by showing up empty-handed, I grabbed a crochet project I found in a drawer, stuffed it into a bag with a crochet hook I found in my pencil jar, and arrived promptly at 9 a.m.
Meeting in the library just off the church lobby, the setting is beautiful for knitting. Light pouring into the windows, comfortable couches, books lining the walls. Over the next hour, the ladies arrived, each one with their knitting projects in hand. As the newcomer, at first I introduced myself; quickly, the ladies took over and would introduce me to those who arrived next.
At one point, Jan King took me to what I now call “Knitting Disneyland,” a room filled with yarn and completed projects waiting for the proper season to be given out. Beautiful hats and gloves for school kids who live in poverty, neck and wrist warmers for the homeless, lap robes for the elderly or those who are ill. In showing me the various projects and patterns, Judy discovered a ball of yarn that would complement my crochet project and we returned to the library. The room was crowded now, with multiple conversations, laughter and the joyful feeling of community. I searched to find a seat; two women scooted close together on the couch to make room for me. As we squished together, I felt a shifting in my spirit, comfort and peace encircling me.
I was a newbie, yet one of the group. Some of the women reminded me of my mom, who lives across the country and whom I seldom see. One woman shared that she was facing a heart-breaking decision, and we paused to pray for her. Another woman was struggling with her pattern, and two of us leaned in to see where we could help. Another woman passed around a small piece of knitting she had been working on as she learned a new type of stitch. Always, there were stories being shared and two hours quickly passed. As I left to head back upstairs to my office, the ladies warmly asked me to come back in two weeks. “Bring your projects,” they said, “or work on one of ours.” I assured them I would return.
Back at my desk, I thought about what had just transpired. Two hours of knitting! But there was more. God weaves His story through the tapestry of time. He invites us into the marvelous, beautiful, glorious work of His love for His creation, weaving our individual threads into the greater whole. The Fireside Knitters are quietly working their own threads into God’s tapestry. They take their simple yarn and work it into beautiful, practical, creative gifts for those who are in need. As they send out their gifts, they wrap others into God’s story of redemption and reconciliation. As well, they take the threads of their individual stories, weave them into each other’s lives, building community through prayer, laughter, work, and presence.
As a newcomer, I felt the gentle thread of the Fireside Knitters’ welcome and acceptance wrap around me and draw me in. In the beauty of the room, squished on the couch, listening to stories, God was inviting me to weave my thread into the tapestry of a new community. That community is busy in the missional work of valuing the lives of those who are often devalued by our society: immigrant children, the homeless, the elderly and the chronically ill. Though their work is quiet, peaceful, simple – they are kingdom power brokers.
“My goal is that their hearts, having been knit together in love, may be encouraged, and that they may have all the riches that assurance brings in their understanding of the knowledge of the mystery of God, namely, Christ…” (Col 2:2 NET).
Now it’s your turn! Where have you felt God’s presence in a strong community?