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.