Friday, October 09, 2015

Intimacy with God

For Christians the key to a deep relationship with God is found through the brotherhood we share with Jesus. Adherents of many religions and sadly, even many Christians, never move beyond an infatuation stage in their relationship with God. Most who become enamored with God do so because of God's majesty, transcendence, holiness; basically many people adopt a religion because of God's otherness. There is absolutely nothing wrong with acknowledging and worshipping the creator of the universe. In fact, such is to be encouraged! But for Christians the beauty of the trinity - one God represented in the three persons of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit - is what demonstrates the accessibility of God. More so, the Biblical allusions to God present in the human form of Jesus of Nazareth shows that God actually pursues a relationship with creation, that this majestic holy God actually loves the beings God created. With a miopic view of a transcendent God such an image would seem absurd. But if God gave up heaven to come to Earth to live as a man there must be a reason beyond a bored-God hypothesis. It would appear that God desired a relationship with creation that could not be attained with a Heaven bound God and Earth bound humans.

There is little wonder why there are so many marital analogies comparing the relationship between human and the Divine found in the Bible and in other mystical writings, including those of the early Christian era. The intimacy required is the same for humans learning to love, whether the object of love is God or another person. Richard Rohr (2013, Immortal Diamonds) observes,
"It is almost impossible to fall in love with majesty, power, or perfection. These make us both fearful and codependent, but seldom truly loving. On some level, love can happen only between equals, and vulnerability levels the playing field. What Christians believe is that God somehow became our equal when he became the human "Jesus," a name that is, without doubt, the vulnerable name for God" (p. 171).

Such a concept is difficult for many Christians to hear. It sounds irreverent at best if not blasphemous! But the beauty and mystery of the Trinity is found in the distinctiveness yet sameness of each person - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In love God lowered God's self to take on human flesh and human nature (see Philippians 2). Through that act of Godly humility we have access to God in a new way - as a peer, as a sibling, or literally as "one of us." Many days the accessibility of God through the brotherhood of Jesus keeps the gnawing doubts at bay. 

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Immanuel, again

While visiting my mother just before Christmas this year I had an epiphany. A little background is needed before I reveal my revelation.  Mom lives in Macon, a struggling middle Georgia city that in July was named the 3rd worst place in the United States for property crime. Sirens can be heard almost hourly from her home, even though it is nestled in an established, wooded neighborhood on the outskirts of town. My nephew used to work in the DA's office in Macon and often warned us of areas of town and routes through town that should be avoided.

On the Sunday before Christmas we attended Mom's uptown church where she sings in the choir and teaches Sunday School. It is a very traditional, if not liturgical, style of worship for a Baptist congregation. As in most Christian congregations music is an essential aspect of the Advent and Christmas season here. The older I get the more I find music to be the most meaningful part of the season. As the brass quintet played "What child is This?" I closed my eyes and let the music wash over, through me. I tried to capture the peace and holiness of the moment. In the midst of shopping, traveling and juggling the many demands of celebrating the holiday properly I needed a respite, a glimpse of that seemingly forgone silent night, holy night. Just as I was beginning to capture the sought after feeling a siren sounded in the distance. As the music crescendoed, the refrain was drowned out by the harsh wailing of the passing emergency vehicle. Self righteously, I found my anger rising. However, just as quickly, as the siren faded, slowly replaced by the sweet tunes in the sanctuary, the meaning of the music - and the season - dawned on me. The "Silent Night" of my Christmas fantasies is but a myth. The Christ child did not come on a perfect night devoid of the interruptions of normal of life. No, Jesus was was born on a normal night, in an overcrowded town filled with families and noisy animals.  As the story is told, the baby Jesus, the Emmanuel - literally "God with us" - entered this life the stablemate of farm animals.  It was not a pure, holy, quiet, peaceful event.

"What child is this," the beloved Christmas hymn inquires? It is the God who dared and dares to enter into our own mundane or hectic lives bring the divine presence where we are. Jesus does not wait for us to achieve perfection to come. Jesus does not wait for all to be stress free. Jesus does not wait for us to get it all together. No, Jesus comes everyday, at every moment, in every place, sirens and all.

In her recent book Pastorix, Nadia Bolz-Weber shared the story of when she served as a hospital chaplain. New to the job she was called to the ER where all in attendance were working to save an unconscious man stretched out on the gurney. She felt out of place and didn't know what her job was supposed to be. She asked a passing nurse who responded, "Your job is to seek and acknowledge the presence of God in this place." Belz-Weber reflected that the nurse's statement has become one of her guiding visions for her life and her ministry. It is also a fitting reminder to me this Christmas.

So this season, forget the silent night. It probably doesn't exist where you live. I know I've not seen or experienced such in a long time! Instead, in the midst of your "everyday, ordinary life -- your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking around life" (Romans 12:1, The Message), in the midst of your celebrating or grieving or longing or hoping, look for and welcome the very presence of God in you and all around you. Such is reason to celebrate! Emmanuel! God IS with us!

Sunday, June 02, 2013

Reflection on NoLa Team #1

"For we see in a reflection darkly...."

It was after 11 pm last night when I finally got home from returning the bus to the BCM, officially ending the Send Me Now NoLa #1mission trip. I stopped by our house on the way back into Athens to unpack our suitcases and stick a few things in the wash. We leave in a few short hours to drive to Hilton Head for the week. Nick was also falling asleep in the bus. By the time I returned he was long asleep in his bed with his dog. It's good to be home if only for tonight. 

As we were packing the bus to leave Canal Street Church yesterday Michael and Julie Hitch drove up to say goodbye. Kyle Todd texted him the night before to see if they would come by so we could take a group picture with them. It was a bittersweet parting. In the short time we worked together we grew to love each other and this wonderful couple. The ministry of The RICC, the non-profit started by the church leadership, is in an incredible position to help change the community over the next few years. The students on this trip got but a glimpse of the possibilities of ministry in this ancient city. 

On the way out of town we began the process of debriefing the experience. I asked questions to prompt reflection and each person shared their insights, struggles, and views from the trip. We dropped Shari at the airport for her flight home to Barbados for the summer and continued to debrief as we drove toward Mobile, Alabama. Marcus took notes and I will share them in a later post. 

The last question I asked was, "What Now?" After each student shares they asked me what I had learned. It took a few minutes for me to explain my thoughts. I've been to New Orleans several times on mission trips over the past few years. I was impressed at the initial response to the needs in NoLa after Katrina. Volunteers flooded the area with resources, volunteer hours, and prayers. Much good was done by the crews of volunteers. Workers through the Baptist Disaster Relief ministries were consistently at work, thousands of college students among them, repairing homes and lifting spirits of the citizens. Volunteers returned home recruiting others to the cause. Even Government officials proclaimed that New Orleans would not be forgotten and enough resources would be contributed to rebuild the city and area better than it was before. 

But the hurricane and resulting flood were a long, long time ago. While a few teams are still at work, most people have moved on to help with new disasters. Instead of returning to NoLa, groups now go to New York or to Oklahoma. Don't get me wrong, there are needs there too from storms this past year. The problem is that New Orleans has all but been forgotten except for a few who have remained focused. Money that was donated for Katrina relief has mostly been spent. It is difficult to keep sending teams back when so many other needs are constantly before us in the media. It is more flashly to respond to critical needs that can be followed on the news. 

What I learned from this week is to stay focused on the dreams God has given me, to remain true, not to chase after whatever is new, whatever seems most immediate, or even what seems essential. Yes, as Christians we need to be open to God's leading in all kinds of ways. That's easy for me. I'm very adaptable, creative, and flexible. Sometimes, however, I tend not to stick with things and to change just for the sake of changing. This week has shown me to stay on task until the job is done and to remind the students with whom I work to do the same thing. Each time I close my eyes to sleep I return to the streets of NoLa. I see the many boarded up and decaying homes that were never rebuilt. I see the neighborhoods that are in ruin and the side streets throughout the city that are almost impassible because of the potholes. Volunteers are still needed. Homes still need to be repaired. groups like the RICC are still making a difference and are partnering with other groups to do even more. 

Often we are blinded by what is shiny and new. but even in the best of times our clouded vision has never been very good. We see "in a glass darkly." God, however sees the big picture. We need to stay focused. God is calling others to respond to the many new tragedies that seem to arise daily. Of course, if God calls you you should go. But don't just respond because everyone else is doing it or because it is the new thing. 

Stay focused. Don't forget NoLa and the entire gulf region. They still need us! 

What dream has God given to you that you are tempted to abandon for something new or fresh? Ask God to renew your dreams, to dream again in you, to give you joy in the work at hand. And let's get back to work!

Friday, May 31, 2013

NoLa #6

As we prepare to leave NoLa early in the morning for the long drive back to Georgia today has been the perfect way to end our trip. Today was moving day for Michael and Julie Hitch (their three precious children went home with their grandmother yesterday). We began earlier today than on other mornings this week. We had to drive to St. Barnard Parish - about 30 minutes away from the church - to pack a moving truck, both of the Hitch's vehicles, and our bus with furniture, clothing, and years of memories. After another round of incredible confections from The Blue Dot for breakfast we loaded up for the drive, retracing some of our tour from yesterday. 

The team worked quickly, loading all vehicles in less than three hours. The truck had to be turned in by 1, so we knew we were on a time crunch. After loading up with all we could safely fit into the vehicles we drove a long, though less bumpy route back to the new house. We unloaded the truck and Hitch's jeep so it could be returned to U-Haul by the deadline. While he and Kyle took the truck back and picked up lunch on their return we finished unloading and began to organize the boxes and stacks of furniture into the appropriate rooms. 

After an amazing pizza lunch, devoured while sitting on the front porch, we divided into two different work teams. One group took the vehicles back to the house to meet Julie (who had to work half a day for post-planning at school) and to bring back as much of the remaining small furniture and other items as possible in the bus and in their two cars. The rest of the group continued to organize the house. When we finally got the returning vehicles unloaded and the boys beds assembled we came back to the church to get cleaned up for dinner then souvenir shopping. The showers sure felt great after so much hot work!

Michael and Julie made us a wonderful dinner of Spaghetti, Caesar Salad, and pound cake (with sweet tea, of course) before most of the crew headed back into town via the trolleys for some last minute gift & souvenir shopping (and goofing off). While waiting on the trolley we saw a man (the owner we supposed) open Blue Dot Donuts, the donut shop across the street from the church where we have bought breakfast two mornings. Shari shouted across the street, "We Love You!" The team added, "and your donuts!" After a few minutes the door opened and the man emerged a carrying a sack. He walked across the street to us and said, "Here are some donut holes, enjoy!" Shari advised the group, "see what happens when you are nice to people, when you share the love!" The donut holes were incredible! We will be making a final trip over before heading out of town in the morning. The red velvet donuts are the best donuts I've ever had! 


It's been a wonderful trip. We have done lots of different things to help the church get ready for the summer. We made a contact for the summer children's camp while playing in the park yesterday. The grandmother we met is supposed to call Michael next week to sign her grand children up. We learned a lot about this great city and the needs that still exist as a result of Katrina, but we also learned about the great ministries that are occurring here and the great needs that churches are meeting in the wake of the tragedy. Best of all, we moved Michael and Julie into their new place only a few blocks from the church. No more 30 minute commutes! God has also been at work in the lives of our team members. Thanks for your prayers. It will be fun to see and hear how God uses the lessons learned in NoLa in the lives of these amazing young adults over the next few years!

NoLa #5

Morning came too early today! While yesterday was a "down day" for our team with less strenuous activity, we were all exhausted by bedtime. 

We began with a final walk through of the building, somehow discovering more clutter that needed to be tossed or placed where it belonged. Then our very own tour guide, Michael Hitch directed our bus through the narrow lanes of the city as I dodged pot holes, parked cars and road debris. We went through some of the areas still suffering from Katrina damage. We drove along streets where one house had been meticulously restored, the next razed and replaced by a modern energy efficient home, and the next empty, abandoned, and crumbling. We watched and heard a New Orleans double line funeral procession. 

Then we drove to the 9th Ward. Hitch's description of the Katrina flood as we drove through the most damaged area was riveting. Crossing the bridge he pointed out the levy and flood wall. He described how poorly anchored barges broke loose and crashed into the flood wall, creating a breech that immediately washed away both wall and levy allowing a 20 foot high wall of water to bury the Lower 9th Ward in mere seconds. When it all settled the sea water was 8 feet high across the parish. Ultimately, 1836 people lost their lives during and after the storm.

As we drove along Hitch pointed out walls of businesses and homes with dark horizontal lines 15 feet above the ground - the water line. He pointed out vacant lots where the city came in and bulldozed away any homes seemingly abandoned, leaving no remnant of a structure, all without owner's permission. 

Hitch described the various ministries that are attempting to make a difference in the area. He talked about the lack of churches in the community. Most churches were washed away with the homes and have not returned. In many ways it is a community truffling to make it with fewer resources, fewer people, and no support. Promised government support was wasted on trivial infrastructure or was given to investors as "buy backs" of their worthless damaged rental properties, sometimes at double market value. Additional promised funds dried up as newer natural disasters took precedence in the news, and thus, in the public and political eye. 

After the tour we enjoyed a picnic lunch at the historical Chelmette battlefield, climbed trees, learned a bit about the history if the city, and talked about the city, the recovery efforts, and the ways various on-profits are working together to meet the ongoing needs of the communities. We dropped a few team members at Hitch's house so they could he Julie pack up some more things for the big move tomorrow. The rest of us when to the park to play with anyone who might come out to play. 


At Cominsky Park we tossed a frisbee and kicked a few soccer balls, showing off our lack of skills. It did not take long to be joined by a few children who were in town staying with their grandmother for a few days since school was out for the summer. Two little girls and a boy joined in the fray. The good thing was they didn't know anything about soccer or frisbee so we looked like pros to them. 

We talked to the grandmother a while and heard from her heat it was like to ride out a storm like Katrina. She said while she sought shelter in their home they watched the house next door literally split in half when the waters hit. Her home was flooded but spared any structural damage. When she dared to walk outside 7 days later the water was chin high. They were rescued from the standing flood water a few days later. She thanked God that her family made it through without any permanent scars. 

After a quick shower back at the church Hitch treated us to "pancakes as big as a pizza" at City Diner. We had tried to go on Sunday evening, but the diner was short staffed. It was worth the wait! We had such a good time talking through the week, getting to know each other better, eating too many slices of pancakes (served on pizza pans - blueberry, strawberry, banana, pecan, and plain), and being entertained by Nick's magic tricks. It was a very fun evening and the perfect ending to the day.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

NoLa, #4

Small group mission trips have a unique way of creating lasting relationships among team members. Groups that know each other before the trip grow ever closer as the trip progresses. Groups, like this one (an amalgam of people from different places who know each other in varying degrees) also form close ties, yet the process is a bit slower. It has been a joy to observe the growing unity of our group of ten students. Of course there are those who naturally pair up each day to work on individual projects. Sometimes this occurs because of the type of work chosen, but it is usually the result of personalities. Some folks simply work best with specific people. Every team has a floater or two who wants to make sure that equal time is spent with each team member. Floaters want to know everyone on the team as well as possible. Most teams also have strong introverts who work well with one or two others, but then must disappear at times to recharge. Often the introverts go to bed early or rise before anyone else in order to have solitude to process, write, read, pray, and prepare for time spent with the rest of the team. 

Toward the middle of trips like this there are lots of late night conversations occurring. Pairs or trios will find a quiet corner or table in another room to talk about life, about faith, about the trip so far. These are the moments where life change happens. Such are the times when disorienting experiences from the trip begin to coalesce. Disorientation is the result of being out of the proverbial "comfort zone" of home and school and seeing and experiencing things that challenge norms. Team members can help each other wrestle with the new experiences and find new meanings within. 

The team continued cleaning, organizing, and painting in the church yesterday. We made great headway and finished most projects. We reclaimed several spaces that had been sealed off as storage rooms and are now great work or meeting areas. Moat of the closets in the church are now free of clutter and organized! Tools are all back in their places in the basement. Two trips have been made to donate unused items to thrift shops. Floors have been mopped and empty boxes tossed. Broken toys, furniture, crayons, and other items have been thrown away. The church is ready for a summer of community ministry! It was a good, profitable day!

Two days left! Pray for the team members who:
   Have begun dealing with things they have experienced here, or 
   Who are working through issues of calling, or 
   Who are tired and need to find some rest.

Two more days of work before we head home on Saturday!

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

NoLa, #2

The bright sunshine awakened me again this morning. After stumbling down the hall to brush my teeth I found the kitchen and brewed a pump-pot of Community Coffee-dark. As the warm elixir slowly revives me, body and soul, I begin to realize how stiff and sore my body became overnight. It might be an Advil kind of day. However, as I reflect on our Memorial Day activities in NoLa a smile comes to my face. We accomplished much and had a great deal of fun in the process. This is a great team of which to be a part!

After a leisurely breakfast at the church we loaded up the bus with people and supplies for cleaning and painting. After traveling only a few blocks we stopped on a quiet street with classic shotgun duplexes on one side of the block and larger single family homes on the other. All had large porches or verandas, with wicker furniture for sitting under the shaded porch and people watching. We carried our supplies to one of the duplexes. This was the place Michael Hitch and his family would be moving this week to be in the midst of the community where the church is located. We quickly discovered that much work needed to be done before it was ready for this sweet family - furniture, rugs, tools and dust covered every floor. Starting upstairs, our group cleaned and painted the two children's bedrooms and cleaned the floors, baseboards, and fixtures in all of the rooms. Painting the 12 foot high plaster walls was a chore - one gray wall in each room, then pink for the little girl's room and blue for the boy's room. I put my long honed skills to work and replaced a toilet seat before jumping into the painting mix cutting in the rooms. By lunchtime all that was left was a few touch-ups.

For lunch we took our sack lunches to City Park and ate while watching geese play on a small island in the pond. As they finished eating the boys in our group taught the girls to skip rocks. We were entertained by the small gauge train that circumvented the park, waving at children and tourists joyfully riding around the park. After the hour we made our way back to the house. Before beginning work a few of us walked down the street in search of a bottle of water. Instead we discovered a snowball shop. Snowballs are similar to snowcones, but so much better! The concept is the same, but the shaved ice results in a texture more like and extra thick slushy. The praline-cream syrup was amazing!

After a quick strategy meeting the team tackled the first floor. One crew hauled some unneeded furniture away while the rest of us - experienced painters now - quickly painted and cleaned the downstairs and the steps. The refreshing sent of pine sol now replaced the stale odor of a long empty, older home. The bright walls and shining, mahogany stained heart pine floors were now ready to welcome the Hitch family later this week. It was a good day of work!

After dinner Micheal took us to the sanctuary for worship and bible study. He discussed the ministry here at Canal Street and in the city as being one modeled after Philippians 2. It is an incarnation all ministry that seeks to meet people where they are with the Gospel. 

Hitch noted that God has been calling his followers to a deeper faith for generations. The more liberal among us have been pushing for change for 30+ years. Yet these prophetic voices have been pushed to the background by those in charge in denominations. However, beginning with Anthony Campolo, moving to his student and mentee Shane Claibourne a new generation of radicals has emerge. David Platt & Francis Chan have joined the growing chorus of those who believe that membership in the church is not a salvation reserved for the elite, but is for all people and which calls us to a faith that is concerned about "the least of these." Platt and Chan have a platform that cannot be silenced by those who would attempt to quell their cries for a faith that is uncomfortable with the American status quo. People are hearing them now and are responding with a desire for a deeper faith. Hitch does not like to call the movement radical, because it should be the norm for all people who choose to follow Jesus.

Hitch challenged the students to pay attention to the dreams that God gives to them now because they are at a time in their lives when their dreams will be more vivid and they will be able to hear God in ways that will never be so clear again. He advised the, to listen and to act on the dreams and visions that God gives them. 

On missions it is easy to be incarnational for a week or a bit more. on trips such as this we are in solidarity with our teammates about focusing on Jesus in all of what we ate charged with doing. However, Hitch advised we need to be that way always! We should allow Christ to live in and through us at all times and in all things. We should have the mind of Christ that Paul presented in Philippians 2, one marked by humility and putting others above our needs and desires.

On missions we should do our work as Christ did, incarnationally. But we should also live that way when we get back home and when we go back to school. We should not only focus on begin the proverbial "hands and feet" of Christ, but on allowing Jesus to live in and through us at all times, in all places, responding to every situation in which we find ourselves through our whole selves, not just through various body parts. 

As we headed off to an evening of fun activities around the church Hitch challenged the team to ponder ways Jesus might want to be more incarnational in our lives, and to identify ways we were each resistant to such living. 

NoLa Time

Up way too early this morning, awakened at 6am by the sun and excitement to begin the projects for the week, I was joined in the fellowship hall of this grand church by two of our team members. They were similarly awake, probably due to the central time change and unfamiliar beds as much as excitement. Situated on the upper end of Canal Street near City Park, the small yet stately brick church lies nestled between quaint homes, small businesses, and nonprofits. Families walk to the nearby cafes and shops on the wide sidewalks. The trolleys traverse the median between the tree lined street in front of the church. Many young families live in this area. This summer members of Canal Street church will be assisted by mission teams from across the country as they seek to minister to and reach people of this community. 

When the church was reborn a few years ago, the new staff decided to also simultaneously begin a nonprofit for community service and outreach. Thus, the church building houses both the church community and RICC (Restoration Initiative for Culture and Community - Their byline is Restoring Communities and Reconciling Relationships. The purpose of the nonprofit is reconciliation in many iterations. They seek to to rebuild homes - many in the area are still empty from the ravages of Katrina. They seek to build strong families through family and children's ministries, assisting with counseling needs, providing a community preschool, hosting summer block parties and day camps, and lots of other events and activities. They seek to network within the community, assisting and partnering with other groups to meet needs and to make the community a more wholesome place to live and work. 

This morning our diverse team from campuses across Georgia will begin to help the church get ready for the many summer events that are scheduled. We are the first of many teams who will be living and working here this summer. We will do some cleaning, organizing, and painting of the church facilities. We will prayer walk areas where the church hopes to minister this summer as well as some of the other, more famous parts of the city. Later in the week we will assist some staff members and volunteers move into the church community. Living close to the church is essential to most effectively minister to the community. Budgets are tight. Staff is not paid much. Our team will be able to provide much needed assistance to three church families that are moving into the church community. It should be a good week. We are all excited and ready to begin! 

Let's do this for the glory of God!

NoLa Team #1
Clarke Bradley, Georgia Southern University
Nathan Byrd, campus minister@UGA, team leader
Nick Byrd, North Oconee High School
Alisa Curtwright, Georgia Perimeter College
Chris Davisson, Georgia State University
Walter DeGuire, Georgia Southern University 
Jennifer Hightower, University of North Georgia
Marcus Ross, Southern Polytechnic 
Kyle Todd, Georgia Tech
Shari Watson, University of Georgia
Natasha Wood, Georgia Southwestern College

NoLa, #3

Hitch cooked bacon and eggs for the team this morning. It was the perfect complement for the Community Coffee that is served at every locale in he city. This, when we began working on various projects around the church we did so with full bellys. Hitch gave us several projects ideas before joining the rest of the church staff for a planning meeting. He concluded his charge with, "If you run out of things to do just look around and find a project." Needless to say, we stayed busy all day cleaning, organizing, moving, and prepping: 
We moved the pool table and fooseball table to the room we cleaned the day before. It was an ordeal involving wrenches, a quilt, and lots of heavy lifting. 
We cleaned and organized the children's area, tossing lots of trash, sharpening pencils, and removing lots of stray materials and equipment that had accumulated over the past two years. 
We organized the basement where all of the paint and tools are stored. 
We organized and cleaned closets, scraped a wall to remove falling paint & plaster. 
We organized a small closet into a food pantry, moving and assembling shelving, finding, sorting, and organizing donated foodstuffs into the space. 
We moved the art studio from one room to a new, larger space. Tomorrow we will paint the old studio to create a youth Sunday School room. 
Possibly the most fun job was breaking down old pews that a member will turn into a new conference table for the church. 

After all of the work was finished we showered and prepped for an adventurous evening. The fun began with a dinner of jambalaya and freshly baked French bread! After dinner Hitch briefed the team about our evening activities - a prayer walk in the French Quarter. Though we walked through the Quarter the day we arrived, it was during the day and we did not go on Bourbon Street. The prayer walk route, distributed to our team on maps, wove across the most infamous street at intersections, giving a glimpse of the people, businesses, and revelry without leading the team directly through the debauchary. Hitch gave the option for the team to stray from the route it they wanted to walk down the street to experience more of what is there or to abandon the map completely to go to Jackson Square or the river front to pray if walking the route was too difficult. He summed up he presentation with a description of the area as "The Walt Disney World of Sin." 

We boarded the trolley in front of the church and headed downtown. Most of the team had never ridden a streetcar before. We were good tourists and took lots of pictures. After we reached our destination the group decided into two teams, whereupon I gave them a surprise - they would be venturing into the Quarter on their own. I felt they needed to rely on their own faith and on each other instead of looking to me for answers and support. They all had their cell phones. I would only be a few blocks away. After delivering the news that i would meet them at Cafe du Monde when they were finished, I quickly turned and walked away. 

When the two groups later converged at the cafe they were deep in conversation. One group arrived fairly quickly, spending about 45 minutes on the prayer walk. They huddled around their tables, tucking in to Beignets and cafe au lait talking in quiet tones about the evening. The second group arrived much later with more somber expressions. They had stopped midway through their trek to pray in depth about what they were seeing. They took a detour and walked down the middle of Bourbon street. Afterwards they went to the park adjacent to Jackson Square to pray again. I have not talked in detail to any of them about it, they needed time to process. Jennifer told me that it was very, very difficult and that she did not know what to think yet. 

If you have never been to the French Quarter and walked along Rue de Bourbon it will be difficult to sufficiently describe the scene. While Bourbon Street looks much like all of the others in the Quarter, their are fewer stores seeking trinkets, t-shirts, and other tourist junk. In their places are dingy bars open to the street next to colorful joints boasting 24 frozen drinks! the bars are interspersed with glass-front "stores" plastered with huge posters featuring picture-"menus" of the girls that work within. the girls are nude and most are in provocative poses. Music blares from each bar and storefront. Most of the bars and strip clubs are fronted with greasy carnival-barkers calling to passersby to come inside. Many of these barkers taunt and bait the obvious tourists and church groups (usually wearing matching Jesus shirts). And then there are the crowds. Scantily clad party-loving tourists with sun-burned shoulders and faces stumble along the street, plastic commemorative "hurricane" cups in hand, seeking the next adventure. Street performers are scattered along the route, juggling, reading fortunes, playing music for tips. There are the lots of characters in odd attire - solid silver clothing and paint, dancing like a robot - western garb with a huge boa constrictor slithering across his shoulders - black wedding dress with vampire make-up - all posing for pictures with tourists for a fee. Homeless men and women wander down the street hoping to beg some change from drunken revelers. The street assaults the senses. The bright lights, the loud music, the diversity of people types and attire, all combine with the smells of stale beer, wafts of rotting food in the gutters and in and around garbage cans, body odor, and the various colognes of the barkers is overwhelming. 

In the attempt to make money, Bourbon street sells watered down booze and cheap-kinky sex. It is a center of prostitution and sex trafficking. As a result New Orleans is a favored destination for sex tourism. Road-tripping college students, rebellious teens, and wayward business men and woman find after-hour distractions 

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

MNYBA & BCM@UGA - a great partnership in the making

Sitting at the gate in LaGuardia waiting for my flight back to Atlanta I am reflecting on the conversations, meetings, and tours of the past few days. I am so excited to be a part of introducing more UGA students to this great city and the vast diversity of peoples, faith expressions, and ministry opportunities here. I have already sent texts and Facebook messages to students back home presenting seeds of wonder about some of the possibilities I've discovered. Basically, almost anyone who has pondered almost any type of ministry with any people or people group can find a place here!

Why serve overseas when the same people groups can be found here?
Why work in a secular job and attend an over packed church "back home" when the same type of job can be found here and where every church needs your help?
Interested in Urban ministry? This is the place.
Want to fight sex trafficking? Ministries in churches are just getting started, the front lines are here.
Want to do ministry to a specific Ethnic group? The association has churches in many, many languages other than English. They all need willing workers.
Want to feel like a minority? Come to Flushing (Chinese), Corona (Spanish speaking), Astoria (Indian), or Long Island (a vast mix of many nations), and the list goes on.
Want to learn to do ministry for the world that is just around the corner? Studies suggest that by the middle of this century our cities will experience exponential growth. Atlanta is destined to be one of the largest cities in the world by then end of the century. Churches are going to have to adapt, to learn how to respond to urban needs. Come to NYC and see how it is being done with great success.
Interested in church planting? That is the main strategy here and where the most students and alumni are needed.

Come meet NYC. Then ask yourself and God the question, "Why not here?"