Thursday, July 3, 2014

The Great Commission is a Global Initiative

In Malawi the average annual income for a household is just $730. That's less than $2 a day.  Think about it! You can't buy a kid's meal at McDonalds for under $2. Your morning coffee probably costs more than this. 

As we have been preparing to make our journey, there have been a few times when good, loving folks have said, "We have starving people in the United States to feed. Why would you go around the world to another country when there is work to be done here?" It's a valid question to be sure, however, as the Church of Christ we are called to go to the ends of the earth to serve God's people.  We DO feed the hungry in our neighborhoods and cities. We DO help the homeless and downtrodden right at home. But that's not to say that our mission in Christ is to stay right where we are. The Great Commission calls us to make disciples of ALL nations. So we go and make relationships so that we can gain the trust necessary to share the Good News of Jesus Christ.  One mission does not preclude another. 

One thing that I will most likely be called to do as we set foot in Malawi is to preach in worship. I've asked myself, "What in the world could I possibly have to say to these people who live such joyful lives?" My first thoughts have been that I have no right to speak about faith in Christ as my life is incredibly blessed with enough food, a home, beautiful healthy children, and more. But then it hit me. There is something that I preach about quite often in the parish where I serve as pastor. It has to do with the barrier of faith called affluence. We, in this country, are in desperate need of a relationship with our God. We put way too much emphasis on all the stuff we can and do acquire. It's sad really. In this way, the people of Malawi have something precious that we don't have-- true faith in the midst of hardship. We rely on the consistency of our paychecks, the dependability of our government to care for us when we are in need, and the goodwill of our neighbors who are also affluent and can come to our aid if necessary. The people of Malawi have none of that. They are totally dependent upon the goodness of God. Therein lies an incredible spiritual gift. I am in no way saying that there circumstances are ideal! Simply that we lack the joy that comes from total dependence on our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ because we have so much "stuff" to occupy our minds, bodies, and hearts. 

So, then, something to think about. How do you rely on Christ and give God the glory even in times when you are struggling? 

Tidzaonana. (See you again!)

Abusa Amy (Pastor Amy)

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Malawi or Bust!

Dear Friends,

Many of you already know that later this month I will be going on a mission trip (ulendo) to Malawi, East Africa. This trip has been over a year and a half in the making. I am excited about this for many reasons, first and foremost to serve our brothers and sisters in Christ in Malawi who are in need of the basics that we take for granted. Secondly, that my mother who is 70 years old will be making her first mission trip as well. I am so proud of her courage and grace as she prepares for this journey and I look forward to the time we will spend together. Thirdly, two others from my congregation have also discerned God's call to "Go and Make Disciples" across the world.

Malawi is called the warm heart of Africa because the people there are known to be very friendly. I found this out when I met the director of Kenyenyeva Ministries, Mrs. Yamikani Chikoti, who visited the United States and spoke at our church about the orphan care project that we are in partnership. We will be guided by Yami and her husband, Shadreck when we arrive in the country on August 1st. They will be our translators as well as those who will keep us from making any serious social faux pas. The cultures are quite different as we have been learning about for the past year. 

My intent is to post here some information about Malawi, the orphans that are served at the project, as well as my reflections on the journey. 

Here's a phrase for you in chichewa, the native language of Malawi:
Moni muli bwanji? (Hi, how are you?)
Ndili bwino. Kaya inu? (I am fine. How are you?)
Ndili bwino. Zikomo. (Fine. Thank you.)
Zikomo. (Thank you, or you're welcome.)

That's all for today! Zikomo, ndapita. Tidzaonana. (I'll see you again.)

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

A Letter to Rose: It's Not About the Bunny

My dearest Rose,

It was so wonderful for us to be together on Easter! I am thrilled that you are speaking my name and ask for me from time to time. What a joy that is, to be known by you. . . and even more for us all to be known by God!

Speaking of God, I wanted to write to you to remind you of something very important about Easter. Easter is not about the Bunny. I hope this is not news to you.  Now I know we get all carried away with taking pictures with the Rabbit and hiding eggs (bunny eggs? No!) and all of that fun stuff, but Easter is about what God has done and is doing in our lives. You see, Rose, Jesus is God's son. His only son in the flesh, who came into the world to make sure that all of God's people (that means you and me and Mommy and Daddy and everyone else in the whole wide world) would know him. Just like you know my name and God knows our names, God wants every person in the world to know his name. To know someone's name is to know them deeply and have a relationship with them. The bunny is cute and all, but the bunny didn't do anything for us that required such a deep and abiding love.

Anyway, I just wanted to tell you that Jesus loves you and so do I! And he came into this world so that we would be free. You don't know what that means yet, but someday you will. Someday you will know the pain of sin and joy of being forgiven. Someday you will understand that there is darkness in the world (you won't like it but you'll recognize it) and you will know the light of Christ. This is the light that shines in and through you because of Jesus, because of your baptism.

Oh and one more thing. In the church on Easter we always get to shouting this really cool phrase because we are so exciting that God raised Jesus from the dead. Yes, that's what I said, he was dead and in a tomb after he was hanged on a cross almost 2000 years ago. But God did a miraculous thing: he made Jesus alive again. And not just for a few days or weeks or years, for ever and always! So in worship one person will say, "Christ is risen!" And then everyone else shouts back as loud as we want to show how happy we are, and we say, "Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia!"

Why don't you try it? It's kind of fun actually!

Here's a picture of you, my darling girl, on Easter day.

See you soon,

Your Godmother -Aunt Amy

Monday, April 7, 2014

The Beauty of a Small Church

I've been an active disciples in churches of all sizes, from 500 in worship to 25 in worship and everything in between. I've also examined many churches and the way they function as the people of God who are on a mission in the world. After having served a church with around 100 in worship for the past 12 years* I am more than ever convinced that the small church is the church with the biggest mission per disciple. This is not a competition, of course, just my own personal reflections as a parish pastor and an encouragement to any who might come across this post who wonder if the small church is worth investing in.

In a small church:

* it's impossible to remain anonymous (unless you simply don't participate and, well then. . .)

* when you show up, you are surrounded by friends

* when you don't show up, people are concerned about your health and well being- even if you are just on vacation

* there's a job for everyone which means the pastor can't and won't "do it all"

* because there's a job for everyone, everyone is using their gifts and talents for the Kingdom of God

* there's a collaborative spirit in the small church because we know what it's like to work on a shoestring budget, with minimal resources, and we are great at tapping into our collective creativity

* worship is like a family gathering EVERY week

* the announcements at the beginning of worship are very personal because we care about all aspects of each other's lives

* children are a major focus and are included in everything; so are the elderly!

* we have the joy of watching each other grow over the years as God draws us deeper into faith and service as we have a common vision for what God is calling us to be and do in the name of Christ

* history and tradition are important foundations for the community

* we have a lot of fun together and that Spirit of joy can be felt as soon as a visitor walks in the room

* it's easy to become a part of the faith family; we welcome everyone!

In a culture that celebrates "bigger is better," the small church simply exists to serve its neighbor. No church is the church for everyone. Each has its own character. But before you write off the small church in your search for a faith home, consider what you are looking for. The small church isn't around to entertain but to inspire. The small church is a true community where love and forgiveness prevail, where spiritual growth is expected, and where we serve side by side in Christ's name.

In Christ,

* When I began serving Trinity Lutheran Church we were only 35-40 but have grown in many ways, including numerically, over the years.

Friday, March 21, 2014

A Letter to Rose: On Being a Sister

My beautiful niece, Rose, and handsome nephew, Will.
Dear Rose,

Look how fast you are growing up! You are already so smart and beautiful that I simply cannot imagine what God has in store for your life. Maybe you'll be a pharmacist like your Daddy, or a teacher like Uncle Jeff, or a Speech Pathologist like your Mama. The possibilities are only limited by your imagination and drive, and we have seen already just how persistent you can be when you want something. (That's a good thing, by the way!)

There is one thing though, sweet girl, that you will always be. Your life changed when Will was born and it took on new meaning, even if you haven't considered it that way quite yet. Forever and always you will be a "big sister." This is something new in our family. Your mom is a little sister, I am a little sister, Anna and Ashley are both little sisters. Even Grandma Little is a younger sister. But you, you're special! You, my dear, are a BIG SISTER.

So what does this mean, you might wonder? Well it means that you are a natural born leader, first of all. We've seen this already in the way you ask us to play with you and how you know your own mind, even at such a young age. More than likely you will grow up and be the one that others go to for advice, to lead, and to be in charge. But be careful, little one, there's a fine line between leadership and being bossy. Most of your friends might fuss at you if you get too bossy. Will might fuss at you if you get too bossy, but he will certainly look up to you and appreciate your presence in his life as he gets older. You will give him opportunities that you haven't even thought about, just by going first. In school the teachers will know you and they will accept him, because he's your brother. They will expect him to be just as smart and kind and wonderful as you are! In sports you will help him develop his skills just by playing with him in the backyard. He will be your first best friend! And you will be his. And for your whole lives you will trust each other to tell the truth when it needs to be told, to be each other's biggest fan, and to be there for one another whenever you are in need.

As an oldest child, dear Rose, your confidence will shine through and your intelligence will serve you well in this world. You have so much to look forward to, so take advantage of every opportunity that intrigues you. I know you will do well. And, as your godmother, it is my job to remind you to keep your eyes on Jesus. He will never leave you and when you pray to him he will answer your deepest needs.

So, you're almost two, little lady! We are all so proud of you and love you very much. Keep up the good work! Be a good sister and teach Will everything you know, okay?


Aunt Amy