Member Letter from Chairman Rhodes
July 14, 2011
The last few weeks have highlighted the importance of friendship in each of our lives. Let me share with you a few of our recent reminders of this. Our relationships with God and with each other are of prime importance, and we must never forget this.
On the Day of Pentecost, Diane and I were in Edmonton, Alberta, where we had an uplifting and spiritually rewarding Holy Day in a congregation pastored by Bob and Val Berendt. Bob is a fellow member of the Council of Elders and chairman of our Doctrine Committee.
Prior to Pentecost we spent a few days with a couple we have known almost 40 years, Laurie and Sarah Nyhus. Laurie is an elder in United who serves the Grande Prairie and Edmonton, Alberta, congregations. They live in Valleyview, a 2,000 population community four hours drive from Edmonton.
We first met Laurie and Sarah at Ambassador College, Bricket Wood, in England. We hadn’t seen each other for a few years, so we had a lot to talk about.
On the weekly Sabbath, the Grande Prairie church met in Valleyview. After services we had a leisurely afternoon of fellowship and food at the Nyhus’ home.
One of the great blessings of being in the church is the friendships we have developed over the years—friendships with people that, in most cases, we would otherwise never have met.
Following our visit to Edmonton, we went to Ghana for a farewell pastoral visit. Mark Mickelson, who has been working with the Nigerians for many years, will be taking over all pastoral responsibilities in West Africa for the foreseeable future, so this was my last visit to Ghana as senior pastor.
Our involvement in Ghana goes back 33 years. We first arrived in the country in May 1978 at a time when the country was literally falling apart economically and the military was in control. I’m pleased to say that Ghana is much improved and now has a constitutional form of government similar to what we have in the United States.
In those early years the church grew rapidly. Some of those people are still with us so our visit was like meeting old friends. But, encouragingly, there were also new ones—about half a dozen new people who have come into the church in Accra in the last few months. It was good to meet with them too.
While there, I was able to ordain two deacons, Henry Aikins and David Meselebe, two men we have known for over 30 years and who have been true servants of the United Church of God congregation in Accra, Ghana’s capital city. These were the second and third men ordained in Africa so far this year. In April, on the Last Day of Unleavened Bread, I ordained Roy Demont an elder. He looks after the Durban church in South Africa. Sadly, his wife Jean died exactly one week before his ordination.
A few days after returning from Ghana, we were in Little Rock, Arkansas, for their 50th anniversary. Fred and Lucretia Kellers were also there, as they pastored the congregation 25 years ago. For them it was an occasion to see old friends. For us, we met many people we had never met before. But we were also able to spend the weekend in the home of Fred and Lidia Nance, who pastor the congregation along with two others.
Fred and Lidia attended in Lansing, Michigan, until Fred was hired by UCG two years ago and sent to Little Rock. Lansing is where Diane and I live. It was really good to see them both again and also Fred’s mother Hazel who lives near them. She turns 80 on July 17th.
Friendships are so important, and we should all be thankful for them.
Jesus Christ said that, after our relationship with God, our relationships with each other are most important. The two go together and are the recipe for happiness in this life.
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt 22:37-39).
Sadly, so many friends that we have had over the years are no longer in our lives. This is due partly to our moving around, but also to the fact that many no longer believe as we do. It wasn’t that we cut them off, rather that we drifted apart when we no longer fellowshipped in the same church.
July 23rd is a special day for me—the 40th anniversary of my baptism at Bricket Wood, shortly before meeting the Nyhus’ at the end of my freshman year. I remember the day every year, but marking 40 years makes it seem so much more special.
In thinking back to 1971, again I’m reminded of how many people I knew then who are no longer in the Church. I ask myself why.
There are, of course, many reasons, but if there is one common thread it is this: They all allowed a man to come between them and God.
Not all in the same way. Some followed a charismatic man out of the church organization to form a new church; others got upset when they found out the man they had looked up to was not perfect; others were confused when the leader of the church announced doctrinal changes; still others left because they didn’t get along with somebody else in the congregation; some allowed a root of bitterness toward others get a strong hold on them.
The problem manifests itself in many ways. But the root cause is letting a human being come between them and God.
The apostle Paul wrote: “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12). In Matthew 6:6 Jesus Christ told us: “When you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly”. Here is instruction on how we should pray most of the time—privately, alone with God. In His model prayer, which follows, Jesus reminds us to pray “daily” (verse 11).
In addition to prayer, we should follow the example of the Bereans, “who searched the scriptures daily” (Acts 17:11).
Prayer and Bible Study are essential if we are going to have a close, meaningful relationship with God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ set us the example of going to the synagogue (church) every Sabbath (Luke 4:16), something we are commanded to do in Leviticus 23:3.
This is extremely important. But it’s our own relationship with God that matters most and will see us through in times of turmoil and stress, whether in our own personal lives or in the Church.
Let us remember this and daily renew our commitment to God and to Jesus Christ as we work on developing an even closer relationship.
In Christ’s service,
Melvin Rhodes—Chairman, Council of Elders