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Christmas Letter from Bishop Stewart

December 22, 2014

Christmas Eve 2014

Dearest Upper Midwest Family:

Merry Christmas!

I have just returned from a most remarkable two weeks in the Archdiocese of Jos in Nigeria. It was a time of such rich Kingdom experiences that I am sure I will be absorbing them for months to come.

We had the privilege of visiting a church under siege--truly a persecuted church. Indeed, even in our time there a bomb blast occurred in downtown Jos. But our brothers and sisters there carry on with a Gospel courage and focus--a focus on the lost and the poor and starting new churches...and they do so with joy. How I wish I could transport you there to be a part of the worship!

The only power that can overcome the darkness in Jos or Peshawar or America is Jesus. Praise God the Father for his Son's holy incarnation, crucifixion, resurrection and ascension. All things hold together and are healed in Jesus.

Live, preach, teach, raise families, build friendships, serve, work in the name of Jesus. Oh the joy of this--"Good news of a great joy that will be for all the people (Luke 2.10)"!

Katherine and l love you.

Yours in Christ,

+Stewart Upper Midwest

Stewart Ruch
Bishop of the Upper Midwest, Dean of the Greater Chicago Deanery, Rector
stewart@churchrez.org

PS One of my great joys was ordaining one of Archbishop's Ben's new deacons. I hope you are heartened by the way in which this communicates our being fully received by the Church of Nigeria. I have enclosed a picture of the ordination as well as one of my son Ellison, me, and our host the Venerable Mark Mukan.

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Tagged: christmas

More Than Service

March 02, 2014

Rez women care for a newborn on Christmas

For many years, I have been in a part of organizations that serve the local poor in our culture. Often, it has involved connecting volunteers to help come alongside someone with educational or social hurdles, or simply arranging for basic physical needs to be provided. However, no matter the volunteer, group, organization or type of service rendered, there is nothing greater than seeing the Church reveal the love of Christ in a way that defines love itself to a confused and hurting soul.

It was a few days before Christmas when one of my neighbors called and asked for a ride. She had just given birth, and they needed a way to get home from the hospital. We had recently offered, since her boyfriend had wanted to visit his new son, but otherwise, walking and public transportation are their norm. Trying to think of what this might entail, my husband arranged for our infant car seat to hold a precious tiny baby, while I looked for the camera and dressed with celebration in mind.

When I arrived in her hospital room, my neighbor was packed and ready to go, other than a few remaining dismissal procedures. I offered to begin carrying things out, and then quickly realized that the contents did not include much, other than the plastic hospital bags. Remembering the chill outside, I asked, “Do you happen to have a blanket, or should we use my wool coat?” Half an hour later, we walked out to a warmed car as I wrapped my coat over the front of the baby and his mom. She nestled him into the car seat, climbed in next to him, and I began to remember it was Christmas. I thought of hunger and poverty and imaginary stories of sheep’s wool warming our baby Savior. I turned around and saw the big grin of her beautiful face as she told me this new infant’s birth story. I wondered if she knew how like Mary she was in that moment, and if she had experienced the knowledge of a Savior being born in times like these. Times when there is cold and suffering; times when there is beauty and delight. I yearned for her to know and be enveloped in this Savior’s love.

Later that day, she asked to go grocery shopping. She used the last of a gift card to purchase some frozen meals for her family to prepare, in order to get some rest. I offered her some groceries, but it seemed so meager when I realized her need. We took meals, but those too were gone fast. Then my family got sick, which meant that our ability to help was even more limited. So, I called the church.

Having been around some situations of helpfulness gone array, I was careful to ensure that my neighbor was okay with all of this. The shame element of poverty can become a shadow over often well-intentioned gifts. Yet, our family was leaving town for the holidays, and I wanted to do all that I could to get her some relief in the days following childbirth. She trusted us, therefore trusted our friends at church.

The Sanctity of Life group at Rez began a work that immediately brought tears to my eyes. Someone coordinated meals (even on Christmas), families brought clothes, diapers and supplies, but more than that, they brought delight. They brought a sense of dignity and value to the personhood of each member of this precious family. They asked questions, smiled at her answers, and gently cared for the others in their home. In essence, they brought Jesus.

It has been a couple of months since this relationship began between my neighbor and Rez. Much to her surprise, and for the first time in her life, she received numerous meals and gifts, while encountering dear women from our church. One of these women offered to organize a baby shower. Last week we gathered for a prayer shower where my neighbor shared a bit of her life story, and we were able to pray for her, the new baby, and the other members of her family. She does not have many people in her life, and it was a gift to witness my Christian sisters treasuring this sleeping infant in their arms, this infant who had reminded me at Christmas of the mystery of Jesus’ quiet and miraculous entry into our suffering world. And as I looked around the room, at all the women who had come to love this woman, I couldn’t help but think of the miracles God had done and begun through this baby, as well.