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February 27, 2015

Passing the Peace to the “Beard Bosses”

By Josiah,*RMM worker in North Africa

The news is filled with hate and violence these days. One of our children is especially troubled by fearful thoughts. After reading a children’s story I remember as harmless, she often reports with consternation, “That story was bad.” I recently added a separate “kid’s corner” feature on my phone so that my children could access its educational apps and games without seeing news headlines that appear on one small tile of the welcome screen; the headlines alone provided plenty of fodder for fearful bedtime pondering.

Just as our daughter’s reading gives life to her fears, our media diet can make our own fears grow and impact our relationships. For example, in the midst of the recent rise of ISIS, a group of robed young men (many bearded) began using a school just up the street from our house for religious instruction. They always dress in the long, hooded robes that are traditional to the culture here, but wearing them to the exclusion of more “western” garb can signal a deeper religious orientation. When I walk by the building, I often hear Quranic chanting.

In my previous neighborhood, I experienced some “beard boss” men (this is literally how local people refer to fundamentalists) who studiously avoided greeting me with the phrase that both Arabic-speaking Muslims and Christians use: salaam u alikum, peace be on you. Talking with a local friend about the experience, I learned that the Quran commands Muslims to return an offered greeting, even if they think the greeter unworthy. After that, I was intentional about “passing the peace” to the “beard bosses.” Most responded with the expected reply: “and peace be on you,” sometimes followed by the addition of “and God’s mercy be on you.” The few who did not, I imagined, walked on with coals of fire on their heads.

One day, a group of ten or so of the young men from the Quranic school up the street passed my house. I was tempted to avoid eye contact and ignore them, but instead I greeted them, and they returned the greeting. Around that time, I failed in a similar situation: feeling testy and not wanting to hear about the beauties of Islam, I dodged a question from a religious leader about whether my children studied the Quran in school (they do not).

Young men—frustrated by economic barriers to marriage and hopeless about the future—are vulnerable targets for recruiters for conflicts around the world, and many have left this country to give their lives in order to kill on foreign battle fields. How can I introduce them to the One who has the power to transform Sauls into Pauls? Surely a simple greeting—rather than avoidance—will be a more likely beginning to that relationship.

While you may not live in a context where you regularly rub shoulders with “beard bosses,” there will be other neighbors who live without hope: a veteran marred by the hell of war; an immigrant who’s never been invited into a local home; a transgendered colleague who’s heard only condemnation from those who claim the Name.

John reminds us that “there is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. We love because [God] first loved us.” Our living in faith rather than fear will shape the course of our neighbors’ lives, possibly averting untold destruction in the future. We’d love to hear how you’ve chosen love recently in the comments below.

February 25, 2015

Where Are They Now? RMM asks REACH alumni: “What is your new mission, post-REACH?”

Take Me Deeper

By Kristyn Byler

“Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders, let me walk upon the waters, wherever You would call me. Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander, and my faith will be made stronger in the presence of my Savior.”

Over the summer of 2014 I sang this song every week during worship times, and every time I sang it I asked myself, “Do I even know what I am asking for?” My thoughts would wander to times in the past when God had led me farther than I could’ve imagined, and how those times really did make my faith stronger and my trust more firm. Of course I wanted to go deeper than before – farther out on the water. Yet the question remained, did I really want more than what he has already led me through, to go deeper? More than the nights of feeling completely alone after our last family move? More than the struggles in Malawi, the fear in Tanzania, and the craziness in Uganda? More than my year internship in Columbus where I had to serve people even when I had nothing to give? Was MORE something I really wanted?

That word “more,” it scared me. It was easy to look back on my life and see the ways that God brought me through, the ways that he pursued me, strengthened me and molded me. Those times weren’t always good or easy, and normally I had no clue how things were going to work out. And that’s what I was asking for more of, more of the unknown? Crazy. And yet, I kept singing that song, arms raised high.

During the final months of my internship, life after it would end seemed daunting. The unknown was rapidly approaching. I had ideas, hopes, and dreams. But I also had all of those in the winter of 2013 and God rocked my ideas, hopes and dreams, and brought me to Ohio instead of Uganda. He took my plans and said “yeah, those aren’t bad, but here is something more, something unknown.” And it was incredible. I saw God work over that year in ways that were undeniably him. Why then, did the future seeming so overwhelming?

I’m human. Though I want to trust completely, though God has brought me through some crazy things, my flesh fights me. I questioned, “Is this really God talking or just me wanting to do what I want to do?” Doubts rose in me as I asked what the correct step was after my internship. These doubts made me waver; I almost gave in. Deep inside I knew that Columbus was where I should be in the next phase of my life, but a part of me just wanted to go home and be surrounded by my family. I missed them, and the idea of going home for Christmas, just to pack up all my belongings and leave again seemed too hard. It seemed like too much.

Deep inside me I knew, though. I knew that moving home wasn’t what God had for me. No matter how much that’s what I wanted it to be, I couldn’t ignore his call. So I made plans, not really knowing what I was doing. I was stepping out on my own for the first time in my adult life. And you know what? It was terrifying. It still is most days.

It has been just over a month since my parents and little sister formed a circle around me in our kitchen and prayed for me before I packed up my little car and drove out the driveway, leaving my home in the rearview mirror with my mom on the front porch tearing up and me in the car doing the same. It is a moment I won’t forget anytime soon.

Each day, Columbus is feeling more and more like home to me. There is just something about this city that I have come to love deep down. It’s not all the beautiful parks, the crazy number of ethnic restaurants, the fact there is always something to do, or the close proximity to pretty much any store I may want to shop at, though all of those things help. It is the knowledge that I am where God wants me right now. I may not understand it, and I still mess up lots of days, but God is working. He has called me out onto the waters of Columbus, and it is beautiful.

After questioning of whether ‘more’ is something I actually wanted, I find that it is what I long for. More of God in me, molding me into the person he wants me to be and drawing me nearer to him each day. He is my deepest desire. I am finding that the security of land is not what God has for me right now and that out on the waters is where I truly do want to be, because that’s where I find him.

“You call me out upon the waters, the great unknown where feet may fail. And there I find You in the mystery in oceans deep my faith will stand….Your grace abounds in deepest waters, Your sovereign hand will be my guide where feet may fail and fear surrounds me You've never failed and You won't start now.”

Kristyn is from Selinsgrove, Pennsylvania and Boyer Mennonite Church. In 2011, she was on a REACH team to Malawi and Kenya. In 2014, she interned as the Hospitality Assistant at the Rosedale International Center in Columbus, Ohio. In January Kristyn began her new job as Hospitality Manager at the RIC and is living in the North Linden area of Columbus. In her free time she loves to hang out with the friends she has made over the past year and explore the city. Other interests include reading, crafting and learning what it means to live healthier.

February 17, 2015

Welcomed and Transformed at Christ’s Table

By Timothy and Alice Colegrove

It’s 6:30 on a Sunday night and Dinner Church Boston, a new urban church plant of the CMC, is gathered around the table. Our bellies have been satisfied with a home cooked meal and we have transitioned to coffee and dessert. We are caught up in reflection on the Beatitudes of Matthew chapter 5, specifically the verses on judging. Christian and pagan sit elbow to elbow as we open up the scriptures. For some of us, this is our first encounter with Jesus. For all of us it is a time of deep listening and learning. I ask the group simple questions, to provoke discussion: “What do you observe in Jesus’ teaching here?”; “How does this resonate with your experience?” Some responses come easily: “Remove the log from my own eye first.” “Look at yourself before you look at others.” Others speak up from personal experience, “Many Christians I’ve met don’t seem to match up with this…”; “There seems to be a big difference between Christianity in essence and Christianity in practice when it comes to judging” and; “It seems that smaller churches do a better job at not judging. Why?” The time of sharing and reflection is lively and charitable, with no question or comment off limits, and no shame in not having all the answers.

It is in the context of this ragamuffin dinner community that we’ve embarked upon a crash course in church planting. A year and a half ago, when my wife Alice and I were first led to the CMC to plant a church, we were keenly aware that our community would be representative of a new wave of CMC churches adjusting to the challenges of a rapidly post-Christian context. We knew that the old presuppositions of Christendom often don’t hold water. People in Boston are no longer convinced by arguments such as, “Because the Bible tells me so” (should they ever have been?). Most of the people around us did not grow up in church-going households. Our society is no longer a place where Christians wield political power, and a growing number of individuals (22% in Massachusetts!) no longer identify with any religion. On our tiny one-way street alone we share space with Muslims, Hindus, Gnostics, and atheists. It seemed clear to us from the beginning that a long road of experimentation lay ahead of us, filled with successes and failures, trial and error.

“Now, nine months into Dinner Church, we can affirm that our intuitions were even more correct than we thought. Church planting takes flexibility, creativity, and patience.”Now, nine months into Dinner Church, we can affirm that our intuitions were even more correct than we thought. Church planting takes flexibility, creativity, and patience.

We’ve been meeting in our home for Sunday worship since May 2014, and the group that gathers around our table couldn’t be more eclectic: a Cambridge architect, two single moms and their kids, an antique dealer and a social worker from PA, a graduate student, a folk musician, and those are just a few of the people who have joined our gathering. Our fellowship has been small but diverse: rich and poor, housed and homeless, black and white, believers and skeptics, college educated and street educated. I take this to be a metric of success, since it was to groups like this that Jesus ministered and Paul wrote his letters.

On Sundays we gather in a circle in our living room, where we begin our evening together with a time of worship that includes testimony, confession, liturgical prayer, silence, song, and a short sermon. Then we eat a meal together at a common table and catch up with each other on the busy week behind us. The meal is the center of our time, a space where we can foster community and speak freely. After dinner, we end our time together with about forty minutes of scripture reflection over coffee and dessert, where we discuss the passage for next week’s teaching, raising questions and making observations as a way of employing the whole community in the work of preparing the following week’s sermon.

Zandra, a single mom and artist, said of Dinner Church, “I am so grateful for this community on Sunday, I am reminded of how good God is.” Her comment signals that we are doing something right. She didn’t praise our musical worship, how interesting the sermon was, or how “put together” our people are, but how good God is. This is a sign that we are fulfilling the purpose of the church: The purpose of (to paraphrase the words of Mary, the mother of Jesus) “magnifying the Lord,” or in the words of our church mission statement, “to become a worshiping community, joyfully participating in God’s mission as we share and live out the good news of his forgiving and reconciling work.” Zandra’s testimony speaks to the richness of our time together. In the nine months that we’ve been meeting our group has heard serious sins confessed, seen prayers for employment, housing, and provision answered, and learned deeply about the meaning and nature of the Gospel. We’ve served together to meet needs in our neighborhood, and we’ve had fun together at events in the city. God’s presence has been felt in the time we’ve spent together these past nine months. God is good.

But we’ve also struggled and made mistakes.

I began this venture into church planting with a vision for bi-vocational ministry, which I see as having certain advantages: less financial strain on the group, more solidarity with the realities of the global church, and more engagement in the community, to name a few. Yet, this has come at the cost of time. Alice and I maintain part-time jobs in the city, are parents of three boys under four, and frequently open our home to struggling friends. That translates into less time for new evangelistic work and discipleship than we’d like. This has been a challenge, and it has led us to a place where I am strongly considering raising a part-time salary so that I can give more fully of myself to the work of evangelism and disciple making.

Additionally, we’ve struggled in gathering a core group of visionary people who can help move forward the organization and mission of our community. We still have a deep need for more passionate mature Christians to join us in our work and help us take the next steps forward. To this end we’ve established a theological scholarship for persons in the CMC who might consider relocating to Boston to partner with us in church planting while studying at Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary. (Know anyone who might be a good fit?). Bible scholars or not, we need people who can identify with our vision and partner with us in this challenging but deeply rewarding work.

Despite these challenges, we’ve had much to be hopeful about and we are deeply thankful for this season of learning that God has given us. We are honored and excited to be part of the future generation of CMC communities and we look forward to seeing how the Spirit leads us in the work of making Jesus’ name great.

Every week, before our community comes together for dinner, we circle around the table to sing a simple hymn as a prayer of thanks before we eat. The words have served as an anchor, calling us back to the radical grace shown to us on the cross. To those of us who grew up in Christian homes these may be familiar words, and perhaps they have lost their power with repetition, but in our context, in the ears of people experiencing the good news of God’s Messiah in fresh ways, these are words of life and joy.

We thank Thee, Lord, for this our good,
But more because of Jesus’ blood;
Let manna to our souls be giv’n,
The Bread of Life sent down from Heav’n.

February 12, 2015

A Minefield for Methodologies

By Phil*, RMM worker in Malaga Spain

I was struck recently by the comment of a Spanish evangelical pastor. He was recounting to another Spanish church worker how he had thought that the expository approach to preaching and teaching the Bible would be the key to rapid church growth in Spain. He had seen the method used successfully in London, England to start and grow a church there. It was new to him and falling in love with the approach, he was convinced it was the key to success in his home country of Spain. Five years of church planting efforts later, while still highly appreciative of and committed to expository Bible teaching, he was much more sober about it being the methodology that held the key to successful church growth in Spain.

"Spain seems
to be a minefield for methodologies. Every successful method imported from abroad founders on the rocks of unbelief in Spain."
Spain seems to be a minefield for methodologies. Every successful method imported from abroad founders on the rocks of unbelief in Spain. Following the networks of relationships we are told is the key to the growth of the gospel, and yet we find many Spanish believers who are alone in their commitment to the gospel in their network of family and friends despite persistent efforts to share their faith with them.

People do come to faith but there’s no reliable script for how that comes about. We come across believers who have come to faith because of their parents or a relative but then also young people who are not believers despite their parents being believers. Some people have come to faith in Christ due to difficult circumstances in their lives–the loss of a job and then a house, for example, in the recent economic crisis.

We were recently surprised by a novel approach to outreach in the local church fellowship we attend. The church began a children’s choir and invited children from the community to participate in it. It seems Spanish parents like their children to learn how to sing well and participate in a choir. On the Sunday before Christmas the children's choir gave a concert at the church. Half the children in the choir were from the church and half from the community. The church was packed with the families of the children from the community. Everybody enjoyed the Christmas songs sung by the choir and a Christmas meal afterwards and everybody heard the gospel explained.

Amazingly, the Sunday after Christmas, the children's choir sang in a public concert in the Museum of Music in Málaga city. It was a great opportunity for witness to the many people visiting the museum that day. It could be that God's use of local, serendipitous methods is to remind us that it is the message and the Spirit's work that really counts.

*Last names omitted for security

February 10, 2015

Donut Dough and Kingdom Building

By Joe,* RMM president

“The Kingdom of Heaven is like the yeast a woman used in making bread. Even though she put only a little yeast in three measures of flour, it permeated every part of the dough.” (Matthew 13:33, NLT)

We discussed these words of Jesus yesterday at our house church gathering while we waited for donut dough to rise. We had decided to make donuts as an intergenerational activity that would also produce some tasty holiday gifts for friends and neighbors. So after watching a couple of video clips about the science of yeast and sourdough, we discussed the implications of what Jesus had to say about yeast.

Someone noted that in order for yeast to do what we want it to do, it has to be thoroughly mixed into the dough. It doesn’t take much yeast to make a huge impact, but it does have to be mixed in. We figured that the yeast in our donut dough represented about 1/50th of the amount of flour we’d used.

Someone else noted that this parable seems to suggest that if there are places in the world where we can’t see the positive effects of the presence of those who follow Jesus, it means we haven’t permeated every part of the dough very effectively.

That’s why RMM continues to make it a priority to go to those places where the signs of the Kingdom are still few. The yeast has to be thoroughly mixed into the dough in order to do its work. Toward that end, we’ve recently expanded our sending models, praying that in our generation we’ll see the Kingdom thoroughly permeate every part of the dough.

By now, many of you have heard of RMM’s “Operation Birthright” initiative. Operation Birthright was conceived as a means to strengthen RMM’s ability to serve the churches of CMC. We came to understand that we had become somewhat disconnected from the body of churches that own us.

Through Operation Birthright, we created a forum for conversations with congregations. We’ve been talking about the disconnect that many of us have felt, and looking for ways that RMM can be more helpful to churches than we have in the past. Our dream is to help every CMC congregation become fully engaged in local and global kingdom building.

One of the changes that has come as a result of these conversations is the creation of two new sending categories for long-term (1+ years) workers. For a number of years, we’ve been operating with two basic categories. We have traditional workers who are typically sent to our ministry sites for three-year terms. And we have interns who are usually sent for a 1-2 year “apprentice” assignment.

The following factors led us to create the new sending categories:

  • Our desire to simplify missions
  • Our desire to make tent making common
  • Our desire to keep workers on the field long term
  • Our desire to offer more services and options to the CMC churches we serve
  • Our desire to keep taking the gospel to some of the most difficult regions
  • The desire of local churches to be more deeply involved in sending and supporting workers on the field
  • The reality that local churches will sometimes want us to help them in sending people on assignments that are not at the heart of our vision and focus
  • The desire of the rising generation to do missions from an “everyday life in the marketplace” platform more than from a “missionary” platform

Let me introduce you to the new categories of covenant worker and associated worker.

Covenant Worker

Covenant workers are people who, for a variety of reasons, are not employed by RMM but are involved directly in one of RMM’s locations and/or RMM’s priorities of ministry. In some cases there may be some financial support involved—such as providing for ministry or travel expenses, health insurance, or retirement benefits—but the worker’s primary financial support will come from outside the RMM budget.

Anna* has been recently appointed as a covenant worker. Anna is employed by International Community School in Bangkok, Thailand. Both Anna and our team in Bangkok believe it will be mutually beneficial to work together. She has sufficient income from her teaching job to support her, but she is entering into a covenant with the Thailand team that will make her a full member of the team. Like other workers, she will have a Missionary Support Team (MST) and we’ll work with her church (London Christian Fellowship) to make sure she has prayer and other kinds of support that she needs. We’ve created a Memo of Understanding (MOU) to guide the relationship and keep it strong.

Click here for a full introduction of Anna.

Associated Worker

The associated worker is from a CMC church but is working in a location or ministry that lies outside of RMM’s ministry focus. The worker’s local church agrees to take primary responsibility for the worker in terms of support and accountability, including the creation of an MST. These appointments also include a customized MOU between the worker, the CMC church, and RMM.

Liz* is a newly appointed associated worker. Liz is on an assignment with VidaNet in Costa Rica and needed a North American sending body. Her church, Agape Community Fellowship of Hilliard (OH), wanted to make it possible for her to serve. So we drafted an MOU to help us all know who is responsible for what, and Agape and RMM are working together to send Liz to minister in Latin America.

We believe that these new categories will help us be a better resource to more churches and individuals. We look forward to watching how God makes the dough rise around the world as we keep on inviting the nations to worship Jesus.

Read a recent update from Liz here.

More about Yeast (Moving to the City)

These days the Rosedale International Center is filled with the sounds of workmen renovating the last major area of the building. A year ago the RMM board, with the blessing of the CMC Executive Board, made the decision to proceed with moving our headquarters the 35 miles from Rosedale to the RIC in Columbus. We are now projecting that the move will take place near the first of March 2015.

Moving our headquarters to the city is one more way for RMM to “permeate the dough.” Many of the world’s nations are represented in Columbus’ population, including many of the nations where we can’t see much evidence of the yeast of the Kingdom. We have the opportunity to impact entire nations by making new friends in Columbus.

The youth of our nation (and the youth of CMC) are moving to our cities in greater and greater numbers. We want to be there to help shape their worldviews and enable them to experience the blessings of the Kingdom.

The city is home to the majority of both the poor and the rich in our society—and both groups desperately need the transformation that the Kingdom brings.

As we live and work in communities where these groups of people live and work, we will bring the Kingdom with us. We already have many stories of the Kingdom coming over the years through REACH and City Challenge. We look forward to living more of these stories in the years ahead.

A little yeast will leaven the whole lump of dough. Please pray for us as we make this transition.

For a lengthier explanation of the rationale for this move, see “RMM in the City.”

*Last names removed for security

February 09, 2015

REACH is...

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