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.