,"Visible fellowship is a blessing...the physical presence of other Christians is a source of incomparable joy and strength to the believer." ~ Dietrich Bonhoeffer
This past weekend I had the opportunity to begin again Bonhoeffer's work, Life Together. Writing just one year before the dawn of the second great war, he began to look at the church of the persecuted where those who were scattered in their proclamation of the Gospel taught him invaluable lessons of what it meant to belong to one another, and more so, what it meant to belong to Christ. In these reflections he wrote the quoted words above that remind us that fellowship, our ability to share in proximity with one another what he have received in Christ, is always a grace. The tangible fellowship of presence, sitting face to face with those whom we now belong eternally to, is for us a fountainhead of joy whose waters find their source in the person and heart of Jesus.
2016 for A2J marks a year of continued transition as we journey down the path of belonging, both in the visible communion of community within our neighborhoods, but also in our growing understanding of how that is expressed in fellowship with one another through new and unique seasons. Brentwood has seen two marriages and will soon only be the Malakowsky's again, something we celebrate in that God is at work to answer prayers and birth families, but also something we lament as we, for the moment, let go of this visible grace. Woodland continues to be a community in transition with the Jesse's relocating and the Thurman's about to set off on a grand adventure that is surely the fruit of this growth we have all experienced in sharing our lives and love with another. The Alianza's have been blessed with work and the Lord's provision once more flows through their home, although under the cross of travel, fatigue, and a transitioning family.
Yet, despite the tugs that pull us physically from one another, it is in these moments where our grace in community is found. Bonhoeffer warned about the danger of a community so spiritual that the daily obligations of ordinary association, of family and everyday life with its 'claims upon people' are not able to project into the fellowship. This community only accepted the ideal and could not know the fullness of God's graces towards it, its own vision of how life should be becoming an idol that distracted it from knowing what life really is.
Still, the spiritual union which binds the community should be guarded and pursued. We come to one another only through Christ, meaning through the redemption of his love in salvation, and we know one another only in Christ, who overcomes our strife and ego and becomes our peace. We are not to avoid our burdens in this new season, just as Christ did not step away from or flinch at the cross, but in it saw our union with God and one another.
This year is unique for us, this season is as well. It appears that life is pulling in many directions and we are all being thrust into new challenges and seasons. I hope that in it you are as encouraged as I am by these words, that 'the Christian, too, belongs not in the seclusion of the cloistered life, but in the thick of foes.' While visible fellowship is a blessing and grace, it is also an anchor, one that guards our hearts as the Lord propels us into his unfolding purposes and plans for our lives.
We will have new crosses to bear in this new year, but I am encouraged by words Ryan shared with me recently. We have no reason to fear because we have already been through so much together. We only need to lean into Christ and his faithful work in us. In these next weeks we will share ways in which we can continue to engage this transition and experience the faithful work of God's love in one another's lives. As we look ahead in seeing the 'projections' of this new season and its obligations, I pray we also see the hand of God maturing us as he raises us together to the 'full stature of Christ.'
"'Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity' - this is the Scripture's praise of life together under the Word. But now we can rightly interpret the words 'in unity' and say, 'for brethren to dwell together through Christ.' For Jesus Christ alone is our unity. 'He is our peace.' Through him alone do we have access to one another, joy in one another, and fellowship with one another." - Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Wooohooooo! We are jumping for joy full of gratitude for God's love expressed through your friendship. Stop and listen can you hear it. Our Father says to each of us, "I have loved you with and everlasting love"
– Jeremiah 31:3
To read our year in review and see a photo montage of 2015 click here
1) REPORT NEW YORK CITY
Earlier this month as part of the John 17 team, I had the privilege in helping facilitate a historic first ever large gathering of Protestants and Catholics coming together to pray and worship in New York City. It was a powerful gathering and once again Pope Francis wrote a personal letter hand delivered by his good friend Giovanni Traettino (who is part of the John 17 team) Click link below to watch a short video from this gathering
We pray that in this Christmas Season God will open your hearts afresh to the rich blessing that surround you. We thank God for you in our lives. Your friendship is a gift to us!
Ryan and Noleen, Ethan, Keilah, Micah, & Elyana
For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; And the government will rest on His shoulders; And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. – Isaiah 9:6
"The Christmas Star in the night sky, the shining of the Christmas light in the night – all this is the sign that light breaks into the darkness. Though we see about us the darkness of unrest, of family discord, of class struggle, of competitive jealousy and of national hatred, the light shall shine and drive it out.…Wherever the Christmas Child is born in a heart, wherever Jesus begins his earthly life anew – that is where the life of God’s love and of God’s peace dawns again."
– Emmy Arnold
below you will find a short reflection from me and upcoming events.
Thanks for reading. In this season I encourage us to slow down and create space for unhurried and unscheduled times with one another.
And with these hells and heavens so few inches apart...
I get tired of being so fragile but I am! I can swing from the ecstasy enjoying God’s nearness in my life and then hardship hits and I can crumble under the pressure and find myself sometimes slowly distancing my heart from His loving and exposing Presence. I recently came out of a rough patch of struggling with fatigue, sin, and discouragement. God gave the grace for me to get away into the Santa Rita foothills and there he undid me with his mercy. Rich Mullins in his song ‘We are not as strong as we think we are’ sings, "We are frail, we are fearfully and wonderfully made +Forged in the fires of human passion + Choking on the fumes of selfish rage + And with these our hells and our heavens, so few inches apart + We are not as strong as we think we are
(Santa Rita Foothills, Sonoita, Arizona)
I was alone and I cried out to God, I took long walks and God gently yet firmly dealt with me. He gave me what I needed, the gift of repentance (to turn away from self and turn wholly to Jesus) in those quiet days of solitude I experienced his healing and restoration. On the last morning I joined the Sisters for Morning Prayer, at the end they celebrated the Eucharist. Sitting alone on the hard wooden benches off to the side one of the sisters motioned me to come up and stand with them in a circle to receive Christ together. These precious sisters became physical touch points of the love of God to me.
(Sisters of Santa Rita Abbey)
Friends we need not despair over our weakness and smallness for God’s grace is sufficient. He takes each one of us by the hand and longs to walk with us. If you are hurting tonight let us know so we can reach out and be with you. If you are in a place of strength then help those who are not. For we both alike have been called, forgiven, and are being restored even now as we work with God in His redemptive purposes for all humanity and all creation. So let us go forth in joy to love and serve Him who loves us and has given us such dignity and value
3rd Annual Christmas Caroling- Dec 17th 6:30-8:30pm
Meet at the Community Garden at 6:30pm and we will go out and sing Christmas Carols. We will end up back at the garden around 7:30pm for tamales, smores, hot cocoa and maybe even some figgey pudding. Feel free to bring a friend. RSVP here if you will join us
Christmas Even Pancake breakfast Dec 24th at the Thurmans house 8:30am-10:30am
We will provide the pancakes, bring a side to share and bring a white elephant gift to exchange.
Feel free to invite others just rsvp here so we can keep be prepared.
Week of Prayer for Christian Unity Jan 18-25
Put this in your calendars we want to create some space with other friends in our city to focus on Jesus’ prayer, "that we would all be one."
If you are interested in helping with this let us know by reaching out and saying so!
Thank you for reading and for caring! Without your friendship, prayers, and financial support we would of not made it this far. We hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving and that you have a rich Advent and Christmas Season. In each section there are links you can click on to go deeper by
Ryan and Noleen and the kiddos
1) REPORT FROM ROME
Seven us from the A2J Fellowship were able to join the Antioch Network team and others for our fourth of six meetings surrounding the 500th anniversary of the Reformation that will take place October 31st 2017.
Why are we spending so much time, energy, and resources around this? Simply stated it is God's heart and goal that we will all be one in Christ (John 17:21). I personally believe that as God’s people increasingly become reconciled and united in Christ and this grows in visibility and influence it will foster the healing of human divisions and mankind will know that the Father has sent the Son to be the Savior of the world.
You can read more on this below: https://ryanmthurman.wordpress.com/2015/05/19/why-is-christian-unity-so-important/
Danny has written three excellent short articles about these meetings that are very powerful.
You can read them here: http://www.a2jphoenix.org/blog
To see more photos click here: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=oa.10153498123033153&type=1
2) SIGNS OF HOPE
I found myself recently bent down with the burdens of the world, so much pain and despair all around. Yesterday on the way to Church I found myself connecting with the words of Job, Oh God, I cling with feeble fingers to the ledge of your great grace. God in his mercy heard my cry and stooped down and lifted me up strengthening me through the truth of this Advent Season that Jesus came into the midst of darkness, and the darkness did not – and will not – overcome the light that he brings (John 1:5)
Then in God's kindness returning home from church as I was getting ready to pull into our driveway I saw Anthony (photo above with my son Micah). You may remember that Anthony was a man struggling and in a season of homelessness when God brought us together, we gave him a home living with us for over year, graduating from culinary school and getting a job and doing really well. Then it all fell apart as the 'demons' of his past came back and darkness overcame and he left like many before him. We pleaded with him to stay but he left and our hearts were broken. We affirmed our love and our open arms to return at anytime. When I saw him I was so happy. I gave him a great big hug and he shared with me how God has restored him and shared all the ways he is thriving. Thank you God. Through this God reminded me that the story is not over and God will continue to surprise us with joy as we get glimpses into the beauty of HIS redemptive and healing work! I resonate with the words of Dorthy Day who said,
"if I did not have faith that the works of mercy do lighten the sum total of suffering in the world, so that those who are suffering…somehow mysteriously find their pain lifted and some balm of consolation poured on their wounds, if I did not believe these things, the problem of evil would indeed be overwhelming.
Be encouraged my friends, no labor of love is ever in vain and each of us can change the world one person at a time!
3) A2J QUARTERLY GATHERING - Saturday December 5th
This time is open to all. Come for the entire time or for just part. Schedule below:
10:00-10:45 Morning Prayer and Worship
10:45-11:30 Sisters from Canaan share
11:45-12:30 Maureen Alianza and Danny Malakowsky Share
12:30-1:00 Reflect on what God has been doing in our midst (Extended time for those who are able)
1:00-2:00pm Solitude on your own or small group fellowship and then join the Sisters for their monthly open time of Fellowship that begins at 2:00pm
4) YEAR-END FINANCIAL GIFTS
As you might know the work we do with Antioch Network and Apprenticeship to Jesus is enabled by the gifts of God's people. We have a prayer team and a financial team that support us monthly. Our committed monthly support is almost $2000. The other half we raise comes from one-time gifts and most of those are year-end gifts. Would you consider joining our prayer team and/or monthly financial team. Or would you prayerfully consider a year end gift. All gifts are tax deductible and checks can be made out to Antioch Network and mailed to the address below or you can donate online on our website by clicking below: http://antioch-network.org/donate/team-members/
1101 W. 34th Street; Box 315
Austin, TX 78705-1907
By Ryan Thurman
This morning we had the privilege of visiting the catacombs of St. Callixtus, where many of our Christian brothers were buried. It is a powerful reminder of the many who gave their lives for the testimony of Jesus. We stand upon their shoulders and have received the faith that was passed down from them.
We experienced this reality in a beautifully symbolic way as we held a worship service in a small chapel that was built on top of the catacombs. This service was led in such a humble and honoring cooperation by a Catholic bishop, An Anglican priest, a Catholic priest, and two Lutheran pastors. During the service these leaders washed our feet following Jesus command to serve and love one another.
It was a beautiful expression of the body of Christ and a sign of why we are here in Rome, to pray that the Church would be reconciled and restored and we would all be one (John 17:21). These meetings have been full of prayer, worship, repentance, teaching, and strengthening of friendship. We are 70 strong from different contingents, ages and Christian tradition.
Our days are long, from sunrise to late into the night. We sense God is deeply at work, we have 3 more days of meetings, please pray for us. This is our fourth International Gathering in four years. There will be one more June 2016 and the final will culminate Nov 1st 2017 around the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s 95 thesis which often symbolizes the split of the Catholic church by the Protestant reformation. If you would like to learn more about this you can click here.
Thank you for reading and for caring! Without your friendship, prayers, and financial support we would of not made it this far. In this update we will share an overview of our family and ministry. In each section there are links you can click on to go deeper by reading more.
Love, Ryan and Noleen
Noleen’s health is good and she is thriving in her new role as a Birth Doula, she has assisted in seven births the past couple of months and has seen God use her to minister to each of these families in beautiful ways.
As a family we continue to enjoy the work God has for us in downtown Phoenix, as the kids get older they continue to embrace this way of life with Jesus living open to those God bring into our community. Just recently we provided hospitality to a woman released from a detention facility who had been separated from her children for almost a year, it was powerful for our kids to watch as this mother and her children reunited, the children ran to their mother and jumped into her arms in a long embrace with tears of joy falling freely. Our children routinely bring smiles and an infusion of hope as they share their lives with the homeless we live among as they pray with them in our Community Garden and hand out care packages as they pass by our house.
2) APPRENTICESHIP TO JESUS (A2J)
Please take a minute to check it out, it is still a work in progress as we continue to build out the resource section but it gives a good picture of who God is calling us to be. a2jphoenix.org
A2J is now a publisher
God is leading us a fellowship to increasingly create resources that will bless and strengthen God’s people. This month A2J published its first book.
Heidi reading passages from "By Law of Grace, a journey with the people of the streets." This special book contains her raw and honest journal entries of her interactions with people on the fringes and how she learns to see with new eyes the dignity and worth of every human being, created in the image of God. You can download the entire book here.
Last month eleven of us who are part of the A2J fellowship made formal commitments before God, family, friends and mentors. We were a beautiful mixture of Catholic and Protestant believers from different traditions and local churches.
To learn more about what A2J has been up to click here.
3) ANTIOCH NETWORK (AN)
President for a year
We have been serving with AN for over ten years now and I have been the President for a year now. I continue to be inspired by the work of my AN colleagues as they serve all around the world some in very challenging areas such as the Turkey and the Arabian Peninsula. I love the broad scope of work we are involved in from church-planting to relief and development. To get a fuller picture you can look at our new website www.antiochnetwork.org, something I have been working on the past few months.
4) LEAVING FOR EUROPE
I leave this Saturday for a two week trip that will first take me to Malta to explore ministry partnership and also connect with colleagues around the Wittenberg 2017 initiative. From there I will meet up with Noleen, and several A2J and AN team members in Rome for our fourth of six key Reconciliation Gatherings leading up to November 1, 2017. You can read more about the Wittenberg 2017 initiative here.
While in Rome we will also spend time with the Kincaids whom we have been partnering directly with the past few years. We will visit their newly acquired immigrant ministry center.
Thurman Family to Europe in 2016?
During this time in Europe, Noleen and I will be meeting with key partners to continue to discern God's leading as we consider spending a year in Europe, beginning Summer 2016. This is something we have been praying about for the past three years. We will write more about his next time.