Heart Breaking. Soul Weeping. Mind Reeling. Knees Bending.

tears Image

My heart is breaking.  My soul is weeping.  My mind is reeling.  I don’t understand. But, my knees are bending.  And I have a pile of used up tissues beside my chair.

Almost 7 years ago, I moved into Southern Barton Heights in Richmond, VA.  I knew life would never be the same.  From the get-go, I fell in love with the neighborhood.  Especially the kids.  Literally, from the first weekend after I moved in, I met a bunch of the kids.  After that, they were over all the time.  I loved it.  I never went anywhere alone….one of the kiddos was always with me.  We watched sports together.  Yeah…me.  I watched sports and pretended to enjoy them.  We went to the grocery store together.  And cooked together.  And played together.  We did life together.  They were often at church with me….and always at youth group and retreats.  We talked about virtually everything! They were and still are…Miss Marti’s Kids.

But…over time…some of the kids moved to other parts of the city.  And, now most are grown.  Thanks to Facebook, we are able to reconnect.  Some are…graduating from high school.  Going to college.  Or..in some cases, ending up in juvy.  Today, one, now an 18-year-old young man, was arrested, along with 2 of his friends, for First Degree murder of 16 year-old Brett Wells in Mechanicsville, VA.  People would always tell me….”Marti – You can’t save them all.”  My response was “I can’t save any of them.  But, my God can.  If the kids will remember what it felt like to be loved.  If they can remember God’s unconditional love, while they are laying on the cot.  That’s all I can ask for.”

That response is really being put to the test this evening.  Why CAN’T I save them?  What else could I have done?  What could I have said?  Why does it have to be this way?  Those are some of the many questions that roll through my mind as I weep over our city and for our youth.  I know the standard responses….”You did all you could.”  “You loved those boys like your own.”  I know.  I know.  I know.  But, I ask myself those same questions just like any parent would.

One of the 8 Core Principles of Christian Community Development is relocation.  Through my relocation – living in this community – the community’s assets are now my assets.  But, the community’s challenges have also become my own challenges.  Today….that is even more evident than ever.  I can’t go into my home and go about life pretending like this hasn’t impacted me personally. I can’t ignore the fact that it has impacted my community, the Mechanicsville community, my church, and the rest of Miss Marti’s Kids.

No one said this would be easy.  No one said it would be “happy, happy, joy, joy”.  This world is broken.  This world is fallen.  And frankly, it sucks.  Big time.

For those who have seen the news, it isn’t a black/white thing.  It’s not a suburban/urban thing.  It’s not the “boys from the ‘hood” murdering a 16-year-old in the white suburban community thing.  It’s not that simple….at all.

But, it IS a tragic thing.  Our youth need us.  They need us in the counties and in the city!  This is such a complex issue.  It’s not a time to point fingers.  It’s not a time to say “they” should take care of this.  “They” meaning the government, the schools, the parents, the non-profits.  It’s a time to say WE should take care of this.  WE means each and every one of us.

I know people who know and love the victim and his family.  I know and love one of the 3 guys…love him like he’s my own.  How can I make sense of it all? How do we comfort the parents who lost their 16-year-old son? How do we comfort the mom who could lose her 18-year-old son to prison? How do we keep drugs and guns off the streets? How do we comfort the friends of both? How do we help the youth of our metro area?

How, we might ask?  It’s obviously not a simple answer…or we would have done it by now.  But, let’s see what the Lord has to say on the topic.  The answer may be different for each of us.  As for me….I’m gonna be on my knees.  Please join me in praying for our youth and young adults.  They need us on our knees.  On my knees.  God help us.

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a picture = 1000 words

Jesus says…to Peter…

Matthew 16:18-19  New Living Translation (NLT)

18 Now I say to you that you are Peter (which means ‘rock’), and upon this rock I will build my church, and all the powers of hell will not conquer it. 19 And I will give you the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven. Whatever you forbid, bind, or lock on earth will be forbidden in heaven, and whatever you permit, loose or open on earth will be permitted in heaven.”

This scripture has really been speaking to me lately.  Jesus didn’t tell Peter that He would build any denominations or buildings upon this rock.  He said that he will build HIS church…and the powers of hell will not conquer it.  To me that means that when we work together as HIS church not as an individual church building or denomination, He will give us the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven.  So, I am constantly challenging myself (and it is a challenge, for sure!) to look for ways for us to work together to bring HIS kingdom on earth in RVA as it is in heaven.

Most recently…nearly 100 people from an unknown number of denominations, churches and ministries came together from all over Metro Richmond area….and even Raleigh, NoVA, Maryland and Boston!….came together on October 29th to learn from Noel Castellanos, CEO of CCDA (Christian Community Development Association).

Someone once said “a picture is worth a thousand words”.  Well….here are 50,000+ words representing the Church in RVA! Watch the slideshow for pictures from the Church-Based Community Development presented by the CCDA Institute.  Thanks to our co-sponsors City Church, East End Fellowship, Hands Up Ministries and Northminster Church.

Also…be sure to let me know if you want to be added to our distro list for future events!  And if you are on FB…click here to join our group discussions>> CCDA n RVA

PHOTO CRED:  Terence Talley, 15 year old photographer from my neighborhood!  Keep up the great work, Terence!!!

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“Feeling Grateful For all He Has Given to me!” Cassie Matthew

Cassie Matthew is a fairly new friend of mine, yet I feel like I have known her all my life.  I love her like a sister and so enjoy getting to know her better.  Cassie is the founder of a ministry called Hands Up Ministries here on the Northside of Richmond, VA.  When we met a year or so ago, she had never heard of CCDA (Christian Community Development Association), Dr.John Perkins, Bob Lupton,  Wayne “Coach” Gordon or any of the well-known folks who have been doing CCD for years…dare I say decades.  But, the Holy Spirit led her to do this work, and she obediently got busy.  Now, we are partnering and learning this stuff together.  She is such an inspiration and encouragement to me!  This is an email that she sent out today to her “pals”, which I am grateful to be counted as one of them.  I have posted it with her permission.  Take a read…and check out Hands Up…you won’t be disappointed.  I promise!

Cassie – Thank you for being my friend and sister in Christ.  I am grateful for how you model being Jesus to our friends.  You’re the best!!!  I am sooo looking forward to seeing what the Lord has in store for us in the future!  May God be glorified in all that we do and say!  Love you!  Mart

November 14, 2011

Dearest my pals….

I am sitting in the doctors office, patiently waiting for a biopsy report to come back…thinking  of how grateful I am to have insurance that I can just waltz in here, fill out paper work sit down and have the work done…never paying a dime(today). Just a mole on the face…not to worry. There is a little coffee machine, and SNACKS…my darlin’ husband is having a big time while I’m all patched up here with a big fat swollen eye….I am comparing my experience with that of my friends, who don’t have the luxury of insurance(private), who sit in offices, without snacks, without coffee and piped in music….and are barely acknowledged. I have sat with my friends in the doctors office, with their “Va. Premier” insurance card, they are treated in a much different fashion than I’m being treated today.

The disparity is so obvious, hurtful, and unnecessary. Why? Why must we treat “the poor” so differently? ‘Perhaps’… I wonder, if we treated friends with dignity, if it were required,  I dare to say many folks might take better care of themselves in a more positive way. Feeling uplifted versus leaving angry and indignant. It just makes me sad, and If you don’t see it firsthand, it doesn’t enter your mind.
Just wondering. Just praying God is leading me somewhere…social injustices abound.

On a lighter, happier note…..This semester has been amazing at the Ministry…I’d love to share with you. VCU students have been so wonderful, we started  “Adopt a Family”  pilot  and it is going so well. The city friends are grateful to have someone over who cares, and the Students are really excelling at loving others. Antonio(VCU) has been mentoring a friend, Allen, making decks, fixings friends homes(small jobs, however important), from this opportunity, neighbors want them to come over and help them…For a Fee for the friends! This my friend, is so exciting.  I have to admit, it takes a real effort to help friends, without hurting them, or letting them think “WE” are the answer…“We” are not!…I am very conscious of this always. We must support and not enable…that isn’t always an easy call. Many times it’s not until I’ve(we) made mistakes, that I realized..OK that does/did not help.  Many times, calling on God and asking for His Guidance, is the only comfort I have. 

Without a shadow of a doubt, I have finally accepted, there is NO ONE I can change, my power is only working in vain, like a hamster on a wheel…i am just killing myself hoping for a change in individuals…NOPE..that does NOT work. There is only one HOPE: Christ. He is THE only answer.  Christ and the individual have to come to terms with what they are willing to give Him, to make changes, I am no different..I must lean into Him, ask Him for the strength I lack for change…and for me, it’s as equally hard, frustrating, difficult, and often I want to quit, many times I do quit. Knowing what is best, I quit, or i don’t DO what is best for me.
In my own strength, I can’t do it. Imagine how my friends feel…who lack all that I have, i see their pain and difficulty. Still i wonder, is this the way to approach friends…with the encouragement of God, I push on, press in,  listen for His direction and get up and try once more. Peace abounds.

There is joy in giving, loving, seeing others receive joy from giving. VCU students who are teaching dance class to our sweet babies, helping Mohammed with his fire stained home with a fresh coat of paint.  Students who are taking the children on field trips to local parks.Tutors who are loving the children and see the true impact sitting with a child for 1.5 hours, right then and there you feel the impact. VCU lady rams who have taken a day to spend it with our kids to teach them basketball drills, but truly making the children feel so special for being them. Inviting us back, all 25 of us to cheer on the team…Amari says..”Hey there is my coach, Andrea…She yells..”Go Andrea” as if they are long lost friends…Fills my souls with love only God could be filling.

So I press on, trying to do all that this ordinary person can do, and when I am exhausted and defeated, He sends an encouraging word my way through His people. He sends me to an extraordinary Sunday School class with beautiful women…or a local Bible study in my neighborhood for His love. Know that there are moments when i say “Really God?”…I can’t…”Then it’s amazing, i look back, and He and I did.”

For those of you who like numbers: We are sending out 65 meals for Thanksgiving(everyone hand delivered by families, SS classes, small groups, circles, Schools), leting folks know we are proud of their hard work and we recognize them and letting them know there are families who care. 29 kids came to tutoring on Wed., with 30 individual tutors from around the city, with a hot meal from SunTrust and a bedtime story to send them home, loved, full, and tired.(Me Too)

25 of us went to see the VCU Lady rams play ball, that feat alone takes an act of congress to make happen…i wish logistics were easier…But they can make me stronger. Thanks to NHPC for always loaning us vans to get the babies around safely.

We visited Monroe Park to hand out  50 hygiene kits and warm clothes and blankets to the homeless, this is a tough gig….send in your warm coats/hats/gloves for men please.(used is perfect)…Let’s go back!

Knitting continues, Computer classes are increasing, jobs are still hard to land, but we are still pushing folks to keep working on new skills.

We’ve had over 180 volunteers this month, doing a variety of demonstrations of loving others, one favorite new act of love was Wally from NHPC who came and played his acoustic guitar and sang to MY SWEET FRIENDS…it’s so EXCITING when something so beautiful happens like that. He gave what he had…his gift of music.

We keep our focus on housing, knowing this can make the biggest tangible difference in a person’s life in the city…dreams we too have and want. I ask for your prayers for God to Bless this direction, praying for a tangilbe way to show our love in the lives of the working poor.
My love and thanks, for all of you, for your time, your donations, your love and words of encouragement….As I tell my children as I put them on the bus…”Be a Blessing…not a Burden!” Come. Give. Pray.

His in Christ,

Cassie Matthew
Hands Up Ministries/Founder
HUministries.org

PART 2 ~ “The Best Welfare Program is a Job” Dr. John M. Perkins

In yesterday’s post, “The Best Welfare Program is a Job”  Dr. John M. Perkins, I started processing one of the workshops, Helping Those You Serve Find and Keep Meaningful Employment, conducted by Jobs For Life (www.jobsforlife.org).  I’m going to continue that thought into today.  In chapter 3 of Congregations in America, they took a look at “percentage of congregations participating in or supporting various social services programs”.  Here are just a few of the results (found on page 48):

Service % Participating
Food 32
Housing 18
Clothing 11
Homeless 8
Health 4
Substance Abuse 2
Employment 1

This means that at the time of this research, 32% of church congregations were involved in a Food Ministry, like a food pantry, 18% were involved in housing, and so forth, leaving a small 1% who found or created employment opportunities.  Imagine….what would it be like if at least 33% focused on Employment or Job Skills Training?  More people would have and keep their jobs, right???  If more people have jobs, then, the church would need to provide less food, housing, clothing, etc. because people would be able to provide more of their own basic needs.  In addition, dignity and self esteem would also be returned to the home.  How cool is that???

This is yet another reason why we want to provide job skills training and job opportunities to people.  How can you participate?  You can help with training, mentoring, encouraging, etc.  But, we also need job opps for folks.  Do you or someone you know have opportunities to hire some of the graduates? Would you like to help find jobs for our students?

If you know someone who might be interested, please forward this to them.

If you are interested in participating after prayerful consideration, please feel free to contact me! 


“The Best Welfare Program is a Job” Dr. John M. Perkins

Louis and I just returned from a 3 week trip.  After spending about 2.5 weeks in Oregon/Washington, we stopped in Indianapolis, IN for the Christian Community Development Association (www.ccda.org) National Conference.  We took a way a ton from the 4 days we were there; and it’s going to take us a while to unpack it all.  However, there is one group of stats that really stuck with me, from the workshop titled by Helping Those You Serve Find and Keep Meaningful Employment, conducted by Jobs For Life (www.jobsforlife.org).  I attended this workshop, because we are in the process of implementing their program, Powered for Life in the near future….but, more to come on that later…on with the startling stats.

Here are just a few stats…

  • Poverty – 1 out of 7 people live in poverty in the US (46 million).  1 out of 5 children live in poverty (US Census).  Most people are poor in the United States because they either do not work or work too few hours to move themselves and their children out of poverty (Brookings Institute)
  • Domestic Violence – An extensive report by the National Institute of Justice found that the rate of violence against women increases as the male unemployment increases.
  • Divorce – Financial stress and pressure not only impacts businesses but is often the leading reason couples file for divorce according to the Institute for Family Studies.

If you don’t see a need for job and life skills training from the stats above, let me share these.  The presenters  then provided the following summary from the research study called Meaningful Differences.  I hadn’t heard of it before, but found a ton of info by googling it.

Summary:

 

Professional

Poverty

Avg cumulative # of words heard by the age of 3 30 million 13 million
“Business” talk (correction, direction, instruction) 10 million 10 million
Other (including supportive, encouragement, affirmations) 20 million 3 million
RESULT I am valuable. I am worthless.

The study has many more details…but after reading up on it, I found these quite meaningful indeed.  Children hear a lot more words if they come from a family where someone is working, and they aren’t on welfare.  In addition, the types of words spoken significantly impact the child’s future.  Both groups receive the same number of directive/business/’get ‘er done words.  In poverty/welfare homes, only 23% of the words spoken are supportive, encouraging and affirming.  In what was labeled Professional homes, 67% of the words are positive in nature.  Yowza!

The end result becomes…the child grows up thinking they are either valuable or worthless.  The child (1 out of 5 children) grows up to think, ‘I am worthless’, ‘I am good for nothing’, ‘I do nothing right’, etc.

What can be done? How can we change this? What role does the church play in this? We can’t count on the teachers to make up for the loss of language skills and emotional psyche. How can we speak words of joy and hope into this?  Words that speak…’You were created in God’s Image’, ‘You are unique’, ‘You are valuable’, and ‘You were created to work’ (Genesis 1:27-28) and….it was VERY good! (Genesis 1:31)

Dr. John Perkins said “the best welfare program is a job” during one of our morning Bible studies.  This too has stuck with me.  This is where Jobs for Life comes in.  Thanks to a grant from Wells Fargo, we purchased the biblically based program, Powered for Life a couple of months ago.  At the request of some community friends, Louis and I, along with our friends, are preparing to train, prepare and equip young people to find and maintain a job.  We will be looking for people to help!  People who are willing to speak life, encouragement, and truth into the lives of the youth of our city. People who are willing to employ them. People who will train and instruct them. So…stay tuned….more to come!  Organizational meetings will be coming soon.

If you are interested in participating after prayerful consideration, please feel free to contact me! 


CCDA Institute presents: Church-Based Community Development Intensive

CCDA Institute is coming to Richmond!  Noel Castellanos, CEO of CCDA is coming to discuss Church-Based Community Development.  See the attached flyer for details.  If you want to print the flyer, click here:  CCDA Church Based Flyer – 10.29.2011.

Be sure to register early!!!  Click here to register > REGISTER HERE!


who’s ur neighbor?

While attending the CCDA Immersion training, we had the opportunity to spend time with Wayne “Coach” Gordon, author of who is my neighbor?  This is an important question that we need to ask ourselves in light of what Jesus shares with us in Luke 10 ~ love God. love your neighbor as yourself.  But, how do we define ‘neighbor’?  The people who live next door to us?  on the block?  down the street?  While studying the story of the Good Samaritan, you learn who Jesus says is your neighbor.  This book helps define that.  I started reading it, and realized that it will be best read one chapter at a time.

So, starting August 1st…for 40 days….I’m going to start reading it….meditating on it…..thinking about a chapter a day.  I hope to post my thoughts each day…but, not sure that will happen.  I’ll have good intentions though!!!

Wanna join me?  Get yourself a copy and join me in the conversation.  Let me know if you do!

In the mean time…let’s take another look at Luke 10 (NIV)…The Parable of the Good Samaritan

 25 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

26 “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”

27 He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

28 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

30 In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

OUCH!  That kinda stings….