Monday, September 5, 2011

Fall Happenings

It feels like September kind of made a sneak attack this year.  Yes, I know that it comes at the same place on the calendar annually, but the fact that we started off the month with 90+ degree temps...well it just didn't exactly shout fall to me!  But it is HERE and the crisp air today along with it's beautiful breeze is really speaking to me.  It's put my brain in a place of such excitement for the stuff we have starting this month that I had to share it will all of you!  In addition to the Seminary Wives group, I'm also going to be facilitating (because I like that word much, much better than leading!) a women's study that will be for all the women in the seminary community at WTS as well as female students at Hope College.  Here's the skinny on the study:

Come check it out-it's going to be fun and super laid back because let's be honest here, I don't really do much that *isn't* super laid back :) Send an email to thestepsurbanmissions at gmail dot com to sign up or if you have questions about it.

Sem Wives kicks off next Monday night, September 12 8:30pm, at our place.  I'm really looking forward to seeing everyone from last year and meeting new faces as well!  I'm asking you to pray with me that hearts are moved to share in honesty and refuge as they navigate the journey of adding 'seminary wife' to the many faces we already wear as women!  It's a unique path to say the least!  I'm praying also that these women feel comfortable and confident in coming into our home and that our gatherings can truly be a place of peace and restoration at the end of a busy day.

Jason has started his time in Campus Ministry at Hope and the energy is fantastic!  I'm looking forward to seeing all that unfolds through there over the course of the year as well as being able to attend some chapel services with our kids so they can feel what is at work there as well.


Thursday, August 11, 2011

"I got it! I got it! I don't got it."

Have you ever watched a baseball game and seen a towering fly ball hit deep into the outfield?  A ball that looks to be no problem for even an amateur outfielder.  Except for one little detail....the sun.  The player calls out, "I got it! I got it!"  THUD  The ball hits his glove, bounces off his head and rolls toward the fence.  As you look at him, you can almost hear him say, "I don't got it....."

Or maybe you're like me and you tend to try and do everything yourself.  Carrying groceries inside, 8 bags at a time.  Getting food at a cookout, loading up your plate, balancing your cup, silverware, desert and that one extra hotdog that just wouldn't fit on the plate, "Do you need a hand with that?" or "Why don't you make two trips?" comes the response from a concerned on-looker.

Maybe it's moving large items and furniture, which I always seem to get asked to help with.  Even with others around me, I was quick to say, "I got this."  Moving a heavy, awkward treadmill upstairs and downstairs, "I got this!"  A heavy chest freezer, "Just help me get this on the dolly and I got this."

Well, I'm not as young as I once was.  I've also learned that it's just not wise to do somethings on your own.  Even still, I have a difficult time asking for help.  But here it goes.

We need your help, friends.  When God called me to ministry, He also called my family to join in this journey.  Our intentional living in a community filled with poverty, violence, drugs and depression is our ministry field.  While this may not sound like a desirable place to live for many, it's just right for us!  It's right because it's where God has called us to be at this time.  Despite the dangers that may be associated with the location of our home and outreach efforts, I'm sure that there is no safer place to be than walking in God's will.  Ministry occurs every time we interact with our neighbors, take a walk or even just play with our children outside.  It's been amazing to realize just how many parents don't really know how to 'play' with their children,  how many couples don't know how to appropriately talk to one another without profanity or yelling, and how many people don't know how to simply care for their neighbor.  Our life is a living example to those around us.  We're not just an example of how to be a good person, parent or neighbor, but more importantly, we are an incarnational example of Christ's love.

Some of you may think that there isn't much to doing these things.  What you need to look at is the context in which it takes place.  Loving your children and exchanging pleasantries with your neighbors may not be an out of the ordinary occurrence in your neighborhood, but it sure sticks out in our 'hood.  In displaying this love of Christ for ourselves, our family and our neighbors, we are opening doors to share the Gospel with others.  We live our ministry all day, everyday.  I balance my part of this ministry with seminary and part-time work (20+ hrs/week).  This leaves us with a significant deficit in our income vs. expenses.

For us to continue the ministry that we have been called to, I can no longer keep saying, "I got it! I got it!"  Quite frankly, "I don't got it..."  We need those who believe in our call to be urban missionaries, those who believe in helping others but cannot do it directly, those who just feel compelled to do something good, to partner with us.  Everyone can partner with us in prayer.  God willing, enough others will be led to partner with us financially to support our family and ministry.  What are you being called to do?  By supporting us, you are allowing us to continue to share the love of Christ with our neighbors and bring SHALOM to this community.

In Christ,

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Going to the next level

In August 2010, God challenged us with seeking people to partner with us ministry from both a financial and prayerful stance. We fought this idea of seeking assistance from others for our needs as domestic urban missionaries. After all, this is the same God who, just a few short months before, had really laid heavy on us the concept of being ‘tentmakers’ and being self supporting in ministry. Then we received our first anonymous donation and we realized, but not fully, that partnership was necessary and healthy for us to sustain ourselves while we ministered to people. We still made a conscious choice to only pray for provision-not seek it out through partnership. The time is upon us for this to change. As we feel an even stronger pull into our missional life, we recognize our need of support from others in order to do it. Simply, this is a journey we can no longer weather alone. While we have humbly relied on government assistance for food (covering about 80% of our food costs each month) and medical coverage over the past 2 years, we are still left with a huge gap to fill in the rest of our expenses to cover as modest of lifestyle as possible. Until now, this has been partially covered by maxing out the student loans available to Jason and using what remained after paying tuition not covered by scholarships for our rent and utility expenses which are just under $14,000 for the year (and, yes, this is living in one of the most impoverished area in Holland!). There is an annual cap on the number of hours Jason can work with Campus Safety which, when maxed out, falls several thousand dollars short of our basic living expenses. This does not take into account any resources we need in order to continue outreach to our ministry responsibilities or cover any additional living expenses that we incur as a soon to be family of 6. We are essentially living a life of intentional poverty, with no credit cards, no consumer debt and very, very few non-essential expenses (which are bound to happen with 3, soon to be 4, kids!). Our rent is currently covered through August 2011. After that is when living by faith truly kicks in.

We have come to learn that we will always be provided for by the One who knows and sees all. We trust in this and trust in the people who know and love us to come alongside us now, in partnership, to see and inspire the STEPS vision to continue and grow!

Please pray about you part in helping take things to the next level! You can make a secure, non-tax deductible donation through either clicking the ChipIn link below or the donate tab on the left hand side.  For mailing information, please click here.

The Story

We came to Holland, MI in 2009 under the assumption that we would be here for 3 years as Jason to attended Western Theological Seminary as a full time student to obtain his Masters of Divinity. After that he would find an an urban church and do traditional pastoral ministry. Wow were we disillusioned! We were quickly guided toward a different path. One that we never would have chosen on our own, which God knew. This path would lead us to become urban missionaries, embracing incarnational living and a life of intentional poverty. Jason continued his seminary education at a slightly slower pace in his second year to allow the time necessary to begin establishing a ministry in our new neighborhood, “the STEPS urban missions”. the STEPS (Sharing Truth and Embracing People in Shalom) was breathed into us with the foundation of Isaiah 61:1 firm in our core.

“The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound.”

In the fall of 2010, we hosted a great kick off event in the neighborhood park that, despite a rainy day, drew about 75 people, providing lunch, games for the kids and an opportunity to distribute Bibles. Around Thanksgiving, the STEPS was able to bless a neighboring family with food donated to us by a homeschooling class. In December, we coordinated Christmas blessings of food, new clothing and Christmas gifts for 2 families. Erica ministered to a group of wives from the seminary every month. Jason led a Hope College immersion trip to Newark, NJ for students to experience social justice in a dynamic urban environment. While these are the highlights of our first year in ministry, it honestly looks much different than we had planned. We have been very challenged by many of the people in our neighborhood who are very closed off from embracing community or even a quick smile and hello. As we were reflecting on our journey, we felt as though we were failing the vision that God had laid out for us. That we hadn’t done enough and things weren’t moving fast enough to show the ‘results’ that we felt others needed to see. At the same time that we felt we weren’t doing enough, God was speaking to us about ‘doing’ even less. It was confusing, to say the least, until we realized what He was actually asking of us was to trust more in His timing and stop trying so hard to produce measurable results in the meantime, to simply live incarnationaly and love our neighbors. All we could say was ‘okay’. The beauty of trusting in that timing and the sense of peace that has come from surrendering to that has been overwhelming. New plans have been laid before us; beautiful plans that, again, we never would have considered on our own, but are so excited to embrace!

God has made it very clear that Jason is to be a strong voice within whatever community we live for social justice and community development. This will require him to obtain his Masters of Divinity, but what we have come to realize, is that Western Theological Seminary simply does not have the resources to equip and effectively train him for this calling. As we have been prayerfully considering other schools, Jason has found an extraordinary school with a distance education option that he will apply to. This online learning will take place until we are able to move closer to the school so Jason can take in residence courses and allow him to secure employment to continue our journey as ‘tentmakers’, as Paul was in the city of Corinth in Acts. We are very excited by this possibility and are eager for it to take place. However, there are awesome opportunities in this next year waiting for us to embrace and run with here in Holland. Jason will begin an internship with Hope College Campus Ministries under their director of Outreach and Social Justice. He will continue to work in campus safety at Hope as a part time officer and we will also continue to have a presence in the neighborhood as we are led. Erica will continue to love on the seminary wives from Western Theological through scheduled gatherings and leading bible studies. We will continue living out an example of parenting with children in challenging life situation to others. We will also continue to support the restoration of couples finding themselves and their marriages in a state of crisis and seeking to rebuild and redefine their marital horizon. It’s going to be another exciting year as we continue to do our best in living out the STEPS vision of Sharing Truth and Embracing People in Shalom!