Stolen diamonds, Flying punches, and the Joy of God
As I slowly stood to my feet, jaw aching with pain, I didn’t know what to think. Part of me felt so confused, a bit scared and doubtful, but another part of me felt alive with compassion and fresh love for the man hitting me. I couldn’t believe this was actually happening and I couldn’t comprehend the way the Spirit of God was causing me to respond…
The words “I love you, and Jesus loves you.” were the only defenses I was allowed to use. For some strange reason any hint of anger or self defense was melted away and with firmness and resolve while looking my friend in his eyes; those same words continued to repeat themselves from my mouth as it began to swell and the punches continued to come.
“It doesn’t have to be this way” I found myself saying; interrupting the cursing and screaming directed at me and Erik as we stood in the small apartment across from my friend who had once again lost any sense of control and was ready to hurt someone. His kids by now had hid in the closet and the mother of the children sat crying and screaming on the bed behind me.
He hit me again and I fell to the ground as the woman behind me began crying loudly.. Everything seemed like it was happening in slow motion… I calmly stood back up, wondering how long this would go on and what else there was to do. “Lord give me strength” was the only thought that ran through my mind as I looked once more into the eyes of madness and confusion confronting me, fresh sorrow at the brokenness of the situation washing over me…
It had been a hard week in Newark, a hard summer for the Iverson family…
Dear family and friends,
The battle for the redemption of our city continues, and I see that so much of this battle mirrors the wars being waged in the inner most depths of my own heart, my wife’s heart and the hearts of every human being on this planet. I have concluded that the redemption of the families of my community, and the whole world for that matter, must come at a high price. I am learning that the evil one does not surrender territory easily and that there is a great cost to be counted if we as followers of “The Way” would seek to walk in “the way” and engage the brokenness and darkness of the world around us as well as within the endless caverns of our own souls… (More on this later)
I write you this letter with great thankfulness in my heart for each of you and the joy that you bring our lives in the midst of the struggle. If you would allow me the time, I would like to share with you below the messy story of redemption happening in real time here in Newark NJ and the way I see it cosmically intersecting with the master narrative of redemption that the God of the universe has gloriously and sovereignty written for the joy of all His children and the glory of His Holy name. So bear with me if you can make the time, and may the mind of you the reader, and mine the writer of these tidings be opened up all the more to the mystery of faith and the eternal joy held out in the Gospel.
So here we go….
As many of you know from my last letter (You can read it on my blog if you didn’t get it) the summer began with a bang and it didn’t slow down in the least. Day after day the good news of hope poured forth from the corner of Hawkins and Ferry and all the people of the community were truly blessed. The food pantry stayed empty all summer, as soon as food came in it was immediately dispersed to the neediest among us. Kids gathered every day to experience grace based community though our summer programs, Over 15 teenagers were employed by our camp and developed job skills. The city of Newark gave us 3 different community development awards and continues to encourage and support the work we are doing. So many wonderful things happened that I can not praise God enough for His work. We are seeing so many prayers answered and I want to thank you for your support and encouragement.
Below I have highlighted the work that God has done through Safe Haven this summer and some new ways He is working this fall as well as new ways you can pray and support this vital ministry.
16 Baptized into the Family of God! Video will be on our website soon!!!! God is doing an awesome work. Whole families getting baptized… Amazing.
Attached are some pictures of our Reformation Sunday service. We fixed the ceiling of the sanctuary and barely got it done in time. We had a partner church (Christ the King) from a nearby town join us. It was awesome to have over nearly 300 people packed into our building. Trinity’s worship attendance seems to grow each week. New people are coming! Kids are bringing parents and the Word is out in the community that every day at Trinity God is showing up in an amazing way. We are flirting with 100 or so in worship on Sundays, 85-90 percent coming from our community. God is so good! Thanks for praying!
Safe Summer Camp – The 6 week long, 6 hours a day, 5 days a week camp led by our camp director Donna Mateyka and her awesome team had its struggles as expected but succeeded far more than we could have imagined. The camp enrolled 50 2nd-6th graders from the community and employed 15 teenagers. It focused on developing kids in all of our core areas of development and every child left with a deep joy in their heart and a greater knowledge of the Lord in their minds… Thanks for your prayers and support. We had a large financial shortfall but trust God will provide. We were promised some money from the city but that hasn’ t come through yet. Please pray it does. Special thanks to those who sponsored kids. I hope you got their post cards to you and enjoyed them.
Various camps – Our teenagers got the opportunity to go to two wonderful camps in Pennsylvania this summer; once in July and once in August. Both camps impacted our youth in awesome ways and continues to bear great fruit in their lives. Thank you for those that helped sponsor those trips and make it possible for them to grow in the ways they did.
New Bus donated – Yes, it is true, we have a bus. Eastern Christina school donated a 25 passenger bus and we are so thankful… Please pray for more CDL drivers to volunteer to help us drive it… (and for Danny to stop procrastinating and get his CDL)
Block Party- through our partnership with the city we closed off our whole street and had a Jazz mobile come. The jazz mobile is a non-profit organization dedicated to bringing jazz to the streets of Newark. We had a big barbecue, gave out lots of literature, made tons of connections and had over 300 people from the community come out. It was so glorious. Pastor Walter and myself both shared from the stage and we really felt the presence of God and great unity in our community.
Mission trip – 16 handpicked high schoolers got to go on this trip now labeled “Danny’s trip”. This was the only trip I got to go on this summer since I was so busy. The purpose of this trip wad to serve and this group of urban warriors did just that. We went down to Haymarket Virginia and ran the VBS for Kimberly’s Father’s Church, Saint Paul’s. Three summers ago when Safe Haven was just beginning, Saint Paul’s was one of the groups that sent their youth up to serve us ( and dig out the basement). Now three years later we got to go serve them. Our youth also painted their Pre-school and did an amazing job.
New GED Program –We have formed a great partnership with a local community development organization and are now able to host a GED program. Praise God since this is a huge need. Over 40 adults (many of them parents of our kids) are currently signed up for it. Please pray for them to show up and pass their GED.
Seminary Classes to resume. New York Divinity School has a Monday night theology course in our building. We are excited with the partnership. Please pray for great success as there is much need for education here. The class is on Christian Worldview and is amazing. We are going through the Stone lectures of Abraham Kuyper and many other amazing works.
New Partenership with “Against all odds Foundation.” Our Safe Haven After Class (SHAC) has partnered with this organization to help address many of the needs of the kids in our community… Please pray for this partnership.. AOA is a great organization that will be supplying all of our tutoring for the kids.
New Discipleship House.
Kirby Thurston, a 6 foot 9 ex-pro-basketball player turned pastor who had served here in Newark 30 years ago with my grandfather, has come back to run our discipleship house. The house is for single young men ages 18-29 to learn and grow closer to God. Kirby is going to run this program. We are very excited about this program and the affect that it will have in helping these young adults become men of purpose. Pastor Kirby is also helping with the after-school program. He is an amazing man of God and so good with the kids. He is African American and such a great role model to these young guys. Please pray for him as he adjusts to being in the north (cold) and serving our broken community with the love of Christ.
Monthly Support… As always we need consistent monthly support to keep us in operation. With the state of our economy giving has gone down while ministry need has gone up. Everything is growing by God’s grace and so many kids are coming into our family of faith. Please pray about partnering with us in this Kingdom mission of recapturing the city of Newark by recapturing the next generation. click here to partner by giving financially. (Checks can be sent payable to Safe Haven at 483 Ferry street newark NJ 07105)
Community Action Points
We have developed a great idea for helping the community, empowering our youth and providing for the many trips planned this year. We call it CAPS. (Community Action Points) The way it works is that the teenagers volunteer to help with all the different programs and get CAPS for helping. Each point is worth $1 toward a scholarship for the many trips we go on. This will help motivate our youth to serve and also provide a workforce that shakes the community for Christ. Here’s the catch, we need funds for the scholarship fund… if you would like to donate toward that Click here. . (Checks can be sent payable to Safe Haven at 483 Ferry street newark NJ 07105…. Put CAPS in the memo)
Pastor Walter Howard Pastor Walter Howard is now working full time for Trinity as our pastor. This is a huge step of faith for him and he needs to raise financial support to live and continue to grow the ministry with the adults. His adult Bible study has now grown to sixteen and his preaching continues to draw many knew faces each week. The word is out in the community and God is really using him. If you would like to support him through prayer and giving please click here or send checks payable to Trinity Reformed Church, 483 Ferry Street, Newark NJ 07105. (Walter Howard Support in the memo.)
Show Choir – 20 of our kids have joined a show choir of about 100 that draws from local churches. they are an amazing group and have an awesome leader. This summer they opened for Kirk Franklin and took first place in Mcdonald’s gospelfest. it was amazing. here is the need. Each kid needs to have a small tape recorder or MP3 recorder to bring to rehearsal so they can learn their part. These kids leave every saturday at 8 am to go practice for 2 hours and work so hard. Barely any of them can affod the uniforms, trips or the recorders. If you would like to help with this please contact Gloria Morales who is our Choir leader at firstname.lastname@example.org. Your support is much needed in this to help these kids succeed. If you want to donate small portable tape recorders (that work) or mp3 recorders send to 483 ferry st. Newark Nj 07105. If you want to donate toward this program click here.
Personal Stories and reflection (Sorry it’s so long, I always have a lot to say)
A few days prior to “Danny’s beat down,” Kimberly had discovered that someone had stolen her engagement ring and wedding band from our bathroom… one of the many homeless people, teenagers or kids who use our bathroom throughout the day had gone through her cosmetic bag and found themselves some treasure… Due to the pregnancy Kimberly’s Fingers swell and so she had taken them off and stored them “safely” in her kit… A very heartbreaking loss as many of you know the history of the ring and our engagement and what it meant to us.
It has made it very hard to love, trust and forgive the community we are in…
(Read Kimberly’s blog for more on this)
Sometimes we just want to leave. Kimberly had a pretty big melt down after we went through all of that and I wondered if maybe we couldn’t take any more and needed to give up. Maybe the war is not meant to be fought by us, or maybe we had just lost. The Lord is faithful and shows us His grace even in times of great discouragement and loss, and we are still here. We have decided to move around the corner into our own apartment. The space is smaller but more private and hopefully this will help give Kimberly a bit more space from the endless stream of need that flows into our current home since we live right next to the church building. Attached is a picture of the two family home we live in and our living room that Kimberly decorated. (She is so good at making a room come alive without spending lots of money.) People gave us lots of furniture and we are so thankful. The kids love their new home and I love it too. It is like my own safe haven and it is so refreshing to be able to come home to my family after work in the community. Moving to the street around the corner has already brought a few new kids into the Church too. Its so amazing how many people there are here and how many kids just around the corner I didn’t know. God is working and the Gospel is not going out void…I love watching the truth of God’s love and the disciplines of grace utterly change people’s lives. It doesn’t happen over night but it is happening and happening in my own heart as well.
I love having the good news of Jesus actualized in every situation we encounter.
Getting beat up and standing there taking it was one of those moments where the cross came alive and I understood a little bit more the true heart of Christ and what He really did for us. As I stood there interceding and standing between the raging man and his family my heart raced a thousand ways. I loved the man hitting me and knew that I could never hit him back. He was my friend and one of the sheep that God had given me to shepherd… How could I hit him? I think if he had swung on someone else, like one of the kids, I would have got physical, but his anger was directed at me and as I took it I felt a strange sense of unity with Christ I had never felt before. During this whole ordeal the kids were hiding in the closet and the oldest boy who was 12 had called 911. After getting hit in the jaw three times and getting pushed into a bookshelf my friend had decided to leave and stormed out of the apartment. He went and overdosed on his medication to try and kill himself but the cops got him first and got him to the hospital. The son came up to me afterwards, and said. “Thanks Pastor Danny for taking the hit for me.” My heart broke as I heard that… I began to understand…
On the cross, Jesus Christ took the full fury of punishment for our sin upon himself. He was crucified by sinful man as Acts 2:3 says, yet all of that was for the purpose of redeeming us. He loved His sheep and even though He had the power to utterly destroy those murdering Him and dishonoring Him, He chose to say: “Father forgive them.” He chose to love them. He chose to take the nails into his hand and allow his blood to be spilled that all of those who were His would be set free from sin and death for all eternity. He who knew no sin became sin for us that day and in His physical body, as Colossians 1:22 talks about, He bore the stripes that we deserve for our sin and by those stripes, those wounds afflicted by sinful man on the prince of peace, we are healed. At the time I didn’t understand in my mind how me allowing this man to beat me down would heal him and could heal me, but in my heart I knew that this was the only way his heart could be changed and he could truly understand the gospel, and the only way that my sinful heart could as well. In that moment I think my heart understood the gospel better than ever and in hind-sight my mind now sees God’s true grace in allowing me to go through that situation and what He taught me through it. You see, every time we sin and love or value anything else above God and fail to love our neighbor as ourselves, it is as though we were driving nails into the very hand of the one who loves us most, the very hand that feeds us, the very hand that touches and heals us. In our rebellion, our utter selfishness, our idolatry, our self-righteousness, we as humans daily drive those nails, daily beat, spit upon, forsake and scorn the savior God has sent. Jesus, our all-powerful savior chooses to take it. In love for us, the very people crucifying him, his mercy supercedes even our worst sins. That is what is truly changing my heart. When I looked into those eyes of rage and heard those cursing words I saw myself before a holy God, scorning the very one who left heaven and came to save me; the very one who was rich yet became poor for my sake that I might become rich. My heart is so much more wicked than I could ever know and how quick I am to rebel against God, to judge my neighbor, to live selfishly and materialistically, to crucify afresh the mercy God has given. On a cosmic level, what happened to me that day is what I do to God every day times a billion. This is a family whom we had helped for nearly a year. Hours of counseling, money, food, clothing and more that we had given them to help them in their poverty. What better picture of the gospel is there? God has done so much for me yet my heart so quickly rebels. He has given me so much yet I complain. He has spent himself on me yet I struggle to focus my mind on him and give my time, treasures and talents to His Kingdom cause. He continues to graciously give, yet I continue to selfishly take. He has loved me, his neighbor, his enemy even, above his own life, yet I judge and condemn and show so little grace and agape love towards those around me and give so little of myself to them.
How I praise God that in moments like these I get to see how much grace has truly been given and how that grace can teach our hearts to fear and at the same to time our fears relieve.
Oh how sweet it is to trust in Jesus and experience Him all the more in the brokenness of our world as we watch the fullness of His mercy become less dim. The vastness of our own darkness and the skeletons in our closets are made plain as the light of Christ shines brightly into our hearts and out of us. Our own brokenness becomes more apparent but His healing becomes so much more real and true.
At the beginning of this month I had the chance to baptize this man’s entire family minus his oldest daughter who is getting baptized in November. He had gotten out of jail and repented, his heart changed forever. He stood there with an unyielding grin on his face as his 6 kids knelt before the baptismal and I baptized them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The court had chosen not to indict him, and the case was dropped. That Sunday, as the sign of God’s covenant was placed on this family we also celebrated the Lord’s supper. As my friend came forward and I served him the body of Jesus broken for him and the blood spilled to save him. Our eyes never left each others. We both were crying by then, and the words “I love you” came from his lips. He reached up and put his hand on my cheek and said “thank you.”
Thank you Jesus for the Cross…
May the Glory of God and His deep love for you displayed in the face of Christ be your strength this day dear brothers and sisters in the Lord. We thank you so much for sending us into this mission field and praying for us as we engage the enemy (around us and within us) and strive with all His energy to make His Kingdom of grace visible to our community through the power of His Spirit. Shalom to you all…
For the King and the Kingdom,
Danny, Kimberly, DJ, Trinity and the new iver-baby coming in March.
107 Brill Street
Newark NJ 07105
Danny’s Cell: 862-215-2940 Email: email@example.com
Kimbelry’s Cell: 862-452-8688 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Family (Needs to be updated) website: www.fromscarlet.com
Kimberly’s blog. www.totheleastofthese.com
Danny’s blog: www.dannyiverson.com