Adventure Graham

Snippets of Graham family adventures in faithfulness

Tag: LovingtonNaz

See You Later, Charlie

By Jaron

Charlie Hinson, a lover of sports, pranks, Jesus, and the church.
Photo by Bryan Swisher

“Charlie died tonight.” We received the text a couple of days ago. Charlie had been sick for a while, in and out of the hospital, finally landing in a nursing home. A few days later, just a few hours after my parents visited, Charlie drew his last breath.

I grew up with Charlie in my life. He was always around at church. For many years he and his sister Gail cleaned the church building every week so that we could gather for worship. I’ll never forget the one year that Charlie (presumably while cleaning the church during the week) decided to play a prank on the church choir of whom my dad was the director. The choir was planning to sing a Christmas cantata the following Sunday. They had been practicing for weeks for that act of worship and were finally prepared for the big day. When Sunday morning rolled around, my dad arrived at the church early and found that the music for the cantata had disappeared without a trace. He looked everywhere for the missing music but to no avail.

He immediately suspected Charlie. This was, after all, not the first time something like this had happened. Charlie had a reputation as a prankster. When confronted with the missing music, Charlie denied any and all knowledge of the missing choir books. Alas, the cantata was not sung, and the books were not found until later the next week when they mysteriously reappeared in their normal location. This was quintessential Charlie.

Charlie always carried a notebook with him so that he could jot down everything that happened around him. You never knew if something you said in Charlie’s hearing would be quoted in a later conversation. When I later pastored the Lovington Church of the Nazarene, the same church in which I grew up, I asked Charlie to serve as our greeter and head usher. He absolutely loved doing these jobs in the church and he took them very seriously.

He did however go about his duties in his own unique way. It was not uncommon for Charlie to be conversing with everyone who entered about the Friday night Wildcat football game, or the Thursday evening J.V. game, or even a seventh, eighth, or ninth grade game from earlier in the week. All of which he had entered by conspicuously flashing the Lovington Leader press pass my dad had given him. He was even caught commentating from the announcer’s box a time or two at J.V. baseball games. If someone in the church made the paper, Charlie would proudly present them with the clipped article and/or picture as they entered for worship.

When there was no sporting event to talk about, Charlie would bring along one of his joke books. You know, the thin ones you used to buy from the end caps at variety or grocery stores. He would read selected jokes to me or other members of the congregation throughout the morning. On occasion, I would suggest he choose a different joke, but most of the time the whole practice was rather funny and enjoyable in a corny joke kind of way. I do have a favorite from those Charlie shared over the years. With a completely serious face Charlie recited it to me one Sunday morning as we stood in the foyer waiting for worshipers to arrive:

Charlie: “How many Nazarenes does it take to change a light bulb.”

Me: “I don’t know Charlie, how many?”

Charlie: “Twelve…one to change the light bulb and eleven to plan the fellowship dinner afterward.”

Funny….right?!

The truth is, I will miss Charlie. He was so much more than a prankster. He was an authentic follower of Jesus Christ. Because of Charlie our church began playing in the city softball league, where we had tons of fun together and engaged intentionally with people in our community who needed to know the love of Christ. It didn’t matter if we won or lost, Charlie loved it and our church became stronger for it. He made us better, with his simple faith and his enthusiasm for life.

Charlie taught me some valuable lessons about the Christian life. One day, Charlie stopped by our office and told pastor Aaron and I that he didn’t have any furniture anymore. When we asked him why, he told us that a homeless man had come to visit, so he gave him his furniture. Charlie didn’t have much to begin with, a couch, a chair, a dining table, a T.V. a coffee table a bed. We were a bit upset by this, but Charlie just said: “I thought he needed it more than I did so I gave it to him.”

Wow! What generosity. Charlie would literally give the shirt off of his back if he thought someone needed it more than he did. I can’t help but think of the words of Jesus in Mark 9:35 “Whoever wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.” In the kingdom of God Charlie is not poor. He is rich, for he was indeed a servant of all.

Charlie had more than his share of challenges. He lived with a mental disability for his entire life. In many ways, he was a 12 or 13-year-old boy trapped in the aging body of man. This brought with it significant challenges. At times Charlie faced bullying and ridicule. At times he didn’t understand what was going on around him. More than once he was the target of thieves who no doubt thought he was an easy target and that his bicycle or other processions should be theirs.

But these are not the things that defined Charlie. I will always remember his unconditional love for our church and community, his giving spirit, his sense of humor, and his childlike faith. And so I look forward to the day of resurrection when our Lord returns and we are raised to new life. For on that day, I know I will see Charlie again.

Rest in the presence of Christ my friend!

 

Parting Shot

Springtime worship in November at Crossroads Church, Hamilton, NZ.
photo by Padmaja Chagaleru

The Day the Picture Came to Life (by Jaron)

Jaron overlooking the Manila skyline

Jaron overlooking the Manila skyline

I remember well the black and white picture on the wall and the questions that ran through my young mind as I studied it. Who are those people? Why do we have their picture hanging in our church fellowship hall? How old is it? How old are they?!

The picture of “our missionaries” Wallace and Mona White was a mainstay in my home church in Lovington, NM. We held children’s church and VBS, ate at numerous potlucks, and ran wild while our parents practiced for worship team, all under their watchful eyes. The story goes something like this: Sometime in the 1950s Wallace and Mona White became a part of Lovington Church of the Nazarene where they experienced the saving grace of Jesus. As they began living out their salvation, they eventually answered God’s call to missions and soon became pioneer missionaries for the Church of the Nazarene in Papua New Guinea (PNG). While in PNG, they planted many churches and started a Nazarene hospital that is widely respected and still in operation today.

The picture.... Wallace and Mona White and their family.

The picture…. Wallace and Mona White and their family.

As a young child, I heard these stories, but they seemed as distant as the colorless people in the picture on the wall. They were stories of work that began long before I was born and that was continuing in far off places that I knew very little about. And yet, somehow it was a part of our church’s story. I really didn’t catch the significance, but I knew there must be something to it because there the picture hung year after year.

People at LovingtonNaz have always proudly claimed that “we are a sending church,” and the facts back up that claim. While cleaning out my desk after pastoring there for 7 years, I found a letter from one of our long-time members that listed all of the women and men who had been called to full time ministry from our church. The list of pastors and missionaries was long. I had grown up in the church myself and was packing for New Zealand, so my name now fell in both categories.

So what about Wallace and Mona and that black and white picture? Last week I had the privilege of attending a meeting of Nazarene educators from around the Asia Pacific region of the world. On the first day, I was introduced to the man across the table from me. He is from PNG, and serves as the President of our Nazarene College of nursing there. His name…Wallace White Kintak. He was named after Wallace White. Our Wallace White. The Wallace White whose black and white likeness hanging on the wall captured my curiosity and raised so many questions in my mind.

Jaron with Wallace and Regina Kintak of Papua New Guinea.

Jaron with Wallace and Regina Kintak of Papua New Guinea.

All of the sudden the story came alive. No longer is Wallace White just a name. No longer does Papua New Guinea seem far away and the stuff of dreams. For sitting before me was a man who is a follower of Jesus Christ, the president of a college, and new dear friend because a family from my home church answered the call of God to serve in a far off land. Wallace White Kintak proudly carries the name of the man who changed his family–and his country–by introducing them to the love of Jesus.

The implications are incredible. First it speaks to the faithfulness or our church—a small church in rural New Mexico—who carried the love of Christ to its community so that Wallace and Mona could experience the transforming grace of God in their salvation. It speaks to the faithfulness of a local church who discipled, shaped, and ultimately sent them with prayer and support to the mission field. At least in part because one little church took seriously the call of Christ to “go and make disciples of all nations,” there are 11 Nazarene Districts in Papua New Guinea. The church is on fire there, and is growing rapidly. Women and men are being called to ministry and are being educated and trained by people like Wallace Kintak, who like his namesake, is following the call of God to make disciples.

Watch as Wallace and Regina tell Jaron a bit of their story here.

There are families like the one who is a part of our congregation here in Hamilton who are getting to study abroad in first-world university settings because of the Nazarene missionaries’ commitment to high-quality education. There are babies born in clean, safe environments and medical needs being met 24 hours a day 7 days a week at a highly respected hospital because a missionary couple saw the need for easily accessible high-quality healthcare.

In a world where Christians are tempted to get hung up on which communion bread to use, where flashy lights and professional-sounding bands are touted as essential, and where pastors (and laymen) spend way too much time one-upping each other on Facebook, I am convinced that these are non-essentials that can easily distract us from the important work of the Kingdom. Over 60 years ago a little church, in a small town few have ever heard of welcomed a new couple into their fellowship. The church didn’t have a fancy worship team or flashy lights or much in the way of bragging rights, but they did know how to love. What they didn’t know was that their love and care for this couple would someday extend to thousands upon thousands on the other side of the planet who had not yet heard the name of Jesus. It’s a legacy that is thriving today.

I think my ancestors at Lovington Church of the Nazarene might say; “Son, we are not a fancy church. It’s not about being fancy. A sending church though…yes, that is what we are. So by all means, go, love well, and tell them about Jesus. That’s what will change the world.”

Parting Shot

While Daddy was away, Mommy and Q explored a new park.

While Daddy was away, Mommy and Q explored Parana Park, a beautifully hidden little children’s play area in Hamilton.

 

Similar…But Different: The First Sunday

I anticipate that this will be one of many installments of “Similar…But Different.” We’ve been in New Zealand precisely one week and already the list is long…grocery shopping, driving, laundry, banking and money, daily routines (i.e. morning and afternoon tea)…. This installment, however, has to do with two first Sundays: our first Sunday as pastors of Lovington Church of the Nazarene, 7.5 years ago, and our first Sunday at Hamilton Crossroads Church of the Nazarene. They are so similar…but different.

Similar… There were 27 people at church. This was the case on our first Sunday in Lovington, where the church board had sent letters to everyone who had previously been involved in the church, inviting them to welcome Jaron home and engage in the future of the church. There were about 27 people who worshiped at Hamilton Crossroads this past Sunday as well. Both groups were made up largely of a handful of committed church members who find their bodies to be aging and their energy waning.

But different… When Jaron and I arrived in Lovington, we were the youngest people in the church. His parents were the next youngest. There weren’t any children. At Crossroads, there were a couple of other young families and a total of 7 children, including Quentin.

Similar… It was summer.

But different… Our first Sunday in Lovington was at the beginning of July 2008. Summer was in full swing. Our first Sunday in Hamilton was the beginning of December 2015. Summer is just beginning. This is the last week of school before a six-week summer holiday.

Similar… A husband and wife pair led the worship with a piano and a vocalist.

But different… In Lovington, the husband and wife pair was Jaron’s parents, life-long members of the church, and were accompanied by another vocalist. The Hamilton worship leaders are a husband and wife team from Singapore who have recently been granted permanent residency in New Zealand. They have two children and are acclimating to new jobs and ministry roles as well.

Similar… We ate a potluck meal after church. Everyone brought a dish or two to share and there were more desserts than anything else, as is the Nazarene potluck way.

But different… Included in the fare in Hamilton was a fried rice dish from Singapore, corned beef, and pavlova. And of course, everyone drank hot tea. Lots of it. We weren’t squeezed into a small fellowship hall space, but we were huddled around tiny tea tables as we broke bread together for the first time.

Similar… The church gifted us with a food pounding. The food pounding included great staples, as well as foods we would rarely buy.

But different… This food pounding included treasures like pulled lamb, Vegemite, crumpets, and Edam cheese.

Similar… We were setting up residence in a 3-bedroom, 2-bathroom house owned by the church just a short drive from church.

But different… This parsonage is called a manse. We’ll save everything else for another blog post dedicated to window screens and heating and cooling and faucets and the loo.

Similar… We felt incredibly welcomed, incredibly blessed, and incredibly humbled to be a part of the work of God in each place. We anticipated what God might do. We made space for God’s dreams to fill our minds and hearts. We saw a place and a people filled with hope and potential and possibility. We also saw a community that was lost and hurting and in desperate need of the church to be the hands and feet of Jesus in the world.

 

 

Thankful

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My family has this Thanksgiving tradition. The breakfast table is set with china. A spread of coffee cake (grain free and refined sugar free these days), frittatas, and halved grapefruits are prepared. Is that weird? Maybe no one else in the world eats grapefruit on Thanksgiving morning, but we do. Before we pour the milk into the goblets or dig into that deliciousness, we take turns sharing what we’re thankful for around the table. It’s a tradition significant enough to have survived several locations and alternate dates. The when and where are not important. Rather, it’s the giving thanks.

This year, our veins our coursing with a sense of deep, deep gratitude.

We are grateful for a baker’s dozen of churches that this fall welcomed us with open arms, extended incredible hospitality, loved our family, and then gave generously so they too might partner with us in the work God has called us to in New Zealand. Truly, we have been blessed and humbled by our worship and our fellowship with each one.

We are grateful that Q is healthy. All of the physical exams and tests have made one thing very clear: we have a strong, healthy, growing boy. He has braved the countless hours in the car, transitions, and doctor’s appointments of these past weeks well and with a sense of humor. God has equipped him well for the cultural and social transitions that are coming.

We are thankful to be a part of a global church family—a group of people from all of the world who were willing to pray for Q’s visa, who are a part of this call, and who have surrounded us with their love and support. They are our partners in ministry as we collectively seek to embody the Kingdom of God in the world.

We are grateful for Lovington First Church of the Nazarene. They’re a church family that gets it. They get what it means to serve the community and in doing so, point people to Jesus. They get what it means to care for the poor and powerless. They get what it means to be a part of the global church and the importance of continuing to look outside themselves. They get how to love pastors well—and how to send them well. As challenging as this transition has been for them, they get how to handle it with grace. They get how to celebrate the past while looking toward the future. They get what it means to be the people of God in the world.

We are thankful for the community of Lovington. It has been a great privilege to serve this community over the past seven years. This community has embraced us with open arms, given us a place of leadership, and loved us well. The people of this community give generously to feed the hungry. They volunteer their time to care well for others. It is a place where the cities and the schools and non-profit organizations can create the coolest partnerships. They supported us while we were here, and are continuing to do so as we go. We are proud to say that this is home.

We are thankful that all of the details—support raising, visas, insurance, etc—have fallen into place perfectly over the past few weeks. We are grateful for the assurance that provides and the needs that have been met.

We are thankful that God is already at work in New Zealand, and that we’ll get to be a part of the things that God is doing there. We are thankful that there are people there who will become our friends and help us navigate a new culture.

We are thankful for technology. Airplanes (Yippee for direct flights from Houston to Auckland starting soon!), What’s App, Skype, Facetime, iPhones, Facebook, videos on YouTube, and blog posts will all help make it possible for us to stay connected to people we love. They’ll help us tell the story of what God is doing in New Zealand. They may even help us tantalize you into coming to visit us. 😉

We are thankful that in the midst of being called to a place very far from home, that there are many things we’ll enjoy doing. We’re really looking forward to bike rides along the river, lots of swimming, trips to the beach, and exploring glow worm caves and the Shire and geothermal areas and so much more.

We are thankful that when we realized our dog-child, Bailey, wouldn’t be able to go to New Zealand with us, my parents willingly offered to make a place in their home and lives for her. As Q says, “Grammy and Papu will walk her and feed her and throw her ball for her and play with her.” As hard as it will be to say good bye to her in a few days, we are grateful that she will be lovingly cared for.

We are thankful for the grapefruit tree in our yard. There’s a grapefruit tree in the yard of our house in Hamilton. We’re excited about the delicious, fresh grapefruit it (and the lemon tree) will produce—almost year round. We are thankful that when we eat the juicy, tart fruit we will be reminded of the tradition of our family Thanksgiving breakfast, and we will be reminded of all that we have to give thanks for.

 

Reflections from the Congo

Jaron and a team of 6 others are spending nearly two weeks in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It’s a trip that has been in the works for nearly 18 months, and prayed over and anticipated for even longer. To learn more about the Fothergill family and the work they’re a part of in the Congo, check out their blog here.

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We stared at the rundown airport buildings as our plane touched down in Lubumbashi. Let’s just say that the terminal, left over from the days of Belgian control, is rustic. The paint is peeling. Some windows have glass, some don’t. Several places are crumbling. As we deplane in the middle of the tarmac, we wander toward immigration under the watchful eyes of armed soldiers. After a $55 “fee” and some confusion at baggage claim, we stepped into the streets of Lubumbashi, Democratic Republic of the Congo where we were met by good friends and missionaries Gavin and Jill Fothergill. We were also surrounded by 20 or so brothers and sisters from the South Katanga District Church of the Nazarene singing joyfully as they one by one shook all of our hands and greeted us warmly. Before we knew it, we were in Gavin’s Toyota Land Cruiser (which legally seats 16 here) bouncing down the mainly dirt, sometimes paved, road to Gavin and Jill’s house.

Rachelle, a PA-C, led a health clinic where she saw hundreds of peopl, many of whom had walked long distances. Working through a translator, she was able to assess needs and provide basic health care.

Rachelle, a PA-C, led a health clinic where she saw hundreds of people, many of whom had walked long distances. Working through a translator, she was able to assess needs and provide basic health care.

Over 1,000 pairs of glasses were donated for people in the Congo who have no access to glasses.

Over 1,000 pairs of glasses were donated for people in the Congo who have no access to glasses.

Since that time, members of our team have diligently matched glasses generously donated by the Lions Club and the community of Lovington with hundreds of recipients. Others have offered medical care. We’ve built relationships while passing out toothbrushes. I was a part of a group that spent three days digging two foot deep trenches in which to lay the foundation for a new church and district center. It was physically demanding work. On the last days of our trip, we laid the cornerstone and then proceeded to lay the rest of the rocks and cement that will form the foundation of the new building.

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Most importantly though, we have laid a different type of foundation. A foundation of friendship. A foundation of global family. These foundations are laid firmly on the stronger foundation of Jesus Christ. For several years, our church has sent money to the DRC to fund projects like an elementary school that was completed earlier this year and the project we have worked on this week. We have been working to build a partnership, but that partnership lacked Congolese faces. Now however, we have more than faces. We have friends— Pastor Aimé, Pastor Andre, Pastor Benjamin, Mark, Ntale, Jean Paul, Pastor Marcel and his wife Alfonsine (who has graciously cooked lunch for our team each day), and many others. Congo is no longer a poor place on the other side of the world where we sometimes send our money. It has become a place where our extended church family lives. It is home to people we know and love and who love us unconditionally.

Our team with the students outside the school our financial contributions helped build. They were such eager students. Already there is a need for more schools to house more grade levels.

Our team with the students outside the school our financial contributions helped build. They were such eager students. Already there is a need for more schools to house more grade levels.

On Sunday, we worshiped with several churches from across the district. We joined in clapping (and trying to sing) as the small, jam-packed building shook with the sound of drums, chanting and singing. Each church represented led part of the worship. There was plenty of dancing as well. The Congolese worship God with their whole body. I was given the privilege of preaching. It was a blessing for me to me to do so, and I was humbled by the invitation. That moment reminded me of the way our God breaks down barriers. As I stood on the small concrete step and looked out over the congregation, I saw American and Congolese sitting together—one body. As I spoke and the DS interpreted, I saw the Word of God received by people of vastly different culture and experience. There was some confusion at times as we muddled through the service together, but it didn’t matter. We were bound together by the love of our Savior.

Preaching at church on Sunday.

Preaching at church on Sunday.

My prayer is that this is only the beginning of our relationship. I pray that even as our family moves far away from Lovington, the partnership that has been nurtured between LovingtonNaz and LubumbashiNaz will continue to grow and flourish. I pray that we will continue to provide resources and work teams. I pray that our Congolese friends will continue to bless us with their rich expressions of genuine worship and the broader worldview that those of us who have grown up in the church in America desperately need. Who knows, maybe someday our new friends will visit us in New Mexico. It seems impossible, but we serve a God that is truly bigger than the borders that divide. Regardless, I am confident that God’s Kingdom will continue to break in as we work together to tell people in New Mexico and the Democratic Republic of the Congo that Jesus loves them.

 

The First of the Lasts

 Q VBS game

The stage was set. The entrancing grand entrance built. Glittery stars hung. Kitchen piled high with snack foods and lemonade mix. Craft supplies laid out. Volunteer team assembled. Anticipation built. It could be none other than Vacation Bible School week at LovingtonNaz. And it’s the first of the (big) lasts in terms of our time here.

Margaret story-telling 2

Vacation Bible School week is one of my favorite weeks of the summer. I have great memories of VBS as a kid (everything I learned about VBS, I learned from Shawnee Church of the Nazarene), but I may have an even greater fondness for VBS as an adult. When we arrived at LovingtonNaz almost exactly 7 years ago, there was not a child to be found. The youngest couple other than ourselves were Jaron’s parents. While they’re very energetic 50-somethings, they don’t quite fit the bill of a young family.

Vbs water game

One year later, with new life and renewed passion for ministry to children and families blossoming, our church family tackled the church’s first Vacation Bible School in years. It was successful. It was energizing. Relationships were built. New families came. It proved that our church was alive, that we could DO something.

While VBS doesn’t fit every context or community, it has become a significant piece of our identity as we seek to intentionally shape the lives of families in our community and point them to Jesus. Many people in our church would say that Vacation Bible School was the first point of connection for them. Others would say it was the very first place they actively engaged in ministry. I would say it was the first place our people began to catch the vision for themselves of what God is calling our church to be.

Vbs Lilly & Alexiah

Just a couple of years after our first VBS, while prepping food for my sister’s wedding reception, a family friend from Shawnee Church of the Nazarene shared this story:

When I was a girl, my dad worked in the oil field. He moved around from town to town, wherever the work was. Before I was born, my family lived in a little trailer in Lovington, NM. One day, a lady showed up at our family’s trailer and invited my older siblings to Vacation Bible School at the Nazarene church. They went. My older sister started going to church regularly. My family moved not long after that, but in every town, my older sister would find the Nazarene church and take my siblings (and eventually me). Today, my sister is married to a Nazarene pastor. My family knows Jesus because a little lady invited my siblings to VBS when they lived in Lovington.

I stopped slicing the pineapple. Our longtime family friend had been impacted decades before by the ministry of our church. What a beautiful story of God’s faithfulness. It’s the kind of story that we rarely get to hear, and the kind of story that makes all of the glitter in the carpet and late nights more than worthwhile.

Vbs thumbprint

But there’s this other thing that I just love about VBS at LovingtonNaz. For it is in that one week, that perhaps more than any other week in the year, we are the Body. Every man, woman, teenager, and child engages in some capacity to love on hordes of kids. Whether it’s singing and dancing, serving cups of lemonade, donating hundreds of hot dogs, or counting endless change from the offering, everyone does something. It’s a most beautiful expression of the Body lived out in a Kingdom way. And every year I just want to bottle up that kind of symbiotic expression of the Church and keep it going all year long. Who needs sleep?

This morning, as I picked some remnants of blue sticky tack off of the walls, I was a bit sad that I won’t get to lead the world’s most amazing VBS team next year, but I was even more proud that this piece of the legacy, which really began decades before I was born, will continue in some wonderful capacity after I am gone. They don’t know it yet, but they don’t really need me. Because what this church family knows is how to love people well.Vbs pie in the face

 

Note: Even these pictures were taken by other members of the VBS team who willingly shared them with me.

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