Friday, July 23, 2010

Family by Faith

John Bryant, Denver, NC

The last week of June I helped lead a middle school mission trip to Atlanta, Georgia. The youth had the opportunity to see life in a very urban setting, something many of them had never experienced growing up in Denver, North Carolina. They worked with some distinct populations, including the homeless and the elderly. I believe everyone on the trip was touched and changed in some way while there, myself especially.

Twice I connected with people I barely knew simply through matters of faith. The first was Samuel, who I met at one of the churches where we worked. As far as I could tell, he is not on staff there, just a member who volunteers his time. We talked about the church and the youth. He shared some fascinating insights about early Hebrew culture. As our conversation drew to a close, he called me “brother” and drew me into a bear hug. Now I’m fairly tall at 6’3” but Samuel enveloped me. I experienced an amazing feeling of acceptance from this man I had known for all of five minutes.

The second was Braden, one of the interns at the church where we stayed. I had talked with Braden a few times during the limited free time I had in the evenings but did not know much about him. The same day I met Samuel I ran into Braden shortly before lights out. He seemed edgy and distracted, a far cry from the easy-going student I had gotten to know. As we talked I discovered that his grandmother was in the hospital and the doctors had not given her much time. I asked if he would like to pray and we stood there in the hall as I offered a short prayer for his grandmother and his family. At this point the walls crumbled a bit and Braden released some of the emotions he had been carrying. We didn’t say anything else; no more words we needed. I hugged him and then moved on to get the youth ready for lights out.

Having both of those experiences in the same day really stood out to me. I probably won’t have another conversation with either Samuel or Braden. Yet we shared something that day. We had an honest connection as family. Not a family by blood, but one born of water.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Middle Schoolers on a Mission

Justin Bieber. Silly bands. Braces. Texting incessantly. Tween study Bibles. If you hadn't guessed by this point, I have spent alot of time with middle schoolers lately.

This past week I traveled with 65 middle schoolers to ReCreation Ministries in Asheville, NC where we participated in missions by sharing the love of Christ through home repair. We painted, dug septic lines, roofed, and grew closer as a group and to God as we washed each other's feet, had dance parties on the bus, and shared life with each other for a week.

As I returned and thought about our time there I was reminded of two verses:

The first provides a basic principle of how we should love:
"My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you." - John 15:12

The second goes on to explain how God loved us:
"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life." - John 3:16

Throughout the trip we tried to show this universal love to the widow whose house we were working on, the staff at ReCreation, and all others that we encountered. And as we looked around to see how God was working in our lives, we continually witnessed God's universal and self-sacrificing love being revealed to us through these same people.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

The Joy of Water

John Bryant, Denver, NC

One of my responsibilities at Salem has been working with the day camp. During the summer, the church’s afterschool program becomes a day camp for children in the community. In order to gain more experience with children’s ministry, I lead a devotional one day a week for the day camp. With forty to fifty kids signed up, these devotionals require a fair amount of planning, finding something that will speak to the kids within the camp’s weekly themes. My first one followed a script that a previous intern developed after graduating from Duke, a devotional series that draws on the style of Godly Play. For the second devotional, however, I was on my own.

The weekly theme was Lake Week. I settled on a devotional about baptism. I quickly realized that there was more major concern waiting for me. Since the majority of the kids are not church members, I could not assume they were all Methodist. In fact, most aren’t meaning that not all of them have been baptized yet. So I need to ensure that my message, while staying true to the Methodist beliefs of Salem and myself, would not leave out those from other backgrounds.

I explained baptism in a general manner and then specifically with regards to the United Methodist Church concerning infants, noting that Methodists do baptize older children and adults as well. The focal point was that in the Bible water is often a sign of God’s love for us. So when we see a baptism, we recognize that as God loving us. As I concluded I splashed droplets of water over all the kids. Their screams of surprise and joy reminded me that God loves us in surprising ways. What better way to say thank you than with our joy.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

The Body of Christ Broken For You

Jason O. Evans, Saint Matthews UMC, Greensboro, N.C.

It has been several weeks since my last post. Nevertheless, I continue to walk in God's grace by writing the latest events happening on my internship at St. Matthews. For the past two days in this arid and hot weather, Pastor A. Beverly and I have been serving Communion to the sick and shut-in all over the city of Greensboro, N.C. Yesterday, we served twenty-five people, including members and their families and caregivers.

Today we visited a UM minister who has advanced multiple sclerosis (MS) and his mother. Both are living with the minister's daughter in a nearby suburb. The UM minister also is a Duke Divinity graduate. It was good to talk with a fellow "Dukie." Although the minister's body was weak and wracked with pain at times, he was in good spirits. He gave we words of wisdom. I had the pleasure of serving him Communion.

We also visited a member who has a terminal illness. Since we last seen her, her condition is worsening. It is possible that she can transition at any moment. Pastor Beverly and I were greeted at the door by her live-in caregiver and we were escorted into the member's room. The woman, who recently woke up from a nap, was bedridden, weak and feeble. Pastor Beverly greeted her by kissing her on her forehead. Then Dr. Beverly stated the reason why we came. Dr. Beverly said that she intended for me, the summer intern, to serve the woman Communion, but she that she wasn't in the condition to receive it. The woman, with a quiet resilience, whispered, "Yes I can."

Pastor Beverly reached into our little basket for the Communion elements. I reached into the basket also for them to serve the caregiver. Pastor Beverly served the member, I served the caregiver. Then Dr. B. offered a powerful prayer. Then she kissed the woman's forehead again, and we left.

I realized on these visits with the sick and shut-in the powerful meaning of the broken Body of Christ in Communion. I realized that human bodies get weak, some are wracked with unforgiving conditions and diseases, bodies get old. However I am reminded of the the Last Supper scenes in the Gospels and the broken body of the Suffering Servant which Second Isaiah uttered (Isa. 53).

Christ's body is broken for us on Calvary and at the Table. The dying woman and the MS-strickened minister mustered strength to receive the body and blood of the crucified Lord. The dying woman realized that when she received the elements, she did it in obedience to her Lord. She and the minister know that they will see Him in peace and feast with Him and all of his saints at the table of his heavenly Banquet. May we all hope for the everlasting day when we all shall eat with the Lord at his table forever. Until then, let us meet Him at his table on earth during Eucharist. The Body of Christ, broken for you. Take. Eat.