Mission of the Month: Spring into Action

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 waldenmaier@gmail.com for more details and to volunteer. Dean is an elder at High Point Church who works with Bridges International, a branch of Cru.


Financial Resources

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).

Further Study in Stewardship

In the sermon on Sunday, we learned about stewardship. If you missed it, you can listen to the sermon Owning Nothing, Investing Everything here.

Stewardship is fundamental to our identity as Christians but is often under-addressed in teachings about becoming a substantive, thriving disciple of Jesus. Since we don’t discuss it very often, I encourage you to learn a bit more on your own. Here are two excellent resources to get you started:

Faithful in All God’s House: Stewardship and the Christian Life by Gerard Berghoef and Lester DeKoster (2013)Faithful in All Gods House

This is one of the most straightforward and comprehensive guides I’ve found for the issue of Christian stewardship. Coming in at 110 pages, it’s a slim and satisfying read that gives you a surprisingly broad and deep look at what it means to live as the bearers of a trust from God.

A 20 Day Study in Stewardship by Redeemer Presbyterian Church (Rev. Tim Keller)

20 Day Study in Stewardship (cover)

This is a free PDF published by Redeemer Presbyterian Church, pastored by Rev. Tim Keller. It leads readers through twenty daily studies/meditations on the subject of biblical stewardship. Since stewardship isn’t only a concept to be understood, but a reality to embody, this kind of daily exploration–digesting small pieces over a period of time–can be particularly useful in making space for the Spirit to renew our minds. You can download the PDF on their website here. Scroll down to the section titled “Devotional,” and you’ll find a link.

Mission of the Month: Refugee Resettlement

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.

Mission of the Month: Child Sponsorship in El Amirante

By Dietrich Gruen

It was a father-son bonding moment. When Josue first sighted and tugged at me, I gazed into his big, brown, irresistible eyes. I said to myself, We could be related. My friend, Casey, took his picture, capturing this “please-love-me” moment for all time.

Josue is just what Sue (my wife) and I were looking for—a 5-year-old, fatherless child to sponsor. It was hard to pick one from among the hundreds of young kids crowding our team members in the poor barrio of Santo Domingo. Much easier if one particular kid picks me, I thought. That’s just how our connection came together for Josue and me.

However, over half of our child sponsors do not go on mission trips to our partner community, El Amirante, in the Dominican Republic (DR). But while you may not be able to go, you can still impact a child’s life through child sponsorship.

On Sunday, March 5, Hands of Hope-DR will again host the annual Pancake Breakfast in the High Point Church Micah Center, where you will have the opportunity to sign up to sponsor a child. Need more time to think it over after the breakfast? You can visit the Hands Of Hope-DR website to check out the ministry and the communities it serves. Under the Child Sponsorship tab, choose the community of El Almirante to view the 50 children available for sponsorship in our partner community. Browse the profiles, then take the step to start a relationship of encouragement and hope.


Wait—is this kind of charity helpful and effective?

Your sponsorship gift of $32/month provides a child (and siblings) with school uniforms and supplies; annual medical, dental, hearing and vision checkups; birthday and Christmas parties; and food boxes twice a year. Plus, the healthcare can result in a child receiving additional benefits, such as hearing aids or asthma medication. To hear more about child sponsorship and community development in the El Amirante community, listen to the Dominican Republic Partnership interview posted on Tuesday, February 28 on the High Point Church Engage & Equip podcast.

As a child sponsor, you will see God work and have a story to tell.

The sponsoring churches in Madison (High Point Church and Crossroads Church) have formed many relationships in the Dominican Republic over the years. Here is evidence of these connections that I’ve witnessed. May these stories “spur you on to more love and good works” (Hebrews 10:24).

I’ve seen Doug, Brennen and Rick try to master spinning tops as several kids in the Dominican Republic taught them how to play. And I’ve seen Rick teach Kiever to throw and catch a baseball, just as I’ve taught Josue football.

I’ve seen Codi and Marisa laugh and hug their sponsored boy for the first time.  And at a band concert held in the town square one night, I’ve seen kids and their sponsors dance the night away together.

I’ve seen Brennen get kids to chase him so that Lynn Rawhouser could personally visit her sponsored kids and family members without other onlookers crowding in.

I’ve seen kids line up in front of the church to be lifted in the air by Doug and Femi, and kids in the library cram side-by-side on the couch to look at donated books as a sponsor parent Rhonda pointed out things of interest.

I’ve seen child sponsors provide kids with what they need. Jeff and Rhonda once gathered under the tree outside the shed that serves as their sponsor boy’s house, supplying him with physical care. With the boy’s father long gone and his mother disappearing with boyfriends, his grandmother and grandfather are the only ones who regularly care for him. Jeff and Rhonda get to support the family and supply clothes and shoes for the boy.

Like in other relationships, I’ve seen child sponsors share heartaches with their sponsor children and intercede in prayer on behalf of their families during adversity. Vicki learned that her sponsor children’s father, an alcoholic and spendthrift, also suffers from Lyme disease. Similarly, I learned that Josue’s father abused and abandoned the family, leaving the family to survive on $2/day.

Child sponsorship inspires initiative and hope that spreads to the community. I’ve seen Casey visit Kiever’s house, ask him about his favorite things to do, and learn that the boy likes to read. And when she didn’t see any books in his house (or in any Dominican Republic house that year), Casey was inspired to start a library—benefiting all the kids and adults in the community. Now dozens are learning their ABCs and numbers. Can you image a 10-year-old not knowing those basic skills? Child sponsors are doing something about that.


Reaching the world through cross-cultural connections

These connections form into strong bonds as sponsors share life with their sponsor children through written letters. If you have children of your own, they can learn to pray for their sponsored child as one of their siblings. As a sponsor, you will also get Hands of Hope’s quarterly newsletter that brings you up-to-date on what’s happening in the El Amirante community.

So, will you join us? Check out the sponsorship program at the Pancake Breakfast on March 5 or visit the Hands of Hope website.

Living On-Script In The Modern World

I have talked with many people over the years that were uneasy about the script they felt was associated with Christian faith. It looks to them like some kind of script in which Christians are expected to follow every line—leaving no room for free improvisation in the romance of living itself.

And yet I’ve also run into quite a lot of people who quickly tire of making up everything as they go along. This is especially the case when large groups of people are working together spontaneously in profoundly complex sets of relationships. What if one person wants to get married, but it’s the furthest thing from the mind of another? Is getting a job negotiable? What if a parent wants to write a script that includes their child leaving the house, but their child wishes to read a script of them staying in the basement rent-free?

Is there a script?

Most actors know that there are various relationships that films and productions can have to scripts. Some stick exactly to every word of the script, and others leave some freedom to the actors. But according to this metaphor, following Christ is a little bit more like being in the writing room. Continue reading Living On-Script In The Modern World

Mission of the Month: International Justice

By Dietrich Gruen 

We know of many needs in the world around us: food for the hungry, shelter for the homeless, healthcare for the infirm or disabled. But have you ever considered justice as a category of need?

Consider these scenarios:

  • Someone I know borrowed money for a proper funeral for his mother. He was given a 305% interest rate on a title loan, causing him and his family to eventually lose their car, a job that depended on that car, and almost their marriage.
  • One individual had to borrow dowry and other funds for a proper wedding of their only daughter, only to go auction off another family member to repay their ever-mounting debts.
  • Another family had to work off debts incurred by the father’s illness so they sent their kids into low-wage jobs—never to return for two years—as the loan interest rates rose and other payments for service continued.

The first story unfolded in my office where I counsel Benevolent Fund applicants. The other two stories I heard at the annual Global Prayer Summit in Washington, DC last April. The effect on me was at first shock, then disbelief, and then outrage. How could such injustice happen today? Is it ever right to indenture servants in a free market economy? And what if the fight for justice for widows, orphans, rape victims, and modern-day slaves has to go through a corrupt legal system where money trumps all? Continue reading Mission of the Month: International Justice

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