Stop the Train!

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Imagine crossing a street. Getting across is easy and relatively low-risk when there’s not much traffic. However, the experience is radically different if trying to cross a busy expressway. The chance of catastrophe is likely. For far too many, life is like this busy highway. Traumatic, life-shaping experiences are common place, beginning in childhood and continuing for the entirety of life.

One prisoner at the Sing Sing Correctional Facility in upstate New York described his childhood as like getting on a train. He boarded the train at five years old; it made a series of stops,

but he never had an opportunity to get off the train. His train took him to jail.

Whether it be someone in jail, a young man standing on the corner, or a misbehaving student in school, everyone has a story—everyone has a why. More often than not, the reason is traceable to unsettling events from early years of life. Professionals call these experiences Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs).

Although such experiences occur across all geographic, racial, and socio-economic strata, there are places where ACEs are a lot more likely. In these neighborhoods, simply being born within that locale exponentially increases a child’s risk for damaging outcomes. These rural, suburban, and urban neighborhoods are called communities of need.

In Luke 4:16-18, Jesus gives his mission statement. He said, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the oppressed will be set free, and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come.” He was sent by God to make a difference to those with the most challenging circumstances. He accomplished this mission by meeting needs, building relationships, and changing lives. To his disciples, Jesus gave the same mission. He said, “As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you” (John 20:21).

Jesus didn’t give his disciples an easy assignment, He gave them a difficult one. One that is still on the table today.

There are many ways to accept Christ’s call. One meaningful way is by creating a supportive environment for children, teens, and families through afterschool and summer programs. These programs can provide students and parents access to what professionals consider the greatest weapon in combatting ACEs, meaningful relationships. It’s these same relationships that become a bridge to introduce people to the gospel of Jesus Christ, the only thing that makes a difference in the end.

The prisoner in Sing Sing didn’t need a professional to tell him what makes a difference. He already knew what he wanted to do when he got out of prison.

He wanted to go back to his neighborhood and stop that train in kids’ lives. He wanted to be a train-stopper!

With 45,000 Southern Baptist Churches across the country, imagine the difference that could be made if each one heard Christ’s call to take the most challenging assignment and served the most vulnerable. The outlook, both earthly and eternal, would be radically changed for thousands of children, teens, and families.

Will you respond to Christ’s call? Do you want you to be a train-stopper? Can you meet a need and build a relationship? If so, you can change a life, and we can help!

Serve the Unserved--Eat with Someone

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“Bum.” To be honest, that is what I thought when I first saw him. Nothing new here. His long beard was matted and dirty. His clothes were worn. He smelled like a hamster cage. It was clear he had been living on the street. He might be dangerous, or crazy.

It wasn’t until later that I learned his name, Cecil, and that he had once been a surgeon at the famous Bellevue Hospital in New York City. But Cecil was an alcoholic, and he had been dragged down to another kind of life.

A friend of mine at the mission shared a quote that went something like this —

“Once you categorize people, you cease to love them.”

Past experience can make me think I know who someone is, but I may be wrong. After we had tea and bread together, I learned that Cecil had had a turn-around through Christ in his own life. Despite my category, he was a recovering alcoholic helping many others in our neighborhood.

Jesus broke some categories too, and when he talked about serving the unserved, he often talked about eating. “When you host a banquet, invite those who are poor, maimed, lame, or blind,” he said to a shocked and probably embarrassed host. It’s one thing to “help” someone, but to eat with them, well, that is another matter. Notice how angry some people got with Jesus, because he “ate with sinners.”

Here is something we are telling ourselves in New York City concerning addressing poverty—

Don’t just give food to people, eat with them.

Because food is a need in our neighborhood, one of our programs gives out over 10,000 meals a year. Hundreds of people stand in line for a sandwich and some fruit. But I am learning something, now that we have a lot of workers. Instead of handing out sandwiches or directing traffic, I sometimes simply stand in line with the others, receive a sandwich, and eat with the others there on the street. That way, I have a very different kind of conversation with people. We are eating a sandwich together, and in some small way, we are in the same boat.

As a natural “doer,” I have to remind myself that serving the unserved starts with listening. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German Christian who was executed by the Nazis, once said, “We should listen with the ears of God that we may speak the Word of God.”

So how do we get started in addressing poverty in our community, or in our sphere of influence? Here is a simple way to start—invite a person to eat with you—a person you wouldn’t normally invite. That’s all. It’s a good rule for a man to invite a man, and a woman to invite a woman. Instead of giving someone a meal, get two meals and eat together.

Cecil taught me that. Eating together and listening tends to change our categories.

Be Still!

 Photo courtesy of Sharon Fox of Lincolnton, NC

Photo courtesy of Sharon Fox of Lincolnton, NC

Last Christmas, my husband presented me with an unusual gift.  It was a square throw-pillow with the words “Be Still” printed on it.  I love it.  It sits quietly on my couch now, reminding me not to let the random hurry and scurry of daily life keep me distracted.

God says the same thing through the Psalmist in Psalm 46:10. 

“Be still; I will be exalted; the nations and the earth will know me.” (paraphrase mine) 

Essentially, God is telling us that He will be known “without,” or “in spite of” our well-meaning actions.  In fact, perhaps our frantic hurried-ness to “do the right thing” takes away from God’s glorious reputation in the world of human beings.

Part of the “being still” is having a Sabbath time each week.  “Time to be created instead of creator,” says Abraham Joshua Heschel.  God took a Sabbath after creating the world (Genesis 2:2-3).  Think about verse 3 and how you can stamp value on all you have done in the previous 6 days.  Think about how to make those things holy.