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.

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2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: The Harvest is Plentiful « …to the least of these…
  2. Trackback: Where’ve I been…. | ...to the least of these...

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