I’m not exactly sure when it happened but over the last few years I have come to absolutely love cities. The first time I lived in a city environment was in Kansas City when I worked for a summer missions organization called YouthWorks! One of the most fascinating features of that city was their ability to grow food for those who were hungry in the most random places. One of the ministries we worked with was the Kansas City Community Gardens. If you allowed them the smallest plot of land they would find a way to grow food there to help alleviate the massive amounts of hunger in their city. They would send part of our group to an elementary school play ground where they set up a small plot to grow delicious food, or maybe on the side of the highway, it was incredible. Recently on one of my many walks around the city of Atlanta, my wife and I went to Piedmont Park for a stroll. In a similar fashion there is an educational garden tended by children in Atlanta to grow vegetables and fruit trees to educate and inspire a self sustaining food source for families.
When I first came to Providence UMC in Fayetteville, GA, God quickly gave me a vision for a ministry in what I call the backyard of the church property. The Jubilee Community Garden came to me in a time of prayer when I was wondering how we could both be faithful to the resources God has given us on the vast church property as well as something that could be a year-round missions project. There is a necessity for short term missions, the youth program has both a middle school and a high school mission trip each summer both of which God does amazing things through, but I wondered if there was something we could do year-round that could proclaim good news to the hungry in our community. The Jubilee Community Garden is what I believe was God’s answer to my prayer. The word Jubilee has a different connotation in our modern context than what I am hoping to communicate by giving away food. Most people hear the word “jubilee” and think of excitement and happiness. I wanted to communicate those emotions, yes, but more so the Biblical definition. In the year of Jubilee in the Old Testament, debts were to be cancelled, indentured servants set free and the ground would lay dormant. The ironic thing about our Jubilee garden is that the point of it is not to let the ground lay dormant but to trust God to give us enough food to help those in need.
I believe God wants us to communicate freedom to those who are held captive by poverty and hunger while also growing community. Families within the Providence family and outside of it have been growing food of their own, some for the first time ever. There is a joy I have received when pulling weeds, watching tiny seeds grow into food, seeing God provide so many volunteers to work the land to alleviate hunger. I pray so often for the amazing people that have made this project possible. One of the reasons I knew this vision could have never come from me is because it was way too big. Money was donated by the missions committee, the electric fence to keep out deer was built by John Mark Wood and the men’s ministry, and a water line was trenched and hooked up by Brett Vincent and David Villars. Mitch Fralish used his eagle scout abilities to build plot boxes. Paul, AJ, Hannah, Ryan, and Karen Post have been there to do whatever necessary to keep it looking beautiful and safe. John Lacy chipped in to help get rid of weeds plaguing certain sections. Gardening advice and labor were provided by Katy Trietsch, Kimberly Beatty and family, Chrissy O’neal and family, and we also had tremendous help from farmer Jack Clower. Others have volunteered to cultivate food to donate from their own plots like Fiona Dennis. I have been overwhelmed by God’s Spirit moving among so many people in this community.
The call and mission statement of Jesus in Nazareth that he had come to proclaim good news to the poor and release to the captives still applies to us today. It doesn’t matter if it’s planting an extra row of veggies to be given to a local food pantry, volunteering time and talent at a homeless shelter or children’s home, donating blood to the Red Cross to save lives. I know that our God is still alive today working in the hearts of many who can help fulfill the good news preached by Jesus. What are some other ways that you are trying to bring the kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven?
Here are some pictures of the Jubilee Community Garden from empty red clay, to a prayer-filled garden space.
I was wandering through the internet, scrolling through some tweets, when I noticed this video and people were asking questions like, “What if we had as much compassion as this 9 year old?” and it got me thinking (as is the point of this blog, to tell the internet my not so random thoughts) about compassion. I can think of several passages from the gospels where it states Jesus was filled with compassion. The first thing people often think of when they hear the word “compassion” is feeling sorrowful. However, there is more to compassion. The dictionary defines compassion as: “a feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering.” If we are going to be filled with compassion over anything in this world, we need to go beyond having our heart break and move into action.
This Charity Water video explains how the compassion felt by one 9 year old affected over 60,000 people in places she probably never could have imagined. My hope and prayer isn’t necessarily to make you aware of the amazing ministry and mission of Charity Water (but that might be the reason why you are reading this post, and if it is, STOP READING AND GO DONATE). My question for all of us (myself included) is: does my heart break for what breaks the heart of God? If it does, then what should we do about that? A question I like to ask my students during or after a missions experience is simply: “what broke your heart on the trip?” If we are to be about helping to create God’s kingdom on earth as it is in heaven, being instruments of God’s social justice, then there needs to be redemption in the place we go on mission. Often what I have found is I agree with Mother Teresa who said: “loneliness is the leprosy of modern society.” The work I have seen done by teenagers is incredibly important, houses need to be painted, yards need to be cut. However, the paint will fade, the grass will grow, but the love that is expressed in listening to stories and alleviating the loneliness while doing the mission work is what lasts forever.
“So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, an affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.” (Philippians 2:1-2)
Pray for God to break your heart for what breaks His, but don’t let the feelings of sympathy and empathy stop there. Accompany those feelings with a desire to alleviate that suffering and do something about it.
My discovered creativity, spoken word poetry
Growing up, one thing you would never hear me describe myself as is creative. I was never able to really color between the lines, my art teacher always had to spend extra time on my projects, and I don’t ever notice if my color schemes match. Until recently I have always had the impression of myself that God has just never gifted me with anything creative. I’ve read and heard messages about how God is incredibly creative, looking at the mountains and the oceans it isn’t hard to figure that out. But if we are all made in that same image, then shouldn’t I presume that God has gifted me with a form of His creativity? What I have learned from the ministry of listening is that creativity can never be limited to what we can see. Creativity can be in the way that we teach, it can be how we form words into sentences creating meaning and truth from our vocal cords. Creativity can be in the way that we worship. It’s an old concept to some, but when I enter into the sanctuary of God I know that I enter into holy ground. I’m not exclusive in this knowledge and while others acknowledge the holy ground they walk on but making the sign of the cross, or raising their hands in worship to God I’ve been known to take my shoes off.
I’ve heard it said that the creation gives great insight into the creator. We can look at the natural world with the simplicity of a beautiful sunrise, to the complexity of cell division or photosynthesis and we can gaze into the magnificence of our awesome Creator God. About a year ago, I started as a youth pastor and quickly learned that if I wanted to, I could work 24 hours in a day. My wife being the amazing woman of God and who I can only describe as wonderful, told me that I needed to get a hobby. I played baseball in college so finding a hobby was actually something I never thought of before. After seeing a Youtube video of spoken word poetry it unleashed a creativity within me that lay dormant for over 26 years. God began to use this creativity to connect with a community I never even knew existed. The poetry that came from the Holy Spirit within me has brought me into a new definition of creativity. God can and has used the arts to communicate His love to His children. From the poetry found in biblical texts, to breathtaking starry nights it’s important to take time to recognize God’s creativity in the world and the image He created us in.
In everyday life, I don’t think about painting pretty pictures, drawing portraits without stick figures, or how I can create a functional and wonderful-looking living space. But I do recognize the creativity in the Body of Christ working together in poetry, paintings, stained glass, technology, what seems like unlimited outer space, rolling hills, words speaking truth in melody, or even a newly created logo design. As we continue to walk through life with traditional creative gifts like painting or unconventional creativity like spoken word poetry, our witness can be in using the creative gifts of our creative God pointing to His glory.