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Bringing Jesus to Shepherds in Mali

cap2Much of Mali, as you can see from this picture, is very rural and barren land with small villages full of farmers and shepherds. Not unlike during the time of Jesus, shepherds are considered the lowest of the low, spending most of their time out in the fields with cattle, goats, and sheep. Rarely would anyone visit them, care for them, or bring them good news. Yet this is exactly what a team from CCC did just weeks ago near the village of Fama.

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Fama, a small village of a few thousand Malians, is located about 90 minutes southwest of the CCC hospital. The good work of the hospital over these many years has softened the hearts of the people to these outsiders called “Christians” and so this was a key village for our team to visit. This team of 6 from CCC – Adam Cassidy, Von Walter, Dr. Jerry Busselman, Paul Lanphier, Aaron Goldsmith, and me (Pastor Craig Walter) – partnered with some of our missionaries in Mali and Malian Pastors to de-worm about 3,000 of their cattle over 2 days. For these families and farmers this is an amazing act of love because this de-worming will cause their cattle to often double their weight, making them much more valuable when they are ready to sell. Yet even more amazing is not just the opportunity to see the love of Jesus in action, but for some a chance to hear the good news about Jesus Christ. This is where the shepherds come in.

After working hard in the middle of a cattle pen all morning….

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… we were able to gather these shepherds under a tree and tell them the story of Jesus. Missionary Jake Tillett (in the center of the picture below) is sharing the gospel in their native tongue of Bambara. These men, young and old, have probably never heard of Jesus before. These shepherds, used to being ignored and mistreated, for a few minutes were given special attention and prominence by the God who loves them so much he died on a cross for them.

This is what it looks like to take the gospel to far ends of the Earth. If there is a place called the middle of nowhere, a small field near the village of Fama in Mali is about as close as you can get to being there. What a joy it was for our team to bring the good news to this village and to advance the work of our missionaries and Malian Pastors in Fama and other villages in Mali.

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Pennies can make a difference

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If you were in church on January 15th, you might remember hearing Pastor Mark mention how the children of CCC raised $2,787.33 to purchase 115 Chinese Study Bibles for pastors in China! Many of these pastors in China lead dozens of small house churches and are desperate for Bibles like these that can help them learn how to teach the Bible to their congregations.

It all started when an anonymous donor gave $250 and we challenged the children to match that amount in one month. The 4th and 5th graders really got behind the challenge and they easily went well above $250. Not to be left out, our Wednesday Boys Club challenged the Girls Club and in just one night, combined, they brought in over $110!

To make it even more fun we set up two mini shopvacs (nicknamed “Offervacs”) as their offering “basket”. The kids brought their money in, turned on the Offervac and watched as it sucked up their money.

This was a great opportunity for the leaders to teach the kids how important it was for them to bring in their own money and not to ask their parents for money. So we brainstormed ways they could raise the money (doing extra chores, helping neighbors, etc.), or what they could give up (a cup of hot chocolate on a Sunday morning) in order to bring in money to purchase the Bibles!

It was so amazing watching kids come in with bags full of pennies, nickels, and dimes. Week after week they kept it up, bringing in what they had earned this week, to help buy these Bibles. They never gave up. In the last two weeks in December, they donated $45 each week!

It’s so fun to watch kids helping kids, and we already have a new project ready for 2017, where our kids will help kids in Peru afford to go to Bible camp. We can’t wait to see how many they will be able to send.

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Perspectives at CCC

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Before I became the Missions Pastor at CCC, I was guy who sat in the seats on Sunday morning just like everyone else. But my wife and I both loved missions work and took every opportunity we could to get involved. We went on short-term mission trips, we gave money to various projects, and we helped out wherever we could. But over the years I came to realize I didn’t really know a lot about the strategy behind missions. I didn’t really understand why missionaries would do the things they do. I didn’t really get why God would use ordinary people like me to advance his cause in the world. Maybe, like me, you struggle with some of these same questions. This is where the Perspectives class comes in.

Perspectives is an amazing, 15-week class designed for the average, hard-working, regular person who wants answers to basic questions about missions. You simply won’t find a better opportunity to learn about the history of missions, the strategy of missions, the culture of missions, and the future of missions. This class will give you insight into why God would use a regular person like you to change the world.

Perspectives is being offered in 2017 to anyone in the city of Omaha, but CCC is blessed to be the class host. Starting on Monday, January 16th, in the CCC student center, I am inviting you to participate. Just go to the Perspectives website and click Register to get started.

If you are not sure yet if you really want to take the class, the cool thing is that you can come the first couple of weeks for free. Just show up at the student center and sit through the class to see if it’s for you. Hope to see you there!

 

Better Together Christmas Store 2016

As a dad with adult children (25, 21, and 16), I was reflecting recently how different this Christmas season feels to my wife and me. We have such fun memories of our kids when they were younger, and the excitement of buying them special Christmas presents and the excitement they had as they opened them. Yet the reality is, for many families who live in poverty, Christmas ends up being the exact opposite. Moms and dads and grandparents feel the stress of wondering if they can even afford to buy their kids anything. In fact, our friends from Bridge Church recently shared with me that many families will actually not make their house payment in December so they can buy gifts for their kids.

The Better Together Christmas store was put together for these families!

img_0469Last weekend, over 100 families from Village One, Franklin School and Bridge Church came with whatever money they had to shop for their kids in a dignified way at the store. With the over 1,200 gifts and toys that CCC donated discounted up to 70%, parents and grandparents were able to choose the right gifts for their children at an affordable cost.

I recall one couple that were so thankful to shop around and find the exact Easy-Bake Oven that their daughter had been wanting all year long. Others were in tears when we gifted them a few dollars as they didn’t have quite enough money.

img_0497Another lady came prepared to pay for her sister’s shopping, but we were able to bless her sister’s family by telling her she didn’t owe a penny. Her debt had been paid, just like Jesus has paid own debt in dying for us. What a special message to convey at Christmas!

A grandmother showed up with $120 to buy gifts for all six of her grandchildren that were living with her. Not only did she go home with amazing gifts like a bicycle and dolls for her grandchildren, she didn’t have to spend all her money to do it.

The toys were just a small part of the reason for putting on the Christmas store. The home run for us is to help Bridge Church develop relationships with people in the Village One community and for the love of Jesus to shine bright. Thank you, Christ Community, for coming alongside what God is doing in Village One and helping to meet a felt need in the community. Let’s keep praying for Bridge Church and for all the people we touched this Christmas in Village One!

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Transformed lives in Mali

From Jake Tillett, co-worker of Carey Schlieker in West Africa.

Pierre came to know the Lord last year after talking with some pastors who were visiting his village. Pierre has had a long-term bone infection that just wouldn’t go away, so the pastors sent him to our hospital for treatment. His condition required him to be seen in the clinic every day, but he didn’t need to stay in the hospital, so he took up residence in our guest house which serves patients like him. Because he was a new believer, several of us, including the hospital chaplain, spent time discipling him. He eventually learned to read and got a Bible.

A few months later, another young man, Amadou, came to live in our hospital guest house in order to get physical therapy and treatment for a muscle disease. Amadou came from a village that has no Christians, and though he’d heard the Gospel during the showing of the Jesus film by one of our evangelism teams, he really hadn’t spent much time with any Christians. He and Pierre quickly became friends, and after some time together, Amadou really began to consider the Gospel. He asked Pierre if he could become a Christian. He has also gone on to learn to read and now has a Bible that he carries with him everywhere.

The two of them started (and maintain) a prayer group for patients at the hospital, praying together every morning and evening. Really neat to see the Lord transforming the lives of these young men.

Continue to pray for both of them. Pierre’s treatment is almost over and he will head home. Amadou’s condition is not curable with what we have here in West Africa, so we are asking the Lord for miraculous intervention.

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Building relationships with Trunk-or-Treat

At CCC, we love to tell stories about Village One and the lives that God is transforming through Bridge Church. But through our new Better Together Neighborhoods program, your Journey Group can do more than just hear what is going on, you can get directly involved in a neighborhood. In the last few months, Tim and Kim Wilkinson’s Journey Group “adopted” one block in Village One by partnering with Jim and Rosie Schuman, the family who lives in the CCC Lighthouse. Their group is creating ways for Jim and Rosie to reach out to their neighbors and build relationships. “We are all called to serve, so we serve when we see a need,” said Kim. And last Saturday, there was a need to provide a safe and fun environment for the kids in the neighborhood.

dsc_1801-newIn a parking lot near Village One there were close to a dozen trunks decorated for Trunk-or-Treat where neighborhood children could come and have great fun. Volunteers were ready to greet the kids and the families from the community. A couple of the trunks were from organizations around Omaha, including the Wilkinson’s trunk fully decorated as Finding Dory. But most of the trunks were decorated by people from the neighborhood and this is a neighborhood that in the past has enjoyed keeping to themselves. Praise God that neighbors are starting to reach out and build community with each other!dsc_1816

Children came from all over. Many of the kids had store bought costumes, but there were also children who put together costumes from whatever they could find at home – how creative! Throughout the event, you could meet Muhammad Ali; a referee; Batman (and Batgirl); a fisherman; various princesses; and one family, including mom and dad, dressed up as the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. But in the end, it didn’t matter if you had a costume or not, everyone had fun and more than enough candy.

So, what is God doing through a simple event like Trunk-or-Treat? He’s building relationships. An event like this helps to build the relationships that Jim and Rosie are forming with their neighbors. A neighbor that Rosie has been connecting with recently over the last year, brought her trunk and decorated it for the event. She expressed her loneliness and her desire to be more involved in events like this one. Praise the Lord, Rosie made plans to pick her up for church next week! God is working in this lady’s life.

Talk with your Journey Group and pray about how you can get involved with serving Jesus in Village One. Praise God that He is working in the lives of people in Village One and that He would choose to use us to be apart His work!

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No clue who he was!

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Have you ever had the experience of missing something incredible that was staring you right in the face?  You didn’t even know you were in the company of someone incredibly important till after the fact?  In session 02 Rico tells about a fabulous opportunity to meet none other than… THE Prince William… but blew it because he didn’t recognize him.  Sometimes we’re at a double disadvantage of not only having a vague grasp on someone’s identity combined with the presumption that we’d never have the occasion to be in their presence.

Learn more about Christianity Explored Omaha on our Facebook Page

It’s like that with the person of Jesus.  Many today would struggle to name more than a couple of basic facts about Jesus even though he is arguable humanity’s most enduringly famous person.  Combine that with the fact that nearly no one ever really expects him to actually show up in any sense of the word, and you have a person who could remain painfully anonymous and irrelevant to our world.

Do the New Testament documents give us a picture of an anonymous, irrelevant Messiah?  On what basis did people in his day credit him with greatness?  Why was his identity so consequential?  How could he have gotten HIS birthday to become the marker our planet uses to measure the centuries by?

Rico takes us into the Gospel of Mark and looks at 5 key areas over which Jesus demonstrated divine authority.  Bring a friend and come join us this week.  Christianity Explored meets at Christ Community Church on Sunday mornings at 10:45 in room D-126.

Christianity Explored begins this weekend!

 

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This weekend kicks off a great opportunity for people interested in exploring the very basics about Jesus.  Christianity Explored is a venue for spiritual seekers wanting to understand the person and teachings of Jesus Christ.  Christianity claims at its core to be Good News.  That’s what the word Gospel means.  But what’s so good about Christianity in a world where many are so unsure about religion.  Each week we’ll look at another section of Mark’s Gospel – one of the four original “biographies of Jesus” showing us who he was, what he said and what he did.

Christianity Explored meets weekly in Room D-126 at 10:45am (during the second service).

If you’d like more details about Christianity Explored, you can find out more info on the Facebook Page – Christianity Explored Omaha.  This fall’s class will be facilitated by a team of trained leaders.  Each week we’ll have time for conversation around tables and a short video segment followed by lots of time for your questions.  Bring a friend – things are always more interesting with a crowd!

Are you inoculated? Or infected with the real thing?

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A wise mentor of mine one time totally blew my mind by comparing Christianity to a contagious disease!  “Many claim to have the disease we call Christianity, but seem instead to have been exposed only enough to be safely inoculated from the real thing.”

In the concluding session of Christianity Explored, we’ll consider Jesus’ own definition of being a true follower.  According to Jesus true followers not only embrace the identity of Jesus as the Son of God and God’s only chosen King.  They also follow him as their leader.  Following means two further painful things:  i) denying self and  ii) taking up one’s cross (self denial to the point of dying to self).

The trouble with so many people who claim affiliation with Jesus today is this:  they simply don’t fit Jesus’ own definition of a true follower.  They associate themselves with Jesus through an extremely shallow understanding of Christianity.  Almost like being injected with a dead virus!  The immune system recognizes the attack and quickly summons the anti-bodies necessary to fend it off.  On the outside, maybe the person’s temperature elevates for a while till the threat has been dealt with.  But life as usual resumes now equipped for all future threats of exposure.

Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.  For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. (Mark 8:34-35 NIV)

Many who call themselves Christians today are like an inoculated patient.  Contending with a mild dose of the virus, but not displaying the full symptoms.  Perhaps inducted into the culture of Christian surroundings, but not fully convinced of Jesus identity.  Not fully prepared to follow his leadership.  Come check out the last session of Christianity Explored and wrestle with what getting the real disease involves!

Christianity Explored meets at Christ Community Church, 9:00 and 10:45 in room D-126.

 

 

Am I good soil?

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One of the most challenging parables Jesus ever told, was perhaps his simplest one.  A seed that falls on good soil eventually bears a crop far greater than the size of the seed sown.  That’s it.  The DNA of the kingdom of God is bound up in the word of God.  When it’s spoken, it falls on good soil….or not so good soil.  The ironic thing in Jesus’ parable is that here we have a crazy farmer who indiscriminately slings seeds everywhere including unlikely places to sprout.  “What a waste” the farmers in Jesus’ audience would have thought.  Everyone knows you don’t plant seeds in a patch of weeds, or in crummy, shallow dirt, or on a path.

But the hook in the story is this, reader, you are soil if you’re reading this.  Like it or not.  You are good soil.  Or bad soil.  Jesus tells you what good soil does – good soil listens, good soil grows voraciously, good soil produces a crop.  But how to become good soil if you’re not?  Jesus doesn’t say much about that.  And that should unsettle us more than a little!

Path, rocks and weeds have already quit reading this post.  If you’ve made it to this sentence, maybe, just maybe you get what Jesus is talking about.  And if you’re curious, but still not sure you know what the parable of the soils is about, come on out to Christianity Explored.  And keep listening.

Christianity Explored meets at 9:00 and 10:45 in room D-126 at Christ Community on Sunday mornings.