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Friday, November 4, 2016

This last week or two have been fairly compact.  Hastings (a chain that sells books, games, videos, and more) and a local ministry thrift shop, The Bargain Hut, had announced that they were closing their doors in pretty short order.  This was both sad, and a moment of opportunity to turn something unfortunate into something beneficial for The Kingdom and local ministry.  We were able to work with both entities to get some new shelving units, office items, and some direct items that went onto the free store shelves (coats, shoes, clothes, a microwave and more).  To accomplish that, we had to work around their closing schedules, dates, and times while continuing to do the ministry that we already do (and neither week had much wiggle room to accommodate our attending bankruptcy sales for Hastings or sifting through some of the items that were free to nonprofits at The Bargain Hut—though they were very friendly and helpful once they knew who we were and what we were looking for).  One particular challenge was that things finally came back together for us to offer free, monthly community meals at our ministry location—and the first relaunch was right in the middle of this.  (Photos below).

Thankfully, as He usually does, God provided the right people at the right time to make it work.  First I have to thank God for answered prayers as He provided contacts through Breathe Coffee House who could oversee the food preparation portion of our meal, and other contacts with the FHSU social work club who volunteered to serve at it (and to help set up for it and put the place back in order after it).  These contacts came through First Call For Help due to some of our efforts to feed the hungry and the inquiries the club had been making.  In addition, a couple members of one FHSU fraternity were present so that even the Common Grounds Coffee House was up and running during the meal.  Not only were a little over forty people served warm meals at the relaunch of the community meals, but dozens of different contacts and networks came together to accomplish it, and all seemed pretty pleased with the results and willing to continue with it.  For those of you who have been in longer-term ministry, you know how hard that part of the equation can be!

As all of this launches, other things are afoot.  We have quite a few—on the order of almost one hundred—computers donated from a hospital.  All had to have the hard drives removed to prevent any risk of patient data being passed on. Previously, computers from this facility (which are nicer/newer than mine) had been melted down entirely to prevent such data loss.  Now, the hospital let us have them for nonprofit use (minus the hard drives).  We are currently putting together some volunteers to sit down and pop in new hard drives (after we obtain some) flashed with legal operating systems so that, after an investment of around $1,000 in hard drives (which would normally buy up to three computers of the caliber we have received), we hope to have almost 100 ready to give out to families who need them.  All of this is a work in progress, but I am excited that it has literally fallen into our lap.

Also encouraging is that the Common Grounds Coffee House is finally running semi-frequently again thanks to a new wave of barrista volunteers.  It does my heart quite a bit of good to see something that has seemed largely dead so long flowing with life and blessing people.  Thank God for answering prayers there.  It kind of feels like rain on a long-barren field or fresh wind after a much-too-long summer.  Please pray that He keeps that growing healthily.  I want to share a quote from one of those new barristas that left me feeling blessed to serve God here when I asked Him why he was currently volunteering at our small nonprofit.

“I try to look and see where God is moving and then go there myself.  I see that in your ministry and what you do; that’s why I’m here now.”

That was a strong and needed encouragement for me, personally.  Though I have been very busily engaged in ministry the last few months, I, like any human, occasionally look around and want to make sure that I’m moving in the right direction.  It is very important to me, personally, to move with God and not for God—I have learned the hard way that moving apart from Him often hurts instead of helps both others and me, even if I’ve done it with good intent.  Though signs of progress may not always be what we think (Paul’s encouragement for sharing the good news was often to get stoned), sometimes we can see God’s movement or providence in little encouraging ways that we, somehow, know are from Him.  This was one of those things, and my soul was very glad.

Anyway, as you read this newsletter, I thank you for your interest in the Kingdom work here and request that you keep us in your prayers.  Lord knows I/we need it.  It’s so very hard to balance resting on the Sabbath, loving one’s spouse, and taking care of the important Kingdom work (real life conversations with people who matter—and updates like this one since you all matter greatly) while still getting the grinding minutia of the work done.  When my rest is insufficient, or when I am sick (as I currently am while writing this), sometimes I can feel that exhaustion keenly.  However, I know truly that with a short bit of time sitting, listening/resting in God’s presence around all of us, I will be recharged and my perspective will be renewed.  It seems I have to let go to be renewed, but in so doing, all of the stresses and worries drop away, and I again see an open ground in front of me—ripe with opportunities to love someone, bring hope or light or laughter to someone, or just to be with someone.  Thank God for the opportunity to be His servants in this era.  We are truly blessed, my friends—Go with God!

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Welcoming Event

For those who were praying for our 'Welcoming Event' on September 1st on FHSU campus--thank you! Even though less churches and college ministries attended than on average, we had more numeric conversations with students and better quality conversations with students. A few stuck around our booth for over an hour, and between 100 and 300 came by (we didn't keep count, but we gave out 60 doughnuts and a large amount of freezer pops). North Oak Community Church gave out 150 meals in under an hour, Liberty Foursquare gave out over 150 items (largely laundry care kits), and Breathe Coffee House was out of coffee in under an hour. Next year, we look to do a better job of getting the word out to college ministries and churches AND encouraging each entity to bring more to give. Again, the core value of this event is welcoming students to Hays in the name of Christ with something tangible to show love--many of these students are not believers and some are hostile towards faith. Welcoming them in love, though, with no ulterior motive other than love and a sincere desire to welcome them to our community, is a great thing. Thanks again for your prayers!

Thursday, June 23, 2016


Yesterday was a bit of a spiritual jump start for me; the last few weeks have been a blur--to augment income and help support the ministry, I teach swimming lesson instructors and certify lifeguards for about one month and a half each year.  This means that my days start VERY early in the morning as I drive up to a few hours away to teach classes, then I come back to Hays and teach Aikido, see people at The Guild, and have ministry meetings and small groups etc.. and then repeat.  That schedule ended last week, with my last WSI class.

This week started out normally, which means that it felt very slow to me compared to what I have been experiencing.  I was catching up on things back here Monday and, somewhat, on Tuesday.  All the while I was looking forward to Wednesday, my first Sabbath day in some time.  It was very exciting.

The day started with a haircut, and then I met a missionary friend of mine who speaks little English for breakfast.  We had a very engaging talk that covered many subjects, but which centered on 'how does a person know if they are truly a Christian, when believers and non-believers alike will stumble and fall'.  It would take a long time to relate, but it ultimately made me relive experiences in my faith walk, journey down mental pathways that I hadn't used in a long time, and it stretched my brain a bit since it was all in Spanish.  Several times I understood what my friend meant, even if I didn't understand the exact words.  We had to use both languages to clarify that culpability for sin comes from the Holy Spirit but guilt, that which separates, does not.  We also had to clarify other points--that discipline from God shows He loves us and that we are walking with Him, that people who profess to be believers but who don't live it in any way (and who really are not disciples or followers of Christ that only have the same intellectual assent to Him that the demons have) are worse off than those who profess not to be believers but live godlier lives, and that God loves all and hollers at all of us to turn sin and separation--even when we choose not to hear.  It ranged into many other subjects, but ultimately it had the effect of getting my mind back on some good, concrete Christian discussions.

After that, I had a nice lunch meeting with another friend, a chiropractic appointment, and then a coffee meeting with yet someone else.  That coffee meeting was also very spiritual, and I greatly enjoyed my time in it.  I could feel the Holy Spirit moving in this person's life, and I felt Him moving in my own during parts of our discussion.  It came back to some similar subjects from the morning, but ranged into many other subjects, as well.  All in all, it had the impact of further centering my mind and spirit in Godly things.  That evening I spent with my wife and then with some friends on the Internet, but today I feel the results.  My focus is much greater towards Godly things; I am more open to that which He may have for me in my day--even if it disrupts other work that 'needs' to get done.  It left me available to sit for 20 minutes with an Aikido scholarship student this morning after our meeting to help her begin the path of doing important things now instead of when she's got enough other things out of the way to get to them.  We also had some very important, and even spiritual discussions about how she perceives herself and her higher worth and value.  This was also a Godly time.

Overall, I sincerely thank God for the last two days--I feel more spiritually centered than I have in a long time.  I also thank God for the last three nights of actually getting the amount of sleep my body needs.  It's a good start to a good week!  (there's still Aikido kids' class, adult class, meditation, and a small group Bible study to look forward to tonight!)

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Good Friday--Good Night!

Good Friday is a huge day—it commemorates the death of Christ, the payment for sin, and sets in motion the cycle for the resurrection of Christ and the giving of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.  People nationally and internationally focus in on remembrance and new life.

My Good Friday was straight up crazy.  The day started out normally enough—though I was a bit tired and behind in preparations for the evening.  We had two tournaments/events at The Gamers Guild, the Dojo didn’t have classes, but we did have a reflection we were going to set up that people could go through on their own to meditate on what Christ had gone through and how it impacted their lives, and some people were coming up to serve Root Beer floats out of Common Grounds Coffee House and Free Store to anyone who might want some as a Good Friday act of generosity.  The Gamers Guild was a mess—we had cards all over all the tables as we were sorting the collection as part of our project to make the ‘common and uncommon’ cards in The Gamers Guild free (kind of like our free store).  The idea is that the community can help itself by trading with the collection, donating to it, or taking from it—much like the early church in Acts helped itself by sharing what it owned.  If a kid wants to build a Pokemon deck, he or she can do so for free now—and older players can quickly find cards they need due to the organization system.  Plus, anyone can donate extra cards into the collection to help others out or trade cards that they don’t want for ones that they do.  It’s also completely opposite to the way that any card store runs, so I hope that the concept itself helps people ask about why we do what we do and helps them see Christ.  (It already has, by the way).  Suffice it to say, with several thousand cards stacked out on all of our tables, we had a LOT of cleaning to do.

Early in the day, I met with a friend who manages a local radio station, and we got to work on the back room to get things out and ready for the reflection (and for the tournaments).  It was a pretty monumental task, but we made good progress.  Our progress was further helped by a volunteer who has begun assisting at the Free Store who began to tear into some boxes of donations that were in the way and that needed processed prior to the evening.  By about 4PM we had two more volunteers up there helping get the cards where they needed to go, and about 5PM, when we open to doors for Pokemon League, the place was in tolerable, though still rough shape.  My wife had been helping organize, but she was having a rough day, so I spent some time chatting with her.  While I was comforting her, one of the other volunteers indicated that he REALLY needed to talk; I needed to be a few places at once by now, so I finished talking with my wife, then I headed outside to hear him share.  His situation was complex and private—and too much to put into this entry.  However, it involved several complications that were ultimately going to result in someone calling the ministry that evening for an emergency ride out of a neighboring town to a safe house in Hays.  While we were talking outside The Gamers Guild, he was sharing about how he had been reading the Bible and praying for the first time in his life, and about how things were going well there.  At that point, the two Mormon missionaries who have been attending my Monday morning Aikido classes showed up and said hello—they were meeting with an individual who had requested they talk with him about faith inside The Gamers Guild.  Once they had passed, my friend who was sharing about how he was growing with God looked up at the sky and said something like ‘Quit messing with me, man!’, which cracked me up.  Then another guy came up needing to talk.  Once I’d finished with the first I headed in and talked with him.  Meanwhile, our small group Bible study had showed up and wanted to know if they could help out—I told them it would really help if they could assist with sorting the Free Store donation boxes while I finished setting up the Christ reflection in the Dojo.  As I finished there, the Mormon missionaries came up and asked about it.  One of them was very touched by the reflection and went through it himself; the other thought it was interesting and read several of the reflection stations.  Both also asked if they could join our small group Bible study for the evening, to which I replied—sure.

The first volunteer who had been helping with the Free Store boxes also joined our small group Bible study, as did the father of a kid from Pokemon League AND the second guy who wanted to chat with me.  Soon, we had no less than five new people in our Good Friday small group.  We started late, and it was a bit awkward with so many new people, but (thank God for answered prayers), the conversation soon started flowing naturally.  It got better and better as we went, and we ended on a good prayer; when I looked up, our two volunteers to serve Root Beer floats were there.  We got them set up, and I heard them have several excellent life and faith conversations with some of our regulars at our Unite Game Night.  While this was all happening, I got the expected phone call that someone from a nearby town needed a ride to a safe house.  My wife was very gracious in that she covered The Gamers Guild while I stepped out to pick this individual up (along with a relative of the individual who went with me to pick them up), and I started on a further interesting journey.  I enjoyed getting to know this person a little better on the ride to pick their family member up, and I also found an interesting coincidence in the fact that we were picking up an individual from a bad situation on the anniversary of the day Jesus died to pay for all of our sins.  Letting that thought fall aside, I continued to chat with this individual; we then, picked up their relative and started the ride back to Hays.

The ride was very strange—I could sense that the person I picked up was lying to me about multiple details, but I wasn’t sure what they were or why.  It was spiritually almost oppressive, but they did need a safe ride to a safe house, so at the end of the ride when I dropped them off, I felt like it was still the right thing to do.  At that point, I was utterly drained in almost every way—and I was extremely famished.  I returned to The Gamers Guild and took over for my wife—working late into the evening.  Eventually our friends serving floats headed home after more good conversations and after they led several people through the reflection.  After that, my wife and I got some food and continued working.  Near the end of the night I was finally able to do something that I’d wanted to all night—I went through the reflection myself. 

The time in the candlelight reflecting on Christ was time very well spent.  It brought a variety of good thoughts to mind, and it also provided me some rest after a crazy day.  While I was reflecting, I got a kick out of all of the faith-based things that had happened that Good Friday.  Several volunteers got to help us out, and I got to know them all better.  One man had shared with me how much Christ was helping him grow, while at the same time two Mormon missionaries were having a loud and somewhat awkward set of faith discussions in The Gamers Guild.  Several people—including the two missionaries and a guy whose faith was undecided had experienced a small group Bible study.  Several individuals who are not usually served received free Root Beer floats and caring conversations—some of which included a faith component.  A woman had gotten out of a bad situation to a safe house.  My wife had been (briefly) comforted.  Several kids had gone through a Christ reflection, and at least one Mormon missionary was surprised by how heavily we reflect on Christ…. and more—even more had happened that night.  It led me to think about the phrase “Good Friday, Good Night!” because both meanings of that phrase were true.  It was an excellent night—I wouldn’t have traded it for anything—so many people were blessed and blessed others.  It also was extremely exhausting—more exhausting than any such holiday in recent memory for me—which made me feel like saying ‘Good Night!’  It had been so crazy that I felt like I didn’t have anything left and just needed to sleep.  Still, there in the candlelight at the end of the day, I felt peace, and I knew that it had truly been a ‘good’ Friday, in every sense of the word.  Thank God for such a hectic, yet blessed day.

A Long Sunday

My Sunday on April 10th started early—I normally teach Spanish after church service to a few friends who may one day join us on a Mexico mission trip, but Sunday we did it at 9AM before second service since the Dojo quarterly party was after service.  We had a European breakfast—toast, meat and cheese, and hard-boiled eggs—and some excellent conversation.  My wife and I then left right away to pick up a college student friend (and student at the Dojo) to go to service with us; afterwards, I saw that I had two missed texts and a voicemail.  In the 45 minutes that we had to get our potluck crockpot meal prepared, a gentleman from out of town wanted to meet me to pick up some things at The Gamers Guild, Vin (the previously homeless fellow that we’ve been helping from my previous newsletter) had left a message that he urgently needed food after returning from a brief stay in prison, and a friend who attends The Gamers Guild messaged me that he urgently needed to talk before 5PM.

I chuckled to myself and told my wife what was up.  Some days like Sunday feel like God is really moving.  She said she could prepare the crockpot recipe and start the Dojo cleaning at the beginning of the party if I was a bit late, so I took her up on it and headed to pick up Vin.  We caught up a bit while I took him up to the Unite Common Grounds Coffee House and Free Store.  We had a recent food donation from North Oak Community Church, so we were well stocked—we also had extra commodities from the Federal food distribution the week prior—as such, we got him a large crate of food.  The other fellow who needed to pick up items met me there while I was helping Vin out, and we got him his things.  Then I dropped Vin off and headed to chat with my friend at his job.  Once there, I waited until he could take a break, and then we chatted about some very serious things happening with a roommate of his; he wanted advice, but more than that, I think he just needed someone who genuinely cared about him and his roommate to listen.  I was glad to do that, and he said things were better after even just sharing some.  This, to me, was one of the most important parts of my day.  After being there for him, I picked up a Salted Nut Roll from his place of work (I figured I should buy something since I was in there, even if I was just talking to an employee on break) to split with Tella, since neither of us had eaten lunch, and I headed to the Dojo.  Cleaning was already underway, and we had a great meeting afterwards and an enjoyable party.  By the end of the night, everyone had fun, and the Dojo had grown as a community.

After the Dojo party, we briefly met with some friends at our house to celebrate a birthday and a recently attained job.  This, too, was very good.  After everyone had departed, my wife and I collapsed in our chairs and rested—it had been an excellent, but very LONG day.

As I reflected on the day, it did make me smile—so many excellent things had been accomplished in such a short day, and I do think that some of them involved God directly.  It also had the kind of crazy air about it that sometimes indicates His involvement to me.  Such things are greatly reassuring to me—to know that He still accomplishes His will through me and with me despite all of my flaws and all of my failings.  I don’t know how much, or how little what I do accomplishes in the long run—but I do know that I dearly love every person in my life and want to see every last one of them after the resurrection.  I also know that God loves them even more than I do and wants to lose not one; as such, I do very sincerely want to be available for whatever He may have for me.  I also hope that sharing about some of what He does encourages others to be open for God to use, as well.  You, yourself, have connections and relationships that can reach some people in ways that no one else can—may God help you be sensitive to the opportunities that you possess to love someone with God and to help further His Kingdom on earth!

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

God's Movement and Timing... And a Couch

I have lately been reflecting on how God and The Holy Spirit's movement are much like the wind: according to Jesus, The Holy Spirit is like the wind in the sense that you see Him by His effects--not by directly seeing Him.  I often see God in leftover signs in creation--the complex organization of life: very highly structured, interwoven, and more specific than random chance could allow for (along with the sheer beauty of nature).  He also shows in that science now indicates that there was a beginning and will be an end--unlike the steady-state universe theory that presided for a long time in opposition to a worldview that has a creator and a beginning and an end.  He even more clearly shows in answered prayers, lifestyles and personalities attuned to Him, and the simplicity and accuracy of the truth of The Way preached by Jesus; all of these and more are indirect signs that indicate a direct presence.

Now I may later in life (probably the next one, not this one) find out that I was wrong, but I felt a bit of that last Wednesday with a couch.  My wife and I were driving to The Gamers Guild, where I was going to relax on my Sabbath and play a game online with some friends who live a distance away.  For some unknown reason, I felt like our route should first stop by two friends of ours to pick up some cleaning supplies (they have recent twins and don't want certain harsh chemicals around their house) and THEN, secondarily, to grab food and head to The Gamers Guild.  On the way to The Gamers Guild with food, one of my Aikido students called about a couch that was sitting in their neighbors lawn with a free sign on it--she wanted to know if we wanted it for Common Grounds Coffee House and Free Store.  Now it just so happens that this was something that we wanted and needed--we were actively in the process of replacing a very broken, and somewhat dangerous couch.  Once we realized that we could snag it on the way there and still be more or less on time, I also realized that we were exactly one block away from where this couch was since my choice of stops left us driving on a road that we normally wouldn't be anywhere near on our way to The Gamers Guild.  Weirdly enough, that let me continue the conversation without a break and arrive to inspect the couch as I hung up.  We found it, she offered her pickup to haul it, and we had it outside its new home in a matter of minutes.  From there, we ran into some trouble getting it through the door, but we got it to fit after some substantial manipulation and a lot of heavy pushing--this delayed me a few extra minutes, which means I was about seven minutes late logging onto Skype to talk with my friends.  As I was logging on one, then immediately a second friend texted to indicate that they were all running just a bit late.  I ended up being the first one there--and the others joined within minutes.  At the end of the whole brief adventure, it timed out perfectly so that I was seated, eating, and ready to chat and hang out with good friends and minimal interruption to my Sabbath/day of rest, all with a new couch fixing a needed ministry problem.  It was a lot of great timing and good coincidences.  So for that, I thank God.  ;)

Deafness and Quiet

Last week, I had an unsettling conversation at The Gamers Guild; one of the players asked me to stay and listen while he talked.  He had some problems he wanted advice on.  It was tough to hear some of the broken family relationships, and it was actually hard to follow some of the family tree due to the complexities of how many times it had been broken and re-made, but I followed most of it and was able to let him vent, which was the most of what he needed (though he had said he wanted advice--he really just needed someone to listen to him).  It was a little unsettling seeing the reverse side of the coin of the adoption process--this individual's kids had been seized and others had adopted them; I actually knew one of the missionary couples who has one of his biological kids.  I usually know the coin from that side--the people who have adopted a kid out of a rough home; as such, I tend to understand how they don't want the biological parents to have too much to do with the kid to prevent confusion and continued negative influences.  It was strange instead to hear the anguish it called a biological father to not be able to refer to himself as a child's father if/when he ran into them, and of kids who didn't yet know they had ever even been adopted or that someone else might be their parent.

What was really unsettling, though, was how unable this individual was to listen.  Though they said they wanted advice and really needed some advice, even the simplest advice couldn't be heard.  They physically heard it, but it didn't process with them or sink in.  They were too drowned in their own perceptions of the problems and their own internal drama to even be able to consider any other advice, worldview, or perspective.  It was somewhat dumbfounding.  Though I said several simple things that should have been very logical and greatly solved 95% of some of the problems, they wouldn't sink in--couldn't sink in.  He was completely unable to hear.  After awhile, I realized that no matter what I said or how firmly, clearly, bluntly or obviously, nothing was going to get through and be heard in any way that would likely make positive life change.  This individual was actually too self-absorbed to hear it, understand it, or really to even care what I was saying because he'd already figured out that his problems were insurmountable--except maybe by extreme efforts that he'd already considered.  He wanted to see himself as the victim and as the hero, beating his insurmountable challenges...  and that's what he was going to do.  Whatever I said was just some quiet outside whisper unrelated to what he was suffering.

It was really fascinating--and disheartening.  I hope that this individual did hear some of what I said, and that he may even be able to one day hear God Himself on bigger/better levels than he currently does, but I could feel in the conversation that he won't likely be able to hear Him or listen unless God does a great miracle or continues to work on him for decades.  Maybe, just maybe, way later in life he'll finally be in a position to hear something from somebody--and hopefully from God.  This gave me great comfort in God's patient, enduring love (I'm confident that God will continue to slowly work on Him).  It also made me wonder how deaf I often am to God and how much I still clearly don't hear.  Thankfully, God is patient and loving and will continue to help me in my deafness.  I know that I hear more than I once did--but who knows how much like this young man I may still be if one takes a bigger, more Godly perspective on it.  In sincere, honest reflection of my own sinful nature and of the Holy Spirit as He refines me, I can see that I am still often deaf--that, though saved and though I possess better knowledge--that I still frequently screw up and am, in effect, partially 'deaf' to hearing God's voice or shutting out my sinful nature.  It may be that I am more like this young man than I know, though at least God continues to show me how much more I need to hear and how very much I daily need to walk with Him to be able to live for The Kingdom and true life.

Hopefully this will help me walk more humbly with God--Lord knows I need to be reminded how truly humble I should be due to all He's done and still does.  I guess, though unsettling, that the conversation ultimately left me ending with the sensation of a still small voice, loving, and working, and eroding at deafness in this young man, me, and all of us.  It also left me with a more obvious sense of the very powerful, and often quiet way that God loves.

Thursday, March 10, 2016


During the Ellis County Ministerial Alliance meeting yesterday, we all gave out prayer requests and prayed for each other, as usual.  One prayer request, however, caught me by complete surprise.  Opal--an elderly lady who represents her small rural church while it waits for an intern pastor--requested prayers for a man across the counter at a local convenience station who had surprised her by asking for prayers out of the blue.  Based on the request, I was shocked to realize that the individual must be the fellow I wrote about in my previous blog entry 'Ride Along'.

It was a slightly electrifying moment for me to realize that God was working with him on several different levels; not only has he lately begun praying for the first time and reading some of the Bible, but now he made a random prayer request that made it back to the ministerial alliance; it reminded me that, though I am in this man's life pretty heavily representing Christ, it really is God and the Holy Spirit doing all the work with him.  God's movements are real, active, and often more intricate and involved than I realize.  It is a heavy reassurance to simply remember that He is moving and that He is the active head of the body of believers, His church.  I don't have to worry too much about the bigger picture when it comes to this young man or others I love, because God loves them even more and is already working on things--I just have to enjoy working with Him as a part of the body of believers.  Happenings like this also remind me of His great love for each person out there--to see that so many parts of the body of believers and the Holy Spirit directly are working on this one man with a good heart.  It reassures me of His love for others and for me.  Thank God for who He is!

Tuesday, March 8, 2016


Today was an excellent--though very long--day.  I had a good time this morning in prayer and reflection; I had some very important conversations and good opportunities to love people in my life, and I got a lot of work accomplished.  At the end of evening Aikido, I was in The Gamers Guild handling some final sales prior to the small group Bible study that I usually lead in Common Grounds Coffee House and Free Store (in between Aikido of Northwest Kansas and The Gamers Guild).  One of the members was going to be late as he was caring for his new twin girls, and three people were sitting around very bored.  My wife also wanted me to play a game with her.  I knew I had quite a few things to do work-wise, but there are ALWAYS things to do work-wise, and it felt like God's Kingdom priority would lean more towards loving my wife and helping these bored college students feel engaged and have fun.  So, I suggested we play a short board game.  The short board game went long, and the individual who showed up late for small group was even able to join in, but it was actually tremendously fun.  The game we played, Coup, was a newer game at The Gamers Guild, and three of the players hadn't ever played before.  Soon everyone was smiling, joking, and spending good time together.  At the end, we started small group late and had great discussion and prayer.

Later tonight, as we were driving home, my wife told me how very much playing that game meant to her.  She said that moments like that don't happen often enough at The Gamers Guild, but that those types of moments are one of the things that she loves the most--when we can engage people who are there because they are bored, help them learn a new game and have fun, and help them feel connected to other people.  I agree with my wife--that is one of the most important things we can do up there--and I hope to be able to do that more and more often as I continue to prayerfully change things there so that I can more easily be free to walk around and start games and conversations.  Thank God for great opportunities with good people--the harvest is plentiful, and the workers are few.  We can, even today, pray to the Lord of the Harvest to send more workers.  If YOU might be one of those people who would enjoy hanging out with (primarily) college-aged kids playing games and having conversations, feel free to contact me and let me know.  We'd love to have you there, too!

Easy to Forget

Sometimes it is easy for me to forget how much of an honor it is to be able to get to do what I get to do.  One of our Aikido youth's family told me that they were moving away.  They very nicely thanked me for my patience and work with their daughter and explained that they didn't know if they'd move back later or not.

During our final class with her, some of the usual students didn't show up, so it was just her and me.  We spent the time playing many of her favorite games and doing drills that she enjoyed; she is a very shy girl and also very quiet, but with just me there, she spoke up and answered questions that she normally wouldn't answer at all or volunteered opinions that she would often not voice.  Watching her play the games, I was amazed at just how far she has come both socially and physically.  Her improvement in comfortably interacting with me was leaps and bounds ahead of where it started--and I was honored and touched that she'd grown to trust me that much.  Her coordination was also light years ahead of where she started.  Some of the games that she was doing well now she couldn't have even attempted when she started.

As we were playing and she was smiling and I was reflecting on this growth, I was very humbled that God had placed me in a position of impact in this young girl's life.  I'm not sure how many of our moral lessons she'll remember, or how many of the physical skills, but to get to see so much positive social progress and coordination development alone made me very happy.  It also highlighted how often I can overlook the value and potential benefit that teaching kids classes can have.  Though I know in my head that each lesson can impact youth in positive ways, it is important for me to remember in my busy days just how big of a statement that is and how much more I can focus in on teaching--and enjoying teaching--my kids classes at the Dojo.  Near the end of class, some other students showed up for the second class, and I asked them to join the mats for her final request (since it required more people).  One of the new kids tried to influence this young girl to change her decision on how the last game was to be played; normally this student can influence her to do whatever this student wants.  I was again surprised--and quite proud--when she audibly, and loudly said 'no', she would do it the way she'd originally picked.  Her confidence and ability to stick to her guns was a final blessing to be able to see.  Thank God for a chance to see some fruit in a harvest field that I often can forget is even there!  It is a field that has more impact that I may even know.

Ride Along

Last week I accompanied a fellow from The Gamers Guild on a journey to try and exchange some items with his fiance who had left him.  I have been an arbiter before with couples when they can't find some other neutral party to help them resolve things peacefully, and he was concerned that he'd get too hot under the collar without me there.  On the way, he prayed one of the most interesting and honest prayers--it involved giving him the strength to not harm her and for her to see the righteous anger in his eyes based on his love and hurt.  I found the prayer to be very deep and moving because it was so heartfelt and sincere, but also because it mirrored the Old Testament and God's explained relationship with Israel.

God frequently compares Israel to a loose woman who goes off and commits adultery with other Gods, and he explains both His righteous anger and His continuing love for her.  This is very much the situation that my young friend from The Gamers Guild is in--the woman he's with has made a habit of leaving everyone she's been in relationship with previously, coming back to them, leaving, coming back to them, leaving, coming back to them, and occasionally rotating among a few guys.  For good or for ill, this gentleman had fallen for her, and though she had left him and come back twice, he felt that with a ring on her finger, things would change.  Now that she'd run off again (back to an old boyfriend), he was no longer sad and broken, but angry--and still in love.

It was a very strange experience to see his emotions so raw and real and to see how much that mimicked the emotions that God describes in the Old Testament towards Israel; you see, I've always found it somewhat hard to understand the balance between His anger and His continuing love; it seemed to rock either to harsh or too complacent--but in the attitudes and actions of this young man, I  saw the balance and understood how real and accurate that explanation is.  In fact, I feel that it helped me better understand God--and appreciate how deeply great His love for us is--even to the point that He both still loves us and is angry when we hurt ourselves or others through our sins.  Thank God for His mercy and continued love!

Sunday, February 21, 2016

February Newsletter/Prayer Requests

First, I’ve very recently begun using our prayer blog/website more aggressively to share what is happening in our ministry and for prayer requests.  You are also always invited to call me, email me, or swing by and chat with me anytime.  We’d love to have you share directly in the ministry work with us.

I received a phone call about a month ago from a man—we’ll call him Vin for anonymity—he was homeless in Hays and had been given our ministry’s number by another homeless man who had told him we might be able to help him.  I was a little hesitant off the bat as the person who had given him our number had used us as much as he could before it became obvious that we were happy to help him to a long-term solution at the Salina rescue mission but could no longer provide him places to stay locally.  We had been getting more and more phone calls from homeless individuals or individuals in distress since we were the fifth ministry down on the Ellis County Ministerial Alliance web page and First Call for Help, Salvation Army, and Catholic Charities (the big three that provide assistance in Hays) are not able to help everyone who comes to them.  Due to budget decreases and other restrictions, many people are falling through the cracks. 

When we met Vin, I was struck by how honest he was.  Unlike several of the other individuals we have worked with, he would always tell the truth—if he needed money for cigarettes he wouldn’t lie and say he needed money for food.  When he said he had paperwork from Social Security and a check coming, he really did.  He was going through hard times for several reasons—his wife had died awhile back and his son and him had sold the trailer they shared in Nebraska.  After living off that money for awhile, he was called to Hays to stand trial for failure to appear in court over a bounced check.  Now on probation, he was unable to move to the Salina Rescue Mission because he was ordered to stay in Hays.  Without enough money to pay for first month’s rent AND the security deposit for an apartment, he had been homeless.  As cold as it was, he was primarily surviving by panhandling for money for rooms at the cheapest hotel in town.

Once we had a feel for him and for his honesty, we connected him with a local landlord who had a VERY rough apartment that Vin could move into right away without a full month’s rent (as Vin had no money) provided that Vin could help clean and repair it.  The landlord was very generous as this room would not be ready for a month for general rent due to its condition, but Vin had nowhere else to sleep that night.  I helped Vin get food and clothes from our free store, apply to a few ministries in town for additional assistance, and I bought him a radio from the ARC since he had requested a radio a few different times.  He also snagged a Bible from our Free Store shelf for reading material.  Things seemed to be looking up for Vin that week, then Vin disappeared.

One week later I got a call.  I’m uncertain whether Vin tried to actually kill himself or if it was an attempt to hurt himself to get into Larned State Hospital where his room was paid and he had three solid meals a day.  He obviously thought about it in advance by the way he spread out plastic bags on the floor to catch his blood so he wouldn’t stain the carpet.  He also had a lot of reasons to be legitimately depressed—he had no money, no plan, no local friends, and he was very lonely even though he now had a home.  Regardless, he was in Larned now.  When he was released, we worked with him and the landlord, and he was able to resume living in the apartment while cleaning it up.  Things seemed to be going up for him a second time, but then he disappeared again.

One week and two days later, I was overseeing The Emergency Federal Assistance Program’s government food distribution, a new project that Unite has taken over, in which we line up cars from surrounding counties down at the Armory on Main Street, use a forklift donated by Heartland Building to
unload pallets of government surplus food,  and then manually load cases of food off the pallets into the cars to go to community food banks throughout Northwest Kansas.  In the middle of this logistical challenge, I get a call from Vin.  He’s at a local church and needs help.  His liver had started failing two weeks ago, and he had been rushed from HaysMed ER to Kansas City; on the trip, he nearly died—they pulled 13 pounds of fluid off him in Kansas City’s ICU.  Luckily, he’d lived through the ordeal.  Now, fresh out of the ICU with stitches and a satchel full of confusing medicines, they’d loaded him onto a Greyhound bus and sent him back to Hays, where he lived.  He didn’t have his cellphone, wallet, IDs, or clothes—all had been mistakenly kept at HaysMed.  Instead, he was alone in donated sweats from a charity in Kansas City.  I told him that I’d hurry down and help him as soon as we were done.

Upon meeting him there, we started to work on his immediate needs.  First, he needed his check from Social Security to pay rent.  The landlord wrote the necessary eviction notice proving an urgent need for the check, then I took him and the notice to the Social Security office on 27th.  There, he was able to get his check—it appears that he also had another check on backorder due to confusion about his address; he had been living in the hotel so it had gone there instead of his new apartment.  We figured that out, but we were unable to cash Vin’s check for him to use to pay rent since he had no ID—even though he had enough pertinent personal information to get Social Security to issue him his check on the spot.  As such, we took him to HaysMed to get his wallet, clothes, and birth certificate—all of which had been mistakenly left there.  After he had that, we still couldn’t find a place to cash his check since he owned no photo ID—he only had his birth certificate.  With some convoluted work, we were able to work with my bank to cash his check—but only because I banked there and had the right connections.  With his money in hand, I helped him pay rent and got him back to his place; there I found out that he had only two chairs for furniture and a concrete floor to sleep on—even though he had fresh stitches.

With additional work and God’s providence (and a story longer than I can fit in this newsletter), the next day we were able to get a trailer and help and give him a sleeper sofa from The Gamers Guild that actually had a nice bed inside of it until a real bed could arrive in a few days.  Thank God, he could now sleep on a bed instead of a concrete floor.  He also gained two very nice connections with Christians who would follow up on him and care about him.  With further work, we got him a TV for his entertainment while he was home and some places he could go socially if he needed.

I share this story because first, it was astounding for me to learn how hard it is for someone who is homeless and has legitimate social security to draw upon to access it functionally without Internet, a cell phone, a legal place of residence, and a ton of identification and knowledge of the system.  Many ministries in town STILL can’t help Vin since he doesn’t have proof of local residence for another week when his bills come back with his name and address and PAID marked on them.  If I didn’t work with these ministries for a living, I couldn’t even help him get help.  Second--when we came back with the sofa for Vin, he was sitting alone in his room with the little clock radio I had purchased him playing.  For me it had almost been an afterthought to get him the radio with all of his other pressing needs for food and shelter and my need to hurry back to other urgent things, but to him it had been a constant companion and it was a critical need for his mind to be distracted.  It was obvious in that bare room how important it was to him.  In my desire to help him and hurry to meet his obvious needs, I hadn’t taken enough time to slow down and really listen to him to see how critical some of his other needs were—to really love him.

When you see someone panhandling or meet someone in need, I want to encourage you to stop and take time to really listen to them.  Hear what they have to say in the same way that God, who greatly loves them, hears them.  See how you can come alongside them and help them or connect them with help directly.  It may be that your resources will be needed for them to get through the assistance agencies and get actual help.  Quite possibly the one that Christ sent to answer their prayers is none other than you.

Reflections--Prayer Requests Feb 21 2016

This last week both my wife and I were sick for a few days.  We also had a large event planned this weekend at The Gamers Guild to honor a local who recently died.  The organizers decided to push the event back so that more of his friends could make it.  As such, we suddenly had a free Saturday--which we very seldom, if ever, have.  These extra down days have left me more rested than I've felt in years--and have helped me realize that I push too hard in my weeks.  I strictly leave myself one day per week off--Wednesday--as my Sabbath.  Thank God I got into that practice awhile ago!  Unfortunately, I tend to work very early in the morning until quite late at night every other day (except for some Sundays--we occasionally have Sunday evenings free).  

In an ideal 'typical' week, I get up Monday and do some exercises for my back, do my meditation/prayer/centering/Bible time, and then get to the Dojo to teach Aikido from 9:00AM-11:00AM.  I then run needed errands (picking up packages at UPS, mail, checking bank accounts, responding to emails etc.), eat lunch, and do more ministry administrative work until 2:30PM, when I do my own workout/training/lesson prep at the Dojo.  I get done at 3:30PM in time to spruce the place up for the evening, then I teach kids class from 4:50-5:50PM, adults 6:00-8:30PM, spend 45 minutes at The Gamers Guild register, then have small group from 9:15PM-10:45PM at Common Grounds Coffee House and Free Store (inside The Gamers Guild).  After that, Tella and I start wrapping things up at The Gamers Guild and Free Store and get home around 11:30PM.  I get ready for bed; Tuesday is actually a busier day that involves recurring ministry meetings in the morning, trying to catch up on any and all required paperwork for all 3 entities and then advancing ministry projects (preparing for upcoming outreach projects in the week, helping individuals move, get food, get needs met etc.), teaching Aikido from 4:00-8:30PM, being at The Gamers Guild and Free Store from 8:30PM-10:30 or 11:30PM, and then getting to bed.  Wednesday is a Sabbath, Thursday is about like Tuesday with more recurring meetings and less time for other projects, and Friday involves morning classes from 8:00AM-10:00AM, errands, workout and class from 11:45AM-3:00PM, one hour and a half to catch up on final things, small group at 5:15PM, Game Night from 7:00PM-2:00AM, and then Saturday and Sunday are usually fairly full with other things.  Next weekend is workshop at the Dojo and a fundraiser for student scholarships, while Sunday is Church, teaching Spanish at my place, then tournaments.  It all rolls right back into Monday.

This schedule also has to flex for things like helping Jerry, a homeless man whom we've helped get an apartment, a bed, and other assistance, emergency moves (we have a call to help a woman in a domestic situation move her things this week), and people who urgently need to talk about life's big things.  When I look at it honestly, I work a minimum of 55 hours a week (on a rare week like this week where we had no Saturday events) and a maximum of 80 to 90 hours.  While it is important stuff, and while I do think it serves the Kingdom, I think it's so busy that I don't have enough time to truly gain energy and zeal to do some of the work.  I'm aggressively praying about what I can cut out and how to do it so that I do have more down time with my wife and just with myself.  I feel more rested and invigorated and ready for this upcoming week than I have for any week that I can remember in years--all because I've slept more and had more mentally disengaged time this last week than I have in a long time.  Even my couple of weeks off each year are spent on mission trips or Dojo trips--it's time for me to figure out how to do this better.  To do that, I know that I have to cut some things--maybe even beneficial programs that we've long done; please pray with me as I go through this process and try to figure out what that might be!

Ministerial Alliance Meeting--Thoughts about Sacrifice

February 10th the Ellis County Ministerial Alliance meeting was held at Unite's Common Grounds Coffee House and Free Store.  It was a busy start--my wife, Tella, and I were cleaning the place up and getting it ready early.  The One advisory board met first and chatted about the publication while we prepared.  I was excited, because I had four unique guests at the event.  Pat, who is opening Breathe Coffee House on Main Street, was there.  Much of what he plans to do there will work with much of what we are already doing, and some of his plans will involve a lot of the churches that attend the ECMA, so I was very glad that he could make it.  Dave, the station manager at KPRD was also in attendance.  Since he's looking to network more with local communities and since many of them could take advantage of his public service announcements, I was very glad to see him again.  Also in attendance were two Mormon missionaries who had originally shown up at our doorstep asking to chat about Jesus.  Considering my what my life was about, I couldn't really say no to an opportunity to chat about Jesus.  As I got to know the two of them, I found out that they were interested in Aikido (they now take a morning class at our school), and that they need more community service hours but don't have good connections to local community service opportunities.  Since many of the nonprofits at the ECMA are always hard up for volunteers, I figured that it would be good for them to be in attendance to announce their availability to help out.

The meeting went very well--it was long and would be boring to relay everything involved.  One of the more interesting things, though, was brought up when a task force that the ECMA had created to look at options for First Call for Help asked to have its mission clarified.  They wanted to know if they were looking for ways to help everyone in the community with the resources they had or if they were looking at how to best use the resources they had.  These are two very different questions, of course.  One of the local chaplains began discussing how we could help everyone with the resources we had--including having the pastors present see how many landlords were in their congregations who could live out a Christian walk by offering emergency housing assistance with vacant apartments (since one of the issues discussed was emergency housing and the lack of it here in Ellis County--and our inability to help the situation with such limited finances).  His argument was interesting, because, in truth, the committee attempting to help everyone with their limited financial resources was bound to fail.  However, if the body of Christ as a whole--not just the Christian leaders on that committee with that donated money--were to address this problem seriously, we could possibly come up with legitimate solutions.  The amount of work, time, and effort involved in such an approach would be huge, but it could actually succeed at handling some of the problems.  Unfortunately, the committee was told that its job was just to figure out how best to use the resources they had.  While this makes more administrative sense (answering a finite question with finite options is a tangible goal), it also fails to address the continuing needs in the community.  At first, I had felt some interest in joining the committee--once I realized that was their only goal (figuring out how to allocate resources), I became quickly disinterested.  I also only have a very finite amount of time to invest--and others are quite capable of handling questions of resource allocation.  If the question, however, was how to help people more fully, though it would have taken more time--I wold have been interested in joining to help that group.

The reason I mention this is that it is part of a trend I see in Christian ministries in the U.S.  Often we have highly active ministry leaders who are paid money to help allocate other money to help people.  The money they are given is insufficient to the needs, and the work is more than they can do.  To fix that problem, they seek more money.  Instead of congregants getting motivated to step in and spend their life sacrificially for the cause of Christ by directly helping out, they are encouraged to spend more of their money donating so that ministry workers can better help.  What ultimately happens is that the few trying to do the work of the many get burnt out and cannot help the situation.  The only good solution is for the few to rouse the many to the good works we are called to do--unfortunately, the very way we are set up in our society of being busy and constant engagement means that it is much harder to rouse people to invest their time and not just their money.  However, I feel that we as Christian leaders have to encourage others to invest their time--Christ was fairly clear that we need to surrender our lives to gain true life; we have to give up more than just some money--we have to give it all up to follow Him--including our time.  It's not an easy proposition, but I feel that we need to move towards it if we have any hope of being the actual body of Christ that we are called to be....

Small Group Surprises

Our Monday evening small group at Unite Common Grounds Coffee House and free store is very small--me and two other guys.  Two weeks ago, however, a high school student overheard our discussions about life and faith and decided he wanted to join the discussion.  As the discussion grew more interesting--regarding being honest with others even if it might hurt them--a college guy sat down and threw in his two cents.  Almost two hours later, after a very enjoyable and very real discussion, we broke apart and went our separate ways; the high school guy said he was planning on joining in every week, and the college guy may or may not, but he does want to possibly chat later about some faith things.  Regardless, I was personally very happy--this was one of the first times that someone random had joined a small group out of the blue, and we had even opened up a good dialogue with the college fellow, who had stepped back from organized religion due to some rough experiences (this had been about thirty minutes of our discussion).  Regardless of future meetings, it was a good night--thank those of you who have been praying for our small groups!