Back to work in the Hood

As I walked through the low-income housing complex around the corner and down the street from our Church I couldn’t help but think about how much it reminded me of Newark.  Despite the hot muggy Florida air, many residents sat on their front porch, usually in groups, talking laughing, enjoying each others’ company and whatever they were smoking. Kids played and laughed as they ran freely about, being kids and looking for anything fun to do to keep them occupied during the long hot summer of no school. It looked just like the projects we lived next to in Newark, old brick buildings on their last leg, some boarded up and abandoned, other units in full operation offering affordable housing to the less fortunate of the community.  Litter covered the ground, and very little green (for Florida) was growing anywhere… a little brick city in Orlando. I felt at home.
After recruiting a group of kids to hand out fliers for our summer camp, I walked up to a group of young men with some pretty cool dreads chilling by the play ground in the center of the complex where dozens of kids played. I immediately recognized some familiar tattoos and other gang signs, and knew I had found some of the community leaders.  They stared at me as I got closer, probably wondering what this white boy was all about, probably questioning whether I was a cop or a customer… no smiles, just blank stares… We started talking, and after a few jokes and questions they loosened up a bit and I told them I was the new pastor at the small church down the street and was just trying to get to know the people in the community and invite kids to our summer camp. The nearest young man who had just lit up a joint cursed under his breathe as he put it out, while his buddies laughed at the irony that in his zeal to hide his weed from “the pastor” he was all “cursing and stuff.” The very awkwardness of the moment turned into the icebreaker I needed as I laughed too and told him I was cool with him smoking around me since I was used to it.  The young man put it away none the less, but started smiling… Everyone laughed some more. I told them how I had come from Newark to Orlando to study and was now pastoring a small multi-cultural church that wanted to get involved in helping the community in any way it could. I could tell they seemed skeptical of “the church”, and I really couldn’t blame them. Right across the street loomed the 200 plus acre gated campus of Faith World Church, Benny Hinn’s original ministry since 1983, before he moved to California (to focus more on his TV show) and sold it to Rev. Clint Brown. The church has its own security gate at the entrance to the lush campus and “worship center” for the 6,000 plus congregation that worships behind its walls. No doubt my new friends weren’t allowed in, not sure if they really even wanted to go in… I know I didn’t.
I am challenged in my thinking and faith as I wrestle with the fact that such a massive and extravagant church exists right across the street from some of the worse poverty and living conditions I have seen since I have lived in Orlando. Not to mention the blatant and unmasked rebellion and immorality against the Creator and the desperate need for redemption and salvation that is so apparent. There is a ripe harvest of souls in need of Jesus right across the street where 6,000 people who claim to follow and worship Jesus gather each week to sing, dance and talk about the King of heaven who came to our hood to rescue us and invite us into His Kingdom.  I know I am not supposed to judge other people, and other churches for that matter, but I can’t shake the question that always drove and shaped the ministry in Newark and is beginning to take shape in our ministry at Open Kingdom. “Would they weep?”  If the Church, the people of God, disappeared from the community, would the people of the community be sad? Would they care? Did the church have such an impact on people’s lives that it would be missed if it disappeared or moved to a new location? I am challenged as I think of the small little flock of 40 or so people I have the opportunity to shepherd and lead toward Jesus and into the mission our Savior has called us to. Can we make a difference in our community? If a church of 6,000 members whose pastor has his own jet couldn’t seem to make a tangible impact here, how could Open Kingdom? Should we even try? How can we not?
As I handed out fliers and spoke with parents about our summer camp many kids got excited. One little 9 year old girl named Ruthie started translating in Spanish for a lady with two kids who was interested. Many other kids were running around passing out fliers to others, spreading the excitement of the possibility of something that looked fun to do. I had bought a few boxes of popsicles and soon a crowd of kids surrounded me as a few of the moms passed them out. I asked everyone to gather around and said a prayer for the community and encouraged them to come to our summer camp, though inwardly doubtful any of them could afford it. I am not taking any classes this summer so Kimberly and I decided to spearhead the yearly camp our church puts on.  We are doing Tommy’s Time Machine, a fun curriculum we developed and used for our ministry in Newark where we build a Time Machine and take kids back in time to the various stories of the Bible. Open Kingdom does a two week 9am-3pm day-camp every year, but it is usually only Korean kids from the church who come. It costs $190 per kid, which goes to cover the food, supplies, day-trips and all the other expenses involved. I am praying that God will provide at least $1000 so I can scholarship as many of these kids as possible from our community to come to our camp and hear about Jesus.  I know it is a small start, and our Church can’t do much, but we have to start somewhere and this is where I am choosing to start.   Even if we can only add 5-10 kids from the community it is 5-10 more than we had yesterday.  Every person matters, and I am believing God is going to do big things in this community for His Glory through our little Church and the community ministry beginning to be developed here.

If you would like to help go here

Daniel Josiah turns 3!!

On November 21st Daniel Josiah turned three years old. We celebrated as a family by going to Jeepers, an arcade/play place for kids.  Daniel Josiah likes it because he gets to ride the “motorcycles” and a little train that runs around the track.  On November 23rd we had a party for him with all of his little friends.  It was a PUMPKIN party (i know, i know, not the coolest, but next year when he really cares he can have a Spiderman party).  Let me tell you, Daniel Josiah has been talking about his “pawty” since Trinity celebrated her birthday in August. This was a much anticipated event.

Friday, before the party Daniel Josiah helped Mommy bake the cake and bake the pumpkin cookies that we would decorate.  While we were baking, I let Trinity have a scoop of the pumpkin we were using and Daniel Josiah exclaimed “Heeyyy! Tri – ty eat my punkin pawty!!”   Well, fortunately for the guests, and particularly for Daniel Josiah Trinity did NOT eat the entire party, but just a very small ingredient of a part of the party. Hence, we have pictures to share.

After each guest arrived, Daniel Josiah asked “More fwiends comin punkin party?” (as if the present ones weren’t good enough) Apparently,  the guests weren’t TOO offended at this greeting…

“Honey, I think you have enough candy on your cookie”, I said as Daniel Josiah enthusiastically delves into the first activity (decorating pumpkin cookies…a tradition my mother had started during fall times in my childhood years)

I busy myself with making sure that everything is going well,

and I turn my back for one minute and DJ has put TRIPLE

layers of candy on his cookie.  The other kids put a few

raisins and M&Ms on theirs.  All my efforts to keep DJ from

being a sugar addict, out the window…sigh… (fortunately he

forgot about the cookie and never really ate it)

Some of the neighborhood girls came to help with the

games, and the kids had fun going to the different “stations” to get treats. The great thing about when kids are just 3, they don’t QUITE get the presents thing, so instead of having people bring presents for DJ I had them bring small gifts for the shoeboxes we were going to fill for Samaritan’s Purse. I’m sure I will not be able to get away with this in years to come but I thought it was brilliant while I can.

 

All in all the party was super fun, and it was a joy to put on for my sweet little boy.

 

Trinity’s friend , Judah, is graciously pointing out that she is

having difficulty with the concept of SHARING at the

moment. Trinity doesn’t seem to care though…

A Glorious Day

“Saviour, He can move the mountains,
My God is Mighty to save,
He is Mighty to save.
Forever, Author of salvation,
He rose and conquered the grave,
Jesus conquered the grave”

As I sang these words on Sunday, I was overwhelmed with the sense that our God is indeed MIGHTY TO SAVE.  Before me, stood 18 people.  Two becoming members of our church, and sixteen who had been through 2 months of classes, and were now making public declarations of faith through the sacrament of baptism.  Whole households were getting baptized as parents embarked on the mighty calling of establishing covenant families.  These are families that have come from the wreckage of poverty, abuse, injustice, and oppression.  They each came with smiling faces, decked out in their best Sunday attire, despite deeply troubling financial crisis, home struggles, and emotional, physical, and spiritual baggage that you could write a book about. Their struggles will not decease because they got baptized, but they were publicly declaring the Rock on which they stand in the midst of those crisis. The Rock which bore the greatest crisis of all-the weight  and punishment of all of our sin.

As exciting as it was that the Lord had and is saving these individuals, I stood in greater amazement at God’s MIGHTY power to save ME.  I did not come from such outwardly hard, or disturbing circumstances, but oh, the hardness of my heart.  The hardness of a self-righteous hypocrite that would, more often than not, like to point a judging finger rather than extend a compassionate hand. Just as Jesus said in Luke 18:24 says” Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle that for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God” I grew up “rich” in every way….my refrigerator was never empty the last week of the month until the welfare check came, I didn’t grow up with cockroaches infesting my run-down bedroom, I had parents that spoke the truth of God’s Word and their own love for me, instead of being abandoned by one or more of my parents, or being beaten and abused by an alcoholic father, or being verbal abused by a stressed out single mom. I got the riches of the Gospel preached to me at home, at school, at church, at camp, everywhere instead of first encountering the living God when I was thirty, after having made MANY mistakes and gotten used and abused because of them.  I have been RICH in every way. But some of those very riches have led to a self-righteousness and a comfort in what I was equipped with , not a continual crying out to God for His hand alone to save and aid. It truly is hard for the rich to humbly enter the kingdom.  But, just like Jesus said, it has been with the loss of my life, my privacy, my riches, my agenda, that i have truly gained LIFE.  If it had not been for the struggles of the individuals standing in front of me on Sunday, and the need that they came to me with- a need that, as a Christian, I am called to fill by the strength and grace of the Holy Spirit, then Oh, how “rich” i would still be in my own eyes.  It has taken being confronted with the great needs of these dear struggling people, and the brokenness of not being able to graciously attend to them in my own strength  or the “wealth” of my own self-righteousness, that has revealed to me my own lack of wherewithall to “get it together”.  I am the struggling person, confronting the High King of Kings, with a debt I cannot pay, a lifetime of baggage, the influence of the world upon me, the hardness of heart that only ONE can break through.

He is Mighty to save.
Forever, Author of salvation,
He rose and conquered the grave,
Jesus conquered the grave”

He truly has conquered the grave, including MY grave, the whitewashed tomb grave.

Analicia, who was in my very first Sunday School Class and who I've had the privilege of seeing grow into her own faith in the Lord

…he wounds, but he also binds up; he injures but his hands also heal…. Job 5:8

Isaiah 58:8 Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard.

Isaiah 58 is a passage we frequently visit, for our own encouragement, and for the encouragement of the various teams we have come through Newark.

But if you had asked me three weeks ago about this passage, I would have told you “ in my head I know its true because God said it, but my heart says “yah, right” “.  I would have also told you that the “spending” part that precedes this promised healing and light is almost not worth it….but that was because I was still in the “wounding and injuring” phase of the Job 5:8 description.  After a month of feeling so wounded and raw, I am finally be bandaged up by our Savior. These are some of the “bandages” that the Lord has provided…

**On Saturday, my older brother Ken, came into town (which is SUCH a treat!) and took my sister and myself into NYC for my birthday celebration.  I was telling Ken all about our trials and tribulations and the people across from me finally interjected -”wow, thats amazing what you guys are doing! we’re Christians, too, and that really inspires me to really get out there and actually DO something”

**Danny has showered me with gifts and sweet messages and has done so many things in the past two weeks to show me that I am his first priority (besides the Lord) and that what matters to me, matters to him.  This has been a sweet and healing balm on my storm-raged heart and mind.

**The church consistory has set up some “rules” for us Iversons to protect us and keep us sane. At first I felt that some of it was unnecessary, but we wanted to submit (Listen to advice and accept instruction, and in the end you will be wise. Pr. 19:20) and I feel incredibly loved and cared for by these “rules” and discipline to protect our family.

**It has been a WHOLE lot more CALM around here, as all the school kids and teens are back in school instead of at our house or knocking on the door for potty breaks and drinks of water.

**On Sunday, during children’s church, I was teaching the kids about Moses and how God called him to lead the Israelites.  He made up all kinds of excuses and didn’t want to do it, but God said “I will be with you”.  It hit me that I was preaching about myself…not wanting the role, but God promising to provide and go with those He calls to leadership.

**Sunday night, one of our friends organized a little birthday party for me at a restaurant, and had each person in attendance write a memory that had of me, and then what they liked about me.  Those cards touched me sooo deeply.  I would like to here interject a story…We were all piling in the car to go to the restaurant, when two teen guys from the ministry came buy and Danny was like “hey boys, you want to go?” and of course in my sinful and selfish mind, I am thinking “Thats another $30 that we’re going to have to pay for…” and Danny was like “it’ll be O.K”.  Having them there ended up making it really fun, AND they wrote some of the messages that have touched me the most deeply.  It was all a sweet gift from the Lord, as if to say “Your labor is not in vain. These guys ARE watching and are being touched by your example”.  (not that I set all that great of an example most of the time-but people recognize real love and genuine compassion when they see it).  Their letters made me think of our welcome in to heaven.  When we get there, any suffering and trials we have faced will seem as nothing in light of our Father’s love and approval through our Savior Jesus.

These are only a few of the ways that God has blessed me and refreshed me after a dark season of my heart.  What a merciful and gracious God we have-instead of punishing me for my pity party, the Lord has lovingly lifted me out of it.  What a patient Father we have!!

some of the guys who live or have lived with us

Vernard, One of the guys who blessed me so much at my party.

The delinquent blogger…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’ve been utterly terrible at blogging this summer, but hopefully as things settle into more of a routine this fall, I will be better about blogging. So that a big chunk of our lives is not excluded from this blog, I’m going to give a quick recap in the form of “praises” and “petitions”  to sum up the summer. Praises for the good things, but petitions for the hard things that are still matters of prayer.

Praises:

->I have made it through a tiring, yet good first trimester of our third child, nicknamed Iverfive, until this little one is welcomed into the world.  For the record,Daniel Josiah has declared that its a boy.

-> We had a very successful six weeks of summer camp, that was almost completely run WITHOUT Danny or me being involved.  This is excellent! Other people are stepping up and that frees Danny up to do more networking and vision casting and frees me up to be mommy.

->We had several interns here this summer-Danny’s brother, Mark, and his sister Martha. Plus Lindsay Pearson from Virginia.  It was SOO nice to have other people laboring and bearing the burden with us, not to mention the fact that I actually had GIRLS around me (after 2 1/2 years of testosterone overload both in my house and in the ministry)

-> My sister, Betsy, has been living with us for the summer and she has been a wonderful listening ear, and a great encouragement. She’s been working full time with another nonprofit in our city.

-> The summer camp employed neighborhood teens to be counselors, which kept nearly twenty teens off the streets for a good part of the summer and taught them about work, maintaining a job, and provided some income for them.

->Daniel Josiah, Trinity, and I took 9 Newark youth to a week long camp in PA.  It was wonderfully refreshing for me and the kids (to be in nature and enjoy fellowship with the other leaders) and it was a great week for the youth to grow closer to Christ.

->Danny and Safe Haven have received several awards from the city of Newark.  Danny’s name is known throughout the city circles as one who is a hard worker and advocate for our youth.  Danny and I were also invited to see a Broadway play with Mayor Cory Booker and other city officials. (see picture). It was quite the honor and treat.

-> 25 Newark youth, most of which were the counselors for the summer camp, went to a VERY spiritually intense summer camp.  There were several confessions of faith and it was sooo exciting to see how on-fire these youth were when they got back-initiating prayer, confessing sin, wanting to be a witness, etc.

-> Our family plus one other leader took 16 youth down to Haymarket, VA to lead the VBS at my dad’s church.  They all did a great job and worked really hard.  They were amazed at how well behaved the suburban kids were 🙂 and I believe it was very refreshing for them.  It also gave them a glimpse of how life is lived in other places (not so much drama, crime and craziness).  I believe it was very eye-opening for them.

->The church bought another parsonage for the pastors. One pastor will be living in the downstairs apartment, our teen boys will be living in the basement apartment and we will be living in the upstairs apartment.  Can I hear a resounding “Praise God from whom all blessings flow!!” ? We are very much in need of a space and a home that is OURS especially with this third child on the way.

Petitions:

->We had a major domestic violence situation arise (see danny’s last update email)  It resulted in many late nights of trying to help the family and the father who was abusing. It has been extremely taxing on the family and others who have tried to support this family of seven children.

->I have had a nearly-three-month-battle with lice that I caught from one of our kids in the neighborhood.  HOURS have been spent trying to rid my head and our home of these pesty parasites, but seemingly to no avail….This has been a major lesson of not relying on self to get a problem taken care of AND the value of persistent prayer (still waiting for God to work…).

->We have had a MAJOR thieving issue this summer. My engagement ring and wedding band were stolen out of my cosmetic bag in our bathroom.  One of the many kids or teens who had used our bathroom took them (our bathroom has basically been a public restroom this summer).  The church offering was stolen out of a hiding place in a drawer in our home office.  Thankfully we found out who did it, but AFTER all the cash was spent. Plus, Martha’s cell phone, Mark’s computer mouse,  a youth on a mission team’s $250, a girl’s $80 out of her purse, and many other small things have been stolen this summer from either our house or the church property.  The rings and the offering were the most devastating to our spirits. And more devastating than that is, the fact that all of this thieving has happened by kids and teens that are IN the ministry.  Its not outside people breaking in…its kids we’ve opened our home and our church and our hearts to.

->Stupid things that kids do, like intentionally clogging toilets in our church, trashing the church and safe haven, standing on top of cars and breaking our church van’s windshield, etc are little things that add up to chip away at your sanity.

->The man who was abusing his family got out of jail and then tried to get back with his family, despite a restraining order.  Danny went over to intervene and ended up getting pushed over twice and repeatedly hit in the face. He was sore for a few days and still has the remnants of a large bruise on his side, but other than that he is ok.  We both see the sovereignty of the situation and ordeal.  The 10 year old boy who usually got the brunt of the beatings, came up to danny after the father had been arrested again, and said “Pastor Danny, thanks for taking those punches for me.”  At least the father is going to be locked up for a long time now, with no chance of bail and the family will be safe.

->Shortly after all the stuff was stolen and danny was beat up, I had a major break down (its become a yearly-end-of-the-summer tradition)  This breakdown was not a sweet crying breakdown,  but rather a hitting the wall, screaming at the top of my lungs breakdown.  (followed by an hour of weeping).  At 1:30 am , after the crying had subsided, danny said “pack your bag, we’re leaving”.  We left the kids with Martha and spent twelve hours at a hotel to just be alone, to talk, to pray, to journal and to read.  The time was refreshing and sweet, but the conflict of emotions aren’t all worked out yet.  I know my own sin and selfishness played the biggest role in the ordeal, but the rawness of it is still there.  Sometimes I feel that living with constant people in and out is going to turn me into a hermit by age 30.  I will say this, I experienced an all new “poorness of spirit”…the feeling of being totally bankrupt of any good intentions, loving feelings, or a desire to serve anyone in and of myself.  My only hope for this calling of innner-city wife, mother, laborer is the Lord incarnate IN me through the Holy Spirit.

Trial upon Trial

 

 

 

**Note** I wrote this back at the end of June but am just now publishing it…oops

Sometimes it just doesn’t stop….the last week of our after school program, and the week before we were scheduled to get some much needed rest up on Cape Cod, it felt like a hurricane of trials hit us.  On top of me feeling burned out and overwhelmed by all the responsibilities I had somehow accumulated, we had some major incidents as follow:

Thursday afternoon, we were trying to give a young man in the neighborhood some work to do in order to earn a few bucks (he was recently out of prison and its REALLY hard to get a job once you’ve been locked up).  So we said we’d pay him to clean out our car, upon which he enthusiastically asked if he could back the car up so that the vacuum would reach.  Danny was running out the door, and had given him the key, and i was in a fog of fatigue and desperately trying to prepare for the after school program.
In the confusion we let him back the car up, despite the fact (we later found out) that we both had major premonitions about it.  So, I take a quick break from my work to stand on the back porch and guide him as he backed up.  Praise God, Daniel Josiah was on the porch with me.  This is what happened:  He started to back up with the drivers door open, and as he reversed, it was slowly denting into another van in the parking lot with our car door being bent in the wrong direction.  I repeatedly told him to stop the car, gradually getting louder as he didn’t quite catch on.  I end up yelling to him “Stop the Car!!” as he panics and slammed on the accelerator.  I watched in slow but very fast motion as he speeds backwards,  slams THROUGH our metal garbage shed, knocks over our iron cast fence around the property, lodges the car on the middle pole of the fence, and digs a big hole with the front wheel as his foot is STILL on the accelerator. At this point, I can’t quite believe what I just witnessed, Daniel Josiah is frantically crying and I start shaking uncontrollably.  I WOULD like to note some “praise God”s- No one got hit, no one was behind the fence on the sidewalk, he hit the pole and didn’t continue through the fence and out onto the road, and again DANIEL JOSIAH WAS WITH ME! Also, this individual experienced GRACE like he had never experienced before.  Afterwards (when all the firetrucks and bystanders had arrived) he pulled me aside and continued to say “I’m sooo sorry, I completely understand if you don’t want me to come around here any more.” But, of course, we forgave him and didn’t punish him away as he is used to experiencing) So we managed to get the car dislodged from the pole (I climbed over the garbage shed into the front door, and the firemen lifted the back up as i slowly drove forward).  The door re-bent in the correct direction (but is stuck open still) and we had to call it a day.

THAT very night, someone bashed in the back window of Danny’s dad’s car and attempted to steal it out of the parking lot.

Early the next morning, Danny was at Ju ji tsu and pulled his back out rendering him in MUCH pain and inability to walk.

The following day I had to coordinate all of our youth choir and their involvement in a production at the Prudential Center ( a huge deal for the kids) That ended up taking basically all day and didn’t get done picking up people and dropping them off until midnight.

Sunday, I stumbled through Children’s Church, cancelled Sunday School, packed the car up, took Danny to our amazing chiropractor friend (THANKS DREW!) and hit the road for Cape Cod. (Where I soon found out that I had gotten lice from one of the kids in the ministry)

After all these ordeals, and a time of quiet on Cape Cod, I distinctly felt the Lord leading me to take a break from all ministry commitments for the summer….soon I would find out why….

Family Dinners

Over a month ago we started hosting “Family Dinner” every Wednesday night at our church, where we would feed all of our after school program kids and their parents who came to pick them up, as well as anyone else who would like to join us. We have realized what an impact eating together can make on children.  We teach them manners (they have to be “excused” to get up from the table), we have the older kids act as “servers” for the younger kids at their table, we do Bible verses and a blessing, we have family devotions, and then do dessert.  Last week we had 75 people.  One of the verses we have taught the kids is Revelation 3:20-21 “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him and he with me.”  How thankful I am that the Lord has invited us to HIS dinner table-to eat of His goodness and grace, and enjoy sweet fellowship with Him. Where O, where would we be without HIM!

After dinner all the kids gather on stage and

Danny reads from the “Jesus Storybook Bible”

(compliments of SB and Eric Noll).  Here we are

all gathered to close in prayer.

Glimmers of hope

For the past few weeks I have filled in as program director for our after school program.  Betsy is back in town (she’s going to live here this summer-YAY!) and since her job hasn’t started yet, she babysits all afternoon for me, so that i can be with the kids in the program.  BOY is it hard work.  Danny and I talk about how we managed to get the “cream of the crop” in terms of having some of the hardest kids, from the roughest backgrounds.  (one fourth grader, after getting made fun of, stormed off to the kitchen to retrieve a knife-fortunately one of our leaders was following close behind her and we ended up having a long talk about it) Anyways, I feel that much of what we do isn’t even about the program but just loving these kids and PARENTING them.  They were never taught to respect people (people older them OR their peers) and they don’t really know what disciple is because some of their parents are so uninvolved in their lives (one of our teen workers reported that he sees several of our kids out at 1:00am and 2:00am just hanging out by themselves some nights). Having our afterschool program is like starting from square one in terms of teaching these kids how to respect people, how to listen, how to be kind  and how to deal with negative emotions. One day I was tired of getting walked over so I decided that yelling would be the answer.  I was super strict, (borderline mean) and I yelled alot.  When I came home and told Danny my new tactic, he gently reminded me that our goal is not to just get them to listen and to do what we want, our goal is their hearts. And slowly but surely, as we continually show up and invest in their lives, I believe their hard hearts are and will continue to change. God is so gracious to allow us to see little glimmers of heart changes, and here are a few:

 

-> one girl, “Kellie” used to be SOO bad in my Sunday School class. (her mom is one of the Crip leaders in the projects)  She would be absolutely unmanageable, go off on pouting sprees, pick fights with kids, and refuse to participate in the activities.  But since she started the program, her behavior in my Sunday School class has changed DRASTICALLY.  She participates, works hard on her assignments, and always volunteers to read. Last week, she was about to say something mean to one of the kids when she caught herself and stopped mid-sentence.  I got really excited that she has shown self control (so excited that at first, she thought she was in trouble), and had chosen not to say something hurtful.  This is HUGE for these kids because saying mean things to one another is as natural as breathing…I think half the time they don’t even realize how rude, mean spirited, and hurtful their comments are.  Then today during Sunday School she was having a “relapse” in some of her bad attitudes and disrespect, so I told her she had to leave my class.  She then joined in with another class’s craft and drew me a picture and wrote me a letter of apology for her behavior. This also is an enormous step…I don’t think that these kids even understood the concept of apology prior to coming to our church. 

 

–>Another girl, “Debbie”, who is a ringleader for most of the kids and a big bully a lot of the time, has been absorbing Scripture and all the stories and facts that we have been teaching.  This past week she disagreed with a way that I had disciplined another of our students and I got the typical attitude and “That ain’t fair!!! (If I got a nickle every time i heard that phrase, Danny and I could buy our own house!) I told her I was the leader, she doesn’t understand everything, and I wasn’t about to explain myself to her, and then just let it be.  Forty five minutes later, she came up to me and told me she was sorry for having an attitude.  

 

–> One of our teen leaders, at our weekly meeting, really “got” it as we did a Bible study and we questioned WHY we are doing what we do.  He immediately said “LOVE!!”.  He said there is no other explanation for why Danny and I would put up with what we do, other than love.  And he also declared that love was the only thing that would change these kids.  (Note- we don’t require our teen staff to be believers, but based on his responses, it seems that our “Jesus-time” and our devotionals are sinking in to his heart as well as the kids. 

 

–> One kid, “Damon”, who gives us the most trouble, broke down and wept last week and opened up about his grandmother dying.  Many of these kids grandmothers do more loving and nurturing than their own mothers do.  I was encouraged to see him finally opening up and getting to the “why” of his behavior. 

 

–> “Ken” got in trouble one day, and had to be in time out so I sat down with him to try to talk things out, but I then got distracted by two other kids who were fighting and disrespecting me. After I dealt with them, Ken  came up to me and said, “Miss Kimberly, I thought we were going to have a talk.”  My babysitter had to leave so I took him over to my house to have our “talk”.  This resulted in four other kids lining up at my back door so that they could have a “talk” with Miss Kimberly. This whole ordeal made me realize even more, that negative behavior is just a ploy to get some attention.  If they are bad, then they will get pulled aside and have to have a heart to heart with one of the leaders, with the leader giving them their undivided attention. Undivided attention, especially the calm kind, is a priceless rarity in their lives.  

THIS is the Gospel

Last Monday night I cried myself to sleep…waves of grief washed over me as I thought of the child that would never have the opportunity to experience the splendor of God’s earthly creation, grief for the mother who would never get to hold her little baby, sadness over sinfulness and selfishness, and sorrow for the weight of shame and guilt that this mother would now carry….

 

Monday night, the very day my mind had drifted into plans for a baby shower, I found out that my friend had gotten an abortion. My friend (we’ll call her Cleone) doesn’t believe in abortion. She swore she would never get one. She always used to tell me, I’ve been through so much and I’ve messed up so much, but at least I’ve never had an abortion. 

 

Cleone has several beautiful children whom she has poured her whole life into. Her family here in Newark is like a diamond in the rough. She believes in LIFE, and she loves babies. But last April, she found herself pregnant against her will, grieving over the death of her grandmother who raised her, angry at her fiance who tries to control her, and upset at God for putting her through all this…so she went and did what she had always sworn she would never do.  She killed her baby.  We wrestled through the grief she experienced but rejoiced in the repentant heart she had as she told God she would never do it again.  Then this April she found herself pregnant again just as far along as she had been when she had the abortion the year before.   She took this as God’s second chance for her.  Yet she still struggled with the possibility of getting another abortion.  She knew God’s will, and what is right, yet certain medical conditions (she has a spine condition and arthritis in her back, but has never gotten surgery for it for fear of getting cut open) made following God’s will extremely difficult.  With mourning sickness, on top of her spinal condition, on top of the multiple children she must raise, on top of the part time job she must hold, on top of the fact that she would not be allowed to take pain killer to help ease the intense pain, on top of the small two bedroom apartment her family was packed in, on top of the inconsistent relationship she had with the father of her kids, on top of the fact that if she carried this baby it would be her 5th C-section…. it was HARD to resist the temptation of abortion.  We had long talks on the phone, I watched her kids so she could get a break, we read God’s promises, we prayed for His strength.  We even went and got a sonogram done, and received counseling from a women’s resource center.  We SAW her 10 week old unborn baby squirming, kicking and punching around in her stomach.  Cleone, had never had a baby shower, and my plan was to give her her first. I fell in love with this baby, as I continually encouraged his or her mother to have the faith to carry it.  Yet it was so hard for her to stay focused on God’s will, when there was a way out to all the pain.  The abortion clinics are there, her friends all were encouraging to get an abortion, they had all had them and “didn’t feel guilty” (or so it seemed)

 

But last week, the pain in Cleone’s back and legs got so intense she was throwing up and started to feel numb.  She went to the ER and the ER doctor immediately gave her strong painkiller, despite her pregnancy, and then told her she was basically trying to commit suicide by trying to carry the baby.  She got home and the next day went to the clinic. 

 

As I spoke with her about everything, she was crying and asking if God was going to punish her kids because she killed this child, she was asking “why?”, why didn’t God take away the pain, why didn’t He answer her prayers, why couldn’t He just fast forward to 9 months and already give her the baby. I didn’t have the answers, I was broken with grief, and all I could do is pray for her on the phone…and as I prayed I felt God’s Spirit descend on me as I, by faith, claimed the shed blood of Jesus over Cleone and her sin. The truth of the Glorious Gospel washed over us, and I realized and prayed that SHE would realize that Jesus already took the punishment that she fears for her children. GOD sent HIS OWN CHILD to take it.  Because of that sacrifice she did not need to live in the fear, the guilt, the shame she was experiencing. THIS is the Gospel we preach, THIS is the love we proclaim.  The “righteousness” that she had clung to by saying she would never have an abortion, was displaced and now she could fully cling to Christ’s righteousness, because now she was so broken that Jesus truly was her only hope. Blessed are the POOR in Spirit. This whole ordeal has made her realize the absolutely poverty she is in without a Savior to redeem her and intercede for her.

 

Several days after our prayer time, she called me to give me an update.  She had been getting up and reading her Bible every day, she was repenting of ways she hadn’t loved her kids or her fiance, she was devouring books by Billy Graham and others and sharing with me what she was learning.  She said it felt so weird to have such peace about things, and feel so happy despite what she had done. She felt like the storm was over. And it is, the storm of the fury of God’s just wrath, had been directed towards his own Son.  She may now bask in the glorious sunshine and the peace that comes after the storm.  THIS is the Gospel.  God taking broken people, broken choices, broken situations, and pays the price to heal, redeem, and restore. PRAISE JESUS for he has been sent to 

                            bind up the broken hearted, 

                            to proclaim freedom to the captives

                            and release from darkness to the prisoners

 

                            to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor

                                and the day of vengeance of our God,

                            to comfort those who mourn and provide for those who grieve in Zion-

                                to bestow on them 

                                           a crown of beauty 

                                                                  instead of ashes

                                                the oil of gladness 

                                                                        instead of mourning

                                                    a garment of praise

                                                                           instead of a spirit of despair…

                                                                                            (Isaiah 61:1-2)

My Middle School Girls

Here are a few pictures of some of my middle school girls.  It is so exciting to see them growing in their walks with the Lord.  I fee like they’re “getting it” as we study the Word each week.  I see the immense weight that peer pressure has on their lives, but i also see a fight and a desire to not succumb to it.

Let me give you an example:

Aquilah was simply walking across the street three weeks ago when some of the middle school girls were sitting on my back porch waiting for the rest of the girls to arrive. She walked right up and asked what we were doing so I invited her to join us and honestly, I didn’t really think that she would.  To my surprise, she said “yes” (i think that the aroma of freshly baking brownie in the air was a nice incentive as well).  She opened right up during the Bible study, and she’s shown up every week since.

Well this week we did a study on doing things “for the least of these” because when we do, we’re doing it for Jesus.  So we made bread and muffins for some people in the projects.  As we were leaving to go deliver them, she asked in horror “we’re ALL going to deliver them NOW”, then she grilled me as to exactly where in the projects were were going , and then she begged me to stay behind, but then she finally agreed to go with us but insisted on going a round-about way to our destination.  WHY?  because her friends (who are all part of a girl gang, Grapes) always hang out in a certain spot every afternoon, and if they saw her hanging out with church people then she’d really “get it” from them.

I was so proud of her for going with us despite the fact that we saw her friends and who indignantly asked her if the reason she was with us was for the food (we gave them muffins too).  She dealt with the situation with grace, and said “no, i go to Bible study every Thursday now”. Then, she even volunteered to pray for the old, sick woman who we went to visit.

We stopped by her mom’s apartment and when she introduced me to her mother she declared “she’s our bible study leader, i go to her house every thursday”.  Her mom was excited that she was getting involved in something positive.

God’s working in Aquilah’s heart, and its not because of anything we’ve done…He started a work in her and brought her to us when she was ready to grow.  Praise God that this is HIS work and not ours! He’s going to be working no matter what, to draw His lost children to Himself, and we just get the privilege of being partners in the venture.

***Note***  While we were walking back from our deliveries, Aquilah mentioned a girls night that we had hosted over 2 years ago.  A group of girls had come and made other younger girls cry because they were picking on them…Aquilah had been part of the bullying group.  The Lord is taking her out of her old “family” (girl gangs) and bringing her into His family (the family of GOD)

 


Previous Older Entries