Living the Faith

A Widow’s Gift

honey pouring into bowl isolated on white background

She offered two plastic dishes with a thick, brown liquid. I tilted mine to inspect it. Honeycomb. Fresh and rich. It quickly spread to fill the bottom of my dish.

Esther Harder

Ibenu lived in a displaced person’s camp in northeast Uganda while the Lord’s Resistance Army rebels razed her village. Overnight, any sense of security and personal wealth went up in heavy, putrid smoke. Everyone ran, no thought of possession, only life, safety. But the camps offered little in the form of security. Government soldiers halfheartedly watched over civilians. These weren’t their people, some soldiers grumbled. They weren’t getting paid enough to sit in hell and wait for the devil to show up.

But Ibenu and the others in her camp had nowhere else to go. So they tended gardens etched out of the land within walking distance of camp. They bartered skills and products. They created micro economies.

When it was time to move home, people went with few possessions but strong connections with strangers-turned-neighbor-friends who had survived the same horror. Ibenu went home a widow. Neighbors helped her burn fresh bricks and build a house. Slowly the village grew, but so did everyone’s hunger. Rebels had burned their stores; it would be at least a year until they recovered their crops. But droughts and floods followed donor seeds and hunger turned to famine.

I worked with Pastor Sam through this time, delivering seeds, and later, offering conflict resolution training—things we hoped would mend the communities. Ibenu introduced herself as her village representative at one of our training sessions. We wondered at her spirit that brought her into this time of slight hope and plenty of hard work.

On one of our data collection visits, Ibenu pulled me aside. “I want you and Pastor to visit my home today,” she said.

“It’s good to visit the widow,” Sam said when I told him about Ibenu’s request. “She might be needing more help but is ashamed to ask in front of the others.”

Ibenu set off on the bicycle she’d earned through Peace Promoter work, her ample skirts billowing like a hibiscus flower. Etachu, another Peace Promoter, climbed into our truck to guide us to Ibenu’s home. Sam steered off the main dirt road onto a bicycle trail that quickly turned into a footpath, which seemed to end in thick bush.

We could tell as we passed under the spreading trees and into an open, swept compound that Ibenu had little more than the hut her neighbors helped build and the bicycle leaning against her cookhouse.

At the sound of our engine she rushed out, beaming, ushering us onto chairs, greeting us, and promptly leaving us to bring food and water.

“There won’t be much food here,” Sam murmured. Be polite, no matter what comes, he meant.

As trainers, we were used to being plied with sodas beyond the capacity of our stomachs and greeted with plates heaped with the best meat. We fought this, often, knowing our hosts couldn’t afford such lavish gifts, but our friends always refused, wanting to keep the honor of being able to honor us.

Ibenu knelt before us. She offered two plastic dishes with a thick, brown liquid. I tilted mine to inspect it. Honeycomb. Fresh and rich. It quickly spread to fill the bottom of my dish.

“Eh! Do you keep bees?” Sam asked, smiling.

“They gathered in that tree. I asked the boys to help me collect the comb. I did not have cooked food to serve, but I wanted you to come to my home,” Ibenu apologized.

“This is the best food.” Sam patted his burgeoning waistline.

We waited to hear her widow’s cry, but Ibenu watched over us, beaming and silent.

“You have sweetened our journey,” Sam said, handing back his dish.

Ibenu only smiled and collected the plates, leaving us, satisfied but aching, at her table.

Living the Faith is a monthly feature at Third Way website, drawn from articles found in Purpose magazine, published by MennoMedia. To subscribe to your own paper copy of Purpose (sent through regular mail), find more information here.

Photo credit: Magone / iStock / Thinkstock

Door to Freedom

Elaine Maust

Ms. Sandra called. It was late.

“You okay?” she asked, her voice a little faded. After two difficult and chaotic days of ministry at our church, Sandra and I felt as worn as an old pair of shoes. I reassured her that I was safe and home. “I think we must be running a crisis center over at the church,” she laughed. Sandra calls our church “Jubilee Mennonite Church of the Hood.”

Elaine_Sandra_Photo

Elaine and Sandra.

Ms. Sandra and I serve together at Jubilee. She’s a volunteer, at church so often folks in the neighborhood assume it is her job. I am one of the pastors. We are teammates. At Jubilee we minister together to folks off the street and from the pews; the homeless, the addicts, the saints. All of us, being saved.

But Ms. Sandra did not always make it her business to be at Jubilee every day. Ten years ago she lived in the boarding house facing the church where drug para­phernalia and vodka bottles cluttered the floors like scattered toys. In those days, she wished the church people would stay away.

As folks from Jubilee walked into church, they passed Sandra and her housemates, who sat on the steps of the boarding house. “Want us to pray for you?” we asked. “Want to come to church with us?”

Sandra would slip her beer behind her back. “No!” she said. “All the time I was thinking, ‘I wish they would just go on up the street and let me be!’”

But God was calling her toward freedom.

One beautiful Friday in October 2004, Pastor Duane was in the church office. He opened the front doors of the church and the office door wide. He could look from the office desk across 28th Avenue to the boarding house.

Ms. Sandra sat on the steps of the boarding house looking across the street into the church. She wondered, shall I go? She hesitated. Shall I go across that street and up those steps and into that church? She got up. She sat back down on the steps.

At last she chose. Terrified that she might lose her fragile courage, Ms. Sandra jumped from the boarding house porch and ran across 28th Avenue. She ran up the steps and into the church office, arriving breathless and wide-eyed.

Pastor Duane looked up from the desk. He smiled. “Can I help you, sister?” he asked.

“I’ve made up my mind,” Sandra said, “I need help. I want to get clean.”

The transformation of God’s design and Ms. Sandra’s choosing began. She went to rehab. She joined Narcotics Anonymous. She came to church. She left an abusive relationship.

“God has changed my life in many ways,” she says. “I am able to serve those who are still in the situation that I came out of: drugs, alcohol, and prostitution. I can pray with them.

“I serve at the church, organizing the kitchen and running the Free Store. With my brothers and sisters at Jubilee, I give out snack bags every Tuesday and God’s Groceries once a month on distribution days. I am able to help people beyond my wildest dreams. Jubilee changed my life. It is my home. The love and the care that I have received I try to give back.

“I’m doing things today that I never even imagined. And I’m hoping that when people see me, my old associates from the street, hopefully they would like to change their lives. Hopefully they might say, ‘I can do what she’s doing.’”

Stop by Jubilee Mennonite Church Tuesday morning and you will find Ms. Sandra and me se
rving together, like a perfectly matched old pair of shoes. With other volunteers we pray for those who will come to Jubilee that day. Then we open the doors onto 28th Avenue, expecting someone will walk through them and toward God’s transformation.

 

Living the Faith is a monthly feature at Third Way website, drawn from articles found in Purpose magazine, published by MennoMedia. To subscribe to your own paper copy of Purpose (sent through regular mail), find more information here.

 

 

 

Music That TransformsWouldYouBeFree

Tim Shue

Forty odd years after it happened, my friend Chris had only to recite the number 555 to get me to laugh. The number is not a punchline to any joke. It is simply the easy-to-remember number of a favorite song in The Mennonite Hymnal. We loved that song because an elderly lady in our church sang it with such vigor and unique tone that it gave us the giggles.

The excitement we had seeing 555 “Would You Be Free” printed in the bulletin rivaled that of knowing we were going to have a potluck that noon. Though I felt ashamed when we imitated her singing it in the church yard later, I believe we were secretly and mysteriously inspired by the hearty bass line in the chorus coupled with weighty phrases and images. The fact that I still have all four verses of that hymn memorized is a testament, perhaps, to this woman’s fervor.

Much like the 555 lady, my own mother seldom used a hymnal in church. The words and notes were imprinted on her heart. I used to be a bit embarrassed by her confident singing and sometimes thought it seemed almost arrogant, most likely because she always smiled when she sang.

Information tied to a melody magically takes on an attachment to both our soul and our brain, and it’s locked in for life.

When I read the words to a hymn such as “I Bind My Heart This Tide” I realize it’s a uniquely beautiful lyric, but it doesn’t give me goosebumps until I hear it complete with all four parts.

As a child, I marveled that my mother knew so many melodies and words. Forty years later, I realize that I also have a vast store of lyrics and tunes tucked away in my mind. Still, like the sense of smell, I can recall definitive, transformative moments that demonstrated the power of music in my own life. I am quite certain the hymn “Heart with Loving Heart United,” which I learned at Hesston (Kans.) College, solidified my career in music education within the Mennonite church. Its uniquely Anabaptist-oriented lyrics and memorable melody were often my solace the next year when I went from the lonely Kansas plains to the heart of Amsterdam, Holland, to serve with the InterMenno trainee program.

From my current vantage point, I can more easily connect the musical dots of my past. For instance, I can hardly play a G chord on my guitar without recalling my first jam sessions; not in a garage with friends, but with my mom while she played piano and sang “God Loves a Cheerful Giver,” a Medical Missions Sisters hit. The phrase in the song “He loves to hear you laughing when you’re in an awkward spot” torments me to this day with its simple wisdom.

The world of singing keeps evolving and is still interesting, challenging, and satisfying. In the same way that I was moved by connecting to my own Germanic ancestors’ musical traditions of Europe, if I want to be an authentic music educator, I also have to acknowledge other people’s histories and perspectives. This active listening and learning is not only what I do as an educator; it’s what I feel is at least a minimal requirement as a disciple of Christ.

Congregational singing can be a subtle, yet powerful, form of discipleship training. I would even submit that when we sing a cappella we are actually practicing something quite radical and countercultural. What if our Christian gratitude, convictions, hopes, salvation, and concerns were expressed through the sounds of confident, enthusiastic, congregational singing? What great influence would we have if we sang and smiled like my mother did?

This goal of good, lusty singing has become my mission as an educator in a Mennonite school. Of course I want my students to be musically excellent, but more importantly, I want them to own the songs with passion and understanding so that years from now they, too, can recall their own transformative moments—just like I had, listening to the woman singing 555.

Living the Faith is a monthly feature at Third Way website, drawn from articles found in Purpose magazine, published by MennoMedia. To subscribe to your own paper copy of Purpose (sent through regular mail), find more information here. 50 % OFF new subscriptions to Purpose now until Dec. 25, 2015.

 

Traveling Mercies

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Brenda Shelly

Hitting the road with my family would likely qualify in some estimations as a bona fide invitation to disaster.

A particularly ridiculous memory involves a day trip with a small carsick child. She’d been amusing herself with books while riding in her back-row car seat, and the next thing we knew, we were searching for a change of clothing smack in the center of one of the busiest cities in the country. There was no parking to be had; at least none that would cost less than the amount our young family-stretched budget could bear. My husband dropped me off at a discount department store, where I began the most futile clothing search in my long and distinct shopping career. The item was a size 24 months, and it remains the single most expensive pair of shorts I’ve ever purchased.

As I navigated the understocked and overpriced children’s aisle, my family repeatedly circled the long and traffic-congested urban grid. I lost count of the number of times my husband and children circled that huge city block as they hoped against hope that I would someday emerge. I’d see them going by in the station wagon, their worried faces pressed against the glass. They were positively pitiful, and since they couldn’t see me through the reflecting glass, they nearly gave me up for dead.

In addition to clothing debacles, my family has a long string of broken-down car stories to tell. I’ve thought for years that our automobile club would drop our membership on the grounds that we’ve used infinitely more than our share of tow truck rescues. The interesting thing about those breakdowns is that they’ve occurred in almost comically convenient ways.

Despite the impressive number of calls we have made, as a family unit we have never been retrieved from the highway. Our cars have been towed from used car lots, discreet side streets, realty offices, and in one case, a Golden Corral parking lot. An hour earlier my famished family had pulled off the expressway to eat before traveling on through a few more states. Showing no signs of trouble while motoring along, our stubborn station wagon rental car (complete with wood-paneled side decor) refused to budge from the parking space.

I don’t recall at what point my husband and I decided that prayer was our best insurance policy, but when our son was young, we started a tradition that stuck fast for roughly 20 years. In fact, it held through until last year—the morning a rental van was packed to the gills with the forthcoming contents of our youngest child’s college dorm room.

Our traveling prayer became one of my favorite parts of any new family journey. Often my very young daughter would initiate the prayer sequence by setting down her much-anticipated “car bag of treasures.” She would reach her chubby arm over the seats to find my hand. At the moment of departure, we’d join our hands across the luggage and seats (not always comfortably, mind you) and ask for God’s blessing of protection. I have no doubt our angels worked overtime during those wonderful years.

From the vantage point of my empty nest, it is my fervent hope that those traveling mercies continue to follow my 28-year-old son and his not-so-baby sister through all their adulthood days. I am not one of those women who needs grandchildren to the point of harassing her children until they produce some, but if I do receive that blessing someday, it has become my heartfelt prayer that my grandchildren will learn to stretch their arms across car seats to clasp their parents’ waiting hands.

 

Living the Faith is a monthly feature at Third Way website, drawn from articles found in Purpose magazine, published by MennoMedia. To subscribe to your own paper copy of Purpose (sent through regular mail), find more information here. 50 % OFF new subscriptions to Purpose now until Dec. 25, 2015.

 

Body Life Time

June Mears Driedger

It was New Year’s Day, a Sunday, and our church community was small in sizeIMG_3634-300x168.jpg for worship. Our worship time was structured simply—singing hymns and reading Scripture as well as reflecting on two questions: where was God present last year, and where do we pray and hope God will be present this next year?

Our sharing included rejoicing for a clear health report after more than a year of finishing chemotherapy; and grieving the struggles of a young adult attending college miles away. We asked for prayer from one another: for postgraduation employment, possible overseas assignments, and courage to use the gifts God has given us. We sang, laughed, talked, and cried together. There was a deep sense of God moving in and among us during our small community that morning.

After worship, we gathered into even smaller clusters or one-on-one conversations, conversing more deeply with one another about what we had shared in the larger group. More tears came in these private conversations, as well as hugs offered and received. We were grateful for our focused time together as our community began the new year.

Our sharing time together is part of the foundation for community life. Or, to borrow an expression from the 1970s, it is “body life” time—the building of the body of Christ within the context of worship.

Sharing in our worship service connects our stories with the larger faith story and the global faith community. One of the elder wise-women recalls her experience of overwhelming love for God during her daily devotions and prayer. I hear her tearfully tell about reading a psalm and bursting into praise for God—“I love you, God! Thank you so much for loving me!” She relates this in her humble, gentle way, and as I look around the room, many of us have tears in our eyes as we listen to her testimony.

Her story of love and praise for God connects her to the biblical stories of praise and love. In turn, our listening increases our desire to express our love and praise to God within our own faith stories. When we listen to each other, even if it is week after week, we embody God’s loving, spacious, generous, kind presence to one another.

Praying together about joys and concerns extends our embodiment of God for one another and deepens our community life. This prayer can become an opportunity to help the congregation articulate and pray for the concerns of the people as well as praising and thanking God for God’s work in our lives. It also can be a way of blessing one another through prayer.

One Sunday a kindergarten girl asked her mother to share on her behalf that she found a dead rabbit on Saturday and they buried it. During the congregational prayer, the worship leader thanked God for the girl’s compassion and care for God’s creature. The worship leader then prayed for the girl by name and asked God to bless her and to continue nurturing her compassionate heart. The girl heard this prayer—and while she probably doesn’t understand what it means to have a compassionate heart, she does know what it means to be blessed for being who God has created her to be.

In worship we communicate with God our joys and sorrows, our praise and lament. We offer the loving face of God as we listen to one another, and we receive God’s loving gaze upon our souls.

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Living the Faith is a monthly feature at Third Way website, drawn from articles found in Purpose magazine, published by MennoMedia. To subscribe to your own paper copy of Purpose (sent through regular mail), find more information here.

 

Love Your Hobby, Love Your Neighbor

artist painting picture on canvas with oil paints

artist painting picture on canvas with oil paints

April Yamasaki

My husband and I chose a print of Vincent Van Gogh’s The Starry Night to hang above our fireplace mantel. In the foreground of the painting, a large cedar tree dominates the landscape and points to heaven. Moon and stars seem to pulse and swirl above the hillsides and sleeping village. Someday I’d love to see the original, which hangs in the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.

Today The Starry Night and Van Gogh’s other paintings are among the most well-known and most expensive paintings in the world. But during his lifetime, the artist was unknown and struggling—with debt, with his mental and emotional health, with his art. In one letter, he thanks his brother, Theo, for sending him a 50-franc note and asks him to send more money. “You are kind to painters,” he writes, “and I tell you, the more I think it over, the more I feel that there is nothing more truly artistic than to love people” (excerpted from Spark: Igniting Your God-Given Creativity by April Yamasaki, Herald Press, 2015).

You may or may not think of your hobby as art, but in keeping with Van Gogh’s comment, our hobbies can become “truly artistic” when they become avenues of loving other people. Whether you play the piano, renovate a basement, make a photo album, write a computer program, enter a triathlon, take golf lessons, put together jigsaw puzzles, watch movies, or whatever else you do in your “spare” time, you can express your personal creativity and build relationships and care for other people.

In Spark, I share this story:

One woman describes her painting as a hobby, but it is quite clearly an artistic ministry of love. She hung one of her paintings at the hair salon where she works so others might enjoy it, and when one senior couple going through a hard time admired it, she gave it to them. She donated four paintings for a cancer fundraiser. She’s certainly not as famous as Van Gogh, but in the art of loving people, she is just as much an artist.

When Jesus was asked, “Which is the greatest commandment?” he replied, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind,” and “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:36-39 NIV). This art of loving God and others applies to all of daily life, including our hobbies.

So whatever you enjoy doing when you’re not occupied with your daily tasks, here are five ways that you can love your neighbor while loving your hobby.

Invite others to join you. As part of a church mentoring program for preteens, my husband and his “mentee” went to hockey card shows together, played video games, and watched sports. These shared activities became a great opportunity to build into each other’s lives.

Give it away. A friend loves to take pictures of flowers and insects, then turns them into cards that she uses to send birthday wishes, get-well thoughts, and other greetings. She’s now given me a batch of her cards that I can share with others as part of my pastoral care.

Donate your services. As a young adult, I taught myself calligraphy and loved to experiment with different lettering styles and ink. My first commission was lettering certificates for Big Brothers as a volunteer, which allowed me to continue practicing my art and help out a worthwhile community organization.

Practice your hobby in sustainable ways. Reducing, reusing, and recycling materials are practical ways of loving our neighbors by caring for the earth. One of my favorite jackets was originally a skirt. A friend has a bracelet made from a bent spoon. Hobbies that use such found objects can be both less expensive and gentler on the earth.

Teach. If you enjoy tinkering with computers or making jam, if your hobby involves some other skill, why not offer to teach someone else? As you pass on your love for your hobby, you’ll learn more about it, and learn to love your neighbor too. END

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Living the Faith is a monthly feature at Third Way website, drawn from articles found in Purpose magazine, published by MennoMedia. To subscribe to your own paper copy of Purpose (sent through regular mail), find more information here.

Growing Peace and Justice at the Bell Tower

Elsie Hannah Ruth Rempel

In November of 2011, Michael Redhead Champagne, a young Cree man who lives in Winnipeg’s violence-riddled North End, had had enough of the violence and injustice that plague his city.

Winnipeg, which has the highest aboriginal population of any city in Canada, was listed as the murder capital of Canada that year, and Michael responded to this violence by calling together a group of local young friends to form the volunteer organization AYO, Aboriginal Youth Organization. One of their first actions was to plan a peace rally by the Selkirk Avenue Bell Tower, a freestanding tower with an onion dome above its bell, located on one of Winnipeg’s most violent streets.

Since then, they and others have gathered each Friday night, raised and hung a banner of hope on the western tower wall, and shouted “Stop the violence now!” (On the Indigenous medicine wheel, west is the direction of the Red Race.) Sometimes people who are not from the North End have stood there in solidarity with them. Sometimes attendance has been down to a handful, especially when the temperature approached the -40° mark, but the weekly meetings have gone on. Each time they’ve met, pride, community spirit, and peace have grown in the North End.

On November 25, 2014, AYO celebrated the third anniversary of “Meet Me at the Bell Tower.” In a public demonstration of how powerful their example is in stopping violence and creating peace, over two hundred people, many from more affluent and peaceful parts of Winnipeg, came to march alongside inner-city, indigenous young people and support their vision for a safer community.

Ironically, Michael had been assaulted several days before this event in a random act of violence. He told the gathered crowd about his attack and how he’d been kicked in the face, but focused on the positive response from community members who’d witnessed it, offered him protection in a nearby cafe, and helped him recover. He still had scabs from being kicked in the face as he led the peace rally crowd past the scene of the assault and the courageous response of what he called his “village family.”

A goodly number of Mennonites were part of the crowd that night, because Michael had invited them when he spoke to them at a denominationally-organized bridge building event a few weeks earlier. He’d also challenged them, saying, “We don’t need a white horse galloping in to save the day. We need space for indigenous wisdom and indigenous school of thought. We need support and space for our own identity to be developed. Will you, the settler community, be brave enough to create space for this? The time is now.”

And so we, as repenting settlers, came to offer that support and space, and came away feeling encouraged, grateful, and humbled. It seems Michael is challenging us to do what Micah wrote down as God’s challenge to the Hebrew people; “to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly.” One difference is that Michael is challenging us to walk humbly alongside those whom we have oppressed. I think Micah would approve.

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PurposeCoverLiving the Faith is a monthly feature at Third Way website, drawn from articles found in Purpose magazine, published by MennoMedia. To subscribe to your own paper copy of Purpose (sent through regular mail), find more information here.

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