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.

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.

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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.

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.

 

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.

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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.

Eoins final resting place 

On Friday we said our final farewells to baby Eoin. He was laid to rest in Ohio, close to the farm where jennie grew up. The midwest at this time of year has a special beauty to it, fall is in full flow and everywhere has a vibrant and colourful feel to it

   
 His service was fairly simple and lasted just 15 minutes. Family and a few close friends were present. I had been dreading this day as we had been building towards it for the past few weeks. I had said my final goodbyes to Eoin in the hospital and didn’t want to go through those raw emotions again. In the end, I realised how important his final resting place was. There is some comfort that he is with family, next to Jennie’s grandparents and close to her grandfathers sister, Almira who died at just 2 days old. There was a special significance in that for me.

   
    
 God continues  to be good to us. We sense Gods presence is with us and we trust that he is looking after eoin now. We recieved additional comfort from the doctors , that there is a very low risk for future pregnancies for Jennie. The chances of the situation with Eoin repeating itself are very remote. Finally I wanted to leave you with a psalm that has meant a great deal to me over the past few weeks. Psalm 16 will be carved on Eoins memorial stone in the next few weeks.

16 Preserve me, O God, for in you I take refuge.

2 I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord;

    I have no good apart from you.”

3 As for the saints in the land, they are the excellent ones,

    in whom is all my delight.[b]

4 The sorrows of those who run after[c] another god shall multiply;

    their drink offerings of blood I will not pour out

    or take their names on my lips.

5 The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup;

    you hold my lot.

6 The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;

    indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance.

7 I bless the Lord who gives me counsel;

    in the night also my heart instructs me.[d]

8 I have set the Lord always before me;

    because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken.

9 Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being[e] rejoices;

    my flesh also dwells secure.

10 For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol,

    or let your holy one see corruption.[f]

11 You make known to me the path of life;

    in your presence there is fullness of joy;

    at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

What happened this week

We have had lots of support, love and prayers from all around the world this week….but it occurred to us that not many people really know what happened. Its actually helpful to write this out and share our story.

Its now been more than a week since Jennie first went into labour. Last Thursday evening, the 8th October Jennie started to have contractions and we visited our birthing centre at 9pm that evening. Everything was fine and we could hear a our baby’s heart beating strongly. Everything going well, as it had done throughout the entire pregnancy.

We were sent home as Jennie was still not that far along in her labour. Everything moved very quickly and we were asked to return to the birthing centre by 1am. At this point no heart beat could be found with Baby Eoin. We later found out that the placenta had ruptured at some point, probably in that final 30 minutes of labour. This meant that Eoin was not getting the oxygen he needed. Apparently, this is a condition that will affect only 1 in every 1000 births. Its rare and we don’t have any answers for why this happened to us.

We’ve asked ourselves this question a few times this week. Could we have done anything differently? It seems like the answer is no. Whatever went wrong happened in the very final stages of labour, this was completely unexpected. We were very very unlucky.

The days following Eoin’s birth were dramatic, hopeful, difficult, tough. All those emotions rolled into one experience. You see, the doctors resuscitated Eoin 30 minutes after he was born. This itself was a miracle. He was given a pioneering cooling treatment for the next 72 hours, the doctors hoping this would minimise the impact of his lack of oxygen during the final moments of labour.  I’ve not experienced a time like that before in my life, torn between being hopeful for a miraculous recovery and trying to be realistic that his condition was very severe.

To be completely honest, i was dreading having to make a difficult decision about continuing or ending Eoin’s treatment, this was my worst nightmare. In the end our decision was an easier one. Eoin simply never responded to the treatment he was getting. His never opened his eyes, never breathed for himself and his vital functions just started shutting down.

I expected to be finding this harder than I am right now. Maybe those feelings of loss will come, or maybe God has helped us through the past week. Eoin passed away on Tuesday and I have been surprised to have felt some relief since then. Going back to the hospital each day, seeing Eoin’s condition get worse over time, it was very hard. Other things have helped too, having close friends who have been through this before and everybody’s prayers and love for our family. Our 2 year old daughter Kora has been a source of entertainment.

We have been told that Jennie should be able to have children in the future, that is at least some comfort. Of course that is not on our minds right now, we need time to heal and grieve. On 28 October we will travel to Ohio and Eoin’s final resting place will be there, next to Jennie’s parents farm. There are many years of family history at the farm, and it feels like the right place for him.

Amazingly we received a large tax rebate in the post, the morning after Eoin was born. This has helped us to cover most of our bills and gave me amazing sense that God has been in control throughout the entire situation. Its just a small thing in light of what has just happened, but has helped me to cope with a very difficult week.

Chaos and Genesis

Often, neighbors in the type of community we are living in feel as though their life and their world are a complete mess. Their picture of God might resemble that of Marduk more than the God of the Bible. They may believe that their life is up to them, and they can rely on only their own wits and strength to make it. Genesis 1 however says to them here that God is in complete control. He brings life out of death. He triumphs over chaos and desolation. There is no contest. It follows then that the God who made heaven and earth wants their complete trust, for he alone can defeat the chaos and death that threaten to overrun their world. What he has done before, he can do again.

We have been studying Genesis 1 in our men’s bible study recently. It is fascinating to see the response that the guys have to these stories of God bringing order of chaos. For some it is very difficult to believe this possible when these cycles of self destruction have been continuing for a long time. Can God really help us to break out of this?

We are called to image God, and we must, with faith and courage, continue reclaiming our identity and destiny. This is difficult when people continue to make bad choices. One of our new friends in San Antonio has fallen badly in the past few weeks and is now wanted by the police. Its very likely he will go to jail. Its very sad and hard to deal with

But there is One who, unlike us, did not fail and carried out this mission to its fullest extent—even to death on the cross—and he did it on our behalf. Because of him, new creation and New Jerusalem is assured for us. Victory over chaos and death is assured. Therefore we do not lose hope even as we dedicate our lives to struggle against what appears to be overwhelming odds in our cities and sometimes get overwhelmed and wounded. Shalom is near. Christ has secured it, and his Spirit brings it to us and leads us in it. We must hold on to this good news and must hold out this prophetic vision for our neighbors and friends in a way that can make sense out of their places and lives within them.

The Philippines

We are now back in San Antonio after a very busy couple of months on the road. Its hard to know how to sum up our last few months. We were in California at the beginning and the end of the trip. We spent the first 10 days in Pomona, LA, the site of the Servant Partners headquarters and the final week in Yosemite national Park at the SP staff conference, with almost 200 people from around the world. We made great relationships, soaked up some great teaching and learnt a lot, visited different SP locations around LA and were fully commissioned onto staff.

For 4 weeks, we lived in one of the slums of Manila, in the Philippines. And it it this experience that we wanted to write a little about here. Botocan slum is in Quezon city, about 9,000 people live there, its very densely populated, most houses are made from cement with corrugated tin roofs. The slum is also extremely hot and humid, some of the toughest conditions we have ever experienced. Manila is a chaotic city, with terrible traffic problems and a huge divide between the wealthiest and poorest. We were told it is the worlds most densely populated city. its certainly one of Asia’a megacties.

We moved into the slum to learn from a Servant Partners team that has been living there for 6/7 years. The team has pioneered a new church plant, and leads a range of other social transformation programmes in the slum. We witnessed a movement rising up amongst the worlds urban poor, young leaders being raised up to lead, disciple and mentor others in their slums. Botocan struggles with issues of poverty, addiction, unemployment, violence and family breakdown. It was hugely inspiring to witness the green shoots of recovery in this forgotten place.

We spent more time visiting a retreat centre run by Servants to the Asian Poor, a sister organisation. We were taught about creative ways to engage the urban poor in Gods word. We learnt about the arts of biblio drama and story telling. We spent several days at a prayer retreat overlooking Manila, learning and practising healing prayer, receiving intercession ourselves and dealing with some of the personal issues that come out when you live in such an intense environment.

Jennie and Kora did amazingly well. We all suffered with the heat, and Kora developed some heat rash. She was very, very popular with the local people living in the slum and everybody seemed to know who she was. Jennie coped admirably given that she is now 7 months pregnant. God looked after us and nobody became sick. It was hard and challenging, but also very impacting for us. We are still processing much of what happened, so watch this space – some of those thoughts might appear on here.

We also wanted to give you a small taste of Botocan, so here are some photo’s.

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Kora’s friends in Botocan

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Botocan Slum

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Lilok, the retreat centre with Servants to the Asian Poor, in Rizal Province.

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Jennie and Kora taking some rest under the mosquito net

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Karaoke time

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Our room in Botocan. A mattress on the floor, and a mosquito net. Our house had 2 rooms and a small bathroom, with bucket shower

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Botocan church

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The church