Celebrating the 4th in the City - Adria Medlen
Since moving to the city almost 10 years ago (14 years for Andrew), the 4th of July has become one of our favorite holidays. It's not the fireworks or the barbeque or the patriotism that makes it special for our family, although, those are all nice things. Celebrating the 4th in the city, with all its excitement and community, has come to represent so much of what we love about our urban neighborhoods.
It is one of the best days of the year to get to know people because everyone's family and friends mingle with everyone else's family and friends as the excitement spills from the front yards to the streets. The smell of barbeque intertwines with the smoke from firecrackers, a tantalizing hint of things to come as a parade of bouncing red, white, and blue beads on the end of little girls' braids begin the percussion of the night.
Sharing sparklers and small talk with neighbors and exchanging names and barbeque makes the night fun as well as an important ministry experience. As night falls, the boom and crackle of fireworks fill the air and continue on until long after you want to be asleep. However, as we try to drift off to sleep—well after midnight— we will embrace the pops and flashes through our bedroom window for the inroads to new relationships and Kingdom opportunities.
Sometimes difficult things also happen that remind us why the Lord is working to free and heal lives in the city. Excitement can turn volatile as parties go late into the night, but even in these moments there are opportunities to be part of our neighbors' lives in deeper ways.
It is these things that make the 4th of July one of our favorite holidays. And now, my husband Andrew and I love that we can celebrate these things as a family as we introduce our sons to the experience. I don't think I've missed a 4th in the city since moving to North St. Louis so many years ago and I hope that never changes.
Adria Medlen is a World Impact missionary serving in the Midwest.
Why Black Churches Should Matter to All - Efrem Smith
I posted on Facebook recently, "#BlackChurchesMatter." Some of the responses proclaimed, "All Churches Matter." Well, of course that is true. This is just like when some have stated that "Black Lives Matter", some have responded with, "All Lives Matter." Again, my response would be, of course all lives matter. Let me just state that all lives matter to God and all churches matter to God. But that is not the concentrated point. Before people provide any response to #BlackLivesMatter or #BlackChurchesMatter we should take time to explore why these statements need to be proclaimed in the first place.
As the President of World Impact, it's important for me to deal with this issue. World Impact traces its roots back to the Watts Riots of 1965. At the time, this predominantly Black community faced issues of substandard housing, poor education and tensions with police. The riots broke out because of an incident between the police and an African-American young man, his mother, and his brother. So, our ministry began with missional and transformational caring for urban, under-resourced Black lives.
Let me provide a biblical foundation for why Black Lives Matter and Black Churches Matter; however, my theology may be very different from any particular social movement using these terms.
For a biblical foundation of this model for missional and transformational care, I would encourage you to read the Gospel of John, chapter 4. Even though all lives mattered to Christ as He walked the earth, He went out of His way to show that Samaritan lives mattered. He had to do this because of how Samaritans were viewed and treated socially at the time. It was a part of His demonstration and declaration of the Kingdom of God to go through Samaria. If you read all four Gospels, you will see how Christ went out of His way to show that Women Mattered (Luke 10), Children Mattered (Matt. 19:14), and the Sick Mattered (Matt 12:10-13). There were multiple times when Christ zeroed in on a certain group and lifted up their humanity, their dignity, and showed how they mattered.
In the Old Testament, God the Father had to remind His own chosen people that the Poor, the Needy, the Widows, and the Stranger Mattered. Whenever God concentrates on a specific group this doesn't mean that other groups in the human family no longer matter. It's really about God giving attention to a particular group that has been marginalized, oppressed, or viewed outside the vision of the Kingdom of God. So the deeper biblical question is why did God have to do this? Why did God have to say to His chosen people and to the world: Poor Lives Matter, Needy Lives Matter, Samaritan Lives Matter, or Incarcerated Lives Matter? When Christ states in Matthew 25 that Hungry, Thirsty, Foreign, Incarcerated, or Homeless lives matter, should the response have been, "Hey Christ, don't All Lives Matter?" I think not. The response should be to investigate the connection between marginalized people mattering, intimacy with God, and being a citizen of the Kingdom of God.
There is a continuing history in the United States that calls us to question if Black Lives Matter, if Black Churches Matter, if the Poor Matter. The response is not to declare all lives matter, which is very true, but to be sensitive enough to investigate through the love, grace, and unselfishness of Christ why Black lives, Black churches, and the Poor should be of utmost importance to all of us right now. Just like Christ had to go to Samaria, we must now go to the Black Church and into the Black Community for understanding and missional purpose.
The Black Church and the God-given aspects of African-American Culture, are gifts for the whole body of Christ. The disparities facing African Americans in the areas of incarceration, education, economics, health care, and housing should concern all Americans. The devaluing of Black bodies should be all of our concern. Dismantling racism in all its forms should be the proactive work of all Churches. This may take the whole body of Christ being willing to say that, "Black is beautiful and the Black Church is valuable to us all." We should all be concerned and actively doing something in response to the nine Black Christians that were murdered in Charleston, South Carolina. We should all be concerned about Black Churches that have been burning over the last week. We should all care about the life transformation and empowerment of both the Poor, the Marginalized, and the Incarcerated. This should be deeply tied to our work of evangelism, discipleship, and the advancement of the Kingdom of God.
Black Lives Matter because all Lives Matter and Black Churches Matter because all Churches Matter. At World Impact we have been about the work of Poor Lives, Urban Lives, Black Lives, and Brown Lives mattering for a long time. It's because these and all matter to a loving, gracious, and all powerful God.
These lives and all lives were made in the Image of God, and they all matter to Him. But today we stand and say, #BlackLivesMatter and #BlackChurchesMatter, because today more voices are needed.
My Taste of Heaven - Amber Carter
When you stop for a moment and imagine what worshipping God in Heaven will look, sound, or feel like, what do you imagine? Do you imagine you are standing shoulder-to-shoulder with family members that you have not seen in years? Do you see the person(s) that you led to Christ but lost touch with?
I see myself standing next to the repentant criminal that hung next to Jesus on the cross.
This was not always how I imagined heaven. My view has changed as I have enjoyed the privilege of being a part of the planning team for an ever-growing regional women's retreat in the Midwest. I also have the privilege of seeing the regional men's conference through testimonies, videos and photos and it is just as heavenly. Each year, over 350 men and women attend our regional retreats. The women gather each spring and the men each fall. Both weekends are completely different and uniquely similar at the same time.
When they arrive on a Friday evening and the calm and quiet of MSR Camp & Retreat Center is transformed. At the women's retreat, Martha's loud giggle can be heard for miles over the Flint Hills of Kansas and a tight hug from Vicki quickly erases a year of not being able to see her in person. Pastor Odum's (pictured above) enthusiasm upon arriving at Men's Conference with a busload of men from Topeka starts to spread and the energy level steadily climbs.
Vicki has faithfully made the seven-hour drive from St. Louis to the retreat alone for the past two years. She is the legal guardian of her three grandchildren, so she does not find much time for herself. At the retreat, she connected with women that share her same struggles of living in an inner city neighborhood filled with crime. But she also shares that "little light of mine" that burns so bright in a dark world. She left the retreat filled and ready to take on all that God has given her.
Pastor Odum enjoyed watching his men bond with each other and with the men from other Midwest churches while they were "out in the middle of nowhere." Retreats are a chance for men to get away from the everyday life and just be with their Brothers. Pastor Odum's church in Topeka brought three men their first year. They came back with eleven the next! He is already looking forward to the October conference this year because he knows it will, once again, be "off the chain!"
My little taste of heaven comes when everyone arrives in the meeting hall and the band begins to play. The chatter turns into singing and suddenly, we are all the same. The preacher's wife stands shoulder-to-shoulder with a woman who was only recently released from jail where she met Jesus. The woman who spent a lifetime hiding her shame and guilt of a life of drugs and crime stands shoulder-to-shoulder with a woman that came out of that life and now has a rehabilitation center and resources to share. The men's conference is no different. The man that came reluctantly because he did not want to take time off from his well-paying job stands shoulder-to-shoulder with a man that has been out of work for a year and is living in the rescue mission. The man who presents himself stronger than he really feels finds strength in a brotherhood of believers that allows him to put it all at the feet of Jesus.
When Jesus hung on that cross—shouldering all my sin and rejected from his Father—he still had eternity in mind. He extended his grace to a man that so desperately needed it. Our Midwest Regional Men's and Women's Conferences and Retreats are just that, a taste of eternity. So we can all go back and fight the good fight in a dark world.
It is not just my imagination that sees these 350 men and women standing strong together, knowing they are empowered to fight the battle of darkness through the strength of a mighty God. I have seen it with my own eyes. This is real. Palpable. Tangible.
Amber Carter leads the Communication Team for the Midwest Region and assists in the Wichita hospitality ministry.