I used to love playing the board game called Puerto Rico. It’s a well-designed strategy game in which each player builds a mini-civilization on their own island of Puerto Rico. Various crops can be raised (like corn, sugar, and coffee) and then shipped back to Europe or sold at the local trading post. Many buildings can be purchased and built, which enhance a player’s production, shipping, and trading. The gameplay mechanic is really fascinating, too: there are a certain number of “roles” that players can choose from each round, such as settler, trader, captain, or builder. When a player chooses a certain role on their turn, that player gets a specific bonus, and then all the players can take the actions of that role.

I love strategy games like Puerto Rico. The dynamics of the game, the strategy of how you will try to amass the most victory points, the choices that affect not only your board but the boards of other players – I find that kind of game really enjoyable.

But there’s a problem. I said at the outset that I used to love playing Puerto Rico. I don’t anymore.

Why? Well, I’ve left out one key part of the game. For any of your settlements or buildings to function, you need to staff them with people. Otherwise, they will sit empty and not do anything at all. In this game, the people are referred to as “colonists” and are represented by small, round, brown tokens.

Brown “colonists.” They literally arrive on a ship and are put to work on your island of Puerto Rico, working in fields or buildings as you direct them. You can shuffle them around, but they never leave your island.

There is another word for these brown colonists, a word that the game’s creators conveniently omit: slaves.

Because that’s the real history of Puerto Rico and so many other locations in the western hemisphere. Brown “colonists” were brought over on ships from Africa and were made to labor at their masters’ discretion. But they were not colonists at all. They were slaves.

You may have seen on the news recently that a new federal holiday has been approved by Congress. That holiday is called Juneteenth, and it celebrates the end of slavery in the United States. Juneteenth occurs on June 19 every year, because it was on June 19, 1865, that slaves were proclaimed free in Texas by the victorious Union Army.

To be honest, I had never heard of Juneteenth until about two or three years ago. I never knew about this important day in American history and this important celebration for African Americans – for all Americans. I grew up in Indiana, and Juneteenth simply was not part of the education I received, either in school or at church or in society. But I’m starting to learn, a little bit every year, just how significant Juneteenth is.

The point of all this is to say that I need to grow and change. I need to learn. I need to listen. I need to ask questions, seek answers, and knock on doors that I never even knew existed. I need to join in celebrating Juneteenth and to continue the pursuit of liberty and justice for all.

I probably will never play the board game Puerto Rico ever again. But I look forward to celebrating Juneteenth with every passing year. And I hope I keep learning to uncover the blind spots in my vision – or, rather, the planks in my own eye. (Matthew 7:1-12)

Scripture and Prayer on Monday, June 14, 2021

Pastor David reads 1 Samuel 1:1-20 and offers a prayer from Basil the Great:

O God and Lord of the Powers, and Maker of all creation, who, because of your clemency and incomparable mercy, did send your Only-Begotten Son and our Lord Jesus Christ for the salvation of humankind, and with his venerable Cross did tear asunder the record of our sins, and thereby did conquer the rulers and powers of darkness; receive from us sinful people, O merciful Master, these prayers of gratitude and supplication, and deliver us from every destructive and gloomy transgression, and from all visible and invisible enemies who seek to injure us. Nail down our flesh with fear of you, and let not our hearts be inclined to words or thoughts of evil, but pierce our souls with your love, that, ever contemplating you, being enlightened by you, and discerning you, the unapporachable and everlasting Light, we may unceasingly render confession and gratitude to you: the eternal Father, with your Only-Begotten Son, and with your All-Holy, Gracious, and Life-Giving Spirit, now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.

Posted by Mt. Haley Church of God on Monday, June 14, 2021

Scripture and Prayer on Friday, June 11, 2021

Pastor David reads 2 Corinthians 12:11-21 and offers a prayer from the Syrian Clementine Liturgy:

O God, who are the unsearchable abyss of peace, the ineffable sea of love, the fountain of blessings, and the bestower of affection, who sends peace to those that receive it; open to us this day the sea of your love, and water us with the plenteous streams from the riches of your grace. Make us children of quietness, and heirs of peace. Enkindle in us the fire of your love; sow in us your fear; strengthen our weakness by your power; bind us closely to you and to each other in one firm bond of unity; for the sake of Jesus Christ. Amen.

Posted by Mt. Haley Church of God on Friday, June 11, 2021

Scripture and Prayer on Thursday, June 10, 2021

Pastor David reads 2 Corinthians 12:1-10 and offers a prayer from Jan Hus:

O loving Christ, draw me, a weakling, after yourself; for if you do not draw me I cannot follow you. Give me a brave spirit that it may be ready alert. If the flesh is weak, may your grace go before me, come alongside me, and follow me; for without you I cannot do anything, and especially, for your sake I cannot go to a cruel death. Grant me a ready spirit, a fearless heart, a right faith, a firm hope, and a perfect love, that for your sake I may lay down my life with patience and joy.

Posted by Mt. Haley Church of God on Thursday, June 10, 2021

Scripture and Prayer on Wednesday, June 9, 2021

Pastor David reads 2 Corinthians 11:21b-33 and offers a prayer from Charles Kingsley:

Lift up our hearts, we ask you, O Christ, above the false show of things, above fear, above laziness, above selfishness and covetousness, above custom and fashion, up to the everlasting truth and order that you are; that we may live joyfully and freely, in faithful trust that you are our Savior, our example, and our friend, both now and for evermore.

Posted by Mt. Haley Church of God on Wednesday, June 9, 2021

Scripture and Prayer on Tuesday, June 8, 2021

Pastor David reads 2 Corinthians 11:1-21a and offers a prayer from Charles Kingsley:

Take from us, O God, all pride and vanity, all boasting and self-assertiveness, and give us the true courage that shows itself by gentleness; the true wisdom that shows itself by simplicity; and the true power that shows itself by modesty; through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Posted by Mt. Haley Church of God on Tuesday, June 8, 2021

Scripture and Prayer on Monday, June 7, 2021

Pastor David reads 2 Corinthians 10 and offers a prayer from Thomas Fuller:

Lord, I perceive my soul deeply guilty of envy. I would prefer your work not done than done by someone else other than myself. Dispossess me, Lord, of this bad spirit, and turn my envy into holy emulation; yes, make other people’s gifts to be mine, by making me thankful to you for them.

Posted by Mt. Haley Church of God on Monday, June 7, 2021

Do you know who Barley MacTavish is? I’ll be honest, the name was unfamiliar to me until I saw it in an article from the Midland Daily News the other day. Barley MacTavish, as it turns out, is not the name of a real person. Instead, the Barley MacTavish Fund seeks to help people from Midland County with their financial needs. This fund is supported by anonymous private individuals, and the names of all applications for financial support are kept anonymous, too.

Last week’s article in the Midland Daily News gave an example of the kind of letter that Barley MacTavish often receives:

“Dear Barley, I have contacted a number of churches to aid me, but they cannot help for a number of reasons. My neighbor suggested that I write to you with my request. I am a single woman and am disabled. I live on a fixed income. All of my family members have passed, so I do not have any relatives to count on. My biggest concern is with my well pump. […]”

Read that first sentence again. Read it a couple of times.

People contact churches for financial help all the time. Here at Mt. Haley, we usually get one or two phone calls a month from people who are asking for help to pay a propane bill, prevent an electric shutoff, or cover the cost of a hotel room and a meal. I welcome these calls, and I make a point to empathize with the life situations facing the folks who call for help. I usually ask about what other resources they have explored for help so far. Often, they say they have called 211, which usually has told them to call area churches for help. But the churches they’ve called either don’t help at all or have an application/interview process they have to go through. Occasionally someone will tell me they have had some success receiving help from a few different churches in the area – occasionally, but not often.

“I have contacted a number of churches to aid me, but they cannot help for a number of reasons.”

There are lots of reasons why a church might not help people. Maybe the church has been “burned” by people in the past – they’ve offered help but that help has somehow been misused or abused by its recipient. Maybe the church has given help with strings attached – “we’ll help you if you come to our service!” – and that has resulted in no help given at all. Maybe the church only helps people in its immediate community. (Did you know that’s how our congregation used to function? Our benevolence was essentially limited to people who lived within Mt. Haley Township.)

Something about this strikes me the wrong way. We are supposed to be the hands and feet of Jesus in our community. But if we make a habit of refusing to help people when they are in need, we are doing something wrong. Can you imagine people saying, “I have contacted Jesus to help me, but he cannot help for a number of reasons”? Yeah, me neither.

From beginning to end, scripture calls the people of God to live generously, with open hands and open hearts. Jesus himself instructed us to “give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you” (Matthew 5:42 NIV). James gives a powerful example: “Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, ‘Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?” (James 2:15-16 NIV). Our faith in God is shown to be real through the way we serve people in need. That’s one huge reason why “acts of service in Jesus’s name” is one of our goals as a congregation this year.

Our congregation has money set aside in our budget for showing this kind of mercy to people. We contribute $50 to whatever situation people are facing, without any requirements about where they live or what they do for us in return. We do our best to pay the vendor directly (Consumers Energy, the propane company, the hospital, the hotel, etc.) whenever possible. And we do this to let people know that God loves them, that we love them, and that they are not alone.

Churches need to do a better job of helping people in need. I’m thankful for Barley MacTavish, but I hope that people’s letters to Barley start having a different flavor to them:

“I have contacted a number of churches to help me, and they have helped a lot, but I am still coming up short. Can you help too?”

(If you would like to make a donation to the Barley MacTavish Fund, or if you want to request assistance, you can write to Barley care of the Midland Area Community Foundation, 76 Ashman Circle, Midland, MI 48640 or call 989-839-9661.)