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Friday, December 29, 2017

Opportunities Amidst the Busy-ness

Last night was busy--we were doing a triple work day event with the the dojo, the ministry free store/coffee house, and The Gamers Guild.  In the midst of coordinating a bunch of projects, a cold young teenager came in looking to warm up.  Apparently he'd walked a friend home and was now returning to his home--he was looking to heat up and possibly get gloves from the Free Store.  I helped him find a hat and a single glove--we didn't have a partner for it yet, but I showed him where it was likely resting (in a pile being sorted)--and then told him to warm up as I continued on one of the many work projects I was overseeing.  As I was walking across the dojo to put something up and prepare something for someone else to do, it hit me--I had a Kingdom opportunity here to show extra love: not just the love of a place that gives what is needed, but Christ's love that actively goes out to what is really needed.  The teenager had almost headed out, but I caught up to him and offered to give him a ride.  

It was a simple thing, and I was glad I was able to do it.  It likely didn't cause any life-changing moment in and of itself, but each little interaction like that in which we believers can actually love (with action), is a small advancement for the Kingdom of God.  In my busy-ness of a work day that ultimately serves Kingdom ministry, I almost missed this small opportunity to really reach out.  I pray that God helps those of us who seek to follow Christ to be attentive to listening to the Holy Spirit and looking for opportunities to love others.  

Last night I also had the pleasure of seeing someone who is actively looking for opportunities to love others.  It was the birthday of an anonymous individual, and rather than eat out with family, she chose to use the money for items for the free store, which she and her family brought in and loaded up onto the shelves--food, a crockpot, a griddle, and a host of other needed items...  all from the money she could have used for her birthday meal.  This took a potential blessing of a good time with the family and turned it into a different good time with her family that also taught her children about real, active loving for Christ.  I was very honored to get to watch that as it played out, and I was also encouraged by it.  

I hope these little happenings from last night encourage you, as well, and that you have a chance to look for extra ways to love others today.  Merry After-Christmas, and may the gift of Christ encourage you to bless others as we prepare for a New Year!

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Recent Encouragement

I have been spiritually encouraged the last few days by a number of new individuals attending our small group Bible studies.  This time of year, those studies are usually fraught with attendance challenges as people take special trips, college dismisses for a month, and even I have special events that meet during small group times that cause the small groups to be shifted or meet without me.

During this typical time of decline, one of my more Spirit-led dojo students joined us after I invited them last Saturday.  It ended up just being two of us and her, but the discussion based of the Bible readings and based off life happenings were very legitimate and spiritually stirring.  I was very encouraged that she opted to join, and I hope to see her more often.  She could easily add a fresh burst of energy that the Saturday afternoon group could use, and I think the group would be a blessing back to her, as well.

Our Saturday morning small group also saw two new people.  A couple weeks ago while I was heading to the basement of Breathe coffee house for our small group, I noticed a fellow that I'd previously met through some ministry contacts drinking coffee by himself.  This gentleman had originally come to Hays through some difficulty; when he arrived in Hays, he was homeless and without income, but he now has a place and is aggressively looking for work.  I chatted with him briefly and mentioned that we had a small group Bible study meeting downstairs--I told him he was welcome to join, and to my surprise he left what he'd been reading and joined right away.  Due to his challenges and seeking the Lord in them, he also had some great, spiritually mature things to share as we discussed happenings in our lives and read the Bible.  Such spiritually mature wisdom, gained by the rough experience of living through situations it applies in, is always a powerful factor in small groups like ours--it helps weigh discussions directly to reality and the life applications that are much more difficult to do than discuss.  I was, yet again, encouraged that it seemed like The Holy Spirit had set up a cool new meeting (I could be wrong on that, but it had that type of feeling).

The following Saturday (this last weekend) when I arrived at small group, our new fellow was back, and he had a friend with him from the church he's currently attending.  His friend is feeling led to full time ministry in some fashion, and we were able to share some things from our lives (and he from his) that were, I think, encouraging to everyone in the group.  The discussion bounced around quite a bit as we read the Bible and talked about what we were reading, but the tangents were good ones, and I feel the Spirit used them for benefit.  In truth, I am used to our small groups often getting on tangents--some of our best discussions come from them.  The challenge is being alert enough in the spirit to listen and know when and how to direct them back (or if to just let them stay off topic--some mornings everyone just needs to relax and share fellowship--but doing that all the time can lead to complacency in spiritual matters; the balance really requires listening to The Holy Spirit for direction in each time we meet).

Feel free to keep our small groups in your prayers, and to those of you praying with us, I sincerely thank you!  It's neat to see God moving at unexpected times--which, in my experience, is exactly when it seems God does move.  Thanks again for reading and praying!

Monday, December 18, 2017

December Prayer Requests and Update

Hello everyone—it's been too long since I've reached out with prayer requests for our ministry and update information; I do apologize for that delay. Your prayers are very important to us.
Currently, we could use prayer for an avenue to open up for us to find a new building for the Unite Free Store, Aikido of Northwest Kansas, and The Gamers Guild in either the immediate future or in the long term—or for some other change (decreasing cost, an alternate location for the free store, some other answer etc.). The Free Store keeps getting more donations, and along with that it gets more use; we are already capped on space, so we need some kind of change there. We also have been dealing with escalating rent, which has gotten to the point that it's soon to be an almost identical cost to simply buying a building and paying everything that goes with building ownership and maintenance. We have a few potentials in front of us, but no clear path yet.

Beyond that, we could use prayers that we stay sensitive for opportunities to connect with individuals in the right way at the right time. Recent months have been very active when it comes to deep, quality relationships and spiritual conversations with a few people, even though we’ve also had some larger ministry projects. As an example, one of my Aikido students who was a non-believer joined one of our small group bible studies with Unite several months ago—shortly thereafter his girlfriend was in a traumatic accident, and we were able to be with him and pray with him through it. She is now mostly recuperated (thank God), and he is continuing to grow and explore his faith. We've also gotten to better know a local homeless fellow who frequently hangs out at The Gamers Guild and the Free Store in the evenings. He takes some of the donations we get in and gives them out to other homeless individuals or others in need in the area, and he also shares time and stories with those playing in The Gamers Guild/hanging out.

More recently, I've gotten to build a deep friendship with an individual who had formerly attended the youth group I help with; we have had some excellent spiritual conversations, and it has very much been a mutual blessing/encouragement; I personally find it deeply satisfying to grow together in faith with others as we share experiences that we’ve had with God in our lives. In line with deep friendships, I’ve also been praying and talking with a fellow who had taught at our Aikido school and who now lives on the East Coast. He’s gone through some very large challenges, but thanks to prayer and the Holy Spirit he and his family are now on a much better path. Please keep them in your prayers—that things continue to go well with them.

There are more stories besides those—just last week, I began making religious visits to a fellow in jail here based on his request and a connection through another minister. So far the conversations on spiritual subjects have been very good, and I’m looking forward to more of those. I’ve also been blessed to develop some regional friendships in Aikido that have also placed me in contact with some people going through faith challenges who have finally opened up and begun talking about them. Unfortunately, in all of these very excellent Kingdom opportunities, I’m not able to share many details with you—our prayer partners in ministry—due to the confidentiality involved with those I’m meeting/chatting with. It is often like that in our ministry—as such, I’d ask you to pray for any of those individuals who stick out to you when you read the brief highlight. Every one of them is an awesome person, and each situation could use prayer.

As far as larger ministry projects go—we have been distributing laptops and desktop computers to those in need from the large supply that were donated by HaysMed. They were donated without hard drives, which we have now purchased; over time, volunteers and a few of us who are regularly involved in some of the ministry projects put them back together, install and update the software, and troubleshoot any problems before we give them out. We’ve also continued distributing federal food every two months both regionally (we are the distribution hub for several counties) and locally (we are one of the local distribution sites in Hays, too).

Most of the other continuing projects are still going well—our small group Bible studies are slightly intermittent as finals approach for a lot of college students, but they are still very strong when the meet, and those involved seem sincerely to enjoy them. The Friday Night Game Night continues at The Gamers Guild (pretty much every night up there is a game night for someone—it is quite successful at being a community hangout place that people feel comfortable coming in to play games and meet others). Thankfully we DO have some volunteers there who will keep it running late after I need to head home and go to bed. Just this very weekend, I came back to The Gamers Guild at 6:30am to grab a jump drive on my way out of town, and one of the volunteers whom I’d left at 2:00am was still there playing board games with some of the guys. I remember having that type of energy in college, but now it is a little much for me to get that little of sleep very often. ;)

As we wrap up this 2017 year later this month and prepare for a new year, I want to sincerely thank you for your prayers and/or financial support. Many of the things that happen through my ministry work are hard to discuss or can’t even be mentioned due to confidentiality of those involved, but I will say that The Holy Spirit has been obviously visible over this last year and that The Kingdom of God continues to advance here and elsewhere. Thank you for taking the time to pray with us and think about us (and read these updates). It is very important that we all move forward in our own areas of Kingdom work together in the Spirit and in love, as scripture tells us to do. As such, if you have any prayer requests yourself, please send them back to me, and I’ll take the time to pray with you as we wrap up the year. Keep serving with Christ this year and next year!

Monday, March 13, 2017

Big News

Thanks to those who took the time to pray when we sent out our email requesting prayer a short time ago. The prayer request was for an offer we were making on a local building to house all of our ministry endeavors. The offer was not accepted, which is fine as it seems that is a very clear-cut answer to prayer over that specific building at this time. As to the reason we made the offer, I want to go ahead and update you on some recent happenings and request your help.

Almost a year ago, our landlord raised rent unexpectedly. It pushed us to the brink of financial survival, since when it comes to financial earnings, none of our ministry endeavors pull in a lot of money. The Gamers Guild is primarily a safe hangout spot—while we do sell board and card games to pay rent, we only do that approximately ten hours a week, whereas we are open more than forty hours a week for people to hang out and play board games, card games, chat, be involved in one of our small group Bible Studies, or use the free store’s services. The free store itself, obviously, makes no money (everything there is free for people to take, trade for, or donate to—there are no financial incomes). Aikido of Northwest Kansas gives training scholarships to almost ten students who couldn’t afford to train otherwise, so it generally just breaks even with expenses. Through God’s providence, we made ends meet between the two that do bring in some money and that provide a rent-free shelter for the Free Store, which does not bring in money.

At the time, I began praying to figure out if we should stay or move, and I felt that moving was due to fear of future escalations in rent, and fear is not a good motivator for Christians in Kingdom ministry. We should move due to God’s direction or due to opportunities to love or serve more. During that time of discernment, the free store became increasingly heavily used. We restarted serving free meals to the community on the second and fourth Sunday of every month, more people in financial need were hearing about our existence and coming to obtain items that they needed, the Federal food distributions that we run through that place have increased from quarterly to once every other month, and several low-income and homeless individuals have started hanging out at The Gamers Guild just to socialize with others. Due to the increases in use (and people wanting to donate bigger things to the free store but us not having space to put them), it became obvious that the free store could best serve the Kingdom by having an expanded space and physical presence. That, I felt, was a good motivator to begin looking at other locations. It also seemed financially wise as our rent was high enough that we could be making an equivalent mortgage payment on a building, instead. Then, while we were still praying and asking God whether it would be wise to look to expand or move locations, our landlord further raised rent through an escalation clause in our contract. As of today, we are paying approximately six hundred dollars more per month than we were last year at this time, and we have been told to expect further escalations during our negotiations in April for our rental contract for the next year (which would begin the last day of May).

Between the need to expand to serve the Kingdom more and the drastic increase in rent, we are praying for God’s guidance and direction in this situation—it could be that we need to renegotiate for a lower rent, even though our landlord wants to charge us even more. It could be that we do need another location but just haven’t found the right one yet. It could also mean other things—ultimately, we are just praying for guidance and walking forward, seeking to serve the Kingdom daily.

At this time, there has really only been one thing I feel that I've heard in prayer (beyond being prodded to move forward with that building offer earlier). I do feel that I need to let the Christian community know what God is doing here and to ask for their help and involvement. Whether we move locations or stay, I do feel that this is an opportunity to further involve the body of believers in serving locally, which ultimately helps both local believers and those who we would seek to love and serve. If we move, local believers may be able to help through direct work on a new physical structure, financial donations, prayer, or involvement in our outreach ministries. If we stay, it may be just be through awareness and participation in the ministry with us, or somewhere down the road using connections to help us find a new place longer term. This is where you come in. Please being thinking and praying, and please feel free to ask questions on our behalf. Do you know someone who is looking to invest financially in a ministry or give time and talents? Do you know someone in Hays with property for sale or lease? Do you see a solution for us that we are unaware of, or maybe do you see a group we should work together with in one of our existing endeavors (use their ministry site for the free store, etc.)? In my humanity, I am looking for a space that would hold all three ministries—so probably at least 3500 square feet—but it could be that God wants to split them out into different locations, so nothing is out of bounds at this point. I’m just praying to see how God will provide directly and through His body of believers—you. Please join us in prayer and also in action with this. I thank you in advance for your help.

While I am asking, I would also ask if any of you has, or know of someone who has, a very rough, cheap vehicle that they would be willing to give to a local individual to use for in-town transit. Such a need has arisen in one of our ministries for a local family, and I figured I could put out the word and see how God might answer this while everyone is praying over the other issue, as well. If you hear anything on either front, please feel free to call or text me at 785-259-2539, or even to leave me an email.

In closing, I want to encourage you with a strange answer to prayer. You may remember how some time ago we expressed a need for Christian volunteers to hang out at The Gamers Guild and Common Grounds Coffee House to have conversations and play games with some of the people who hang out there. One of the local homeless men in Hays has taken to hanging out there due to frequent use of the free store, and he, himself, is a very evangelistic Christian man. In a show of God's answers through unexpected places, I find myself listening to him chat with local gamers and others about Christ and experiences he has had following Him. Just yesterday, while listening, it struck me that, while I haven't had much volunteer response through the newsletter, God had provided a person in His body of believers just the same. I don't know what will happen in these next few months, but I am confident that God's Kingdom ministry will go on in some form or other. Thank you for any help and for your prayers!