Tuesday, July 21, 2015
I went in, this was the second time, and even though two months had gone by since the first time things were much the same. What had changed was that I knew what I was walking into, I knew faces, I knew that we never know what the night will hold. Last time I'd been anchored in my chair, processing everything, learning faces and holding onto bits of the girls' stories as I heard them shared. This time I was up and around, going over to sit near girls that were alone, waiting for customers -- much like I pull up a seat next to someone new at church on Sunday's to communicate how wanted they are and how worth it they are. Its a funny dance, our group, the dancers, and the patrons, all together and shifting around each other for a few hours on a Sunday night. When we leave the shift carries on just like it did all the days and nights before, but that doesn't determine the "success" of a visit to the club. We're greeted with sincere smiles and trusting hearts, like good friends, when we come into the club. Its hard work, its statistically traumatizing and heart-breaking work, and from what Ive heard, none of the girls want to work there. Its complicated and hard for them to find other work. Whether they ever leave or not, whether they ever believe us or not, we are there to love them and to show them they're worth much more than they dare to believe. Brining Jesus' presence and love into a dark -- literally -- place consistently and without condition, not expecting anything in return and not growing tired of doing so, that determines a successful night at the strip club. We'll keep going, whether or not we ever witness change, because the people in those four walls are WORTH it.
Friday, July 3, 2015
Last Thursday I showed up in the 'hood for an after-school program and neighborhood cookout. I knew the people putting it on but I didnt know the people in the neighborhood that showed up. But that was the point of me going, to meet them. I stood on the side-lines of the games. I talked with some moms and grandmas that walked their kids down. I went over and said hi to a girl who was standing off to the side just watching. She scowled at me and ignored me so I just stood near her.
During the cookout I was asked to man the prayer table. Its just a station set up with a sign for free prayer. Some kids came over to me and asked me to pray for their food. I was able to pray a blessing over a grandma that Id been by during the kids' games. Mostly, though, I just sat there and smiled and greeted people that passed by. One woman showed up by bus just for the cookout. She sat at the prayer station with me and talked all about her family and church community. She was encouraged to be in the company of brothers and sisters in an area that has had several shootings recently.
Monday nights I go to prayer and worship at the same location. I join an eclectic group of brothers and sisters who love the Lord, love Milwaukee, and agree in prayer and action with what God is doing in the city, starting with their own block.
As I was leaving the kids from the neighborhood were playing basketball in the street. I recognized many of them from the after-school program, though I hadnt yet learned their names. "Stranger! Stranger!" one of the boys yelled, pointing at me. I laughed, "You know me! I'll see you guys on Thursday!" They smiled and cleared out of the street.
Yesterday was Thursday and I went back. The kids were playing as usual and I was in and out but they recognized me. One of the boys wiped out on his bike and was crying. I helped him get cleaned up and after that he would ride past me saying, "Hi Chelsea!" He knew me. Just like he knew the people who have been serving there, across the street from him, for years. I'd been accepted in. Same with the other kids. They started to talk to me, engage with me, high five and hug me. The girl who had scowled at and ignored me last week, when I said hello to her and called her by name, burst into a smile and said hello back with a mouth full of potato chips.
I was manning the prayer table again this week. No one stopped by it except for staff members. They just wanted to fellowship. It was nice. Several old friends from the prayer and worship night showed up in the line for food and getting to see them, mixed in with my new friends (the neighborhood kids), as well as various men and women from the community who just happened by, was glorious. See, its one thing to meet someone once and be kind and generous toward them then. Its another thing to intentionally be a consistent presence in their lives and to continue to show kindness and generosity and genuine interest in them.
These neighbors of mine, over on 30th and Burleigh, they matter. Theyve been through hard things. Theyre beautiful people. Im there to know them. And as I know them, itll be my privilege to love them with patience, with persistence, and, Im sure, with provision. Because when you know your friend has a need, its your joy to help them meet it.
Wednesday, June 17, 2015
Purpose moves me. Not people or a paycheck, purpose. People ask what brought me to Milwaukee — school or work are the typical assumption — and while I know there is much purpose behind my placement here, ultimately what brought me here is Jesus. So thats what I say. Im in love with Him, He’s at work and He purposed for me to be part of that work in this city, at this time. How that looks is still unfolding.
When I was moving here I had this fresh passion for homeless people and, knowing that the city had a population of homeless, I assumed Id immediately take the practical step of finding a shelter or an intersection or square of the city where homeless gathered in community and just make myself a consistent presence there with them. Instead I had some heart-to-heart times with my Father that resulted in something else. He reminded me that the point is to love my neighbors, to make disciples — people growing in knowing the Father. I didn’t move here to create a ministry. I didnt even move here to join a ministry. I moved here to live intentionally in community with the local church and the people in this city.
Relationships require consistency and investment of time and emotion. The church as a Body is spread out all across the city, we don’t have the exact same neighbors. Thats good. One family lives in an apartment complex and they love on their neighbors there as they rub shoulders and cross paths. Another family lives in a quiet neighborhood and does the same with their neighbors. Some people are students and they’re loving their “neighbor” in the seat or class next to them. Others are loving their coworker “neighbor” in the hospital, at the gym, in the coffee shop, or at the grade-school.
The church Body of Milwaukee is diverse. Im seeing it come together as One, rather than separate members and that is beautiful. But as one of the white members of that Body, with the unfair privileges and favor of my race in society, and the unconscious, ingrained race-related biases we are raised with, I know that there are groups of “neighbors” we (white people) avoid. Homeless, prostitutes, low income, etc. Its a shame that we have made people that are meant to be our brothers and sisters, our neighbors, into our enemies. Our struggle isn’t with flesh and blood. The separation that there was between mankind and the Father was dealt with in Jesus. No one needs to be held to separation by our judgement when everyone has freedom to the Father by the Son, who died once for all, available to them just like to us.
In my own neighborhood there are families and couples and singles. There are white and black and Arab people. There are Christians and Catholics and Muslims. Ive met some of my neighbors in their driveways or yards, walking down the sidewalk running errands. Ive met some at the libraries and post office and pizza shop. Im not out on-mission, I don’t have an agenda, Im just aware and I care so my eyes and ears are open to them.
In like manner Im aware of my marginalized “neighbors”. I perk up at the sight of someone who lives on the streets or has been subjected to racial prejudices or who feels helpless to make money any other way than by selling their body, just like I perk up at the sound of someone saying my street address or neighborhood name. I choose to be more intentional about making sure I spend time around the neighbors that aren’t in my immediate neighborhood. There still isn’t a program, its not a mission, there isn’t an agenda. Its still just loving my neighbors, being a consistent presence, growing in knowing the Father beside them. I keep my eyes and ears open, I build community with other people who are being Love and making disciples as a lifestyle too, and I let the Spirit guide me to the specifics of where and when and how of “stepping next door”, both one yard over and across the river, each day.
We look for big things to happen though, don’t we? Well, for six months no big things have happened here. Life has been quite small and usual, although, as Todd White would say, “You’re a divine encounter everywhere you go.” And we know that thats no small thing! But it comes out in lots of small things.
- Investing in the community I have at church — going on Sunday morning and spending the afternoon going out to lunch with people afterward (even if you don’t get any food because your budget won’t allow it), being at small group consistently, hitting people up from that group throughout the week to hang out or attend other events together, being available to say ‘yes’ when someone reaches out to ask for help.
- Connecting with other area church members who are like-hearted — which means going to their prayer meetings and worship events (which may be out of your way), it means looking a little crazy and walking to the front to introduce yourself to someone after an event, it means going to Chipotle with a bunch of strangers/new friends, it means actually following up on Facebook, it means GPS navigating to their home and sitting in their living room with them some afternoons -- normal relationship building things.
- Being the best nanny. Being the most punctual, efficient, honest, encouraging employee at my part-time gig.
- Going to the same coffee shops, the same post office, the same stores, the same bank, the same grocery stores over and over and taking time to smile at and be kind to the tellers and cashiers. Encouraging them with life-giving words, praying for their injuries (wrist braces, casts, slings, bandages, canes, crutches, apparent stiffness or soreness… these are all obvious and theyre easy to ask about and pray for quickly while your transactions are completed).
Ive connected with area leaders without even meaning to, and with such ease and favor it could only be God. I ended up at events that they were at and we had opportunities to connect and to hear each other's hearts. To be known and not only accepted as a friend but respected as a co-laborer in this community that Im so new to, so quickly, by people who I have high regard for is humbling and inspiring. I created a Facebook group called “UNITED community - MKE” and have been adding them one by one as we cross paths and get connected. There are the staff members at my church (who’ve become more like friends than church staff to me), the eclectic group of individuals who makes up the team at Adullam — a ministry that meets in a warehouse in the middle of the ghetto — who’s heart beat is for that area and all their neighbors, a couple who moved here from Florida because of Jesus and as a resulted many are following suit, some men you will always find at any area prayer or worship event, a young mother of three and a handful of other women from her church who have been going to the same strip-club every month for almost five years to build trust with the dancers that work there and to love them with Jesus’ love, a pastor + his wife of the most ethnically diverse congregation Ive seen so far in this city, two pastors who were born and raised in all-black communities and have come back in order to pour back into them, women who are single mothers and who walk in the Spirit and are divine encounters everywhere they go, stay-at-home moms who are raising their children to know the Father and to bring heaven to earth and set captives free through love and the authority they have as God’s children through Jesus.
For several months now Ive just been posting information about area gatherings of believers on this FB page, an open invitation for all these people from different bodies and parts of town. As One Body, and compelled by One Love, we have been gathering in various ways. We’ve been expectant for the Lord’s thoughts to unfold before us the ways He wants for us to reach out as a united community to our city. With my transition from the school work schedule to the summer one I am also transitioning the rest of my life here for the summer. Im jumping into outreach with already established groups, in neighborhoods they’ve been serving consistently for years. I intend to be a consistent face in these places and to establish relationship with the people I meet while doing so. There are dreams of where that may lead but for now its just the next step. We will just wait and see how the Father unfolds His dreams from there.
Monday, April 20, 2015
Because there is some raw skill, some biological hard-wiring, and some years of training, but you never actually know what youre doing completely. And thats really a good place to be. So we keep stepping into new territory, branching out a little, taking new routes to familiar places, going deeper, and growing together.
A child is a disciple [follower, student] being made. Children of God are disciples being made. And part of the purpose of our growth is to reproduce, to bear fruit, to MAKE disciples. No matter how you live you are an example, an influence. People who no longer live but Christ lives through them stick out as examples in the earth like a foreigner in any country does. This family is a melting-pot of races and cultures, a crazy mix of stories, so diverse and yet unified as one because we are His.
Walking in this new life, knowing our Papa more, and growing in sanctification by the Spirit as individuals engaging intentionally in community with the Body and all others around us, this is the making of disciples. A follower influencing another to follow, to become. A student being an example to someone else to come and know, to taste and see.
So an invite went out to the area, any who follow or want to, to gather together and become more like-minded and to sharpen each other. It wasnt about studying or about displaying knowledge, it was about meditating on truth and sharing what it stirred in our hearts. Calling forth identity and encouraging each other in the walk. "Its the best kind of competition", this pursuit of knowing Him and of holiness through His righteousness. Remembering Whose we are and living according to that joyous freedom and through that steadfast power.
The group that came together today was different than the group that gathered last week, I suspect it will continue to ebb and flow. I love the open-arms of it, the way life is shared through it, how seeds will get scattered and carried far and wide, and the opportunity to consistently water them week by week. Anyone who showed up today could have led this gathering. This unified gathering can continue with or without me. It needs only a coming together of family.
You dont even realize that youre making disciples this way everyday. Youre discipling your family by the example of Jesus coming out of your words and heart motives and choices. You disciple your friends when you listen to them and they see your life. Youre discipling the people you work around, shop around, drive around. Who you are influencing them to follow is what depends. There are only two kingdoms, dark and light. How you treat, think of, speak of your family, your leaders, your followers, your neighbors, the strangers, represents either Heaven's kingdom or the Enemy's. Remember Whose you are.
Youre no longer a slave but a child. You need no longer live as a slave but have been counted as forever free and granted bold access to all you need to walk free. The Blood was sufficient before God, we must count it as sufficient as He says it is, and remember always that any accusation of guilt the Enemy brings against us is answered by the sufficiency of His Blood. Hallelujah! Rejoice, Church! We arent surviving until heaven, we are living in celebration thats a stark contrast to all still living bound -- our freedom draws eyes and its our privilege to spread the Good News that freedom has been bought for everyone, not just me, that this celebration is for all who believe. "Silver and gold, I dont have, but what I have I give you: In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, stand up and walk."
Monday, April 13, 2015
God, a community in and of Himself, three in one, desired a people to draw near to. Angels wouldn’t cut it. He made the pair, He walked with them, they made a choice that led to separation from Him. Two kingdoms now existed, for while the Lord had created all and ruled over all, His Enemy now had dominion over the people God had made for Himself and over their habitation. God is Love though, and Love doesn’t give up. His heart was still set on a people and He put a master plan to work in the world immediately to regain the object of His affection.
While the Enemy reigned in the earth, taking all the territory in hearts and lands he could, sowing destruction in the unfolding of a reconciliation plan, God tirelessly and mightily worked redemption again and again through great mercy. When He had written His heart in the very dust of the ages, made Himself known, and foretold His mysterious coming victory, recording it all by the hands of a faithful few and preserving it for every generation, His Spirit entered into the body of a woman who had never been entered by the body of a man, and His only Son was formed and brought forth from that fleshy home. The only Son came to restore relationship with the Father to all in order that the "One child" might become the "first born of MANY".
The kingdom of heaven had advanced on the territory of its Enemy. With the unjust death of one perfect Man, filled by the Spirit of God, three silent days of death over His still body, and the dawning of one morning that would forever mark the changing of the tides for humanity, authority in the Earth was transferred by perfect justice. Instead of “you shall surely die” looming ahead of every life from its first breath, humanity was now offered afresh: “eternal life; life abundant” and the “Holy Spirit without measure”. The Prince of Darkness has roamed and ruled defensively and ruthlessly ever since, knowing his thrown is promised to be removed, knowing that life can now be worked in any life he has effectively held in death, that light can drive out the deepest darkness he has surrounded or filled anything with, and that the call of our Father’s love resonates with our hearts more deeply than his most torturously rooted fear and it holds the key to release the tightest-wound bond from any soul.
The King has reproduced after His nature and His children, filled with His powerful love, and given authority over all, walk the earth with the purpose of being fruitful and multiplying -- not merely by the flesh but by the Spirit. No longer living of ourselves, no longer children of the Evil one, but living by Christ alone, with everything that is available to Him available to us and subject to nothing His own Father didn’t subject Him to or that His Enemy claims to have authority to subject us to through lies and deceit. Secure in this identity, in Whose we are, as the Beloved and rightful children of God by the blood of Jesus which we profess -- having been baptized by the water signifying the recognition that our death was bought when He died and that His resurrection bought our birth into new life -- we live and move and have our being. Living as pleasing sacrifices in this most reasonable service to our King. Counting all other lives above our own, knowing we are seated in a place we can never be removed from by the Enemy or by man, and that the most fruitful way we can live is to die that others might live. We are marked by favor, by presence; known by love, by the very essence of Him.
Is it possible for our fleshly life to continue without rest or nourishment or the strengthening exercise of its use? No. Is it possible for our spiritual new life to continue without the very blood and breath, the very Spirit, of God flowing through us, or without the communion with Him by bold access through prayer, or without the every word in every book of The Book He recorded for us to renew our every fiber in the truth of Who He is, what He did to make us who we were meant to be and tell us how to live? No.
Did we free ourselves? Certainly not. But since He has set us free are we indeed free? Completely. Walking in freedom every moment of the day, all the old ways passing and the new ones replacing by the Spirit, as your mind is renewed by the Word... Can your mind be renewed any other way? No. So is it satisfactory or safe to rely on another to read and relate to you all you need to know from the Word? Was it not given to all because we need it for ourselves as much and as regularly as our very body needs nutrients? Isn’t His heart to know and be known intimately? Hasn’t He revealed Himself to us through His Word and indwelled us by His Spirit that we may experience Him as well as know Him? A true knowing, a real intimacy in the perfected freedom of covenanted-oneness between a Lover and His faithfully, relentlessly pursued Bride? So to search Him out and become ever more familiar with Him are we not meant to have our face in the Book? We are. We are!
He is not far off, He has not hidden Himself. Quite the opposite. As soon as we had set ourselves far off from Him in the Garden, He was already pursuing afresh. As soon as the veil was draped between us to cover our faces from His, He was planning to tear it in two and restore our bold access to His presence. When we seek Him we will find Him for He is both available and more willing than we ever will be to be found.
Can anyone utterly know another after one day? One year? One lifetime? Is it not a continual seeking to know, reading the heart of another as it is written out by their every move throughout their life -- even for a spouse with their spouse, the one they are literally two-made-one with? It is. It is! [Ive been through the Bible cover-to-cover twice in my twenty-two years, and thats more than many that make up His Body, but that doesn’t mean I'm through. Does my heart, mind, soul and strength know every word? Is my every fiber familiar with the Word's every piece and part? Do I KNOW it cover-to-cover? Not yet. So Im in it again; seeking His face afresh, newly familiarizing myself with His tone. One book per day, one day at a time, for sixty-six days. And were I to repeat that every sixty-six days for a year I would meet every page in the Book from front to back five and a half times over. If I repeat that every year for the next eighty years of my expected life, I will have seen His written heart in its full context four hundred and forty times. Perhaps, by then I would have a glimmer, a taste, of intimate, deep familiarity with Him. Is it worth the time? Is that a joke? To know Him and be able to make Him known is the point of the time that makes up life itself.]
Wednesday, April 8, 2015
Meet Dionta Gray >> The fearless, passionate leader of UNITED Grand Rapids, a group of volunteers from area churches that come together every Tuesday to reach out to their community as one Body, with one Love.
I had the privilege of visiting Dionta over Easter weekend. The UNITED team goes out on Tuesdays and I wasnt able to be there to experience that but when D took me downtown to the areas they consistently reach we had the opportunity to minister to some people anyway. When youre willing to make yourself available to be used, you will be.
I had paused to snap a photo of a building and while I did a man coming down the sidewalk said hello. We made introductions and Dionta led us in praying blessing over Jonathan's life. As we finished D saw a woman who had come up behind us. She asked for prayer and we were not only able to pray for her, D was able to hold her while she cried. He and I listened to her as she confided in us about what was going on in her life. We were able to take her to some places that could help meet her needs. It took about an hour of our day to prioritize Ashley's life and give her all we could. It wasnt in our plan for the day, but Im so glad it was in the Lord's and that we were willing to step into it.
Another day we spent the afternoon with one of the men that the UNITED team has developed a friendship with at the shelter downtown over the past few years. The team receives some donations to use in outreach but beyond that Dionta is very generous with his own resources. When you have relationship with someone you can meet their actual needs because you know what they are, you dont have to guess. Those needs can be very basic. Some clothes that fit the dress code of his job, a hair cut, lunch and coffee with friends. These are needs we help our loved ones meet all the time and Richard is one of those loved ones now thanks to the untiring intentionality of UNITED.
|// summer outreach 2014 //|
"UNITED is a ministry that is made up of different college aged men and women from various churches in the greater Grand Rapids area who have a heart to serve and reach out to the lost and broken in and around the city of Grand Rapids. We connect with, pray and love each and every person we come across and desire to be even more like Jesus each and everyday.
It's a lifestyle that we are developing, not a once a week experience."