10/30/2017: Being Chosen
While visiting my wife’s two brothers and their families this past weekend, we met my niece and her children for dinner one evening. I had not really gotten to know Jack and Clementine previously, perhaps only a couple of years ago when they were not old enough to remember. I was happy that my niece Rachel was able to join us, but I hadn’t really thought much about the kids.
The car pulled up in the driveway, and the three of them got out and walked towards us. There were the usual greetings and hugs galore. And then I noticed little 4-y.o. Clementine looking at me and hissing like a cat. I wasn’t sure what that was about, but a few moments later she did it again. Her mom announced that Clementine often makes cat noises. As the others were chatting in the parking lot, Clementine grabbed my hand and asked me to follow her. I was perplexed, but when a 4-y.o. takes you by the hand, you go with the flow.
Later as we entered the restaurant, Clementine ordered me to sit next to her. I was looking forward to talking with one of the adults, but Clementine demanded that she wanted to sit in between her mom and me. We sat together at dinner and connected in a special way. It was a dinner to remember, Clementine and her great uncle. My wife Susan reminded me that she had chosen an uncle in a similar way when she was four years old.
I was a bit uncomfortable at first that Clementine had chosen me. I didn’t understand why, and I wasn’t sure how to act. All I knew that I was special for whatever reasons an innocent child expresses a special kind of love and attention. This encounter makes me think about the fact that God has chosen us to be special for some reason that we don’t understand. We are God’s chosen ones, and we have been seen by God from all eternity as unique, special, precious beings. How do I act as the chosen one?
With Clementine I didn’t want to disappoint her. After a few moments I concluded that she just wanted to be loved back and paid attention to. She put no demands on my behavior other than my presence. There were several times that we caught each other’s eye and smiled. A couple of times I hissed back at her. I came away with a great memory of being chosen by a 4-y.o. child. Somehow I feel that there is something very innocent and pure in me that has been seen and loved.
I’m reading a book with my PromiseKeepers men, The Good and Beautiful God, by James Bryan Smith. In chapter 4 on generosity the author writes that the process of spiritual formation in Christ is replacing our destructive images and patterns with new images and ideas that filled the mind of Jesus himself. God is generous because he lives in a condition of abundance. His provisions can never be exhausted. And God is moved with compassion because he sees our need. Conversely, we live from a condition of scarcity. We never got enough love from our parents, or enough toys on our birthday or enough confirmation from our friends. We learn that we must protect what we have.
7/28/2017: Living Water
Most of you probably know the story of Abraham, Sarah and Hagar in Gen 16. I have been thinking about the importance of our journey and the opportunity we have to be a stream in the desert.
7 The Lord’s angel found Hagar near a spring of water in the desert—the spring that is along the road to Shur. 8 He said, “Hagar, servant of Sarai, where have you come from, and where are you going?”
Let me reflect on this image…..
A stream never decides to go where it wants to go. The terrain always dictates its path, unless it wears away at the rocks to form a canyon. That’s really, really hard to do, and it takes a very long time. So are our lives or paths often not completely our own choosing.
For me, my terrain is certainly not linear, once governed by outside forces. In retirement my stream sometimes meanders through different terrains, often stopping for a while to form a deeper body of water, but spilling over to explore other paths. Wherever I go, whatever path I touch, life is nourished or started along my banks. My water is life-giving. Animals come to my edge to drink. People stop by to be refreshed and renewed. In my waters people’s lives are transformed to eternal life, an abundant life and a resurrected life. In my water God reveals himself in love, power and “I am.” In these waters I am complete. My fulfillment is not where I flow, but what I carry along. May my banks overflow with living water.
Washing a child’s feet…..
I am excited about what God is going to do tomorrow at Ashley. Volunteers will want to come at 11 a.m. if possible, or soon thereafter, since you should beat the crowd and park more easily. Also we will be getting organized and choosing where volunteers want to serve. Brian will be in charge from Samaritan’s Feet National. I am the site coordinator.
I have no idea how many volunteers will show up, but I am basking in God’s glory and provision that tomorrow will be a great day. It’s a time to connect with the community volunteers, families in the neighborhood, the school staff of course the children. It’s a time to pray and expect God to be present in seen and unseen ways. Come and stay as long as you are able.
6/11/2017: Abundance Revisited
I want to revisit a story I wrote in 2010 about God’s abundance. I thought about that story and God’s lesson to me today as I was talking with someone to share my passion for reaching children at Ashley School. Once again I felt overwhelmed by the needs and lack of resources as I try to serve the Title 1 school and the neighborhood. On the one hand it is sad and frustrating to witness the dysfunctions of the neighborhood and the families, to make sense of this strange culture and to bring some kind of change through this ministry
However, as I follow God’s lead and look for doors that he has opened, I am amazed with what God continues to do. God continues to put people in my path. As I encounter each person, and it becomes clear to me that God is in charge of our actions, I kneel down in awesome thanksgiving of His abundance. I don’t have many answers. I cannot tell you how all of this will turn out. But I am comforted by the assurance that God is with us, and he reveals his guidance and provision just enough to keep me excited and on mission.
Back in 2010 I was worried about making the best decisions to care for my mother, whose life had become difficult and disjointed. I had gotten yet another emergency call from the Assisted Living home to come to discuss the fate of my mother’s ability to stay there. Instead of rushing off to the home, I stopped by the cherry tree in my front yard to pick cherries and to pray. As I stood on the step ladder and reached out my hand, all the cherries in the tree were ripe and bunched, ready for easy picking. I marveled at the abundance of ripe cherries that fell into my open hands.
Then I heard God’s voice, “Chester, who grew these cherries?”
“What?” I asked. “What do you mean, God?”
“How did all these cherries get here?” God repeated. “Did you have anything to do with producing these cherries?”
“Uh…well, God, I planted the tree years ago, and I have been watering and feeding it ever since.”
Then God added, “Chester, none of these cherries would be here today if I had not given them to you. You cannot make cherries, despite all your efforts. I am God, and I am blessing you, if you just trust me. Just reach out your hand. I will fill them up, because I love you.”
My ministry is just like the cherry tree. I will continue to water and fertilize, and every once in a while I may stop and prune a stray branch. God still encourages me to stretch out my hand in order to fill it up….abundantly. I love being a caretaker/gardener. Praise God for his goodness and provision. He is calling whom he needs to work in his garden.
3/31/2017: Real World Relationships
I hope you don’t mind my borrowing from the WMU Missions Mosaic magazine this month. The question therein is asked, “How can we be more intentional and live with authenticity with our neighbors and co-workers?” Both words, intentional and authenticity, caught my attention. There are 3 points to doing so:
1. Recall how God has been at work in your life. Sometimes we are able to recall God’s work in our lives, and then we get sidetracked and frustrated at the next negative thing that happens. We need to keep remembering all God has done for us. “The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy.” (Psa 126:3) When these things are in the front of our minds, we become a more willing and impactful witness for Him.
2. Don’t be afraid to be real. Sometimes God opens doors that allow us to experience and share with others in similar situations. When we are brave and share difficult circumstances that God has brought us through, we are giving Him glory, and our neighbors can begin to see how God can do the same for them. “Praise be to God, our Father of compassion and God of comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in trouble….” (2Cor 1:3-4)
3. Live out the Gospel. One way the world will know we are Christians is by our actions. Living authentically is living out what God has told us to do through His word. We need to love God wholeheartedly, and we need to love our neighbor as we love ourselves (Mark 12:30-31). This means loving people and walking beside them through life. It requires to leave our “front porch” and meet our neighbor regardless of the risk we may face.
2/20/2017: Personal Reflection
You know one of my gnawing questions for the past couple of years has to do with my understanding of God’s desire for us to have abundant life. “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10) Do we really know how to live abundantly? How much of our understanding of “abundance” is rooted in our American Christian journey? We are told, and sometimes it is just implied, that we can have whatever we put our mind to. To a point that is probably true. Achievement and success comes with perseverance, hard work and networking. I hear all too often that success, wealth and healing is a result of God’s blessings on us. Not a problem with that, right? The underlying implication is often that we deserve it because of our faithfulness and favor. Somehow we have done something right, and God is pleased with us.
This sounds a little too much like prosperity Gospel thinking. I’m always happy to give God the credit for someone’s healing or promotion. But underneath there is a nagging question, “What about the millions of faithful Christians who pray their hearts out and still live in poverty or face hardships?” Were they not in God’s favor? What if my ill child dies? Does God love me less? And what about the overwhelming numbers of Christians who live in refugee camps, their lives stripped away from any inkling of American abundance? What if we lived in a tent, stood in line for soup daily, slept with several brothers or sisters, had no job to go to and not much hope to look forward to make things better? What would our faith be like then?
I think we all go there, at least we have been there. We all ask these questions. I remember shaking my fist at God and threatening him if he couldn’t do a better job at healing Allison. I remember screaming out to God without words, because I had none left. I thought God wasn’t listening. I could not go on living with the pain. In the midst of my anguish, Jesus knocked. He literally walked right into our house to tell me that he had heard my cry and came to show me the way. I didn’t know how things would end, but I knew God cared and loved me enough to show up at my door. What kind of Creator hears my whimper and comes into my life to dwell? Is this what Jesus means by abundant life? This sounds like the only blessing I need.
Perhaps the young Christian boy learning to play the djembe from his father in a Dogon hut in central Mali, his family fleeing from annihilation by Al-Qa’ida, knows something about God’s abundance. Perhaps the Christian family living in the Zaatari Refugee Camp in Jordan, one of 60,000 people living in tents, has a real sense of what it means to live abundantly in Jesus. They are unlikely to equate God’s love with having material things. For me, I see this abundant living in a rather basic, stripped down scenario. I have known people in the last days of their lives, lying in their death beds, all things of this world having faded away, their eyes fixed on Jesus. God is carrying them from one life into another. They are fully trusting that God has provided everything they need. Isn’t that how we want to live our lives, putting ourselves fully in his hands with the confidence that we have everything we need? Isn’t that abundance?
2/14/2017: Store items for Ashley students
Ashley needs supplies for the new Behavior Intervention Store reopening at the end of this month. Ardmore Baptist Church has been a vital resource to provide items that the children can purchase with their behavioral bonus points (cash).
Please look at the list below and generously give gently used or new items for Ashley. We are not limited to the items on the list. Feel free to give other things you think the children would enjoy. Collection bins are located off the lobby at the stairs and near the entrance door at the covered car loading area. Thank you again for your ongoing support and prayers for Hunger2Health and the Ashley neighborhood.
Coloring books, Happy Meal toys, Puzzles, balls of all kinds, Hot Wheel Cars,
girls’accessories, Memory Games, Costume Jewelry, small stuffed animals,
match box/hotwheels cars, stickers, college pennants, small plastic dinosaurs or farm animals, pencils, pads of paper, washable markers, small plastic figurines for girls (fairies, unicorns etc.).
2/7/2017: Telling Our Stories
Telling our stories
Don’t you love a good story? We are all moved by a good story, one which speaks to us personally, strikes a nerve of truth, compels us to stretch out beyond ourselves. One of my favorite stories is the story of June in Joy Luck Club. It is a story of healing and hope. June and three other first generation American girls rebel against their Chinese traditions in order to find their true selves, despite their mothers’ hopes and dreams for them. They find that who they really are is very much connected with where they came from. It is very much my story. I am a first generation American born to Hungarian parents. If you remember the story of June, she was sent off to China just after her mother’s death to greet and to bring a message to her two older sisters who had been abandoned as infants by their mother during their flight from their homeland. These estranged sisters did not know anything about their mother or that she had died. June struggled with how to bring her mother’s message of hope and love. She feared that she would fail to relay the message adequately. In the end it was June’s presence and her personhood that were sufficient. Her sisters were able to know something of their mother through June’s presence.
People whom we know need to hear our stories. People whom God puts in our paths don’t know Jesus Christ. These people may only get a glimpse of Christ by knowing us. We have an opportunity to touch a chord of personal truth because we understand what they are feeling. We have experienced their pain. We have cried with them in their grief. We have known darkness and hopelessness without the saving grace of Jesus Christ. We have shaken our fists in anger when God seemed to turn His back on us when we cried out in need. We know the power of God’s healing. In the end our presence and our story will bridge the gap of their despair and pain. The lost will see Christ through us as we share in their lives. In the end God will act to reclaim a sinner or a lost soul, and He will do so because you shared your unique story.
My story is ordinary and compelling. Christ pursued and called me just as he calls everyone else. My barriers prevented me from listening for a very long time, until I exhausted my own answers and had nowhere to turn. I did not survey the religions available to me and choose Christianity. I didn’t even seek to know Jesus. I’m not sure what happened except that one day it was clear to me that Jesus was the answer. God had sent to me several people who continued to share their stories. Even though I listened, I was not ready. But I kept listening, until one day God’s light was the only thing I could see.
Darkness had taken over my life. It wasn’t an evil thing; just I never could make sense of my life. I figured that I could make the best of each day, but the best only ate at me in the long run. The very best I could offer was not good enough. I could create art, learn scholarly things and love others passionately. However everything that was around me and everything I could create was temporary. In the end everything dies, and we are merely a wisp in the wind of time, blown from one place to another until everythig we ever did has disappeared. God had abandoned me. We live our lives fully, and then we no longer matter. My anger at God blinded me and kept me from seeking him.
To hear Pam ask me in 1975 whether I knew Jesus as my Savior and Lord caught my attention. I had been to church as a youth, and I had heard this statement many times before. Nobody ever asked me personally to affirm my relationship with Jesus. Why now was this question so compelling? I guess that I had nothing else to live for. This question begged a simple answer, yes or no. Perhaps this story was the truth. Perhaps God had reached into my life one more time to claim me as his own. If this were true, if Jesus had died for me, if God really loved me like nobody ever had, if God really raised him from the dead and provided a way to eternal life, then I really had a reason to life again. Perhaps this time I was ready to listen.
I knew Pam only for a brief time. She happened to be there at a low time in my life, a time when I needed some answers. My wife Susan had been praying for me. Pam took another step towards me. I guess I took a step towards her as well. After all, I sensed God’s nudge, his knocking. Pam was Christ to me in a way I had not seen. I’m not sure that she ever knew what I was going through or the effect she had on me. I haven’t seen or heard from her in 41 years, and in a real way it doesn’t matter. It was Jesus who spoke to me. It was God who relentlessly pursued me. It was Pam through whom he spoke.
If that isn’t a compelling story, I don’t know what is.
1/16/2017: Federal School Improvement Grant
Congratulations to the 3 schools in W-S that received a Federal School Improvement grant to be in effect for the next 5 years. The model for Ashley is a transformation one to improve reading skills, boost leadership skills for students and develop cultural competencies, according to the newspaper article in today’s WS Journal. Ms. Linville also stated that they are focused on overcoming the image of a low-performing school. Experiment in Self-Reliance (ESR) has already approved money to hire a full-time self-sufficiency case worker at Ashley to work with families. This grant also brings with it a school improvement coach. It is a great time to be connected to Ashley Academy as a volunteer!
11/22/2016: Followup to Prayer Coverup
The Prayer Coverup poster is down, and the little people are put away until next year. I can’t say enough about it, how it gave us a prayer focus and a joy for this month. Thank you to the Sisters of Faith for your creativity and your hard work. You guys are awesome.
We had a great response from the people. I remember last Sunday watching a family with small children eager to paste a child on the poster. Dad showed his daughters how we pray for these names on the backpack. I stood there and thanked God for you.
Continue to pray for Ashley school and neighborhood, for the children who need to know that God has a plan for their lives, and pray for opportunities that Ardmore will have to connect and make a difference.
With Stephanie Daniel
11/5/2016: Prayer Coverup
Prayer Coverup has begun. We are asking each of you to take a backpack refrigerator magnet with the name of an Ashley child and to pray for that child and his family. Also take a child doll and place it anywhere you want on the poster of the school. Watch Ashley Academy be covered up in prayer by Ardmore Baptist Church. Thanks to the Sisters of Faith for the creativity and work in making this happen.
10/29/2016: Saturday Academy
I am thrilled to walk into Ashley Academy this morning and find the Saturday Academy still going on. Deloris Huntley, Belinda Beard and I coordinated the beginnings 3 years ago with a group of WFU students. As many as 25 Wake students spent 2 hours every Saturday with Ashley students on reading and math. Saturday Academy lives on. That makes me feel really thankful.
10/19/2016: One Man Tunnel at Ashley
Thank you so much for your support and presence during the 100 men tunnel celebration, BECAUSE of your support we were able to EXCEED our goal of 100 men (106).
This email is to extend information and an invitation regarding our male mentoring program. We would like to pair every male student at Ashley Elementary School with a mentor. If you are interested in becoming a mentor please complete the attached registration form to attend the Mentoring Orientation on October 29, 10:00-12:00, at Ashley Elementary School. Please email the form back to triadmentoringc16@ yahoo.com or fax it to 336-727-2344.
If you have questions please contact Ashley Elementary School at 336-727-2343, and ask for Dr. Lamont Williams.
I apologize for the lateness of this email.
Dr. Lamont Williams
10/12/2016: One hour a week can change a life
By Renee Semones Guest columnist
In light of the many changes made to public education in recent times, some would wonder if this still is true. This is the story of how one simple act of volunteering set a young woman on a totally different life course and how her journey has the potential to change the lives of thousands of young people in our community. I tell it with the hope that others will join in volunteering in our public schools.
Evelyn Perez was like many young Latina children in Winston-Salem who entered kindergarten at Hall-Woodward Elementary School in 1999. She was the oldest child in her family and spoke little English, but she was the unofficial translator for her parents — a 5-year-old child in an adult world. I was assigned to work with her using a literacy, comprehension and problem-solving curriculum designed to help children make significant gains and move toward attaining grade proficiency.
Once a week from October through April, I went to Evelyn’s school and worked with her on these learning problems. We became friends, and, after my own daughter started school, I could see all the advantages I was able to give her, just by speaking English, reading to her and helping her.
Through the hard work of her teachers, and I hope to some extent, my involvement, Evelyn soon caught up with her classmates. She went on to attend Clemmons Middle School and graduated from Parkland High School. Then, because of her hard work and dedication, she received a scholarship to attend Wake Forest University — the first in her family to graduate from high school and then from college. At Wake Forest, Evelyn majored in elementary education.
Today she is a first-year teacher at Smith Farm Elementary School, teaching kindergarten. About her experiences at Hall-Woodward, here is what she says: “I will be teaching kindergarten this year! I met someone from the Winston-Salem Chamber of Commerce and she spoke about the reading program you all TSILL have! Amazing program; not only taught me how to read, but instilled in me a JOY for reading!”
In the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County schools, there are literally thousands of Evelyns — young children in kindergarten, first and second grades who need a little assistance and encouragement from a carrying adult to believe that they can succeed. Many of these children come from homes that are economically disadvantaged, where parents and other caregivers may not have the education to help their children or may be working several jobs to support their families.
The school system has three goals:
- Have 90 percent of third-grade students reading on or above grade level by 2020
- Close the achievement gap by 10 percent while increasing the performance of all by 2018
- Graduate 90 percent of students by 2018
This is a tall order and can’t be done without the support of the entire community — teachers, administrators, parents, family, students and you.
Evelyn Perez is making her re-investment into the youth of our community by becoming a teacher, as are so many other teachers in our schools. Won’t you help by volunteering to work with a young student in the Winston-Salem Chamber’s Corporate Volunteer Program? It just takes an hour a week, and you could change a life.
9/25/2016: Lord of the Small
Our choir sang, “Lord of the Small,” written in tribute of a child, Erin Buenger, who lost her battle to cancer at the age of 10, and lived life to the fullest in glory to God. God does not manifest Himself in the proud and the powerful, but in those who are weak and frail and humble. The story accompanying the sheet music states, “Some flames burn long and dim. Others burn brightly for a just a moment. We thank God for Erin’s short but vibrant life.”
Here are the lyrics:
Praise to the Lord of the Small Broken Things,
Who Sees the Poor Sparrow That cannot take wing.
Who loves the lame child and the wretch in the street
who comforts their sorrows and washes their feet.
Praise to the lord of the faint and afraid
who girds them with courage and lends them his aid,
he pours out his spirit on vessels so weak,
that the timid can serve and the silent can speak.
Praise to the lord of the frail and the ill
who heals their afflictions or carries them till,
they leave this tired frame and to paradise fly.
to never be sick and never to die.
Praise him, O Praise Him All ye who live
who`ve been given so much and can so little give
our frail lisping praise God will never Despise.
He Sees His Dear ChildrenThrough Mercy Filled Eyes!
9/24/2016: Tim Keller Lecture
Tim Keller is huge, and I am so excited that he will be here at WFU next Thursday at Wait Chapel at 7:30 p. Keller, founding pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in NYC and author of bestselling books—The Reason for God, The Prodigal God, and Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God—will give the lecture “Does Christianity Even Make Sense Any More?” at Wait Chapel on Thursday, September 29th, at 7:30.
9/16/2016: Easy money to Ashley Schoo
1. Set your shoppers rewards cards to give money to Ashley School for supplies. Link your shopper rewards cards to Ashley Elementary at cash register every year.
Harris Teeter Code: 3796
Office Depot Code: 70061599
Food Lion: 212368
Other stores include Lowe’s Foods: http://www.lowesfoods.com/back-2-schools/
2. Box tops
Box Tops for Education has helped America’s schools earn over $475 million since 1996. You can earn cash for your child’s school by clipping Box Tops coupons from hundreds of participating products. Box Tops also offers easy ways to earn even more cash for your school online.http://www.boxtops4education.com/ Ashley School earned in 2012-3 year $648.16. Money is used for new books, playground equipment, more supplies, field trips, classroom parties and more are possible.
9/16/2016: Five years ago I read an article that W-S was the worst area in the country for families with hungry children. I didn’t believe it, so I set out to find out what was really going on with hunger. This was the beginning of my hunger assessment and the beginning of H2H, a ministry that is transforming lives (mainly mine).
8/22/2016: Ashley Academy needs you to read to a Child.
Hunger to Health Ministry is helping recruit volunteers for the 2016-2017 school year to work with Ashley elementary students!
Caring adults who can commit to ONE HOUR EACH WEEK are needed to tutor and mentor students. Training and materials will be available.
The #1 need for many children at Ashley is a relationship with an adult who cares on a consistent basis. The reading materials are structured and easy.
Interested in being a volunteer? Go to https://www.wsfcsvolunteers.com/
Complete and submit a Volunteer Registration form today.
Orientation/Training for Reading Buddies:
Sep 14, 6 p.m. in Room F221 at Ardmore Baptist Church
8/12/2016: Letter from Rev. Dr.KL Willams (Ashley Staff):
It is no secret that our young boys of color are in a national crisis. Equally, it is no secret that our young boys of color are bottled up with anger and frustration because of the road blocks to their success. However, throughout history, adversity has always been a catalyst for advancement. The challenge is how do we educate our young men of color to take the negative and turn it into a positive. This concept is biblically grounded in Romans 8: 28 “… we know that all things work together for the good of them that love the Lord…”
The Triad Mentoring Coalition, a non-profit mentoring organization, along with local pastors, Business owners, and community leaders have joined forces to address the issues facing our young men of color. Please, if you agree that this is not the only option for our young men of color and if you believe that there is a brighter future for our young men of color then we invite you to link arms with the movement to make a difference.
Please see attached flyer for an opportunity to make a difference and how to register.
If you are interested in being an organizational partner, please click on the link:
“For these are all our children. We will all profit by, or pay for, whatever they become” – James Baldwin
Because of Calvary,
Rev. Dr.K.L.. Williams
7/30/2016: A pictorial narrative: Foot washing at Ashley sponsored by Samaritan’s Feet.
We prayed, we worked, we greeted over 200 children and their families, we washed the feet of all the children, we gave away all our shoes, and we celebrated lives that were changed today. Volunteers shared many stories of the personal encounters with children. Some gave their lives to Christ. Volunteers were a light in this community coming together to touch our children.
7/30/2016: Let us pray together.
Because of God’s lavish grace toward us through the work of Jesus, we are motivated to be agents of his grace to others, especially the vulnerable and oppressed. The church has the opportunity to be a light to the nations and to participate in God’s mission by welcoming these children and families to find grace, mercy, and rest in Jesus Christ.
The one thing we can do that will make the biggest difference is to share God’s love with a child. Today we have the privilege of washing the feet of 200 children at Ashley Academy. Lord, we thank you for what you are going in our lives and in these children.
7/14/2016: The Oath for Compassionate Service in Community Development:
– Never do for the poor what they have (or could have) the ability to do for themselves.
– Limit one-way giving to emergency situations.
– Strive to empower the poor through employment, lending and investing, using grants
sparingly to reinforce achievements.
– Subordinate self-interests to the needs of those being served.
– Listen closely to those you seek to help, especially to what is not being said.
– Above all, do no harm.
from Toxic Charity by Robert Lupton
7/8/2016: The Crisis Facing Our Nation . . .
Bishop James C. Hash, Sr.
I have great concern over the senseless shootings that have occurred in our country, many deaths that could have been avoided. Recently, two civilians were violently murdered. Then on the following day innocent, non-violent protesters had their message shattered by an execution-style attack on the very law enforcement officers that were assigned to protect them. When people fail to respect one another, finding no value in human life, without healthy regard for themselves, their family, or their community, we are all in trouble! Regardless of our differences, in order to live in harmony we must respect one another.
Why can’t people see that these tragic murders are destroying our families? All of the victims, despite their differences, had much in common. Each person that was killed died senselessly leaving behind grieving families, friends, and communities.
We are all very much alike, yet uniquely different! That’s God’s plan for us; we must learn to celebrate and embrace our differences. However, difference does not mean deficit. As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. stated, “We must learn to live together as brothers or we will perish together as fools.”
We must realize that this affects all our lives in some way. Let’s show love to the families of all who tragically lost their lives. Likewise, we should respond in love even to the families of those who committed these criminal acts. This is not a time for more violence or vengeance. Those responses can only lead to more hurt. In order for this nation to be truly healed, we must come together in forgiveness and prayer!
I appeal to you to PRAY for our government officials as they handle the investigations that follow. In addition, I ask everyone in our communities to exemplify Christ in your conversations and actions. Let us respect one another, and support the laws that uphold righteousness, always following after the ways of peace. Continue to pray for our families, our communities, and our country.
II Chronicles 7:14 – If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.
1/24/2016 Remembering: Living a fulfilled and relevant life through 3 simple acts of memory
The sermon this morning was powerful and laser-focused on living a life that is pleasing to God. Those who were not able to come due to the road conditions missed a poignant sermon on stewardship by Bill Wilson, President of the Center for Congregational Health at Wake Forest Baptist Health. I will post the scripture from Deuteronomy in which Moses is warning his people about getting caught up with themselves and their own worldly possessions and accomplishments. Power to make a difference comes only from God not from our own doing. “Prosperity knits a man to the world. He feels that he is finding his place in it, while really it is finding its place in him.” ― C.S. Lewis
We are lost when we lose our memory. Dr. Wilson calls us to remember 3 things: 1) where we came from, how we got to be where we are; 2) why we are here, our mission; and 3) who is in charge, whose dream are we striving for, ours or God’s. Read Deut 8:1,2,11-20. These words from Moses to his people ring true to us today, don’t they?
1Israel, do you want to go into the land the LORD promised your ancestors? Do you want to capture it, live there, and become a powerful nation? Then be sure to obey every command I am giving you.
2Don’t forget how the LORD your God has led you through the desert for the past 40 years. He wanted to find out if you were truly willing to obey him and depend on him,
11 Make sure that you never forget the LORD or disobey his laws and teachings that I am giving you today. If you always obey them, 12you will have plenty to eat, and you will build good houses to live in. 13You will get more and more cattle, sheep, silver, gold, and other possessions.
14But when all this happens, don’t be proud! Don’t forget that you were once slaves in Egypt and that it was the LORD who set you free. 15Remember how he led you in that huge and frightening desert where poisonous snakes and scorpions live. There was no water, but the LORD split open a rock, and water poured out so you could drink. 16He also gave you manna, a kind of food your ancestors had never even heard about. The LORD was testing you to make you trust him, so that later on he could be good to you.
17When you become successful, don’t say, “I’m rich, and I’ve earned it all myself.”18Instead, remember that the LORD your God gives you the strength to make a living. That’s how he keeps the promise he made to your ancestors.
19-20But I’m warning you—if you forget the LORD your God and worship other gods, the LORD will destroy you, just as he destroyed the nations you fought.
If we want to be the church that God call us to be, remember these 3 things, and come into our sanctuary with humility, praising God for all that we have and do.
1/17/2016 A New Society?
I took my little brother/mentee to the Wake BBall game today. The game was a total disaster, and I want my money back. But my friend James and I talked with my little bro about making good decisions and about the value of education. I felt somewhat hopeful hanging out with him and following God’s call to make a difference.
Afterwards I took him home and turned down 14th St towards home. A few kids on the way threw rocks and hit my car as I drove by them. I turned my car around and drove back to that spot. The kids had run away, but a young man was still walking on the sidewalk. I rolled down my window and stopped. “Do you know the kids who threw rocks at my car?” I asked. “Yeah, why?” he answered.
“Could you tell them that I don’t appreciate their hitting my car with rocks.” He responded, “Why should I do that?”
I said, “Because it’s the right thing to do.”
“Go on. Get out of here,” was his retort.
I look back at this day with mixed feelings. Is there hope for our future, when neither the children nor the adults know right from wrong? Susan thinks I was stupid to stop and put myself in danger. Part of me agrees, but who is going to step up and teach our neighbors about civility and character? I am sad to see our society out of control, but I can only do what God called me to do: Love my little brother and tell him that I care. God, you’re in charge, because this is way out of my league.
1/14/2016 Keeping the Right Motivation and Heart
Thanks to the Hunger2Health team for a good meeting last night. Let me try to summarize. Financially we are in great shape. As of today we have sufficient funds to deliver 125 backpacks through perhaps summer or fall 2017.
Let me be quick to say that, although we are appreciative and are blessed by the money the church continues to give, our focus was not on money. We reiterated the mission of H2H to connect with people in the Ashley School and neighborhood through life-changing relationships. We cited several H2H related events at church that have been successful in connecting people to our church and reaching out to our neighbors. Both the Golf Tournament and the Bazaar have been successful in connecting with the non-Ardmore community.
We also discussed events through our backpack program itself that have been marked with developing relationships with the school staff, children and neighborhood. The money we spend on weekend relief of hunger for 125 children is money well-spent. We had a lively discussion about the effectiveness of this money and how recipients are chosen. We felt that we have minimized the abuse of our backpack food items via a program that allows the teachers and admin staff to make decisions about which children and families are the most needy. We agreed that those children receiving backpacks are deserving of our charity in keeping with Biblical teachings to feed the hungry. We talked about the messaging that we need to convey to our congregation to clearly get across how this money is being spent and to relate an honest opinion as to its effectiveness.
The messaging is likely not as dynamic as it needs to be to sustain the energy and heart of this ministry. Donations in the past 3 years have slid downward partly due to natural tendencies of ministries and also due to good competition from many new church ministries and initiatives. We want to make sure that our church continues to see all ministries as an opportunity and joy to reach people for Christ. In order to carry this vision forward, we want to tell our personal stories of making a difference with teachers and how God has used the H2H ministry to spread God’s love and our witness to others. Historically, whenever we are able to tell our stories from the pulpit, people hear and respond more dynamically than when it is announced via newsletter, email, etc. We plan to offer to SS departments an opportunity to give our testimonies about H2H.
The Sisters of Faith have made their support of H2H a focus of their ministry. We need to talk about how we can make the Backpack Tree more relevant in the Christmas season regarding asking our congregation to take an ornament and be in a relationship with a child through prayer. Sisters of Faith have also supported and acknowledged teachers through birthday recognition and snacks from Ardmore Baptist Church. We must find ways in which our church body can relate to Ashley and the vicinity in personal ways to be the hands, feet and mouth of Jesus. We think that telling these stories will keep our mission in the hearts and minds of all of us.
A couple of schools have worked with the Food Bank to open Food Pantries in the school. Such a program would provide opportunities to meet and serve family members of these students at Ashley. However we will explore the available space at Ashley or at Alpha and Omega Church to serve this community and how we can be involved in its operation. Remember that Deloris Huntley was instrumental with the Family Institute, a ministry that continues via A&O members. Perhaps we can partner with that church to assist in this ministry to the neighborhood.
I feel that recruiting and training volunteers to read with K-2nd graders is a hidden blessing and joy for many of us and is a great way to be a witness to our children at Ashley. We want to share this opportunity in hope that others will be called to volunteer as tutors or mentors.
1/2/2016: Living out our mission statement: Deacon Outlook Team Recap
Yeah, that’s what I do – write. Writing may be more for me than for anyone else, but I am compelled to put down (not) on paper my thoughts and dreams. I appreciate those of you who could come tonight and who shared what’s on your heart. I believe there was affirmation that what we talked about tonight is central to our being church and welcome in most circles at Ardmore.
We did not get bogged down in specifics and details of practice. Instead we mostly shared a desire to be an intentional community of believers who are excited about connecting with our neighbors. We talked about adding to our church experience a new culture, one in which we gather to hear from one another how God is working in our lives to reach the poor and lost. We are all called to be ministers, but we do not often get a chance to hear and support one another in our ministries. There is no one way that will create such a culture, but we said that coming together for intentional “God talk” (made up word) is vital to the life of Ardmore. Several people shared ideas of venues where this would happen. One thought that has struck a chord with me is that growing, healthy churches have multiple campuses. For us that may mean that we could hold small ministry sharing sessions regularly at people’s homes and/or in various neighborhood locations.
We talked about carrying on the energy and focus of the Deacon Outlook Team, which needs to be organic in its activities each year due to the inherent charge of this team and due to the changing team members. We felt that it was important that some team who has the passion to do so take on the function of this year’s Outlook Team. This team would oversee all the operations of our church to encourage and support living out our mission statement. The emphasis and activity on our church’s mission is very much aligned with the VNT mission and our Glorious Unfolding process. This team may be a part of the Deacon body (with invited members not actively serving as deacons). This team may be an adjunct of the VNT with specific focus on this one aspect of their work. Or it could be a stand alone team, but in any case this team should explicitly communicate and coordinate their activities with all the MALT’s and the VNT.
To be honest I didn’t know what to expect tonight. I prayed that I would not interfere with what God has planned for Ardmore. I believe I heard enough passion in the room to feel pretty good about where Ardmore is going. I believe God asked us to start this conversation. It’s only a start…..
Lay your head down tonight
Take a rest from the fight
Don’t try to figure it out
Just listen to what I’m whispering to your heart
‘Cause I know this is not
Anything like you thought
The story of your life was gonna be
And it feels like the end has started closing in on you
But it’s just not true
There’s so much of the story that’s still yet to unfold
And this is going to be a glorious unfolding
Just you wait and see and you will be amazed
You’ve just got to believe the story is so far from over
So hold on to every promise God has made to us
And watch this glorious unfolding
God’s plan from the start
For this world and your heart
Has been to show His glory and His grace
Forever revealing the depth and the beauty of
His unfailing Love
I just came home from listening to my 7th or 8th Messiah performance by the Mozart Club. We have made it a family tradition. It seems that every year I am moved to a new depth of love and awe, where the music, the words, the Holy Spirit, the musicians and the listener all intersect to shout, “Hallelujah” to the ends of the earth. I am foremost awed by how George Frideric Handel wrote this most magnificent oratorio in 24 days in 1741. Certainly the hand of God was on him.
For some reason this year I was moved emotionally to tears throughout this performance. Yes the soloists were marvelous, and the performance was quite stirring. But there was something else happening today. I needed the “Messiah” today. The beauty and power of this music is especially evident in the entirety of Handel’s work. Listening to the overture in the beginning elicits such an anticipation of love becoming flesh into my personal life. The prophecy is clearly laid forth for all to hear. “The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light.” The glory of the Lord will be revealed. A child is born unto us, and the dominion of God will be upon his shoulder.
I needed to know today that everything will be OK. The world has been more crazy this year, perhaps no more than other years, but this year I have felt consumed and afraid. We spend a lot of time talking about how bad things are and how social media has brought it all right into our personal space. Sometimes I think things are out of control. I am overwhelmed by the suffering and pain around me. Then I hear the words, “His yoke is easy, and His burden is light.” I am called to lay it all onto Jesus’ lap, and He will give me rest.
We have all experienced the awful terror attacks lately that seem to be almost a regular occurrence in the past few months. I wish God could wipe out evil. It is a scourge on us all. Then I hear the words, “Surely He has borne our griefs” and “With His stripes we are healed.” God has taken away our sorrow and rescued our souls. Especially this year I am grieving with so many people whose loved ones have died. I am burdened by their loss and loneliness. The Messiah provides the real answer to how we can celebrate with joy amidst the pain and grief.
The bass sang, “The trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.” God has promised us a gift for all of creation. We shall be changed. As these words were being sung, I knew that God had already changed me. He has not only taken away the sting of death, but given me a reason to live. He has given us a victory in Jesus Christ. God is worthy of our blessing and honor. “Blessing and honour, glory and power, be unto Him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb, for ever and ever.
Now that is why I go to see “Messiah” every year. I need this performance. I need to hear these words. I need to glorify God with all of creation.
11/30/2015: Praying for Reconciliation and Transformation
We are reading a book, When Helping Hurts, in our Missions Engagement Team. Let me quote something that deals with alleviating poverty. “Poverty alleviation is the ministry of reconciliation: moving people closer to glorifying God by living the right relationship with God, with self, with others, and with the rest of creation.,,,,we do not have the power to alleviate poverty in either the materially poor or in ourselves. It is not something we can manufacture through better techniques or planning. Reconciliation is ultimately an act of God. It occurs when the power of Christ’s resurrection reconciles our key relationships through the transformation of both individual lives and local, national and international systems.”
11/3/2015 Living out our Mission Statement
10/23/2015 Changing a Child’s Life: an Echo
I just read Mike Nickolls’ article/blog in the Ardmore emails. He said, “that one-on-one tutoring is one of the best ways to grow a child’s mind. Even more so is the importance for a child to have someone commit to them with a Christ-like mindset that will listen to what happened at home last night, encourage them to dream, and give them a caring adult that neuroscience has proven is vital to proper brain development. I encourage you to read this blog. – See more at: http://ardmorebaptist.org/newsletter/fully-engaged-247-5#sthash.0xx4r7FC.dpuf
It reminds me how God has blessed me once again this week by putting me in a situation totally out of my comfort level. You know about my mentee, who just changed schools and is now in the 6th grade at Hanes Middle School. Well this week I had to have a conversation with him about something. I am amazed that there are no other father figures to do this in his life. I am wowed by the act of God that he loves this 12-y.o.boy enough to put us together, and by God’s trusting me to do this. No, I would have never thought I could be a mentor for a kid from the “hood,” but God needs men to be called to make a difference, because things aren’t going very well in our city right now.
Ashley School contacted me yesterday to tell me that they paired me up with two 1st grade non-readers to read with them every Wednesday for an hour. Who me? I’ve never done anything like this before. I’m a little nervous. But you know what? That is the mission field. That’s being on mission for Christ. He will provide me with everything I need to do the right thing. And I plan to go a little early to let Ms. Turney walked me through this a little bit.
I would be thrilled if you called me to ask me questions or to tell me that you want to help these children with their reading. That is what Hunger 2 Health is all about: impacting children in need one child at a time through life-changing relationships.
10/20/2015: Reassessing our Mission
I have followed our backpack program this year, and we can be proud of our service to the Ashley School and the children who receive these backpacks. We held a volunteer appreciation luncheon in May. As our volunteers delivered the final day’s backpacks of the school year, they were greeted with a table full of cards and posters thanking us for our generosity and love.
I am also proud that we have a number of volunteers who either tutor or mentor a child at Ashley. These relationships indeed often become the means to impact children in a life changing way and to be witnesses for Christ. I wish we had 100 more tutors and mentors. I believe this community needs people to step up and find ways to make a difference with our children and the neighborhood/community.
The questions I want to ask you are these
Is Ardmore Baptist doing everything we can do (or should do) to impact the neighborhood to which we were called to respond to a crisis in 2011/12?
Are we fulfilling the mission that we as an H2H team endorsed and the mission of our church to connect people of all ages with Jesus Christ through life-changing relationships?
Given a likely answer that we may want to do more, where do you discern us going in the next year or two?
Do we ever stop or reduce providing backpacks? If so, where can we get involved to improve the community efforts to reduce hunger and increase self-sufficiency?
Reread our mission statement and our call to respond to a community in crisis. You can find these statements and stories on our webpage atwww.hunger2health.org. I would like us to consider options and goals for H2H and Ardmore that would take the next step towards healing and reconciliation. We have talked about our music ministry partnering with Ashley in some ways. I have advocated for more presence in existing partnerships such as Love Out Loud, Forsyth Promise, Community Serve, etc. How can we make a larger impact on calling people at Ardmore and our sister churches to become tutors and mentors, not only at Ashley but perhaps in other schools as well. I don’t think the crisis in our community has been resolved. On the other hand in some ways, it is worse, despite 62 food pantries and 31 backpack programs, kids cafes and school pantry programs in Forsyth County.
Tell me what you think. Let’s talk. I’d like to get together in the next couple of months as a team to address these questions and our direction. Who else needs to be in on this conversation?
10/14/2015: Getting One’s Attention
I listened to a speaker at our community meeting of Experiment in Self-Reliance today. Mr. Ross’ story was compelling and powerful. Even though ESR’s ongoing success over the years is borne out in the annual report statistics, Mr. Ross’ story grabbed us. You said, “Numbers don’t get our attention, but people jump off the page. Tell your story!” Those of us who have worked in Human Services continue to be motivated by people’s stories, the relationships that make a difference in someone’s life. Systems don’t change people. Relationships do.
9/19/2015: Where the Cross Meets the Street
I’m reading a new book by Noel Castellanos entitled, Where the Cross Meets the Street. Mr. C began working with CCDA (Christian Community Development Association) and its founder John Perkins. I’ve read several books about holistic community ministry including Toxic Charity, arguably the most popular one around. As I read his story, I am beginning to identify with the compassion, frustrations and conclusions that Castellanos relates in his formulating an effective ministry.
He writes that he was beginning to see incarnation as the linchpin and foundation of all effective ministry – by entering people’s lives through proximity, relationship, solidarity and humility, he would be following the example of Jesus himself. It is through dynamic and deepening relationships that we earn the right to speak into people’s lives, to share our stories in ways that touch people’s hearts and souls, and through these relationships we are transformed.
As Castellanos studied Jesus’ words and his life focused on touching the poor and vulnerable, he became more convinced that his response to individuals in need revealed more about his understanding of God’s love and compassion than any degree or lofty ministry plan that he might have. He concludes that churches and charitable organizations, though well-intentioned, have missed the mark when it comes to serving the poor. A better system would be to treat them as business partners, empowering them to take control of their own lives with the support of compassionate, caring believers. When entering an under-resourced community as an outsider, compassion without incarnation could be devastating. CCDA was teaching him to focus on empowerment instead of creating dependency. He understood the mission of his ministry along with CCDA was to raise up leaders from the community. Compassion would not be the end goal but the gateway to individual and community development.
What do these words mean to me? Have I settled for serving our community from a distance? It is certainly something for me to pray about. I want to be the hands and feet of Jesus, as I move forward in responding to God’s call and mission.
5/8/2015: Why I do what I do
The past couple of days have both challenged and confirmed who I am as a disciple in Christ and a privileged person in this world. Since I retired almost 2 years ago, I have been on a journey to rediscover my role on this stage of life. I no longer have an office with a staff of coworkers and a line of clients at my door. I can sleep late, do yard work, linger and lunch with my wife, attend a meeting, and nobody would say too much about my choice of activities. My accountability is only to myself, and for the most part, to my family.
I chose to retire, because I felt that God was not finished with me. I wanted to shed the shackles of routine and bureaucracy in order to learn to depend on God to guide my life. I don’t play golf or fish, so my daily calendar is usually a blank page. I decided to place my trust in God that he would show me where I should spend my time and fill my schedule as he pleased. My responsibility was to pray, listen and see where God was at work around me, and go join what he is already doing.
The temptation I had was to fill my time with projects and meetings. My 40 years as a rehabilitation counselor taught me well how to network, problem solve and apply resources to any situation. God answered my prayers right away, even before I retired, as he opened my eyes to an underprivileged and hungry world just across the highway in a marginalized area of our city. A new ministry was created within my heart and my church, a ministry to feed hungry children at an elementary school, a ministry to connect with children, families and teachers to offer love and assistance to improve reading that would open doors of opportunity. This ministry took root as God opened a door for me to be in a relationship with a 12-year old student. I am awed by how God has anointed me to be his hands and feet to this quite strange and wonderful young man. I pray that somehow God, who already loves this young man as his own creation, will guide us on this journey. After all, God wants each of us to love him and live abundantly. This unlikely match was made in Heaven, so I feel very privileged to be a part of God’s plan for my little brother.
God’s gift to me and my family this past year was awesome. By only God’s mysterious plans and doings he gave us a gift that we never thought we deserved or needed. A new exchange student, Ankia. entered our lives and family. The blessings of sharing our lives with a teenager have manifested themselves in the love in becoming family. My family has adopted Ankia as our own, and God has done marvelous things in this relationship. I am amazed that God knew our situation and our hearts, and he loved us so intimately that he found a way to intersect our lives for a time. It is within this family context that God can do great things. His best work is silent and deep.
Susan and I walked into a room at the Neonatal Unit in Children’s Hospital the other day, where we encountered a mother holding her 5-month old son, lying across her breast and shoulder. She sat in silence gently rocking her son as he slept. We introduced ourselves and commented about how wonderful it must be to hold her baby so closely. Today must be a good day. The mother did not look up or respond. She was immersed in the moment of intimacy. We asked again whether today was a good day. She continued rocking, and then we noticed a tear streaming down her face. You see, her baby had not been responsive since birth. The doctors question how much brain activity there will ever be. I will never know what was going on in this mother’s head, but I do know all she knew to do was to keeping rocking and holding her baby. We stood there with her for a couple of minutes, projecting how this mother must feel about her baby who will never grow up to fulfill her hopes and dreams. We stood in silence. Then Susan put her hand on the mother’s shoulder and reassured her that she was doing her best to do the only thing she knew to do, to love and hold her baby.
As we left I paused for a few moments to pray and reflect on what just happened. We were in a tough place. There were no words, no answers, no medical cure. We could not offer any hope for this mother. We had no consoling words. I thanked God for this moment, a moment that only God gives us to be present in his midst, to stand in his love and to reach out in his name. We are privileged to be his children and to be present in a world that needs Jesus Christ.
02/28/2015: A Stark Encounter Revisited
Out of his great love for us God has revealed a great truth. I was unaware of God’s intention and blessing at the time. But he came to me by surprise about 15 years ago, a day that still today compels me to consider its meaning and impact. I call it a vision, one that is clearly the God-breathed imagery of his power and dominion. I have not yet fully understood why God came in such a dramatic and poignant way. I have been reticent to share this experience with many friends for fear of being misunderstood and marginalized. I’m not sure that I ever believed in an embodied evil or Satan at the time of this vision, but I do now. This is my story:
A Stark Encounter
I saw his face. His body was a form unlike anything I had ever seen. It surrounded me with a curious and dazzling display of light and shapes that seemed unreal. I might have thought that I was dreaming, but his eyes penetrated mine with a grotesque evil. I knew he was real.
Saturday was an ordinary day. Susan and I had gotten up with excitement. After a brief visit at breakfast with my mother, we spent the day getting ready for our new house guest. I had accomplished my usual yeoman’s share of chores on this day. I fell into bed at 11 p.m. ready for a good night’s sleep.
No sooner than I closed my eyes, he appeared without warning. He invaded my serenity with an offensive confrontation of power and form. “What in the world are you?” I thought. At first I watched him with curiosity. He filled my vision with color and dazzle. Alternate planes of energy and light darted back and forth. A fascinating pattern of geometric shapes danced within an entity who appeared much like a joker or a court jester. A crowd followed him through the city streets. I jostled to get a closer look. I had trouble seeing his face clearly. It too possessed these same magical qualities, but he never looked at me directly. I felt his alluring countenance that beckoned me to join him. He was both dazzling and sinister. I struggled to move away.
I blinked to blot out this unwelcome picture. A second presence replaced the first with clarity and fright. An amorphous mass of matter entered my space inching its way towards me and destroying all life in its path. As I looked out my bedroom window, I could see this slimy mass grow and consume my view. This blob had no form or dimension, but it seemed to have endless reach. Its presence and movement was unstoppable. As it approached, I saw tiny moving particles that appeared to be micro-organisms. The entire mass swarmed with repulsive activity. I knew that touching it would mean death. I felt the organisms wanting to invade my body. I wanted to run to get away, but there was nowhere to run.
I blinked a second time. A hideous beast stood before me. Its body was much like a woolly mammoth, and his face was grotesque. This picture was more frightening than any image I had ever seen before in any movie. I sensed a massiveness about this creature, whose form I could not entirely comprehend. It sat in the entranceway, as I needed to go past to join the party in the back of the house. I heard the laughter and chatting of the people at the party, but I had to pass through the narrow hall past this monster. I carefully squeezed by trying not to touch him or catch his eye. Its hide was thick and tough. I trembled with fear as I felt the fur of this creature from close range, feeling its warm breath brush across my face and standing my hair on end.
Up until now I had witnessed these images both with curiosity and disbelief. I still had no idea who they were and why they had appeared at this time and place. Up until now I had managed to be in control of myself with the idea that I had created these thoughts with an overactive imagination. Always before when I had a bad dream, I could wake myself up and focus my thoughts on good things.
At that moment in the face of this hideous monster, I saw his eyes staring at me. I was paralyzed. His eyes were yellowish-green with small slits revealing the depth of a most evil being. His eyes followed me and penetrated my soul. I was unable to blink my way out of this one. His sinister eyes claimed me. I knew the creature was not a dream; his evil will was real.
“God, where are you?” I called out. “What’s happening to me?” I cried out for help in the face of my helplessness and terror. I looked to my Father to do again what he had done so many times before. God had always been able to calm my fears and give me peace of mind. I fully trusted him to help me now.
No sooner than I spoke God’s name, a brilliant light came upon me and filled my sight. Its intensity quickly grew and drowned out the creatures. His light overwhelmed the darkness. In his light I could no longer see any images nor sense their presence. In God’s light I closed my eyes and went to sleep.
On Sunday I awoke with a not too distant memory of my disturbing encounters and God’s provision. I still wondered from where these images originated. It surely felt like I had seen Satan himself. If so, why would he come to me with such voracity? Frankly I’m not sure I even believed that Satan was a real being. Perhaps God was preparing me for something only he knows. These questions lingered as we drove off to church. I looked to God to reveal his purposes to me.
It was Communion Sunday. I was likely too confused and preoccupied to feel God’s spiritual presence. I held the cracker in my hand with little expectation. “This is my body. Take and eat. Do this in remembrance of me.” Familiar words set before a routine act of love. I put the bread in my mouth and closed my eyes.
All three images stormed back into my thought, but this time they were different. The pictures I saw on this day were of these creatures in a catastrophic struggle to survive. They appeared for a split second and crumbled. They were being swallowed up by a lake of fire. In an instant they were gone. Once again God had shown me that his power is supreme. For someone who primarily saw Satan as an extension of our human condition and who rarely attributed bad things to a powerful struggle in this world, I am rethinking my position. On the other side of this vision I thank God that I have seen the Enemy, and he has been defeated. ……End
The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. (2 Peter 3:10,12) Reading these verses today reveal how much God wants us to be saved and has worked out our salvation. It is clear that God destroys evil and brings light at our very calling on his name. These are indeed words that we as Christians today need to hear over and over again. It is true for each of us personally as well as for our world in which we find overwhelming evil. We often call out, “God, where are you? How can you let this happen?” We can fully trust and thank God for having already defeated the Evil One and for flooding us with his light and abundance. It’s as simple as a blink of one’s eye and the name of Jesus.
02/09/2015: Purposeful Reading
I visited a bookstore the other day, Edward McKay, a NC used bookstore. It’s been a while since I’ve been to a bookstore. I’ve found all the books I need on Amazon. I find it quite convenient to sit at my computer and browse through their categories. I can read a synopsis and the customer reviews to get enough information to decide what I want to read.
I don’t read a lot of books. I have never been an avid reader, since I read fairly slowly. My mom and dad took me to a reading clinic when I was a preteen. I remember the staff trying to teach me to read faster. I would mumble words to myself and skip back to a previous group of words, all very classic learning disability traits. Of course in the late fifties there was no such thing as a learning disorder. So I just became more stressed out about reading. I hated that machine that scrolled down the page, only revealing the line that I should be reading. I thought it was somewhat sadistic to speed up that cursor arm. I was spitting out words faster and faster, not understanding a thing on the page.
I’m a member of a men’s book club. None of us reads very much. I imagine we’re a lot different from a women’s book club. (My wife Susan is a member of three.) We spend several months reading and discussing our current book, that is, if we actually get to the book during our breakfasts. Perhaps we should not call ourselves a book club. The book part is just an excuse to fellowship and talk about matters that are common and important to us.
I felt somewhat out of place at Edward McKay. There were aisles and aisles of books on every topic. As a “bad reader” I didn’t know how to act. Should I pick up a book or two that looked interesting and browse though it? How would I know if this was a book I would like to read? What if I bought a book and brought it home? It would sit in a pile of other books for a while perhaps until I lost interest. We don’t have any more room on our bookshelves. I underline sentences in books that I want to re-read, so I never can sell my books back to anyone. As I walked through the aisles, I felt a little overwhelmed. I wished that I could read all of them. There was a world of knowledge and many stories in those books that I was not privy to. I wanted to be inspired by the biographies of famous and successful people. I wanted to experience other cultures of the world that I would never see firsthand. I wanted to learn about our history and heritage that impact who we are as a people. I suddenly felt rather small.
I stopped in an aisle for a moment and tried to absorb all the stories and knowledge around me. Ha, I felt really silly standing there and waiting for the pages to come to me. But then I wondered whether we often do that in our spiritual journey as well. Doing church, as busy as I am with activities, does not help me really know God. I realized that I would have to make a commitment to choose a book and read it, one at a time, in order to derive any benefit. It may not be easy or fast, but if I never got started, I would never receive the benefit. It really doesn’t matter that I only read a couple of books a year. It’s the commitment to choose one at a time, relying on God to use me and this book to serve him as he directs.
God has opened the pages to me of a young 12-year old boy named Jaheim. I am entering into a life that is different from mine. I’ve heard that sometimes a book chooses the reader. This relationship with Jaheim started by my attending a meeting for interested mentors last year. I was just browsing, not intending to take anything home. Jaheim picked me. This journey has been one of the most fulfilling ones that I could have imagined for myself. Recently Jaheim was surprised to find out that I was not some random adult paid by the school to provide guidance to little boys without fathers. He thought that we would cease to see each other after he finishes this year and moves on to another school. Our one hour a week time together is by divine appointment. Our time together is both life-changing and eternal. Jaheim and I are moving from misunderstanding to clarity, from formality to God-breathed and from friendliness to richness.
I am reminded that even though I’m not an avid reader, and I can’t read all the books on the shelves, God has chosen to open doors to enrich my life. I’m not reading very fast, but this one is hard to put down.
12/14/2014: Light in a Dark World
Our pastor Don Gordon hit the nail on the head this morning in his sermon about being light in a dark world. Why bring the ugly, unwanted part of the birth of Jesus story into our preparation for this joyous season? We know that Herod did slaughter the male infants under 2-y.o. in Bethlehem. But come on, Don! First time I’ve heard a sermon like that 10 days before Christmas.
Well, not long ago I stood over a one-month old preemie infant who was dying, and I screamed out at God in anger that this didn’t make sense. Earlier this week we learned of yet other stories about innocent children being beheaded by ISIS, and we are outraged at the upside world we live in. I often come back from the Ashley area where we mentor children with a sickened, hopeless feeling about their chances of escaping this cycle of poverty and violence.
So where is the Christmas story in these life experiences? I would think that the parents of the dying infant hung on to the hope of Christ Jesus as Savior, who came to walk with us with full understanding and compassion of our suffering and pain. It is absolutely in the very dregs of life where we find infant Jesus, willing to suffer the worst of what the world can dish out to show us the extend of his love for us. I’ve been down in the trenches, and so have you. I’ve shaken my fist at God and cursed him. Yet he only reaches out to embrace me time and time again. I can only get down on my knees and worship him, especially this Christmas. Thanks, Don, for telling the truth about the Christmas story.
11/24/2014: Thanksgiving Prayers
I am thinking about this incredible gift of serving on the Table team at Christmas for the City during a time when we are focusing on a lot of incredible gifts from God at Thanksgiving. The various parts of me are thankful for different things. The utility part, that is to say the part that was fed for over 40 years of professional bureaucracy, is thankful for a pretty great product that we are putting together. The lazy part is thankful that there are just enough of us to make this happen and still find time to enjoy retirement and my family. My social part loves having an extended family with whom I can share part of my life as we work and pray together.
Then there is the other part. I’m not so sure what to call it or how to put it into words. Perhaps a picture is sufficient (see below). It has something to do with what lies underneath all of this. The expectancy of something greater than myself. The thirst for something deeper than our activities. The vision of a collective people that reaches out to touch other people and even God. I love telling the story, but more than that, I love having a story to tell.
Our efforts to glorify God will certainly bring a smile to his face, for the results are his. I am thankful for the love that we share, a love that gives everlasting life. The living water.
“…but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” John 4:14
10/25/2014: The church has often found itself standing as the tail light, when God calls us to be the head light leading men to higher levels of justice. MLK
“There is power in prayer. When men work, they work. but when men pray, God works.”
― Angus Buchan, Faith Like Potatoes: The Story of a Farmer Who Risked Everything for God
8/29/2014: 21st Century Grant Learning Centers
I met this afternoon to discuss the implementation of the grant money under the 21st Century Grant for Ashley School. Our vision includes Ibraham and Old Town Elem Schools down the road, but I am focused on assisting the community supports, parental involvement and enrichment outcomes for Ashley. There are a couple of known factors at this point, and the school is meeting over the next couple of weeks to iron out details in how to use the $400,000 over the next 3 years.
8/26/2014: “SPEAK UP”
From: Wisdom Hunters Devotional
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 31:8-9
Some people cannot speak up for themselves. The widow and orphan who are in distress desperately need compassionate and competent advocates. Children trapped in human trafficking need to be rescued by the righteous. The unborn’s muted cry cries for a merciful voice. A foster child who is emotionally ravished prays for a family to speak up and invite him into their home. The poor and needy need legal, economic and spiritual advocacy to advance them forward. All around us, groups and individuals are stuck for lack of one person who will boldly speak up.
We who are saved are called by our Savior to say something–to do something. If we won’t, who will? How can we remain unmoved while one child remains exploited, one family famished for lack of food, one orphan homeless, or one widow in need of a warm house? We have an obligation, a duty to speak up for those whose rights have been trampled, even dismissed. Social systems are limited and have little spiritual discernment or assets. But those of us, who have been rescued by the grace and love of our Lord God are rich in His resources. We must speak up!
“Jonathan spoke well of David to Saul his father and said to him, ‘Let not the king do wrong to his servant David; he has not wronged you, and what he has done has benefited you greatly’” (1 Samuel 19:4).
Almost every day we have opportunities to leave someone exposed to criticism or speak up on their behalf. Who can we defend at work? An associate who may have lost favor with a peer or supervisor? When a friend or family member is spoken ill of, we can point out their good traits and give them the benefit of the doubt. Silence is not an option for a courageous and caring heart. Yes, love has the back of those who don’t know what they don’t know. Love can’t keep quiet!
Above all, where do we need to speak up for our Savior’s sake? He does not need defending, but we need to be clear where we stand with Christ. We speak up for what breaks His heart. We are on a justice mission to fight injustices. We serve sinners for whose sins Jesus died.
We speak up for the lost in prayer, so they might come to celebrate in song the saving grace of God. Jesus speaks up today and says, “I forgive you,” so we speak up and say, “I forgive you.” He says, “I love you,” so we say, “I love you.” What our Master says to say and do, we say and do!
“Remember that I stood before you and spoke in their behalf to turn your wrath away from them” (Jeremiah 18:20).
Prayer: Heavenly Father, break my heart for what breaks Yours. Give me courage to speak up.
Yes, we certainly need to speak up for those who are powerless, but I am called to help those to find a voice. Through life-changing relationships, we can help the powerless to see a glimpse of what God already sees, to embrace new possibilities and to know how much God loves them.
7/23/2014: Messy Christianity
Excerpts from the book, Messy Spirituality, by Yaconelli:
“An older man with cerebral palsy sat in a motorized wheelchair, watching everyone else party. U was seated next to him, when suddenly the wheelchair lunged into the celebration. The man’s arms waved, his chair careened around the room with a jerky, captivating motion, his mouth struggled open and shut making incomprehensible sounds. Somehow a man who couldn’t dance had become part of the graceful dancing of the crowd. This man with a crippled body found a way to dance the undanceable.
“I envy him. I want my crippled soul to… lurch forward to Jesus, where the unwelcome receive welcome and the unqualified get qualified. I want to hear Jesus tell me I can dance when everyone else says I can’t. I want to hear Jesus walk over and whisper to this disabled, messy Christian, “Do you want to dance?”
7/20/2014: Drums Aren’t Just for Music: They’re Therapy, Too
A growing body of research shows that drumming has a positive effect on Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, depression, PTSD, and more. Fun is learning something and doing it well in your own mind,
Though the field is small, the research behind drumming as an effective treatment for various symptoms is mounting. “Drumming increases T-cell count,” Robert Lawrence Friedman, a psychotherapist based in New York, told The Daily Beast from Switzerland, where he’s leading a drum-based youth leadership workshop. Friedman authored The Healing Power of the Drum, a 2000 book that was the first to explore the relationship between wellness and drumming.
“When people drum, something happens to their brain that only happens when people are drumming together or when people are in deep meditation,” he explained. “The brain usually operates with either the left or right side independently. People generally cycle in 20 minutes per side. But when drumming, we experience something called hemispheric synchronization, where both sides work at the same time. Scientists believe this is the basis of transcendent states of consciousness. People feel two opposite emotions simultaneously: energized and relaxed.”
A 2001 study showed that there was a significant boost in the activity of “cellular immune components responsible for seeking out and destroying cancer cells and viruses were noted in normal subjects who drummed.” In short, drumming can increase the presence of T-cells, the white blood cell that fights viruses.
Remo, the largest manufacturer of drumheads in the world, has a health-science department that corroborates the benefits of drumming outside of music: better of quality of life for at-risk youth, increased bonding and creativity in seniors, improved mood and reduced dropout rates in students, and stress reversal on the genomic level (yes, it appears that drumming can lead to better genes). That 2005 study was also co-authored by Bittman (independently of Remo), showing that recreational music making, particularly drumming, can reverse 19 genetic responses to stress.
Friedman expanded the case for drumming as therapy even further: “I’ve explored how drumming can be used with Alzheimer’s patients and autistic children, giving them an external stimuli. It helps with attention and focus. We’ve also explored therapy with Parkinson’s patients. When a patient listens to the beat, they are able to walk, helping them on a fundamental level.”
Above all, though, the benefits of drumming seem to mostly be psychological and emotional. One study showed that “a reduction in PTSD symptoms was observed following drumming, especially increased sense of openness, togetherness, belonging, sharing, closeness, connectedness and intimacy, as well as achieving a non-intimidating access to traumatic memories, facilitating an outlet for rage and regaining a sense of self-control.”
Yes, we certainly need to speak up for those who are powerless, but I am called to help those to find a voice. Through life-changing relationships, we can help the powerless to see a glimpse of what God already sees, to embrace new possibilities and to know how much God loves them.
7/18/2014: Let Me Be Your Tool Chester David
Lord, let me be your tool to work your miracles and to do your will on this earth. Let me be your plow, preparing unturned fields for your harvest. Turn this hard, barren ground, full of weeds and rocks, into a rich and fertile soil. Let me work your fields, planting your seed of life and tending your crop. Let me be your carpenter to build a house worthy of your presence. Help me to build a firm and solid foundation to to stand in all seasons through drought or rain. Protect it from the heavy snow which falls lightly upon my roof in a silent beauty. Insulate my walls from the cold, put warmth and love therein. Let my house be beautiful to those who pass by, so that they too will want to enter and be comforted.
Let me be your hands, Lord, for I long to work at your potter’s wheel. I long to build and mold my urn in your image. I long to fill my cup with your water. Guide my hands, Lord, to work for you, to gently touch and shape your clay. My hands are your hands, clasped together as one – to plow, to build, to mold. We join hands in a circle around you, Lord, and lift them up in your name.
I wanted to update you on my new pet project, since I will eventually and likely need help in writing for grants. I am truly excited about what God is doing. You know that I have been networking to test the waters for the concept of developing several drum circles within a network of drum circles for the benefit of building character, identifying with a positive group, improving academics and instilling hope among our young people in under-resourced areas of Winston-Salem. . There is a plethora of research and case studies one can find regarding multiple benefits of drum circles. I have done the prep work, and I can write (or cite) a book as to the individual goals and community benefits through such a program. I have been meeting people and sharing my vision. Even though everyone has been very positive about this idea, and several have said that they are interested in having a drum circle (churches, rec centers,after-school programs, etc.), I have not been able to connect the dots to know just how one gets started, since I personally am not an African drumming expert. Although I have started drum lessons, I don’t see myself necessarily as the all-important figure to lead primarily Black youth in such a “club.” They need a strong, visionary role model with whom they can identify. You see, drum circles build community, empower kids to have a voice while identifying with and learning to be in a group and teach Godly values that will hopefully serve as a deterrent to gangs later on. These kids deserve a role model who can walk with them through life. So I’ve been talking this up and waiting for God to send the right person(s) to take this to the next step. For me this is a Christian ministry, so it is imperative that we focus on someone who shares similar passion for sharing Christ with others. However, I would like to connect all drum circles for children, regardless of the Christian component, in that African drumming is very much a spiritual experience. There is room for various kinds of circles (clubs), as long as they are focused on positive peer relationships and character-building. I recently met Joseph and Gail Anderson, founders of the Healing Force. I believe they are indeed integral in moving forward with this ministry. David Fitzgerald and I will attend some of their workshops this month, and if they do what they say they do, I will move mountains to engage them in this endeavor. They have expressed significant interest in reaching W-S children using their family ministry to partner with us. They are professional African drummers and dancers. We will need to look at asking for a grant to fund their time to do performances and workshops in various venues, to train others to lead drum circles and to equip these groups with African drumming instruments (djembes, dununs, shakers, bells, etc.) I want to partner with Arts Based School, who has an on-going African drumming and dance program as well as cultural education. Ashley Elementary has already asked to have a classroom of djembes for their music program. Northwest Child Development Centers are thinking about an after-school program for their 2nd and 3rd graders. Other schools and church also have African drum circles, so we need to contact them to assess how we can build this community together. Chester
6/24/2014: African Drum Circle Ministry
6/11/2014: Leadership in Constant Change
I’m reading the book, Leadership in Constant Change: Embracing a New Missional Reality, by Terry Hamrick. The church must consider its role and context as it moves towards a new paradigm: 1. The church in America is now located within a dramatically changed context. What no longer works? 2. The good news of the gospel needs to shape the identity of the missional church. Are we witnesses to the Gospel in our relationships with the lost and unchurched and in our programs ? 3. The church must live as an alternative community in the world. How have we compromised our witness by becoming part of the world?4. The church must understand that the Holy Spirit cultivates communities that live out the Kingdom of God. What is our motivation to do church?5. The church is to be led by leadership that focuses on equipping all of God’s people for mission. Is everyone on the same page?6. The missional church needs to develop structures for shaping its life and ministry in connectedness with the larger church. Do we have an outward focus?
4/14/2014: The Potter’s House Rebirth Group
The purpose of this group is to bring together all those who support the rebirth of The Potter’s House Family Resource Center, a social justice ministry. This ministry which had done so much good for the community of Winston-Salem, NC was closed in 2008 due to its inability to comply with City Zoning Laws. Today, The Potter’s House has purchased land and is now beginning the process of erecting a new facility that will offer many more services to the residents of northeast Winston-Salem and surrounding areas. The Potter’s House Family Worship Center invites you to become part of a new church start that will assist each individual in developing their spiritual gifts for the glory of God. We believe that it is God’s divine will that we prosper in our minds, bodies and spirits and that we know Jesus Christ in the power of his resurrection.
4/7/2014: Church Leadership in a world in constant change, the new missional reality:
The church is called to respond to fundamental changes in its thinking. We can no longer define success in productivity measures (attendance, giving, programs, institutional metrics). Our challenge is moving from being a church with mission programs to being a church that is the presence of Christ in the world. Defining our vision requires 3 basic questions: 1) Where are we being called to connect with God’s mission in this unique time and place? 2) What do we need to do to put ourselves in the best position to participate in God’s mission? 3) How do we offer this invitation to our congregation and individuals to claim our calling to be the people of God in the world? Being the people of God is risky. Rather than following a path of least disruption, a thriving congregation follows a path that gives us the best possible chance to thrive. So what does success look like? A congregation is thriving when it is continually seeking to understand and live out its role in God’s mission in the world. A congregation is thriving when it understands that it is not the Good News but that it is called to be the presence of Christ who is the Good News. A thriving congregation allows and encourages creative tension to develop and to live with that tension and its results for the long haul. Becoming a people of God is both risky and adaptive. The church is to be a place where hopeless people come to find hope whether inside our walls or out in the community.
5/2/2014: Building character and witnessing through drum circles.
I have been in ministry as a community developer for the past 2 years with Ashley School and surrounding neighborhood. I have developed relationships with several community leaders in that area in order to support self-empowering initiatives such as reading improvement, mentoring, community gardening, family strengthening, creativity, etc. I firmly believe that God has called me at this time in my life to listen, love and act when he leads me in order to empower individuals to have hope and choices to reach beyond their present horizon.
About 2 1/2 months ago I started a relationship as a mentor with an 11-y.o. student at Ashley. This relationship with Jahiem has moved my world view from a theoretical/social problem in that area to a personal calling to make a difference in a young man’s life. I have recently talked with several people about the power and transcendent nature of African drumming to offer a voice to children who otherwise struggle to find an “appropriate” way to express themselves, leadership skills and positive group identity. I see that drum circles can be a network to build character and integrity. I am a drummer myself, but not trained with a djembe. I have met several people recently who love the idea of developing this network of drum circles to help offer hope to children stuck in poverty and depressed neighborhoods. I expect there already are some drum circles going on.
Mr. Lowery, music teacher at Ashley School, is interested in offering this to his students next year. Of course, when we start talking about drum circles, we need to address the funding for supplying djembes, so everybody gets stuck there. I want to explore how we can make this vision happen in the East Winston area, or specifically how can we connect Ashley School and the neighborhood with positive role models through drum circles in the schools and in the community. My interest extends to such a group being rooted in Godly values with standards of behavior and a code of ethics. It is imperative that we start by finding the right person or persons with a passion for like-minded, life-changing relationships.
I think the next step would be to come together with interested parties to discuss our vision and plan to move forward. What are your thoughts?
3/19/2014: A Vision of God
Today my wife and I made our first visits to the Children’s Hospital where we reached out to parents and families of hospitalized children. The list of families from the Ronald McDonald House consisted today of tiny babies in the Pediatric ICI or PICU. One particular visit touched my heart more than the others.
In one of the pods was the most fragile of infants, a little girl maybe one month old, fighting to stay awake. Her mother sat there leaning over her baby with a smile, their eyes fixed on each other. The moment was very tender and peaceful, full of joy. I don’t know what they were facing day to day. They had been battling chronic seizures since birth. However I do know that this moment was the only one that mattered. The connection and love between them was unconditional and perfect.
I see God’s love in this picture. Can’t you imagine being that baby, totally dependent upon her mother, feeling her warm breath and gazing into her eyes? I wonder what has pulled me away from this union. I want to recapture this moment, when God is holding me that close.
3/17/2014: The Garden of Gethsemane Revisited
I have to thank the Southern Pines group of friends and my wife Susan for getting me into reading Bonhoeffer. This week end has been somewhat of an “aha” moment. For the past 40+ years I never really understood what Jesus’ crucifixion had to do with my sins. I heard the words that Jesus died for our sins, but who knows what that means. I understood that the Son of God was fully human, divine and sinless. I understood that he was obedient to God’s plan, and that somehow this was the only way. But how could he take on my sin, much less the sins of the world? Does anybody else have trouble with this concept? On one level I got it that Jesus is the sacrificial Lamb of God, and that the Jewish and ancient religions all perform sacrifices to God or gods to be cleansed. Honestly, that doesn’t make a lot of sense to me either. If I fall away from God and breach my relationship with him through sin, how can killing an innocent animal bring me back into the right relationship? Let me say that I believe that my understanding of how all of this works is irrelevant to my salvation and my walk with Jesus. I am born again in the conviction that Christ died and rose again so that we can have everlasting life. I am fully in a love relationship that has transformed my life. And that is really the only thing that matters.
I am reading a book, Friendship and Resistance, by Eberhard Bethge, who was an associate with Bonhoeffer of the Confessing Church, which eventually evolved into a resistance movement against the Nazification of German Christians in the 1930’s. Bethge survived the Holocaust and spent the rest of his life collecting the writings of and retelling the legacy of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. The Confessing Church started out as a body of young pastors who proclaimed one Lord and separation from the affairs of state. In the growing face of evil these men and women were called to move from resisting by way of confession to confessing by way of resistance. It was out of compassion for the victims that they were compelled to take action. According to Bonhoeffer the cross was not a tragedy for Jesus; it is his greatest glory. Bethge talks about the horrors of Ploetzensee, where over 2500 people were executed during Hitler’s regime. What caught my attention is that he refers to this place as a place of redemption. Bethge remembers Ploetzensee not for the horrors but for the proud gift that it gave to the German people and Christians after the war. The gallows of Ploetzensee gave back the most valuable legacy of integrity to a damaged and guilt-filled people. For those who took a stand against evil and the perversion of the Christian faith, the executions were moments of solidarity in which the victim became stronger than the tyrant. Bethge remembers these deaths as witnesses to life and witnesses to a freedom that embraces the ultimate focus on Jesus Christ, a relationship that for years was being destroyed in Germany. I get that.
Our pastor’s sermon on Sunday put into words that I could understand the events of the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus knew what he was about to endure, but no one else around knew. I am Peter in this garden, passionately loving Jesus but not quite getting it. I have heard hundreds of times that the weight of all of the world’s sin, past, present and future, bore down on Jesus at this moment. There is no way I can understand that burden. It was so heavy that Jesus wanted to find another path. Why was there no other path? What does all the sin of all time have to do with an innocent man being wrongly crucified? This is why I am depressed every year about this time. The world seems hopeless. There is so much suffering. Things are spinning out of control. The death of Jesus Christ puts me in an abyss of loneliness and pain. I walk away from the cross in tears. The only one who can give me hope is hanging on the cross. I yearn for Easter to come, because I experience the living Christ, the post-resurrection Jesus, in my daily journey. Come quickly, Lord Jesus. I listened to our pastor’s sermon differently on Sunday.
We had just read the story of the flood in Sunday School. Noah’s Ark had always been a children’s story with images of cute animals filing by Noah in pairs, as he probably checked them off his list two by two. I knew there were snakes and spiders and stuff, but of course these children’s pictures are indelibly etched in our minds. The story of the flood is really ugly and violent. Think about the thousands of people clawing at the closed doors, screaming to be saved from total genocide. Think about all of creation being turned upside down, the death of all living things (except probably the fish and of course roaches). All of creation cried out in agony as it was being destroyed. God who created all things was starting all over again. The flood was the only way to save humanity, and it was the most horrific story ever told. Can you imagine Noah and his family watching this happen? What was going through their minds and emotions? It is in this context that I faintly understand what Jesus must have experienced in the Garden of Gethsemane. I’ve never really put the two stories together before. Maybe I’m just slow. Today I have a sense of the power and magnitude of the weight bearing down on Jesus. God hated sin so much that he turned his creation upside down, not once, but twice. He loves us so much that he was willing to do just that for our sake, for me. Like Bonhoeffer, Bethge and others we stand face to face in front of the cross in a world crumbling around us. For me I hope that I will confess Jesus Christ in all things as the only path to take, but beyond confession I hope that I will discern where I can stand against injustice and act to love and care for its victims. This is the only path I can take as I face the cross.
2/28/2014: Our Heart Has No Color
I learned something today about my role and calling to make a difference in this city. God is totally taking me out of my comfort zone. I never pictured myself as a mentor with a 4th grade boy residing across Hwy 52. I’m a community organizer who enjoys bringing resources together to build hope and opportunity for better neighborhoods. I’m a planter of seeds who spreads ideas and vision where God is already gardening. I’m also an older white guy, and I really can’t identify with African-American kids who are growing up in the “Hood.” So why would I choose to be a mentor? I know my friend told me a couple of months ago that these kids don’t see age or color. They see your heart. It’s a God thing. I heard that message, but I still couldn’t make the leap of faith.
Today I reluctantly went to Ashley Elementary School for the initial male mentoring orientation. I wanted to support such an important program and the men who step up to the plate to be a friend and mentor to a young kid. Believe me, I am overwhelmed by the statistics and the reality in which these children live. Most of the homes do not have fathers living in the house. There is nothing more critical to our society than somehow to help one child to overcome the forces of his environment in order to break loose of these chains. I almost didn’t go to Ashley this morning. I could have slept a little longer, but I went because I had promised God that I would go wherever he leads me. I was thrilled that there were 12 or 13 men present in the room from different churches and walks of life. Many had mentored last year, and some were brand new. All were black. It was good to see some of my friends whom I have gotten to know on this journey as a friend to the Ashley neighborhood. A few of the school staff were there as well. I was the only white guy in the room. I really didn’t belong here. I didn’t fit the qualifications. I thought I could sneak out at the end, and everybody would understand.
After a few introductions from staff and stories from previous mentors, about a dozen 4th and 5th graders came into the room, all had been selected for this program due to their behavior. These boys had been singled out for one-on-one intervention. A couple of boys sat down at my table with sausage biscuits provided by the school. In my uneasiness I turned to talk with one of my friends. From across the table a voice said, “Hey, Mr. David. My name is Jamar.” (I wore a name tag.) “Uh, hello. I’m glad you’re here. How’s it going?” I asked. Jamar told me that he spends the school year with his mom in Winston-Salem and summers in SC with other family. Jamar shocked me right out of the gate, when he said, “I hate Winston-Salem.” He said that his neighborhood was scary and unsafe. I couldn’t imagine what he is dealing with, since I didn’t live there, but I listened to him as he shared a little about himself. I said something to him about individual choices and the men in this room who really care about him. I can’t imagine why this 4th grader picked me out. Maybe it was chance that I happened to be sitting at the same table. There was something very special about this encounter. The staff told me afterwards that Jamar had chosen me, “You don’t want to walk away from such a call.” I feel that God has anointed me in giving me the gift of this opportunity.
I feel both blessed and scared at the same time. In my discomfort to understand and despair to fix Jamar’s situation, I feel happy that he spoke with me. I suspect that God really does know what he’s doing, regardless of my limited understanding at this time. Jamar needs someone who will listen. God has swung this door wide open, no subtlety here, no gentle whisper. One’s chance encounter with a 4th grader becomes God’s eternal plan. I’ve got to walk through this door.
Those who dream of this idealized (genuine) community demand that it be fulfilled by God, by others and by themselves. Because God already has laid the only foundation of our community, because God has united us in one body with other Christians in Jesus Christ long before we entered into common life with them, we enter into that life together with other Christians, not as those who make demands, but as those who thankfully receive. We thank God for what God has done for us. We thank God for giving us other Christians who live by God’s call, forgiveness and promise. Dietrich Bonhoeffer
1/16/2014: God’s Hand on this City
I’m a bit shaky right now. You know, after you’ve just had a awe-inspiring event, you wonder now what. What am I supposed to do next? I spent 4 hours with the Love Out Loud Leadership Team, people with whom I have grown to love and respect as my mentors and family in Christ. We met up on the 24th story of Winston Towers with windows overlooking the city. We met to process Christmas for the City and to discern God’s direction for 2014. About 3 p.m. in walks John Bost, who shared his personal story of God’s hand on this city in a clear and dynamic way. After his testimony we all were speechless. No words could capture the sense of history and power of what God is about to do in Winston-Salem. We spent the next 30 minutes in prayer for Winston-Salem and for our being his instrument to tear down walls and to reach people for Christ. I have rarely been so moved and overwhelmed by God’s presence and power. All I could do was to get down on my knees and weep before the Lord. This team has a huge heart to follow Christ’s leadership to impact this city. If you ever want to get a big picture sense of what God is doing, go up to the 24th floor and look out over the city. You might be brought to your knees too. Chester
1/9/2014: My Thoughts on Mentoring
1/5/2014: Metanoia CEO aims to transform neighborhood
The Greek word “metanoia” typically is translated into English as “repentance,” but it really means more than that. In Christian thought, it refers to the process of self-transformation. Community Developer — Bill is the founder and CEO of the Metanoia Community Development Corporation, a grassroots movement of people focused on the holistic redevelopment of some of our region’s most vulnerable neighborhoods. Rather than focusing on problems, Bill believes philanthropy should focus on discovering and investing in the assets of particular individuals and neighborhoods. Watch the TEDtalks video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dfpU7RtS7bI#t=11 Chester
11/23/2013: Praying for the Community
Jack Gentry asked me to write down the specific areas and connections that need prayer within the H2H Ministry. As I started writing these down, I realize the needs are overwhelming. What a privilege to be part of so many ways in which God is working in our community. I wanted to share these prayer needs with you. Please pick out a couple of things that touch you. Together as one body we can make a difference to ask God to love this community through us.
School teachers and staff – normal burn out things like teachers would be able to realize specific growth in their classes and see results among their students.
Mr Hairston and admin to have a vision and accept community support. Stay focused and connected with reality of their responsibility.
PTA – Pray for Tamara McLaughlin, president, to stay focused on God’s leading and to find parents and resources who respond to her efforts to increase parental involvement and leadership
Community Garden – leadership and funding to turn the Ashley greenhouse and garden into a functional garden to share with others, a teaching tool to reach children and families, to connect with East Winston Community Garden to collaborate and serve the neighborhood http://wschronicle.com/tag/
Rebecca’s Store – vision of reaching people not in church to connect them with Jesus Christ through offering fresh fruit and vegetables. Wayne and Tamica Patterson are owners. https://www.youtube.com/
Saturday Academy – 15 or so WFU students volunteer to tutor about 15 Ashley students on Saturdays. Need transportation for kids who are unable to get there. Need to grow in spring to reach more kids and families. Has a component for nutrition education and family involvement.
Pray for Belinda Beard specifically (Ardmore UMC), who is almost single-handedly running the Academy.
Tutor training – We need a leader who can put together a support and training group for existing and future tutors. The school needs many more trained tutors to catch up to standard reading grade levels.
Augustine Literacy Project – I’ve connected Ashley with this organization out of St. Paul’s Ep Church. We have met together, and we are hoping to begin a training program for Orton-based tutors on Feb 10-14. This is an exciting resource for Ashley, but it requires commitment to tutor 2 times per week.
Building Community Leadership Team – I have invited several black pastors, community leaders and interested people who live in the Ashley community to come together on Dec 12 at Ashley to start a dynamic neighborhood focus group to address specific issues related to low reading levels in support of the Saturday Academy. The hope is that this team will become invested in the issues of this school and expand to take leadership and accountability for the solutions. Alvin Atkinson, Exec Director of the Center for Community Safety, has agreed to offer his expertise and leadership to get things started. I am meeting on Monday with Ike Black from LaDeara Crest and Liberty East Redevelopment Project. Latchkey Inc – Michael Burton is a partner in the neighborhood, who works closely with the Huntleys. The vision of Latchkey is to provide a safe and stimulating early care and educational experience which promotes each youths social, emotional, physical and cognitive development. http://wschronicle.com/tag/
Male Mentoring – I’ve talked with Pastor Hanchell from Mt. Calvary Holy Church nearby and others about establishing and building a male mentoring connection for Ashley kids. There are a few churches in the area with whom I have discussed their role in providing healthy family role modeling (Goler Memorial, Ambassador Cathedral, Greater Tabernacle Worship Center, Twin City Community Church, etc.) 90% of homes in this neighborhood are without fathers.
Ardmore Baptist Church and partners – continue to cast the vision and God’s leadership to grow into the active missional church to connect people with Jesus Christ and each other in life-changing relationships. I’ve been praying for a co-leader who can join us to provide organizational and tangible project management skills to these cockamamie ideas and initiatives. Pray that we find meaningful ways to become a community church with an outward orientation. Backpack Program – heart to feed hungry children and funding to sustain the number of backpacks that is appropriate for our church.
Love Out Loud – Overall love for this city in tangible and relational ways to connect people and be the hands and feet of Jesus within the Gospel message. Connects about 50 Christ-centered churches for service and relationships with people from all walks of life. Discerns what God is already doing and seeks to build up and connect these individual efforts. http://www.loveoutloudws.com/
Christmas for the City – I am on a planning committee for Christmas for the City, a mega event on Dec 20 at the Benton Convention Center, sponsored by Love Out Loud. (http://
12/28/2013: Toxic Charity
I’m re-reading Toxic Charity, since we will start a discussion of this book at my PromiseKeepers breakfast on Jan 9. In the section of Chapter 3 called “When Justice and Mercy Meet” Upton makes the following statement, “Compassion is a dangerous thing. It causes reasonable people to make extravagant heart decisions….” to do over-the-top acts of mercy. Most of us are wired to be triggered or set off to save a bird with a broken wing or to take food to a child orphaned by a tsunami or earthquake.
“Compassion is a powerful force, a stamp of the divine nature within our spirits,” he writes. “Mercy is a portal, a door, an invitation to touch a life and to make a difference. But it is not a destination.” Mercy without justice degenerates into dependency and entitlement. Justice without mercy is cold and impersonal, more concerned about rights than relationships. This same compassion acted out in the form of charity can result in creating an unintended toll of loss of dignity, a superior position of the giver. Instead, establishing an authentic parity between people of unequal power is delicate work. Relationships built in reciprocal exchange make parity possible. And parity is the higher form of charity.
I know I’m preaching to the choir. So let me get to the point. I would like to start or enter into an existing conversation about a clothing exchange, food co-op or toy shop consignment that will both provide a source of economic growth and opportunity for some individuals as well as create empowerment among the Ashley neighborhood. What is the recent history of such an endeavor in the East Winston area? Do they exist already? What can we do to support and build pride and ownership within this community? In 2014 I have talked with some people about partnering to start a male mentoring program. I’d like to look at either a music mentoring or a sports camp mentoring initiative, or both.
10/24/2013: Moving to a Holistic Approach
I read in the WS Journal today that Ashley is one of four schools named by the school board as a focus school. This designation perhaps calls attention to these schools as the schools with the largest education gap as tested within the sub-groups. This designation may dictate that Ashley implement predetermined interventions and will certainly be followed to measure improvement. I learned as a state and Federal employee that I didn’t ever want to be on my manager’s chart to be micro-managed. I would guess the Ashley staff is buzzing to determined what they need to do.
There may indeed be added benefits for help in the areas of tutoring and curriculum. However I want to take this opportunity to do some focusing myself. There are 2 areas of focus that we can offer to the Ashley staff.
1) They need our prayer. As each teacher is already overwhelmed by the job, we need to pray that there will be an atmosphere of support and creativity. Pray that the staff will be able to break the larger task down into manageable, realistic steps. I know Principal Hairston has already begun interventions with his staff. This news is no surprise.
2) We need to make sure that we are asking how we can do better to support the school. Ashley really, really needs our help. The #1 need that has been communicated to me consistently is more volunteers. We have begun recruiting reading tutors for this fall. Several people have responded. WFU has offered 17-20 volunteer tutors to participate in the Saturday Academy for Ashley students. Ms. Bailey told me yesterday that they need 40 tutors soon. I would like to encouraged us to promote and recruit folks whom we know to pitch in. Being a tutor is a one hour commitment weekly. I have heard only wonderful stories about volunteers’ experiences and relationships with their kids.
Help me find those who are called to help, not only tutoring, but other support needed at Ashley. Call me or Angela Miller (655-5173) to get started.
10/15/2013: From effectiveness to faithfulness from Center for Courage & Renewal How do you stand and act in the tragic gap and do it for the long haul? If we are to take on the things that really matter, Parker J. Palmer suggests we cannot settle for mere “effectiveness” as the ultimate measure of our success or failure. Watch http://vimeo.com/35028736.
09/30/2013: Insights written (not by me) about a champion in our community, a servant leader and developer. His name is John: When Jesus was asked by John the Baptist if He was the messiah, Jesus responds, “The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor.” John believes that as Jesus was sent into the world, we too are sent in His name into the world–especially to the cities in which we live, to make a measurable difference. As he has worked with churches, he has been distressed that so often churches are so occupied with the `stuff’ of being a local church, that the opportunity of reaching and impacting a city has no energy available for it. It is as if the way we have chosen to do and be the church in modern America has sapped all the energy away from the activities that Jesus identifies as being core to his Kingdom. If that is true, is our Lord willing to sit by while we ignore His calling? Will He `repossess’ His church, calling us to rediscover the incredible wealth of our gifts, for some time now shut away in some dark closet?
09/30/2013: The Assigning of the Call
I now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up in my flesh what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ, for the sake of His body, which is the church . . . —Colossians 1:24 We take our own spiritual consecration and try to make it into a call of God, but when we get right with Him He brushes all this aside. Then He gives us a tremendous, riveting pain to fasten our attention on something that we never even dreamed could be His call for us. And for one radiant, flashing moment we see His purpose, and we say, “Here am I! Send me” (Isaiah 6:8). This call has nothing to do with personal sanctification, but with being made broken bread and poured-out wine. Yet God can never make us into wine if we object to the fingers He chooses to use to crush us. We say, “If God would only use His own fingers, and make me broken bread and poured-out wine in a special way, then I wouldn’t object!” But when He uses someone we dislike, or some set of circumstances to which we said we would never submit, to crush us, then we object. Yet we must never try to choose the place of our own martyrdom. If we are ever going to be made into wine, we will have to be crushed—you cannot drink grapes. Grapes become wine only when they have been squeezed. I wonder what finger and thumb God has been using to squeeze you? Have you been as hard as a marble and escaped? If you are not ripe yet, and if God had squeezed you anyway, the wine produced would have been remarkably bitter. To be a holy person means that the elements of our natural life experience the very presence of God as they are providentially broken in His service. We have to be placed into God and brought into agreement with Him before we can be broken bread in His hands. Stay right with God and let Him do as He likes, and you will find that He is producing the kind of bread and wine that will benefit His other children. My Utmost for his Highest
August 7: Just Show Up
I’m always amazed that God keeps loving us and working in this world despite our inconsistent readiness and often less-than-positive attitude. Some days things just don’t go right, or I’m not feeling like conquering the world today, and God intervenes to say, “I’ve already worked things out. I just want you to show up.”
My church is growing. God continues to bless me and this ministry, as he continues to do what he is going to do in our city. If we just show up and look around, it is evident that God is working for our good in redeeming and loving his people. I’m glad I showed up today. Chester
August 6: The Strudel Maker
One of my fondest memories of my grandmother was watching her make strudel dough. Grandma lived in New York City and came to visit us in Winston-Salem only a couple of times a year. New York City was over 500 miles away. Grandma lived most of her life in Hungary until WWII. She moved to the States in 1950 to live near her only daughter. Her husband and many of her family had been killed in the German concentration camps. Although she spoke only broken English, she found a way to talk with us through her cooking. I loved home-made strudel, and Grandma enjoyed pleasing us by making this dessert every time she visited.
Making strudel was a big deal; it took all day; and nobody else could get near the kitchen when she worked. I marveled at her taking a small ball of dough and rolling it, and stretching it, and rolling it, and stretching it for hours with the hands of an artist to mold this dough into a paper thin layer that covered the entire kitchen table. God has molded me over the years just like a sheet of strudel dough. When I accepted Christ into my life, I was a shapeless ball without any purpose. God is the Creator of life, and He shapes us into what He wants us to be in order to best serve Him. Believe me, God has had to pound on me, stretch me and work me a great deal to make me into His vessel.
Two things God wanted me to learn before he could use me: 1) God wanted me to trust Him completely, and 2) He wanted me to know how much He loves me. I struggle daily with trusting God completely. I always wanted to keep control for myself. I wanted to shape my own life and then ask God to bless it. It seems rather silly to think of a piece of strudel dough deciding on its own to be chocolate cake and shaping itself into a cake form. God’s hands have shaped me to trust Him completely. A few years ago my daughter became very sick. We tried everything to make her well, but her condition kept worsening. I lost hope that she would ever get well and live a normal life. I cried out to God to make her well, but she remained very sick. It was at this time when I could no longer do anything on my own, when I lost control of everything, God reached down and touched me deeply. He said to me, “Chester, I love you very much. I will always take care of you. And I have loved your daughter even more than you can love her, and will always take care of her too.
I learned that there is nothing that will ever separate me from the incredible love that God has for me. I also learned that God has a plan for our lives, and no matter what happens, even if things seem hopeless, God will provide everything we need. In the end He will be victorious. It is wonderful to live your life knowing that God is the One who is in charge. He has already worked everything out. We don’t have to worry or prove ourselves to anybody. God is shaping us into a beautiful and unique shape of His own liking. God is the strudel maker.
June 16: Awedahcity.
I’m intrigued with the implication of this word as it relates to our ministry. It encompasses the systemic movement and pervasive excitement that God is doing something special in Winston-Salem. He is creating possibilities in unexpected places.
June 15: Our God of Convenience?
At breakfast this morning with my PromiseKeepers group one of the men mentioned that his friend has a car where you don’t have to use a key to unlock the door or even start the engine. When his hands are full with packages, he doesn’t have to put anything down or fumble around for the keys. Software has alleviated hardship. Technology has made us quite lazy perhaps. If not lazy, at least we have gotten used to many conveniences. I got to thinking about a keyless entry theology. You know, one might tattoo a cross on one’s forearm or elsewhere, or one might put up a placard that says “John 3:16” to be easily seen. That gives us a guarantee that when we die, Peter can just scan us at the gate and we are culled or sorted into 2 groups. (This is very Biblical, because God already did that with the Israelites at Passover.) Perhaps our tattoo has faded a bit or misshapen because we have gotten older and fatter. The scanner buzzes, and Peter asks us whether we are real Christians. A moment of pregnant silence ensues, “Hey, I’m a Baptist, and I was baptized by immersion. That qualifies me, doesn’t it? That guy over there was only sprinkled as an infant. Moreover, let me give you this list of good deeds that……..”
What an absurd scenario, one that is the scene of many jokes. But I still get this gnawing feeling inside. So, God, I really did give my life to Christ 30+ years ago. Did I do enough? The Bible tells us that God has already forgiven our sins, so we don’t have anything to do to earn our free pass. What did Jesus mean then that passing the scanner test is harder that a camel going through the eye of a needle? Oh come on! We have a conflict here. I got to thinking that we really want the sound bite answer, the convenient, all-in-one, sale-of-the-century approach. I don’t have time to decipher complexity. I listen to my brothers everyday struggling to figure this puzzle out. How much does God want me to sell and give to the poor? We certainly have created many rules, haven’t we? And most of them are good for us. I am reminded of many friends and family who have died. I remember many visits with them as they were lying in the bed waiting to die. These rules and conditions were not important to them Their eyes looked upward, as they were focused only on God. That wasn’t that hard, looking up and knowing that God loves us just the way we are, trusting that God has prepared a place for us. At least when I am on my death bed, I hope I can be fully focused on Jesus. There will be no distractions, no sales pitches or promises of happiness via some instruction book. The only thing that exists will be the reality that I am loved. The only thing for me to do is to turn my eyes towards Jesus. Now if that’s not convenient, I don’t know what is. He has given us this free gift of relationship, and Jesus is the key to enter into this relationship. For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. 1 Cor 13:12 Chester
June 9: I wanted to tell you about the party we had and are having in our new ministry with Ashley and the neighborhood. I thought this morning about the joy and freedom of gathering yesterday at the East Winston Community Garden to work together with various people from different places. We shared one bond in Christ for the singular purpose of being a community church. I listened to Bishop Huntley, his first lady Deloris, Michael Burton of Latch Key Youth Ministry, Mary Jac of the Extension Agency, Deacon Johnson who plowed and planted the garden almost by himself, Paul Davidson of Revo, James McRavion of male mentoring at Ashley and Principal Hairston of Ashley – all share our vision for this community. This community garden, as well as others around the city, is a symbol of healing and hope. It is so much more than a garden, It is place of belonging, of accountability, of pride and beauty and of entrepreneurship.
June 2: “Community Building” Meeting at Ashley: My 2 Cents Worth I do appreciate the passion and vision that each of you have brought to our organizational meeting last week. I think it is important that we focus for now on tangible and doable goals that are common to us all. Building a team that will last and that will be effective essentially involves 2 things: common vision and good leadership. Everybody in the room cares deeply about our children’s future. They are our future, and we will go to any length to ensure that they are loved and that they have the best opportunity to realize their potential through strong education and family values.
May 18: The joy of sharing ministry.
Ministry from inside out. First of all, I am reminded that we on the outside often are so caught up in the dysfunction and negative statistics of our under-resourced areas that we fail to notice saints tirelessly working for a better neighborhood from the inside. Every neighborhood has indigenous assets and pockets of Godly laborers. I have been praying for a long time that God would build a bridge, that I could sit down with someone to listen to their stories and to discover how God wants to use me. The neighborhood around Ashley Elementary School was an undertaking until I met the Huntleys. I just spent over 2 hours with John and Deloris Huntley, who are the pastor and his wife at Alpha and Omega Church near Ashley. Bishop Huntley runs this small church that once had 4 members. Deloris left her job with the Urban League and started a food pantry with which she has connected a family ministry for that neighborhood. The Family Institute serves the 75 or so people who walk to this church every other Tuesday to get food from the pantry and friendship from the Huntleys. The mission statement of this Family Institute is to build strong families in the community. In the basement of this small church are children books for kids, 4 computers, a small clothes rack and shoe rack with baby/children’s shoes. the pantry and a large counter and kitchen. They offer instruction on using and cooking the food as part of the pantry experience. They have many other person-building events such as GED classes, exercise classes, nutrition and health consciousness. This summer they have enrolled 67 children in the neighborhood in a Summer Academy, 8-wk. 5 days a week learning and character building experience. The Huntleys are totally invested in the lives of the children and families around Ashley. I thank God for them and for our spending this afternoon together sharing stories and passions. They are exactly whom I have prayed for in beginning to share a ministry with the people in the neighborhood. They have started an exciting Community Garden in a couple of empty lots across the street. We’re already talking about cooperating with the Ashley community garden to feed the neighborhood. Pastor Huntley needs help in carrying out his vision for this church in their outreach to the neighborhood. I felt a true brotherhood with my new friends, as we sat at their table together and shared our vision. There are many people who call their neighborhood home. Thanks to the Huntleys, I felt the love for their neighbors and for me. Chester
May 2, 2013: We prayed, and we realized that this concert on May 4 is a bridge to building our connections with the community. This is more about God’s plan for this city and for each of us who attend and will be touched by what God is doing. Allison is singing a Louis Armstrong song, “A Kiss to Build a Dream On,” but I’m singing our song, “A Bridge to Build a Ministry On.” There is a tension before the concert. It’s excitement all mixed up with angst. All the musicians are primed to offer their best. People are coming who are passionate about touching kids’ lives, about doing something about our city’s crisis and about releasing God’s compassion across this city. We have prepared well, but now let’s see what God will do with us. I know I will be tucked away somewhere in the crowd looking for what God is doing and praying that He will blow us away once again. Don’t miss it. See you there.
Apr 28, 2013: Smelling Like Sheep: Five Senses of H2H Ministry
He answered, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind. And you must love our neighbor as yourself.” Doing ministry can be a full-bodied experience, just like God calls us to love him with everything we have. I was reflecting on this idea today. Serving the Ashley neighborhood certainly is not a clean and distant exercise. It involves all of our senses. The first sense is sight. Every time I see a child without enough to eat or a family living in poverty, imprisoned by life circumstance, I pray that God will allow me to see them through his eyes. Jesus’ light shines through us as we serve. Hearing is listening. I want to sit down with people and listen to their stories. I want to learn what is good in their lives and where God is calling me to be Jesus. I am constantly listening for God’s voice in the world around me. Our touch can be God’s power. Through touching people, we sense them in a wholly (holy) unique way. We let people into our lives and affirm them as brothers and sisters through our touch. “How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!” Psa 119:103. Helping to make a difference by feeding hungry children is absolutely connected to our message of hope, healing and salvation. We are the salt of the world. “For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved.” 2 Cor 2:15. New research shows that the smell of fresh coffee is one of the most attractive smells. When I smell freshly brewed coffee, I anticipated something new and exciting. I also expect conversation and intimacy. That’s a great image. So how do we also smell like sheep? We are all shepherds. We each have one or more flocks with whom we are entrusted. A good shepherd knows his sheep by name; he nourishes the young, bandages the wounded, cares for the weak and protects them from harm. Love and trust between a shepherd and his flock can only be gained one way – by touching, carrying, handling, tending and feeding this sheep. Only when that happens do we start to smell like sheep. “People in the streets don’t care about what you got til they know how much you care.” Anon
Feb 17, 2-13: Just finished reading the last 2 chapters of Beyond Charity by John Perkins. Christian community development must be grounded in a living relationship with Christ. Otherwise our efforts will be short-lived and short-sighted. Our motivation must be to bear fruit within the family of faith, while expecting God to reveal his plan to us, expecting that God will move in the lives of those he has called. We have a conviction that God goes into the world ahead of our efforts, desires and creativity. The Bible says that we are cracked vessels. The light of Christ in us is able to shine through those cracks. Christ calls us to minister in his strength and by his Spirit, for we are broken, and we will stumble and fall along the way. We are to be Christ’s hands, feet and heart to those we serve. Incarnation is the life of Jesus continued in a community through the church. Charity is not enough. It falls far short of Christ’s example and cannot embody the whole person of Jesus Christ. As we are able to see our world with Jesus’ eyes, we could have no other response but to say, “Here am I, Send me,” because of what God has already done for us.
Dec 29. 2012: 2012 has been an amazing year for H2H, Ashley and me personally. It really was a roller coaster ride for me, wasn’t it? I thought I would outline some thoughts and/or goals that I have personally, and hopefully H2H and others will play major roles.
Sep 8, 2012: A New Wave of Evidence—In Short
The evidence is consistent, positive, and convincing: families have a major influence on their children’s achievement in school and through life. This fourth edition of Evidence confirms that the research continues to grow and build an ever-strengthening case. When schools, families, and community groups work together to support learning, children tend to do better in school, stay in school longer, and like school more. Do you want to read more?http://www.sedl.org/
Sep 5, 2012: I have certainly enjoyed sharing my ministry with you. It started off with God’s healing my blindness to suffering and hunger in our own community. This ministry began to take shape as God sent the people we needed to share a passion and to carry on the vision of responding to God’s nudge. The vision embraced risk and power, going outside our walls to make a difference to these kids and to a hurting community. The H2H ministry grew as we began to be obedient to God’s call and listen to what he was saying. And now I feel we are about to join a community of churches to explode into many hands and hearts across the community to tackle head-on dire needs and to develop many new relationship in unison of spirit. We are the Church. We’re not Baptist, Presbyterian, Methodist or Moravian. We have no color, no bigotry, no prejudice or no hatred. We are one in Christ, called to a purpose to lift one another up and to give ourselves to follow Christ’s leadership.I feel that W-S is primed to do something big. Churches everywhere are responding to the hunger crisis with anticipation and energy. There is an air of cooperation and commitment. There are several forums on hunger coming up just in the next 2 weeks. I have been invited to attend one on Sep 17 with 81 churches who are meeting to talk about our response to such a crisis. There’s another this Saturday at the Food Bank and at United Way. H2H has gotten off to an incredible start. We’re only less than a year old, but we have begun to be a part of a revolution. God is changing the hearts of people on the inside. He is calling us to be in relationship with kids at Ashley School in the middle of the “hood.” We are joining hands with many churches to support the school staff. We are calling for mentors and tutors to fill places vacated by mothers and fathers. We are being called to give kids an opportunity to read so that they can have possibilities of success later in life. We are being called to support families and parent involvement through PTA events and other school/neighborhood activities. I am proud to be in God’s army. I’ve longed to be counted as a soldier for Christ. Pray that we can continue to listen to God’s voice and turn this community around, starting with ourselves and with one child at a time. Pray that we can reach people in the Ashley neighborhood to build a strong inner core of spirit-led leadership. Pray that we will always be looking for what God is doing among us and that we will always have courage and conviction to respond in ways that are pleasing to him.
Aug 5, 2012: If you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday. Isaiah 58:10
July 22, 2012: Pray that we at Ardmore will become bold witnesses to Christ’s love as we go and work among Ashley folks and neighborhood. When we step up and boldly become God’s people, the world will become the world, the risen Christ will be seen, and God will be glorified.
June 15, 2012: I talked with a man at work today for the first time. I shared with him about our ministry. He teaches a SS class of younger adults at a local church near Ashley, and he said just yesterday they were talking about finding a new ministry to get involved in. He and I will continue our conversation, but he is very interested in their getting involved with Ashley. He then said he mentored a whole group of kids in another state before he moved to W-S last year, so we are again thanking God for his grace and provision. It is apparent to me that it’s going to take a lot of people and coordination among churches to effectively reach and address the needs of the Ashley School and neighborhood. If all the people with whom I have talked and have shown an interest in helping out, if God leads them to join this ministry in any way, well….we should have a celebration. What do you do but maybe cry out humbly, because there is already a great deal of pain and suffering that we have not yet even seen right across 52. Sometimes when I sit down and think about it, like right now, I weep. I can’t even imagine what it’s like to go hungry on weekends or to not have the same opportunity that I grew up and took for granted thinking we all had it. I can’t imagine that people don’t have hope and peace in knowing Jesus’ love and promise. Thinking on what he’s done in my life, how he loved and protected me well before I knew him, how when I was hopeless and alone because life was just temporary and meaningless, and he called my name. This is ridiculous. I’m sitting here at my desk crying like a baby. I hope you don’t mind. I’m not even sure why. God is preparing us for something. I guess all I can say is amen. Is this what Gideon felt like before he went into battle?
Apr 2, 2012: Did you know that the name H2H was created not only to depict the mission of this ministry in bringing people from hunger to health and from spiritual hunger to heaven, the 2 H’s also honor Ben Hahn and Ben Hodge, both serving in the military in the Middle East?
Mar 9, 2012: God, give me eyes to see.