This blogging journey coming to an end…..and a new one beginning.

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The early days of inner city ministry

It started out as a place for a young mom doing full time inner city ministry alongside her husband to process and document the things they were doing and learning. It trickled, died, resurrected, morphed and followed this family as we welcomed moves, pregnancies, children, changes of plan, struggles and victories into our lives…. all under the gracious Hand of God, ever drawing us closer to Himself through the process.

Eight years this place has acted as an ebenezer of sorts…a place I return to, to reread and remember what a merciful God teaches through the gentle (and sometimes not so gentle) promptings of the Holy Spirit. It has been a place where others are allowed “into” to ponder, mourn, and celebrate along with us. My earnest prayer has not been for outsiders to look “in” and compare, or contrast their own lives with ours, but rather for them to catch glimpses of God’s goodness, guidance, and faithfulness to his promises in our family life, and then to take Him at His Word in their own.

With some sorrow and nostalgia,

this eight year journey is coming to a close…

…but not without the embarking of a new one.

If you are interested in the next phase of this Jesus-seeking, church-planting, Kingdom-laboring family’s journey, join us over at

www.journeytoshalom.com

as we document together the journey to discover and display Shalom in our hearts, lives, home and community in an underprivileged neighborhood of downtown Atlanta….all places desperate for the Prince of Peace to visit.

Embarking on a new sort of inner city ministry...with six of our own kids involved.

Embarking on a new sort of inner city ministry…with six of our own kids involved.

**If you are currently a subscriber to lovingtheleastofthese.com, then please be sure to subscribe to JourneytoShalom.  Although this blog will remain up, all of the current adventures will be posted to JourneytoShalom, and there will be no more notifications coming through this site. The lovingtheleastofthese archive has travelled with us to our new spot, but our subscribers haven’t, and we don’t want to lose you in the journey!

 

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From the Mouths of Babes….or young lads who challenge the home or hospitality mentality.

The curtain rod fell down on my head as I balanced on a stool for the tenth time that day, all with hyperactive children running all around me a few feet below. I half caught it and then slammed it down on the stack of boxes below.

“I can’t get anything done around here! I can’t even get curtains hung!”

Danny tries to calm me.

“Honey, its OK. It will come together eventually. ”

“But I’m so tired of not being settled! I just want everything in its place and I want our house to be done!”

Danny could have talked til he was blue in the face, but it was my son’s words that penetrated.

“Mom, nobody in our neighborhood even has curtains. Why do we need them? Right now we’re just like everybody else.”

Oh, how his words sunk in. put this nesting mamma in her place. put priorities in order.

My neighbor's make-shift curtains, which is how my entire neighborhood "does" curtains

My neighbor’s make-shift curtains, which is how my entire neighborhood “does” curtains

What does it really look like to come from a “different culture” but choose to become one with the culture we have moved into?  What does it look like to to truly become incarnational in this context? Right here in America, where I can drive 15 minutes to a friends house and see beautiful tapestries hung and in place?

Maybe it means prioritizing people above the picturesque home I desire.

Maybe it means enjoying children more than enjoying neatness and order.

Maybe it means welcoming neighbors into a home that still has boxes stacked in the corners and walls still to be painted, simply because today I choose people over projects, the “to BE” list, rather than the “to-DO list”. 

Do I choose to spend the afternoon preparing a meal for houseguests who will then experience the meal in God's word? Or do I spend the afternoon tackling the boxes?

Do I choose to spend the afternoon preparing a meal for houseguests who will then experience the meal in God’s word? Or do I spend the afternoon tackling the boxes?

We chose the houseguests, and the Bible study.

We chose the houseguests, and the Bible study.

and let the stack of pictures to be hung just sit there.

and let the stack of pictures to be hung just sit there.

I don’t completely forsake the chipping away at household projects, or the desire to create beauty, order and grace in a home. For now, the slowness of the process can be embraced as a needed process of soul sanctification, neighbor identification, and it becomes far bigger than just my home transformation.

After all, maybe Liddell, who lives in a home with a blue tarp roof,

IMG_7635would feel far more welcomed into a home that is also making good use of large blue tarps

our backyard and the blue tarps...what drives me crazy, might actually drive our neighbors towards us rather than away from us.

our backyard and the blue tarps…what drives me crazy, might actually drive our neighbors towards us rather than away from us.

Every neighbor in this area lives in a home that needs work done on it, and despite my desire to “just be done” with house projects, being in this state of process might be the very thing that unites us instead of divides us from our neighbors.  Those walls needing paint, and that unlandscaped yard, and that pile of building supplies, might be the very thing that keeps the “us and them” mentality at bay…the very “us and them” mentality that left this neighborhood so forsaken those years ago.

So maybe with a death of my desire,

a desire that feels so natural and justified to me,

actually creates a void

in which new life can emerge,

the life of a neighborhood connection,

a commonality,

an identification,

a “with”ness,

that creates a platform for

witness.

Which in the end, is far more important, far more eternal, than curtains being hung.

~~~~~

Guests in our home, AND the curtains were hung (in the backdrop) both desires fulfilled, but not until patience was learned.

Guests in our home, AND the curtains were hung! (in the backdrop) Both desires fulfilled, but not until patience was learned.

 

 

Eventually those boxes were unpacked.

Eventually those boxes were unpacked.

The house looked like this when we moved in...

The house looked like this when we moved in…

And looks like this now. PROGRESS!!

And looks like this now. PROGRESS!!

Progress, but not perfection...still little things needing to be done!

Progress, but not perfection…still little things needing to be done!

 

Moving forward in weakness

On the steps of the church

On the steps of the church…miraculous gathering of body and attention span (sort of)

It had been a frazzling day. (Come to think of it, every day is a frazzling one with six kids).
That Sunday we had ushered those six kids out the door early in the morning to attend worship at our “sending church”. We had scooted downtown to attend an event at the sight of the new after school program starting up, stopped by the house we are renovating, and were headed to the evening service of the church where Danny is interning for the year. As we rounded the corner, we spotted Mike, one of our future neighbors  walking down the street. I quick rolled down the window, had Danny pull over and called out to him, “Mike! Hop in, we’re headed to church!”

He hopped in, told us about how he had wanted to go to church that morning but had overslept, and it was perfect timing that we had seen him as he walked to the grocery store.

We sat in worship, and I struggled to stay focused at times, when my days are so full and flustered, it’s difficult to keep my brain from being so as well. My mind wanders…..
I feel so weak. I feel like I’m running on fumes. I feel like six kids fills up every waking every single moment of every single twenty-four hour time segment.

And we are suppose to be starting a church soon.

The last time we worked on starting a church, we were ten years younger. That was six kids and a whole lot less responsibility ago. We were full of energy, drive, eternal optimism, and naïveté. We ran programs, put together outreaches, offered hospitality and loved on a lot of people. We poured every waking (and sometimes,even non-waking) moment into ministering to those God had placed in our lives in Newark.

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Christmas outreach at the church plant in Newark. Daniel Josiah could still be toted around in a back pack carrier….six kids won’t fit on my back anymore…

 

Now we are suppose to be starting a church and we are older, more tired. Not tired of Kingdom work, but tired from getting up 3-4 times a night with whichever kids is sick, having bad dreams, or wets the bed. Six kids with a range of needs-sports schedules and nursing schedules, school projects and potty training endeavors, social commitments and diaper changes…its a full time job….for three people. I used to run from one massive outreach to another and now I run to one crisis mess after another. The time between each meal, I mean, kitchen explosion is a mere three hours…on a good day.  I have so little left to give after tending to half a dozen kids day in and day out. How are we going to have the energy to pour ourselves out like we did last time? How is Danny going to be able to lead us all in this endeavor when he’s currently half-crippled with a shoulder that is still 6-10 months away from full recovery? How are we going to battle the sin and disfunction in our new community, when the sin and disfunction already runs deep…in our own home, in my own heart?

the half dozen

the half dozen

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you can only imagine the discord X 6 when they don't feel like cooperating...

you can only imagine the discord multiplied by six when they don’t feel like cooperating…

We filed out of our rows to go up to receive communion. I partake in faith. A weak one.

I slumped back into my seat, head bent over, laying it all out to a Jesus who sometime feels far.

I feel a strong arm squeeze my shoulder and pat me on the back.

I look up to see Mike’s dark skin in contrast to the pale walls.

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Mike worshipping next to Danny, different skin colors, same needy heart

 

He.gets.it?

He.gets.it.

He gets that this is hard. He sat in that car and heard all the fires I put out concerning children’s needs in just the 15 minutes that we drove across town.

Mike has his own set of struggles and hardships. And I have mine. And did we not just eat of the same table? The one that represents the Bread of Heaven that has promised to satisfy hungry souls?

When we moved to Newark, I knew I “had” the bread and my job was to hand it out to everyone. Now, I’m just as starving for it as our soon-to-be new neighbors who know street life and struggle far better than I.

We are moving into this mission as common beggars toward the same God. How different from the “I’ve come to bring you the Savior ” mentality I had as we entered the ministry in Newark ten years ago. Now, I’ve got a “I’m desperately clinging to the Savior. You want to help each other along on the journey?” mentality.

I needed that squeeze on the shoulder from Mike every bit as much as he needed a ride to church. We’re in the same boat, him and me. And maybe our presence in each other’s lives will be the very thing that keeps us looking out on the water towards the One who walks on it, instead of looking at the waves that threaten to crush us under it.

It’s a weak place to be…just barely catching one’s breath in between the rolling waves of raising six children.  But a perfect place for our Savior to walk through.

For the humbled place, the weak place, the struggling place is often the place where He likes to show up.  He did it when he showed up in the womb of an unwed Jewish teenager.  He did it when he showed up in a stable to sleep amongst the farm animals.  He did it when He walked and talked among the poor folk, the outcasts, the unclean and the unlawful.

So my only prayer, our only hope, is that He shows up in the weak place again. The weak, but available place of my heart, and our marriage, and this home, and that neighborhood that He’s called us to move into.

So we move. Move forward in weakness.

But there’s that promise about weakness.

A promise that HIS power is made perfect there.

So we go. with weakness, yes, but with availability, and expectation that somehow God’s spoken word will truly create an image of His power being perfected…not just despite the weakness….

but IN it.

 

But he said to me,

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses,

so that Christ’s power may rest on me.

2 Corinthians 12:9

How to be where Jesus is….

Note:  I posted this a week ago, then the Lord burdened my heart with this passage and I took it down. Today our family participated in Elder’s Prayer and when they were praying for me I felt released to repost it. Isaiah 58:1 flooded my mind, along with Proverbs 31:8

“Cry aloud; do not hold back; lift up your voice like a trumpet…” (Isaiah 58:1)

“Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute.

Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.” (Proverbs 31:8)

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I eagerly drove off…. it had been a long two days, helping a friend with a yard sale, juggling five kids, trying to put my home back in order after the rush of the week and the un-tended to chores that had piled up during the rush, and also the  planning for the open house we’re having next week as a testimony of God’s faithfulness to provide our needs in light of the mold crisis  loomed over my head. The kids were in bed, Danny was hanging out with a friend at home, and I was going to get my coveted alone time-catch up on emails, write, and read.  So I swing by the local QT gas station to grab a cup of coffee, and the minute I pulled up, I knew this wasn’t going to be a quick trip.

I saw her, bare legged, pulling herself around in the wheelchair, talking, or at least trying to talk to anyone who walked by. “I’ll buy her a sandwich and pray with her, and then I’ll be on my way”  I think.  I get out of my car into the cold night air and she wheels towards me and shouts a cheerful “Good Morning!”  (It was 9 pm) I tell her “Thank you, but its actually night right now.”  I go to open the door for her and then I realized….it wasn’t just her legs that were bare, it was her waste down that was.  “Um, are you going in here? ” I ask, “because you don’t have any pants on”.  She stops her chatter about car batteries, and pestering landlords, and cans of whip cream and says “Oh, I have shorts on….” and she looks down and then quickly covers herself with her jacket.

My mind starts working on how I can get some pants that will fit her, while she wheels herself over to chatter to the next QT customer, not asking for money, but not talking sense either.  She seemed busy talking to everyone in the store so I got my coffee and went to leave but as I hopped back in the car, I heard some men, who seemed like they were familiar with seeing her around, talking about how she came out with no pants on this time. I got back out of my car after the “how involved do I get” pause, and went up to them and asked what they knew about her.

A resident of the Extended Stay (the government pays them to house homeless and mentally ill people) right behind the QT gas station.  Crazy.  Comes down to the QT a lot. I told them I was going to go get her some pants, and the one smoking the cigarette nodded a knowing look…”that’s really kind of you ma’m”.

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“Well, even if she’s crazy, she’s still made in the image of God and deserves to have dignity.  I’m gonna go help her claim some back.”

I hopped into the car, and ran over to my neighbor’s house and explained the situation, and she supplied some sweatpants and a sweatshirt for her. and I ran back to the QT,clothing in hand.  Ironically, my QT (Quiet Time) was trickling the drain, but somehow I felt closer to Jesus doing what He does than if I had been just reading about what He does.   I wasn’t studying Him,  I was infilled with Him.  And I wouldn’t want to be doing anything else .   On my short drive back and forth to QT this story kept running through my mind.

Mark 5:1-20

They came to the other side of the sea, to the country of the Gerasenes.[a] And when Jesus[b] had stepped out of the boat, immediately there met him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit. He lived among the tombs. And no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain, for he had often been bound with shackles and chains, but he wrenched the chains apart, and he broke the shackles in pieces. No one had the strength to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always crying out and cutting himself with stones. And when he saw Jesus from afar, he ran and fell down before him. And crying out with a loud voice, he said, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me.” For he was saying to him, “Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!” And Jesus asked him,“What is your name?” He replied, “My name is Legion, for we are many.” 10 And he begged him earnestly not to send them out of the country. 11 Now a great herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside, 12 and they begged him, saying, “Send us to the pigs; let us enter them.” 13 So he gave them permission. And the unclean spirits came out and entered the pigs; and the herd, numbering about two thousand, rushed down the steep bank into the sea and drowned in the sea.

14 The herdsmen fled and told it in the city and in the country. And people came to see what it was that had happened. 15 And they came to Jesus and saw the demon-possessed[c]man, the one who had had the legion, sitting there, clothed and in his right mind, and they were afraid. 16 And those who had seen it described to them what had happened to the demon-possessed man and to the pigs. 17 And they began to beg Jesus[d] to depart from their region. 18 As he was getting into the boat, the man who had been possessed with demons begged him that he might be with him. 19 And he did not permit him but said to him, “Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” 20 And he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him, and everyone marveled.

That crazy lady, the one that it is easier to laugh at or ignore or try to “chain” with our modern version of restraint-various prescriptions of pills (which I saw all strewn about her little motel room when I brought her back home later), that crazy lady is human flesh, still with the imprint of God on her. Made in His image. Still worth the precious blood of Jesus which He willingly shed so that screwed up people like her, and me, could be saved to know Him.  She was still capable of being emptied of all demonic forces that sent her mind, and body, reeling around in a fantasy world.  She was still capable of being clothed and in her right mind.  That demoniac who lived among the tombs, he was worth Jesus’ time.  And if so, this crazy lady was worth mine.

Forty five minutes later, after a round-about time of try to get her to put pants on in the public restroom (and me ending up putting them on for her), and the QT staff asking me to push her back up to her room in the Extended Stay or else they would have to call the cops to come get her to take her back, and me praying over her and us, as I pushed her amongst her modern day “tombs”, rows of rooms housing other down and out, unwanted people in society, and finding her room door wide open, with trash, clothes, shoes, food and boxes streaming out of it onto the sidewalk and street,  then finding those useless chains that she, just like the demoniac, always broke free from, those chains that never could restrain her either.  Those empty bottles of pills…there must have been twenty of them all strewn around her disaster of a room, they were her “shackles broken in pieces. None had the strength to subdue her. ” And I prayed over her, and I spoke the dignity of the Creator of the Universe over her, and I claimed the precious blood of Jesus shed for her to set her free, to clean her out, starting on the inside so that the Holy One could live within her, and as I prayed and poured out my heart to the Father, she did a funny thing, an honoring thing,

she started bending over,

right there in her wheelchair.

She bent over in a way she couldn’t (or wouldn’t) when we were trying to get her pants on.  My heart cries trailed off….”Patricia, what are you doing?”

“Oh, I”m just bowing while you pray….”.

And when I was finished praying, her back wasn’t healed, she wasn’t ready to enter regular society, and everything she said didn’t make sense quite yet but there was something in her eyes…like a little eager girl.

And I looked into those eager eyes, and said “Patricia, God loves you, He really loves you.”

And she took my hand, all cold from the night air, and started patting her face with it.

“Yes!  He does.  I know.  He loves all the little children.  Amen!”

And I told her I would come back.  And bring her a Bible. And in my heart I coveted a Sprinter, so that I could load her up the next morning, her and all her neighbors in that Extended Stay, and bring them all to church with me.

But in the meantime, I strolled back to my car, under the night sky, singing boldly and loudly,

‘Jesus loves the little children. All the children of the world.

Red, and yellow, black and white, they are precious in his sight, Jesus loves the little children of the world.

Jesus died for all His children, all His children of the world.

Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in His sight, Jesus loves the little children of the world. “

And the others, loitering around that Extended Stay probably thought I had caught some of her crazies.

But I had really caught Jesus.

And when I came around the corner to my car, that man with the cigarette was there again. And he said, “what you did tonight was really good. Most people laugh at me ‘cuz I’m homeless, and they make fun of her because she’s crazy. But what you did was really nice. Thank you. ”

And I told him, what I had been thinking in my heart.

“It wasn’t me, sir.  It was Jesus, He lives, you know. He lives in His people.  It’s all Him that does stuff like this. All Him”

And I found where Jesus is.

He’s IN us.  As we move AMONG them.

the crazies.

the outcasts.

the homeless.

the ones that don’t have it all together,

and know it.

He always shows up in those places.

And if we make ourselves available to Him,

we

will

too.

Not about the soccer schedule….

"Our Kids" at one of our youth group meetings several years ago. "

“Our Kids” at one of our youth group meetings several years ago.

Spoke to my best friend yesterday.

We didn’t shoot the breeze about our kid’s soccer teams.  Or about ballet schedules being busy.  Didn’t talk about the sale at Macy’s or about what color we will paint our kitchens.

No, the mothering issues she faces are far more intense than that, for she resides in Newark, NJ, where every day is a battle for a child’s life. A struggle against a society so broken and dysfunctional due to the generational curses of sin and selfishness…theirs and ours.

When asked what was going on in her life, she unloaded the enormous burden she’s been carrying for the past several weeks in.  One of her surrogate children came to visit…came to visit with bruises all over his body.

Bruises due to his stepfather’s anger.  His anger and his leather belt.

She tried to contact that boy’s mother, but that mother is in such an intense addiction due to her own mother’s neglect and abuse because of her addiction (the cycle goes on and on), that she can’t think of anything beyond how she will get her next fix. My best friend didn’t dare call the cops, because that means that child and his two older sisters would be taken out of the home and tossed around the foster care system.

A system that my friend herself endured as a child, and to this day bears the wounds of abuse within it.  She just could not do that to them.

Weeks passed by with him living in her home, hiding him, being a refuge for him from the wrath of his stepfather, and those weeks rolled into the school year starting. She worried and fretted because wasn’t a legal guardian and couldn’t enroll him in school. But she prayed. And she cried out to God to work in this situation. Miraculously, that boy’s grandmother, showed up out of nowhere and agreed to take him and enroll him in school .  A beacon of light for this hurting boy, whose hurt and crying out for help has come in the form of behavior that has kicked him out of four different school.  Will that grandma have what it takes to help this eleven year old boy overcome the ripping apart that happens in a child’s heart when his mother abandons him for her drugs, and a stepfather left to raise him beats him?

THESE are the questions my friend battles with…on top of her own financial struggles, on top of raising numerous children in a violence-ridden city, on top of not having a local soul to help her, pray for her, encourage her, because where she lives…she’s the most stable one around.

And if all that weren’t enough, towards the end of the conversations she says,

“Miss Kimberly*, I know you are going through alot, and I hate to tell you this…but I need you to pray…..

….last night a fourteen year old got shot and killed in Rosie’s (a housing projects two blocks from our old home).  I haven’t found out who it was yet…after I saw it on the news, I started calling around but I still haven’t found out who it was…it might have been one of our kids**”

*She still calls me Miss Kimberly from when I started teaching her daughter’s Sunday School class those 8 years ago.

**”OUR kids” means one of the kids who was part of Safe Haven

A child. got shot. and killed.

And I’m worried about toxic black mold.

Daniel’s heart-wrenching story started flooding all over me again.  All the thoughts and emotions, and tears and grief I experienced two years ago over his death, they surfaced like it had happened yesterday.

And my heart goes into a panic, and I feel like a caged animal. Longing for a city, a people so dark and broken. Longing to be THERE. Longing to DO something. Longing to simply show up in that place, to at least be a tiny light for kids who have nothing, kids who get beaten by grown men, kids who have mothers so hurt by the abuse they themselves experienced that they can only live  for the numbing affects of their heroine addiction. I feel trapped. trapped here in the comforts of the suburbs, in the mess of dealing with mold and moving in, and school schedules and housework.

Something must be done.

Those gates of hell, must be stormed.

The darkness must be penetrated.

Penetrated, not with a financial gift, or a handout, or a soup kitchen,

but penatrated with the Power of the LIVING CHRIST, whose precious blood has already been spilled to break those kids, those abusive dads, those heroine-using moms free from the power of sin.

and the LIVING CHRIST shows up in that neighborhood through his Body.

Who will go?

“God Doesn’t Need You” and why I don’t believe it.

Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. 14 Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.

15 Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. 19 If they were all one part, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, but one body.

21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” 22 On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty,24 while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, 25 so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. 26 If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.

Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.
1 Corinthians 12:13-27

I’ve heard it is many times, as I’ve lamented our not returning to Newark, NJ to work among the inner city poor there.

God doesn’t NEED you.

And I know another person that heard words similar-

Young man, sit down! You are an enthusiast. When God pleases to convert the heathen, he’ll do it without consulting you or me.

That young man, he and I, we don’t believe it.

Not for a minute.

William Carey, who has become known as the Father of Modern Missions, was told to to shut up and sit down.

I’m so glad he didn’t.

And, frankly, I can’t either.

Not with knowing what I know, and seeing what I’ve seen, and knowing that these inner city poor are less than a 15 minute drive from most of us.

Saying that God doesn’t need me, is like saying God doesn’t need the sun to sustain life on the earth.

Granted. He could have designed things differently, so that He didn’t need the sun to sustain life.

BUT HE DIDN’T. IT IS HIS CHOSEN MEANS OF GIVING LIGHT TO THE EARTH.

And as a now-child of the King, and part of the Body of Christ, I have received the mandate to be the light, and to let my light shine before all men, that they may see my good deeds and glorify my Father in heaven. (Matthew 5:14-16)

And if I’m not doing anything different than my neighbor-being kind to those who are easy to be kind to, or befriending those who don’t make me feel too uncomfortable, or welcoming people into my home and my life people who have just as many resources as I do, or not going too far out of my comfort zone, then I’ve got no good deeds to even awaken someone’s attention-much less lead them to glorify my Father in heaven.

God made my hands and feet to be a visible display of HIS hands and feet in the trenches of dirt and heartache, and suffering and need. It’s how He’s chosen to do it, to include us in His Glorious Rescue Mission.

God doesn’t need me.

But He does.

Because I am a part of that beautiful Body of Christ, in which all of the fullness of Christ dwells.

And if I’m not GOING to the margins, to seek and save the lost, if I am not GOING to those who have yet to hear the good news of Jesus’ love, then I’m not obeying the Head. I am a disfunctional part of the Body.

A Body which is His CHOSEN means for making His glory known, CHOSEN to be the vessel through which His redemption plan unfolds, CHOSEN to be the mouthpiece to testify to the truth that Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, CHOSEN to be the hands and feet and heart that actually suffers, and strives, and labors to make visible a (now) invisible Savior who suffered and strove and labored to win His rebellious people back to the Father.

God doesn’t need me.

you say,

Oh, but He does.

And He needs you too.

Ann Voskamp communicates these thoughts beautifully here

Going to the Hard Place

Living and working in the inner city undid me. Being sent to the hard places taught me the Gospel. It undid my self-righteous, just-spiritualize-everything mentality. It taught me that being a Christian, a “little Christ” was so much more than memorizing verses and meeting people in comfortable coffee shops to discuss the Scriptures. Being a Christian is far more gut wrenching, but also more glorious than showing up to all the church’s different events to socialize with all these people that were exactly. like. me.

It taught me that those verses about the poor weren’t simply about being “poor in spirit” or seeing myself as “poor in God’s sight”. It ACTUALLY MEANT POOR PEOPLE. People who would ask for help, and never be able to return the favor. People we would invite in for dinner, and we would never get invited back over. People who were so different from me, but needed friendship, so hanging out with them didn’t “fill my emotional tank’.  Most often it meant smelling the strong smells of unlaundered clothing, giving time and energy when I didn’t really feel like it, and making myself available, on God’s time table, NOT MINE.

I learned that being a Christian, a “little Christ” meant having hands that got dirty. Noses that smelled the stenches. Ears that heard the heart-wrenching trevails of pain, betrayal and baggage that sends one’s mind whirring. Mouths that speak truth, and pray over situations far too desperate than anything I could help in my own strength. Arms that actually hold the neglected child. Minds that actually work to solve problems of how to keep that teen from being locked up, or how to get the power company to turn the heat back on, or the landlord to wait just a little longer while we gathered the rest of the rent needed for that family of eight. It meant showing up with every component of my humanity to make myself available to spend myself on the poor. And all this is impossible without a heart transplant in the hard, hard place, of my own heart.

After living in a hard place, “the poor” was no longer a statistic for me. They had names, and faces, and stories. They went from being a “project” to being my neighbors, my familiar faces, my friends-BEST friends, and even family…my “adopted” sons and daughters, aunts and uncles for my kids, mothers to me who, in all their brokenness and perseverance became my heroes. And in those years of pressing through the hard places to the point of falling in love with the place, the people, the life there, some resolves were formed in my heart.

1. I will never live in the suburbs again.

How could I? Knowing what I know of the pain and suffering of these neighborhoods full of broken families and disfunction, that just need some neighbors who could be a beacon of light and an example to them. How could I ever live apart from having the need and brokenness on my doorstep? How could I live in a comfy place, with manicured lawns, and stable people (and yes, I know that there is brokenness everywhere, but there are common graces that suburban life GREATLY takes for granted). How could I go back to that way of life when Julissa needs a real home to stop by at after school, and Jaquil could use a hot meal tonight for dinner, and Vernard and TiTi need an example of what marriage looks like. How could I live apart from the freshness, the raw truth of the poverty that most of the world lives in. I need it in my face to keep my heart in check from spending on myself and my own comforts. I didn’t want to join the ranks of those who live inoculated from physical need, because it was that very physical need that helped bring a spiritualized Christianity into the nitty gritty of real life for me.

2. I will never be part of a “bells and whistles” church.

I know what its like to show up on Sunday to set up band practice and have to put pots and pans around the sanctuary to catch the rain through the leaking roof. I know what its like to be so desperate for Sunday School teachers because kids without parents are showing up and need to be taught the Word of God. I know what its like to be desperate for more hands to hold little ones so struggling single moms could be freed up to actually sit in the service and gain nuggets of truth and encouragement to give them strength to struggle through another week. I know what its like to have desperate needs to minister to but just not enough bodies to make the Body do what Christ intended it to do. And because of all that, I couldn’t tolerate spending extra money on fog machines or special lighting or serving Starbucks coffee after worship…could someone please come down here and help us serve a hot meal to these kids after worship? It’ll be the only cooked meal they get this weekend. Or could some of the money that you use on your “wow” affects during worship, be used to patch our roof so we’re not sitting amongst all these pots and pans? Or could someone be willing to forego the comfy feeling of a social event on Sundays so that these kids that have no stable parents, much less mentors, have a decent Sunday School teacher? No, where-ever God would send us, we would always seek to yield any gifts we might have to help a small, struggling church, because we know what it is like to be one.

3. I will never go to the Bible belt.

There is a VAST need for Bible believing church in the inner cities, in northeastern U.S,  in most countries all over the world, not to mention the absolutely unreached peoples of the 10/40 window. No, may my energies never be used to “reach” people who live amongst churches on every street corner, when people in my neighborhood, and people around the world, don’t have that luxury, or have NEVER EVEN HEARD the Name of Jesus. Everyone gets “called” to the southeast where there is already such a culture geared towards Christianity. I don’t want to help “carry the telephone pole and help the side which already has ten people on one side, while just one person carries the other all by himself”. No, having seen the need of just one inner city setting, I vowed in my heart that I would only go where the needs were the greatest and Christ is proclaimed the least.

Well, God laughs at our inner vows, evidently. And He sees bigger sights than we see. And He sees the hard places of our hearts, and sends us to the hard places that will break that hardness.

And just how the hard inner city setting softened parts of my heart, it hardened others, to the point that there is more breaking that needs to be done.  So, come June, guess where God is calling us?

1. a wealthy area

2. to be involved in a HUGE church (nothing against this church…it is doing awesome things and they love Jesus, its just so…well…different)

3. in Atlanta, GA-smack dab in the middle of the Bible belt

WHAT is going on?!? This is not the hard place I was preparing for!

And my prideful heart, thinks God needs some help running His Kingdom.

I think the Lord of the Harvest needs some help directing the harvest workers.

Well, this whole ordeal is God’s gracious way of putting me in my place.

The hardest place I could have ever been sent to.

So, when Danny, came back from his prayer and fasting, seeking God’s face for our next step, and “Atlanta, GA” was his answer

All we could do was kneel by our bed, and poured out our hearts to our Guide

and cry,

and pray,

“Lord, this is the hardest death I’ve had to face. Aren’t all those passions and desires for the poor something YOU put there? Isn’t that what your Word speaks of? Isn’t going to the hard places something you command? I didn’t conjure this up on my own! And I don’t understand, but I trust You. Please take this grain of wheat, falling to the ground and dying, and produce many seeds from it (John 12:24) Its all I’ve got to offer. And I want my life to count. To count in the lives of those kids and families. To count in the lives of people who have never heard your name. And because I’m yours, I will go to the hard place.  My hardest place.”

Explanatory Note:

**Danny has been chosen to participate in Perimeter’s Church-Planting Residency program. He will be working for and be trained by Perimeter for the first two years and then we will move into an inner city setting in Atlanta to launch a church (finally!) amongst the types of people I feel so strongly to reach. After that (5-7 years total) MAYBE the Lord will permit us to move back to the city that has so strongly has gripped my heart.

A Battle Lost, but the War not Over

I do not begin to know what the Lord is doing in all of this, but I do know that God never breaks His promises. We join the ranks of those who waited in expectation for the redemption God would bring about. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses..and the rest that believed in what was to come, but did not see it in the present…

“All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth………These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.” Hebrews 11:13, 39

I long to see the streets of Newark ring forth with praises to the Creator and Savior. I long to see broken hearts restored by the One whose heart broke for the purpose of ushering in that restoration. I long to see fatherless children know the love and faithfulness of the Heavenly Father. I long to see broken, ugly, marred things be made beautiful. There are many longings lefts unfulfilled as this chapter closes, and, although it seems that this battle has been lost, the war is not over…..

Danny’s letter to supporters announcing the closing of Safe Haven, the ministry we started to reach out to children, teens, and families in the inner city of Newark, NJ

Dear Faithful Supporter,

Eleven years ago God gave me a vision for a community… a community plagued by crime, gangs, addictions, prostitution, and filled with thousands of kids being exposed to the hideousness of such evil and raised in the midst of it. My heart broke, and I saw the need for the Gospel to be proclaimed in word and deed in the lives of those precious kids and in the lives of all those living there. Out of that vision Safe Haven was birthed. I never imagined what God would do, and I am still hopeful for what He still will do as the gospel seeds which were planted in those lives begin to bear fruit.

You are receiving his letter because you have been a part of that vision, part of the transformation that God did in thousands of lives through the work of Safe Haven and Trinity Reformed Church. Somehow and in some way, God has included you in his restoration project in Newark, and I am so thankful that we had the privilege to labor together to bring God glory and see our own lives, as well as the lives others, changed. Some of you came and served here, selflessly pouring yourselves into the lives of others, and in turn receiving more from the relationships you developed in that community than you ever imagined. You met Jesus here in a special way and will never forget the things He taught you, the way He comforted you, and the way He used you. Some of you chose to give, and you abundantly and selflessly shared your resources with the poor and marginalized here. As God’s love flowed through your generous hearts, you felt His presence and you rejoiced all the more in the great gifts He has given you and your ability to share with others. You were blessed as you gave. Some of you faithfully prayed, committing this ministry to the Lord and trusting Him to accomplish His good work as His gospel went forth with power and love. You wept for this city with us, and you rejoiced as God answered your prayers and did mighty things to display His power and bring people to Himself. It has been an adventure and I am so thankful for what God has accomplished, and thankful for each of you and your part in this story.

Sadly, it seems that Safe Haven’s small chapter in God’s larger redemption story is coming to an end. The Reformed Church of America, under which Safe Haven operates, has rightly determined it is time for us to close down this ministry. It has been really hard to write this letter, because it is hard to watch an organization into which I poured my life have to close its doors to the community. My heart grieved as I watched from a distance as Safe Haven’s leadership and vision fell apart this last year. I have felt powerless, called away to seminary on a new mission from God, to study and grow and prepare for church planting in the future. There was nothing I could do but pray for God’s will to be done in Newark according to His plan and not mine. “Why God?” is all that comes to my mind as I observed the struggle and witnessed the ministry I love fall apart. I don’t know why He would allow this to happen when there is still such need in that community. I haven’t received an answer yet and am not sure if I will.

Yet in the midst of the sorrow, there is hope… Not a hope in humanity, and our ability or capacity to build organizations and change or fix the broken things in our lives or in our cities, but in God, and in His ability to redeem and make things right according to His plan. He was in Newark before I was. He had His eyes on those kids before I did, and His heart breaks for that community more than mine ever will. Unlike the projects, programs, organizations or institutions we might begin, maintain and grow (and watch die), His Kingdom will have no end and the gates of hell will not prevail over Christ’s work and the invisible pure Church which our Savior leads. Yes, the things we begin do seem to break apart, usually because of our sin, our human pride and our own insecurities, but despite that, God’s redemption plan moves forward, and He accomplishes His will. What might have been intended for evil, He somehow turns around for good, and if there is anything to learn from redemptive history it is just that.

I am not about to point fingers at anyone for Safe Haven’s demise, and I encourage you not to either. I know my own failures as a leader must have played a part on the organizational level, and for that I am sad, but through that I hope to grow, and I hope to see God use me once again for His glory and Kingdom and for the healing of others. This has been a good chance for me to hitch in all the more to the promises of God and find my righteousness and significance in what Christ has done for me instead of what I may or may not do for Him. I pray that for you as well, dear partners in this ministry. Rejoice in what God has done, rejoice in Jesus and His Lordship, rejoice in His faithfulness despite our unfaithfulness, and respond to that as you live your life according to His Word. Continue to faithfully go, give and pray for ministries of mercy and justice, and do not lose heart in the battle for our inner cities, for the poor and marginalized of society, for the least of these who are often overlooked and underserved by the Church. Maybe God is clearing Safe Haven out of the way for something even more amazing to happen in that community? I don’t know – but I do know that our God is good, and that He is in control. I do know that He has commanded us to serve and love each other, to be faithful in showing up and leaving the results to Him. I do know that He will never leave us or forsake us, and that He is close and present with us as we step out in faith and obey His Word by the power of His Spirit which He has given to us. That’s where I am finding strength as I grieve and walk through this valley of confusion; as I pray for that community and those precious people made in God’s image and in need of His grace and truth, and as I dream and hope in what God might do in the future.

I encourage you dear friends, to continue in faith, and by the power of the Holy Spirit, to “spend yourselves” on behalf of the hungry and watch God bless you as you bless others. May the joy and grace of our Savior, who spent Himself for us, continually supply you with all strength, wisdom and power as you live for Him and for others.

For the King and the Kingdom,

Danny Iverson

Founder

never, ever, EVER Plan Your Life

I am stunned.

I am shell shocked.

How did this happen?

Every good thing I thought I was going to give my life towards.

Every person in that city that my heart breaks for.

All the struggle we pushed through in order to keep loving in that place.

The very purpose for which we uprooted, moved 8 states away, and endured hours of study and preparation.

ALL

GONE.

or seemingly so.

Anyone who knows us, knows our heart beats for the poor, the broken, the marginalized. Especially for those in the city of Newark, NJ, which contains such a high concentration, a vast majority of such people. with so few resources. so few fathers. so few stable families. SO FEW GOSPEL PREACHING, GOSPEL-PROPELLED CHURCHES.

I have merely tolerated the suburbs. these past two and a half years.

while my heart has broken over the dwindling, struggling, and eventually dying ministry we left behind.

So eager to return. To jump back into the lives of those people we left behind.

AND NOW WE ARE NOT.

never, ever, EVER plan your life.

The Lord will change it all up.

I wrestle hard with the why?
Why wouldn’t You let us go forth to obey the commands to spend ourselves on the hungry?
Why wouldn’t You let us go to a people I am passionate about serving and loving?
Why wouldn’t You let us go to a place with such need and so few laborers?
Why do those street kids that I’ve come to love so much not get the chance to hear and see the love of Christ (at least not yet)?
I Do Not Know

But I do know the promises if Isaiah 45:9-12
9 “Woe to those who quarrel with their Maker,
those who are nothing but potsherds
among the potsherds on the ground.
Does the clay say to the potter,
‘What are you making?’
Does your work say,
‘The potter has no hands’?
10 Woe to the one who says to a father,
‘What have you begotten?’
or to a mother,
‘What have you brought to birth?’
11 “This is what the Lord says—
the Holy One of Israel, and its Maker:
Concerning things to come,
do you question me about my children,
or give me orders about the work of my hands?
12 It is I who made the earth
and created mankind on it.
My own hands stretched out the heavens;
I marshaled their starry hosts.
13 I will raise up Cyrus in my righteousness:
I will make all his ways straight.
He will rebuild my city
and set my exiles free,
but not for a price or reward,
says the Lord Almighty.”

So, as I wrestle, and mourn, and grieve…
I cling with all my heart to the fact that

HE IS LORD,

And He has said, “come follow ME”.

not the ministry,

not the people,

not the need.

follow ME.

(more to come in these posts. at this point, I am only emotionally capable of processing one piece of this at a time. Jesus, be my Good Shepherd that walks with me through this valley of the shadow of death… of my dreams and expectations)

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?

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