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Did You Mean These Neighbours, Jesus?

By Trixie Ling

In the parable of the Good Samaritan in the Gospel of Luke, a lawyer put Jesus to the test by asking a bold question – “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” The lawyer already knew the answer written in the Law, which is love God and love your neighbour. Not fully satisfied with the answer, he followed up with an honest question, “And who is my neighbour?”  I have been thinking about this simple yet challenging question as I encounter others in my daily life, work, church and neighbourhood. I am confronted with the truth of Jesus’ teaching in the parable about how to be a good neighbour who shows love, compassion, and mercy to others.

“I didn’t always love my neighbour the drunken gardener, or my neighbour the rich gentrifier, or my unknown neighbour in the yellow house.”

In her book City of God, Sara Miles writes about her diverse neighbourhood in the Mission District of San Francisco and offers some deep reflections about the kind of neighbour she is: “Like the lawyer who challenges Jesus, I often wished to weasel out of responsibility, hoping to calibrate who, precisely, was my neighbour; how much, exactly, I was required to love which people. I didn’t always love my neighbour the drunken gardener, or my neighbour the rich gentrifier, or my unknown neighbour in the yellow house. And I really dreaded the parable’s implication that I could be saved by what they had to give.”

I admire Miles’ courage in confessing how we often struggle to respond to God’s call to love our neighbours as ourselves. We might not know our neighbours or even like our neighbours, but we need to hear God’s call and allow it to guide our faith and actions to love our neighbours on the streets, in schools, at work, in churches, and in our own neighbourhoodsEvery Wednesday night at my church, I work with volunteers to organize a community dinner where we cook, eat, and share food and stories with our neighbours, friends, families, and strangers. It is a vibrant scene of kids running around the room, someone playing the piano, volunteers chopping vegetables and preparing the meal, and people having coffee and conversations in multiple languages as they wait for dinner. There are singles, couples, and families from all walks of life connecting over food around a table. The faces of our neighbours include many refugees and asylum seekers, who live next door at the Welcome Centre, a transitional housing and support centre serving refugees and immigrants.

“Recently, I noticed a new person who started coming to our weekly community dinner.”

Recently, I noticed a new person who started coming to our weekly community dinner. At first she came by herself, then she brought a friend. I welcomed her to our dinner and she shared her story with me – she emigrated from Costa Rica and has lived in our neighbourhood for almost 10 years and didn’t really know her neighbours. She wanted to know who her neighbours are, so she came to our community dinner in hopes of meeting some of her neighbours, including people in our church. I was encouraged by her earnest desire and openness to reach out and build relationships with her neighbours. I am reminded of the gift of being rooted in this diverse multicultural neighbourhood where I live and work, and the continuous call to show hospitality to new and old neighbours.

We all want to know and be known, but sometimes our fears and vulnerability get in the way of reaching out to neighbours, welcoming the stranger, and building real relationships with people who love and care for us. In a society where many people experience isolation and loneliness, we yearn for a sense of belonging and acceptance. As an immigrant myself, I understand and empathize with newcomers to Canada who struggle to settle, integrate, and be part of their neighbourhoods.

What is your vision of neighbourliness? My vision is one of neighbours taking care of neighbours. The stakes are high because we have to be vulnerable, build trust, learn to give, and be humbled to ask for help and receive from others. My hope is to take up God’s command to love my neighbours as my vocation.  The word vocation comes from the Latin vocare, which means “to call.” I am called to be present with people, pay attention to needs in the community, celebrate joys and remember sorrows together, and show love instead of fear, apathy, or judgment toward my neighbours.

“My hope is to take up God’s command to love my neighbours as my vocation.”

On an individual level, we can make serious efforts to meet our neighbours and get to know them through shared meals, neighbourhood activities, community gardens, and events in public spaces. On a collective level, we can build welcoming, diverse and inclusive neighbourhoods, and advocate for just policies for marginalized neighbours who experience poverty, homelessness, and discrimination in our communities.

We can remind each other of the parable of the Good Samaritan and aspire to live into the call to love our neighbours. Let us hear and hold on to God’s faithful words: “Love your neighbour as yourself. Love does no wrong to a neighbour; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law” (Romans 13:9-10).

*Originally featured on: Do Justice Blog*

Facing the Giant …

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“Looking at the bigger picture of poverty in our community can be overwhelming and often paralyzes people.  The fight feels like David standing in front of Goliath, but knowing that the bigger battle of poverty is in God’s hands.  The first thing we need to do is hand it over to our Lord … and recognize that benevolence has to be about partnership and relationship; not about handouts.” ~ Anja Attema ~

Anja Attema, the workshop trainer for DMDs and Deacons, focuses on this during the training, addressing benevolence.

Deacons have the opportunity to provide support and help point people in the right direction, but it all begins with establishing relationships.  As Anja states, “you don’t know what you don’t know”.  When she trains deacons, Anja encourages them to not only ask helpful questions that can reveal some of the root causes of financial burdens but to stress the importance of relationships through their benevolent work.

In order to be successful, Deacons need tools to help address walking alongside their neighbors in benevolence.  DMC, along with conducting these workshops, has developed “Guidelines for Benevolence”.  These guidelines help deacons to create tools for helping, developing plans of action and identifying partners in their community that can provide assistance.

Head over to diaconalministries.com/resources to access these Guidelines and other various tools as well as to access more information/to request information on future Financial Benevolence workshops in your area.

Owned by the Deacons

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Ever wonder how an organization starts? Well sit back and take a walk down memory lane with me…

Diaconal Ministries Canada had its early beginnings around 1998 at a Classis renewal gathering in Chicago. Canadian ministry leaders, and folks representing Diaconal Ministries Eastern Canada, Northern Alberta Diaconal Conference, Christian Reformed World Relief Committee (now known as World Renew) and British Columbia Diaconal Conference, happened to be having lunch at a local Chicago restaurant. Discussions and conversations began, and soon there was talk about “what If… we form an umbrella (diaconal) organization from coast to coast? An organization that would be responsible for overseeing the training of deacons in the CRC from Vancouver BC. to Halifax NS?” Quite exciting stuff!

Since we were out for lunch, the only paper available was the napkins on the table. Soon these napkins became full blown flow charts with various arrows from east to west and west to east. They included circles, squares, even triangles.  Leader’s names were put in the various provinces so committees could be formed; with hope that one day these small napkins might evolve into a national organization.

It was an exciting time and after a few more years of discussions (and maybe some more napkin drawings), in 2001 Diaconal Ministries Canada was formally organized. It has grown to an organization that is the envy of many other CRC agencies.

There are approximately 20 Diaconal Ministry Developers (DMD), representing the 12 Classis across Canada, who take it upon themselves, with the help of staff, to train and build relationships with deacons coast to coast.

Have you contacted your DMD? Click here  to find out how

    -written by Gary Veeneman, DMD for Classis BC SE and NW

 

 

 

Creating Safe Spaces for Dialogue

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I remember that summer day when I was travelling with some friends in the US.  I was the only Canadian in the car and, as we pulled into the restaurant parking lot, my friend proceeded to give me a short list of conversation topics to avoid during the meal.

You see my friend and his wife had pre-decided that they were going to avoid any topics that were sure to spark debate and highlight the presence of entrenched ideological divisions within the group.

I assured my companions that I was quite naive about America’s hot button topics and so would not knowingly threaten the delicate balance that was trying to be maintained.  I then proceeded to rave about how Canadians did not find themselves so polarized about such issues.  “In general,” I boasted, “we Canadians are able to agree to  disagree over a warm cup of Timmies and with a maple syrup smile.”

Alright, so that’s not exactly what I said, but you get the gist.

When I reflect back on that experience, I am embarrassed about how naive I was.  There were, in fact, Canadian specific issues that were creating deep-seated divisions among Canada’s citizens/nations. I just was not aware of them.

I think it’s now safe to say that Canadians are not immune to the social and political issues that are polarizing groups in the United States.  There is a prevailing climate of division around justice issues surrounding refugee settlement in       Canada, Islamophobia, and oil pipeline expansion.

The question is, how do people who are called to love their neighbours [and enemies] (see Matthew 5:44) engage in matters of difference, as opposed to avoiding them?  How do we create safe spaces in our church communities for dialogue to flourish with the hope that the division gap will become smaller?

Jeanette Romkema, Partner and Senior Trainer at Global Learning Partners offers the following fantastic tips in her blog, “Tips for Entering and Staying with Tough Dialogue.”

  1. Be genuinely curious.
  2. Don’t enter to “win.”
  3. Talk less, listen more.
  4. Use good questions for understanding.
  5. Ask head and heart questions.
  6. Be gentle.
  7. Prepare yourself.
  8. Stay humble.

I encourage you to read the whole article, so you can obtain practical ways to enter one-to-one dialogue with those whom you may be in disagreement with.

One-on-one dialogues are helpful, but I think the health of our church communities is at risk if we don’t    consider how we will create space for polarizing issues to be discussed.

The Quakers have the time-worn tradition of engaging in a community dialoguing technique that they call scrupling. This was and still is a way for Quakers to engage with a difficult problem or issue as a community.  “Scrupling is not an argument, a debate or a panel discussion – but a serious conversation to seek a way forward,” (Read more here).  It was the method used in 2010 to discuss the erosion of democracy in Canada by the Harper government and the method used a century prior when discussing slaveholding.

As a facilitator who regularly convenes people in learning spaces to discuss topics and issues that make most people cringe and uncomfortable, I know it is crucial to the health of a community for people to feel that they have a safe way and space to process the difficult issues  No matter how divisive those issues have the potential to be.  Not speaking about them can lead to the adoption of entrenched positions that over time fray our bonds to each other and encourage the dehumanization of “the other.”

Paul’s warning to the Galatians is timely for the North American church today: “but if you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out, or you will be consumed by each other” (5:15, ESV).  The remedy is love (see 5:14), and it is through speaking the truth in love, that the Body of Christ grows in maturity (see Ephesians 4:15).

To make a commitment to stay at the communication line and speak the truth in love, whether we find ourselves intimately connected to the issues or distant from them, is just one of the ways that we live as ministers of reconciliation and work towards authentic unity in our communities.  It is this authentic, gritty, non-conforming, diversity loving unity that Christ says will demonstrate to the world that He was sent from the Father (see John 17:21).

So in 2017, it is clear as day to me that Canadians do not agree to disagree with a maple syrup smile.  What is not yet clear is whether Canadians and more specifically the CRC church, will respond to this growing climate of polarization with the age-old “nothing’s wrong here, everything’s fine,” or with compassion and a commitment to lean into the tough spaces.

Questions to Consider:

  1. How might not creating space for tough dialogue harm your congregation’s health, impact the wider community?
  2. What healthy and robust communication practices does your local congregation have for dealing with the difficult issues of the day?
  3. What can you do to encourage spaces for healthy dialogue in your church community?
  4. What resources/tools/support would you need to accomplish the above

– Bernadette Arthur, CRC Race Relations Coordinator

Urban Ministry Lectures

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CRC Campus Ministries (U of T) is partnering with Trinity College Faculty of Divinity, Wycliffe College, Young Street Mission and St. James Cathedral Centre to sponsor a lecture series led by Dr. Mark Gornik in Toronto on March 13 and 14, 2017.

Gornik is the author of a number of books including “To Live in Peace: Biblical Faith and the Changing Inner City”; he is also founder and director of City Seminary of New York.

Click here for the poster detailing the events or visit this website.

Christmas Reflection from DMC’s National Director

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I heard a voice thunder from the Throne: “Look! Look! God has moved into the neighborhood, making His home with men and women! They’re His people, He’s their God. He’ll wipe every tear from their eyes. Death is gone for good—tears gone, crying gone, pain gone—all the first order of things gone.” The Enthroned continued, “Look! I’m making everything new. Write it all down—each word dependable and accurate.”  (Revelation 21:3-5 The Message)

poemPastor Phil Reinders once wrote that Advent is a season of expectant waiting, tapping into the sense we have that all is not well, the longing for the world to be made right again.  It’s a season for restless hearts and people weary of a broken world who want, with all our being, to know there’s more than this.  (Seeking God’s Face.  p.23)  As deacons that’s where our hearts are at – longing to see the world made right – and doing all we can to join God where He’s already working in our neighborhoods – and around the world.

As we move to within a few days of Christmas – of incarnation day – of the day The Word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighbourhood (John 1:14 The Message), it’s my prayer that you will experience the Incarnation in a fresh and energizing way.  That no matter how busy you are – and no matter how many good works you’re involved with (Ephesians 2:10), and no matter how quickly the time flies by – you’ll sense God with you.  I pray that this Christmas you’ll pause long enough to experience the Hope, Joy, Peace, and Love that His presence in our world is supposed to bring.  And I pray that experiencing Jesus in this way will give you renewed energy – and hope – to carry on in 2017 knowing that there’s more than this!

-ron vanden brink

“Caring for our Community”: an Operation Manna update from Chilliwack, BC

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Last May, Canadian CRC congregations were blessed, through the Operation Manna (OM) campaign, to hear the story of how Heartland Fellowship CRC in Chilliwack, BC was getting to know its neighbours and blessing its community through trailbuilding. By giving to OM through the offering, churches across Canada became partners in this exciting project.  Recently, Diaconal Ministries Canada asked Heartland and the Chilliwack Park Society to update the churches on what has been happening. Marc Greidanus of the Chilliwack Park Society sent the following update.

We wish to extend a heartfelt thankyou to all the churches that have supported Operation Manna!
In partnership with Heartland Community Fellowship, the Chilliwack Park Society has enjoyed a fun and productive season.  Our Community Forest park project with the City of Chilliwack has been a great success.  trailbuilding2The park is open and seeing lots of use, especially from young families.  Unity Christian School’s woodworking class built a beautiful bridge and viewdeck out of donated cedar.  The kids from the Ed Centre, Chilliwack’s alternative high school, have provided hundreds of volunteer hours, gotten their exercise and put their passion into the trails.

quiettimeKylie Greidanus, working with the local school district, has created a full day forest field trip curriculum for local elementary schools and has taken many classes into the forest, from kindergarten to grade 3.  In addition to hiking, learning about forest succession and the local flora and fauna, the kids most enjoyed their quiet time in the forest, where they are encouraged to draw what they see, hear and smell.

(left): Holly Vermette from Heartland, enjoying her quiet time.

Finally, our society was able to mobilize community volunteers and clear and repair most of Chilliwack’s most popular local hiking trails for everyone to enjoy.  A fantastic season!  Thank you Operation Manna and the CRC for supporting us in caring for our community!

3 Ways a Partnership with Operation Manna can help your church in local ministry.

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How might a partnership with Operation Manna help your church in local ministry?

Do you and your fellow church members have a desire to walk with your neighbours? Did you know that Operation Manna has been helping churches establish important and impactful local ministries for more than 45 years?

In 2016 alone, Diaconal Ministries Canada worked with more than 30 churches and ministry partners to help them establish and grow. Heartland Fellowship CRC, in Chilliwack, BC, is just one of those churches. They partnered with their community to build trails through a local forest, which has opened up exciting connections within the community. They’re the feature of a video that we just posted to tell the Operation Manna story. You can watch it here.

But first, here are three ways that Operation Manna can help your church in local ministry:

1. Diaconal Ministries Canada has experienced staff dedicated to the Operation Manna program.

  • We provide support to your ministry through prayer, encouragement and consultation (planning, organizing, training, or even providing a “sounding board” for your ideas and vision).
  • We connect you to other ministries and churches across Canada involved in similar ministries for learning and sharing.
  • We provide excellent tools to help you develop your ministry.

2. Diaconal Ministries Canada makes grant money available to churches for their ministries.

  • These grants might be needed to help to start a program or ministry.
  • They might also help a church or ministry with limited financial resources be able to partner with others in the community.
  • They might help your church develop a current ministry further or to move it in a new direction.

3. As part of our network, your ministry will be given more exposure and promotion in your Classis and across the country.

Looking for more information? You can find it here.

(above photo: Good News Fellowship CRC walks with their neighbours through the ministry of the Indigenous Family Centre in Winnipeg, MB)

Developing Spiritual Gifts: mentoring deacons and more

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“So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up…” (Ephesians 4:11-12)

The Taskforce report on Elders and Deacons roles in ministry has presented opportunities for teaching and unpacking how leaders in the church can integrate word and deed ministry practically. DMC staff has spent time reflecting and building on our Ephesians 4 vision for diaconal leadership. These insights have sparked innovative development of resources for churches to identify spiritual gifts in members of the congregations and how to mentor others in developing those gifts.

To this end, DMC staff has designed new resources and a workshop to support churches in discovering the gifts within the Body of Christ. Please consider if these resources would interest your local church:

  1. Discovering Spiritual Gifts – this workshop includes a personal gifts questionnaire, teaching surrounding spiritual gifts in general, the specific gifts and how to implement them. It concludes with a component called “Releasing Ourselves and Others for Ministry” that teaches engagement and interdependence within the community of believers.
  1. Asset Mapping in the Congregation – this resource uses the principles of ABCD (Asset-Based Community Development) to discover the gifts of a faith community and its resources. This tool works well in conjunction with the Community Opportunity Scan in bringing to light areas where the gifts within a neighbourhood can connect with the gifts of a local church.
  1. Mentoring Planthis resource includes teaching around mentoring – what it is, biblical basis, and what it could look like. We have also developed a general plan for more experienced deacons wishing to mentor new deacons. DMC staff can collaborate with a deacon team to customize a mentoring strategy.

Holding the Ephesians 4 vision for diaconal leadership can transform the way we look at calling people to the offices of elder and deacon. The challenge of equipping and preparing lay leaders in the church is also our opportunity. From there, the task of leadership includes equipping others for works of service. We hope that these further workshop and resource offerings from DMC can assist churches in raising up leaders, mentoring young people in discovering their gifts, and using the assets of a faith community for God’s kingdom work.

Looking for more resources for deacons? Click here!

NEW! Devotion #7

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Here is the seventh devotion for deacons in the latest set of devotionals from Diaconal Ministries Canada (DMC).

In our conversations with deacons across the country, DMC often summarizes the ministry of the deacon into 4 areas: community ministry, compassion, justice, and stewardship. This devotion is the first of 3 to focus on deacons and justice.

Each devotion is available in a package with additional resources and discussion questions.

We pray that you will be blessed by these devotions, and that, together, your diaconate may grow and deepen its relationship with each other and the church and community you serve.

Download devotion 7.

Visit the devotion webpage for the earlier devotions in this set, as well as the complete first set of devotions.