By: Scott Colburn
I recently attended the New Wineskins Missionary Network conference in North Carolina, along with a lot of Cafe and Church Army folks. It was a wonderful three days of worship, talks, workshops, and fellowship. Two impressions stood out to me.
Firstly, there is intense opposition to the faithful people who carry the Gospel around the world. I heard a missionary to Burundi tell harrowing stories of close scrapes in that very dangerous African nation. I saw author Dominic Sputo present on his book Heirloom Love. The book calls American Christians to pray and care for persecuted Christians around the world. I greeted my friend the Rev. John Chol Dauu, who is a priest and educator in South Sudan. In America, we mostly encounter indifference or sometimes the personal dislike or scorn of people who don't want to hear the Gospel, but we're a long way from being hunted down by our neighbors or the government just for our beliefs. It was important to hear these stories and see the people who are on the front lines of international mission.
Secondly, the American Church is increasingly becoming a minor player in missions. The Church in Africa, Asia, and South America is seeing explosive growth, often as a result of the persecution. They are starting to flex their authority and numbers, and this is a good thing. I saw a lot of African bishops, including my old friend Daniel. I saw my friend Jon from seminary, who is helping bring the Church to Vietnam. The U.S. Church still has the money and the seminaries, but more and more missionaries are coming from the countries that used to be the receivers, and they are even coming here with the Gospel.
I think my two impressions are related. Where exciting growth happens, there is more persecution. When the Church threatens the world, the flesh and the devil, Satan punches back. And where Christians have to struggle for their right to worship and preach, they establish a dynamic faith rooted in dependence on God that is attractive to lots of people. I don't pray for persecution in the U.S., but I do pray for a bolder witness and for fearlessness. The conference is a real charge-up experience, and gives a preview of what the Church could be like if we really were one global, unified body of Christ.
By: Greg Miller
How free would you say you are? The last several bible study trips to the Beaver County Jail have been amazing! I have heard comments made by inmates that, in my 25 years of pastoral ministry, I didn’t hear from churchgoers. Those comments reminded me that there is a freedom in Christ that surpasses all circumstances.
One man asked about the son of perdition mentioned in the Bible. My mind immediately went to Judas, who is referred to as the son of perdition in John 17:12. “But I thought there was something in Thessalonians about a son of perdition that had to do with the end times,” he said. Sure enough, in 2 Thessalonians 2:3 it talks about the day of Christ coming when the man of sin has been revealed – and that man of sin is called the son of perdition. I don’t even remember studying that in seminary but an inmate in Beaver County Jail was all over it.
Another man told me that he was glad that his court date has been postponed because it gave him an extra couple of weeks to be a light in the jail. “I am more free here in jail than many people are on the outside,” he said. Wow! Talk about faith! I was blown away.
Are you truly free? True freedom only happens when you are in Christ. No matter what your circumstances are, Jesus gives you spiritual freedom. “And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." (John 8:32) “Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed.” (John 8:36)
It is something to marvel that men who are incarcerated may have a better grasp of this than we do! We are often bound up by our worries, sins, and concerns. We can learn a lesson from these inmates who know a freedom that iron bars can’t even take away. True freedom is being found in Christ! Thanks be to God!
By: Anthony Hermankevich
Approaching graduation from seminary, I watched for an opportunity to retreat and to rest from the rigors of academic study. While a retreat to some secluded part of the Pennsylvania forest, or to the Blackfoot River in Montana never happened, the opportunity to recharge spiritually came in the form of a prayer group being conceptualized by a friend who happens to be an ordained Anglican Deacon. She expressed an interest in using the Ignatian Exercises to provide spiritual guidance. I was familiar with St. Ignatius having read “The Jesuit Guide to Almost Everything” by Fr. James Martin SJ. The Exercises deal with overarching Christian themes like: the life of Jesus, his Passion, and his resurrection from the dead. Although Ignatius was Roman Catholic as most Christians in the West were, (the Reformation had not yet taken place), the Exercises do not expound on any particular Roman Catholic doctrine. Rather, his meditations and prayers focus on the essentials of the Christian faith.
The first four weeks that the group decided were designed as preparation weeks, meaning all Scripture readings and prayers shared the same theme in order for us first to be rooted in the Love of God. Without this essential perspective, anything we would do later could dangerously resemble works rather than a faith response. Since the purpose of the Spiritual Exercises are, according to David Fleming, “to conquer oneself and to regulate one’s life without determining oneself through any tendency that is disordered,” we certainly want to proceed knowing that Jesus loves us and died for our sins. We are now free to amend our lives, taking under control any proclivity or habit that leads us away from God, and replacing them with thoughts and actions that bring us into deeper intimacy with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Therefore, this way of praying intends to seek God’s Divine Will. Ignatius’ 15th Annotation asks, “In seeking the Divine Will, is it not more fitting and much better that the Creator and Lord himself should communicate himself to his devout soul, inflaming it with his love and praise, disposing it for the way in which it will be better able to serve him allowing the Creator to act immediately and directly with the creature and the creature with its Lord and Creator?”
There are eighteen annotations that more clearly explain a different aspect of the Spiritual Exercises. Besides being rooted in God’s love, we are working to set a time for daily reading and prayer, a habit prioritizing meeting with our Lord in which these things could take place, something with which most of us struggle. Now, one of the most important and unique features of our group, which is referred to as “Praying with Your Hands,” is that our response to reading, praying, meditating, and contemplating is done through creating art pieces, or in my case, repurposing junk into something that resembles something useful. For instance, I made a tambourine from a cigar box, and I am currently figuring out how to cut wine bottles to make pendant lights. Both of these projects were inspired by Scriptures discussing worship and light.
Most often, we sort out or discuss the Word of God with more words. We do this in our group, but the action or movement of making something that you can touch that is related to something you have read can turn into something learned or something revealed to you by the Holy Spirit. This approach to prayer can help those who see the world differently - artists and creative people for instance. I can also see a benefit for people who have experienced trauma. If you asked them how they feel or where feelings of anxiety or depression originate, they may not be able to give an answer. Making something using your imagination that is inspired by the inspired Word of God, however, might provide them with insight into the source of their troubles.
To be rooted in God’s love, to discern his direction in our lives, to capture our imaginations for what the Lord wants to do through us, to detach us from our disordered attachments and distractions, and to make us more sensitive spiritually while finding healing for deep rooted hurts is merely a sampling of the possibilities for a deeper relationship with Christ and better relationships with others available through this and similar spiritual endeavors. Hopefully, this account of my experience with a guided and purposeful process of spiritual growth has encouraged you to seek out people and plans that will drive you closer to Christ our Lord and others, and to heal from past and current issues with which you are dealing. The process is painful at times, but it is definitely worth it. I will end with a Scripture from Matthew 7:7-11. It says this:
“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!"
By: Marla Duncan
This summer, I found out what "Capacity" really means to me, and I thank my Heavenly Father God (Pop Pop) for that. This month is my first full month back at the Cafe since summer camp finished, and I must say, I didn't want it to end. This summer was my third year doing summer camp, and I never experienced it the way that I did this year. Normally I was at a site not very close to home, but this was our first year actually having a summer program in the complex where I live. Every child came from a different household, which was hard because some children had a lot more than others.
There was a child that was banned from going on every field trip that we had, and when I made that decision I was thinking with my mind, not my heart. He came and let me know that he had never been on a field trip before. So we prayed on it, and decided to let him attend the trips. I made sure he was stuck to me like glue! In the midst of this, he and I had tons of conversations. I discovered that he's an amazing child; he came out every day and showed himself strong in a world that labeled him a bad child or a huge problem. Adults, teachers, and counselors have literally blocked him from seeing the world that he deserves to see like any other child. But I will forever have a relationship with him, and I will show him the world in the light that he deserves.
What I am explaining in this post is this: when I think of capacity, I think of loving everyone with full grace and integrity no matter the situation. We must keep giving that gift of love that our Father gives to us every single day so people can have the opportunity to pass it on.
By: Angel Bailey
A dear friend of the café started making some beautiful fork pendants recently to help raise money for our Women’s Ministry. He came in one day and showed us a pendant that he had made. Maggie got really excited and asked him to make her one with a spoon, because she’s an ex-heroin addict. He said that he would, but after he got home he was nervous about making it, because he didn’t want it to be used again. As he prayed and pondered, he had the idea to carve a cross through the center of the spoon. It was a beautiful symbol of God‘s redemption and healing from addiction!
Last weekend, Herb and I were in West Virginia doing our Philosophy of Outreach training with a church there. After the service on Sunday, a woman came up to me crying and told me the story of how she lost her son months ago to a heroin overdose. After she left, I remembered that I had brought some of the spoon pendants with me, and I wanted to give her one. I looked all over the church, but couldn’t find her. I went outside and asked if anyone knew where she went, and the pastor‘s wife said, “Oh! She lives just next door!” So I went over, knocked on the door, and she answered and invited me in. I told her the story of the forks, and Maggie's story about the spoon pendant. As I handed her a pendant, she started to cry again, hugged me, and thanked me for giving it to her. When she came back over to the church later for the meal, she was wearing the pendant. I was so thankful that God reminded me that I brought the pendants with me, and that I needed to give her one for her son that she lost. We hear the saying that “everything happens for a reason,” and I totally believe that. God is still teaching me every day to trust Him and to listen for His leading. I’m thankful for Him allowing me to share His love with others.
“Be glad, people of Zion, rejoice in the Lord your God, for he has given you the autumn rains because he is faithful. He sends you abundant showers both autumn and spring rains, as before.” (Joel 2:23)
“I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten, the great locust and the young locust, the other locusts and the locust swarm -my great army that I sent among you.” (Joel 2:25)
By: Ferdinando Turkovich
The abundance of the Lord is astounding! As my wife and I enter our first fall season as husband and wife, we have been considering what our present and future roles within our community are and will continue to be. One of those roles we both immediately recognized is to be students. For me, this is to complete the first stages of a process that I started almost 4 years ago. For her it is to begin the process.
Curiously, we found ourselves having a conversation one night that a close friend and mentor had with me. He asked me, “In 5 years, if you don’t start the process where will you be?” My answer to him was, “Right here, complaining about not being any closer to where I want to be.” This was the curious part; when I posed this question to my wife, she had the same answer that I did. So here we find ourselves, one of us somewhere along this well-worn path, the other at the beginning of the forest. Neither of us are really sure where the path will end, however, we do know that we are in this together.
As we walk on this path together, it is impossible for us to neglect our current assignments. For me, it is the men of our Celebrate Recovery group here at the café. These men continue to astound me. They have all embraced the process of being recovered. They have also formed a brotherhood with one another, one that is built on truth and life, instead of the lies and death that we were all once subjected to. Recently one of them was hospitalized. The group decided to hold our Tuesday night meeting in his room. This is being my brother’s keeper.
For my wife, it is her students and the women that God continues to bless her to walk alongside. As we navigate these individual assignments, we cannot help but long for and get excited at the prospects of working together one day in these very areas. It is even interwoven in our individual callings, “To love broken people where they are most broken.”
As I reflect on the last 5 years, I must stop and worship the Lord. Not just for all that He has restored, nor just for this growing hope that is beginning to sprout roots within my life, it is for the years that the locusts have destroyed that I praise Him for. It is for Him showing me that He is and always will be enough, even when I have nothing.
By: Andrenna Williams
As a child, I was always fascinated with the seasons. I had an appreciation for watching the snow fall slowly outside our living room window on chilly winter evenings, hearing the birds chirping and feeling the dew on the grass on early spring mornings, dancing in the summer rain showers with my purple rain boots and smelling the wet asphalt, and sipping hot apple cider on sunny Sunday afternoons in the fall while on family car rides to see the leaves changing their beautiful colors. Even in my young age, I knew that it meant that the current season would only last for awhile, and that soon the next would be here with new beauty for me to admire. I understood that these events were orchestrated by God and that no matter what the new season was to bring, He was in control.
In my adulthood, I still hold that same appreciation for the beauty of the seasons, and have made a conscious effort to pass this on to my children. However, I have lost some of the confidence, joy, expectation, and hope for the next season. Nowadays, the length of the seasons vary. Sometimes they overlap or fail to show up when expected, and are harder to recognize. At some point, life hit hard and a lie crept in, causing me to grow weary, suspicious, and unable to trust that regardless of what trials, obstacles or hardships came, God would not only protect but also provide.
I'm currently going through an unrecognizable, unusually long, difficult, unpleasant, winter-like season. It's confusing, scary, and upsetting. However, I am trusting God for protection and provision. I was always fond of Jeremiah 29:11, "For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future," and believed it to be God's promise of a good life for me. This is true, however there is more. The next 3 verses are what have helped me to understand the true promise. They read:
12 "Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. 13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. 14 I will be found by you, declares the Lord, and will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you, declares the Lord, and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.”
There's not talk of roses and cherries. There's no promise of a "crisis free" existence. There WILL be scary times. I WON'T always have the answers. People WILL disappoint me. Troubles WILL come. BUT GOD...WILL restore me as long as I seek him and abide in Him. No matter what happens, I can trust in Him. And for that reason, I can sit back, relax, and enjoy each season of my life.
By: Lauren Zawatski
Lately, God has been reminding me to wait. It’s a simple concept, something most of us have learned as we’ve grown. From the toddler stages of waiting until after dinner to have that cookie...to the adolescent waiting to finally get to high school...to the young adult frustrated with college, ready to become a part of the “real world...” to the adult, waiting to find a job or to have kids...even to the older adult who is waiting to retire, or to all believers, who eagerly await eternity with Jesus. Waiting is built into every single stage of human life.
I recently read a story, meant to make you say “Awww!” but the Lord dropped some major truth into my heart through it as well. The gist of the story is this: a man does an experiment called the “marshmallow test” with his 3-year-old granddaughter. He offers her, in this case a piece of chocolate, and tells her that if she can wait 10 minutes without eating that chocolate, he’ll give her a second piece. Ten minutes go by and the girl successfully passes the test. Her grandfather gives her the second piece, and instead of eating both she asks him, “Would you like one Grandpa?”
The little girl’s response is adorable, of course, but the Lord highlighted something more to me: waiting produces something lasting inside of us! Sure, when the girl waited those 10 minutes she gained a second piece of chocolate, but she also gained something much more valuable: perseverance. Often, waiting is not an easy task. It takes the gift of perseverance to be able to patiently stand in our moments of waiting - not begrudgingly, but joyfully.
Ultimately, we have a desperate need for perseverance if we’re going to make it through the journey of life. Thus, waiting seasons can truly be a helpful gift from the Lord to us, enabling us to face life with patient endurance. Romans 5:3-4 says, “[...] we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope...” What a treasure! Waiting is not God saying “I’m here to make you squirm and ruin all of your fun...” In reality, we actually gain hope from our waiting. Not just hope for the Lord to break into our situations, or to bless us with something... but true, eternal hope that one day all of our waiting will be worth it, and we’ll get to see Jesus face to face. And this hope? It’ll never put us to shame!
By: John Bryant
People often ask me what a street pastor does. I tell them I go to a lot of soup kitchens and eat what everyone else does. I wait in line, get my tray, and look around for someone who’ll look back at me and nod. These are people I would pass in my car on my way somewhere, people sitting on the street, bumming cigarettes. I would normally pass them by. Now, I’m waiting for their permission to sit down. They have no reason to trust me other than the fact that I love Jesus and have a tray full of food.
There’s a gruff looking guy. Always wears a cap and a sweater, even in the heat. Keeps to himself mostly. I see him all the time. He does something miraculous. He looks up, says my name, and asks me what time it is.
It’s all I need.
You may not know what it’s like, but if a guy like that asks you what time it is, looks at you, says your name, and asks for the time, it means you’re alright. It means you get to sit down. It means you get munch on the baked beans, swig down the coffee, and pass the time with all the other gruff dudes. It means you get to sit down.
For the first two weeks starting this job, I just sat down where I was allowed to. Turns out, if you know someone and they know someone, and they think you’re alright, then everyone’s cool with you. You get to sit anywhere. You sit down, you wait, and you pass the time. You talk to Jesus on His throne and pray for an opening.
I sat down next to that same gruff man a few days later. I pulled my small Bible out, the one I keep in my back pocket. He looked at me, and I expected the next question to be what time it was. He looked puzzled.
“What are you reading?” He asks.
The man looks concerned, tips his hat back, squints at bit.
“You think he’s gonna do it?”
“Who?” I ask.
I’m puzzled “Think he’s gonna do what?”
“You think He’s gonna raise the dead?”
I sit back on the bench.
“Yeah,” I said. “I think so.”
He looks relieved. “Yeah, me too. I think he’s gonna do it. I think he’s got it in em.”
“I think so too.”
Two men. A bench on the street in the hot summer. Two men waiting the resurrection of the dead.
By: Tessa Sentell
Cycles of addiction are hard to watch. Everyone has their own cycle tied to substances, people, power, money...pick your poison. Everything functions out of relationship at the cafe, and this cycle is something everyone is very familiar with, so I have been learning to engage when I see it.
I work behind the counter and see several regulars come and go in any number of stages of altered reality, and I never know if or when they will be back. As I enter closer into relationship with hurting people, I’ve had to ask God how to handle this.
Something along the lines of “What do I do?” “How can I pray?” “What do I say?”
I kept seeing hurting people and wanting to solve the problem while knowing nothing about their situation. I kept stepping up on the cross and tried to make myself the savior.
What God has shown me in revealing a deeper view of His gospel is the discipline of daily throwing all the sin and nastiness and hurt back to the cross of Christ, and letting Him say “it is finished.” In this spot of kneeling before the cross, I get to acknowledge Him as the one running the universe. I get to give the weight of my hurt and others' hurt that I’ve been carrying back to Him and see what He will do with them.
Because He lives, I can be satisfied praying and interceding from behind the counter since I’m not the one running the room. Because those people belong to Him, I can take my hands off and simply watch what He does, and the development of that every time they walk into the cafe. And because Jesus took the weight of our collective mess, I can engage in relationship and love anyway.
What a freeing thing to do nothing but love, step down off the cross, be available for His purposes, and let the God who knows and loves people much better than I ever could run the universe.
Uncommon Grounds Cafe