My wife recently served as a Table Leader for a Women's Walk in the Brazos Valley Emmaus Community. This was her first talk and I wanted to share it here:
August 2001 was to be the beginning of my new and improved life. I was leaving behind a dead end job and Houston traffic. I was moving toward wide open spaces and a slower paced country lifestyle. Our family of three was about to welcome a fourth. I was excited about being able to stay home and enjoy my new son's early childhood. We were happy that our older son David would attend a school with a smaller student to teacher ratio. Everything was going to be perfect.
So, we dropped David off for his first day of Kindergarten, which was three days before the baby was to be born. About the middle of that day, I started to feel “off.” I was 100 miles away from my doctor in Katy, so my mother-in-law suggested we drive on down to the doctor being so close to the due date. The doctors decided to proceed with my Cesarean and Kevin was born. Jaundice isn't an uncommon birth issue, but I was required to stay in town for 2 weeks, away from my older son and my new home, until Kevin was released.
As the next 2 years unfolded, Kevin did not develop speech, nor did he acknowledge basic commands from us such as stop, wait, and come here. Trips across parking lots became terrifying as Kevin became a flight risk, heedless of the world around him.
I cannot explain or describe all the feelings and issues that I experienced, but I can tell you I fell into a strong depression. We had no social life or support outside of our family. We felt unable to leave Kevin to anyone's care, even for an hour, outside of my in-laws. David was evaluated and labeled ADD and Dyslexic in first grade. Finally after years of fear and frustration, we had a name for our struggles with Kevin. At 4 years old, Kevin was diagnosed as Pervasive Developmental Disorder, a form of Autism. Both boys were now medicated, the youngest with severe development issues.
I had no prior practical knowledge or experience with special needs children. Ed , my husband, took everything in stride, having experience within his own family and having taught special ed classes. I was afraid to visit my own family at that time. I didn't want them to find out my kids were medicated, as they did not believe in ADD. I didn't want to seem a failure as a mother to my own parents. I wondered what I had done to cause this and what I needed to do to “fix” my children.
My name is Tracey Wetterman, and the title of this Talk is Changing Our World.
This talk concerns a plan for changing our world: making the world a more Christ-centered, just, and loving community. You have heard about piety, study, and action and about the world's desperate need for Christ and Christian leadership. But how can you respond to the challenge?
Sometime in the middle of the unfolding of the early years of Kevin's life, when all the doctors and teachers only seemed to have negative comments, when learning that all the experts published said 2/3 of autism spectrum patients were mentally retarded, and when feeling cut off from my family, a ray of hope began to bloom in my heart. That hope matured into faith when I forcefully told my husband one Saturday night that I was waking early the next day and taking the kids to church with or without him. To my great surprise, he went with us, but of course, he got to pick the church.
My husband and I were both raised in church as children, but of different denominations. He had some hurtful experiences with Sunday school teachers in his youth. He took the attitude that he could be a Christian without attending church. I had a strong faith and positive church experiences prior to my marriage, but young newlywed life, my job, and socializing with friends distracted me from my faith in God. Now, when I needed him the most, the Holy Spirit was whispering to me how to find help.
In What's Wrong with the World, G.K. Chesterton wrote, “The Christian Ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried.” For the next few minutes, I want to talk with you not only about trying Christianity but also about making a plan to successfully live it and help Christ make a difference in the world.
Changing our world involves four fields of ministry: yourself, others, your community, and the world.
Micah 6:8 provides a helpful framework for understanding what God requires of us and how we will bring about change: “What does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.” Your actions within your community and the world should be just. Show kindness to your neighbors and all “others” that you meet. Walk humbly with the Lord by making the time for prayer and worship regularly.
In this first field of ministry, you are called to walk humbly with God. Before you can change the world, you must have a plan for anchoring yourself spiritually. If you are to bring change to the world, you must start with yourself.
Elie Wiesel tells the story of a Jewish man who set out to change the world. In making his plan, the man said to himself: Basing myself on the Talmudic saying that if all...repented, the Messiah would come. I decided to do something about it. I was convinced I would be successful. But where was I to start? The world is so vast. I shall start with the country I know best, my own. But my country is so very large. I had better start with my town. But my town, too, is large. I had best start with my street. No: my home. No: my family. Never mind, I shall start with myself.”
When we try to change the world without firm roots in a relationship with God and Christian community, we can fall into traps.
1. The Pharisee: Because the Pharisee is not motivated by God's grace, he or she is driven by rigid perfectionism and guided by legalism. The mission is perverted into attempts to force everyone into one's own mold.
2. The Do-Gooder: Do-gooders are often motivated by their own need to be needed or to make a notable difference instead of by true compassion and commitment to meet human needs.
3. The Savior Complex: Without a sense of God's providence, caring people may feel they must save the world by themselves. Far-reaching plans or feverish activity may be based more on anxiety for the future than attention to God and discernment of God's will for the present.
4. The Burnout: Without a vital relationship with God and other Christians, one's fire for the mission burns out. You cannot change the world if you are running on empty.
Our model to follow is Jesus. The strength of Jesus' ministry came from his relationship with God and close friends, the disciples. Between times of intense ministry, Jesus withdrew with his disciples to a lonely place to pray and share his concerns. Luke 22:39-41 states, “Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives, and his disciples followed him. On reaching the place, He said to them, “pray that you will not fall into temptation.” He withdrew about a stone's throw beyond them, knelt down, and prayed.”
Changing our world begins with changing ourselves and sustaining that change in our piety, study, and action. Or more clearly, we sustain the change in ourselves through our heart, mind, and will.
Our second call to ministry is to serve others. We are called to love mercy. Our most immediate opportunity for changing our world is by sharing God's love in our relationship with others: family members, colleagues, friends, neighbors, and acquaintances. John 12:26 says “Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me.”
Your mission is to infuse your network of relationships with the grace of Christ, to make mercy and outreaching love part of your everyday life. Take inventory of your relationships and the grace they call from you. Who do you need to encourage? Who needs what only you can do or give? Who needs to hear about Christ from you?
Your attitude toward others will either open or close relationships. “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do for you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” Matt 7:12 Do you affirm others? A judgmental attitude can be the greatest obstacle to the spiritual growth of another. Do you only see someone's past and condemn them, or do you encourage them to rise to their potential? Your attitude toward others can be an offering of love.
Your prayers for others are also acts of love. Through prayer, God can transform your relationships. Through prayer, you help others become changed persons and support them in their new life. Through prayer, God can open opportunities to reach out and witness. Make sure your ministry to others flows from your prayers for others.
Your friendship with others is the means by which you can share your life and offer Christ. Remember the motto from the Christian Action Talk: Make friend, Be a friend, Introduce your friend to Christ. Seek opportunities to share your relationship with Christ with your friends. Expect them to be receptive. Be authentic in sharing your faith and your testimony of your relationship with Christ. There is no right or wrong way to share your faith, only authentic and inauthentic ways.
When friends make a commitment to Christ, encourage their new way of thinking and living through spiritual support, study of scripture, and involvement in church and meaningful ministries.
In the third field of ministry, we are called to work for justice within our community. Your world does not consist of one-on-one relationships alone. You are an integral part of society and culture, groups, families, organizations, institutions, workplaces, and governments. You influence your society by how you do or do not participate as a Christian. You are called to help Christ transform your part of the world into a more Christ-centered, loving, and just society.
A wonderful example of how I was blessed and became a blessing in Caldwell is through Cub Scouts. I was invited by a church member, Mendi, to sign up Kevin for cub scouts when he started first grade. Cub Scouts accepts boys, grades 1-5, of all abilities and skill levels. Kevin & I experienced a warm welcome and acceptance within our den (grade/small group) and Pack (all grades) community activities. In our second year of scouting, I stepped up to be a committee member for the Pack. During Kevin's fourth year of scouting, Mendi stepped down as Cub Master, as her son moved on from the Pack and other commitments arose. The new Cub Master had to move during the middle of the school year, and quit with very little warning before a major scouting event.
With the Pack threatening to unravel, I had to determine if Cub Scouts was worth putting forth more of my personal time and resources. I was afraid that if I tried to lead the Pack, the other families would abandon scouts, knowing my son was Autistic. I thought who am I to lead a youth organization when my kid isn't “normal.” I decided to step up in my role as Chairman for the Pack and opened up lines of communication between the different dens (grade levels) in order to keep us organized. I was not alone. I was just the first parent to come forward to preserve our scouting program. As a Pack, we were able to continue to support our community by supporting our local food pantry through Scouting for food, and by our service to clean the local Davidson Creek Park as part of the Keep Burleson County Beautiful program. Our Pack is still going strong and in February, I passed the torch to other dedicated parents to keep Pack 181 going. Kevin and I have moved up to BS Troop 181.
Your mission is to help Christ change your community by acting as an effective Christian influence in it. In Luke 4:18-19, Jesus said, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners, and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.”
We are to identify situations of human need. Jesus identified such situations to which we are called to respond in Matt 25:34-36. “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
He makes clear the significance of our response. Working to correct the situation calls for both mercy and justice. Think of mercy as giving a starving man a fish to eat. Justice is teaching the man to fish so that he can feed himself throughout his lifetime.
In everything you do, be a joyful witness for Christ. As Christian witnesses, we should seek tolerance and mutual understanding. Christ's spirit should be evident in what we do and how we do it.
In the fourth field of ministry, Jesus send us out into the world. Luke 6:12-13 says, “One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God. When morning came, he called his disciples to him and chose twelve of them, whom he also designated apostles.”
This field of ministry calls us to stretch our hearts, minds, and actions. Your church or church mission board will offer opportunities. You will need a strong and firm foundation based on faith, study and action.
Now, let me share my plan with you. I minister to myself each day by prayer in the morning along with the Upper Room daily devotional supplied by my church. I am the first one up in the house and so the morning is the best time for me to pray. I also have a wonderful husband that sponsored me on my walk and helps me daily mature in my faith.
I serve as Family Council leader in my church by organizing our monthly fellowship meal. I serve the Caldwell Boy Scout Troop 181 as Treasurer. My husband and I also teach Sunday school for the middle school students in our church. This July, I will accompany our middle school youth for their Big House weekend service project. For support, I meet weekly with a Christian accountability group to share prayer concerns and fellowship in a small group setting.
As for my boys, I have been blessed. By listening to the Holy Spirit telling me to find a church home, I actually found help, encouragement, and a lot of teachers in my congregation that give me positive feedback about my kids. By stepping out in faith, I have provided an example for my kids to follow in the service of church and scouting. Both Kevin and David are successful in school. And most treasured in my heart is that my mother told me before she died that I was a good mother and she was very surprised and proud of me for the way I respond and show love to Kevin. She never once said anything negative about the medicine.
As disciples for Christ, we are not called to be successful; we are called to be faithful.