A Family

We value community. We value community because we believe it is a natural result of reconciliation in Christ. We also value community because we think it can help facilitate family. So in our community we value transparency that reveals our lives to one another, and this is not limited to “others” in the community. In other words, I personally am just as much a part of that transparency as is the organization. We also realize that in meaningful ways our community does not stop at the door, but it includes the many who support and have been a part of our community even if for just a short time during a mission trip. All of that to say this…

It has been a tough couple of months and it has been an exciting couple of months. Lots of ups and downs. We have struggled financially. We are getting ready to move locations, but don’t know exactly where yet (hopefully this week we’ll sort that out). One of our core members and key staff resigned which has left an emotional space and a duty space.

But, the Lord has blessed us with some new leadership on the Board of Directors that has helped to invigorate a challenging and exciting strategic planning process. We have redeveloped our mission team experience to allow for more opportunities, make it more wide ranging while becoming more meaningful at the same time. We have planned an incredible, deep and innovative educational opportunity called The Reconciliation and Justice Academy. Our community continues to grow deeper and we are seeing lives transformed regularly.

Of course none of this happens in linear time or all at once. It is all a mixture of experiences.

With all this as background I just receive two tidbits of news. First, a March mission team is likely going to have to back out. Second, we are not sure we’ll be able to make payroll this next pay period. I felt deflated (and a little self-pitying). “God, what are you trying to say? Are we coming to an end of 16 years of ministry?” Then I got news that Jerry, a homeless member of the community, was laid out on the side of the road. Two of our community members went to get him. He was unable to get up on his own, an ambulance was called, and he is now in the ICU. He called this morning to update us on his progress (more tests, internal bleeding) and to ask if we could bring him some toenail clippers. Then Robert, a core leader in our community, who also has a serious drinking problem, came to the end of his rope. Two members just left to take him into treatment. And God whispered, “Toenails and treatment. Just keep doing what you’re doing.”

We value community. We value community because we believe it is a natural result of reconciliation in Christ. We also value community because we think it can help facilitate family.

An Update from Pleasant Hill

[Last year Church on the Street accepted an invitation to assist the Pleasant Hill neighborhood of Macon, GA to organize and build community. Since then Michelle Witherspoon has been our primary community liaison working with neighborhood leaders. This is an update from Michelle.]

We have identified, recruited and gathered a small community of neighbors in Pleasant Hill. After several meetings and discernment exercises the group feels led toward focusing efforts on the housing/empty lot crisis. Mia, a new addition to the group, helpfully brings expertise as a real estate attorney. Another member, Belinda, works for the city of Macon and has a unique asset, the ear of city officials! The group is passionate about seeing empty lots cleaned up, homes renovated, and dilapidated homes being torn down. They continue to share stories of ways they are reaching out to their neighbors for participation and encouraging people to join the group’s efforts.

Our next steps involve helping the group to map the neighborhood – identifying neighbors keeping up their properties, abandoned homes and lots, trouble spots, patterns, potential allies and community members, etc. – in order to begin to develop a more comprehensive vision and strategy.

On a personal note, I continue to be impacted by the commitment and sense of ownership I see from each of the community members. Ms. Lillian, who often hosts the meeting at her home, is known as the Meet and Greet leader of her street. She knows her neighbors, visits them regularly, and inspires the people around her to participate in the development of the community. She herself is physically disabled, but that in no way keeps her from getting out and being an activist for her neighborhood. There is so much great history to Pleasant Hill and these neighbors hold that very closely and regularly tell stories of years past and what the neighborhood has always represented. They are refreshing to be around!

Listening to the Family, or Being Reminded What You’re Doing

Toward the end of the day there were about 10-15 core members of the community hanging out. Because Church on the Street has just begun the strategic planning process I thought I would ask the community what, from their perspective, was the value or practice that, without it, Church on the Street would be something other than what it is; in other words, what defines us.  Here’s their responses.

  • We’re a family, there’s a sense of togetherness.
  • You’re unconditionally accepted; we’re very forgiving. When I get locked up I can and want to come back. You’re missed. Even if you didn’t want to come back we hunt you down.
  • You’re treated with dignity.
  • We are learning how to be better; how to be friends.
  • Everyone contributes and has responsibilities.
  • I moved from feeling helpless to feeling helpful.
  • We are educational.
  • We are learning to be responsible, to take ownership, not to be a volunteer.
  • We are accountable to others like us.
  • At other ministries you can get food, but here we have prayer and bible study everyday to build each other up and grow. There’s daily support and insight.
  • We eat together as friends, not like a soup kitchen. Not just the homeless, you might be sitting with people from the suburbs or a college.
  • We are truly diverse, not like others who use diverse as a catch phrase.  We’re a diverse family.
  • We are what we say we are.
  • Everyone has input.
  • We are self-policing and disciplining.
  • There’s a sense of belonging.  I belong somewhere.
  • It’s less “churchy” and more family – everybody plays their part, role and it works. It reveals the things you need to work on in yourself.
  • When you can’t pull for yourself, others pull for you.
  • You see God shaping you into servants.
  • We don’t all get along, but we all have our purpose.
  • We work as a team with others [other ministries].
  • There’s a comfortable level of intimacy – joking, truth telling, not uptight

Sometimes we get so caught up in the latest kerfuffle or in all the planning and administrating that we forget that real lives are being transformed by the power of Christ’s love. What was an administrative chore turned into a great time of sharing, encouraging and refreshing.

New Year, New Opportunities

2015 is off to a flying start and we’ve got a couple of new things up our sleeve for the new year.  Here’s a sneak peak at two of them…

New Mission Team Options Mission Team Workshops are opportunities for those seeking to learn how to engage with the vulnerable, live as neighbors and overcome divisions in their own communities. All trips are an intensive crash course in fostering and living into community. During these trips guests learn the theological foundations and practical skills for developing reciprocal relationships and serving the most vulnerable. Every experience will broadly cover topics including:

  • Reconciliation and Justice
  • Human Trafficking
  • Racial Reconciliation
  • Community Development
  • Poverty/Homelessness

Now when you register for a trip you can choose a focus to add on to the experience. In addition to the standard trip, there are options designed specifically for college students or leadership teams. You can also choose trips with an extended focus on human trafficking, community development, homelessness/Poverty or racial reconciliation.

The Reconciliation and Justice Academy We want to go deeper. So we have partnered with people and organizations that have been thinking and working intensely on specific areas of reconciliation and justice. We want to make this collective experience and wisdom available to you. In May you can join us for this unique experience. As well as participating in the life of the Church on the Street Community through prayer and shared meals, you will also choose a ministry specific intensive track.

  • Human Trafficking – Rev. Dr. Kimberly Majeski, Founder-Stripped Love
  • Building a Reconciling Church                                                                            Rev. Dr. James Lewis, Dean-Anderson School of Theology
  • Dignity Serves: Asset Based Ministry – Rev. Dan Crain, Polis Institute
  • Intentional Neighboring – Rev. Dr. Shawn Duncan, EIRO
  • Community Development – Rev. Jim Wehner and Katie Delp                              FCS (Focused Community Strategies)

There will also be two joint sessions. The first will be led by Dr. Andy Odle, the Executive Director of Church on the Street, who will help us to position ministry within a theology of reconciliation.  The second will be led by Chris Heuertz, formerly of Word Made Flesh and now the co-founder of Gravity: A Center for Contemplative Activism, who will help us to ground social engagement within Christian contemplative spirituality.

More details and how to register will be made available soon.

Where’d the money go?

Last May Elliot issued a challenge to the friends and supporters of Church on the Street. He had been out of work so he pledged that as soon as he found work he would use his first check to make a donation to the ministry. Once he fulfilled his promise he then laid down the gauntlet,  “Match the $40 that I gave, double it, or do even more. Just don’t do nothing.”

Here’s what your gifts helped to accomplish this year…

  • Trained/Educated over 1,500 individuals including 18 Churches/Ministries, 3 Christian Schools, 6 Universities or College Ministries, and 2 interns
  • Launched two new communities
  • Became founding member of TraffickLight – an international collaboration of ministries fighting human trafficking
  • Assisted dozens of men and women in the sex trafficking industry
  • Assisted hundreds to navigate drug/alcohol rehabilitation, transitional housing, social services and reuniting with family
  • Over 16 local partnerships with businesses and ministries
  • Listed in Rejuvenate Magazine’s “10 Organizations to Partner With Now

Yesterday Elliot said that it was time to issue his challenge again. So here it is. If you, your church or business would like to match, double, or do even more than Elliot and share a Christmas or year-end tax-deductible gift you can donate easily and safely online here or send a check to:

Church on the Street  P.O. Box 54717  Atlanta, GA 30308

Thank you for all your help this past year.  Let’s make 2015 even better!

Early Christmas from Prison

necklace

I received a letter from a member of our community that has been “on vacation” for a few months. He is doing fantastic and learning quite a bit about himself as he is growing closer to God. Enclosed in the letter was a gift and I wanted to share it with all of you.

I have enclosed a cross necklace made by one of the dorms Master paper mache and industrial floor wax artisans. The Sermon On The Mount from the KJV has been carefully strung between beads of Church on the Street yellow. The fluorescent green is a millennial fashion accent. Please wear it or use it to artfully adorn your office. Merry Christmas and Happy TG.

Thanks Daniel. We look forward to reuniting in a couple of months.

365×1000: Because Serving the Vulnerable Never Takes a Day Off

365 days a year the homeless are left on the streets lonely, isolated and exposed.(approximately 14,000 in Atlanta)

365 days a year the mentally ill are abandoned to their own suffering.                         (1/3 of homeless persons are seriously mentally ill)

365 days a year women, men and children are sexually exploited.                              (100 minor girls every night in Georgia)

For the next 365 days we are asking you to join us to help heal the wounds of those broken and devastated. We are asking you to help us live the love of Christ with our most vulnerable neighbors. Join our campaign to raise $1000 every day for the next 365 days to help end the hopelessness, suffering and exploitation of those the world reckons invisible.

365×1000: Because Serving the Vulnerable Never Takes a Day Off

You can sponsor 1 day by pledging $2.75 per day. Think of it as buying those who suffer a cup of coffee. Or you can pledge $20 per week. Or $85 per month. Any of these ways of thinking about it gets you to a 1 day sponsorship.

Some of you can sponsor more than 1 day and we do not want to limit what the Lord has graced you to give. Maybe you can do 2 days, a week, or even a month. Maybe you cannot do a whole day but you still want to give what the Lord has graced you with to give. However you are able, you can help provide hope, healing and home for the poor, trafficked, homeless and forgotten.

Donate in one lump sum or set up your monthly pledge here.

On November 15th we will be hosting a luncheon from 12-2pm. We would love for you to join us to hear about the many ways God is using and growing our intentional Christian community to transform lives. RSVP here.

The Start of Our Anti-Sex Trafficking Efforts

[I originally wrote this post at the request of a partner church of ours. They asked if I would write a short blog giving people of sense of our anti-trafficking work.]

In the early days with Church on the Street I was out walking our neighborhood when a young lady, who looked 16, approached me. She asked if I was Pastor Andy and that she had heard around the neighborhood I was someone she could trust. She told me her name was Angel.  She then began weeping uncontrollably as she threw her arms around me in a strong embrace. It felt like she hadn’t been loved in quite some time so I decided in that instant I would hold on to her until she let go.  Angel began to tell me between sobs that she was being prostituted in our neighborhood and she was desperate to escape. I told her I would help her right there (back then I actually had no idea what I would do), but then she told me that she couldn’t leave yet. Her mom was in jail and Angel wanted to tell her that she would be leaving. Then she told me her mom was her pimp.

At that moment I realized that the enslavement to the powers of this world were stronger and more devastating than I had ever imagined. What I had academically espoused, but now confronted head on, is that we are called to live out the reconciliation and justice that Christ has accomplished. As I became more attentive to my neighbors and their suffering, God began to bring more dedicated disciples to serve alongside me. We began to find ways to reveal dignity, hope, rescue and healing to those who had suffered in unconscionable ways for implausible lifetimes.

Christ calls us to live in community, to serve the forgotten and to heap more abundant honor upon those the world dishonors. As the Lord opened our eyes we began to see all those who had been in front of us the whole time. We saw girls and boys being exploited on corners and behind buildings. We saw transgendered adults being battered. We saw the mentally ill and addicted mistreated and victimized. As of late much attention has been given to these exploited girls and boys, but what we also came to see is that once they turn 18 the world turns against them as if that age has magical power to immediately change a lifetime of abuse.

So, what does Church on the Street do for those being trafficked? We make sure we are where they are. We accept them as they are, as we hope they accept us. We welcome them into our lives. We bear one another’s burdens. Our lives are transformed. We seek to cease participating in markets that continue their exploitation. We find safe places for those in danger and in need of healing or treatment. We live the love of Christ with them. In other words we become friends, and what wouldn’t you do for a friend?

By the way, Angel is now drug and prostitution free. She is the owner of a home and is in school full time.

Jerry’s Surgery

[Posted by Sylvia Broome, member of the Church on the Street community and director of women’s and human trafficking ministries]

My daughter had surgery in May. I was impressed by the gentle and reassuring attention from the nurses, the thorough conversation with the doctor prior to the surgery, and the visit from the anesthesiologist who carefully took her history.

After the surgery, she had multiple doses of pain medicine, cold compresses on her eyes for comfort, and frequent changes of bandages. The doctor stopped in to check on her. She stayed for several hours in recovery since she was so groggy from the anesthesia. When she was ready to go home, she was gently helped into the car by the nurse. The care she received was like a five star spa.

Jerry, a homeless member of our community, also had surgery in May. Jerry’s surgery was on both eyelids. He was not told prior to the surgery that he would need someone to help him with a ride after the surgery. Because of this, he had not made arrangements to get back to the facility where he was staying.

After the surgery was over he called me and said “I can’t see.” I drove to the hospital to pick him up and found him sitting alone on a wall outside of the hospital. He had been released with both eyes swollen shut, groggy and disoriented from the anesthesia. He could barely walk and needed two people to help him get into the car.

How different it is to have surgery when you are poor, homeless and uninsured.