Tuesday, August 31, 2010

From being served to serving

August 2010

In 1958, Mennonite Central Committee reopened an office in Hong Kong to respond to the growing number of refugees there. In less than a year and a half, MCC distributed food and clothing worth almost $1.5 million.

Jeremiah Choi Wing Kau was a young child who benefitted from MCC's food distribution in Hong Kong during these years. He says he remembers going to a car park near his school for milk and biscuits several times each week.

Later on, after he joined the Lok Fu Mennonite Church in Hong Kong (now called Agape Mennonite Church), he found out it was MCC who gave these gifts and provided nourishment for him. Jeremiah is now the pastor of this congregation and has been a Mennonite pastor for more than 20 years.

I met Jeremiah recently at the executive committee meetings for Mennonite World Conference in Addis, Ababa. Jeremiah was representing the entire continent of Asia and helping to provide connection for the more than 1.5 million Anabaptists around the world.

Who would have thought that being served biscuits could lead to serving so many people?

Thursday, August 19, 2010

On a mission for God

"Who are you, Lord?" And the reply came, "I am Jesus." - Acts 9:5

Wednesday, August 18
Akron, PA
We gathered in the Akron (PA) Mennonite Church to celebrate. More than a 100 young people from all over the world had completed their orientation for short-term service and would be headed soon to locations in North America and all over the world.
Global Service Learning director Chris Landes told participants that we gather together to express our oneness in Christ. Later, he told the youth that he had heard alot about transformation during the week and he recalled the story of the Apostle Paul.
Saul's world was turned upside down on the road to Damascus when Jesus met him on the way. Chris said it would be like that for these youth, too, on their journey. They will be transformed and will have opportunities to help transform others as they gain a fuller understanding of God's perspective of the world.
Priscila from Brazil is going to Mozambique. She said it was amazing to be with so many youth who share the same faith. She urged the youth to let love be their language and peace their tool.
Jordan from the United States is on his way to Syria. He talked about serving and learning and he said it wasn't difficult for him to imagine what God has in mind for His kingdom after spending time with this group.
Jean from Zambia will be working in a Mennonite school in eastern Pennsylvania. She urged her fellow service workers to remember that, no matter where they go, they are on a mission for God.
As I sat among the crowd and sang and worshipped with these youth, I decided that transformation wasn't too strong of a word to describe what is happening. My prayer is that we will all be transformed, across our communities and our churches, and these youth may have a significant role to play in helping that to happen.
Thanks be to God!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Serving others can be costly

" I do it all for the sake of the gospel." - I Corinthians 9:23

Sunday, August 8, 2010
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

The Meserete Kristos Church in Ethiopia is the largest body of Mennonites in the world. Years ago, when the former govenment restricted the Christian church, the church went underground and grew by leaps and bounds. Now, the government is more open and the church continues to grow.

Sunday morning, I visited the largest Meserete Kristos church in Addis Ababa with about 50 others who were in the city for a service consultation. Arli Klassen, Mennonite Central Committee executive director, shared with the congregation of 2,000 that MCC service worker in Afghanistan Glen Lapp had been killed along with others who worked for International Assistance Missions (AIM).

Even though we can't see, we have hope, the preacher told the congregation. Glen's faith in God gave him the courage to sacrifice himself for others. Faith is not denying things, the pastor told us, it is about believing that God can change things.

The preacher's words were sobering to the Mennonite and Brethren in Christ leaders who had gathered in Addis Ababa for a service consultation to talk about how we can better serve the church and serve the world. Service is not just a concept, it's the way we are called to live.

Glen Lapp's death is a reminder to all of us that following Christ, serving others, can be costly. But that is what we are called to do. God can change things, in that we have hope, and we are called to serve.

In one of his last reports to MCC about his work in Afghanistan, Glen said that his hope was that he could treat people with respect and with love and try to be a little bit of Christ in this part of the world. In his life and in his death Glen demonstrated his love for others.

May our worship please you, the choir sang on Sunday morning. "Your mercy is so big and your love draws us to you," the choir sang.

Later in the church service, an elder told us that we owe God everything. Glen Lapp showed us that sometimes that includes our lives. Glen's death gave meaning to the banner which hung above the sanctuary on this Sunday morning - "I do it all for the sake of the gospel."

Woman of strength

"I will not give up!"

August 1, 2010
Mugumu, Tanzania

In the Imara health clinic in Mugumu Tanzania, there is a painting of the John 8 gospel story of the woman caught in adultery.

In this particular painting, all of the characters are African, and unlike my preconception, the woman's head is held high. She is a woman of strength, forgiven by Jesus.

There is another woman of strength in the Imara health clinic and her name is Mary Tumbo. Diagnosed with HIV/AIDS in the mid-90s, Mary was abandoned by her husband.

But sitting under a tree one way, Mary and two other women decided they could help other women in their community who were dying of HIV/AIDS. They began visiting with these women and doing what needed to be done to help them die with dignity.

Not too much later, both of Mary's friends also died of AIDS, but Mary was not deterred. "I will not give up," she said.

Today, the Imara health clinic serves more than 600 clients who are living with HIV/AIDS or who are children whose parents have already died. Mennonite Central Committee has partnered with Imara for more than 20 years.

Mary Tumbo, now called Mama Benja, is responsible for home-based care. Each day, she travels many kilometers to visit women and children who are not able to come to the clinic.

On a Sunday afternoon in early August, I traveled with Mama Benja and Imara executive director Micenzo to meet some of the families she works with. The first woman we visited, Neema, who is also HIV positive, now cares for five children alone after her husband died of AIDS a number of years ago.

Neema is also a volunteer who visits other women like her who need help. Neema says she'd have died years ago without Imara's help of healthcare, medicine, food and more. She says she wants to continue to be healthy for as long as possible so she can care for her children.

Neema says the stigma and discrimination of HIV/AIDS is not as great as it once was. "People no longer point at me," she tells us.

Both Mary and Neema are part of a group of women at Imara who are called Group of Hope. Each week about 150 women gather together for Bible study, conversation and a meal.

Imara is the only health clinic in the region providing care for people with HIV/AIDS. Imara, say Micenzo and Mary, is like one small light in a very large area of darkness.

The incidents of HIV/AIDS in this part of Tanzania are decreasing faster than in other parts of the country. The work of Imara is certainly a contributing factor.

"I will not give up," Mary Tumbo declared when it would have been very easy for her to do so. Mary, Neema and many others like them are women of strength, showing us what it means to follow Jesus.