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Saturday, 27 July 2013

Room for Special Needs II

In January I shared about a school where there is room for special needs.  Today I want to brag a little about Community Christian Reformed Church, where those with special needs are also embraced.

   I have been a member of a Christian congregation in Kitchener, Ontario, for nearly ten years.  This community of believers has room for those with special needs, and it stands out.

·        On Sunday mornings during the school year, a group called “Special Angels” is dismissed along with the Sunday School classes.  Its participants have ranged in age from pre-school to adult.  The leaders and helpers gear a Bible lesson,  music and crafts to the ability level of these special people.
·        This community is part of a larger group of churches.  One of its affiliates in Ottawa organizes a week-long mission trip for youth who could not otherwise participate in a service-based event over the summer.  One to two volunteer mentors are matched with each participant in order to encourage and help him or her make the most of this experience away from home.  The parents of these participants are also blessed with the knowledge that their child is well cared for.
·        Tuesday evenings a program called “Friendship” is offered.  Dozens of teens and adults who live either at home with their parents or in area group homes converge on our wheelchair accessible facility.  There is exuberant singing, time to share birthdays and happy occasions, prayer, Bible stories and then one-on-one time with volunteer mentors, most of whom attend the church.  In the spring and approaching Christmas, this group leads a service for the entire congregation through song, speaking and drama.  Each time I’m struck by how authentic their worship is; we can learn so much from it.

·        This week I had a minor role in the Vacation Bible School program held at the church.  I witnessed the leaders dealing with a particular child, who became disruptive towards the end of the second morning.  They conferred with the child’s mother and aimed to understand the child’s needs.  As a result, one leader stepped away from her other roles in order to work one-on-one with this child for the remainder of the week.  Instead of asking that the child stop coming (which, sadly, does happen at some places), this child and his family were embraced and given what they needed to be successful.  I’m still moved by it. 

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Where to go with Doubt

   From time to time, everyone who has been taught or has embraced the Christian faith will go through periods of doubt. 
   One approach is to quit church, abandon Christian friends and plunge into a way of life that presumes God does not exist.  With that approach, the remaining spark of faith is often extinguished.
   Another approach is to talk to a person of faith about these doubts.  By doing this the doubter will find a person who has walked this road too and can share how he or she made it to the other side.  Quite likely, what the strong believer shares will cascade back to others who supported him or her through times of questioning, as the story I share today illustrates.
   As mentioned in my last post, this story is about my grandfather (Opa), who struggled with questions and doubts in his young adulthood in Rotterdam during the 1920’s.[1]  He decided to share his struggles with the pastor of a church he attended in that city.  When the pastor responded, he shared his own experience with doubt.  That doubt began to be shattered in a rather dramatic way.
   Before he became a pastor, this man encountered a street preacher in the late 19th century and listened among those who had gathered.  The street preacher was heckled by a young man from the crowd.  He brazenly shouted out, “If there is a God, then let him strike me dead right here!”  To the shock of all the witnesses, that boisterous and healthy young man did indeed drop dead on the spot.  This experience caused the previously skeptical man to re-examine his priorities in life and, eventually to turn over his life to God and become a pastor.  No doubt, there were other things that confirmed the faith of this pastor who had once doubted, including the eyewitness testimony of reliable men recorded in the Bible.  His testimony was a turning point for my Opa as well.  Staying among and continuing to talk to people of faith is often the key to fanning the spark of faith into flame again.
   My Opa continued to follow his Lord until he passed away in his 90th year.  Despite his dimentia, his faith never faded as he continued to lead his household in prayer and sang psalms and hymns from memory.  His appreciation for his wife’s caregiving also became more vocal in those later years.

[1] I am indebted to Dr. John VanDorp, MD who heard this story directly from my Opa and shared it in a sermon he preached, based on Psalm 14:1a, which states,  “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’” 

Monday, 22 July 2013

Fresh Beans

   One of the top reasons I plant a vegetable garden, small as it is, is because of fresh beans.  If you have ever eaten fresh beans, you will know that none of the green (or yellow) beans offered by the grocery store can ever measure up.  Frozen beans usually have that waterlogged quality when cooked, canned beans are often tinny and over-salted, and supermarket “fresh beans” may have come from as far away as Italy or Egypt, depending on the season of the year.

   When I pick beans my family has planted myself, I think about my Opa.  When I was growing up, the first beans were often harvested around his birthday of July 30th.  My Opa was the reason my parents had a garden to begin with.  He had been a market gardener for decades in the Netherlands before he came to Canada in his 52nd year.  The farm my Opa bought a couple of years later and where I later grew up had a sizable garden plot to the west of the long driveway.  When my parents got married and my Opa and Oma relocated to a mobile home at another corner of the farm, my Opa continued to care for this piece of ground so that it yielded bushels of potatoes, heads of romaine lettuce and oodles of beans.  His presence during my childhood was something I took for granted.

   Although he has been gone for 20 years, I continue to be influenced by the values he lived.  Another story about my Opa can be found here.  Expect another story about him next time…

Friday, 19 July 2013

Baby Saved by Scissors

About six months ago a friend shared the story with me via Facebook about an infant born in Britain named Maddalena Douse.  Since I am a collector of stories that show God’s providence is at work in everyday life, I have not been able to forget it.  Now is the time to share Maddalena’s story, as she approaches her first birthday.
   Little Maddalena was born at just 23 weeks gestation, and in Britain the guide for doing all you can to save a premature baby is that it must weigh at least 400 grams.  She looked tiny and it surprised the doctors that she exceeded the minimum weight.  Once they had attached her to a ventilator, they noticed that a pair of scissors had been left on the scale and that it had accounted for her weight.
  Just before Christmas in 2013 Maddalena went home from the hospital, still small but no longer requiring the special care she’d needed before. 

   When I read the articles in both The Daily Mail and The Sun there was, predictably, no mention of God’s providence regarding this event.  Think of the biblical book of Esther, which likewise does not mention the name of God even once.  In both these instances and so many more, with eyes of faith we can see that God is all over the story.  He had a very special plan for Esther and no doubt he also has one for Maddalena.

Monday, 15 July 2013

Getting the Whole Story

When I watch the television news I often have the feeling that the something is missing from a particular story.  Despite their attempts to be objective, reporters cover only the aspects of the story that resonate with them or that they think will resonate with the viewers.  A recent example was the coverage of the Thank You Video from the three Ohio women who had been held captive for years and were freed in May of 2013.
   Last week the news report that I happened to see inserted clips of the statements made by Amanda Berry,  Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight.  These women expressed sincere gratitude to the public and appeared confident on camera.  That they did not speak out in anger at the man who abused them was striking to me.  How could these women begin to recover so well from their ordeal unless they had a deep faith in God and his ability to heal them? 
   I decided to watch the entire video, which was only three and a half minutes in length (click on the link above to see it for yourself).  The part that the news station had decided to leave out was Michelle Knight’s powerful witness to the fact that she is leaning on God and that she trusts him to do justice in this situation.  She is not allowing herself to be filled with hate but is grateful for her “brand new life.”  Maybe they thought she was too preachy, but she of all people should have the right to share what is strengthening her.  God is the key  to her coping with the horrible experience that could have caused her to give up on life itself.

Have you ever noticed the faith angle to be missing on the mainstream news?  If so, please share.

Saturday, 13 July 2013

Ancient AND Relevant

One of the great things about the Holy Scriptures is their relevance to all times, despite having been written in a specific time and place.  This week I have been impressed with how applicable the prophecy of Amos is for me today.
   Amos wrote during a time (around 760 BC to 750 BC) of “extravagant indulgence in luxurious living” on the one hand and “oppression of the poor”[1] on the other.  In chapter 6 he says,
            “You lie on beds inlaid with ivory and lounge on your couches.
            You dine on choice lambs and fattened calves.
            You strum away on your harps like David and improvise on musical instruments.
            You drink wine by the bowlful and use the finest lotions,
            but you do not grieve over the ruin of Joseph.”
   Hold on a second, don’t we also have beautiful bedroom suites and can afford to eat the best cuts of meat every day?  Are our homes not stocked with cosmetics and amusements to wile away the time?  This indictment hits close to home.  In North America we are so brainwashed into thinking our lives of luxury are what we deserve or, if anything, that we need even more to be happy and fulfilled.  We are told to save up exorbitant amounts of money for retirement dreams so that we can feast and lounge, and we listen.
   How does the “oppression of the poor” fit into our current context?  Just a few examples to think about:
  • Those who make garments for export work long hours in unsafe factories and lose their lives when it collapses
  • Slums that are a stone’s throw from tropical resorts that attract rich tourists
  • The silent slaughter of the unborn
  • The plague of AIDS wiping out a generation in Africa, which no longer attracts  the news media
   We desperately need God’s perspective on things, even if it is not trendy.  Amos was told by the king of Israel, “Get out, you seer” (Amos 7:12).  Let us instead respond with, “Open our eyes, Lord.”

[1] From the introductory notes to Amos in the NIV Study Bible, Zondervan, 1985, page 1345.

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Montreal Musings 5: Lessons Learned

   When one of my uncles heard we had spent a week in Montreal, his first comment was, "Very educational."  He was so right on many levels.

  • We learned about the unique culture of a cosmopolitan city through walking the streets, shopping at stores and riding the subway system with its residents.  Living in an apartment alongside regular year-round residents made for a more authentic experience than could be obtained by staying at a hotel.  We knew that sundown was approaching on Friday evening as a parade of orthodox Jews went by on their way to a Sabbath service in the neighbourhood.  The daily experience was augmented by a 20 minute multi-media show at the Pointe-a-Calliere Museum which told the story of this city since its founding as both a mission and fur trade junction.
  • One line from the history of Montreal multi-media show that struck my husband and me was "The evening news replaced evening prayers."  Despite the towering basillicas and street names with religious references, the province of Quebec prides itself on being secular.  It was pointed out to us that Quebec is a legitimate mission field where only 1 percent of its population is evangelical.  Mali in West Africa shares the same statistic!
  • Our visit to the Biodome, at the site of Expo '67 was a fantastic way to learn about and see all kinds of creatures, from the familiar otter and porcupine to the exotic capybara (rainforest) and three types of penguins.  We gained a fresh appreciation for the diversity of God's creation.
  If you read the first post of this series, you may have been wondering what we did with the $50 that had been given to us.  We used $20 to repair the toilet at the volunteer apartment, and the rest we passed on to a homeless shelter in Montreal. Soli deo gloria.
 Narrow street approaching the harbour.  Horse-drawn vehicles were used for tourists.

Real king penguins in their snowy and rocky habitat at the Biodome

Saturday, 6 July 2013

Montreal Musings 4: Prayer for Seafarers

   On Thursday at the centre, the chaplain rang a bell at 9 pm for evening prayers even though only one of the seafarers present was a Christian.  All the rest were Hindus.  Our family joined in the chapel so we could experience this devotional time and to show the young man that he was not alone in his faith.
   Here is part of the liturgy that was used:

"O God, I ask you to take me into your care and protection, along with all those who sail in ships.  make me alert and wise in my duties.  Make me faithful in the time of routine, and prompt to decide, and courageous to act in any time of crisis.  Protect me from the dangers and perils of the sea.  And even in the storm, grant that there may be peace and calm within my heart.  When I am far from home, and far from loved ones, and far from the country which I know, help me to be quite sure that wherever I am, I can never be beyond your love and care.  Keep me true to my loved ones and help them to be true to me.  And every time we have to part, bring us together in safety and happiness again at the end of my contract.  This I ask for your love's sake.  Amen"

   So often we take for granted that there will be products on the shelves at all our favourite stores. While many of these goods are produced locally, a good deal are imported and come by the cheapest transportation method possible, cargo ships.  Really, this is nothing new, as I learned from an exhibit at a Montreal museum about the trade in tea from the 1600's onward.  We do well to remember the individuals who leave their families for extended periods of time to make things possible in our global economy.

Thursday, 4 July 2013

Montreal Musings 3: A Family Affair

   In January when my husband and I arranged to volunteer at the Seafarer's Centre in Montreal we were looking for a service opportunity that could involve all the ages in our family.  Quite often service trips are set up for youth only or adults only, and we were hoping that we could do something memorable all together.
   The Seafarer's Centre agreed to take us and provided us with a one-bedroom apartment for the duration of our stay.  Since our volunteer work takes place during the evenings, we have adjusted our regular meal times and bed times this week.  Yet all of this allows us to be together, and each one can contribute uniquely.
   Most of the people who come to the Seafarer's Centre are men who are in the Port of Montreal for as little as three days to unload and reload cargo.  It is a place to relax and get off the ship.  Last night, what was special was that there was a whole family (father, mother, daughter and son) from India that came to the centre.  What a joy it was for me to see my daughters interacting with the children, who spoke very good English!  Part of our shift last night the place was completely empty and we may have wondered what we were doing that had any value.  However, being ready and available made it possible to positively touch the twelve people who did pass through.  Just by being there, we were told, we are also an encouragement to the regular staff.
   Most of those who come to volunteer at the Seafarer's Centre from out-of-province are seniors, so coming as a family with children stands out.  Maybe someone else out there will be inspired to take a family service trip or seek out volunteer work that embraces a whole family.

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Montreal Musings 2: A Different Kind of Canada Day

   Canada Day in Montreal is quite different than it might be in other places.  July 1st is a convenient day off  that serves as "Moving Day" for many Montreal residents, as one-year apartment leases usually expire or begin.  The traditional fireworks display does take place at the harbour in the old city.
   We began the day hoping that food stores would be open on a statutory holiday and were not disappointed.  An authentic Jewish bakery was our destination for fresh bagels and a well stocked IGA gave us a clue that we are staying in a Jewish district with its many Kosher products.
   Next, we walked to Saint Joseph's Oratory, a building dedicated to Joseph, the earthly father of Jesus.  Impressive and topped with a dome, the oratory is built on a hill.  Wood carvings of the 12 apostles in groups of three were at least 2 metres off the ground and at least 3 metres tall could be found in the basilica.
   At 4:00 pm we took the subway (Metro) to our first shift at the Montreal harbour as volunteers.  The Mariner's House is a drop-in centre for those who work on ships.  Among other things, I helped patch a long distance phone call to Indonesia and sold food, drinks and souvenirs to people from Montenegro.  My son played pool with a seafarer from the Philippines.  My husband had an extensive conversation with a Romanian electrical engineer. 
   Montreal does have fireworks on Canada Day (at the harbourfront), but we decided to forego them so we could head back to our lodgings before the rush.  It was a late night, all going to bed after 11 pm.  This holiday Monday was full, but one to be remembered.

Monday, 1 July 2013

Montreal Musings 1: "Put this to good use"

   Yesterday an experience left me feeling as though I was in one of Jesus' parables.  The parable I am thinking about is the one where servants are entrusted with particular amounts of money and expected to invest the money to produce a good return.  It can be found in Matthew 25 entitled "The Parable of the Talents" in some Bibles.
   Yesterday we attended a church service in Cornwall, Ontario.  After the worship my husband began chatting with a member of the congregation who took a great interest in our plans for the week.  When this gentleman heard that we were on our way to Montreal to do volunteer work at the Ministry to Seafarers and also discovered my husband's work at a food bank, he asked many questions in addition to sharing insights of his own.  As we were departing, he reached into his pocket and handed my husband a crisp $50 bill and the request to "put this to good use" this week.
   This is not the kind of thing that happens to a person everyday!  And yet, in a way, it does happen to us everyday.  The point of the parable Jesus told was that we have all been given talents and gift, opportunities and resources that we are to put to good use.  We are attempting to live this out in a unique way, away from our regular community.  But as servants of the Master, it should be our everyday goal.