Written By Greg Miller
Have you ever found out that a friend has cancer and then started going around telling others that your friend IS cancer? Would you tell someone that has a tumor that they ARE a tumor? We are horrified by such thoughts. The problem is that we (at least I) do it every day. We tell someone who suffers from bi-polar disorder that they ARE bi-polar. We tell someone with black skin color that they ARE black. We tell someone suffering from addiction that they ARE an addict.
When we do these things we reduce human beings made in the image of God to some aspect of their experience. We identify their past experience and we remove hope.
If you ARE bi-polar, well, you are what you are. If you suffer from bi-polar disorder, however, you can have hope that you can manage it or that it might go away. If you ARE black, well, good luck changing that. If you have black skin, the possibilities for your future are only limited by your aspirations and dreams. If you ARE an addict, well, get used to a life of addiction to one thing or another. If you suffer from addiction there is hope that through prayer and the power of God that that can change.
Our ability to serve those suffering from mental illness, racial discrimination, (and/ or) addiction is greatly diminished unless we change our thinking and realize that those experiences do not define who people are.
Character can overcome experience but character cannot change identity.
May God help us to live this as out as image-bearers of God.
Written By Maggie
It’s noon. Monday, January 15th, 2018. I just got to the café. Upon my arrival, I greeted Mr. Herb and we got into a conversation about my goals for the very near future. Tomorrow I will be turning in my paperwork application to be a Church Army Candidate. How far I’ve come! But I remember. Addicted to heroin, hopeless, barely surviving... not really wanting to survive at all. I found recovery and found this café. And in turn I found a home, a family, and Jesus!
I remember just before Christmas 2017 last year, I was newly clean and still living in a halfway house. But I got to be present for Andrenna’s being accepted as a Candidate. I remember wanting that for myself so badly. I didn’t think it was even possible for myself. I mean, I didn’t even know if I would be strong enough to stay clean this time or not. But I know now that I am never alone - I always have the Lord. I didn’t know I was going to make any of this happen, but I knew I wasn’t going to give up. So, I showed up. Time and time again. I followed my heart, knowing that Jesus himself put this call on my heart. It hasn’t been easy. I’ve stumbled. I’ve fallen flat on my face. But I’m never alone.
I’ve always looked at life as a series of obstacles I have to overcome before my life can truly start. First, I have to stay clean. First, I have to get stable. First, I have to go fight for my daughter and get her back. First, I have to become a Candidate... And THEN my life will start. I was wrong. These obstacles ARE my life. This is my story. And it is one of strength and redemption. I am so blessed to have such amazing people around me, let alone supporting, loving, and believing in me. I am so grateful for the ones who have gone before me, the ones who I look up to, the ones who show me the way.
My life today is so far from where it was less than two years ago. I am clean. I have a home. I have a Job. I have a family. I have a purpose. I have a future. I have Jesus. I never dreamed my life could be so good. Even in the midst of the obstacles my life is wonderful. Things are happening in me and through me! The time is NOW! I’m loving every moment of it and for once, I can’t wait for what my future holds!
So much love,
Written by Angel Bailey
We met 3 1/2 years ago when she came in for some coffee and was upset because her boyfriend and father of the baby she was carrying, kicked her out. She was in active addiction but desiring help to get clean. We sat and talked about the life inside of her, the mother she wanted to be and prayed and cried together for a couple hours. She was in and out of my life through similar scenarios like this for the next few years. I was able to assist her with the birth of her fifth child and worked on getting her into treatment several times.
It was about a month ago that she came in to the café, frantic and bruised up and pregnant again, stating that she needed to go to the hospital and try to get into rehab somewhere. I drove her to McGee Women’s Hospital and spoke to our team about finding a place for her to go. We made connections with Beaver County Behavioral Health and Salvation Army. They found a rehab center for her and got her a hotel room for four days till she could get on a bus that would take her to get the help she was finally wanting. I knew she didn’t need to be alone because she suffers with severe anxiety disorder and PTSD from past life events so another team member and I stayed with her at the hotel the four nights. The day she left, I took her to the bus station, prayed with her and waited till she got on and the bus departed from the station. She called me when she made it to the center. This is the work of our Second Responders. This is the work we are needing more help. It is about building relationships and walking with those that are struggling in their addictions and needing (though it may take a bit for them to get to the point where they really want it) help moving from isolation to community.
Written By Sara Lauterbach
I’ve known about Uncommon Grounds Café for a few years. It has always been something I wanted to be a part of, but... life was busy. Kids, husband, stuff, and things. A year ago, I took the plunge, no excuses. I made room in my schedule and just showed up. Just six hours a week, it’s not much, but there are weeks where those six hours are a struggle to carve out. Confession, some weeks I only come down one day, and others I don’t make it at all. However, most weeks, I’m here. That’s all it takes, just be here. For six hours a week, I have gained so much more than money can buy. The people encountered at Uncommon Grounds Café have challenged me to grow in my thoughts, my beliefs and my actions. Each day at the café I smile, take orders, and serve coffee, but so much more happens too.
The people I work with are amazing works in progress. They struggle with challenges in life just like we all do, but they don’t do it alone. They are family where family has been absent or failed. They challenge each other to grow and keep searching. They pray for each other, they cry together, they grieve together, and they celebrate together. Grace abounds at Uncommon Grounds. We all fail and fall short, but in this community failure is not an end, it’s a place to grow and learn. While working on Tuesdays I get to overhear the weekly Bible study discussion, more often than not those overheard discussions challenge my thoughts and tie in with what God is doing in my life. I love that I GET TO be a part of this family.
The customers, the people of Aliquippa and Beaver County, are the other people I meet at Uncommon Grounds Café. So many people come to Uncommon Grounds for a cup of coffee, or a hot breakfast, but there is more here. They are greeted with a community. If all a customer gets is a cup of coffee, they haven’t stayed long enough. Conversations I’ve had with customers range from politics, religion, health concerns, recipe exchanges, and prayer requests. Those prayer requests are prayed for right away and stick with me throughout the week. I GET TO be a part of true community. The regulars at the café make my heart happy, they just do.
There are many ways you can be a part of all that is going on at Uncommon Grounds Café. First off, come down for a cup of coffee, any of us would love to make you a latte. Come enjoy a hot breakfast, no better food or deal in town. Next, come get connected. You don’t have to be behind the counter to be a part of the community. There are all kinds of activities going on in and around the community of Uncommon Grounds Café. Finally, give. If you can’t give time, like I can, the Café could use financial donations to help them provide for their community and expand their resources to meet more needs in the community of Aliquippa and Beaver County. Changes are happening, the community is growing and you can be a part of it. I’m so excite that I took the plunge and today I GET TO be a part of Uncommon Grounds.
Written by Ali Kirby
Christian Community Development Association. I had no idea what to expect in preparing to go to their conference that was this past October. All I knew was that I should be excited. And I was, but more for the time I would get to spend with my team members at Uncommon Grounds Café & Church Army. I severely underestimated what would happen.
I packed up my things and John, my husband, and I left to meet up with everyone before heading to Detroit. I was sleepy but comfortable and excited to be doing something out of the ordinary with people I love. The trip there wasn’t anything notable, just some good conversation, music and some naps.
When we arrived at the hotel, we got settled and then went over to where the registration chaos was for CCDA. We signed in and received our booklets for the Conference and then had the chance to look around where the venders were and find the location of the main sessions as well as eat.
Throughout the conference, we went to several main sessions and a handful of breakout sessions. The evenings were spent with the team either going to new places or just talking in the lobby of the hotel.
I am finding it difficult to put into words everything that I learned during this time. But here is my best try.
I grew up in Lakeland, Florida living in a fairly middle-class house but attending a school that you could say was in the “ghetto.” I loved my school, I loved the people I met there and I wish sometimes that I was still in that community so that I could help it grow.
The people who went there and taught at this school came in all shapes, sizes and colors. So, the way I viewed skin color was fairly neutral, it was part of everyday life and everyone saw everyone else as equals. I am an artist and have always been attracted to beauty, so when I met my first best friend and interacted with the other kids or teachers in my classes, all I saw were people who had different colored skin and all of us are cool and beautiful in our own ways. I was vaguely aware of Dr. Martin Luther King and that he was a great leader who even visited our school. I knew that the school that I began at in kindergarten was just getting restarted from being an all girl’s colored school. Being very small and not knowing any better, I just thought that was interesting, and wondered why.
I have been called “accidentally racist” which makes me really sad inside. I have heard that when people say “I don’t see color” that it isn’t fair or correct. I see color, I see shape, I see texture, I hear voices, I see talent, and I know that we were each made uniquely in God’s image. I love the shades of skin God made, I love the shape of people, I love how God made each individual face purposefully. I don’t know how to go around letting everyone know how much I appreciate them and how beautiful they are, and how cool their gifts and talents are. Because apparently when I try to do that, I am being racist.
Someone once said that there is one race: the human race. I think that’s true. I got the chance to talk to my team mates about some of the thoughts and questions I had about race and color during this conference. It blew me away. I am not unaware of the struggle those who have dark skin are facing, but I don’t think I fully understood the depth or how it is still so deeply rooted in cultures and systems that are still very active to this day within our country, states and towns. I began asking more about how to approach this. I began to feel sorrow for this country and its future generations.
Obviously, I alone cannot change much. But I know my God and Father can. I also know that beginning conversations about this topic in unaggressive ways will help. Being open and honest with one another will help. Challenging stigmas will help. Leaning not on our own understandings will help.
The CCDA conference was also the first time, I think ever, where I knew I was with like-minded people. I spoke earlier about how each person is made uniquely in God’s image. Everyone has been gifted with specific personalities, longings and things that get them fired up. I found a great sense of comradery within the groups of people who attended this conference. I felt like I found a place amongst these evangelists and teachers. These many people who had a fire in their bellies and a passion to fix or work on the wrong infecting the amazing world but broken world we live in. I felt vulnerable, exposed, and enlightened. I felt strong and sure in who I am and who God is molding me into.
I realized that if I am to be a great pastor’s wife, a better artist, a better evangelist, a better mentor, a better prophesier, or a redeemed daughter of Christ, I get to continue to die to myself, but I also get to stand confident on this rock that is my Lord and savior Jesus Christ. I love the time of life I am in right now. I love that I am getting challenged and sharpened in my walk with Christ. I would like to be more educated and the knowledge I hear stay longer in my memory. I would like to be more confident in who God made me to be. I would like to be able to challenge people’s thoughts and beliefs to be more open minded, forgiving, bigger, simpler, joyful, creative, and inclusive. I would like these things, and while I attended CCDA and spent time with those I work alongside, I began to believe that these things are possible. I have hope.
Written By Ferdinando (Turk) Turkovich
Being at CCDA was like coming off the battle lines for a hot meal, a hot shower and a change of clothes.
After coming back from the Christian Community Development Association Conference (CCDA), I feel like I have finally found my "war" to fight. Don’t get me wrong, I am a believer in Jesus Christ and therefore a son of Father God first and foremost. But I am also a warrior. I just battle differently. My weapons are not made with human hands, but are instead powered by God (2Corinthians 10:4).
Up until this last year or so I felt like I was drifting listlessly from one failed endeavor to another. I always believed that God had placed a calling on my life, but I just didn't know what or where that was. I do now after being with the team at CCDA. What I heard from the stage and in the workshops, was confirmation for what we do in our little community here in Aliquippa. That it is in fact the work of the Lord.
We live and minister out of relationship. One of our key roles is to be ministers of reconciliation. As ministers of reconciliation we are keenly aware of the current divides that we face as racial tensions come to the boiling point in our nation. We can see the injustice and fear that seems to press in on all sides. We can hear the cries of the marginalized from within even our own team. Cries against injustice, cries against the work of the enemy. But we can be agents of hope, hope set in knowing that our father cries alongside us, for us, and within us.
I found rest and a recharge at the conference; I found excitement and awe; I found kinship and rejuvenation.
It was there that I found confirmation that Church Army can and should be speaking, teaching, and encouraging our brothers and sisters across the nation and dare I say world. Speaking on how we do what we do, within the context of reaching the least the last and lost with the Gospel and bringing them into the service of the church. What we do and how we do it works. And if we look across the scope of all Church Army, we are each playing a vital role in the communities in which God as placed us. I sense God’s call on us to become united and help lead the charge for those coming after us. The Apostle Paul did this with several young men. Timothy being one of them. He then established him in leadership. I ask myself, who am I preparing to replace me? How can we leave those that come after us in a better place to launch instead of having to rebuild? All of this has caused me to reflect and slow down. To stop and look around at the gifts of people that are around me (since I can only speak for myself). What am I leaving them in terms of relationships? What are the connections that I am sharing with them, am I hoarding those relationships or am I living out of the belief that there is plenty in the Kingdom of God? These can be hard questions to ask and sometimes even harder to accept the answers.
So following the CCDA conference I came home with a lot of questions. But I was also reminded of something one of my Commanding Officers once told us as a unit in the dwindling hours prior to battle: “take it as you were given, and leave it better than you received it.” In saying this he left out the parts that I would often complain about. By accepting it as it is, I am therefore accepting it as a gift and if a gift then looking at it all of its potential. That is how I see Church Army Moving towards its potential in unification.
October 26th was my one-year anniversary with Uncommon Grounds Café. One year since I found my home. One year since I found my forever family.
This year has been full of ups and downs. I’ve had more clean time than this and I’ve had less clean time than this, but I’ve never had this much recovery. I’ve never had this much direction, never had this much passion and purpose.
A year ago, I started working as Creative Intern for Earth Angel Apothecary - one of our women’s ministries. This week I got to see our vision come full circle. Brenda was in the D.O.C. (Department of Corrections) program at Sheffield Towers. She started volunteering here at the Café and quickly became not only my close friend, but also family to me. Mrs. Angel was out of town, but instead of working an event alone, I asked Brenda if she would want to come. She jumped at the chance! This was my first time being first lead at an event and Brenda’s first event ever, but you never would have guessed that by the looks of it. Not only did she do an awesome job of helping me set up and work the table, she went above and beyond that. She was talking to everyone, spreading our mission statement, and she was even praying for people! She nailed it! I was so proud beyond words.
Brenda got news that she was getting released (from the Department of Corrections) so she came to the café yesterday to say “bye” and I’m so glad she did. I really do love her so much and I don’t want her to go because I’m selfish and I’m going to miss her too much, but I am so incredibly proud of her and so happy for her. I am so grateful that I did GET TO work with her.
Written By Scott Colburn
The Christian Community Development Association is a movement of diverse, socially progressive evangelicals. Its annual conference offers a lot of talks and workshops, on social justice and the "Matthew 25" works of mercy that are central to a life of discipleship. Plus, lots of awesome worship led by a diverse music ministry. Most of the UCG staff went to this year's conference, "Resilience," in Detroit in October.
I went to two workshops on Thursday that focused on using sociology to inform and guide ministry. I love this subject. Using observation and data to see patterns of behavior in society and to see the actual, rather than the stated, ideals and goals of a nation, has deepened my efforts as an urban missionary and evangelist with a strong love of the arts. I have to live with and try to understand people before I can effectively minister to them.
The first workshop looked at the use of data to identify community realities and needs. Knowing who is in your community, and what their needs are, is a first step to ministry. The presenter showed us data sources that show everything from how poor people are being pushed from the "inner city" that has gentrified, and to the near suburban margins, to the allocation of public and semi-public resources like parks, playgrounds, public transportation and grocery stores. He said that data helps us to answer questions like "Are veterans underserved and at risk in this town?" or "Do teenagers have anywhere to go and anything to do in our community?" Having specific data allows us to shape ministry responses and use our probably limited resources effectively. The presenter showed us a number of websites that provide this data.
The second workshop, "Crossing The Street," was about how gracefully to work across ethnic and class lines. The presenter was an Urban Studies professor in Seattle, a Chinese-American man who was really enthusiastic about the need for diversity in Christian Community. He told about Rainier Avenue, a Seattle street that is a dividing line between the "nice" and the "bad" parts of Seattle. His church is on that avenue, and it transitioned from a typical "white church" to a multi-ethnic church because older white parishioners stayed, instead of fleeing to churches in the suburbs, and welcomed Asian, African and Hispanic newcomers. He talked about a lot of the issues that face us at UCG--the need to "Cultivate a community of belonging" and to practice "radical hospitality." He said that those of us who are white, especially "professional Christians," need to join, not start, community transformation, and to seek creative partnerships with people in the neighborhoods we serve.
A big theme of the plenary sessions was weariness. For many in the diverse conference, the work of community transformation and social justice for the sake of the Gospel is an uphill struggle, especially in the past couple years of a bitterly divided America and with the continued threats of injustice, the Alt-right, and economic disparities that continue to harm the most vulnerable. There were some great, impassioned speakers, and while they voiced a lot of frustration and weariness, they had stories of hope and progress too.
Detroit is a city that is showing resilience, though that story isn't being as well covered as the story of the city's collapse and bankruptcy was. I was able to see a little of it, and even rented a bicycle on one of those credit-card operated bike rack kiosks for a mad ride from the big Art museum back to our hotel during rush hour.
A last note--on the way out of Detroit we stopped at a cowboy boot and western wear store called "Scott Colburn's Western wear." I felt like a celebrity, and had a nice visit with owner Sarah Colburn, the daughter of the founder. We may be 11th cousins, at best, but had some similar family stories. However, I realized that the UCG gang I was traveling with was a lot more like a real family to me. As diverse as we are in ethnicity, culture, age, and point of view, we are one in our love of the Gospel and the people we serve in Beaver County. Conferences in distant cities are fun, but they bear fruit back home, in the daily work of pouring coffee, listening to friends talking about their lousy day, and praying for our own beaten-up but resilient city.
By Scott Colburn
One of the ministries by which Christ's disciples meet him face to face (in Matt. 25:42-ff.) is visiting the imprisoned. “As you did this to the least of these my brothers, so you did this to me.” The Cafe and Church Army evangelists have taken the ministry seriously for a long time. Capt. Brad does recovery classes at the Beaver County Jail. Capt. Nancy has done her Way Out Workshops there. Capts. Dudley and Anna led Bible Studies at the jail, and Dudley also served in the Kairos movement at a state penitentiary. I (Scott ) currently help lead a Bible study on Sunday night, that has gone on for five or six years, along with Capt. Herb, Scott and Sue B. and a lot of our friends.
By the end of April we'll have finished a study of Acts (on the men's side) that the men seem to love. They get to see that Jesus' plan of salvation was for the Gentiles, not just for the Jews, and that the church still works the way it always did from the first. It operates by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the boldness of missionaries, the wisdom of elders in council, the humble service of helpers among the ranks, and the steadfastness of martyrs willing to give all for the Gospel and unafraid of the scorn and power of the unbelieving world.
Most of the inmates at the BCJ know that they have been on the path of Folly, and many of them desire to get on the path of Wisdom. On the mens' side, where I teach, many of them are Christians and spend a lot of time reading the Bible. They have a pretty good group that prays together on the pods. They are hungry for the word of God, and receptive to anyone who wants to bring it to them. The women have, in the past couple years anyway, had less spiritual formation and knowledge of Christianity previous to coming to the Bible Study, but they are also thirsting for the word. The women who run the Sunday night study are seeing them make great strides.
The longer I have been involved with this ministry, the more it has become personal to me. I get older and the prisoners get younger. I feel like they're “my” kids, and I want them out of jail and into a community that will love, nurture and disciple them. Another reason the ministry has become personal to me is that one of my good friends from the cafe community in the past years is now in the system, and came to the Sunday Night Bible Study while he was still at the BCJ. This man is a Christian who has the gift of Evangelism and also has a ministry to some of the least, the last and the lost.
Look, going into the jails is a great ministry as far as it goes, but there's a larger part missing that maybe your church can help with. Almost all inmates leave jail, and the BCJ folks leave sooner than later. Unfortunately, many of them will return. One of the effective ways to keep them from going back is to get them in church. Our jail visiting program is about starting them on the path to a church when they get out of jail. But if they visit your church, will they be welcome? Will they both hear the gospel preached and experience the gospel lived as your church supports them in their faith, in their choice of sobriety (the reason a lot of them are in the jail in the first place) and in living a pretty fragile freedom? Your church is probably looking for new members, or wishes it had some. These men and women are hungry for a new life, and they've heard something about it from those of us who visit them in the jail, but they need you too. They need the accountability, community and discipling your church can provide, and your church needs people who can offer themselves as a testimony to the transforming power of the gospel to heal broken lives. Did I mention that many of these folks are really good singers, readers and pray-ers?
Please pray for: this year's volunteers who are going to be trained in April and May so they can visit the BCJ this next year, for those who work in the jails, for the inmates and for their families.