Citychurch

Ministry's Companions

We are in the thick of summer ministry.  Being in the neighborhood four days a week brings the struggles of poverty into glaring light.  The heartaches that are faced in our neighborhoods are in my face, impossible to ignore, rehab recoveries, working poor struggling to provide groceries, frugal landlords that neglect their properties in unsafe ways, young men who’s lives have ended with gun shots in our city parks, parks that should be sanctuaries for children to play are places of business for drug dealers and gang members, seeing disfunction be the norm for families, hardened hearts and hungry stomachs.

There is a sadness that comes in intense times of ministry.  I wrote about it last summer and this winter.  It is a natural part of any type of incarnate ministry, when you meet people where they live.  When you get street-level, eye-level, to a person who is suffering, how do you not feel compassion well up in your spirit?

I found out this spring that I had a vitamin D deficiency.  I have attacked the problem with full force, supplements, salmon, eggs, and I haven’t been this tan since I was a kid that spent weeks at the lake.

Low vitamin D can contribute to depression, and some days I feel like that cartoon character that has the little cloud following him around.

I’m told that I look tired quite often.

I’m conscious of it, I’m resisting, but there’s no mistaking it, I’m sad.  Sad for the problems I can’t fix and sad because my brain needs some vitamin D.

I know I’m in trouble when I start taking offense meaningless crossed arms.  Or feel hurt by not words said, but unsaid words.  Or when I want to take up residence inside a Tres Leches cake.

These are all signs that my hormones or brain chemistry are letting me down.

I try to tell my brain to just hold on and feel better, but it doesn’t want to listen to me.

My husband tells me that I’m making it worse by reading sad books.  He might be right, but I would tell you to pick up The Kitchen House or Just Mercy in a heartbeat.  We can’t fix a problem that we don’t know about.  I think coming to a place of grief over our country’s problems is the first step in working towards better race relations.

This isn’t a blog post where I have ah-ha moments for you or some neatly wrapped lesson for you to take away.

What is the solution to sadness?

Joy?

Joy is right there beside the sadness, but it isn’t so much a solution.  It is a companion to sadness.

Though the fig tree should not blossom,
    nor fruit be on the vines,
the produce of the olive fail
    and the fields yield no food,
the flock be cut off from the fold
    and there be no herd in the stalls, 
yet I will rejoice in the Lord;
    I will take joy in the God of my salvation.
— Habakkuk 3:17-18 ESV

My joy is just as present this summer.  It is always with me.

Maybe you are getting ready for a mission trip or an intense season of ministry.  I feel responsible to warn you that sadness will come, but you can weather that storm.

Hold onto joy and celebrate hope.

Maybe your pastor or a missionary friend looks tired.  If they are doing their job right, there’s some sadness and joy in their eyes.  They might need some extra love, maybe a hug or a slice of Tres Leches (as long as they are not lactose intolerant.)

If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.
— 1 Corinthians 12:26 ESV

 

 

When you're feeling sad, you know Glen won't let you down.  His music will keep you company, and the horns will cheer you up.

I Know You Believe It, You Send Your Kids to Do It

#servetogrow part 6

Last week I went to serve as a counselor at children’s camp.  I was surrounded other counselors that were just kids: teens, pre-teens, and college-aged.  Today I will get on my bike to deliver lunches to children in the low-income neighborhood that I serve.  I will have a lot of help, but I probably won’t have one adult go with me.

I know you are sending your kids to serve, at missions and outreaches, because I’m serving along side them.  You send them to serve on trips and at camps.  Why do you do this?  I’ll tell you why.  You want them to grow spiritually.

You want them to experience God.  You want their minds and hearts to be changed, so they will make good decisions with their lives.

One month from now, I will be in Ethiopia with my daughter Lucy serving with Storyteller Missions, visiting a few orphanages in the capital city, Addis Ababa.  This is my third trip to Ethiopia serving with this organization.  This year it was important to me that my daughter Lucy came on this trip.  It is one of the main reasons for serving this summer.  It’s so important to me for a lot of reasons.  Lucy is seventeen, andI want Lucy to be exposed to the realities of a third-world country.  I want her to see where her future adopted brother, God willing, will come from, what his life was like before our family and the culture he will be leaving behind.  But my biggest reason I want her to go is to mature spiritually.  I want her to see prayers answered.  I want her to depend on God when she feels uncomfortable or unable to solve the unending problems children face in this country.  I want her to see people on the other side of the world worshiping and serving the same God we love and serve.

It is obvious to me that I believe that serving leads to spiritual growth because I taking my daughter to serve in hopes that she grow spiritually.  It is obvious to me that believe it too, because you are sending your kids to grow spiritually through serving.

Why wouldn’t I want those same things for my own spiritual growth?  I do, and you should too.

Even if you served at camps, missions, and trips in your formative years, you still can learn more about God.

As Christians we often talk about the abundant life we are given, but so many times I feel that it is used out of context.  God doesn’t care about your bank account.  He cares about your heart.

On Earth, there will never be a spiritual arrival point.  There isn’t a place you can get where you will know and experience everything God has to show us or our relationship being complete.  That doesn’t happen until Heaven.  While we are here, as we serve the Lord, there are endless lessons to learn about our magnificent God.

I could go to Ethiopia a million times, and that millionth time, I will learn something new about following Jesus.

Here’s the funny thing.  It isn’t about what I accomplish serving Him.  It isn’t about what I can do for Him.  It isn’t about the amount of cloth diapers I can cart in suitcases half way across the world.  It isn’t about how many children I can feed off the trailer of my bike.  God can accomplish so much more with one miracle than I could ever do with my two hands and two feet.

It isn’t about what I can do at all.

God is concerned about my obedience and your obedience.  Obedience stretches you and leads to spiritual growth.  It draws you closer to God, and He wants you close.

I’ve learned this lesson, not on my couch, not in my church pew.  I learned this lesson packing up cloth diapers and dragging them through 4 airports over 8,000 miles.  I learned this lesson pedaling my bike in 100 degree weather.

I’ve learned so many things by coming to the end of myself but never coming to an end to our God.

I can do my best to put these lessons on paper for you to read, but I think you have to go learn them yourself.

This summer, instead of just sending your kids or your youth groups to serve, get out, be obedient, and learn something.  Grow spiritually.

 

I like to share a song with each blog post, because music is so life-giving to me.  This is a song we sang at children's camp, and I can't get enough of it!  It's so fun!

Christmas Miracles Don’t Come Cheap

I’ve seen miracles this weekend, miracles of the Christmas variety.

A little girl with a blob of white hair pleased with a toy bear that came in a plastic bag, in a paper bag that included a burger and promised happiness.  This little girl has no place to call home.  She has a bag of clothes and shoes, but no closet to put them in.  But this weekend she had fun, real fun.

A little boy with the whites of his eyes made large by the wonder and magic of a train, hot chocolate, and strings of lights.  The darkness of his skin making the whites of his eyes more expressive.  His missing teeth growing back in and his borrowed gloves hanging off his new coat making his little face seem like the cutest face that’s ever existed.  This little boy has seen disappointment.  Maybe that is why his excitement is so contagious that even Santa paused to ask his name as he hands out his bells to children.

I’ve seen miracles this weekend, Christmas miracles.

A little girl that doesn’t see.  Her eyes don’t let her see the majesty of a mountain topped with evergreens and snow.  Her lack of sight doesn’t stop her from walking forward into any new room to find something new to discover.  The stairs from one floor of a lodge to another are a mystery she wants to discuss.  She feels the coldness of snow and the feeling of brand new Christmas jammies, the cold air, and the round, kid-sized pizza.

A little boy who’s parents are immigrants has an inherited accent, an accent that comes from learning to speak in a home where his parents speak the language of their childhood.  They are from a country that carries stigma, stigma that was created by a virus and sensationalized news.  He reluctantly tells us its name.  I see him included in a table, made apart of a family, treated to a bubbly soft-drink and conversation.  Inclusion is a gift.

I’ve seen miracles this weekend.

A Muslim tour-bus driver, in awe of a church’s love for children.  Ministered to by caring, friendly people.  Patient, hard working people who pour out their energy for the lowly and the least.  Surely he will reconsider his beliefs after seeing the love of Jesus so clearly at work, in hearts and with hands in front of his eyes.

These type of miracles don’t come cheap.  They are hard earned.  They require personal sacrifice.

They include interrupted sleep, dishpan hands, acres of carpet to vacuum, endless lost socks, coats, and shoes found, lost, and found again, nursing little coughs, comforting night terrors, coloring books and crayons underfoot, picked up, thrown down, and picked up again, meals prepared, snacks served, tables wiped, shoes tied, miles driven, frozen sing-alongs endured, broken sleds reimbursed, potty breaks, hand washing, and huge risks.

Church, you’re missing your opportunity.  You’re missing out on miracles.  They are slipping through your clean, rested hands, and it is your loss.

Music is the best.  Here's a song for you.

Tres Trees

Yesterday I knew Bible Club was going to be all about Christmas.  The Citychurch staff had gathered supplies for the children to make hot-chocolate mix gifts for their families.

I wanted to read the class my favorite book to read this time of year, The Tale of the Three Trees.

I didn’t have a copy of the book.  I had borrowed it from a friend and from the library the past two Christmas seasons.  Maybe it was time to invest in my own copy of the book.

I went into Mardel’s and found a copy.  At first I thought it was just a Spanish language copy, but then I realized it was a bi-lingual copy.  And the price was only $5.99!  Score!  My bi-lingual 2nd graders are going to appreciate this find.

The class was a little hectic because kids are extremely ready for Christmas break.  We read the story of Christ’s birth out of the Gospel of Luke.  It was amazing to me that the simple details of Christ’s birth are still new information to most of the children in my class.  I told them that their would be candy prizes if they could answer questions about our stories at the end of class, and high-spirited Jarrett started practicing how to say “Bethlehem” (except it came out wrong about 5 times before he got it right.)  He had his strategy to ensure winning some candy, and at least he would learn new detail about Christ’s birth.

The class impatiently waited their turn to fill their plastic red and green canisters with hot chocolate and marshmallows.  As the last kiddo was filling his jug, I sat the rest of them down in a circle that immediately lost it’s shape due to wiggling, and I read them the story of the three trees.

I hyped the book, and told them how much I loved the story, and off we went.  The book tells about three threes growing together in a forest.  One tree dreams of being a treasure chest, one tree dreams of being a great sailing ship to a king, and one tree dreams of growing to be the tallest tree pointing to Heaven.  Woodcutters come and chop down all three trees.  The first tree becomes the manger that our treasured Jesus lays in after His birth, the second tree becomes the fishing boat that our King Jesus calms the sea from, and the third tree becomes the cross pointing to Heaven.

As I read each page, sweet little Melissa read the spanish with absolutely perfect pronunciation.  It is amazing to me that at 8-years-old she can read in two languages.  Her sing-song second grade voice didn’t carry very far, but it was like music to me.

Melissa had really touched both mine and the other adults helping in my class when she had written her list of things she was thankful for a few weeks ago durning a Thanksgiving, turkey craft.  She had listed her bed and water among the ten things she was thankful for.  Instead of it her list in English, she had written it in Spanish because she wanted her mom to be able to read them.

Some people might be worried that Melissa’s mom isn’t integrating, that she’s not learning English fast enough.  After getting to know Melissa in my class, that is not my biggest fear.

My biggest fear is that in the coming months Melissa doesn’t take an opportunity to grab hold of Jesus, make Him a permanent fixture in her heart.  Her heart is obviously tender right now, and I hope that we have to opportunity to lead her to make a decision to follow Christ.

My second biggest fear is that Melissa would lose the simple gratitude she has.  As Melissa becomes more American, has more opportunities for financial success in her life, I fear that she will forget the feeling of being thankful for running water.  I fear she will forget what it was like to not have a bed, and forget to remain thankful to God for this gift.

My third biggest fear is that I would not be as grateful as Melissa.  I’ve always had a bed and running water.  I hope I can learn some gratitude from Melissa.  I don’t want to take anything God has blessed me with for granted.

The three trees in our story got more than what they had wished for as little tree sprouts.  God used them in mighty ways.  I know God has big plans for Melissa, the other kids in my Bible Club class, and my heart as continue to long to be more like Him.

 

If you would like your own copy of The Tale of Three Trees, here is the link:

They also have the Bi-lingual copy for $5.99!

Merry Christmas!

Day 21: Bikes

31 STORIES OF FAITH ADVENTURES

DAY 21:  BIKES

I can’t think of a better example of someone using their abilities and passions for Kingdom work than my husband and bicycles.

James became very interested in riding when we finally got settled into our first house.  A family at our church also liked riding, and they encouraged James to enter an organized ride called Hotter than Hell.  It was a 100 mile ride in Wichita Falls, Texas in the heat of the summer.  James actually found something compared to Hell fun.  I knew he was hooked.

He started talking about riding his bicycle 330 miles from Amarillo to Ft. Worth, Texas.  I wasn’t sure it was a great idea, but James’s dad was completely supportive.  I thought I probably should follow his lead.  The day he left, in the spring of 2007, was a Thursday.  The kids and I stayed in Amarillo to attend our end of the year home school co-op party.  James’s dad followed him along the road as his support crew.

That night at the party, everyone would ask, “Where’s James?”  And I would respond, “Oh.  He’s riding his bicycle to Ft. Worth this weekend.”  And everyone’s response was immediately, “Why?”  I would tell them that he just wanted to do it, and I could tell on their faces that my words were really not satisfying their question.

Right after the party got started, I got a phone call from James.  He was at a hotel in a small town.  He had made it a 110 miles that day, and he was excited to be almost 1/3 of the way there.  He said that his dad had bought him a hamburger, and they were having a good time.  We talked about what time the kids and I would leave the next day to meet him down the road, and I continued with our party.  My motto has always been, “There ain’t no party like a home school party.”

The next day we drove to meet James and his dad.  He had rode another sixty miles before we caught up to him.  We handed out some hugs and drinks.  We let him get back to it and drove about fifteen miles ahead of him.  The kids and I got out and wrote him chalk messages on the shoulder of 287 to encourage him every ten miles.  We bought snacks and drinks, and checked into a hotel in Wichita Falls.  By the afternoon he had rode about 110 more miles that day.  He called me from right outside of town.  His bike had a flat, and he was calling it a day.  I picked him up.  He got cleaned up, we ate some Mexican food, and we tried to get some rest.  I told him that he didn’t have to keep going.  220 miles in 2 days was impressive enough.  He was determined, despite the pain he was clearly in.

The next morning he got up before I did and headed down the road.  Lucy, Andrew, and I got everything loaded in the car, and headed toward Ft. Worth.  Driving over that part of the highway, I could not imagine riding my bike there.  James was doing it.  He was on day 3, and we were getting close.  By the end of the day, he had made it about 75 miles to Decatur, Texas.

That night he was really in pain.  At that point, I really tried to talk him out of continuing the last 35 miles.  He wouldn’t consider quitting.  The next morning, I winced as I watched him leave.  I knew his feet and legs were throbbing.  We loaded up the car, bought James a coffee, and went to meet him down the road.  When we pulled over to meet him, he only had 15 miles left.  The morning was a little drizzly, but he was enjoying the cool weather.

The kids and I drove to the Fort Worth city limits sign, got out some party streamer, and made him a finish line to ride through.

He made it.  We celebrated by going to a Mavericks playoff game in Dallas.  The Mavericks even won that night, 118 to 112 against the Golden State Warriors.  Our celebratory mood was riding high.

The thing James says that he learned riding that road is that there are hills and valleys that you don’t even notice in your car.  We had driven I-287 back and forth between Amarillo and Ft. Worth nearly 1,000 times, and he had always considered that trek of highway to be flat.

Once he was slowed down and powering his ride with his own leg muscles, he noticed every little bit of incline and decline.  He noticed every smell and every bump of that 330 miles.  I begin to think of how animals or insects experience that same road that we drive down with cruise control and our radio.  They would notice even more of the details of that road than James had on his bicycle.

In our ministry at Citychurch, we develop relationships with children, teenagers, and adults who live in our very same town.  They are living lives on the very same road we are on, but their mode of transportation is quite different.  There are obstacles that we don’t even notice, especially in a comfortable SUV with top-notch shocks.

Part of coming alongside someone battling poverty, is slowing down and seeing life from their perspective.  We can’t understand the inclines when we are driving through life in a car that is doing all the work, going at a speed that makes the road seem flat and therefore fair and easy to navigate.

If you have never flexed any muscles climbing out of poverty, it might be hard to sympathize with the obstacles, the inclines, the bumps in the road, the heat, the rain, and the dangerous traffic speeding by just to your left.

Action with and for those who suffer is the concrete expression of the compassionate life and the final criterion of being a Christian. Such acts do not stand beside the moments of prayer and worship but are themselves such moments.
— Donald P. McNeill, Douglas A. Morrison, and Henri M. Nouwen, Compassion

James began to look for ways he could use his bicycle in the ministry in downtown Amarillo.  He had this crazy idea that he could deliver the lunches to kids using his bike.  He went to the hardware store to buy some plastic tubs and lawn mower wheels, andhe made a trailer to hook to the back of his bike.

That summer was just beginning, and fuel prices were at an all-time high.  Maybe it wasn’t a crazy idea.  He loaded up his bike with over 100 lunches, and headed out by himself.

When he got back, he was convinced that he had discovered the best way to minister to kids in our neighborhoods.  As he pulled up to their houses, it was so much easier to relate and interact than riding in a big van.  You are already standing on the same ground they are.

Isn’t that what the church is lacking, relating to the culture, common ground?

A street level ministry allows you to be in the same posture and prospective as the child you are ministering to.

This level of ministry is totally different than trying to minister from a van or a church building.

James finished out that first summer delivering about 150 lunches 4 times a week to his neighborhood.  I tried to ride along with him as much as I could.  Honestly, I couldn’t believe how fun it was.  But there were many times that first summer that he went by himself.

James’s main job at Citychurch is media.  He has been producing videos about the ministry of Citychurch since 1998.  In 2006, he began producing a weekly television show that would highlight what Citychurch was doing, to take people along with us and show them the work of the ministry.

The show is aired on local television, but at one time we had it airing on a Christian station.  The station had figured out that they could show their programing in parts of asia on satellite for a very nominal cost.

One Saturday that winter, a couple visiting Texas from the Philippines showed up at Citychurch’s door.  I was there helping with a sleepover with the youth girls.  As we were getting breakfast together for the girls, Don walked through showing the couple around.

They had seen the Citychurch tv show, and they had been inspired by the bike ministry we were using to feed kids.  Bicycles are a major part of the transportation in their city of Davao.  They had been inspired to begin feeding ministries in the neighborhoods near the shores of the ocean where trash lines the streets and families would squat on the invaluable land by building a home out of corrugated metal and anything else they can find.

The couple had came to visit several American cities with a mission organization.  The organization had set them up to stay with families in each city.  The family that they had been sent to stay with happened to be members at our church.  When they asked if they had heard of Citychurch, they couldn’t believe it.

It was so unbelievable to me that this church setting on the Pacific Ocean had been spurred forward to reach the poorest in their city by seeing the ministry of Citychurch.

Citychurch planned a mission trip to visit this church that had been connected by such strange coincidences.  James and the other guys in our family went to visit Davao and encourage that church in September of 2008.

Often new ideas take a long time to catch on.

James and his brother Donnie delivered lunches with their bicycles in the summer of 2008, but the summer of 2009, they went back to using vans.

As the summer of 2010 was approaching, James and Donnie wanted to get the bike ministry going again.  James found a company in Portland that made bike trailers that would be perfect for carrying lunch sacks and ice chests.  They delivered lunches that summer, and people began to volunteer to ride along.

The past 5 years, the bike ministry has been a favorite of volunteers.  People love helping with this ministry.

 

 

 

I love music, so I share songs.  Here's one about riding bikes.

If James hadn’t been looking for ways to incorporate his passions and interests into the ministry, we might have missed out on the whole idea of street level ministry.

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Day 9: The Call

31 STORIES OF FAITH ADVENTURES

DAY 9:  THE CALL - MY PERSONAL ADVENTURE 

There have only been a few times in my life were I have felt God’s call - directly and clearly.  The first time was when I accepted Christ as my savior at 12 years old.

The second time was in December of 1998, God called me to Citychurch.

In previous posts, I’ve shared some of the story of how the ministry of Citychurch started in downtown Amarillo in 1996.  I was there for all those beginning moments: first service, first outreach to kids, the first summer of outreaches in parks, first children’s camp, first load of food donated, first baptisms, expanding the building, and first van donated.

I had been witnessing God sending growth and blessings to Citychurch’s ministry, and I had threw in a helping hand every chance I could.  I pushed brooms, canvased neighborhoods, handed out groceries, made crafts with kids, and anything else I could do to help.

One Sunday morning, two years after beginning Citychurch, as my father-in-law Don Lane was preaching, my heart was stirred.  During that sermon, the Holy Spirit spoke to me.  I felt in my heart that He was saying to me, “You’ve been here, but you haven’t been here.”  I knew God was calling me to Citychurch.

During the invitation I went forward and shared my calling with the church.

From that point forward, I looked at the ministry at Citychurch differently.

It was no longer a job my husband had or just a church I attended; it was now my mission field.

     An early picture of the adjacent building that was added to our first Citychurch building.

     An early picture of the adjacent building that was added to our first Citychurch building.

     James, Lucy, and I with James's parent's Don and Diana Lane and my parents Hollis and Carol Upchurch.

     James, Lucy, and I with James's parent's Don and Diana Lane and my parents Hollis and Carol Upchurch.

Missional minded living is quite a catch phrase these days, but my father-in-law Don was the first person I ever heard apply the idea of looking at your own city as a missionary.

We didn’t want to let unfamiliarity with urban culture keep us from telling children about Jesus.

If you were going on a mission trip to China, wouldn’t you learn about Chinese culture, clothing, food, music, language, and worldview?  It would be silly not to.  You wouldn’t finally crack open a tourist book on the plane on your way there.  You would be listening, reading, watching everything you could get your hands on trying to figure out how to relate the love and truth of Jesus to a Chinese person.

Don took that same idea and applied it to our situation in the inner-city of Amarillo.

He came up with the slogan “live the mission” to recruit volunteers.  He would tell people, “You can be a missionary in your own city and sleep in your own bed at night.”

God had called me to Citychurch in the same quick way he had called me to be a disciple.

Jesus called His disciples in a quick and simple way.

While walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon (who is called Peter) and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. And he said to them, ‘Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.’ Immediately they left their nets and followed him. And going on from there he saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets, and he called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.
— Matthew 4: 18-22 ESV

I had a choice, I could immediately follow or not.

I was already living in my mission field.  I was at Citychurch, but the way God wanted me to follow him was a heart issue.

I could see the mission of reaching inner-city children in Amarillo as a hobby, a paycheck, a cute antidote, or just something my family does.

But God wanted more.  God wanted my heart.

Jesus had called his disciples, and He had also called others into the work He was doing.  They had the privilege of actually following Jesus around and watching Him work.

There is a story in Luke that recounts a time of great rejoicing by Jesus.  Seventy-two of his followers had returned from a mission.

The seventy-two returned with joy, saying, ‘Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!’ And he said to them, ‘I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.’
— Luke 10:17-20 ESV

I love how that last sentence of Luke 10:20 is translated in The Message, “Not what you do for God but what God does for you—that’s the agenda for rejoicing.”

God had called me to His work at Citychurch, and the blessing of that calling was what God would do for me.  That idea is humbling and exciting.

When He called me to His work, He allowed me to see my city with the lenses of faith.  I was going to serve my city in Jesus name.

The story in Luke goes on to tell about how Jesus rejoices in the Father’s will.

In that same hour he rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, ‘I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, or who the Father is except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.’
— Luke 10: 21-22 ESV

Then Jesus turns to his disciples, and shares the blessing of this event with them.

Then turning to the disciples he said privately, ‘Blessed are the eyes that see what you see! For I tell you that many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.’
— Luke 10:23-24 ESV

God wants you to go in His name.  That is the command of the Great Commission.

Look at your city with the mind of a missionary, and go.

As you go and work in Jesus name, we know from this story in Luke that Jesus will rejoice in you joining Him to carry out the Father’s will.  And take heart knowing that the rejoicing will be amplified as God works in your own heart.

 

 

I'm a music lover.  I like using a song for each blog post.  Here's a song about finding your calling by Welcome Wagon.

Day 7: Bible Club

31 STORIES OF FAITH ADVENTURES

DAY 7:  BIBLE CLUB - MY BEING EQUIPPED FAITH ADVENTURE

It was 1996, and I was still dating James and living in the dorms while I worked on my accounting degree at WTAMU.  James’s dad, Don Lane, had just had a life saving liver transplant and found an old building in downtown Amarillo that was a perfect place to start the ministry in.

As Citychurch began, immediately we started having Sunday morning services in the building, and Don decided our first outreach would be focused on kids.

The very first Citychurch Bible Club was in October of 1996.  We picked up about 12 kids from the area of housing northeast of the church in the Lane family’s personal vehicles.  Don had spent the last of his food stamps on candy, and his daughter Anna baked cookies.  Rita Carpenter from Child Evangelism Fellowship had volunteered to teach.  Handing out cookies after the lesson, we realized they were hungry.  That was the last time we would pick kids up without providing a real meal.  Don knew that the children could not be expected to listen to stories about Jesus while they fidgeted in their seats with grumbles of hunger.

That first Bible club, a young boy named Manuel asked Jesus into his heart.

God had blessed our first effort.

It is hard for me to believe that it is almost 19 years ago to the day from that first Bible club.  After 19 years, Bible Club is still Citychurch’s most effective outreach.

Today as I write this, I’m thinking about this afternoon when I will go to the northeast side of Amarillo and teach at a Bible Club.

I’ve been helping at this particular Bible Club for over 3 years now.  We teach them in a small church adjacent to the elementary school.  For the past few years, we have had about 50-60 kids, and we split the them into two classes, older and younger.

This school year we’ve been averaging 100 kids from just that one elementary school.  We’ve had to divide into four classes.  I have the 2nd graders.  We are teaching them through the new testament, covering a book of the Bible each week.

Citychurch’s Children’s Director, De-An Turner, does an amazing job coordinating classes, volunteers, and keeping records.  She makes copies, gathers supplies, writes out name-tags, and transports snacks, including the meal sacks that we hand each week.

Citychurch has other outreaches that are glitzier and get more attention.  The feeding ministry, the bike delivery ministry, the Christmas box ministry, the youth ministry, our Jesus Loves You Celebration in the park are all amazing ministries, and when I tell people about them, I see an excitement in their eyes.

But our Bible Club ministry is honestly less exciting.  The news will never show up for a story on Bible Clubs.  It is the treadmill of ministries.  It takes a slow, steady dedication.  We have Bible Clubs all school year long at that time of the day when everyone is sluggish.  It is right after school at 3:00, the hour of the day that causes companies like 5 Hour Energy and Red Bull to exist.

I love teaching the kids, and I feel confident in my ability to do so.  But when I think back to our very first Bible Club, I didn’t have any confidence then.

That first Bible Club 19 years ago, we had 12 kids attend.  As the weeks went on, more and more kids wanted to come.  We went from 12 kids to 20 to 50 to 100.  That forth week of Bible club, Rita yelled a lesson over 100 kids sitting on the tile floor of what is now our Citychurch dining room.

We had to change plans.  

We recruited volunteers and began splitting them into classes by age.  

Honestly, our old downtown building was not ready for this growth.  We had enormous empty rooms, and we tried partitioning off classrooms with the wood paneling we took off the walls upstairs, propped up with folding chairs.

I remember one lesson was interrupted when a kid bumped a chair and the sheet of wood paneling slowly came falling down towards us.

Thank the Lord that no one was harmed in those early years in the rough and tumble building.

As we split kids into classes, there was even a class meeting in the upstairs room that James’s family was using as a house.  The kids would set in a circle for Bible club at the foot of Don’s bed as a volunteer would teach them.

When we split up for classes, I felt unprepared to teach even the simplest Bible lesson, so I volunteered to be the craft lady.  I was paired up with an elderly lady named Mary, and we were given the 3rd and 4th graders.

I had been a councilor at a Girl Scout camp the summer after high school, I had worked at a daycare the next summer.  I felt like I probably could come up with a craft or activity each week.

One week I thought it would be fun to do something we had done at the daycare.  I bought shaving cream for the kids to draw in.  We sat the kids down at a table and sprayed a blob of shaving cream in front of them.  Our eyes got big as we saw the white shaving cream turn black.  I had turned craft time into bath time.  The towels we cleaned up with would never be the same.

Looking back after being a home school teacher for 13 years now, I really didn’t know anything about crafts for kids.  I knew as much about kid crafts as I did teaching the Bible.  I wish I had been brave enough to step out and try teaching the kids’ Bible lessons.

I know now that I would have learned, gotten better, and it would have been good for me.

It would be a couple years before I even volunteered to teach at all, and a lot more years before I start teaching consistently.

If you are reading this feeling unqualified to share or teach Bible lessons, studies, devotions, or Sunday school.  Please be brave and step out.

The book of James says not all should become teachers, and if you are gifted in other areas besides teaching, the kingdom needs that gift too.  My goal isn’t to shame anyone.  Spiritual gifts aren’t ranked by importance in His sight.

Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.
— James 3:1 ESV

But I’m sure there are excellent teachers holding back out of the same insecurities I felt after being a Christian for almost a decade.

The truth is that if God calls you, he will equip you. 

Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.
— Hebrews 13:20-21 ESV
For if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?
— Esther 4:14 ESV
But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
— 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 ESV
He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.
— 1 Thessalonians 5:24 ESV

 

 

 

I like to include a song with each blog post, because music is the best.  Starting ministry in downtown Amarillo, one of the first things James and his brother Donnie did was find Christian hip-hop music that would relate to the kids.  Here's some 20 year old Christian music.  This was an early Citychurch hit.  We still bump Christian hip-hop that the kids at Citychurch will enjoy.  This Friday we are taking the youth to a Christian hip-hop concert that will feature Andy Mineo, Propaganda, and Mali Music.

Day 6: Building

31 STORIES OF FAITH ADVENTURES

DAY 6:  BUILDING - BEGINNING AN ADVENTURE

It was mid-1996, I was still dating James and studying accounting at WTAMU.  James’s parents, Don and Diana Lane, and his brother and sister were beginning a big faith adventure.

This faith adventure started with a building.

Don’s was weeks into his recovery from a life giving liver transplant when he began this search for a building.  He was beginning to get a vision of a new ministry, a new church, and he just needed a place to begin.

He found an old building in the heart of downtown Amarillo listed for sale.  He took Diana to see it with the realtor, and water was gushing out the front door.  Homeless men had gutted sinks to sell out of the bathrooms, and when the owner turned the utilities on for the showing, water went everywhere.

The realtor on the listing was Corkey Campbell.  Corkey was a great man of God, his life had been redeemed when God rescued him from alcoholism.  He was given an overwhelming sense of compassion.  The Lord took Corkey home a few years ago.  His funeral was my favorite.  I know that sounds weird to say, but it was.  It was story after story of amazing testimonies that varied from wild cowboy living to wild, people-loving living.  I can’t undersell how unique a man Corkey Campbell was.

It’s probably not usual for the same family to be headed downtown to buy commercial property and also headed downtown to visit the office where food stamps are approved, but is exactly what was happening in the Lane family.

Don needed certain prescriptions post-surgery.  Some of those prescriptions were new and outrageously expensive.  To qualify for prescription assistant programs by the pharmaceutical manufacturers, the family had to first qualify for food stamps.

Qualifying for food stamps wasn’t a problem for the Lane family.

It was 1996, and downtown Amarillo was an unpopular place.  There was no plan of revitalization.  There were barely any businesses taking advantage of the empty buildings.  There was a jewelry store, a few lunch spots, a t-shirt printing business, and that was about it.

The demand for a building built in the 1920s in downtown Amarillo was nonexistent.

Don and Diana toured the building, and Corkey bought their lunch.  Don asked if the owner would be willing to let the Lane family move into the building and make some repairs in lieu of rent.  The owner agreed for one main reason.  Homeless men were living in the building at the time.  I’m sure the owner was worried about the damage these men were doing and the possibility of fire during the upcoming winter.

A few weeks later, Don and Diana moved their furniture and all their worldly goods into a big open room upstairs.

(Side note:  If the realtor had know Don would continue to let a homeless man named Nick live downstairs, he might have been less cooperative.)

I remember the first time I saw the building.  Downstairs was covered in weird murals of truck tires and much of it was garage like.  The upstairs had layers of function on it.  You could see decades of changes piled on the walls as the building was morphed from one purpose to the next.  The front room had once been beautiful, under wood paneling and drop in ceilings were these plastered arches and beams.  Ached windows were filled with cinderblocks.  The whole front facade of the building had been covered in 1950s pink and blue rectangles of fiberglass.  Underneath was them laid beautiful red brick.

There was a large room in the middle of the upstairs were the Lanes would move in temporarily.  That massive room became their interim house.  On the walls hung huge photographs of the room filled with desks topped with typewriters.  This had been someone’s workplace, and now it was my boyfriend’s home.  The Lanes lined their beds up in the corners of the room and made a makeshift living room in another corner.

There was no kitchen and one working bathroom.  Well... it worked after James and his brother Donnie had their first impromptu lesson on plumbing.  The building was like emersion foreign language learning, but construction instead - plumbing, electrical, wall framing, drywall, floor refinishing, and painting. 

I’m sure every one of James’s family member’s wonders why I didn’t break up with this boyfriend immediately.  I never even considered it.

I remember this time as fun.  We wrote funny sayings on walls we knew were going to be torn down or painted.  We had movie nights.  We climbed on the roof and watched fireworks, threw water balloons, or dreamed of rooftop gardens.  We made stupid home movies.  We met people who were such characters, we could supply comedy troops with material for years.

We felt as if we owned downtown.  It was so unused, so vacant, that you could lay in the streets for hours without fear of any car coming.

One night a homeless man did just that.  It wasn’t out of a sense of whimsy fun, but out of a complete dark, drug addicted fog.  He was wrapped in a blanket rolling in the street moaning.  I had lived a very sheltered life in the suburbs until that point in my life.  I wasn’t familiar with the hurt homelessness or drug addiction could bring.

I remember crying and praying for this man with such compassion that night.

When Don couldn’t get him out of the middle of the road, he called the cops to come and take him somewhere where he could have a chance to get clean.  Although the police station was literally one block away, it took almost an hour for them to come and get him into the police car.

Sometimes now I remember that night.  Now that I have become familiar with the hurt of the streets, I never want to loose that compassion, that urgency to pray that I had as a teenage girl.

Don was able to put an offer in to buy the building.  Corkey had to loan Don the $10 earnest money to make the offer official.

Corkey may have been the only supportive person in those early years in the building downtown.  I remember giving one man, interested in the ministry we wanted to start, a tour with James’s dad.  He worked in some type of construction role, and he told Don, “I’ve torn down better buildings than this.”

I was in awe of how someone could be so negative when it was so plain to me that God was beginning a good work within these old walls.

With that building, God was placing us in the heart of our city and giving us a mission to reach it.  

The city of Amarillo is measured out from the center of downtown.  It is on a grid of numbered streets running east and west and president’s names running north and south.

The building sets only 3 blocks away from the beginning point of that grid.  Every road in our city flows from that point.

Years later, God would give Citychurch that building, debt-free.  He would also give us adjacent buildings, the adjacent parking lot for a park, and several other building within a block of our first building in the heart of Amarillo.  As incredibly grateful I am for those properties, I am much more thankful for the vision of ministry that God gave Don and the rest of our family.

Buildings are neat, but it is souls that are eternal.  Lives, people, families, children - these are the things God cares about.  And these are the things I want to care about too.

As I begin to tell you the testimony of the beginning of the ministry that would become Citychurch, I want to assure you that I was changed through these adventures of faith.  These early times for me were times of preoccupation with college, times of worry about money and future, times of apathy towards spiritual matters, times of insecurity about how little scripture I knew, times of skepticism towards typical church and denominational associations, and times of just plain selfishness.

Every word of Paul’s prayerful letter to Timothy rings true with my own heart.

I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service, though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life. To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.
— 1 Timothy 1:12-17 ESV

 

 

I love music.  It's one of the things that I find fun about life.  I like to share a song with each blog post.  Here's one that is appropriate.

Live the Mission

At Citychurch we have this saying, "You can be a missionary in your own city, and go home and sleep in your own bed at night."  You might have heard my father-in-law Don Lane say it from the pulpit or on our tv show For the Heart of the City.  He came up with all of our best sayings and truths at Citychurch.  You might of heard my pastor and brother-in-law Donnie Lane say it on the show or write it in a newsletter.

I've heard the saying countless times.  I've even repeated it to my friends countless times.  In 18 years at Citychurch, I don't think I've lived it as much as I did yesterday.  Yesterday felt so much like a mission trip, I forgot I was at home a few times.  Lying in my bed last night, I could help but smile at how much fun I had had being a missionary to my own city.

For more than 5 years now, we've been taking our Citychurch youth group out of town for a mission trip during spring break.  Our trips have taken us to a couple different areas of Houston and to McKinney, north of Dallas.  During these trips we help someone who is doing inner-city ministry to children.  Our youth know exactly what to do, because they help do the same ministry here in Amarillo all summer long and sometimes they have been the recipients of this type of ministry as children.

This year, we decided to stay in Amarillo and have our youth group help facilitate a pre-teen lead outreach week.  We have a huge pre-teen group at them moment.  We could not imagine taking them out of town or leaving them here with nothing planned for them, so we changed our plan.

Yesterday I showed up at Citychurch with James ready to do whatever they needed me to do.  I started by helping pick up pre-teen in San Jacinto, a neighborhood I haven't help with in years.  During the summer I have a neighborhood that I am the route pastor to.  My neighborhood is our smallest, but most downtown located neighborhood that we minister in.  I ride my bike to deliver lunches to about 80 kids in Mary Hazelrigg three days a week.  One day a week I drive a van and pick up kids to come to Citychurch's park for a fun morning Bible club.  On those days, sometimes I can sneak away and ride my bike alongside my husband James's bike route to North Heights.  He has the longest bike route, and I love seeing the kids and moms on his route.

Being in a neighborhood I don't usually minister to, I almost felt like I was in a different city.  We drove around picking up pre-teens and youth that were ready to help serve other kids in their own situation.

The plan for yesterday was to deliver boxes of groceries to all the children who have been actively involved in one of our afterschool Bible clubs or Sunday morning services.  The church staff had made lists of kids into routes and fixed boxes of groceries that took into account how many children were in the home.  At the last minute, they decided to take a corndog and lunch sack out to the kids too since it would be lunch time when the groceries were delivered.

As the sacks were being filled and the boxes of groceries were being loaded into trailers, we had a special treat.  Citychurch's ESL (English as a second language) class has lead Donnie to become friends with a women from Eritrea, a small African country just northeast of Ethiopia.  The Eritrean woman's name is Kidusan.  I was so excited to meet her.  She lived in Ethiopia for a while, and she knows Ahmaric.  She came to Citychurch yesterday to do a coffee ceremony for our pre-teens.  Just before we all piled on the vans to deliver groceries, the kids all gathered around Kidusan to watch her roast the coffee beans, grind them and prepare the coffee.  As they sat and ate popcorn watching the beans roast, the smell of roasting coffee beans filled the air, and I had to remind myself that I was in Amarillo.

The kids were so anxious to try the coffee, I didn't even try to get a cup.

When we were piling on vans to deliver, I asked Heather if I could help on her van.  It takes me a long time to get to know people.  I'm kind of shy.  Although I have know Heather for years, I feel like I've just gotten to know her recently, and she's one of my favorite people.  She had a sweet group of pre-teen girls that were lined up to help her.  Gabe and I go situated on her van, and headed out to Hamlet to deliver.  At the last minute, Heather's husband Jackie jumped in to help us too.  

Hamlet is another neighborhood that I have ministered in, but it has been years.  Most of the time we were driving around, I was kind of lost on those winding roads that all have tree related names.

We got back from delivering groceries, and Kidusan lead me into the kitchen to show me that she had made Ethiopian food.  Right there in the Citychurch kitchen, was injera bread, a red-spicy goat dish, and another yellow dish.  She showed me her spices and told me the names of the dishes, but I couldn't get them to stick in my head.  I was excited to try it.

The pre-teen kids all went across the street to the park.  Kidusan offered to make more coffee, and some of the adults gathered around to have a cup.  It was delicous.  It tasted exactly like the coffee we had at the coffee ceremonies I had in Ethiopia.

The pre-teens came back in for a early dinner, and Kidusan laid out her Ethiopian food for everyone to try.  I got a big plate full.  As I ate the food with my hands, dipping the injera bread into the stews, my hands began to get that familiar smell of Ethiopia.

I again had to remind myself that I was in Amarillo.

My South Sudanese friend Diana came by.  She was busy doing what she is almost always doing, helping a friend.  She and her African friend, were surprised to see African food laid out.  They were giddy as they made a plate of familiar food.

As I laid in my bed last night, I couldn't believe how much Citychurch felt so much like a mission trip to me yesterday.  Even after 18 years, there are always surprises as we meet new people and bring new children and volunteers into our ministry.

I can tell you with renewed fervor that you too can be a missionary in your own city and sleep in your own bed at night.  You too can come live the mission.

I'm excited about the bio-pic about Brian Wilson that is coming out soon.  So I was thinking about this song last night.  Brian Wilson is a musical genius, and I can't wait to see John Cusack play him on the big screen.  
Wouldn't be nice to see that movie.  See what I did there?

Gentrification and ministry

I just read a blog post by Romal Tune about the church's role in gentrification.  I had so many thoughts and feelings that I wanted to put them down into a long form response.  Not refuting his point, because his point is good, but how does his article relate to my life, to our ministry in Amarillo.

For those of you not up on your big words, gentrification is when urban areas experience a time of remodeling and updating that leads to displacing the population of people who had occupied that urban area.  The displacement occurs because of increased property values and taxes that lead to the original occupiers being forced to move away from the community.

There are some ideas and feelings that I will take away from Romal Tune's article that I will definitely hold onto.  I can feel his hurt over the loss of these communities that he once belonged to.  It is clear that the hurt is deep.  And I love his statement, "As someone whose work focuses on changing the life outcomes of oppressed people, I am biased towards congregations that are spiritual, social, and practical."

Amen!  Churches must be spiritual first a foremost, but they also must not overlook the actual day to day needs and hurts of people.

I have to brag on Citychurch's bookkeeper Dean Roush for a minute.   He keeps the money straight at Citychurch, but he also is letting God use him in ministry.  He has been teaching our adult Sunday school class for a few years now.  In his free time, Dean wrote a book about personal finance with a Biblical worldview.  

Last week Dean volunteered his Saturday to hold a free personal finance class with free childcare called Dollars and Donuts.

The adults we minister to at Citychurch have a felt need to understand how to handle their money more wisely.  Dean is allowing God to use him to meet that need.

This is just one example of a way that Citychurch is meeting tangible, felt needs of the inner-city of Amarillo.  But back to the issue of gentrification.  

Romal Tune's article points out examples of gentrification going on in California and Washington D.C., and there is no question that this is a trend going on in other large cities in America.

Where I live, in Amarillo, it just isn't an issue.  We have a very segregated city, and the one neighborhood, North Heights, that is predominately black has always been predominately black.  There are neighborhoods in north Amarillo, such as Eastridge, that were built in the 1950s as lower-middle class white neighborhoods but are now neighborhoods with dozens of races represented.

I would be surprised if in Texas that gentrification is a problem in any city outside of Dallas and Austin.  (Maybe Houston, but my parents lived in the Houston area, and I know those Houstonites love their suburbs.)  Here in the middle of America, gentrification isn't a problem yet.  Yet might be a key word.

The problem Amarillo does have is that almost every church in the northeast area of Amarillo had moved to the southwest side of Amarillo or ceased to exist because of memberships that shrunk to nothing by the early 1990s.  Most of these churches were "following the money," as Romal Tune pointed out.

When Citychurch moved downtown in 1996, my father-in-law Don Lane saw the need for the north side of town to have a church.  He felt God was calling him to be a pastor to people who couldn't afford a pastor.  And children in low-income neighborhoods, not only can't afford a pastor, they don't even know they need one.

Citychurch ministers primarily to 6 neighborhoods of Amarillo, San Jacinto, North Heights, Eastridge, Hamlet, Mary Hazelrigg, and Glenwood.  There are lots of races of children represented among those neighborhood and children we minister to.

Sometimes I have wondered why God did not send someone to start this ministry from a minority race.  Although my parents had been raised very, very poor, I grew up in a middle class, white town.  I had never even seen a homeless person or a prostitute until an 8th grade trip to Austin.  How am I qualified to spend my life ministering to neighborhood of people that have little in common with my formative years?

God always reminds me in these times of questioning about what is important to the God who created this world and all of its people.  God looks at the heart.  It's clear from the Word of God that the greatest concern of our Creator is the condition of our heart.

So my questions to the church are as follows:

     What is the condition of your heart?

     Are you loving your community?

     Are you reaching beyond the street you reside to care and love for your city?

     Are you reaching beyond the group of roads around you to your neighbors to show them love and meet their needs?

     Is your heart full of love for the church globally?  Are you reaching across the oceans to show love and meet the needs of are global neighbors?

 

My feelings are that God is more concerned with our hearts, the church's heart, than God is with real estate.  I do believe that gentrification is a problem, and as Christians interested in justice, we need to be aware of its affects.  I don't want to minimize the issue, but we need to be very aware of where God may be calling you to take the message of the love of Jesus Christ.  I suspect if you ask God and listen for an answer, it will include someone who is financially struggling.

How can I be so sure?  Because God never changes, and if you read the New Testament, you will see Jesus in the business of taking His message to crowds and homes and one-on-one meetings of financially struggling folks.  

We can also see from Jesus's actions that real ministry is never just surface level encounters.  Handing a bowl of soup to someone or dropping off your old stuff somewhere is as surface level as it gets.  Jesus met needs spiritually and physically.  Jesus made people whole.

We can't be Jesus, but we are called to try.  As Citychurch ministers in neighborhoods to children and families in northeast Amarillo, we become involved in their lives.  Sometimes more than we even want to be, and it can get interesting.  But usually we enjoy loving God's people, and we learn from their problems and hurts.  We do our best to point them to answers to spiritual questions, and we spot and meet needs constantly.  I've seen Citychurch do everything from buy work pants for a young person's new job, pay utility bills for families, give people rides to work, buy kids shoes when they show up at church barefoot, pay tuition to schools for several children, take kids to get glasses....  I could keep going, but I think you get the idea.

I appreciate Romal Tune putting words to his concerns about gentrification.  I will always be open to listening to new views about urban neighborhoods because Jesus has made my heart tender to these issues and His people living in urban areas.

My hope is that the church is preaching love, that Jesus is repairing and sanctifying our hearts, and that more and more of God's people will follow Jesus's lead to do true ministry.

But the LORD said to Samuel, ‘Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.’
— 1 Samuel 16:7

If you haven't heard of Romal Tune, check out his amazing book that I love.

One I my favorite things James and Donnie have produced about Citychurch's ever growing mission.

Because I always like to include a song with each blog.  Here you go.  This is a classic.

True hospitality

James just got back from South Sudan on Saturday.  I force myself not to worry about him when he is in Africa.  I don't want to dishonor God by not believing God is in control of that situation.  But honestly, the Holy Spirit makes it easy.  Every trip, I have had a peace come over me, and I just know that it is ok.

South Sudan is an important country in Africa to our family.  We have a South Sudanese congregation at Citychurch, and James's previous trip has endeared us to that struggling, new country.  We pay attention to any news we come across about South Sudan.

One thing that popped up on my FaceBook feed a few months ago was an article posted by Food for the Hungry about the food shortage in South Sudan.  Because of all the tribal fighting that went on for the last year, many farmers were displaced and unable to plant their crops.  Hundreds of thousands of people are still displaced in UN camps, the city of Juba, or have fled to neighboring countries.

As James was packing for this trip, I kept bringing up these facts and encouraging him to pack more snacks and Cliff bars.  I was really worried that he was going to go hungry, like really, really go hungry.

The funny thing is that every single time I got to talk to him on the phone while he was in South Sudan, he was complaining about having to eat too much.  I'm not joking.  It was a constant stream of meals.  One day they went to visit some families in their homes, and he had to eat about 5 dinners.

James was so humbled by this experience.  The country is experiencing a food shortage.  The people of South Sudan were not getting enough to eat, but they were so intent on making sure their visitors had an abundant meal.  The village women all cooked elaborate meals in their outdoor kitchens.  The amount of work and monetary sacrifice that went into each of those 5 meals was astonishing.

Shannon Abook lives at the top of Dinka Mountain.  They went to visit her husband, but when he wasn't home she brought out cold waters and Cokes for the guys to drink.

Anykol is preparing greens for dinner.

This was Sunday dinner at Simon's home.

This was the farewell meal for the guys.  The men butchered the goat and the women prepared food all day to provide this feast as a celebration of sending their visitors back home.

Their were times when James, Donnie, and Lual were taken out to eat.  Their restaurants are not as commercial or established as we are use to, but there are restaurants.  Our Americans had taken lots of money with them for the trip, but in several instances, one of the South Sudanese men would stand firm that they were paying for the meal.  They would lay on the generosity thick in those instances, ordering extra food when a dish would come out differently than the Americans had hoped when they ordered.  They would insist on ordering extra items with the meal, like hot teas.  They wanted to make sure that their visitors had a wonderful meal, no matter the cost.

These meals made a huge impact on James.

Alueo treated the guys to this South Sudanese restaurant.  They ate dried fish, goat, soup, and injera bread.

I just finished reading a book called

Neighbors and Wise Men

by Tony Kriz

.  In this book, there is a chapter about this same sort of experience that Tony has as a missionary in Albania. Here is a short excerpt from his book.

"Occasionally I would get a chance to travel to an Albanian village.  I am not talking about an outlying city, or even a small town.  These were mountainside villages, consisting of only a few hovels....   
We would soon find ourselves sitting in a small living space, next to a freshly stoked fire.  These highlanders were simple folk but full of honor.  Within minutes I had a warm cup of mountain tea in my cold hands.  Our business rarely lasted more than a day, and though we were strangers, we were always offered a warm bed.  I was treated like a long-lost relative. 
Dinner was always, always the best they had to offer.  Each time I insisted that they not make a fuss, but there was no discussion to be had.  It was easy to imagine that a month's resources were spent on a single meal. 
My definition of hospitality will never be the same. 
True hospitality pushes past what we can afford to give up and makes deposits in accounts we can never lose."

I'm forever affected by this new definition of hospitality.  "True hospitality pushes past what we can afford to give up and makes deposits in accounts we can never lose."  That is truly profound.

While James was in Africa last week, I had two opportunities to bless someone monetarily.  It was clear God had placed these circumstances into my path, and I knew He was challenging me to give.  One of these individuals was a friend and the other individual was a stranger.  Looking back on these two times of giving, it is odd that I feel just as good about giving to that stranger as I do about giving to my good friend.

My hope is that I made deposits in that account I can never lose.

I may never have the opportunity to lavish a month's resources on a stranger, but I know every chance I get to show kindness to friends or strangers will be changed after learning this new definition of true hospitality.

"Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ." Colossians 3:23-24 ESV

As usual, I've got a song to share.  That's what's up.

My beyond tenfold answered prayer

A few years ago I had a shift in my faith.  Not to the side, not a loss of faith, although most people might lose faith after going through what I went through.  No.  My shift in faith was a stronger faith.  With my strength of belief in the Lord, I also had a deep need to act.
"But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law,the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing." James 1:22-25
I knew the Lord, and I wanted to do something to put my faith to action.  The Lord begin to show me a bigger view of the world and His plan.  I begin to see needs everywhere I looked.  I wanted to go to work for Jesus, meeting spiritual and physical needs around the world as much as humanly possible.

I began jumped on board anything I could be a part of.  I ministered in so many ways.  Before that tough time in my life, I had allowed my anxieties to hold me back from ministering.  I was a part of Citychurch and it's ministry.  But I had slowly backed down from any responsibilities there.  I was stand-offish to the ministry I was in the middle of.

When Gabe was a baby, I decided to change that.  I thought maybe I could just sit in on a Sunday School class and help.  That quickly turned into teaching the preschool class.  It was the best thing I've ever done in the ministry.  Teaching that class was a big turning point in my ministry.

As my fire grew to minister more and more.  I wanted to try crazy things.  I wanted to do ministry that no one was doing that might reach the parents of our CityKids.  I gathered my Bible study ladies and taught monthly classes for low-income adults.  It was a short lived ministry, but I learned a lot from it.  And I haven't given up on the idea.

During the beginning of that "all-in," "ready for crazy ministry" period, I began to feel like I was alone in my fire for the Lord and His hurting world.

I began to pray for a partner in crime, another woman who wanted to actively serve the Lord in crazy ways.

God has answered these prayers, more than tenfold!  It wasn't overnight.  But I get weepy thinking of how deep and wide he answered that prayer.

Let me tell you about my partners in crime:

Shelly Wilson:  I have to talk about Shelly first because we've been to Ethiopia and back, and we are doing it again in August.  I love Shelly because I get Shelly.  She's an accountant turned mom turned adoptive mom turned crusader for Christ just like me.  Shelly's a hard worker.  She's one of those wonderful people who jump in and grab an ore when the boat needs rowing.  She doesn't just say she's going to do something, she does it as if someone is grading it and she's expecting an A++.  I've seen Shelly's heart, in times of disappointment and times of excitement.  Let me tell you, Shelly's got a good one, full of Christ's love.

The IF Ladies:  Right now I'm in the middle of this crazy ride called "planning an IF:Amarillo for the whole city."  It's a ride where they check your faith against the ruler before they strap you in.  It's amazing to get to serve God alongside these women who are so in love with Jesus.  Kaylie Hodges, Jennifer Johnson, Kristen DeRight, McKenzie Autry, April Mason, Shawntae Stout, Emily Wood, and Maribel Sims, I hope you girls know we are partners in crime now.  I'm going to be calling you and emailing you asking when we can get on another roller coaster, serving Jesus mission.

The In His Hands Ladies:  If you want a surefire way to soften a women's heart, tell them their son or daughter is on the other side of the planet.  I've caught onto you, God.  Good plan.  You got all of us with that one.  Melissa Albright is our instigator.  She's got a vision of Amarillo Christians coming together to serve the orphans of our city and our world.  I'm so happy to know the Albright's because I want to see that vision become reality.  Andi Veazy has quickly become a faith hero of mine.  She has three sons who are legally her children "stuck" in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  (If you don't know what "stuck" is, watch the documentary by that name.  If you do know what "stuck" is, pray with me.  Help us pray those boys home.)  Christina Prater is just cool.  She makes me feel cool that I get to be in this group with her.  She's got style and grace.  But she also has love, compassion, and a willingness to serve.  I've got to mention two ladies who aren't even adopting, but have their hearts open wide to serve orphans.  They are on fire with their love for Jesus, Stacey Pybus and Eileen Merriman.  We need more women like this in our group.  The longer I am a part of In His Hands, the more women I meet that are ready to do crazy things for Jesus.  Lori Scott is knee deep in orphan care running an international and domestic adoption agency AND a non-profit that cares for orphans.  Cayla Cato is a new mom to the cutest little guy that she just adopted from Uganda.  Obviously her heart is in it.  I can't wait to see who else God leads to our group as it grows and grows.  He has already used our group in awe inspiring ways.  He let us be a part of raising enough money to purchase land for an orphanage in Uganda.  The money came together in a matter of hours, and we were all dumbstruck.  We shouldn't have been surprised.  God is God.

Citychurch people:  I have to confess something here.  I was praying for something I already had.  I was blinded with discouragement from the devil.  I was sitting among the biggest group of crazy-ministry folks in my city.  I'm not exaggerating or bragging when I say that my church is the most dynamic, unusual, willing to try new things, all inclusive, ministry focused, outreach oriented church I know of.  I honestly believe it is true.  We do crazy-ministry things like riding our bikes out into low-income neighborhoods to serve children lunches in the summer, take a hundred children and almost a hundred pre-teens to a free camp every summer, specifically children who's families could never afford a summer camp on their own.  We take young people to a free camp in the mountains and on mission trips to let them serve.  We pick up vans full of children every Sunday, feed them and tell them about Christ.  Then we do something even crazier.  We let them sit in our church service without their parents there to watch them, while we set up cameras to record the service.  We teach Bible clubs across from elementary schools.  It's the most impactful work we do, but honestly the least flashy.  It is the front lines with Jesus important.  We serve a congregation of South Sudanese Christians in every way we can.  We teach a English as a Second Language -ESL- class.  We reach children and families in the "forgotten" part of Amarillo.   We spot their needs, and meet them.  This includes everything from Christmas presents and groceries, to shoes and underwear.  We have dreams and plans to minister in even more exciting and crazy ways in our city.  It doesn't even come close to reality when I say I love Citychurch.  The reason I can say that we do all of these wonderful things is because of our people.  If I started listing names, I'm afraid I might miss one.  If you have helped with any of these things listed, I mean you.  You're one of my partners in crime.

My husband James:  My best partner in crime ever.  He has always supported any ministry I wanted to get my hands dirty with.  I put him to work helping me every time, and he does it with a cheerful heart.  He's the best, and I tell him all the time.

It is amazing to me that I was surrounded by the kind of people I wanted to be surrounded by and I wasn't seeing it.  I think that happens to all of us at some point in our life.  We realize we already have the thing we are hoping and dreaming for.

Here's a good example.  If you live in America and you hope to be rich.  Open your eyes.  You already are.  Just check out http://www.globalrichlist.com/   (I'm richer than 89% of the world.  I bet you're up their too.)

Well, I was rich in crazy-sold-out Christ followers.  I was struck oil rich.  I should have been dancing in it, but I was looking around like a lost kid in the mall.

Thank you Lord for answering my prayer and for opening my eyes.
"Say to those who have an anxious heart, 'Be strong; fear not!  Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God.  He will come and save you.' Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy." Isaiah 35:4-6