New Year, New Friend

We share an outlet at the Front Porch. Everyday I come in to work, she comes in to occupy her time and download music for friends. As we plug our laptops in, we banter about the weather and joke about some of the Front Porch regulars. I have made a new friend.

Every week there are 8 recovery meetings at the Front Porch. I always count it as a deep blessing when I am able to listen in on the meetings, as men and women share their struggles, successes, and steps towards recovery. My new friend attends as many meetings as she can.

She shares her story at the meeting today. She shared how the holidays were challenging for her, bringing up memories and realities of her broken family. She knew where her boyfriend's spare bottles where, and a small sip would do so much to alleviate the pain.

She didn't drink, but called her sponsor. She shared how he helped her and that she spent the rest of the day at the Front Porch Café. It was a welcomed respite from the chaos of home and she appreciated the friends she had at the Café. She thanked me at the meeting for keeping the place open throughout Christmas and the New Year and reminded us that we just don't know how many people this place touches.

I'm always humbled by this. I know that it is not my machinations, Duane's charisma, nor Lisa's attention to detail that make South Street and the Front Porch is the place it is. It is by God's Spirit, His Presence here. I count it as a blessing when I get to watch the mustard seed grow. When a woman can come to the Front Porch to stay sober. When men can connect to just housing. Where kids are given the space to enjoy childhood.

And as I prepare for this upcoming year with budgets and organizational goals, the closing prayer of that Alcoholics Anonymous meeting and the voice of a new friend remind me how to pray and plan:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.

Welcome to the Front Porch

The door at the Front Porch rattles with a reverberating shake. In the morning hours before the Cafe has opened Eric, Joe, and Larvett sit and talk of prison systems, murders in Cleveland, and the role of the Church in society. Fred is at the door, he rattles it until we open up to let him out of the cold and into the warmth of the Cafe.

Fred comes in and says hello. He is excited to be weening himself off cigarettes and shares his accomplishments with us – down to two to three smokes a day, he says. Another man stops by, he is on leave from the Oriana House and looking for positive, community resources to help him in his recovery and re-entry. He boasts of his skill with HVAC, but laments his bad eyes in reading many applications. We listen for a time as both men share and move on with their day.

An Alcoholics Anonymous group gathers at 10. It is a larger meeting than usual for this time and the lead presents some stories from his life and his recovery. A case-worker has brought one of her cases to the meeting, they all sit and listen.

As I write, the meeting continues. My respect for the AA community has grown so much this year, a group of screw-ups committed to walking through their recovery together – supporting one another through practice and experience.

I'm glad the Front Porch can serve as a dry and good place for them to gather. Throughout the day others will gather here too. Friends from Choices Community Center for Mental Health will stop by for lunch. A businessman or two may pass through for lunch-meeting. In the evening, David John and his wife will host an Indian dinner for foreign students centered on Gospel (Good News) conversations.

Jesus describes his Kingdom as a mustard seed. The smallest of seeds through which comes a large plant. One of the simplest blessings at South Street is witnessing that seed germinate and grow. We bare witness to real recovery. We bare witness to true reconciliation. We bare witness to broken and beloved community.

And like all seeds, God causes the growth. The Front Porch is the good soil for the seed and from our smallest efforts, God grows significant change. God grows his Kingdom. South Akron is not the most scenic area of Akron, nor the artsy area, nor the business hub. But I am convinced that God's Kingdom is advancing here. Through an incarnated presence, God grows His spirit in the heart of a lonely atheist Chinese-American. God grows his Kingdom as men and women choose sobriety over drunkenness and selfishness. God grows Christ in the hearts of busy-bodies as our schedules are interrupted by neighbors and friends.

Psalm 73 says that it is good to be near God. I have found a nearness to God at the Front Porch. I'd welcome you to stop by. Come for lunch at the Cafe (M-F 10-5). Come to an Indian dinner (Wednesday evenings 6-9). Consider donating to help with renovations ($40 at http://www.southstreetministries.org).

But more than anything else, come to be near God. Come to be near God's people. Visit to bare witness to the Kingdom of God advancing, and even though jails, bars, and strip clubs neighbor us, God's Kingdom advances.

Just like the mustard seed.

Come and Listen.

All Things New

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God makes new things. It seems to be in His character: Creator, Creation.

Perhaps one of the greatest joys of work at South Street Ministries (or work as a Christian period) is co-creating with God! Here are two stories of new things God is doing at South Street: one for boys and one for girls.

Three weeks ago, a new program started in the Upper Room. On Wednesday evenings, teenage girls meet for South Street Studio, a two-hour fashion and jewelry crafting time that empowers young women to create their own style, find their identity, and appreciate their own personhood through Bible lessons, mentoring, and fashion! God uses people to create His new works. South Street Studio started because women from the South Street Fellowship answered God's call to minister and responded to the need in Summit Lake.

Three years ago, a South Street volunteer asked young boys if they played football. They all loved to play, but none actually played in the neighborhood league. The equipment was expensive, and lack of transportation made attending practices and games difficult. South Street started a football camp. Boys that completed the weeklong training would be awarded a scholarship to play on the local football team and South Street volunteers would provide transportation to practices and games.

Three years later, the 15 boys who completed 2012′s football camp and their local team made it to the championship game! South Street employs a van driver/coach to mentor the boys, transport them, and facilitate the program. God makes all things new! Just imagine where South Street Studio will be in three years!

If you would like to be an unlikely partner and co-creator in new ministries, both these new programs need prayer, partners, and financial support. God makes new things, and it is our joy to join with Him in New Creation.

Worth It

Jesus said it well when he reminded his disciples that the kingdom of heaven belongs to children. My interactions with the children at South Street have done so much to guide my walk with Christ, and I can think of no better example than D'avyion.

I left last week's Christian Community Development Association conference in Minneapolis early to join my wife at a family wedding in Columbus. We returned to our home in South Akron and I proceeded to help a young couple move, then host some new friends from the CCDA conference around Akron as they stayed the night here before returning to Philadelphia. The returning week was full of e-mails, thank-you notes, grants, and newsletters.

A group of University Akron volunteers came to South Street Monday afternoon and I talked with them about ministry and life in the city. I then spoke to our new after school helpers, offering my time and assistance as they began serving with us at After School. After School was upon us again! Every Monday through Thursday from 3-5, ten to twenty young Summit Lake kids come to the Upper Room for tutoring, crafts, Bible, and snacks.

I missed the first day of after school to speak with the group from the University of Akron (don't worry we had enough leaders). I missed the second day as well. I still teach part-time at the University of Akron causing me to miss the first hour and I spent the second hour of after school reformatting the South Street letterhead (very exciting, I know).

Bobby Irwin and I were the only leaders on Wednesday at After School (yes, we could use more leaders on Wednesdays and Thursdays!!). We had 17 kids come for snacks and homework help. I was hugged by the huggers, tackled by the boys, and made-fun-of by our junior high girls. The day went very well by South Street standards, and considering that we had 2 leaders per 17 kids, we count that as a small miracle.

Bobby drove some of the kids home and I stayed to clean up the popcorn on the floor. D'avyion stayed behind as well. There is not a leader, volunteer, or visitor that comes to South Street that doesn't interact with D'avyion. He is zealous for attention and eager to serve, talk, read, or do anything with you. He helped me sweep yesterday, then we played with bubbles. We noticed a caterpillar by the garden shed as we cleaned up trash on the ground.

I waved goodbye to leave and D'avyion bashfully asked what else we could do.

My to do list bursting at the seams and a 2nd grader asks me to hang out. Jesus was right when he said that the kingdom of heaven belonged to children. We made a snack together and walked by the swing set. Our feet crushed the brittle, yellow leaves, and we breathed in crisp, fall air. That peace that transcends understanding came over me as I returned to my truck. Pastor Crabbs was leaving his house as we returned to the parking lot. D'avyion ran to him to say hello. Duane and I paused for a few moment to talk.

It's all worth it. All the grants and newsletters, thank you notes and e-mails. It's worth the work to make this ministry possible. The initial toil is always hard, and at some point the seed must die to yield fruit. But the time of harvest is worth the work. worth the wait.

God reminded me of that through D'avyion this week.

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Source: New feed

Ministry of Presence

"More and more the desire grows in me simply to walk around, greet people, sit up on their doorsteps, play ball, throw water, and be known as someone who wants to live with them. It is a privilege to have time to practice the simple ministry of presence. Still, it is not as simple as it seems. My own desire to be useful, to do something significant, and to be a part of some impressive project is so strong, that soon my time is taken up by meetings, conferences, study groups and workshops that prevent me from walking the streets. It is difficult not to have plans; not to organize people around an urgent cause; not to feel that you are working directly with social progress–but I wonder more and more if the first thing shouldn't be to know people by name, to eat and drink with them, to listen to their stories and to tell your own. To let them know with words, handshakes, and hugs that you do not simply like them but you really love them." –Henri Nouwen

I felt the pangs of conviction as I read these words to a group of students who are moving into Summit Lake and South Akron. I reflected over the summer of ministry and programs at South Street, perhaps one of our best summers. Over 150 youths earned a bike from bike shop. Over 40 kids worked over 350 hours planting, weeding, watering, and cooking in our urban gardens. And over 500 meals were served to kids throughout our summer camp.

I collected the numbers and prepared to write grants and reviews for next summers' programming. In the midst of second-floor-Front Porch fund-raising and construction, laying the groundwork for a vibrant housing ministry, trying to grow South Street's Board of directors, and stabilizing our general fund, Nouwen's words caused me pause.

He's right. My spirit-desire is to be present, but my need for significance so-often trumps the ministry of presence. Conferences and classes, grants and guidelines, logos and legalese take up my time and provide me the aura of productivity that creates the allusion of grandiose social change.

But as I read Nouwen's words to a group of young people moving into the neighborhood, the numbers of summer began to fade away into those all-to-few moments of presence: watering the garden together and spraying high school volunteers, watching a child come back shift after shift to earn a bike, Bible-block during summer camp with kids actually asking real questions. When I personally and spiritually reflect on our summer, I do not recall the number of bikes earned or the number of hours worked in the garden, but those un-quantifiable moments of presence.

We had two interns this summer helping with the youth programs. When summer began my job description for them was to be present. Know the names of the kids. Meet their families. Read a book together. Ministry truly does happen out of this presence. Our programs are an excuse to be in relationship with the youth and folks around us.

I am thankful for words that center me. That throughout the bustle of grants, goals, plans, and meetings there are moments of simple presence. I am grateful that God draws us there. I am thankful that South Street is used as a place of presence.

God is good.