Friday, July 31, 2009

Interfaith Weddings

U.S. pluralism of cultures and religions offers intriguing opportunities to learn and grow.

Imagine coordinating a wedding between an American born Indian Hindu girl and Sikh groom! After realizing the differences you'd likely find some challenges. Add the emotion and family into such an event and let the complications begin!

In some places interfaith wedding planners are popular as various traditions, rituals, and celebrations are being incorporated into practices which respect both traditions without significant compromise.

If you enjoy learning about different religions and how they are learning to speak to each other and interact you will enjoy this story which is about interfaith weddings, but also offers good insight into interfaith relationships in general.

One of my favorite lines comes from the father of the groom when he says, "But reality is not always simple."

Interfaith Wedding

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Day Off Thoughts on Churches & Religious Publishers

It's a day off with the wife and older kids shopping for school clothes, and the youngest one here at home with a fever. And now an afternoon thundershower is rolling in. I did some quick Google searches but haven't found some info that I'm curious to know. Of course, in the back of my mind I've got some fall planning and resource loose ends I'm firming up. Related to these fall plans I tend to always use Cokesbury, UMPH, Abingdon, GBGM, Upper Room, Discipleship Resources, etc. though I'll also occasionally use other resources or create my own. Actually the last note is more typical for me as I use the discussion and interests of the group and springboard from there.

I notice that some publishers will show there top authors, top books in a year, etc. I wanted to compare Cokesbury to other religious publishers in this, but hit a wall quickly. Here are my questions related specifically to Cokesbury/UMPH though I'd likely apply it to all the others if I could:

-What are the top 25 books or curriculum for the last year?
-Who are the top 25 authors in the last year?

Does anyone have a source for this information? Is this listed online somewhere that I can access? I'd really like to know these things, and then know why some UMC's may have gone to other publishers/authors/books. If there has been a document on this that would satisfy my rainy day curiousity as well.

Oh well, back to the fever and thunder. Let me know if you have any answers to these mysteries which ought to be online somewhere.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Medical Care, Health Clinics, & Volunteers

I admit I don't have any easy answers regarding the current health care debate. Like many, I'd be able to point to lots of problems, could complain about the costs, would brag about medical advances of the last 25 years, and while concerned about the scores who don't have adequate adequate health care I still wouldn't have many answers. Complicated stuff for sure!

While traveling yesterday afternoon I heard a radio report about which reminded me of the crowds we served with our mobile medical clinic in west Africa. The report started:

"It was a Third World scene with an American setting. Hundreds of tired and desperate people crowded around an aid worker with a bullhorn, straining to hear the instructions and worried they might be left out. Some had arrived at the Wise County Fairgrounds in Wise, Va., two days before. They slept in cars, tents and the beds of pickup trucks, hoping to be among the first in line when the gate opened Friday before dawn. They drove in from 16 states, anxious to relieve pain, diagnose aches and see and hear better."

Find more of the report at Rural Medical Clinic

"The 2009 Remote Area Medical (RAM) Expedition comes to the Virginia Appalachian mountains as Congress and President Obama wrestle with a health care overhaul. The event graphically illustrates gaps in the existing health care system." One woman told of her visit last year that saved her life as the medical team found her gall bladder was enlarged and ready to burst.

It makes me wonder if there are parts of our GA/SC region which might be under served and need a medical mission team.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Why Adults Need to Go on "Away" Mission Trips

I don't usually speak of Mission Trips as much as I do "Away" Mission experiences. I guess I have some issues with the idea these are vacations (which is what a "trip" sounds like). Or that they are for a select few people in a church with certain skills ("Oh I can't do that, I don't have any skills"). Or perhaps that mission teams aren't for everyone but a certain percentage of the percentage that are already busy in the church (like you've got to be supergood, or proven, or something?).

Honestly, I can't easily separate out the various activities in my Christian life. Rather it seems to me the various elements are part of the whole. So, worship, prayer, study and discussion groups, fellowship, and service all constitute the way I follow Christ, and are therefore worthy of daily practice. And for me the fact has been that this all comes together nicely in a mission experience as all the elements are there!

First, some caveats: This challenge is intended for the person of average health, who can spend a week or more away from home, and who doesn't have any restrictive medical, health, or dietary issues. It's also for folk who, as I often say, "can claim a mission and who haven't been claimed by one." By that, I mean that many of us, at certain stages in life, have life challenges which demand all our extra time and attention, e.g. caring for a parent in failing health, caring for a special needs child, fighting a personal cancer, etc. But don't hear this as an easy way to let you off the hook because I'm certain God's expectations are of higher priority than any simple recipe you or I might cook up. I find there are many people who tell me "they wish they had," and "If I'd only made the time." So, I hope this does let some off the hook who honestly have too much on their plate, and challenges others who have never seriously thought about their place on a mission team.

With that in mind, here are my top reasons that every adult should participate in an "Away" Mission adventure:

1) You'll almost certainly do more in the name of Christ and the Church in one week away than you ever would at home. Even with your good intentions, how often do you spend such concentrated time in service, worship, study, prayer, and with others working toward a common goal? This alone is a reason to be part of a mission team!

2) No, you aren't skilled enough or good enough, but go anyway and be surprised at how blessed you'll be and how you might bless others. I've found that the more diverse the team is in skills and personalities the more likely we are to be effective! How often do you minister to others? This alone is a reason to be part of a mission team!

3) There are always LOTS of excuses- I'm too young, too old, too wealthy, too poor, too busy, too weak, too.... too... too.... You get the idea! There are always excuses not to do something that might change the world or change your world; drop the excuses, make it a priority, and go for an adventure for yourself and for God. How often do you experience the heart of the gospel and faith, and seek to share that with others? This alone is a reason to be part of a mission team!

4) You will get to know members of the church and team in much deeper ways. It is impossible to "play church" when you are with a team for a week or longer, when you are thrown into work and the daily experiences, and when you and the group have all the "ups and downs" that go with a day. This is deep, enriching, challenging, and will connect you with people in such special ways that you will never look at them the same! How often do you experience such depth of relationships in adult life? This alone is a reason to be part of a mission team!

5) You will experience God in much deeper ways (especially on international missions) which will change your life and faith at home. Such an experience will deepen your prayers, your worship, your time in Scripture, and your everyday faith and life. This will be the heart of the faith in everyday, honest ways, your belief brought to life, and the fellowship of Good News which can best be experienced and lived rather than merely spoken about! How often does church really come alive like that for you? This alone is a reason to be part of a mission team!

6) At home, in your own routine, you will experience your life and faith and church, even mission, one particular way. Do an away mission experience and you are in control of very little. You are subject to others, and you must give in to the team. You are not in control of the agenda, and are intimately interconnected and interrelated to a group who you must rely upon. For many adults this is a challenge, but in it you will also likely find new spiritual and life freedom. How often are you part of such a special team which you add to and benefit from? This alone is a reason to be part of a mission team!

7) You will pick up new skills, learn new things about yourself and others, and experience all the drama of life and faith which will change everything! This is a learning, growing experience which finds you in the intersection of goals a team must accomplish, in the middle of a culture or subculture that you don't get and must learn about, and in the midst of a God at work and a people of faith trying to express God's love the best they can. How often are you in such a learning context as an adult? This alone is a reason to be part of a mission team!

This isn't a comprehensive list, though this should give you a few ideas about the importance an "away" mission can be in the life of an individual Christian and in the life of a church. Anyone of these reasons could stand alone quite powerfully, and when you add them up the vitality and difference a mission team can make are significant. I've seen this played out with teenagers, to adults up to 80 years! But don't just take my word for it. Read Scripture and see that you are to go! Talk to others who have been and see that you must go! Look at the needs in the world and look at your skills and see that someone must go!

Why shouldn't you go on an away mission trip? Only if you have nothing to give, think God can't use you, have nothing to learn, have no blessings to give or receive, and see no needs in the world! :)

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Local Medical Clinic in Harrisburg

Numbers of members from Trinity on the Hill UMC have been active during the last year in helping a new ministry spring to life in the Harrisburg section of Augusta. A medical clinic based in the declining mill village area of town has had the strong involvement and encouragement of Gloria Norwood, TOTH member, & widow of the late U.S. Representative Charlie Norwood. The FROGS, Keith Howard, and others have been part of the construction of the clinic. Ben McElreath helped with legal issues in establishing the clinic and receiving funding from a similar non-profit which had gone dormant. Shirley Darracott has been a consistent leader in local mission and part of the dream and formation of the clinic from the earliest days. Scores of others have been part of these initial phases, and ongoing opportunities will exist for volunteers and donations as the ministry grows.

A key ally and sister who involved Gloria is our good friend Marsha Jones. I think of Marsha as our local missionary, & she continues her work through St. Luke UMC directing music and mission, & she has offered an outlet of ministry for Gloria and many of our TOTH members & serves as a bridge into the community. Of course, Gloria has brought her heart and soul to the community efforts and that has included her finances, her network of friends in the community and beyond, and a persistence which makes a difference. Michael Shaffer and the board of directors have come to this work through the efforts of Marsha and Gloria. Commissioner Jerry Brigham & the Augusta commission add another element to the clinic with assistance for start up funds for this worthy project in a challenging neighborhood.

It is dangerous to start naming names, especially at a late hour of day, but as I read the newspaper article it was easy to read MANY, MANY names and partnerships which have brought us to these exciting days! Forgive me if I've left someone out (add a response to help my list) & know Gloria, Marsha, and others will offer thanks to many volunteers in the days leading up to the grand opening.

See the full story at Harrisburg Family Healthcare Clinic

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Summer Mission Reminder re. Church Ministry

Mission Thought #3:

You want a diverse team with various skills, personalities, ages, and abilities who are willing to give themselves completely to the work and to the team.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Summer Mission Reminders re Church Ministry

Mission Thought #2:

You want God sized goals which can't be easily accomplished, which are demanding, and which may change everything!

Monday, July 20, 2009

Summer Mission Reminders re Church Ministry

The various missions adventures I've been into this summer remind me of some mission and ministry basics which are true to Scripture and faith. Of course, you forget these things over time, and ministry easily takes on more routine, settled forms.

Mission Thought #1:

Take the life and activity of the Church outside the walls of the established group.

Being out in the community, sharing our life together, meeting practical needs, and looking for ways to honestly connect and relate to the community creates dynamic opportunities and relationships.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Mission Training in ATL October 24

Be sure to get this on your calendar, do your publicity, and bring a group from your church to
Mission Training in ATL

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Summer Mission & Ministry Exhaustion

I'll have more pictures and stories and thoughts on mission and ministry in coming days. The last few weeks have offered the whirlwind of annual conference, west Africa medical mission, and local mission camp. The next couple of weeks I'll find more routine and give better updates on what has happened and what it means. This past week we hosted a great bunch from FUMC Fayetteville TN. They worked at 3 construction sites (one big roof project, framing walls on the 2nd floor of Heritage Academy, and cleaning and painting an Interfaith Hospitality Network transitional house) plus they worked at the Trinity on the Hill VBS and in our 2 basketball camps (1 at the church and another offsite at Tubman Middle School). I believe it was a significant week for both churches and for numbers of people in the community. More stories of life and faith later...

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Mission Camp Week in Augusta

An incredible team from Fayetteville TN FUMC has been in town since Saturday. I'll post some pictures later. Right now I mostly need a shower and need to go to sleep! Re. our great friends from TN they've been working 3 construction sites including re-roofing one house, framing walls in the 2nd floor of Heritage Academy, and cleaning and painting an Interfaith Hospitality Network of Augusta transitional home, plus some of the group has been working at Trinity on the Hill's VBS and 2 basketball camps.

From today's activities let me say I AM AMAZED by:
* 1 guy who worked all night at Savannah River Site and roofed all day,
* 1 guy who roofed & then led two 3 hour basketball clinics AND led an evening presentation for the group,
* 1 group of work horses that worked a 12 hour day to truss and deck a house,
* a host of volunteers of all ages who give their time to help others,
* and the spirit of the Fayetteville TN FUMC bunch who are game for serving Christ in Augusta.

And today was just Day 2 of our week long mission!

Friday, July 10, 2009

Crowd Eager For What You Can Offer

While we are in Togo we receive national news coverage for what we do. It turns out that some mission and church groups sell their services or don't follow through with their promises. We work hard to do what Christ would have us do, and this has allowed us opportunity to touch many people and continues to open doors for the work. We go where invited. We see as many people as possible in a day. We give away medical care, medicine, and glasses. The reporter follows us Monday through Wednesday for the 3 clinics near Kara, and then they share the report on the national news Thursday night. This opens up more opportunities for the Kipukes as they serve in Togo and for us on our return trips. We find opportunity in word and deed to share a witness for Jesus Christ and glad to be of service. There are many needs in Togo, and the timing is right, no matter the gifts and skills you and your team might bring to the work.

Yet the crowd, the need, and the opportunities are always greater than our ability.

If you desire an unparalleled open door for ministry, desire an African bush experience in a safe setting, & enjoy working with a team of missionaries and translators who are accustomed to Americans, then I'd strongly recommend your consideration of Togo and Esaho and Beatrice Kipuke. Kipuke

The crowd is waiting and eager to respond to some Good News!

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Of Shea Butter, a Women's Cooperative, and Us

Do you know about Shea Butter?

I admit I never heard of the stuff until I was in Togo and saw where a Fair Trade group called Alaffia manufactures the product. It was an amazing element of our latest medical mission that was well worth the time.

One of our team members knew about a women's cooperative in Sokode, Togo that ships items to the U.S. in efforts to promote fair trade. Of the importance of this approach the Alaffia group says:

"Fair trade means paying a fair price or wage in the local context, providing equal employment opportunities, engaging in environmental sustainable practices, providing healthy and safe working conditions, being open to public accountability, and reducing the number of middlemen between producers and consumers. Fair trade is environmentally, economically and culturally sustainable and gives local communities the opportunity to self empower."

"Unrefined shea butter is a valuable natural resource for West Africa and could be an important tool in empowering local communities. However, most shea butter on the market in the United States and Europe is not fairly traded. The women who gather shea nuts and hand craft this remarkable oil receive only a tiny fraction of the final price."

"It is estimated to take 20 to 30 hours of labor to produce one kilogram of handcrafted shea butter, which is traded at $1 or less in today’s market. A woman making shea butter in West Africa will receive only a fraction of this price. Therefore, a person working for 30 hours, almost a week’s worth of work, will not receive even a dollar for her efforts. Even if she received the whole dollar, this does not even begin to reach living wage standards."

"Through our direct involvement in the entire process — from gathering the wild shea nuts and crafting the butter, to distribution locally and abroad — our members receive fair and steady incomes. In addition, 10% of sales will go directly back to our community in the form of community enhancement projects, AIDS and malaria outreach, and educational scholarships. We believe in 'building African self-empowerment the moral way' and truly appreciate your involvement in reaching our goals."

Learn more about Alaffia and support them if you use Shea Butter. Tell them that United Methodist medical team that visited Sokode (So Ko Day) sent you.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Favorite Pictures from Togo

Here are some of my favorite pictures of children taken during our recent medical mission in west Africa. We were in the northern Kara region for 3 clinics & then in the western area near Kpalime for 1 clinic. Once again were warmly welcomed and had many opportunities to share the Good News of Jesus Christ in word and deed. Look deeply into these faces and see what you might see...

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Togo 2009 Pictures

I'm back from Togo and trying to transition back to this time zone and my "normal" life. I'll share a few pictures and stories the next few days as I process where I've been, what we've done, and attempt to slip back into U.S. life and work. Our support of a missionary family in Togo, Esaho and Beatrice Kipuke, is vital to their efforts and to the ongoing work of sharing the Gospel in northern Togo and to many unreached areas and people groups.

This photo is from a village about 40 minutes outside of Kara in the northeastern section of Togo. The people of Hodo were very receptive and eagerly showed their appreciation throughout the day. VERY often in the Kara region the people don't speak French which necessitates using 2 translators including one who speaks the Kabiye dialect. Learn more about this people group of over 1 million at Kabiye

Monday, July 6, 2009

News Catch Up After Mission Team Return

I'm just back late yesterday after our medical mission team served in Togo west Africa. Sharing those stories, catching up on with rest and regular food, and finding out the news I've missed are always part or my re-entry routines. I'll share somem of the Togo pictures and stories in upcoming days. We'll see how all this plays out as I'm the clergy on call the rest of the week as everyone else is on vacation and I have a 30 member mission team arriving in town Saturday for a week of work. AH, the quiet days of summer !!

Catching up on news I was pleased to find many news services carrying info on Codex Sinaiticus. Now that's not something you normally see in mass media! They've placed information and many pages of this historic Bible online. If you've never seen a 1600 year old Bible you ought to take a moment and check it out.