Prayer, the Language of Christian Community

In recent morning reflections, I’ve found the following excerpt quite encouraging and helpful as it serves as a reminder of the reasons why Christian community and being connected to our Creator, is so important as we live out the Gospel.

“”Prayer is the language of Christian community,” writes Henri Nouwen. “In prayer the nature of the community becomes visible because in prayer we direct ourselves to the one who forms the community. We do not pray to each other, but together we pray to God, who calls us and makes us a new people.” It is in the act of worship that we experience the gift of community at its deepest level. In the eucharistic offering of bread and wine, our brokenness and separation are offered in symbolic union with the broken body of Christ, and then given back transformed and made whole as a sign of that new community brought into being by his resurrection. If we are to understand what it means to be community-builders, we must do so from this perspective. Ministry is given to us by God. It remains authentic only as it is empowered at its source, supported and guided by the community of faith, and then shared with others. “Make me an instrument of your peace,” prayed St. Francis. “Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is discord, union.” This is what it means to exercise a community-building ministry, to be in the fullest sense, an ambassador of reconciliation.”

~ from Mutual Ministry by James C. Fenhagen

Micah 6:1-8 serves as good indicator as well – if we are serious about community!

In a changing world …

… will we be found faithfully living out a compassionate and selfless life?

“The changes being demanded of us are almost beyond comprehension. For vast numbers of people living in the West – the world of the “haves” – it will mean a total reorientation of life-styles. It will mean learning how to resist the urge to buy and the urge to eat, where submitting to those urges is our custom. It will mean discovering the simplicity which comes from an intentional life lived from inside out rather than from outside in. In the riches of the Christian tradition there are patterns for this kind of pursuit, easily adapted to present needs. To adopt them, however, will require not only assistance, but ongoing support.”

~ James C. Fenhagen (from Mutual Ministry)

57 As they were going along the road, someone said to Him, “I will follow You wherever You go.” 58 And Jesus said to him, “The foxes have holes and the birds of the [a]air have[b]nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” 59 And He said to another,“Follow Me.” But he said, “Lord, permit me first to go and bury my father.” 60 But He said to him, “Allow the dead to bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim everywhere the kingdom of God.” 61 Another also said, “I will follow You, Lord; but first permit me to say good-bye to those at home.” 62 But Jesus said to him, “No one, after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.”           

~ Luke 9:57-62 (NASB)

This was part of my reading this morning … and it comes at a time where I’ve been reflecting on how to hold loosely the things of this world … Living in a world where the “haves” and “have-nots” live on the same soil … what should I, as a “have”, think of my life-style if I’m to be true to the gospel?

Global AIDS Ministry Consultation – Prayers

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Your invitation: a moment of prayer

At the end of this month we will be having a special time where SIM leaders in HIV ministry will gather and take a moment to pause, reflect, celebrate, pray, think, plan and commit. We would like to invite you to join with us in praying for this event.

In the early 2000s, SIM’s HOPE for AIDS started as a practical and physical outworking of prayer in response to people living with HIV in our communities. As we seek to continue to be responsive we need to be open and active; and so we are creating the space to do this and to re-commit ourselves to global and local HIV issues.

Beginning on Monday November 23rd through to Friday November 27th we are gathering 26 people  currently working in Africa (13), Asia (9), America (3) and New Zealand (1) to celebrate how God has used HOPE for AIDS over the last 15+years.  During this time these people will also be active participants in a process of shaping the future of SIM’s HIV ministries.

It will be exciting and, with our end goal being a collective vision and strategies for the next 5 years, it will also be very intensive; and so we would greatly value your prayers.

If you will join with us in prayer for this gathering, thank you!

The information provided below is to help you pray specifically for personnel and content throughout the week:

Leadership Team:

Please pray for the leadership team as they coordinate planning for and facilitation of the consultation. Pray for good progress and good health during a busy planning period and that all will run smoothly during consultation week.

The leadership team is:

  • Marcus Baeder (SIM International/HOPE for AIDS)
  • Jacqui Croxon (SIM Thailand/Radical Grace)
  • Kenneth Fleck (SIM NZ/Radical Grace).

Please also pray for many of our ‘Radical Grace’ Thailand team who, as the hosts, will be involved in helping with the preparations.

Program & speakers:

Each day we have a theme which we believe will step us towards a unified vision and strategies for SIM’s missional role in HIV care and prevention.

  • Monday – History & Celebration: reflecting back to move forward
  • Tuesday – Missiology: engaging well with current trends and challenges
  • Wednesday – Theology: why are we involved?
  • Thursday – Vision: setting our global goals for the next 5 years
  • Friday – Vision to Reality: making it possible into the future

Each day we will hear from a number of speakers, largely from within our HOPE for AIDS family. Please pray for these speakers as they plan and prepare, and then deliver, their presentations.

Delegates:

As previously mentioned, delegates will represent many countries which currently have, or are exploring, HIV ministries. Pray as the delegates prepare to travel to Chiang Mai, for safety and for favourable visa processing where applicable.

Pray that the consultation will be a rich and rewarding time for all delegates as we reflect on achievements and look to the future of SIM’s HIV ministries.

A season of peace, kindness, and respect

Some great reflections on our common humanity – particularly around this time of year!

The Heffron Family

“The season of peace is at hand.”

Christmas is just days away, and even many people who reject Christianity tend to share in the good will and hope that this season represents.

Just over a year ago, I met a lot of good people in Nigeria.  Some were missionaries, some were Nigerian ministry workers, some were Nigerian church officials, and some were just average Nigerian folks.  Almost all spoke actively of wanting peace, of wanting their country to have a better present, a better future, and a better image abroad.  Almost all of them were Christians, howsoever informed, sincere, and successful they were in living that out.

I didn’t, though, interact significantly enough with Muslims.  Some of the people whom I met at markets, some of the soldiers keeping roads safe, and some of the people who served my food were Muslims, but I didn’t get to really talk to them enough…

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SEASONS!

SEASONS. A poetic word to capture the unique & often unexpected chapters that God writes into our lives. After 2 terms (5 years) in Burkina Faso, West Africa, Marcus & I are now entering a new season : Instead of returning to Burkina, we will be moving in early 2014 to South Africa (either Cape Town or Johannesburg), but still as SIM missionaries. As for which city, we will determine this in December when we go to S. Africa as a family, in combination with Marcus attending the all-Africa AIDS conference (ICASA), which just happens to be in Cape Town this time! We don’t know exactly how long this home assignment will be, since we want enough time for the Lord’s healing work in us as we process the hardships of the last 2.5 years. We hope that the roughly 8-10 months will allow for adequate rest, recreation, and re-connecting w/family & friends.

For most of you this news may come as a complete surprise; we weren’t trying to keep you in the dark. We’ve actually been considering this option since last year, but didn’t want to rush the decision-making process. We anticipated that our SIM debrief meeting (August 13) would be key in helping us discern God’s leading – and indeed it did. Since leaving Burkina in mid-May, we’ve gotten input from diverse circles of friends, all affirming that it is wise to transition from Burkina to S. Africa.

You may be asking, What about your passion for Francophone Africa? After all, you 2 met in that Urbana workshop “The Challenge of French-speaking Africa”! Be assured that this passion lives on! During one of Marcus’ HOPE for AIDS trips to S. Africa last year, he ended up “randomly” meeting a member of Parliament, who said that their biggest challenge in governance is the influx of Francophone Africans in search of a better life. Not knowing English, resented by the local population for taking jobs & resources, lacking access to good health care, these refugees / immigrants suffer. Though we don’t yet know exactly how God will use us, we’re excited to offer our French fluency and understanding of the particularities of the French colonial legacy on Africa.

While we know that Burkina is not a good fit for us in the long-term, we don’t regret having spent the last 2 terms there, and know without a doubt that it was God who led us there. Not only was there tangible fruit in ministry, but more importantly, God used the extremely trying nature of life there to mold & mature our character. We will greatly miss our national friends, as well as our SIM Burkina team, who became like family, caring for us profoundly & practically. Serving alongside & fellowshipping with missionaries from all over the world has certainly whetted our appetite for more cross-cultural living!

What do we mean by “not a good fit”? To be honest, I struggled much more than Marcus did with the reality of having to be on-call 24-7. Our mission station (compound) in Fada N’Gourma is located on the only east-west route from Mali to Niger, and has a guesthouse, conference center, & cash office (distributing money for salaries, projects, medical needs, etc. of locals working with SIM).  It has always been the rest-stop for folks driving to & from SIM’s 2 largest stations, as well as for missionaries from neighboring countries on the way to Niger, where their kids attend boarding school. In addition to our own houseworker & washing lady, there are several faithful employees who keep the station running. So as you can imagine, we did not have much privacy; our home was a revolving door, not a place we could truly “retreat” to. While Marcus’ 100% extroverted self didn’t mind the constant interruptions, I found them draining.

Even if we were to live off station, though there’d be less traffic, privacy would still be an issue. Living in Burkina means that we as “whites” can never be unnoticed… and I now know how essential this is to my well-being. How many times I craved being able to go jogging without being stared at (What’s that crazy white-y in such a rush for?!) & followed by kids, or having to explain WHY I as a woman am “doing sport”! In S. Africa, on the other hand, given the large white & Asian communities, I could actually be anonymous.

As the only missionaries on the station this term (what a contrast to the full compound when we first arrived in 2007!), we felt acutely the “hole” from lack of regular fellowship & support that we had our first term; brief overlaps in Fada, Mahadaga, or Ouaga with our beloved fellow missionaries always seemed too short! And while we had deep friendships with several local believers, I especially longed to live in community with Western believers who “get” where we come from. Marcus & I have come to appreciate anew the Western church’s value for the small group structure, from which we benefited greatly during our time in the U.S. We’re eager to once again have this as a regular component of our spiritual life in S. Africa.

S. Africa also makes more sense practically for Marcus’ role as HOPE for AIDS (HfA) International Coordinator, which he took on in December 2011. A big part of his job is to visit the projects, most of which are located in eastern/southern Africa, and also Thailand & India. These trips invigorated him, and gave him the on-the-ground insight needed to effectively fundraise & provide support. However, traveling from Burkina was expensive & inconvenient, as flight options to & from Ouagadougou are limited! Johannesburg, on the other hand, is a major hub. Plus, we will be near his colleague, the HfA Projects Mentor, who lives in Cape Town. How much more productive being able to regularly meet face to face, as opposed to choppy Skype calls due to Burkina’s inconsistent internet! And good access is essential for Marcus’ work.

What about the HfA Burkina project? As Marcus likes to say, “He’s worked himself out of a job.” It is a good time for him to transition out, as his Burkinabé colleague, Moïse (also in Fada), has already been running it beautifully. Some of you had the privilege of meeting him when he & his family came to the U.S. for a 6-month English course in 2010. A man of integrity, wisdom, intelligence, and spiritual maturity, he is deeply respected by both Christian & secular circles alike in Fada & beyond.

The other big advantage of S. Africa is that there are many good schooling options for Silas, unlike in Burkina where we’d have to home-school, or move from Fada to Ouaga for the one decent French school. Those of you who’ve met Silas agree that he is extremely social, and thrives in group settings. For that reason, homeschooling would not be a good fit.

Many of you have been praying for our respective health issues, exacerbated by Burkina’s extreme climate & poverty. You’ll be relieved to know that S. Africa has “1st world”-quality health care. For Marcus, he looks forward to better gastro-intestinal health, and peace of mind knowing that there are plenty of specialists if his lung re-collapses, as it did last year.  Jen anticipates her autoimmune disease – Sjogren’s Syndrome – symptoms (very dry eyes & mouth, fatigue) lessening due to the more temperate climate & less stressful living situation.

We hope that this update has given you a good sense of our decision-making process. If you have questions or insights you think might be helpful for this new season, please do contact us.  THANK YOU for your faithful friendship & support in this crazy journey!

Lovingly in Him,

Jen, Marcus, & Silas