In the Cities

Greetings from Kansas City, Missouri, USA.  I am attending a Regional Leadership Conference and have been invited to be a part of a panel focused on “Mission to the Cities.” It is such an honor to speak about this topic along with many urban mission leaders and General Superintendents as part of the panel.

Each one of us will be giving a short introduction to our ministry context, and I wanted to share with you what I will be saying at the opening of the panel:

Good morning! ¡Buenos días!

I’m a Nazarene missionary in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.  My family and I have lived in five different countries in the last 15 years, and now we are coordinating an initiative called Genesis. Genesis seeks to bring a new beginning to the big cities of the Mesoamerica Region, which is ironic, because just 8 years ago, I hardly cared about urban mission.

We began our missionary career by living in Guatemala City, Guatemala and San José, Costa Rica: two huge cities with lots and lots of need.  And, of course, as a missionary, I was passionate about winning the world for Christ!  But during that time if you were to have asked me why cities are important to God, I would have stammered and faltered.  Aren’t all places important to God? What’s the big deal about cities?

It wasn’t until 2011 when my family and I moved to Panama City, Panama, that I started to get it.  You see, we went from living in a house to living on the 19th floor of a high-rise. The view was amazing.  Because of a healthy fear of heights, I did not go out on our balcony often, but one night I did.  I thought about all those lights representing one person, or even one family. And in that moment – I don’t know where it came from, but – for the first time I stretched out my arms and I whispered the prayer that now I have prayed a thousand times: Lord, give us the city!

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About that time, our region was researching where we, as a Nazarene Church, were strongest and where we were weakest, geographically-speaking. We found out that 79% of our region lives in an urban context, but only 29% of our Nazarenes are there! In other words, in the most populated places, we have the fewest Nazarenes. We realized that ministry in our region had to be ministry to the urban core.  We have spent the last eight years training urban missionaries and equipping our existing churches to creatively reach their cities.  Maybe later we will explore how urban ministry needs to look different compared to rural and suburban ministry.

Some of you are wondering: “But that’s your region.  What does that have to do with us?” Well, the statistics in the USA and Canada are a bit different.  This region is actually the most urban of any in the world.  Nearly 9 out of every 10 people in these two countries lives in a city of 100,000 or more!

As a Church of the Nazarene in the USA/Canada, we are not quite as rural and suburban as the Mesoamerica Region.  Still, did you know that Nazarene membership is .17% of the total population in our big cities?  In other words, not even 1 of every 500 urban dwellers in Canada and the USA is a Nazarene.

That may be more statistics than you were bargaining for.  So let’s simplify it.

We have a lot of work to do.

And that work must be in the cities.

As author and pastor in New York, Tim Keller, says, “We don’t need churches only in cities. We need them everywhere there are people.  Therefore, we need them especially in cities.”

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David’s Promise

The annual observance of the International Day of Disabled Persons (3 December) was proclaimed in 1992, by an United Nations General Assembly resolution. The observance of the Day aims to promote an understanding of disability issues and mobilize support for the dignity, rights and well-being of persons with disabilities. It also seeks to increase awareness of gains to be derived from the integration of persons with disabilities in every aspect of political, social, economic and cultural life.

On this day it’s a joy to know that in our Nazarene Church we have a place for everyone!

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At JaxNaz Church in Jackson, Michigan, USA, adults with special needs have found a new way to serve through a unique day program. From tying blankets for children in foster care to creating recipes for a community cookbook, the members of David’s Promise are making a difference and gaining fulfillment.

Watch the video below to know more about this awesome ministry:

 

Help for Migrants in Mexico

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In October more than 7,000 children, women, men and older adults from Honduras started a journey that has taken several weeks.  Recently people from other countries have also joined them as they have traversed from the south border of Mexico to the north in order to eventually arrive in the United States. They have left their countries because of the reality of violence and poverty that confronted them there. 

The Church of the Nazarene has responded to a variety of the caravan’s different needs through Nazarene Compassionate Ministries, and have fulfilled the call of God to freely give what we have freely received. 

Click on the video below to see how the Church has mobilized to help in the past  month:

Vacation Bible Schools Amid Economic Crisis

Churches across Venezuela are continuing to reach out to their communities despite the current economic crisis. At least 60 Vacation Bible Schools representing 75 percent of the country’s organized churches have been planned through September.

Many residents have emigrated from the country in search of better work opportunities, resulting in a rapid decline in public school attendance and an estimated 20 percent membership decline in the Church of the Nazarene in Venezuela. 

Despite the economy, the work of Sunday School and Discipleship Ministries International has not stopped, and the regional, national, and district coordinators are working on ways to promote and support these VBS camps.

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The Church of the Nazarene in Calabozo has already held two camps, including one at a church plant in Ciudad de Dios for 200 children. The other was held the following week, hosting 179 children and youth. 

In the eastern part of the country, the Renacer church in Punta de Mata held a VBS where 70 children and youth participated. In the Llanos District, which has the largest number of Churches of the Nazarene in Venezuela, the Cambios and Los Pozones churches held their VBS camps, with 70 and 84 children, respectively. Most of the other churches will wait until after the National Youth Camp during the last week of August to host their own VBS camps.

“We thank the Lord for so many workers who have made their time, energy, and resources available to plant the seed of God’s Word in the generations to come,” said Leda DeGouveia, national SDMI coordinator. “We are counting on your support in prayer that our God would revive His work in the midst of times like these.”

This article was originally published at: Church of the Nazarene South America

Living Simply so that Others may Simply Live

And he told them this parable: The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’ Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. And I’ll say to myself, You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.’ But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’ This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.” (Luke 12:16-21)

Have you ever been outside your country? Have you ever visited some of the poorest of the poor in another country or in the inner-cities of your own country? If you have seen the reality of poverty in our world today, like I have, you will view this passage differently.

I have to be honest.  Years ago, I read these verses in Luke and thought other people were the greedy ones.  Some of Jesus’ parables are confusing, but this one he explains right off the bat in verse 15.  The whole point of telling a story about a rich guy who keeps all his “grain and goods” to himself is to warn us against all kinds of greed.  And a while back I always thought that meant others.  I am not really rich, right? I don’t have to worry about this.

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Now I am convinced this rich fool is me—and maybe you. I have seen up close too many people who are suffering from poverty, disease, disasters, and bloody warfare, that I cannot pretend anymore.  How can you or I say that we are not greedy if we eat three enormous meals a day while a third of the world’s population starves? How can we live in our huge, comfortable houses while billions have nothing? I ate an ice-cream cone last week that cost as much as a farmer in some of our countries makes in a week to feed his family.  

So what are we going to do about it? We can continue as rich fools or we can begin to live more simply so that others may simply live.  We can store our possessions or learn to share and sacrifice in order to truly change the world.

“Watch out!  Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”

Reflecting on Passion After the World Cup

By Scott Armstrong

Many readers of this site know that my family and I were able to attend the World Cup in Russia this past month.  It was a remarkable time and a once-in-a-lifetime experience.  Perhaps the thing I remember most is the passion that so many people had for their countries and for football/soccer.

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I saw it in the literally tens of thousands of Mexicans and Colombians that traveled, dressed up, and chanted for their teams at all times of the day or night. I saw it when the host team, Russia, unexpectedly beat Spain in the Round of 16, and the Moscow streets erupted in joy.

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But perhaps I did not personally experience the many levels of passion at the World Cup more so than in the two games we were able to go to.  Before the first game, June 26, we were caught up in the fervor of the Danish fans who filled the Metro stations and the streets chanting and singing for their team and country.  Sadly, the passion they and their French counterparts showed before and during the game was not shared by their national teams.  France v. Denmark has been widely recognized as the worst game of the tournament.

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We knew something was wrong when the lineups came out and hardly any of the stars were starting.  No Pogba or Mbappe?!  Not even Lloris or Umtiti?! Well, at least the subs will play their hearts out, right? Nope.  Both teams knew that they just needed a tie to go through to the next round.  So, they played like it was a scrimmage.  No urgency.  No one trying too much.  All of the neutral fans grew restless and even angry throughout the two hours.  We paid money for this? We came all this way to watch this charade?!

Did you know that the word “passion” originates from the Latin word “passio” which is closely related to the Greek root “path” meaning “to suffer”? By the time the game ended 0-0, the entire stadium was raining down boos on the teams for such a disgraceful performance. It is truly hard to explain how disappointed we all were.  I actually started to cry because I was so sad our family had chosen to go to THAT of all games.  Bleck.

But all was not lost.  The final game we attended was July 3 in Moscow.  Round of 16 – Colombia v. England.  I kid you not: I gathered my family together before we headed to the stadium and prayed that God would give us a great game.  I did not care what the outcome was: I just wanted it to be memorable.

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And boy was it!   Controversy was constant with a penalty being awarded and both teams pushing and jockeying for position at every free kick.  Yerri Mina, a Colombian defender, tied the game up 1-1 in stoppage time at the end of the second half while the stadium full of mostly Colombian supporters went wild.  Then, it went to penalties, where England has a history of crashing and burning.  But not today, folks! Nearly three hours after the first kick, England buried their final penalty and proceeded to the next round while both fans and the team exuberantly rejoiced.  It was a phenomenal game and the most energy I have ever experienced at a soccer game by far (and I’ve been to dozens in many different countries!).

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I should add that, as we got ready for penalties and the supporters of each team were cheering and hugging and even praying, I started to cry again.  But this time it was out of unbridled happiness that we had gotten to be a part of an event like that.

What was the difference between the two games? Essentially one thing: passion.

I know the circumstances dictate that there is less to play for at certain times in the tournament.  But this is the World Cup.  If you are going to step on the field, you should give it your all.

This is a belief that propels me in my daily life and guides me in my spiritual walk. If it is worth doing, it’s worth doing well.  Live passionately, and especially let the source of that passion be more than football or food or movies or your job or even your family.

The only wellspring of passion that will never run dry or disappoint is Jesus Christ. He offers abundant life (Jn. 10:10) and glorious salvation (Jn. 3:16).  In my case, he has put a calling on my life to preach – and do so cross-culturally – so that I cannot hold it in; like Jeremiah, it is a fire in my bones (Jer. 20:9).

Anyone who has met me knows that I am passionate about futbol.  But I pray that everyone knows I am even more passionate about Christ and his mission.  He, after all, gave himself for us on the cross in what has become known as – you guessed it – the Passion.

If you have not yet experienced that compelling, driving force in your life, allow the one, true Source of passion to instill his fire in you. You – and all those around you – will truly never be the same!

2018 World Cup

Hello, readers, and greetings from the 2018 World Cup!  Our family has been saving and planning this vacation for five years now and we are ecstatic.  We have tickets to two games and are hoping to obtain tickets to a third while we are in Russia.  We arrived yesterday (June 25) in Moscow, and we are recovering from some jetlag before we attend our first game today (France v. Denmark)! 

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In the last month, some friends and acquaintances have asked why we would dedicate the time and money to go to Russia and attend the World Cup, especially if the United States did not qualify this time (I am still embarrassed about that to be honest!).  Others have wondered why I occasionally write about sports in this blog that normally is dedicated to missions, leadership, etc.  The futbol (soccer) fans who read this understand completely, so I do not need to persuade you all.  But to the others, here are the reasons the World Cup is so important to me, and why we have written about it in this blog for three straight cycles (2010, 2014, and 2018): 

  1. Culture – and cultures – fascinate me. While in the London airport we were with people from seven different countries all going to the World Cup.  We all look different, speak different languages, and have different customs for sure.  But there is a respect – and even appreciation – for differences here that can prove instructive in a world of so much ethnocentrism.  How can we learn from each other? How do these other people enrich my life and understanding?
  2. Passion, passion, passion. A life without passion is a sad existence!  I confess that I have a hard time comprehending how people can float through life without urgency or excitement.  And admit it: the World Cup is THE place to find fans and players and coaches that are crazy about futbol and their country! Did you see the Brazilian coach who celebrated so hard that he tripped all over himself after a late goal against Costa Rica? Or what about the Panamanians celebrating their first-ever goal in the World Cup, even when they lost the game 6-1? Did you know that Mexico’s goal against Germany arguably caused an earthquake in Mexico City due to the euphoria in that mega-city? Yeah, passion.
  3. Sports can be a microcosm of life. Sports are results-based.  If you succeed, you are rewarded; if you underachieve, there are consequences. This is not to say that the most talented team always wins; sometimes the most well-prepared underdogs can pull off some stunners (See: Iceland v. Argentina). But even that gives us a lesson. There are so many things I have learned from sports about teamwork, perseverance, leadership, and integrity.  The World Cup will bring out the best and the worst in many players and fans and coaches.  It puts a magnifying glass on our character.

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Those are just three of the many reasons that I write about sports and the World Cup in a blog that hopes to help Transform the Globe.  I could go on and on, but it is now time for me to head to the stadium – who knows what cool things we will experience there and in the next week!