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Lord, hear our prayer…

June 22, 2016

Photo by Nuchylee

During last week’s mission trip to Atlanta, six First Pres middle schoolers wrote prayers to capture their reactions to all that they had experienced and learned. Excerpts of their prayers are found in this week’s issue of FirstNEWS. Here are their prayers.

Gracious God, Watch over all your children in the days to come but in particular watch over those who are struggling with homelessness, who are out on the streets, weary, hot, and in despair. And in particular, watch over those individuals we have met this week, over Teddy, and Davis, and the Cleveland Cav fan, Isaiah and his brother, the fortune teller, and those at the Urban Recipe who are working so hard to provide for their families. Keep us always mindful of them: help us to keep it going.

Lord, hear our prayer.

I pray that people struggling in any way will have faith that everything will be all right. I pray that one day, the violence that has emerged on this planet will cease. I pray that people will learn to love one another regardless of how they look, their sexuality, or their beliefs.

Lord, hear our prayer.

Help our friends on the street find guidance to a better life. Make sure that no one else enters homelessness. Help the hurting and the sick get over their troubles.

Lord, hear our prayer.

Thank you for all that we have. And please help all of our friends to guide them to getting a job. Help them off the street and under a shelter. Give them water to cool themselves off and quench their thirst on these hot days. And food to feed them.

Lord, hear our prayer.

Please be with us as we go out into the world. We pray for those who are experiencing homelessness, we pray for the people that are ill/sick.

Lord, hear our prayer.

Please be with those at Loaves & Fishes, Urban Recipe, and Gateway. Also please be with those who are out on the streets tonight living an unfair and “abnormal” life. Also please be with those sick and injured and need your help. Help these people to take flight. Also help me with my worries and stress and to have a safe rest of the trip. Be with those to not be afraid at night and help them to find food resources in the morning.

Lord, hear our prayer.

Please be with all the homeless people who are on the street with nowhere to go. Please help me, Lord, with not getting homesick…Thank you for giving me a roof over my head and food in my belly. Thank you, Lord, for everything.

Lord, hear our prayer.

I pray that I will not go home and return to status quo but rather that I have the faith to see and the courage to do what is right. I pray that I remember.

Lord, hear our prayer.  Lord, please hear our prayer. 

In the strong name of Christ, Amen.

What’s on Your Summer Reading List?

June 21, 2016

Summer reading lists sometimes lean toward lighter beach reads. But books with some weight—emotional, spiritual or literary substance—can be a good choice when you’re packing your beach bag, too. Here are some suggestions for your summer reading list—fiction and non-fiction—from First Pres clergy.

From Erika Funk: 

Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion by Gregory Boyles – I return to this memoir again and again. Boyle came to the barrios of Los Angeles 20 years ago as a Jesuit priest hoping to bring peace between the gangs. Realizing that lack of jobs was the real issue, he founded Homeboy Industries, an economic development and jobs program for at-risk and gang-involved youth. Each chapter is a compelling and often sorrowful story, easy to read, but impossible to forget. Each time I read it compassion is made flesh and I am encouraged for what is possible.

Prayers for a Privileged People by Walter Brueggemann – Brueggemann never disappoints and his book of prayers is challenging, hopeful and biblically based. I have used it countless times for group devotions, staff training and personal prayer.  It always lands on a shelf not far from my desk or bedside.

Designer Living: What Happens When the Real You Meets the Real God by Susan Sutton – On my “to read” list is this book handed to me by the author’s sister in law, a member of FPC. The author and her husband are missionaries with WEC International in Singapore. FPC has supported their work for many years and they will be speaking here in January for Global Mission month.

Race in a Post-Obama America: The Church Responds – The list of contributors to this book made me want to read this book, which is also on my “to read” list. Writers, pastors and faithful activists share their thoughts on the church’s role in discussing and dismantling racism in America.

From Katelyn Gordon:

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce – A friend lent this book to me a few summers ago, and I doubted her recommendation for the first half of the book because it moved slowly. By the end, I was convinced. This is an adventure story for adults and raises questions about what motivates us, the people who are in our lives for a season, and how we reconcile ourselves to those things in our lives that are beyond our control.

A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving – One of my top five favorite novels of all time. John Wheelwright tells the story of growing up in small town New Hampshire in the 1950s with his best friend Owen Meany, who believes himself to be an instrument of God. The book has serious themes, but Irving approaches them with humor and wit. I love how Irving tackles questions of faith, the complexity of relationships, and the beauty of people who are broken (which is all of us in one way or another!).

An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith by Barbara Brown Taylor – My go-to book when I’m feeling stuck spiritually. BBT (as I affectionately call her) describes spiritual practices that most of us are familiar with, but she gives her reader a new framework for understanding them and practicing them in their own lives. Her chapter on prayer—particularly her paragraphs about struggling with prayer—has been especially helpful for me.

From Katherine Kerr:

A Man Called Ove, by Fredrik Backman – This is a surprisingly charming novel about a curmudgeonly Swedish widower named Ove. Despite his best efforts to shut out the outside world and do things his way (which he knows is the right way), Ove finds himself surrounded by people who might actually be friends. This is an easy to read, entertaining and inspiring novel that reminds us all of the power of community.

Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving and Finding the Church, by Rachel Held Evans – This faith memoir is a beautifully written, honest account of Evans’ experiences in a wide range of church communities.  From her childhood in a southern Evangelical church to participation in a small church plant, years away from the church and eventually finding a home in a mainline protestant denomination, Evans chronicles her journey to find her place in Christ’s church with candor and humor.

From Pen Peery:

Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity by Katherine Boo – A work of non-fiction that tells the story of a world we never see. It’s a bracing look at the thorny issues around globalization in the new city of Mumbai (that sits on the old city of Bombay).

My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel, by Ari Shavit (2015) – I read this after our trip to Israel/Palestine this spring and it is an honest view of the complex history of how the nation of Israel came to be.

Christianity After Religion, by Diana Butler Bass (2013) – A compelling and hopeful look into the seismic change that is effecting the church in America. This book has a lot to say to FPC Charlotte and how we might be called by God to embrace our neighbors who are “spiritual but not religious.” I have used this book with the West Campus Visioning Committee.

How (Not) to Be Secular: Reading Charles Taylor, by James K. A. Smith (2014) – Written in response to Charles Taylor’s 2007 book A Secular Age, this book is on my list per a recommendation from two of my colleagues.

Sacred Ground: Pluralism, Prejudice, and the Promise of America, by Ebo Patel (2013) – I read this book as a part of my Doctor of Ministry project. Written by a young Muslim American, the book calls upon “our better angels” and calls our country to embrace the promise of a pluralistic future.

Mexico Mission Trip Day Five: Making Our Mark

Mexico Mission 2016 day 5 2We woke up to another beautiful sunny day at VIM. Everyone was eager to finish the walk way we had been working on all week. After countless buckets of sand, gravel and cement, we finally finished the path and were able to sign our names, making our mark on VIM just as VIM made a mark on us.

We packed up and cleaned what had been our temporary home for the past week. It was bittersweet saying goodbye to our gracious hosts and all the students that had become family. Off to Cancun we went. Everyone enjoyed the pool at the hotel in the afternoon and a great dinner in downtown Cancun.

The theme this week was stretching our faith, and there is no doubt that was accomplished in many different ways by spending time with the children, breaking down language barriers with those of all ages, and putting in hard work everyday despite the weather conditions. Our last day was full of laughter and affirmations of each others’ skills and abilities and we will no doubt never forget this trip. Not only has our faith been stretched but it will continue to be stretched into our everyday lives at home in Charlotte.

Signing off from the dream team –

– Kyle, Stevie, Alex, Jack, William, and Caroline Hace calor!!

Mexico Mission 2016 day 5 4


Mexico Mission Trip Day 4: Pushing Onward!

June 20, 2016

Youth Mexico Day 4Day 4: Three cheers for a work day with no rain, but still enough cloud cover to not be scorching hot, and enough sun to dry things off!

The sidewalk is looking good! We are all experts now in mixing concrete, shoveling and creating assembly lines to pass buckets of dirt, gravel, rocks, and concrete. We are also getting to know each other better as we stand in our lines passing buckets. Lots of stories and laughter helping the time pass!

As much fun as we are having, we are also being stretched by having to get up early and work with our sore muscles and dirty, tired bodies. Then, as we head to Vacation Bible School, it is rejuvenating as we are greeted by the smiling faces of the kids so excited to see us with nothing but love in their sweet eyes. At the end of our day, behind every smiling face of our youth and advisors, we can also see the exhaustion. But because our group is so amazing, we just keep pushing onward and ‘stretching our faith’!!

– Group One and Done, Adele Campbell, Jack Perrin, Alex Glontz, Abigail Giles, Davis Ryan, Davis McMillan, Rand Ayer and Kelli Mallory

Mexico Mission Trip Day 3: Stretching Our Faith

June 19, 2016

mexicoday3 13Our faith today was stretched by lots of rain and mud. We woke up at 6:30, had breakfast and waited for the rain to break. Alas, that moment never came.
We worked for a solid few hours of drizzle, shoveling buckets and wheelbarrows of rock and dirt to help form a sidewalk. When the rain got heavier, we took a break for lunch before ending the day with another hour of work.
By quitting time, every member of our group was soaked to the bone and covered in mud. Stretching our faith, indeed!
We took much-appreciated showers before a long nap and siesta.
Vacation bible school brought more fun times with the local children, where we made bracelets, painted faces and played ball. VBS was topped off with our hilarious attempt at a David and Goliath skit in Spanish. We ended our day with spaghetti, volleyball and soccer.
And kudos to Rand Ayer as he is chasing down giant moths with a broom while we write this.
Our bedtime prayer is to ask God for sun and to thank him for our small group not having to empty the bathroom trash again tomorrow.
Farewell from Group 5!
Abigail Justis, Margaret Lloyd, John Owens, Henry Moldenhauer, Colin Perrin and Carson Rogers

Mexico Mission Trip Day 2: Smiles and Laughter Defeat Language Barrier

mexico rainWhat an amazing day! We started the day with a good meal to prepare our bodies for some hard work as we helped lay concrete for the new dining hall. As part of the process we move the large rocks and buckets of dirt to help fill in the bottom layers before topping it off with concrete.
A rain shower cut our workday short and allowed us to take a respite for lunch. After a nice siesta we headed to a nearby church where we got to play with the local children. What a treat! The language barrier proved to be but a small challenge as smiles and laughter were plenty.
Our particular small work group talked saw God in various ways today:
  • helping out with vacation Bible school
  • God answered our want for rain
  • blowing bubbles with a little girl
  • communicating and playing games with local children without being able to speak Spanish well
  • accomplished a lot of work before the rain came
  • working together to pass buckets of concrete
Mitchell Austin, Davy Rayner, Michael Shropshire, Will Hull, Anna Catherine Pandos and Andrew Glontz
mexicoday2 3

Final Day Middle School Mission Trip: Who’s Helping Whom?

atlanta final croppedI saw God in almost everything we did this week, but especially in the people we met and worked with. I loved how grateful and happy most of our neighbors that were struggling with homelessness were to see us helping. I thought it was so amazing that even in their situation, they were so thankful and kind.

Overall, this week was an awesome week and I learned so much about life in general from so many different people. I learned that I might have been on this trip to help others but they certainly helped me by sharing their stories and

– Cam

Mexico Mission Trip Day One: We Made It!

June 17, 2016

cropped mexico mission tripWe made it!! It’s hot but all is good! We were excited to meet all the new people and children at VIM and play some games of volleyball, soccer and basketball with them. We are in the wonderful presence of Oscar Jr and Roger. Roger is the bomb…we are excited to work with him this week!

We are looking forward to stretching our faith and experiencing new things!

The hammocks are beautiful and actually really comfortable. After a good night sleep we will be able to have a great day of work. Be on the lookout for more from us tomorrow!

– Natalie Raygor

Middle School Mission Trip Day 4: Hope and Healing

Youth Mission 2016 farm5Today we got to be in God’s garden and see God’s miracle workers.

I saw God through the earth while digging the potatoes for those who need at a community food bank.  It was fresh and nourishing food for people eat.

Youth Mission 2016 farmingI saw God as I learned about Medshare through the kind world healers as we sorted and packaged medical equipment.  It was wonderful to know that this  medical equipment was saving people’s lives throughout the world with all the perfectly good equipment that was being thrown away in the United States.

God’s magic had been so many places throughout this week that I can’t count. God is the light through which us youth have seen and experienced through remarkable healing, love, and transformation.

– Addie

Fear-Soaked Moments, and the Script that Follows

angel memeI am shocked. And I am tired.

Early in the morning five days ago, 50 people lost their lives in a mass shooting at an LGBT nightclub in Orlando, Florida.

Early in the evening 365 days ago, nine people lost their lives in a mass shooting at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina.

When he reflected on this latest tragedy, late-night host Stephen Colbert said, “It’s as if there’s a national script that we have learned, and I think that by accepting the script we tacitly accept that the script will end the same way every time with nothing changing, except for the loved ones and families of the victims, for whom nothing will ever be the same.”

The fact that a tragedy like this has become normal is what shocks me.

Our collective response in the wake of the Orlando shooting has been predictable–scripted, even. There are calls for restrictions on assault weapons and protestations from those who assert that the problem is not guns but the people who wield them; there is an awareness that unchecked homophobia (in the case of Orlando), or unchecked racism (in the cast of Charleston) has real and devastating consequences; there are those (many of them professing Christians, by the way) who say that the ones who died “reaped what they had sown;” and there are moments of silence and calls to action that are soon subsumed by us getting back to life as normal.

As someone who stakes my life on God’s promise–which makes me ultimately hopeful about the future–I must confess that I struggle to make sense of things like Orlando and Charleston. I am certain they are not God’s will. To suggest otherwise is, I believe, inflicting spiritual abuse. Tragedies like Orlando are not challenges that God gives us to make us stronger. They are an affront to what makes us human. This kind of senseless killing is precisely the opposite of God’s will.

Yes, I am tired.  I am not only tired of the news of another tragedy, I am tired of pretending that these tragedies are unrelated to issues that become so hotly politicized in the tragedy’s wake. Of course access to guns–especially assault weapons–is relevant to the conversation. Of course homophobia is connected to Omar Mateen’s rage. Of course terrorism and a perverted, radicalized version of Islam played a factor. To pretend otherwise–and not take action to address the problems with guns, hate, and terror–will only continue a pattern of tragedies that have made their way into the American lexicon: Columbine, Virginia Tech, Fort Hood, Sandy Hook, Aurora, San Bernardino, Charleston, Orlando…

I do not have words to explain nor, in this moment, comfort. In my struggle to understand, my thoughts wander, inevitably, to what it must have felt like inside that nightclub early last Sunday morning with music playing and gunshots ringing. In those fear-soaked moments, beyond the club music and the sound of terror, I pray the victims heard another song–perhaps one that they learned as children growing up in church:

Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so. Little ones to him belong, they are weak but he is strong.

I suspect some of the victims from last Sunday night knew that they were loved by God. I also suspect some of them didn’t, perhaps because they shunned faith, but more, I would venture, because they had been rejected by the church because of their sexuality.

We cannot save those whose lives were cut short last Sunday morning. And there is no elegant solution to protect us from events like Orlando happening again. But we can commit ourselves to communicating to everyone we meet–gay, straight, Muslim, Christian, American, or Afghani– that they are precious, made in the image of God, and loved by the one who created them.

That may sound weak when confronted by the reality of such hatred. The gospel has often been accused of being weak. “But to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1 Cor 1:18)

– Pen Peery