NEO Team Update 5-4-20

NEO Team Update 5-4-20

Local Churches Can Lead the Way

There’s a moment in the first book of The Lord of the Rings trilogy when Frodo laments that a great evil has erupted in his generation. “I wish it need not have happened in my time,” he says.

Gandalf responds with compassion and wisdom in equal measure: “So do I, and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

I imagine President Trump, Governor Stitt and every mayor would echo Frodo’s lament as they face a challenge unlike any we have seen in our lifetime with the Covid-19 pandemic. And NEO pastors and churches may feel the same dread.

When my kids were growing up, I regularly communicated to them that “life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you respond” and “no matter what happens, the attitude choice is yours.” If these sayings are even partially true, then we should say with confidence that the church faces great threats in our present time, but even greater opportunities!

Bill Wilson, Director of the Center for Healthy Churches, acknowledges the challenges of this crisis. He writes that 5% of American churches may lock their doors this year as Covid-19 forces already struggling churches to close five to ten years earlier than they otherwise might have. But he also sees the opportunity, writing on the Center’s website: “The Church has an opportunity to show the world what healthy people do in times of crisis. Rather than panic and devolve into self-absorption and self-protection, we run toward the needs in our culture rather than away from them. We refuse to demonize others, but act out the story of the Good Samaritan on a daily basis. Local churches can lead the way to show their communities what ‘love your neighbor as yourself’ actually looks like.”

Wilson believes that our response to the crisis will help determine what happens next. “Is this the death of the church or the rebirth?” he said. “We’ll see”.

Timothy Dalrymple writes in the latest issue of Christianity Today: “How will the church now rise to this moment? How will we, like our crucified King, enter into the sufferings of others? How will we, like our risen Lord, bring life out of death? What will we ‘do with the time that is given us’?”

This is probably the most rewarding thing I have ever done

— Arlita Harris [Doug Hoke/The Oklahoman]

Arlita Harris always knew she was called to help others. She spent most of her life and career as a library director, connecting people to the resources they needed, before retiring in 2012. But soon after Harris retired, she got a nudge. “God just started talking to me about immigration,” she said.

Today, Harris, 75, has helped hundreds of immigrants in Oklahoma become naturalized U.S. citizens through her work as executive director of the Immigration Center at Western Oaks Church of the Nazarene in Oklahoma City. Harris, a Department of Justice accredited representative, said the church started the service by meeting with congregants to discuss how immigration issues were affecting their lives. Each group for the discussion included a blend of different backgrounds.

“It was so eye-opening. The Latinos particularly thought that we knew what the issues were and didn’t care, and the Anglos somehow thought that you could just go online and pay $100 and become a citizen — that it was really a simple issue and people just chose not to do it,” she said. “There were just so many issues that blocked them from doing things we (as born citizens) do everyday.”

The church began offering classes for people who spoke English as a second language, but soon realized how crucial the need was for Western Oaks to get involved with immigration. Now, the staff there helps about 100 people each year through the process of becoming a U.S. citizen, including passing a test that most Americans couldn’t, Harris said.

Lasting impact. When she last looked, Harris said there were about 36,000 people in Oklahoma who had green cards — lawful permanent resident cards — and eligible for citizenship. “But there’s a barrier: They have to take the test in English, they have to study for the test, and they think they have to hire an attorney,” she said. “An attorney can do their paperwork, but they don’t do the hand-holding that we do in getting them ready for the test and reviewing it with them.”Harris is now using her experience to help others establish immigration centers in their communities. Most recently, a group from Texas has been shadowing her team in Oklahoma City as they work to get their program off the ground.

Harris also spent time as a school dean, a professor — she has three degrees, including a Ph.D. in philosophy of public administration from the University of Texas — and held more positions before entering the immigration field. But her current work has been her most rewarding, she said.

“Helping people find things, helping people find answers. That’s been most of my life — just helping people figure out how to do things they need to do,” she said.

“This is probably the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done.”

District News

District Assembly is cancelled, but you can still have access to the various inserts that are in the physical packet: click for Digital Delegate Packet. Should it be helpful, here is a link to the Foundry promotional video. Pastors and leaders are encouraged to finish your annual reports and funding the mission this week.​

Celebrating Wins!

It’s encouraging to see how God can bring about something good from something bad. With all the negative things that this pandemic has brought, I’m so thankful to hear reports of increased interest in online church. 

This virus has people thinking about their mortality and questioning what really matters in life. They are open to spiritual things and they have new priorities and extra time to see what church is all about, especially from the nonthreatening environment of their own home. As a result, many churches have seen a dramatic and continued increase in their online attendance numbers in recent weeks. Praise God!

We are reaching people we have not been able to reach before. Pastor Mark Smith shared this story from Drumright a week ago: “On Sunday we had a first-time drive-in visitor. I invited him to church about a year ago, then I forgot all about him. And during the service outside,  I noticed some neighbors (who are both churched and not churched) were in their yard listening to the service. They were part of the contemporary worship time we have before we go online. Some of them barely allowed me to talk to them when I go out to visit. So, you could imagine how surprised and blessed I was to notice them listening to the whole service.”

As Keith Cole has taught us to say, “Good for Jesus!” And good for His Church!