Saturday, December 29, 2007

The Best of the Best

I have the incredible privilege of working with some of the finest people on earth...the HPC volunteers who work in the inner city. It's not just their dedication and passion; it's their complete willingness to lay down their own schedules and agendas to make room for others.

A few weeks ago Pastor Dino preached about us having others inside our others. (If that doesn't make sense to you then order the sermon and give it a listen. It's an incredible word.) Basically, the message is that whatever we have inside of us needs to be passed on and birthed in others. That's what I see our volunteers doing on a weekly basis. Despite holiday plans, family commitments and general busyness, our volunteers continually lay it all down for the others. The week before Christmas we ran outreaches back-to-back: homeless, Thrive, Midnight, Turner Plaza, all within about 30 hours. That doesn't include the prayer time, prep time, warehouse time, the planning or the meetings that go in to pulling it all off. Not to mention the Winbourne Christmas event that brought almost 1000 people to our new campus. Throughout all of that craziness, this is what I saw:

- people changing travel plans to be available
- people staying up late and getting up early to serve
- people getting their whole family involved to reach others
- people staying on outreach until the last possible moment before getting in the car to drive countless hours to see family in other states
- people loving the unlovable and hugging the unhuggable
- people representing Jesus well, even when people didn't always act right

Like I said, some of the finest people on earth. It is such an honor to serve God...and it's especially cool that I get to do it with the greatest folks and the greatest church on earth. All glory to God!

Thursday, December 27, 2007

30 hours on Serve Team

Last weekend was trippin!!! We started Friday morning and finished Saturday afternoon. I think I had a short nap at some point but mostly it was flat-out mayhem. I love inner city outreach!!!!

Ladies Thrive
Every Friday we have a support group called Ladies Thrive for women in the community. It’s really a bible study, designed as a safe place for these women to share their frustrations, their fears and the demands of living in a community torn apart by violence, drugs and despair. We usually have anywhere from 25-35 women, some of whom bring their small children. Last Friday we had our Thrive Christmas party…and it was wild!

We had 44 women in attendance, and probably close to 50 kids. Normally we send the few children we have down to Jump Start, our preschool literacy program that works with kids ages 2-5. On Friday Margaret and Susan (Jump Start workers) did a tremendous job just keeping track of everyone. While the kids were shooting hoops and making crafts, the moms were learning more about God and how to cope in this crazy world. After the teaching all of the ladies got a Christmas present: beautiful cheetah-print robes or fluffy fur throws. They were so excited. The women were trying on robes, posing for pictures and generally having a great time. Cooking for Christ prepared another tasty feast for us and everyone enjoyed a holiday meal together.
As we loaded the shuttle to take everyone home there was laughter, appreciation and peace…a pretty good start for Christmas.

Okay, we may have had a a minor incident involving a plunger, 2 mops and a little boy peeing in a trash can, but we're calling it a win none the less. :)

Midnight Outreach
The streets always hold an undercurrent of desperation, but this near to Christmas everything is magnified. The tears are closer, the rage is hotter and everything can turn on a dime. But, that’s why we’re there. We want to be available when people are willing to turn…we want them to have an option other than violence, drugs or hatred. Jesus is never closer to people then when they’re on the edge. Tonight, you allowed us to walk the edge with them.

We handed out almost 200 roses to remind ladies that their worth is not determined by their occupation; even if their job is exotic dancing. We handed out gift bags filled with give-aways from HPC Chick events; sparkly crowns, fancy chocolates and earrings. We gave out Tylenol, tissues and copies of Pastor Dino’s book. Anything we could find that would bless these precious people, we wanted to get into their hands. For many, the presents they got from you will be the only Christmas gifts they receive.

You make it possible; through your giving, your prayers and your commitment. Everyday you make the choice to put others first. Thank you for being a healing place for a hurting world.

Turner Plaza Christmas
Some came in their blue jeans, some in their Sunday best. They walked in, were wheeled in, or helped along by friends and neighbors. On Saturday morning the residents of Turner Plaza, a government-run housing project predominantly occupied by the elderly and disabled, were treated to a turkey dinner prepared by Cooking for Christ that was fit for a King. After sharing a meal together, Miss Claudia led us in Christmas carols and high stakes bingo. (High stakes defined as much sought after prizes like vaporizers, hygiene products and cheetah-print bath robes.) The residents and volunteers had a blast.

For many of the tenants, this will be the only party they will attend this holiday season. With limited resources and little family support, Christmas can be a lonely time. The food and prizes they received may seem like a small thing, but the smiling face and echoing laughter said otherwise. For a time they were not old and disabled, they were not poor or crippled; they were simply a collection of friends, some old and some new, sharing a celebration of Christmas. We closed in prayer and everyone gathered their belongings, their meals and their gifts. It was a great day for them and for us; another opportunity to be a healing place for a hurting world.

Okay, now I'm going back to bed. See you in the New Year. All glory to God!

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Let me introduce myself...

Contrary to popular belief, I have not fallen off the face of the planet. I don't think I've ever gone this long between posts and I apologize for the delay. That being said, I have an excuse for my tardiness.

Here's the thing...the holidays here are simply too close together. I grew up up in Canada, eh, so I'm used to a different schedule. At home we have a reasonable break between Thanksgiving and Christmas (mid-Oct to late Dec.) That gives everybody time to regroup, to recover from the quantity time with family and to work in a crash diet between inexcusable eating binges. But here, everything is back to back. There's still a leftover drumstick in the fridge and y'all are cooking up another whole bird. Granted, maybe it's because I ate Cooking For Christ's turkey dinner for 4 days straight that I'm over-loaded on dressing and gravy, but I still think the big days are a little too close. Since it's unlikely that the nation will change the official holiday schedule just to suit me, I'll move on.

Yesterday we had our big Christmas outreach at our Dream Center on Winbourne Ave. Talk about slammin!!! With about 250 volunteers and probably 700 people from the community, we had that place packed out. Just to show you how good God is, on Tuesday of this week we were praying that people would come...more than the 70 people we had registered at that point. Well, they came and came and came. We had hot dogs, fake snow, karaoke caroling and cookie decorating. Once the kids finished eating, playing games and jumping around the bounce houses we invited everyone in for a Christmas service. Kari Smith delivered the word, Ang Musso rocked the place, it was amazing. Kids made decisions for Christ and everybody had an awesome time. Hats off to Kari and her team for pulling it all off.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, our incredible team of elves (aka HPC volunteers) sorted, pulled and packed over a thousand toys to give to the families who came. How cool is it that very child between the ages of 2-12 left with a toy? Mark and Kayla were running the workshop and were absolutely fearless in getting the job done. Their willing spirit humbles me. Kudos to them and their team for making the seemingly impossible, possible.

I don't know how to say this without it sounding like a Grammy speech, but there are just so many people who laid it all down to make this happen: Jeannie, Barbara, Mr. Pat, the interns, Dean, Summer, Frankie; your servant's heart is a testament to God's grace. It is such a privilege to serve with every one of you. Everybody who gave, showed up, painted a face, prayed, held a made it happen.

I love my church. I love that our pastors have a heart for the poor. I love that giving and serving are priorities in our congregation. I love that two weeks before Christmas hundreds of people gave up their Saturday to make a difference in somebody's life. Lives were changed on Saturday, including mine. Thank you, for making it all happen. All glory to God!