Archive for the ‘prisoners’ category

Stories to Tell – First Months at Embrace (Part II)

September 13, 2013

Stories Part I

Most folks who know me know that I am a pacifist. My first book even took on common questions about Christian nonviolence. I often speak about nonviolence, turning the other cheek, dying rather than killing. I used to think I was a good bible teacher, but I am not so sure anymore. You see, a while back I began leading a bible study through John’s gospel. One of the regular attendees, a guy named “J”, had proven to be inquisitive, enthusiastic, and he was always kindly offering to help in various capacities during our Monday night ministry. “J” was homeless, and he had twice been attacked, stabbed and robbed over a couple week period while out and about in Lexington. I think many of us could sense “J’s” frustration and hopelessness growing even as we tried to offer encouragement and point him toward hope. We failed, miserably.

A few weeks went by without “J” attending. We didn’t think too much about it because many of our guests drop off the radar for weeks or even months at a time, but we heard through the grapevine that “J” had been arrested for allegedly beating a man to death with a 2×4. Sure enough the news reports confirmed the rumors. “J” is now in prison. Likely he will be there for a while, perhaps the rest of his life.
barbed_safety_Fence_225577_lI sort of jokingly remarked on a few occasions that I must be the worst bible teacher ever. That may or may not be true, but I am beginning to realize that most of the change that happens in people’s lives does not happen because they sat in a particular class. There are a lot of ways in which God intervenes in the lives of people, countless different sorts of events that people can point to as places where they were changed for the better, but it seems that one of the most compelling reasons that people change is because they have others who love them through their mess. I will visit “J” in prison. I will let him know that he is still loved, that God still sees him as a person with infinite worth. I will pray with him, encourage him, challenge him to be a peacemaker and minister of reconciliation even and especially in the confines of concrete and barbed wire. I will declare over his life that Jesus does indeed set captives free and I will continue to trust that God has a plan for my friend “J” even though this detour has put him on an exceedingly more difficult path. I will challenge him to repent, to seek the forgiveness of God and the victim’s family.

Whether or not I succeed as a teacher, I am determined to be faithful as a minister of God’s redemptive peace.

Of course, not all of the stories of my time at Embrace are so dramatic, many of them are quite mundane yet eternally important. Sometimes they are even downright boring. A few weeks ago we had a baptism (that wasn’t the boring part), but since one of our worship gatherings takes place at a theater we have a portable baptistery. Our portable baptistery happens to be a plastic horse trough. Anyway, the theater does not have a particularly convenient way for us to fill the thing so I had to load it on to a small cart and wheel it into the bathroom. Me and two other guys took turns holding a small hose on to the end of one of the bathroom faucets. I know some traditions sprinkle water on congregants when a person gets baptized as a way to help others remember their own baptism. This was not a formal ritual, but we were sure getting wet as the water sprayed from the end of the hose since we could not get a tight connection with the faucet. We, I hope, remembered our baptisms as we prepared to welcome a new sister into the family.

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After about half an hour of watching water slowly trickle into the trough we decided there was enough water to dunk someone. Of course a horse trough with 30 gallons of water in it is no light object to move, but we couldn’t really baptize this young lady in the men’s room, so we had to wheel the trough laden cart down to the front of the theater and up onto the stage. It took 6 of us to get it off the cart.

The baptism, like all baptisms, was beautiful. There is always something good about getting a soaking wet hug from a new sibling in Christ.

Of course once the baptism was over we had load the trough back on the cart, wheel it out the back door of the theater and dump the water out on the sidewalk. It created a small tidal wave that ran out into the street. I almost want to reconsider my stance on sprinkling for baptism after this, but it was great to watch someone die to sin and be raised to life with Christ.

Other stories at Embrace are still very much in process. In fact, most of them rest in that uncomfortable place of ambiguity between hope and hopelessness.

A few weeks ago a young lady who has been attending two of our weekly services on a regular basis came forward to ask for prayer. With the requisite tears in her eyes she told me about her addiction to heroin, about how she couldn’t see her children because of the drug’s hold on her. She asked me to pray for her. I prayed that God would deliver her from this demon of addiction. During our meal time after service I pulled “A” aside to talk more. I told her that helping folks with drug addictions was pretty new to me, but that I wanted to covenant with her to find her appropriate help. I told her that I would find her the following Sunday with information in hand ready to help her out.

For the whole week I sent messages to local friends who I knew would be able to help me out. My friend Kelly, the pastoral care coordinator at The Lexington Rescue Mission, had been working on a list of resources for addicts, which she kindly shared with me. I began checking into each program to see which would be the best fit. On Sunday, though I was teaching at another church in town, I rushed back to Embrace’s downtown campus at the Kentucky Theater to make sure I kept my word to “A”. I found her and told her about the various programs as asked her to meet me the next day at my office so we could look over them in more detail and at least get her on a waiting list or two.

The time came for our appointment and she never showed. I was angry, disappointed, and honestly sad because I still believe that she wants freedom from these chains that bind her. That evening one of her friends told me that she had hitched a ride to another city to follow her drug habit. That sort of thing makes me wanna scream and kick kittens (of course to be fair I don’t really like cats anyway), but instead I pray that God will continue the work that God has started in “A’s” life. Last week her friend said that “A” is back in town. Next time I see her, I plan to give her a big hug then a piece of my mind, then remind her once again that I love her with the love of the Lord and that I still want to help her though this mess. I don’t know where it will go. I don’t know if she will ever be free of her addiction. I don’t know if she will ever get back custody of her kids. I don’t know a lot of things, but I do know that I will I be waiting for her and working on her behalf, and I do know that as much as I am doing so that God will be infinitely more involved in her daily life, whispering to her that his grace is sufficient.

I can’t do the work that God has called me to without your help. Your prayers, financial support, encouragement and accountability make my work possible. If you think this ministry is worthwhile and God is leading you, please contribute to this small witness to God’s Kingdom.

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Human Trafficking Conference- Helpful Links

October 9, 2009

So far today the most useful presentation was about monitoring supply changes. It was especially helpful because several organizations’ websites were given out, from groups that advocate on behalf of the poor to consumer watchdog groups to grass roots movements.

Here are the links and a brief description about each. I hope you find these to be informative and inspiring. This an issue that the church must find itself combating as a part of our witness as Jesus, the One who befriended the lowest of the low.

The International Labor Rights Forum is a nonprofit advocacy organization dedicated to achieving just and humane treatment for workers worldwide. They also provide information about the labor practices of various companies and even information about labor laws around the world.

The Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility seeks to encourage businesses to act in a socially responsible way.

MADE-BY is an independent consumer label for fashion companies who continuously improve and are transparent about the social, economic and ecological conditions throughout the whole supply chain of their collections.

The Not For Sale Campaign equips and mobilizes Smart Activists to deploy innovative solutions to re-abolish slavery in their own backyards and across the globe.

International Justice Mission is a human rights agency that secures justice for victims of slavery, sexual exploitation and other forms of violent oppression.

Proxy Democracy is an organization that helps investors find companies that have ethical practices and connect to other investors to work synergistically to open information streams and encourage corporations to be ethical.

The Story of Stuff creatively chronicles the underside of our production and consumption patterns, and exposes the connections between a huge number of environmental and social issues, and calls us together to create a more sustainable and just world. It’ll teach you something, it’ll make you laugh, and it just may change the way you look at all the stuff in your life forever.

Free 2 Work provides a databaseof companies from around the world so you can independently search, report, and verify known labor practices. This one may be particularly helpful as we try to decide what products to buy.

Responsible Shopper reports on global research and campaign information regarding the impact of major corporations on human rights, social justice, environmental sustainability and more.

The Good Guide provides the world’s largest and most reliable source of information on the health, environmental, and social impacts of the products in your home. This means you can find out if your products were made by forced labor or with environmentally harmful materials and processes.

The Trade Observatory works with organizations around the world to analyze how global trade agreements impact domestic farm and food policies. Alongside a global coalition, and advocates for fair trade policies that promote strong health standards, labor and human rights, the environment and, most fundamentally, democratic institutions.

Earth Rights International combats human rights violations through advocation, organization, education and litigation.

Chain Store Reaction provides information about tons of brands and provides an easy opportunity to contact these companies to encourage them to investigate and end slavery in their supply chains.

I believe that when Jesus said he came to set the captives free that he didnt just free their souls for heaven, he showed with his life that he came to set people free from the slavery of poverty and greed and abuse and oppression as well. Join the Carpenter from Nazareth and take part in freeing slaves and acting in a restorative and redemptive way in this world. No more excuses!!!

Satan’s P.O.W.’s

July 3, 2007

I got the call on Christmas Eve. My older brother rang in on my cell phone and I assumed he just wanted to wish me an early merry Christmas. Instead he proceeded to tell me that he was gay. Now I want you to know this post is not all about homosexuality, but I hope my brother may serve as an example of a P.O.W, because it is about rescuing and reclaiming the captives, the prisoners of war.

A few months later he came for a visit. We had the opportunity to talk for a bit and he began to tell me about the group that has accepted him; the gay community, or at least some subculture with ties to that circle. We took a ride to visit our uncle and as I drove, he talked. He told me about never being accepted as a child. He said that now he is accepted. He has a boyfriend, and other friends who he are willing to accept him unconditionally. This honestly made me quite pissed at the church. After all, it’s our job to make people feel accepted unconditionally and loved. How is it that we can put the words of Jesus, “love people as we love ourselves,” in to action? Can we be of any help to anyone if we are not willing to first accept them and let them know that they are truly loved?

What my brother basically told me was that no one was willing to try to come and meet him where he was. No one was willing to try and understand him. No one was willing to enter into that kind of dangerous territory to take the risk of befriending a captive. I admit, I am a large part of the problem. For years I have not loved him like Jesus loves me.

I have always read Isaiah 61 with the understanding that captives and prisoners simply meant those in jail, but these days I see it more as being hostages, prisoners of war, held by our enemy in his attempt to have some kind of leverage at the eternal bargaining table with Almighty God. Maybe it could read, to proclaim freedom to the hostages and release from the prison camp for the P.O.W.’s.

If that understanding is true then that means we have to cross enemy lines in order to set the captives free. Jesus knew that. After all He did that very thing when He left the safety of His throne in heaven, for the treachery of a sinful earth, to enter the current domain of the evil one. I have heard people make that argument that we shouldn’t go to the prostitutes and the like because they always came to Jesus. It seems to me that Jesus crossed the greatest of all expanses to go to them and to come to me. I am reminded of John 1, it says God became man and moved in to the neighborhood (to paraphrase The Message). That’s right he moved into the neighborhood, into the brothel complexes in India’s ghettos, into the filthy shanty towns of Haiti, into the red light district of Amsterdam, into the refugee camps of Northern Africa, into the “gay village” of the Castro district in San Francisco, and into the middle class havens of America’s suburbs.

I love a song we used to sing at the church where I was once a youth minister. The lyrics say “I went to the enemy’s camp and I took back what he stole from me.” I loved it then and I love it now, but it recently hit me what a task that is. Can you imagine walking across the enemy lines in Iraq? That’s what it’s like when you choose to follow Jesus. You must live a life where you take the chance of crossing through the DMZ to reach the captives on the other side.

The parable of the talents illustrates this idea as well as any I know of. We must be willing to gamble with God’s money as it were. We must take chances, live lives of reckless abandon, and bring the light of God into the darkness that is the very camp of the enemy. Don’t get me wrong, the enemy is not any person or group, no matter how different their understanding of morality is from our own; the enemy is the one known as satan, the accuser.

Jesus said, “As I have loved you so you must love one another.” He loved us enough to move into our neighborhood, break into the prison camp in which our enemy held us captive, and give up His life when the time came, so that we could break free from the chains that held us in bondage. If that is what He did to demonstrate His love for us, then what are we willing to do to fulfill His command to love one another in the same way?