Saturday, April 28, 2007

We can sleep when we're dead

It has been an awesome week! I should have been blogging as I went, but I’m just now finding time to sit down and write. I’ll try to keep this short, but there are just so many precious faces, and each one has their own story. These are some of my experiences this week.

Thursday morning I met Dr. Tweez and the boys for their homeless breakfast outreach. We swung by the Alamo to pick up Miss Dolly*, a new friend of ours that has spent the majority of the last twenty years living on the streets. She’s a fascinating woman who has a story to tell about everything. It’s obvious that she suffers with some form of mental health issue, and Thursday morning she told me that she has multiple personality disorder and schizophrenia. She did assure me that she’s only schizophrenic because she needs glasses. Okay. I spent about 2 ½ hours with her and heard at least 5 hours of conversation. She can talk about twice as fast as I can listen. We talked about dumpster-diving, riding the rails, and living in the woods along the river. She may be leaving for Florida next week, as there’s a mission in Clearwater that she liked a lot and wants to return to. For entirely selfish reasons, I hope she changes her mind.

Thursday night we had corporate prayer at Highland Campus. Several dozen people showed up to cry out to God for the lost, the hurting and the poor. We stood at the alter, in the gap for those who hadn’t yet found their way to the doors of the church. We thanked God for all He had done, and then asked Him to do even more. His presence was tangible.

Friday morning we had four different ministries come to the warehouse to pick up food. We also had Ladies Thrive, our support group for women in the community. We had five ladies in attendance and we talked about God being our strength and our refuge. There were smiles and tears as the ladies discussed their trials and tragedies. Afterwards we got to pray for them and give them food to take home to their families. All were grateful.

Saturday we headed out to 47th Street for a block party/bar-b-que. For anyone unfamiliar with the 47th Street area, it’s not a place you want to be unless you’ve been called there by God. Under the watchful eye of gang-bangers and drug dealers, we rolled out the grill, set up our tents and started playing in the street. We had girls jumping double-dutch and guys shooting hoops, while the really little kids played with bubble wands and hula-hoops. Soon the air was filled with Christian rap and the scent of meat on the grill. Within about three hours we had handed out 200 hotdogs and hamburgers, along with about 180 bags of groceries and 576 jars of dill pickles. We’re all about random give-aways, and the community loves it.

As I was standing at the pickles/peppers/snacks table, a group of young girls (probably aged 9 or 10) came up and handed me a piece of paper. It had been made on a computer and in blue ink it said, “Thank you for coming to 47th Street”. How cool is that?

So it’s now Saturday afternoon and I’m still in my Serve shirt that smells like smoke and my blue jeans that smell like pickles (there was an unfortunate pickle-dropping accident very close to my leg). If I belonged to any other church, I wouldn’t even think about going to service like this. But since I belong to HPC, I gotta run.
All glory to God!

(* not her real name)

Saturday, April 21, 2007

I Love Fridays!!!

Friday is one of the best days in the week for me. I start out down at the Dream Center warehouse, usually helping load food for ministries that we're able to donate to. This week we were able to give groceries to three different organizations, and they in turn will get it into the hands of others in need. From FEMA evacuees in Port Allen to a daycare for children with special needs, the supplies we get from Operation Blessing continue to bless people all over the community.

Around 11am we start 'Ladies Thrive', our weekly support group for women in the neighborhood. Today we talk about calling on the name of Jesus, and how to deal with torment. Alliece asked the ladies for examples of torment. One of them said it was the voices she hears when she drinks too much. Another told us that its the depression that keeps her from getting out of bed. A third lady asked if someone putting a knife to your throat would be torment. We all agreed that it was. We laughed together, cried together and prayed together. Ladies Thrive.

Around 9pm a few of us gathered to pray for our Midnight Outreach and then headed to North-side Baton Rouge. Our first stop was at Bennie's Bar, a happening little spot on North Street with a large bouncer and a metal detector hanging on the door. We went in and gave roses to the ladies and cookies to the guys. The bartender allowed us to pray for her again. She needs lots of prayer these days. Then we toured over to The Alamo and visited some more people. There was lots of activity tonight, but we still had the opportunity to bless them and pray for them. They too, are in need of lots of prayer.

We did our usual drive-by at Gold Club, leaving roses at the gate for the ladies inside. We haven't been able to get in there yet, but we keep sending in the flowers with the 'Jesus loves you' message. I believe the ladies are touched by it. From there we headed across town to catch a couple clubs on our side. One in Gonzales and two on Airline, and then we were out of roses. I think the highlight of our evening is when we pulled up to Kittens to leave chocolate cookies for the bouncers. Our regular guy wasn't out, but Vince (club owner and known Satanist) was standing there in his black suit. We gave him the cookies and wished him well. He thanked us and smiled. (A much improved response since the last time we were there and got kicked out by his brother). Overall, a great night.

It's now about 1am and we have outreach again tomorrow morning. I am so grateful that Pastor Dino and HPC allow us to do these crazy outreaches to touch these hurting people. As we handed one of the dancers a rose she smiled and said, "Y'all are from the church, right?" We smiled and nodded. She smelled her rose and looked us in the eye. "Thank you" she said, "Thank you so very much."

Reach the world by serving one. All glory to God!

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Ladies Thrive Support Group

Every Friday morning we have a women’s support group at the Baton Rouge Dream Center. We’re still building relationships with them, but every week we meet a couple of new ladies. This week Kim showed up for the first time. She has three kids and is in the process of moving again. During the meeting we heard her story.

She’s been on her own since she was sixteen and has basically raised herself. Her life used to consist of survival; raising kids alone, no money, no education, and smoking marijuana every day just to get by. One day, maybe six months ago, we showed up at her door, smiling and wanting to give her food that she desperately needed. She was shocked that anyone cared about her, or wanted to help. She didn’t know what to think of us, but started looking forward to our visits. Little by little, she started to wonder if maybe her life could be different. She decided she wanted a different life for she and her children.

She attended our WOW Jam at Gus Young Park and gave her life to Jesus. She came back the next day and was baptized. At the meeting on Friday she was still wearing her ‘I got saved at a Wow Jam’ bracelet and said she’s never taken it off. She hasn’t smoked weed in three or four months, and she’s starting school on Monday to learn computer skills. She encouraged our other ladies to just keep pressing through, no matter what it looks like. She looked around our little circle and pointed to the volunteers. “I’m here because of y’all, because you love people and we can feel that.”

Glory to God!

Monday, April 09, 2007

Taking the Bus to Easter

I know that I say this all the time, but I love my church! We had the opportunity this weekend to bring some of our people from the Baton Rouge Dream Center to church for Easter service. We had handed out flyers over the past week about giving people a ride to church. All they had to do was show up at the Dream Center and get on the bus. We really didn’t know if anyone would come, so we were pumped when seven people really got on the bus with us.

To understand our excitement, you really have to understand the culture of the people we get to work with. These people don’t trust easily, some have addiction and/or mental health issues, most have been victims of violence and all have been wounded beyond comprehension in their lives. So, the fact that any of them were willing to come to the other side of Baton Rouge with us, for church, is simply a miracle.

I thoroughly enjoyed it; not just watching our people at Highland campus, but watching Highland campus people watch us. It was cool to allow them to meet the people their giving actually touches. One of the ladies we brought to church is named Deana*. She lives and works at The Alamo. She looks like a typical bag lady: long coat over several sweaters, unwashed, with a bright red stocking cap holding most of her wild hair out of her face. During service she got up and walked out of the sanctuary. I followed her out to see if she needed help, and to make sure we didn’t lose her in Prairieville. (After about fifteen minutes on the bus she had hollered out, “Hey, are we still in Baton Rouge?”) So we walked outside the church and I asked her if she was okay. She told me she needed to smoke a cigarette. I said that was fine, and that I would visit with her while she smoked. She pulled a bag of tobacco out of a pocket, and then emptied several other pockets while she looked for her rolling papers. We discussed the price of cigarettes and the hazards of dumpster-diving while she dug around. Finally, she located them, rolled a cigarette and lit it. She spit loose tobacco out after every drag. She told me that she had lived at The Alamo for five months, but that she was thinking about going to Florida, maybe Tampa Bay. I asked if she had people there and she looked at me like I was crazy. “I’m a transient, a vagrant. You know what that means?” I nodded and she continued. “I got no people. Well, I got a brother but that don’t count. My parents is both dead and my kids is adopted out. No people. But I stayed at a shelter in Florida one time. Thinking I may go back there and see about getting a job there”. As she smoked I asked her what she thought of church so far. She said it was nice and that she wanted to put something in the collection plate before we left. She told me that she doesn’t go to church, but she does read her Bible. That surprised me a little, but I told her that was a good start. She finished her cigarette and looked for a place to throw out the butt. She assured me she wasn’t a criminal and we went back inside.

A few minutes later she got out of her seat again. I followed her out and asked if she needed anything. She told me she needed to go to the bathroom so I showed her the way. I stood in the side foyer watching Pastor Dino on the monitor. A few minutes later I realized that she had been in there for a while. I listened and heard the water running, for longer than it takes to wash your hands. I went in and found Deana washing her face in the sink. I handed her some paper towels and we chatted while she finished up.

She had told me earlier in the week that even though she lives at The Alamo she takes a shower down at the Volunteers of America drop-in center. Apparently the shower in her room doesn’t work, but that shouldn’t surprise me since she’s currently heating her room with a hotplate she got from a thrift store. Her entire monthly check goes to pay the $550/mo on the room with no heat and no shower.

After the service was over we drove our guests home and gave them groceries, sheets, blankets and pillows. Everyone said they had a good time and they were grateful for the gifts. Another volunteer and I helped Deana carry her belongings to her room. The hotplate was bright red, having been on since she left over three hours ago. There were no sheets on the bed and the room was dark. She looked at the bag of pillows and said, “I guess I’ll just leave these for the hotel when I go”. I tried to follow her line of thinking and then understood that she only wanted what she could carry. We put the groceries and bedding on the floor and thanked her again for coming to church with us. She waved us out and we walked back to the shuttle.

There are a dozen other storylines from our Saturday night bus ride, but I think Deana sticks out the most. Jesus died for her, so that she could understand His compassion, His mercy and His fierce devotion for the lost. He went to the cross for her, and for all of us. Whether we live in a mansion or a cardboard box, He wants relationship with us. I love that Healing Place Church is about making room for one more. On Saturday night we made room for one more. She didn’t look like us, or act like us, or even smell like us, but we still made room. I’m so grateful that Jesus made room for me, because when I met Him I didn’t know how to look or act or smell either. But, He saw past all of that. He saw into my broken, shattered soul and said, “Come to Me”. All glory to God.
(*not her real name)

Friday, April 06, 2007

Midnight Worship

I just got back from the Annex. It's about 1:30am and there were still people there when I left. I don't know who's idea it was to show the Passion of the Christ tonight and follow it with worship, but it was brilliant.
I wasn't able to make it for the whole movie. I got there just as the raven was plucking out the eye of the thief that was mocking Jesus on the cross. That scene isn't mentioned in the Gospels, and the first time I saw the movie I thought it was added for effect. I later read Proverbs 30:17 "The eye that mocks a father, that scorns obedience to a mother, will be pecked out by the ravens of the valley, will be eaten by vultures." Interesting.
So the movie ends (I don't want to spoil it for you but...we win!) and worship begins. I look around and I am awed by God's people. There are people standing, arms outstretched, others are kneeling in prayer, some are prostrate on the floor. Dr Tweez is playing the jimbay, Pastor Dino is sitting on the floor reading his Bible. Everywhere people are crying out to God. Simply amazing.
I am so grateful that out leadership understands that we all have our own way to worship; so they give us all different venues. Whether it's in a traditional setting, a video campus or a midnight movie, we all have the opportunity to throw ourselves at the feet of Jesus.
I love my church. I love my God. What a privilege to serve. All glory to God.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Truffles and Tough Guys

On Friday night a small group of HPC volunteers loaded up the truck with chocolate truffles, Easter buckets and long-stemmed roses. We were preparing for Midnight Outreach: an outreach designed to touch the lives of men and women trapped in lifestyles of drugs, darkness and the sex-trade. The goal of Midnight is to remind these people that God knows where they’re at and that He loves them anyway.

Our first stop was Kittens, a ‘gentlemen’s club’ on Airline. (I used that term loosely). Almost every holiday we visit this club, decorate the ladies’ dressing room and give them a small gift. As we were putting out the candy a stripper walked up to a volunteer and asked if she could buy and Easter bucket. The volunteer told her it was a free gift; that she didn’t have to pay for it. Then the dancer asked who we were, so the volunteer proceeded to tell her we were with Healing Place Church. The woman immediately put her hands over her bare chest and said, “I can’t be talking to a church lady nekkid”. The volunteer smiled and assured her that she didn’t care. As this conversation was going on a man walked into the room and asked what we were doing. We explained who we were and what we were doing. He told us to leave. As it turned out, the owner of the bar was not there, so his brother felt the need to kick us out. No problem, we just left the gifts for the girls, thanked them and walked out.

In the parking lot we met a friendly bouncer who goes to Healing Place and told us that he loved it there. He asked us to pray for the owner and his brother, explaining that they were both Satanists. We told him we would pray and thanked him for the info. The bouncer also told us that another guy that had worked there got saved a while ago. He said the guy got ‘really saved…like quit his job here and everything’. How cool is that?

So, after being turfed from our first club we immediately headed down the street to our next stop. This place is always happy to see us. They let us in and told us to decorate the room and leave the gifts. As we were leaving one of the dancers stopped us to ask what we were doing. We explained that we were with Healing Place Church and that we just wanted to bless them for Easter. She immediately turned around and took off her shirt to show us the cross she had tattooed on her back. It was great.

We went to two more clubs, two Hooters locations and finished up at IHOP on Seigen. We had a few roses left so we blessed the female staff and customers with roses and handed out flyers about our Easter services. Everyone was a little surprised to see a church group out at midnight, but they seemed to appreciate the visit.

In a little under three hours we handed out ninety-six roses, forty Easter buckets and several cases of truffles. We talked to strippers, Satanists, bouncers and waitresses. We got to remind them that God loves them exactly where they’re at, and that He loves them too much to leave them there. I love my church! All glory to God.

Turner Plaza Outreach

We had the opportunity on Friday afternoon to bless some of the residents from Turner Plaza who had been affected by the recent fire. Thanks to a list from our friends with the Housing Authority, we were able to collect some specific items needed for individuals and families.

Turner Plaza is an income-based housing project, which services predominately elderly and disabled individuals. About eight weeks ago a maintenance worker accidentally drilled through a gas line, sparking a blaze that destroyed 30 apartments. Through God’s grace no one died in the fire, but many of these people lost everything. The night of the fire HPC sent volunteers to the shelter to pray with the residents, and throughout the following weeks we were involved in providing food and emotional support to those who had been displaced.

A couple of weeks ago we received a donation of bedding from a major hotel chain. Because of that, on Friday we were able to provide those who had lost everything with sheets, pillows, blankets and towels. We were even able to give them leopard-print bathrobes! Along with the bedding we took them groceries, a cold drink and a special Easter treat. With the help of about a dozen volunteers, we were able to bless the homes of about thirty residents.

A volunteer knocked on the door of a second-floor apartment and was met by an elderly gentleman. This conversation followed:

Volunteer: Good afternoon, Sir. I’m with Healing Place Church, Baton Rouge Dream Center. We have some bedding and groceries that we would like to give you to help you get back on your feet from the fire. Is it okay if I leave this with you?

Gentleman: Yes, that would be fine. Thank you.

Volunteer: Are you doing okay today, Sir?

Gentleman: Not so good. I’m having trouble…maybe depression or something. (His eyes were glassy, like he had been crying).

Volunteer: I know that God is big enough to handle whatever is going on. Is there something I can pray with you about?

Gentleman: The fire burned up everything I had. Since then, I lost a sister to cancer and my nephew just got killed. I guess I need prayer for all that.

The volunteer stood in the doorway and prayed for the man who had lost his possession to fire, his sister to cancer and his nephew to homicide; all within the past few weeks. The gentleman thanked our volunteer and gave a feeble smile. The volunteer walked away, believing God for a miracle.

As believers we are commissioned to feed the hungry, heal the sick and comfort the broken-hearted. Can a bag of blankets and a box of groceries do all that? I believe it can. We may well have been the only people that man spoke to on Friday. I’m fairly sure we’re the only ones who prayed for him, asking God to bless and comfort him. I am continually amazed at God’s mercy and timing. Even if that whole outreach was just for that one man, to offer hope to one man in the midst of his storm, it was worth it.

I love that Healing Place Church believes in reaching the world by serving one. What an awesome privilege to meet the one. All glory to God.

Friday at the Dream Center

On Friday’s at the Dream Center we have a support group called ‘Ladies Thrive’. We’ve been hosting it for several weeks, but this week we had record attendance. For the first couple of weeks only our volunteers were there. We would hold the group and pray for the harvest. This week we had five women from the community join us!

We learned about oppression and how God is our only real hope. The ladies were asked what their greatest needs were. All responded that housing and violence were their highest concerns. One lady told us that the day she moved in, her entire block was barricaded because of a drive-by shooting on her street. Two of the other ladies live at the Alamo; a place where violence is constant and murder is common. Another lady, after the group had ended, told us that she was homeless. She used to stay at the Alamo but didn’t have any money right now. She told us that the only clothes she owned were on her back, and she sometimes turned tricks to buy food.

We had the opportunity to send the women home with groceries and diapers. All of them hung around and talked to our volunteers, welcoming the fellowship and prayer. They left with their arms full and smiles on their faces, assuring us that they would return for the next meeting. One of our volunteers took the homeless woman to the thrift store and bought her a couple of outfits. Another volunteer gave her a ride to her brother’s house, a place where she is sometimes allowed to shower and sleep on their couch outside. We took groceries, bedding and a small gift to the brother’s family to thank them for their kindness. They were moved to tears.

After the support group, word got out about the free groceries. People walked up to the Dream Center, some pushing grocery carts, in search of food. Many were hungry, dirty and desperate. We offered them food, prayer and hope. Between noon and 2:30pm we supplied groceries to 21 families in need.

The Dream Center is designed to be an outreach center for people living in north Baton Rouge, but building relationships in that community is difficult. There are issues of trust, racism and religion. The people live in a constant state of suspicion and fear, afraid of both the new and the familiar. I believe that the Dream Center is becoming a beacon of hope. As we continue to feed the people, physically and spiritually, I believe that they are beginning to understand the love of God. With so much oppression, need and desperation, it sometimes feels too big to conquer. I’m so grateful that we serve the One who has already conquered all. All glory to God!