Caroling for Seafarers
Testimony by Jay Brown
Last Christmas, about 40 members of the Boomer Sunday School class signed up for the trip to the Houston Ship Channel to go caroling for Seafarers and we were all looking forward to our new adventure. We were joined by another caroling group came from St. Philips Presbyterian Church.
The Reverend David Wells is a Chaplain for the Port of Houston and he arranged for us to have Chaplain Allan Fredricksen accompany us on the boat. Before 9/11 sailors could leave their ships and enjoy rest and relaxation in the Seafarers Center at the Port. Now, however, they need a U S Visa to get off the ship, so many of the Sailors stay on board while they are in port. The average container or cargo ship has a crew of 20 to 25 sailors, and nearly 8000 ships pass through the Port annually. The Chaplains visit every ship that arrives and take welcome boxes of toiletries, snacks, candy, phone cards, which are very welcome for calls home and Bible versus to them. FPC members, through various ministries, have provided some of the boxes they distribute.
Our first ship was huge and we all gathered on the bow deck and began to sing. We could see some people in the wheel house and on deck, several of whom acknowledged our “Merry Christmas” with a hardy wave. And so we went from ship to ship, visiting perhaps 10 to 12 ships that were in port at that time. All of the ships seemed to be operating and we saw many sailors working with loading and unloading, even though now it was dark and they worked under the lights. The bright lights of the refineries lit up the sky in front or us as we travelled down the channel.
I don’t know how many Seafarers actually heard our singing or how many were onboard the vessels we caroled. But I do know that our group enjoyed the opportunity to sing of the blessing of Christ’s birth and bring good wishes to those onboard the ships we passed.
Seafarer Christmas Party
Sat • Dec 7 • 6:30pm • Port of Houston Seafarer Center
Share Christmas cheer with Seafarers who are thousands of miles away from home. Bring your favorite finger food for potluck with Seafarers who may never have been exposed to an American Christmas, help with activities and sing traditional Christmas carols. Contact Stephanie Drew at firstname.lastname@example.org to volunteer at the party.
Harvard & the Holy Spirit
Testimony by Kerr Taylor
Over the summer, at our company, we had a remarkable young intern named Ron. He graduated from the naval academy, served as a Captain in the Marines and led 100 men in two tours in Afghanistan. He had recently graduated from Harvard with an MBA.
We've had other interns over the years but never someone as bright and accomplished as Ron. For instance, we would ask him to perform a customer-centric tenant study of a shopping center, and the results he would come back with were astonishing. One day I asked him how he was able to come up with such brilliantly simple solutions for complex issues. Ron was humble, and I could tell he didn't want to answer. When I persisted, he finally said: "hard-side frameworks." "Harvard gave me a tool chest of business frameworks taken from thousands of case studies over a hundred years." Then he went on: "Hard-side frameworks are important for decision making, but the "soft side", the culture within the life of a an organization, is just as important." He said that's why he chose our company as a place for his internship.
I knew Ron was a Christian, so I asked him how God played into his decisions. He said he always tested Harvard's hard side frameworks against God's principles, and for his soft side decisions he leaned heavily on counsel from more experienced men and women. Above all, he said he relied on the guidance of the Holy Spirit. He caught me smiling and asked why. I said: "Harvard and the Holy Spirit...now that's an oxymoron!" And we shared a laugh together.
Over the 25 years that I have been a member First Pres, the biblical framework we have often used has been Henry Blackaby's "Experiencing God." I remember the Berean Sunday School Class used it in the early 90s and that class grew from 50 to 300 in a matter of 18 months. Many lives, including mine, were changed during that period. We used it as a church to discern whether to embark on building the Lancaster Center. Most recently, the entire Session used it when we sought to understand God's will for our church during Vision 2013.
Dr. Blackaby, first and foremost said that the "Experiencing God" framework is not a magic formula and reminds us that discerning the will of God flows from a deep and intimate relationship with Christ. But, he insists, the Bible does give us biblical principles that form a framework for helping us understand God's will, and they are as follows;
1. God is always at work around us.
2. God pursues a continuing love relationship with us that is real and personal.
3. God invites us to become involved with Him in his work.
4. God speaks by the Holy Spirit through the Bible, prayer, circumstances and the church to reveal Himself, His purposes and His ways.
5. God’s invitation for us to work with Him always leads to a crisis of belief that requires faith and action.
6. We must make adjustments in our lives to join God in what He is doing.
7. We come to know God by experience as we obey Him and He accomplishes His work through us.
Good frameworks are important, and Blackaby has given us a good one for discerning the will of God in the matter we have before us as a church. But the young man from Harvard would counsel us to remember that a close, intimate relationship with Christ is at the heart of knowing and discerning the will of God regarding the decision He has called us to answer.
South Africa Reflection
Testimony by Becca Bell
The opportunity to be a part of the June South Africa vision trip was such a blessing to my husband John and me. As missionaries to Honduras, we consider FPC our home church, and one of our great joys in life is serving beside our friends from Houston.
One thing that often happens when someone spends time with a specific local or global ministry is that a huge and overwhelming statistic becomes a personal face or name. I have been to Africa before, I have read many books abut about HIV and AIDS, and have seen great poverty on many continents. But there is always something profoundly different about hearing a statistic such as, “Over 23 million people are living with HIV in sub-Saharan Africa” and actually sitting and holding the hand of one of those people.
We spent one of the last days of the vision trip with a local pastor in a poor area outside Durban, South Africa. His church is training women to be home health workers, and each of these women has a group of patients in their area that they consistently check on and advise. They identified a few of the patients who would appreciate a visit from us and prayer, and we spent several hours encouraging them in their various homes. At the end of the day, there was time for just one more visit, and Pastor Leonard led our driver to a precarious dirt road along a ledge overlooking a hillside township full of homes only connected by dirt paths through the underbrush. It was almost dusk, but we began walking… and walking… and walking. Following barefoot children, we went down hills, up hills, past small humble adobe homes where the people probably wondered where we were headed (and we were all laughing among ourselves and wondering the same thing!). At last we reached a small house filled with women of different generations. The girl we had come to meet and pray with was about twenty years old, with a sweatshirt wrapped tightly around her extremely thin frame, hood pulled up over her hair. As I sat down beside her, I just sensed the importance of that one life, and knew that God wanted to remind her that she was not forgotten, and not just one in 23 million. As a group we asked her questions, we prayed, and then we hugged her goodbye as we prepared for the walk in the falling darkness back to the van. I took the opportunity one more time to tell her how beautiful she was and that she is precious and unique in the eyes of the God who created her, and I felt her quiet deep eyes holding that truth for the hard days to come.
When I hear about the millions of street kids worldwide, I always picture one of our vibrant Micah boys in Honduras, and now when I hear about millions of people living with HIV, I will always picture this girl’s dark eyes in her home on a hill.