Archive for November, 2010

November 30, 2010

Who’s in Charge?


It was a Monday morning. I was getting a lot done at my computer desk–checking off lots of stuff! And then suddenly I realized that I had to lead Street Youth Ministry's "Talk Time" at 11:00. And I had to prepare the morning snack. It was 10:15 and I hadn't even started! Whoops! What was I thinking?

I quickly thawed components for 2 dozen pig-in-a-blankets. (God had thoughtfully arranged for a church to donate all their leftover hot dogs from their Fall Festival.) I slapped them in the oven and was ready to go by 10:45. I arrived on the drag at the stroke of 11:00. I was going to be late. Consistency really matters with street kids, so I felt bad. 

I quickly walked to the Campus House of Prayer. (God kindly provides partner churches who provide all our facilities for our activities.) I passed by and quickly said "Hi" to about 20 kids. But I didn't have time to stop and chat. 

When I arrived, no one was there! Go figure! 

I was temped to try to go back and recruit people to come. However, I have leaned that God is in charge. (God thoughtfully provides me with weekly and sometimes daily lessons in this fact, since I am a slow learner.) So I said a prayer of thanksgiving and asked God, "So what is today about? You have never left me alone during a SYM event even once. What do you want me to do?"

Shortly, one young man came in. He was shocked to see nobody there. It even angered him a bit that nobody had come. I assumed him it was OK, and he settled down. As I was talking to him, another young man came in. He took a seat. I offered food to both, but neither needed anything. They had come to pray!

We began our prayer concert. A prayer concert is a guided bidding prayer; it is something I learned about from a mentor who had learned it from a history of the 1880 prayer revivals. Led well, it develops a rhythm and energy, much like music. Led well, it has a shape that grows from distant to very personal and then transitions to prayer for ourselves and ends with very powerful prayers for the world. Sometimes it works out like that. 

We began our rendition for the day. In bidding style, they completed thoughts that I called out, in short sentences. I repeated them and broadened them, asking the question again. Only a few samples are listed below:

God is: love, kind, unseen, amazing creator…
I'm thankful for: life, breathing, friends who care for me…
What's going on with me is: struggling, doubting, wondering why I'm here, I'm hurting…
I admit that I've: lusted, hurt others to help me, hurt myself with the idea of helping others, …
I want you to act in my life to: help me feel shame when I sin so that I stop, help keep me safe from drugs, help me understand my path, help turn my past experiences into something that can help other people, …
I want you to act in this world to: care more during Christmas for one another, stop hurting each other, stop killing each other, just understand one another better, …

It was a wonderful and intimate prayer session. It led to some Christian counseling of both young men. It was so clear that God had arranged it all. 

I happily went home afterwards with the pig-in-a-blankets to freeze for another day. I pray that we all could feel who's in charge every day! 

"To know, love and serve street dependent youth."
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November 24, 2010

Thankful for God’s Provision


A couple of times now in the past month, God has provided for the ministry in ways that serve to remind me that He's in charge. No matter how much I plan, manage or do, He's simply in charge.

One occasion was a Friday outreach. The day before, I had visited with about 45 street youth, which is a huge number. I am only typically outfitted for about 20 people on Friday, so I began to wonder, "How is that going to work?" I decided to cut sandwiches in half. But the sandwiches came already in lunch bags, so I thought that as too much work and decided not to. Instead I told the volunteers to perhaps make a few peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to stretch things.

For that same day, I had three volunteers signed up. That's one more than normal but that was OK. However, one was a mom brining her two kids. And another was an excited UT student who kept emailing me to say he was brining one, then two, then three more friends. And then a UT reporter wanted to come along, working on a story about the often invisible street youth. So suddenly the three names represented nine volunteers. "That is too many," I thought. "We'll creep out the street kids!" But I didn't want to turn away new volunteers, so I just held my breath and figured, "I'll find a way to make it work!"

And to make things even stranger, when I got to the parking lot where I stage the start of the Friday "mini-mission" trip each week, a young lady was waiting for me. I didn't recognize her, but she came up and gave me a bag of 20 more sandwiches. She said, "The person who normally delivers them can't bring them today. Sorry!" I had no idea what she was talking about, but I took them. (I later found that they failed to sign-up but had planned to bring sandwiches that day.)

So there we were suddenly with three times the volunteers and sandwiches as any normal Friday afternoon! We headed off after some intense but quick training. It was awkward at first. One street kid would come up and nine people would offer food or socks or other clothing. But we got the drill down after a couple of attempts.

Naturally, we ran into lots of street youth! And we had plenty for them. We came to the market square which normally has vendors in it. But they had gone home early and the square was filled with about 15 to 20 street youth, all sitting around on their packs. They were just hanging out, so the volunteers spread out and began ministry.

I found them in groups talking about where they had came from. I found them in groups talking bout God. I found them in groups talking about their stories. And I even found them in groups praying together. It was just an awesome evening! And I could not have planned it.

The second time? Just this past Tuesday. I had someone signed up to provide a "mini Thanksgiving meal." She was excited. A friend had also been working to get her small group to make sandwiches on Tuesdays once a month. She had a hard time getting the date set, and, when she finally did, it was the same Tuesday. I started to tell her no, but I decided not to because it has been such trouble to set in the first place. I quietly planned to freeze the sandwiches for another week, but wouldn't you know it? The original person got sick and called to cancel. She was so relieved when I told her that God had already signed someone up for the day! So once again, God came through with just what was needed.

These are two but examples of which I'm aware. I believe that God is doing this all the time. This Thanksgiving, I hope you also get the chance to pause and realize that God almost always supplies us amply and generously in His own way. And whether we have much or have little, we can be grateful and praise God. 

The street youth and I recently prayed and studied Psalm 100. We want to make a joyful noise to the Lord. We want everyone to know "He is God!" And we want to bless His name by how we worship God, treat one another, and act toward our community. Amen.

"To know, love and serve street dependent youth."
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Latest blog: Farewell Andre Kevin Walker: 1986 – 2010

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November 19, 2010

Farewell Andre Kevin Walker: 1986 – 2010


We began with a couple of remarks. First that we were gathered as a community to celebrate Andre, to mourn his loss, and to share that part of Andre that we would be carrying away with us today. Some came only to stand in solidarity with the friends of Andres, so I announced for those who didn't know him that he had been murdered. "Andre was no angel, but then who is. You cannot do anything to deserve to be throw-away or to be murdered." I opened us in prayer.

We began with some Detroit hip-hop by a street-popular band called ICP. We listed to "Walk Into Thy Light" by ICP. It's not a song I would pick for my memorial, but it was a song faithful friends has selected for Andre. And it worked. In an odd contrast, as it's forceful music faded, I read from Psalm 150 about how we praise God with all manner of instruments. I continued, "We praise God in our own way. And today we gather here to celebrate the 'light' and even the 'carnival' of Andre's life. I invite you to share happy memories of Andre:"
  • He was always laughing.
  • He could always make me laugh.
  • He never stopped trying to hit on me.
  • His light.
  • He was always there for me. He never let me down.
  • He saved my life more than once.
  • How much his life changed in the 7 years I knew him. 
We then listened to a second song selected by Andre's friends: We Don't Die by Twiztid. When it concluded, I read "Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn." And then "Jesus wept. Now I invite you to share your grief with one another." I knew they were angry at the murder, so I invited that. I knew they were made to feel vulnerable on the street, so I invited that. And then I invited, "What do you mourn? What will you miss?"
  • His smile.
  • His arguing with me.
  • His shoot first and ask questions later attitude.
  • His soul.
  • That anyone has to die on the streets violently.
  • That Andre will not be able to share his light with so many other people.
I took this moment to share, "The tragedy of Andre's death was even deeper. Two or possibly three young people killed him. Their lives are now ruined too. And I was quite certain that terrible things helped shape their lives and bring them to the point of wrongly believing they should take a life." Several hugged one another as we shared more answers to the question, "What will you miss?"

Then we listened to another ICP song, "I Want My Shit." Not perfect for everyone's memorial, but just right for Andre's. It's in part about someone who can't understand their life, but who makes a final stand and wants some things to complete their life. The familiar lyrics helped lessen the pain and hurt of the previous round of sharing. As the music finished, I read, "For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are–yet was without sin. Let us approach the thrown of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need." (Hebrews 4:15-18).

"I invite you now to consider that Andre knew there was a God. And he believed in Jesus. Andre did not understand why he kept making the bad decisions, but he knew they were bad. We talked about how he wanted to quit. We talked about how he knew and loved Jesus. I am not judge and I am not God, but I cannot help but believe that Andre is now at the 'Pearly Gates' yelling 'I want my shit!'" And then I invited, "What do you take with you of Andre?"
  • His memories.
  • His smile will be in my head forever.
  • He chipped my cheekbone in a sucker punch one time, and I'll always have that.
  • That we must stick together as family… no more fighting each other.
We finished the memorial by holding hands in a circle around the red carnations and memorial pictures of Andre. We prayed for grieving, for healing, and for strength to go on. 

Following the service, we shared sandwiches, cookies, snacks and sodas provided by volunteers. We distributed socks, clothing, and other items donated to the ministry.

"To know, love and serve street dependent youth."
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November 13, 2010

No place like home?


In a small group I was leading recently, I had a collection of street youth together talking about how they had experienced coming to a church which offers them fellowship, food, and rest each Wednesday evening. There were nine or ten in the room and we were very very relaxed. The conversation wandered as I probed their thoughts and reactions to the evening with open-ended questions and allowed them to respond to one another.

One youth, from the east coast, said, "I'm considering going back home. I know I'm going to eventually. I'm just not ready yet." This youth has farming roots and will probably return to them. He currently travels the country and meets people. He has developed substance abuse issues, but he's not permanently trapped by them.

Another youth said, "I would never go home. Me and my dad are not good for each other. We'd start going at it all over again. We'd yell at each other. We shove each other. We'd wrestle each other. He'd hit me. I'd hit him. No…I'll stay out here." This youth is new to the street. He suffered a loss of a dear family member in the last year. His family, including younger siblings, is broken apart. He is learning survival skills of the street fast.

Another youth said, "I've never had a home in my life. If I had one, I'd go home to it. I'm an orphan. I was in foster home after foster home. I was so much trouble that none of them want me back. I can't imagine what it's like to have a home at all. It just blows my mind." This youth also has many substance abuse issues, although he also is not trapped in addiction yet, either.

I was so struck by their different views of home and what constrast there is from person to person. Like everyone, each of these street youth is a different and unique individual. Each of their stories is unique. What they each need is different. What SYM offers each is to simply be alongside them in the home they've got for now–the street–with love, compasion, understanding, and grace. How we all need these things! We do little things to make the street more tolerable and to remind them that their path from the past into the future needn't be on the street forever. 

May love, compassion and grace, as well as all the little things we also need be abundant for you this Thanksgiving season. May we all remember that we're unique, every single one, and yet part of the same family of God. We are His, and He has every single one of us.

"To know, love and serve street dependent youth."
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