Glimpses of Healing and Hope

From time to time, we like to share how our church or members of our church are being spotlighted in the local or national news.

Today we'd like to share a story news channel WSBT did on the solar panels of our church with our Energy Task Force chairperson Vic Myers.

You can view the story here: http://wsbt.com/news/local/south-bend-churches-us-solar-panels-to-make-an-impact-on-the-community.

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by LeeAndra Fouts

During this week’s staff meeting, Pastor Janice led us through a devotional time highlighting the Sermon on the Plain featured in Luke 6:27-36. This is the famous “turn the other cheek” passage but the words just before that part captured my attention this time – “bless those who curse you.”

The passage in the NKJV reads, “But I say to you who hear: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who spitefully use you. To him who strikes you on the one cheek, offer the other also. And from him who takes away your cloak, do not withhold your tunic either… But if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them… But love your enemies, do good, and lend, hoping for nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High. For He is kind to the unthankful and evil. Therefore be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful.”

As we read the passage several times, I thought over and over again about the word “bless.” What does that mean exactly? To me, it is a positive action, a purposeful acting out of a plan, that requires more from me than simply being good or loving everyone. It is one thing to stay still and silent while someone’s curses, literal or figurative, are raining down upon you but it is quite another to speak into the situation with a blessing and good word for that person.

I began to visualize something in my mind and jotted it down in my notes before I forgot. I’ve shared the picture with you (despite its elementary-school level of artistry!) in hopes that it may help you, too, the next time you hear this passage or find yourself knee-deep in someone else’s negative words and bad attitude. I always find it so much easier to remember something when I can see it in my mind.

When we face any type of storm in Life, it’s our natural instinct to protect ourselves from it, to grab a poncho or umbrella or hunker down in a safe space, and wait for it to pass. What if we didn’t step out of the rain, though, but into it? What if we allowed ourselves to feel the harsh cold rain on our skin knowing that all storms pass soon enough? What if we decided to embrace the storm because we saw the positive effects it could have in the middle of the terrible cause that it is? What if we decided to open ourselves up to the possibility that a temporary shake-up might cause a permanent steadfastness to grow within us?

I looked up the Hebrew word for “bless” after our meeting and discovered the Hebrew word is “barah” which means “to kneel.” Yes, exactly – to bless someone who curses you is to kneel down, to give up your power and become vulnerable to theirs, in the midst of their storm of lies and say, “I still believe you are a good person.  I still believe something good will come from this. I still believe in love and truth and hope.”

From the outside, blessing someone who curses you may seem weak or stupid. People may wonder if you have lost your mind. In a way you have --- leading with your heart, instead of your head, is exactly what Jesus did, and He was the strongest Man who ever lived. Blessing those who curse you is understanding the wisdom in pausing, reflecting, and praying as you seek to understand others and how God may use this situation for good. We could all use a few moments in our chaotic lives to pause and reflect and pray… especially in the midst of a storm.

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March 29, Kinshasa, DR Congo

(On the occasion of a reception held at the home of Pastor François Tshidimu in honor of Nancy Myers’s visit and the receipt from KRMC of funds to purchase land for a school)

 

 

First and foremost, permit us to thank the Lord our God, the master of time and circumstance, for having permitted the encounter of this day. We welcome everyone.

 

We the youth of Bondeko Mennonite Church met on March 27, 2018 to reflect on the future of young Mennonites in general and of Bondeko in particular.

 

In addition to the fact that youth represent the future, we believe that youth are the key to the present, a measure of the survival and continuation of the Mennonite community in Congo and at Bondeko. Therefore it is necessary for us to be trained and organized.

 

Our discussions centered around the promotion, projects, and formation of youth in our congregation. We concluded the following:

 

·         We, the youth of Bondeko, express our profound gratitude to Pastor François Tshidimu Mukendi, head of the congregation, for his determination to see the youth flourish, and also for having facilitated today’s encounter.

 

·         We thank Madame Nancy Myers for her love and generosity toward our church and her involvement in the success of our projects.

 

·         We thank her also for the establishment of the partnership with Kern Road Mennonite Church through which we received scholarships, permitting the youth of Bondeko to make their way through high school and university.

 

·         We are profoundly grateful also to Kern Road Mennonite Church for financing the purchase of land that will permit the construction of the first private Mennonite school in Congo, which will contribute to the formation of the youth not only of Bondeko but also of the whole country.

 

·         We solicit a church-to-church partnership with the youth of Kern Road Mennonite Church with the aim of sharing experiences.

 

We address our warmest greetings to the whole congregation of Kern Road Mennonite Church. May the peace of the Savior be with you. Thank you.

 

Ignace Tshitoka, President of Bondeko Youth, and Francis Kabanza

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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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