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Why Slovakia? By Becky Gossett

Why Slovakia?  What did you do?  Why do you keep going back?  

Since returning from our trip to Vazec, Slovakia a few weeks ago, I’ve answered many questions about our time there. For a variety of reasons, it is difficult to answer the questions in a way that honestly and completely conveys the experience.  

Harold Philips has planned several trips to Slovakia to support the ministry of CBF field personnel Shane and Diane McNary, who work in the Roma community.  Harold likes to say “this is the last trip” as he waits for someone to ask if we can go again. Bill and I have had 3 “last” trips now.  

Our time in the village of Vazec each year includes these components: living in a house with about 12 people from all across the US (and also from Romania), teaching English in the public school, leading a VBS-type afternoon with Roma children from the settlement on the edge of the village, meeting with the adults from the local church, and meeting with the young mothers from the settlement. The REAL purpose is to make connections with people… sharing Christ’s love, learning about them, and (honestly, for me) learning about my values. On many levels, the group that descends upon this little village must listen/learn from/adjust to its members while also learning about the people of the place. I thank God for this complicated experience each year.  

Here are some random lessons I’ve learned, and thoughts about my time in Vazec over the three visits:

  • One caring adult can bring hope and joy to another adult or child through continued involvement over time. The best example is the way the people respond to Harold Phillips when he comes in a room. He is like everyone’s favorite uncle. 
  • Music can make anyone smile. ANY music…ANYONE.
  • My limited language skills cause me frustration. Children all around the world speak more than one language. Why don’t I? I rely on translators… and hugs. 
  • I am still learning about the dynamics of this village, which traces its history to the year 1280 and has about 2,400 people. Vazec has endured communism in its not-so-distant past. The village faces the challenges of how to include a people-group with very different ways. The resilient people in the village have come through many changes over time. 
  • Christianity looks different in different communities. We can all learn from one another. 
  • There are incredible people who work every day to make life better for those in the settlement. They are led by an angel named Danka and her husband, Daniel. They created a nonprofit organization, Jekh Drom (One Way), and face obstacles unlike those we have in Liberty, Missouri to provide a better life for those who struggle most. There is now a preschool program for Roma children, housed in a nice facility built with the help of CBF. Because of the tenacity of Danka and a few others, the children who attend will have a much better chance at success in the public school now.  
  • I want to be more like these people.

For more information on the work of Danka and Jekh Drom in Vazec, follow on Facebook.

at Wednesday, July 11, 2018
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The Land Where Jesus Walked by Steve Hemphill

I first visited the Israeli Occupied Territories of Palestine in 1986. I went to visit my British friend who was a volunteer at the Evangelical Home for Boys in Ramallah. That 2-week visit changed my life and led me to return the next year and a lifelong love of the Arab world, where I have lived and visited many times.

The Home was an Anglican mission which has since disappeared from the scene. Similarly, the First Baptist Church of Ramallah where I worshiped has long since closed. At that time, I spoke no Arabic, so I was hesitant when an old Arab gentleman in his Sunday 'go to meetin' keffiyeh (robe) came running up to me outside the church door. I was certainly surprised when he yelled as he approached “Hey, they tell me you're from Kansas City, my brother is Chairman of the Political Science Department at KU!” Everywhere I went the Palestinians loved Americans, loved American TV and dreamed of visiting or emigrating someday. The optimism in the late 80's was based on the belief the U.S. would mediate a solution to the Israeli occupation. But as the occupation dragged on and grew more aggressive, the Arab population grew more militant Muslim. The relatively large Christian population of the West Bank has largely disappeared as they either emigrated or died. Bethlehem has been a Christian village since soon after Jesus' time but, no more.  

The Anglican priest who ran the Home had previously served as Deputy Mayor of Ramallah and was a friend with Yassir Arafat, the leader of the Palestinian Liberation Organization. I recall him telling me the Americans should pay attention to Arafat because he was moderate compared to the violent extremists waiting to take his place. His comments were prescient as Hamas gained influence and the plight of the Palestinian people led to Al Quieda and ISIS.

The young boys at the Evangelical Home have long since grown to adulthood. Some immigrated to Europe and we are Facebook friends. Presumably, most were unable to escape and remain there as either closeted Christians or converted Muslims. I've returned a few times over the years and lament how few Christians remain in Palestine. I pray that someday, the land where Jesus walked will once again welcome his people back home.

at Monday, July 9, 2018
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The Wall of Separation of Church and State

One of the things I like about worshipping at 2BC is the respect given to the separation of church and state in our worship services. I’m very patriotic and love singing patriotic songs as much as the next person. But I also think it’s important to not confuse my patriotism with my understanding of God and my Christianity.

I grew up marching in at VBS and saying the three pledges. I was always proud to do so—and can recite them at the drop of a hat now. But my perspective about these kinds of displays at church has changed a great deal in the last fifty years of life.

It’s important on national holidays that in addition to celebrating our country we also spend time in gratitude for the freedom we have to worship without fear of persecution and to remember and thank God for those who sacrifice their lives for us. Our worship services, on those particular days and at other times, acknowledges that freedom and those sacrifices in our prayer times, in our spoken word, and on our regular prayer listings. I respect that our stand on separation of church and state at 2BC doesn’t mean that patriotism and freedom, given by God first and country second, is not banned from our services but is acknowledged in what I believe to be an appropriate way. This intentionality keeps the focus of the service on the worship of God and not our country or even our freedoms. 

One hymn we often sing on patriotic holidays is “This is My Song.” It is sung to the tune “Finlandia,” which Jan Sibelius wrote in 1899 as a patriotic tribute to his homeland. The song acknowledges that God is God of everyone and that peace, freedom, and blessings comes from God and is for all countries. The words are:

This is my song, O God of all the nations,
A song of peace for lands afar and mine.
This is my home, the country where my heart is,
Here are my hopes, my dreams, my holy shrine.
But other hearts in other lands are beating,
With hopes and dreams as true and high as mine. 

My country's skies are bluer than the ocean,
And sunlight beams on clover leaf and pine.
But other lands have sunlight too, and clover,
And skies are everywhere as blue as mine.
O hear my song, thou God of all the nations,
A song of peace for their land and for mine.

When I lived in Springfield, MO, there was a nativity on display that profoundly offended me. It had the baby Jesus swaddled in an American flag. This nativity offended me first as a Christian. My belief that God’s love is for everyone made me see this display as one that said that God loved Americans more than non-Americans. For too long we have perpetuated that misconception. Even in our early mission days, the effort was often clouded by the fact that our approach was one of power and superior knowledge, not one of partnership, which is what we strive for now. God doesn’t love Americans any more than any other country, and our understanding of the birth of Christ isn’t the only way to understand God’s love. The babe wrapped in the American flag seems entirely off focus to my understanding of the purpose of the incarnation.

The nativity display also offended me as an American. Our country was founded on the principle of freedom of religion. Throughout our history, people have fled to our shores looking for a place to worship in freedom. To use the flag in such a dominant Christian symbol offends my understanding of that right. I object to a public display saying that to be American you must be Christian, which is what I felt like the display implied.

Another example comes from a recent controversy in Dallas over a billboard ad that First Baptist Church Dallas placed. The ad promoted an upcoming sermon on “Freedom Sunday” entitled, “America is a Christian Nation,” that would be preached by Senior Pastor, Robert Jefress. The Dallas Morning News ran an article quoting the Mayor of Dallas, Mike Rawlings, who was critical of the billboard. In the June 7 article, the writer quoted Mayor Rawlings as saying, "That is not the Christ I follow. It's not the Dallas I want to be — to say things that do not unite us but divide us. I never heard those words, that voice come out of Christ. Just the opposite. I was brought up to believe: Be proud of yours, but do not diminish mine." The controversy became intense. The billboard company chose to remove the billboard. 

The “Free Exercise Clause” is part of the First Amendment to our Constitution. Thomas Jefferson, an American Founding Father, and Roger Williams, a Baptist Founding Father, are credited with the language of a wall of separation between church and state. Jefferson first used the phrase in an 1802 letter written to the Danbury Baptist Association of Connecticut which was published in a Massachusetts newspaper. He was echoing words used by Roger Williams in 1644 who spoke of a “wall of separation between the garden of the church and the wilderness of the world.” Baptists are known for their support of this critical part of our American law and the protection of our freedom to worship. 

To me, leaving the overtly patriotic practices such as “Freedom Sunday” and the nativity display for places other than the church building is respecting my rights as an American and my rights as a Christian. I come to church to worship a God who is bigger than my country and my patriotism. I strive hard to worship “no other God” at church and in my everyday life. Outside of church, I sing with gusto, “God Bless America,” because I offer it as a prayer asking God to continue to bless us and in recognition of the place of privilege I hold as an American. But I don’t wish to do so in my worship service. There I want to acknowledge that “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female,” (Galatians 3:28) for we are all one in Christ Jesus.

Posted by Janet Hill at Wednesday, July 4, 2018
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