Out of Chaos, Hope

Out of Chaos, Hope

It’s been said that one can judge the quality of a society by the way they treat their children and the elderly. In the midst of the devastation caused by Hurricane Harvey, the strength and the love of the people of Southeast Texas shone brightly, especially as they came to the aid of those who were most vulnerable.

If you have ever been in a country whose language you don’t speak, you know vulnerability. I remember being alone in Japan in a train that stopped suddenly in the Japan Alps. I knew I was the only person on the train who didn’t speak Japanese. I tried to manage my panic until an older woman handed me a candy. Though I didn’t know what emergency instructions might be said, at least there was another human being who knew I was there!

So I loved watching an announcement from the Houston officials, who spoke mostly in English, and some in Spanish-but throughout, whether Spanish or English was spoken, everything was interpreted handily in sign language.

And there were dramatic images of people carrying children and pets (one man carried his son, who in turn had a dog on his lap), and extra care for the elderly and those with disabilities.

College student Austin Seth read on Facebook the call for anyone with a boat to come help rescue people from the floods. He drove an hour from his home in Lake Jackson and allowed a CNN reporter, Ed Lavandera (video), to ride in his boat to get a better sense of the situation in Dickinson. Ed pointed out evidence that people were rescued from their roofs, including several homes where the people clearly chopped through the roof to escape their attics.

About 5 pm Austin and Ed were on their way out when they heard a woman calling to them. While they were on the air, the woman first handed one dog to Ed, who was able to bring the dog into the boat while still giving his update. Then an elderly man, the woman’s father, walked out with a cane. The water was chest high, and the entrance to the boat was higher than that. Austin had jumped into the water and entered the house, because the woman went to get her mother, who had Alzheimer’s.

Ed first tried to pull the father into the boat but clearly that would not work. Austin came up and gently asked, “I can lift you up, if that’s okay?” He said yes and they brought the father into the boat. After bringing in another dog, Ed told the anchorwoman that they should cut away until they checked the condition of the mother. On the web, they did show the mother, who did express concern about her looks, to which Ed answered, “You look great!” The sensitivity shown by the young volunteer and this news reporter preserved not only the lives but the dignity of this family.

Our prayers go to the thousands of people who have lost so much in the wake of the hurricane and floods. Personally, I thought of our sisters and brothers of New Covenant Presbytery, where my friend Lynn Hargrove is part-time Stated Clerk. Their long-time executive Mike Cole has retired, and the position is still vacant, so Lynn posted the following on their website:

Harvey shows no signs of leaving our presbytery yet. Please know that Presbyterian Disaster Assistance plans to be here later this week. Our offices are closed on Monday, and possibly longer. Please email, use our Facebook page, or call cell phones. Our disaster preparedness team will be contacting you. Pastors and clerks have been asked to provide updates. People from across the country are praying for us.

So as those in leadership seek out those in need, let us continue to pray, let us be inspired to help those in our neighborhoods who need help, and let us pledge support, now and on-going, to these Harvey survivors, as they rebuild their lives.

Your partner in prayer and in action,

Wendy

When God Intervenes

When God Intervenes

 

 

I know this is proof texting (digging around the Bible to find a quote to fit your purposes, even if it doesn’t reflect the meaning of the Scripture), but I couldn’t resist thinking about the attention put to this morning’s solar eclipse. Certainly such an event could bring great fear among those who do not understand the systematic design of the universe that incorporates it. This fear can only be exacerbated by yet another collision of a US Navy ship in the ocean around Asia which just occurred.

But even if today’s events portend the end of the world as we know it, for Christians (and all those who suffer from the brokenness of the world) are to celebrate it. Indeed, this prediction is followed by Jesus’ conclusion that “when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” (Luke 21:28) By the way, if we don’t welcome the end of the world as we know it, we may consider if we are on the rich young man’s side of God’s preferential option for the poor.

What we often forget is that for something new and significant to happen, there needs to be a discontinuous break-that is, change, such that your old maps and logic don’t work anymore. That can be scary for many, and a loss for those who loved the “good old days”-or at least the memory of them. I have noticed this when a church makes a significant change, even a good one, as long-time members miss aspects of the old way they did church.

The Bible is filled with moments when God intervenes in human history, which results in a reversal of existing power structures. I’m sure you have noticed how often messengers from heaven start their announcement to us mortals with “Do not fear!” This happens, of course, in the stories of Christ’s birth as well as Christ’s resurrection-both miraculous moments of total upheaval. They are moments of unprecedented change, but since we look back on it, it is change that we celebrate.

In our lives, many of us have seen great change that may be good but also stunning. Consider the shock of the new when people immigrate to the United States. The radically different culture of the United States can upend the traditional values of the immigrant family. Also, those with professions in their home country may not enjoy the same status in the US, and parental authority may be challenged when children are asked to take on adult responsibilities because of their English language abilities.

Recently there seems to be a simmering war between those who most fear the changes in our society. But I can sense some of the fear they are feeling. When talking about diversity, I often think how hard it can be to welcome in people of different cultures-not just for them to assimilate to our ways, but to be open to the change a new culture might introduce. I think about the revulsion many Asians had to drinking the milk of another mammal, which one person likened to drinking blood. Yet when the US occupied Japan after World War II, they introduced milk, which resulted in an increase in height and bone health-and a learning that many Asians are lactose-intolerant.

By contrast, what if someone who drank only milk their whole lives was offered a glass of lemonade? That person might think they were being poisoned! And so those who were raised thinking that America at its best is filled with a certain demographic would become concerned when they realize that the nation’s population is much changed. And the moment when the US will no longer be a white-majority nation is coming soon, and has already arrived in, for instance, San Gabriel Valley. Not only that, the non-white populace is gaining in status, most vividly demonstrated by the first African-American President. Add to this the rapid acceptance of people of different sexual orientations, even to the point of military commanders speaking out in favor of transgendered people in our armed forces. The changes really have been breathtaking-and for some, the changes have been shocking.

But again, change can be scary but also good. How do we manage our fear when confronted with a new world, even if it turns out to be a wonderful new birth? Recently our national church has responded to the violence at Charlottesville with several resources, which I share here:

  1. A letter to the Church was offered by Co-Moderators T. Denise Anderson and Jan Edmiston, Stated Clerk J. Herbert Nelson, and PMA Interim Executive Tony De La Rosa. If you’d like to read it, click here.
  2. There are many different resources developed to help churches learn about and deal with racism, and they can be accessed at one website, facingracism.org.
  3. For those who want to take much more direct action, the Office of Public Witness is organizing a day of advocacy in Washington, DC, on September 12. They have also announced next year’s Ecumenical Advocacy Days for April 20-23, 2018. The PC(USA) has been a key leader of this annual event, which is acknowledged as a gift to the larger church. You can go to their OPW webpage for general information and resources.

These reflect a few of the ways we Christians can face a changed future of any kind. We can learn from our leaders and resources developed by sisters and brothers in the faith. We can step forward in faith, knowing that our encounters with God are often realized when we step outside our comfort zones. And, of course, we can always pray for comfort and guidance, we can read Scripture to learn more of God’s will for the world, and we can share our concerns and our wisdom with our community of faith.

In these unusual times, when so much change offers both promise and concern, may we continue to be strengthened by the enduring love of Jesus Christ, and may we share that love with this worrying world.

In faith,

Wendy

Two Major Crisis

Two Major Crisis

Hello everybody!

Yes, I’m back, after taking some time off and helping to lead a seminar in Florida.  No need to go into detail on the last few weeks, but I enjoyed a little travel, some concerts, better sleep, too much food, and a wonderful conference with immigrant clergywomen from all around the PC(USA).  Speaking of concerts, there’s a concert coming up at 7:30 p.m. this Saturday, August 19, at Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles.  The Elite Chorus, a Taiwanese choir whose conductor Cliff Yang and some members come from Shepherd of the Valley church, sings with the LAKMA (Los Angeles Korean Music Association) orchestra in a concert dedicated to “Harmony & Friendship.”  Call the ticket office at (323) 850-2000.

In the meantime, the life of the Presbytery continues.  The Presbytery installed Walter Contreras as Spanish-language pastor for Pasadena Presbyterian Church, and John Moon as pastor for Korean Good Shepherd.  The service at Korean Good Shepherd marked a major milestone, as the AC will likely recommend being disbanded at our September 16 Presbytery meeting, after countless hours given by 16 AC members over the years.  Back at the Presbytery Center in Temple City, more improvements are being made-and Puente de Esperanza is making great new improvements at their new campus as well.  The Irwindale church property is set to transfer to the Coptic Orthodox church tomorrow, and we helped the church worshiping in Irwindale to move to our Azusa church.  I am happy with the Irwindale sale, not only because we can use the cash flow, but I actually think this will be a blessing for this historic building.  The Orthodox church tradition is much more intentional about caring for and making beautiful their sacred space, so I fully expect that the building will be well cared for, even as we appreciate the improvements that Mideast Evangelical Church put into the building while under their care.

But I feel I must acknowledge the two major crises in our world, in the war of words with North Korea, and the violence that erupted at Charlottesville, Virginia.

North Korea

One of the advantages of having a diverse community is being able to hear from people with different perspectives.  I have asked a couple of Korean leaders how they see the situation with North Korea.  I’ve noticed that even as our media reports have reached a fever pitch of panic, life seems to continue as usual in South Korea.  I have been told that they know well Kim Jong Un’s rhetoric, so they are used to his “flamboyant language” not leading to action.  While we characterize Kim as maniacal, the evidence over the years is that the North Korean government’s actions are calculated and will not lead to a war that they cannot win.  Let us pray that even with new threatening rhetoric coming from the US, cooler heads will prevail on all sides.

Charlottesville

Closer to home, this last weekend we witnessed an effort to gather all white supremacist, neo-Nazi, white nationalist groups in Charlottesville, Virginia, resulting in a young man with Nazi sympathies driving his car into a crowd, killing one young woman and injuring 19 people.

There’s been extensive national discussion about how to respond to this demonstration of extreme racial hatred.  One blog post that has “gone viral” was written by John Pavlovitz, youth pastor at North Raleigh Community Church in Raleigh, NC.  The title of the article is “Yes, This Is Racism” and includes Pastor Pavlovitz’ call for White Americans to stand up against racist behavior.

I happen to worry about the use of the term “racism” in this context, because I have often worried that when people equate “racism” with this kind of extreme hatred, it blocks the ability for the rest of us to have a more productive discussion about race.

There are multiple definitions and reactions to the word “racism.”  One technical definition does not focus only on individual, violent, KKK/Nazi-level hatred.  Racism focuses on the power structure which discriminates against racial-ethnic minorities in order to protect the interests of the dominant culture.  This can happen passively, like when White North Americans don’t recognize the special privilege they receive, or it can take many kinds of actions that are quiet or overt in protecting the status quo and those who benefit from it.

A racist society can persist if the problem is not acknowledged.  If racism is recognized only in its most extreme forms, then the systemic injustices are not dealt with.  George W. Bush called racism the original sin of the USA, because the stubborn stereotypes and Bible distortions that were used to justify slavery are quietly passed down, generation to generation.  Our society is so infected by our racist roots that children breathe in racist ideology before we can even guard against it.  So rather than focusing only on the extremes, I would prefer that we all recognize the brokenness of our world, and seek God’s help in challenging it.

This doesn’t mean we excuse the hate-filled white supremacists.  I believe that increased violence comes when those who have traditionally benefitted from a discriminatory system now feel their privileged position is threatened.  Some of the Charlottesville chants such as “You will not replace us” and “Take America back” reflect the fear against a changing demographic in the United States.  I am reminded of the situation prior to the Exodus, when the Hebrew slaves managed to grow even while being oppressed by the Egyptian pharaoh, which led to resentment and murder.

So what do we do?  Flee to a promised land?  Accept the injustice as God’s will?  Pay back evil for evil?  We benefit from the example of leaders such as Martin Luther King, Jr., and Nelson Mandela, who followed Jesus’ model of acceptance, justice, and grace.  We know it won’t be easy, and the world may hate us for choosing the way of Christ.  But we Presbyterians have built into our Reformed tradition a deep understanding of the need for repentance, and God’s amazing power to forgive, heal, and empower us to do God’s saving will in the world.

May we have the courage to obey, and be channels of transforming peace.

In faith,

Wendy

 

Retired Church Workers

Retired Church Workers

Guest Author: Lauren Evans.

I’ve been working as the presbytery’s Chaplain to Retired Church Workers now for nearly half a year, and as I’ve begun to get to know a number of the Honorably Retired members of our community I’ve had the chance to listen to the stories of folks who have lived lives of service in ways that they never could have predicted. There has been a constant theme, especially among the stories from our retired missionaries. Being willing to let God lead the way (even when that means leaving friends and family and one’s home in order to do God’s mission work as strangers in strange lands) means finding oneself living a life that was never expected, that didn’t work out the way they’d planned, yet managed to be filled to the brim with the joie de vivre of life abundant.

One of the gifts that comes with hearing the stories of our retired church workers means getting a chance to see the overarching narrative of God’s hand in the life of another. And it truly has been an enormous gift. So often in my own ministry experience I have been caught up in the stress and urgency of day-to-day matters of church life, and indeed caught up in the momentary details of non-church life, too. Getting lost in the midst of the demands of the immediate means finding our gaze directed almost anywhere else but at God. It becomes so very easy to ignore or even forget that God is the one at the helm of our lives, and that God is playing the long game. We may look at the fraction of life that is in front of us and wonder where God is, failing to see that God has been at work in shaping our journeys from our first steps in the world and will continue through our very last breaths.

Getting the chance to sit down with some of our retired church workers and listening to them tell the story of their journeys makes God’s active presence in their lives much easier to see, however. Telling our story means taking a step back in perspective, as though we had been standing too close to a painting in an art museum but finally walked far enough way to see what was really going on. And as our retired church workers have taken those backward steps with me to look at their lives together, the clear guidance of God’s hand through every step becomes obvious.

I am relatively young in my ministry, and in the grand scheme of things even young in my own journey with God, but the gift of my work with our HRs and their families is in the realization that just as God has guided and continues to guide their steps in extraordinary and unexpected ways, so too does God guide my own steps. As I listen to the stories of others, I hear God calling gently to me to take a step back in my own life, to see the whole of my story so far, to see God’s hand in my journey and to have the hope and trust in God to lead me still in the years to come.

There is much to learn when we look backwards, because it reminds us of the constancy of God’s presence in our future. What would change about your own perspective this week if you took a moment to look back, to tell your own story of faith and ministry? What in your story whispers to you the evidence of your own future hope?

In grace,

Lauren Evans
Chaplain to Retired Church Workers

Growing Younger

Growing Younger

Guest Author: Jake Kim.

How can churches grow younger? The book “Growing Young,” written by the Fuller Youth Institute, looks at various strategies to help develop meaningful youth and young adult ministries. Their work is based on research from over 250 churches of all sizes, denominations, and theological backgrounds who were identified as “growing younger” by effectively engaging young people between the ages of 15 and 29 years of age.

The three top traits of congregations that are growing younger are that they:

1) Empathize with today’s young people
2) Take Jesus’ message seriously
3) Fuel a warm community.

If you are interested in learning more about these findings and strategies, I would encourage you to visit www.churchesgrowingyoung.org .

The good news is that congregations are adapting and developing meaningful youth and young adult ministries, and these efforts are not just attracting youth but also helping entire congregations to thrive. I invite San Gabriel Presbytery pastors and Sessions to consider: How warm is your community? How clearly do your ministries show that you take the gospel seriously? To what extent are you able to empathize with young people? Thoughtful self-reflection around these key traits is a useful exercise for any congregation and just might help you begin to “grow younger.”

As Associate for Ministry Development for San Gabriel Presbytery, I am the resource person for SGP’s Education Committee. One of our mandates is to liaise and support the Tapestry Youth Collective of San Gabriel Presbytery, which equips and encourages collaborative youth ministry activities and mission projects between our churches. Sophia Alecci is the new moderator of Tapestry and also works as the Director of Student Ministries at San Marino Community Church (See her article below). Sophia would love to be a resource for San Gabriel churches looking for ideas to develop youth ministries. Please feel free to contact Sophia at (206) 327-7875 or salecci@smccpby.com or myself, Rev. Jake Kim, at 626-487-1511 or jakekim@sangabpres.org .

In Christ’s Service,

Jake Kim
Associate for Ministry Development -SGP Education Committee Resource Person

 

Message from SGP Tapestry Youth Collective Moderator – Sophia Alecci

When I was a student in the church, I had mentors that were invested in my growth. They supported me, challenged me, and just hung out with me. Students are the future of the church, and the church needs to be a community that welcomes our youth in! The church should be a space that fosters important dialogue with our students, and creates spaces that students can both laugh and cry in. When attendance is dwindling a church is cutting budgets, too often it is the student ministries that is the first to go. If we want the church to continue to grow, we must invest into our young people!

Sophia Alecci
Moderator of SGP Tapestry Youth Collective

Overcoming Adversity

Overcoming Adversity

Guest Author: Wendy Gist.

If I had been asked to write this column a week ago, the Bible verses I selected for this week’s column would not have been my chosen verses. I was far from a “Praise the Lord!” place. I was not thanking God. Instead I was stressed out and frustrated and not thinking happy thoughts.

There had been a fairly major setback on one of the projects I was working on and I wasn’t getting information from others that I needed to make my way forward clear. So, the setback lingered and the feeling of frustration festered. After days of waiting and stress building, my shoulders and neck were tight with tension. It was only then at this very low point that I finally remembered to take my burden to God in prayer and not try to get through this on my own. So, pray I did. It was after praying that I received an idea of one possible way to resolve this issue that actually excited me.

As we’ve all heard before, God sometimes works in mysterious ways. Let’s move back in time about a month. I’m sure you all remember our June 17th Presbytery meeting and Day of Service. I signed up to serve at Door of Hope in Pasadena along with a number of others, including a group of Tapestry kids and their leaders. We met there, took a tour while hearing about what Door of Hope does, and then started work on the available tasks. I knew a couple of the people who signed up to work alongside me, but mostly these were new folks for me. During lunch I made a point of sitting with a group I didn’t know and chatting awhile with one person in particular. Overall, it was a very good service day experience, enhanced by those I worked and talked with.

Now let’s fast forward back to a few days ago after praying to God to bring resolution to this problem I was experiencing. It was after that that I remembered the person I chatted with during lunch on our Presbytery Day of Service and the very positive impression she left on me. I reached out to her via email with a subject line that said “An urgent, but crazy question.” She responded that same day in a way that gave me immediate hope and relieved much of the stress I was feeling. One day later, a happy and exciting resolution emerged, and my problem and stress faded away.

Do I think God was in this? Absolutely! Was God just waiting for me to settle down enough and humble myself enough to reach out in prayer? Absolutely! Am I now praising the Lord and thanking God with all my heart? Absolutely! Will I remember to reach out to God sooner next time? I sure hope so.

God always remembers us – is always there for us and with us. We are the ones who have to remember to include God instead of trying to go it alone.

Wendy Gist
Mission Advocate