May 29, 2014

Be Ye Doers

When I young, I worked at a local grocery store. To this day, I still get excited about things like grocery pickups and setting up our free market in large part because of my memories working at the grocery store. Over the years that I worked at the store, I worked in many different departments and got to know many different people as well. One of the people that I really connected with was my friend Chris Doers. We worked stock together for years and interacted a lot when we were both in different departments too. We would also get together outside of work to go fishing from time to time. Chris was always a good dude that I really enjoyed hanging out with.

My car accident, that nearly took my life, happened at age seventeen after a shift at the store. Chris still recalls seeing me that night just hours before the wreck. Not long after my accident, I quit working at the store to focus on college (partying). After just a few years of being away, and after starting to follow Jesus, I came back to work at the store again. Chris was still there and we continued to be friends. We would still fish and talk and hang out pretty often. I eventually began going to a 'house church' at Brian Sanders house, the first house church of what would one day become known as the Underground Network. I think we jokingly referred to ourselves the "underground church" then too. I invited Chris to come over and check it out one night, and he did. I remember him thinking that I was insane, and that our group was a little weird, and the fact that I was about to move to the inner city was just stupid. Needless to say, he wasn't too impressed, but he didn't forget the experience either.

Fast forward to 10 years later, and Chris and I have lost touch with one another. Recently he has been getting more involved with his church community, and getting more and more serious about following Jesus himself. The other day he was on the phone with a friend who told him he was on his way to visit the Underground. Chris remembered me and the house church he visited and asked his friend, "You mean that weird church that meets in some dudes house?" His friend replies "Brother, there's a lot of houses now."

Chris then set out to hunt me down, which didn't take too long as I heard from a few sources within the next day or two that he was looking for me. We got in touch and he came by. It was great to see this old friend and he reminded me of much of this story from his perspective. He just thought that it was crazy to see what all those insane, weird and stupid choices I was making back in the day have turned into. As we toured the neighborhood, and I showed him the houses and the gardens and all the work being done, he seemed to understand more and more what we were up to.

I told him all about the Underground and the work that I now do with The Well, and he promised that he would come visit us at our Thursday night meal called The Banquet. The first night he popped in, I wasn't there but I heard that he came and after the meal, and then I saw this post on Facebook.

Just a few weeks later, Chris came back with the whole Doers family. His wife and kids jumped right in to serve and talk with guests and just be here. It was a great night and we were so grateful to have them here with us. That night, after he left, I saw another post on Facebook that honestly made me tear up. Chris posted again about being at the meal, but what he said in his comments communicates exactly the thing that I hope those who join us to serve will take away. While many homeless folks need some dinner and come to meet that need, many of us who serve do not realize the needs that we have that are fulfilled here. I think Chris's comments help illuminate our need a bit, our need that is made known by coming and sitting at the table with others that we otherwise, often, do not see or know. 

Here you can see his post and the comments that follow:

(And by the way, his daughter in the pink/purple dress, is a cage fighter known as The Reaper!
So that's kinda awesome! )

He writes:
"It's amazing you think you're going to go in and help someone that is truly less fortunate then realize the conversation was probably more important to me. It just puts it in perspective how truly blessed my family and I truly are..."
And then:
"You know I went into it thinking I was going to do something nice but I honestly believe it's a privilege and a gift that I had the opportunity to be there..."
 And after a friend comments, "OMG Great Job," he writes:
"I feel that going there once or twice is almost self righteous, opening your doors to complete strangers everyday without question and without prejudice that's a great job." 
We pray for those who visit us would leave transformed and filled. Challenged in areas of prejudice and entitlement, encouraged toward gratefulness and  appreciation, and inspired to open their own doors and lives to those who used to seem so Other. We are in the business of building bridges and Chris is a great example of what we hope for all of our friends to leave with. We expect to see more of him around here but better than that, we know God has done something in him that will go with him to his own neighborhood, church and relationships.

In reflecting on this story, I cannot help but remember and repeat those words of St. James:
"Be Ye Doers" -James 1:22

May 19, 2014

On Earth, As it is in Heaven

“Truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.” 
Matthew 17:20b (ESV)

Our vision statement for The Well is: “Needs met, bridges built, a city made whole.” More than an ideal, this is the destination against which we plot our course - these are the objectives around which we plan our next year, next month and each day’s work. Bearing this in mind, I offer two ongoing challenges to myself and anyone who believes in this vision for the The Well and for our city.

The first challenge is this.

Imagine what it would take to make this vision come true in the most literal sense - the real and tangible changes that must happen in the sprawling ghettos of aging bungalows and public housing projects that encircle Tampa’s city center. 

To visualize a path, it helps to have a clear vision of the destination. I’ve attempted below to describe what I myself imagine our community would look like on some future day if our vision statement were to be realized.
Today, the sun rose over a verdant landscape of orchards and fields as far as my eyes can see, dotted with shiny roofs and bodies of water teeming with life. Homes are nestled among fruit trees and abundant gardens line our curbs. Beyond the grid of streets and sidewalks, there is virtually no concrete or asphalt to be seen. 
The fundamental material needs of all here are met consistently. Every effort is made to ensure that no person goes without shelter, no one is without a safe place to rest. Food - good, healthy food - is in abundance, and readily shared with those who need it. Those fortunate enough to have a surplus voluntarily contribute to provide for “even the least of these.” We judge our quality of life based on our bond with our neighbors and our ability to prevent homelessness, hunger and neglect in our community - not by comparing our lifestyles to those we see in other neighborhoods or in the media. 
Among people of different ages, races, economic status and origins - we have diligently remedied the previous ignorance and disillusionment, we have dismantled the institutions that confer certain privilege only on some. Conflict isn’t extinct, but together we remain committed to reconciling any separation that divides us. We each recognize that we are interdependent on the others, parts of a whole, and only together are we complete. At every opportunity, we choose cooperation over competition. Even the land itself is seen as a shared gift, and we treat it as sacred, contemplating with every choice what we will leave for the next generation. 
As we collectively pursue aspirations greater than ourselves, we discover as individuals a sense of purpose, direction and deep fulfillment. Because we now understand ourselves first as connected beings, we readily submit our knowledge, effort and much of our wealth for common enjoyment and oversight by the community. Even simple gifts of service and material goods now take on a much deeper spiritual significance within the context of our community’s reconciliation over generations. By doing unto others as we would have done to ourselves, we honor not only the commandment but the giver of the command. We remind each other to keep our eyes fixed on the vision, as every day we seek to make the present more closely mirror our future perfection. 
I find it helpful to envision this future reality every night as I fall asleep, and imagine what must be done tomorrow to make it so.

The second challenge I offer you is this.

Learn to believe in our vision enough to see through today’s pain, obstacles, and the seemingly insurmountable amount of work that lies in front of us - and find the faith that will make it a reality. 

Not only should you dream of this future, this dream should haunt your days. You should begin each new day with a clear sense of purpose driven by this singular goal. You should feel compelled to encourage the community by sharing what you’ve envisioned with the rest of us so we can conspire to make it real. Is there truly such a thing as Heaven on Earth? I can't promise you that, but we are commanded to work toward exactly that. I believe with all my being that inasmuch as our community will be made whole, we will each also be made whole in the process.

When is this future? Is it a decade from now? A century or more? In actuality, that day can only come as soon as we believe it to be true. There is a mustard seed hanging in our new office that symbolizes the mountains moved already in 2014. It should be equally as much a reminder of the mountains that we will move tomorrow.

May these words echo in your head until you believe them: “Nothing will be impossible for you.”

May 5, 2014

A Quick Update

Beautiful New Space
This must be what it feels like to walk on water!

Dear friends,

A lot has happened since our first quarter update that went out just one month ago. In that email I informed everybody that we were looking for a building of our own, working on transitional ideas in case we came up short on funds; and also that we had one month to be out since the donated space we were using had sold. God has been so faithful to us over the last few weeks and I am happy to announce that we have been able to secure a lease on a 3,200 sq. ft. building on a 3/4 acre lot on Florida Ave! It is such a dream come true and is nothing short of a miracle as The Well only had a 200 dollar per month surplus when we sent that email a month ago. Since then, many of you have stepped up and pitched in to make this beautiful oasis of hospitality in our city happen. Thank you all for your prayers, connections, donations, ongoing pledges and most of all for standing with us in this struggle toward mercy and justice for all.

The team has been working overtime this week moving all of our things into the new space and setting up shop. It is such a privilege to work on this labor of love together. We all are motivated by thinking about the amazing and valuable guests that we will be able to host and honor in this place. 

I want to extend an invitation to stop by and see for yourself. We are located at 3023 N. Florida Ave. Over the next few weeks we will be setting up and preparing to swing open our doors and our arms to embrace our neighbors in need. Stop by and pitch in or just take a quick tour. 

Many of you have asked me what needs we have as we set up shop. Below is a list of needs and I would like to ask each of you to consider who you know that might be able to provide the items or services and/or if there is an item listed that you would like to sponsor financially. 

  • Air compressor for 3.5 ton A/C unit and Installation 
  • Burglar bars for 6 windows 
  • A large shipping container 
  • Shed 
  • A large tent to cover outside dining area 
  • Brown couches (must be leather, vinyl or another scrub-able material) 
  • Many folding chairs 
  • Computers 
  • Privacy fencing 
  • Solar panels (a boy can dream can't he?) 

Please come see us and thank you for considering how you might contribute to our ongoing and quickly developing work of mercy and love. It is with tears of joy in my eyes that I send this quick update. God has been very good to us and we fully intend to be faithful to the task he has given us to love our neighbors. Thank you for your prayers and support.