Thursday, December 28, 2017

Memorial Thoughts: Maple Grove's Ray Hills

Today across the ocean is the funeral for a man who will not be forgotten.

During my time as pastor of Maple Grove Church of God in Anderson, IN, I was blessed to get to know a man named Ray Hills.

There are so many truly unforgettable memories associated with Ray.

Ray had been an engineer, and was very particular and meticulous...well, with everything!

Ray was an avid baseball fan, a die-harder for those old Cubbies.

I remember Ray volunteering to help our Church softball team (The Mighty Leaves). His way to contribute was through umpiring. However, combine his passion for The Game with his meticulous nature... and the result was a very specific (and rigid) strike zone, of which only Ray was aware! You have never seen so many Church-league softball called-strikeouts as you'd see during those games....for both teams! And never before have you seen an umpire take so much joy in doing his job. :-)

In addition to baseball, Ray was deeply committed to his family and his faith.

I remember sitting with him in the hospital as he tried to cope with the passing of his wife, Martha. Hers was the first funeral I would officiate as a minister. Ray was never the same without Martha.

I remember Ray telling me about when he was 5 years old and knelt with his mother and prayed to receive Jesus. That was a decision that would guide the coming 82 years of his life!!

Ray had been a faithful member of the Maple Grove congregation since his college days, in the early '50s. There was almost never a Church function that he did not attend.

Ray had gone through seminary and was ├╝ber-familiar with the Bible, even with the Hebrew testament, but especially with the Greek testaments.

I will never forget when we began organizing summer fellowship outings to the Indianapolis Indians minor-league baseball games. As the pastor, I volunteered to meet at the church for anyone who wanted to car-pool for the 45-60 minute journey. The first year, Christy and I showed up at the Church at the appointed time and waited. One car rolled in--it was a recent female college-grad. We waited a bit longer to see if anyone else would show, and we saw Ray's gray Toyota Camry roll in.

Of course, he rode shotgun with me driving. I remember barely beginning our journey when the two ladies in the back began talking about whatever they were talking about. Meanwhile, up front...Ray began sharing his rationale for why Liddell-Scott's Greek Lexicon was the superior Greek lexicon on the market. That's a conversation I could enjoy for 5-10 minutes. However, for the entirety of that drive, as I navigated rush-hour traffic and glanced at my pre-GPS post-it note for directions, Ray expounded upon why it was the best there was.

The following year, I thought of a handful of simple questions. I told my car (which that year consisted of Christy, a college student named Andrew, and Ray) that I had questions for us to think about. Each person had 3-5 minutes to give their answer and then it was the next person. That plan actually worked quite well! But I could not have predicted Ray's answer to the following question:

"Do you remember where you were on 9-11?"

"Well, I don't rightly recall where I was at on the 11th of September, 2001. (Pause) But I do remember where I was when I heard the news of the Bombing of Pearl Harbor."

This was one of many reminders that I would get during my time with Ray that he was a wise, old man, one who had experienced much and one who was a storehouse of knowledge.

During the early years of my pastorate (when I was still finishing my MDiv.), occasionally I would alter the Wednesday evening College/Adult Bible Study, in order to fulfill an experiential requirement for one of my practical classes. It was during one of those times of adjustment when Ray piped up a suggestion: "Have you ever considered doing a lesson on... Joash The Boy King?"

"No, Ray. I can honestly say that I have never considered doing a lesson on 'Joash The Boy King..."

I told Ray I would consider such an endeavor.

A year or two would pass before once again, Ray asked me if I had considered a teaching on 'Joash The Boy King."

I promised Ray that if I ever would plan on teaching on Joash The Boy King, he would be the first to know. :-)

As the years went on, a day came when Ray approached me. He handed me one of his 4x7 index cards that he prepared his Bible readings on. He informed me that he had prepared a teaching on...

you guessed it...

Joash The Boy King.

As he gave it to me, he gave me liberty to share it if I ever saw fit. But he did this in his typically humble way of offering it as a gift to the people of God, not to benefit himself. He stated, "Woe betide you if you give me any credit."

Well, Ray, how about if I use it to honor your life well-lived, and your faith well-proven.

Thank you for giving so many of us a picture of faithfulness, and a picture of devotion to our Lord.

Rest in the peace of Christ.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

When two or more are gathered...

I was lucky enough to spend a few days with our Three Worlds teammates and regional ministry partners in Paris in early December and my heart is full! As I’ve been attempting to share the highlights with Dan and jot down action steps for the coming weeks, I realized that it would be helpful to share some background, praises, and needs with supporters and encouragers of what Three Worlds does in the region.
I’ll write a pair of blogs over the coming days- one detailing the Three Worlds Leaders Network (3WLN) and information regarding the recent planning meeting and needs for the network and one sharing about the At Home (@home) ministry that’s taking place in Paris that our team got to experience this weekend.

3WLN 2.0, May 2017

One of the greatest needs among Christians in Europe and the Middle East is an emotional and spiritual one- support, encouragement, and knowing that they are a part of God’s global Church. Europe is the most secular populated continent. While the Church of God exists in 16 countries in Europe and the Middle East, the size of its churches averages around under 50 per church. That often includes many family members and relatives in one church. Imagine if the majority of Christians you know and fellowship with would be members of your family. To be able to meet and support other Christians within your own country would mean so much. 

That is one of the reasons that the 3WLN was created- to combat the isolation that exists and foster inter-connectivity in the region. One of the ways that happens in through a gathering that takes place every 18 months. The first 3WLN gathering was in October of 2015, and we just held the second one in May of 2017.  The planning team meets after each gathering to debrief and process what we witnessed. We pray for everyone that attended and their churches that they represent. We identify common themes and issues that those in attendance seemed to be struggling with. We praise God for what he is doing and the testimonies that we heard. Then we start to think about planning the next gathering and how it can have the maximum impact while still being of highest quality. 

We just held that planning team meeting last weekend. 
3WLN planning team meeting in Paris

My husband, Daniel, and I have said countless times how we were drawn to working with Three Worlds because of the team-based concept. We heard Samir say at the @Home celebration event Saturday night, “those who work alone never finish the race.” During our 3WLN planning meetings on Friday and Saturday, it was abundantly clear that we greatly benefited from having the gift of such talented and diverse people on our planning committee.

Sarina Agbodzi has grown up in Germany but spent significant time in London and now is on staff at the Church of God in Hannover, Germany. She has a burden for young people to stay engaged in church during their teenage and young adult years. She understands the complex dynamics that make it difficult for the church to retain young people. She actively tries to combat that and keep them engaged.

Laszlo Debreceni grew up outside of the Church of God and now pastors in Budapest. He has lived and worked in several countries in Europe, including the Czech Republic. He understands both the Eastern and Western European worlds of Christianity in our region and has a passion for creating healthy, authentic churches who live out the love of Jesus.

Samir Salibi was born in Lebanon but has been living in France for the vast majority of his life. He speaks French, English, and Arabic fluently. He has a passion for the church to live out the love of Christ as in Acts 2, and knows that God has uniquely equipped and placed him in Paris “for such a time as this.” With refugees coming from all over Asia, the Middle East, and Africa, speaking those three languages specifically has opened many doors for At Home to minister where the need is the greatest. 

They represent the diversity and talent of those in the 3WLN, who then go back to their home churches and work to support and encourage others in their congregations. The sense of working in unity multiplies, as they talk about the passions that God has placed on their hearts to minister in unique ways in their context, and it’s absolutely thrilling to watch them connect over common dreams, brainstorm ways to work together in the future, and be there for each other!

3W teammate and 3WLN planner, Audrey Langford, explained it well on her Facebook post this weekend:

Be sure to read more about the 3WLN project here.  
Would you consider a gift to support the work of 3WLN this month? It is eligible to be doubled through the ImpactX2 initiative until December 31st.

One of the 3WLN leaders from Russia, Evgheny, did an amazing job creating this video during our first gathering. Be sure to check it out to feel like you were there!

Also, be sure to check out this article  from Church of God Ministries about 3WLN.

Thank you for keeping 3WLN and all of the churches and leaders in our region in your prayers!