Friday Focus

Friday Focus is a newsletter for the Newberg Friends Church community distributed weekly through MailChimp. Subscribe here!

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Prior to July 2017, our newsletter was named Your NFC. All the archived issues remain available, as you can see down the right-hand column!



Your NFC – February 7, 2014

Click HERE to read the entire February 7, 2014 issue.

by Steve Fawver, pastor spiritual health and care

by Steve Fawver, pastor
spiritual health and care

I had the opportunity to be at Twin Rocks for a few days of Sabbath in January. This provided many opportunities to walk on the beach in my old leather slip-on shoes. This pair finds its way onto my “packing list” every time I head to the coast. They are fairly waterproof and easy to slip on and off as I head out for a stroll beside the ocean. As you might imagine, the sand finds its way not only onto the outside, but it mysteriously works its way into, through, and around my size-twelve footwear, penetrating its very essence. Days and weeks later sand continues to show up even after I have returned to the normalcy of walking around home and our neighborhood here in Newberg. Sand is with me still.

As I reflect on my time away I notice a desire for the sand of God’s love and Sabbath rest to continue to show up as well. How might the rest I experienced enter the rhythm of life in the everyday of work, family, friendships, and even the challenges that come my way? I hope that I as an individual and we as a community might be so permeated with the deep love of God that we find it showing up in all of life. God invites us into places of Sabbath rest on a regular basis to remind us that we are not in charge, God’s power and love are sufficient, and our lives are created to flow in harmony with the loving Spirit active in the world right now. When I pull out my sandy shoes I hope they continue to call me to pray the following prayer for each of us here at NFC.

A Prayer of Rest

God, you invite us into your Sabbath rest.

A rest that is free and unencumbered by expectation, performance, or “oughts.”

A rest that is open and safe and pure.

A rest that is anchored in your deep sustaining love, power, and hope.

May we let go and receive your blessed rest.

May we let go and open ourselves to the river of life
that is flowing with freedom and power.

May we let go and settle into your trustworthy arms as your rest envelopes us with love.

I invite you to find ways to pray this prayer and live a life of love with God, who is with you right now. If you ever need to borrow my beach shoes, just give me a call. They are ready to go!

Click HERE to read the entire February 7, 2014 issue.

Your NFC – January 31, 2014

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Cloud of Witnesses — Thomas Kelly

This essay was written for Listening Life Groups (2008-9) and republished here in preparation for our sermon on Sunday morning.

by Michael Chapman

by Michael Chapman

Thomas Kelly is quickly becoming a favorite author of mine. With a life and approach to spirituality that I can relate to, I have come to see parts myself in his writings and biography. As a person consumed with the pursuit of knowledge, skeptical about things overly spiritualized, and reluctant to completely enter into a deep life with God, I find comfort in knowing that this was much of Thomas Kelly’s experience. But I am equally comforted, and even more encouraged, by knowing that Kelly was finally gripped by God’s love and sacrifice. Knowing this love, he became utterly and passionately committed to a deep and authentic prayer life. This has come to be a beacon of hope for me at this time in my life.

Thomas R. Kelly was a Quaker educator, minister, missionary, writer and mystic who lived during the early 1900s. Born in 1893 in rural Ohio, he was brought up committed to the Friends movement, as his parents were heavily involved in their local church. Journeying out into college and post-graduate studies, Kelly slowly was overcome by his pursuit of knowledge and truth. He spent many years studying at various colleges, ultimately ending up at Harvard University. While not studying he served as a professor of philosophy and religion, the longest stints at Earlham College and Haverford College.

Kelly’s relentless pursuit of and commitment to academic rigor constantly had him discontented with life. In the middle of his time at Hartford Theological Seminary, which was during the First World War, he moved to England to work with German prisoners of war through the Y.M.C.A. After returning from this assignment, and once the war was over, he and his wife Lael went to Germany to serve with the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC). They returned to the United States to a teaching position at Earlham College. All of this time Kelly was committed to near non-stop research and study. He was constantly writing and publishing essays, as well as speaking at Friends Meetinghouses and conferences throughout the east coast.

Kelly traveled to Germany in 1937 to minister to the German Yearly Meeting. It was this trip that seems to have been the ignition for a significant shift in Kelly’s life. This trip was so exciting and life-giving for him that upon his return home and reintegration into normal life at Haverford College he was struck by a period of “‘dryness’ and aridity.” It was this apparent “dark night of the soul” that caused the most significant spiritual and personal shifts to occur. For one, this experience taught him of the need for a follower of Christ to “learn not to clamor perpetually for height but to walk in shadows and valleys, and dry places” (Kelly, Biography, pp. 110-111). This spiritually stretching experience also caused growth in his personal relationships as well, affecting the way he even spent time at home—no longer devoting himself only to studying, but spending much more time with his wife and kids. (Kelly, Biography, p. 111)

After this dry period came a period of great spiritual awakening. His devotion to intellectualism and understanding God through only the mind gave way to a renewed concern for understanding and experiencing God through the heart and soul. This spiritual awakening was the time in which he began focusing on devotional writing and speaking. This culminated in Harper & Row Publishers contacting him about the possibility of publishing a devotional book. The same day he received this offer he “exclaimed to Lael, his wife: ‘Today will be the greatest day of my life.’” But sadly, “while drying dishes that evening after supper, he suffered a massive heart attack and was dead within moments” (Kelly, Biography, p. 122). Although this was a tragic moment God had a way of continuing his work through Thomas’s life of devotion, writings, and speaking.

Five lectures, which had been previously published as separate essays in various journals, were combined to make A Testament of Devotion, the most famous publication of Kelly’s. A second set of his previously unpublished devotional writings have also been combined and printed as The Eternal Promise, which many believe to be his best work.

I read The Eternal Promise in a class taught by Howard Macy while in college. I was not at a place then to really appreciate that book, but after reading A Testament of Devotion recently, I see that there is much I can relate to in the life and spiritual journey of Thomas Kelly. In fact, a friend suggested that I focus on Kelly for this project because of the similarities he has seen in our spiritual experiences. I have long struggled to find the balance between understanding God intellectually, and engaging God spiritually, in the mystical and experiential sense.

My observation of the great influence Kelly was able to have through his academic pursuits comforts me as I finish school and go out into the world. But his revelation later in life that there is so much more to life with God than simple intellectualism has given me pause. His mystical experiences with the Present Christ are reminders to me of the ways that I have experienced Christ in the past, and are a challenge to me to work hard to listen and stay open to experiencing God in the future. Ultimately this has been a lesson in valuing heart knowledge of God just as much as I value head knowledge.

In many ways, Kelly’s later writings and approach to the spiritual life remind me much of Henri Nouwen, a man who was constantly working to experience the love and presence of God, making all of life an opportunity to pray and listen. These same themes come out in Kelly’s writings.

Through A Testament of Devotion I was able to see a man concerned with how he was pursuing God, as well as how those around him were pursuing God. Since this book is made up of speeches and essays, it is easy to see the passion and concern that he was trying to convey to those who were listening then, and to all of us now as well.

May his words be a reminder to you to not neglect God in your life—as they have been to me—and to not become detached from what Kelly himself beautifully calls the “Divine Center.”

Michael and Melissa Chapman have been a part of NFC in the past and are now serving as Representatives to Guatemala and El Salvador for Mennonite Central Committee, which works toward relief, development and peace in the name of Christ.

Click HERE to read the entire January 31, 2014 issue.

Your NFC – January 24, 2014

Click HERE to read the entire January 24, 2014 issue.

by Di (and Bruce) Murphy

by Di (and Bruce) Murphy

Sabbath by the Sea! If you’ve been at Newberg Friends for a long time or even a short time, you have probably read or heard about these retreats at the Oregon Coast that happen every January. Many of us have journeyed there “to be alone with God together.”

It’s fun for us to know how this ministry began in the hearts and minds of Bob and Marcile Crandall. The two of them had always provided spiritual guidance and mentoring in their pastoral roles, but about ten years ago they both felt led to begin something new. That prompting of the Spirit coincided with an invitation by Ken Beebe, director of Twin Rocks Friends Camp, to develop The Center for Personal Growth in Christ (recently renamed Sabbath by the Sea) January retreats. For several years Bob and Marcile, along with Mauri Macy, were the only leaders. Now Steve Fawver guides a leadership team of 12 (three each week) who seek to follow in their footsteps.

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This is the third year we have been able to co-lead Sabbath by the Sea (SBTS) during the second week of January with Nate Macy, our “Music Man.” Our group this year was bimodal in generational composition. You probably need to be math savvy to get that description, but the gist is we had quite a few folks in their 20s and several in their 70s, with just a few in between. Intergenerational conversations around the table covered quite a range as we learned from each other. The diversity of topics spilled over into a diversity of music, adding life to some evening hours. We blended and bonded together in meaningful ways as we both prayed and played together.

2014.01.08, 6, Susanna Ballard, Sabbath by the Sea, Rockaway Beach, OR

 Clearly each one of the leaders and participants who ventured into this sacred space hoped to find God in the silence, scripture, singing, and joy of just being with others who had that same goal. Opportunities to meet together for morning and evening prayers, to explore some spiritual tools to help us draw near to God, and to meet with a leader for spiritual direction were provided. But the largest portion of every day was open and unstructured. Everyone had freedom to seek God in whatever ways were most helpful.

Our focus this year was Psalm 139 with an invitation to Rest, Receive, and Respond. Sometimes it was a verse from scripture or a phrase from a song or a chosen word that was helpful. One young woman heard the word trust and kept it as her focus throughout the week. We listened to the song “Oceans” during the stormiest part of our week and shared some of the words that spoke to us individually. Words like:

You call me out upon the waters

The great unknown where feet may fall

And there I find You in the mystery

In oceans deep My faith will stand

And I will call upon Your name

And keep my eyes above the waves….

…My soul will rest in Your embrace…

Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders…

One night we were completing our shared evening prayers and had just sung the line “God of day and God of darkness.” Just like that we lost power! Only the center candle gave light to the room. The timing took our breath away. It might have been a highly spiritual moment except that most of us got the giggles as we quickly searched for flashlights and lit the many candles we had available. Still, the message lingers. We were there to receive Jesus, the light of the world, and as Chris Rice’s song says, “Carry your candle, run to the darkness.” That feels like an appropriate response to the whole experience of SBTS, which to us is an extension of our experience of worshiping with you at Newberg Friends every Sunday.

2014.01.08, 11, Twin Rocks, Sabbath by the Sea, Rockaway Beach, OR

Hopefully those who have experienced SBTS can relate to what we’ve shared here, even if your time there wasn’t stormy. Those who haven’t will want to attend next January “to be alone with God together” in a very sacred space.

Bruce and Di Murphy began attending Newberg Friends Church four years ago. Work life prior to retirement revolved around college administration and teaching at colleges like Northwestern College of Iowa, Seattle Pacific U (Bruce) and Seattle U (Di) and Whitworth U, but now the biggest and very joyful focus is on grandparenting Diego, Julio, Cate, and Chiara. Di and Bruce still parent a yellow lab called Pax, which means peace.  

Click HERE to read the entire January 24, 2014 issue.

Your NFC – January 17, 2014

Click HERE to read the entire January 17, 2014 issue.

by Clyde Thomas

by Clyde Thomas

Life is a journey. My wife, Carol, and I are at the point where we are caring for aging parents with Alzheimer’s and dementia. Dad is 96 and Mom is 94. I share this part of our journey in the hope it can help those who are in the midst of experiencing (or have experienced or will experience in the future) something similar!

The calls came from trusted church friends in Quincy, Washington: “Your parents are no longer capable of living on their own. You need to find different living arrangements.” I was prepared; I had it all figured out. They could come live with us in Newberg. We had created a studio apartment in our garage and would simply absorb them into our family. We would rescue them! After all, we already managed 8 octogenarians in the form of 2 goats, 3 chickens, 2 cats, and 1 dog.

I had big plans. Helping Mom and Dad enjoy life as senior adults was the perfect excuse to indulge my own interest in fishing, family genealogy, local history, and exploring the natural wonders of Oregon and Washington. I wanted to help them enjoy life in ways their driven lifestyle never allowed. In their prime, everything had been about “doing.” With this in mind, I lined up many potential opportunities to volunteer with Newberg organizations. I had covered the bases.

But it mostly never happened. Where they were mentally and physically didn’t line up with what they could do and would enjoy. Dad didn’t want to waste his time with unimportant stuff like fishing and sightseeing, and the bathrooms always seemed too far away. He wanted to do physical projects for the kingdom, but the thinking neurons in his brain were disconnected from his capacity to act through hands and feet. He simply couldn’t perform the work. Dad’s (and eventually Mom’s) mental recall of family history became increasingly suspect as memory failed. Fabricated stories, usually based on current events read that day in the news, began to take the place of the true stories. With great sadness, I watched the memories of my entire childhood and their last 20 years of overseas volunteer service disappear. They forgot the names of my siblings. And as they lost their ability to care for themselves, Carol and I coped by dropping out of most of our social and organizational commitments. Caring for Mom and Dad dominated our life. We put our dreams on hold. We began to feel trapped.

One thing that didn’t disappear was Dad’s incessant need “to do.” The question “What should I do?” was asked frequently and it irritated me greatly. Dad had always been a workaholic. He found much of his value in the physical projects he did for the kingdom—and there were many. I began “coaching” him (I fear somewhat condescendingly) to learn “to be” rather than “to do.” To learn to be content in all situations and with gratitude in his heart, to learn to bless other people and make life easy for them!

One day it hit me like a ton of bricks—all this good teaching at Dad boomeranged. I realized I had the same faults. I too found my self-worth greatly driven by performance, by what I could accomplish and the number of situations I could “save.” I had even “forced” Carol, using godly counsel, into a pattern of “good” works. She struggled to cope with my pressure as she cared for my parents day in and day out. I found I wasn’t nearly as altruistic as I thought I was. My self-righteous attitude was killing my wife. Things had to change.

About that time my mom fell, and the doctors strongly advised us to place both in full-time care. They currently reside in the Chehalem Care and Rehabilitation Center, within walking distance of my office. Visits are genial—even fun. Dad still plans on going back to Guatemala or Africa. Carol once again breathes free. Gradually the bitterness I didn’t realize I had is subsiding. We are working to establish a new normal.

Carol and I have really appreciated the cloud of witnesses at NFC who have taken the time to listen, to offer the gifts of presence, prayer, and encouragement to us through this journey. Thanks, Ralph, for your tender and courageous letters to Wanda as you too, deal with this mean, humiliating, and debilitating disease. Thanks Gregg, for the sermon on finding our value in Christ alone.

It wasn’t all tough. We’ve experienced good times as well. Dad’s hasn’t lost his sensitivity to the Spirit. Carol tells the following story: “Dad could still be used by Christ. Sometimes he would speak out of the blue directly into the condition or issue, even when he was unaware there was an issue. At one point he couldn’t go with Clyde and Mom because his legs weren’t strong enough. He was upset. I went out to feed animals, and when I came back in his face was radiant. He said, ‘I stayed home because Christ was coming to visit me.’ I said, ‘and he did, didn’t he?’ He smiled big and nodded. He may not remember how to get the food to his mouth, but he can recite memorized scripture and ‘sing’ hymns from memory. He carries them in his heart.”

Click HERE to read the entire January 17, 2014 issue.

Your NFC – January 10, 2014

Click HERE to read the entire January 10, 2014 issue.

by Miriam Staples

by Miriam Staples

Working regularly with 3- and 4-year-old children is always an adventure—but well worth the energy and effort required! I remember that portion of scripture where Jesus said, “Whoever welcomes a little child like this in My name welcomes Me” (Matthew 18:5). Sometimes I forget this in the thick of things at Busy Bees Playroom. Much of the time the tasks just don’t seem very spiritual: wiping noses, breaking up wrestling matches, “Keep your dress down, please,” “Please don’t pour the sand over your friend’s head,” teaching the formation of letters and encouraging the correct crayon grip, trying hard to understand everything each child wants to tell me, singing enthusiastically while suggesting “please take the rhythm sticks out of your mouth.” But overall there is joy in being with these 11 little ones and in getting to know their families.

Unknown-5I wish you could be there to see one little boy whose face lights up each week when I say it is time for chapel. He absolutely loves when we all walk upstairs to the little chapel and have a Bible story with the flannelgraph pictures. It is his favorite school thing. Aside from recess.

December was special as we had our short Christmas program in the chapel for the families. The children stood remarkably still (mostly) and even sang. It was a miracle! Then, thanks to the efforts of Michelle Akins and Sandra Fish, we were able to give a special gift to each family. Michelle and Sandra had taken “school pictures” of each child and made photos in various sizes and presented the packages to the parents. And NFC’s knitting group asked if they could provide a winter hat for each busy bee. The ladies made the most wonderful hats, and I wrapped them up along with a Bible story book and a little toy and gave them to the children as well. They looked so cute as they proudly wore their new hats to school the last week before break!Unknown-4

Maybe you can catch the essence of the Busy Bees ministry if I spotlight a few of our moments from the fall:

• Meeting one afternoon with a mom to chat about her son and how he was doing and getting to just be a listening ear for about an hour and a half; knowing better how to pray for her.

• Rejoicing with one family as the dad finally got a job (after joining them in prayer about it for several months).

• Watching Sandra free her time on a Monday to take a struggling mom out for coffee while Michelle and I spent the afternoon with her kids.

Unknown-1• Putting my foot in my mouth when commenting to one dad on how nice he looked in his coat and tie and that he must be heading off to work—only to be corrected that he was heading off to court. (I was embarrassed, but told him I would be praying for him. (I’m so glad God doesn’t require us to be “smooth” all the time in order for him to use us.)

• The ongoing blessing of eight wonderful volunteers who rotate in as my helpers. They show up every Monday and Tuesday afternoon to play, do projects, enjoy (and often provide) snacks, pray, read stories, and teach letters and numbers and shapes and colors and how to get along with each other to these lively children God has brought to this class.

I’m already giving thought and planning to next year’s program, trusting that God will continue to provide the strength, the volunteers,  and the families who are to be a part of this Busy Bees Playroom ministry. Let me know if you want to come for a visit and to join the fun!

Click HERE to read the entire January 10, 2014 issue.

Your NFC – January 3, 2014

Click HERE to read the entire January 3, 2014 issue.

by Michelle Akins pastor, children and families

by Michelle Akins
pastor, children and families

I kept hoping to have some profound spiritual experience over Christmas to share with you. So I put off writing this article. Instead I think God wanted to teach me (again) to simply enjoy—or at least endure with some sense of peace—the journey. Oh, I know it sounds cliché. It is. Cliché or not, following Jesus is a process. Perhaps you can relate. Like me, you’d rather have a grand moment of enlightenment, a special day or meaningful event to mark on the calendar to remember as a “life-changing” moment. A time you can definitively say, “I get it.” But life-changing moments happen every day. We wake up, interact with the world, communicate with God, and our life changes. Some days we speak hope, live loved, and share a bit of God’s grace. Other days we snarl at those around us, stay locked in discontent, or lack forgiveness. Whatever happens, our experience of life here on earth is altered bit-by-bit by our daily choices and responses.  The mysterious/scary/exciting part is that God has given us the power to modify not only our own experience of life but also the lives of those with whom we interact. In essence, my words, actions, and decisions have positive or negative consequences for others. It’s inevitable that life is relational (messy). God created it that way. I’m thankful that God also does good redeeming work and that my personal interactions aren’t the “end of the story.”

I’m wondering if a focus on gentleness might just be the companion you and I need for this complicated journey. Something from a recent study on the book of James at Women’s Bible Fellowship has been gnawing at me for months. Wisdom from heaven is described in James 3:17 as this: “…first of all pure; then peace-
loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.” Beth Moore says, “True wisdom has a gentleness about it, doesn’t it? Harsh people are never wise people. They may be smart. They may even be right. But they are not what the Bible calls wise.” This quote has spoken deep, convicting truth to my soul. It’s inspired me to soak in gentleness for 2014. Instead of barking, “I can’t believe I (or you) just did/said/thought that!” I am asking God to help us speak and act with wisdom as defined by James 3:17. The gentlest response might simply be to listen well.

Friends and companions on the journey, thank you for the wisdom you share with me and with one another every day. Your written and spoken words and your prayers enrich life in immeasurable ways. It is an honor to worship with you at NFC, to serve alongside you, to struggle together, to laugh together. I recently heard a sermon that helped me articulate what I’ve felt for about a decade. The pastor named some of the ways we live in relation to God and people. Life lived: under, over, from, or for. Living life “for” God and people is often marked with a sense of disappointment; you always wish you could do more, yet you’re often drained by feeling you are doing too much. There is little time in this sort of living to enjoy the journey. It’s not a gentle way to live. Living life “for” God and people isn’t completely terrible (I hope not, because it’s the way I tend to relate!) Life in “for” mode is task oriented and passionate; it loves to “activate.” But it often misses something important: living with God and people. As we relate and respond in 2014, I pray we will seek gentle, everyday, life-changing, journeying-together moments; speaking and acting with wisdom from heaven.

Click HERE to read the entire January 3, 2014 issue.

Your NFC – December 20, 2013

Click HERE to read the entire December 20, 2013 issue.

by Mary Harwood

by Mary Harwood

It is a cold December evening in our small town of Oakland, Nebraska. Dressed in my Christmas finest, I am seated in a century-old wooden pew with my brothers. A Swedish flag has been pinned to my dress by Elsie, the (nearly) century-old curator of the Swedish Heritage Center, as was her custom. The sanctuary of First Covenant Church has been transformed—evergreen garlands and sparkling white lights grace the arches high above us, giving the room a majestic and magical feel. I wait eagerly for the lights to go dim. The music starts and we turn to watch her come up the aisle.

She is dressed in a white gown with a red sash around her waist, a wreath of evergreen branches on her head topped by a crown of flaming white candles. I hold my breath as she, along with her attendants, pass in front of me, their candles lighting the darkness. My mother’s soprano voice is heard from the front, singing the name of this angelic vision, “Sankta Lucia, Sankta Lucia!”

When asked about my cultural heritage, I often say that I am Swedish by immersion. Though only 1/32 Swede by blood, I grew up in a farming town of 1,200 people in rural Nebraska until I was ten years old. This town ardently celebrated its Swedish heritage, and my parents—especially my mother—eagerly joined in. Almost as soon as I could walk I was dancing with my father to Scandinavian folk tunes and sporting flower wreaths in my hair at the annual Swedish Festival.

Christmas is an especially rich time. The annual Santa Lucia Day celebration on December 13 was very special. A long-standing Swedish tradition, this day celebrates St. Lucia, a Christian martyr who was killed for her faith in 304AD. The red sash represents her death by the sword. The festival also lines up with the winter solstice; it is a festival of lights on the darkest day of the year. It is traditionally celebrated by the oldest daughter of a household rising early in the morning to dress in the white gown, red sash, and crown of lights. She then goes to wake each person, offering “Lussekatts,” special sweet buns made for the day.

1992 - Mary as Santa LuciaI had my chance to play the role of St. Lucia. Once, when I was about nine years old, my mother and I decided to uphold the tradition at our own home. I (carefully!) walked through the dark house with candles on my head and took morning treats to my brothers and my dad. A few years later I was able to play the part again in our church’s “Christmas Around the World” production. It was an honor to be a part of this great tradition and share it with those around me.

Tradition and culture are important to me. Wherever I live, I seek to experience the local cultures and immerse myself in their richness. I once heard someone say, “Every family is its own culture.” This is why I love what I see at Newberg Friends Church—families coming together to live their lives in community where we can share our cultures and create a new one together.

Mary Harwood spent the last decade immersed in the culture of Whitworth University in Spokane, Washington, where she worked as the chemistry lab manager after graduating in 2006. She married her college sweetheart, Corban, a math professor at George Fox, in June 2012, and they are expecting their first child in April.

Click HERE to read the entire December 20, 2013 issue.

Your NFC – December 13, 2013

Click HERE to read the entire December 13, 2013 issue.

by Sherry Macy

by Sherry Macy

Doubts pestered my normally worryfree spirit as I heard God laughing. Why not let me take care of it? I have in the past. What’s so different about this year? A smaller-than-usual family team made plans to spend our fourth Thanksgiving at Kilometer 27 outside Juarez, Mexico, building a three-room insulated home for another family. Despite the fact that God had provided all the funds and muscle needed to get the job done for the past three years, I worried. Ha! Ha! laughed the God who orchestrates the universe. Worry not! Leave those concerns with me.

our daughter (in-law) Erin with Sage and Jeremias on last year's job site

our daughter (in-law) Erin with Sage and Jeremias on last year’s job site

So I did. And beauty happened. Through unexpected sources and generous donations, enough was raised for the house, some furnishings and provisions, and a neighborhood food outreach. Grandson Bailey recruited four high school friends; two were brothers who brought their parents and sister, establishing a strong team. Beauty.

There’s beauty anywhere God can be seen. Sometimes we have to look past litter and bony dogs and ramshackle houses, cobbled with scrap wood and porous cinder block. The differences in our living conditions are striking, an adjustment forced upon us every time we cross into Mexico. Many parents don’t name their babies for the first six months, so great is the infant mortality rate. Factory jobs require 12-hour workdays for the take-home of $5; and if they miss a day, they become unemployed. Their government stifles education by making private kindergarten a prerequisite for admission to state-subsidized first grade. People come out by the hundreds for a free meal, maybe the only one they’ve had that day. But God always shows up in the beautiful people he created.

We arrive at the Missions Ministries team center and are immediately served a delicious meal served by the Mexican cook staff we now know by name. They greet us as family. (It helps that our Arizona kids and grandkids are regulars, making four similar trips each year.) Our presence there, along with other teams throughout the year, provide the cooks and the construction staff with steady employment.

DSCN2496Early the next morning we head to the job site and meet the family who will receive the home. We don’t share language but are instantly drawn to their smiles. Some families wait a year for a house, so I try to imagine their excitement for this day.

The foundation and the baño are already prepped, so we get started with the framing. Those first few nails never seem to go in straight, but before long our hammering skills return. I wish you could hear the cacophony, which increases as we nail the siding to the frames. Joyfully, we watch Jorge, Margarita, Cynthia, and Jorge, Jr, grab hammers and work alongside us.

DSCN2512Raising the walls, attaching the roof frames, nailing down the tarred roofing, and insulating the interior complete the first day’s tasks. We’re grateful for the Mexican construction crew who defer to our involvement whenever possible but take up all of the slack. We don’t want our inadequacies to affect the overall quality of the house.

DSCN2574On day two we paint the exterior and drywall then mud the inside. Somewhere in the process Raúl steps in and adds the electrical wiring. Plumbing is a rarity in the colonias, though water is delivered to on-site tanks for showers, laundry, dishes. The homes we build improve the lives of those who receive them by freeing their earned resources for clothing, feeding, and educating their children, giving them hope for a better future. When we’ve finished our work, we carry in the furnishings and provisions purchased as “extras” to help them get started.

DSCN2664As our team gathers outside the house following the prayer of dedication, Jorge bounds through the front door, grinning ear to ear and offering us the sourdough pretzels he has just received. We are forever attached to this dear man and his family. We don’t seek reward but reward comes anyway. We’re rewarded in relationships with precious people outside our borders who—just like us—work hard to make a living, love their kids and want a good life for them, and feel satisfaction in accomplishment.

DSCN2670I imagine God’s joyful laughter as Jorge and Margarita set up housekeeping in their own home. They’ve invited us to visit them when we return next November, Lord willing, to build again. With the need so great, we sometimes wonder if sharing a few days and a few dollars can make any difference at all. But it sure made a difference to this family. We made a dent, and one more family has a new home for the holidays.

——

Since building a house is only part of our Juarez adventure, you’re invited to click HERE for the rest of the story.

Click HERE to read the entire December 13, 2013 issue.

Your NFC – December 6, 2013

Click HERE to read the entire December 6, 2013 issue.

by Eric Muhr youth ministries

by Eric Muhr
youth ministries

I  tend to live in my head. I plan. I question. I dream. I replay conversations. I practice presentations. I worry. Sometimes, while composing a response to an urgent email, I’ll suddenly realize I’m in a crosswalk, that there’s a car coming toward me, that the driver doesn’t see me. I stop thinking and react (not necessarily in that order), but then I wonder how I got there. Where did I just come from? Where was I going? And I remember. That e-mail!

Living in my head has made me a decent thinker. I like to observe. I like to dissect. I like to wonder.

But something I’ve learned, observing others—not everyone lives and thinks as I do. Middle school students, for instance, spend a lot more time in their bodies. Which can be a problem.

I envision an engaging theological discussion. They want to run and scream in the gym (preferably while throwing dodge balls at each other and with the lights out).

I plan a time for students to share the truth about what’s hard for them, to listen in silence, to pray for one another. They instinctively understand the sacredness of the moment. But for them it is difficult to sit and to focus for much more than a moment.

I ask a question about a Bible story. A student raises her hand and quotes a line from a Veggie Tales cartoon version of that Bible story. Half a dozen middle-schoolers begin singing the theme song. Some of them dance.

Something I’ve learned about me. Living in my mind does not necessarily make me a more patient person. And I’m not alone.

Contemporary Christianity has lots of adults like me, but it also has lots and lots of middle-school students. Several studies show that we can expect to lose at least two-thirds of these students before they turn 20. Which is a problem.

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this problem. Observing. Dissecting. Wondering.

In the second century, a significant number of Christians were influenced by Gnostic thought, a kind of religious philosophy that separated the spiritual (good) from the physical (not good). That’s a simplistic (and short!) overview, but I’ve found my mind returning to Gnosticism again and again and again as I consider this problem. Our problem.

It is a problem that sees someone like me as spiritually mature, as more Christ-like. It is a problem that sees middle-school students as immature and, therefore, not at all like Christ (or not enough like Christ). We demand that they keep their bodies in check: don’t look; don’t taste; don’t touch. But they cannot help themselves. They are overwhelmed by music, hungry for experience, delirious with sunshine and wind in the leaves and open sky.

We want them to sit down. To sit still. To sit quietly. Just for five minutes. Please.

We let them play games. But we sometimes intimate that it is a reward (and a privilege). That it can be taken away. I’m serious. Listen to me. Stop that. Stop. Go sit against the wall. Hand me the dodge ball, please. Hand it to me. Thank you.

I hear myself.

And I recognize, sometimes, that I am part of this problem.

I have conceptualized the Christian life, diagramed it neatly on a virtual blackboard: a chalk-drawn picture of a man, standing on a cliff, faced with a crevasse he cannot cross. I have imagined that if I leave the body behind, my mind might find a way to float over that deep, dark hole.

I call it freedom.

Middle school students recognize the lie. They would not leave behind their bodies. There is too much fun to be had. Shouting, for instance. Rolling down a hill. Jumping into water. Climbing a tree. Running. Running. Running. Running.

I watch them. Sometimes, I join them. And I wonder —as I’m running—whether the problem is the problem. I want them to grow up and be more like me. Quiet. Thoughtful. Polite. They want me to join in the game, to help keep order, to know where the Band-Aids and ice packs can be found.

We are so different. But on a Wednesday night, running through a darkened gym, I get hit in the head with a dodgeball. And I realize that the real problem—if it exists —is that we do not spend more time together.

Click HERE to read the entire December 6, 2013 issue.

Your NFC – November 22, 2013

Click HERE to read the entire November 22, 2013 issue.

For this round of pastor reports, we’ve chosen a “holiday” theme. What are we thankful for? And, like in Advent as we wait for God’s salvation and deliverance, what are we longing for God to do? 

 — Eric Muhr, youth ministries

Back when I taught high school English, I had lots of students who read books the same way they listened to music. They moved to the beat without paying much attention to the lyrics. Most of the time, I wanted more for them. I wanted my students to think about structure, to consider cultural context, to learn to identify the message underneath (and sometimes behind) the story. But not always. Some books should be danced to, not lived. For instance, Lord of the Rings.

Don’t get me wrong. I love this series. The journey together. The risk of the unknown. The battle between good and evil. The inner struggle of genuine selfhood, of discovery, of decision, of discernment. But there are other messages—cultural tropes—that have power to do real harm. And so I find myself relieved—and thankful in this season of thanksgiving—that NFC doesn’t have a Lord of the Rings-style youth ministry.

We don’t have spiritual gurus. There is no Gandalf, no “greatest spirit” among us. Instead, there is a community of youth ministers, people like Steve Sherwood, Sandra Fish, Michael Fawver, and Anna Lee in high school Sunday school. People like Nancy Fawver, Rich Brown, Sarah Kelley, Julie Anderson, Josh Reid, and Elaine Koskela in middle school Sunday school. People like Alan and Michelle Akins, Shealtiel Hart, Brogan Groth, Brodea Stanclift, and Anna Thomas in Bible quizzing. People like the youth themselves, who often teach us (and who sometimes teach each other).

We don’t have “one ring to rule them all.” There is no artifact—like a building or a creed or even the Bible—that rules us. Instead, we are a community of believers, seeking Christ together, discovering together what it means to be part of God’s family. It’s hard work that sometimes results in hurt feelings and real suffering. But it’s also work that helps each of us to grow up in Christian maturity, to experience freedom in Christ, to learn how community is something that strengthens us as individuals (not just the other way around).

Finally, we’re anything but a no-girls-allowed adventure. We are a community in which both young men and young women find a voice and a place of ministry in the church. We are a community that this summer sent Samuel Swan to minister in downtown Portland, Hayley Koskela and Brynn Akins to work in an orphanage in Uganda, Naivit Velazquez to volunteer with children at Camp Tilikum, Ezekiel Stone to help lead recreation at Twin Rocks Tween Camp, Matthew Staples as a member of the Servant Leadership Program at Twin Rocks Friends Camp, Micah Stoltzfus and Tristan Kern to help plan this year’s Surfside high school camp. And that’s just a few examples. From just one summer.

Looking back on where we’ve been over the years gives me a real sense of accomplishment. Looking forward to where we might still go together gives me hope. But it’s this community that we’re becoming together—who we are and who we’re becoming in Christ—for which I’m thankful. Because it’s no Lord of the Rings-style epic adventure. It’s something better.

 

— Michelle Akins, children and family ministries

This fall I’ve made a conscious effort to shift from groaning to gratitude. Those who have been around me in my less than “ready for prime time” moments know I excel in whining and audible expressions of displeasure (the deep sigh being my signature sound). What I mean by groaning is a focus on lack. Too often I look at the volunteer calendar for Sunday school and my eyes and heart see only the “volunteer needed” spots I’ve highlighted to attract attention. It’s worked all too well on my soul. I stare at needs instead of provision. I concentrate on where we fall short instead of spending time in praise for the people, relationships, and good works already in progress. And at times, it’s made me sick. It’s skewed my perspective and presented a false picture of the beauty that happens here at NFC every Sunday morning. Beauty happens. Grace, mercy, teaching, love, conversation, play, and hope happen. It happens in classes that are fully staffed and those that are struggling to find another teacher or two. God shows up in our lack and still provides holy experiences for kids and adults at NFC. Experiences that matter. Could we do better? Of course! As we celebrate Thanksgiving, then slide into Advent, I choose gratitude. I’m very grateful for the beautiful intergenerational worship that happens here at NFC in our children’s ministry. I choose to look with eyes that long for more but reflect gratitude for the gifts already given.

 

— Gregg Koskela, lead pastor

Coming back to work after sabbatical has been an exercise in thankfulness! I’m so grateful for several people and families who made our church their home while I was out this summer. I heard several variations of: “We’ve been coming a month or two and really like this community!” I’m thankful for Cara Copeland, Doreen Dodgen-Magee, Mareesa Fawver, Joseph Hampton, Mat Hollen, Kara Maurer, Polly Peterson, Paul Shelton, Elizabeth and Steve Sherwood, and Deana VandenHoek. These great people have given much time and creative effort to planning and leading our five o’clock gathering. I’m thankful for the ways Beth LaForce and Ron Stansell share their responsibility as clerks of our elders. I’m grateful for our stewards, who care deeply about our church, yet do not overreact to hard news. Instead, this group has a high degree of trust in God and faith in our church family that the resources our church needs to do ministry will be provided. I’m encouraged and blessed and challenged by the many examples at Friendsview of people who demonstrate thankfulness to God. Jim Clark and Alice Hines are just the two most recent examples.

What am I consistently placing at Jesus’ feet? What am I longing for God to do? I’m praying for someone to give leadership to our Global Outreach task force. I love the vision this group developed, to help each person in our church develop a meaningful relationship with an overseas partner; we now need someone to clerk the task force and continue that important work. Related to that, I’m praying for a whole new task force, a group that can help celebrate what our church is already doing in Local Outreach and to challenge us to go deeper.

I’m longing for God to increase connections and relationships between people in our church. Some have lots of good connections, while others still feel a bit isolated. I’m praying for new structures (new small groups? activities? something else?) to develop, and I’m praying for informal connections to happen, all prompted as we each follow what simple steps of obedience God puts on our minds and hearts.

But most of all, I am very grateful to be a part of this community called Newberg Friends Church.

 

— Cindy Johnson, ministry to seniors

As I ponder this Thanksgiving season, I feel grateful for so many things in my area of ministry: Just Older Youth. I get to do such a variety of things with them—pray, listen, laugh, hugs, or just sit and be still. And I get to help plan little trips for those who can’t get out very often.

Yet I long for more people from our community to feel a nudge to fellowship and be blessed by words of wisdom shared by our congregation’s older ones. It’s a win/win combination.

 

— Steve Fawver, spiritual health and care

This fall one of the gifts in my life is the opportunity to journey with some folks as we are reading the book Sacred Compass, by Brent Bill. This book has opened discussion, fostered worship, encouraged prayers, and produced wrestling for those in the group. How can we pay attention to God and follow the Spirit or “compass” in our lives? One of the sections that spoke to many of us was the following:

“The sacred compass leads each of us to the life only we can live. Our compass calls us to use the gifts only we can give. In a grace-filled way, our compass invites us into a life of continuous experiences of God and of spiritual transformation. As we move toward divine guidance, we joyfully behold the face of a loving God gazing back at us.” (Sacred Compass, p. xiv)

It is amazing to hear from folks as they share about times the way seemed clear and open as well as times of darkness and feelings of being lost. We have been discovering that God never leaves us on our own, but there are times when the path seems to disappear right before our feet. I am so grateful for a community of faith where it is OK to admit that journeying with God is not always a walk in the park, and yet, even so, God is faithful. My hope is that we can continue to find ways to be people who come alongside one another in both the times of celebration and the times of loss. How might you offer a hand of support to someone who is really struggling to see God in the middle of a dark time of life? How might you sit quietly with a friend, or even a stranger, as he or she is at a loss for words? My hope is that the NFC community can continue to be a place of honesty where we are willing to watch for God together while the sun shines brightly as well as when the fog rolls in.

 

— Elizabeth Sherwood, administrative pastor

It is so easy at this time of year to have a list of things for which I am thankful. There has been a flurry of activity with the various committees I get to be a part of, and I am grateful for the many folks who give of their time and energy to serve behind the scenes.

• The nominating committee has been busy listening, praying, and discerning who in our congregation might have the gifts and interests to serve as a Yearly Meeting representative or a steward.

• Trustees have been overseeing the progress on the lift and other major repairs.

• Stewards are keeping careful tabs on our budget and are doing the good work of communicating with the congregation regarding our needs.

• The cemetery committee has worked to welcome our new sexton, Mark Thompson, and has tackled projects such as a new fence for the wood ministry.

• The Yearly Meeting representatives have been charged with the task of leading our congregation through a discernment time regarding Faith and Practice. This group is leaning into that process with prayer and integrity.

I am personally energized to work with such quality people who embrace business as a form of worship and who acknowledge that in all tasks we can be led by the Holy Spirit. I look forward to these winter months to see how the good work of these committees continues to unfold and enrich our community.

Click HERE to read the entire November 22, 2013 issue.