Monday, December 12, 2011

win

We really value stories at Nativity -- it's the currency of our ministry. Hearing stories of how God is working in people's lives and in our church gives encouragement to us and gives glory to God. If you have a story to share, you can always pass it along by commenting here on our blog or sending an e-mail to missions@churchnativity.tv. Here's an e-mail I just received from one of our Project Thanksgiving participants -- awesome to see how God is using our church to work in this person's life.
I had been searching for the right church for a few years. In October, I began attending Mass at Nativity, but I did not know anyone from the church. One or two weeks before I attended Access Point to become an official member, was the Project Thanksgiving sign up weekend. Not only was I impressed by the fact that Nativity was collecting food bags, but they were providing opportunities for members to participate "hands on" in projects throughout our communities... I signed up for the Eastside Emergency Family Shelter lunch on December 2nd. I was looking forward to the volunteer service, but I also thought it would be a nice way to meet some other members of Nativity.
The leader knew of a group of women who were interested in this particular shelter. The women happen to belong to a small group that meets on Wednesdays. We provided a hot lunch of stuffed shells, garlic bread and salad. The staff and residents were pleased with the lunch and very appreciative, which made this a rewarding experience. It felt so nice to be able to help others.
Then I received a pleasant surprise, the girls asked me to join their small group!! I was so touched by their warmth and friendliness! This will be the first time I've been in a small group. I was going to wait until after the holidays to sign up for a group, but in an answer to a prayer, this group was put into my life! This experience has been another example of by striving to do good for God, God does wonderful things for us!!
Amen! God indeed does wonderful things for us -- and what a great story showing how when we obey God in service, we then receive blessings in return. The win here for Nativity is how one step led to another and another, and our church was able to encourage that growth and blessing. Equally as awesome was to see the generosity and welcoming nature of a small group to invite a new member! Help us celebrate stories of God winning at our church.  He's at work in your life; don't be afraid to share it with others...

Monday, December 5, 2011

school lunch program

During our November trip we were able to see the lunch program in action. Here's a brief video of the students at St. Anne's eating in their brand new school cafeteria.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

a busy november

It's been a busy month for NativityMissions. November started off with our annual Project Thanksgiving. We collected over 1,100 Thanksgiving dinners that went to feed families in need throughout our region. This year we also kicked up our service a notch and had almost two-hundred members sign up to serve at different organizations to feed the hungry this holiday season.

In the midst of Project Thanksgiving, we sent another small Missions team to Haiti. The group spent time in the school and at the church meeting the parishioners, teachers and students -- building relationships and strengthening the connection between our two communities. We also saw the school lunch program in action which was truly awesome. Hundreds and hundreds of kids eating everyday in a place that had been condemned just months before. Be sure to look out for photos and video from the trip during Mass this Advent and at Christmas Eve at the Fairgrounds!

And this past weekend we just kicked off our Advent message series "Simply Christmas." This Advent we are pausing to reflect on the simplicity of the Christmas message. And rather than introducing a new initiative and going over the top with a third Advent Conspiracy, we will continue to support the work of our strategic partners in Nigeria and Haiti while opening our hearts to the presence of God. I think this is an awesome step for our church and our congregation to take, by giving out of our substance to support our strategic partners while preaching a great message and maintaining the integrity of the Christmas season.

Remember that you can always keep up with NativityMissions by following us on Twitter -- @cn_missions

Thursday, October 20, 2011

jonah

As I was reading Jonah the other night, given our current message series at Nativity, this verse jumped out at me: Those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace that could be theirs (NIV, Jonah 2.8). It is such a crystal clear way to sum up the relationship we have with our counterfeit gods... When we choose them over our Lord, we miss out on grace.

Those of us who are engaged in Missions work are often go-getters. As a result of being involved in a lot of activities, our schedules tend to get crazy full. The idols in our lives can be good things -- like doing Missions work -- it's when they jump a few slots too high on the list of priorities that a good thing becomes an idol... And we start to do things like look to our to-do list to provide a sense of worth and be a source of happiness. Have you ever worshiped your work, your schedule, your busyness? Is that a source of pride for you? Is it a counterfeit god?

Idols aren't always drugs and money. Remember that even good things, when put out of order, can cause us miss out on grace. God calls us to love him with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. He doesn't ask us to do a whole lot, just to love.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

sowing the seeds of love

We just finished up a great series at Nativity -- "Taking responsibility for your life." One of the key verses for the series was Galatians 6:7:
Make no mistake: God is not mocked, for a person will reap only what he sows.
To be honest, I didn't think too much of the "you reap what you sow" principle before this series. Sure, I believed it was true, but I considered myself a pretty responsible person and assumed that this would be an uneventful message series. Turns out I was wrong on a few counts... This verse, a little honesty from my friends, and some accountability from my small group has shed light onto areas of my life where I need to step up my responsibility -- mainly with the relationships in my life. Over the past few weeks, in addition to being reminded of some things I need to work on, I've also been reminded about a key aspect of the nature of God...

I was definitely unprepared for the conviction that would come from these messages, and I felt myself getting down, reflecting on all the poor seeds I've sewn and the problems I'm now reaping. Often when people challenge or criticize us in life, it's not out of a spirit of caring but out of competition or envy. It can hurt when people call us out on "our stuff" when it's not done in the right manner or with the best intentions. We all struggle with insecurity, so comments that challenge us can leave us feeling unloved, unwanted, and even unlovable.

Though "God is not mocked" and he does rebuke and discipline us when we need correction (and it's usually the fact that those changes will be painful), the bottom line is he does it out of love. God is love; he loves us for who we are not what we do. And God is jealous; he wants all of us, all of our hearts and our lives. Because he's a perfect and loving father, his love corrects us when we go astray. He does this not because God gets a kick out of seeing us squirm, but because he has greater things in store for us in the future.
He takes away every branch in me that does not bear fruit, and everyone that does he prunes so that it bears more fruit... As the Father loves me, so I also love you. Remain in my love. (John 15.2,9)
God loves you. He is your heavenly Father, and like a father disciples his children, so God may be disciplining you just as he's disciplining me. Always remember to keep in mind that it is done out of love and with the intention of blessing you more in the future.

p.s. I really do apologize for the title of this post -- I just couldn't help myself.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

absolutely awesome.

For the first time ever, Fr. Wilner traveled to Church of the Nativity to be introduced to our church community -- Fr. Wilner is the pastor of our strategic partner church, St. Anne's in Labrande, Haiti. His time in Maryland flew by... with a trip to Baltimore City to see CRS World Headquarters and the Basilica, lunches and dinners with our ministers, missionaries, and staff members at Nativity, and speaking at all weekend, the itinerary was packed. It was great to see our community connect with Fr. Wilner, and especially exciting to highlight the progress of our summer projects in their community...

When we first traveled to St. Anne's, the summer after the earthquake, school was not in session, which meant a program integral to their community was not being offered: school lunch. Without serving a meal at school, children are more likely to work or beg for food during the day than attend class. But by providing a meal of rice, beans, and a simple protein, the students at St. Anne's are able to come to school, eat a healthy meal, receive an education and the blessing of hope for the future.

Here are some pictures of the kitchen and cafeteria building before Nativity's partnership.




But last Advent, when the Nativity community learned about the situation at St. Anne's, they responded in an overwhelming way. And now, in just a few short weeks, all the students at St. Anne's will be going to school and eating lunch in their brand new cafeteria...




As Fr. Wilner said this weekend, "Merci et mille mercis a vous" -- translated, "Thank you and one thousand thanks to you." I am so proud to be a part of the Nativity community that has such a heart for Missions. Thank you for your generosity and support of our partnership... It's thrilling to think that our work here is just beginning.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

fasting and feasting

I've recently returned from a two-week mission trip with the Nativity:Nigeria Mission. My team was assigned to the Faith Alive Foundation, one of our strategic partners in Nigeria. Our team stayed in a guest house about a ten minute walk from the hospital, we met and bonded with the doctors and staff, served alongside lab techs and students, sat in counseling sessions, and even helped out with filing and administrative work. You can read all about our adventures on the Nativity:Nigeria blog.

One evening at Faith Alive, Pastor Ben came to have dinner with our team at the guest house. We stumbled onto the topic of spiritual battle. Pastor was telling to us how diligent he and Faith Alive are about praying for Dr. Chris, his leadership, and especially protection from the devil. Ben said that because the Gospel is relatively new throughout Africa -- he is the first generation of Christians in his family -- the Church is fighting a more intense and often more tangible battle with evil. This really opened our eyes to one of the most remarkable aspects of Faith Alive:  the faith of the community and how it's... well, alive!

Each month there is a spiritual theme and related scripture verse (August's was Looking unto Jesus, Hebrews 12:2). The morning devotions are based on the theme, the prayer team and praise teams use the scripture for inspiration, and the pastors teach and preach on them throughout the month. There's definitely power in having a whole body of believers studying God's Word, learning and growing together -- hey, it's kind of like a message series!

And although you could say that they take their faith seriously, there is such a spirit of joy at Faith Alive. The first Thursday of every month, the community holds a fast. The prayer team gathers at 8am to dedicate the fast and pray for the monthly topic. Everyone works all day, and they meet at the end of the day for worship. We participated as we were at Faith Alive for the first Thursday of August. The afternoon gathering started off pretty normally, even somewhat subdued. We continued to pray and reflect on the fast, but then, at the drop of the hat, the time came to to break fast... The praise team took the stage, dancing and singing followed, then soda and snacks for everyone! It was such a simple celebration yet it was celebrated with such enthusiasm.

That day's feast and Nehemiah 8:10 are good reminders that we always have reason to celebrate. We are facing opposition that we have to take seriously, we have important tasks that need to do be done, but it's all in the context of a battle that's already won for us, we will overcome and God's power will prevail, the joy of the Lord is our strength.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

nativity:nigeria

I just had the awesome privilege of spending some time with our Nativity:Nigeria partners a few weeks ago. I spent most of my time in Nigeria at the Faith Alive Foundation in Jos. Another team from Nativity spent two weeks with Sr. Oresoa at the Anawim Home Orphanage -- I was only able to visit with Sister for an afternoon, so be sure to check out the Nativity:Nigeria blog to hear stories and reflections from that team.

Dr. Chris Isichei is the founding coordinator of the free hospital, which also now runs satellite clinics in Fabor, Kafanchan, Bakin Kogi, and Andaha as well as a primary school in Hwol Yarje. To say that the are doing amazing work is an understatement...

I'll be sharing some more of my thoughts over the next few weeks, but wanted to get a post up this week... We all shared some thoughts with the doctors and staff at Faith Alive on our last day. I made comments on three things -- and these three things make me and Church of the Nativity so incredibly proud to partner with Faith Alive.

The vision of Church of the Nativity starts with the phrase "Making Church matter by growing disciples growing disciples..." We are disciples who are committed to growing in our relationship with Christ internally and intentionally. The entire staff at Faith Alive Foundation not only meets once per week to have a learning session, not just do they also train and educate medical students in Jos, but Dr. Chris himself holds personal Christian leadership and mentoring classes with up-and-coming leaders in the community. What an inspiration to see a glimpse of our vision being realized in one of our partners.

Secondly, and speaking of vision, it was so obvious to me and my team that the vision of Faith Alive is being carried not just by Dr. Chris but by the entire organization. We had passionate conversations with everyone from the managers of the store room to doctors in the emergency room about how essential the work is that they are doing, and how it's not just a great work to be done, but it's a God-inspired vision to take part in. They set goals that seem to be impossible so that when they are accomplished, God gets the glory.

And finally, a concept that is not easy to master, the Faith Alive Foundation has married good works with the Good News. They are successfully treating and caring for thousands of patients, have carried out 300 surgeries (with only 1 fatality) in a few short years, and will continue to grow as a healthy organization to provide excellent medical care to the surrounding communities... Not just that, but they are evangelizing to each and every patient, the staff, which they call a family, are going to the streets with the message of salvation (40 some people saved last month), and each day begins and ends with devotion and prayer.

I'll say again how proud we are to partner with such an amazing organization. And I should also thank all of our past missionaries who have traveled to Jos and formed relationships with people in the Faith Alive family -- it is the relationships that you have built that our partnership is standing on now. I'm grateful for all your contributions and very excited about all that God has in store for the future...

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

another excerpt

Here's another excerpt from When Helping Hurts (p 81):
The goal is to see people restored to being what God created them to be: people who understand that they are created in the image of God with the gifts, abilities, and capacity to make decisions and to effect change in the world around them; and people who steward their lives, communities, resources and relationships in order to bring glory to God. These things tend to happen in highly relational, process-focused ministries more than in impersonal, product-focused ministries.
Nativity Missions is trying to create "highly relational" environments where the members of our community can enter into the lives of the members of our partner communities, locally, nationally and internationally. The Nativity:Nigeria Mission teams are leaving on Saturday for a seventeen day short-term mission trip. The missionaries have been preparing for months and are ready to experience what life is like living with AIDS without proper medical care or living as an abandoned child in an orphanage. I will be among the team going to the Faith Alive Hospital in Jos -- I encourage you to follow our trip on the Nativity:Nigeria blog.

Please pray for our partners Dr. Chris Isichei and Sr. Oresoa Selo-Ojeme, for the communities they serve at Faith Alive and Anawim, for our missionaries and their families!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

it's going to snow tomorrow?

Happy 4th of July -- it's almost Christmas! This year, our third year of participating in Advent Conspiracy, the focus is going to be local. In years past we have opened our eyes and hearts to those suffering in Nigeria in Haiti due to lack of water and food. God calls us to serve to the ends of the earth, and he calls us to serve in our own neighborhoods and communities. We are definitely already aware that there are people suffering around us, people suffering in our city.

Think about this verse as it applies to all the victims of violence in Baltimore living in a land of gloom, all the families broken by drugs and abuse, all the children who are being raised in the darkness of our city.

The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
Upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom
a light has shone.
You have brought them abundant joy
and great rejoicing,
As they rejoice before you as at the harvest
as men make merry when dividing spoils.
For the yoke that burdened them,
the pole on their shoulder,
And the rod of their taskmaster
you have smashed, as on the day of Midian.
For every boot that trampled in battle,
every cloak rolled in blood,
will be burned as fuel for flames.
For a child is born to us, a son is given us;
up his shoulder dominion rests.
They name him Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero,
Father-Forever, Prince of Peace.
His dominion is vast
and forever peaceful,
From David's throne, and over his kingdom,
which he confirms and sustains
By judgment and justice,
both now and forever.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this!

God has done these things; Jesus Christ is born, and we have a Savior. This Advent, we are going to call upon the Lord to do a work in our hearts and in our city as we make peace our prayer for Baltimore City!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

servefest

Nativity is gearing up for another awesome year of ServeFest! The movement, as I think it can be called now, started in 2004 with one church in Harford County rallying together to serve their community. Over the past few years, more churches have gotten involved in more counties having a greater and greater tremendous impact. In 2010, ServeFest truly became regional. Its influence extended throughout 4 counties and Baltimore City, bringing together over 80 churches.

I encourage you, your friends, your family, your small group, your co-workers, your neighbors (did I miss anyone) to sign-up to get involved this May. It's super easy since you can pick the project that is most exciting to you, and you can sign up all your friends too. Just go to www.servefestmd.org!

The story of ServeFest begins with churches working together, however, it is the thousands of volunteers that give it a heartbeat of compassion demonstrating Living Proof Of A Loving God! See you on May 14...

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

excerpt

Here's an excerpt from a great book I've been reading, When Helping Hurts.
Consider the familiar case of the person who comes to your church asking for help with paying an electric bill. On the surface, it appears that this person's problem is a lack of material resources, and many churches respond by giving this person enough money to pay the electric bill. But what if this person's fundamental problem is not having the self-discipline to keep a stable job? Simply giving this person money is treating the symptoms rather than the underlying disease and will enable him to continue with his lack of self-discipline. In this case, the gift of the money does more harm than good, and it would be better not to do anything at all than to give this handout. Really! Instead, a better--and far more costly--solution would be for your church to develop a relationship with this person, a relationship that says, "We are here to walk with you and to help you use your gifts and abilities to avoid being in this situation in the future. Let us into your life and let us work with you to determine the reason you are in this predicament" (p. 55).
This is a powerful and paradigm shifting paragraph. And I love it! This is exactly what Nativity's Missions are about locally, nationally and internationally -- entering into relationship with people and helping them to help themselves, restoring their relationships with God, with themselves, and within their own communities. It's all about relationships.