Friday, July 23, 2010

Word and deed

July 21, 2010
Philadelphia PA

In Northeast Philadelphia, Second Mennonite Church founded Crossroad Ministries in 1965. Its purpose is to evangelize, disciple and demonstrate the Gospel in word and deed to the people of Fairhill community and beyond.

The day I was there, Miss Laura told me about the grocery bags of produce that help feed the hungry in the Fairhill community. Ron Muse, an MCC service worker serving as a prison chaplain in six local prisons, told me about his work to help transform people. He says he tells the men, "See, God put you there, now what are you going to do?"

Ron says he needs to continually preach the Good News to himself, too. As a juvenile, he was in and out of prison. He says if God can change him, God can change anybody!

Juan Marrero (left above), executive director, says Crossroads Community wants to provide tutoring, meals and other services to anyone who needs them, but these deeds need to be accompanied by words about Jesus or real change in peoples' lives is not possible.

Pastor Darryl Wallace (right above) says MCC's tagline " the name of Christ," says it well. Meeting social needs is important, he says, but we also need to declare Christ. Pastor Darryl urges MCC to keep connected to the church.

Because of MCC, says Juan, Crossroads is better connected to resources and to the broader church. That's the stance MCC East Coast has taken in all of its ministries. "We're going to work primarily through the churches," says MCC East Coast program coordinator Fred Kauffman.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

I feel I belong

"You have something I don't. What is a Mennonite?"

July 21, 2010 Philadelphia, PA

Bernard Sejour, a Haitian, says he always wanted to make a difference in his country. He thought about being a news reporter or a lawyer but eventually became a human rights worker. In October 2000, he was forced to leave his country.

Bernard says he remembers Anna, a Mennonite Central Committee worker who worked for the same human rights organization he did. He noticed something different about Anna and learned she was a Mennonite.

Years later, in the United States, after he was forced out of Haiti, he tracked down Mennonites and was drawn to Anabaptist theology. After a couple of years of training at Hesston College, he has now begun a new church for Haitians in Philadelphia.

Through a Haitian Relief Fund grant from Mennonite Central Committee, Bernard works with Lutheran Family Services to provide case management for Haitians arriving in this country following the January 12 earthquake in Haiti.

Bernard serves 23 families and helps them navigate the system in this country for legal and social services. He says this job has given him the possibility of learning to know many Haitians in the Philadelphia community he would not otherwise have met.

"The way Mennonites have received me, I feel I belong," Bernard reflects. His work and his love for Jesus are paying dividends in the Solidarity and Harmony Church in Philadelphia.

For me, Bernard, shows us once again, as our Anabaptist forbears did so many years ago, that our words and deeds are integrally related. "In the name of Christ," we say in MCC. Its an apt accompaniment for our work in relief, development and peace.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Nothing is impossible

"I say to you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed...nothing will be impossible for you."
- Jesus in Matthew 17:20

Washington D.C.
Monday, July 12

For 42 years, the Washington office of Mennonite Central Committee U.S. has been a presence on Capitol Hill providing and encouraging prophetic witness to the way of Christ on matters of U.S. public policy. The work of the office is guided by the Biblical vision of being restored to right relationship with God, each other and all of creation.

I spent today in D.C. getting acquainted with the work of this small but mighty staff. Its staff monitors legislation on global economic justice, militarism, Middle East, HIV/AIDS, economic justice, gun violence, immigration and from every region of the world.

With perpetual issues like Middle East policy and the military budget, said director Rachelle Lyndaker Schlabach, its sometimes difficult to see short-term results.

Rachelle told us stories from Uganda, Argentina and Mozambique in past decades to illustrate where the work of the Washington office with U.S. public policy has made a difference. Rachelle said there are times such as these, like with the mustard seed, where a seed has sprouted and grown.

In 1968, the Washington Office program was formed in response to Vietnam, the Civil Rights movement and other issues. From that small seed, many sprouts have grown on behalf of Mennonite and Brethren in Christ churches. As I listened to the staff in D.C. (pictured above) today, I am grateful for their faithful witness and for their belief in Jesus' words that, with faith, nothing is impossible.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Angels of grace

As rest can heal the sores of a body and sleep restore its strength,
so may your angels of grace visit me in the night
that the senses of my soul may be born afresh.
Visit my dreams with messengers of grace, O God,
that the senses of my soul may be born again. (from Celtic Benedictions by Philip Newell)

My self-imposed five-month sabbatical ends today as I begin a new job this week as the transitional executive director for Mennonite Central Committee U.S. The time away from work has healed the sores of my body and restored my strength as surely as rest and sleep do for each of us on a daily basis.

My experiences of the last five months have been visited by many messengers of grace. I think of Weldon at St. John's Abbey, Joel and Barth in Arizona and Nevada, Lloyd and Bernie in Jamaica, Larry and Eleanor in Strasboug and a rag tag band of merry pilgrims in Scotland, Ireland and Wales. And, of course, Mim who has given me this space without one word of anxiety. This time has truly been a gift of grace.

The photo above is of a small church in Pembrokeshire, West Wales, near the ruins of the chapel of St. Non, who was the mother of the patron saint of Wales, St. David. The image serves as a symbol of my five months in a number of ways:

- Its location on the rocky coast of Wales serves as a reminder of the rest for my soul I have found in so many "water" places, from the Colorado and Rhine rivers, to the beaches of Negril and the rocky coasts of Scotland, Ireland and Wales.

- Close to the chapel is a retreat house of the Sisters of Mercy, a place of hospitality for sanctuary and reflection. The chapel marks an historical spot but also houses a modern day ministry of welcome for all people. I remember the hospitality of the Benedictine fathers at St. John's Abbey, the open arms of the circle of condo owners who welcomed Mim and me in Negril, the Mennonite World Conference staff in Strasbourg and our pilgrim experiences with so many folks in U.K. who opened their hearts to us.

- The chapel also stands as a symbol of the many ways in which my expereinces these months have opened my eyes and my ears so that "the senses of my soul may be born again." It is a chapel, yes, but it is also a doorway to a deeper understanding of who God is and of the moments of grace in my life.

One final messenger of grace came today in the form of an email from one of my fellow pilgrims in Scotland and Ireland who writes to thank me for my "laughter and humor throughout, and for the details, depth and soulful sharing, both on the journey and in the blog."

How can I tell Beverly that it was I who gained from her presence on the trip, she who in her quiet way always pointed to the deeper meaning beyond what was evident on the surface? Her depth of character and insight providing a foundation for the rest of us?

This evening, Mim and I are hosting Larry and Eleanor Miller, from Mennonite World Conference in our home. This seems a fitting way to bring these months to a close. Thanks to all who have helped me on my journey and will continue to do so in the days ahead.