The Quarterly Newsletter - February, 2021
Cedar Ridge Community Church
Our vision statement begins with the words “Cedar Ridge is a community of hope and transformation.” Hope and transformation are what make us a community. Hope and transformation hold us together. We have a deep conviction that God has not given up on the world; that God has not given up on anyone! That means we have hope that no matter how dark it may seem in the world, no matter how fearful the circumstances, Light and Love will ultimately overcome. It means that no one we meet is a lost cause, because no one is a finished article yet. It means we do not even despair of ourselves, because each one of us is a sacred reservoir brimming with creative possibility. There is always hope!
And this gives us the courage to be honest about ourselves, to share our brokenness with others, and to lean into their warmth, empathy and acceptance. This is the hallowed ground on which love has traction and holds us together as a community. As we each reciprocate, we find not just acceptance, but strength in our togetherness, and the power to change. In this way, hope gives birth to transformation. And it’s because transformation is possible that we dare to hope. So, transformation in turn gives birth to hope! Somewhere in this rhythm, our lives resonate together and we are a community—one body, one family—broken and beautiful, hurting and healing, limping and dancing.
This newsletter is full of real stories of hope and transformation from within our community. They describe precious incarnations of Divine Reality in our very real, and at times very difficult, lives. They sing out loud that God is with us, and as we read them, may we each be filled with hope, inspired on our own journeys of transformation, and overcome with joy for the gift of community we share.
With love and gratefulness,
Matthew Dyer, Lead Pastor
The most profound time of my life was living through the Nigerian Biafran War as a young girl. Waiting on the banks of the River Niger with my family, packed like sandwiches with few belongings in our car, waiting for the barge to ferry us across to Eastern Nigeria. Fleeing to my village, Isuikwuato, having travelled over 9 hours on a jammed up, bumper-to-bumper road. Fleeing from enemy armies. At the time, we had no clue where we were heading…
Fast forward to bullets flying all around us for months and years. Living in thick wooded, scary forests, riverine creeks, hearing the cries and songs of creatures of the air, land, and rivers, in pitch dark conditions and lighted bonfires. Makeshift wooden stick beds made by my father to elevate our bodies off the earthen floors to avoid been bitten my creeping creatures. Bullets lighting the skies nearby like flakes of disturbed mountain snow mixed with fireworks.
These scenes graced my childhood, and still haunt yet warm me—heightening my sense of gratitude for the safety that was gifted to my family and me. We are Still Here, amidst all the toils and dangers. This is my transforming story that informs my life.
The secret to our survival then and now is to believe. I am an ardent believer in the One within us as God Almighty, Able to Save Us from the seemingly unending perils we faced. My born-again Christian Uncle Elijah would gather the family in the evenings in the compound and teach us songs of praise and how to pray. These experiences also influenced my parents’ further quest to know the Jesus Christ story; they got hooked and indoctrinated their children and family along the way. The joys and challenges of the Christian life have been mine through life’s ups and downs, and I seek to make more sense of It all as I dance along my beautiful, yet questing life.
I was raised a super-conservative Lutheran, and was taught that only Lutherans, Catholics and Reformed Church believers go to heaven. Then I went off to college and fell in love with a wonderful guy who was Jewish. I actually felt conflicted about whether this relationship is ok in God’s eyes… I remember very clearly sitting in church, contemplating this situation and knowing “This is Love. It’s totally ok.” That sat so deep and felt so complete, from that point on I had a new understanding of “God is Love.” And I left that Lutheran church. What followed were a few decades of religious and spiritual exploring, culminating in finding a spiritual home at CRCC.
Over ten years ago, my friend, Kate Buxton, asked me, “How are you doing?” I gave her a perfunctory answer thinking she wanted to discuss other things. However, she would return to that theme throughout the conversation. It was profound at the moment and had a long-term impact.
Kate gave me the space to explore what I was feeling and how it was impacting me. I felt immersed in something I barely had words to express. I felt seen at the moment. However, that opening didn’t end at that moment. That opening allowed me to reevaluate so many other parts of my life even after the conversation ended. Feeling heard started me on a road of healing and growth.
I struggled a lot during my late teens and early 20s—in my relationships, in feeling like I had purpose, in feeling like good things could happen in my life. The world is more understanding to kids who go through family hardship, but as I entered adulthood, I felt the pressure to fix myself and be normal. Like most of my school friends, I moved away from home when I was 18, and I carried baggage from my childhood and teen years. The two things that had a huge (and precious!) transformative impact on my life were music and a handful of friends.
I had grown up playing the piano and clarinet, and being part of orchestras and a few choirs. I loved music, but it wasn’t my “thing” growing up. It is funny, I think I always wanted music to be my “thing”: I remember watching this local band play at a church event and praying that one day I would be in that band singing. My prayer was unexpectedly answered! A year or so later, I was the substitute keys player for this band and traveling across England to play at a Christian weeklong retreat. Long story short, during that week away I wrote my first song, and it was like a huge part of my heart opened up. When I hurt, I wrote a song; when I was happy, I wrote a song. I developed a close-knit group of friends at school, and we would write silly songs. Songwriting and singing were the way I could process my life and communicate my feelings and thoughts.
In terms of friends—the year after I finished high school, I moved to a city a few hours away to attend a (very strange!) Christian music school, and I moved in with four other young women who also attended the music school. In so many ways, these girls were my teachers and my guardian angels. They helped me grow in my relationships and literally taught me how to deal with conflict, and how to be a friend, and how to trust a friend. They were so patient with me, and I was a mess so much of the time. My ability to vaguely function in a social group and develop friendships is because of those ladies—two of whom are still my close friends and still provide me with a safe space to be that little child again and process things in my life.
Shobha and I traveled to Ipala with the groups from Cedar Ridge in 2014 and 2016. Our friends from CIDHER, who hosted us, are making huge improvements to the community. We were able to see families receiving wood cook stoves so they didn’t have to breathe smoke with every meal. We were there for the opening of CIDHER’s new computer lab. We visited schools and a house build. Still, Ipala can be shocking to our first-world sensibilities. Widespread poverty with little access to education and opportunity is not pretty. The hotel where we stayed seemed pretty bad until we saw the homes of the people we visited.
And then we met the children. With bright eyes and big smiles, they welcomed us. They seemed to live in the present moment and be happy. Their eyes were full of wonder and expectation. On the one hand, our hearts would break for them because we know too much. On the other hand they gave us hope. Hope that their lives would be fulfilled and happy. Hope that they would grow to care for their community as we have seen our friends from CIDHER and the people of their villages care for each other.
The children of Ipala filled us with hope. Maybe we at Cedar Ridge can help through our partnership with CIDHER to improve education and health. Maybe Ipala can become more prosperous as this generation grows and takes their place in the community. Maybe what we do can bring more hope to this place. Certainly the bright eyes of the children of Ipala gave us hope for the future. They already know how to love each other.
by Alison Pasternak
I have thoroughly enjoyed the memes of Bernie Sanders wearing homemade mittens, sitting in a socially distanced folding chair with his arms and legs crossed during the inauguration. That picture has been photoshopped countless times, with the Senator inserted into iconic pieces of art, movie stills, album covers, and famous sites around the world including our very own church.
Before taking a seat, the Senator could be seen carrying a manila envelope. Amusing guesses have been made as to what the envelope contained—from 11,780 votes to an article he cut out of the newspaper that he thought the new president would find interesting.
You know what that envelope did not contain? The $149,197 that Cedar Ridgers donated to our year-end giving campaign. That money has been safely deposited in the bank and will be used to pay our bills and fund our vision. Many thanks to everyone who contributed to our year-end campaign! We reached 93% of our $160,000 goal. Moreover, the most recent tithe report shows that we are currently at 94% of our year-to-date target. On behalf of the Board, thank you, Cedar Ridge givers! We are grateful for your tremendous generosity.
Guat’s Up: Back to School in Ipala
by Bryan Peterson
As an expression of following Jesus and loving our neighbors, Cedar Ridge is committed to building friendships and working with our partners to advance economic justice for the most vulnerable people in Ipala, Guatemala. A primary way we do this is through funding educational initiatives, including providing scholarships that improve the long-term employment potential of low-income students. These scholarships help secondary school students, most of whose families could not afford to send their children to school beyond the fifth grade.
In 2020, Cedar Ridge supported 54 students in 8 different schools in Ipala. Nineteen of these students graduated in October! Recently, our partners (CIDHER) selected new students to replace those who’ve graduated. They began to receive scholarship support as they started a new school year in January. Most of these 54 students will attend school with a hybrid model—some days at school and some days at home—as they continue to navigate the COVID-19 crisis.
Thanks to those of you who give to the Cedar Ridge general fund, from which these scholarships are funded. And thanks to those of you who continue to pray for the students and people of Ipala!
Food Assistance to Greencastle Families
According to the advocacy group No Kid Hungry, “The number of Maryland families struggling with hunger has skyrocketed since the coronavirus swept across our nation, creating an economic crisis alongside a health one. … Data from Northwestern University shows more than 1 in every 3 Maryland households with children is currently struggling with food insecurity.”
This statistic is both shocking and sobering. In one of the richest countries in the world, children should not go hungry. But we can also take great hope in the outpouring of assistance from local government and community organizations. There are over 100 sites in Montgomery County alone where residents can access food assistance; and countless faith communities and other grassroots organizations have stepped up to help neighbors in need.
We have focused our assistance on 20 families with students at Greencastle Elementary School. Each month Cedar Ridge members and friends donate to provide bags of groceries (particularly fresh produce), and grocery store gift cards. During our January food drop, we were presented with a letter from the school coordinator, Gloria, and a number of thank you cards from the families themselves. (You can read excerpts below.) Thank you for your continued support of our Greencastle families—through donations, financial gifts, and prayers. Together, we are part of the change we want to see in our world!
“I feel like I never have the right words to thank you for everything you do for our Greencastle ES community; you have been such an amazing blessing. Your constant support never goes unnoticed by our community members, as they are impatiently waiting for your donation… During this past holiday season, you once more helped our most needed families, and for that, we are all very thankful! May this 2021 be filled with so much love and blessings for you and your loved ones.”
“Thank you so much for donating food in this critical situation. They helped my family which means so much for us. We really do appreciate. May God bless you all.”
The Hope of Farming
By Ruth Campbell
Since the beginning of the pandemic, more people than ever have been planting gardens. As I write, it’s January—we have still to really experience winter this year—and yet many seed varieties for the coming spring and summer are already sold out. Perhaps we are planting food crops in record numbers because we fear the total downfall of society, with grocery stores emptied by marauding gangs, and swarms of murder hornets devastating any food stocks that remain.
Or perhaps—on the contrary—it’s because planting a garden is one of the most hopeful things we can do. We plant and water, trusting that warming soil, lengthening days, and friendly pollinators will bring about seed germination, plant growth, blossom, fruit and harvests. Like so much in life, gardening requires hard work, plus lots of waiting and hoping.
We are preparing for another season on the Cedar Ridge farm. With a grant from Montgomery County, we have purchased a cart with grow-lights to produce our own seedlings, so we are less reliant on overwhelmed nurseries. We hope this year will allow for a return to service days and sangria nights. But even while social distancing remains a necessity, we hope you will join us in the hard work of farming. And we confidently hope that our cultivated half-acre of God’s beautiful world will produce a bountiful harvest once again for our neighbors in need.