February 2021

Hello all! I hope this letter finds you and your family safe and secure this winter. The Lord knows many of us are feeling unsettled with what is happening around us, or dealing with personal struggle or tragedy.  The Lord’s peace and grace to all of you.

With the new year always comes change… and with change comes the hope that things will get better.  An English poet coined the phrase, “hope springs eternal”.  Most of us harbor the hope that things will get better in our society, our lives, for our families.

Hope may spring eternal but it seems a long time coming where I live. Driving through my south Minneapolis neighborhood these days is a bitter experience… I see the rubble of burned and demolished buildings, all covered in snow.  I pass by vacant lots once occupied by stores and businesses I used to frequent. The signs of winter, ice and snow, gives things a peaceful prospect… but they serve to remind me how much time has passed since our neighborhoods were in turmoil, and little restoration has been done.  I recall the injustice, and the anger it provoked. I remember the protest, and those who exploited it to foment anarchy and fear.  One block away from my house I pass the makeshift memorial one family made to mark the violent passing of their teenage son to a street gun battle, a lasting image before I turn down the alley to pull into my driveway.  I hope for things to get better but reminders of the injustices which face the poor surround me.

The physical manifestations are the least of it. 2020 is over but its vestiges linger. Covid 19 vaccines, a change in government leadership, vows of police accountability, the dampening of street activity by the onset of winter (not much!)… so much promise but no real change yet.  We still hear gunshots at night here in the dead of winter. White people are allowed to wreak havoc in our nation’s capitol with no fear of punishment or reprisal while young Black men continue to be shot down by police for the slightest provocation. This is America.  It doesn’t seem as if things will change at all, but maybe I’m looking in the wrong place.

“I lift up my eyes to the mountains… where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth.” Psalm 1.1-2

I’ve just completed a book on the trials facing young Black men growing up in the city (Not Forsaken, available in March).  Its premise is that young Black men must look beyond themselves and beyond this world to find vindication and deliverance.  And then use that Power to overcome the world and their circumstances.  They must look to Christ and be subsumed by His life in order to be who they really are.  This is true for each of us, no matter the gender, ethnicity or income level… but especially relevant for those who have nothing in this world. It is a spiritual principle that the less you are invested in this world, the more you are open to Christ.

So we lift up our eyes to the Lord, from whom our deliverance, our Hope, comes. And it may come soon or it may take awhile, but it will come. And while we are waiting, Jesus is right here with us. He empowers us to keep on keepin’ on, to overcome!  We hold on to God’s promise in Psalm 30.5, that weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes in the morning .

Christmas 2020

I went to see Omar this week.  I hadn’t seen him in a few weeks. He and the other boys call often and ask, “Chris, when are you gonna come get us?”, and I can only reply, “Not for awhile, I’m not trying to have y’all catch the coronavirus.” I try to get around to see all of our core kids every couple of weeks but I’m not always able to get to all of them. A visit these days consist of a fifteen to twenty minute drop by… If weather permits we can go to the park or do something outside for longer. We’ll shoot baskets, toss the football, or just lean against the car and talk. We wear masks and stay six feet apart. We get a lot of visiting done though, and I feel like I’m able to let them know somebody cares about what they are going through, that God cares… Immanuel.

A lot had happened in Omar’s life since the last time I’d seen him.  His family had moved.  They had been living with relatives for a long time but his mom had gotten them an apartment in a different neighborhood.  Not that different though, he still hears gunshots every night. Another boy I know lived nearby and he came over when he heard I was there.  I had brought some McDonald’s for them and they ate on a bench in the courtyard. I also brought some treats for Omar to share with his younger brothers and sisters.

Omar was doing terrible with online school.  He had just started the ninth grade and completed his first quarter.  I was alarmed to discover he had no credits because all of his classes were incompletes. “Don’t you do your work?” I asked him.  He said yes, when he was online but not the out of class assignments.  I said, “You mean your homework? You gotta do your homework man!” He shrugged… “Once school is offline I just play video games.”  “Dude, you’re going to get way behind!” Again the shrug, like he didn’t care, there’s just no motivation.  Single parent mom is at work all day, struggling to make ends meet and provide basic needs for food and shelter… with no energy or time to provide the parental oversight online schooling requires for students like Omar. This pandemic is taking a serious toll on our families, apart from the obvious health risks. They are being pushed deeper and deeper into an already depressed condition both socially and economically…Immanuel.

Most or our kids and families are experiencing the same thing, drifting along, just trying to keep their heads above water. The one good thing happening now is that our kids are staying inside for the most part. I spoke with another boy a couple days later… I asked him if he’s staying out of trouble… “Oh yeah, I stay in the house.  Last week there was a shooting on that block, a couple weeks ago a boy got shot over there, then last night someone got shot in my alley.  I don’t dare leave the house”… Immanuel.

It’s hard not to get overwhelmed and discouraged for our kids. But they seem really encouraged when they see me or Lisa or when we bring food boxes. Our families are really gonna miss our annual Christmas party this year.  We are too! Lisa has thought of a way to bring the Christmas party to people’s houses. We will make holiday baskets to distribute, or people can pick them up, which include special treats and gifts reminiscent of our Christmas gathering.  We’ll bring some Christmas.

We try to bring Christmas when trouble arrives and people call on us for whatever they need.  We try to bring Christmas in our phone calls, texts and social media posts and messages.  We try to bring Christmas in backdoor visits at our house, meeting on the street corner or on their front steps.  We’ll celebrate Christmas with them, and they’ll know Jesus has come…Immanuel, God with us.

October 2020

Although we’ve had a difficult and heart wrenching summer here, the most severe we have experienced in our thirty years of ministry in this neighborhood; there was a particular moment which shines brightly for us and our community… the graduation from college of one of our young men, Aaron.  His achievement cannot be overstated, because of the overwhelming obstacles he has had to overcome in order to accomplish this goal. 

Aaron had a rough life as a kid… strife at home, evading drugs, crime and gangs in the neighborhood, and the prejudiced encounters one experiences as a young black man in urban America.  Yet he overcame these significant barriers to graduate from high school. He got involved with us back in sixth grade, playing on one of our basketball teams. He subsequently went to camp and participated in several other activities, but most importantly he developed a relationship with his mentor, coach Tony. Aaron was a gifted athlete and had an opportunity to go to college on an athletic scholarship, but culture shock and lack of support resulted in him giving up his scholarship and returning home.  He returned to college after some months but continued to have setbacks due to financial considerations and bad personal choices. He attended school off and on, taking courses at the local community college; but struggling to make ends meet.  He became a father and was homeless for a while, but he did not give up his dream. That’s what amazes me about Aaron, in spite of humble beginnings and difficult circumstances he never lost his desire for a better life, and he saw education as a means to achieve that dream. With no family support, emotionally, financially or otherwise, he managed to find a program and re-enroll at a four-year college.  Working a job to support him and his son he fulfilled his academic requirements, yet was barely able to pay for school in spite of a minimal scholarship and some financial aid.  But Aaron didn’t quit.  We went through some dark times with him and he had some serious setbacks but he didn’t quit.  He didn’t quit on his hope of a better life, he didn’t quit on his belief in himself, he didn’t quit on his faith in God, even though it seemed sometimes like the Lord didn’t see his struggle. 

We were able to help Aaron with his school bills from time to time through a scholarship fund begun by my brother in our mother’s name (Esther G. McNair scholarship fund). Aaron’s coach and mentor, who has been with him since he was a young teenager, never flagged in his support and encouragement. And Aaron’s involvement in our ministry from a young age served to motivate him as he strived to live out the principles instilled in him by Coach Tony and Pastor Chris. In the last few years Aaron frequently came to church seeking spiritual support and counsel on how to build his relationship with God. Due to his hard work, persistence and faith he is a much different person, living a much different life, than he was five years ago.  So finally, this past summer, sixteen years after he graduated from high school, he finished college with a degree in Education.  We are so proud of him!

So this year, having completed the horrendous summer of 2020, we wanted to celebrate his accomplishment, and share our joy with you.  The obstacles Aaron has had to overcome growing up are similar to those of many young men who grow up in our community. Our mission has been to help young men like Aaron to realize that the hope of Christ is real. You can help through keeping this ministry and our young people in your prayers in these difficult times. Visit our website at christschildrenministries.org, or visit our Facebook page to see what we do or make a contribution if the Lord leads you to do so. Feel free to share it with your friends. Thank you and God bless!

PS- Recently a young man was published in the op ed section of the Star Tribune: https://www.startribune.com/imagine-you-are-a-black-male-teen-in-north-minneapolis/572719461/ His poignant story is the story of all the young black men we work with in our neighborhood and have engaged over the years.

August 2020

One day recently I was in the backyard working and I heard a series of loud bangs. For the months of June and July such noises were quite frequent as people around us were shooting fireworks off in the street; but this was not fireworks, these were gunshots… ominous, threatening, and close by.  If you live here you learn quite quickly to tell the difference. Lisa came out of the house and gave me a worried look… the unspoken question lingering… was it someone we know?  We instantly do a roll call so we know where our sons are. When I hear gunshots I send up an instant prayer for whoever’s involved.  We heard sirens and not long after a police helicopter was circling our neighborhood. Rumors came to us that someone was shot at a nearby bus stop and the perpetrator was loose and nearby, hiding from the police. As it turned out a 17 yr. old boy had been shot and killed by another teenager outside a corner store less than a block away.

Our neighborhood has been in a state of heightened sensitivity since the George Floyd killing.   Angry rioting and destruction, weeks of loud, but peaceful protests, and now an escalation of street violence to unprecedented levels.  Almost every night there has been a shooting in the north and south side neighborhoods of urban Minneapolis. How can we live with this?  Ironically one becomes inured to the frequent violence surrounding us, at least I have. I am by no means comfortable with it, but over the years I have developed a measure of professional detachment, at least until I discover that it involves someone we know. This shooting was different.  It was so close to our house, at a corner store that my children and I frequent. Lisa and I pass it quite often when we go for walks. The victim was a Latino youth, a stranger to me; but not a stranger.  I didn’t know him, but I knew him.  I have young friends just like him. How did this happen? Why did it happen? We may never know.

There have always been challenges to living here, and this summer it’s been very difficult; but we do it out of love and obedience.  Love for Christ first, and then our neighbors; and obedience to God’s call on our lives.  It means something to be here. In small, yet significant ways God uses us to spread the aroma of the knowledge of Christ in our often troubled community during this tumultuous summer.  “For we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing” (2 Cor. 2.15).  And we are not equal to this task, but we know God is.  There is something good in this ‘hood. Even in the miasma of the failings of human society and institutions God’s presence shines forth.

A memorial shrine of a few flowers has popped up at the site of this boy’s murder. Lisa and I saw at on our way home the day after the shooting and returned to bring flowers and pay our respects.  A group of people had gathered, we didn’t want to intrude. As we lay our flowers down two men approached me. One told me that he was the boys’ father, and thanked us for coming. We shed tears and grieved with this mourning parent as we extended blessing and comfort to him. Although we did not speak the same language there was no barrier between us. We came bearing flowers, we came bearing Christ.

July 2020

Since the death of George Floyd two blocks from our house a month ago, our city has experienced unprecedented upheaval. This, on top of the devastation to normal life caused by COVID-19, has created a summer like no other. We usually experience an increase in gunshots and crime in the summer months and this summer has been no exception with shootings and shots fired being a common thread in news and neighborhood circles. As our city leaders grapple with police reform and plans to dismantle our current system, as volunteers run encampments with hundreds of long term homeless persons in our neighborhood park, regular citizens are dealing still with the inconveniences created by closed businesses, road and street construction and the difficulties of job loss or changed circumstances. We are praying and hoping that solid, substantial, constructive change that is designed to meet long term needs and address long term ills, will come forth out of all this upheaval. Many voices are loud, but we need substance and details for change or nothing built will end up creating more justice or more equity. Please pray for our city.

Our usual summer with boys would involve three camps including our annual Simba Rites of Passage camp, outings to museums, parks and recreational sites, service opportunities and various individual sports and enrichment camps that we would sign kids up for, pay for and transport them to.

But this is the summer of COVID-19. Camp, museums, rec centers and many other sites are closed. Almost every activity we have always done involves driving around the city with a minivan or 12 passenger van full of kids. Due to poverty and the related transience in housing, our kids are scattered in neighborhoods all over north and south Minneapolis, not conveniently clustered within comfortable walking distance.

So, we have spent the spring developing new ways to meet and connect with kids and families. It’s time consuming because where we might normally have connected with 5-9 kids at a time for an activity like basketball practice or a trip to the Science Museum or an adventure at the SkyZone activity center, now we are meeting with 1-2 kids at a time at their homes or nearby parks. We have been bringing groceries, delivering school meal boxes, Chris is throwing the football around in the yard, going for walks and talking, texting, video meeting, phone calling…

We ask for your prayers as we reimagine summer and find new ways to connect, have fun and build relationships. We are exploring using some of our unemployed 20-30 year olds to assist us and developing plans for smaller group outings where we can provide more social distance for safety with any kind of transportation. We are hoping to use some bikes and are doing way more outdoors…

As you can imagine, this is all challenging. It’s not the summer any of us want or the summer our kids all look forward to with great anticipation, year after year. But, what we do have on our side is long established relationships with kids that are actually greater than the fun activity that we help provide. We have on our side the trust of parents who know that we are always going to be thinking about the health, safety and welfare of their kids and family. We are in it for the long haul, doing what we have always done. Loving children and their families. Mentoring, supporting, encouraging and advocating for their physical, intellectual,

social, emotional and spiritual development. We know that it takes God to be a Black man and we are with our young people from their elementary years through life.

Also, in this season of COVID-19, we have young men looking for jobs and needing help starting careers…high school grads, college students, recent college graduates. If you have entry level career opportunities or summer work opportunities that we could make known to people, please contact us.

We are grateful for your gifts and support as we press on with our work of building up young men here in Minneapolis. They need your prayers and so do we as we call upon God for help in this very difficult summer. I confess, I(Lisa) am weary and burdened and very much need grace for the living of these days.

June 2020

Tuesday, May 26 Noon

I never have any words….never know what to say. Yesterday evening while I worked in my garden, two blocks away, the life of a Black man was being smothered out by a policeman’s knee on his neck. If you are not angry, if you are not outraged, if you are not sick, if you are not heartbroken, you are not paying attention. If you are not seeking and asking what your own contribution can be towards the promotion of equity and justice and opportunity in our city and state and nation and world for Black men and all marginalized persons, you are promoting the status quo. Please join me as I grieve with another mother who has to mourn a senseless and brutal loss, as I am angry and outraged at a system that allows police inhumanity to continue and as I pray to ask God what my part is in working for justice and love in this broken world of ours. Let’s pray and act.

Sunday morning May 31

Thank you for your prayers, we are fine here this morning except for the fact that I am clearly too old to be staying up all night!!!

It was a much more quiet night than the previous, but lest anyone think our local officials were alarmist I want to say that stuff was going on here in south Minneapolis night, there’s just no way for us to know the true level of danger. 

As we watched and prayed last night there were some things not uncommon in our neighborhood, lots of fireworks type bangs and a couple of nearby gunshots. We have now become accustomed to the presence of the helicopters over us. And even with the curfew, many cars were speeding up our street and some through our alley last night.

Then there were things we don’t usually see, white men in matching black hoodies running down our street, men in grey hoodies and helmets riding mopeds down our alley, a truck with white men with faces covered riding on the truck bed speeding by… a caravan of passenger vans speeding down our street going the wrong way. Quite a number of cars were driving the wrong way on both our adjacent one way streets last night. Friends in other neighborhoods report similar odd goings-on.  I hollered and yelled and scared off a white man in a grey hoodie moving amongst the cars in my neighbor’s driveway at 2am.

I say all of this to let you know that we appreciate your prayers- please continue to pray for us, for our people, our neighbors, for justice and change, for healing and recovery in our city and for the trauma that this week and so many other moments like it in our nation’s history has wrought upon the hearts and minds of Black Americans.

June 4 Thursday morning

Thank you to all who have reached out to see how we’re doing, who have offered to help, who have donated to support our ministry to families here in these difficult days. Because I haven’t slept well, I took a walk this morning in hopes of getting my body back to normal. I walked to the site of George Floyd’s killing….even at 9 am it’s filled with people, tents of 20 or more news cameras poised everywhere to catch the activity. The traffic is so thick around our house we have had a hard time getting in and out of here sometimes. It seems the whole world has now come to our little corner of the world. 

We want to let you know we are here. We are weary and a little frazzled at times. (For those who know us, you know that means me, not Chris!!)

But, We are fine. And we will be here, as we have been for the past 31 years, doing what we have always done. Checking in with all our people. Seeing who needs things and making sure they get them. Comforting, counseling, encouraging, supporting, loving Black boys and their families. Promoting and encouraging their health, development, minds, hearts and souls as they become strong men. 

When the cameras go away, when all the ills of racism and poverty are no longer on the forefront of America’s mind, we will be here. Loving God. Loving our neighbor. Lifting up the name of Jesus and giving ourselves to the work that God has put before us, this lifetime call of supporting young men and their families and building Christian community here in Minneapolis. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

May 2020

Y’all may be wondering how the pandemic is affecting our ministry and this community.  Lisa goes shopping and we deliver food to families weekly.  We go to the designated school sites and pick up boxes of school lunches and breakfasts for our kids and take them to their homes.  The public school’s response in this crisis has been terrific, but even though food is made available it is not always getting to the people who need it. The food drop-off operates for just a few hours in the middle of each day, at different sites, and many people are working during these hours.  If you are a single parent you may not have the time, or transportation, or someone to pick up food for your children.  There are families who are not getting food for a variety of personal reasons.  We try to step in the gap for them.  It’s the same with the online learning with school. The schools have made computers available to families for the children; but it involved a process that some of our families did not respond to, resulting in many of our kids not having computers and not doing school work.  We have a couple of generous donors who made it possible for us to procure computers for our kids who needed them.  A large part of our work during this crisis has been to get resources into the homes that need them.

In spite of the restrictions and crisis we all face as a society, the ongoing dysfunctional crises of our community has not slowed down at all.  We see drug dealing and prostitution in the same places and there have been several shootings.  Street violence has not taken a sabbatical during this time.  I see in the news how this pandemic has been affecting low income areas disproportionately in our inner cities.  The lack of access to healthcare and the effect of limited income on basic needs apply here as well.  We’ve had a couple of young men become ill as a result of working at their essential worker jobs but they seem to be recovering.

At times I feel like there’s not a lot we can do right now. I miss the quality time I’d spend with the teen boys multiple times a week picking them up for practice and going to tournaments.  I have a fresh core group of ten -year olds that I was bringing along, cultivating friendships and a group identity.  We have not met for church for six weeks and I worry about our parishioners’ spiritual development. Our ministry is relationship intensive and just doesn’t translate well to Facebook and Instagram and online church services.  I even miss my rough group of fifth graders at school… it’s taken me most of the year to earn their trust. I pray for all of them constantly.

We have one student who is on the brink of acceptance to college with a full scholarship included. His senior year has been turned upside down.  Just before this crisis he was coming to the end of a long struggle in court because of a momentary bad choice he made.  He is going through that, as well as not experiencing his senior year with his friends.   But not alone… we encourage and support him and he is moving in the right direction. Another young man was doing well in his college prep high school courses but due to the online learning transition and his family’s lack of resources he fell significantly behind.  We were able to get him a computer as well as teleconference with his school principal and teachers to get him back on the right track. When I visit my young guys… my middle school basketball players, they are always surprised when I show up with boxes of food for them and their siblings.  Before the crisis I couldn’t get them to sit still for a serious talk for five minutes but now they are reluctant to let our curbside visits come to an end.  Last week while we were delivering food we had a mother break down in tears as she shared her burden and stress with us… caring for a house full of children at a time when she cannot work. We prayed with her before we left and she was encouraged, knowing that God is indeed with her.  Another family was about to be evicted; would surely be on the streets now with her young children if we were not able to help her with the resources you provide.

So there is a lot we can do.  We can usher God’s presence into the lives of our troubled parishioners. I try to remember what Lisa told me when this all began and I doubted the efficacy of these small offerings. “Chris, when they see you they are reminded of Jesus”.  That’s what drives us.  Through your support we are able to spread the “fragrance of Christ” (2 Cor. 2.14), so that they might know that God is with them.   Thank you for your support and prayers.

 

Easter 2020

Who ever thought we would be living in times like these? So much uncertainty, fear, anxiety and worry. As I think about all my loved ones who are at greater risk and read the reports of even the young and healthy who have been killed by this virus, the waves of fear wash over me. If the worst things happen, will I be able to cope? How badly I want to avoid suffering and want protection for all those for whom I care and love.
Many Christians wrongly believe with a magical kind of thinking that God should protect them from all bad things. It’s the same kind of thinking that accuses God of not being real or truly loving as long as bad things happen, especially when bad things happen to the weak and powerless. The truth, however, is that in a world where free choice is possible and where the rain falls on the just and unjust, bad things will happen. As Jesus told us in John 16, “In this world, you will have trouble.”
Trouble, tribulations, trials…
But here is where we meet the real message of Jesus, “I have overcome the world.”
It is here that we find the true message of Easter. It would be so much easier if the total package of this message meant that the overcoming of Jesus happened without persecution, pain, suffering and death. But, the way of Jesus, the totality of the message he has modeled for us, the path of transformation he has blazed for us… Is that absolutely no evil, no hardship, no failure, no suffering, no pain and no death can separate us from the love and power available to us if we follow Jesus through the path of suffering and death. That transformational path leads us to the resurrection. That transformational path means that any pain, any failure, any loss, any suffering can, in God’s great love, be redeemed in and for us for something good.
I remind myself of this every time fear washes over me, every time my anxiety about losing anyone I love threatens to overwhelm me, anytime I feel as though I don’t possibly have the resources to survive the worst.
God is with us. God loves us. No matter what happens, we will never be alone. No matter how weak or inadequate my own preparedness and coping and responses may be, God will see me through. So that I, and you, will be able to make it through. Through any suffering or trouble, God will bring the power of the resurrection. So that no matter what the hardship or suffering or death, it will not be able to destroy us. It will be redeemed. As Isaiah 43 promises,

“Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you.
For I am the LORD your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.
I give Egypt as your ransom,
Cush and Seba in exchange for you.
Because you are precious in my eyes,
and honored, and I love you.

We are grateful for your gifts and prayers during this hard season. Chris and I are busy checking in with families, calling and texting individuals, trying to offer encouragement and comfort. We made another trip of grocery drop-offs with some families this week, getting a chance to see and pray for them across their front yards. One teen we suspect had Covid-19, who was diagnosed with pneumonia, is recovering well. What joy it was to see his smiling face on our rounds. I think we can all appreciate the challenges of having many family members all home at the same time in smaller living spaces. I think we can also appreciate the challenges of parenting teenagers in this time of restriction, home-schooling and isolation, especially for single parents who don’t have another adult in the house to help share the load. We appreciate your prayers for us and for our people. May God’s great love and mercy bless and keep you and yours in these hard days. May the power of the Resurrection sustain you. Chris and I wish you a very blessed and holy Easter.

March 2020

I have to confess that the crisis we all find ourselves in was slow to impress itself on me. At first my greatest feeling was that of being inconvenienced as ministry events and activities were canceled one after another: basketball tournaments, youth trips and planned events.  Our kids take it hard anytime an event is cancelled.  It is not just the excitement and fun of the event itself, it is the promise of joy, communion and connection with others in a positive and affirming way. Things most of us take for granted and experience regularly, but which our boys rarely do. So, we worry about them.

We call, text and facetime to remind them of the community and love we share in Christ.  Our house church will meet online for the weeks to come, but it’s just not the same.  I feel like the best thing we have to offer our people is connection with us, each other, and with God.  We are seeking the Lord as to how we may continue that connection in this crisis. When you think about about kids in jeopardy of going without food, or parents who cannot pay the rent if they don’t work, or families that don’t have the resources for online learning when school is closed… these are our people.  Many of our folk lack the inner resources to connect with the support that is available. So we check in with our families by phone, we bring food to those who need it, and we provide emotional and spiritual support in different ways.  When I delivered some food to some of our families this week I could tell from their faces that even the thought , gesture, or momentary connection had an impact. We just found out that one of our families is under quarantine, and one of our young men is sick. We have taken great pains to assure them that neither we, nor God, has forsaken them.

At the onset of this crisis I felt inconvenienced and irritated.  But everyday the news gets worse and worse and sometimes I’m just plain scared.  I wonder, “God, what are you doing?” When I allow myself to actually experience what is happening to us as a society… a society to which our people belong in spite of being on the fringes of it, that’s when I feel the confusion and fear.  What is happening?  What will happen to us as a society?

It’s a stark reminder to me that as a human being I am a member of human society, with all its flaws and shortcomings.  But since I became a Christian many years ago I’ve considered myself in the world, but not of it.  God’s kingdom is my first allegiance and association.  So although I am as susceptible as anyone else in the world to contract this virus, and I’m certainly susceptible to the fear, uncertainty and anger at our situation, I try to remember who I am and Who I belong to.  God tells me everything’s gonna be alright.  The last time we met as a group for worship we were looking at the story of Lazarus in John 11.  Mary and Martha had sent for Jesus because his friend Lazarus was deathly ill.  Jesus took his time in coming and by the time he got there Lazarus had died.  When Martha greeted him she said, “If only you had been here!”  Jesus told her that everything would be alright.  “Those who believe in me even though they die, shall live.”

As Christians we are supposed to have a different perspective on things than worldly society.  Our faith is being put to the test.  Do we trust God?  As Jesus challenged Martha, do we believe?  And what does that mean for us during this crisis?  I remember when I ruptured my knee several years ago and I was laid up and couldn’t do anything.  I was inconvenienced then, too.  A part of me was afraid that I would not be able to return to my regular routine, life the way I knew it.  But I eventually figured out that God wanted me to live in the moment and take what comes… to experience His presence, even in the midst of crisis. What is God saying to us as a world community? Slow down? Take care of each other? I’m in charge here? I don’t know. But I guess I have time to think about it.  We all do.

Lisa and I are praying that God shows you grace and gives you comfort… for your family and loved ones, our country and society, for our world.

January 2020

Happy New Year everyone! We hope you had a merry Christmas and a happy holiday season.  We hope you have experienced the blessing of Christ and God’s presence this Christmas. We’ve had a blessed Christmas this year.    Our family was all together, as well as our extended ministry family which came together for our annual Christmas service/party.  Yes, our Christmas has been blessed.  It wasn’t always a merry one though.  A number of our people have experienced loss or crisis so that our time together, while meaningful and heartfelt, was not always merry.

In our community we celebrate Christmas with those suffering from chemical addition, homelessness and often street violence… and during this holy season I wonder, what does Christmas mean to those who suffer?

What would Christmas mean to me if I was forcibly separated from my children?

What would Christmas mean to me if I knew that it could well be my last…?

What would Christmas mean to me if I was in bondage to a drug addiction which had completely sapped all emotional and physical strength…?

What would Christmas mean to me if, a loved one lay sick or dying…?

What would Christmas mean to me if my mother had told me that we wouldn’t have Christmas because she had no money?

What would Christmas mean to me if I felt alone and had no real connection to anyone… no sense of community?

What would Christmas mean to me if my life was in danger and people were trying to hurt me?

What would Christmas mean to me if I didn’t have a job, couldn’t pay the rent, didn’t have any food…?

Jesus said “Blessed are you, when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you…” (Matt. 5.11).   That was hard for me to understand for a long time… until I was suffering and persecuted. Then I discovered Christ was right there with me.  Through my suffering and struggle he became more real, more relevant to me.

What would Christmas be like if it was a time of struggle and suffering for me, as it is for many? If we read the Christmas story it was not an easy time for Mary and Joseph… angels and shepherds and wise men notwithstanding.  But it ushered in the time of Emmanuel, God with us, apart from whom I cannot know God. So, I have discovered what Christmas means to me.  This is what we try to share with our friends who are struggling now and all through the year…  Blessed are you! God is with you through the gift of His Son Jesus Christ.  A very real help, a very real Presence, in time of need.