I was sitting at a lab last Friday morning waiting for a blood-draw for some medical tests when I heard an older couple sitting near me mention Anchorage, Alaska. They then had a phone call where they talked more about Alaska. I jumped onto Facebook to see if something was happening, and that is when I learned about the 7.0 earthquake and the after-shocks.

It is easy for my heart to connect with Alaska’s challenges since my personal story intersects with Alaska. We lived in Alaska for eight years and owned a house in Alaska for another nine years (we sold it last year). We have many friends in Alaska, and I appreciate that Facebook helped me as I tried to find out if they were OK. Looking at some of the damage, I believe that it was a miracle that there was no loss of life.

With a lot of interest, I looked at the pictures of the damaged roads. I have driven many times on the roads that I saw pictured. A couple of them were very close to the house that we use to own in Knik, Alaska. It would have been easy for a lot of people to have been injured just by the damaged roads.

With Alaska on my mind, I led the All-Church Conference at Huachuca United Methodist Church on Saturday. In October their building burned down, but the church is still there! In just under two weeks we are having an all-church meeting as we work on plans for moving into the future. This is another situation where my personal story has intersected with their story. Even before I was their District Superintendent, I was the senior pastor at Sierra Vista UMC. Not only is Huachuca UMC physically close to Sierra Vista UMC, it is also the parent church to Sierra Vista UMC.

It is easy for me to emotionally and spiritually respond to situations that connect with my life. I find myself praying often for those involved, staying updated on what is happening, and being willing to help. Have you found this to be the case for you? The question that I have been wondering about, though, is how do we respond to situations that don’t connect with our personal stories? Do we have the capacity to care about, and love, those whose stories are not related to our personal stories? I think that we do!

One of our challenges as Christians is to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. How we define “neighbor” impacts who we love. Jesus used a broad definition of neighbor. As we look at our own lives, are we using a broad, or a narrow, definition of neighbor?

Sometimes we have to be willing to put ourselves in positions where our personal story is expanded. For me, this has included serving on the board of a health and wellness philanthropic foundation; and serving as a board member for some social justice organizations. In the past, I have served as a police chaplain. All these opportunities have allowed me to see beyond my personal story, into the stories of other people. What are ways that you are expanding your personal story?

No matter our age, it is good to participate in educational opportunities that help to expand our understanding. On Monday, I took part in an educational opportunity sponsored by AZ JFON (Arizona Justice for our Neighbors). This included a presentation by the Pima County Medical Examiner. I can tell you up front that this was a very graphic—and real—presentation about immigrants who have died on our Arizona border. Our experience included talking to one of Pima County’s anthropologists (they have two on staff) who showed us a mostly complete skeleton of an unidentified person who died in our Arizona desert. The anthropologists work with skeletons (or pieces from skeletons) to try to help identify people. We know that the skeleton that we were looking at belonged to a young adult woman. It breaks my heart that her family doesn’t know what happened to her! I now care that this young woman’s death gets shared with her family. In case you are interested, AZ JFON is planning to do more of these educational opportunities. I regret that I’m not going to be able to do the second day of the opportunity, where the group will cross the border into Mexico and meet some asylum seekers.

One of the next educational opportunities that I’m participating in through our Desert Southwest Conference is on December 17, where I will livestream the presentation of “An Evening with Khalil Rushdan”. Here is the description for this opportunity:

“In the fall of 2011, Khalil Rushdan walked out of prison a free man, after serving 15 years of a 25-year sentence following his conviction for first-degree murder. The Arizona Justice Project worked to free Rushdan as he was wrongly imprisoned. Hear the details of Khalil’s journey and about the work he does now as a mentor and resource for formerly incarcerated individuals, as well as his work as a leader who brings solutions to the community empowering others by helping to rebuild their lives upon release from incarceration.”

How is God calling each of us to love other people? Who all does this include?

Your brother on the journey, Mark

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