It’s Not Always About Winning

It’s Not Always About Winning

olympics

Photo by Ryunosuke Kikuno on Unsplash

By Caleb Hennington

Digital Content Editor

The 2020 Tokyo Olympics ended on August 8, 2021, after more than two weeks of intense competition from the world’s greatest athletes. Technically though, it was the 2021 Tokyo Olympics because of a yearlong delay thanks to COVID-19, and the virus’s presence in this year’s games was heavy on the minds of everyone involved, from athletes to organizers of the games, to everyone watching at home.

Empty stadiums — cleared of fans and athletes’ families due to Japan’s current COVID protocols — gave the games an eerie, bizarre feeling.

But despite the weirdness of the Olympics, the stories of success and the legendary athletes that emerge every Olympic quadrennium were still present. New champions were crowned, and in the end, the United States just managed to eke out China for the title of most medals and most gold medals for a country won at the games.

For some athletes, though, it was not about winning at all. Sure, that’s obviously the goal whenever you find yourself on the biggest stage in the world, competing at the highest possible level for your sport or skill. But time and time again at the Olympics, we’ve seen examples of camaraderie and sportsmanship shine through in the midst of the pressure of competition.

One of the best examples of sportsmanship at this year’s games was between two high jump contenders, Mutaz Essa Barshim of Qatar and Gianmarco Tamberi of Italy. These are two names you probably aren’t familiar with, but their story is one to remember.

At the high jump finals, both competitors were evenly matched at 2.37 meters. However, neither of them could manage to clear the next level up, the 2.39-meter height, which also happened to be the world record for the high jump.

Round after round, Barshim and Tamberi attempted to clear the height, with neither one succeeding at their goal. Just when it seemed like the competition would go on indefinitely like this until one or both competitors were too tired to continue, Barshim made a decision; he asked the Olympic official if it were possible to share first place, therefore guaranteeing that both men would take home the gold medal. And it just so happened that, yes, that was possible, although most people never think to ask.

And so both athletes, at the top of their game and unable to best each other in competition, embraced one another with tears in their eyes, captured in a now viral video seen the world over, simply ecstatic to share the accomplishment of being dual world champions.

Thinking about this amazing story, I’m reminded of the countless verses in the Bible that instruct followers of Christ to stay humble, thinking of others always before yourself.

Ephesians 4:2 says, “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.” Likewise, in Philippians 2:3, we read Paul’s words to “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves.”

For humans, it’s natural to want to dominate, win, and capture all of the pride and accolades that come with being a champion. But as Christians, this is the antithesis of how we should interact with the world.

The Apostle Paul, who authored both Ephesians and Philippians, warns over and over against the downfall of pride. Pride most often leads to ruin. Just look at history and you’ll see no shortage of examples of leaders and countries who ultimately fell to ruin due to pride.

As we continue the long journey into our Church’s future, it’s important to remember that it’s not about winning or losing; one side getting what they want while the other side suffers in failure. It’s about remembering that we are all humans, created in the image of God, and “winning” is not the most important thing.

If athletes whose entire lives are dedicated to being the best they can be can figure this out, then so can we.

Invite God To Change Our Conversations

Invite God To Change Our Conversations

conversation

Photo by Korney Violin on Unsplash

By Gary E. Mueller

Bishop of the Arkansas Annual Conference

It seems to me that we Christians are engaging in more and more conversations about the future that leave us feeling stuck, frustrated and hopeless. The result? All too often we end up cynical at best or polarized at worst. Which is exactly why it’s time to do something we should have been doing all along – invite God to change our conversations.  

When we think that the only way we can solve “the problem” in our beloved United Methodist Church is to adopt some plan at General Conference, we descend into chaos and despair. But when we invite God to change our conversation about our church, then we begin to ask a new question that can change the trajectory of our future, “What does the General Conference have to do to ensure there are as many faithful and vital congregations as possible making disciples of Jesus Christ?”

When we are convinced that the United Methodist Church is going to continue to decline, we give up and just go through the motions. But when we invite God to change our conversation and focus on how prayer changes things, then we begin fervently praying for a Great Awakening that always brings Jesus into the lives of people both in the church and the mission field all around us.

When we think we’re always going to struggle to reach younger people, we’re embracing a self-fulfilling prophecy that ensures we are always going to fail to reach younger people. But when we invite God to change our conversation so that we are talking about how God is giving us the gifts we need to reach young people, then we are propelled into the lives of those who are longing for the opportunity to grow in deeper discipleship.

When we invite God to change our conversations, we change the way we look at things. When we change the way we look at things, we change the conversations we have. And when we change our conversations, we experience God doing the most amazing things in our lives and the lives of those around us!

Centershot Ministries Teaches Biblical Truths Through Bows and Arrows

Centershot Ministries Teaches Biblical Truths Through Bows and Arrows

life bow

By Caleb Hennington

Digital Content Editor

Archery is an ancient art that can be found referenced throughout the Bible. Many of the most famous heroes of the Old Testament — like Jonathon, King Saul’s son and friend of David — were archers, as it was a common tool for hunting and war in the ancient world. Years later, the practice of archery is still being taught to new generations through the fun and engaging programs offered by Centershot Ministries.

Since the early 2010s, St. James UMC in Little Rock has hosted its Centershot Archery ministry for kids and adults of all ages who are interested in getting involved in the world of archery.

Kim Anderson, Executive Director of Ministries at St. James UMC, said the program got its start after a man named Jim Emery joined the church in 2012.

“The very day he and his family joined, he asked to meet with me regarding a possible new ministry,” Anderson said. “Jim introduced me and St. James to Centershot Archery. He had run a program at his previous church and asked if St. James would consider such a ministry.”

Anderson said within a few weeks, the church had approved Emery’s proposal, and new equipment was purchased to get the program going.

Centershot Ministries is the main organization that helps to provide the curriculum and training for churches that want to start an archery program at their church.

According to their website, they are a “non-denominational outreach program that shares the Gospel of Jesus using the life-skill of archery.”

Darren Corbin is the current head archery coach for Centershot at St. James. He said he took over the program recently after the last coach left.

“My son joined the program several years back since his archery coach was the person in charge of the program. Two years ago, the person in charge moved out of state and I felt called to continue this program at St. James,” Corbin said.

Last year was tough for the program due to the coronavirus pandemic, said Corbin, but he said they were still able to have about six students participate. Corbin said being able to have the program available was huge for the students and gave them something to look forward to every week.

But it’s not just students that can participate in Centershot. Corbin said the program allows a wide variety of ages — from 4th grade through age 97 — to participate, but people usually fall into certain leagues based on their age.

Centershot Life League is basically the all-ages group and is designed for youth, college, families, couples, men, women, and seniors. Centershot Compete is their competitive league for 4th – 12th grade and offers an opportunity to travel and compete in local, state, and national tournaments. There’s also Centershot Blue which offers law enforcement and first responders a tool for Community Engagement and Officer Wellness.

“School Resource Officers and P.O.S.T Teams can use these leagues and fun shoots to develop trust around positive engagement,” Corbin said.

One of the ways that Centershot Ministries teaches not only archery skills but valuable Biblical lessons is through the LIFE Bow.

The LIFE Bow is a special bow colored-code bow that tells the story of sin and salvation through Jesus Christ; black represents sin, red represents Jesus, white represents purity, blue represents water baptism, green represents growing in faith, the multi-colored string of the bow represents the Word of God and the Holy Spirit, and gold represents the streets of Heaven.

Anderson said the ministry of Centershot fits into the mission at St. James exceptionally well.

“St. James’ mission is To Know Jesus Christ and To Make Him Known,” Anderson said. “Through the Centershot Bible Studies, devotionals, and LIFE Bow, students and their families come to know Jesus Christ. This also gives them the tools to share their faith, thus making Jesus Christ known. This is truly a community outreach program as 100% of participants are not members of St. James.”

Centershot and St. James are currently gearing up for an archery clinic to be held on July 31 at St. James UMC. The event will consist of three separate clinics for different age groups and skill levels.

The first will be an Exploring Archery Clinic from 9:30 – 11:45 a.m. This is for kids entering 6th grade through adults of all ages and is centered toward anyone who would like to know more about archery or is interested in giving archery a try.

The Basic Archery Clinic will be from 1 – 3:30 p.m. and is designed for students in the 6th – 12th grades that have some experience with archery but are wanting to improve their skills.

Finally, the Anyone Can Shoot Clinic will start at 3:30 p.m. and will be hosted by Centershot Coach Darren Corbin. Corbin will be available to answer any questions you may have about starting a Centershot Ministry at your own church.

The cost for the clinic is $5 per person for the Basic or Exploring clinics. The Anyone Can Shoot clinic is free but is limited to 25 participants. Registration for all clinics is required and can be found here.

Corbin said he hopes that more churches in Arkansas will get interested in Centershot after attending the clinic. St. James UMC is currently the only church to offer a Centershot program in Arkansas, according to Corbin.

Anderson said she wants the clinic will build more interest in the program as well and hopes to see more people participate once it’s safe to do so.

“Corbin is really striving to provide a good balance between faith and archery. As more people learn about Centershot, it is our prayer that more individuals and churches will participate in the program. We are happy to share our resources and knowledge with anyone interested.”

For more information about Centershot Ministries, visit https://centershot.org/ or contact Darren Corbin at anyonecanshootarchery@gmail.com.

Understanding Our Diversity Leads to Changed Lives

Understanding Our Diversity Leads to Changed Lives

hands

Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash

By Rev. Rashim Merriwether Sr.

Special Assistant to the Bishop on Ethnic Concerns and Initiatives

“If I love you, I have to make you conscious of the things you don’t see” – James Baldwin

When James Baldwin penned these words, he did so confessing the true love he had for his country, his city, and all people. But he also knew that there were some unspoken realities regarding racism, social justice, cultural intelligence, and the divisive undercurrents which were not common to the naked eye. They were covered by systems, structures, unwritten laws, and isolating ideologies based on fear, stereotypes, biases, and a lack of connection between all God’s people. 

Wherever, and whenever, there is a lack of connection, the possibility of loss, division and inequality are inevitable.  Understanding one’s identity, position, gifts, hopes, fears, and desires are not only important but become the beginning to understanding the same life processes in others. If we are ever to achieve the most, or the best, that this life can offer, we must embrace our identity, our history, our reality, and the need to address those things which can hinder that chance for success. 

We are not here alone, nor have we made it this far on our own accord. It is only through the gifts, sacrifices, and struggles of all people that we have been able to experience the possibility of what life has to offer. And once we accept that history, that reality in its un-redacted purest form, we can begin to see the processes, struggles, fears, and hopes of others. 

We are not here alone, nor can we endure this journey by ourselves. It is only in seeing the value, diversity, and importance of all people can we ever hope to overcome the destructive nature of racism and all its variations. We have a responsibility to ourselves, to each other, and to God to embrace the gift of life which has been given to us and see those things which are not plainly seen by the naked eye. Understand them for the truth of what they are and how they have hindered our growth into the fullness of what God has called us to be. 

It is with this understanding I listen, discern, and serve…

Building the Kingdom of God Through Small Community Libraries

Building the Kingdom of God Through Small Community Libraries

bishop at library

Bishop Mueller reads to kids at the Altheimer Library.

By Rev. Sam Meadors

Community Coordinator, The Delta Project - 200K More Reasons

 “The opposite of poverty is not property. The opposite of both poverty and property is community.” Jürgen Moltmann, German Theologian 

The library isn’t even open yet, but kids are arriving. They come in groups; some are dropped off by their designated grown-up, others arriving on bicycles, still more walking up to the doors. In Altheimer, a small, rural community in Jefferson County, the library has become the place to be for children who are out of school for the summer. 

Like many changing communities, there is no longer a school in town. Come fall, students will ride the bus on a long route to get to Pine Bluff, roughly 15 miles away. While the school has food, summer programs, and events, the kids aren’t going because during the summer the bus doesn’t run. So, the library it is. 

You could not ask for a better library. Or a better librarian. If the library is the heart of the community in summer, Mrs. Melony is the heart of the library. She greets every child by name before making sure they have a mask and hand sanitizer. She has candy, chips, and granola bars behind her desk when the kids need an extra snack. She knows what games they like to play on the PlayStation and what grade everyone is going into in the fall. Mrs. Melony is the reason that any kids came at all when the church wanted to provide a literacy program. 

Mrs. Melony called all the parents and began sharing the news. She told everyone to get registered for the summer program only lasting a few weeks. Even though the program was full to overflowing, she made sure that kids could still stay at the library even if they were on the waiting list. There are 18 children coming to the library every day; some to read with tutors, some to read alone, and all to be fed. 

Two years ago, as 200K Reasons was adding more reasons including literacy and family stability, the local pastor, the Rev. Lance Hickerson, asked if he could get some books to give away. He got more than he asked for when instead of just books, he was met with the opportunity to support a reading program for children in the community. There was worry, though, because Altheimer UMC is a small church and might not be able to provide all the volunteers needed for such a program. 

Instead of backing down, the church teamed up with locals. First with the office of the mayor and then with churches from neighboring communities. Arkansas Kids Reads, a literacy nonprofit, offered training and oversight from their expertise. Churches from White Hall, St. James, and Lakeside provide tutors for an hour each day, reading one-on-one with two students. Then, a literacy specialist instructs the class in learning for another hour. But wait, there’s more! 

girls reading

Children receive meals provided by the Arkansas Foodbank Summer Feeding Program and prepared at a Lakeside United Methodist Church in Pine Bluff. Interns from Quad W at First United Methodist of Pine Bluff deliver the meals. Anyone under the age of 18 can visit one of three locations in Watson Chapel, Altheimer and Wabbaseka. 

There is a small army of volunteers that have decided that children need support. They are using time that would otherwise go to their own families, their jobs, or their retirement to help children who, until a few weeks ago, they did not know. Now that they have a taste for it, they are already talking about next summer and even more importantly this fall. 

In building a community, we get to witness small glimpses of the kingdom of God. That is what is happening through reading and feeding this summer in Altheimer, Arkansas. Thanks be to God!