Now that was a wild, fun and crazy weekend. From Friday to yesterday myself along with my wife and our new 22 year old relative/temporary roommate (more on that in a future post), went from volunteering at a charity event here in Chicago, to seeing Dave Ramsey Live in Grand Rapids, Michigan, to meeting some of the most amazing people Grand Rapids has to offer, and it all culminated in a truly euphoric spiritual experience at one of the most amazing church’s I have ever stepped foot in.
I’ll save the Ramsey experience for a separate post and today I’ll share about the volunteer event and my trip to Mars. Through our church my wife has partnered with a great organization called By the Hand. This organization reaches out into some of the most impoverished areas in the city of Chicago to provide love, hope and the tools to succeed in our world to children in Cabrini Green, Austin and Englewood. By the Hands takes youth in these areas who have disciplinary records and are failing out of classes, and provides tutoring, immunizations, bible study, home cooked meals, help with college scholarship applications when in high school, and essentially shows these kids that they are valuable in this world and how they can grow and positively contribute to it as well.
On Friday for the elementary school children in the program we helped throw a party. For the kids’ in the program that have earned A’s, B’s and C’s on their latest report card we had an ABC Party. It was like a outdoor carnival inside of a gymnasium. There was football toss, bags, sack races, an ice cream sundae station, egg relays and pin the tail on the donkey just to name a few. Admittedly I was probably not the best “rule enforcer” as I manned the football toss. In a very quick manner my station went from kids’ being about five feet away trying to toss the football into the hands of the target, to kids’ launching the football from about 50 feet away and eventually into a game of catch.
As the game got away from me and for a split second I thought about confiscating the footballs and bringing the kids’ back to within the 5 foot mark I looked around the gymnasium completing a visual sweep of the area. These kids, who grow up in areas where childhood innocence is lost in a blink of an eye, where gang violence and drugs run rampant, these kids were having the time of their lives –laughing, running, playing, smiling- and through this organization and its events these kids are offered a place to get their childhood back and grow as God’s children in a loving environment. So I didn’t confiscate the footballs and instead watched with pure joy as God’s hands were at work through By the Hands and its ministries.
From there with our rental car (all already saved for and budgeted through our “travel account”) we drove off for Grand Rapids, Michigan. Which hotel did we stay in? Are there hostels in Michigan? If you are asking these questions, you haven’t been reading this blog for very long J! We couch surfed in Grand Rapids, Michigan and met some of the coolest and honestly inspiring people. Following attending Dave Ramsey’s event, we walked into a “Cinco de Mayo” party and were immediately welcomed by everyone as if we had always been friends.
If I was not convinced before, this was the exclamation point: People from Michigan flat out rock! The people we met have unbelievable integrity and are the kind of people I wish would surround me as neighbors. And our hosts were some of the coolest, funniest and awesome people I think I have ever met. They are the type of friends that help make your life better, and thinking down the road, are the kind of men I would want my daughter to date.
Through our couch surfing hosts we attended church service this past Sunday at Mars Hill. I had known the non-denominational church only by name because of its previous prolific pastor. Now it has been a while since I’ve ventured into a new church. But this particular one genuinely made an impact. As soon as I walked in I felt God’s grace. From the smiles of being greeted, to what I can only describe as a genuine and real presence of the Spirit. We found our way to our seats, and along with 2,500 Michiganders, worshipped together in what honestly felt like an intimate setting, something I’ve never felt when in church with larger sized congregations.
God then flat out amazed me. He hit me with a spot on sermon that I needed to hear. You can check out this amazingly awesome sermon herebut essentially God whispered to me that conflict within a church is not only normal, but it is essential in growing in love and relationship with God. You see, at my home church we are a piece of a greater puzzle. Within that greater puzzle, our piece has been (and will continue to be) working to help the greater puzzle get bigger, stronger so that our puzzle is more reflective of what God had in mind when He called us to love another.
Working through this conflict is what love and relationships are all about, especially and most importantly within Christian circles. Yes we disagree, but here’s a dirty little secret: CHRISTIANS ALWAYS HAVE AND ALWAYS WILL! Patience, time, consistency, discussion through personal interactions (not email, twitter, or PowerPoint slide presentations) and being/living out a sermon rather than preaching one, in the long term, will always move and change hearts. My favorite formula remains: Focused Intensity over Time multiplied by God equals Momentum.