By Stan Friedman
CHICAGO, IL (February 6, 2012) – Two new Evangelical Covenant Church initiatives announced during the final service of the Midwinter Conference on Friday will expand evangelism and justice ministries.
The “72” evangelism initiative is inspired by Luke 10 in which Jesus sends out 72 disciples to announce his coming, said John Teter, evangelism team leader for the denomination and pastor of Fountain of Life Covenant Church in Long Beach, California.
“The value is so central to us,” said Teter, noting that many Covenanters don’t know how to carry out that ministry. New materials connected with 72 provide practical ways Covenanters can share the gospel.
The new 72 logo incorporates the number 72 in its design, with the cloud of witnesses representing that truth that everyone has a story to share.
Ultimately, the thought underlining the initiative is that “every pastor guides the mission, and every Christian tells the story.”
The Matthew Micah justice initiative, rooted in Matthew 25 and Micah 6:8, is grounded in Jesus’s admonition to feed the hungry, give a cup of cold water, clothe the hungry, heal the sick, and visit those in prison, explained Debbie Blue, executive minister of the Department of Compassion, Mercy and Justice. The prophet Micah exhorts the Hebrews to do justice, love mercy and to walk humbly with God.
The new Matthew Micah Initiative – described by Blue as an ambitious endeavor – is designed to help focus the denomination’s compassion, mercy, and justice ministries.
In introducing Blue and the new initiative, President Gary Walter said the walls of the large meeting space could be filled with newsprint sheets displaying a lengthy list of areas involving justice issues that need to be addressed. To be most effective, the Covenant needs to identify a more specific number of concerns that can be pursued.
Blue expanded further on the challenge of applying finite resources and zeroing in on compelling needs, recalling her initial impressions as she began her first year in her new position.
“As I stepped into the role, what my heart was drawn to was Matthew 25:40,” she explained, pointing out that she always thought she had been a “Matthew 25” Christian. She recalled visits she would make with friends to witness to prisoners at Cook County Jail as one example of the Matthew 25 call to visit those in prison.
She then shared the oft-used illustration of caring people who pull struggling individuals from the river, but never go upstream to find out how to prevent them from being thrust into the river in the first place. That is especially true of the problem of mass incarceration, she suggested, challenging her listeners to dig deeper and engage the battle against systemic realities that lie beneath the surface of the mass incarceration problem today.
The appropriate Christian response became clear as she read Micah, where all are admonished to “act justly and love mercy and walk humble with your God.”
Walter then asked Blue which of Jesus’s admonitions the Covenant should address first. She responded, “I’m a linear person, and I like to start at the beginning and check it off as I go along, but God drew me to the end.”
Blue said she had little understanding of the overall mass incarceration issues, but her passion grew after visiting a prison in Louisiana where she saw lives that included three generations of one family incarcerated there. Something has to be done in the area of prevention to change that reality, she said.
The Matthew Micah Initiative is designed to help local congregations focus on prevention measures – many of them quite simple. For example, it is clear that there is a relationship between literacy levels and incarceration rates, especially reading and math skills in third and fifth grades. One way a congregation can become involved is by volunteering to tutor students in those subject areas. If nothing else, helping a student improve math and reading skills just may help that individual avoid the path to prison as they grow older and are better able to secure decent employment.
And, churches can also help by arranging visits to local jails and prisons to encourage those who are incarcerated. Another strong emphasis will be on helping prisoners transition back to civilian life.
The department will hire a new person to guide the church through the initiative, Blue announced. Ultimately, she said, “Doing justice is not an option.”