Sunday, August 13, 2017

Short and Insufficient Words On Charlottesville, VA: Prayers of the People at FBC Monroe

My attempts at capturing all of my thoughts and responses to what took place in Charlottesville, VA would be futile as there is so much going through my mind as I reflect on what took place, the people who were present, and the message that was conveyed by all involved's actions. With that said, I was however tasked with leading our congregation at First Baptist Church, Monroe in prayer in our weekly worship service. As I shared with our people, the events of this week have left me at a loss for words, so I had to borrow the powerful words of Fran Pratt. Below are the words of introduction I shared with our congregation, followed by the prayer that we offered from the litany that Fran Pratt wrote.

Words of Reflecting on Charlottesville/Intro to Prayer                                  
Yesterday, I spent the morning on a football field officiating a football scrimmage, seeing young men enjoying a game that requires its participants to exhibit teamwork, dedication, trust, and effort for the good of the team. Despite the warm weather, I walked off that field with joy in my heart and a smile on my face for the experience I had enjoyed. That joy was short lived when I reached my car, and saw the notifications on my phone detailing the events of violence that were unfolding in Charlottesville. As I watched the events unfold the rest of the day, I found myself experiencing a broad range of emotions. Confusion, anger, disgust, sadness, shock… maybe you felt some of these and other emotions as well?
I am thankful to live in a country where its citizens have the right to express their opinions and beliefs, whether I agree with them or not, or even if I feel it is not okay to believe that particular way. Yet, when a person’s opinions or beliefs lead to the act of driving a vehicle into a crowd of people intent on causing harm… that no longer is an opinion, but is something else. Something that I, nor we as people who call ourselves followers of the Prince of Peace can allow to go on unchecked.

So this morning church, as I reflect on the events in Charlottesville, VA, or how many times I heard the phrase North Korea this week, and all the other pains and challenges I know each of us are facing, as one of your ministers, I have to be honest and say, I am at a loss for words to pray this morning. But fortunately, we are able to turn to words of those across the life of the church for when we have none, so this morning for our prayer time, I will be borrowing words adapted from a litany written by Frann Pratt in light of what happened in Charlottesville. As I pray, I encourage you to add your own words of what you are feeling, knowing that our God is a big god, one who hears us and understands us, even when we may not be able to understand ourselves. Let us pray. 

Litany for Charlottesville, VA
Written by Fran Pratt
Used as a prayer at First Baptist Church, Monroe – Sunday August 13, 2017
God, we are sad to see the stark truth of demons that remain among us:
Hatred, bigotry, racism, and white supremacy.
We are sad to see flagrant parades of violence in our streets,
Flaunting prejudice and intolerance.
We mourn with our sisters and brothers who are harmed in body and soul
By these exhibitions.
Indeed, we are all harmed:
They are us and we are them.

We say No:
This can go no further.
We reproach these misguided souls
Resolutely and lovingly.

Help us not to bury our heads
Or resist the lesson before us:
Of the truth of the darkness that exists in our midst
Growing like weeds among wheat.

Help us to stamp out hate
By love and love alone.
Help us to preach peace on loudspeakers and pedestals,
But also in quiet relationships;
In art and poetry,
In song and dance,
In bread and wine,
In words written and spoken,
In pulpits and in alleys,
In boardrooms and porches.

The way of Christ is peace.
The method of Christ is love.
The means of Christ is invitation.
The ends of Christ are unity.
The way of Christ
Is the way we follow.              Amen

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Our Free/Fun-Filled Day in Montreal (Day 7)

The Team at the Oratory of St. Joseph in Montreal
Friday was our last full day in Quebec, and since our work for the week is complete, that means it was a free, fun-filled day. We spent the entirety of the day in the city of Montreal learning more about the history of Quebec, especially its religious heritage, and then go to see other parts of the city, with shopping, eating, and sightseeing all mixed in together.
            Our trusted friend, Pastor Daniel, graciously served as our guide for our day in the city. We left the church around 9 AM and drove over the mighty St. Lawrence River to reach the Oratory of St. Joseph. The Oratory is a large Catholic church that was constructed in the early 1900s and named for St. Joseph, the earthly father of Jesus. This is a beautiful structure that sits on the highest point in the city of Montreal. Its beautiful architecture presented opportunities for our team to learn about the Catholic expression of the Christian faith, as well as how its construction and presence contributed to the distaste which lead to the French Canadian people in Quebec leaving the church.
            After our time atop the hill and a few viewing stops on our way back down, we made our way to downtown Montreal, where we spent some time in the giant underground mall that is four stories tall (or below, to be more precise) and then many blocks wide, running under many different buildings in the central city. We spent time in the downtown area where the team was able to shop for a few hours and eat lunch.
Inside the Church of Sainte Marguite Bourgeoys,
the oldest church in Montreal
            Following our time downtown, we drove over to “Old Montreal” the section of the city that is my favorite. Here we have some of the original buildings to the city, which is celebrating its 375th year in 2017. Montreal is one of the oldest cities in North America, so this section of the city, with its ancient architecture and cobblestone streets, allows for an enjoyable experience. Pastor Daniel guided us with explanations of the various buildings and what their original uses were, and how the area has transformed today to become the center of the art and music scene of Montreal. We visited many of these buildings before breaking for dinner at a local restaurant where the menu included helpings of poutine, a Canadian dish consisting of French fries covered with cheese curds and gravy! After dinner, I treated the team to a special desert, Beaver Tail, a Canadian brand of sweet pastry that is covered with toppings of your choice. I think they loved them as much as I do.

Students engaging with a new prayer practice
As our week winds down, I want to give a special recognition to the two chaperones who have come along with me on this trip, who without them, this week would not have been possible; Jennifer Hissam and Donyelle Coalson. This two ladies jumped at the chance to be a part of this team when I gave a blanket request for parents who would be interested in taking part. This week they have been the perfect chaperones, jumping in on all of the work, encouraging and guiding students as they needed it, assisting with the needs of staying in the church each nigh, jumping in on the fun with students each evening as we relaxed, driving the second vehicle, and so much more. I am and our students were very fortunate to have them here, and I am glad they were, because I have so enjoyed sharing in this week with them, and I am so thankful for their service this week.

Our team now prepares to head home on Saturday after what has been a fulfilling week. Many came with various expectations and fears, however I think they will be returning to Union County with a better sense of the breadth of God’s kingdom, as well as the diversity within the body of Christ. I hope they are challenged to take the experiences they have had this week, and allow them to change the way they view all of the relationships they have in their lives.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

The Big Day (Day 6)

Julia with our new friend Ryan
Our day today was the big one, the one we have been working towards all week! On Thursday of each week, the church distributes the food from the food bank to 110 families. Everything we have done this week builds up to the work that was done today. It was a long one, and one where our team was working nonstop from the morning till about 6:30 this evening.
Reece and I started our day a little earlier than the rest of the team because we went with Gerard, Pastor Daniel, and Gill, another volunteer from the church, to pick up the weekly food items that the church purchases from the New Generation Mission that we visited on Tuesday. We left the church at 7 AM to get these items, which amounted to about 9 palates and the entire shipping truck full of food. The rest of the team remaining at the church began their morning around 8:30 with sorting the remaining food that was picked up at the farms yesterday.
Unloading the morning's pick-up

It took our delivery team a couple of hours to load the truck, and when we returned our team and the other church volunteers welcomed us and together we unloaded the truck and sorted all of the items. We took a break for lunch which was a huge family style meal of our team interspersed with the church volunteers, and it was a vibrant, jovial time. After lunch, the next two hours were focused on doing all of the final preparations necessary to distribute the food for the families.
            The food distribution lasted three hours (3-6), and it required our team and the church volunteers to set up various “pick-up” stations where the customers would come with their own bags and collect their food. To give you an idea of how much food they left with, it often took 4 or 5 large tote bags, as well as two boxes full of items, and at least 3 people to carry it all to the car. Our team worked non-stop restocking pick up locations, carrying bags to cars, speaking with customers (some with more difficulty than others because of the language barrier), cleaning working spaces, and moving large boxes of food throughout the facility. When the final family came by to pick up their food, we sat down for a well-deserved dinner and much needed rest.
Prepping for Pick Up Stations
            Our team is exhausted. They worked hard, being on their feet for the entire day stopping only for meals, working to lift heavy boxes and hauling bags. Altogether, we estimated that we moved about 3,500 pounds of food items today which benefited 110 families. Despite their exhaustion, they were amazed at how efficient the church volunteers are who do this work 50 weeks out of the year. When our team, or other teams from North Carolina are not here however, the number of workers in the food bank drops to about 10-15 people, so our team has great respect for their work. As Pastor Daniel shared with the team over dinner, the church puts in this much work because it is a means for contact with their community. The church tried many different things over the years to connect with the people of Chateauguay, and the idea of the food bank was a desperate attempt at first, but since has grown into a means far beyond anything they could imagine. They do this work with such energy and passion because they are doing it for the Lord. I know this left an impression on our team.
Delivering people's food to their cars
            But now, our work portion of the week is done. We will get some much-needed rest tonight, and I will treat them all to Tim Horton’s in just a bit to celebrate. Tomorrow we will go into the city of Montreal to visit for the day. Pastor Daniel will provide us with a tour as well as seeing various historical sites, along with doing other sightseeing, and I am sure there will be some shopping involved. It will give us a chance to experience Quebec in a different way. Montreal is one of the oldest cities in North America, and I am excited for them to take in its beauty.

It is hard to believe that our time here has come and gone. In two days time, we will be back in North Carolina. This has been a great experience for the students, and I am encouraged by the ways they have been challenged, and the growth I have seen in each of them. I also am thankful for the time I have been able to spend with them, developing relationships with each of them. I truly love sharing in these students’ lives, and am honored God has given me the privilege to serve as their minister.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

The Countryside of Quebec (Day 5)

Our team out with the truck at a farm
Today was our fifth day in Quebec and it saw our team working in various places around southern Quebec. After our breakfast, we loaded up in vehicles and headed out to the farm country to the south and east of Chateauguay. The church here partners with various farmers to acquire fresh produce each week which they then distribute to families in the food bank. We visited six different farms where we picked up various items including potatoes, lettuce, radishes, cilantro, parsley, celery, cucumbers, spinach, and tomatoes. At each stop, our team was able to meet with the farmer briefly, see the land and equipment, as well as gather food and collect many boxes of items and load them in the church’s delivery truck. This took all morning, and I think everyone appreciated the new experience as well as the beauty of the Quebec countryside.
Unloading through a window, Chateauguay style
            One of the highlights of these farms trips is that our team members got to take turns riding in the delivery truck with one of the church’s volunteers in the food bank, Gerard. Gerard is a gentleman who retired early a few years ago so that he could dedicate more of his time to the mission. His humor and big personality are contagious, and our team enjoyed the time with him as I knew they would. It is great that the students get to meet these volunteers who are so passionate about the work of the mission in the church.
            When we returned from the farms, we unloaded the truck in a smooth fashion and stopped for lunch. After lunch, our team spent the afternoon sorting and organizing all of the food that had been collected this morning. During lunch, Pastor Daniel received a surprise phone call from a food bank director on the northern side of Montreal who was wanting to share food with the church if we were willing to come and get it. So while the rest of the team was packing and sorting the food collected this morning, Pastor Daniel and I rode to the northern part of Montreal to pick-up the unexpected donation of six pallets full of different foods from a food bank there. When we returned 2 hours later, the team had completely separated and organized all of the food, and Pastor Daniel was greatly surprised. The team then unloaded the surprise donation before preparing for dinner.

Haley, Jennifer, and Katie working with Gerard to load the truck
            Since today was Wednesday, the church gathered this evening for its weekly prayer time. Our team joined the prayer gathering, and those gathered sang a few songs, shared prayer requests, and gave testimonies. During the prayer time, many different people from the church offered prayers of blessing or gratitude upon our students, often celebrating and thanking God for “the next generation” of God’s church. I greatly appreciate the way the people here celebrate, love on, and lift up our teenagers. They are so grateful to see young Christians because they live in a place where there is such a small church community, so our students’ presence invigorates them.

            Tonight we have a special treat, as each year, Montreal hosts the International Firework Competition, where different countries are represented and each country gives their own firework display around a particular theme. It just so happens that this week’s team or country is the United States, so we will be going down to the shore of the St. Lawrence River here in Chateauguay to see the fireworks as they are shot off over the river from Montreal! Should be a lot of fun. Tomorrow however is our big day as it is food distribution day. It is an early start (7 AM) and a late ending (7 PM), but our team is motivated and dedicated so I am looking forward to how it will go.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Serving with Our "Portion" (Day 4)

1,400 pounds of pretzels... no problem!
 As I write this, we just finished a wonderful dinner prepared by Isabelle, one of Pastor Daniel’s daughters. I am quite embarrassed to say how much of her dessert I ate, which was so good; a cinnamon roll type pastry baked in a maple infused milk, and topped with a maple-sugar ice cream made right here in Quebec. Shamelessly, I had somewhere between 2-5 helpings (you guess the amount), but it was amazing! I just love all things maple. I tried to prepare our team for how they would be feed here. The church members here are so grateful for our presence, they try to shower us with their best dishes, as well as showcase the great foods of Quebec!

Katie and Haley - Service with a Smile
Our fourth day in Quebec saw our team leaving the confines of Eglise Chretienne le Rocher to travel into the Southern Shore of Montreal to spend the day working at Mission Nouvelle Generation (New Generation Mission). This is an organization that the church in Chateauguay partners with to receive food items to distribute each week. The New Generation Mission touches about 800 families each week in the Southern Shore region of greater Montreal, with 120 of those occurring here through the church’s work in Chateauguay. So the work our team did today was not only to benefit the recipients of the food ministry who come through the doors of Eglise Chretienne le Rocher, but their efforts will touch over 800 families in the region.
            The mission’s warehouse, which was formally a Nestle yogurt factory now retrofitted and being updated to meet the missions needs, is a large space complete with a large refrigerator that houses perishable items, storage and workspace for separating and organizing vegetables, breads, and other items, as well as a thrift store, furniture sales, and many other things. After about a 30 minute drive to reach the mission’s warehouse in the city we spent the next 7 hours on a variety of tasks, mostly portioning out food items for distribution to individual families.

Rachel & Bayley portioning rice grains
            We started working with pretzels, which came in large boxes containing 700 pounds of pretzels each! Our team managed to sift through and individually bag 1,400 hundred pounds in about an hour and half. Their competitive sides came out as various groups were having some “friendly competition” to see who could do the best, not only in number, but also quality. Their drive to work always inspires me. Next on our “menu” was portioning out grains of rice. The rice came in bags weighing about 50 pounds each, and our group was able to get through almost 50 bags before we had an early afternoon break to tour the facility at Mission Nouvelle Generation (given by their founder and director Stephan), and hear all about the mission’s work to provide for needs in their community and to reach the lost in Quebec. We finished off the afternoon separating pork chops, which was a much more comical experience than I think most thought it would be, but they powered through and knocked out a large amount of the meat before we ended our work and headed back to Chateauguay.
            Our team was exhausted after a full day of working in the warehouse. However, it was a great way for them to see the work that is being done by those who are Christ followers here in Quebec. Groups like Eglise Chretienne le Rocher and Mission Nouvelle Generation are attempting to counteract the low number of believers in the Quebec population, where less than 1% of the people identify as Christian. Our team not only hears first hand from people like Stephan at the mission, and of course Pastor Daniel here at the church, but join in with these groups in working to show these communities God’s love through the blessings of these food ministries.
            Tomorrow, we head out to the farms east of Chateauguay and Montreal to gather produce for the distribution on Thursday and to meet with local farmers and here about their experiences working in this area. I suddenly hear a large commotion of laughter out in the main hall, so I am going to go join in on the fun and fellowship with this great group of students! Come back for updates tomorrow! 

Monday, July 18, 2016

A Good First Day's Work (Day 3)

Carter entertaining children of family who fed our team
Today our team began its work around the church. Today’s goal was to clean around the facility, as well as prepare it for the food packing and distribution that would take place later in the week. We split up into groups and teams that flowed between various jobs including wiping down walls, cleaning out refrigerators, buffing floors, sweeping, washing windows, cleaning work equipment, cleaning out gutters and a variety of other tasks. That is a quick description of what was a full and busy day.
Haley using her artistic gifts to make new stations signs
Our lunch and dinner were provided by different families from within the church. These meals provide us with a great time to meet various people from the church on a more personal level. We continue to be overwhelmed by the gracious hospitality of the folks at this church. We have been given so much great food, our team has said they could skip a meal and not even miss it.
            I was grateful for the way our team jumped in this morning, ready and willing to do the work around the church. They all were flexible and supportive of each other. Toward the end of the afternoon, the team was continuing to ask Pastor Daniel if there was anything else that they could do around the church, because they genuinely wanted to help with the work and improvements of the church. 

            Tomorrow we will spend the day out collecting foods from other food banks in the region that will be dispersed on Thursday. This will give our team an opportunity to see more of the province of Quebec, and interact with other areas of the ministry beyond the church.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Experiencing Chateauguay (Day 2)

Today was focused on our team encountering the town of Chateauguay in a variety of ways. Our first night sleeping in the church was not without its bumps. There were a few of us (myself included) who had issues with their air mattresses staying inflated. So by about 4 AM this morning, I was laying squarely with my back to the floor. Maybe not the best sleep, but the situation could always be worse.
Students Participating in French Speaking Worship
Students meeting Church Members
            We began the morning with participating in the church’s weekly worship service. This was a unique experience for our team since the entirety of the service was done in French. Also, because the majority of the church is made up of first and second generation Christians, there is no long tradition or way of doing things, so the worship structure reflects what we would often consider a “contemporary” style of worship as this is what the current generation knows how to express themselves musically. Also, the people are so genuinely thankful and desiring to praise God, that they are quite expressive and literal in their responses in worship.                        

For example, one song that was sung had a phrase “as we walk hand in hand to serve our Lord,” and one lady on the spur of the moment took the hand of the student seated on the aisle, and proceeded to lead the team, hand in hand, around the room as we sang the song. This moment was not prompted or planned, it is just something she felt like doing, and welcomed our team to participate in it with her. I preached the morning sermon, with Pastor Daniel Cimon translating as we went. This too was something new for the team having never been in a situation where this form of delivery had to happen, but it went well with little issues, other than Daniel and myself sharing in some repeating laughter. As expected, the people of Eglise Chretienne Le Rocher were very receptive of our team, and many came and talked with them, expressing their gratitude for our coming to share this week with them.
            For lunch, we were again treated to an amazing meal with Pastor Daniel, his wife Josie, and two of his children and their families. As we did yesterday, we had an enjoyable time hearing more of his and the church’s story, as well as learning more about the religious history and challenges faced by people in the province of Quebec. Following lunch, we were taken by Pastor Daniel to Saint Bernard Heritage Center, or as the locals know it, “Nun Island”, a beautiful part of the city that sits at the point where the St. Lawrence River and the Chateauguay River meet. This property, once managed by a Catholic order but is now owned by the city, serves as a wildlife refuge and local recreational spot. With our visit, our team learned about the presence of the Catholic order in this area, and its rocky relationship with the people.
Pastor Daniel describing the Nun Cemetery
            We drove around the rest of the city with Daniel pointing out various markers and significant points, including the “First Nation” reservation, Kahnawake,  which is home to decedents of the indigenous natives of this area. Following our tour of the city, we returned for dinner at the Cimon’s, which was capped off with doughnuts from Tim Horton’s, a Canadian business, that I must admit, I have fallen in love with after my handful of visits to Canada. After dinner, some of our team members wanted to walk around the neighborhood together, and it provided an opportunity to see and encounter residents of the town who were playing in the park, walking dogs, and just going about living their lives.

First time for Tim Horton's Donuts
            So far, one of the highlights of the trip for me is the many times I have seen our team talking with one another, and sharing in roaring laughter. This has happened quickly, and I appreciate it because the makeup of this group is one that we often don’t always have in our regular gatherings. I am glad to have these students here and see them experiencing these moments together. The service today provided the opportunity for good reflection and discussion that I hope will continue to develop and evolve their perspectives on the different ways people engage the Christian journey. Tomorrow, our specific work with the food bank begins. Here’s to hoping for a good nights rest. We appreciate the prayers everyone!