Dejected…and Rejoicing

By Scott Armstrong

As many in the Nazarene world and beyond are aware, a week ago a Boeing 737 airliner with more than 110 passengers and crew crashed Friday near Jose Marti International Airport in Havana, Cuba, shortly after takeoff. The plane, Cubana Flight 972, was on its way to Holguín, Cuba, when it went down about 12 p.m. local time.

On board the aircraft, 10 couples from the East District were on their way back to their home Province of Holguín after being part of a National Conference for pastors from the Church of the Nazarene. In the days after, expressions of grief and solidarity were expressed from the General Superintendents and brothers and sisters around the globe. On May 21, Dr. Carla Sunberg dedicated her message at the Global Ministry Center’s chapel service to the couples who were killed and the family members and Cuban leaders who are picking up the pieces after this tragedy.

In the Dominican Republic the missionaries and National Office leadership met, as we do every week, for devotions and prayer.  This time the mood was somber.  We knew the right theology: God is sovereign.  He has a plan.  He offers eternal life to those who die in Him.  However, the questions remained: why did this happen? Why didn’t God stop this? What about the ten orphaned children who are now weeping and will not see their parents on this side of heaven?

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In the midst of such struggle, the Nazarene Compassionate Ministries’ Coordinator for the Central Field (Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Panama, and Puerto Rico), Paquita Bidó, began to read from Psalm 100.

“Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth.

Worship the Lord with gladness;

come before him with joyful songs.

Know that the Lord is God.

It is he who made us, and we are his;

we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.

 

Enter his gates with thanksgiving

and his courts with praise;

give thanks to him and praise his name.

For the Lord is good and his love endures forever;

his faithfulness continues through all generations.”

Worshipping with gladness? Joyful songs? Thanksgiving and praise? Clearly, this is not a lament Psalm!

Paquita acknowledged that we mourn with our Cuban family, and we recognize our bewilderment.  We must not explain away this devastating loss with trite words of affirmation or theological maxims.  At the same time, she explained that she brought this psalm to us as an expression of faith in the very midst of sorrow.  The Lord is God; we are not.  He is Creator, and we are his creation.  As sheep, we enjoy the care of the Shepherd and obey his voice.  What a privilege to serve him for as long as he gives us breath.

Paquita continued.  If we proclaim that God is faithful only in the good times, then what good is that? Our trust would be based merely on circumstances going our way and not on a loving Father who allows pain in our lives because he knows best.  However, we do, in fact, declare that He is good, and His love endures forever, even in – or especially in – this bitter reality confronting us.  And his faithfulness is promised not only to us, but it continues through all generations.

In the light of this reality, and even in the midst of sadness, we shout for joy!  Our tears co-mingle with thanks and praise.  God is good.  Still. Even now.

Our entire region is devastated. We have mobilized to give and pray for Cuba.  And as we weep, we also rejoice that we serve a good and faithful God.  Yes, his love endures forever.

Hope in the Midst of Grief

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On May 21, 2018, 
General Superintendent Carla D. Sunberg delivered the message at the morning’s Global Ministry Center chapel service. The Nazarene pastor couples killed in Friday’s plane crash were honored as their names were read aloud, and Dr. Sunberg reminded us of the hope we have in Christ even in the midst of grief.

Loss Felt by Global Family: BGS Statement on Cuba Tragedy

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The Board of General Superintendents, Church of the Nazarene, extends its heartfelt love, passionate prayers, and deepest condolences to the families of all affected by the Friday, May 18 plane crash in Havana, Cuba.

It was with heavy hearts we learned that 10 Nazarene pastoral couples were among the 100-plus people who lost their lives in this tragedy. They had just completed a national conference for the Cuba Nazarene Church.

“Sharon and I had the privilege of being at the Cuba East District Assembly in January,” said David W. Graves, jurisdictional general superintendent for the denomination’s Mesoamerica Region. “We were touched by their love and passion for Jesus and the Church of the Nazarene. Our hearts are heavy for the families, churches, and the district, and the loss is personally felt by our global family.”

We are comforted by the report from Rev. López, president of the Church of the Nazarene in Cuba, who said the couples were singing, praying, and testifying on their way to the airport. The promise of the resurrection assures us that we will be reunited in praising and worshiping God together.

We grieve with the families of those who lost their loved ones. We also grieve with Regional Director Rev. Carlos Sáenz, Rev. Leonel López, and East District Superintendent Rev. Luis Batista during this time. May the Lord carry the children of these mothers and fathers, surrounding them with His all-embracing peace and love that transcends our understanding.

To Nazarenes around the world, please continue to join us in prayer for all affected by this tragic loss. We embrace Christ’s mandate to console the grieving and care for the widows and orphans.

To Cuban Nazarenes, East District churches, and all hurting in that nation today, we love you. You are truly our brothers and sisters in Christ. We mourn with you, hurt with you, pray for you, and will continue to lift you up in prayer in the days, months, and years ahead.

Our prayer is that God’s peace will guard your hearts and minds (Philippians 4:7). May you hold on to the reality that God, our “Lord gives strength to his people; the Lord blesses his people with peace” (Psalm 29:11). Our prayer is for the peace of Christ to be with the people of Cuba during this time of grief and pain.

We are grateful for and we remember their consecrated lives:

  • Mirza Rodríguez Rondón & Juan Luis Vega Velázquez
  • Luis Manuel Rojas Pérez & Maricela Peña
  • Norma Suárez Niles & Jesús Manuel García Oberto
  • María Virgen Filandez Rojas & Rafael Vega Velázquez
  • Ronni Alain Pupo Pupo & Yurisel Milagros Miranda Mulet (Nazarene Missions International district president)
  • Eloy Ortiz Abad & Elva María Mosqueda Legrá
  • Juan Carlos Nogueras Leyva & Noelbis Hernández Guerrero
  • Gelover Martín Pérez Avalo & Yoneisi Cordovez Rodríguez (pastor and district treasurer)
  • Manuel David Aguilar Saavedra & María Salomé Sánchez Arévalo (district secretary)
  • Grisell Filandes Clark & Lorenzo Boch Bring

This article was originally published at: nazarene.org

Praying for Cuba

A Boeing 737 airliner with more than 110 passengers and crew crashed Friday near Jose Marti International Airport in Havana, Cuba, shortly after takeoff. The plane, Cubana Flight 972, was on its way to Holguin, Cuba, when it went down about 12 p.m. local time.

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On board the aircraft, 10 couples from the East District were on their way back to their home Province of Holguín after being part of a National Conference for pastors from the Church of the Nazarene.

It’s been confirmed that on the flight the following pastoral couples perished:

  1. Mirza Rodriguez Rondón and Juan Luis Vega Velazquez.
  2. Luis Manuel Rojas Perez and Maricela Peña.
  3. Norma Suarez Niles and Jesus Manuel Garcia Oberto.
  4. Maria Virgen Filandez Rojas and Rafael Vega Velazquez.
  5. Ronni Alain Pupo Pupo and Yurisel Milagros Miranda Mulet.
  6. Eloy Ortiz Abad and Elva Maria Mosqueda Legra.
  7. Juan Carlos Nogueras Leyva and Noelbis Hernandez Guerrero.
  8. Gelover Martin Perez Avalo and Yoneisi Cordovez Rodriguez.
  9. Manuel David Aguilar Saavedra and Maria Salome Sanchez Arevalo.
  10. Grisell Filandes Clark and Lorenzo Boch Bring.

As a result of this, 8 children (7 boys and 1 girl) and 2 adolescents were left without their parents, all between 7 and 15 years old.  Many adult children were left without their parents as well.

The president of the Church of the Nazarene in Cuba, Rev. Leonel J. Lopez said: “In this moment of anguish and pain, we ask for all your prayers and help to be able to get through this situation together.”

Nazarene Compassionate Ministries in Mesoamerica Region invites you to be part of the response to the families that have been affected by the plane crash:

  • Praying.
  • Raising offerings in local churches on Sunday, May 27, 2018.

The offerings must be sent by each district to their field office; the field office will send the total received to the regional office for its proper use.

“May all the family of the Church of the Nazarene unite in prayer on behalf of our brothers and sisters,” Dr. Carlos Saenz, Regional Director, said.

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Flags are currently at half-mast across Cuba as part of a nation-wide two days of mourning.

Stay informed through the official regional website: mesoamericaregion.org, and the website of the Church of the Nazarene: nazarene.org; and also through Facebook and Twitter.

– Church of the Nazarene, Mesoamerica Communications.

Genesis Re-entry Retreat – 2018

At the start of May of this year, volunteer missionaries that were sent to Genesis sites in Guadalajara, Mexico and Santiago, Dominican Republic: Laritza del Carmen, Natali Novelo, Nhasyeli Rodríguez, Sugey Barrón and Wendy Rivera, completed their 2-year assignment. To wrap up their time of service, they were part of a retreat in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic where they remembered and shared their experiences from the mission field. It was a time of reflection for each missionary, as well as a time of giving thanks for having completed their mission.

The five missionaries expressed joy for having shared their lives with people that became friends and family to them, and for those that they were able to teach, disciple and guide in the Christian life; the missionaries also expressed their thankfulness for having been part of this initiative of the Church of the Nazarene.

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Laritza, Sugey, Natali, Nhasyeli and Wendy.

The churches of San Martín and Las Pintas, in Guadalajara, Mexico, have seen a transformation and know that the mission will continue in the communities where they are located. Also, the neighborhoods of Cecara and Banegas in Santiago, Dominican Republic, were blessed and impacted with the message of holiness.

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The missionaries with Naomi and Gary Faucett, Genesis Missionary Care facilitators.

We praise God that the leaders of both sites have captured the vision of the Genesis initiative. Likewise, it is a blessing to see the host districts with such a great ambition to continue supporting further missions work and encouraging the new churches that have been planted.

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The returning missionaries with Scott, Emily and Freya.

We know that God will continue using the lives of Laritza, Natali, Nhas, Sugey and Wendy wherever the Lord leads them. For now, they have returned to their local churches and districts in order to share everything that God has done through their lives and to inspire others to respond to God’s call and continue being a part of His mission. Thanks to all those who have supported the work of Genesis through giving and prayer so that Guadalajara and Santiago could be changed by the ministry of these missionaries!

Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.”
1 Corinthians 15:58

Still Not Jaded: Part Two of a Plea to Resist Cynicism in Life and Ministry

Scott Armstrong

In the previous post, I shared a story of being a new to the mission field and confronting some hard truths of conflict and politics in the Church. Were the words to me from a trusted veteran missionary correct? Was I eventually going to become jaded like everyone else?

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I determined then and there that I would not let it happen.  I would battle against cynicism and disillusionment.  The following suggestions have helped me enormously in the years of ministry since:

  1. Start to date again. Just as marriages can become dry and passionless after years of routine and the stresses of life, so also our spiritual lives must be tended to intentionally and creatively. What was it like when you first met God or when he first called you? What were the dreams he planted in you? What do you love most about serving God? It may be that you need to get away to dedicate time not just to ministry, but to Christ himself.  “Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love” (Revelation 2:4).
  2. Make sure mission is prominent in everything you do personally and corporally. Becoming “jaded” can many times be attributed to forgetting our mission. This applies to a general lack of remembering the Great Commission, but it also refers to the specific mission that God has given you, your family, and your leadership team.  I remember in college that I read Stephen Covey’s book, First Things First, and then was assigned to write my personal mission statement.  I emphasized renewal in several areas and a dedication to God’s calling and to my family.  Maybe it seems laughable for a 20-year old with high hopes and little experience to chart a missional course toward the future.  And even Covey encourages us to revisit and amend that statement as needed every so often.  However, if we do not do it at 20 years of age, when will we do it? If we do not focus on mission today, we should not be surprised when we are rudderless years later. Revisited often and adjusted occasionally, that statement has provided a foundation for my life and ministry for the last two decades – and will continue to do so going forward.
  3. Call a spade a spade. Many people think that the antidote to becoming jaded is denying or dismissing the awful things that have been done to us and within the Church. It is pretty impressive how we can rationalize others’ sinful actions with biblical or spiritual pretense.  “He was abusive, but he is a revered leader, so it must be me who is at fault.” “She hurt me, but I know all things work together for good…” These mental (and emotional) gymnastics may temporarily mask the issue, and make things run smoothly in spite of the dysfunction. But the real way to remain passionate about life and ministry is to admit that the Church has failed in many ways. Be specific.  Who hurt you? What took away the joy? Have you forgiven? Only when we identify the disease poisoning our joy can we begin to treat it.
  4. Develop spiritual and emotional tenacity. A lot of times we equate tenacity with the physical.  The image in our minds might be a soldier pushed to the brink of exhaustion, dehydration, and pain.  With blood and sweat mixing on his brow, he keeps on going – literally gritting his teeth. The Apostle Paul also uses a physical metaphor of running a race when speaking of spiritual perseverance and even refers to “beating his body” so as to win the prize (1 Cor. 9:24-27).  Images of emotional perseverance are harder to come by, however.  What if we were to develop just as much “stick-to-it-ive-ness” emotionally? What if we were to begin to value a tenacious attitude as much as we do physical striving? Much of spiritual and emotional tenacity has to do with choosing joy in the midst of suffering or focusing on the enormous blessings of God instead of many daily annoyances.  Remember Paul and Silas singing in the Philippian jail? In other words, emotional tenacity is recognizing that “our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all” (2 Cor. 4:17). God needs soldiers who are tenacious: physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
  5. Love the Church. It is the bride of Christ. It is the body of Christ. And yet, if you’re like me, a lot of times I find myself complaining and grumbling about it. A call to love Christ is to love his Church. This relationship is both vertical (with God) and horizontal (with others). We will not be able to fake it too long before people know we are frauds. The Holy Spirit must change our hearts when we’ve been disillusioned or hurt.  “And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother” (1 John 4:21).  This is not the same, but is certainly closely related to our final suggestion…
  6. View the Church through realistic lenses.After sensing that God called me to join him in his redemptive work, I could hardly contain the excitement. Sure, it was overwhelming, but God wanted to use me to change the world!  Little did I know that the barrier that would most attempt to discourage and dissuade me from that mission through the years would be the lack of vision and general unhealthiness of the Church.  While I have resolved to never lose my optimism, I have also had to be realistic.  Every obstacle will not magically fly away because I have answered God’s call.  I am imperfect, and every other Christian is, too. Pettiness and politics will still remain in the Church at every level because it is made up of humans.  But knowing all the details of conflict and confrontation does not mean that we are forced to allow that reality to disfigure the image of God in us.  The movement behind the curtain does not have to divert us from the masterpiece God is performing on stage right in front of us.

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I am no longer a rookie missionary.  I have seen a lot of filth, and there have been many circumstances that have threatened to leave me frustrated and cynical.  Yet, I remain as passionate as I was that first year of cross-cultural ministry – much more so, in fact.

So, what about you? Would you join me in the war against becoming jaded?

 

A Plea to not Join the Jaded: Resisting the Soul-Withering Cynicism in Ministry

By Scott Armstrong

I was a rookie missionary, new to the field and eager to change the world.  I was chatting with a missionary colleague who had served for nearly a decade about a delicate conflict in the Church both on the field and back home.  At one point I expressed optimism that all would soon work out.  She rolled her eyes and shook her head in an all-knowing manner: “Wait a couple years.  You’ll be just as jaded as the rest of us.”

What!? This happened years ago, and I still remember it vividly.  Were ministry and missions going to gradually become a steady slog through dashed hopes and increasing distrust of leadership? This is not what I signed up for – let alone what I felt called to!

I recently heard Matt Chandler at one of the Exponential Church Planting and Multiplication Conferences.  He shared a story about taking his seven-year-old daughter to a Disney Fairies show.  She was so excited that she dressed up in a fairy costume.  Her dad had bought great tickets and her face beamed as they made their way down to the first row.

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However, from that particular section of the auditorium, Matt realized that they could see backstage where all of the fairies were putting on costumes and where the stage manager was signaling to all the actors when they would enter and exit. Props were being readied and then moved on stage.

Matt’s daughter began to give her attention more to what was happening backstage than to the amazing production right in front of her.  At one point she leaned over to her daddy and said, “Those aren’t the real fairies.  Those are just people dressed up like them.”

There was no more awe in her voice.  She had lost the magic.

Doesn’t this happen to us as we go through life, and ministry specifically? If we have been around for more than a few years, we have seen a lot of guck in the church, and it is not relegated to the average layperson.  Through experience (and some of our own selfishness and poor decisions, too) we see backstage and start to understand the good, the bad, and the ugly in leadership.  We start to use phrases like: “labor of love” and “plugging away” to describe our daily work. The thrill is definitely gone!

We cannot be naïve – there is a lot of life and ministry that is difficult and tiring. This news should not catch any of us off guard.

At the same time, the peek backstage does not have to take the magic of ministry away. Part of maturing in service to Christ and his people should not mean that we eventually by default become jaded!

So how do we resist this slow creep of cynicism? In my next post I will offer some important suggestions that have helped me personally with keeping spiritual fervor and not becoming jaded in ministry.