During the season of Epiphany we are featuring Living Epistles during our Sunday morning worship. Epiphany is a season in which we explore how Jesus is revealed as the saviour of the world and how we can join in and participate in God’s saving work. It is a season to marvel at the mission of God and to intentionally think about how we can be on mission with our God. Our vision for these 5 Living Epistles is to highlight ways that we can allow the light of Christ to shine through us so that Christ may be revealed to the world.
St. Paul uses the language of living epistle in 2 Corinthians chapter 3:
You yourselves are our letter of recommendation, written on our hearts, to be known and read by all. And you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.
When God gets a hold of us he writes upon our hearts – he gives us new hearts – he gives us HIS heart for the world. We are living epistles. We may be the only Bible people read. We may be the only church people ever experience. We are called to live our faith and proclaim, demonstrate, and embody the gospel of Jesus! We are called to reveal Jesus to others. However, as we seek to meet real needs and share the good news of Jesus, the great mystery is that we encounter Jesus and he is revealed to us more fully!
The Living Epistle yesterday was given by Brendan Case.
Here is what he said:
When we came to All Saints’ in July 2010, we quickly encountered another community: Oak Creek Village, the vast apartment complex abutting our little church. Oak Creek is overwhelmingly home to recent Latino immigrants, but also to a growing number of international refugees – Vietnamese, Nepalese, Iraqi, and others – placed by World Relief. This is a community struggling with language barriers and education gaps, many of them anxious and undocumented, mostly impoverished, but deeply hopeful.
I first got to know Oak Creek by volunteering with Eagle’s Nest, an after-school tutoring program for students from Oak Creek Elementary. These effortlessly bi-lingual children are suspended between two worlds, between their parents and school, between chiles rellenos and hamburgers, between Los Tres Reyes and Santa Claus. I worked with Alex and Eduardo, who were both reading well below grade level, and who both thought our time better spent playing under the table than working at it. Eduardo, who had a flair for the grotesque, did love the lessons when I would let him write an alternate ending to a story we had read, once transforming a heart-warming tale about a lost train rescued by a friendly helicopter into an explosive cataclysm in which all tragically perished.
When my class schedule kept me from working with Eagle’s Nest, I volunteered instead with a recently-inaugurated ESL program that meets at the Church of the Good Shepherd, hardly a mile west of here on Garrett Road. The students were about half Latino – many of them Eagle’s Nest parents – and about half World Relief refugees. Needless to say, my class, a welter of Vietnamese, Nepalese, and Spanish, was primed for hilarity, and I wasted no time in stepping in it. My second week of volunteering, I arrived to find an older Vietnamese man who hadn’t yet attended class sitting at one of the tables; naturally, I walked over to introduce myself: “I’m Brendan, what’s your name?”
I took it as an ill omen when he responded, “I’m new.”
“Yes, I know you’re new,” I answered, “but what’s your name?
“I’m new,” he persisted, the last syllable emphatic.
“Name?” I intoned like a spell. “New!” he said, tapping his chest.
I gave up and turned to Prem, a Nepalese man whom I knew had a little English already: “Prem, do you know his name?”
Prem grinned broadly, and nodded towards the chuckling newcomer – the two had about five words in common, but I could see they were sharing a joke. “His name,” Prem said, pausing for effect, “is Mr. Ngu – N-g-u.”
Later, I learned that Mr. Ngu, who at this point was in his seventies, had fought for the South Vietnamese during the war, and, after Saigon fell to the Vietcong, was held as a political prisoner for twenty five years. After he was released, he was eventually brought to Durham by WorldRelief, without family or friends, his speech meaningless to almost everyone he met. And yet Mr. Ngu was relentlessly sunny, even as he struggled to understand why he could say “Three sheep,” but not, “three cat.”
I hope that I was helpful to the Oak Creek residents I spent time with, that I was encouraging, and perhaps in some fragmentary way displayed the love of Christ. But, I am certain about a few things. I know that my time with these immigrants and refugees taught me more about living in exile than has anything else in my short life. “Here we have no continuing city,” says the Epistle to the Hebrews, “but we seek one which is to come.” Mr. Ngu necessarily – tragically – has far fewer illusions than I do about the permanence of our earthly homes; the immigrants of Oak Creek know far better than I do the sorrow of singing the Lord’s songs in a strange land.
I am also certain that because we once were aliens and strangers to God’s covenant (Eph. 2:12), but have now been “transferred from the domain of darkness to the kingdom of his Beloved Son” (Col. 1:13), we are called in turn to welcome the stranger in our midst. I am certain that whatever hospitality we can offer these our neighbors is a service to Christ, himself born a refugee (Lk 2:4-7), who will say to the righteous on judgment day, “I was a stranger, and you took me in” (Mt. 25:38).
Please consider how you might welcome and learn from the community of Oak Creek.
For more information about volunteering with Eagles’ Nest or the ESL program we sponsor please email Thomas Kortus: firstname.lastname@example.org