My son loves “digger trucks.” LOVES them. Our house is stocked with digger truck puzzles, sheets, toys, books. He was a construction man for halloween. He can’t get enough of the digger trucks. Lucky for us (or unlucky for us), our neighborhood has been under construction as long as I can remember. There have been digger trucks in and around our neighborhood for well over a year. And we’ve made sure to visit them. Repeatedly.
A couple weeks ago I was headed to a CRM staff meeting which was being held over at another teammates house a couple of blocks away. As I walked through our neighborhood that morning, for some reason I made a turn and decided to take the “back” way to his house.
As I began down the alley I instantly felt like I was being watched. I could see a man and a woman digging through the trash up ahead, their hands on the trash; but their eyes were locked on me. A little unnerved I kept walking. As I continued to walk, the man began shouting at me from the distance.
“Partner! Partner!” “Hey partner, how you doing?!”
I could barely understand what he was saying, let alone why he was shouting partner at me. I became a bit unnerved. As I got closer, I recognized their faces. I had seen both of them around Starbucks a couple of times. My experience with the man was of him being very volatile and getting pretty angry quickly.
Even before I could engage them the man turned to his friend and pointed to me, “He’s my partner, this guy’s helped me out.” I was still confused; he turned to me, “You’re my partner, you’ve helped me a couple of times before, thank you! God bless you!”
Stunned, I said, “yeah I’ve seen both of you around, I work at our Starbucks here in the neighborhood.”
“Yeah, that’s where you helped me – thank you for helping me,” he said again. I introduced myself and asked them their names. “I’m Jamaica, and this is my friend Red,” the man replied, extending his hand.
We shook hands and parted ways. “God Bless you brother,” Jamaica said as I walked away.
As I continued walking that morning, I was humbled. I replayed the few interactions I had had with Jamaica and Red at Starbucks in the past over again in my mind and realized how very little I had actually “helped” them. All I had really done before was be nice to them. As our neighborhood’s transient population comes in and out of our store, many people have little or no patience for their requests and lingering. I’ve simply tried to be kind and patient.
That morning as I finally arrived at my meeting I was reminded that even the most minuscule and seemingly insignificant interactions we have with people can have significant kingdom impact.
‘My dear little faiths, it’s time to expect more.’
You see, rarely can a response make something better; what makes something better is a connection, a relationship. The reason I think that so many times our little words of encouragement ring so hollow is because they come from a place detached from connection and relationship. It’s so much easier for us to simply speak truth from a place of “having it all together” than to step into the hurt with those dealing with it. Walking with people through the hurt is a lot harder than simply offering up a little anecdote. It takes work, it takes risk, it takes being inconvenienced – it takes love.
Jesus was a great example of this, he stepped into those places of pain, walked through it alongside of those suffering. I love John 11, it paints this beautiful picture of death, suffering, and Jesus entering into the pain that was felt by Mary and Martha in the wake of their brother’s death. He felt it with them. He didn’t simply say, “At least you still have your sister,” or “Don’t worry, I work everything out for the good of those who believe in me…” No, he listened, he entered into their pain, and loved them well in it and through it. Jesus’ response was one rooted in connection and relationship.
As we walk with our neighbors, our friends, our family, we are continually reminded at just how hard it is to really love them well and contend for them as Jesus did. But I believe that’s what we’re called to do. Especially as we walk through difficulties and tragedies with them. May our first response to tragedy be one of love, engagement, and walking with those who hurt. It’s when we do that well, that our words of truth have much more power. Truth and love must always go together.
I was not a cheerleader in high school. I know – shocking. But I’m trying to be one today.
I say that because I’ve been reflecting on Romans 16 this past week. Now bear with me – I promise there’s a connection. You know…Romans 16. That chapter that caps off one of the most theologically in depth treatises on the gospel ever, with…a really long list of names…yeah you read that right:
Paul finishes his letter to Romans, perhaps the most celebrated book in the entire Bible with a list of names.
Now be honest, if you’re like me, when you come to Romans 16 after an incredible time studying the book of Romans; you probably approach it with all the vigor and in-depth study of the previous 15 chapters, right? Yeah me neither.
Most of us look at this list much like a genealogical list in the OT; with about as much vigor and passion as a first grader trying to read the most books in his class to win a trip to the principal’s office for a pizza party (To be fair, no one ever said anything to me about the need for comprehension)…But that’s another story for another time…I digress.
Over the past couple of years I’ve come to appreciate Romans 16 for a lot more than just a list of names. It’s really a testimony of the important role people play in our lives and in our ministries. Spend any time in a church and you know just how many people it takes to make things run well; quite a few actually. The same can be said on the “mission field.” We have countless people praying for us, financially investing in the ministry, and serving alongside of us. People who are all-stars when it comes to ministry! What I appreciate so much about Paul’s list in Romans 16 is that he publicly thanks and praises all of those people who have given their lives to serve God and his Church. More than just a list, I think it’s a great reminder to all of us.
We’d do well to be people who affirm, uphold, and encourage those who have gotten us to the places we are today and those who are killing it when it comes to ministry! Honestly I don’t think I necessarily have the spiritual gift of encouragement, but I sure love those who do. I love being encouraged. I love being told I’m doing a great job. Most people do. Most people (not all), love it more than they love telling others the same things. And just because I may not have that gift doesn’t mean I’m off the hook. This week I was reminded once again of how important it is to call out those who are doing it; those who are serving and loving people like Jesus; those who have helped us; who’ve sacrificed for us.
want need to be like Paul, put on my cheerleader’s outfit, get out my megaphone and be someone’s cheerleader. People need it. I’d encourage you to do the same. Paul clearly valued people. Jesus sure did. I must.
So, who’s on your Romans 16 list? Who are you cheering on? Let them know. Tell them. Tell others about them.
Every Monday night a few of us head over to the neighborhood park to partake in some soccer and volleyball. It’s a ton of fun to not only play, but to play with such consistency that people know – Monday’s 5:30 – we’re there. From day one the aim was two-fold: have fun with friends and connect with our neighbors. Through the consistent week in and week out play we’ve met a lot of people, many of whom have joined us for just a season, some we’ve built friendships with, some we’ve seen once and then never again. But consistently we get a chance to meet our neighbors, and it’s pretty darn great. But what happens when the very thing we’ve set out to do – meet neighbors – begins to work.
Hint: It changes things.
Over the past couple of months we’ve had some new neighbors begin to come with great regularity. Neighbors we rarely get to interact with. Somewhere around December a number of our Latino neighbors began showing up to play volleyball at the same time we play. They’d bring their own net, their own ball, their own people, and be ready to play. All 10-15 of them. It certainly changed some things. Before when neighbors came we could have them jump in and play, our numbers rarely got above 6 on 6, so everyone could play – no problem. But 10-15 extra changes things.
Let me explain. It’s a gift to have an entire segment of our neighborhood that we rarely get the opportunity to connect with show up and invite themselves into our world and vice versa. But with it comes a whole slew of new challenges. We all know living out Kingdom values costs us. In fact, that sort of life always asks us to put others ahead of ourselves – humbly choosing to serve, rather than be served. And yet, we like things to play out the way we want them to, don’t we? I know I sure do. And so when something different happens in ministry or even life than I expected to happen there can be a pretty strong rub. I’ll find myself using the phrase – “we used to” a lot. You see, we used to be able to all play as many games as we’d like without having to rotate in and out. We used to be able to play by our own set of rules. We used to be able to fully understand everything that was said and done on the court. But now we can’t. Inviting our Latino neighbors into our game means I play less; it means I need to be more flexible with the rules we play by; it means I need to pick up a couple more Spanish phrases to participate in small conversations with my neighbors. It means, volleyball really isn’t about me – it’s about getting to know my neighbors. But that’s the funny thing about ministry and life, we get used to things a certain way – we might even say something like “let’s do such and such so that we can better connect with our neighbors;” which is great until it costs us something. But if I’m honest, when it costs me something than I tend to balk a little bit.
What’s so encouraging to me is that our community has done such a great job of welcoming, loving, and being flexible with our new friends. Mondays are now a lot bigger, and even more so a place where we can connect and meet with our neighbors while having fun. Which is exactly what we set out to do! I may not be able to get into as many games, but if my focus is on Kingdom building and not myself – it really doesn’t matter how many games I get to play; because it’s not about me. Whenever I begin to starting saying, “we used to,” it’s probably worth a look into my own heart and motives and remind myself why we’re doing what we’re doing. No matter the ministry, no matter the circumstance, when God starts moving and things start happening, it’s gonna be messy and it’s gonna cost us something – but the payoff is always, always worth it!
It’s crazy to think about all that happened this past year. We are grateful for the ways God moved in our hearts, continually drawing us to closer to Him and giving us greater clarity in our calling. Over the past year many have asked for more pics from the family, so we wanted to share a couple of pics highlighting this past year as a family. Enjoy!
|Jenifer and Emerson hiking around Cabrillo National Monument|
|Hanging out with one of our Spain teammates Charlie|
|Celebrating the wedding of friends down in Mexico|
|Jeff and Jenifer at the Al-Hambra during their vision trip in Spain|
|Jeff stopped at Arches National Park while helping his brother move across country|
|Getting his art on|
|NieuCommunities Staff and Apprentices graduation night|
|A great day at the beach|
|Commissioning prayer welcoming us on-staff with CRM|
|Getting ready for Trick-Or-Treating|
|Pondering the intricacies of life|
|Opening presents Christmas morning in Chicago|
I’m grateful for those times I choose to stand in line at our Starbucks rather than just make my own drink behind the bar…I’m thankful for the conversations God brings me into while I wait.
“How long have you been in the neighborhood?” I ask.
“Two years. You?”
“About a year and half, we moved here from Seattle, we lived there for about 5 years.”
“What brought you here?”
“We’re down here training and being prepared to move to Spain.”
“Whoa, that’s awesome, to do what?”
“Well we’re involved with a non-for-profit that trains and mentors young people to live like Jesus lived and invest in their neighborhoods and communities.”
“Wow…that’s awesome – how old are you?”
“Oh you’re just a baby still.” She chuckles.
I sheepishly grin…
“Shoot (she didn’t say shoot), I still don’t know what I want to do with my life and I’m 44.” And just like that she begins to open up. “I studied economics in college (which I hated) and I got my masters in Asian studies, now I just work for the government.” She rolls her eyes and shrugs her shoulders.
“Wow, speaking of things that couldn’t be more different! That’s pretty cool, you got such a broad spectrum for school stuff. So, if you could do anything in the world what would you do?”
She thinks about it for a split second, her eyes light up, “I’d probably move back to Japan and work there and continue to study their culture.” She pauses and sighs, “but then I’d have to learn their language.” She awkwardly laughs…”I couldn’t do that. Plus I’m bogged down in loans…I’m kind of stuck.”
“Why not? It sounds like that’s what you love to do? I mean, you obviously got a masters in all things Asia for a reason, you should look into it! Nothings worse than just slugging it out day in and day out and knowing you’d rather do something else. You should go for it.”
And all at once, it was done – “I’ll take a triple tall Americano.”
Countless conversations I’ve had while making drinks, standing in line, or even ringing people up at the register center around passion and vocation. I’ve met and talked to so many people who seemingly work in a place that drains their life; while knowing deep down inside the thing that they really want to do, the thing that brings them joy, fills them with excitement, and enables them to soar is something completely different. I’m thankful for these conversations. I’m thankful for opportunities, to hear how God has uniquely shaped them, impassioned them; and I’m thankful that God allows me to, in those small instances, remind them that He’s done so. Not everyone will, can, or even should drop whatever they are doing to follow after their passion or calling. Shoot – some are currently in the process of getting there (I know our hands are raised!!). But I think we’d be remiss to completely write off those deep passions God’s implanted in us.
People need to be reminded it’s ok to dream. People need to be reminded of what they’re passionate about. People need to to be encouraged, loved, supported, nurtured, and even pushed a little bit. I know I do. Because it’s so terribly easy to let fear creep in, to allow circumstances to lull you into complacency, to get buried by the day in and day out routine and forget or even turn away from your true passion or calling.
I want to remind people to live into their passions. To be a person who encourages and even champions people’s passions. I need people to do that for me too. I’m grateful for those who have been “encouragers” and “pushers” in my own life. Many people have invested in both Jenifer and I over the years to help shape and mold and even direct us to where we are today. I pray that God would use me to remind others that He’s uniquely shaped them for His purposes. I pray that God would use me to remind my neighbors, my family, my friends, myself – to live into the passions He’s created us with.
This is a story of a man named Jose and a woman named Carmen. Jose and Carmen got married at a young age somewhere in Madrid. They soon started their own family and Carmen gave birth to a beautiful little son named Francisco. Now, Jose and Carmen took Francisco to church every Sunday. Jose and Carmen loved Jesus and raised Francisco going to church and reading the bible, even praying that he would grow up loving Jesus too. Francisco grew up and somewhere in his twenties simply stopped going to church. Francisco eventually married a young woman named Isabella and they soon had two boys of their own – Sergio and Juan. But Sergio and Juan weren’t raised going to church. Every so often they Francisco and Isabella would take their family to church on Easter because their grandparents wanted them to, but that was it. Sergio and Juan eventually grew up, married and had children of their own – both Sergio and Juan and their spouses raised their children outside of the church, and in turn those children did the same. And their children’s children did the same. Now 4 or even 5 generations removed from Jose and Carmen – how much do you think those kids grew up knowing about Jesus?
I think it’s safe to say they’d know nothing, absolutely nothing about Jesus…
And that’s the spiritual climate in Spain today. They are now 4-5 generations removed from families faithfully even going to church – that’s not even to say that they were faithful Jesus followers – just faithful church goers. The numbers for Spain aren’t great. In fact, they’re pretty grim. 1% of Spain is Evangelical Christian. 1%. And only 3% of all Spain even considers religion to be an important part of their lives. Among those 30 and under in Spain – the church has zero influence. ZERO. Add to that the staggering unemployment rate for those 30 and under that fluctuates somewhere between 55% and 60% and you have a recipe for hopelessness.
Talk to almost any young person (30 and under) for a period of time and the same things tend to crop up in conversation. Who am I? What am I supposed to do with my life? Where am I going? What am I here for? Questions of meaning and purpose tend to permeate so so many of those conversations that I have with young people everywhere I go. While we were in Spain this past year on our visioning trip we had the opportunity to sit down with young a man named Jorge. Jorge was one of the few who actually grew up in the church. His family actually took him to church as a child. Jorge soon found himself in that awkward transitionary period between high school and university. As he left “youth ministry,” he soon found himself hitting the proverbial “glass ceiling.” His desire to serve and invest in the church was met with a firm – “there’s no place for you” response. This response led him down a long journey of: “well, if there’s no place for me here, perhaps there’s no place for me in the church, and maybe there’s not even place for me in Christianity.” At such a crucial point of his life, a time of searching and trying to discover who he was and who God’s made him to be – he found the church to be a closed and even cold place to engage this season of discovery. As he shared his journey with us you could feel the heartbreak in his voice. He began to look for answers to these life shaping questions everywhere except the church. In fact, he left the church entirely, and still hasn’t really returned.
People like Jorge are the people our hearts break for. The reality is that young people in their twenties are asking questions of faith, value, calling, and of life meaning and are doing it everywhere else – except the church. As we prepare to transition over to ministry in a context devoid of Jesus we are thankful for the opportunity we’ve had to train and learn how to create safe places for young leaders like Jorge to wrestle with those questions and engage those questions at deep and meaningful levels with Jesus always being the aim. We want to see young leaders learn how to do the same with their peers, with their neighbors, with their communities. We desire to see lasting legacies of entire generations following after Jesus pointing those who are to come after them in the same direction.
The truth is that if we, as the Church, don’t provide those safe spaces for young people to ask those tough questions of faith and purpose we’ll continue see entire generations grow up with the same perspective as Jorge. “If there’s no place for me here, maybe there’s no place for me in Christianity.” So how can we provide that space?
Here’s a couple things we’ve learned over the course of this past year:
–Recognize that you don’t have to have all the answers – so often young people need a sounding board, a place to process. They don’t simply need the answer to the solution, but rather, need a safe place to process through whatever questions they have, which means I need to ask better questions. In fact most of their lives they’ve been told what to think and believe, helping them process things with the ability to reserve judgment will take you farther and deeper into a relationship than you could know.
–Be consistent – investing in young people takes a tremendous amount of patience and faithfulness. Though they are sometimes really flaky, they appreciate someone who is faithful and consistently there for them. Honestly, this takes a lot of humility and grace as it can sometimes be really frustrating when you’re set up for a meeting and they cancel for “that other thing that just came up.” But as I show grace and the ability to be flexible (within reason) it really goes a long way to build trust and a place of safety.
–Understand that I don’t have to beat them over the head with Jesus – this is sometimes the hardest thing for me to come to grips with. There’s a difference between pointing one to Jesus and punching them in the face with Jesus. When we’re dealing with life questions it’s important to point people to Jesus and what He says about given life circumstances, but I don’t always have to immediately go there, in fact often times I find it better to be patient and let them connect Jesus to said situation themselves. The reality is that people I engage with almost always already know my heart and passion for Jesus – when I’m patient and let the Spirit lead I find time and time again that Jesus bubbles out of whatever we are talking about, and God opens up the opportunities to engage those “Jesus moments.”
There’s a lot more that could be said on this…but just typing these things reminds me of how I need to be a better listener and my first response should be one of grace, love and truth, especially as I engage my neighbors…
Moving forward I am overwhelmed with excitement as we prepare to be people who provide space for young Spaniards to ask questions of faith, life, and how the two intersect and I pray they meet Jesus! It is our prayer that as we go, as invest ourselves in the lives of young Spaniards that a new generation of Jesus followers would come forth and birth fresh expressions of the Church in Spain that would leave a legacy of many many generations to come of faithful Jesus followers. The reality is that whether we are in Spain or anywhere else for that matter – as Christians our heart is for people to meet Jesus. That they would connect with the Creator of the Universe and understand why He matters to their life. If we can’t be a people who create safe spaces to help our neighbors explore those things we’ve missed a significant opportunity to be salt and light to our world.
Crazy: tonight marks the final night of our apprenticeship here in San Diego. We are no longer apprentices, but now staff members with CRM. This year has been a year of clarity, of joy, and of learning. We have had an entire year to serve and learn alongside of many who have been serving faithfully on mission here in San Diego for a long time. With the end of the apprenticeship brings much excitement that is surely bittersweet as we prepare to launch a new missional community in Spain this new year and leave our community here.
Soft Pastels on Paper
This year has been a sweet year of clarity. I’ve developed a better understanding of how God has created me and how I can be used in the Missio Dei, but what has been most life changing is my ability to discern the voice of God. What has always been there, used to be fuzzy, dark, and usually realized too late; but now is clear, bright,and radiant . . .luminous. The morning sunlight covering the nights’ darkness and illuminating a new day was the perfect metaphor for me to describe my understanding of how God speaks to me. Working with soft pastels was new to me and brought a challenge that was both thrilling and therapeutic. This medium allowed me to create with creamy rich color while allowing me grace as a new artist.
For me stop-motion represents a very child-like art medium. It brings me back to the days of my childhood. There is an innocence and joy in the medium. I remember as a very little child praying “the Lord my soul to keep.” Though I didn’t know what that meant then, God was faithful to answer that prayer. This piece represents years of prayers coming to fruition; prayers I prayed even in my youth that were not forgotten by God. Even though I myself may have forgotten most of the prayers I’ve prayed over those years – God has not forgotten a single thing I’ve asked. God has treasured every little prayer I’ve ever prayed and is still in the process of weaving those fulfillments. That realization has pushed me deeper into trusting in His faithfulness than I ever could have imagined.
We are so thankful for this past year and all that God has done in our lives and through the lives of those around us here in Golden Hill…we look forward with great anticipation to seeing what God will do in us and through us as we serve Him in Malaga, Spain. We have seen over and over again God’s faithfulness shine through in this past year. We are grateful for those who have journeyed with us and look forward to the journey ahead!!