Thursday, December 27, 2007

What Now?

Are you tired yet of my blogging about helping the homeless for one weekend? Are you tired of hearing how there are so many needy people in Omaha?

I get tired, too. But then I see double personalities rising within me. One that knows I should be helping others, and diving into their lives, and the other which sees the commercial with the little malnourished children and changes the channel apathetically. One side says, "Go and give of your time. It's the very least you can do!" while the other side argues, "You don't have any money, and you're not a person of great importance, so what difference can you really make?"

Shane Claiborne's book has been really challenging me lately. Here is a small excerpt:

"Popular culture has taught us to believe that charity is a virtue. But for Christians, it is only what is expected. True generosity is measured not by how much we give away but by how much we have left, especially when we look at the needs of our neighbors...

The early Christians used to write that when they did not have enough food for the hungry people at their door, the entire community would fast until everyone could share a meal together... The early Christians said that if a child starves while a Christian has extra food, then the Christian is guilty of murder."

If you're like me, you might say something like, "Yeah, but I don't really know any homeless people or folks that are hungry."

But I'll bet you know exactly where to find them. (I do!)

And I'm writing this during the Christmas season, when it becomes painfully obvious which folks are the "haves" and which are the "have-nots." I can tell just by taking a walk and peeking at the trash who received a new iPod nano. I've even seen a couple of cars that don't yet have license plates that might have been a Christmas gift. Even I received some CDs and DVDs, while there are some people who would be happy for a fancy Christmas dinner...or just having a family to eat it with.

I don't know where I'm going with this blog. Maybe I don't have to need a direction. Maybe it just needs to be said. We're very blessed, and maybe part of Christ's call is seek social justice in our neighborhoods and cities, making sure the blessed are sharing with the poor and not hoarding.

But living that ideal and talking about it are two very different things...

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

The End of the Plunge?

On the Sunday of Urban Plunge, we went to two very different worship services. We dressed casually so that we wouldn't be too "out of place" in either church setting.

First, we headed off to Empty Tomb Church...a church for the homeless and near-homeless. At this church you get a ticket when you come inside. You can redeem this ticket after services for a hot meal and a sack of groceries.

I sat next to a man named Gary. His beard was awesome!! He was very kind and cordial towards me, and told me he had been attending here for a little over a year, I think. He had a handkerchief ready, as if expecting to be moved to tears during worship. Perhaps if I needed help (and therefore God) as much as he did, I would be more moved during worship as well...

What moved me the most was how the people helped each other out. There were several people who would get up and get a chair for someone, or give theirs away. You could tell that they took care of each other as much as possible.

Downstairs, we went to work packing during the altar call. As soon as we got ready, the line was forming! There had to be at least 200 people that attended that day, and almost all came through the line. Several people gave things back to us and told us they already had that item and to give it to someone else who needed it more. It was a very humbling experience and I am so glad our teens got to go. If I wasn't a youth minister, I would want to go there again. I believe powerful things are happening there. In fact, I think that's where Jesus would be if He was in Omaha.

From there, we rushed over to Salem Baptist Church. This would be the last stop of our weekend. It was a little more of what we are used to...a nice building, newer stuff, nice cars in the parking lot. But it was still challenging because WE were the minority in the place. You see, it's predominantly African-American. But this was also exciting because the teens knew there would be energy and rhythm that is so often lacking in the "white" churches.

They had their visitors stand to be greeted, and then the congregation sang a welcome song for us. Oh, the singing was glorious!! They had an adult praise team, but the children were in the choir loft behind the stage. There were probably 40 kids up there! It didn't take long before the place was rocking. People were hootin' and hollerin', dancing in the aisles, and praising God. There was genuine excitement in the air.

Pastor Bachus delivered an exciting message of hope. He is definitely a seasoned preacher. By the end of his lesson, he was singing and shouting, and had the place moving. What a wonderful experience to see a church that involves their children in the Sunday morning worship services instead of shipping them off to "Children's Church!"

And that, sadly, was the end of our weekend. In my heart, I craved more. I knew that God had been speaking the whole weekend, and I didn't want that contact to stop. But my crashing headache sapped me of energy and I was ready to get home to my wonderful, God-given family.
I am determined to keep listening for God's voice and instruction through all of this. Satan is already attacking...I think he wants me to forget about this and move on to the next "fun youth activity." As of right now, though, I am devouring Shane Claiborne's "Irresistible Revolution" and then it's on to "Under the Overpass" which is about two men and their experience of homeless living for six months.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

First Baptist Church

At the corner of Park Avenue and Harney stands the current building of the 150 year old First Baptist Church. The building itself is almost 100 years old, and you can tell from the creaking and the slight musty odor inside.

We were here to go on a prayer walk through the neighborhood.

Pastor Kip told us that he used to live in Bellevue and commute, but that he felt like he should live in the community where he preaches. He moved to a building across the street from the church building and it has really messed up his life (for the better!)

"My next door neighbor used to pimp out about five gals, but has walked away from that business. I still have a guy at the end of the hall who pimps out tranvestite males, which makes for an interesting weekend on my floor."

He went on to tell us of the crack house across the street and the prostitutes that roam the roads.

Probably the most insightful thing he talked about was the plight of the poor...

"See, cities think they are helping the problem when they 'refurbish' the poor parts of the city. They throw up new shops and upgrade old homes. They tear down the old and build the new. While this makes the city look beautiful, the people who used to live there can no longer afford the skyrocketing prices of housing. So in the end, all we end up doing is relocating the poor instead of really helping them..."

This thought rang in my mind as we walked and prayed through the neighborhood.

Unfortunately (or fortunately, I'm not sure which) it was cold and snowy, so we did not see the prostitutes out on the corners, nor the beer cans and drug paraphernalia that are commonplace. But we did see boarded up houses (condemned) that had lights on inside, indicating that someone was living there.

It was very bizarre to see the Woodmen building standing tall and beautiful not a mile away, along with other downtown buildings, and realize that the rich and the poor are so close in proximity.

And then I wonder how close I am to the poor. Are there people around me that need help? Am I not seeing them, or am I ignoring their presence altogether?

Again, I marvel at the beauty of Omaha, Nebraska...but lament that there are so many poor and homeless in our wonderful city. Pastor Kip also told us that the average age of the homeless was 17. 17 years old!! Sleeping in a box or sneaking into a covered garage!

I am tempted to roam the streets again to see more. But what would I do if I encountered some homeless 17 year olds? What would I do...?

Friday, December 21, 2007

"We have a video presentation to show you, but as you saw on the way in, we already have tons of people waiting, so let's get to work! Girls over here, and guys over there!"

This was our greeting as we entered Mission For All Nations. This mission is found in South Omaha in a place I never knew existed...Little Mexico. I knew there were Hispanic people in Omaha, but not that there was a street or two that look as if you are IN Mexico! I'll bet the food is awesome down there!

But we were there to serve, not eat!

The ladies got busy packing dry goods in boxes and sorting donations. The guys were split up. A few went to help gather frozen goods to give away, and the others (myself included) headed outside. We poured salt on the sidewalks to help melt the snow.

As people came through, they were given toiletries, frozen goods, dry goods, and then we put them in shopping carts and assisted the people in getting them to their (or their friend's) cars.
This went on non-stop from 12:30 to 4:00 PM. I was barely able to get a bathroom break! At the end, Pastor Josue held up a stack of papers and guessed that we had served over 300 families that day.

Josue and Mary Anaya are the founders of Mission for All Nations. Josue came to this country from a South American country (El Salvador?) in 1984. His friend took his money, and left him all alone in a foreign country with only the clothes on his back. He spoke little English and it was like 15 below zero in Des Moines. Someone from a local mission spoke Spanish to him and he gave his life to Christ, and promised to help others. He later would marry and start the Mission.

At one point, they had no money left as they started refurbishing the 100+ year old buildings from which they helped locals. They prayed fervently, "God, if You want us to continue this work, then they money has to come from You."

As the workers broke into one of the walls, they saw something inside. They took it out, gasped, and ran to show Josue and Mary. It was $3,000. And it dated back to 1984, so they believe that God "set it aside" for them since Josue gave his life to God.

Josue and Mary have 10 children (ages 20 down to 3 months) and they still keep people in their home from time to time.

In fact, the lady who separated guys from girls in the beginning had once been a meth dealer and done jail time. Because of Josue and Mary, and the life-changing power of Jesus Christ, she is now pursuing a degree, volunteering at the Mission, and drug-free!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Open Door Mission

Last Saturday morning, it was around 8:45 AM when we breezed into the Open Door Mission. It had snowed about 4 inches during the night, and began to fall once again as we pulled up. A group of 8 men stood outside in the cold. We could hear curse words and see cigarettes hanging from their mouths.

As we walked inside, the first thing I noticed was the smell. Probably body odor mixed with smoke, alcohol, and urine. There were about 15 men in the foyer area and 50 or so in a large room off to our right.

We waited in the dining room for our tour guide to arrive. When she did, she showed us the whole facility, telling us how one portion houses like 150 men, and another is for those who have a job and are on the verge of living on their own again. Women and children are in another area.
Meal times are separated (except for whole families) because some of the residents there have mental disabilities (story is coming on that one!) and don't act appropriately.

They have a separate warehouse that keeps all their clothing and furniture donations. We helped sort clothes (summer from winter) and take some off the racks.

At lunchtime, Tom (our coordinator) challenged us to spread out and meet some folks. The women were dining at this time, so I joined Troy who had sat down to eat with two women, one of which was deep in conversation with him.

After a moment, though, I realized something wasn't quite right. Here is a sampling of her words:
"The enemy gave me this sweater...they had to...and the enemy also gave me this ring, which has eight stones. Eight is my number, see, because eight is oxygen on the table of elements, and I am oxygen. I am also carbon monoxide. I am also carbon DIOXIDE!

On and on she went, spinning stories faster than Stephen King. Troy questioned her about the enemy, hoping to get a good answer, but all he got was "Man versus man."

After a bit, I pushed my chair back from the table and stood up. Troy shot me a look that said, "You rat fink! How could you leave me here alone with her?!" But my intentions were good. I went to get the teens and invited them to come and meet this woman.

As they sauntered over, they pulled up chairs thinking this would be a conversation with just another person off the street.
It didn't take long before they saw what was happening.

"Yeah, so I'm married. It's an arranged marriage to Jon Bon Jovi..." (Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the teens' jaws drop.)
"...who's playing at the Qwest Center, which I own. Oh, and by the way, Rosenblatt Stadium is staying in Omaha...I'll make sure of it!"

Probably the best line of the day was, "Jesus Christ came to bring division, but I came to bring love and peace, because I am...Frosty the Snowman!!!"

I laugh at that, and yet I cry at the same time. This woman's mind is so messed up because of drugs. She doesn't know what is real any more. I don't even think she can grasp concepts like sin and salavation, grace and mercy. She probably can't hold on to any friends, because who would want to listen to such tales all the time?

It's people like her that make me wonder about spiritual warfare. Does Satan have a grip on this woman? (Who claimed to be God, by the way.) Or is it just the drugs that have fried her brain?
So all we could do is listen and smile, and pray that God would be merciful to her...maybe even restore some sanity to her life.

Once she left, I just looked at the teens and burst out laughing. But my heart was breaking inside. Now, my curiosity was piqued. I really wanted to meet other people and hear other stories. But lunch was over and it was time for our next service opportunity. We said our goodbyes and dragged our feet towards the door. Our next mission effort was in South Omaha, in a part of the city known as "Little Mexico..."

Monday, December 17, 2007

Hope Center and Hope Skate

The note on the door read, "The following clothing colors are not allowed inside: Red, Blue, and Orange."
Hmmm. Must be gang colors.
The Hope Center is on a mission to break the cycle of hopelessness for inner city children. We had the opportunity to meet some of them as they built gingerbread houses. They were like most other children...shy until you show some interest in them and what they're doing. Then, they light up!
Afterwards, we were given a tour of the Hope Center, which was started by a youth pastor from western Omaha. He had heard of the lack of parental and community support for a local high school football team, and started taking his youth group to the games. But, he was confronted with the fact that after they left, these kids remained in their desperate situations.
You see, that part of Omaha has been plagued with shootings this year. One month, there was a shooting every day.
So, it made sense (and yet was odd to see) when we were shown the monthly social attitudes calendar. Every month, the kids are taught topics such as "What to do when someone tells you 'No'", "How to disagree with someone", and "How to introduce yourself."
As we skated later, it was another bizarre sighting as the security guard wanded little kids entering the skating rink, checking them for weapons.
How would you not live in constant fear?
Imagine wondering if every stranger you met would befriend you or kill you.
I pray these kids can find Jesus in the peace and love that good Christian volunteers are teaching them at the Hope Center.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Urban Plunge

I just returned from a very powerful weekend in downtown Omaha. We did something called the Urban Plunge which is done by Christ for the City International. We hit several ministries to the homeless and poor. I will try to post something about the different ministries we visited over the next few days.

It's hard to believe that you can see a whole new world just by driving twenty minutes from your home in western Omaha. But north Omaha (on the east side) would be surprising for some people to see.

On Friday night, we went with Angels on Wheels ministry to some low/no income apartments. As we were instructed on the evening activities, we discovered how faith-full these "Angels" really are. We delivered goodie bags to people beginning on the 12th floor and worked our way down.

We sang Christmas carols in the hallways and knocked on doors to see if people wanted to step out and listen. On almost every floor, there were at least two or three (out of like 10) that answered.

When someone would open their door, we would greet them, give them their bag, and ask if they had a favorite Christmas carol. After singing, one or two folks would stay behind and ask if they could pray with/for the apartment resident.

The Angels are a very charismatic group, which is strange to me, and yet comforting too. These people truly believe that God will answer their prayers! They prayed for healing and for folks with addictions. Prayers were dotted with "Praise Jesus!" and "Hallelujah!" Some muted spontaneous singing even broke out during the prayer time!

I enjoyed the singing/prayers/encouragement of Diane. She prayed for one woman who answered, but could not speak due to a cold and asthma. Diane prayed for her airways to open up and the cold to go away!

One particularly moving incident was when a little 7 year old (daughter of one of the Angels) put her hands on one woman's stomach and prayed for a healthy birth for her unborn child, and that the baby would make Jesus his/her Lord and Savior.

I must say that I choked up watching the faith of that little girl. You see, some of the parents at my church (and I'm sure I would have done the same) were very hesistant at the thought of sending their younger children (junior high) to the downtown area. And yet, this little girl was walking along with adults in one of the poorest, most harsh neighborhoods in Omaha. I wonder if we hang on to our kids too tightly instead of letting them be dangerous for Jesus.

The Angels told us (that sounds weird, huh?!) that the area used to be very dark. Prostitutes were rampant and drug deals were happening right in front of them. But they kept bombing the place with prayer and showing Christ's love, and things are clearing up!
Did I mention that they usually do this out on the street? Usually it's the homeless that they bring coffee and cookies to, and pray for. This weekend it was the "nearly homeless." People with little/no income, elderly, and/or no family to help them or give moral support. They were a pretty desperate lot.

Even though the Angels did things a little differently than me, I've got to honor them for putting their money where their mouth is. Their faith is genuine. Their faith is put to the test every weekend, while I just go and sit in church services, or enjoy a night at home with my family. They are ministering to the people that Jesus would be ministering to. So, in that sense, I can really say that I spent part of my weekend with Angels...and it was a bigger blessing to me than they will ever know.

Sunday, December 09, 2007


"Mine! Mine!"
Sometimes it's funny hearing Fischer say that. He's learning more about himself and his world every day. He's learning that he can be independent and that things can belong to him.
On the other hand, it can be annoying and frustrating, too.

"No, Fischer...that's Daddy's."
"'s mine!"
"Give it to Daddy."
"NOOOOO! It's MINE!" (followed by pitiful tears and pouting.)

Sometimes I wonder what God thinks of us when we clutch things in our hands and cry "MINE!" Does he laugh for a while, and then start to get frustrated? Is he gently trying to remind us that what's ours is really His?
The more I hear it from Fischer, the more I feel like I should thank God for giving me so much of HIS blessings. It ALL belongs to Him! He either made everything, made PART of everything, or made the person who made things. His hand is in it all.
Thank you, Father, for giving me so much. I know it's really Yours. Help me to think of all my blessings that way.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

I Want to Go Out In Style

For anybody wondering, we are OK. We were nowhere near the Westroads Mall when the shooting took place.
"I want to go out in style." That's what the killer wrote in suicide note. I'm so glad my idea of "going out in style" is different from his. Here's mine...
  • Remembered for loving others...even strangers.
  • Respected for his wisdom and patience.
  • Surrounded by family and loved ones.
  • Walked with God...right into heaven.

Thank you to all those who have called out of concern for us. It's good to know that people are thinking about us.

On a side note, my dad reminded me tonight that I've been in several places where bad things have happened. I remember the day the term "he went postal" was coined. It was the first post office shooting and it happened in Edmond, OK...a postal worker named Patrick Sherrill walked into the post office on August 20, 1986 and shot 14 dead and wounded six. It was like a mile from my grandma's house and I heard the helicopters go by overhead.

Fast forward to April 19, 1995. I was in college and got to sleep in one morning. Around 9:45 AM I woke up to hear two DJs that were not normally on the radio saying something about "where you can go to help out or give blood." I turned on the TV, and CNN was the last channel I had watched the night before. I was greeted with the image of the Murrah building blown half away. 168 people were killed and over 800 were injured.

And now this. I hope this is it for me. Being in the same city as major evil is frightening. But I guess maybe I should show some light in these situations too. Maybe that's why I've been near several of these.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Bye Bye NaNoWriMo

Alas, NaNoWriMo is over. I have ended with 36,068 words. In Microsoft Word, that's 98 pages. Part of me feels like a failure for not getting the 50K words, but another part of me says, "Hey, if you hadn't done this, you would not have 36,000 words written right now!"
Sometimes we judge people by their results rather than the fact that they tried. I know Jesus said, "By their fruits you will know them" but how big and juicy do those fruits have to be? I wonder if we put undue pressure on ourselves and on others to put in perfect performances and to feel bad if we don't hit our mark.
I'm just glad I went through the experience. Thanks, Tracy for being understanding and supporting. I know this was a difficult month and you saw me very little. Thanks to Jeremy for checking in on me and encouraging me.

I am currently in the metropolis of Blackwell, OK. I had a great trip, but now that I'm here I am a little nervous. They have me speaking at a youth rally about prayer.
#1 - What do I know about prayer? (very little! I have much to learn!)
#2 - How do you speak to teens about this vast and deep subject? (I guess maybe I should ask God to put words in my mouth!)
Please pray for me.