What a mess!!!

Immigration is a difficult and sensitive topic, wherever you go in the Western world right now. Its also a big mess …whether you’re in the US, UK, France or Australia. This week we have had to confront this issue here in Texas. The state of Texas has become a diverse place to live, Houston is now supposedly the most diverse city in America. The Hispanic community in Texas has grown in size and influence in this area of the country. I guess we had wondered for some time about the possibility that somebody known to us would get caught up in the current administration’s drive to target undocumented migrants. (I refuse to call anybody illegal)

And this past week…it happened. One of the ladies attending our church, her 20 year old son was arrested for a minor misdemeanour. ICE, the immigration people here in the US, had a representative in court and he was detained immediately.

South Texas

We went to visit him this past week. He is being held here, at the South Texas Detention Center. The detention center resembles a prison, we were only able to speak to Francisco over the telephone through a window and he was wearing a blue jumpsuit. Undocumented migrants made to feel like criminals, its the same I’ve been anywhere in the Western World.

This family come from Juarez, a town  bordering El Paso Texas. Ciudad Juarez has been notorious for many years, as this city has been at the heart of the problems drug cartels having been causing across Mexico. This family fled violence in Juarez, a store they owned was targeted by the cartels for protection money and racketeering. Eventually their store was set on fire.

Juarez Map

They have lived in the United States for many years, and have only distant family connections left in Mexico. Sending Francisco back just doesn’t make any sense, the consequences would be splitting up another family, there is just absolute disregard for the emotional turmoil that would be caused by a decision to deport somebody like this. In the US, there are very few pathways for undocumented migrants to become citizens. It makes a mockery of the argument you hear from some people here ‘that if people migrate here legally we have no problem with that’. Its just not a valid argument what do you expect people to do?

In a depressing week in the United States, the encouraging part of this story is seeing people come together to help one another out in this time of crisis. Our church and many neighbours have come together to help the family raise enough funds to secure a good lawyer. Lots of people, who don’t have many resources available to them, having come together as one family to support one another. This is where i’ve seen the dignity restored in people this week, the dignity that is so often stripped away by the state.

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Leadership Matters

‘Leadership Matters’. I’ve heard that phrase said so often but never realised the truth and importance of this statement until i became involved in church planting work. We have a growing passion to work with our leaders here in San Antonio, it’s become a critical area of our work.

As an outsider coming into our neighborhood, i’ve realised over the past 2 years that i can have an impact here, but this impact only goes so far, its limited. In any kind of church planting, and especially urban church planting, there has to be an emphasis on raising up indigenous, local leaders.

I’ve been a part of churches in the past where its very difficult to move up into leadership roles. You have to jump through all sorts of hoops, prove your worth , defend your call to leadership, be reasonably well educated but I just don’t see this model of leadership in the bible.

Of course, there has to be some balance. Not everybody is called to a leadership role. Potential leaders must have the right character, a good litmus test for us have been  questions like ‘Is this people willing to tell others about Jesus?’ Are they willing to be obedient to Jesus? Are they open to being taught and corrected? Is there some understanding of what it means to lead others? Is there any previous leadership experience there?

If we believe that we have identified a future leader, we still have a rigorous 2 month discernment process that people have to go through, but this doesn’t take years. Local people have to be given significant opportunities to lead. If you’re only leaders are outsiders, how are you going to see multiplication and growth? It will be much slower, it has to be.

In  our reading and experiences, all church planting movements around the world have a number of key factors. Indigenous leadership is one of these important factors. There is an element of risk involved, local leaders will likely fail or experience crisis at some point. We are continuing to develop important rhythms for our leadership, this includes involvement in prayer, evangelism, leading bible studies, preaching, local community development. These are exciting challenges for us as our church continues to grow.

 

 

 

Leadership Development

In the past month our church have started 2 leadership development teams, one for a group of adult leaders within the church and 1 for a group of older youth who we believe have potential to lead both now and in the future. There a important reasons why developing leaders is so important in our context…

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In poorer neighbourhoods, there is simply a crisis of not having enough leaders. Less people go to college and less people have the skills that many of us develop through our life experiences. Giving up, lack of commitment, not knowing how to cope when things go wrong….just a few examples of how a lack of leadership skills can breakdown community in our poorer neighborhoods

The urban church it seems hasn’t been great at addressing these issues. In my neighbourhood in San Antonio there are numerous small churches, some are dying and some are struggling. Young people have not been trained in leadership, they don’t know how to take on this mantle and in most cases are not being given the chance anyway.

Many urban ministries are also run by  high capacity leaders, people who can take a lot on themselves, and leadership development doesn’t come naturally for these leaders. Its not a priority.

Consequently, any emerging leaders become isolated and disconnected. The ministry dies when the leader moves on….it becomes impossible to keep the momentum going when that one leader has gone.

I was challenged recently to find our ‘bus person’. in the nicest possible way, if I was to go out and got hit by a bus tomorrow, who would replace me as a leader. Thinking ahead means developing the those around us who have potential to lead. They might make mistakes, in fact they probably will, but it’s our job to walk them through this process and love them as they grow. Another leader from a much bigger church than our own recently told me that he spent 25% of his time with his core leaders. You have to wise and select the right people of course, not everybody is meant for leadership. Get the wrong people involved at this level and it can be a disaster.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If there is one thing I’ve learned about church planting it’s this….

We’ve been at this business of church planting for around a year now. We have launched monthly services in the local school and we are no longer meeting as a house church any longer. We are closer to establishing the church we set out to plant a year ago.

What’s the one most valuable lesson we have learned in this time? Yes it’s important to be able to think strategically, lay out plans and see the big picture, to be good with people, to look for things that connect and engage people, but the most important thing of all is …perseverance.

perseverance

The one thing you can guarantee about this type of work is that you will experience rejection, get knock backs and people will disappoint you. We have seen all of those things over the past year.

If you have ever read much church history, you will see many examples of perseverance. Just the other day I was reading about the monastic movement and how it was these guys who really won Western Europe for Christ. They persevered through repeated invasions, a tumultuous time in European history, their buildings were torn down and communities devastated, but through their dedication and patience, churches were established and many people gave their lives to Christ.

I pray that we can continue with our work here with the same determination and commitment to follow Jesus. We follow a missionary God, who asks us to look outwards. I want to keep that apostolic impulse at the heart of everything we do in our work here. Sometimes its hard to keep going, but we have plenty of people who have gone before us to inspire us.

the hard work of faith

Faith is hard work.leap-of-faith

Now standing alone, that statement flys in the face of Grace, or at least seems to. But we are living this out day by day ourselves & especially with our neighbors. Faith is SO active. Faith is choosing daily, hourly, moment by moment to believe, to trust, to obey when everything you see and feel and are experiencing is telling you the opposite.

Faith is not easy…believing in what you cannot see in this world is not easy. And belief for more, for Abundant Life, for forgiveness, for peace, for joy, for provision, for hope, is being attacked at every turn.

I’ve believed in God since I was born (I think!) 🙂 I made the choice of faith in Jesus when I was 16. That’s going to be 20 (!) years ago come this Saturday…whoa. It was life-changing then & it continues to be life-changing now. And yet with so many years of ‘faith’ under my belt, it still doesn’t come naturally or easily. Yes I am rooted in faith more than 20 years ago, but the every day pull from my circumstances and especially the thoughts in my mind keep this faith muscle working over time it feels like!

That verse from Ephesians from my previous post talks about our fight being not against flesh & blood but against the spiritual forces. I feel this acutely! The lies that creep into my mind and begin to control my actions and my priorities. I can’t imagine the battle that must be waged within my brothers & sisters here in this neighborhood for whom this faith is so new and raw and vulnerable! They have so many lies that they have believed for so long…breaking these chains and choosing to believe Truth instead is hard, hard work.

We are committed to walking this journey with our friends & so thankful we serve a God who gives a million chances, who never gives up, who honors our teeny tiny steps of faith!! Faith is hard work…but the rewards are unbelievable! Please, Jesus, fill us with faith!

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.
And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.
Hebrews 11:1,6

‘Little’ Miracles

Are any miracles really ‘little’?

We’ve been walking alongside a family here in our community who have decades of baggage, generations of brokenness. This past month it has felt like the fires have been stoked beneath them, as in we’ve been fighting fires daily and they have been going from crises to crises. We look at the situation from a spiritual perspective, that there is a war going on for them as they seek to have faith in Jesus and live for Him.

For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.
Ephesians 6:12

We have been fasting and praying for breakthrough and today I believe we experienced it! The eldest daughter in this family has been caring for her nephew the past 4 years as well as working odd cleaning jobs through a temp agency. She has never had a job other than casual work here and there, but is reliable, dependable and faithful. I’ve committed to walk with her through the process of applying for jobs and its only been a few weeks, but its a hard slough.

Back in December she went to apply at a local fast food restaurant where her brother has worked for over a year. When she handed in her application, the manager took a look at her hand, saw the flower tattoo on it, and told her immediately she wouldn’t be considered for a job there. They have a no visible tattoo policy – and even though hers is tasteful, they were not budging.

Last week her brother came to her to say that there was a job for her at this restaurant, she only needed to come in & apply and she would have the job. So on Tuesday morning I went with her to the restaurant and I helped her fill out the application again. She handed it in and was told to come in the next day to fill out the employment paperwork. Sounded great! No mention of the tattoo, no concerns…flower tatto

So I came in with her the next day (today) to be told that she was going to be interviewed by the same manager who had told her no because of the tattoo 2 months ago. And we had to wait about an hour before he would be ready. See when she filled out the application yesterday we had to read some of their policies, one being that they do NOT allow visible tattoos. The whole 10 minutes she was talking with this manager I sat there thinking, how is this going to work? Surely he’s going to take one look at her hand again and send her away. This is going to be one more knock to the family’s hope. And honestly, I didn’t even find the faith to believe God to make a way this time…I was thinking in my head about where we should go next to apply for jobs again.

And then it happens – she walks over, shows me the paper, says she’s got the job! Still unbelieving, I say but he didn’t see your tattoo? He did, she said, but he said it was ok this time, that it wasn’t offensive so don’t worry about it…! Miracle. Little in the scheme of things, but miracle all the same! I’m floored, truly, and repentant that I didn’t believe in God for more. I’ve been asking Him for more for this family for quite a while and have felt knocked down myself in defeat a few times. But as we’ve been proclaiming to them, I have to remind myself too today, that He is a Good, Good Father who has the best for us, all in His timing.

Thank the God of miracles with us today for providing and showing us His Glory in a seemingly impossible situation!

Poverty and a lack of choice

Reading my friend Aaron Smith’s book ‘Thriving in the City’ has helped me to process some things that I have been struggling with in the last few months on our church planting journey. These same things are causing tension for our neighbours as they try to move forward in their faith journey.

In Aaron’s words, a healthy way of understanding urban poverty is to see it as a distortion of God’s original design. It is one of the negative effects of the fall of humanity. This is not meant to disparage the poor themselves. Yes the urban poor have their fair share of sins but the existence of urban poor communities is an indictment of all society. Urban neighbourhoods are not beyond redemption.

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We by the worlds standards are wealthy people. We have many choices available to us that are simply not available to our neighbours. The local schools are under resourced and overwhelmed with behaviour issues, violence in schools, family breakdown, drugs and other issues. Its not easy to prepare kids for college. Teenagers have to work to support their families, to get the bills paid each month. We know some teenagers who work 5 evenings a week after school. Crime is sometimes an easy way out. Some people choose to smoke because it helps to keep them calm and helps with hunger, it’s cheaper than buying food. Processed and fast foods are cheap and readily available. Sometimes homes are not even recognised by the city because the landlord won’t make efforts to meet local building codes. Homes can be at risk of being destroyed. Its very difficult to get out of the cycle of short term thinking, going from one crisis to the next, if you think your house might be knocked down.

I am learning that the only response to these types of issues is to humbly offer emotional and practical support to help people make better but more difficult choices, and by joining with them sometimes to make more choices available. Also prayer and fasting – a lot of interceding. It’s easy to rush to judgement, to become impatient with people. It’s hard to persevere and go back to the same people and keep believing something different for them, especially when they have disappointed you by making another poor choice. This type of transformation takes time but our neighbourhood is not beyond redemption.

 

Inner Healing Prayer

One of the most fulfilling aspects of ministry right now for me is the opportunity to lead and share in Inner Healing Prayer with our neighbors. Some may not be too familiar with this type of prayer, I was only introduced to it in 2012 but have since received it a handful of times and have found a lot of healing and nearness to Jesus through it.

Inner Healing Prayer for me is a chance to walk with someone as they meet with Jesus. I’m not a counselor or therapist. But what I can do is encourage a friend or neighbor to bring their hurts, their past, and their emotions to Jesus to see how He wants to address them in His Presence.

My journey with Inner Healing prayer began in 2012 when I had been struggling with anxiety and panic attacks for 5 years. I had been on medication & sought counseling which was all helpful and I encourage others to do. But I always felt there was another level to the fear I was experiencing, a spiritual place that wasn’t being addressed by these methods. I was introduced by my Pastors to a group that had been trained in this type of prayer and 2 ladies spent a few evenings over the course of a few months praying with and for me. They led me into Jesus’ Presence and allowed Him to minister to me, with no agenda of their own. I found deep healing through this, I can honestly say that over the past 3 years I’ve never experienced anxiety like I did before then!

I knew as I began to learn about this prayer that it was a gifting God was calling out in myself to offer to others. I sought to learn more and was trained in my local church. I was amazed and so thankful to find upon joining Servant Partners that this type of prayer is used as a ministry and outreach tool in many sites, and even a prominent part of their Member Care to us as staff.

My SP teammate, Sarah, also has a heart for this prayer and so we have begun meeting with a few women in our neighborhood to pray and seek out healing with them. It has been so exciting to see their excitement at hearing God for themselves and to share in their healing and faith journey! I look forward to how this will continue to grow and develop as we offer it to more women and men in our community.

 

Reflections …2015….a crazy year!!!

Reflections

Luke 5:15-16 English Standard Version (ESV)

15 But now even more the report about him went abroad, and great crowds gathered to hear him and to be healed of their infirmities. 16 But he would withdraw to desolate places and pray.

The last week or so has given our family a chance to reflect on a crazy year. Of course, the loss of Eoin has dominated our year. However, 2015 was also the year we moved halfway across the world to join a Servant Partners team in San Antonio, began a church plant on the East side of the city and spent a month living in a slum in one of the world’s largest and poorest cities, Manila.

That’s why this year we felt it was important to take some time out to rest, recover and rehabilitate in Florida. The truth is we are doing pretty well. Nobody knows how they are going to respond in the kind of situation we were faced with in October, when baby Eoin was stillborn and never recovered from a very traumatic birth.

Over the past few months, God has often led me  to the story of the wise and foolish builders (Matthew 7:24-29.) Our faith in God’s goodness has been fully tested, but things have never come close to falling apart. I’m sure that steps we had taken earlier this year to obey God’s calling to full time urban ministry, putting our full trust in Him and seeing him come through, helped prepare us to cope well with the tragedy of Eoin’s passing. God has reminded us constantly of the importance of establishing strong foundations, stormy times are never too far away.

Roots 1

Ministry wise, things in San Antonio have been going well. Church planting in an urban poor neighbourhood is complicated. Broken relationships, mistrust, suspicion, family troubles, neighbourhood grudges, a variety of other problems mean it’s difficult for people to commit to a relationship with Jesus, and a church community.

Slowly but surely, we are building a consistent group of neighbours who are meeting weekly to learn about God together, who are attending weekly bible studies and are beginning to care about Jesus and each other. We have a group of 30-40 neighbours who are meeting each Sunday for church. I have recently started a soccer ministry which has quickly gained momentum and is helping us to meet more people. Its been a crazy year but we are finishing the year with a lot of hope for what the future and 2016 holds.