By: Greg Miller
People don't like to attribute "bad" things to God, so it is often said that God doesn't necessarily orchestrate those events in our lives that cause us pain or suffering. I'm not sure that an inmate at the Beaver County jail would agree. Two Sundays ago during our bible study he stated, "God put me in jail to save me and make a new man out of me." That isn't something you might expect to hear. But he was sincere. He observed that his lifestyle was keeping him away from God, the church, and the Bible. He wasn't opposed to God and the church, he was just too wrapped up in a destructive lifestyle to care.
Being incarcerated, though, left him with not much to do during the day. So he decided he would start reading the Bible and attending Bible studies. That process opened his eyes to the Lord in a new way. He is walking a new path of faith and wants to continue to do so when he gets released. He realizes that had he not been arrested and jailed, he would not be on this path. Thus, he sees God's gracious, saving hand in his incarceration. I suspect that Paul, Silas, and the Philippian jailer would agree (Acts 16:24-33).
How do you deal with the pain in your life? Our first response is usually to try to make it go away. However, the pain is not there by accident. God uses it for good and to discipline us. "And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose" (Romans 8:28). "'My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.' ...For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it." (Hebrews 12:5-6, 11).
Discipline is good for us and shows us God's love for us. We know that, but it is really hard to live it out. Amazingly, a man in the Beaver County jail may have something to teach us. He can see God's hand in "bad" things. May God give us the ability to do the same.
By: Angel Bailey
Friends, it has been an amazing year so far! God has been opening doors for the women’s ministry and Earth Angel Apothecary to grow. There are a few women that I've had the pleasure to get to know last year that have women’s ministries of their own, and have contracted Earth Angel to make specific products for them to sell at their events. I have also started going to churches, recreation centers, and women’s homes to do crafting Make n Take parties. It's a wonderful time of fellowship and fun, and a chance for women to invite friends, coworkers and neighbors to be loved on, let go of the stress of life, and be creative. I have a woman from our community that I have been mentoring in the arts and apothecary that I take with me to these events. It has been an amazing opportunity for her to step out of her comfort zone, get to know other women outside of her community, learn how to work a merchandise table, love on strangers, and have them love on her as well. I am so honored to be able to share my gifts and talents in this way, and I’m so thankful for the prayers and support of all those that have caught the vision of the ministry.
By: Andrenna Williams
Here at Uncommon Grounds Café, we often find ourselves having to deal with “Godly interruptions.” These are situations in which your current activity is interrupted, often times abruptly, by someone who has a seemingly emergency situation and demands your full attention. It doesn’t matter if you are in the middle of a meeting, trying to get 10+ orders prepped, cooked, and out to the dining room floor, or working on a very important document; Godly interruptions will take priority, causing you to “abort your mission” and turn your attention to whomever is needing it at that current time. This past weekend, as usual, was filled with them.
We held our quarterly Philosophy of Outreach training this weekend. As we were moving into our last session, I checked my phone and saw that 20 minutes prior I had received a message from one of the kitchen staff saying that they needed change in the register. I went downstairs to “fulfill my duty” and noticed a young woman sitting at a table, looking troubled. My heart instantly sank. I was faced with the ever too familiar dilemma of deciding between ministry and “sticking to the script." I called out to the girl, asking her if she was OK, and her response made my decision for me. I went to sit down with her and immediately realized that I had made the right decision. We chatted for a few minutes and it was evident that she was in trouble. Her boyfriend came into the café shortly after and I, along with the other two kitchen staff, instantly sprung into ministry mode. We merely LISTENED. After about 20 minutes, the girl and her boyfriend went outside to smoke a cigarette. As I sat with the two kitchen staff, we did some reflections on the conversation. We unanimously agreed that this “Godly interruption” was an HONOR; being chosen by God to be present in the café at that moment to LISTEN and show Christ’s love. With tears in our eyes we smiled at one another, repeating one of our café mottos: I GET TO.
The next day, the café hosted an event that I needed to open and help set up for. Knowing that I had to be at Sunday school by 10:30, my plan was to be out of the café by 10:20. Again, God had other plans. The same young man from the day before showed up once again, and was in need of a neutral meeting spot for a visit with his daughter. He CHOSE the café. I never made it to Sunday school, but I am positive that God was pleased with my decision to show love and dignity to the young man's family.
It’s not always comfortable. It’s not always “fair.” It’s not even always convenient. But when it’s ordered and ordained by God, it’s ALWAYS right. And “I GET TO” be a part of it. For that, I am eternally grateful and humbled.
By: Helen Yi
The Lord is constantly at work and He is constantly revealing pieces of the puzzle that we call our lives. For me, a big part of my life puzzle is my calling and assignments related to overseas missions. The Lord clearly called me into missions work the summer before my senior year at Toccoa Falls College. The Lord then clearly assigned me to spend time serving in Aliquippa the summer after graduation, and it was there that He revealed that He wanted me to stay longer. I had no idea what staying in Aliquippa was going to entail, but I knew that God was speaking and I had to listen.
I have lived in the area for almost 2 years now, and God has been using my time here in Aliquippa to equip me, prepare me, soften me, teach me, and guide me for the future. My time in Aliquippa as a whole has been a serious season of growth, maturity, healing, joy, and preparation. I have been strategically placed in ministries that have been able to give me access to communities and people who directly reflect the ministry I will be doing in the future. My heart burns for the city of Aliquippa, and my heart also burns for the people all over the world who have never heard of Christ, and who do not have the freedom and access like I do.
I took on the job of executive assistant here at Uncommon Grounds Café about a year ago, and during my time here I have learned so much. I want to spend time to reflect on what the Café has taught me and what I have learned during my time here. I would like to preface this by saying that the Café is not a perfect ministry. The people are not perfect, and the day-to-day is not perfect, but God is and has been faithfully using the people and this ministry to bring light and joy to Franklin Avenue. There are many things that the Café has taught me, but one thing I have truly learned is what family looks like.
Family is not perfect, but when you have a loving group of supportive people, you know you can freely be yourself. The Café has been a safe haven for many, and a place that many have called home at one point or another. This place is truly a family filled with crazy uncles, loving aunts, wild siblings, and most importantly, a loving Father, God. The family that I have gained from this last year has been a family I would never want to forget nor leave. The regulars we have, the estranged visitors, and the consistent staff make a place where laughter saturates the walls. This building is a source of tough love and guidance. This space is a safe place to trip and fall over and over. This Café is an oasis that brings life to all who enter. It is filled with wild, crazy people and it has its downs and faults, but families always have those. This place would not feel like family if everyone was polished and perfect. What I love most about Uncommon Grounds Café is that we all are unique people with different pasts, broken pieces, hidden secrets, and sinful hearts, but we are all covered by the blood of Jesus, and His blood is what unites us stronger than what divides us.
Written by: Lauren Zawatski
Lately I’ve been learning more about God’s faithfulness, even in spite of our human tendency of forgetfulness. Take the Israelites, for example. Not long after God delivered them out of the hands of their Egyptian oppressors, miraculously parted the Red Sea, and began to lead them into their Promised Land, they began to grumble and complain, even wishing that they were back in the land that they were desperately pleading to leave. How quickly they forgot the journey that God had taken them on! Yet He always saw them right where they were, and knew exactly what they needed.
Before celebrating Resurrection Sunday last week, I had the privilege of observing a traditional Passover Seder with students and leaders from the youth ministry where I serve. This was the first time I had ever experienced a Seder meal, and as we went through the process I was struck by just how much God does see. As we read through the original Passover story, I wondered to myself why, if God is all-seeing and all-knowing, would He ask the Israelites to slaughter a perfect lamb, take its blood, and then cover their doorposts with it to signify that their houses would be “passed over” from the coming death of all the firstborn in Egypt? He obviously knew how to distinguish between the Israelites and Egyptians...He created them, after all! Then, I had a realization. This practice was not for the Lord’s own sake. It was for theirs, and for ours now. Exodus 12:13 says that the blood “shall be a sign for you...” and one verse later, that the day of Passover itself will be “a memorial to you...throughout your generations you are to celebrate it as an ordinance forever.”
The Lord knew when He created us that we would be easily forgetful, so instead of getting frustrated about our weakness, He faithfully gave us ways to remember who He is and what He’s done. He knew even before He delivered the Israelites that they would quickly forget what He would do and how He would care for them, so He gave them a concrete way to remember - a means of bringing their attention back to Him. The best part is that this still applies to us today! We can celebrate the Passover as a means of remembering who God STILL is, and all of His faithfulness in our lives. And as Christians today, we can remember that we now have the blood of the eternal Lamb of God, Jesus, covering us now and forever.
Written by: Herb Bailey
One of the best ways that we can connect is to be open to meeting people. The best way for us to learn is to be willing to meet with people that are unknown to us. There is an invitation in the gospel to be one, even as the Lord God is one. We then, must consider how to accomplish that.
Some parts of each of us would rather be comfortable and stay to ourselves in an attempt to preserve some semblance of decorum, but unlike Jesus, we do not become close to people with problems. We see Jesus taking on flesh in order to feel what we feel, to desire like we do the sense of safety. Yet we know that Jesus did not stay “safe”. As we enter into the season of Easter/ Resurrection, let’s think about ways to be proximate, close to people so that they can see what it's about and eventually, by God’s grace, glorify the Lord with us.
This activity is a powered by a God that gives us everything we need to live a life of
godliness, and it’s a free gift. This free gift, in the same breath, costs us everything that we hold dear… Jesus replaces what we have given up with eternal satisfaction, and a hope that does not disappoint.
We experience this giving up of our will, our desire for self-importance, and instead
take on the role of servant of the Most High God. And the peace that passes all understanding be yours, in increasing measure. Blessings.
Written by: Ferdinando Turkovich
The hurt and pain that often leads people our way lends itself to the delight of freedom and community. It has been my experience that in this freedom we (as the newly freed) have the ability to now see the world through new eyes. With new eyes, we begin to see new possibilities to life. Life is no longer the life that we knew, but is becoming the life that we once dreamed of.
These transitions can seem at times like fragile sprouts, coming out of the new spring soil. In some of our lives though, the winter has been long and our roots (unbeknownst to us) do go deep. Our friends (myself include) have come through many a cold night on the edge of winter’s breath. Sometimes wander from place to place wanting to find a home.
The cafe has become a home for so many people. For some, it is on a Thursday Night to play a song on the stage. For others, it is Tuesday Mornings where one finds some soul-full conversation early in the morning. And for some few, it has become a place to give back, to fight the good fight, to have fanned into flame the gifts of God deposited in them by the Laying on of hands.
As time ebbs and flows transitions happen in the lives of the cast and crew. Some move on, some fall away, and some will resolve to stay. It has been said that “in the Kingdom of God we learn to give away”. In the terms of relationship it sometimes means giving our friends the permission to strike out, forge a new path, but with a promise of a place to always call home.
Written by: Tessa Sentell
As a newer staff member at the café, I feel like I get to see and learn about a new aspect of God and His character on the daily. This week brought a new light to God as The Provider.
We’ve been learning in our Tuesday morning bible study on 2 Peter that God has given us everything we need to live a life of Godliness; there are things already deposited in us that equip us to respond to His work. So aside from any physical things that he blesses us with, we ALREADY have the truth and the hope of the gospel that is not only bigger than our feelings or opinions, but is outside our current reality. This means we can offer hope to those stuck in addiction or poverty, because we know that even if God doesn’t provide for physical needs (which we’ve also seen Him do)—he’s already deposited a way out within them.
This week God provided experiences that could be used as fuel to recognize other people hurting, and provided words to extend to them through the truth of this gospel. Because my own experiences of isolation, I was able to recognize a hurting heart in isolation and invite them into adoption and community in the body of Christ. I was granted the ability to hear when a regular expressed the same mental struggles I’ve been dealing with, and God provided the experience of a conversation I had the day before to remind me of the truth this person needed to hear.
I also had a material need cared for this week, by the grace of God. I wrecked my car on Friday, and not only was I miraculously unharmed, but I was blessed to receive a car donated on THURSDAY. God provided a car before I even knew I needed one! His provision is real, you can’t make this stuff up!
Even bad situations are turned around to be used for good in future ones, so that more people would benefit and even receive life (Gen 50:20, Rom 8:28). Because of this we can praise in our current circumstances and keep a close watch for how they are being used even in the present--because He loves us.
So keep watch. How is He providing?
Written by: Scott Colburn
Henry Adams, an American historian and the grandson and great-grandson of U.S. Presidents, once wrote that “Politics is the systematic organization of hatreds.” Even a casual look around at the national scene today would seem to confirm that. Can Christians do anything to change this, or should we just disengage?
A group of Church Army and Cafe folk were in the Washington, D.C., area in February for a “Matthew 25” conference. We met a lot of other folks who are also answering calls to love and work for the least, the last and the lost. There were great speakers, great fellowship and lots of worship and prayer. Thanks to anyone who sponsored us or prayed for us while we were there!
For me, one of the highlights was a “field trip” by bus to the National Mall and the surrounding area where many of the nation's monuments and government buildings are. On the way back to the conference we stopped by the Capitol and the White House, and prayed for congress and the president. I think this is how Christians can best be involved in politics. We vote and donate and canvas, as citizens should, but we also pray. As I prayed, knowing I was setting aside my partisan political views, my “organized hatreds,” I felt genuine concern for people who bear the weight of government, and real love for other Americans who answer that call. It doesn't diminish my sense of justice, or my sorrow when some of our leaders use their offices to harm others, even in the name of the people. It does kill my experience of politics as a blood-sport my side must win at, and gives me patience, and I hope, God's perspective.
As we go into Lent I repent of my political partisanship and my need to be right, even when it is supposedly for the sake of others. I am not my own savior, and I'm not the savior of the country. I'm resolving to pray for our leaders daily. I'll still vote, of course. I just won't vote from hatred, or fear. I'll also “vote” by continuing the work of bringing Jesus to the marginalized, and by living in the margins myself, to seek humility and solidarity.
Written by: Greg Miller
A Marine veteran who was addicted to heroin for 5 years after returning home from Afghanistan shared his story at Uncommon Grounds Cafe. He had come to participate in “Church in the Margins”, a ministry where people not yet ready to enter church life can come and learn about Jesus.
This Vet had been searching for help but had been looked down on by churches because his appearance was too rough. However, he couldn’t stand his life of addiction so, when a policeman asked him how he was one day, he blurted out “I’m a Marine vet addicted to heroin and I’ve got a needle in my pocket”. A bit taken aback, the policeman sat him in his car and called for another officer. It turned out that there was a warrant for his arrest. Apologetically, the policemen explained that they had to take him to jail. He willingly complied.
After his attorney arranged for him to be released he went back to his girlfriend and started shooting up again. Old habits die hard. Nevertheless, he didn’t want to fall back into his lifestyle of addiction so he found a piece of paper that one of the policemen had given him. On it was the policeman’s name and phone number. “Call me if I can ever help you out”, the policeman had said. The Marine wanted bus fare to go to rehab so he called and asked the policeman for $2.50. The policeman met him and said “I’m going to give you $25.00. You have two choices to make. You can either go buy some heroin and continue in your old lifestyle or you can get something to eat and get yourself to rehab.” He was stunned. No one had trusted him like that before. He couldn’t let the policeman down so he went to rehab. In rehab he met Jim Skal. Jim MC’s at Open Mic night and runs Outdoor Immersion, a ministry that ministers to Vets. Jim talked to him about Jesus. The Marine came to faith, was baptized, and became a new creation in Christ zealous to learn about his new walk with Jesus.
This is just one story about lives changed that we hear at the Uncommon Grounds Café. It is a modern day Les Miserables tale. It is a story of grace and redemption and new life in Jesus. It reflects the power of the Holy Spirit to change lives. To God be the glory!!
Uncommon Grounds Cafe