Monday, October 1, 2018

Sharing in Story at the GALA Retreat by Niobe Bender

Over Labor Day weekend I had the wonderful opportunity to attend the GALA retreat held at Camp Red Cliffe in Utah. My experience there was one like no other. It was a wonderful weekend filled with the love and spirit of Christ, laughter, new and old friends, and the grace of fellowship I wouldn’t trade for anything.
One thing that I enjoyed most this weekend was the ample opportunity for sharing in story. Where many indulged in sharing deep and heartfelt stories of struggles faced for simply being true to themselves. There is a certain vulnerability that comes with opening oneself up to a group. I am grateful to have been a part of that vulnerability and to hear and understand the challenges that are faced by many in this community. Even during times that were not specifically dedicated to sharing there seemed to be a raw unfiltered sense of sharing not only of our stories but of ourselves. Talking about being vulnerable, the whole weekend was a chance to be your most authentic self and be accepted for exactly who you are.
I have attended many church camps and events in my life, growing up in Community of Christ. Each one of those has been special in its own way, I’ve always known a deep sense of community and acceptance in those experiences. However GALA embodied something completely new. It seems to me that most people have what I would call a “church self” a side of them that they show in a church setting, and that is not necessarily a bad thing. We all have versions of yourself for every part of our lives. Our home life, school and work, family and friends etc. GALA for me was a blending of my church self and my outside self. It was simply permission to be vulnerable in showing my most authentic self and a true genuine acceptance of that self.
Attending this retreat was phenomenal. I was able to meet lots of new friends and share in love, laughter, and acceptance. This wonderful community working towards a goal of acceptance for all,I am proud to now be a part of. I wouldn’t change this experience for anything.

Friday, September 7, 2018

Sharing about International Youth Forum (IYF) and Spectacular (SPEC) by RJ Strozyk and Logan Strozyk

By RJ Strozyk

IYF/SPEC is great because I got to know people better not just in my delegation, but also others from around the world. This is my second year at SPEC, and it was a blast to see old friends that had returned from last year.

One of my favorite events at SPEC are the week-long sports events. I loved playing soccer because I don’t have the opportunity to play that at our high school. While at SPEC it is such a great time because people are so nice and take the time to teach you.

I also thought that it was great to see the world church. I really enjoyed being at the temple with other youth and having the opportunity to interact with them. During our time at the temple, I walked into the sanctuary and saw youth from all over the world playing numerous types of instruments. This was my favorite part of IYF and a God moment for me because of the opportunity to observe the unity.

Another neat experience at SPEC was the campfire we had one night where we sang songs from all over the world. Anyone could jump up and start a song in their own language and the rest of camp, whether they understood the language or not, began to follow along. Even though I didn’t understand most of the songs, it was still interesting to listen to everyone follow along.

I think SPEC is a perfect opportunity for senior high kids. I had a great time there and highly recommend other senior high kids to go. Not only is it just a regular church camp, but there are also a lot of sports that are extremely fun to play with a bunch of other kind-hearted people. I am excited to see what experiences my final SPEC will bring in 2019!                
By Logan Strozyk

SPEC was a blast! I liked the sports, meeting new people, and that everybody was open and wanted to get to know you.

I had a lot of fun doing group activities and adventure classes such as stone carving, ring making, and glass fusion. During those adventure classes I met a lot of friends that weren’t from my delegation and it was interesting to learn about their life stories and how unique they were from every other person. I also enjoyed trying new sports like soccer and volleyball, which I have never tried competitively before.

I was a little scared at first because going into the camp I only knew my brother, but after mixers it was fun to get to know the members in my delegation and soon people in other delegations from around the world.

One thing I loved about SPEC was how accepting everybody was to somebody they had just met. I felt accepted just for being myself and not having to worry about being judged. 

One God experience that I had was that one of my delegation members decided to baptized, again, into our church this time. One evening during IYF our delegation gathered around a pool in the Stone Church and watched the member get baptized. I was feeling joy that he decided to be a part of this family of God.

I would recommend IYF/SPEC to someone else because it is an excellent experience to meet amazing, diverse group of people. In just a short 10 days I was able to make great friends, enjoyed the sports and competing against other people, fun classes and unlimited times to feel God’s presence.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Why I am Always Searching for a Woman's Retreat by Lavera Wade

Almost all the women I know are, or have worked a full-time job, in or out of the home.  Their lives are filled with caring for spouse, partners, children, parents, and any number of critters. They are volunteers, active in their churches or other support groups. The list goes on and on about their busy lives.   
My life is just as busy, but due to a lucky turn of events I stumbled across my first Women's Retreat and I was hooked.   From that day forward, I have been on the search for the next Women's retreat, I have invited any number of women to attend a retreat. I have concluded it is very difficult for most women to take time for themselves away from friends and family.  There are a host of reasons but let’s just leave it at who's going to feed the goldfish.
So here is my pitch for why your life will be better if you skip all the events you could attend this Labor Day, and pack your pillow and attend the Women's retreat at Camp Cascade, .... you will find:
Quiet, A quiet walk with only the sound of God’s voice whispering through the pines.  Quiet that leaves you able to hear your own answers to questions you have struggled with.
Time, time to share with like-minded women.   Time to meet new friends, or catch up with friends you have not had time for in too long.  Time to do nothing accept share a few chores with the rest of the girls.
Most important the peace you will find when you get home.  The peace that comes from having taken the time to recharge your batteries, come closer to God, taken time just for you.
This year instead of saying maybe next year to our Women's Retreat, tell your friends and family you might join them next year, at what it is they are doing this Labor Day, and join us at Camp Cascade. I suspect your friends and family will support this plan.
I look forward to sharing time with you at Camp Cascade.  Retreat information and registration can be found at or contact Sandy Decker at if you have questions.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

God’s Spirit Whooshed Through the Pines by Brad Martell

It was a couple of days before the Community of Christ Cromberg, California Family Camp.  Lori and I flew into Sacramento earlier to spend time with our friends Ruth and Mike Seagraves and their family, before we all packed into the cars and headed off to camp together.  Ruth was the director and had asked Lori and I to be guest ministry for the week.  Lori and I were excited to experience a new campground and family camp, spend time with cousins who would be there, and share in ministry. 
As we were sitting around talking and laughing, Mike told us that their middle daughter was going to be baptized during camp by her grandma (Mike’s mom).  This just added to the anticipation and joy of the coming week.  For the baptize Mike was going to play guitar and sing, but was not finding the right song.  Lori asked if he knew the song “O Sun” by Peter Mayer (  Mike loved it and began writing out the music and learning to play it.  Now the house was filled with Mike strumming a few chords, the scratch of his pencil on the paper, more strumming, humming . . . by the end of the day he could play it by heart.
At Cromberg campground they have an outside baptism fount.  It is up the hill from the cabins and tucked underneath towering pine trees.  When the time came for the baptism service the camp made its way up the hill gathering around the fount.  Warm sunlight filtered down through the still pines.  Bird song and twitters gave welcome to the sacred moment.  Beginning with hymns we joined our voices with the avian choir in that church of pines. 
As granddaughter and grandma descended into the pool of water, Mike began to play “O Sun.”  The song is about being filled by the sun, wine, and wind.  The lyrics express sacramental language of asking to be filled by life, strength, and breathe.  And to help us shine, to be opened-wide, and to pour forth the same life and love we receive from God through blessings of community, unity in diverse, sacredness of creation, and worth of all persons.
During the second verse of the song that asks “O wind, come fill me” a gust of wind whoosh through the pines surprising us all.  At the end of the verse the wind was gone.  As Mike finished the song, I looked at him and his face was just radiating with the huge bewildered smile that seemed to ask the same question I was pondering: “Did that really happen?”
When the service was over some of us practically sprinted down the hill to download the video that was taken of the baptism onto a laptop.  We hit “play” in wonder and anticipation.  “Did that really happen?”  It did!  That gift of gusting wind filled the pines, filled Mike’s and Ruth’s daughter, filled all of us with God’s Spirit in that sacramental moment. 
This was a baptism experience I will not forget as God’s Spirit whooshed through the pines! 

Friday, June 1, 2018

Reunion is Good for your Health by Lavera Wade

Loving God, how do we find the courage to love so abundantly, so inclusively? How do we allow ourselves to be loved enough that it softens us, breaks down our barriers, and humbles us.
I was a new member of Community of Christ in 2011 when I attended my first reunion at Samish Island.

My second day there a young girl hands me a sign, and says do you want to wear this?  The sign read FREE HUGS.

Did I want to spend my day hugging a large group of strangers?  My life experience as the child of an alcoholic would not suggest this was a good idea.  But for some unknown reason I dawned the sign and began my journey being loved in Community of Christ. I still enjoy the friendships that began at that reunion, and last year we made many new friends at Cascade reunion.

Christ said, they will know you are my disciples because of your love for one another.
Reunion is the place where we get to practice love for one another, by serving each other, worshiping together, and finding peaceful times when God can whisper of His love in the sound of the soft breeze through the tree’s.
Looking forward to reunion, Hope to see you there.

Over the years I have enjoyed meeting and hugging an ever growing number of disciples at several women’s retreats, more reunions, mission center conference, and World conference.  As we follow where the Spirit leads us each day, we are given the opportunity to become a Blessing of God’s Love and Peace. Looking forward to meeting you soon.
Note:  studies show we need 8 hugs a day for good health, 4 hugs just for survival, HUGS lower your blood pressure, and just feel Good.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

The Power of a Testimony by Brent Tovey

During my early teenage years, I would spend several weeks every summer in Pocatello, Idaho visiting my aunts, uncles, grandparents and cousins.  One summer when I was 15 I was staying with my aunt and uncle and cousin who lived south of Pocatello in Arbon Valley.  During one of those weeks, a church reunion was being held at a camp on Scout Mountain which was in the Utah-Southeast Idaho District at that time.  The guest ministers were:  Arthur Oakman, Aleah Koury and Gene Chaney.
There was quite a number of kids my age in attendance.  We went to all of the services and one that was very meaningful and important to the youth was the morning prayer and testimony service.  I listened very attentively to the testimonies shared by my new friends.  It didn’t take long for me to realize that I did not have the kind of testimony being shared by my friends which were very spiritual, powerful, insightful, meaningful and pertinent to the issues, needs and problems of everyday teenage life.
All of the boys were staying in one large cabin a distance from the center of the campground.  It was a heavily wooded area which was very dark when the cabin lights were turned out.
I remember climbing into my bed, turning off my flashlight and laying in the silent darkness.  Everyone else was asleep.  I began to reflect on the prayer and testimony service of that morning.  Knowing that I was not in tune with the spiritual level and understanding of many of my friends, I asked God if He would help me to better understand His ways and purposes as they relate to my life that I might also be a servant for His cause and have a testimony of my own to share.
The event that took place next would change my life forever:  In the air above the foot of my bed appeared a bright light that radiated from the center in all directions.  In that moment, every cell in my body was aware that I was in the presence of the Holy Spirit.  That experience lasted about 15 seconds but will always be a part of my life – a FOUNDATIONAL spiritual experience!  I felt a sense of total acceptance and unconditional love.
As I reflected back on that event I was able to draw a conclusion as to what it meant:  The greatest thing that can happen to a human being is to have a personal, powerful, undeniable encounter with the Holy Spirit.  The life of anyone who has this kind of experience will never be the same again.  To some degree you begin to think like Jesus thinks and when you begin to think like Jesus thinks you begin to see the world and everything in it through His eyes.
I have a testimony!
For it is the God who said, “let light shine out of darkness,” who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.   ( 2 Corinthians  4:6)

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Hate is NOT Welcome Here…But YOU Are! By Barb Brock

At a November 2016 rally in Spokane, Washington, an African American retired EWU photography professor, Robert Lloyd, waved his arm in the air and invited any of the 250 people packed in that gymnasium to come to Rocket Market every Thursday at 10 am and discuss Black Culture. I saw him wave across the room and immediately thought now THIS is something I could do - small group, informal, no agenda, long discussions, etc.  I’m not so much a “big organization joining” type of person, but love face-to-face interactions. So, that very next Thursday, I sat in the parking lot at Rocket Market and thought WHAT THE HECK AM I DOING HERE? What will I say? What could I possibly offer? Do I just say, Hey, I would like some Black friends? And the doubts flooded in. But I did join the table that day with Bob and 4-5 others. I rather clumsily introduced myself as did everyone else, and the conversations began.

Fast forward 18 months and nearly a hundred coffees (and gatherings) later, Vern and I are now faithful members of the Thursday Coffee group, which averages about a half dozen people each week. Occasionally, significant leaders or politicians of the community drop in for a chat, but mostly it’s a core of about five people. We’ve seen a dozen movies – often together and with discussion, read several books, and listened to lectures on topics from Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome to our fractured prison system.  I thought I was a “fairly good citizen” before, but soon realized how narrow and shallow my world had become. Now that we’ve had our new friends into our home and have been in theirs, all those honest and hard questions about racism, white privilege, politics, and priorities are so much easier to ask and discuss. And most importantly, we are beginning to understand what the “real” history of our United States is.

Thursday Coffee members have marched in support of a young black man shot in the back 30 yards away and killed by a white man who was acquitted by an all white jury on claims of “self defense.”  We’ve raised money to send 52 Black women and their daughters to the fabulous movie Hidden Figures to show what very bright African American women did in the 60’s for our space program. We’ve spent hours in Bob Lloyd’s home and learned the role he played in the 60’s, often shuttling Martin Luther King back and forth to rallies; his photography displaying a remarkable and personal journey through the Civil Rights Movement. Other ideas coming from Thursday Coffee include supporting two struggling artists of by providing art supplies each month, designing Hate is NOT Welcome shirts and signs (more info below) after Mr. Norris Cooley, a 66-year-old Black man, was harassed and shot at by two White Supremacists last October. Some have become Precinct Officers to encourage voting and neighborhood discussions, and a few of us participated in Refugee training. These discussions have morphed into another group of diverse women in Spokane, and my African American friends DG and Jackie came over to meet a dozen Cheney women at my house just yesterday. Now some of us are planning “Listening Tours” and half-day retreats in the future to become better and more compassionate listeners to ALL points of view.

Remember my story about sitting in the Rocket Market parking lot, feeling ignorant, inadequate, and wondering what in the world to say?  Well, the connections were practically instantaneous that morning, and making a few friends of color has made it SO much easier to make many more - and feel comfortable in diverse cultures and settings. I love the statement: It is hard to hate up close. We need to move in. It takes a little thought and time, but you can find a place to “dive in” to the circle. These future friends are awaiting our questions and welcome the chance to enlighten and be enlightened. I ask my Black friends now, “How can we white privileged folks find out more about you and your culture.”  They universally reply, almost laughing and shouting, “Just ASK!!!”  Begin these conversations, invite people of diversity, culture, and color to your table, ask important questions, listen carefully, and show love. Good, peaceful things follow.

Here are a few books and movies where we’ve gained great lessons. I can completely guarantee you will find enlightenment and increase your understanding of Black Culture. Just start ticking them off one by one!

BOOKS: Waking Up White, Small Great Things, Between the World and Me, Just Mercy, Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome, and Malcolm X

MOVIES: The Vernon Johns Story, 13th, Loving, Hidden Figures, Get Out, Where to Invade Next, Race, The Color of Fear, and Freedom Riders

Below is a statement from Randi Madison, the screen-print designer at Ammonite Ink in Spokane, who helped me design the Hate is NOT Welcome Campaign.

Hello Beautiful People!

 “I just wanted to share with you an example of how one woman and a handful of concerned citizens have taken a step-in action raising awareness around the disturbing and unsettling feelings surrounding hate crimes we have all witnessed in many forms in our city, country, and world. We are entering into a time where many of our society's dark secrets are being unearthed. We are at a unique time, as this unearthing of abuses, fear-based ideologies, and blatantly damaging personas are being revealed to us, and in turn ARE a reflection of us at some level. The “Hate is NOT Welcome Here” products were inspired by the recognition that we are at a powerful point of choosing to be complacent or to take action, of choosing to see what role we play in what we attract. I hope you are inspired to learn more about your own truths and radiate out a newfound commitment to compassion in action. Just taking the time to look inward, digest, transform your own outdated beliefs and reflect back to the world a more aware and mindful version of yourself is really the most powerful thing we can do. For that no purchase necessary! However, if you feel as if the messaging does reflect you or would be a great gift for those you know, please consider supporting the cause.  Every single dollar of profit will support the Center for Justice in Spokane. (The shirts are now available wholesale only for orders of 12 or more. Gather your friends together and get a few!  Website is: