2017 has flown by! Of course, that’s what one says when there are only a couple of weeks left in the year. I’m sure there were moments that went by too fast and too slow for all of us this year. I want to highlight some of my reflections from this year, but I’ll start off with a story on why I still wear our mission team’s bracelets.
Three years ago, when we went to the village of Mani, I found myself blessed to be a part of the larger body of Christ. Together we shared love, peace, and reconciliation not just with a village, but a community that reminded me, I am a part of the body of Christ. I’m not sure how many of us remember a young woman named Hafni, whom we brought back to our prayer concerns in 2014. We met her during vacation Bible school. She participated with all the other youth and children singing, teaching, and learning. At the end of our trip, Pastor Gonzalo pulled a couple of us aside and asked us to pray for Hafni. It turned out that she had a bad heart valve. Her family and her church were struggling to make ends meet for her care, even thinking about sending her to Mexico City for treatment. The church and family did not want “us from the US” to do anything, but pray, and we did. We prayed for her when we got back and kept her on our prayer list for quite awhile after we returned. I did not forget about her, I put her name in my notes on my phone. When scrolling through my list of prayer concerns, I would lift her up. Three years went by and my bracelet given to me there fell off and my prayers for Hafni had changed to prayers for our upcoming mission trip.
As I shared when we returned, I did not handle the sun and humidity as well this trip. Our mission team and the church were amazing in caring for each other. It was during the day I was laid up when Byran, Inez, Darcie, Pastor Gonzalo, Pedro, and I were asked to come and pray for a family who’s two-year-old had suffered life threatening burns due to a hot water pot spilling on her. This was a traumatic accident. We listened to the family and prayed for them, knowing that all we could do was pray. The church took a special offering and gave what little they had for support of the family and continued to pray for them. As I was taken back to rest at the church, I asked Byron and Inez about Hafni. I was told that she died about three weeks prior to our arriving in Mani. I was angry and felt like I had been hit with another wave of exhaustion by the news. I told our group later that day about Hafni, how Darcie and I and the other leaders had been invited to pray for the other family in the village, and we continue to pray.
I do not realize I’m wearing our mission bracelets, until I look down at my right arm. They are reminders to pray. Reminders that not all prayers are answered the way I want. Reminders that relationships are precious. Reminders of how blessed I am to be a part of Christ’s body even when I don’t understand. Reminders to keep praying for the family in Mani with the young child, for the families we built houses for, for the church, for the leaders there, for the village, for Byron, Inez, and Kawika, for our mission team, for our staff, for our ministry, for my family, for friends, and for you. Yes, my bracelets remind me to pray for you, the people I serve, work with, am blessed to know and love.
I know I drop the ball plenty of times as your pastor. When I’ve let you down this past year, I’m sorry. When I have not called or texted or visited, I hope you forgive me. When decisions or actions have not gone like you’ve wanted or prayed for, I ask for your grace. When I’ve done well and my ego swells, don’t worry I come back to earth quickly. I am grateful and blessed to be your pastor. I am humbled that we are in a relationship, a messy one at times, a joyful one, and one where we need each other more than we understand. We are sisters and brothers, equal in our relationships as followers of Jesus.
For me, as I look back on this year, I am grateful for our relationships. Yes, I’ve outlined goals for next year. Yes, we will continue to improve our worship, our discipleship, carry out our mission, and invite all to be welcome here, but it comes down our wonderfully broken and tenuously magnificent relationships.
Here are some things we as a community in relationship did this year: we celebrated 125 years as a congregation, we took old-time fun photos, installed visual capabilities and railings in the sanctuary, got the electronic sign up and running, went on a mission trip to Mani, we serve 165 people a week through our Dinner at the Bell community meal, painted, landscaped, worked together, shared meals, had fun competitive baking and cooking contests, we laughed, we cried, we honored legacy, worked to preserve our environment, we are installing our hood in Stocker kitchen, we had a fun picnic, we put together a cookbook, we went to an AquaSox game, we sang with a huge combined choir, we honored our veterans, we reached out to our members, we visited, we prayed, we worshiped, we grew in our faith, we celebrated lives well lived from our congregation, and we served beyond our walls this year.
All of this is based on our belief that we are better together and in relationship with each other. I want to acknowledge our wonderful staff: Dana, Ari, Sondra, Steve, Gary, Linda, Benny, and Bea are amazing, gifted, and bring their “A game” every day to serve here. We have great and hard-working elders and deacons who do a ton behind the scenes and are leaders in our congregation.
I am grateful for the 125th Committee that was put together a little ad hoc, but a big thank you to Steve Torrence, Gary and Dariel Norris, Dana Wright, Jay Kuhnhenn, Jan Weakley, Carolyn and Mike Goza, Ralph and Shirley Solberg, Katherine Campbell, Todd Morrow, Lois and Tony Tysseling, Dottie Villesvik, and many others who helped guide, lead, support, and work on various projects.
I know there are many volunteers who go unnoticed every week that make our life together work. Thank you for volunteering in our office, keeping our computers running, making sure we’re financially good to go, leading and serving on committees, cooking, baking and organizing receptions, cleaning, making sure our facility is welcoming, greeting new people who walk through our doors, ushering, making phone calls and sending letters, praying, and being the servant leaders Jesus calls us to be in the community.
I want to thank Darcie and the entire mission team, mission supporters, and extended mission families who continue to have a vision to go and experience the good news of Jesus. My life continues to be blessed and made pleasantly uncomfortable when I follow Jesus. Thank you for being witnesses to me in this by the way you live your life and challenge me to be a better person. These reflections are based on our relationships, thank you.
Lastly, this year I started a new chapter in my life. A relationship has taken a new step, one that I was slow in because of past hurts. Yet, I know relationships are all about ups and downs. The constant is that God is faithful. Vicki and I had just started dating when we went to Mani in 2014. This year, she went with us as my fiancé. She loves me just as I am. She cried when I told her Hafni died, not because she knew her, but the body of Christ grieves as well as it celebrates together. We all have mission trip stories (whether or not we went or have gone on one) because there are people God has placed on our hearts to pray for, to be there for, to help, and to be in a relationship with. Every time I look at my bracelets I pray and am grateful for the reminder that we are the body of Christ.
As every year ends, I reflect on how blessed I am to be here. Know that you are loved by Jesus, God is faithful, and the Holy Spirit is alive, giving us glimpses of the kingdom of God. We are better together, and our relationships are a reminder of how much we can accomplish just by being us. No matter what happened this year, as I look at my bracelets, my prayer for you are blessings in the New Year and for all of us to know how much we are loved.