Over the next few weeks, our very own Dietrich and Sue Gruen are traveling through Germany and have the opportunity to share the gospel with Muslim refugees. Here are their updates: Continue reading Germany Outreach Updates
By Dietrich Gruen
I get to preach on the meaning of Christmas to 25 Muslim refugees, mostly teen boys, in Germany. I never lack for words, but often speak past my word count (1500-2000) or time limit (15-20 minutes). My challenge is also speaking intermittently through a translator. Lots could be lost in translation, and I could lose my audience if I go over time. You readers of this blog (more my forte) are my practice audience; your feedback and prayers are welcome. Several High Point women have provided stuffed Christmas stockings for the 24 boys and 1 girl; for that we are so grateful. During our sports-drama-English immersion camp in Berlin, July 29-August 5, would you pray for this Word to come alive and dwell with us? Thanks.
We have a team in the Dominican Republic this year building bathrooms, constructing water filtration towers, cultivating vertical vegetable gardens, teaching Vacation Bible School, and leading students in small group ministries. They do all this while, most importantly, sharing the Good News of the gospel of Jesus. Pray for them, and check below throughout their trip for updates as the team invests in the Dominican Republic! Continue reading 2017 Dominican Republic Team Updates
By Dietrich Gruen
This blog post is based on the annual ministry report written by Lee Wanak, the leader of the Global Missions Team, with the goal to link you to specific missions activities and outcomes. It’s exciting to see God’s providence as we both look back and ahead to how he is using High Point Church to reach the world with the gospel.
By Dietrich Gruen
In glad response to God’s grace and the opportunities set before us, continue to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:12b-13 NIV). With hearts and minds transformed by the power of the gospel, let us seize opportunities to make a difference in God’s kingdom. You may be looking for ways and places close at hand to express you deep gladness in meeting the needs of others. As theologian Frederick Buechner puts it: “Your vocation [the place God calls you] is where your greatest joy meets the world’s greatest need.” In the run up to Easter, April in Madison holds a plethora of such mission opportunity. With God-given passion and purpose, let’s find our place and be creative in the stewardship of the time, resources and relationships that God has given us.
Art and Entertainment
Movies: The Shack, Facing Darkness and The Case for Christ
The movie adaption of the surprise runaway 2007 best-seller The Shack, by first-time novelist Paul Young, has been playing in theaters all March, so perhaps you have seen it already. If not, go and bring someone questioning God’s goodness in the face of suffering and judgment, tragedy and evil. The movie will raise honest questions such as, “Where was God when…?” and “What kind of God allows…?”). Then, go to the Bible for God’s honest truth in response to the questions that arise. Bring your friends, questions and Kleenex, and have an honest-to-God dialogue after seeing this provocative, tear-jerker of a movie.
A second Christian movie is coming out April 7, also based on a true story—this one of a journalist who makes The Case for Christ. Based on the bestseller by Christian apologist Lee Strobel, this movie feels like a legal thriller as the lead character tries to prove the truth of Jesus’ death and resurrection, with life-altering results. As with The Shack, this movie is most profitable if accompanied with a group discussion, even a Bible study, to compare answers. To help you in this regard, check out outreach.com for products and church campaign kits to use with each movie.
A third film this Easter season, released just in time for viewing with your friends and family, is Facing Darkness. An encore presentation is showing on one night only, Monday April 10. Get more information and find showings near you here. This movie represents the true story of how God saved the lives of Dr. Kent Brantly and missionary Nancy Writebol from the deadly Ebola virus. At the end of the film, Franklin Graham shares the gospel.
TV series: Finding Jesus: Faith, Fact, Forgery
This CNN special investigative report first aired last year, and the series is back on the air now. Archeologists investigate several artifacts crucial to, and scholars debate the claims supportive of, Jesus’ death and resurrection. This opportunity to explore faith may be more for your roommates or family who would rather not come to church, but would watch an interesting academic take on faith with you.
Faith and Culture
Home court advantage: Holy Week services at High Point Church
With the timing of Good Friday on April 14, Easter Sunday on April 16, and an earlier spring break (meaning most people are back in town), you have time and opportunity—now—to invite any new friends and neighbors to High Point Church. Remember your commitment to pray for two people in your life who need Jesus, but most importantly, that God is the one who changes hearts, transforms lives, and brings people to repentance and salvation. Good Friday service at High Point Church begins at 1pm and Easter Sunday services begin at 9am and 10:45am. Find more details on services and activities for kids at highpointchurch.org/Easter.
Away game: Lamb roast on April 8
You may have heard through the HPC Global Missions Team of a special event involving roasted lamb on April 8. Roasting a lamb is culturally common to Muslim-majority and other countries. This particular lamb roast is called Eid al-Easter, where they celebrate Abraham’s faith for being willing to sacrifice his son, while others get to state the case for Easter and Jesus as the Lamb of God. We cannot give you details in this public blog, but feel free to contact Dean at firstname.lastname@example.org for more details and to volunteer. Dean is an elder at High Point Church who works with Bridges International, a branch of Cru.
The Benevolence Fund
The Benevolence Fund exists first to benefit High Point Church members and attenders in the family of faith, but also serve the city. As it turns out, 95% of the recipients of the Benevolence Fund are from outside our church. Another purpose of this fund is to connect with people of different social, economic, faith or racial groups. We help people residing on the west side who need short-term financial aid to bridge a gap created by an unexpected event; for example, the loss of employment, illness, injury or accident. Also, with the winter moratorium on utility cut-offs lifting on April 15, this means some neighbors will face imminent cut-off of heat and light unless they get help with their MGE or Alliant Energy bill. “Like a good neighbor…” our Benevolent Fund program is there, with your support, to help. To give to the benevolence fund, use the yellow Benevolence envelope during the offering on a Sunday morning, or designate your giving online at highpointchurch.org/give.
As we spring into action to live out our faith this month, I hope to see you in church, at the movies, or at the park. Carpé Diem! That is, “seize the day,” for in God’s providence, he has set “a certain day called Today” (Hebrews 3:7, 13, 15; 4:7).
By Dietrich Gruen
Many of the recent election and subsequent executive orders have stirred up significant fear among our fellow citizens. Fear, anger, hate and resentment manifest in social media, street protests, and in not-so-civil family talk. Otherness can stir within us unwelcome feelings that conflict with our Christian values. We struggle enough with people who have a different skin color, political views or religious persuasion. Those things are magnified when someone also hails from a different country and speaks a foreign language.
Refugees On Pause
Our Census Bureau reports that 40+ million foreign-born residents live in the U.S. That number includes naturalized citizens, permanent residents (green card holders), workers and international students with temporary visas, and immigrants without legal status. Also, a limited number of refugees arrive each year—about 85,000. That totals about 3 million who have been granted refuge from documented religious, political or racial persecution since 1980. This year allowed for 110,000. President Trump cut that to 50,000, banning all asylum-seekers for four months on January 27 before a judge suspended the ban.
Many America-bound refugees settle in large sanctuary cities such as New York, Los Angeles or Chicago. More than 100 asylum seekers were set to come to Madison this year. High Point Church was set to resettle the next family off the plane in February, which was then delayed until June; now, we don’t know when this will happen. This family’s arrival date is a moving target, so watch for continued news updates—for example, a second Executive Order from the President, banning most refugee entry for 4 months, is expected to roll out this week.
High Point Church’s twelve-person resettlement committee is not political or financial; their role is to find housing, as well as provide cultural mentors, drivers, donated furniture and household supplies, friendship and prayer. As our guests are on hold for the moment, so is our work.
Here’s a look at some of the experiences refugees face when resettling in a new country—so that we can grow in our understanding of what real people are going through and know how to come alongside them as they resettle.
The Refugee’s Experience: Screening
For the current vetting already taking place in the refugee screening process, see the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s website. Defenders of the refugee resettlement program note that, out of the 3 million refugees granted entry since 1980, not one has been involved in a terrorist attack on US soil. The established decades-long policy already requires biometric and biographical data, multiple interviews of all family members (in different pairings at different intervals over 18-24 months) by several agencies such as the National Counterterrorism Center, the FBI, the Defense Department, the State Department, and U.S. Customs and Border Protection. All stories presented must sync, or the door is closed. Syrians also go through the Syria Enhanced Review, conducted by analysts knowledgeable about the networks of armed groups in the civil war.
Finally, when this long row has been hoed, the State Department matches refugees with one of nine nonprofit groups—including Lutheran Social Services, the primary refugee resettlement agency for Madison—and gives the groups $1,125 per refugee. Their goal is to place families in an apartment, help them find jobs within 90 days, and become self-sufficient within six months. This is a daunting challenge under any circumstances. Our current situation adds considerable challenges.
The Refugee’s Experience: Finding Work
Even though refugees are willing to do most kinds of work, finding a job that allows for self-sufficiency is still very difficult. Even for those with extensive experience, finding new work is formidable. Many refugees need help writing résumés, learning how to use email, and networking. While they may have been middle managers, skilled technicians or medical professionals licensed back home in Iraq, Iran or Afghanistan, their licensing is often invalid here, leaving only unskilled labor open to them until they’re able to go through the US certification process. Whether or not they have the certifications and experience in hand, language is a serious hurdle for most. As one refugee said, “My English isn’t so good, so I’ll do any job.” Hence, for example, they will take minimum wage factory work. Then, after returning home from a long shift of menial work, they tackle the harder task of learning English. It takes great diligence and dedication to do this.
Refugees must adjust to the manners and customs we take for granted. This is why cultural guides are so critical. They can offer all kinds of assistance—everything from learning the bus system, to navigating our healthcare system, to obtaining local identification, to reading letters from landlords, to trusting the local police.
Refugees and the Church
Cultural differences make it difficult to adjust. Going to an English-speaking church helps; so does English-language classes for moms of school-age kids. But I contend that help goes both ways.
Just as Naomi (an Israelite) and Ruth (a Moabite) bonded for mutual support and brought out the best in each other (Ruth 1:16-17), so also we need refugees as much as they need us, if we are to be the church God intended. In the New Testament, it was a Samaritan—someone not of God’s chosen people, not of the same faith or race or state, but a stranger in their midst—who shows us what it means to truly love God and one’s neighbor (Luke 10:25-37). In welcoming strangers, we may be entertaining angels (Hebrews 13:2), or even Christ himself (Matthew 25:31-40). In Christ, we are “no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household” (Ephesians 2:19).
The Christian Response
Our current crisis is an occasion for us to examine our hearts afresh. Are we harboring fears or resentments that are flying free, untethered by the gospel? In what ways do our hearts, minds and eyes need to be reformed by our knowledge of God’s will and character, his promises, our relation to him, and the role to which he has called us?
Refugee policy will change with elections and a judge’s ruling, but not the calling of the elect: as moral citizens, we duly honor civil authorities who work for the common good, and we always stand compassionately with true refugees.
Regardless of our political convictions or fears, let us be sure to intercede in personal, corporate, and God-sized prayers for refugees, for those serving and loving them, and for the public servants making critical decisions about these concerns. Pray about national policy regarding refugees that is being made as we speak. Pray for the refugees in limbo and their immediate spiritual and human needs. Pray that the Lord would redeem their tragedies by leading them to Him.
And let us form our hearts around the sure promise that the fate of people and nations doesn’t rise or fall based on our efforts. As the apostle Paul reminds us: “God has determined the times set for all nations [ethnos, or ethnic groups] and the exact places where they should live. God did this so men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us” (Acts 17:26b-27). Amen.
When the refugee family assigned to HPC finally gets here, how might you welcome them? For links to helpful resources on the refugee crisis and various Christian responses, visit the We Welcome Refugees website.