May God Bless you and Keep you!

Kwangathi uNkulunkulu anganibusisa futhi ikugcine means “May God bless you and keep you” in the Zulu language. It is the first line of a prayer that I have learned in the native language of every country I have visited. I learn it in order that I might bless people I meet along the way…people I might not ever see again.

May the Lord bless and keep you;
Make his face shine upon you
and be gracious to you (Numb 6:24-26)
until we meet again one day.

These words do not translate perfectly into the Zulu language, but I shared them everywhere I went while serving in South Africa for a summer years ago. I have found the words comforting on this day.

Today is Palm Sunday in the life of the Christian Church. It is the first day of Holy Week marking the day that Jesus begins what is known as his triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Today was also my last Sunday at Myers Park United Methodist Church—a place that has formed and shaped me during this last chapter of my life in ways that I hope will leave me better able to serve in the coming chapters of my life. On my last Sunday in this community,  I release the words of this blessing to any who read this, I also want to share with you the way we can be blessed by people who pass through our lives like a breeze rustling the leaves on a tree…

I had my first garage sale last weekend. I would never have imagined a garage sale could be a spiritual event, but it was. The hardestIMG_0256 things for me to release for this preparation to move to another country were things that were made for me by people from other countries. I had a basket woven for me by a woman in South Sudan. I hoped the right person would take it. Wouldn’t you know a woman from Somalia bought not just the basket, but everything I had from Africa. She shared with me that her family could not bring anything with them when they moved to this country and that her grandmother made baskets just like the one I had. She ran her fingers over it lovingly and tole me it would make her happy.

May God bless you and keep you…

There was another woman who could not believe how cheap I was selling all my stainless steel kitchen appliances. I shared with her that I hoped to bless others with the things that had been a gift to me. She purchased all of the small appliances and then she shared with me she was starting over for having been the victim of domestic violence.  She asked me if I might pray with her since I was a pastor. She returned later to help me clean my kitchen with two other ladies from the neighborhood who had shopped with me. I was amazed that they would want to help me clean, but they told me they knew that I needed help.

May God bless you and keep you…

Blessings come when we least expect it and they pour out over periods of time in ways that we can not predict or imagine.  I have been blessed during this Charlotte chapter of my life. There are things I have loved like the way the trees dip to greet each other as I drive down Providence road or how seasons all take a turn saying “hello”.  I love the seasons even though my toes are never prepared for the cold. I have loved the philanthropic nature of the community here and the welcoming spirit of everyone I have met. I have loved the opportunity to serve in ways that have left me changed and the opportunity to learn more about myself and the ways I still need to change. There has been much to love. So dear ones in Charlotte, know that as you travel through Holy week, I will be traveling quite literally on the road.  When I arrive in worship on Easter morning, know that my prayer for each of you will be…

May God bless you and keep you…

With you on the journey,

Michelle

e-mail: livinfully247@gmail.com

Donations for Mission Support: Follow link on right

South Africa Bound!

Dear Friends,

I have what I hope you will think is fantastic news!  Beginning June 16, I will be serving with Central Methodist Mission in Cape Town, South Africa with Rev. Alan Storey as a IVIM Missionary Pastor.  Central Methodist Mission is a City Church Methodist-church-Greenmarket-Sqthat has a connection to the historic District 6 museum in Cape Town and a deeply rooted presence in the community.  The church has a coffee shop called HEAVEN, which I trust will make you believe there is a GOD watching over me, should you have doubted this before.

My role will be to help bridge the church closer in their connection with the nearby Kaleche community.  I will help Alan with organizational leadership systems to strengthen the church’s outreach ministry to a large homeless population, ministries with at risk children, and preach/teach so that there is additional pastoral support for Alan to continue to grow his Manna & Mercy teaching ministry.  Bishop Michele Hansrod hopes to explore ways that my experience with mission and passion for leadership development might be a gift to the wider District as well.  Certainly, I will be happy to serve as an ambassador of sorts, helping to make connections for incoming pilgrims too.  Yes, this is indeed an invitation to come visit!!!  South Africa is a beautiful country with deeply meaningful history.

I mIMG_0065et Alan Storey 15 years ago while he was preaching at my church–Hyde Park UMC in Tampa, Florida.  I have helped connect Alan’s Manna & Mercy teaching ministry with communities here in the US for the past 10 years.  While serving in Mississippi, I led two Ubuntu cross racial clergy peer groups in pilgrimage to South Africa, connecting both times with Pinetown Methodist Church near Durban (where my summer internship was at Duke Div) and Alan’s community in Cape Town.  It is a humbling thing to be winding back to a country that served as my first window to the world.  My heart for global missions began years ago after hearing Alan talk about the disparities between the wealthy and the poor around the world.  My curiosity to learn more about the people that live across the ocean’s divide has never ceased.

How can you help?

  1. Prayer:  Please pray that all my logistics to get me from here to there fall into place and that this ministry will be a blessing to the back and forth partnership between the United Methodist Church and the Methodist Church of Southern Africa.
  2. Partnership:  IVIM Missionaries raise their own salary support and so I am hoping some of you might consider donating to my online giving through the United Methodist Advance.  There is a link to giving on my blog page on the right.  Be sure to find my name on the drop down list or it will go to a general pool of monies.  I will be sharing short 90 second videos that will inform you about what life is like for the people in South Africa, what the Church there is celebrating and struggling with, and will be blogging regularly to keep all who join the journey with me informed. I am hoping that I can forge deep partnerships with at least seven church communities that will enter into a 3 year relational and financial covenant with me and Central Methodist Mission in this ministry.
  3. Pilgrimage:  It is my hope that many of you will consider making a pilgrimage to South Africa either on your own or with a team from your local church.

I am so thankful for this opportunity and thankful to all of you who support me at every turn on this wonderful thing called life!

Sharing with you on the journey,

Rev. Michelle Shrader

Collecting

If someone would have asked me if I was a collector, I would have said, “no.” Yet, I am learning this is actually not true. I am in the process of letting go of things…things that I have been collecting unbeknownst to me. The act of collecting shares little secrets of who we are. The things we pick up and cling to share the story of what we hold dear and what we find beautiful in the world. Maybe these things start out as gems—treasures, but it is important to strip ourselves of our collecting from time to time literally and figuratively, so that our lives can become free of the things that keep us cluttered in our space, in our hearts, and in our minds.

There is a picture that has hung on the wall in every home I have lived in for the past nine years. I purchased it at a street market in South Africa. It is a painting of a woman who was pregnant. I believed she was pregnant with possibility. The artist who painted this picture was painting a self portrait. I felt compelled to learn more about her and learned during our conversation that she was sick with HIV AIDS. It is unlikely that she is alive today, but then I remember thinking that her life was pregnant with a possibility that she might not ever realize and so I purchased two paintings of hers, both of pregnant women. I gave one away to a friend who was struggling to give birth to a book. It has since been written and in the book, she named the painting as a source of inspiration.

The paintingIMG_0798_2 I kept was an icon of sorts in my life. I would sip coffee in the morning and pray that my life too might be inspirational, that I might give birth to the dream of life God had in store for me. Just last week I took the painting off the wall and packed it up with me on a trip. I gave the painting away to a friend who long ago gave birth to a boy who inspires me every day to live my life more faithfully. My friend did not want to bring the boy into the world when he was born because she feared what kind of life he would have, for her boy was born with skin that was black. I remember crying that night after her story. I cried for her, for her son, and for the children I might not ever have. When the tears withdrew from my eyes, I made a promise to that little boy that I would not give up. I wanted his mother to have the painting so she would remember how important she and he have been to me.

I am a collector. I have a statue of Moses with the Ten Commandments from Zimbabwe that I bought for $6.00 on the street. I have a serving tray made for me by women in Palestine with magnificent embroidery. I have a basket woven for me by a woman in South Sudan. I have tea cups that were used by my Great Grandmother Molly Pearson. I have a gerber daisy painting that was painted for me by an old roommate after she held me as I cried tears I could not stop for missing a brother who would never lift me high in a hug again. I have a hand crocheted quilt given to me by my grandmother and a red glass vase that was the only thing I took from her home when she died. I have a cross I wear around my neck that was given to me by a Muslim man who when he looked into my eyes spoke into my life the words of my ordination as a Pastor. I have a coffee cup that reminds me of my calling, “to make God’s love real.”

I have learned that I collect more than things over these weeks of letting go. Tied up with all the things are the emotions that get woven into them. Emotions can live with us longer than we should allow. In this season of letting go, I am also learning to let go of disappointment, anger, and grief. I am sure I will pick them back up again and again as I will pick up more things without even knowing I am doing it. Yet, disappointment, anger, and grief are not emotions to cling to, they are emotions to work through. Resting in God’s Spirit through these emotions has helped me to grow through them. On the other side of my release, I experienced a new strength and the peace that brings with it breath. Where disappointment, anger, and grief once lived, Joy now resides. I have decided to be a collector this year of Joy. It can’t be collected apart from the journey of the dance with God on the mountain top, the trudge with God in the valley, and the moments of ordinary with God in the spaces in between. I choose to be a collector of at least one thing, the Joy that comes in this life from truly living!

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