Internship #1: Nazarene Compassionate Ministries

An identifying phrase, “Called Unto Holiness,” is painted on the wall near the staircase leading up to the second floor of the Global Ministry Center, which houses the administration offices of departments within the Church of the Nazarene. Included on the floor are Nazarene Youth International (NYI), Nazarene Missions International (NMI), and includes Nazarene Compassionate Ministries (NCM). As the dozen different languages on the wall portray, the motto , “Called Unto Holiness,” shows up on their denominational printing and media in many languages–in over 100 world countries in fact. Christian holiness is an emphasis of other denominations which emerged before or during the 19th century Holiness movement, including the Church of the Nazarene and The Wesleyan Church where my wife and I have our membership, and the Free Methodist Church, where my father spend his early childhood years. With these deep roots that I have in the Holiness branch of the evangelical church, I came into this internship with some connections to the organization that even some employees of NCM do not possess.

One of the departments on this floor is Nazarene Compassionate Ministries (NCM), which plays an important part in the denomination’s mission to teach holiness to Christ’s disciples. Nazarene Compassionate Ministries recognizes the denomination’s Holiness roots in the context of grass roots ministry based in local churches worldwide. Meanwhile, for easier access to donations and grants beyond the Church of the Nazarene (COTN) denominational structure, NCM also operates under the name, Nazarene Compassionate Ministries, Inc. (NCMI), for taxation and grant purposes. Regardless of the name (NCM or NCMI), the organization remains unified by common staffing structure with paid and volunteer workers and their benefactors spread to the corners of the earth.

During my 30-hour information seeking visit, I learned in detail how NCM approaches their vision to teach all members of the COTN “Compassion as a Lifestyle.” The mission of Nazarene Compassionate Ministries (NCM) is listed in their web site, which reads in part, “Following the example of Jesus, Nazarene Compassionate Ministries (NCM) partners with local Nazarene congregations around the world to clothe, shelter, feed, heal, educate, and live in solidarity with those who suffer under oppression, injustice, violence, poverty, hunger, and disease.” Nazarene Compassionate Ministries International includes in its mission, that “NCMI accomplishes its mission through collaborative and cooperative partnerships between non-denominational donors for the support of relief and development projects designed and directed by local leaders in over 150 countries where the [Church of the Nazarene] through NCM is actively engaged.” I feel closely tied to this passion in my own life calling, as I share the conviction with NCM staff that an essential form of the Christian Gospel is in the form of cross-cultural servanthood to, and restoration of, life dignified by the good news of the kingdom of God. With NCM’s mission of  enabling the COTN to be stewards of their resources, the NCM applies their principles of the social gospel to their work, making the daily office routine something that is routine, yet, meaningful for the people who work there.

One way that NCM gives meaning to its work is their desire to seek the gifting of Nazarenes around the globe. Although NCM has its organizational hub in Lenexa, Kansas (in the Kansas City Metropolitan Area), several personnel work from the regional offices of the Church of the Nazarene, and a few work remotely. Most of the employees who I interviewed work from the NCM/NCMI office at the Global Ministry Center in Lenexa, KS. Amongst the people who I interviewed, nations represented included Ethiopia, South Africa, the Philippines, and the United States (one person of United States nationality grew up in a missionary family in Ecuador). Perhaps the more memorable interview was the video call across the Pacific Ocean to the NCM/NCMI office and call-center in Manila, Philippines. In short, I received many opportunities to hear varying perspectives of the professional non-profit sector according to the NCM perspective.

While I searched for a clear action strategy that many NCM staff used to support the central mission of NCM/NCMI, I interviewed in most detail Dr. Cort Miller, who is the Senior Director of Development within Nazarene Compassionate Ministries. I prepared the same questions for Dr. Miller as I did for most other interviews. Questions that I asked were with interest to responsibilities, duties, experiences, daily routine, services to children and youth, NCM strengths, NCM challenges, personal education, personal skills, and recommendations for someone who is preparing to enter the human services side of the non-profit sector. The parts of the interview that I found are tantamount to my interest in working in human services are highlighted below.

Dr. Miller’s responsibilities encompass all donor and constituent engagement that NCM does, including the call center in the Philippines, Kansas City-Area and USA sponsors, and the staff of 19 personnel both in Lenexa and elsewhere. He oversees his staff’s implementation and execution of the fundraising strategies. Goal setting is an important part of the process, which comes natural to his own skill set. One example of an extraordinary story involved what Dr. Miller calls a “widow’s mite” offering, which references a parable that Jesus told of a woman who gave the last two coins that she possessed. The gift of a child to NCM is a story that he compares to this “widow’s mite.” In a framed envelope sitting on his desk, with ink now fading from 16 years of light exposure, was the handwriting of an 8-year old (at the time). Dr. Miller explained that this child in Blue Springs, Mo, had saved money for one year to donate to the children in a particular (location not disclosed) country, who needed food and clothing. The envelope had contained over $17 for the annual denominational giving drive for NCM.The December drive is known as Compassionate Ministries Month, and is promoted to churches of the Nazarene in the United States and Canada.Miller told another story in which a child dying of cancer informed her grandmother that she wanted her stuffed animals to be sold and the money to be given to the children who she had seen on TV without the abundance that she had. Miller uses “widow’s mite” offerings of this boy and the girl to keep his passion alive for the mission of NCM.

I also asked Dr. Miller to highlight strengths and challenges of NCM in addition to personal skills and education that have allowed him to serve at his capacity. Two areas of strength for NCM are the organization’s use of the denominational structure to deliver the resources needed, and the compassionate conscience which they teach to the church. In the structure of the local church, each ministry assesses its own cultural and community context for needs, and creates a program unique to its own outreach possibilities. Thus, NCM merely “lifts the arms,” as Miller has said, of the workers on the ministry field. Secondly, the compassionate conscience of the gospel of Christ is brought forth through initiating and carrying forth compassionate education for the church as a whole, with the goal that the denomination takes personal ownership of the call to be Christ to marginalized and hurting members of their communities. Thus, the goal of NCM is to promote the compassion of Jesus through educating people to embrace the call to live in obedience to servanthood, and so it is to not to merely concentrate the efforts of the compassionate-minded members of the COTN apart from the collaborative participation with their local church communities.

Some challenges with NCM discussed my Miller include creative ways to raise funds then the denomination has diverse perspectives and priorities. Many local churches may balance ministry of the preached word with servant-minded ministries such as that which is done through NCM. Yet, the challenge lies in the cases where local churches feel that the preached word is of primary importance over the actions of justice and mercy. However, the strength in this challenge of being within a denominational structure is the potential access to world areas where larger name organizations do not have easy access. For example, World Vision recently used NCM to provide to an area that they could not access alone. Thus, because of NCM’s denominational structure, both World Vision and NCM used the Nazarene churches in a needy area had the ability to bring positive impact to an area that would otherwise out of reach for donors and constituents of larger organizations.

Beyond my interview of Dr. Miller, most of my interviews included educational background of each staff member. I discovered that NCM is a place for people who carry many degrees, including Intercultural studies, Organizational Leadership, Business Administration, Theology and Ministry, and even Counseling. With this discovery, I was amazed at how much I had in common with various individuals. My own degrees in Philosophy / Theology, Master of Divinity, and an MA in Intercultural Studies often provided meaningful connection between myself and my interviewees. Most unexpected, however, was the common principle that my Education degree (in-progress) has with a degree in Counseling. This is because both educators and counselors excel at assessing skills and knowledge as people with the objective of guiding them to personal growth. As such, the growth mindset of the educational classes that I took at MNU in the Accelerated Elementary Education program have given me a skill set which has significant potential for someone interested in working to improve the quality of life for people.

I will take away from my time at Nazarene Compassionate Ministries my shared personality traits of eternal optimism and dreaming for a better future beyond what can presently be asked for or imagined. As we obverse the second Sunday of Advent, I cannot help but to place my hope in the Kingdom that is barely visible today, where the body of Christ comes together to work for justice and peace for vulnerable strangers in their midst and abroad. As I prayerfully think through my next steps, I will remain hopeful that my strengths will reveal themselves in the present in order that God may use my new skills and tools for a vision that is consistent with my passion, my talent, and my preparation.

 

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A Petition for My Friends in City Heights, San Diego, California

I attended Mid-City Church of the Nazarene in the early 2000’s as a college student. I recieved my call to have a heart for the poor in this church. It was here that I attended a life-changing summer urban term in 2002, and it was here where I gained life long friends.

Today, there are six congregations speaking at least five different languages which meet in their building dating to the 1930’s. They have spared their funds for the service and advocacy for the poor; cosmetics have never been a priority for their building.

Now, they are in need of funds to repair their building. With their aging building has also come an asbestos problem that they need to fix. I would appreciate it if my Christian brotherd and sisters would contribute something– $1, $5, $10, $20… …whatever God may lay on your heart.

Let us all keep taking care of each other as we all work for the same Father and within the same Kingdom.

Sincerely,

Robert Nowlin

https://www.generosity.com/faith-religion-fundraising/asbestos-abatement-sanctuary-safety-renovation

 

When God Calls Us to Trust Him

I am revisiting something that I wrote six weeks after Denise and I married, and two weeks after I left UPS for a new life of trusting God with my talents and efforts. It is true that He who began a good work in you will be faithful to complete it in you.

SingerTenor

If I could describe this summer by using two words, I would attribute to it both love and trust. At first glance, these words may come across as rudimentary or even as if I were trying to gloss over something less-than-pleasant. However, truth the must be told is that with love there is pain, and with trust there is risk. Often in my life I have been know to dwell on the pain and rejection that can come with love, and the anxiety in the fear that my trust will be all for nought. Yet, to love another human being is to place your heart at a place of vulnerability for a loved one. To trust someone is to place your vulnerability in someone’s hands.

I have learned a lot in the last few months about loving another person. With love comes expectation. You may hope that your loved one will never…

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Why I’d rather lose my religious liberty than vote for Donald Trump

My thoughts are very much in line with Dr. McNall. My only critique is that a component is missing to brother McNall’s argument. I would add that under Trump, I am concerned that many vulnerable people will be marginalized; but these will not only be Christians. He realizes that Christian persecution in the United States is over-stated. Will the marginalization of the poor and people who are not White who will suffer damage to their lives ever be a reason to oppose Trump? Finally, what McNall puts well is that concern over Trump is not an endorsement of Hillary.

joshuamcnall.com

“When you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything.”

And while Donald Trump said this of women, it’s been more true of his relationship with the Religious Right.

In short, Donald Trump has treated the bride of Christ just like the other married women in that disgusting audio recording. Yet unlike more honorable brides, some evangelical leaders have done nothing to resist his self-serving advances.

This, indeed, is a profound mystery. But I am talking about Trump and the church.

prolifememe

To be honest, I thought I’d written my last post on this subject.

Then came the audio of Trump bragging about his sexual assaults. And yes, that is the proper word for it (You just “Grab them by the p—y; you can do anything!”).

So here we are. Once more unto the breach.

In past posts (for newcomers):

  • I lamented the fact that democracy gives you the candidates you deserve (here);
  • I predicted that despite playing coy…

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A Reflection on Shane Koyczan “To This Day”

A Reflection by Robert Nowlin on “To This Day” by poet, Shane Koyczan

18 Jan 2016

The differences in how we read this poem reveals once again how someone’s background influences how they read it. I was personally very moved; Shane’s anger very much reflects my feelings as I dealt with this as a child. Healing takes a long time; often a bullying victim must stare in the mirror and reclaim that what was created was done for good. I love how a popular Christian skit evangelist duo called “The Skit Guys” puts it: “God doesn’t make trash.” Adults need to hear this. Children need to hear this. I find that a large portion of the adult population in the United States and worldwide is stricken with belief that what the bullies have told them is truer than any other message about them.

I watched the video first. In the video, the illustrations enhanced the magnitude by which I was involved in the poem. While I heard Shane express these words, the emotional connection became very evident.

As I read the poem, I still listened to the audio as I followed along. His use of the personal pronouns in a single line was interesting to see in print. I wondered about his purpose in isolating the “he” and “she,” at the beginning of a new stanza. Interestingly, too, was that said pronouns would be the last word spoken of the previous phrase. This is very difficult resist analyzing; I feel that there is an intended message in these layers of meaning that Shane wanted to communicate. Perhaps, the act of reading aloud by overlaying the first “he” or “she” of the stanza with the previous stanza is a message of interconnectedness of all of the individuals spoken of in this poem. Additionally, perhaps the isolation of the pronoun at the beginning of the stanza gave him an opportunity to name the person. And it makes me wonder if Shane is confronting identity issues, both in terms of who he is, who others said he was, and who he was made to become. The mirror analogy at the end is a real life symbol of identity crisis.

As a Christ-follower, I can use this as a way to give a real testimony of how I call myself today. In public school there are creative ways to do this without imposing my own Christian faith while never ceasing to show Christlike love.

In summary, while I watched the video, I was able to get a better grasp of the emotions felt and the most important parts of the text based on the inflections as the poem was read by Shane. While I read the poem on the second time, I was able to see the meaning constructed through the text spacing. The spacing gave me a window into his emotions that allowed me to deeply analyze the poet’s purpose in this poem.

I think that Shane’s purpose in this poem is the pain and the struggle with identity faced by many victims of bullying.  It is definitely more complex than this, but, I find that this is the central theme.

Shane identifies this identity conflict within himself. His bullies called him things that made him believe that he was less than human. Yet, he declares the bullies as “wrong” and takes on a “new” name. His name is “overcomer.”

The poem “To This Day,” by Shane Koyczan, can be read and listened to at the following address:  http://www.tothisdayproject.com/the_poem.html

 

The poem, “To This Day,” by Shane Koyczan, can be viewed with illustration at this address: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ltun92DfnPY

When God Calls Us to Trust Him

If I could describe this summer by using two words, I would attribute to it both love and trust. At first glance, these words may come across as rudimentary or even as if I were trying to gloss over something less-than-pleasant. However, truth the must be told is that with love there is pain, and with trust there is risk. Often in my life I have been know to dwell on the pain and rejection that can come with love, and the anxiety in the fear that my trust will be all for nought. Yet, to love another human being is to place your heart at a place of vulnerability for a loved one. To trust someone is to place your vulnerability in someone’s hands.

I have learned a lot in the last few months about loving another person. With love comes expectation. You may hope that your loved one will never hurt you. The hope is that love equals everything that you want for yourself in a relationship. However, shortly after my wife and I became engaged, I learned how expectation can hurt the vulnerable places that your loved one places before you. My pastor advised us of the importance of loving each other without such expectations when my wife and I started dating. She becomes unpleasant when she expects me to hurt her as someone once hurt her in a past situation. Then, I become unforgiving because I can expect her to avoid conflict with me. In truth, love is trusting that your loved one will love you even for worse–not just for better. I find that my marriage to my wife consists of trusting her with the parts of me that I don’t like along with offering the parts of me that are pleasant. As a result, I have realized a deep, intimate love, toward another human being that I never had known before I met Denise. I fall in love with her again and again–especially when our unpleasant realities come out of us. Perhaps our love is on its way to becoming a reflection, albeit imperfectly, to the love that God has for humanity.

God requires of me to trust Him through intimacy toward Him as well. When I give God my worst and my best, I trust Him to all of the fear and mistrust along with my feelings of anxiety and self loathing when life doesn’t meet my expectations. Just as my marriage to my wife consists of trusting her with the parts of me that I don’t like, my relationship with God extends all parts of myself even when I do not like the reality of my failures.

For the last several years, I have had many moments where God has pulled me aside to convict me of my rudimentary level of trust in Him. I recall telling my friend Emily, who is now married to my friend Danilo, soon after they started dating, that I did not trust God enough. Something was brewing in me then that is only culminating after six years of long and earnest prayer, devotion, and searching. In a journal entry that I wrote in September of 2013, I was reflecting on God’s wish to be my primary source of security. I recall the moment of conviction very well. As I rode my bike up to the river, I had known that God had been eager to communicate something to me. And, somehow a vista over the Missouri River would be the place where God would take the opportunity to do this. In my journal, I wrote the words:

“George MacDonald, in ‘Creation in Christ,’ equivalates lack of forgiveness or refusal to forgive, with ‘spiritual murder,’ through heart-centered-hatred.”

I also had written, “Unforgiveness is a form of hatred,” followed by a quote from Carlo Carretto:

“We must face and go among the cause of our evils, not by defending ourselves, but by suffering in silence as Jesus did.”

Carretto is probably urging his reader to confront the patterns in our lives which lead us to fear the ugly and unholy parts of our existence. Furthermore, our silent suffering is likely a call to solidarity with our loved ones through better or worse, rather than holding in a grudge or keeping all protest of evil bottled up. Unforgiveness is the opposite of love because it is a form of hatred. Jesus expressed his anguish through his solidarity with people in sin and in distress. Denying himself pride in his deity, he took his obedience to the Father to the point of the cross.

As such, I was convicted with what I already knew–that is, was my old, well-paying job, was a way of my refusal to enter into an intimacy with God. At that moment, I knew that dependence on Him meant turning over even my fear and anxiety, and even the parts of me that I dislike. However, was I taking pride in myself through a job that gave me material wealth, and was it creating a condition, or my own terms, by which I expected God to call me to his service.

Only two months after God spoke to me on a bike ride, I met Denise. Less than two years later, she became my wife. God has used her to reveal the pattern of unforgiveness that had been eating away at my faith in God and others. As such, my impaired capacity to love and trust God was exposed in the early months of our relationship.

Nearly two years have passed since I wrote that journal entry by the Missouri River. The step that I made this summer was of faith in the context of intimacy with God and with my wife. I am taking the step of faith that God has been urging to me for years to come. Perhaps God’s purpose was to give me a helper to support me as I take this step. As recently as yesterday, I found that I need her to compensate when my mood impaired my reasoning. In struggle with anguish and feeling tempted to play the forgotten victim in the reality of my medical condition, it is with great trust in God that I step onto the path of new uncertainty. Yet, with great faith that He who began a good work in me will be faithful to complete it, that He will do immeasurably more than I could ask or imagine (God already has by leading me to my bride) and calling me to a place of not anxiety or fear, but of constant prayer and seeking of God’s goodness, that my request will be known, and that God will respond in supplying me peace as I trust that in His love. He will never leave or forsake us.

May it be so. Amen.

And he said to them, “Which of you who has a friend will go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves, for a friend of mine has arrived on a journey, and I have nothing to set before him’; and he will answer from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed. I cannot get up and give you anything’? I tell you, though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his impudence he will rise and give him whatever he needs. And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”  

Luke 11:5-13, ESV

On Pentecost: God the Spirit as an Outpouring of Life

25 May 2015 Monday after Pentecost Sunday Psalm 150; Deuteronomy 6; J.M.T.: Gloria in Excelsis Deo—Cave of the Heart

The Spirit of the Lord has fallen upon this place and has given us a great awareness of God’s presence around us. In the singing and playing before God, in the teaching and fellowship (all in the context of a congregational gathering) we sense that God is doing something in us and through us. As the church gathered, we may read the words of the Palmist as a reminder of the celebratory purpose of praise through song (Ps. 150). As the church scattered, we go into our homes and to our places of work, and into public places and private with our work as unto the Lord our God. For, we are called as the people of Israel were called. That is, as we enter the Land of Promise our call is to focus on the primary commandment: to “Love the Lord your God with your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might” (Deut. 6:5).

Hans Kung, in his book, The Church, stresses the end-of-time nature of Pentecost which coincides with the messianic era. That is, the disciples of Christ, under the leadership of Paul, were aware of the significance of this outpouring for scriptural prophesy. As such, the arrival of the Spirit was a sign that God keeps God’s promises, just as He did with Noah, Abraham and his descendants. And it was so with the disciples who walked with Christ as He ushered in a new era in redemption history. God is no longer untouchable. Rather, God is relational and even willing to live in poverty amongst us if it is so required. Furthermore, the Spirit of God is a continuation of God’s relational nature. God remains so intimately present amongst us as God the Spirit. God the Spirit (the Sanctifier) is the present-tense revelation of the Gospel demonstrated amongst us in God the Son (the Redeemer), as sent by God the Father (the Creator).

God the Spirit shares with the Father and the Son the central aspect of who God’s very being—that of God’s holiness. Furthermore, the Holy Spirit’s distinctive presence over and above any and all other spirits (human soul or demonic) is that of the Spirit’s perfect Holiness. Hans Kung says this well as a reminder of one notable lesson from my own seminary classes on theology: “The Spirit is not some magical, mysteriously supernatural aura of a dynamistic kind, but God himself in his especially personal and self-giving aspect: as a power which creates life” (Kung, The Church, italics mine).

In the neighborhood which is the geographical location of my home church, Hope Community Church, lies therein a concentration of darkness and a threat to life as significant as any human city or human establishment is able to create. Evidently, humanity’s redemption is not yet complete, thus, we gather in an urban atmosphere at times seemingly less sanctified than others. I find, too, that darkness (demonic) and desirability often coincide. The less desireable a city block becomes, the more likely it is that human sin has advanced and a spirit of darkness has threatened to take over if not swallow up her inhabitants. A city with darkness shows its human despair. It is not always a life-giving place, as my fiancée, Denise, has noticed firsthand.

However, as the disciples proclaimed the arrival of the Spirit of God in the Pentecostal outpouring, a new Hope arrived amongst the human race in order that even the sectors of human society which seem to be the darkest and least likely to give life are not unreachable by God’s life-giving Presence. As Christ ascended to heaven, He promised to send the Holy Spirit as our empowerment to proclaim His Gospel; we can so entrust our deepest fear of these dark places to God’s everlasting light. Demonic and human forces of darkness are no match for the baptizing and renewing nature of God the Spirit. As such, God redeems all sectors of human existence through this outpouring, so long as we are willing and ready to see it. As we see it, we are subsequently called to participate in its ushering in amongst us, in the same way that God came in human form amongst us to move into the darkest places of our lives.

When I see God moving in my life, it is only because inside me is dwelling God the Spirit. The presence of God is no more present in me than it is in anyone who has called on the name of God to be saved. As such, the Deuteronomic author has made it clear what God requires of us: that is, to “Love the Lord your God with your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might” (Deuteronomy 6:5). And according to Saint Paul in his letter to the Galatians, we are only able to obey God’s law when the Spirit of God is dwelling in each of our hearts. It is not enough to merely be born into a Christian family or to sit in a church pew once, twice or even ten times per week. Rather, God must be present in your heart and proclaim you as His child. Then and only then, shall God make you new the new creature in Christ as Paul so describes in his second letter to the Corinthians (2 Corinthians 5:17).

May God pour His Holy Spirit upon us as a quenching of the darkness within and amongst us.  AMEN.