Friday, April 22, 2011

Midtrip Report of Sorts

Nope, haven't been blogging. I'm overseas investigating a project that might be sensitive - that's actually part of what I'm trying to figure out. As a person who is better at finding reasons not to do things, seeing what could go wrong, that is stretching my faith. The ambiguity is too high for me.

On the plus side, practical matters (shared with a partner and with lots of people we can call on for help and advice while we're here) have been quite manageable. Basic stuff like food, shopping, money, transportation, etc. have been relatively easy. Well, easy for me. I've thrown too much on my partner, I think, as if these things are not hard for her too.

When we are able to cross the linguistic boundaries many of those we meet do not seem so different in mindset and way of life as the folks in some of the other places I have been. Though I gather there are still plenty of people out in tiny, isolated villages for whom life is quite different. We're spending most of our time in the big city.

Internet access here is not difficult but not having my own laptop, I haven't had time to blog. It's pretty low on the priority list. Have put a few things on Facebook, though.

Just a few more days here. We fly out early on Wednesday.

Pray for health, hope, perseverance, unity, and - most especially - eyes to see what to make of this trip and what our next steps might be.

I find it most helpful to assume we're going to continue pursuing a project here for the future but that may or may not be the case. If we are, it is my hope to continue the networking and research I began before we came. Will I do it? Hope so. I have comforted myself with such assurances in the past, through, only to see them erode pretty quickly. Anyway, now I have a much better grid for evaluating what may come my way. I know what my questions are. May even try to set up some Skype appointments before we leave.

Friday, April 08, 2011

Personal Newsletters - All about Me or Something Good for You?

Just sent another newsletter of the sort I keep telling myself I shouldn't be writing. Or, at least not every time. Yes, it was chock full of me: what I've been doing, what I'm doing next. Once you start writing such missives it is hard to stop. The urge to report back on everything you mentioned before is hard to resist (especially if you asked for prayer). 

Well, some of this is appropriate. One reason I send newsletters at all is to keep people informed of and connected with what I'm doing. I send them to friends and supporters, people who like me and want to know what I'm up to. But I also write to build a bridge to my readers and give them something they can use: resources, links, things to chew on or smile about. 

I think I could do both and still stay in the ballpark of 1000 words. I could make my main article something for you and keep the stuff about me to a bulleted list or two. Or even if the main article was about me, there's room for some smaller items with takeaways for you. 

Perhaps the best newsletters blend the two. They share the writer's thoughts or experiences in a way that invites the reader to relate, engage, and join the conversation. 



Thursday, April 07, 2011

Collaborative Community Ministry

(Continued from yesterday's post.)

While I was in Anchorage I had the chance to hear a presentation from what I think must be an unusual ministry.  Anchorage Faith & Action - Congregations Together (AFACT) is a network formed in 2003 by eight churches in order to mobilize their congregations to  address quality-of-life issues in the city of Anchorage. It now includes fifteen churches from six denominations with a combined attendance of about 10,000 people from various parts of the city.

A few things impressed me about AFACT. One is that they are not just trying to fix the problems they see, they are empowering ordinary people with the techniques they will need to go out and find out what others  in their communities really consider the problems to be. They discover and respond to gaps in health and safety, youth issues and education.

One pastor shared that when they did the grassroots neighborhood research, none of the things he had put on his top-ten list of issues made the top-ten lists of people in the neighborhood where his church was situated. Only when you go out and talk to people can you find out what the areas of greatest community concern really are. So if you want to build bridges and bring the changes that really matter to people, you have to put aside your pre-decided solutions; you have to listen and learn what people care about.

I believe that a listening ear is one of the greatest gifts anyone can give. Sounds like AFACT has discovered the same. Lots of churches plan community programs and service projects and go door to door to talk to people about Jesus or their church, but when you do that you're lucky to get a few positive, two-minute conversations out of a whole afternoon of trying. Whereas they have found that when the Christians introduce themselves as being part of AFACT and ask people what they are concerned about, they find much greater receptivity.

This ministry also empowers people to respond to the issues once they discover what they are. The 3.5-day leadership training helps those who attend understand how issue advocacy really works. They learn about power structures and community resources. They find ways that ordinary people can effectively work for the common good of the people in their communities.

Will I ever write that book about "the ministry of listening" that's been on my mind these last few years? If I do, I'll want to interview community organizers like the people from AFACT and see what they've learned along the way.

>> Learn more about AFACT. If you run into others doing this sort of thing, let me know, OK?

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Collaborative Community Ministry: Anchorage, AK

While I was in Alaska one of my hosts invited me to  pastors meetings in two different cities. Game for most anything, I said sure. Women don't usually get to experience these things; I was curious. I also breathed a sigh of relief that to learn the breakfast meeting was at 8:00, not 6:00 like so many men's breakfasts. Things wrapped up with an hour to spare before making the the 40-mile trek to a lunch meeting in the other city.   

I don't think I actually contributed anything to either gathering. Except exchanging smiles and handshakes and drinking my share of the coffee. But I was sure glad I went. It gave me a glimpse of what the churches in the Anchorage area are doing. So encouraging! 

That pastors from different churches would get together on a regular basis is not so common. They tend to be quite busy. And then there are some "turf" issues. Most ministers have at least a few friendships with fellow pastors outside their denominations, maybe beyond just the folks they went to seminary with. But to deliberately and regularly gather and collaborate with other leaders from "competing" congregations and radically different traditions? That's kind of uncomfortable, and it's unusual. 

The pastors of Anchorage have been doing it for a long time. About 40 years now. Currently that means lunch meetings every Thursday. People come when they can. They take turns hosting the meeting. Everybody gets to introduce themselves, and there is a time to share about upcoming events or particular prayer needs. The day I went they were discussing re-instituting annual or semiannual prayer retreats where they would get out of town for a few days to spend time praying with and for one another. How cool is that? And how necessary! So good to be with others who do the same kind of work and face the same kind of pressures. People who understand, and who are committed to look to God with whatever comes up. 

"One of the best parts of our prayer retreats, for me," said one guy, "was hearing about the different churches' callings. It seems as if God has given us different ministries for a reason. We do one thing and you do something else. It's in our DNA. I can see how God has things 'covered'!" 

This group is part of  a larger network of Christians who recognize their unity in essential matters. They have formed a group called the Church of Anchorage. Some eighty churches belong. They work together to reach out and serve the people of their city. I think it started off with things like collaborating on a Billy Graham Crusade or JESUS film distribution project. They coordinate their children's ministries; they serve the homeless. Currently they are involved in "52 weeks of prayer" through which different prayer groups and ministries commit to a week of prayer over their city. After the formal meeting, several were getting together to talk about a Good Friday service: that they would have a joint service was almost a given. The guys at the breakfast meeting in the "Mat Su" Valley were planning a similar event, both in local high schools. 

Come back tomorrow and I'll tell you about another way Christians in Anchorage are working together.

 1 How good and pleasant it is
   when God’s people live together in unity!
 2 It is like precious oil poured on the head,
   running down on the beard,
running down on Aaron’s beard,
   down on the collar of his robe.
3 It is as if the dew of Hermon
   were falling on Mount Zion.
For there the LORD bestows his blessing,
   even life forevermore.

Psalm 133

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Making Good Tables

"In nothing has the church so lost her hold on reality as in her failure to understand and respect the secular vocation. She has allowed work and religion to become separate departments, and is astonished to find that, as a result, the secular work of the world is turned to purely selfish and destructive ends, and that the greater part of the world’s intelligent workers have become irreligious, or at least, uninterested in religion.

"But is it astonishing? How can anyone remain interested in a religion which seems to have no concern with nine-tenths of his life? The church’s approach to an intelligent carpenter is usually confined to exhorting him not to be drunk and disorderly in his leisure hours, and to come to church on Sundays. What the church should be telling him is this: that the very first demand that his religion makes on him is to make good tables...."

Dorothy Sayers, Creed or Chaos, Sophia Press, 1949, 1974, pg 77-78. (HT my friend D., who writes at Russell and Duenes)