Hope for Refugees

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Refugees seeking asylumThe television news has been devastating, showing thousands of refugees running for their lives, swamping train stations to leave one country for another, cradling babies and urging their children forward, in the face of forceful military or hateful crowds. It doesn’t take much to imagine the misery they are leaving behind, along with all their relationships, possessions, and homelands.

So I was thrilled to read notes of hope from reporter Linda Bloom1 about United Methodists who are welcoming them and working with coalitions to help give them a new home. In Greece, the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) is continuing to provide supplies to Macedonia and is working with GlobalMedic to provide food packets and hygiene kits to 750 families on the islands of Kos and Lesbos. In Sicily, UMCOR works with a local partner to give out emergency food vouchers. In Italy, they’ve contributed funds for a migrant project run by the Federation of Protestant Churches.

In Hungary, the UMC is a member of Hungarian Interchurch Aid, whose volunteers work at refugee camps and transit zones, and who, as part of the ACT Alliance, help give psychosocial services to refugee children in two temporary reception centers. They’re also part of the Wesleyan Alliance in Hungary, which set up a baby-bath center at a railway station in Budapest. In Germany, many local churches have programs in place for refugees, from language classes to fellowship groups, from legal and spiritual counsel to personally going to the train stations and shelters to join crowds welcoming the refugees.

Thomas Kemper, top executive at the U.M. Board of Global Ministries, asks for prayer for a peaceful end to violence in the refugees’ home countries, urges building interfaith relationships, encourages national governments to provide asylum to refugees who cannot return to their homelands, and endorses Church World Service’s call to the U.S. Congress to admit 100,000 Syrian and Iraqi refugees.

It will take a lot of work by non-governmental organizations and different countries to offer homes to this wave of people washing across Europe and beyond. But as the biblical Queen Esther was challenged by her cousin Mordecai: Who knows, perhaps we have come to this place for just such a time as this.evision news has been devastating, showing trhousands of refugees running for their lives, swamping train stations to lea

Your partner in ministry,

Betsy Schwarzentraub

1 – Linda Bloom, “Coping with Europe’s migration crisis,” Sept. 2, 2015, and “European refugee aid goes beyond food, Sept. 10, 2015, United Methodist News Service.

SpiritGifts

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This fall is an excellent time to acknowledge and affirm individuals’ spiritual gifts, with church leaders in new positions preparing to serve next year in ministry roles.SpiritGifts Patricia Brown cvr

When it comes to spiritual-gifts resources, the best book I’ve found is Patricia D. Brown’s SpiritGifts. The practical part is that it’s about not only gifts discovery, but also finding a place to use one’s gifts in ministry and to work together as a ministry team. It also defines spiritual gifts as distinct from talents, abilities, works of ministry, and roles.

But what I like best is how Brown describes the gifts and puts them into three categories:

Gifts of word – what we say,

Gifts of deed – what we do, and

Gifts of sign – ways and signs that point to God.

Get her book to read the refreshing gift definitions, but note how she clusters them in a helpful way:

Gifts of word – Apostleship, encouragement, evangelism, knowledge, pastoring, prophecy, teaching, and wisdom.

Gifts of deed – Assisting, compassion, faith, giving, and leadership.

Gifts of sign – Discernment, healing, interpretation, miracles, and tongues.

She also unpacks the meaning of every gifts with a paragraph about someone with that gift in the Bible, and a following paragraph that describes a person with that gift today.

I’ve used SpiritGifts as the basis for an all-church retreat. But Brown suggests multiple ways to use it, including as a class for group leaders and for new members, and as a way of clustering like-gifted people in small-group ministries. A creative approach!

Your partner in ministry,

Betsy Schwarzentraubv

Another Take on the Three Ts

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When it comes to giving (no, not just money), one message I’ve shared for some years is this: Focus not only on our response, not even on the gifts we’ve been given, but on God, the generous Giver.

Yes, that’s true, to get the authentic, deep-down context for generous-hearted living. But at some point it’s also helpful to think about the ways we can respond to God through loving our neighbor and caring for God’s creation.

The saying from past generations has been to talk about “the three Ts” – time, talent and treasure. But even these categories don’t have to be old, tired phrases.

Time includes all three aspects of time (and different words) expressed in the Scriptures: time that moves from past to present to future, as in learning from the past, making the most of the present, and planning ahead.

Talent doesn’t have to be just the secular understanding of the word, as an exceptional ability which only some people have. It can refer to what the Bible identifies as the talents we all have: heart, mind, soul (or “life” in Hebrew), and strength (body). Exploring the Old Testament meanings of these terms brings us to a holistic context all on its own.

And who says that treasure means just money? I think of it in terms of the treasure of our passion for people and good causes, treasured memories and hopes, and the treasure of relationships in our lives, just for a start.

So even the long-standing “Three Ts” can point to a much larger reality. But I love this new take on the Ts from Lutheran stewardship leader Glenn Taibl: thanksgiving, trust, and transformation. Someone could preach and teach about these! Each one is not only a human response to life and to God – it’s also a result, an increasing part of our identity, as we grow more and more into God’s image, becoming the persons God has designed us to become all along.

Your partner in ministry,

Betsy Schwarzentraub