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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!