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.

Roach

"There ain't nothing in this earth I won't do for Duane. If he comes in here and tells me to take someone out, I'll take 'em out"

Strong words from a man who goes by the name Roach. He said that in response to our 15 Year Anniversary and his appreciation of Pastor Crabbs' help in his life.He meant what he said, Roach would do something illegal for us, if we asked him. He's done many bad things before and liked to flaunt his reckless abandon.

Roach would visit the Front Porch from time to time. He was a very torn man. His aggression kept him powerful on the street, but the cost of his actions took a heavy toll on his soul. Every time he asked for prayer it was obvious. Roach was afflicted.

Turns out he was more than just spiritually afflicted. A few months ago, a honking horn blared outside the Front Porch. I exited the building to see what the commotion was about. Roach's truck was on the sidewalk and he waved me over with his hand. As I approached the window, the honking made sense.

Roach had lost his leg. Roach had been afflicted with gangrene and blood clots in his knee as well. The doctors had no choice but to amputate for fear that the gangrene would spread. He was a broken man. He asked for Pastor Crabbs, but Duane wasn't there.

So I prayed for Roach.

Now this doesn't happen every time I pray, but this was one of those prayers, when you just know that God is speaking through you. The words you say, don't seem like your own. They flow from a spring that is deeper, richer, and purer than any words I could ever muster. It was one of those prayers.

During the prayer, I quoted Matthew 5:30 "And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell."

Had this been my prayer, I never would have quoted this verse. This was far too inappropriate, far too politically incorrect to say to someone who just lost a limb medically. But these were God's word for Roach. He cried and told me to contact Pastor Crabbs for him. Roach never cried before, he was a hard biker from the streets who always carried a gun on him. But here was a broken man, brought to tears through a prayer.

That truck became an extension of Roach. Whenever a honk would blare outside the Front Porch, we knew Roach was asking for prayer and counsel. Recently, we went out to great him and pray for him.

"Hey Roach!"

"Don't call me that anymore. That was my old name, my street name. I'm Adrian now. The name my mother gave me, the name God gave me. The old has gone, the new has come."

I smiled. My soul rejoiced. It has been a long summer of ministry and we all needed a victory. God delivered. God delivered Roach. Roach is gone now. The hardened man who was willing to take someone out for a pastor, is a new man now. He's missing a leg, but has gained back his soul.

We never took up Roach on his offer to take someone out. (Nor did we ever plan on it). But now, Roach is gone, his offer expired when God claimed back a very prodigal son.