When Following God Doesn’t Follow Protocol

by FCS Ministries on

By Jim Wehner

A resident in our transitional housing program was late on her rent. Since the program provides assistance to families and individuals that need help with housing, this predicament is nothing new. Part of assisting people in their housing needs includes mentoring in financial choices and prioritizing payments.

This particular tenant had been through all our channels of assistance and, as happens sometimes, it was time to begin the eviction process. This ending is never easy for us. Even though we invest a great deal of time, resources, and energy before we reach this place, it still feels like we have failed somehow.

But this time something happened. A fire in her apartment.

This same resident - whose worldly possessions fit into a one room efficiency apartment with two of her children - now lost almost everything. She moved in with her mother, who was in another apartment in the same building.

FCS worked feverishly to repair the damage from the fire, which ended up costing a great deal. This was no small event. It challenged the strength of our entire team as we dealt with the crisis.

And for the resident, it was not the first time for her to start over. The very fact that her mother was in the same transitional program reveals the generational dynamics at work in their family.  

We resumed conversations about her rent, now unpaid for three months, when the unthinkable happened. Her mother went into diabetic shock, then a coma, before passing away 24 hours later.

The apartment could be repaired. Most of her possessions could be replaced. But now she had lost her one source of strength in her life. It was devastating.  

And though I felt guilty for even thinking about it, I realized we never answered of our original question: Should we evict her? Of course, we had reasons to say yes. Our protocol requires all our residents to be involved in their own process. The months without paying rent, as well as by-passing other opportunities, would typically lead to ending our support.

But our goal is to support families and individuals that need help with housing. In this case, we chose not to evict. There was just too much happening in her life to add homelessness to the pile.

And we are reminded that God is our provider. God is bigger than the tragedies and intensities that enter our lives at the worst moments. And honestly, in our work, the level of need almost always outstrips our personal and corporate resources.

Over time, God provided a place for our resident to live with a family member, and she moved out of our apartments. For us, we grow in our experiences of waiting on God to provide beyond our abilities.  And we watch expectantly for him to do so. This consistent posture has developed in us low-frequency trust in God to fill these gaps between resource and need. And God always shows up.

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Failing with God

by FCS Ministries on

By Bob Lupton

I enjoy it when business friends invite me to join them for coffee. Business deals fascinate me. I would probably be a serial entrepreneur if I hadn’t received a calling to enter urban ministry.

On one breakfast occasion, I was listening with much interest to a conversation between two friends – a fishing equipment manufacturer and an investor – as they discussed a new product idea that promised to make millions. There’s money to be made in the angling industry if you can produce a lure that fish find irresistible. Fishermen know that bass love night crawlers. So did the owner of the manufacturing company. Plastic night crawlers were among his best sellers.

The only problem is that when bass strike from the rear, they bite off the back end of the worm leaving a short stub and an empty hook for the fisherman to reel in. The solution, said the manufacturer with obvious excitement, is to mold in a second hook at the tail end of the worm. Then no matter where the bass hits the worm, a hook would be waiting.

The idea was ingenious in its simplicity. K-Mart had already committed for a first order of five hundred thousand lures if they could be delivered in time for the coming fishing season. The investment was a good one, the business owner assured his potential investor.

It would be fairly easy to set up an automated mold that would infuse the plastic worm around the two hooks, the manufacturer explained. The challenge, however, was the time-consuming task of securely tying together the rear hook to the front hook at the precise distance apart for accurate insertion into the molding machine.

This would require tedious hand work. Finding a contractor to tie a million fish hooks together in the next ninety days would take some concentrated research. They would probably have to go to China or Taiwan, he said.

“Why don’t you do it right here in Atlanta,” I blurted out without much forethought. It was the disturbing prospect of shipping jobs overseas when so many of my inner-city neighbors were unemployed that brought me out of my silence. “We could set up an operation in my neighborhood right away,” I said with naïve confidence.

It would take some trial runs to establish efficient tying techniques and production speed, but I assured them we could make an accurate bid and begin production within two weeks. And so began one of the most exciting, stimulating, energetic ventures I had ever embarked upon.

My neighbors were eager to work. I rented some vacant warehouse space, set up long rows of tables, and started taking applications. Applicants sat across the tables facing each other. Each had a spool of line, a pair of scissors, a pile of fish hooks and a “jig” with two slots to insert the hooks into.

They practiced threading the hooks, tying a special non-slip knot, and transferring each two-hook harness onto a card that assured its accuracy. Not all the applicants had the manual dexterity for the work and did not make the cut. Those we hired were paid by the piece.

On the wall behind each worker was posted a large production sheet that tracked their hourly output. The competition was invigorating. Some with amazingly fast fingers tallied very generous paychecks. Needless to say, it was a very stimulating work environment.

In eight weeks our little operation had tied one million fish hooks together and delivered the contract ahead of schedule and under budget. The manufacturing company shipped out their initial order of double-hook night crawlers to K-Mart stores across the country.

Our employees eagerly awaited for the re-orders to flood in. They waited. And waited. But the re-orders never came.

It seems that one important element in this venture had been overlooked. The lure, though very attractive to retailers and fisher-folk, had not been vetted with the end consumer – the fish! The bass were simply not interested in night crawlers that had hooks protruding from their tails. Amid much disappointment, we closed up shop.

I wish I could tell you that this fishing lure venture was my only ministry misfire. But alas, it is but one in a lengthy litany of failed schemes I have attempted over four decades of serving among the poor.

There was the free clothes closet that turned into a grab-what-you-can feeding frenzy. And the toys-for-tots Christmas give-away that became a greedy entitlement program. And the chaos that my “jobs program” inflicted on some good-hearted friends when I sent them unruly urban teens to work in their businesses.

The list goes on – a pallet manufacturing operation, a sewing company, a lawn-care service, to name a few – all created for the noble purpose of providing jobs for unemployed folk in my community. Once in a while a venture did flourish but, regrettably, most fizzled over time. If failures can be considered “learning experiences” then I am indeed a very learned man!

Somewhere along this roller-coaster journey, it became clear to me that the rightness of one’s motives does not ensure the success of one’s efforts. The 80% crash and burn rate for start-up businesses during their first 18 months (according to Forbes) appears to apply not only to the for-profit world but to ministry ventures as well.

Just because we are diligently pursuing the will of God and seeking to “do justice and love mercy,” there are no guarantees that our self-sacrificing efforts will produce the outcomes we envision. Different outcomes perhaps. Outcomes like humility, or the relationships that are forged in adversity, or the deepening of faith when the bottom has dropped out.

In the end, God may be more interested in our faithfulness than in our successes.

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Holding Onto Death and Life

by FCS Ministries on

  Holy Week offers us space to reflect on both the suffering and death of Jesus, as well as his glorious resurrection Easter Sunday. It can be difficult to hold the tension of these two events. Painful loss. Miraculous redemption.

 

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Too often, we tend to fixate on one and neglect the other. In our neighborhoods, it is sometimes too easy to witness and experience the suffering. We walk along broken sidewalks next to boarded up houses with rotting porches. We listen as teenagers pour out stories we wish hadn’t happened. We lament together when a young life is lost too soon.

 

Many of us in urban ministry are familiar with the suffering. In fact, sometimes it can swallow us up whole. We can pitch our tent at Golgotha and pass our days in sorrow at the brokenness and death.

 

We need Resurrection Sunday.

 

Our hearts cry out for the living God, and we recognize the redemption that lives all around us. We cheer when that old house is bulldozed or renovated. We tear up at a graduation ceremony for that teen who never should have made it. We celebrate all the goodness in our community at block parties, playgrounds, and neighborhood clean-ups.

 

But Easter Sunday cannot be fully experienced without Good Friday. We cannot breeze through the pain without acknowledging it in our souls. There is a tension in the lament of death and the celebration of life. Christ offers us both during Holy Week, and we are reminded that suffering is a part of the story, but it is not the end.

 

Elisabeth Elliot said it this way, “We want to avoid suffering, death, sin, ashes. But we live in a world crushed and broken and torn, a world God Himself visited to redeem. We receive his poured-out life, and being allowed the high privilege of suffering with Him, may then pour ourselves out for others."

 

This Easter, may you sit with the suffering Christ and party with the Risen Lord.

Image credit: Martin Kenny

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5 Loaves and 25 Tons of Food

by katiedelp on

By Katie Delp Jesus feeds the five thousand. It’s a story I’ve known almost my whole life. Five loaves. Two fishes. Yet Jesus instructs the disciples to distribute the food among the large crowd until everyone is fed. The math doesn’t compute, but God is able to work miracles with one boy’s generosity.

 

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As our pastor preached on this story last Sunday, he encouraged us to reflect on times when we have see God miraculously transform a situation beyond expectations. Maybe beyond rationality. My mind immediately remembered our South Atlanta food co-operative.

 

A couple of years ago, I realized through some interactions with neighbors that some families in my community were struggling to put food on the table every night. I was not alone. Some fellow co-laborers in the neighborhood were hearing the same message. We were concerned and wanted to help.

 

Few folks know how to offer people access to food while maintaining their dignity better than our friends at Urban Recipe. I love their food co-operative model that allows a group of families to pay into a pot and receive needed food in return. Co-op members have responsibilities and roles, and donations subsidize the cost of the food.

 

Together, our small band of concerned neighbors was able to quietly raise the funds to start the food co-op in our community. Two years later, fifty low-income families from South Atlanta meet twice a month to receive food and stock their shelves.

 

I love the food co-operative program and the dignity it maintains for recipients as they become food secure. But there was another miracle of God tucked away behind the scenes. I have constantly been amazed that while only five households of modest income give to the food co-op, there is always enough each year to provide over twenty-five tons of food for these fifty families.

 

The math just doesn’t add up. Still, like Christ’s feeding of the five thousand, God is able to work miracles beyond our expectations. In our “five loaves and two fishes” generosity, there is always enough for everyone.

 

Will you join FCS as we watch God provide resources, dignity, and transformation in our community? Your generosity is always appreciated and goes further than you can ever imagine.

 

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Image credit: the justified sinner

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To the Next Generation of Community Developers

by katiedelp on

By Katie Delp I knew during college that I wanted to pursue a life committed to service, justice, and community development. After graduating from Texas Tech with a degree in business degree, I had decided to spend a year working and living in Atlanta with Mission Year.

 

Even though that service program was only a year, I always knew I wanted to be in this for the long haul. Fifteen years later, I am still working and living in Atlanta, trying to pursue a life committed to service, justice, and community development.

 

Image credit: Doug

 

At FCS, I often hear from young adults with similar passions and eagerness that I had during college. As I reflect on the ways I joined in this life, I know there were a few things that have supported and sustained me throughout the years.

 

Move in with a community.

 

You’ll have insider knowledge into the assets and challenges of a community when you live there. However, moving into the city alone (or even with a few friends) can be challenging to sustain. Find a program or a group of people already living in the neighborhood to join in with for support and greater impact.

 

Participate in church.

 

Connecting to a faith community helps keep you rooted and can offer support and inspiration as you live out your values. There is no perfect church for all who move into the neighborhood, but it can be a valuable place to develop relationships and nurture your spirituality.

 

Develop your skills.

 

A desire to participate in developing stronger communities is a job requirement. And the work is multi-faceted, requiring skills from many different people. Find out where you are gifted and develop those skills with the neighborhood in mind.

 

I used a business degree to focus on nonprofit management. I have also seen neighbors offer skills of photography, legal advice, or youth mentorship to the neighborhood. Many of these folks brought their skills to the community outside of their day jobs.

 

Learn local culture.

 

As cities continue to grow in diversity, many involved in community development encounter cultures different from their own. Learn from others with backgrounds similar to those represented in your community to help you understand your context in new ways. Some starter ideas include reading different authors and bloggers, watching films, and attending cultural events.

 

Take it slow.

 

Community development is long-term work and does not happen overnight. There are benefits to listening first and waiting a year or more before jumping into action or taking on leadership responsibilities. You will earn the respect of neighbors and have a clarified lens through which to make decisions about where to invest your time and energy.

 

I love the excitement and fresh passion of young adults eager to participate in neighborhood change. In fact, we’d love to meet you and talk more about community transformation at our upcoming Open House.

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5 Must-Read Bloggers You Should Know

by FCS Ministries on

Living and working cross-culturally, it’s vital to listen and learn from a variety of voices. February is Black History Month and specifically emphasizes the contributions of African American innovators, writers, activists, and more to society.  

To celebrate Black History Month here on the blog, we thought we’d highlight a few (modern day) African American bloggers to add to your online reading!

 

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Christena Cleveland - Christena is a social psychologist, author, speaker, and professor at Bethel University. She writes on diversity and reconciliation.

 

Austin Channing - Austin is a racial reconciler and worked with two Willow Creek Community Church campuses, developing strategies and programming around multiculturalism.

 

Efrem Smith - Efrem is a pastor and author, who currently serves as the President and CEO of World Impact. He address topics of multi-ethnicity, leadership, and community development.

 

Brenda Salter McNeil - Brenda is a pastor and professor at Seattle Pacific University. She seeks to inspire and equip young Christian leaders to practice reconciliation and to build communities that partner with God to bring relational healing and social wholeness.

 

Jackie Bledsoe - Jackie is a husband, father, and blogger. He desires to help overwhelmed husbands and fathers learn to have fulfilling marriages and meaningful influence on their kids.

 

We hope you enjoy these passionate writers and thinkers. Of course, this list doesn’t even attempt to be exhaustive. What bloggers would you add?

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Prayer at the Prison

by FCS Ministries on

By Jim Wehner It was a busy Friday in December. I tend to be task oriented anyway, but at the end of one year and the beginning of the next, I am extremely focused. I love to close one chapter well before I open the next, and I had a lot on my plate in order to make that happen.

 

I had an appointment this particular Friday. I wanted to blow it off, but since it was focused on prayer, I figured I couldn't really do that and keep my Christian cred. As it turned out, I am so glad I didn't skip it because this event set the tone for my holiday season and has extended into this new year.

 

Image credit: Michael Coghlan

 

One of our board members had pulled the event together, and it included a diverse group from the neighborhood. We gathered outside the gates of the Federal Prison in Atlanta simply to pray. We met, shared a few Christmas carols, and prayed together, focusing on four areas for prayer: the prisoners, the guards, the warden that oversees the prison, and the broader justice system. Then we went down the street for lunch.

 

There was no fanfare.  It was not a protest. There were no news snippets or Facebook posts, and no one from outside the community made appearances for the media. We simply locked hearts together as we bowed our heads, stood on the sidewalk of a busy street, and prayed for God to intervene in ways that we could not.

 

I loved the diversity of this group and the laying down of personal agendas. I hope 2015 is filled with more times like this. God, let it be so...

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The Poor Are Always With You

by FCS Ministries on

By Bob Lupton “The poor you will always have with you,” a man in the audience quoted. He was reacting to a talk I had just given on the need for more effective charity. I had heard his argument before.

 

Since souls are eternal and our earthly bodies merely temporal, should we not be about saving souls rather than alleviating poverty? And besides, Jesus himself said that the poor will always be with us.

 

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The passage from Mark’s gospel (which the man was lifting a bit out of context) was Jesus’ defense of a woman who was being criticized for anointing Him with expensive balm. Such an extravagant offering should have been donated to help the poor, the woman’s critics grumbled.

 

“Let her alone; why do you trouble her?” Jesus defends her.  “For you always have the poor with you, and you can show kindness to them whenever you wish; but you will not always have me.” The detractors in the crowd might well have faulted Him for supporting a misappropriation of valuable ointment. But there was certainly no hint in His response that caring for the needs of the poor was unimportant.

 

As a matter of fact, He was actually quoting from Torah a command which all Jews knew well:  “For the poor will never cease from being in the land. Therefore, I command you, saying, 'You shall open your hand wide to your brother, to your poor and needy in your land.'”

 

Caring for the needs of the poor was obviously a bedrock mandate for the faithful followers of Yahweh. The theme is dominant, woven throughout all of scripture. Where then did this idea originate that God’s primary interest is in disembodied souls rather than in whole people (body, mind, and spirit)? Or the whole of creation, for that matter?

 

I suppose the Gnostics had something to do with it – the group that believed that matter (the flesh) was of a lower, imperfect world whereas the realm of God (the spirit) was the upper world associated with the soul and perfection. This Greek infiltration into early Christian thinking convinced some that the realm of God is spiritual and not part of the physical.

 

Thus the material world is to be shunned and the spiritual world pursued. It’s not hard to see how such thinking could lead to the conclusion the man in my audience was making: God is primarily concerned about eternal souls rather than the temporal needs of people.

 

The God of scripture, however, seems to have a more holistic intention for humankind. Shalom. Peace, flourishing, wholeness. People rightly related to God and to each other. Shalom has a “here and now” orientation.

 

The Old Testament had little to say about the after-world. Mostly it concerned itself with how people were behaving in the present. When Christ appeared on the scene, He dramatically expanded “hereafter thinking.” His bodily resurrection opened an advent of understanding about the inseparability of soul and body.

 

His resurrected body would be the first-fruit of a theology His disciples, His Church, would embrace. “I believe in…the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting,” the Apostle’s Creed declares. The body is important. Feeding, clothing, healing were no insignificant issues to Christ. And the body – not just the soul – somehow has a connection with eternity.

 

Caring for those in need has eternal implications. Eternal rewards are conditioned upon it. Care for the hungry, the ill-clad, the alienated is synonymous with love for God, Jesus explained. It is worship in its purest form. Do this and we find ourselves aligned with Divine purposes. Ignore it and we are in danger of judgment.

 

“The poor you will always have with you.” Yes, there will always be those who need a helping hand. Which is to say: there will never be a time when our compassion, our generosity, our thoughtfulness is irrelevant. It is tied to eternity.

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God’s Love on the Streets

by katiedelp on

I was recently part of a conversation about inequalities in our communities with a group of leaders in our city. One participant turned towards me and another colleague who also lives on the south side of Atlanta. He said, “I mean, I want change. But I’m not willing to do what you all are doing.”  

It’s not an uncommon sentiment. I’ve often heard similar statements when I share my family’s decision to live and raise our kids in an under-resourced community. Still, my heart skips a beat anytime I hear this type of resistance, and I want to defend my neighborhood.

 

Our neighborhood has its share of challenges, to be sure. But it’s on the streets of South Atlanta I have come to understand God’s goodness and love in ways I have never experienced any other place.

 

Image credit: Sameer Vasta

It’s on the streets of South Atlanta I have seen God’s provision as residents pool resources to create programs for fellow neighbors.

 

It’s on the streets of South Atlanta I experience community through unlikely friendships and gracious acceptance from those different than me.

 

It’s on the streets of South Atlanta I witness joyful giving as our friend who is homeless gives my daughter her last pennies for a birthday present.

 

It’s on the streets of South Atlanta I bask in grace and love on moon-drenched front porches while neighbors listen to my hopes, brokenness, and struggles of life.

 

It’s on the street of South Atlanta I see God’s redemption each spring as flowers relentlessly push through cracks in the sidewalks, reminding us of beauty in broken places.

 

I rarely feel brave or heroic for the life we live. But I do feel deeply loved by a community of neighbors and a God that is present and working in the hard places. God’s love on the streets of South Atlanta draws me closer to God’s heart.

 

Take a good look, friends, at who you were when you got called into this life. I don’t see many of “the brightest and the best” among you, not many influential, not many from high-society families. Isn’t it obvious that God deliberately chose men and women that the culture overlooks and exploits and abuses, chose these “nobodies” to expose the hollow pretensions of the “somebodies”? That makes it quite clear that none of you can get by with blowing your own horn before God. Everything that we have—right thinking and right living, a clean slate and a fresh start—comes from God by way of Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 1:26-31)

 

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