Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Update: Ruth's Chris Steakhouse

Yesterday we had a follow up meeting with Larry Katz from Ruth's Chris Steakhouse. It was an amazing meeting. They are excited in using their talents to help bring Up There Down Here. More will come after the first of the year but I wanted you to know that God is answering prayers and he is moving the leaders of businesses, organizations and other churches so that each of us can bring our best to address the issues that makes God grieve.

Monday, December 22, 2008

SonCity Kids' Christmas Parties

Both Edison Gardens and Monroe Circle recently held their Christmas parties the last few days. There are so many great stories to share about how people and organizations stepped in to make this Christmas a very special one for the kids living in these communities.

1. Granger Student Ministries ("GSM") - made the Edison Garden's community center their special project. Yes, we have a community building at Edison Gardens in addition to Monroe Circle! Our team there often gets "over looked" but the leadership of Shelley and Dean do an outstanding job. GSM pooled their resources and purchased table, board and playground games for the kids to enjoy. Several young men came along with John Keim and spent several hours assembling an amazing game room. The kids of Edison Garden's were as excited about the "community gifts" as they were with their individual presents.

2. First Federal Savings Bank - Maribeth Rontz (who also leads our outreach at the Center for the Homeless) lead the charge and raised the needed funds to ensure the kids of SonCity Kids had a great Christmas Party. First Federal Savings staff gave above and beyond and Maribeth even found us a great Santa Clause outfit! Prior to stepping forward in an effort to stay within our budget we had asked our leadership teams to operate on a very limited "shoestring" for Christmas. Because of First Federal's generosity everyone had a great time.

3. GCC Children's Ministry - This year the children of GCC adopted both Monroe Circle and Edison Gardens for their Christmas giving project. Kids brought in baby diapers, baby food and wet wipes. An essential that many times goes unmet by parents living on a very small income. Kids brought in paper tablets, color pencils and crayons that were giving away as great Christmas presents to every grade school child living in these communities. Finally, Children's Ministry staff took some of their budget to purchase small backpacks for every school-aged boy and girl.

On Monday afternoon I happened to be cleaning the sidewalk at the community center. A young boy came running down the sidewalk and stopped to say "thank you" for a great Christmas party. He shared that he was walking home from the library where he picked up a couple books to read over the Christmas break. He proudly showed me his books stowed nicely in his brand new lime green backpack.

Job well done GCC. Job well done community. Job well done volunteers. You are making a profound impact on the lives of these kids!

Merry Christmas Everyone.


Madison School Christmas Pageant

Well, officially it was called a holiday celebration or winter program but with music teacher (and GCC member) Kathy Sellers at the helm it was not only an outstanding performance but everyone knew the true meaning of the season. The kids were engaged. They knew their lines. They were prepared. Parents were positioned to catch that Kodak moment.

Most of the kids that live in the Monroe Circle neighborhood and participate SonCity Kids afterschool attend Madison Primary Center. Amy Kring and several of the volunteers decided to show up and support the kids.

This one night the kids knew they really mattered to their parents, their teachers, their mentors.

Great night. Great people!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Christmas Cheer at MC3

My good friend Kim Volheim snapped these photos at MC3's cafe and food pantry. It was only in the low teens this morning but it was cozy warm inside. The children's ministry at GCC dropped off baby diapers, cereal and baby food for guests that have small infants. Tomorrow they return with gifts for the grade school kids attending SCK afterschool Christmas party. Georgia and the entire GCC children's ministry team lead well and did a great job connecting kids from GCC with kids from the Monroe Circle neighborhood.

Panera Bread donates all of the pastries and bread given out each week.

When Vicky Young is able to come.... people will wait for her to
share a kind word and a quiet prayer.

Betsy came for a cup of coffee and by her own admission never
wanted to leave.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

People Want to Get in the Game!

This morning Rob Wegner, Jack Magruder, Maribeth Rontz and I had the pleasure of meeting Mark Krammer for breakfast at Uptown Kitchen. Maribeth brokered the meeting and was excited to see how Kramer Properities and Granger Community Church could build a valued partnership.

Mark Kramer is a business entrepreneur has over 120 properties and now provides over 850 students with great off-campus housing. He cares about his properties, he cares about his tenants and he cares about his community. Mark understands the value of community by building relationships. He was sharing how he holds "block parties" each year so that neighborhood families and students can get to know each other so that when (not if) conflict occurs their first choice will be to resolve the issue through communication and not escalate the issue by "throwing gas on a small fire."

Each spring Mark has a very small window to clean and renovate each of his properties so that they will be ready for the next wave of renters. He needs people to clean and paint each of the properties and remove all of the unwanted household and school items that were left behind. In past years over 40 forty yard dumpsters have been filled to the brim with trash that could become someone else's treasures.

We think this partnership could provide;
  1. Temporary jobs and training
  2. Turning trash into cash
  3. Recycling great household items
It was interesting to watch the meeting unfold. Mark shared how perplexed he was coming to the meeting. He knew (and was told by his wife!) not to commit to adding more to his plate. He wanted to help but just didn't have the time. Once Mark realized he had something of great value and could give it without adding more to his already busy schedule he got excited. You could almost see the twinkle in his eye - the spark of an entrepreneur that knew he was about to help launch something that could become great - and this time it was for bringing a little piece of Kingdom to his neck of the woods. I think Mark realized that God had shaped him just as he is and maybe even more importantly use him mightily just right where he was at.

Now, that alone was worth the price of breakfast!

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

One Great Meal, Even Better Conversation

This week the Life Mission team along with our senior pastor Mark Beeson had the privilege of meeting with the executive management team of Ruth's Chris Steakhouse. As an organization they are not only interested in providing the most amazing dining experience for their patrons but they want to actively engage in each community where they have a restaurant. Last August they opened their first store in Granger on University Drive just east of the GCC campus.

They invited us over to a private luncheon and served us one amazing meal. They wanted to hear about what we were doing in the community and how they might be able to help with that effort both with employee time and financial support.

We were given the VIP tour, heard the story how a single mom named Ruth Fertel purchased a steak house (Chris' Steak House) 65 years ago in New Orleans in order to help provide her family a better life. We ate, laughed and shared stories. It was an honor getting the chance to sit next to Mark and hear him share how he and Sheila started the church - I have probably heard the story hundreds of times and never tire of listening to it. It reminded me of how the Israelites probably passed along their oral history from generation to generation. I was inspired to listen to Rob Wagner share our story on missions - from downtown South Bend to southern India. I added my small part but was simply fascinated to watch the meeting unfold. It was motivating to hear the leadership of Ruth's Chris share the critical need for their people and their organization to become embedded into a community. It was right out of a Jim Collin's book on how good organizations become great organizations.

Where's it going? Don't know yet. But it felt comfortable. It felt like we had a common goal even though our organizational purposes were vastly different. If nothing else I'd love to learn how they make each and every guest that walks through their front door feel like the most special person in the world. If we could transfer that "special feeling" to every guest that walks into Granger Community Church or the Monroe Circle Community Center we could really be on to something!

Monday, October 27, 2008

Does God Still Do Miracles?

Yep. But truth be told I usually so busy with my schedule that I walk right by them. Having the chance to travel to India a few times each year I have heard and witnessed what most anyone would consider a miracle. This past summer I met a young man that had been paralyzed from an accident when he was a very young boy. He could not walk and was completely dependent upon others to care for him. A couple of years ago his mother and father had become Christians. They had invited their son to come to church with them. They prayed for healing and he felt warmth returning to his legs. The next week at church they prayed again and within moments he was able to stand and support his own weight. Third week. They prayed and he walked out of church. No doctors. No surgery. No hocus pocus. God heard their prayers. Intervened and he was healed.

Call me a skeptic but when I watch the televangelist "heal" someone and then ask for people to send him money I have my doubts. Could it be a miracle. Maybe but I doubt it.

Why is it that I don't see the miracles of God in my own backyard? Am I too self-sufficient? Too busy? Or just not willing to give credit where credit is do? Have I become so arrogant in my faith and abilities that I don't need God to intervene?

The last several months we have needed to adjust our spending so that we can not only keep the doors open but maintain our financial integrity. Consequently, a couple things we wanted to get done this year was going to have to wait until more money came our way. We decided programming was of the highest priority so any building improvements needed to be placed on hold.

Our parking lot was one of these causalities. Last year, Josh Walk was kind enough to bring his company, Cutting Edge in and place four huge drywells in the parking lot to capture any water that was coming off MC3 or our parking lot. We were hoping to have the lot paved this year. Especially, after last winter people were losing boots, shoes and small cars as they became "stuck in the mud."

A couple of weeks ago Josh gave me a call and asked if we had gotten the parking lot paved. I shared that we had not and that I had resigned myself to the reality that we were going to need to deal with a "muddy parking lot" again this winter because we did not have the $18,000 required to pave it. He shared that he would be willing to bring over a couple loads of limestone and regrade the lot. I shared that we could not spend any money ($5000 plus for limestone and grading) but appreciated the offer. Josh responded that he was not asking me to pay for anything. Just, if it would be okay for his company to come over and do it for free.

When I pulled in to the lot I felt like God was telling me "here is your miracle." I know it is not to the same magnitude as some regaining their ability to walk, to be cured from a disease or to gain their site but I was standing on holy ground. I had a need that I could not produce through any of my efforts. Without God, it was not going to happen. God blessed Josh's business all summer long and he wanted to pass that blessing along. My faith grew that day and I am trying to become more dependent upon God so that I can give credit where credit is do.

What was inspiring was as I began to look at how God's hand was directing my life he started showing up. Just last week Mike Coleman of Finer Finishes called and asked if he and his wife could get a key to MC3. They wanted to come over and clean the concrete floor, wax and buff the cafe floor. Last year they had not only poured the concrete floor but stained it to look like marble! This past Monday I walked in MC3 to a shinny new floor. It not only made me happy but it will tell our guests that they are loved.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Billy Graham - A Testiment of Faithfulness and Focus for Over 60 Years

This week I had the opportunity to meet with the senior leadership of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and about 25 other churches from across America. The question BGEA had for us was this -

"As we transition away from stadium events with the retirement of Billy Graham how and what can we do better to help leverage the local church?"

It's an interesting challenge when you consider the legacy of Billy Graham. All of us (at least those over 30) grew up either watching, listening or attending a Billy Graham Crusade and witnessed thousands of people streaming down the isles to accept the call to have Jesus Christ become their personal lord and savior. How does an organization change its identity and brand when it has become a household name? Can it? Will the public accept the change?

It's interesting to watch an organization try to move from very good to great. Not many can do it. I wish the Billy Graham Evangelical Association the very best. It was an honor to sit in the room with so many great minds.

At the end of each of our lives wouldn't it be a powerful statement to our faith that smart and educated men and women would spend significant time and energy trying to figure out how to expand upon our legacy?

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

One Man's Journey/One Step at a Time

Sunday, September 6, 2008

I stepped into Martin "Peewee" Neals' journey about 18 months ago. I can't remember the exact date but I do know it was a Saturday morning. The construction team was in full swing working on the renovation of MC3. Martin was on his way to play some basketball but summoned the courage to stop and ask if we would be willing to hire him for the day. Martin was trying to find solid ground but having spent 15 years in prison it seemed his past was blocking his future.

A few weeks before Martin arrived we had started hiring day labors from the Monroe Circle neighborhood with these guidelines. Work all day, we'll pay you $8/hour and buy you lunch. Most guys would either work one day and realize the job was dirty and challenging and not come back or try to coast. Not Martin. He did anything and everything you asked of him and he kept coming back each Saturday morning.

People like Les Rassi, Bernie Erickson, Jack Elston, Don Vite, Kevin Maggert and Mark Scott begin to invest in him and would help him learn a few tricks of the construction trade. Not being able to find consistent full-time employment Martin started volunteering on Tuesday mornings during the food pantry and Shannon Papp, Jen Adams and Velma Rassi started to build a friendship and became strong encouragers to Martin. Mark Scott also hired Peewee to work for his construction company that fall.

Peewee asked if he could start coming to church so each Sunday morning we or Mark Scott would swing by and pick him up for church. Martin had met Russ Lawley at a donor event at MC3 and began to also try to speak and encourage him every Sunday.

The Scott's and the Vite's invited Martin to their families' Super Bowl party and made the effort to make him feel like he was part of their family and not just an invited guest. Since then, Peewee has attended many family functions at both the Vite's and Scott's.

In January of 2008 we enrolled Martin in the STARs soft-skilled vocational training program offered by the Center for the Homeless. Martin was taking more steps. He kept working for Mark Scott and taking additional odd jobs to earn enough to survive and we began to work on learning to budget and he began to read Dave Ramsey. One of the first things we altered was how he paid his rent. Qualifying for Section 8 (housing support) his monthly rent payment was very affordable but if you were one day late the late few was more than the monthly rent.

This summer Dan Adams and his management team at MTI/Adam's Engineering redesigned and restructured their company's warehouse operations so that they could provide a couple of opportunities for guys wanting to find solid ground. Peewee applied and got the job. Full-time, 40+ hours each week and full benefits. Martin loves his job and his footing is beginning to become more solid. One more step.

So who's there on Sunday to help celebrate Peewee's baptism - The Scott's, the Vite's, the Rassi's, the Papp's, the Adam's, the Maggert's and many more cheering Martin on as he takes his next step.

What I've learned from Martin's journey is that it takes many people to make small changes to their daily lives to help one person break the grasp of generational poverty. But, the simple truth is this - those small changes in our lives have made our lives so much richer and fuller and we will never be the same because one Martin "Peewee" Neal walked into our lives some 18 months ago. The journey continues for all of us, one step at a time!

photos taken by Leanna Vite

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

The Kids are Coming, the Kids are coming!!!!

Next Monday (September 8th) the SonCity Kids After-school program will start for the 2008/2009 school year. Even though it has been just a little over a month since the SonCity Summer program ended it seems like a lot longer. Yes, it is hectic maybe even chaotic at times but after you get over the initial wave of energy you begin to see the immediate and significant impact our volunteers have on the lives of this kids.

We'll begin the after-school program on Monday and Wednesday of each week from 3:30 to 5:00 PM. Hopefully, by the first of October will be able to not only add Tuesday and Thursday but begin a partnership with the South Bend Community School Corporation and offer LEAP to the kids that attend Madison Primary Center. Certified and committed teachers along with our volunteers will help a lot of these kids move from 1 to 1 1/2 years behind their peers (average 3rd grade variance) to the top of their class.

If you have an 1 1/2 a week and want to make a huge impact in the life of a young boy or girl you may want to check out SonCity Kids After-school program. However, if weekdays just won't fit into your schedule you may want to check out SonCity Kids ( on the 3rd Sunday of every month or SonCity Teens which meets on the 1st Sunday afternoon of the month.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Bennie is Famous!!!!

Our very own Bennie made the South Bend Tribune today in a front page article "Mentor loves boy's endless energy!" Mike Pozzi was Bennie's mentor last year through the South Bend school's Partner Up mentoring program. Mike is looking forward to reconnecting with Bennie this fall when the program gets back into full swing. My pray and hope is that Mike will notice a difference in Bennie - a positive difference from Bennie and his twin brother Kennie participating in SonCity Summers. From Bennie's involvement in SonCity Kids this summer. And, hopefully he will be able to participate in SonCity After-school staring next month at MC3.

Amy Kring, coordinator for SonCity After-school and SonCity Summers has been meeting with Angela Buysse, Bennie and Kennie's principal at Madison Primary Center. If everything goes as planned we will be expanding SonCity After-school to include LEAP tutoring and Wilson Lipps learning techniques that are tailored to address the specific needs of every child. Teachers from Madison will be working with our volunteers at SonCity After-school to help Monroe Circle kids to achieve their academic best.

We need more Mikes, we need more Amys, we need more Angie Buysses, we need more committed people to grab a hold of kids like Bennie and hold tight because if we don't then we will get more of what happened last night at Southeast Park ("Shooting leaves 1 dead after celebration in park") Good and evil exists in South Bend and today it shared space on the front page of the South Bend Tribune. I believe it is our mandate from God to move evil off of front page center and replace it with more stories like Bennie's.

What Wakes Me Up at Night....

I don't know what keeps you up at night but for me it has become the practice of infanticide in several remote villages and towns in southern India. As some of you know from reading previous posts we just returned earlier this month from Tamil Nadu so for the first few days I credited my sleep deprivation to "jet lag" but that usually subsides after 3 to 5 days. Three weeks back and it is still going strong.

What I have learned over the years is this is when God wants to talk to me. Not in an audible booming voice but through reading the Bible, searching the internet, reading, praying and listening to his directives. I think it might be because I have a difficult time with rest and taking the Sabbath - if awake I want to be always moving, doing something, going somewhere. So, God uses that 2 AM to 5 AM time to wake me up and have me listen to him.

Now in India the practice of taking the life of a baby (primarily baby girls) called infanticide is not only not condoned but against the law in India but it still occurs. Trying to find out the exact number of deaths is extremely difficult but in one town it has been estimated nearly 200 baby girls are either drowned or poisoned shortly after birth each year. Add to this another 1500+ children abandoned in the first few years of their life and you begin to see the pandemic challenge.

I realize it is extremely easy from afar to judge the decisions of parents living in a third world but with their limited worldview understanding this seems to them to be if not the best the only option. However, one alternative that is now beginning to be viewed as acceptable is to leave your baby girl at a "community cradle" in the hopes that she will be placed in an orphanage. Unfortunately, there are still many challenges with the present orphanages and adoption agencies that rely on the flow of babies.

So there it is. That is -as Bill Hybels discribes it - my holy discontent. Not sure what role GCC will play in all this but I do know we, as a church we are having great impact with many churches in that area. What I do know is God starts to intersect people and organizations in my life that for no other reason are crossing paths for such a time as this.

The visual God gives me is of a meteor shower. The kind that you see when you are camping high in the mountains and far, far away from any "city light" that may filter the view. Meteors like our very own Jill Ulrich who is the Deputy Director for International Justice Mission and is stationed in Chennai, India. Meteors like Raj and Prema who now work directly with us in India. Meteors like Sinduh and her family that live at the epicenter of where infanticide is commonly practiced. Meteors like Larry and Francis Jones of Feed the Children that shared they would share all they have learned about starting and operating an orphanage in Kenya. Meteors like Andrea Welch and her legal mind that when you talk to her about this issue a fire burns in her eyes that simply says "not on my watch will I do nothing!"

What is going to happen. I don't know. But I do know it must be a holistic approach. Because dawn is quickly coming and it is time to wake up!

Thursday, August 21, 2008

What an Interesting Breakfast Meeting

This morning I had the pleasure of having a breakfast meeting at Uptown Kitchen with LaPhonso Ellis. We have a mutual friend in Bob Dunbar and he arranged the meeting. LaPhonso grew up in St. Louis and played his college ball at University of Notre Dame and spent eleven seasons playing professional basketball retiring in 2003.

Phonz and Peter Parros started Ten Talents Productions. This cartoon is a flash-animation, multicultural, action-adventure series that features ten angles disguised as teenage superheroes. The names of the ten heroes each reflect Godly virtues.

Kidz of the King is based upon the popular comic book series created by Reggie and Dionne Byers, currently published by U.M.I. The Byers created Kidz of the King when they recognized the need for children to learn life lessons that are not necessarily being addressed by many existing television shows and most other forums of media.

Since Kidz of the King is rendered and targeted toward kids (ages 4 to 12) living in inner city environments and deals with real issues they deal with every day I was extremely excited to learn more and see how we might incorporate at MC3 and SonCity Kids.

How fun is this!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008


This is a copy of an email that I received from LeRoy King. Just 8 weeks ago LeRoy and his small group started the Gathering at MC3. The Gathering was designed to be a small group setting but with 65 adults and 20 kids (not including volunteers) showing up on this past Tuesday I think God is really up to something amazing.

Tuesday, August 19th Gathering:

MC3 "Gathering" is going through the "Source" series. We began
with the "Power Above You." What a special night it was. Our
guest started lining up at the door before 6pm. Once the doors
were open, you just knew it, was going to be a good night. The
atmosphere was charged with electricity. Was it because they
were anticipating my usual entertaining and well thought out
talks? Was it that they somehow knew that Mark Beeson will be
funny and engaging when he tells his "Judo Boy" story? Or, was
it the, soon to be devoured, Egg rolls, stir fry, and soup thing-a-ma-jig?
Umm, Umm, Umm.

The doors opened. The door men, the check-in lady,
waiters/hostesses/whatever we need them to do volunteers were
greeting and seating the guest while Jazz music is lightly
playing in the background. Another group of volunteers are
making magic in the kitchen, and the those working with the kids
are somewhere pulling their hair out. The drinks and appetizers, Egg
Flower Soup, is distributed to the seated guest while name tags
are being handed out.

A little later, after concluding my welcoming spill, I was about
to pray when "it" happened. A volunteer raised her hand, "This
man right here wants prayer for depression, his name is Paul...
Yeah LeRoy, I need prayer to...Hey LeRoy, pray for my
ex-husband he has cancer." Another volunteer pointed out a lady
in a lime green T-shirt, "she is asking for prayer." Wow, real
stuff. And we prayed.

After a short introduction, we showed Mark Beeson's "Judo Boy"
story. They laughed and applauded when Mark finished his story.
I led them in an activity. Then we stop for our dinner break.

As I was talking to some of our guest during the dinner break, I
heard someone call out, "LeRoy! Mr King!" Yes. "We did not pray
over the food!" "I didn't include it in the opening prayer?" The
whole room shouted, "no!" So I prayed over the food. After
everyone said "Amen," they applauded. Wow...

The second section of the evening started with the Man on the
Street media, "Who has Authority over you." Afterward, I did a
short talk, then we showed some more of Mark's message. And boy,
they got right with Mark.

"...Lift your eyes higher still!" "That's right!" "There are
prosimate powers, but there is a higher power" "Amen!" "If you
look to yourself...then your god is a wee, little god!" "YEAH!,

It was great. When Mark message ended, they applauded again. (I
just wanted to say that they responded to my talk in the same case anyone was wondering...umm...I'm just

I prayed...then we played the "My King is..." DVD. They really enjoyed
the presentation and they began singing with the GCC band at the end
of the DVD. But what happened next I did not expect.

While the "My King is..." DVD was playing. One of the guest came
up to me and asked if they could give their testimony. I could
not tell if she was a man or women. Most of her body was
disfigured. "What's your name," I asked. "Teresa." When the DVD
ended she began telling us how that a few years ago, she was
blown out of the window of her apartment due to a stove gas
leak. She began to sob. The crowd responded, "...go ahead
Teresa...that's okay...take your time Teresa." Teresa composed
her self and stated that she has had several surgeries, and she
has a few more to go. She recently moved back to South Bend to
be with family and friends. She said that this was the first
time they had seen her since the accident. She concluded by
saying that God has been there for her and she gave him the
glory. I didn't expect this... Several of our guest and
volunteers gave Teresa a hug, thanking her for sharing her
testimony. What a powerful night.

Oh yeah, you remember the lady in a lime green T-shirt? One of
our volunteer couple took her outside to pray with her and they
inform me after the event that she wants to get baptized. Woo!
Wee! (If there are people from the Gathering who would like to
be baptized, is there a way that we can get them to GCC? I'm
just thinking outloud!)

Remember Lula with the broken car window? She has attended the
GCC's Sunday service for the last two weeks. This is the first
time she has been at GCC. She is also making plans to attend the
mid-week services as well. Praise God!

Ike Randolph Visits MC3

Indiana's Executive Director of the Office of Faith-based and Community Initiatives visited the Community Center today. As Jack Magruder and I walked Mr. Randolph through MC3 and shared your stories with him he just keep saying "this is remarkable." Over and over again he would shake his head in agreement with our vision and mission.

He shared that he believed it was the role of federal, state and local governments to help facilitate the faith community in bringing the great commission to peoples and communities living on the margins.

As we opened up the photo book of stories to share with Mr. Randolph it struck me that next month will be our One Year Anniversary when MC3 reopened its doors to the community. To think last year at this time there was no cafe, no after-school program, no GED classes, no Life Basics, no SonCity Teens, no Gathering, no Prison Transition ministry, no summer program for the kids, no STARs program, no employment opportunities for people like Demond, Roy and Peewee. All we had was a "beachhead" that was held down by great leaders and committed volunteers serving at SonCity Kids and the Food Pantry. And because of their faithfulness we can see how we built on their foundation and it also gives us courage to follow Jesus into deeper waters of opportunity.

It was remarkable to tell story after story on how God is leading the way and allowing dedicated people like you to bring God's Kingdom from Heaven to Earth. Way to go team!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

No Excuses

I met Dr. Jim Blechl last summer when he and his future son-in-law came down to MC3 to help with the construction. Because it is just who he is I did not know that Dr. Jim was one the managing physicians at the South Bend Medical Clinic for several months. Then last fall he and his wife Barb began to volunteer once a week during the SonCity After-school program. Then he began to serve on our programming team for MC3. But then he and Barb agreed to lead the medical team to India this summer and I got the privilege of eating, sleeping and doing outreach with Jim for almost two weeks. I know its not the water (because you can't drink it) but going to India causes friendships to form and deepen at an exponential rate - we became more than friends and he became a person that I want to model my life after.

So, here's a guy that runs a successful practice, is a managing partner in a growing medical clinic, has a wonderful relationship with his wife, has a son that will be a graduating senior in college this year and has a daughter that recently got married. The definition of western success regardless of any metric you might use. Jim could have given any reason not to volunteer and engage with people living on the margins. We would have accepted his response of "I'm sorry but I just can't..." with quick acceptance and little judgment but that's not the path Jim has chosen to walk. He builds margin into his hectic life so that he can serve, so he can hear what Jesus is asking him to do and then do it. The best way I know how to describe Jim is that he loosely holds onto life so that he can enjoy it and find pleasure in all he does where many of us try to hold on so tight that we end of strangling the very joy we are so longing to find.

I first met Melinda this spring when she walked into our first India team meeting and shared she wanted to go to India with the Conversational English team. Melinda is a vibrant young women who can light up a room with her quick smile and charming personality. Her faith is new and fresh and freely shares that she is not a seasoned Christian but wants to follow Jesus whole-heartedly.
Now, over the years I've had the chance to lead a lot of people on mission trips to Haiti, Mexico, Central America and India and I have seen robust young men turn into whinny 3-year olds after a few days of having to endure the elements of a third world setting. So, here's Melinda - never been out of the country, just starting her faith walk, 5'3" and not much more than a buck ten drippin' wet.
My first thought - this could get interesting and at the very least we will have some great stories to tell! Reality. She never missed a beat, pounded down what ever India dish that was given to her, was engaging with our host Indian families, rolled out her mat and slept on dirt floors, didn't even flinch when she walked into the Indian squatty potty and relished the opportunities when swarms of grade school children would drag her around the school courtyard. Without a doubt - Melinda had and will continue to have lasting Kingdom impact.

So you will have to forgive me if excuses sound very empty when someone says they can't serve because their life is just too busy or that they have so many business responsibilities that they just can't find the time because I will think of Dr. Jim. When someone excuses themselves because of their age, sex or how long they have known Jesus I will see the joy on Melinda's face while serving in those dusty, hot India schools. If someone truly wants to walk with Jesus and develop a servant's heart they will find ways to develop the courage to take their very next step. Jesus is ready and the world awaits.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Tony Snow's Testimony

This is a brief exert from Tony Snow's testimony. Tony was a journalist, the press secretary for President Bush and a political commentator but most importantly he followed Jesus. Most of us are blessed with good health. We don't take the time to focus on the purpose God has given to us - somehow we believe we have forever. We don't hone our skills, we don't set our path, we simply spend way to much time simply floating down the lazy river we call "life." Tony's passing should be the wake up call for the rest of us. The morning is anew, God has a plan for each of us today. Question is - will we listen and obey?

God bids us to choose:
Do we believe, or do we not?
Will we be bold enough to love,
daring enough to serve,
humble enough to submit,
and strong enough
to acknowledge our limitations?
Can we surrender our concern
in things that don't matter
so that we might devote our remaining days
to things that do?

Monday, August 4, 2008

My Indian Daugher

You have already met Jill in a previous post. This past week I was in India with a team from Granger Community Church and we had the chance to catch up with Jill. Jill is working in Chennai India for International Justice Mission as their Deputy Director at which she is doing one phenomenal job. But, more importantly, she is our adopted daughter (though not legally) and we are her Indiana parents.

When we caught up with each other Jill began to cry uncontrollably which in turn cased me to start crying and we just held onto each other for several minutes. Jill has been in Chennai since the first of the year on the front lines of injustice and 9,000 miles away from the people who love her the most. She is a very strong women that loves Jesus but many times that does not make it any less lonely.

If you know Jill. Pray for her. Send her an email. Chat with her on Facebook. Or if you are up for an adventure travel 9,000 miles away and take her out for a cup of coffee.

Say what... we need more room, already!

The Gathering

Yep, it's true. The Gathering (Tuesday nights at MC3) has already reached capacity after a little more than a month of meeting. LeRoy King and his team are doing a phenomenal job. Last week they had over 50 people from the neighborhood attend and an additional 15 children. Challenges: More chairs and tables, acoustical damping, space for children, did I mention we needed a budget just to name a few. Reality: It will be exciting to see what Jesus is able to do with "our few fishes and loaves!"

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

One Man Can Change His Family's Destiny

Meet Demond

I met Demond last September at one of first open houses at Monroe Circle Community Center. He had recently moved his family from Chicago to South Bend due to the ever increasing violence in the windy city. Demond was a gang banger on the south-side of Chicago but something inside of him wanted more for his family. Problem was moving from Chicago changed his address but really didn't change his destiny - it seemed no one wanted to look beyond his past and give him a chance. So, that Saturday afternoon in September he was sitting on his front porch, had just popped open an ice cold beer and someone walked up and asked if he would like to come over to the community forum at MC3. His first response was "no thanks - I'm good!" but something called hope nudged him inside so he poured out that frosty beer and walked over to MC3.

After meeting with Demond a couple of times we asked him if he would help us test a partnership with the Center for the Homeless and go through a program called STARs. STARs is a 5-week "soft-skills" vocational training program that teaches many of the "unspoken" rules of the middle-class work world that someone growing up in the projects of Chicago would never have had the chance to learn. Something sparked inside of Demond and everyone could visibly see and hear the difference. The staff at the Center we so impressed with Demond that they asked him to interview for a lead front desk staff position. Out of 35+ candidates he was one of the two finalist. Demond was not offered the job and he was disappointed but not discouraged - he knew he was headed in the right direction.

We then introduced Demond to the people at Personnel Partners and they were extremely impressed with his focus and intent on finding an opportunity. He worked a couple of temporary jobs until he landed at Genesis Group where he is excelling beyond expectation as a customer support person. Today, he is one of their top sales people.

Last Sunday afternoon, SonCity Kids had a carnival in the Cove's parking lot for all the kids and families of Monroe Circle. Demond showed up with his five kids and wanted to help out. He spent time in the dunk tank to his kid's delight and at the end of the day asked Corey (SCK site leader) if he could plug in and help out.

Demond has changed his family's destiny and possibly will leave a last legacy at Monroe Circle. Keep walking my friend!

Monday, July 14, 2008

People I respect I want to follow

Meet Mark Beeson

From Mark BeesonMark is the senior and founding pastor of Granger Community Church. Over 20 years ago Mark and his wife Sheila moved to Granger, IN and started GCC with a big vision and their three kids. Today, over 5500 attend one of the weekend services and over 1,000 participate in the midweek service.

Almost 18 years ago my wife and I started to attend GCC - back in the day when the church met in the cinema - back in the day when a crowd was 200 people - back in the day when Mark and Sheila lead a bunch of misfits.

I've watched Mark inspire and cast vision to thousands of people. I've seen Mark lead during troubled times when he shouldered acquisitions that were not only unjust but extremely unfair.

A few years ago, Mark encouraged the mission of GCC to include the vision for MC3. Mark empowered leaders to lead, gave them guidelines and then let them lead. Sounds a lot like what a man named Jesus did.

Over the last few weeks I have had the privilege of listening Mark unfold the future of the church. He is as excited today about our next run as any other time I have known Mark. He is more excited about today than when the church hit 200 people - he is more excited today than when we moved onto campus or when we had our first service in the auditorium.

Part of the reason is that Mark has built an amazing team of people around him - both staff and volunteer leaders. But I think Mark is more excited about the future of GCC today than any time in the last 20+ years because this run is completely dependent upon Jesus. Knowing who he is and following him. Man could explain away the first 20 years of growth at GCC but no one will be able to deny the overwhelming reason behind GCC's impact during this next run.

Mark follows Jesus wholeheartedly and I just figure if I follow Mark there is a very good chance I will also be following Jesus. The question is - who are you following and where are they leading you?

Friday, July 11, 2008

Meet Mr. Curtis

Tough as nails with a heart of gold!

Mr. Curtis and his wife Denise have been volunteering at SonCity Summer since day one. They serve every Tuesday and Thursday. The boys respect Mr. Curtis and the girls listen to him with admiration. Curtis and Denise have already raised their family but they are infusing their wisdom into the lives of these kids. They give these kids hope - they give me hope.

After the first day, Amy Kring ask Denise if she had a good time. Without hesitation she replied no - but I will be back because these kids need us. That is an uncompromising commitment to take your next step to become more like Jesus. What is remarkable about Curtis and Denise is that they just started coming to GCC - less than two months ago they walked into a weekend service, heard about SonCity Summers, joined the team and are helping bring His kingdom from Up There to Down Here.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Celebrate Your Freedom/Be Thankful for Your Opportunities

Fifty-Six Signers

(This comes straight from Mark Batterson's blog. It was just too good not to share. Thank's Mark!)

I love history. And I love America! Thought I'd share a little of both as we celebrate Independence Day.

We live in a a day and age where we almost have to defend our patriotism. I'm certainly not suggesting that America is above reproach. Far from it. But a few years ago I did extensive research for a sermon series on our spiritual heritage. And I walked away with a renewed sense of destiny. There is so much revisionist history out there that we tend to forget that a lot of our Founding Fathers were motivated by their faith in Christ.

Just thought I'd share some backstory about some of the fifty-six signers of the Declaration of Independence. Most Americans know next to nothing about these fifty-six heroes who pledged their lives, fortunes and sacred honor to the cause of freedom.

John Witherspoon was an ordained minister and authored several books of sermons, as well as editing America's first family Bible published in 1791.

Charles Thomson served as Secretary of Congress and was a Biblical scholar. He helped edit the first American translation of the Greek Septuagint into English.

Charles Carroll, the last of the fifty-six signers to pass away at the age of 95 in 1832, wrote out his declaration of faith at the age of eighty-nine.

On the mercy of my Redeemer I rely for my salvation, and on His merits; not on the works I have done in obedience to His precepts.

Another Founding Father, Benjamin Rush, is considered the "Father of American Medicine." He personally trained three thousand medical students. Dr. Rush also founded "The First Day Society" which was the precursor to the Sunday School movement, as well as founding America's first Bible society. It was Benjamin Rush who said the Constitution was "as much the work of Divine Providence as any of the miracles recorded in the Old and New Testament were the effects of divine power."

Francis Hopkinson was a church music director and edited one of the first hymnals printed in America in 1767. He also set 150 psalms to music.

Roger Sherman is the only Founding Father to sign all four of America's Founding documents: the Articles of Association in 1774, the Declaration of Independence in 1776, the Articles of Confederation in 1778, and the U.S. Constitution in 1787. Roger Sherman was also a theologian. He wrote a personal creed that was adopted by his church:

I believe that there is one only living and true God, existing in three persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, the same in substance, equal in power and glory. That the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are a revelation from God, and a complete rule to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy Him.

I could share story after story, but the bottom line is this: many, if not most, of our Founding Fathers were motivated by their Faith in Christ. They wrote sermons and creeds and hymns. They founded Bible Societies and Sunday Schools. They served God's purposes in their own generation.

By the way, five signers were captured and tortured during the Revolutionary War. Twelve signers had their homes ransacked and burned. Two signers lost sons to the war they declared. Two signers had sons become prisoners of war. And nine signers fought in the war and died from wounds or hardships of war.

Hope that adds a dimension of gratitude to your 4th of July celebration!

Thursday, July 3, 2008

SonCity Summers in Full Swing

Meet Bethany
(center left)
Bethany is interning with the GCC Life Mission Department this summer. She and Amy Kring are leading the entire SonCity Summers program. She is going to school at Moody Bible. I the kids at Monroe Circle are stretching her in many ways but I think she will return to Moody this fall with a new zeal and a better understanding on bringing Jesus' kingdom from Up There to Down Here.

Here is a recent post from her blog soncitysummer

"Working with these kids can be a little overwhelming the first day, especially with the acoustics at the Community Canter, but it has been neat to see the volunteers growing in their comfort and ability when dealing with these issues. The first week, one of the volunteer asked another if she had fun with the kids that day. Her immediate response was “No, but I’ll be back,” and she has been, twice a week, every week. This ministry isn’t for the faint hearted - those who are seeking to stay comfortable. It’s stretching and even uncomfortable at times, but it’s also one that works its way into your heart. I can personally attest, it may take some time, but it grows on you."

You may want to follow along over the next several weeks or better yet if you want to get into get Jesus out of the pages of your Bible and into your life you may want to consider joining Bethany and Amy down at MC3!