Tuesday, December 14, 2010


Today was one of those rare times when I engaged in a matter of policy.

Some of you may have heard of the DREAM Act. One of the kids I work with recently sent me a text asking me to speak on his behalf on this issue. This Act provides opportunity for the children of undocumented immigrants to become contributing citizens of America, but asks that they work to earn it.

After doing more reading on the issue, I was convinced that this Act could change the course of the lives of several of the young people we work with. It would also be a way to bring the Biblical values of loving my neighbor and showing kindness to aliens to life on a massive scale.

I would encourage anyone who reads this and feels like the DREAM Act is a good idea to contact their local decision makers in support of it. I wrote a message and sent it out to Georgia senators Johnny Isakson and Saxby Chambliss.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Another What? (Hooking pt 1)

They are not our problem when we roll through in a car or see them through a window, but when we weave ourselves into the narrative fabric of the neighborhood, every subplot matters:

Jarret and I see her as we turn onto Plaster Road from Buford Highway. White, worn-looking. Her age is in question because her profession tends to exaggerate the years. A few absent teeth, streaks of white amid otherwise blonde hair.

- I don't know why they're here all of a sudden. I don't remember any hookers when we first moved here, I tell him.

- Or when I moved in, Jarrett replies.

She walks in the flash of our headlights, looks over her shoulder as if she knows she is being discussed, and keeps moving.

- I don't get the appeal, I say.

Jarret nods.

- Desperate times, I suppose.

We get to Jarrett's place, an apartment in our same complex, and he grabs a change of clothes before we head back out. Back in the parking lot, he says to me, There goes another one.

I look around to see what he's talking about and meet the eyes of a brown-haired, heavyset fortysomething white woman in loose-fitting jeans and a pullover rushing by.

- ANOTHER WHAT? she growls, and keeps walking.

It seems like there are more of them here every day, moving out across the neighborhood, looking cheap and tired, catering to probably the last market available to them in Atlanta.

They are not the ones we came here to reach, nor are they friendly to our purposes here, but here they are nonetheless, right in plain sight for management and the police and every lonely Latino laborer to see.

We have chosen for the story of the neighborhood to be our story as well. So when they move in and peddle their wares, they become players in a redemptive arc that has already been told somewhere, but remains obscure to us here, now. We are characters ourselves in this tale, and are neccessarily blind until the curtain closes.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Fall Festival- Cornerstone Kids

This Saturday, we ran from the yard sale over to Huntington Creek, where a team from Cornerstone Christian Academy ran a major fall festival, complete with a clown, balloon animals, face painting, popcorn, and games.

Yard Sale

Saturday's yard sale was a success on pretty much any scale you could apply to a yard sale. We were able to raise some money for the thrift store, connect with our neighbors, distribute goods at low cost, and, perhaps most importantly, wear silly hats.

Ruthie's dad and his friend Betty showed up. Betty faithfully ran the cash box, braving the early morning chill then the blazing sun, all just because she likes to help.
Black, White, Asian, and Latino visitors all mingled as they walked through the stuff, staring scornfully at lamps in hope of driving a hard bargain. We barely put up any fight if anyone asked for any kind of deal.
Stephanie, one of the key players in making this thrift store happen, ran the children's clothing tent. Here, she smiled for a picture. Our dear friend David took the opportunity to do Lord-knows-what with his face, to be captured on film and posted on the internet forever.
Theresa, one of our most faithful ministry partners, hung all sorts of clothes from trees and arranged items neatly on picnic tables for the neighborhood's browsing pleasure:
Jonathan Nolte of Communicycle sold a few bikes as well, providing affordable, much-needed transportation to our new friends:
Some of the kids from Huntington Creek served as helpers, and some just came to shop. Between errands, Ruthie got a second to pose with Leslie and Karina, who are way too cool to really smile for a picture:
And here's our helper of the day, Miguel, holding a shoe. Don't ask me why:

Friday, October 29, 2010

Yard Sale in Chamblee!

I was talking to the student leaders in our afterschool program one day, and I asked them what they thought about opening a thrift store. Their faces lit up.

"OH! I took two classes on marketing! I can work there!" Miguel told me.

"Don't listen to him. I'm the one who should work there," Laura said.

Tomorrow, we take our first step toward developing a sustainable thrift store to meet material and economic needs in our neighborhood. We will hold a massive yard sale at Open Table Community Church in Chamblee.

If you live in the Atlanta area, please stop by. It will be at 2605 Chamblee-Tucker Road in Chamblee, GA, and we will have all sorts of stuff out between 8 AM and 12 Noon. Communicycle will be selling bikes there as well.

If you don't live in the area, don't worry. You can pray for shoppers to turn up, and you can stay tuned as we develop this into an exciting ministry to reach the families in our neighborhood.

Thursday, October 28, 2010


If you walk into our apartment today, you will see a living room with a bare floor, a dining room with no chairs, and a kitchen full of the odds and ends that we picked up from all over the house.

We have removed everything from the carpet for a cleaning, which is the final step in restoring the apartment to make it liveable.

The parallell between the gutting, repair, and deep cleaning which is underway in our apartment and the gutting, repair, and deep cleaning that took place in my mind and heart during the nightmarish month of October is so obvious that I thought for a second that it might be too obvious to even mention.

But it is worth noting. We have been through some serious renovation lately. We had to look at everything in our lives from possessions to activities to relationships, and determine if we should keep, exchange, or dispose of them.

As the apartment awaits its final cleaning, we are searching ourselves before we re-engage, making sure that we have purified, realigned, and reorganized so that every corner of our lives will be as ready as possible for whatever comes next.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Springer Mountain Blues

Those of you who are my Facebook friends might remember the photo shown above. On a twenty-mile-long training run on the Appalachian Trail, I was attacked by a bee at mile ten right after the turnaround, leaving me with no choice but to run back to my car with my lip bouncing out in front of me.

I was understandably nervous about returning to the trail that humiliated me so badly last time, but I needed to get in a strenuous 15-mile run, and the round trip from Amicalola Falls to the Appalachian Trail trailhead atop Springer Mountain fit the bill (I added .25 miles walking from the parking lot to this sign, to those who are questioning my math).

I have been quite heavy-hearted about how things are going lately, not to mention physically drained. I felt exhausted on the run, opting to walk for large chunks of it. When I got up to the top of Springer, a big crowd had gathered and the smell of raw feces was thick in the air. I had a hiker snap this picture before heading home.
Out on the trail, I did a lot of thinking that led me mostly in circles, and I ended up just asking God to clear the way for us a bit. Sometimes it's hard to even know what to ask for.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

A Few Caveats

One of the decisions I have made with this blog is to keep it honest. So when we see things a certain way, or when something is a struggle for us, or when we don't like the way things are going, I try to say so.

This has been good and bad. Sometimes people involved read our blogs and are not exactly thrilled with the things we say. Sometimes those people's feelings really matter to us.

In the last few months, I've posted about two things which warrant an update, and maybe a correction:
  • The political problems that I discussed at our church have been resolved. Our relationships are healthy and loving. We just had to get through a rough patch. I still struggle with the big concept of church, but thankfully we have peace at our little church.
  • I have taken out some frustrations with our apartment management on this blog as well. But they care about us, and they seem to want us there. It's just a difficult job to keep a complex in working order. We understand that, and we hope to develop a more positive relationship with the new property manager in the future.

So I won't go back and unwrite the things I've written, but I would like to qualify them with the fact that we are not really qualified to judge why or how people do what they do, and that we are thankful for the team we have to work with, both at church and in the apartment office.

In the Air: a summary of recent events

We agreed with the former manager of Huntington Creek to live and work out of an apartment to help build and educate the neighborhood at no cost to the property.

Recently, there was a management change that coincided with the discovery of mold in our apartment. We notified the new manager, asked her to take steps to fix the problem, and moved out temporarily so that the work could get done. She gave us a two-week timeline.

A month has passed, and the mold is still multiplying, the ceiling is still soggy from a leak upstairs. Because of this delay, someone learned that we were not there and broke into our home, stealing our valuables.

When this happened, management called us only to try to collect money for the window.

So the question we face now, with no apparent progress on the apartment, with the school year progressing for the kids, and with our time and money ticking away, is what does all of this mean for us? If we believe in a God who is in control- a pretty difficult concept to grasp at the moment- then where is He leading us through this mess?

Are we to renew our committment to the neighborhood and wait out the problems, losing money, time, and credibility with the neighbors? Are we to switch locations and start new work? Should I consider alternate work? Further education?

Everything is up in the air, and we can't predict where it will land.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Break In

While the mold that had us staying with Ruthie's mom in Lawrenceville continued to fester untended in our apartment, word must have spread that we weren't sleeping at home.
The apartment manager called this afternoon to tell us that our window had been broken from the inside, by a hammer thrown in a domestic dispute between us, and that we were going to be billed for the window.

Since we were sleeping in Lawrenceville, I had my doubts about her story. Ruthie and I drove back down to check on the damage, and we found that not only was there glass shattered all over the apartment from the outside, but that many of our valuables had been stolen.

We talked to the manager, and she worked really hard to hold on to that "broken from the inside" story, despite the fact that shattered glass was spread all over our living room:

Our initial inventory suggested that we lost a Macbook Pro, over 70 DVDs (a collection I built intentionally over several years), our DVD player, our comforter (more on that in a second), and some breaded frozen eggplant from our freezer. Other contents from our freezer were scattered on the kitchen floor:
Luckily, since our iguana was sitting on the side of the couch, the thief or thieves seemed to be avoiding the area where her tail would strike (this meant I got to keep all my Coen brothers, Robert Altman, Sam Fuller, and Terry Gilliam films, thank God). We knew that Rockette would serve some practical purpose some day:

When they saw us at the apartment, several of the kids came around to tell us what they knew. One good thing that came out of this was that we had a good chance to connect with the neighbors, and many of them expressed regret for the break-in and offered helpful bits of information. Here is the Huntington Creek detective squad posing for a picture:

So, the best we can figure, it was a sloppy smash-and-grab operation. It seems the burglars broke a window, unlatched the patio door, and entered the apartment, going to the freezer (a common hiding place for cash, I am told).

They then went into our bedroom and threw what they could grab without getting smacked by our iguana (hooray Rockette!) onto our comforter, wrapped it up, and exited through the front door, which they left open.

In the morning, a cleaning lady saw the open door, closed it, and called the police.

We are obviously shaken by what happened. From a long-term perspective, we can survive the losses. In fact, I'm surprised we didn't get burglarized sooner.

But still, it feels awful. Especially since the manager, a new hire, seems intent on blaming the whole thing on Ruthie and me, who are probably her greatest asset in terms of improving the property.

And to add another difficult element, the mold problem is still unresolved, so we can't even stay there very long to deal with the fallout.

I'm still hoping for this long story of mold, burglary, and management trouble to turn a good corner. Fear not, dear readers, I'll keep you posted as it develops.

Race Report: The North Face Endurance Challenge Half Marathon

This race was dedicated to my mom, who had a birthday this month in the Philippines, where she and my dad work as church planters. I got some letters and decorated my shirt in honor of her:
When I signed up for the North Face Endurance Challenge Half Marathon, I wanted to do a run where I could really push the pace, enjoy the scenery, and finish with a smile. The half marathon distance seemed perfect, since I've been running that distance regularly in training for a few months now.

Ruthie and I traveled to the race with one of my best friends and training partners, Dr. Charles Chung. Charles and I got into running at the same time. I tend to run a little farther than him and he tends to run a little faster than me, which makes us a good team.

We carpooled down to FDR State Park, a beautiful area boasting some of the gnarliest, most rewarding trails in Georgia.

Our friend David Taube met us there. David is a trail running veteran, and showed up to run this race just a week after finishing another trail marathon.

As we all lined up to begin the race, ultrarunning superstar Dean Karnazes gave a little speech where he asked who was running their first 10k. Since the race was a half marathon, no hands went up. Then he told us that it was a gnarly trail, and that he would see us out there.

Then a funny thing happened. The race started, and everyone made a hard right after the starting line, curling around into the woods. The race officials called out to us over the intercom that everyone was going the wrong way, and the whole field of runners did an about-face.

The runners around me took the first hill hard. I had run the course before, and I remembered that the most punishing climbs were in the first five miles, so I locked my pace at a slow jog and concentrated on breathing rhythmically.

My supervisor Tim Cummins has been coaching me on the mental aspect of running, and he has been helping me to let my instincts take care of the work of running while I focus on breathing well and relaxing.

This discipline served me well. I gradually passed other runners at a steady clip, especially on the climbs, and all my systems felt great. For a few miles, I followed an amputee who had one prosthetic leg. He was a powerful runner with a steady, aggressive pace, and I enjoyed watching him master the trail as we gradually caught up with and passed packs of runners.

The first aid station, a little beyond mile 5, popped into view quickly. I refilled my handheld water bottle and retied a shoelace while a few runners passed, and I fell back a few places. I took off into the woods for the second leg after a brief rest.

The second leg was the most enjoyable. I still monitored my systems closely, making sure just to drink and eat enough to keep going. The views got better and better as I crossed clearings where I could see miles of forest, other mountains, and sprawling valleys. Since the race had thinned out a bit, I was able to run alone for a few stretches. Solitude is one of the reasons I first got into trail running.

The second leg ended in a series of long climbs and switchbacks, and just as I was starting to tighten up and feel the fatigue, I passed the second and final aid station, where I learned that I only had 2.6 miles left.

There were several 10k and 5k runners on the trail at this point, and I lost a lot of time trying to get around them on the narrow, technical trails, but it was exciting to see runners of all fitness levels getting out and enjoying the trails. I picked up the pace as much as I could, keeping a steady jog up the hills and attacking the descents.

When I heard the finish festival, I turned on the jets and pushed my pace, feeling my muscles begin to burn and my lungs struggle. Just as fatigue threatened to overtake me, I emerged from the woods onto the final stretch of grass. Thrilled to be finishing, I picked up my pace to a sprint:
The whole race, I figured that Charles was behind me, since he had been ahead of me during the little wrong turn at the beginning. When I arrived at the finish line prepared to cheer him on from the sidelines, I found out that he had already finished ten minutes before me. Ruthie caught the moment on camera:
It's sometimes embarrassing for trail runners to tell road runners about our pace because we have to go so much slower on technical terrain and climbs, but I'll go ahead and say I was shooting for eleven minute miles for a total time of less than 2:30. My time according to my tracking chip was 2:30:19, with a pace of 11:34.

Although I missed both of my goals by a hair, I felt great about the race. I finished 55th out of 159 runners, and I performed well without getting injured.

Thrilled with the outcome, I took a moment to do a quick photo shoot with David and Charles before heading back to Atlanta to get a late lunch:

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Class Day with Purna, Susan, and Esther

Ruthie was able to get some time with Purna and Esther today at Refugee Beads class.

Susan's car seat is now a fixture in our Plymouth since Ruthie spends so much time helping her family get around. Here she is belted in and ready to go to RB class:

Purna and Esther are both excellent at detailed craft work. They put their talents to work on these rings, coming to a sales event near you:
Purna's daughter treats us like family and calls Ruthie "Ruthie Aunty." Ruthie always takes time to play with Susan during class:
After taking care of some errands and going on a quick trail run, I was able to drop in for lunch. The various facial expressions in this photo may or may not be in response to my special "runner's aroma."

Also note that I am sporting my t-shirt from the StumpJump 50k. After what I went through to get it, I feel entitled to wear it at least every other day.

Monday, October 11, 2010

What To Do With Growth?

I have been encouraged not to measure the success of the ministry by the numbers.

I actually have the opposite problem. I tend to be a bit confused and concerned when our numbers go up, because we have such limited time and resources.

This Sunday, while Ruthie was out of town, I drove from Lawrenceville (the mold situation is still pending) down to our apartment complex to pick up some kids and bring them to a local church. After taking one carful of kids, I called a second family who sometimes comes along. I was running late, but I figured I'd give them a ring.

"Hey, Lesly, anyone coming from your house this morning?"

"Yeah. There's six."

"Six? Total? Who?"

"We're coming, and there's six more."

Meaning that Lesly's whole family of four wanted to come, and they had six others who wanted to join them.

I called my friend Jonathan from Communicycle and asked if he could swing by and squeeze in a few kids. True to form, he came to the rescue.

Even with Jonathan's help, I ended up taking a total of three trips between the apartment complex and the church, and when the service was over, I did it again to get them all home. By the end, I felt exhausted from the stress and disappointed at the rushed interactions that the volume of lives necessitated.

So the additional numbers give us a chance to touch more lives, and they look good on our blogs (the fact that 13 unchurched kids got to go to church this Sunday is an impressive stat. More impressive is that all of those kids were shown love in a small way, which is astounding. So please take what I'm about to say with care, because I don't mean to downgrade the blessing of a numerically growing ministry).

Here's the thing about numbers: I believe in a God who works on the micro- and macro- levels. But when it comes to frienships and time spent together, I'm a micro- kind of guy. I want to make every relationship in my life count, but it gets harder the more relationships I have.

Sometimes it feels like the opportunities multiply in direct proportion to how quickly our resources dwindle.

So to all those praying for our ministry to grow, please pray that we will have the resources, partners, time, and energy to meet the demands that those rising numbers bring. And that we will do a good job with every single life we touch.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Hyphens! Bullet Points! Exclamation Marks!

To all who are wondering about the nitty-gritty-nuts-and-bolts status of our work, here is a bullet-point-style update. Forgive the overuse-of-hyphens-in-this-intro:
  • The afterschool program is temporarily closed. We are working with apartment management to get the mold cleaned up. We stopped in the other day to hang out with the kids, and they understand the situation. Hopefully their grades won't slip too far.
  • We are staying with Ruthie's mom in Lawrenceville until the mold is dealt with. The new maintenance supervisor is a Godsend, but this stuff takes time.
  • Ruthie and I are both battling residual sickness from the mold and/or the ultramarathon and/or the stress of our life recently. We can't seem to get healthy and stay that way for more than a few hours at a time.
  • Our newsletter is written, and it will be sent out next week.
  • Refugee Beads continues to thrive, with new partnerships built, a new member, and a whole big pile of events coming up. We should be adding another bio to the artisans page in the next few weeks!
  • Our Buick is still in the shop getting its transmission rebuilt. We thankfully report that our trusty Plymouth Acclaim, despite its constant complaints and hiccups, is getting us around in the meantime.

Okay, well there's much more, but that should be enough to keep our ravenous readers at bay for now.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

StumpJump50k (Pt 2) or The Bonk at Suck Creek

While a normal slip of this sort would elicit a statement like, "Guys, I just almost died," when my foot slides off the path around mile 22, all I do is lurch back onto the path, grunt, and resume my slow jog forward.

Dirt and some pebbles skitter down the face of the mountain behind me. Kevin, Eric, and I are engaged in a conversation about Flannery O'Connor, and for the first time in several miles, I'm glad to be here.

A massive valley sprawls out to our right. The air moves in cool and warm currents, and the sun splinters through multicolored leaves. We jog forward slowly, humbled by the miles we have already run, exhausted, and vaguely aware that after Suck Creek, we will have to finish the run with two massive climbs back up Signal Mountain.

All of a sudden, a new wave of nausea slams my stomach, and I feel the blood leave my limbs in response.

"Guys," I tell my team, "I gotta walk. Go ahead. I'll catch you at the next aid station."

I know this feeling, because I got it on my 20-mile training run. I've hit what runners call a "bonk," when your body runs out of fuel. With no way to get fuel to my system since I can't hold anything down, I am stuck dragging my heavy legs forward through the rest of the race, and I still have a long way to go.

I will skip through most of what happens during the final miles, because it would be just about as grueling to read about as it is to haul myself through. However, just to give my readers an idea of what it is like, I will mention that there is a tiny, older asian man in a safari hat who keeps overtaking me by walking slightly faster than I can. I pass him on the hard climbs, by sheer willpower, and the last few miles of the race feel like a battle between snails, with this guy hot on the heels of our team.

We break out onto the road at mile 30, and the race volunteers tell us just to run up the hill and around the corner. Eric and Kevin, who have waited for me, dragged along with me, and encouraged me to keep moving, both break into a slow jog. I speed up my walk to keep pace with them.

As we round the last bend, we hear cheers erupt from the finish line. Ruthie and my older sister Lisa have spotted us, and are going crazy.

I force my legs to jog down the hill. The better portion of the runners have finished the race and gone home, but many men and women I talked with out on the course are still here, watching, eating burgers and cheering for everyone else who comes across.

A few hundred feet away from the finish, I burst into tears. I fight the urge to double over, and I run with Kevin and Eric across the line, my face flushed, my legs burning from fatigue, my skin and clothes spotted with the crust of salt deposits left by long-dried sweat.

The feeling that washes over me as an official shakes my hand and gives me a finisher's medal is difficult to describe.

The moment is one of victory, the reason for 8 months of concentrated training, and I have accomplished something that few people even dream of. But I don't feel like a hero or a victor. I feel humbled, defeated, exhausted, and relieved.

Underneath the pain, as the minutes run by, as I hug my family, pose for pictures, try to sip a Sprite, a realization of what I have done grows alongside the pain. Something inside me changed between throwing up the last of my nutrition at mile 16 and stumbling across the finish line at 31.

I know the bliss of being completely exhausted, obliterated, embarrassed, and hurt. I know the kind of humility it takes to get to the finish line, because this course taught it to me.

As Eric and Kevin and I climb into the back of Lisa's car and head back to where we're staying, I feel and enjoy every twinge of pain from my knee, every screaming soreness that shoots up and down my calf, every reeking whiff of my own sweat-soaked clothes.

These are the things that tell me that we did it. That the race changed me in a profound way, and all I had to do to receive its gift was to drag my tired self through everything its long, slow miles had to teach me.

Monday, October 4, 2010

StumpJump 50k (pt 1)

I stagger into the 19-mile aid station, ready to quit. Behind me lies the most hated stretch of the Rock/Creek StumpJump 50k, a patch of loose rocks and boulders called the "Rock Garden," which exhausted runners pick their way through, hoping not to twist an ankle or take a spill.
Three miles ago, I left the 16 mile aid station ready to throw up, and in the middle of the next climb, that was exactly what I did. I heaved violently, my body curling over a fallen tree, as runners passed on the trail. My brother Eric and his friend Kevin stood behind me, waiting for the nausea to pass.

Two tiny pieces of apple emerged, and my stomach relaxed enough for me to continue.

Now, with over eleven miles left, I need to do some serious thinking about what this race is worth to me. I haven't been able to hold down food or fluids. I have been running for more than five hours. If I continue, Eric and Kevin will either need to run ahead to the finish or add hours to their time.

A volunteer asks me how I'm doing.

"I want to die," I tell him, then stagger over to a bench nearby, where I sit down and work on figuring out if I have any resources left to rally.

"There's a van leaving in ten minutes. You have a long way to go. We don't want you to, but if you need to go back to the start, we can take you," the volunteer says, looking out at the ragged group of runners sprawled out around the clearing.

"Give me ten minutes," I tell Kevin and Eric, not knowing if the team will be one man down when those ten minutes pass.

I try to eat a peanut-butter-filled pretzel. I gag. I look at the pringles and animal crackers and gummi bears and moon pies and other snacks laid out for us, and I wonder how I was ever able to eat anything without throwing up, and if I'll ever be able to look at food in the same way again. Finally, I settle on two animal crackers, taking them in my sweaty hand and plodding back over to the bench where Kevin and Eric wait.

We sit quietly for a while. Nearby, I hear another runner telling his wife several reasons he might not continue.
The volunteer returns after not enough time has passed.

"I'm taking a van back to the starting line. If you need to go back, I can take you."

He looks around, making eye contact with me, specifically. I clamp my jaw shut and watch him turn, in what seems like slow motion, and head back to the van, which could have carried me from this godforsaken trail.

I stand up slowly, without much conviction, and tell Eric and Kevin I'm ready to get moving again.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Congregational Blues

We are part of a small, local church that has its fair share of problems.

This past week I was blindsided by a combination of internal politics, miscommunications, and just plain unpredictability. It has robbed me of the little emotional energy I had left and, worse yet, it has taken my focus off of loving my neighbors.

I steered clear of any church meeting for much of my early twenties, but God ushered me back through a congregation whose main focus was reminding its members of the gospel. I found much healing there, and was optimistic about functioning within a local group of Christians.

However, I am starting to feel like every church is a trap to keep Christians from fully engaging their everyday lives and communities. Maybe this just comes in light of all that has happened recently, but it's a sincere concern. Why does church usually feel like a vacuum for my energy? Why are people always mired in politics?

I really want to know. When Paul said not to give up meeting together, was this what he had in mind?

Monday, September 27, 2010

Broken Scaffolding

In a rare use of analogy, I described our situation to a friend like this:
"You have to put up scaffolding to build a patio. But we feel like we spend the bulk of our time on the scaffolding, and we only put up a board or two on the patio every now and then."

Strictly speaking, this is not the case. We spend a great deal of time in our neighborhood, talking with the kids, meeting with the refugees, shuttling people to local churches, government offices, and grocery stores, and doing the exact things we came down here to do.

However, the mold in our apartment is making an increased impact on our health, so we feel a bit like we're doing maintenance on the scaffolding, trying to figure out how to get apartment management to check it, trying to figure out where to sleep in the meantime1, trying to figure out where we would go if we had to move.

We may need to close the afterschool program for a few days, because we are concerned about the safety of holding it in a mold-infested apartment (although Lord knows how bad the conditions are in the kids' own homes).

We near the end of this post. It is, hopefully, one of those multi-post stories2 that arcs noticeably up after the few miserable early posts. We shall see.

1. Actually, during the writing of this post, a friend called and said we could use his guest bedroom this week. I left the concern in there and decided to footnote it instead because of the influence of David Foster Wallace, whose mammoth novel Infinite Jest has distracted me through the mold-related stress of this day.

2. For another example, see "Flesh and Spirit" series on this very blog.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Mold and Other Natural Disasters

We realize that we face certain challenges when we choose a life of service. In fact, the challenges deepen, refine, and enrich our love, so we are thankful for them.

At least, that's what we're shooting for. A few recent challenges have proven more challenging than usual, though. So I am typing these concerns out so that those of our readers who pray can pray specifically.

- During the last year, Ruthie and I have been constantly sick with respiratory and sinus issues. It appears we have a lot of mold in our ceiling. I will be investigating today and exploring cleanup options. Please pray that we will be able to continue living and working out of this apartment.

- It looks like God will provide a reliable, working car for us in October. However, we decided to go ahead and get the transmission fixed on our Buick so that we could either use it as a second car or sell it. We had the money lined up to do the repair, but CCDA ended up draining us financially, so now the car is getting fixed, but we do not have the money to pay the bill. Please pray for the wisdom to manage our resources well, and for financial provision.

- The CCDA conference took a deep emotional toll on both of us this year. While it had its bright spots, the time was challenging to our friendships, our faith, and our relationship with our local church. Please pray that our focus and energy would return.

I hope that you understand what an important role your prayers play in keeping us here, keeping the work going, and bringing the love of God to bear among the lives in this neighborhood.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

An Ideal Coup

During our trip to Chicago, the women of Refugee Beads executed a coup. Purna and Nivin took control of Refugee Beads, running a sales event by themselves, without any help from Ruthie or me.

Upon Ruthie's return, she told them that she would start giving them bonuses each time they ran an event without her. Later, she overheard Nivin telling a friend, "We will encourage Ruthie to stay home and rest from now on."


Over at the afterschool program, the student leaders continue to show more and more of a passion for running the show. They now sign up for jobs, help the younger kids with homework, and lead prayer times.

I told Miguel, one of our young leaders, that I was only two years older than him when I ran my first afterschool program.

He thought about it for a minute and said, "I think I'd lose my temper with the little kids."

I was impressed with how seriously he considered it, and I think that he is getting a good picture of the challenges and rewards of leading in his own neighborhood.

Whether in Refugee Beads or at our afterschool program, we prayerfully pursue the development of local leaders, so that God's work in this neighborhood will take root and grow far beyond our own reach.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Chicago Tour 2010

This year's Christian Community Development Association (CCDA) conference was held in Chicago, which meant that we would get to catch up with friends and promote Refugee Beads at the same time.

Our time was full of intense stresses, grand conversations, emotional interactions, and rich conversations. The only thing it didn't have much of was sleep. We returned home exhausted, barely able to keep the car on the road for the eleven hour drive from Chicago back to our home in Atlanta.

Today, after we've had a little time to rest and get back into life, we are growing more and more thankful for the conference and its aftermath.

Below are a few highlights of the trip:

I was excited to learn that two of my friends from college were performing with their new band Alert at the conference. We closed the booth down early to watch their set:
We finally got a chance to meet and spend time with my friend Tad's new son, Judah. Ruthie and I fell in love with him immediately. Tad and his wife Stephanie loaned us their couches for a few nights as well, and Tad and I went on a few runs, which helped me keep my sanity through the week.Ruthie used to work as a nanny in Chicago, and her boss became one of our close friends. We spent a day and a half with them right after closing down the booth on Friday.On our last night, before beginning the long trek back to Chicago, we got to experience a dynamic, intimate performance by a great band. My friend Jonathan is part of a group called Tango Espejo, and they were playing a combination of traditional tangos and pieces by Piazzola.

The next morning, after a brief barefoot run with Tad along the lakeshore, I hit the road again.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Weeklong Blitz

Our desire to build connections between the christian, creative, and international communities here in Atlanta has been bearing fruit.

And when the fruit comes, we must pick it. Or something like that, anyway. I'm not much for analogies.

The point is, the ministry in our neighborhood is thriving, and that means that we have to be more careful with our time, more conscious of our relationships, and more energetic in pursuit of God's goals for these lives (our own and those we touch).

Just a few snapshots of what this week holds:

1. Afterschool Program: We are enjoying more trust with the student leaders, more response from the younger kids, more involvement from local church volunteers, and more opportunities to get involved in the lives of the families in our neighborhood.

2. Nation Celebration: The Zomi people of Burma have been flooding into Atlanta. We are working with Open Table Community as well as some Zomi leaders to organize a celebration of this people group. Stay tuned!

3. CCDA: The 2010 Christian Community Development Association conference begins next week, and we will be traveling up to Chicago to network, learn from similar ministries, sell Refugee Beads stuff, and spend time with friends. The prep work for this is intense.

4. Village Gathering: Ruthie has been training the Refugee women to hold events and tell their stories. While we are at CCDA, Nivin and Purna will be running an event without Ruthie. We are working to encourage and equip them to make the most of these opportunities.

5. Auto Repair: We've been driving borrowed cars since our transmission went out on us. We plan to drop off the car at Auto Shop (that's the name of our local auto shop- I'd like to shake the hand of the creative team that came up with that one), and have them work on it while we're in Chicago. Then we need to return the car we're currently borrowing and borrow another car to go up to CCDA. The logistics are going to be hairy.

If you are a person who prays, please pray that we will be able to manage the stress that accompanies these opportunities, and that God's love will be revealed through how we go about all the details.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Run the Good Race

Since Monday is our day for non-work activities, I'll post a bit about why I spend most of my free time running through the woods.

A few months ago, I posted about an intended barefoot run of the Georgia section of the Appalachian trail. Due to several factors, the main one being reality, I had to postpone the adventure.

I am still confident that this run will happen, but I need to get a little more experience under my feet before I make the 80-mile run from Springer Mountain to the border of South Carolina.

In the meantime, I am training for two big runs in October. My inaugural trail race will be the StumpJump 50k in early October, followed by the North Face Endurance Challenge Half Marathon in mid-month.

Why spend the time buffeting my body out on my lonesome?

It's something like this: I do not believe that good character is something that just happens.

Virtues like patience, endurance, peace, and hope are woven into our souls as we get out and live. Out on the trail, I face fatigue, despair, and humiliation. They come in inevitable waves, and as I run, they play out a drama that teaches me to wait patiently through the slumps, to control my thoughts, and to rally my resources for a push up that steep hill or through those last miles.

I get to enjoy the rewards of discipline. After trudging up rocky hills for over an hour the other day, I emerged from the woods to find myself on the edge of a mountain overlooking a massive, foggy spread of forest.

There are also intrinsic rewards. I find myself relaxed and energized at the end of climbs that used to kill me. I can trace my progress as I increase distance and train for speed. I find my energy level more consistent and my moods brighter, even when I'm not running.

A lot of people talk about the importance of prayer as a spiritual discipline. But you don't have to be locked up in your prayer closet to pray. I feel like running strips me of my pretenses, puts me at the edge of my resources, and drives my emotions to a place where I can honestly commune with my creator.

Finally, here's a picture of me out in Utah, back when I was just getting started with this trail running stuff. It says a lot more than words could about why I run:

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Flesh and Spirit (Pt 6 - Epilogue)

Weeks have passed since I prayed with Jennifer's family.

That night, I felt a wonder at the narrative, the way it all fit together, the clarity of direction that brought us through it. Today, I sit in front of my computer, waiting for Jennifer and about 30 other kids to flood in with their homework.

The family whose house was haunted is moving apartments, and did not ask for any follow-up prayer or visits. The relationship with Jennifer's family keeps going, with exchanges of kindness and appreciation traveling back and forth. While the short story fit together in its own way, the ends still hang around, frayed and scattered in their own spaces.

So the questions I ask a week out are these: Did I follow this thing through? Should I have pushed harder for a conclusion? Did the story only seem orchestrated in a closed theatre?

So God and the Devil showed their faces for a week, and we did what we thought we had to do, and things went quiet again.

We write as far as we can, then we move on to the rest of the story, our flesh stumbling forward where the spirit leads, if and when it does.

The story ends this moment, with a knock on the door which I must answer, a thirsty kid asking for water. I leave the keyboard to answer him, knowing that I am at the end of what I can tell anyway.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Flashback: School Supply Handout

I remember being in school. I was not a good student. But the worst thing was showing up to school without paper to take notes on, without a pencil to write with, without an eraser to clean up my mistakes.

For me, it was a case of irresponsibility. But for many kids in our neighborhood, having proper school supplies is a question of finances. We wanted to make sure that any kid in our neighborhood had a backpack and basic equipment to get through the first weeks of school.

Thanks to some help from Mount Zion Baptist Church, we were able to collect enough supplies and backpacks to help over 60 kids get ready for the school year!

We let families in to register for the afterschool program and pick up backpacks one by one:

As they came through, we saw the pile of backpacks shrink:

Lizbeth, our upstairs neighbor, was especially happy to be returning to school in style!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Student Leaders

One of the main shifts in focus this year at the afterschool program is developing student leaders. We have picked out a group of kids, developed strong relationships with them, and given them shared responsibility for homework help, lessons, mealtime, and clean-up.

Last year, we would have scrambled to do everything for the kids. This year, we're mobilizing and empowering them to help each other.

So far, it has helped to unify the kids, create a rewarding environment, and prevented us from going crazy on days like today, where we had over 30 kids in our program.

This year's group of student leaders is pictured below: