Archive for February, 2013

Guest Blogger – Marty Carney: Love. Grace. Depth. Who knows?

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From an amazing vessel of the Good News. Marty is a pastor and an artist and a beautiful soul with a heart for God’s mission.  He painted the piece that is now the logo (above) for StreetLifeministries and the piece that is now the logo for ReignStorm Youth Mission. He relates this story of the emerging Kingdom of God in his mission field. If you look closely, there is life all around this.  Here you go. Marty writes:

Several weeks ago as I was enjoying a cuppa at the coffee shop, I overheard a young adult standing behind me and talking with his friend, “… and I’m on food stamps…” I heard him say only this fragment of a sentence with some anxiety. He looked to be a vibrant and healthy young adult. I was surprised to overhear this coming from him. I am still learning the diverse face of poverty. So I prayed and wondered if there might be something, some connection of hope to make with him… But since I didn’t know him, I didn’t know if I’d see him again.

Then last week at another coffee shop on my Monday Sabbath, I saw him again doing some artwork at his table across the room. I’m naturally an introvert and it was my Sabbath… but as Jesus said, the Sabbath is for humanity… so I took all this as a sign… since the Spirit had previously caught my attention about this young person’s poverty.

I got up and went over and introduced myself and struck up a conversation about his very interesting artwork. I discovered that his name was “John.” I guess with our mutual interest in visual arts, the conversation flowed smoothly. John is an artist and musician from a small town outside of Sheboygan known for its conservative nature. I asked if his family was typical of that community. Humorously he said that his parents were “former hippies” and also former missionaries in Papua New Guinea (!). Though he didn’t have transportation from his parent’s town, through his network of friends, he found rides into the city and now basically lived in Sheboygan. As an artist and musician, I assumed that the city is his only source of revenue for sharing such gifts. He said that in just a week or two, because of his lack of revenue and opportunities here in Sheboygan, we was going to move out west again. He loved the Pacific Northwest, and especially Colorado. He planned to move to Boulder, Colorado, where there is a thriving arts community.

He continued to talk about his art. He talked about how his family had always lived simply… having lived through his early childhood in the third world… I confessed to him that I was a materialistic American… but was hoping to learn simplicity. He went to say that he thought the opposite of our consumer culture was a culture of creating. So he created art and music.
So, well, I couldn’t help but resonate with that wisdom. In the coming week I would be planning the worship service for our congregation’s 175th anniversary. So I took a big leap of faith and asked John if he would have any interest in playing his music in worship next Sunday… I also said we could pay him $100.

He smiled and said, “Sure.” [really to my surprise]. So we worked out the details which also included other worship leaders from Milwaukee–which , of course, is another amazing story of God’s mission of mercy. Interestingly, all this time, as I now remember, John never mentioned the word “God” in our conversation. He did talk about his deep passion for creating. At one point I think I started to talk about my perspective on Jesus’ mission… but then I heard myself becoming a bit too churchy… so I stopped and just continued to listen to John tell his story.

So just this past Sunday, the musicians in worship were truly a mysterious reflection of the beloved community of Jesus… including John in the mysterious flow of the morning. As one church person said yesterday as we shared our typical Tuesday morning coffee, “You could tell that he [referring to John] really was an interesting character… there’s definitely a story there.”

And there was. On Sunday, as I took all the musicians (six in all, including John) to lunch, we sat around and I listened to all their stories. John in particular revealed that in his journeys out west he had been injured in a traumatic accident… And the other followers of Jesus at the table were amazingly graceful in there listening presence. We learned that John still had some brain damage because of it. And so, again, the fragile humanity of Jesus revealed in such amazing ways.

That Sunday evening, as I sat at the coffee shop in Sheboygan [having to take John’s check to him that he had forgotten at the church], I sat and again overheard him talking to a friend near where I was seated…

“Hey I played a gig at a church this morning,” John said with a little amazement.

“Yeah, so how was that? What time was it?”

“It was at 10.30. Well, there were some good vibes there, you ought to go sometime.”

“Well, maybe I’d be sober enough to drive by then. Who knows?”

Love. Grace. Depth. Who knows?

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Amazements and Learnings Part 3: Everett, guest blogger!

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Amazements and Learnings Part 3:

A Testimonial of Personal Witness from Everett

That’s Everett on the right in the photo above, with a young man from a youth program in the Kansas City area where we overnighted on our way to Dallas.  Everett is an awesome young man who has been laboring with us in the Kingdom at our food pantry and in our youth mission for a couple of years now.  This was his first trip with us, and his first hands-on experience of street ministry.  Here’s his testimony of personal witness from the Dallas trip.  Signs and wonders, baby!! – FartheroutNearerto

I would testify to what I experienced on the missions trip.

First off, I was a bit wary of being able to stand the same people being in so close (less than a few feet in the car) to me during the trip. I will say that by the end, I did not only grow sick of any of them but wanted to spend more time with them once the week was coming to a close.
Now, Max, you know that I have never done street ministry before. After seeing what, I dunno, I just guess what I have always done (being: walking up to random strangers saying, “Hey there man, what’s up?” and then adding “Do you want some soup? Sure? Awesome, just this way! Say, what’s your name?” etc.) be in action for the mission was very joyous for me. The first day I saw Kim the look on those wide eyes when I offered her a cup of soup and blankets was so prominent that this was genuinely Earth shattering for her. By talking with her and praying with her, it heart touching to see hope come into someone’s life, if only for the moment. That move to pray with someone has given me the experience to pray with random people that I may or may not know that I meet in my daily lives (I can recall two as of right now). Prayer, prayer, prayer. If there has been anything that I have taken away from the Week, it has been the drive for sincere prayer.

The more and more I think about how we were lead across the country to work with some tiny church in “whowhatwhere’sville” with a bunch of seminary students from some tiny little country of origin thousands of miles away from here that didn’t speak much of our language, the more I am lead to believe that this was too ridiculous for it not to be God’s hand at work.

I have always struggled in defining exactly what clique, social group, or tribe I was a part of so that I can interact for the Kingdom. In High school, I got along great with almost all of them. I hung out with the video game-retro crowd, joked with the jocks, discoursed with the Liberals, laughed with the Goths, partnered (for projects) with the Autistic, punned with the nerds, collaborated with the Artsy, paled around with the partiers, talked with the pot smokers, intellectualized with the high-minded, obliged the conservatives, sat with the “poorer” kids, and joked with the overprivileged. By communicating with and praying with Daniel, Jeon’s son, I am reminded of how well I got along with (nearly) everyone, but how strongly I desire to seek out those with Autism/CP/disabilities etc. I myself am not Autistic, nor do I have CP or Asperger’s or anything like that. But for whatever reason, I get along well with this group of often socially distraught and shy people. I believe that they teach me and, somehow, I teach them. Perhaps that was my tribe. I do not know. For whatever it is worth, I know that I can reach this tribe to be invited into my tribe. I don’t know how in the world God wants to use Daniel to make disciples, but I pray that he does.

Also, the worship service on Wednesday night was spectacular.

Also, I now believe that God can lead people through feelings and other things to do His will, whatever it may be.

Amazements and Learnings Part 2 – The Great Commission is Never Without Opposition

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Mission Planting in Dallas – Amazements and Learnings Part 2

The Great Commission is Never Without Opposition

Faithfulness to the Great Commission is never without opposition. I do not come by this rationally because it makes no intuitive sense. I come by this phenomenologically because I have seen it happen over and over and over again.  And often that opposition comes from the most unlikely of places.

“Master,” said John, “we saw someone driving out demons in your name and we tried to stop him, because he is not one of us.”  “Do not stop him,” Jesus said, “for whoever is not against you is for you.” – as related in Luke 9:49-50

The location for our mission plant that the Spirit led us to was parking lot at a Salvation Army center right across the street from the hospitals. We went in and asked permission to hand out food and warm clothing in their parking lot, and got permission.  I explained who we were and what our intentions were.  I explained that we weren’t just doing a street mission, but were teaching seminary and doctoral students how to do it, and that because of that, we needed to show them how to start from scratch.  The people we spoke to understood the need and were positive about what we were doing. We always do trash clean-up and site beautification at our sites because that, too, is part of God’s intend.  We work hard to leave everything better than we found it. So we picked up the gin bottles and beer cans and others sorts of litter that were all over the parking lot.  We thought that was something we could do to say “Thank you” to our site hosts. Within about two hours, their security people came out and told us to move along.  After clarifying the whole permission thing, they told it was fine to stay, and they even participated with us.  We had some great conversations with them. It was clear that day that we were on the same team.  Jesus said, “for whoever is not against you is for you.”

The second day, however, after we had been there for about two hours, we were told that we had not gotten permission from the “right” person. We were told we needed to leave per the instructions of the executive director of the Salvation Army, who was not there the day before, and actually was not there very often due to her off-site responsibilities.  So we thanked them and offered them some food, packed up and left within just a few minutes.  Again, we cleaned up the lot which was again littered with liquor bottles and beer cans.  Our mission was orderly and unobtrusive, but I do understand property liability and negligence issues having been a business owner in the past.  I like to assume the very best until I know something else to be the case, so I assume they moved us along because of their liability exposure.  Otherwise, I like to think that we are on the same team.  We don’t care much for the “who gets the credit” thing, because we want God alone to get the credit. We referred everyone who came to the mission to the Salvation Army for services that are offered there.  A lot of the newly homeless people who were there did not know what the Salvation Army did there.  For us, it’s about the present Kingdom of God, and Kingdom and credit are incompatible. The Salvation Army had been there before we came, and would be there long after we left.

The third and last day on the ground, we opted to avoid possible conflict with the Salvation Army, and since we needed to teach other methods of street ministry anyway, we opted to work out of the two bus stops on the sidewalks on either side of the street in front of the hospital.  Our decision was more based on our desire to teach these students how to do a drop-in and drop-off ministry than it was about worry over the hassle of getting permission.  Drop-in and Drop-off methodology was what we felt the Holy Spirit calling us to do that day. Within minutes of our arrival, the executive director had her security people call the police.  At no time did we even set foot on their property. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the homeless situation in Dallas, people who help the homeless are frequently arrested. As it is in other cities, “homelessness” per se is not illegal, but pretty much everything a person is left to do for survival is made illegal, including loitering. Homelessness is not legislated as a crime, but it is seen as a crime, and the homeless are often persecuted. Shopping carts and temporary structures are against city ordinances now and result in ticketing or arrest, for example.  And people who actively help or encourage them, are open to ticketing and arrest, too.  It is what it is. I don’t know what the intend of the executive director actually was, but the arc of her action was bent toward our arrest, or being ticketed and run-off the street.

Please, understand that my sympathies are with business owners, too.  The homeless can be disruptive to businesses. They can be downright unpleasant and can drive off business. Some homeless folks are actually dangerous. But there were no storefront businesses in the area where we were working other than a fast-food place, and we made sure not to venture onto their property or obstruct their business in any way.  And all of them were there when we got there, so we weren’t attracting anyone to an area where they were not already present in large numbers. So, what was the purpose of calling the police? How would that in any way help the homeless that we were both there to serve and to serve among? We were handing out warm clothing, and given that two homeless people had frozen to death right down the street the night before, wouldn’t it make sense to get that kind of survival stuff out there? Not everyone who wants a bed at the Salvation Army gets one. Many are turned away.  Who cares for their needs? Our street ministry is aimed to help those who fall between the cracks.  The same team, right? Jesus said, “for whoever is not against you is for you.”

One of our team members went over to speak to the police officer when he arrived, and tell him what we were doing.  We had soup, coffee, and some warm clothing items. She told him we were getting that stuff out, and praying with folks, and cleaning up the sidewalk areas and bus stops.  He told her that since she had told the truth and we doing something good, he not only wouldn’t arrest us or run us off, but would stay and make sure we were safe.  It turned out to be an amazing day of conversions and conversations and connections that could not have happened had we gone back to the parking lot where we started.  So, I am grateful for the Spirit’s leading.  And I am grateful that we were not only not arrested, but were actually supported by this amazing law enforcement officer.  The lead security officer at the Salvation Army stood on the steps and scowled and glared.  The Kingdom of God had come to earth just fifty yards away, and for whatever reason, he missed his day of visitation.  We cleaned up the sidewalks and bus stops and the public grass up and down the street, including in front of the Salvation Army.  We still believe they are doing God’s work, and that we’re on the same team.  But I was saddened once again by the experience.

I have been doing missional ministry for fifteen years, and this is by no means the only time I have run into this phenomenon.  We do a regular street ministry right now that gives out survival items and hot food and drink. We do it through our StreetLife Ministries, in conjunction with other cool groups like Street Team from Concordia University.  We will partner with anyone who will partner with us. We do this in Martin Luther King Park on Saturdays.  We are 200 hundreds from what was once an absolutely amazing and ground-breaking ministry to the homeless (whose name will not be mentioned).  For years, we valued each other’s efforts.  But a new director is now telling clients of their ministry that if they come over for a bowl of soup, warm clothing, or a prayer, they will be banned for life from their mission.  That same person once ran off a guy I know and encouraged when he showed up with a car full of brand new XL and 2XL winter coats to give to their clients. I sent him over there not knowing about the new director and thinking that they still appreciated support like that for their clients.  They used to be about whatever helped their clients.  The new director came out and screamed at him and even physically threatened him.  He is a kind-hearted man, but even still we all have limits, and he packed those coats up and drove away to another site and gave those coats to other homeless people in need.  He told me he was sorry, but he would never support that mission no matter what I told him about the good they do. Same team, right?  Jesus said, “for whoever is not against you is for you.”

These are sad stories, but they are also real stories.  You’d be naïve if you didn’t expect opposition when you start inviting people to participate in the Kingdom of God.  The darkness wants no part of the light and will send every kind of craziness and conflict in your path to keep people’s eyes being open to the Kingdom’s presence on the streets. Sadly, sometimes we become our own worst enemies though. Sometimes good folks lose sight of God’s Kingdom because of their own kingdom and interests.  The point isn’t to condemn others for doing that. It’s sad, but it’s human, and we are all susceptible to it.  The point is to be prepared for that, and put prophetic hedges of protection around our missions and in our missions who will set us straight if we start “Tower of Babling” and trying to use the poor to make a name for ourselves. Make a commitment in your mission to never care who gets the credit. Honor the prophets in your life who will set your life who will set you and your mission straight if starts to seek its own glory.  If we get the credit, then the Kingdom doesn’t.  And the Kingdom is the point.  We are not the point.

Be encouraged. Follow the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Know that the Great Commission has always met opposition, and you will meet opposition, too. Partner with anyone you can.  Don’t take credit for anything. Share everything.  Stay positive. Be creative.  Bless everything and everyone you possibly can. Be the change you hope to see.  Don’t try to get back at people who act in opposition to your mission – that just puts you on the enemy’s side.  And know that Christ will be with you, just like he said he would be. Oh…and have fun!