Diversity in Unity

Imagining our Faith Community Differently

God loves all people and desires that all be saved. That love is clear and evident in the sacrifice of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. This is the hope that we have! Yet there are scores of individuals and groups of people, particularly those who are hurting and left out, who have yet to experience that love. We all can relate to pain and loss. There are those that, due to their disabilities, have experienced pain so deep that maybe few can understand outside of our Lord. They’ve experienced loss not only of personal aspirations, but also the loss of a community that loves and supports its members.

 What if it were different for our friends with disabilities? What if the Church responded differently to people that God longs to include into His family?

 We see in Scripture that this truly is the heart of God. “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Mark 2:17). No matter our abilities we know that Jesus came because we all were unable to do this on our own. So, it is our responsibility as the body of Christ to reach out and invite, to share with others the hope that we have in God, and to love our neighbors unconditionally as God loves us.

 I was in India not long ago, visiting an impoverished slum in Mumbai. It was at a prayer service that I shared with everyone that we are no different and that in God’s eyes we are all equal. Just because I may have more money, I live in America, or my skin color is different does not mean I am better, even though in people’s eyes that may be the case. In His eyes, we are all on the same level. We all are made in His image and likeness. What is on the outside does not define us. This equality is summarized beautifully when Christ told us to show no partiality when we gather corporately (James 2:1-4). Truly we are all equal. That is the beauty of our faith!

 If we believe in the saving grace of our God and follow His steps as a community of believers, then it’s clear — it’s not our place to choose who is welcome and who is not welcome in His church. God invites all, and it is our responsibility to actively and intentionally pour out the love that Christ has placed in our hearts to our neighbors. This is not something that we do. It is who we are.

 Bridge Disability Ministries imagines Church as a place where all mankind can gather at the feet of Jesus, where we experience the gift of fellowship, the blessing of being in the family of God. If we intentionally reach out to our neighbors of all abilities, our faith community will be a lot closer to the way God had in mind all along.

 

Bridge Ministries is a partner ministry supported by BelPres Community Outreach and the Legacy Foundation.

On May 15, 2019, Bridge Ministries will host “Diversity in Unity: Imagining our Faith Communities Differently”. It will be held at the Westminster Chapel from 9 -4 PM. Join us as we strive—together—to bring about that which Christ desires. Register by March 31 with code: EARLYBIRD for 20% off

 

Survivor Cambodia

The DOVE Phnom Penh Onyx students, staff and volunteers headed to a retreat on an island off the coast of Cambodia, Koh Rong. It was the location for two seasons of the “reality” show, Survivor. As we approached the coast, it started raining. Tropical Storm Pabuk was in the Gulf of Thailand and authorities warned boats to expect high waves. On the bus ride, I wondered if we were going to make a new episode of Survivor. The staff monitored and prayed about the storm.
An Onyx lesson asks students to imagine that they are a boat, first undergoing repairs in dry dock and then setting sail to test seaworthiness. Lay, the DOVE Phnom Penh Coordinator, thought it fitting to end the year departing from a real port to sail on the ocean. When I heard they were going to Koh Rong, I was afraid I would get seasick crossing in a fishing boat. When Lay said they would take the 50-seat express ferry which is smoother and only takes 45 minutes, I decided to go. Despite Pabuk, the ferry was still running so we took off. I recalled that Jesus is Lord over the wind and waves.

Overall, the only significant effect of Pabuk was that we got seasick. When unloading another group of passengers at an island, waves near shore were so strong they couldn’t step onto the dock. Being tossed up and down, everyone started to look green.  I took off my life jacket and stood near the front deck where there was a breeze. We waited while a smaller boat was sent to transport the others ashore. We continued to Koh Rong and were able to step out on the dock. Friday night, the high surf washed up lots of trash and flotsam onto the beach, but it cleaned up quickly.

Making a scrapbook for the ensuing year, students spent Saturday morning reflecting on what they learned about God, themselves and relationships with others. They also made 2-3 year plans to fulfill or discern God’s vision for their life. That night, they took turns sharing and then prayed blessings for each other to fulfill those visions.

Because of the waves on Saturday, the ferry wasn’t running. The ferry ran again on but arrived late with oversold seats. After some discussion, they let everyone board. Lay and some other passengers wound up standing or sitting on luggage. I noticed two staff members, Serey and Virak, put on life jackets. I followed their lead! The ride back was a lot rougher, so I was grateful to dock back on the mainland. The one thing that approached a Survivor episode was Serey killing a 2-inch centipede crawling next to me on my bed. I carefully shook out all my clothes before and after packing at home.

The real survivors at Koh Rong were the Onyx students persevering the past year to finish the program. Instead of forming alliances against each other to become the sole survivor, they became a family where people share honestly.  Moreover, they’ve shown they have the heart to serve others.  Two students, Ngechsor and Pheakday, travel back to their province on Saturdays after class to share the Onyx lessons with the local church youth. Also, another small group planned and carried out a children’s outreach at a resettlement village near Phnom Penh, where one of them lives. As these students set sail after Onyx, we look forward to hearing further adventures of how God works through them to bless their communities.

Black History Month

Black History Month is a celebration! It is not a time to say that one group is greater than another, but it exists to recognize and respect the resilience of a people amid obstacles they were never meant to overcome. Whether they are engineers, scientists, artists, athletes, inventors, or entrepreneurs, Black people have contributed to the society we all are a part of in the USA and around the world.

American history has not been written in favor of Black people. Movies, television shows, news and history books themselves have distorted views on who Black people are, where they come from, and how they came to be. Black History Month is meant to change the narrative that has been accepted for so long. It is a chance for us to reflect on “…our 400-year-old sin,” as Rev. Scott Dudley speaks of it, as well as the achievements in spite of that.

Black people invented all sorts of things that we use today. Notable innovations such as the first successful open heart surgery, the common day street light, and the first automated oiler for steam-engine trains were brought to our country by brilliant Black people, Dr. Daniel Hale Williams, Garret Morgan, and Elijah McCoy. Jazz, rhythm & blues, gospel, rock & roll, and funk music all trace back to Black culture.

It is worth noting how many Black women have contributed and continue to enrich our society. Katherine Johnson,  mathematician and scientist (portrayed in the film Hidden Figures), helped NASA launch the first human-crewed mission to the moon. The first self-made millionaire, Madam CJ Walker, was Black. Modern-day trailblazers continue to fight for equality as well as equity in different realms of American society that were never considered “for Black people.” Oprah Winfrey is the first Black woman to become a billionaire. Misty Copeland is the first Black Principal Dancer of the American Ballet Theatre. Gabrielle Douglas is the first woman of color (of any nationality) and the first Black gymnast in Olympic history to become the Individual All-Around Champion. She is also the first American gymnast to win gold in both the gymnastic individual all-around and team competitions at the same Olympic games.

There are so many things to thank Black people for throughout our history, but it does not end there. Today, Black people continue to be the face of popular culture. Hip-hop is now the most popular music around the world. Black people make up roughly 75% of the professional athletes in the NBA and NFL. And with access that was never given before in the corporate world, there are more and more Black business people, lawyers and engineers creating our future.

If we are all made in God’s image, we should celebrate this new narrative. We, as Christians, have the opportunity to help shift the storyline from degradation to celebration.

While the world may demean Black people, let’s honor the accomplishments of our brothers and sisters. We can show the world a new way, the third way, to reconciliation.

“A candle never loses its light by lighting another.” – Rumi (Persian poet)