Friday, November 26, 2010

A New Thanksgiving Tradition

This year we joined 5,000 other people at Duke Energy Convention Center to celebrate Thanksgiving. The serving positions were filled so our job was to share-a-meal with those we didn't know, to help them feel welcome, listen to their stories, help them know that people cared about them and that they didn't have to spend this holiday alone.

We walked into one of the beautiful ballrooms. It was decorated with gold cloth draped artistically all around the ceiling. The tables were decorated beautifully with a fall theme. The room was filled with people from all walks of much diversity in race, age, economic level, spiritual beliefs. I met one lady that was from Cleveland. She said that when she saw the room, it reminded her of heaven....just a small taste of what heaven will be like...the beautiful golden ceiling,  all kinds of people together, sharing, talking, laughing...together as we should be....without judgement or expectations....definitely taste of heaven.

I sat with three college students that were volunteering, and three men who were friends and use to live at Tender Mercies. Now two of them have their own apartments downtown and are working.  Each of them had a story. I especially enjoyed hearing the story of one of them who was originally from Fiji. He had been in the U.S. for 16 years, now was engaged to the girl he has been  in love with for 20 years, and was going back to Fiji to marry her and bring her to the States now that he had a good job. The second group that I was privileged to sit with was a mom, dad, and five of their seven children. The mom was 28. The children were adorable and it was so much fun to be spending Thanksgiving with them. There was a 10 month old, twin two year olds (a boy and girl), a 9 year old and a 10 year old. Everyone I met had a story. I wanted to hear theirs. They wanted to hear mine. I tried to speak words of encouragment to them. They spoke words of encouragement to me.

The traditional Thanksgiving meal was delicious. There was entertainment including ballet performed by inner city girls. Combining grace, discipline and worship, the Princesses Ballet team helps young girls build confidence in themselves and their faith. Ballet Video :

 Free haircuts and shaves were available. Free coats were given to all that needed them. The line for the coats was long and steady the entire time.  So many of those in attendance took advantage of these gifts and were so thankful. There were activities for the children like facepainting and playing on inflatibles.

My daughter sat with people who were homeless, living under a bridge and they told her that everything they owned was soaked because of the non-stop cold rain that we were having. I left and went home to my nice, warm, dry home to spend the rest of the day with my family. It continued to rain all day. I kept thinking of all of those who were living out in the rain.

I was thinking about how blessed I am. I don't want to take that for granted. I know that sometimes it is easy to judge why people are homeless. The more I interact with them, I realize that sometimes it is the result of poor choices (and who among us haven't made poor choices) and sometimes it is a result of the circumstances that life has brought their way.

I started thinking about our year....we lost our home and I have been out of work for 5 months because of health issues.  It worked out this year that we didn't get to spend Thanksgiving with either side of our extended family. We have had a little sample of what many of the people there experience everyday and some for years and years. Things happen...finances change, jobs can be lost, health can worsen....and if you have no family to help can become homeless. Too often we think that it could never happen to us, but unexpected circumstances can happen.

We are thankful that God helped us find a place to live. We are thankful that we have jobs. We are thankful for family & friends that helped us through a year filled with unexpected trials. We are thankful for how God has taken care of us and given us joy, peace and ministry visions. We are thankful that we are not homeless, jobless, with no family.  Maybe the things that we have been through this year are helping to make us more sensitive to those who are having hard times in their lives. Maybe God is using all of this to prepare us to better be able to minister to others. May we continually have hearts of gratitude and seek to learn all that God is teaching us.

We were thankful to be with our new family of friends this year. I think it is a tradition that I want to continue, as well as spending time with our own family too. Maybe next year, you will consider joining this awesome Thanksgiving experience. (See NEAR PAGE for more information of the Fall Feast.)

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Outlet

I had the privilege of going to City Gospel Mission a couple of Saturdays ago with 4 other people from Dayspring and a friend. We went there to participate in The Outlet. (See desciption of The Outlet below.)

This was planned as a youth event, but as it turned out none of the students came. I started thinking about why we had no students. Some of the reasons that I came up with are the obvious ones: busy schedules and other commitments, no interest in this particular ministry, their friends weren't going, and FEAR. I think for many students (and adults) that FEAR is a big issue....FEAR of an unknown situation, FEAR that we won't know what to say, Fear that we will say the wrong thing, etc. I experienced this myself as I went on that day.

When we arrived, they gave us an orientation and ask for a couple of people to work in the cafe' serving the coffee. I wanted this job because I would have something to do that I knew how to do. It wasn't as threatening. I wasn't chosen for the cafe' so my task was to just intermingle with those people that had come. I walked into the room and felt fear. Here was a roomful of people I didn't know, most of them men. How in the world would I go up and talk to them. How would I start a conversation? What would I talk about.....I couldn't talk to them about the usual things you might talk about when you meet someone...things like where do you live? where do you work? (many of them were unemployed & homeless). I sat down by one person. He looked at me and just closed his eyes, obviously not wanting to talk. I didn't know what to do. I began praying. I knew that God was going to have to show me what to do, give me the needed words, and help me with this fear.

I decided to watch what Erin did as she was more experienced in this because of her time in Youth With a Mission. (There is something really cool about learning something from your daughter.) I leaned on her a little to help me get started. We began playing a game of Phase 10 with two of the people and some other teenage volunteers from another church. What fun! And suddenly, my fear was gone. We were finding things to talk about. We were interacting.

After that, I decided that I should try on my own so I went to different tables and began conversations. I sat down with a group of people and talked with them for quite a while. Many ask when we were coming back. They genuinely seemed to really want us to come back. And I want to come back. I believe the real key is to build relationships and that makes me want to go more than one time.

One couple there drew a picture and gave it to one of our volunteers. They wrote on it "God has blessed us with even the smallest things!" and told her that this was a blessing to have them come serve them coffee. Even a smile or kind word, although a small thing, can be a blessing. Many of the people there said that coming to the Outlet was the highlight of their week.

So I challenge you...overcome fears whether for this outreach or another one. I encourage you to go with us to the Outlet or even go on your own. You just need to go ready to hang out, play board games or cards, Foosball, ping pong, pool or work at the art table or cafe'. You will receive a blessing as well as be a blessing.

Hundreds of homeless people are currently living in downtown Cincinnati with little or no available daily activities. They need a comfortable place where they do not have to worry about violence or drug abuse and can build healthy friendships with positive, caring adults. The Outlet offers a solution.

The Outlet is a safe, fun place of recreation for homeless men and women in Cincinnati. Every Saturday morning we host games, activites, a coffee shop and promote positive longterm relationships for over 100 guests. Often, local musicians provide entertainment during the Outlet and volunteers create art with the guests. We celebrate life and the positive steps our guests are taking that lead to life change.

The Outlet happens every Saturday morning and on the 1st Sunday of each month in the afternoon.


Sunday, November 14, 2010

Here, Near, Far

Over the last few months, God has been using Acts 1: 8 to speak to me. This is the lens that He wants me to use in everything that I am doing. It is my life mission & my passion. I believe that He wants me to be involved in outreach Here (Fairfield, Finneytown, Forest Park, Green Hills, & Tri-County area), Near (Cincinnati, Greater Cincinnati, United States), and Far (Foreign Missions). I want to find ways to be involved in each of these areas and help others to become involved. I want to use this blog to share insights I am learning as I begin to explore the many opportunities to be involved in outreach and what I am learning through this involvement. Currently, I am researching the many needs in Cincinnati and the organizations, churches, and individuals that are doing something to meet these needs. I want this blog to be a resource where others can come for ideas of ways they can get involved too! I want to be available! Lord, here I am, send me! Send me Here, send me Near, and/or send me Far! Send me where you need me, where you want me to go!