Category Archives: Faith reflections

Together Against the Cold

There are many Biblical Prophecies pointing to terrible hardship in humanity’s future: Of famine, disease, war, death and global cataclysm.  But the one that scares me the most is a small phrase from Jesus’ prophecy on the Mount of Olives about the end times in Matthew 24:12.  He simply says, “…the hearts of most will grow cold.”

Why does this word of prophecy scare me more than the others?  Because when the cold of famine, disease, war and death strike, it is those moments of a sharing humanity (in love, generosity, compassion, and sacrifice) that warm, comfort and preserve us, keeping us alive in the face of hardship.

Today, the world really is a cold place for so many of us experiencing great struggle.  Across the world, we see it in the face of refugees fleeing their homes, and leaving behind country, culture and family.  We see it in the gaunt faces of children in places swept by famine, or in lands made barren by war.  And we see it here in our own families and communities:  In those battling a mental illness and depression, often alone.  In trauma from broken or abusive relationships and violence.  In slavery to addictions.  In bitterness and angry wounds that refuse to heal.  In desperate poverty; lacking food, shelter, safety, and supportive community.  It is an unending shiver that sinks weariness into our bones.

So why do we so often choose to answer this cold with cold?  Like those upstanding model citizens in Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37), we often see the need of a neighbour, but choose to keep our distance and keep walking.  When we are asked to respond in some way to the plight of a refugee or the person seeking an affordable home in our communities, we often choose a cold academic discussion about possible negative pressures and impacts on our way of life over a gentler, deeper, wiser and more compassionate conversation that acknowledges the humanity of our neighbour and seeks health and vibrancy for all.

“The crisis is too big for us to get involved in,” we say.  “Their wounds are too angry, and we do not have the skills to help them.  We need to protect ourselves; afraid that this person may turn around and hurt us.  We do not believe it is possible for someone to heal from this trauma, break from their past, or break from an addiction.  Better to keep our doors locked tight, and let our neighbours sort out whatever hand God, or fate, or their own actions have dealt them.  Best look out for number one.  Best keep walking.”

Or we can choose to respond with warmth and humanity as the Samaritan (an outsider) did in Jesus’ parable.   On seeing this man lying naked and half dead on the side of the road, “he went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine.  Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him.  The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper.  ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’”

For followers of Jesus, choosing the cold response is not an option.  It is true that we as people are limited in what we can do.  We cannot solve every problem, or respond to every crisis, and we must always find time to rest along the way.  But we must always be ready to respond as God calls us: to a life full of love, hope and trust, patience, kindness, gentleness, humility, commitment, compassion, hospitality, self-control, wisdom and sacrifice; to live as steady and warm expressions of the loving God we serve.
…so the cold does not win.

Below is a link to a powerful award-winning video that I think speaks beautifully to this work of fighting together against the cold:

The Deepening Community Rap

By Pastor Mike Van Boom, from Centrepointe church (Christian Reformed)

Creating Community for People in Prison

“I was hungry and you gave me something to eat…  I was in prison and you came to visit me … I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”   – Jesus  (Matthew 25:36, 40)

Reflection
When Jesus identifies himself with the person who is hungry, weak, the prisoner, or the stranger, he challenges his followers to always see another person’s potential, value, and humanity, and to respond in tenacious faith to what God may do in the life of their neighbour.  Yesterday and today, that belief drives Christians to invest themselves in the lives of their neighbours, even in prison.

On Sunday nights from 6:00-7:30,

       A team of women and (even a few men) from Beulah Alliance Church and West Edmonton Christian Assembly go to visit with women in a prison on the west end, here in Edmonton.  About thirty-five women from the prison come out to join them for coffee and snacks, and to experience the Alpha program.  They eat together, pray together, share stories, and learn about the Christian Faith.  One woman attended the program 3 or 4 times without showing any desire to embrace Christianity.  When asked why, she said, ‘Because I feel cared for.’
       That honest statement points to the genuine heart of why those doing this ministry do what they do:  To support these women in their struggle to heal, to confront some of the darkness and pain they carry, and find answers to who they are so that they may succeed.  In these gatherings, caring relationships are formed, some of which are able to carry on after a woman is discharged into the community.
      Marilyn Johnson, one of the leaders in the team has observed that it is very good to have men participate in these visits as well, so that the women have an opportunity to have a healthy relationship with a male presence.
      Because of the success of the program and the trust earned, mentors in the program have earned escort privileges to take some of the women to church on a Sunday morning.  (If a women is from the medium security end, then she would also be escorted by two guards.)  But this means so much to the women, to have the opportunity to get out of prison and be welcomed by a church community.  They have hard deadlines that do not budge, of course.  The women must be back by 10:00 am, sharp!  But the efforts of these churches gives them an experience of belonging, which means a lot.
      Their efforts have been very well-received by both the women, and by their families, who have expressed profound gratitude; even from a father from Manitoba, who was all in tears.

Prison can be a place of restoration

I am glad God brought me into prison.  If I was still out there, I would probably be dead!”
      This statement by a woman visiting the program reinforces an observation made by Marilyn others that many of the stories told by the women had a common theme:  Wrong place!  Wrong time!  Wrong friends!
      For many of the women, prison can offer them an opportunity; a solid interruption to unhealthy choices, circumstances and relationships.  Many of the women are eager to use this opportunity, and having people come into the prison to walk that road with them, is really valuable.

Challenges On the Outside

      Much work goes into helping a women succeed on the outside, but the challenges following release are significant.  Generally the women will find themselves immersed in the same set of circumstances and troubled relationships that fuelled their wrong choices and bad behaviors.  A top indicator for whether a person succeeds or fails on the outside is whether or not they have healthy supportive community.  But finding this can be very hard.
      The organizers of the program really want to support the women once they are on the outside, but there are major challenges.  One simple difficulty is to keep in contact with women once they have left the prison.  Their home communities are all over Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, so many are simply separated by distance.  Many are sent to half-way houses, and may not even know where they are headed a week ahead of time.
       For the women who stay locally, they may have some success for a while and stay in regular contact.  But then they might do something that they are ashamed to admit, and pull back.  As well, the team is forced to keep some distance in relationships, and they struggle with whether to open their homes and give out personal information.  One reason for that caution is that some of the women can be manipulative.  When volunteers begin this work, they take a course on what they are or are not allowed to do; including sharing personal information.  Many of those guidelines continue to apply even on the outside.
       But within those guidelines, there is much that can be done.

What can we do to provide supportive community to people coming out of prison?

1. Run support groups like celebrate recovery that can provide both support and accountability.
2. Get together socially!  Meet for coffee or get food at a restaurant. Go for walks, or get out to have fun together.
3. Provide work opportunities.  There are businesses that are willing to work with people coming out of prison, and do much to provide that supportive community environment.

These activities may take some organizing, but this engagement is very meaningful to anyone trying to pull their life back together after prison.

A Success story:  A woman in her fifties formed a relationship with the group while she was still in prison.  She had killed someone many years ago.  Now she has been out for two years and is doing really well.  She calls up Marilyn and others from the program to get together, and she is so excited when she gets to be with them.

By: Mike Van Boom, based on an interview with Marilyn Johnson    

Why Scientologists Help!

      One can look around this world and find numerous examples of tragedies, poverty, war and losses. It is easy to become depressed about this and feel that all is in despair.

We can put our attention on this and become hopeless or we can focus on the people that are tackling these problems to help; better yet we can join them to create huge effects for the betterment of all mankind.  Scientology believes that something can be done about it.

The eight dynamics as survival in Scientology is a fundamental  principle. The first dynamic is you as an individual, the second is creativity and family, the third is groups, the fourth is mankind, the fifth is all life forms, the sixth is the physical universe, the seventh is the spiritual and the eighth is infinity (however one wants to define God, Creator, Supreme Being etc…) In order to achieve harmony and success, one must ensure that all of these dynamics are thriving. They are intertwined and can not be separated.  This core belief is understood by Scientologists that one can not help himself and better his conditions in life if he is only focusing on the first dynamic. A poor 4th dynamic (mankind) will bring down all the others. We are only as good as all of our dynamics. It directly contributes to our personal survival to help our fellow man.

We help because anyone can sit on the sidelines and say what others need to do. Life is not a spectator sport. Life is a game and we play it hard. We know ways to help and it is our duty and our pleasure to back it up with action. One of the basic truths within Scientology is that one is as valuable as one is able to help others.

We don’t all have to have the same faiths to join together and create a healthy, thriving and safe world. We just need a common purpose – to help. And we can move mountains…

Article submitted by Kara Murray, from Edmonton’s Scientology Community