Glimpses of Healing and Hope

by Nancy Myers

In the adult literacy teacher–training workshop the week after Easter in Mbuji Mayi, DR Congo, was an eccentric woman. Marie-Claire didn’t seem to care much about her appearance. Her hair went every which way. Her clothes were a bit grubby. She peered over wire-rimmed glasses. She crossed her legs. One day she showed up in a baseball cap.

 

 

 

Marie-Claire also had a terrible, honking cough that punctuated even the rafter-raising hymn-singing that charged up the energy at the beginning of each day.

 

Perhaps I was the only one to be bothered by Marie-Claire’s cough. On the first day, the woman who was provincial head of one of the two Mennonite groups represented in this training nominated Marie-Claire for the position of Village Chief, a sort of ombudsman for the training. Marie-Claire was a member of the other, and often rival, group. When she was elected by a large majority she kissed her nominator almost on the lips. I cringed but the other woman did not.

 

Marie-Claire took her position seriously and often came forward to whisper something to my friend Hélène José sitting next to me who was hosting the training. I tried to keep my distance but was not always successful. I was horrified when she coughed into her hand and then picked up a crying baby. By the end of the week my throat was tightening up a bit and I started chewing Airborne tablets to ward off any viruses that Marie-Claire might have spread around.

 

Marie-Claire was also among the most enthusiastic of the 60 would-be teachers. That is saying a lot because the energy in the class was high. She was not the most gifted but she was unafraid of making mistakes and kept trying to get the method right.

 

In fact, Marie-Claire had already started a literacy class six weeks earlier. Hélène José, who was trained a year ago, had introduced her to the method and given her some books and Mare-Claire had rounded up students. She brought half a dozen of them to class one day. But she knew she needed more training and she was thrilled to be getting it.

 

I heard of other teachers who had been trained in previous workshops and were training assistants on their own. One teacher who was trained last year in Kinshasa, a young man named Justice, not only teaches three separate literacy classes in the Bondeko church building, KRMC’s sister congregation, but also hopes to train other teachers in all five Mennonite congregations in the Massina district. When he can find the time.

 

 

Teaching people to read in Congo is an idea whose time has more than come. The harvest is ripe and the reapers are few. In modern parlance, the idea is going viral— as viral as Marie-Claire’s cough.

 

In his morning homilies, the Mbuji Mayi workshop chaplain compared Congo’s illiteracy problem to the dry bones in Ezekiel’s vision. He said the people learning to read would be like the blind man in John 9: they wouldn’t care why they had been helped, or who their teachers were; they would only rejoice in their newfound wholeness.

 

 

 

The joy of new readers is contagious, as those working in Kinshasa and Kikwit who have started teaching in the last year testify. They say the students bring their friends to class. Their enthusiasm and success, in turn, reward the teachers; the energy flows on.

 

Another day the chaplain referred directly to the viral nature of the good news in Paul’s second letter to Timothy, chapter 2: “The things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others.” He encouraged the new teachers not only to find learners but also to develop other teachers. And indeed, this is happening.

 

I did come home with a cough. I don’t know if I caught it from Marie-Claire but if so, it was worth it. I feel privileged to participate in the good news of this project.

 

What ignites your joy? What good news is spreading among us?

 

Nancy Myers, a KRMC member, is overseeing the Congo Literacy Project as a volunteer on behalf of Africa Inter Mennonite Mission, a partnership with the women of Congo’s three Anabaptist denominations. For more about this project see Nancy’s blog at www.thepracticalmystic.org.

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by Danile Martens

John 20: 1-18

I have been thinking about this resurrection story lately in terms of the flow of life.  I read it now thinking that Jesus was not so much saying "Don't touch me," as "Don't prevent me, don't hold on to what I was to you before. Something new is happening."

If change is the essence of life, something which I am learning to accept as true, then we must welcome, we must allow change, not only in ourselves but in those others who are put into our lives. Jesus as the chosen one had something new to be and do and the grief of Mary Magdalene could not alter that work.  Nonetheless, Jesus lovingly meets her in her need and then points her to her new role. She will not be provider and support  in the same ways. Her past that changed from so-called harlot and demon-possessed woman to disciple was now going to change again to witness of resurrection to Peter and John who would lead the church that came after. Holding on to her identity as the follower of and one who loved an itinerant preacher was not her future, no more than it was Jesus' destiny to remain that preacher.

And yet it is a beautiful story of love and grief and despair turned to joy that we all may resonate with at some point.  When our daughter was diagnosed with a melanoma we knew that grief.  I didn't know how to accept the possibility of her death even though I had already walked that path of death with others and knew that despair was not its ultimate ending.  I could not imagine the flame of her lovely and loving life snuffed so prematurely.  My faith in Love hung on only by a thread of humility and by the support and love of family and friends.  We were reprieved that time, differently than Mary, but I fully identified with that rending, uncomprehending sorrow.

We remain human creatures bound to time and an impermanence we regret even as life spills us continuously forward into the new. This is our gift and our sorrow, to remember the loved, familiar past while being drawn (pushed?) into an unknown future, given by our loving creator that, in time, itself becomes precious.  This is our faith. This is Life.

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by Pastor Janice Sutter

Are you ready to go deeper?
 
This is one of the exciting things about being part of a church community: sensing the Spirit prompting someone to go deeper in their faith.
 
I’ve heard this and seen this in numerous ways among us in just the last few weeks. I’ve seen it among people of a wide variety of ages and life situations. Yet, it seems to be the same Spirit prompting each to go deeper in their faith experience, to go deeper in their commitment to God.
 
And each responds in his or her own way, choosing something that will help them go deeper with God:

  • deciding to try fasting as a spiritual discipline she has never tried before
  • committing to read through the Bible this year
  • praying at a specific time each day
  • planning to be baptized
  • responding to a new sense of God’s call to take action in face of injustice
  • deciding to deliberately seek and keep open to the new way in which God’s Spirit seems to be leading
  • paying attention to dreams as a way God speaks
  • forming a spiritual friendship, in which two people go beyond a surface relationship in talking with and praying for each other

Sometimes God calls us to take the next step and go deeper in our faith. Maybe God is prompting you to that kind of commitment right now. It often helps to tell someone about the prompting and commitment as a way to hold oneself accountable in taking action.
 
And something we can count on even more than our friends, is the steady and sure action of God in our lives. God’s Spirit is the One who prompts us to go deeper. And God is also the One who gives us the strength and fuel to do this.
 
Are you ready to go deeper?
 
I had been reading, thinking and praying, in preparation for writing this note. Finally, that question about “going deeper” came into my mind. I began to write. Later, when I walked into the church building, LeeAndra greeted me. In the course of conversation, she told me she was excited about a new release of a familiar song, “Ocean (Where Feet May Fail)”. I listened to the song and smiled as I heard these lyrics:
 
Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander
And my faith will be made stronger
In the presence of my Savior

           
Lyrics by Joel Houston/Matt Crocker/Salomon Lighthelm

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by Vic Myers

 

Over the past year Kern Road Mennonite saved significant amounts of electricity.  See the figures below.  Compared to 2016 we used 10% fewer kilowatt-hours, kWh, and purchased 15% fewer kWh.   Our solar panels account for the difference.  Some of these savings resulted from a milder summer requiring less AC, but also, we are beginning to see noticeable reductions following the conversion of our exterior lights to LED’s in September.  In addition, our solar panels produced 7.4% more output in 2017 compared to 2016. 

The cumulative effects of our efforts over the past decade and longer really add up.  Since 2011 electricity purchased has dropped from 159,500 kWh to 61,280 kWh, a 62% decrease!  Unfortunately, our cost savings since 2012, although very good, are less impressive at 36%.  We have our electric utility, Indiana Michigan Power, to blame for that.  In fact, last year electricity costs went up despite our purchasing 15% less electricity.  On the bright side, without our solar panels our electricity costs are estimated to have been $2,742 higher, 51%, in 2017 alone, assuming the same price rate for the additional purchases.

 

We are grateful for the cost savings, but also take satisfaction knowing that we are having a significant impact on atmospheric carbon, which in turn helps to safeguard our climate.  Our solar-clad roof also presents a visible symbol to the local community of our commitment.  This fall Solarize Northern Indiana (in which Margie Pfeil and I participated) assisted 74 households, a church, and a local business in going solar, with 21 more installations scheduled for 2018.  24 of these solar projects are in the South Bend area.  Without the prior work done and example set by Kern Road Mennonite, this effort undoubtedly would not have moved forward as quickly as it did.

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The monthly Men and Word group has been reading through the book of Galatians. We’ve noted Paul’s intense frustration with the churches of Galatia. His observation seems to be that in the midst of the “present evil age,” these Galatian churches are somehow struggling to stay the course of faith.  They have found it hard to live into the adventure and opportunity, the freedom and promise that living daily in the Spirit of Christ can bring. Are they not aware of Paul’s story and the way Jesus turned Paul's life upside down on the road to Damascus? Have they not seen the amazing things that happened, the miracles and healings, which took place as Jesus’ followers chose to live guided by his Spirit?    

 
During this season of Lenten worship at Kern Road, our theme has been covenant: the promises of God. Last week was Noah. This week is Abraham. God promises Abraham offspring at 99 years old.  How about that for adventure and opportunity? God remains connected, and Abraham’s offspring are many.  God fulfills his promise to Abraham.
 
Paul, in his letter to the Galatians, declares that brothers and sisters living alive in the Spirit of Christ in the Galatian churches are, like Abraham’s son Isaac, children of promise. They are born of Sarah into freedom and aliveness in Christ.  They are part of a new creation. They can live into the adventure and opportunity even in what Paul refers to as the “present evil age.”
 
I’ve had a number of conversations recently with discouraged people. Some are struggling with difficult health challenges, conflictual relationships, or life transitions.  Still others are finding it depressing to live in this present age -- in our country’s polarizing political woes, gun violence, immigration policies, work pressures – and yes, some are discouraged by changes in the church, not only or specifically at Kern Road, but across the Christian church. Underlying the discouragement seems to be a fear --- where am I or where is our world headed and what can we do about it?   
 
I just started reading a book called “Canoeing the Mountains” by Tod Bolsinger.  Its focus is the changing church in the midst of the culture. It talks about being open to reframing our orientation as people of faith and as leaders during these present times. Much of its counsel reminds me of Paul’s words in Galatians and the promises of God. He challenges us to stay the course, which I take to mean staying connected to the Spirit of Christ and Christ’s call to live into God’s promise or dream for a new heaven and earth, and journeying into an unknown future as adventure and opportunity.
 
A number of years ago the congregation participated in a visioning process to identify the strengths and needs of the congregation. Now, after several staff transitions, numerous new attenders, and negotiating a new structure, it seems like a good time again to listen for God in our midst.  What does it mean for us to stay the course, to affirm the promises of God, to live in freedom and continue to be light and hope in the midst of our region in this present age of change?  What does it mean to open ourselves again to join together in adventure and opportunity in response to the Spirit of Christ moving in new ways at Kern Road?  May this season of Lent be a time to personally ponder the ways of Christ in your heart so that each of us might experience the kind of freedom in Christ that Paul experienced even in the midst of this “present evil age.”      

Note: This note from Pastor Dave Sutter originally appeared in the February 2018 edition of Kernels, our church's monthly electronic newsletter.

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You have perhaps missed updates to Janie Halteman's "Glimpses of Healing and Hope" blog post these last 6 weeks. In late January, Janie had a stroke that affected the right side of her body.  For the time being this has limited her capacity to write.  We are pleased to report, however, that she is doing well in rehabilitation.  Each week she is making progress.  We hope that at some point in the future she may be able to contribute again to "Glimpses."  In the meantime, we are identifying some others at Kern Road Mennonite who will be able to write with the hope of keeping Janie's readers interested and inspired.  We hope you enjoy these.  We also invite you to offer a prayer for Janie as she works with new life challenges and realities.  Pastor Dave Sutter, Kern Road Mennonite  

  

by Tom Lehman

I’m one who needs regular contact with nature. When I’m outdoors, I can feel tensions seep away, and am renewed and refreshed. I feel I’m in the presence of something larger, something caring, something sacred.

Richard Rohr, whose daily meditations are an important resource for my spiritual journey, recently spent a week discussing Creation. Citing Paul in Romans 1:20 (For what can be known about God is plain . . . because God has made it plain. . . . Ever since the creation of the world, God’s invisible nature, namely, God’s eternal power and deity, have been there for the mind to see in the things that God has made.), Rohr says that 

“The first act of divine revelation is creation itself. Thus, nature is the first Bible, written approximately 14 billion years before the Bible of words. God initially speaks through what is, as the Apostle Paul affirms above, before humans write words about God or from God.”

In February I spent a week kayaking in Florida with a couple of friends, a trip I’ve made three years in a row now. As much as I enjoy paddling on local rivers and creeks, Florida rivers are a special treat. Often spring-fed, with crystal clear water, the river ecosystem supports a large variety of wildlife and a wild profusion of birds: fish, alligators, manatees, pelicans, herons, cormorants, storks, ibises and many more.

On this last trip, I saw, while paddling, two creatures I hadn’t known existed before: a needle fish and a purple gallinule. Seeing them -- that impossibly long, thin fish and the clown colored bird -- made me think that the Creator must have a sense of humor and whimsy. How could Creation not be good? Out in nature I often have the feeling that I, along with every other creature, have been given a fantastic gift, beyond full understanding and appreciation.

For me, being in nature is an antidote for depression and worry. In spite of the latest craziness in Washington or elsewhere, the sun still shines, plants grow, and rivers flow.

According to public health researchers Stramatakis and Mitchell, being in nature can reduce anger, fear, and stress and increase pleasant feelings. It makes you feel better emotionally, and contributes to your physical wellbeing, by reducing blood pressure, heart rate, muscle tension, and the production of stress hormones.[1]

How do you connect with nature? There are many ways, from looking out the window at trees or gardens, stepping outside and taking a deep breath, a walk around the block, to a half-day hike in the woods or a week-long camping trip. Any of these, I believe, can serve to connect us to the larger reality of the universe. 


[1] https://www.takingcharge.csh.umn.edu/enhance-your-wellbeing/environment/nature-and-us/how-does-nature-impact-our-wellbeing

Needle fish photo credit: Flickr, SEFSC Pascagoula Laboratory; Collection of Brandi Noble, NOAA/NMFS/SEFSC

Purple gallimule credit: Flickr, Barloventomagico

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January 15, 2018
By Jane Bishop Halteman

Martin Luther King photos found at site.gov addresses and thus in public domain

You can donate time, talent, or treasure to make a difference on Martin Luther King Day and all year long, according to a CNN article posted Sunday by Bethany Hines.

Deliver a meal, start a conversation, write a letter, the author proposes. Or build homes through Habitat for Humanity, educate others, work through a group like Doctors without Borders. Make a financial contribution or be kind where you are…“Give a compliment. Open the door for someone. Help mom cook dinner.”

Today, the third Monday in January, was proclaimed a national holiday in 1983 to honor civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., though the day was not observed until 1986.  Not until the year 2000 did all states become actively involved in the celebration. 

Taking a serious look at service to make the world a better place for the poor and powerless is one of the best ways to honor the memory of King, a Baptist pastor, on this day and throughout the year, according to his late wife, Coretta Scott King. 

She says this on the meaning of the King holiday:  “On this day we commemorate Dr. King’s great dream of a vibrant, multiracial nation united in justice, peace and reconciliation; a nation that has a place at the table for children of every race and room at the inn for every needy child. We are called on this holiday, not merely to honor, but to celebrate the values of equality, tolerance, and interracial sister and brotherhood he so compellingly expressed in his great dream for America.”

But the day is not only for celebration and remembrance, education and tribute, she continues. “All across America on the holiday, his followers perform service in hospitals and shelters and prisons and wherever people need some help. It is a day of volunteering to feed the hungry, rehabilitate housing, tutor those who can’t read, mentor at-risk youngsters, console the broken-hearted, and a thousand other projects for building the beloved community of his dream.”

Two years ago, for the 2016 Glimpses of Healing and Hope MLK blog post, I gathered some King quotes and asked how Martin Luther King Day inspires us to make a difference. Where do we see the glimpses of healing and hope for which Martin Luther King yearned?  We are all familiar with some of his quotes (see below), but how are we getting involved with helping to bring his dream to some small fruition?

  • “The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people but the silence over that by the good people.”
  • “Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”
  • “Everybody can be great...because anybody can serve. You don't have to have a college degree to serve. You don't have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.”        
  • Said in a speech at a victory rally following the announcement of a favorable U.S. Supreme Court decision desegregating the seats on Montgomery's busses: “The end is reconciliation; the end is redemption; the end is the creation of the Beloved Community. It is this type of spirit and this type of love that can transform opponents into friends. It is this type of understanding goodwill that will transform the deep gloom of the old age into the exuberant gladness of the new age.  It is this love which will bring about miracles.”      

Given changes in national leadership a year ago and that leadership’s continued missteps on many fronts as illustrated again this past week in a bipartisan meeting on immigration reform, it is difficult to see the forward progress we’ve made on a national level in the last 12 months. For now, perhaps we need to turn for encouragement to our local communities and neighborhoods and congregations. Where are you encountering King's “hearts full of grace and souls generated by love?”

Kern Road guest speaker Cyneatha, former pastor of Community Mennonite Church in Markham, IL, and currently program director of Mennonite Central Committee Great Lakes, told us during her Sunday sermon that “the best way to reach out to others is to know ourselves and what we have to offer….Know who you are and identify your capacities to help.”

Where do you see yourself plugging into King’s dream for racial justice and harmony? How can you put what life has taught you (“all that is your life is forming you,” Cyneatha said) into practice that will build justice and harmony where you live, where you work, where you are active in your community?

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January 8, 2018
By Jane Bishop Halteman

The year in review: resisting, welcoming, refueling

Congregational area groups met Sunday during formation hour after worship to renew acquaintances with others who live nearby in the church family. Pastor Janice’s sermon on what fuels hope in the new year served as a launch pad for our sharing New Year’s intentions, hopes, dreams, plans, as we wondered together where 2018 might take us as individuals and a congregation, in our city, our state, our country, and our world.

A few of us agreed that we name objectives at the start of the new year (not unlike resolutions), but most claimed not to participate in resolution-setting; several offered that they become aware at the start of a new year of finding a guiding word or re-upping exercise targets and revamping eating habits. Some, who have lived in their houses a long time, mentioned sorting and clearing as priorities, while others, who have just purchased homes in the neighborhood, said they are organizing contents they brought with them. 

As one who documents and reports, I tend to look back on activities of the last year (or in this blog post the congregation’s past year) to see how what lies behind may project ahead to the coming year. The nine photos at the top of this entry highlight Glimpses of Healing and Hope posts from the last year, some from my own life, but most with a connection to life at Kern Road. The photos depict not only the year's challenges, but some of my favorite pictures from 2017 exemplifying how nature renews and offers hope in the midst of chaos.  

I was surprised to find as I created our Christmas video greeting back in December how much of our family's activism in the last year took root in Kern Road reminders and announcements: participation in the Women’s March on Washington with my sister-in-law and a number of Kern Road women (see that story as told here and here), planting a We’re Glad You’re Our Neighbor sign in our front yard (see story here), participating in South Bend’s “No Ban No Wall Rally” (photo in KRMC women’s story mentioned above), taking the local grandkids to the Islamic Society of Michiana’s mosque open house (see story here), attending the moderated town hall on the Affordable Care Act (see mention here), joining the local Solidarity with Charlottesville event, and more recently finding opportunities to get involved in resisting the ICE detention center being considered by Elkhart County Planning Commissioners. Thanks to KRMCers Mark and Danile for keeping us updated on how to stay involved with these ongoing challenges and opportunities.

Photos of the Metro escalator at L’Enfant Plaza, Washington, DC, and the words familiarized by our Statue of Liberty brought back these memories: “We will not soon forget the women, men, and children who gathered from all across the country, who spent time and money to assemble peacefully on behalf of justice and equity for all. They marched for many reasons as illustrated by the array of signs they carried:  to stop white silence, to manage global warming, to unite against hate, to promise we will never go back, to announce love always wins, to declare themselves proud to be Muslims, to assert that our grandkids need a stable climate, to affirm that Black lives matter, to proclaim that our daughters are still watching, to acknowledge that we’re glad you’re our neighbor, to suggest we make diversity great again, to remind us that when others go low we go high.

Dishing up a serving of beauty posted in mid-September reflects on John O’Donohue’s comments: “All through your life, the most precious experiences seem to vanish. Transience turns everything to air. You look behind and see no sign even of a yesterday that was so intense. Yet in truth, nothing ever disappears, nothing is lost. Everything that happens to us in the world passes into us. It all becomes part of the inner temple of the soul and it can never be lost. This is the art of the soul: to harvest your deeper life from all the seasons of your experience…” Reminders from authors like O’Donohue keep us hopeful and alive to what's yet to come if/when the present threatens to swamp us. In the words of Pastor Janice as she prayed her congregation into the new year on Sunday: “Make us wise to your ways.” Same goes for taking note of the flowers of the field and the birds of the air... 

Death is disorienting…transitioning from this life to the next’ (featuring the bright fall colors outside my friend’s cozy living room window where I spent the nights while my dad was dying) offers a bird’s-eye view of what it was like for my mom and me to wait with my dad for his passage from this life to the next, a scenario not unlike that of a number of KRMCers who suffered loss this last year…loss of family and friends, health, relationships, jobs, dreams. One of Parker Palmer’s most recent Facebook posts speaks of the disorientation of loss: “Finding meaning in hard experience is one of the most vital challenges we face….Who hasn’t known heartbreak? There’s the child who suffers from bullying, the young adult who suffers from unrequited love, the man or woman in midlife who sees a marriage or a career fail, the elder who endures the deaths of loved ones, the citizen who sees democracy’s values under assault.” See the poem he quotes here by Gregory Orr about beauty coming from loss. 

If you are familiar with the Netflix production of The Crown, you will recognize the sense of loss portrayed in the moment when Winston Churchill announces his retirement to Queen Elizabeth and walks away from his last audience with her. Yes, doors will open, doors will close in 2018. We can only imagine the surprises the new year will bring (including the hope of 50 degrees mentioned as likely this Thursday in Sunday's nightly news after our recent cold and snow)! May we be wise to the ways of the Divine as we enter the unknowns of 2018. 

And if you need a dose of hope right now, check out Oprah’s acceptance speech of the Cecil B. de Mille award at last night's Golden Globes.  I didn’t watch, but a couple of Facebook friends suggested that I should have...

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