The Harvest is Plentiful

The now-fruitful pear tree

The Brick City.  Full of Concrete (brick got too expensive, they switched to concrete, but stuck with the same name).  Concrete buildings, concrete streets, concrete side walks. Broken concrete, graffitied concrete. Concrete with trash all over it. BUT behind that brick and concrete church, in a secrete little courtyard right out the door of the church kitchen there is no concrete.  There is DIRT, and growing in that dirt is a pear tree, of all things.

When we first moved there, what hung from that tree could hardly be considered a large grape, much less a pear.  They were small, hard, unedible little min-pears that wouldn’t provide a meal for a squirrel. Believe me I tried to utilize that fruit, I hated to see all those little mini-pears go to waste. But it was useless. And I gave up on that pitiful pear tree and those pitiful little pears.

But…

BUT…

When we arrived at the church building last month, and toured it to survey the “damage” of neglect and disorganization, I popped my head out that back kitchen door and gazed upward to see a tree laden with TONS of pears.  The higher up the tree, the bigger and juicier they looked.  We could finally actually EAT them!! I made a mental note “Add to work project list: send people up on ladder to harvest this abundant pear tree, that is FINALLY yielding decent fruit” (it has been 9 years now since I first gazed upon that tree).

Well, the week started rushing by (click here to read about THOSE crazy adventures), and, well, we never got around to it.  There was so much to be done, and we only had 8 people on the team, and after all, getting a ladder out is a bit inconvenient, and the ones I could reach from the ground weren’t all that impressive. So we just didn’t get to it. All that fruit.  Just sitting on that tree.  Ready to be picked and used to feed and refresh.

View of the tree from the fellowship hall window

The last day there, we were finishing up lunch and I gazed out the window again to that tree and I realized it. I was gazing upon a very visible, tangible symbol of what Newark is. It is a tree laden with fruit, fruit that has matured over the years, fruit that has grown and is a big, ripe size.

And no one is harvesting it.

Just as we got so busy that week, that we didn’t take the time to pick the fruit, we also get busy with our lives out here in the suburbs. And just as that fruit sat silently, the inner city stays silent if we can move far enough away from it.

Just as the quick and convenient pears that I could just reach up and grab with no trouble weren’t all that impressive, the quick and convenient mission trips do result in fruit, but its not all that impressive.

Just as taking the time to get the ladder out, climb up, and get in amongst those branches to reach the really bountiful pears nestled high amid the top branches is a good deal more work and takes more time, it takes more time to go out and get the “ladder” of a life aflame for Christ, going in, and living amongst the people so that you can reach the beauty of the fruit of that person’s life…that kid that should have been aborted by his 17 year old mother but is now an incredible leader, or that middle child of eight all stuffed in a small apartment who has an amazing talent in art, or that older woman who has lived in the neighborhood since before the gangs took over, and still plays Grandma to all the street kids.

There is fruit there. Abundant.

It’s just going to take a little climbing up, getting IN the tree, maybe getting scratched up a bit along the way, but its just waiting to be harvested.

Its ripe.

Its ready.

Who is ready to climb?

No Man’s Land

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.

Ephesians 6:12

The act has been done by countless brave soldiers in past wars.  The act of running, charging, embarking into “no man’s land” only to be pelted by bullet after bullet.  It is incredibly risky business, chances are you will be hit, and chances are that there will be no visible advancement of lines.  But charging must happen in hopes that the lines will be advanced in the future, and someone‘s got to do the charging, if any advancement is to be made.

And charge we did, late in July.  As we neared the battle ground, we already could hear and feel the bullets whizzing in our direction.  Emails and reports revealing webs of miscommunication, blameshifting, lack of integrity, and gossip left us reeling with hurt and confusion as we made our way north to Newark this summer.  Alot of explanation, reconciliation, and forgiveness would have to be extended in order for the mess to be worked through. Then the news that our dear friend, disciple-turned-fellow-partner-in-the-Gospel, was terminally ill, followed by waves of guilt and remorse for not having kept in better contact to know all that she had been enduring this past year. We approached the battlefield laden with emotional and spiritual burden.  On top of that we came physically weak, as, the week prior I had faced one sickness after the next, and I and all of our kids began coughing badly as we traveled northward.

I got the sense that we were about to charge our entire family into the no man’s land, into open fire with no place to hide, and nowhere to go but forward. And how much ground could we really cover, in just ten days time??

It didn’t take 10 minutes of driving into Newark towards our old stomping grounds, to spot people dear to our hearts. We would pull over to see people and after hugging and talking a while the car doors would open up to show off our family.  It happened SO frequently over the course of our 10 days there, that our kids started to feel like they were a museum exhibit.  But with each stop, we were overwhelmed to hear how well people were doing.  Seeds planted 3, 5, and 7 years ago were bearing fruit.  Kids that were just a little older than Daniel Josiah when we first started working with them, were now young men, and working men at that.  Nearly every single (now) young man that we had closely worked with through their high school years, were now holding a steady full time job.  Even kids who had already gotten into the judicial system, and we were afraid would walk that course the rest of their lives, had turned around and were working now instead of hustling. Every stop, also included prayer and an inviting of the Holy Spirit into lives, homes, and streets.  We were charging.

Tatiana used to hold DJ when he was this size. Five kids later, she’s still at it.

As we pulled up into the church parking lot, every inch of growing space was filled with results of the community garden.  Tomatoes, cucumbers, egg plant, squash, and kale grew, ready to be picked. Enormous sunflowers, towered above our heads and hung heavy, laden with seeds soon to be ready for next year’s planting. Seeds had been planted, growth had occurred.  We saw it in the physical as we pulled onto the property, and we would see it in the spiritual realm. Even though organizationally, things seem to have taken a turn for the worse there in Newark (unfortunately, the nonprofit we started will be dissolving this fall) seeds of the Gospel planted were bearing fruit because God has promised they would.

Some of the many sunflowers, in the backdrop of Dre rapping the Gospel. Both beacons of life in an otherwise dark place.

Seeds planted in Shashuna, and her whole family, including her oldest, Rashiem have grown to sunflower sized plants.  Shashuna came to Christ early in our ministry, and I taught all of her kids in Sunday school and children’s church. She became one of my best friends and grew so radically in simple faith in Jesus and His promises that she was soon challenging me. Even when she didn’t make it to church due to a back problems, she would always lead the her four kids in Bible time, and when I’d stop by for visits, pictures of Bible scenes, copies of the 10 commandments, and hand-written Bible verses were displayed on the walls of their small apartment in the projects. That little boy, Rashiem, grew older and began working for the afterschool program, soon he was running the art program, and when the after school program was about to shut down due to lack of funding this past spring, he and his friend Elijah (also still in high school) decided to run their own program through the rest of the school year. Then with summer approaching they planned out their own summer camp for 20 kids, complete with chapel time, art, reading and writing, gardening, and games. Kingdom comings, based on mustard seed plantings.

Rashiem (far back left, red shirt) and his summer camp kids

It was this summer camp that our mission team from Orlando was coming to help with, in addition to doing many fix-up projects for the church building.  Danny left Thursday to “re-arrive” again with the team on Saturday, and while he was away, our coughs worsened and I began to experience the classic feverishness, then cold chills along with an achy body, but I had no choice but to pushed through for all that needed to be done. Running into the smoky haze of firing. Little victories of reconciliation with my terminally ill friend, and sweet prayer times with her, kept me charging.

Saturday the team arrived, dog-dead exhausted after having driven through the night. After a quick rest, they got to work planning out their portion of summer camp contributions and the work projects to be done.  That night we had a reunion dinner and worship time, which gathered together many people who had dropped off from going to church.  We had SUCH a sweet time of worship together and Danny shared from the word.  The Spirit of God was filling and exciting people to be reunited with fellow believers. There seem to be advancement, but then again, our team was experiencing major culture shock. The pull between wanting to see and be with all of our old flock, and then needing to ease the transition for our new one was a hard balance.  We were failing miserably, and we could feel it. A pellet of bullets our way.  Kept praying, kept repenting to team, kept on.

Sat. night-food, fellowship, followed by a sweet time of worship

Sat. night-while we’re busy talking with old friends, our team didn’t quite know what to do with themselves.

On the way home from the sweet worship time, I dropped my iPhone in a cup of water while driving.  It fried immediately.  THE most inconvenient week of the year, I did this. Bullet hit. But not a fatal wound.

Sunday, we had no idea what to expect (we had heard that the weekly attendance had dwindled to about 10), but many more people showed up than anticipated, and we were graced with the Angola singers, whose voices gave us a taste of what heaven will sound like. Over lunch, they shared their unbelievable testimony of God leading them to live, sing and preach.  Sitting before me was my answer to prayer for laborers (see end of post), sent by God all the way from Angola, Africa. In awe of God’s faithfulness.

Angola Singers, sent by God to sing and preach, an answer to years of prayers

That afternoon I drove our five kids (with no phone and no GPS, nonetheless) to meet up with my brother and sister in NYC.  Once we arrived (really late, due to traffic) Daniel Josiah started complaining of being extremely cold, and then a few minutes later, being extremely  hot.   I felt his head and he was running a fever, not to mention the coughing that seemed to be worsening.  “He’s got it, too, now. Lord, I can take the bullets, but my kids?? Please protect them!” That night upon our return (after getting our sick kids to bed), our team meeting went really well, and there seemed to be a breakthrough in everyone’s attitude towards all the culture shock and hardships of inner city life.

Monday, the work projects started and so many people from the community showed up to help. Kids that used to sabotage our working efforts, were now old enough to pitch in and help.  It was a beautiful sight to see. While others were working, I had set up a discipleship time with a sweet girl who had been involved in the ministry from the start. We were diving into God’s word, with my children milling about in front of me, when suddenly she said “Oh, don’t drink that!”  I turned my head to see Benjamin, who was only 5 feet in front of me, start violently throwing up with a Styrofoam cup still in his hand. I snatched him up and began running upstairs with him, as someone else sniffed what had been in the cup and exclaimed “Its bleach!!”  Thoughts of speeding him to the ER to get his stomach pumped filled my mind. Our team member, Brian, called poison control right away and they walked us through what we were suppose to do.  Due to God’s incredible design of the human body, which will not tolerate poisonous substances, an ER visit was not needed because Benjamin’s body expelled it immediately.  His shirt was bleach stained from the throw-up and his body needed to be completely washed down, but in 20 minutes time he was marching around like nothing had happened. Analicia and I were even able to finish our Bible study and pray together afterwards.

Analicia…I still can’t believe how grown up she is now. I taught her when she was in the first grade.

During summer camp that day, I was running to the store and then helping give a hair cut to one of my good friends who had fallen on really hard times while we were away. It was a joy to spend time with her, while helping her in an intensely practical way, and helping restore some dignity to her.

That night Danny told me how difficult it was to have his family around WHILE being the leader of a mission trip.  Two mission fields merged into one, but resulting in feeling very torn.  We carried that weight with us.

Prayer for our family, during worship service on Sunday.

Tuesday, I again tried to balance five children along with a discipleship meeting with the first girl I ever met in Newark, this time attempting it at the park.  She was incredibly patient, as we attempted to have a much interrupted conversation.  Sweet times of catching up, reports of victory over dark seasons of her life, mingled with remorse on my part for not having been better about discipling her through her teen years and keep in better contact while away. If so, could some poor choices have been avoided?

That afternoon after summer camp, I had just loaded up some of my kids, plus my friend and one of her kids in order to take her somewhere, when Danny stopped me “Do you see how badly Daniel Josiah is coughing?!?” he said.  Tense moment. We need to do something about this.  Earlier that day I had called around to different local doctors to take him to, but things were getting really bad.  Our team suggested we take DJ, plus the rest of our coughing kids to the ER to make sure it wasn’t pneumonia or some other bad cough (possibly contracted through contact with their newly adopted cousin from Ethiopia, who came off the plane coughing).  We UNloaded my friend, and then reloaded the rest of our kids and our entire family made a trip to the ER.  For some reason all the nurses loved us, gave us the largest room, and brought us a free dinner from the cafeteria.  The X-rays were clear so a simple antibiotic was prescribed for a bronchitis type illness, and we were on our way again.  This time, to grab our bags and luggage, so that the kids and I could spend the next two days at our friend’s house in the suburbs, to contain the germs and help my kids to rest and recuperate.

Daniel Josiah on a nebulizer in ER

Wednesday may have been the most stressful day to date as I attempted to keep my kids from destroying the house. But I got laundry done and was able to make some phone calls about paying for Daniel Josiah’s medical expenses. Am I completely taken out of the fight?  At least there were soldiers still carrying on…

Thursday I woke up with stomach bug (have I mentioned that it had been circulating our team all week?), and our hosts mercifully watched the four oldest kids while I dozed in bed all morning.  That evening was going to be our huge outreach cookout, but I was feeling so sick, I didn’t know if I would make it.  Finally, I rallied and got all the kids in the car and headed down to Newark.  A blessed sight awaited me.  Four hundred people from the community showed up to eat dinner and hear different Christian performances (rappers, singers, preachers, etc) It seemed as though EVERYONE from our former ministry showed up and it was so sweet to see everyone, dispite my achy belly and weakened state.  I was so glad I showed up, even if wounded.

Serving food at the cook-out

Friday the team had already left, but we stuck around to finish cleaning things up and say goodbye to people. I finally got to spend time with our longest standing staff member who had become like a sister to me over the years. (Another burdened I carried all week was not having made time to be with her much)  We stopped by the projects to drop off some left over food and pray with a dear family.  Meanwhile our car battery died, and it took several attempts to get it going again.  Finally, we were on the road again, this time to deliver food to another dear family we had worked with over the years.  The seven kids and their parents circled around in the parking lot of their apartment complex as we prayed for them, and they for us. “I’m a bit rusty” said the dad, after he finished praying for a safe trip for us. Praise God, through Jesus’ blood, rustiness doesn’t matter in prayer. A bullet deflected.

Kortlyn, our longest standing fellow laborer, and brilliant art and community garden director. She has been a breath of fresh air to me throughout the years.

After nursing Malachi, on the stoop of the projects, waiting for Danny to fix our car. Neighborhood girls were fascinated with the concept of nursing, not bottlefeeding.

And with that, we left the battle ground, not waiting for the smoke to clear, not measuring to see if we made any advancement.  We did what God called us to do, and the result are up to Him.  We were willing to enter no man’s land, in faith that God is making it the Son of Man’s land.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Summer Bullet List

Summer Bullet List-

Such a full summer we’ve had, full of God’s graces in the midst of trials, full of seeing God work amongst His people and full of Kingdom comings…here’s a bullet list of our summer 2012 happenings

-THRUSH (link) consumed our first six weeks of summer, unexpected trial but gained a fresh heart for prayer for those who are suffering from illnesses (thrush is mild compared to what so many endure with no end in sight).   Matthew 8:17 “He took up our infirmities and carried our sicknesses” became the promise I clung to in faith.

-did a Beth Moore Bible study that happened to coincide with the six weeks of thrush.  Experienced a renewed passion and hunger for the Word of God.  Due to her suggestion, started practicing being literally on my face before God at the start of each morning.  No better place to start something I can’t do anyways.

-As soon as thrush cleared up, we were whisked into last minute planning of a two week , 9am-3pm summer camp at OKPCA, with an emphasis on trying to enter into the community at Magnolia Court, the local housing project.  As I led children in memorizing God’s word and doing crafts to reinforce what they were learning from the Word, a passion of mine came alive again.  My own children learn God’s Word daily, but nothing makes my heart sing more, than to see kids exposed to and memorizing the living and active Word of God. The two week stretch was exhausting but also so joyous.

-Each day after summer camp for those two weeks, I sorrowfully helped pack my sister-in-law, Sara-Beth, up for her family’s move to Virginia (and eventually Bangladesh).  I helped her with the very last yard sale, after hosting so many to raise money for their adoption. I am still in awe that God would give me the priceless gift of living 10 houses down from my college roommate-turned-sister-in-law, and that I would get to experience two years of life with little ones alongside one another. Currently trying to focus on the amazing gift, instead of the incredible void now created down in Orlando.

-Friday, July 13, as soon as camp ended, I switched gears to pack a family of 7 up to be on the road for nearly a month.

-Sunday, July 15, we said goodbye to an adopted family member, Adnan, our housemate from Libya.  After living with us for nearly a year, he was leaving to go home for Ramadan and for marriage to his “fiance” (not sure how to explain in it American terms…marriage is SO different in the Middle East!!). He will be sorely missed, as our kids have adored him and we have been enriched by learning so much about Libya, Islam and different cultures. We’ve had the joy of becoming friends with his friends from Libya, Saudi Arabia, Venezuala, Italy and Taiwan.   Thanks to Adnan, the nations have flooded our home.  **A few days before we left, God plopped another Libyan in our lap, who will move in with us after he returns from celebrating Ramadan with his family.

-After Danny preached, we made the 11 hour trek to Birmingham, Alabama to see my almost 87 year old Grandmother. Psalm 19:6 says that God’s Word revives the soul, and my Grandmother is a testimony of the power of God’s Word to transform, to sustain, and to breath health and wholeness into one’s body.  Most women that age spend their days watching television, but my Grandma spends it studying God’s Word for her own personal edification and for the THREE different Bible classes she teaches each week. We enjoyed a SWEET but brief time together.

-Tuesday July 17, went through Atlanta to see Danny’s college housemate and his sweet family, as well as other friends.

-July 18-22 Spent a sweet time time with the extended Iverson clan. HOW JOYFULLY UNREAL it was to see the cutest little Ethiopian running around with his new little cousins.  We were so thankful that our new nephew been brought home just in time to join us for the reunion.  Great is Thy faithfullness was the cry of my heart.  ( I unfortunately was plagued with a horrible stomach bug, then a UTI and then a contact/eyesight issue, but the rest of the crew had a grand old time -and I had fun too when I wasn’t sick in bed)

-July 22-25 Stopped through Waynesboro, VA and flooded Danny’s grandparents house with children and mountains of laundry.  Grandma and Grandpa Chase’s gift of hospitality ministered to us and got us vamped up for the upcoming war.

-During this time we were made aware of a web of misunderstandings, accusations, gossip and the like, which we would need to wade through upon our arrival to Newark.

-Also, I personally was bombarded with the heartbreaking news that a girl who I had discipled and passed much ministry on to, was incredibly ill (I would find out upon arrival to Newark that she has an illness that is killing her quickly and she will die within next year and a half if the Lord does not intervene).  Treking to Newark brought great anticipation but also a heart burdened with grief.

-July 25 Drove up to Newark and joyfully saw SO many people along the street just as we drove into town.  (We seriously couldn’t drive 50 yards without one of us yelling, “Pull over! There is Dashon…or Brandon…or Regina…etc.”  This is the beauty of a community where everyone walks everywhere.)

-July 26, Danny had to fly back to Orlando in order to drive up with our small mission team from OKPCA.  The kids and I stayed with friends in Newark and visited tons of people, while also cleaning and food shopping for the team’s arrival on Saturday.

-July 28 -Aug 3  Led mission team….thats a WHOLE ‘nother blog post! Stay tuned.

-Aug 3-5 Jones family reunion in northern New Jersey.  SWEET time with my father, sister, and brother

-Aug 5 Left for Waynesboro for another stopover on the way back to Florida Arrive at midnight

Aug 7 Embarked on the 13 hour drive back to Orlando, and safely arrived at 3 am on the 8th. Thank you, Lord!

Now Danny and Daniel Josiah start school first thing Monday morning (Aug 13), and life in Oviedo hits the ground running!

***This post would have included lots of pictures, but part of our Newark craziness was dropping my iphone in a cup of water and destroying it, plus all the pictures on it. I might be able to gather some from Danny’s phone and post them soon though.