Resolutions for Renewal

by Brian Ford Well, it’s that time of year again folks. Time for some of us to make well intentioned “New Year’s Resolutions” and the like. Perhaps we gained a few pounds or spent too little time with family last year, and want to make a new start and renew our efforts to eat right, exercise more, and prioritize family time. These personal efforts of maximizing what is important in our individual lives are good no doubt, but what about making a new start and renewing our efforts to improve our communities and the lives of our neighbors? After consuming the 24 hour news media these past twelve months, I’ve sensed a strong narrative of fear and suspicion being proclaimed that warns us to take care of ourselves & those we love most, and keep everyone else at arm’s length, even an ocean’s length away. With all the mass shootings, terrorist attacks, and other horrible events across the nation and world, I can see why this fear narrative is popular & sells TV time, radio time, and print space. I hear the fear echoed in conversations with fellow church members, with subdivision neighbors, and in the grocery store aisles to name a few. “The world is a scary place these days…you can’t trust anybody,” is a phrase I hear often in casual conversation. What are we to do? Might I suggest two “New Year’s Resolutions” that are personal and communal. First, reduce our time spent consuming 24 hour news media. This resolution will free up time to spend preparing healthy meals, exercising, and/or with family. Second, get to know...

Myriads and Myriads

A two-hour worship service on Sunday night is typical at Providentia Baptist Church in Bucharest. Last Sunday night two young children read a poem and recited scripture. A 12-year old boy playing a guitar (as big as he was) played and led us in “Our God is an Awesome God.”  Tiger Pennington would preach to our gathering on the Good Samaritan passage. During the service the pastor read from Revelation 5:11-13 — “…many angels surrounding the throne; they numbered myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, singing with full voice, ‘Worthy is the Lamb that was slaughtered to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!'” (NRSV) The majority of the worship time was congregational singing accompanied by a 30-member mandolin orchestra. We sang the English words to familiar hymns and choruses. We stumbled badly pronouncing the Romanian words of songs we did not know. Toward the end of the service Tyler Tankersley brought greetings from his home church. I brought greetings from CBF churches in America’s Heartland. There is an 8-hour time gap between Bucharest and Missouri. I noted that as we were gathered at Providentia, the Fellowship churches in Missouri were gathering for their morning worship. For an hour or more I had been blessed by children reading, a youth leading a song, and a mandolin orchestra combined with hearty singing. During that hour I had also been praying for and remembering churches back home. I testified in those moments of greeting that my heart had been enriched for I was experiencing Revelation 5:11-13 — for in Bucharest and back home  “numbered myriads...

Kingdom Kia

Last week I was in mid-Missouri – a beautiful week to be on the road enjoying fall foliage and the rolling terrain of south central Missouri.  As I entered Rolla I noticed a huge new car dealership beside the interstate – Kingdom Kia. In conversation with a friend, I learned that Kingdom Kia had once been the home to a large bustling church. Along the way, tensions filled the church and eventually it closed down – with the building probably returned to a local bank for lack of payment. A car dealership spotted the superb location.  Probably also spotted a good deal from a bank wanting to unload a defaulted loan! As my friend in Rolla commented wryly, at least now the parking lot is filled with cars. I drove to another church in Kansas City this past Sunday as a guest preacher.  The parking lot was amazingly empty 20 minutes before worship was to begin.  I then learned this church has worship first and then small group Bible study after.  The worship center was pretty well-attended after all and so was the parking lot with cars. Cars in the parking lot are not what matters.  It is people faithfully gathered to worship, learn, fellowship, and prepare for engagement with our culture that matters. That church in Rolla forgot how to “be church” it seems – and now when you enter the building you can find cute chipmunks and drive off with a Kia Soul.  The church in Kansas City (like most of our churches) is wrestling with schedules to fit the lives of people in its community. They...

Turning Left

A favorite recent movie is The BestExotic Marigold Hotel about seven “British retirees who decide to ‘outsource’ their retirement to less expensive and seemingly exotic  India.” The movie chronicles the exploits of the energetic young owner trying to make the hotel look as good as the brochure he provided his clients. It is also the story of new residents adjusting to a new place of living and how they cope with change. One of the seven eventually decides to return back to native England and expresses pride that when she boards the plane she will “turn left.” On a recent trip to Atlanta I got bumped from economy class to first-class — this meant I also would get to “turn left” as I boarded the plane. I found myself feeling a bit “puffed up” (to use King James language) as I waited in the boarding area because I knew I would board first.  I walked down the jetway with a bit more anticipation than the normal getting on a plane.  Sure enough, an attendant looked at my boarding pass, held out her hand and said “turn left, sir.”  Immediately my jacket was taken and a drink was offered.  Shortly after, the captain came out and shook hands with every one of us, thanking us for flying Delta.  The announcements were made about drinks and no reference to snacks for those in economy seats. Meanwhile, we not only had drinks but a breakfast snack. We even had free wireless internet available. When the plane landed those in economy were held back while we deplaned first to retrieve our luggage which...

New Friend from Taiwan

After my sabbatical this summer, our family decided to be more intentional about opening up our home to neighbors and strangers. An opportunity presented itself almost immediately; we were invited to host a high school student from Taiwan for a two-week exchange program. By the time we picked up Allen at the airport on a Sunday afternoon, he had already been traveling for over 12 hours. He was friendly but understandably quiet and tired. Over the next two weeks, it was fun to see Allen become more and more a part of our family. Some significant things we shared: Giving Gifts – I had forgotten the importance of gift-giving in many other cultures. The first day, Allen presented each of our family members with a small gift. He gave us other gifts throughout his stay. After he left to go home, we discovered notes he’d written for us (in Chinese and English) as well. The gifts he gave and the ones we gave in return sealed our friendship. Sharing Stories – Allen was keenly interested in our lives as Americans, but I noticed he also enjoyed sharing about his own life and experiences. He was eager to tell us about his school and his family. When we wondered out loud about making a Moon Cake to celebrate the Chinese Moon Festival, Allen found a recipe for Moon Cakes like his mother’s. The stories we shared opened doors into each others lives. Being Human – After a high school volleyball game, I drove Allen and my son, Isaac, over some roller-coaster country hills. Both of them laughed and smiled as...

Being a Stranger in a Strange Land

Four years ago, CBF of Missouri provided me with the excellent ministry gift of a sabbatical.  One of the components of my sabbatical was to experience “being a stranger in a strange land.”  I chose to do this by visiting Bucharest, Romania. The plan was that I would meet up with a guy I had never met before (other than via the internet). “Gio” would rent an apartment for me, he would show me around Bucharest, we would travel to Transylvania and visit the Peles Castle and Bran Castle (where “Dracula” lived), and he would take me to visit the Ruth School for Roma kids in the Ferentari sector of Bucharest. I deliberately made no Plan B for lodging, transportation, etc. in case no one was at the airport.  As the plane descended into the Bucharest airport a sense of panic and fear struck me like a fist in the gut.  Like I said, there was no Plan B! Fortunately for me, Gio showed up and we had a superb time. That week I was in Bucharest in 2008 was the same week the whole world financial system imploded. On the small TV in my apartment the only English language channel was CNN International.  Every 30 minutes I saw again and again how badly the stock market dropped each day.  I would hear about banks in Poland, England, Ireland, and Iceland (of all places) that were being propped up.  Of all the weeks to be stuck in a “who knows where” apartment with no phone, no internet cafes, CNN International droning its same bad news over and over, and a new friend...