The Church and Ferguson - Efrem Smith
As President and CEO of World Impact, a follower of Christ, and an African-American male, I have been deeply grieved by the death of Michael Brown and the events that have followed in Ferguson, Missouri. Unfortunately, this is not an isolated incident. Many young African-American lives have been lost across the country this summer in altercations with the police, gang violence, and other forms of deeply-rooted conflict. It does not help that this all occurs at a time where there is significant racial, political, and theological divides in our nation.
World Impact was founded over 43 years ago out of the rubble and smoke of urban riots. God called this ministry into the city with the missional priorities of Evangelism, Equipping, and Empowerment among the Unreached Urban Poor. At that time African Americans were the most visible sign of the need for economic, institutional, and political change in the country. Many of the systemic, institutional, and spiritual warfare dynamics that existed then connected to race, class, and values still haunt us today. It is no coincidence that the conflicts and challenges that we are witnessing are taking place in urban and surrounding under-resourced communities. There is a great opportunity for the Church, Para Church Ministries, and Urban Missions Organizations to rise up as examples of the reconciliation, justice, healing, and transformation that comes through the declaration and demonstration of the Kingdom of God.
To walk into this great opportunity, the Body of Christ must take responsibility and act as Nehemiah did in the Old Testament. Many under-resourced communities are the way they are because of historic White Flight, Upper Middle-Class Black Flight, and Resourced Church Flight. There are also public policy and economic factors that play a role. At the same time, we must ask ourselves if we value young African-American males enough to father them, pastor them, listen to them, protect them, and provide tough love when needed. We must also own as the Church that we have not taken seriously social ills such as racial profiling and a broken criminal justice system. I praise God for the Urban Churches and Ministries that have remained committed to under-resourced communities, but the efforts of the Body of Christ have not been enough.
I lovingly call the Church everywhere to reevaluate its commitment to reconciliation, justice, and transformation for those that need it most.
Efrem Smith, President and CEO
A Wedding You Won't Read About in People Magazine - Tina Busenitz
These days, weddings have taken on a life of their own. One only has to open People magazine to see the extravagance of the latest Kardashian wedding: horse-drawn carriages, private jets, lavish gowns and jewelry—all totaling over $28 million! As a missionary who regularly witnesses the devastation of poverty, I can't help but think what good a fraction of that money could have done if given to a charity or non-profit organization…but I digress. Of course, we know celebrity weddings tend to be over-the-top affairs. However, the average American wedding is quickly following suit. According to some stats, the average American wedding costs between 20 and 29 thousand dollars!
All of this was lodged in the back of my mind as my husband Daren and I made our way to Hutchinson Correctional Facility to attend a very different kind of wedding. Daren was about to officiate his first ceremony in a prison. The groom is a TUMI (The Urban Ministry Institute) student with a genuine desire to grow in his knowledge of the Lord. The bride is a Christian woman who also loves the Lord and is raising a teenage son. Daren was honored do their premarital counseling, where he saw both were excited and eager to serve the Lord together.
We followed the wedding party (a few family members and the bride) into the prison. Getting in was a long and complicated process of removing shoes, jewelry and getting visitors' passes—imagine going through security at the airport. Amidst all this, I couldn't help but notice the glowing bride. Despite all the hassles and restrictions of having her wedding in a prison—no digital cameras, having to change into her gown in the bathroom—she could barely contain her excitement. She was minutes away from marrying the love of her life.
We proceeded through several gates, the prison common area and up a narrow flight of stairs to a row of classrooms. We arrived at the classroom where the ceremony would take place. There was no air conditioning and the only items in the room were a few mismatched plastic chairs, a folding table and an old wooden podium. There were no decorated pews, no beautiful candelabras or organ music. The only photographer was me and all I had was one disposable camera. Despite all this, the wedding was beautiful because it was centered on the love of two people who had dedicated themselves to God and each other. The bride was glowing and the groom was elated. During the ceremony, both bride and groom read aloud the stories of how God had drawn them together and to Himself. Many tears were shed as they recalled the broken road that led them together and ultimately to Christ.
As Daren pronounced them husband and wife, the small gathering of family let out a cheer. Both the bride and groom had looks of utter joy on their faces even though they would soon be separated. They only had 30 minutes following the ceremony before the groom had to be back in his cell.
During the ceremony, I couldn't help but compare this simple wedding to so many others I had witnessed. While it may have lacked some of the niceties we typically take for granted, like special music, candles or wedding cake, it had something so much more valuable: a wedding centered on Christ. The focus of the ceremony was so clear. It wasn't a photo op or something that would make a cute Facebook post—it was about two people committed to one another and Jesus Christ. To me, that's a wedding I want to read about in People magazine.
Tina Busenitz is a World Impact missionary in Wichita, Kansas.
Growing Excitement for Reading in Newark - Faith Watts
To decide how they feel about a book, my students look at the cover, read the title, and—if vaguely intrigued—flip open the book to see the pictures, or lack thereof. Sometimes they seek out a specific book because they enjoy the author or someone else in the class has read it, but most of the time, the cover becomes the deciding factor. Because I want them to read, I say nothing about their judging of books by the cover.
Enter the fifth-grade reading circle, where novels have filled our year. Many books greet us with one cover picture or perhaps different printings provide us with different pictures. Slowly but surely, each story pulls us in. The characters become our friends. Their trials and troubles become our problems to solve. We are convinced that the author might have said more to us than the mere words on the page. The challenges of the lives in a story apply to our lives in the real world. Their successes and failures show us more than we might have seen on our own. One student recently commented, "These books are really interesting! If I had just looked at this cover, I would have thought it was an adult book and was going to be boring because it didn't have any pictures, but this is really exciting!"
The excitement for learning warms my heart. As I direct discussions and give meaningful assignments, it can bring the written word to life. The Bible is a book often without pictures, and the fifth-graders are being encouraged to read it for themselves. I am thankful for quality devotional materials that help my students read the Word and apply it to their lives. I watch as students joyfully lead each other in devotions during Bible class once a week. They dutifully prepare and share with the group when it is their week to lead, volunteer to pray over lunch, and share about the special events at their respective churches, but it does not always produce excitement for the God we sing to in chapel.
As a teacher, I pray that the interest and joy of learning remains as these fifth graders move into middle school. I pray that their interest in God becomes more than teacher/parent/pastor-directed discovery. I pray for committed devotion to the excitement in following Jesus. I pray that their devotion inspires the students around them. I pray that these students will be used by God to further focus the middle school and entire student body on Him. Praise God for His perfect Word, which is much more than any book cover could ever boast.
Faith Watts is a teacher at Newark Christian School in New Jersey. To support Faith, click here. Click to Change Destination > Staff by Ministry > Newark Christian School > Faith Watts