Multi-cultural, Inter-denominational Ministry… The Way it Should Be

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Speaker team for Healing for the Brokenhearted Conference October 23-24, 2015 (Diane & Jim Burkholder; Faith & Dale Ingraham; Trudy & Tim Metzger)

Since mid-July, or somewhere thereabouts, the planning started. We had almost 2 years of no conferences in Ontario, and only a few in other places, and felt uncertain about tackling it again, so close to home. The work, the planning and the backlash had become a challenge two years ago that had left me weary, and wondering what God really wanted from Generations Unleashed, in that department.

I did more one-off speaking engagements during that 2 year stretch and discovered–not to my surprise, how much easier they are. While the topic of sexual abuse and violence is never a light or casual topic, there is a ‘weightiness’ to a full weekend of ministry, that is not as present in a stand alone engagement. The temptation has been strong to shift to ‘the easy way’…  Admittedly, my humanity comes into play in cringing at the challenges, in particular criticism of our ministry or personal attacks, and reaches for that ‘easier’ way.

And, yet, each time we did a conference during that time, regardless of the challenges, we saw God move so powerfully, so unmistakably, that it seemed right to continue to do them. Even so, the timing was a matter of question until mid-summer when the stirring bubbled over, and I approached Pastor Brent at Maple View Mennonite church. And the rest is history. But not without a story…

In Pennsylvania, back in July, I stayed a week after the conference to spend time with individuals looking for support in their healing journey, or just to connect with people. It wasn’t part of the plan, but when I ran it by Tim, he felt it would be a good thing for me to stay… and that’s how it came about that I stayed. Right there, at the conference, we made the decision that if there were requests, I would do it. Little did I know that God was orchestrating something much bigger, something so powerful it would supersede any dreams that had long stirred in my heart. A dream to work, hand in hand, shoulder to shoulder as ‘one in Christ’ with my Mennonite friends.

It began there, in PA, when a Mennonite pastor did the ‘Pastor’s Confession’ that Friday evening, acknowledging the pain caused by leaders ignoring, neglecting or intentionally covering up for perpetrators. He share the heart of God with tenderness and compassion for victims. He offered unapologetic ‘Amens’ from time to time, throughout the evening, and offered strong support for the wounded. But, however touching for myself and others, that was only the beginning…

Later that week I sat in the home of an Old Order Mennonite couple, visiting. Their joy bubbled over. The name of Jesus was held high. Their culture was respected, and appreciated. And in the middle of all of that, they spoke with bold truth about their own stories, which included molestation and sexual immorality. The shared openly what Jesus has done for them, while acknowledging the damage and deep wounds.

I listened with fascination and that’s when I asked, not expecting it to ever happen, let alone them saying yes, “Would you consider sharing your story at a conference? People need to hear this!” I felt it powerfully. They have a story, a voice within the culture. I am marked because I left. I’m on the outside. I had asked others, over the years, and always it was a ‘no’, even if initially they thought maybe they would, or said they could. Sooner or later the weight of that exposure took over, and they changed their minds. I expected a similar outcome. Oh me of little faith…

No more had I posed the question, and both husband and wife agreed, enthusiastically, they would like to do it. Taken off guard, and having fully expected them needing a few weeks to contemplate, I didn’t know quite how to respond. I don’t even remember what I said next, but I do remember what they said. “God has already told us we will be sharing our testimony.”

I was appropriately ‘wowed’ and asked if they’d come to Ontario and share at our October 23-24 conference. Having misunderstood, and thinking it was in September, they declined with regret. They would be gone over that time.

A few weeks after I returned to Ontario, they called for some other purpose, and in conversation our conference came up. “Were you serious about us coming?” she asked. I told her I was, but reminded her they would be away over that time. And that is when she explained they had the wrong month, but if we could work out all the details, they would be delighted to join us.

We spent many hours in the following weeks, talking on the phone, going over their story, and piecing together what would eventually be a 2-session interview, for our Saturday morning sessions at the conference.

The weekend arrived, last Friday October 23, bringing with it a sense of deep anticipation for me. Somehow I knew that to hear their story would bring healing to many, and especially those still in our Mennonite culture who really need to hear it from within, and those who were in and left and need to hear it acknowledged.

Saturday morning exceeded my expectations, as I watched God move and speak through Jim and Diane’s story. Diane is a particularly gifted speaker, with the ability to put things into words in a way that connects quickly. Jim shared throughout, bringing deep meaning through scripture, and calling for an end to silence and acknowledging the deep damage done by molestation and by silence. This resulted in many tears from some present, as the Holy Spirit began healing at a new level, some wounded hearts.

Saturday afternoon Pastor Dale Ingraham, who had come from New York with his wife Faith, shared on ‘Blameless in His Sight’, freeing victims from the guilt and shame they carry, that is not theirs at all. He drew from Matthew 18, the chapter in which Jesus honours children and gives strong warning for those who offend a little one. Every victim of abuse needs to hear him preach that message, and it sure wouldn’t hurt for every offender to hear it as well, and grasp the magnitude of it all, and repent.

I had shared on Friday evening, about being ‘Shaped by Experience, Defined by Love’, drawing from the story of the Canaanite woman in Matthew 15, whom Jesus appears to call a dog, but in reality He confronts her negative beliefs, and then proceeds to pronounce His blessing on her, giving her highest honour for her faith. On Saturday we opened a short Q&A in our last session, before moving into a short talk on being Remembered By God, drawing from the story of Hagar, and the angel visiting her in the desert.

The weekend of connecting with friends and fellow believers was encouraging and filled with hope. And throughout the entire event, the one thing that blessed my heart, over and over, was our unity in spite of differences. An Old Oder Mennonite couple, a Baptist pastor couple, and whatever Tim and I are in our non-denominational ‘present’ with United church and Mennonite background, all backed up with a beautifully mixed audience in attendance. Together we worshiped God and lifted Jesus high. And the awareness was strong in me, “this is church… this is the Body of Christ in unity, the way it should be”.

colour of love

And that partnering together is one of the most beautiful things I have ever experienced in my life.

Love,
~ T ~

© Trudy Metzger

Stay Focused

The female officer walked across the street, and approached the large group of people, gathered around the gazebo, in Elmira. She stopped next to me, watching the crowd. She wore her strawberry-blonde hair somewhat the way we used to wear our hair in the Mennonite church, all wrapped into a bun on her head.

“I was called out over the disturbance,” she said, a grin on her face, “so I think I’ll enjoy the music for a while, until I know for sure it won’t get out of hand.”

I laughed. “Yeah… I’d keep an eye on them,” I said playfully. Definitely that kind of crowd. I looked around at the lawn chairs, filled with an eclectic audience, ranging from young children, to the elderly, and everything in between.

“Who are the musicians, do you know?” she asked.

“They’re a Christian band from Waterloo Mennonite Brethren,” I said.

She grinned. “Oh well… when we get a call, we have to investigate, and I need to stay long enough to make sure.”

She introduced herself as Holly DeBoer. Said she attended Grand View Baptist in Kitchener. We engaged in conversation for a while, and then she disappeared.

I was in Kitchener doing my grocery shopping at Food Basics, almost a year later, when I saw a woman with long, strawberry-blonde hair, walking toward me in the aisle. Our eyes met. I don’t know who spoke first, but the recognition was mutual.

We talked about life, work, family. Holly said she’s cutting back her time as a police officer to spend more time with their children. There is a season for everything, and this was her season to be a mom.

“And I’m just looking at going back to work,” I said. With five growing children, the extra income was necessary. Our youngest was four, and in Junior Kindergarten, freeing me up to at least work part time.

“You could become a police officer,” Holly said. “They’re hiring. And you’d be good at it.”

“I had a heart attack since I last saw you, so I wouldn’t be able to do that, even if I wanted to,” I said.

This was met with the typical, “Oh my gosh! What happened?” and that led to a talk about the heart attack, before coming full circle to becoming a police officer. In that conversation Holly said something that stuck with me, and something I have thought of often since. She told me that one downside to being a police officer was the constant exposure to evil. When you’re in the face of evil all the time, like that, she told me, the potential for cynicism is high.

“You start to see the world, through the eyes of evil, and that’s not good,” she said. She went on, telling me that it takes a lot of effort to bring yourself back to the reason you chose the career–to make a positive impact on the world–and if you could do that, you stayed effective.

In the ministry I do, I have to be careful, when I see evil all around, to keep my focus on the reason I chose to do it. Ultimately, Jesus and the Kingdom of God are the reason, and creating a collision between the Love and Light of that reason, and the pain and suffering of the evil I see. When those worlds collide, the power of evil shatters. Love and Light remain unmoved.

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The Bible speaks often of ‘looking up’, in various ways. It tells us to ‘lift our eyes’, or ‘lift up our heads’, and ‘look to Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith’… and many other examples.

When we keep our focus upward, we are not caught up in the pain and ‘stuff’ of life. We don’t see the evil, through the eyes of evil, but we see evil, through the potential of grace, mercy and hope.

One of the ways I keep my eyes raised, is to tell others what God is doing, often through writing. It took me awhile to figure it out, but in the past few months I grew weary, and stopped writing. I had no idea the impact writing had on my life, my ministry, and how it encouraged me, to tell you, what God is doing.

While I am working hard on my book–now less than 10,000 words from completion, and therefore likely finished before end of this week–I am committed to writing, at minimum, three blogs a week, but am aiming for one every two days. I find I need to take time to refocus, here, on my blog, and share what lessons I’m learning, and what God is doing in ministry. The thing on which I focus will become the filter through which I process life–both good and evil. If it is evil, then it taints the good, and makes evil darker. If it is God, then there is light and hope, even in the darkest reality.

I am committed to lifting up my eyes, to Jesus, the One who started me on this journey many years ago, before I even knew I was called to ministry. I will keep my eyes turned heavenward, my heart steadfast in my God.

Psalm 121

New King James Version (NKJV)

God the Help of Those Who Seek Him

A Song of Ascents.

121 I will lift up my eyes to the hills—
From whence comes my help?
My help comes from the Lord,
Who made heaven and earth.

He will not allow your foot to be moved;
He who keeps you will not slumber.
Behold, He who keeps Israel
Shall neither slumber nor sleep.

The Lord is your keeper;
The Lord is your shade at your right hand.
The sun shall not strike you by day,
Nor the moon by night.

The Lord shall preserve you from all evil;
He shall preserve your soul.
The Lord shall preserve your going out and your coming in
From this time forth, and even forevermore.

 

 

© Trudy Metzger

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Why I Struggle Out Loud…

All of us struggle. How we struggle, varies from person to person, based on many factors, not the least of which are our personality and our upbringing. Life experience has a profound impact on our perception of reality, and our personality or temperament influence how we process experience.

Some of us struggle silently. The reasons for this are just as varied, ranging, again, from temperament to things like protecting an image–whether real or imagined–to concerns over whether people can handle our struggle… and fearing the inevitable loss of relationships if they can’t.

To the latter, my philosophy is that people who walk away because they can’t handle a bit of humanity, struggle and truth, are not people we need closest to us. It is not us, or even our struggle, that they reject; it is their fear of facing their own demons. And those demons can be anything from false image, to inadequacy, to not wanting to face their own pain and struggle. If they leave, let them go with a blessing. Having said that, finding balance in how much to share, with whom, and when, is important. No one wants to be used as anyone else’s garbage can.

Some of us struggle quietly because we are reserved, private individuals. (But, if you haven’t guessed it already, that would not be me.) And there’s nothing wrong with that, as long as it isn’t out of pretentiousness. My life is an open book. My husband’s is not. He cautiously gives me permission, from time to time, to share about his life, or our shared life. But it is not easy for him, or characteristic of him. By nature he deals quietly with his own heart, his own disappointments, and his own hurt.

Me… I struggle out loud, from time to time, because I want to be real, and transparent. In the weeks leading up to my previous blog post, I was relatively quiet for two reasons. One, I was busy and, two, because the struggle was too deep to share. I am a firm believer of saying something positive, if you’re going to speak at all. (And for this lesson I thank Thumper from the Movie Bambi.)

I fail at this, on occasion, but in recent weeks I was especially careful because I didn’t want my battle, my struggle, to tear you down, or cause you to stumble. It is not that struggling is something to hide or be ashamed of. (I like to think that every prophet, apostle and disciple went through seasons of silence for this reason. Though some did write some pretty dark, negative stuff in the depth of despair and what we would call depression. Clearly there is a time to share that darkness.) However, I prefer to come to the place in a struggle when I can share good in it, and bring life and hope to others in there struggles.

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Even then, I admit, it would still be easier to be silent… to save face and present an image of ‘togetherness’ that isn’t realistic–at least not realistic for me. It is in sharing the battle, and showing God’s faithfulness, that I feel my life is most believable, and my faith most real. It’s real life. Real battles. Real victories that give us hope.

When I speak to you, and encourage you, out of that ‘realness’, it has more impact than if I guide you through something that I have never been through, or dared to face.

In September 2010, I had a conversation that I will probably never forget. It was with a fellow blogger, who is also a published author. Out of respect I will leave out his name.

I had asked him for a bit of advice on how transparent to be, and wondered if he ever runs into harsh criticism because of his forthrightness. (I had just encountered my first ‘big bump’ in this, and was not at all prepared for it.) My interaction with him led to doing a bit of a rant, wherein I expressed myself more freely than I typically would, using slang and frustration. I knew he could handle it, but I also knew that he had only read my ‘uplifting stuff’ and had never seen me struggle.

After my rant I sent an ‘I’m sorry’, feeling a bit apologetic for not having been spiritual enough. His response stuck with me, particularly two lines:

“Don’t ever apologize to me for saying it like it is. Your message is probably the most honest thing I’ve ever seen from you. I’m highly attuned to the “Praise Jesus, all is great” stuff. I always view such spastic noise with admittedly too much suspicion.

That said, I sympathize. Be who you are. Who you REALLY are, with your flaws. When you use that “writing material,” do it humbly with discretion 

God is who He is. I’m way to skeptical, but I still believe. Ultimately, I believe His grace will encompass all our petty battles, all our flaws, all the crap we emit in the living of our daily lives.”

Wow! The most honest thing he had ever heard from me? I thought about it, and realized that I post all my ‘happy’ and ‘Praise Jesus’ status updates, and I mean them from all that is in me. I sincerely love life, and am eternally indebted to Jesus for giving me back my life. How could this ‘struggle’ be so much more believable, when both were spoken in honesty?

As I contemplated it, I realized there was a lack of balance. I mean, even King David, a man after God’s own heart, couldn’t hold his life together. And then Peter, a man who knew Jesus personally and intimately, stood by a fire cussing, and declaring he never knew the man. And Paul, one of the strongest early church leaders, couldn’t get along with his ministry partner–probably because he was too bull-headed, and the other guy too much like him–and they parted ways, but both continued in ministry.

That message made a huge impact on my writing, and challenged me powerfully, to check the honesty and openness with which I express my struggles, my imperfections.

I try to do this with humility and discretion, as my friend recommended, so that the people I walk with through their struggles can see that it’s not the end of the world when they go through tough stuff. Life doesn’t end when we ‘bomb it’ and don’t have it together.  It proves to them that when I say “Jesus is enough”… that He has your back… that He can forgive and set you free no matter what you’ve done… or any other encouragement, they can believe it, because He is enough for me.

When you, my readers, see me rise again, after admitting to being knocked down, I pray that it may give you the courage to do the same. And that you will know that we are all in this thing together, and together we can make it.

Yesterday I got a phenomenal response to what I wrote. Percentage wise, I think more people who read it, wrote a note than any other day in my blogging history, which was both surprising and cool. So many of you wrote notes to acknowledge what you read, with a variety of tones, and motives, but all were good and encouraging.

A recurring theme in most messages was surprise that I, being in ministry and all, still struggle and hit battles. They said things like,  ‘I didn’t realize you go through stuff like that’, or ‘I thought you were past that… but thanks for being honest’…

One gentleman wrote on my Facebook wall, “Wondered when you would face this. 🙂 You have been a warrior, poking the devil in the eye on his hidden attacks etc, hidden under the name of Christianity… God bless”.

Some wrote to identify with the struggle, and admit that they had thrown in the towel in ministry, or were tempted to. One said they may need to reconsider.

Whatever your words, as the messages trickled in, you inspired me, challenged me, and blessed me. That’s when I remembered why I sometimes struggle out loud, where you, my friends, get to see me in my ‘battle duds’. I do it to know your hearts, and for you to know mine.

I’m honoured to be part of your lives, your journeys, your battles, and your victories, as you invite me in. Many of you I have never met, and may never have the opportunity to meet, but the intertwining of our lives, here, is a gift.

Thank you.

© Trudy Metzger

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