Reflections Bonclarken 2018

I am Lucas, and this is my second year on the Presbytery Youth Council. I have been to Bonclarken five times. The first three with my church, and the other two as a PYC leader. On our planning retreat, we talked about issues that we dealt with when we were in middle school and eventually came up with the theme, “Perfectly Imperfect.” Our keynoter shared her vision for the keynotes talking about how we are all made imperfectly for our own purpose by God. This year [due to Hurricane Florence] we really didn’t have a lot of planning time. We had one meeting where every team had to get all their planning done. I was placed on the Recreation team, and we wanted to design a small group rec event with a variety of games which gave everyone opportunities to get involved and have fun. We also tried to pick games that require teamwork. I think the keynotes were very relevant to many people and connected with them. What was the most powerful thing, to me, was the worship service on Sunday morning.

Every church group had their youth group involved in one aspect of leading worship. I believe this allowed a lot of the youth to really think about, and reflect on, the things they heard throughout the weekend. They wrote some amazing Prayers, a Call to Worship, Call to our Offering, etc. It really showed that they were hearing, and what the PYC was hoping they would hear. Thank you all who support PYC: All our churches, ministers, and youth leaders are appreciated because none of our work is possible without their support.

Lucas Conti
Senior at Ft. Inn Presbyterian


My name is Ella Casto-Waters, and I’m an active member of First Presbyterian Church Greer. I’m also serving my first term on the Presbyterian Youth Council. I’ve attended the Foothills Presbytery Middle School Retreat at Bonclarken three times: twice as a youth and once as a PYC leader. Each time I’ve been to Bonclarken I’ve had a great experience that has helped me grow in my faith. The PYC started planning this retreat back in August at our leadership retreat. We gathered and discussed our middle school experiences and what themes represent those experiences. Together, we decided on “Perfectly Imperfect.”Lauren Slingerland was the keynoter for the weekend, and we were fortunate enough to have her at our planning meeting. Lauren thoughtfully contributed to our discussions and brilliantly turned our ideas into worship services. At our last meeting, Lauren worked with us to make props and visual aids for the different keynotes. Everything came together beautiful. Every aspect of the retreat was well thought-out and put together. The small group manual was extremely well-written and included activities that were directly related to the scriptures of the weekend. I was impressed by how natural the connection between keynote, small group, and recreation seemed. My favorite part of the retreat was watching the youth lead worship on Sunday morning. It was such a joy to listen to the kids’ interpretations of the theme and what they were taking away from the weekend. Retreats like this past one at Bonclarken are made possible because of the support from Foothills Presbytery. So, thank you. To the churches and individuals that support the ministry of the Presbyterian Youth Council: thank you. Your commitment to our organization means so much to us and to the youth of this Presbytery.

Ella is a Sophomore at Greer High school

 

 

Forever Memories

By Gracelyn and Ali Latham

Two sisters share how the summer mission opportunities at Easley Presbyterian created memories for a lifetime.

 

Middle School Mission Ministry:
Going to Asheville Youth Missions is an empowering experience that middle schoolers at Easley Presbyterian Church have the opportunity to go through for three years in a row.  Unfortunately, this past year was my last attending AYM, seeing that I am in my first year of high school now, but the memories I have made will stay with me forever.  While in Asheville, we are tasked with many different projects that help the less fortunate in and around the area.  During the week, my group went to 12 Baskets Cafe, the Veteran’s Restoration Quarters, Vance Peace Elementary School Garden, and the Homeward Bound Donation Center.

The first day at Vance Peace Elementary, we were able to go to their garden and help spread mulch and pull weeds.  Although it was very sunny and hot, we all were inspired by the children that attend the school and were able to meet one of them, and she told us all about how much she loved going to a school that has a garden they are able to tend to and learn from.  The second half of the day we went to the Homeward Bound Donation Center.  This is a place where anyone in the community can donate household items, anything from microwaves and kitchen knives to couches and desk chairs.  These items will then be inventoried and given out to people who just recently bought a place to live, but still don’t have enough money to be able to afford simple things that are needed to live abundantly.

The second day we went to 12 Baskets Cafe, a restaurant that receives donated food from local restaurants and cooks it new the next day and gives it out for free.  While there, my group was able to talk to people who explained their life stories to us and gave us advice on how to become better people and better Christians.  Personally, I saw God in every single one of those people that I talked to because I was able to hear their own unique life experiences and how God helped them through all the bad times and how He was there for them through all the good.  On the last day, we went to the Veterans’ Restoration Quarters, or VRQ.  The VRQ is a place to keep veterans from living on the streets.  My group went to the one that housed only male veterans, and we were able to eat lunch with them and sort out clothes that were donated to the VRQ.

Overall, Asheville Youth Mission 2018 (insert link) was an amazing trip that I was lucky enough to experience.  God was with every person on that trip, along with everyone we were able to meet and talk to.


Senior High Mission Ministry:

Getting to go to New Mexico for the mission trip was an incredibly opportunity that I will never forget. God truly led me to see so many amazing things and new experiences.

While in New Mexico on the Navajo Indian Reservations, my fellow youth members and I got to experience a new culture, worship God, and touch the lives of the natives that lived there. We got to meet so many people and had such deep and meaningful conversations with the locals who were so open to us and invited us into their homes and taught us how they live. It was a wonderful experience because not only did we learn about their way of life, but we got to tell them all about our lives too. They asked about our church and community and loved to hear everything we had to say about ourselves.

During our week in the hot deserts of New Mexico, we got to go to several different houses around the place we were staying and help out so many families. The physical work we did included painting, digging holes and trenches, roofing, cleaning and so much more.

Each mission trip I have been on has touched me in different ways. Also, each mission trip helps me to grow closer to God and the members of my youth group. I never would have expected how close people can get until I went on a trip with Easley Presbyterian Church. I have been going there my whole life and have met some of my best friends there and still, we all grow closer each trip we take.

EPC is definitely my second home and we take that with us everywhere we go. This summer we took our love and fellowship to Navajo, New Mexico and spread our love to so many others!

Gracelyn is a freshman at Easley High School
Ali is a senior at Easley High School

 

 

VBS 2018-Together, We are God’s Family

 

Vacation Bible School, those words can bring excitement, anxiety, stress and worry as churches look for ways to share the stories of faith with our children.

This year, an idea was born when Eastminster Presbyterian, Fountain Inn Presbyterian and FPC Simpsonville celebrated Epiphany together with our children. The Epiphany Party was such a success that someone said, “what if we combined for Vacation Bible School this year.” So, the journey began.

We decided on a one day format and Joan Jones, Director of Children and Middle School Youth Ministries at Eastminster, gathered a group and began dreaming of what this day could be.

Once we decided to move forward with a joint, one-day VBS, we also invited children from the Thornwell Children’s Home in Clinton to come and join us.

Our day was split into two sections. Our morning theme was “I am a Child of God.’ We celebrated each child’s uniqueness and gave thanks to God for the gifts we have each been given. Each child created a beautiful piece of art where they named and celebrated what makes them special.

The morning session included music, art, stories and a discussion for adults, led by Pressley Cox, EPC, and Chris Jones, FIPC, on how we as adults can nurture, guide and support our youth as they grow up in a very different world.

Following lunch, we dove into our afternoon theme, Together, we are God’s Family. We again spent time in music, art, bible story, recreation and also created gift bags for families in Habitat for Humanity homes as well as persons being served by Safe Harbor.

The afternoon art project, led by Jaime Winton, was to create something that each group could take home to their churches or home to remind them that even when we are a part, we are all God’s family. Each person at VBS, children, youth and adults, created 4 sticks. The sticks were used to create a piece of at that says “God’s Family Sticks Together.”

Our day ended with a VBS celebration and cookout dinner. What a gift to gather over 50 adult volunteers, over 15 middle school and high school youth volunteers and 40 children all from 4 different communities who planned, prayed, sang and shared as we gave thanks for a God who calls us into community together.

223rd General Assembly

by Mary Moore Driggers

**Hello, Mary Moore Driggers – Young Adult Advisory Delegate from Foothills Presbytery, and I call for discussion** (Presby Polity jokes…what can I say!)

The Holy Spirit surely works in mysterious and yet wonderful ways. On Thursday morning at 3:30a.m I headed out to the 223rd PC (USA) General Assembly in St. Louis, Missouri and did not return until 11:00p.m on Saturday, June 23. It was ten days full of Presbyterian Polity. I did not quite understand what I was getting myself into when I signed on to serve my Presbytery as a YAAD just two short years ago. It was a huge honor to be selected and I tried to take in as much as possible. Some of the things I took in included looking at the world through a new lens. Often times in our little corner in the upstate of South Carolina we forget that there is a whole world out there that is begging to be reached out to. I was fortunate enough to serve on committee seven which was the Ecumenical and Interfaith Relationships team. In this committee I was pushed to dig deeper about what it means to see “outsiders” with a second lens and build relationships with our communities near and far all around the world.

While I was at GA I participated in a march through downtown St. Louis in 100 degree heat with hundreds of Presbyterians. We were not the “Frozen Chosen” that day, instead we boldly chanted as we made our way to the City Justice Center where we delivered a message, and also a check for $47,200 for bail relief. That offering will grant freedom to people held under bench warrants and minor offenses as they await trial and it gets them back to their jobs and families. As we arrived at the steps of the Justice Center, our Stated Clerk, J. Herbert Nelson proclaimed that we are in need of returning to the justice understanding of our faith. We are embarking on the days where we can actively engage in this country and call on the powers and principalities to release those from captivity. In participating in this event it was a great way of showing God’s love in the world, it also opened many eyes to see that the Church does not have to have a sanctuary TO BE THE CHURCH! This is what Jesus meant when he says “release the captives” and this kind of movement is actually the way forward for our church in the 21st century.

When there is no justice, there is no peace. I am happy and proud to have stood with my siblings in Christ during that scorching hot Tuesday afternoon. It in fact was what democracy looked like. It in fact was what Theology looked like. It in fact was what community looked like. It in fact was what a family looked like. And more than anything, it in fact was what the KINdom of God looks like.

This term of “The KINdom of God” is what we constantly were referred back to during the General Assembly. Through this we explored new ways to be at the table with others alike and not. As Presbyterians, though we might be reformed, we are always reforming! A new age has come and the church is changing. That day we all lifted our voices with those who were and are incarcerated simply because they don’t have $50 to post bail before their trials. People should NEVER be punished simply for being poor. I stood that day because I knew there were not only human beings in that place, but God was in that place, and when God’s family is hurting, God hurts.

My First Mini Montreat as a PYC Leader

Logan is a senior from John Knox Presbyterian Church who has served on PYC for 3 years. Currently she serves as the Moderator for the PYC. After graduation she will be attending Furman University.

This weekend, I got to spend my first Mini-Montreat as a PYC leader. Having never been
involved in this before, I hadn’t realized how much work really goes into the making of this
retreat in order for it all to come together. You don’t realize how many elements there really are
until you are actually in it, but in the end the work is all worth it.

I got to lead a small group, and it was so much fun to be able to influence the weekends
of these kids for the better, and to be able to show them who God truly is. As a leader, you have
to be able to make it fun and interesting while still being able to give them good information , and I feel like our plan for the weekend helped us do that. At the end of the weekend, I asked our group how they felt about the weekend, and not one of them complained about any of it. They said that it was the best weekend they had had in a long time and that there was nothing to complain about. To me, that shows that all of our hard work and dedication to PYC truly pays off and makes a difference in other people’s lives.

When I joined Presbyterian Youth Council three years ago, I had no clue the journey that I was beginning. The people on this council are truly some of the best people I know; I have no clue what my life would look like without these people and I give all glory to God for bringing them all together through PYC. The ministry that PYC provides is an important part of each youth’s life that attends and leads these retreats in our presbytery. Every member of PYC, around 20 people, plays an important role in the planning of these retreats, Mini-Montreat and Bonclarken; there is no way these retreats would happen successfully without each individual contributing. Growing up, I attended these retreats myself and it is crazy to me to think that somehow, I ended up as moderator of all this. I believe that God had complete control of putting me on this council because this has truly been the best three years of my life.

I would encourage youth to at least consider the idea of applying to join PYC. This council has been a hallmark of my entire high school career and I believe that everyone deserves the chance to experience it. There truly is no other group that I would rather be involved with or that I would get as much out of. PYC is much more than a group that plans retreats, it is a family; the best family anyone could ask for.

 

No Trivial Pursuits

No Trivial Pursuits—CPM, March 22, 2018
by Allen McSween

Scripture:  2 Corinthians 4:1-2, 5-7 (RSV)

“Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart. We have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways; we refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to every one’s conscience in the sight of God…. For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake.  For it is the God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.  But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, to show that the transcendent power belongs to God and not to us.”

A number of years ago there was a popular game called Trivial Pursuits. We used to love to play it with our family at the beach. At one point they dubbed me “The Prince of Trivia”– not a very good title for a minister of the Gospel.

I’m not sure how many people still play the game, but trivial pursuits have certainly not gone away in our culture. Back in 1985 Neil Postman wrote a book entitled Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business. Things have only gone downhill since then. In an age of Reality television, with a Reality show star playing the role of the President, public discourse has lost virtually all semblance of civility or depth. Everywhere you turn our discourse has been cheapened… including in the church. There, too, it seems that we are fast “amusing ourselves to death.”

Several years ago, when Wain Wesberry was associate pastor at Fourth Presbyterian, he attended the baptism of his nephew whose family attended a well known mega-church here in town. The baptism was not held in the sanctuary. It was held at a neighborhood swimming pool. The minister said a few words about baptism in general and then threw the kid into the pool, saying, “You are baptized.” The folks around the pool applauded and laughed.

Now, I trust that would not happen in any of the congregations we are part of. But sometimes we Presbyterian are not much better. Michael Jinkins, the president of Louisville Presbyterian Seminary, tells of an ordination service that one of his students had attended. In the service the moderator of the ordination commission told a series of jokes, some of which were in very poor taste, and then said to the one being ordained, “Now we have to get on to the boring stuff. I need to ask you these questions.”[i]

Boring stuff”! What he called “the boring stuff” were not just some questions out of the blue. The “boring stuff” was the vows by which the new minister was promising God and God’s people to trust in Jesus Christ as Lord of all and Head of the Church, to accept the Bible as God’s Word, to be instructed and led by the confessions as she leads the church, and to be a friend among her colleagues as she seeks “to serve the people with energy, intelligence, imagination and love.”

There is nothing trivial or boring about that at all. When we make such vows in the presence of the living God, we almost literally “take our souls in our hands,” as we offer as much of ourselves as we can understand to as much of God as we can comprehend for as long as we are able. Serious stuff!

Several years ago, David Brooks, my favorite Jewish Calvinist, wrote a column  in which he insisted that the time has come for us all to get “a little more serious.” Brooks says that over-against the rising tide of superficiality all around us, “there must be room,” for someone to offer “an aspirational ideal . . . that separates for busy people the things that are enduring from the things that aren’t.”

That, I would submit, is a prime task for the Church of Jesus Christ in a culture vainly amusing itself to death. We are called to proclaim and to embody enduring realities. That’s our distinctive calling. In an Age of Show Business, there are plenty of comedians who are a lot funnier than we’ll ever be. There are better story-tellers on any Podcast you can name. There are better political prognosticators on MSNBC or Fox. And you can hear better music, from Bach to rock, all over the place. But we in the church have the distinctive task of helping people separate the things that endure from the things that do not.

So the question we must ask, and keep on asking, is the question Dr. John Leith put so insistently throughout his lifetime. “What does the church have to say that no one else can say?” (the subtitle to his book The Reformed Imperative)

So what is it that we alone have?  In the words of Paul, “we have the gospel” and we have it “in earthen vessels.” We have a word of Truth to speak openly. We have a deeply serious response, shaped by centuries of profound reflection, to the serious issues that we and all the world face. In a time like this, we do not need a church that tells us we’re OK. We need a God who redeems our sinfulness. We don’t need a liturgy that entertains us. We need worship that links us to best the church has “thought and believed and confessed” across the centuries. We don’t need moralistic advice urging us to try harder. We need a God who raises us from death to life.

In our quest to appear relevant to a generation nurtured on the Pablum of trivial pursuits, we are in serious danger of trivializing ourselves out of business, right at a time when people are increasingly beginning to wonder whether someone, somewhere, might just have something serious to say about the human predicament.

In his poem “Church Going,” the Anglican agnostic Phillip Larkin tells of visiting an empty church one day, more out of curiosity than anything else. Without sharing the faith of those who had worshipped there across the centuries, he was nevertheless struck by the fact that here was what he calls a “serious house on serious earth.” Such a place, he says, can never be obsolete, “since someone will forever be surprising a hunger in himself to be more serious,” and will therefore gravitate with that hunger “to this ground” in which it is “proper to grow wise in.”

I submit that that is our task and the task of the candidates we seek to nurture—to grow wise in the treasures of the Gospel, entrusted to “earthen vessels” like us, by a serious God on serious earth. That never has been and never will be a trivial pursuit.

[i] Michael Jinkins, “Trivializing the Gospel” https://www.faithandleadership.com/michael-jinkins-trivializing-gospel
This entire blog is based on Jinkins’ article, including the quotes from Brooks and Larkin. Jinkins is also the author of an excellent resource for pastors new and old, Letters to New Pastors (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 2006).


[1] Michael Jinkins, “Trivializing the Gospel” https://www.faithandleadership.com/michael-jinkins-trivializing-gospel
This entire blog is based on Jinkins’ article, including the quotes from Brooks and Larkin. Jinkins is also the author of an excellent resource for pastors new and old, Letters to New Pastors (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 2006).

Lent Reflection

 

by Alexandra Mauney, member of First Church Greer; Columbia Theological Seminary Student under care of the Committee on Preparation for Ministry in Foothills Presbytery

My alarm clock is generally set to rouse me from my slumber at about 5:30 AM on weekday mornings. This waking time has become one of the cherished patterns of my daily life rhythms this semester: my first destination, naturally, is the coffee maker. I make a single cup of coffee, turn on a lamp, and peer out into the sleepy darkness of campus. I live in one of the seminary campus dorms and my apartment faces out into one of the more heavily trafficked areas of campus. I covet those early morning moments of dark stillness, when no one is stirring and the brilliance of the floodlights casts an eerie glow over all the familiar scenery outside my windows. This stillness grounds me.

Many mornings, I leave the comfort of my apartment and step out into the brilliant darkness, towards my car to go to the gym, or away from campus for a run. One recent morning, as I continued in this familiar pattern, this ordo of my morning life, I set off running during those mysterious minutes between darkness and light, just before sunrise. I set off running, feet pounding pavement, feet pounding pavement, stopped until the traffic light was green, and set out on the pedestrian path along the road. Suddenly I felt on my chest and arms the unmistakable sticky feeling of an unforeseen cobweb – or, as the case may be, the former presence of a cobweb, which had just then been transferred as filmy residue all across the front of my body. I stopped…brushed it off…and continued…feet pounding pavement, feet pounding pavement…

And then…there was another cobweb. And another…and another…and another. It was as if I was the first person to have traversed that path that morning, making me the object of attachment for all the nighttime toil of the Katie Kerr Road spiders. The cobwebs made their new home over the surfaces of my body and clothes, as I modified my morning ordo to accommodate this new addition. Feet pounding pavement… brushing away cobwebs … feet pounding pavement … brushing away cobwebs …      I was hyperaware of how I must have appeared to onlookers beginning their morning commute.

I soon settled into the new rhythms of running and brushing and running and brushing, but the strange feeling, the sticky and clingy map of spiders’ labors, did not disappear, at least not yet. It did not take a giant leap of the imagination to calculate the possibility that dozens of tiny spiders were maybe crawling all around on the surface of

my body, burrowing away in between my shoelaces and in the crevices of my tank top. That wasn’t true, of course, but you know how the mind works. Where there are cobwebs, there are spiders. And so, I turned and headed towards home…  Feet pounding pavement… brushing away cobwebs … feet pounding pavement … brushing away cobwebs…

The staccato rhythm of my morning ordo did not cease until I reached the steps of my apartment building, bypassing my usual post-run rituals of stretches and peanut-butter-on-Eggo-waffles, heading straight for the shower. It was only then, under the steady stream of water, with the lather of the soapsuds, that the cobwebs disappeared from my body. I kept checking to be sure they were really gone- what if those little tiny spiders from my morbid imagination have burrowed themselves into … no, really, Alexandra, they’re gone. The cobwebs are down the drain. Get on with your day.

But they weren’t really gone. Those cobwebs stuck with me for the better part of the day, at least in my mind and in the memory of my body. That sticky feeling, and the fear of the tiny spiders, and the memory of the residue and the running / brushing / running / brushing rhythm … they all stuck with me. I wasn’t quite the same, at least for that day, and the ever-so-slight alteration in my morning ordo was just significant enough to leave me feeling, well, ever-so-slightly altered.

“Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.”

In Psalm 51, the Psalmist helps us to see just how “cobwebby” our sin can be. The Psalmist writes that his sin is ever before him, ever in front of him, and we can imagine it clinging to him like a spider web, the knowledge and reality of his transgression marking his body with the sticky residue of guilt and sin. We, too, certainly share his experience. The knowledge of our sin, or the knowledge of the sin that is present in the world, clings to us. All it takes is a cursory glance at the day’s newspaper headlines to be covered in the residue of the world’s sin.

Do we not long with the Psalmist for God to wash us – to wash the world – thoroughly of iniquity, to let us hear joy and gladness again, to let the bones that have been crushed rejoice? Just as my encounter with the early morning spider webs prompted me to head straight for the shower, so the Psalmist prays that God would wash him, would blot out that which separates him from God. We pray with the Psalmist that God would look away, that God would hide God’s face from us and wash us from our sin, would turn the shower head on the cobwebs that cling to us so tightly and restore us to a state of joy.

These cobwebs of sin mark the life of faith – attaching themselves to our very bodies – and they cover us all the way to the cross, where we are bound. We walk around brushing aimlessly at the sticky webs until they threaten to drive us mad. They come to bind us in the form of so many things: of our complicity in the violence and evil of the world – white supremacy, the degradation of the earth, the systems that keep poverty in place, apathy for those suffering in our midst – but also of our own doubt and confusion, as we ask with Mary Magdalene at the tomb of her Lord after his mysterious arising, where have they laid my Jesus?, wondering if the Christ to whose cross we have been bound will truly rise to conquer death. (Where there are cobwebs, there are spiders.) These cobwebs mark us deeply and invisibly, altering the ordos of our lives with such subtlety that we sometimes do not even know what’s happening.

Our Lenten journey in these 40 days draws us even more intimately into the perception of those cobwebby sins that bind us to the cross of Christ. Beginning with the heavy awareness of our mortality on Ash Wednesday, we bury our alleluias and put away our joyful postludes and walk with our sticky residued bodies all the way to the stripped altar on Good Friday. We have journeyed with our Lord, and we know that sin deeply marks our lives – we are confused, and sticky, and tired. With the Psalmist, we pray to God, “Against you, you alone, have I sinned, and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are justified in your sentence and blameless when you pass judgment.”

My prayer for myself and for the communities of which I am a part, as we journey toward the stripped altar, is that we might begin to recognize the network of cobwebs that are covering us. I pray that we might offer these revelations of sin to God, who is rich in mercy and is compassionate to forgive, and that we might begin the journey to repentance and restoration. I also pray that as God washes us of our sin, immersing us in the baptismal waters, that we might be moved to action on behalf of those with whom we live and work in community. After all, where there are cobwebs, there are spiders; but where there is water, there is grace. Thanks be to God for this gift of cleansing and renewal.


Psalm 51:1-12
Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against you, you alone, have I sinned, and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are justified in your sentence and blameless when you pass judgment. Indeed, I was born guilty, a sinner when my mother conceived me. You desire truth in the inward being; therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart. Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have crushed rejoice. Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me. Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your holy spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit.

 

Finding Jesus On Both Sides Of The Fence

By Natalie Schwartz (Member of the Seneca Church and participant of the February Border Mission Trip to Frontera de Cristo)

“But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us.” Ephesians 2:13-14

Finding Jesus 1

It was a chilly, rainy Ash Wednesday as I walked along the border wall in Agua Prieta; which even for February was a rare event for the desert city. Our seven member delegation from Foothills Presbytery had been immersed in life on the US-Mexico border for several days and I needed time to pray and reflect. As I walked I stopped and prayed at the murals that adorned the Mexican side of wall. As I walked back to our hotel I noticed that one of the murals was a completely different image depending on your perspective. Just as the murals changed based on our perspective, so do our own thoughts and opinions change when we take the time to see things from different perspectives.

Several times during our trip I had to see the border through someone else’s lens. In the middle of a barren desert outside of Douglas, AZ we planted a cross marking the location where Jose Luis IBarra Lerma, a young migrant in his 20’s, lost his life crossing the border. As we stood there in the sun and wind, thankful for our water bottles, it was clear how dangerous this rugged, barren land could be. One could not help but think about this young migrant in the desert, was he traveling north to support his family? Was he alone when he died, or was there someone there to comfort him in his final moments? Will his family ever be able to visit the cross that we planted? We each left an offering at the foot of the cross, rosaries, coins, shells, rocks and greenery, little tokens that became signs that Jose Luis was a remembered and loved child of God.

Finding Jesus 2

 

As I opened myself to look at the border from a different perspective, as a place of encounter, I began to find Jesus everywhere.

  • In the Mennonite couple that care for the graves of six unidentified migrants, in the father carrying the burden of trying to support his family on a maquiladora salary, knowing if he had just stayed and worked in the US longer his family might not be without electricity.
  • In the matriarch of of a large family who she fed us and waited to eat until we were all full.
  • In the Border Patrol agent offering water to the thirsty migrant. In the social worker helping domestic violence victims.
  • In the women that made up DouglaPrieta, a women’s co-op and community garden.

 

Finding Jesus 3

We all came with our biases, our own opinions, and our own ideas of how Washington should fix “the problems” of border security and Immigration. Instead of walking away with affirmations of our own opinions, simple solutions for major humanitarian issues, and black and white answers, we came home with relationships, questions, and the grace you can only experience through radical hospitality. It was through sharing of meals, laughter and awkwardness as we tried to communicate through language barriers, and the shared passion for living Christ’s Call in our communities that broke down the dividing wall. And when we thought of the border as a place of encounter and opportunity instead of barriers and dividing walls, it washed away the images of militarization, walls, divisions, we encountered generosity, hospitality, and Christian fellowship. The physical wall dividing our two countries still stands, but there is no barrier between our brothers and sisters in Christ.

 

 

 

Finding Jesus 4

Note about pics:

1) A cross attached to the border wall that reads, “As we live, we are all brothers, we are all Migrants”

2) One of the many murals adorning the Mexico side of the U.S. Border wall, showing hands reaching out for one another.

3) A cross erected where Jose Luis, a 20 year migrant, lost his life crossing the border.

4) A mural at the Migrant Shelter of Jesus riding “the beast”, the train heading north across the border with other migrants.

For more information about

https://www.presbyterianmission.org/ministries/missionconnections/the-rev-mark-adams-and-miriam-maldonado-escobar/

 

Frontera De Cristo trip to the US/Mexico Border

“There are different gifts,
but the same Spirit who gives them.
There are different ways of serving God,
but it is the same Lord who is served.
Each one of us is given a gift by the Spirit,
to use for the common good.
Together we are the body of Christ,
and individually members of the body of Christ.”

Friends, we have eight participants in the February 2018 Frontera De Cristo trip to the US/Mexico Border. They come from across our Presbytery and range from young to old. They left SC on 2/9 to travel to Douglas Arizona for a week of Education and awareness, which focuses on building relationships and understanding across borders. Our group will be reflecting on how to live and out of our biblically and theologically understanding of what it means to be disciples of Jesus Christ when borders divide. They return February 16th.

Please keep them in prayer…

Gracious God, we present our hopes for these specially commissioned travelers. In every age you have chosen servants to speak your word in unique and special and various ways. We thank you for these people whom you have called to serve you. Give them each special gifts to do their special work. Fill them with the Holy Spirit so they may accept all they confront, and be faithful and joyful in their task. Bring them safely home and then let their experience further enrich us so that we, too, may better serve you. Amen.

http://fronteradecristo.org/category/ministries/

A Light in the Window

Hazel Sparks, of Clemson, S.C., shares her story of faith, God and how the church shaped her.
By Charmaine Smith

Independent Mail

CLEMSON – At 90 years old, Hazel Sparks still remembers how it felt to walk past Dr. Nelson Bell’s house and see the light on in his study as she headed to breakfast at Montreat High School in North Carolina.

Ms. Hazel, now a Clemson, S.C. resident, grew up in Charlotte. In Charlotte, she first learned about God. But she spent her teenage years roaming around the laurel-ladden pathways of Montreat and that is where she began building on the faith that she learned about in her little pink catechism book.

The world was at war then, she recalls. The families of Japanese diplomats were housed there in those years.

And missionaries who had been serving overseas were returning home to safer surroundings.

One of those missionaries was Dr. Bell. He served as a medical missionary to China. But during the war, he came home to operate a small practice in Black Mountain, and to serve as a pastor where he was needed.

Dr. Bell was father to Ruth Bell Graham, who would later marry the Rev. Billy Graham, and to Virginia Bell, who was one of Ms. Hazel’s close friends.

“When I could see a light on in his office, you knew he was up and he was praying,” Ms. Hazel said. “He was praying for his world, for the girls at Montreat. It was important for me to know that he was praying for us.”

It was there at Montreat that she met with Ms. Mary P. Lord, one of the piano teachers at the school, and talked over questions that she had about God and Scripture and the world. It was at Montreat where she learned the importance of worshipping with the community every week. And it was there where she made her profession of faith, at 14 years old.

“There, in the classrooms at Montreat, we learned to see God in history, in literature, in science – in every subject we took,” Ms. Hazel said. “Those teachers, they really loved us. And that shaped us.”

She learned about God’s constancy from those teachers at Montreat. God was with her when she was 12 years old and her daddy died. God was with her at Montreat when she, and others there adjusted to the worries and fears of war.

“There have been hard places in my life,” Ms. Hazel said. “But I never blamed God – and that is because of what I received at Montreat.”

It was her time in Charlotte, though, that helped her gain the skills she would need to later become a Sunday School teacher herself. For 36 years, she taught Sunday school. And she was a preschool teacher at Fort Hill Presbyterian Church in Clemson for 21 years.

“I taught children or youth all of my married life,” Ms. Hazel said. “And Buddy and I were married for 61 years.”

As a child, at Myers Park Presbyterian Church, she memorized the questions and answers in her little pink catechism book. To this day, she still has that book. Her name is written at the top and its pages are taped together. And it lays next to her great-grandfather, C.W. McCoy’s Bible.

And she can still recite its contents.

“God tells us over and over again in the Psalms to put his words upon our hearts,” Ms. Hazel said. “There may be a time when you don’t have a Bible. The war taught us that. It is easier to live by something that is in your heart than something that is written on a page.”

In her childhood Sunday School class, Ms. Hazel learned what she believed and why. And memorization of key Scriptures and those catechism questions were an important part of her learning.

Another key part of her Sunday School class were the relationships built there. She can still remember her teacher hosting the church’s children at her home. She has fond memories of painting nativity sets at Christmas and going on Easter egg hunts.

“She had a big kitchen,” Ms. Hazel said. “She invited us to a candy pull. It was great fun. That was a way that she showed us Christian fellowship. Because that meant so much to me, I liked to have children in my home too, when I began teaching Sunday School.”

Her role as a Sunday School teacher was not contained to the classroom. Ms. Hazel spent time going to ballparks and piano recitals for her students. Ms. Hazel also modeled Sunday School classroom after the lessons she learned at Myers Park Presbyterian Church.

Key elements to her teaching was memorization, and making sure children knew they were loved.

She expected children to memorize Scripture and those catechism questions.

“I think it is important that children to know what they believe,” Ms. Hazel said. “If they can remember statistics and football plays, why not God’s word?”

The most important thing she wanted every child to know: They are a child of God, loved by God.

That is the refrain in the song that her daughter, Beth Batson, wrote for her that is now played for every child that is baptized at Fort Hill Presbyterian Church in Clemson, where Ms. Hazel is a member now.

These days, Ms. Hazel does not teach young children. But she is still teaching.

These days, for the past nine years, she has hosted Fort Hill Presbyterian Church’s prayer shawl ministry, and she also opens up her home for a monthly Bible study group.

She said that after all this time, she is still learning.

“Even at 90, this decaying body is still growing spiritually,” Ms. Hazel said. “I have found that I don’t have to know all the answers. I just have to know where to look for some of those answers.”

And, if you ride by her home early in the morning, you will likely find a light on in her window. It has become something that her neighbors notice, and will look for, she said.

“That’s my witness. I don’t have to preach or teach,” Ms. Hazel said. When they see my light on, they know. They know I am praying.”

Charmaine Smith-Miles is a pastoral intern at First Presbyterian Church in Anderson, S.C., and is in the process of seeking ordination within the Presbyterian Church (USA). She is a new mother, and also on the journey of answering a call to ministry, after spending 16 years as a journalist for a newspaper in her hometown of Anderson. A native of Tennessee, she loves sharing stories, especially the Gospel story and the stories we carry within ourselves.