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Unity in Response to Trials Sword of the spirit NEWSLETTER - November 2020

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to affect our lives, we give thanks to the Lord for the blessing of the way of life He's given us. Though we've had to adjust how we live community life since the start of the pandemic, we still have the richness that comes from it: relationship with the Lord and with sisters and brothers.

Read about how the Lord continues to unite us, even in these times of trial.

The Other Sword of the Spirit

Sword of the Spirit in Seattle, WA is an Affiliate community in the Sword of the Spirit.

If you ask members from the community in Seattle which community they're from, you might be surprised by their answer. The name of the community is "Sword of the Spirit" and just like our larger community of communities, it came about through the work of the Holy Spirit.

It started with a few people who had lived in covenant community finding themselves in a new city without the same support. They continued to live our communities' way of life and as they did, the Lord worked among them. For years God gathered people to pray and to grow together in faith and little by little the Lord allowed them to grow in vision. Then the Lord gave a prophecy: “Like a baby takes 40 weeks to form in the womb, so I take 40 months to form my community in Seattle”, and He did several years ago. It started with reaching one person, then two, then four, and through God’s provision what started out as a few has grown into a band of brothers and sisters who love each other in covenant love and share a desire for the Sword of the Spirit way of life.

The Seattle Sword of the Spirit community has grown in a similar way that many of communities first experienced growth decades ago: reaching out to young people. The Young Professionals Outreach (YPO) that they started three and a half years ago has been a tremendous blessing from the Lord. Their YPO has allowed them to help people meet Jesus in a personal way and experience the power of the Holy Spirit in their lives. Below are a few testimonies about the Lord has done in this community:

"I found my Seattle family in Sword of the Spirit.

I came here without knowing anyone, having given up a fruitful community in Kansas City. I came in faith to grow in love and service to the Lord; to discover the way the Lord would have me labor for his kingdom. But I came meek and timid and reluctant, knowing I could do nothing on my own.

So the Lord made known the Sword of the Spirit by an invitation to a Young Professionals Lord's Day meeting. It was the strangest gathering I'd ever been a part of; but I was struck by the prayers and saw how much they loved each other, so I desired to love them with the love I had received despite some reservations. And so I found in them a family, a community of Christian believers who support one another in fraternal love, who gather often to worship the Lord who is worthy of all praise and feed on the truths of the Living Word. I found also the great work of ecumenical outreach that builds up little by little a church that is perfectly united in Christ's love; a church that knows the littleness of its members and thereby surrenders any differences of opinion among them to Him who wills with an unstoppable will that we may be one people as He is one with the Father and the Holy Spirit."

-Noah Brubacker

"I am originally from Ypsilanti, Michigan, and I have been blessed throughout my life to be involved with strong communities in the Sword of the Spirit. Through these experiences God reached me where I was, called me into a relationship with Him, formed me as a disciple, and opened the doors to send me to where He wanted me to be. Through the suggestion of my pastoral leader and the opportunity to help with a retreat in Vancouver, I visited the community in Seattle, saw the work God was doing, and immediately sought out an internship in the area. I felt God calling me here. He opened doors for me, and I landed a job in Seattle, moving here and joining the community after college. That was a little over two years ago and in that time I have seen our community and outreach grow in numbers and closer together as a family.

As a part of the community in Seattle I have worked to further establish and build out our young professionals’ outreach. We are not yet a large community, but the vision that the members have for outreach and evangelism is inspiring. Everyone works hard to put on events, lead men's and women's groups, and build strong relationships rooted in the Lord's love. It is a unique challenge building Christian community in the Pacific Northwest, but one that I see God blessing us in daily. I have personally seen God's provision while in Seattle, both through the unique times we live in and our adaptations to them, and in the unique culture of the area and the opportunities it offers to us. I know that God is at work in Seattle and I thank Him that the path that He has been leading me down all of my life has led me to serve here."

-Javier Taylor

"I came to the community after a period of a few months of discernment and seeking for Christian friendships. Through that pursuit, I met Christopher Alma, who led me to the Sword of the Spirit. Since I joined the community, I’ve been able to handle my emotions better, become a better steward of my time and money, and understand what ecumenism really is. I have a men’s group that keeps me accountable and helps me discern through life’s situations. I've also found spiritual healing and the fulfillment of God's plans and promises for my life, as the Lord has given me visions for years about what He wants for my life, which included gifts of the Holy Spirit, spiritual warfare, and sharing the Gospel in Seattle. I used to have my own dreams and passions, but through my spiritual growth in the community, I’ve found meaning and God’s purpose for my life."

-David Valenzuela

"In 2016, I attended young adult groups, but I knew God was calling me to deeper and more committed relationships. I was invited to a “Life in the Spirit Seminar” and I met the Diazes, Robinsons, Nadareskis and others who treated me like a brother. There was no division, just community, and brotherhood and sisterhood. I had encountered the love of God in the Holy Spirit. After the seminar, I continued to go to the gatherings, joined a men’s group and became accountable to my brothers. I grew in knowledge of the importance of commitment and of caring for my brothers and sisters. It has been in men’s group that I have seen real change in men of God. I have seen my brothers go through difficult things and have learned to support them as they have me.

Through regular attendance of these gatherings, I learned that God was doing something far greater than maintaining a small group of Christians; I realized we have become fishers of men. This has been especially evident this year during the pandemic. It’s been a joy to see our community grow in size and strength. God has dug deeper wells of grace in our hearts and has strengthened the bonds between brothers and sisters."

-Chris Alma

A Time to Lament?

A reflection by Dave Hughes, Regional President

In August I was privileged to attend (virtually) a special prayer meeting of Triumph of the Cross in Maryland. It was a special meeting because the community was beginning a dialogue about race and our response as Christians who live in the midst of a racially broken country. One of the Black members of the community, Jerel Merrill, spoke about his experience of being a Black man in our society, but he also shared his understanding of what the Bible teaches us about human dignity and the spiritual roots of the sin of racism. It was an important time for me to listen and learn directly from a brother in Christ and I came away from the meeting moved. It touched some deep memories within my own life and also helped me to connect some dots as to how we might respond and think about the racial issues in our society.

First, let me tell you a bit of my story and experience with race. I grew up in a highly segregated factory town in western Illinois. We had no Black neighbors for miles. It was only in high school, when young people from across the city were brought together, that I first met men and women from the Black community. Due to the segregated situation in our city, there were many unresolved tensions in our school and things did not go well. I have vivid memories of a riot that broke out at one point and closed our school for many days. It was the first time I smelled tear gas and witnessed extreme violence. It left me with a profound uneasiness about racial issues and, frankly, a fear of Black people.

On the other hand, a Black friend of mine in High School was the first person who spoke to me about the Gospel. Her courageous intervention in my life set me on a lifelong path of conversion and discipleship. I am eternally grateful to her! Like many of us, I suppose I have a mixed bag of thoughts and internal reactions about race.

Back to the prayer meeting…

At the end of his talk, Jerel began to share his thoughts about response—what can we do, where do we begin? Each of us have such different starting points on this issue, yet because these issues so impact our Black brothers and sisters with whom we are covenanted, we are all affected. We are all called to listen and learn, to seek the Lord and discover his mind on this. Jerel encouraged us to consider entering a season of lament—to mourn, to express sorrow and regret for the sin of racism in our society. To lament first, as a precursor for whatever next steps we might be called to take, to let the lament shape our response. When Jerel said this, something inside me clicked—“That’s the starting point, at least for me.”

Above: Jerel Merrill

The ability to lament is a gift God gives us. He gives us Psalms of lament to help us enter into tragedies that we cannot fully understand and give voice to deep remorse and grief. He gives us examples—Jeremiah, Ezra, Nehemiah, Hannah, Daniel—of those who began their work of restoration with a season of lament. These are examples for us of those who entered into the lament for the state of their people and owned the lament personally, in a spirit of solidarity and corporate ownership.

I think this notion of corporate solidarity is important. I don’t consider myself a racist, yet I live in a society burdened with and shaped by a tragic history of racism and I have my own baggage. Ezra and Nehemiah did not pray, “Forgive your people for they have sinned”. They prayed, “Forgive us for we have sinned”. Perhaps they were also wise and honest enough to know that their own hearts were in need of purifying grace…

In similar fashion, I need to enter the lament as a part of the society I live in and not separate myself or hold myself aloof from it. There are deep issues and currents within our society that need to be worked out and I’m affected too. It reminds me in some ways of doing pastoral counseling. I’ve seen many cases (and need look no further than my own life…) where unresolved issues from the past can warp and weaken us. When we begin to unpack those issues with a trusted friend or counselor, healing can occur. I think our society is going through something like this—deep issues from our past that still affect us today need to get unpacked and worked through. Only then can true healing and true unity occur.

In the Sword of the Spirit we have a special call to unity across many lines of division—ecumenical, cross-cultural, economic, social. Given our call, shall we not also embrace the call to work for unity across the torn lines of racial division? If heaven itself is filled with redeemed men and women from every nation, people, tongue, and tribe, shall we not pray and work for that same diversity and unity here in our own communities (Revelation 7:9)? It is often said that Sunday morning is the most segregated time in America and I’m sure this grieves the Lord’s heart. What an honor to we have to also work to reconcile this division.

But for us as Christians, I think it begins with lament—a season to mourn and repent for the common heritage and sins of our society. So let me invite you to join me in a season of lament for the racial brokenness of our society. Let me close with a quote from Jerel’s teaching: “We lament because it aligns our hearts with God’s. It helps us to see His people as He does and grieve their pain in a way that connects us with God and brings restoration”. May it be so.

In Christ,

Dave

For those of you who would like to hear Jerel’s talk, here’s a link. Jerel became involved with YouthWorks-Detroit as a young person and also participated in UCO during his college days. He and his wife Sandy are now leading the young professional outreach in Triumph of the Cross in Maryland.

Responding in Love

Lebanon has experienced additional hardships besides the COVID-19 pandemic. A financial crisis began in the country one year ago and has continued to get worse with the currency being worth one fifth of what it was one year prior. Politically many have no confidence in the government and large scale corruption and theft are becoming more and more apparent. The explosion of the port of Beirut in early August caused a few hundred deaths and it also meant that many people's homes and offices were damaged (see photo). Given the financial and political crisis, it's even harder than usual to repair the damage. Lots of young people - especially the better educated - are emigrating as soon as they can.

But many in our two communities in Lebanon, Illuminator's Lamp (above) and People of God (right), desire to stay and continue to be on mission. Our brothers and sisters from Lebanon have been very generous to the Sword of the Spirit over the years and the International Executive Committee (IEC) has asked all the Sword of the Spirit regions to respond to their current need likewise.

But many in our two communities in Lebanon, Illuminator's Lamp (above) and People of God (right), desire to stay and continue to be on mission. Our brothers and sisters from Lebanon have been very generous to the Sword of the Spirit over the years and the International Executive Committee (IEC) has asked all the Sword of the Spirit regions to respond to their current need likewise.

To date, individual members, communities, and the North American Region have donated a total of $130,000 to help our two communities in Lebanon. Thank you for the generous response you've made in supporting them!

Making Sense of Acronyms

NARC? NEC? WEC? CBT? We have a lot of acronyms and titles in the North American Region! We hope this short article will explain and “demystify” some of it.

In our region, we have a regional president, currently Dave Hughes, who serves a 4-year term, voted into office by members of the North American Regional Council (NARC). NARC is comprised of senior coordinators of full-member communities as well as other participants representing various outreaches and functions (e.g. the head of Kairos, executive directors of the university outreaches, etc.). NARC meets in person every two years and in smaller committees and online in between. The North American Regional Women’s Council also meets every two years and provides women’s leadership representation from across the region.

Across the Sword of the Spirit, we use a collegial model where the ultimate authority is vested in representative councils, but much of the work to move things forward happens in “executive” committees. In our region, the main executive committees are WEC – the women’s executive and NEC – the men’s national executive. These committees meet more frequently, both in person and online. See the pictures of the current members of both WEC and NEC below.

Dave Hughes (NEC Presider), Anne Kolar (WEC Presider), Gregory Floyd, Cathy Thooft, Molly Kilpatrick, Rosemary Thornton, Jon Wilson
Sue Heuver, Jan Munk, John Yocum, Deena Birk, James Munk, Jeff Smith, Joanne Beckman (joining in 2021)

Recognizing that both men and women have essential, complementary gifts and working together provide fruitful leadership for the body, we look for opportunities for men and women leaders to serve together wherever possible. The two executive councils have begun having some sessions together, which has been very fruitful. The region has also established some work groups or teams made up of men and women from around the region, to better care for all the North American communities.

  • The Community Building Team (CBT) has been working with communities in formation for many years. We are continuing to add members – men and women – to build and care for communities in formation. Ken Noecker and Rosemary Thornton collaborate to lead this team.
  • The regional Youth work group is designed to help us as a region to oversee and support our various youth activities. James Munk and Molly Kilpatrick are collaborating to lead this group.
  • The Care of Communities work group has as its goal to support full member communities. Each community in our region has an outside coordinator and senior women leader who work together to provide outside perspective and support. The Care of Communities work group has developed a common role description as well as training and mentoring support for this service. Gregory Floyd and Jan Munk collaborate to lead this work group.
  • “Equipping the Saints” is a team that is working to provide good spiritual content for our members (e.g. via podcasts and online teaching) and also serves as a clearinghouse for development activities. Dave Hughes and Joanne Beckman are overseeing this team.
  • “Finishing Strong” is a new group of men and women leaders who will be serving our older members by developing resources, identifying needs of seniors, and sharing with each other methods to help all of us finish the race well. Mike Shaughnessy and Marcia Dinolfo are collaborating on this group. Read more about this initiative below.

Finishing Strong: Our Founding Members Remain Faithful to Our Way of Life

Our Sword of the Spirit communities were mainly started by youngish people for young people. The huge value of Christian community is obvious when looking to marry and when raising children. Community can seem less important to ‘empty nesters.’

This especially comes into focus when issues relating to aging emerge. What does community life look like for these seniors? The Finishing Strong work group, made up of people from communities around the region, will look at the realities of senior community members regarding mission, fellowship, pastoral needs, and physical conditions (e.g. someone who is 65 and had a stroke experiences community life differently than someone who is 85 and quite healthy). There are other realities brothers and sisters face (e.g. no longer driving, difficulty meeting at night, or being the lone survivor of a small group).

The "Daughters of Hope" from the People of Hope community remain committed to sharing life together.

Finishing Strong starts with Identifying the issues:

  • As our communities age, what do we need to be addressing?
  • What is the impact of aging on community life? This includes looking at individuals’ aging as well as the community reality of aging members.
  • Do people feel like bad community members because they cannot physically attend things, or contribute at the same level?
  • How do we pastor these issues?
  • We know we cannot solve every issue, but can we help communities work through these things together? Often there is no universal solution, and the realities may be challenging (e.g. the only person who can care for me is my child who lives far away).

The plan was to have the first Finishing Strong meeting in person in April, but that was cancelled due to COVID. We are currently on hold because part of the dynamic of the work group - relationship-building - cannot be achieved well in Zoom. However, as the pandemic continues, we are starting to look at an online option.

Members of Morning Star community in Jackson, MI

The goal of the work group is to meet four times. The first meeting will clarify and identify the issues across the Region. Second meeting would be in smaller groups to look at some of these issues across community lines. Then, our third meeting would be by development groups to make the issues concrete (rather than making prescriptions). Finally, we desire to make the right responses after seeing these issues.

Please continue to pray for our senior members as they faithfully live out our way of life amid changing realities.

Strategies, Hot Off the Press

Grandly and Mike Shaughnessy (above) have recently finished The Strategic Grandparent, a book on how to grandparents can be strategically evangelize their grandchildren. Mike was recently interviewed by Catholic television network EWTN. You can follow the links below to hear Mike talk about how the book came to be and how it's helping grandparents become youth workers.

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We'd love to hear your feedback on the newsletter! Please send us an email at swordofthespirit.nar@gmail.com.