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July 2014

After Hugo 3

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The Leighton Ford Mentoring Ministry
The voice of the Lord is powerful .. the voice of the Lord breaks the cedars
Psalm 29

Twenty years ago this past September Hurricane Hugo, blasted through Charlotte like a runaway tractor trailer, one of the most savage storms ever to assault the US mainland.

That night Jeanie and I retreated to the center of our house, and lay holding each for hours in the den on the ground floor, hoping the house would not crash in. We heard – “crack” “crack” “crack” – trees shattered by winds up to eighty miles per hour.
As morning came we counted in our yard twenty-seven trees that had been knocked down, as if a giant had chopped them down with a huge ax.

The next day we were to start a strategy planning session for our fledgling Leighton Ford Ministries. But since all power was out we had to cancel. Yet God had another planning session in mind – one of his own.

A few days after Hugo I headed up to a nearby lake cabin for a day of prayer and thinking about my new calling: to identify and develop the emerging leaders in evangelism.

As I prayed and listened, it seemed that I heard a still small voice saying,

If you want to make a difference in the world, it will happen not by multiplying programs, but by investing in people.

That day by the lake I wrote down a dozen names of younger leaders from around the world in whom I could invest, and who in turn could mentor others.

Hurricane Hugo was devastating. But it also opened me to listen in a deep way to the Lord. Now, looking back over two decades, I can see more clearly this was God’s vision for this ministry to help younger leaders worldwide to lead more like Jesus, and more to Jesus.

The Arrow Vision and the Point Group

From the names I wrote down by the lake emerged our “Point Group” who meet with me each year. Many of them have emerged into key positions of leadership in their areas of the world, and some have their own leadership mentoring groups.

We call them our “Point Group” signifying the “point” of an arrow – an image from Isaiah 49:3 about God’s servants being “polished arrows” in the Lord’s quiver.

They became the point, the advance cohort of our ministry committed to help one another (like am arrowhead)

• to stay sharp
• to grow broader and deeper in their kingdom leadership
• to help others to do the same.

We meet once a year for a week. The format is simple: we read the Bible, share how it speaks to them. Then each member tells about the joys and challenges of their ministry. And we surround them in a circle of prayer.

This is a week they do not want to miss – a renewal time they need amid the pressures each one faces in our changing world.
Who are the Sigdors?

Strange name, isn’t it! This group is composed of pastors and leaders in the US and Canada – and one from Uganda.
They are a decade younger than the Pointers, and rather than being a “Junior Point Group” they chose the middle name of one of the members – Sigdor!

Like the Pointers, they meet for an annual retreat, and also stay in touch through the year. Several of them have also started their own mentoring groups, which include a number of men and women who received our Sandy Ford scholarships while in seminary.

Spiritual Mentoring

When we began our ministry the focus was on leadership and evangelism: helping emerging leaders to lead like Jesus and to Jesus. But there has been an important shift. While evangelism and leadership are still central, we have seen the need to “deepen and strengthen emerging leaders on their journey with Christ,” to help them stay healthy personally and spiritually. So our focus now is on spiritual mentoring of evangelism leaders: listening to God together, whether one on one or in groups, and helping them to respond to God’s call.

And my own personal mission statement these days is: to be an artist of the soul, and a friend on the journey, helping these leaders to become all they can be in their own lives and ministries.

The New Mentoring Community

One of the Sigdors went with me on a hike during a retreat time and said,

“Leighton, as the years pass you must not let this vision go. You should start a mentoring center, that will help others to carry on.”

Jeanie and I and our board became convinced there was a way for this mentoring stream to grow wider and deeper. So under the leadership of Anne Grizzle, one of our board members, we launched what we call our “Mentoring Community.”

We invite leaders we have mentored and others who feel the same call to learn about the art of spiritual mentoring. Then if they sense a call to a similar ministry we provide encouragement, counsel, and seeds funds for up to three years to launch similar groups.
New groups are underway in the US and Canada, Germany, Australia. France and others will soon start in the Middle East, Germany, Belgium, Angola, with still others to come in North America

The Personal Retreats

We also provide personal retreats for leaders – and they come to Charlotte, which means I don’t have to travel all the time. Which Jeanie (and I) like very much!

Friends with a lake home (near the spot where I heard the Voice after Hurricane Hugo) – offer it use for personal retreats. They leave a key hanging outside and say, “Invite others to come as often as you want.”

Over two or three days we talk and listen to the Lord together, pray together, then they spend quiet time with God. These days are often very profound times, of rest and renewed strength and vision. They are simple, but simply powerful times.

The ministry of writing

Along with the personal mentoring I have treasured in these recent years the opportunity to do more writing. Transforming Leadership – my book on Jesus as a leader – has just gone into its seventh printing. The Attentive Life (not The Alternative Life as a radio interviewer called it!) seems to have touched a number of folk very deeply.
Now I am starting my next book about how I have sensed God speaking in my own life – as after Hurricane Hugo – about listening for “the incomparable voice” of Christ.

The Storm and the Stream
Twenty years ago, in the unsettling aftermath of Hugo, the call of God came to me in a new way – the Voice after the storm.
Three years ago, when we met to launch the Mentoring Community, there was a park nearby with a fountain from which water flowed into a series of descending basins.
That fountain evoked for me the “river of God” so often depicted in Scripture – what Jesus described as “streams of living water” – which would flow from within those who believe in him (John 7:37-39).

That image became for me the seed of a painting titled Streaming Light: Deep and Wide – a symbolic expression of the mentoring community spreading throughout the world.

After Hugo came a quiet Voice.

From that quiet Voice flows a stream of grace, a healing stream in a hurting world.

Attachments: the painting Streaming Light: Deep and Wide

Leighton

A Prayer of Thanks for Our Cat

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Blessed and bountiful Creator,

Who gives breath to all living things

for Your praise and our pleasure,

We bless You today for Butternut,

a most regal and elegant companion

for these fourteen years –

co-regent of our home

explorer of our neighborhood
hunter of our backyard

scourge of squirrels and birds

friend of his chosen few.

Now, as we miss his presence ,we bless You

for the caring hands that put him to sleep,
for his resting place among the fields,

in the memories of our hearts,

and in the depths of Your eternal mercies,

Through Jesus Christ our Lord,
Amen.

Leighton

October 25, 2013

A Lenten Trapeze

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Years ago the Swiss therapist and spiritual guide Paul Tournier caught my attention with a dramatic image comparing life to a trapeze performance in a circus.

The trapeze artist grasps the bar of a swing, launches out, swings back and forth, higher and higher, until at the farthest point he or she lets go, trusting their partner to swing out at just the right time to reach out, clasp arms, and swing them to safety on the other side.
Just imagining such a moment makes my stomach clutch, and my breath catch! It also makes me realize how apt Tournier’s image is for this Lenten season, a time to let go, and reach out.

The Bible is filled with stories of this risky movement. Abraham is called to leave the security of his ancestral home, and to go out by faith to a land he did not know. The disciples of Jesus leave the boats and livelihood and families, saying “We have left all to follow you.”

Jesus himself said, “I have power to lay my life down, and to take it up again.” Notice how his letting go is tied to the certainty of resurrection.
Paul’s sees himself not as a trapeze performer but a runner. “Forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what is ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.”

Can you picture yourself, this Lenten season, as the trapeze artist or the runner, “letting go, and reaching out”?
The past year was for me in many ways a year of loss: young leaders I have mentored facing life-threatening illnesses; my brother-in-law Billy reaching his 95th birthday but growing weaker; the traumatic death of my dog Wrangler, my close companion for nine years.

“I feel that everything is going away,” I told a friend.” She surprised me by asking, “What time does God’s store close?”
I thought back to my parents’ jewelry store, which closed at 6pm every day except weekends. Then I realized that God’s store does not close! His grace is available 24/7 for every letting go, and every reaching out.

As I look back over my life I remember painful partings, letting go of “attachments” which had seemed absolutely vital, even wondering whether life would be whole again. But God was calling through loss to gain, letting go of the past to enter into God’s future.
Each of us has certain “attachments”, habits or people, or even addictions or possessions which we clutch for security. And each of us is again and again called to “detachment” in order to trust God more.

I suggest two questions to ask as you embark on your Lenten journey on Ash Wednesday next week.

What do I need to let go? What unfinished business is there that is holding you back – of hurt, or dreams, or failure, or the normal patterns of the last year? Try holding out your hands, visualize placing those concerns in them, then turn them over and open them, releasing them into God’s care.
To what do I need to reach out? To what new adventure or challenge may God be calling you? Turn your hands upward, open them and lift them, and receive at least a token of God’s grace.

As the Quaker Thomas Kelly wrote,
(God) plucks the world out of our hearts, loosening the chains of attachment. And (God) hurls the world into our hearts, where we and (God) together carry it in infinitely tender love.

So this Lent – let go – reach out – trust God

Leighton