July 22, 2016

Investing in Social Enterprise! Please Help

As many of you know the Well has been in a time of serious discernment about the future of our work with and among the poor here in Tampa. In our last few quarterly newsletters we tried to paint the picture and explain some unfortunate external reasons for considering changes as well as some hard won internal lessons for charting a different course forward.  It's been a really exciting season for the team to reflect and pray and really consider what, among the many things we do, really meets specific needs, helps to build bridges, and really produces the opportunity for the fruitful relationships that we are here to build. 

Among the handful of things that we see coming, our family has been sensing a strong calling toward building small social enterprises that help develop marketable skills, earned income opportunities and also give us a chance to work shoulder to shoulder with one another in meaningful labor, which is where the deepest relationships are forged. Over the last several months we have started a small property services company, we have made a few small sales of produce that we grew in our aquaponics system to a local restaurant and we are eager to work hard at building such opportunities as we move forward. 

A few from our team just visited a community in Birmingham that has launched several successful businesses that serve to offer opportunities for work and relationship with those in the city that need it. While this may mean they work with a smaller number of folks at any given time it also makes for the possibility of deep and qualitative work with the individuals they do work with. That excites us and we want to do likewise. We know we have a lot to learn in this regard and it is why we visited. Our goal for the summer was to visit and learn from others who have done similar work. 

Next up, another small team of us are traveling to LA! Primarily, we are going to join Homeboy Industries for their Homeboy Global Network Conference. The video above is an awesome introduction to what they do. This gathering brings together a variety of non-profits, institutional, and government agencies to learn more about their social enterprise business model that is providing hope, training, and support to men and women working to reclaim their lives. 

Since getting to LA is expensive and we would rarely have the chance to be there, we decided to go about a week early to leave some time to visit places like The Catholic Worker LA, The Dreamcenter, Ron Finley (we hope), the No Estas Solo Refugee Center, and a few other social enterprises like Black Coffee

While this trip is a clear investment in our team and its future, it is also an expensive line item that is out of the ordinary on our annual budget. If you would like to help invest with us we would be so very grateful as we are working hard to not let our immediate expenses slow down any of our ongoing commitments. We do have a handful of other pressing needs though here we are specifically asking your help with this expense. 

Overall we hope to raise $3,000 to cover airfare, lodging, food, and the conference itself. 
Please contribute if you can. Any amount would be greatly appreciated. 

July 11, 2016

Sharing the Work

“Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” Galatians 6:2

About a week ago, a woman came in to the Well and it was clear she had soiled herself and was not quite all there. She came in hungry, and was looking for a couple dollars to catch the bus so she could get to an appointment. A new volunteer asked if we could open the shower for her to wash up, and of course we could. She got something to eat, eventually took a shower and changed her clothes. I had no cash, but we had extra help at the Well that day and I was free to leave for a short time so I offered her a ride to her appointment. All this woman needed was a friend to help with transportation. Unfortunately, because the Well was still open, I could not walk in with this woman or sit with her through the appointment. I had to drop her off and get back to the Well to care for the many people there. Normally, I wouldn’t be able to leave and assist this woman at all. Hers was a simple need, and as I reflected, I became discouraged about how few people commit to the cause.

There’s an interesting phenomenon that happens when you begin sharing life with people that have no home. While among your peers, you may share about your day or a small tidbit of what you do may come up, and there appears a glaze in their eyes and a knowing smile, while the words, “oh, you’re such a good person” escape their lips. That remark has always made me uncomfortable. In a way, that remark protects the person making it from acknowledging that this is something they can do, too. It idolizes the one who does the work, putting them on a pedestal that seems unreachable and unnecessary to someone’s everyday life.

But that’s not true. This type of work is accessible to everyone, and our work at the Well does not make us good people. We do not do it because love overflows from our hearts and we have warm fuzzy feelings for the world. Most days, this work hurts and leaves us feeling helpless. When I hear people praising the work we do in such a way, I confess I get angry. I question, “if it’s so good, why aren’t others here? Why isn’t our whole city taking better care of each other? Why don’t you do this work, too?” Not to say everyone must be at the Well, but what if everyone took it on themselves to find one person in need of a friend, and poured their life and energy into loving them? People praise our work, and then send people to us so we can help them, releasing them from the burden of caring for someone. That is not ok.

Currently we have 4 official staff members and about 10+ regular weekly volunteers. That’s 14 people regularly trying to be a friend and committed to the 50 to 100 people that walk through the doors of The Well. It is too much for us to love people well. But if those of us in Tampa who are housed and stable opened up our hearts to just one person, people would not need the Well on a daily basis, and the 4 staff members and 10+ volunteer team would not be killing themselves to meet everyones need. We could focus, and truly walk alongside people in much needed restorative relationships.

At the Well, we do not find people housing, we are not equipped to find them jobs, nor are we equipped to assist them in recovering from addiction. We are here simply to befriend people, and hope that through those friendships dignity is found for those who are outcast, and humanity and community recovered for those who live disconnected from their suffering sisters and brothers. In this befriending, needs are often met. But something the staff has been convicted of lately is that we do not and can not be everyone’s friend. If you are everyone’s friend, you will be no one’s friend. If you are trying to meet the needs of everyone, there will be some serious needs that go unmet in the lives of the people close to you. It’s draining us, and we have realized how our many yes’s mean we are stretched thin, and cannot give out of the fullness of our hearts when we encounter people. Running on empty, we may actually contribute to the alienation and pain that someone may feel because we have nothing to offer from the depletion of our own energy. This is incredibly convicting. We are here to love people well, but we cannot because there are too many people and too few of us.

So we will be cutting back, retreating, so that we can love better. Love ourselves, love each other, and love the stranger we hope will become a friend. And I want to challenge you, the next time you see someone on the side of the road, ask yourself what you can do for them. The next time you meet someone in need, stop your hand from reaching to your phone to call your humanitarian friend. I promise you, their heart is already breaking from the amount of people they cannot help. Open up your own heart to that person. If they need a meal, take them out to dinner. If they need clothes, open up your closet or take them shopping. If they need to be listened to, open up your ears. If they need a place to stay, open up your guest room. If they need family, open up your family. Not in charity, but in true hospitality that recognizes the face of Jesus in everyone you meet. Someone whom you sought as friend may someday become your brother or sister. Bear someone else’s burden, and share the work of loving the needy in our city.

Find someone you genuinely connect with and share your abundance with them. We are tired from sharing from our emptiness. 

July 10, 2016

In Mourning

This week has left us reeling.

If you have not heard, early Tuesday morning, Alton Sterling, a man we would have never known the name of, was shot and killed by a police officer. It was caught on camera by bystanders. He was shot in the chest while restrained on the ground.
Then on Wednesday evening, 32 year old Philando Castile was pulled over by the police, informed the officer he had a licensed weapon in the vehicle, and was shot multiple times while reaching for his identification. His girlfriend filmed his death, while her 4 year old daughter soaked it all in from the back seat. They were then arrested and held overnight for no reason.
Both men were black. Both men were sons, brothers, significant others. Both men now join a long list of black men killed at the hands of police officers, a list that shouldn’t exist but does.
Then Thursday, at the end of a peaceful protest mourning the deaths of Sterling and Castile and in support of Black Lives Matter, a lone sniper opened fire on the crowd, targeting the police officers on duty at the rally. Five officers have died, and six are wounded.

Is it any wonder we are reeling with grief?

Such violence cannot be justified. The deaths of Sterling and Castile are not rare accidents, they are an altogether too common phenomenon: 136 black men have been killed by police this year. And if you consider the history of our country, this is simply a continuation of the racism at the core of our nation. We have never valued the lives of black folks. From stealing people from Africa, packing them like sardines in ships, selling them as property, beating and using them and treating them like livestock, to imprisoning them when we could no longer enslave them, segregating ourselves when they refused to do the things we would incarcerate them for, maintaining systems that keep people in poverty, we have never valued black lives. And now, now when a black man dies by the hands of the police, it is not the officer on trial, it is the man’s dead body that is scrutinized and found guilty. There is no justice. Many in our community have been mourning, hurt, tired, exhausted and crying out to know when the world will affirm through action that black lives matter. And then, in a true display of how violence begets violence, an ex-military man chooses to use his skills to kill police officers.

Murder is always wrong. We are in mourning for these lost lives and grieving over the violence that became unavoidably visible this week. Eight families mourn this week; eight families are experiencing the first waves of grief, despair, and loss. They each have lost a member that they can never get back. Let us grieve with them. Take on the weight of eight men murdered this week. Mourn them. Pray for each family that is wrecked with grief right now.

But do not forget where the violence originated. The violence must end, but that does not mean we must forget how this all began. If our nation wants to heal, we must root out the injustice the black community lives and breathes. Let your prayers and your tears move you beyond this screen, towards your neighbor, and towards someone with a different skin color and life experience than yourself. It’s through relationship and friendship that our fear and misunderstanding of what is different begins to die. May our tears and prayers move us towards just and loving action.

Lord, be gracious to the family of Alton Sterling,
Forgive us for not standing in between him and the officer who shot him
Be gracious with the son of Alton Sterling, who just wants his daddy back
Forgive us for legally murdering fathers and creating an orphaned generation
Be with the children of these men, who must watch again and again their fathers die on TV
Forgive us for making a show of the death of black men
Heal the eyes of Diamond Reynolds young daughter, and every young black boy that fears for his life
Forgive us for the lie that this is their future
Be gracious with Diamond Reynolds and Quinyetta McMillon; comfort the widows
Forgive us for saying broken families are the problem in the black community, when we are the ones breaking the families 
Be with the numerous children that found a role model in Philando Castile
Forgive us for demonizing black men and never seeing the worth they bring to our world
Be with all black men that are reaching for their wallets during routine traffic stops
Forgive us for fearing blackness
Be gracious with every black man carrying a gun legally
Forgive us for clinging to our weapons
Be with the families of the fallen police officers
Forgive us for continuing to live in a culture of violence
Lord show the world that black lives matter to you
Forgive us for acting as if some lives matter less than others

Teach us the way of truth, justice, love, and peace.