This is my DREAM!

4 07 2010

I was encouraged by this recent post from Steve Kimes, Pastor of Anawim Christian Community, a church in Portland, OR for the homeless and mentally ill, originally posted on the Mustard Seed Associates blog last month.  Read this and get a glimpse of my heart and hopes for my future (and now too).

Living With The Homeless

I approach Ron on his couch in our finished basement. “Hey, Ron, could you please start watering the plants out front?  It’s starting to get dry.”

Ron looks up from his paper, “No problem, Steve. Do you want me to do the ones by the street, too?”

“Yeah, I don’t want them to dry out.”

Ron has been sleeping on our couch for five years. He’s in his 60s and used to live in his truck. Someone ran a red light and totaled the truck, but since Ron didn’t have insurance, he was considered to be at fault. We took him in because we didn’t want him to return to the picnic table he used to sleep under, concerned that he might not make it through another winter. So he does some gardening and sweeping for us and we give him a place to sleep. He’s kind and passive and easy to live with.

Since we obtained our six bedroom house six years ago, we have had people living with us. Even before then, when we had a two-bedroom apartment, we had people sleeping in our living room and porch. Honestly, my wife and I have had people staying with us off and on since three weeks after we were married. To many people, this seems like an excessive ministry, especially since we run a church made up of the homeless and mentally ill. “Isn’t this too much for you? Why do you keep people in your house?”

Sometimes it is too much for us, or it feels like it. One gentleman we had staying with us would stand in our dining room, right in the center of our three-story house, and preach so loudly that no one could escape it. He would be in a manic phase so no one could stop him, either. And there was the time that we had someone detoxing from heroin in one of our basement rooms. That wasn’t one of my best ideas, either.

A couple of years ago, we were burned out from all of our ministry. We couldn’t imagine continuing to deal with people’s social weaknesses, their ups and downs, their drives for personal success and their inevitable failures. We talked about shutting everything down. Diane pointed out that, even if we moved to a different city, how long would it be before we invited someone into our house and the whole thing started again? Not long, I mused.

We were made for this ministry. Community isn’t just a nice thing to do, it is a lifestyle we must live. Why is this? Why must we live in community with the homeless and mentally ill?

  • Because discipleship is not education but lifestyle training. In Christ, conversion is a new creation, not the signature on the bottom of the doctrinal statement. Jesus himself demonstrated that the new lifestyle of following Him is something to be acculturated into, not simply taught. Thus, for my task as a pastor to succeed, I must live with those whom I am discipling, not simply giving classes leading or accountability groups.
  • Because the socially outcast need permanent halfway houses. Almost all discipleship and mentoring programs for the homeless attempt to train the homeless to be middle class. This is assuming that the best the homeless could achieve is a Christian lifestyle of consumerism and single family dwellings. But the real issue is that most of the chronic homeless (who have lived on the street for at least two years), no matter what training, never successfully live on their own without assistance. There are many reasons for this, but the question I have is, what is successful?

    I have found that alternative living is one option that succeeds. This allows the homeless to live in small communities without worrying about rent or utilities, but only doing what work they must in order to retain their place in the community. This allows them to live in the barter economy they are used to, rather than making a shift to a monetary economy. Our community allows for that, working ten hours a week for room and board instead of a monetary payment.

  • Because it keeps me and my family honest. Some might have concerns about raising my family with the homeless and the mentally ill. However, there is no danger for my children in this life. Instead, it has brought opportunities for my children that otherwise wouldn’t exist. My son and daughter have had the opportunity to talk about homelessness to their classes, and to live out cross-cultural ministry. But more than this, having some of our congregation live with us is accountability for us. Whatever we do in our lives, that is what is shared with our congregation, and so our lives are always under examination.

    This means that when we make errors, even grave ones, we must apologize for them and live well – not only for our family, but for the health of our ministry. This seems like a surrender of privacy, but honestly, it is a priceless gift. It is a daily reminder of how we need to live, not just for our relationship with God, but for all those around us. We all have this to a degree—living with our spouse or children— but living with my congregation is a reminder I find to be essential.


A Lent God Will Notice

20 02 2010

A couple years ago my spirituality professor shared the idea of taking retreats of engagement and not just withdrawal.  This was a new concept to me – the idea of resisting the urge to not only withdraw to quiet and comfortable, but to retreat into something new, to choose an action or environment that would invite God’s presence into my life in a new way.

The idea was new to me then, but it was not new to God.  In fact it fits closely with the biblical understanding of repentance, which not only means to stop doing something but, more fully, to change your heart and change your way.  As we enter the season of Lent, the annual period in the liturgical church calendar where believers prepare themselves for the impending cross and resurrection of Christ through repentance and fasting, I think it also offers us a pathway to the heart of God.

Do you delight to know God’s ways?  Do you delight in his nearness?  Even if we have the best of intentions this Lenten season, we still might miss the point.  Don’t get me wrong, I’ve given up significant habits during Lent over the years.  And even as I do it again this year, I remember the call to not just withdraw or withhold, but to engage.  Repentance is both ceasing and striving at the same time (it can sometimes take a lot of courage and a lot of strength to move in a new direction!).

Wishing you hadn’t chosen to give up sugar, caffeine, or Facebook this go around?  Consider some of these other options, taken from Isaiah 58, the quintessential biblical instruction on fasting.  Some involve abstaining, others radical engagement.  In the 43 days we have left, whichever you choose, move in a new direction:

– free those who are wrongly imprisoned

– lighten the burden of those who work for you

– let the oppressed go free

– remove the chains that bind people

– share your food with the hungry

– give shelter to the homeless

– give clothes to those who need them

– do not hide from relatives who need your help

– remove the heavy yoke of oppression

– stop pointing your finger and spreading vicious rumors

– feed the hungry

– help those in trouble

– keep the sabbath day holy; don’t pursue your own interests on that day, but enjoy the sabbath and speak of it with delight as the Lord’s holy day; honor the sabbath in everything you do on that day; desist from your own ways, from seeking your own pleasure, and speaking your own word.

Wonder what’s in store for those who fast this way?  Isaiah puts it this way:

“Then your light will break out like the dawn, and your recovery will speedily spring forth; and your righteousness will go before you; The glory of the LORD will be your rear guard.  Then you will call, and the LORD will answer; You will cry, and He will say, ‘Here I am’…Then your light will rise in darkness and your gloom will become like midday.  And the LORD will continually guide you, and satisfy your desire in scorched places, and give strength to your bones; And you will be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water whose waters do not fail.  Those from among you will rebuild the ancient ruins; You will raise up the age-old foundations; And you will be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of the streets in which to dwell…Then you will take delight in the LORD, and I will make you ride on the heights of the earth; And I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.” (Isa 58: 8-14)

I invite you to read the entire passage here.