A Cry for the FATHER
As I walked around the table talking to kids during summer camp I was amazed at the feeling of family I felt. There was so much joy in the room, such unity and order. Our kids are changing for the better. I am witnessing the amazing fruit of the Gospel seeds that have been planted in their hearts. What a joy, what a privilege to be a part of redeeming a city by reaching this next generation. I asked Zakaylah how camp was going and she told me how much she loved it and then said something that both breaks my heart and also reaffirms this ministry. She said, “I love Asa (our assistant camp director) he’s my dad.” She didn’t say, “he is like my dad”, or “he reminds me of my dad”, she said: “He is my dad.” About 5 other kids piped in at this point and agreed that Asa, who is only 22 by the way, was their dad as well. I had to chuckle remembering all the times I heard that too and what a great feeling it is to be so dear to a kid’s heart; but my chuckling quickly turned to weeping as I thought about the tragedy of this. Of the 60 kids or so enrolled in our summer camp we would be lucky if 10 of them could say they had their real dad involved in their lives. Only 4 that I know of have a dad that is really being a dad, and working hard to support his family, love his wife and lead his kids to Christ.
I am overwhelmed by the cry of their hearts for their father and how unanswered that cry is. Two 14 year old girls Kimberly has been ministering to just had babies… Why?… what would compel them at such a young age to give themselves away to the countless young men (also fatherless) seeking to “be a man” and find love and pleasure? The cry for the father resounds through the hearts of each of the kids, teenagers, and adults we work with, a cry that is louder than any other cry and is the root of so much of the disfunction, chaos and bad choices that these kids make. Why do these young men run so quickly to gangs, desiring to affirm their manhood through violence, crime, pimping off girls, stomping on the weak and destroying community? Why do the girls fall into prostitution so easily, so mindlessly, as if it were normal, and the only way life could work?… I heard of one girl under the age of 15 getting pimped out to over 10 guys a night… why?… doesn’t that make you want to weep?… my heart is breaking…. I think of my daughters… I look at them as they sleep in my arms, praying for them, praying for God to protect them, to be their everything, to satisfy their deepest longings. I pray I will be the father I need to be…. the father that points them with my love to the LOVE of THE FATHER.
A Pastor’s Ponderings- An Addict’s Agony
My heart breaks all the more for this community that God has placed us in. This morning I feel renewed in mission, ready to answer this call that my selfish heart so quickly desires to abandon. I have to confess I had a hard week. My heart was full of bitterness. A homeless man I have been helping for the last 6 years called me every day, nearly every hour, cursing me to a pulp, leaving the most ruthless messages imaginable, cutting my heart with his words and threats. I couldn’t understand why he would do that. I thought we were friends, I thought he was thankful…. But in his moments of backsliding he lashed out for someone to blame, he lashed out at his father who abandoned him. His words were a cry for the Father, a bitter outpouring of emotions that daddy was never there to comfort, a behavior that daddy was never there to discipline, a brokenness that daddy was never their to mend. His words weren’t really toward me. I just happen to be the closest person in his life and one of the only people that wanted to help him. In my heart I know this now, but last week I wanted to leave this place.
Last week my heart got bitter, resentful, self absorbed, and complacent. I did not love this man as I should. Instead of loving him and pointing him towards Christ, I condemned him in my heart and wrote him off as a casualty of the war and a worthless investment of my time, talents and treasures. In my arrogance I justified myself all week, with revenge in my heart and slander on my tongue toward him. I boasted to others of all the ways in the past he had hurt me though I had helped him. I tried my best to make myself out to be the trodden down hero who did as much as he could and deserves to retire and lick his wounds… I continued to ignore him all week, never called him back, pretended like he didn’t exist and that it wasn’t my problem anymore to try and help him. After all, I had already done so much for him and he is the one that dropped the ball and couldn’t control his temper and got kicked out of the place he was staying. It was his own fault he was homeless… there was nothing more I could do and I didn’t want to be bothered with him anymore. I had ministry to do and a church to grow and funds to raise, and sermons to prepare and a few of my favorite TV shows to catch up on.
Saturday night I checked my voicemail and their were 5 messages from him. I knew they were probably all the same, him complaining about being homeless again and asking me to help him, on his terms, to have a place to stay…(He refuses to go to any of the homeless shelters in our network.) “He needs tough love” I said self-righteously to myself as I heartlessly erased all the messages without listening to them, not wanting to be told how bad I am at being a Christian and loving my neighbor. I felt so tired of being cursed out after trying so hard for so long to love him and be patient with him and truly be his friend…. Something in the back of my mind told me to listen to the last message, and so I did. I expected to hear screaming and cursing as usual, but instead I heard a calm voice. He said “I have been thinking a lot about everything and I know you are right about a lot of things in terms of my failures. But the way you treated me this week just proved that you are no different than anyone else. You just care about your #$%^&*!@ self and no one else. I never want to speak to you again.” He wasn’t in worship this sunday. He hasn’t called me since.
I have some repenting to do to my brother. I don’t need to repent for not catering to his desires and enabling him to continue in the lifestyle he has chosen that is destroying him. No I do not need to repent for that. That is the right approach when seeking to bring people out of their addictions, immaturity, and lack of responsibility. I need to repent for not being a friend, for not loving him the way I would want to be loved if I was in his situation, had been through the things he had been through and was left on the street by everyone around me. I have repenting to do for my self-absorption, my obsession with ministry success and the way his failures and backsliding has tainted that image I hope in far too much. I have repenting to do for my laziness, and the way I justify it with all the “good things” I do. I have to most of all repent for my unbelief in the Gospel and its power to change the most wretched of hearts, not meaning his, but my own.
My heart is crying out for THE FATHER too, just in different ways than my brother on the street. I am seeing that I need the same amount of love to the same extent as my addicted, uneducated, handicap friend on the street. My heart is crying out just as much for THE FATHER. I go to so many things other than him to justify my existence and so quickly fall in love with things my Father gives me instead of HIM. So much of my religious behavior and moral integrity isn’t because I love Him so much more than others do, but because I want him to bless me. Somehow in my twisted mind I think that the better I obey, the better it will be for me, and the more God will owe me blessing, success, my agendas, and my personal happiness in life. So I obey for me instead of for Him and because of Him. What I think is obedience becomes my most selfish sin. I am not obeying out of love for My Father and in response to what He has done for me in Christ, but rather, I obey out of my own self-absorption covered in the shining shell of religion. When I obey in this way my heart can not have compassion on those like my homeless friend who haven’t undergone the moral conditioning that I have been privileged to be raised in. Instead I think myself better and more elite and worthy of the Kingdom of God and its benefits. I can easily look down my nose at him and not give him the time of day. I even can convince others that it is ok to treat people like dogs and promote elitism and even racism. I have set a horrible example as a leader in this and I want to do better…
So why am I sharing this with you? Well, their are two reasons.
First, I pray that this will move your heart to cry out all the more to THE FATHER and hear his voice and respond to His love in your life through repentance and faith. Secondly, I pray that this will move you out of yourself and more into a life that exists for others. I just preached a sermon entitled “Spend Yourself” at a partnering church here in Newark that is seeking to reach its community. I feel like such a hypocrite, for I am so far from what I preach, but that doesn’t make it any less true. It is in spending ourselves that we announce to this world the Love of the Father for broken people and the sweet redemption that is found in Christ who “Spent Himself” on us. As the Church steps up and becomes the Church through selflessly and radically serving the world we get to actualize the Gospel all the more. My brother on the street preached to me all week. How? He was showing me my attitude toward God. He was teaching my heart things I wouldn’t have ever known if I didn’t know him. I am hoping to repent to my brother as soon as I see him, and ask his forgiveness for my pathetic friendship and for viewing him and using him as an object of ministry instead of a person, crying out for friendship. I am looking forward to praying with him and seeking to guide him toward Jesus from a heart of humble love and concern instead of duty and self promotion.
I am also inviting you to join us in this mission of taking this city for the Glory of God and announcing the love of the Father to the countless orphans longing to meet Him. There is much to be done, yet it doesn’t depend on us doing it, but rather on us being it. I invite you to “be it” with our team here in newark through prayer and support, and maybe even coming here. We have short term mission trips, internships, and I welcome anyone who wants to move here and work and just live out their faith by being a neighbor.
We have 40 kids in summer camp still needing sponsors, a staff team committed to reaching this community in need of monthly supporters, and new needs of the poor are coming up every day. Through our website and thanks to the many people God has brought us to help us use technology for Kingdom advances, no matter where you are you can connect and really become a part of this Kingdom Work. One of my friends from Japan just sponsored a kid and can read her blog and keep up with her life all summer. He can know how to pray for her and watch videos of her rejoicing in the Love of The Father as she grows closer to Him and hears His assuring voice. It is amazing how connected we can be to those in need, not just in our community but around the world. Our summer camp is raising money for an orphanage in Haiti that we are going to build as soon as God provides the funds. Broken but redeemed people from Newark are going to fly to Haiti and build and orphanage that will house 50 street girls. Who would have thought that 6 years ago. Our summer camp kids just reached $220 that they have raised our of their own pockets for the girls in Haiti. They all just wrote letters to the orphans and are praying for them every day. I am so excited about what is happening, this is what we were made for: God’s glory and the joy of others.
My heart is indeed broken for the lack of earthly fathers, and the fathers like me that continue to fail, but my heart rejoices in the ministry of reconciliation- that we, as the family of God, can announce THE FATHER’S love to all and experience it all the more ourselves in the process…
Thank you for your prayers and support.
For the King and the Kingdom,
-by the end of summer camp all 60 of our campers (grades K-5) will have memorized: ~all 66 books of the Bible, ~ the Lord’s Prayer, ~Pledge to the Bible, ~Over 30 Bible Verses, ~ All 10 Commandments, ~ the first 40 questions of the Westminster Catechism for Children, and ~countless Bible stories
-by the end of the summer, 15 teen/young adult staff from the community will have learned how to keep a job, act professionally and will have had the chance to learn about God’s love.
-Several teens (coming from more stable families) have come forth to VOLUNTEER to help. They are hearing the Gospel preached every weekday of their summer, and are having a great time with the kids.
-10 Adults from our community have been provided with jobs through summer camp and other summer ministries of Safe Haven. These jobs are essential to their livelihood and providing for their families.
-Teen counselors have sought guidance and prayer for their futures as a result of the studying of God’s commandments and wisdom from the Proverbs (taught on Wacky Wisdom Wednesdays). They are taking to heart what the kids are learning.
-An outside volunteer has started a new believer’s Bible Study for five weeks out of the summer. Teens who never get out of Newark will be driven to the suburbs, welcomed into a Christian family’s home, and taught the basics of our faith. I would love to see more of this happening.
-TWO Satellite Safe Havens have started up this summer. We are doing a VBS at the church we are partnering with. They had over 100 kids show up. It is off the hook.
– We just launched spendyourself.org. Its a social networking like site for urban ministries to connect each other and others seeking to invest in redeeming the city…
-We also began a new ministry this summer called “The Nehemiah Project.” It is basically a non-profit construction company seeking to employ and mentor young men while rebuilding community assets. It also handles all the work projects teams do while here. Pretty exciting.
Please pray for us, we are growing like crazy and God is doing awesome things but we have some huge needs right now we trusting God to meet.
-Summer camp Sponsors. We offer a highly reduced in priced summer camp to the kids of the community. All summer long, 6 hours a day 5 days a week. We can do this only through scholarships through people who sponsor a kid. It costs $250 to fully sponsor a kid for the summer. We still have 36 kids in need of sponsors so to say the least we are hurting in paying our bills and our summer staff. Please pray about sponsoring one of these precious children. We would hate to have to close the camp down early, these kids need this. You can watch a video about each of them and get to them through their blog they are doing during camp. Click here to get started.
-Iverson monthly support – Our support account has taken some hits and we are in need as a family for more monthly supporters to help us meet our family needs and allow Danny to continue to pour all his time into this ministry. If you would like to join team Iverson you can do so quite easily through our new website. Just put “Iverson Support” in the notes or memo section for online donations and checks. Checks can be made payable to Safe Haven and mailed to 483 Ferry st.
-Nehemiah Project – Our summer missions program was expecting 145 people to come here for the summer to do outreach and work projects in various churches and around the community. We had numerous teams cancel and many teams had youth drop out last minute. When all is said and done it looks like we are only going to have 75 or so here. Attacks for sure from the enemy. Not only did many of the community rebuilding projects planned for the summer suffer, but so much of our summer budget relies on what these teams raise. Our budget is basically 50% behind… Fun stuff right. Great chances to trust God for His provision. I know we are in hard times and I am not surprised this is happening… but I also know that God is sovereign and we have made it through hard times before and the ministry moves forward. If God is putting it in your heart to help meet this shortfall please act soon so we can make it through this summer. Every little bit added together brings us through. We have never had any big donors and grants and almost our entire operating budget is raised through individuals and churches giving what they can. It somehow always adds up. For those of you that have already stepped up to this challenge I thank you form the bottom of my heart for your sacrificial giving. We are about halfway through the summer and have not had to lay anyone off. Praise the LORD.