Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Have You Ever Wondered?

Guest Post by Brian Austin

A number of Bible passages tell us that Jesus was with God in the beginning, and that He created all things.

Have you ever wondered what it cost the Creator of the Universe to commit Himself to nine months in the womb of a teenage girl? And why an unmarried girl, a virgin? How do you convince anyone you’re still a virgin? Some of you know the pain of carrying a child when there’s no wedding ring and no husband in the picture. But back then, there was a very real chance you would be killed if you showed up pregnant, but unmarried. Why bring Jesus into the world that way, with such a stain on His reputation before He draws His first breath?

Can you imagine having the kind of power we see in creation, but choosing a stable for a birth-place, a feed-trough for a bed, diapers and potty training, learning to walk and to speak?

We forget, sometimes, that the Bible tells us Jesus was with God in the beginning. We forget sometimes that He left all that to come to us. We forget sometimes that the shadow of the cross hung over that manger (that feed trough) in Bethlehem; that He was “The lamb slain before the creation of the world.” He knew what was coming. He was involved in planning it.

And what about His training as a carpenter? Did Joseph get frustrated, because his step-son, the Son of God, didn’t automatically know how to do carpentry work? Historical sources suggest that a carpenter of that time may have also been a stone mason, so there may have been two trades to learn. The first two chapters of Genesis tell us over and over again that He said: “Let there be. . .” and it happened. Would you take the years to train for a trade, so you could spend two days making a stool, then have people complain about the price – if you could just speak and a whole world would appear?

We forget sometimes that the man in the carpenter’s shop, smelling of sweat, getting blisters and slivers—is the Creator of the Universe.

Have you ever wondered how and why God put such value on your life? Why would He send His only Son—to be born, to live, to die? Have you ever wondered why Jesus accepted the plan—why He entered into it fully?

I wouldn’t have done it that way. I don’t have the courage or the patience. Aren’t you glad God’s love is bigger than mine? – or yours?

Key Verses:

John 1: 1-5
Genesis 1 & 2
Revelation 13:8
Isaiah 55:8-9

Brian Austin is a published novelist, poet, fish enthusiast, and church librarian. He has been an active part of HMC and it's Resource Centre for more than 30 years. He and his wife live in Durham.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Preparing For Christmas Eve

What began as a simple plan, intended to be a stress-free welcoming of the Christmas season, ballooned into an exciting (and not exactly stress-free) production that called for many volunteers, a full week of building and painting, the writing and re-writing of scripts, hours dedicated to learning lines and timing, costume design, prop gathering and much more.

Nothing is more rewarding and humbling than watching the rally of people who bring to light a vision that only existed in imagination.

Building the set


Our (un)Happy Couple rehearses their part
Mike gets into his role as the narrator

And now, all that remains is to fill the seats.  Please join us tonight as we present to you what we hope is a charming Christmas Eve Service that lightens your heart and draws you closer to the true meaning of Christmas.

Friday, October 25, 2013

83 Ideas For Packing Your Shoebox

With the early snowfall it's hard not to hear the distant jingle of a Christmas bell.  We live in a society of privilege and even now may already be storing away gifts to give our family and friends come that jolly day in December.  So often we take our blessings for granted and forget that much of the world is struggling just to survive.  Operation Christmas Child makes it their mission to see that we don't forget - that we take a step back from our selfish natures and think of someone else.  This is a great opportunity to make a difference in the life of a child who isn't so lucky as our own children.

The boxes arrived this week and we are encouraging you to take up the challenge.  Stuff a shoebox full with little joys that will bring hope to a child in a desperate situation.  And to help you face this challenge with confidence we've pulled together a list of 83 ideas to get you on your way.
  1. Notepads/post its
  2. Coloring books
  3. Markers/crayons
  4. Pencils/pencil crayons
  5. Pencil sharpener
  6. Erasers
  7. Pens
  8. Pencil case
  9. Safety scissors
  10. Glue stick
  11. Ruler
  12. Solar calculator
  13. Stickers
  14. Self-inking stamp
  15. Water color set & paint brush
  16. Little crafting kit - beads
  17. Travel sewing kit 
  18. Dry erase board & markers
  19. Duct tape
  20. Tape measure
  21. Comb
  22. Brush
  23. Dental Floss
  24. Soap (put in plastic baggie)
  25. Toothbrush
  26. Small hand mirror - unbreakable
  27. Colorful bandages
  28. Baby wipes
  29. Wash cloth
  30. Hand towel
  31. Tissues
  32. Chapstick
  33. Emery boards
  34. Nail clippers
  35. Hair ribbons
  36. Ponytail holders
  37. Barrettes
  38. Hairbands
  39. Bracelets
  40. Necklace
  41. Clip-on earrings
  42. Hat
  43. Ball cap
  44. Gloves
  45. Bandanas
  46. Scarf
  47. Shoelaces
  48. Sunglasses
  49. Socks
  50. T-shirt
  51. Flip flops
  52. Watch
  53. Plastic poncho in packet
  54. Individual sealed play-doughs
  55. Silly putty
  56. Small stuffed animals or dolls
  57. Inflatable beach balls
  58. Bouncy balls
  59. Slinkies
  60. Finger puppets
  61. Legos
  62. Jigsaw puzzle
  63. Mini magnetic checker board & checkers
  64. Flash cards
  65. Picture books
  66. Bean bag
  67. Hacky sack
  68. Balloons
  69. Toy binoculars
  70. Jump rope
  71. Paddle ball
  72. Yo yo's
  73. Harmonica
  74. Recorder
  75. Tambourine
  76. Kazoo
  77. Toy cars/trucks
  78. Compass
  79. Solar-powered flashlight
  80. Glow sticks
  81. Hard candy
  82. Plastic eating utensils
  83. Toy pots & pans

And to finish it off why not include a personal letter and a photo!

Be sure to bring your boxes back to the church by November 10.

Happy packing! 

Friday, October 11, 2013

Hemorrhaging Faith: Why Are They Leaving?

North America is facing a spiritual epidemic:

  • Only one in three Canadian young adults who attended church weekly as a child still do so today.
  • Of the young adults who no longer attend church, half have also stopped identifying themselves with the Christian tradition in which they were raised.

Why is this happening?  What is our role?  How can we stop it? states that 'there are four primary toxins that keep young people from engaging with the church: hypocrisy, judgement, exclusivity, failure.'

Last Wednesday evening during our Family Ties program Pastor Jason facilitated a discussion surrounding this very issue.  Out of that discussion came a very practical way we might care for our young people: simple care packages, sent to wherever they are attending school, as a little reminder that we care.  It is a small step against a growing problem but necessary in establishing a much needed trust between the body of the church and it's disappearing young people.

A group is rallying together to make this happen but they need your help! They are looking for donations of granola bars, mini chocolate bars, hot chocolate packages, gum, wrapped candy, or a cash donation to help cover the cost of packaging and postage.  Please consider making a contribution and dropping these off at the church office by Sunday, October 27.

If you're interested in exploring this issue further, take a little time to read through the Faith Today article, Why They're Leaving from their September/October 2012 publication.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Welcome Back Sunday BondFire

We had grown comfortable with our annual Welcome Back; with it's after-church gathering on the front steps, it's fry truck, it's tradition... But this is a season of change.  This is a season of seizing the moment, of looking each other in the eye, of connecting on a level far exceeding the Sunday morning 'turn and greet one another.' 

Our summer BondFires brought us into the fall with a growing feeling of new connection and community and we were loathe to see that ended; and so, we 'Welcomed Back' in good old country-charm fashion with a BondFire finale at the DeVisser Farm.

Fresh air lingering with the scent of a just-ended summer welcomed us warmly as we shared a simple meal.  Laughter drifted as children ran and tumbled across the lawn and the tractor rumbled along, giving hayrides through fields awash in sunshine, culminating in a charming song-a-long around the little fire pit while s'mores were roasted and jackets zipped against the evening chill.

This is community.  This is family.  This is the church.

Friday, September 27, 2013

The BondFire Initiative

We were sensing a hunger among the people of HMC to return to a real place of personal connection.  We believe that relationship is essential to building a strong and caring community.  There is much to be said for intensive theological study or radical prayer meetings but without relationship it can all fall a little flat.  Ministry can and will thrive when our relationships are vibrant and strong.

We wanted to provide an opportunity to casually gather beyond the walls of our church building, a chance to get to know one another better, an occasion to laugh and play together, and a safe environment to invite others into participation with the HMC family.  

Thus was born The BondFire Initiative.

If you could spend a little time listening in on the brainstorming that goes around our staff table you would quickly learn that naming something - whether it be an event, a series or a sermon - is a massive undertaking of navigating  a circle of seemingly incompatible creative leanings while balancing various levels of 'cheese-factor-appreciation.'  It is a fun and frustrating ordeal that (more often than not) yields great bounty; and, once something is named, excitement seems to overflow around it and we suddenly become a hive of activity working towards making that event happen.  

BondFire happened to be one of the easier decisions (much to the gleeful delight of Pastor Lynday, who is such a fan of James Bond films that she came bubbling into the office on one of her days off just to share that she had timed things perfectly in lining up for Mescha's new dog tag: #007!).  Of course, we had been leaning towards the verb - to be bonded - to be bound together - but Mr. Bond was a happy accident.  And what better way to 'BOND' than around a fire stoked by good conversations and delicious shared goodies?

We scheduled weekly campfires every Sunday night throughout the summer as a low key venue for community.  Congregants offered their properties and fire pits.  They made homemade signs and made space for a port-a-potty.  With everything in place, all that remained was to see if people would invest in such a vision.

And they did!  People came!  Some weeks saw large numbers, others were a smaller group, but they came!  They brought their lawn chairs and their blankets and more than enough snacks and stories to share around and everyone just enjoyed the warm, low-pressure company of one another - out beneath the gorgeous summer skies.  We bonded.  And we are stronger for it.

Long ago, we used to sing this old Gaither chorus and though it's no longer part of our musical repitoire I think it really is part of the heartbeat of what HMC wants to be:

I'm so glad I'm a part of the family of God 
I've been washed in the fountain, cleansed by His blood! 
Joint heirs with Jesus as we travel this sod,
for I'm part of the family, the family of God.

If The BondFire Initiative accomplished anything, I'd say it is just this: we are a family.  And as the song goes on to say, "When one has a heartache we all share the tears, we rejoice in each victory in this family so dear."  

Welcome home, weary wanderer, welcome home!

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Twelve Step: Are You Ready For Change?

Shared by Heather on Sunday, September 15, 2013:

I love Deuteronomy chapter 30.  If time permitted, I’d read you the entire chapter, but here are two verses:  "I place before you Life and Death, Blessing and Curse. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him".   Deut 30:19-20

I work with teens on a daily basis and I have for several decades.  I love working with teenagers but there is an ever increasing level of openness about dysfunction which makes even a seasoned veteran like me…cringe. It becomes challenging to understand why people get stuck, why they can’t get past things they’ve experienced…sometimes far in the past.

My son once shared that when he was attending a small group, he asked for prayer.  Someone in the group piped up, "What could you possibly need prayer for…you come from a secure home, you’ve had many advantages – everything in your life looks good.” He felt shut down. He wanted to bring his needs to God, but he was supposed to be OK.

Sometimes the things that we need prayer for are not the things that anyone would assume.

Personally, I like to manage people's impressions of me.  Success in the workplace can mask the unmanageability of life at times.  I really struggle with being joyful and feeling free in my spirit.  I am nervous about the fallout of disclosure.  Friendships that I have invested in haven’t always been what I hoped for.  Life hasn’t always been as stable as I thought it should be. So, facing the possibility that there might be some unresolved dysfunction in my own life, I joined Twelve Step two years ago.

Twelve Step is the kind of group – where the assumption is “we all have stuff that we are dealing with”.

There were 60 people in Twelve Step when I joined. However, almost every night we broke into small groups to work through the material and pray. My small group was an amazingly honest, resilient group of people, all humble enough to admit areas of dysfunction and desiring to set the past behind with God’s help and move ahead.  There wasn’t one person around the table that struggled with the same issue, but we all wanted help to get unstuck.

I needed help to see how some of my “justifiable” feelings are actually sin.  Through a multi week process I learned that some of my defects are deep character traits on which I have depended for survival.  To release them means to let go of a way of life.

I learned that I needed to change the way I pray.  For example, I have often prayed for God to heal broken relationships – but I learned that when I do that, I am really demanding an outcome from God.  That is a lot different than saying to God “I have failed in my relationships” because it is that kind of humility that allows us to understand how God sees us.  It is letting go of pride and asking God to act on our behalf.

Two years ago, when I began Twelve Step,  I wrote in my workbook that there were three things I feared.  They all had to do with abandonment. One was my son moving away and one was the death of a parent.

Well, here I am two years later. God knew what I needed to surrender before I did.  I find that God is like that!

For much of my adult life, I had difficulty to just throw my arms around my dad and give him a big hug even though he was one of my very favourite people in the world.  As I worked through some of my stuff – I found myself able to embrace my father and hold on to him in what turned out to be the last year of his life.

In Twelve Step I primarily felt growth from my own process of working through the material to help direct me to God. There is homework and it is important to do it.  But I learned a lot from my group too.  I learned how they had coped with issues in their lives and that taught me some things.  I especially learned a lot by listening to the men in my group – because they shared some perspectives that I needed to hear. I felt some of the edge of my anger and fear dissipate.  Most importantly and unexpectedly, I felt my capacity to love and understand others increase.

So for those of you who are under the impression that Twelve Step is for the Russell Brands of this world - alcoholics, drug, sex or video game addicts…you are correct.  However, if you would like recovery from addiction to resentment, fear, repressed or inappropriate anger, approval seeking, controlling behaviour, fear of abandonment.  If you’d like recovery from frozen feelings, low self-esteem, an over developed sense of responsibility or irresponsibility, or inappropriately expressed  sexuality…. Twelve Step might just be a tool that can help point YOU to the ultimate source of our help.

Twelve Step is NOT easy.  It is a not superficial social time.  There is no obligation to share your intimate details with others.  Your comfort zone might be pushed by some of the dysfunctions that others disclose -  but the stuff that we all deal with is just sin in many different forms.  And the negative impact of sin is shockingly similar for all of us. No one singles you out…..unless Connie asks you to do an announcement two years later!

Twelve step is a spiritual journey…I’m still on it. So, I’d like to encourage you that if this is a journey you are being compelled to take….sign up! 

The Twelve Step kicked off with it's first meeting last night.  If you weren't able to attend, please consider joining in next Tuesday night, September 24.  This will be the last open meeting, following that it will become a closed group to protect the confidentiality of the people taking this life-changing journey.

You can learn a little bit more by visiting the Twelve Step page on our website.

Friday, August 16, 2013

The Joys & Tears of Youth Ministry

I remember it like a grainy film - that first night - like some tragic drama playing in painful slow motion.  Me, glued to the back floor of that room that helped to shape me through those years of molding up into the adult I'd become, eyes wide and terror gripped tight against my chest at the sight of all those crazy kids.  I was only a few years older but I felt our differences like a violent culture shock that spun me in a dizzying jet-lag and I knew I couldn't do it.  I knew I couldn't relate.  I knew I couldn't make a difference.

I wanted to sink.  I didn't know how to be relevant.  I didn't understand how my presence could minister.  I felt angry with the youth pastor who had approached me - a young, brand new mom - and tricked me into agreeing to this nightmare.  I felt stupid and uncomfortable and peripheral.

I went home that night and cried, giant tears of 'not good enough' and 'I have nothing to give'.  I wanted to quit.

"You're not a quitter!" my husband reminded me.  And I wasn't.  But I had this idea that I needed to be exactly what my old youth leader had been: loud, charismatic, bubbling up with scriptures appropriate to every single situation that presented itself.  That wasn't who I was nor could I ever force myself to be that.  What then, was my calling?

And then, as I battened down the hatches of my self-deprecation it occurred to me in some obscure light-bulb kind of moment:  I didn't have to be relevant.  I only had to be real.

He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.  Isaiah 40:29

I faced my second Friday night with lighter shoulders and a determination that helped me find my footing on the slippery slope of teenager chaos.  And I found myself smiling.  I realized there was joy in letting go of my own fears.  It become startlingly clear that all I needed to do was LOVE.  And by loving on these kids I was ministering into their lives in ways much deeper than I ever could with words.

And then, as weeks turned into months turned into years, something incredible happened - I was the one being blessed.  These kids had turned my ministry of love back on me and I soaked it up like a thirsty sponge.

This is the reason behind it all: to see the love of Christ reflected in the eyes and hearts of kids once thought too broken or worldly to change.  To see that love reaching out into a community darkened by a fallen world.  To watch your own heart soften to their hardness.  To watch that hardness dissolve.  To claim victory when a soul is won.  To celebrate together.  To cry together.  To see God's hand in the little things.  What could ever be more rewarding?

There have been many favorite moments - memories that capture the essence of what this ministry means - but there is one, for me, that is set apart.  So simple, yet so drenched in the selfless purpose of what it all boils down to...

T-shirts are thrown from the main stage to promote the merchandise tent.  There's a dive for it - like single girls going after a wedding bouquet.  Five guys and a boy about eight. The little boy gets knocked around and one of our youth wins the fight over the shirt. The boy goes back to his mother, crying, hurt and disappointed.  He sits in his chair, tears on his cheek, arms crossed, shoulders shaking.  When our guys realize he's hurt they take the t-shirt and give it to the little boy.  He refuses to look at them, taking the shirt without raising his eyes, his mother saying thank you for him.  The shake of his shoulders stills. He unfolds the shirt carefully, checking out his prize, tracing the design with a finger.  A small smile starts to spread across his face.  He hugs his mother.  And I'm fighting back tears like a blubbering idiot and am so ridiculously proud of our guys that I want to hug them...for giving up the shirt they got grass-stains on their own by fighting over.
(This story was first shared here.)

There are moments that stretch you beyond what you thought you could bear.  There are days that leave you feeling breathless - like you could never go on.  There are words spoken that break you.  But never has there been a moment when I felt regret for the time I gave to this ministry.  Never (since that first night) did I think it was all for not.  It has made me better.  It has taught me patience, faith, grace.  It has taught me to love without limits.  How could you not want a piece of that?

And now there is a call.  Will you step beyond your boundaries?  Immerse yourself in something that, like it did me, scares you to death?  Will you give of yourself - even if it hurts?  Will you be Jesus to a youth?

The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.  Deuteronomy 31:8

  Alanna Rusnak shares her life with her husband, three children, and a cat she's trying hard not to love.  She has attended HMC for her entire life and been on staff since 2003, currently fulfilling the role of Creative Communications.  You can find her over at her own blog, SelfBinding Retrospect.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

When Women Gather: The Strawberry Social

It was a small group of women who decided it was high time to gather together the ladies of the church - to create an easy atmosphere of lightheartedness - to laugh together - to span across generations - to share stories and tables and tea and punch and dress-up clothes...

And to eat sinfully delicious strawberry treats!

From this vision came the first ever HMC official Strawberry Social.

"We were really excited...about the first women's social," said Kristina Dyck, one of the wonderful women who made it all possible.  "[We were] excited because, as women, the need for companionship with other women is so great...regular women's socials are such a great way to develop those relationships and create new ones."

Hanover Missionary Church has a rich history of fellowship - of potluck meals and Christmas dinners, work bees and sack-race picnics - but the current culture often seems too busy for something so 'frivolous' and fun and so, the team approached the idea with some nervousness.  They weren't sure if the women of HMC felt such an event was as important as they did.  Would anyone really come?  

Kristina shared that when they were first planning they talked about how if even 20-30 women attended it would still be a great success; but they stepped out in faith and decided to plan for 50.  As the event date drew closer, excitement brewed.  With energetic pulpit announcements (during which Pastor Jason, without apology, bemoaned the fact that he could not attend a 'women only' event) and cute posters around the foyer, the buzz began to build.   "We felt we should increase that number to 70 just to be safe, but we were blown away when 70-80 women showed up!  It was so neat to see women of all ages enjoying each other and in some cases meeting for the first time!"

It was a full house!  Auditorium A/B was decorated sweetly with bright pink tissue paper poufs, an adorable bunting made from material scraps, and darling little rocks painted to look like strawberries.  The room was alive with the sound of laughter.  Women, ages sixteen to eighty-nine, mingled around the room during a lively game of People Bingo, dressed in all manner of hats - the grand, the old fashioned, the wonderfully strange - seeking out someone to sign each box on their card: someone with a toe ring | someone who has bungee jumped | someone who has skinny dipped [gasp!] - it was a brilliant way to get people moving and talking and meeting each other.

After some very 'healthy' servings of various trifles (because you couldn't try just one!) we listened as one of our senior ladies shared her testimony.  She told an incredible story of love and loss, joy and heartache and the ultimate freedom through Jesus that had carried her through.  I think it's fair to say there was more than one lady who had a tear drip down into her tea.

The testimony was followed by more treats, mingling and countless silly moments in the photo booth the ladies had set up in the basement foyer.  With a 'tickle trunk' full of accessories, there was no end to the possibilities for capturing fun memories of a great night. 

"We are so excited about the upcoming year and the other events that are in the works," Kristina said. "We are hoping to create a space for fellowship, for women to share their hearts with each other, for mentoring relationships to develop, and of course to just have a great time with each other as sisters in Christ."

"A cheerful heart is good medicine..." Proverbs 17:22a

[See more from the photo booth by visiting our facebook page - click here]

Special thanks to Faith Shelley Photography for capturing the memories!

Alanna Rusnak shares her life with her husband, three children, and a cat she's trying hard not to love.  She has attended HMC for her entire life and been on staff since 2003, currently fulfilling the role of Creative Communications.  You can find her over at her own blog, SelfBinding Retrospect.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

This Little Light

We gathered together.  Away from the hustle of the season.  Away from the shops and the rushing.  Into a place lit by peace.  We took tradition and made it circular.  Face to face we sat and remembered that we are The Body, we are Family, we are His Church and together, intimately, we could celebrate our Saviour's birth.

You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.

Matthew 5:14-16

December 24, 2012

December 24, 2012

December 24, 2012
December 24, 2012

Alanna Rusnak shares her life with her husband, three children, and a cat she's trying hard not to love.  She has attended HMC for her entire life and been on staff since 2003, currently fulfilling the role of Creative Communications.  You can find her over at her own blog, SelfBinding Retrospect.