Friday, April 30, 2010

Nude Feet

Those of you who read my facebook or spend any kind of time with me know that I have a new obsession - barefoot running.

A couple of my mentors, when I told them about the injuries that keep me from running, mentioned that there are ways I can run to improve my health instead of damaging it. My research led me to a whole community of runners who are healing from injuries and running greater distances by unleashing and listening to their feet instead of insulating them.

While the data on this is still coming in (research generally happens wherever money will take it, and Nike ain't paying for any research on the benefits of running without shoes), I've seen so much improvement in my knee pain, form, endurance, speed, and just plain enjoyment of the run that I'm now a big believer in barefooting.

I've been running either in my bare feet or in a minimal pair of running shoes called Vibram FiveFingers (pictured above, right after their inaugural 4-mile trail run).

So Ian, why exactly are you telling us this on your ministry blog?

Because I have an idea, which I will post on this blog shortly, which ties my passion with barefooting and my desire to see refugees get educational opportunities.

To be continued...

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Sacramental service

I've been corrected by Christian hipsters when I used the word, "sacred," because there's a cultural shift away from the sacred vs. secular mindset. For the most part, I agree with this shift. I think we often miss redemptive opportunities because we dismiss conversations or art work or tasks or people as "secular," and outside of the realm of "spiritual" Importance.

But I do think that, once we understand that even the smallest impulses of our hearts have sacred significance, there are certain actions or moments worth setting aside, worth treating as "sacred," because they bring the rest of our lives into focus. So when I speak of sacrament, I mean those God-given, significant activities that help to re-center us, and to turn hearts and minds back upon their creator.

Jesus set the eating of bread and the drinking of wine as a sacramental activity, to bring his followers into communion with Him. "This is my body, broken for you." "This is my blood, shed for you."

So we Christians treat communion with a special reverence, because it brings us in contact with Christ.

What I've been impressed by in the last few years is the power of serving the poor when we give it the same sacramental weight. Even as we do it to the least of these, we do it unto Him. It's so similar to communion in the way we encounter Christ when we serve the poor.

I've wrestled with the volume of the task before us. We can't really solve even one person's problems. We can't make someone realize the power of the gospel. We can't feed everyone, prevent all abuse, bring everyone to Christ.

When you look at it carefully, there's not really much we can do at all.

But we have been sent out to work nonetheless. So how do we sustain our desire to do the work? What holds us to the task? What refreshes and grows us if we're charging a hill we know we can't climb?

When we serve, we grow in relationship with Christ. So, when I face the kids, I wait expectantly for revelation. When I see the gang graffiti on our walls, I ask how I can meet Christ there.

I dig in to the community because, when I treat ministry as a sacrament, when I set out to discover Love, the work gives life instead of taking it. It refreshes and motivates me because the heart of my creator is hidden in the act of loving my neighbors.

So what of the harvest, then? I believe that the sacramental perspective actually makes me care more deeply, work more heartily, think more clearly, and get more done.

When I entered this ministry, I did it because I needed it to sustain my spirit. The call to minister was the call to grow in Christ.

Not that everyone should live in my neighborhood or do what I do, but I believe that a Christian who wants to know Christ should be engaged in loving service to those around them. Not doing so is like skipping out on communion, like living apart from your spouse, like refusing to eat.

Ministry is a sacrament. It has been given to us that we may live more fully, love more deeply, and experience union with Christ, who is the beating heart of the Christian's life.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Lessons Learned, Relearned

Those of you who got our last newsletter, read about how a burglary attempt at a local bike co-op turned into a conversation about grace.

Today, we had another chance to take a seemingly bad moment and seek a redemptive response. We went into one of the rooms in the apartment to find the words "You Fuck" written on our futon in marker.

Presumably, the author of this statement got the words reversed, but the message still gets across to a discerning reader. The kids who had come for help on their homework had already started to argue about who had done it.

I fumed for a while, running down that usual line of, What did we ever do to the ungrateful brat who wrote that? How could they do this to us? but I didn't get anywhere. I just kept feeling angrier. Then I pulled away into a locked room and prayed, mainly so I could calm down.

We gathered the kids into our living room for a talk, and I decided to use this as an opportunity to explain to them why we decided to move into their neighborhood. It gave me a chance to talk about how forgiving God has been to me, and how we want them to know about his grace.

We went on to talk about the fruit of the Spirit, ending with a rousing song, and then we sent them home.

I go crazy sometimes worrying about how we are doing. Wondering what the long-term impact of this work is going to be. Wondering if our methodology is effective. Tinkering with Mission and Vision statements. Then there are some days, like today, where things fly in the face of my plans, and in my weakness, Christ's truth has a chance to move.

I pray that next time an opportunity arises, I won't get so worked up and prideful before I see the redemptive opportunity before me.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Nepal Nation Celebration

One of the key ministries of Refugee Arts is to provide opportunities for relationships between local churches and the immigrant/refugee populations.

We hosted a "Nation Celebration" at Open Table Community to relate with our Nepali neighbors. Several Bhutanese/Nepali refugees came out to tell their stories, share a meal, and sing songs with us.

Their words and presence helped open our eyes to a God that works beyond and through cultural boundaries to show His love.

Here are a few pictures of the event:

Creek Kids Photo Round-Up

Here are some recent photos of the kids at the afterschool program, along with a few of our star volunteers:

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Mr. Muscles on the Court

Tuesday nights are basketball night. A burglar broke into the bike shop where we normally go and stole the tools, so we asked the same group of kids if they wanted to shoot hoops during that time instead. While it started as a way to fill time until the new tools came in, basketball night has become a ministry of its own, with a unique tone and set of opportunities.

Luis and Edgar are brothers who I've been spending a lot of time with. Both aspiring rappers, we've been working on their storytelling style, and Josh Feit has been helping them record some material. Although I can't remember what we were talking about at the time this photo was taken, it looks like I'm telling Edgar, Luis, and their friend Eric to "hang loose."
My nickname in the bike shop was "Mr. Muscles" due to my "leave no bolt unturned" approach to mechanics. Edgar, my sidekick, is "Muscles Jr." Here we are strutting our stuff.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Girls Bible Study

Ruthie has been working with some other women to teach a girls bible study for teenagers in our neighborhood. Here are some photos and a video from a dinner they had at our house. I can't comment on the goings-on due to the fact that I was out running through the woods when all this happened:

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Afterschool Program Photo Round-up

Easter Eggstravaganza

Easter always seems to roll around right when we need it. When we begin to feel death creeping around us, that its victory is imminent, that the body of Christ has been bled dry and all is lost.

Then resurrection Sunday arrives, and we are reminded again what exactly we are doing here.

On Easter morning, we did not have any plans for the afternoon, aside from catching up on sleep after a draining week of seminars and services at NAMB, followed by a busy-as-all-get-out week full of meetings, logistics, taxes, errands, and busy work.

We picked Karina up, then rolled over to the Sosa family's house to pick up Lesly and Jennifer. It turned out that Melvin and their mom wanted to join us as well, so we all went to Church together. After Church, we all decided to have a picnic together in the park. What followed was an affirming time of fellowship and ministry.

I had a long conversation with a neighbor who is wrestling with the concept of grace. He spoke very kindly about our presence in the neighborhood and about the impact we've been having on his family. We made plans to spend some time together in the near future.

That's the story. Now see the pictures:

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Choose Your Own Blog Adventure

The past two weeks have been almost too eventful for me to handle. When I get behind in blogging, I feel compelled to fill in many of the gaps, so I'm going to do a multiple-choice thing here. Then the following blog will be an elaboration on any one point that my readers want to hear more about.

So first, read the following bullet points, then, if you want to hear more about any given topic, leave a comment specifying which one. I'll count up the votes and elaborate. If no votes come in, I'll move on to something else.


  1. Ruthie and I went to NAMB training, and, while there were some good relationships established and some good information presented, it was a hard time for us. We felt overwhelmed by the emphasis on numbers and results. I realized through the process that for me, ministry is a sacramental thing, like communion. A God-given way to know and worship Him. Results are encouraging and worth noting, but the relationships are what keep me here.
  2. This Easter was a beautiful, unplanned time of ministry for us. We got to bring some people to church, have some powerful conversations, and enjoy the company of many of our international neighbors. As if by narrative design, I returned from the difficult training and commissioning to a vibrant, dynamic time in my neighborhood.
  3. The boys in our neighborhood are now looking at porn in public places using borrowed internet, and I'm gonna talk to them about it soon. The last thing I want to do is issue a guilt-based plea, so I've got to speak well about how it can affect them, and be non-judgmental about it. Please pray.
  4. We did taxes last night, and they were high enough to undo the last six months of debt repayment, and put us back securely into the hole. I'm having to do some serious work on my attitude toward finances, because it seems like whenever we show discipline and start making progress, God springs some huge setback on us to keep us under our creditors' thumbs. I know that's not the way it works, but that's how it feels.
Hopefully, no one wants to hear about 4, so please take your pick from the first three and influence the future of this blog. Readers, I leave it in your hands. Pictures will be included.

Friday, April 2, 2010

David Byrne, Fatboy Slim, Imelda Marcos

I opened up my NPR Music Notes e-mail, and discovered that my old stomping grounds (The Philippines) is the star of a new collaboration between David Byrne and Fatboy Slim. They made a two-disc concept album that tells the story of Imelda Marcos! Amazing.

Click here to listen to the album for free (this week only).