Today’s main topic for keynote this morning was Pentecost. We talked about incorporating language and opening our eyes to our church and its importance. We also discussed how the Holy Spirit brings us together under one tongue. After small group, we had our free afternoon in Asheville.
Worship tonight moved us as it discussed using our voice and action to praise God, despite how small we may seem in our world. One of our favorite points today was when Billy said he talked at a church where women aren’t allowed to speak on the stage like the men. He didn’t think this was fair and he said that he was going to talk below the stage “with his sisters.” Today we also gained an appreciation of our world lens, as stories from small group showed how important your community from childhood is in building the foundations of faith.
– Caroline Dittner, Jackson Proctor, Alex Glontz, Abigail Justis and Grace Guinan
Our second day in Montreat proved to be even better than the first. Throughout keynote, small groups, and worship we discussed the importance of family. The keynote speakers challenged us to think about how we can define ourselves uniquely while still keeping our family close to us. At the end of the service, two First Presbyterian Youth (Elizabeth Pandos & Ann Mariah Burton) performed a contemporary dance to further elucidate this message.
Discussions continued in small group in which we could intimately share our own experiences and struggles. This naturally promoted deeper conversation and by the end of the day everyone reported positive small group experiences. The day concluded with Billy leading an awesome, thought-provoking worship service. He shared stories from his past, including the murder of his father, but assured us that we can still write our own stories. In his typical charismatic fashion he dared us to be the best version of ourselves. In his words, “Nobody can beat you at being you!” To which Anderson Auditorium responded with a resounding “Amen!” It was an amazing day and we cannot wait for tomorrow.
– Harrison Ferone, Davy Rayner, Margaret Lloyd, Elizabeth Pandos, Caroline Keesler
We woke this morning to an amazing breakfast provided by our parents. During Keynote we did energizers and sang songs.
We then listened to our very own Erika Funk and Laura Becker preach about a world of difference. The congregation was encouraged to be aware of the lenses through which we view the world. Erika included a personal story about her experiences growing up with her mom, who worked for a nonprofit organization that followed up on police complaints. The story taught us the importance of being aware of our biases that result from our experiences.
After keynote we went to our first small group and each of us enjoyed the experience and playing games and learning new names. Post small group we feasted and played foosball. After lunch we went to small group again but unfortunately the afternoon rec event was rained out. Later we came home and spent some quality time together until dinner was ready. After much suspense, all of the BBQ was gone in a matter of minutes. With full bellies we listened to Billy enthusiastically preach about the Tower of Babel and the similarities we all share to the people who God separated. The major take-away was that diversity is important and that God wants us to appreciate different than us. Looking forward to another day!
– Stuart Ayer, Elizabeth Rayner, Paxton Williamson, Cole Mallory and Anne Carlton
Let’s all take a pledge. The politicians do it – why not us?
Pick a circle of people in your life: not the people that agree with everything you think, but a circle of people that God has put in your path.
Maybe it’s your colleagues at work.
Maybe it’s your classmates at school.
Maybe it’s your Facebook friends, or Twitter followers…
Definitely the people who are your fellow members of this church.
Let’s take a pledge that when we talk with this circle of people, we will use the language of family. That we will honor and respect difference. That we will be patient. That we will assume no malintent.
Let’s all take the pledge.
As disciples of Jesus Christ in the midst of a world of difference we have a special mandate to treat people well. We are not only bound by cultural norms, or civic duty – we are bound by our identity as children of God. Our reasons for treating people with respect have little to do with being polite and well mannered. They have everything to do with God’s expectations of us.
And who knows? Maybe our small commitment to faithfulness might rub off on the world around us?
After all, God has been known to accomplish stranger things by way of regular people like you and me.
The Russia mission group has been back in Charlotte for almost two weeks, and I’ve been grateful for all of the people who’ve stopped me and asked, “How was Russia?”
It’s a straightforward question, but I find myself having difficulty knowing how to answer. To say that the trip was good is true, but it’s also not an adequate description nor is it entirely accurate. Our time in Russia was good, and it was also challenging, hard, and inspiring.
For me, the trip to Russia was a practice of not being in control. Complications and hiccups in our travel became the norm: Our luggage was lost, the daily schedules and meals were set and made by other people, and the Russian-English language barrier required a translator for most conversations. (The entirety of my Russian vocabulary now includes ten words, one of which is the very helpful and useful Russian word for “napkin.”)
As foreign as all of that felt, it reminded me that I’m not meant to be in control. God is the Creator, and I’m the creature; Jesus is the teacher, and I’m the disciple; the Spirit moves as she will, and I am to pay attention.
Our Russian sisters and brothers at Hope Baptist understand this ordering of the world differently – maybe even better – than we do. They live in a community that doesn’t welcome or understand them and doesn’t really want to either. The Russian government threatens to restrict how and where they worship, and if they want to have their own church building, the members are the ones who have to build it. They share stories of their lives – stories of sick children and uncertain finances, stories of alcoholic relatives and lost jobs, stories of new homes and new church members. Their stories are punctuated by the refrain of “Slava Bogu” – “Praise God!”
What our Russian friends seem to trust more readily than I often do is the truth that life is uncertain but God is not.
We spent the last few days of our time in Russia in Moscow and St. Petersburg, which have a very different feel to them than the cities, towns, and villages we visited in Ryazan. It was eye-opening (and frustrating) to see the incredible wealth of palaces where the royals had lived, knowing how poor the majority of the country had been. It was the giant gold crucifix in the cathedral at the Hermitage that really got me. That crucifix seemed to be such an obvious indicator that Russian royalty, while calling themselves Christian and even attending worship services, didn’t get the heart of the Gospel, which is so much about the poor and the oppressed.
I think Jesus would’ve been disappointed by that gold crucifix, knowing that there were and are people who go hungry every day in that country.
Life in Russia is complex. Faith in Russia is complex. The same is true in the United States where it’s very easy to call yourself a Christian. What a gift it is, then, that we’ve been called into this relationship with Russian sisters and brothers in Christ who challenge and encourage us as people who call Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior.
Our BELL Summer School Camp for 60 rising first through third graders from some of Charlotte’s most fragile neighborhoods concludes next Wednesday afternoon. I hope you can join us to celebrate this fifth year of partnering with BELL (Building Educated Leaders for Life).
Before I tell you what to expect at our celebration, I want to tell you about the minds that were opened this summer, thanks to your contributions.
These energetic and enthusiastic youngsters have excelled in their morning studies, which centered around reading and math.
They’ve experienced yoga, science, Legos, cooking, art, music, character education and swimming lessons at the Dowd YMCA.
On Fridays, they’ve enjoyed field trips to Stowe Botanical Gardens, Concord Aquarium, Charlotte Motor Speedway, Knight’s Stadium, a play at Central Piedmont Community College and bowling.
What a rich summer you’ve made possible for these children!
I want you to know that these children weren’t the only ones who have had their minds opened this summer. In addition to volunteer tutors from our congregation, this program brings together Speech and Hearing therapists, certified teachers and classroom assistants. If they are like me, they’ve had their minds and hearts opened during our six weeks with our BELL scholars. We’ve been blessed by their smiles, their laughter, their spontaneous hugs, and the light in their eyes as they’ve had experiences that some of us might take for granted in our own children’s lives.
I’d love for you to experience a fraction of what I’ve experienced from being around these children this summer. So please consider joining the scholars and staff for a celebration in the Wood Fellowship Hall from 1:00 – 2:15 pm on Wednesday, July 27. Each class will perform a song or skit and we’ll show a video capturing our summer. Awards will be given and ice cream will conclude the event.
Thank you for your participation, prayers and financial contributions. The lives of the most fragile in our city were made abundantly richer! And if you join us for the closing ceremony, I can pretty much guarantee that your life will be made richer, too.
~ Lisa Dillard, Community Engagement Coordinator
Look for more photos from our BELL Summer Scholars in this week’s issue of FirstNEWS in the mail or on information tables at church on Sunday.
Reading everything that’s been done and said about last week’s events has been hard. Everywhere I’ve looked, people were discussing the hard topics of racial inequality, police violence, and hate-filled retaliation.
Being a member of a now multi-racial family, I struggled with my own assessment of these topics, mixed along with the idea of white privilege and how it relates to my life. All of this led me to also assess my effectiveness in being a good witness through my presence with and feeding of our BELL campers, who are here to keep learning throughout the summer. How, I wondered, was I perceived by these children?
Needless to say, by Friday afternoon these thoughts left me a little deflated, a little drained, as serious thought tends to do.
Then something happened that filled me back up.
While I was standing at the front desk having a conversation about finances with a coworker, one of our campers walked by to go to the restroom. She walked right up to me and spontaneously hugged my leg. This reminded me that our actions truly do have an impact when they are motivated with love. We need to fill each other up with love in these difficult times.
We need more hugs.
– Nick Kepp
P.S. A high-five (see below) isn’t a bad option, either.
The apostle Paul asks, “what then are we to say about these things?” (Romans 8:31)
The truth is that sometimes I am not sure what to say about these things.
It’s not just that I fail to understand our addiction to violence that makes taking a life too easy, or that I fail to understand unbridled hate (in the case of the five Dallas law enforcement officials who lost their lives to a man filled with rage).
What this latest chapter in our country’s unfolding series of tragic events has taught me is that as a white man in a “white collar” job in America, I will never understand what it feels like to be black or to wear blue.
That may sound obvious, but I think the events of this week may, finally, begin to disabuse many of us of our need to understand and explain away these kinds of tragedies.
For too long, people (like me) have heard, discussed, commented, debated, and—in many cases—judged these compounding American tragedies as if we had the perspective to offer wisdom. People—like me—who will never know what it is to teach our children how the color of their skin might impact the way they are viewed by the police, or what it is like for a law enforcement officer to see every encounter as a potential for danger.
What we were really doing is exposing our privilege.
Maybe instead of feeling the need to say something about these things we might try to listen.
If we are white, maybe we might ask a friend who is a person of color what these things are like for them. Or ask a police officer how these things impact their oath to protect and serve.
And then we might remember that Paul’s question isn’t really an invitation for us to fill the space with our feeble words. For it is God who speaks the answers to the questions that arise from things like these. And that answer is found in the person of Jesus, who knows what it is to suffer, and to love.
Our last two days (Wednesday and Thursday, July 6-7) have been full and our hosts extremely gracious. On Wednesday, they showed us a bit of the Ryazan area, with a tour of a 19th century poet’s village and a picnic on the bluffs of the Oka River. Later, Tamara, one of the leaders in the church, invited us to dine in her garden, under the cherry trees. Two meals outside in idyllic settings!
On Thursday, we traveled to Ryaszhk to visit our fifth small rural Baptist church. The missionary, Sasha, with his wife and four children greeted us and we all shared our motivations and goals in mission. We drank Russian tea and ate sweets (a common practice each day, whether standalone or after dinner). Tonight we participated in the women’s fellowship at Hope Baptist, hearing a message about how parents and grandparents can teach their children about God and Jesus.
The Russian Christians we have met have been so welcoming to us, but we can see that they lead difficult lives. Neighbors avoid them (Sasha said none of his neighbors spoke to him for three years, until one of them finally did); they are viewed with suspicion; and in some towns the authorities can put obstacles in their way, or shut down their plans. We must pray for them, as they do for us.
Since our partnership with Hope Baptist began in 2003, we have seen improvements and additions to the worship space. The kitchen and office have been in multiple locations in the building, each one better than the last, and the sanctuary has been expanded. With the support of First Presbyterian, Hope Baptist purchased their worship space and gained greater stability.
Even with all of the remodeling and ownership of the space, the dream has always been to have a church building. Baptists are viewed as a dangerous cult in Russia, and having a space that looks like a church lends the congregation greater legitimacy and the ability to design their space to accommodate their growing programs. They have also struggled with current neighbors who are suspicious and harass the congregation.
We have been privileged to witness the next exciting stage of their church life. Hope Baptist had purchased land and drawn up plans for a three-story building. The basement will house the kitchen and a fellowship space for conferences, wedding receptions, and other celebrations. The ground floor is reserved for the sanctuary, and the Sunday school spaces and offices will be on the second floor.
First Presbyterian has supported this project financially and will continue to send funds through the Global Mission committee. Hope Baptist is very grateful for our partnership. Church members have also all pledged money for the church. During worship on Sunday, they took up two collections, one for the regular offering and one for the building. Additionally, church members are giving their time and energy to help build the structure. Our support is greatly appreciated, but this project’s heart is found in the investment of resources, energy, and sweat from the members.
This morning, we got to tour the foundation. It is so easy to look at the foundation and imagine the completed building, full of life and joy and grace. There are 160 members and children. It is undoubtedly a group that will fill the sanctuary with singing, prayer, and community.
Our trip to Russia has been filled with many, many blessings, but seeing the future home of Hope Baptist is one of the highlights. Scripture tells us that space to worship God and celebrate baptisms, marriages, and deaths is important. It is a joy to be part of Hope Baptist’s journey to build their new home.