This past Tuesday, the LHCC family came together to honor me with a post-program dinner celebration of my birthday. I am very grateful for their kindness and generosity in providing a meal to feed 5,000 … literally. The Hispanic culture dictates that all family meals are a pot luck. Everyone contributes something tasty and the volunteers are always the guests of honor for their generous time commitments. Our families are grateful for the help they get as well as their children. Reflecting upon this joyous occasion, I wondered what it would be like to be grateful like that every day, birthdays or no birthdays…
Brennan Manning in his book Ruthless Trust posed the question of whether the primal sin of the first couple mentioned in the bible was ingratitude. Even before they were deceived and ate the fruit of the forbidden tree.
I believe that people who have known tough life and death situations, suffering and know what it is like to need something so bad they will do anything to get it, have had to draw upon trust or something like it, to find joy in their lives. They have literally had to swim upstream against the odds. The poor give larger proportions of their income to charity than the rich, because they know what it is like to have needs seemingly beyond their means.
If you are reading this then surely you have much more to be grateful for. Living in a first world country with plenty of clothes, a warm home and one maybe two cars. I have much to be grateful if I consider how much better off we are than many struggling for survival each and every day. Let me use this reminder to count my blessings every day and to praise God for blessing me abundantly and most assuredly more than I deserve.
I was invited to the Copa Gold cup soccer matches this past Sunday at Bank of America stadium. It was an amazing experience. Most of the fans were clearly Mexican supporters. I mean, I am thrilled they beat Martinique 3-2, and the win was the cherry on the top of a festive, fun and entertaining evening. Had they lost, I would have run to get away from a potential stampede.
It was not difficult to spot who was there for their home
country. They are all kitted out in green or white Mexican soccer team shirts
and garb, faces painted in the national colors of the flag, boom boxes, Mexican
flags flying, horns blaring, and many with masks. There were sombreros galore.
They arrived really early and stayed well into the night. I also got to witness
the Mexican wave … a crowd inspired “stand-up at just the right time and wave
arms” as the momentum circumvents the field, much to the delight of all
concerned. Growing up in South Africa, Mexican waves had just started to make
their appearances at day/night cricket matches, when the going was slow. It was
far from slow Sunday, and the waves kept on coming…
What struck me was how much camaraderie existed between seemingly
complete strangers. They were out to enjoy themselves… Respectful, friendly, law
abiding, and not overly rowdy. Frankly entertaining for this Anglo spectator. Families
and friends were just hanging out together, singing, chanting, young children
in their fathers arms and others in tow mothers guided them through the
carnival atmosphere outside the stadium … and certainly inside. I have not seen
so many similar happy immigrants together in one place. They were delighted to
be there … together, without seemingly a care in the world. I had to marvel at
the contrast from Nascar, basketball or football spectators, on so many levels.
The local press is full of stories about the harsh treatment of children, the caravans of immigrants at the border, and the dramatic rise in the Hispanic population in our Queen City as the 2020 census nears. One has to admire these peoples tenacity and perseverance. Families are here for a reason, even though most would prefer to be back home. That’s a true statement. This deeply divided city, nonetheless, is a great place to live, and a paradise compared to the trouble they are fleeing in their homelands south of our border. You see, these are our city neighbors, escaping unspeakable violence and persecution. If my family lived like that, I too would pack up and leave for a better future. I believe I did in fact do that. Therefore, as long as they are here, we should welcome them and treat them with respect and dignity. They have something the rest of us don’t seemingly possess. We might benefit from taking a page from their playbooks. In our line of refugee and immigrant ministry work, at LHCC, we meet a lot of awesome immigrant children and their concerned parents. We love on them and try to help with everything we possibly can and tend to their needs. They are grateful people.
What follows is a short, sobering perspective on what we ought to see with our neighbors, regardless of whether they are from Mexico or Timbuktu.
love be stronger than your hate or anger. Learn the wisdom of compromise, for
it is better to bend a little than to break. Believe the best rather than the
worst. People have a way of living up or down to your opinion of them. Remember
that true friendship is the basis of lasting relationship. (Author unknown)
These are people, not problems. They are our neighbors. Who wouldn’t want to live in peace and raise their children as best they can, in a safer environment? Let’s pray they are successful in school and in life, for a better future for everyone.
I went to Movement Day Charlotte this past weekend. The day when local church pastors, non-profit and marketplace leaders come together to get their marching orders, to quite literally keep moving. Six years ago, at the inaugural predecessor conference called The Justice Conference, I was profoundly moved to consider my movement into ministry. If you are wondering whether I got the big white phone call from God, I did… A month later, I went on my first mission trip to Haiti with my church, Forest Hill. A month later, I handed in my resignation. If you want to walk on water, you got to get out of the boat.
Joined by 1,000 pastors and ministry leaders yesterday, I was again reminded of why I quit my job to take a small role in the local mission field. It is an honor to serve our neighbors. We are a deeply divided city and the needs are ever present. The only key metric of progress since the prior Movement Day is literacy rates have improved by 1%. To 40%. That’s 4 out of 10 grade 3 students reading at grade level. The rate for our target audience is even lower, at just 24%.
Last week’s blog was about the value of persisting with reading over the long summer months. I am more convinced than ever that the benefits are more than just school reading grades. What I heard yesterday is that we have to put our words into action. Go do something…We are going to spend 30 days focusing on our literal and physical neighbors. Ask yourself the question “Do you know the names of the ten or so families occupying the households where you live?” Can we convince the families we work with to do the same? I’ll report back in 30 days. How can we fulfill the great commission to love our neighbors if we don’t even know their names?
I am scared of heights. Always have been … I used to bend my knees looking over a wall from a five-story block of flats where I grew up in South Africa. I would really rather just stay on terra-firma, feet-on-the-ground … unless I am swimming.
This past Saturday, we treated some of our community-minded LHCC families to a Rewards Day at Sky High Sports. You see, back in October, one of our community partners, Pineville Neighbors Place, organized their annual Potato Drop. Our LHCC families and children helped bag about 4,000 10 lb. bags of spuds, for donation to local food banks and low income communities. As a show of appreciation, Sky High Sports saw the opportunity to reward the children from our LHCC program for their service by inviting them to a fun morning at their awesome trampoline park, adjacent to our Pineville serve location. After the usual jumping and laser-tag activities, our energetic kids spotted the ropes course some 12 feet above their sweaty heads. They donned harnesses and then undertook some bold steps along suspended ropes and platforms. This was rather intriguing to me. Most had never undertaken this kind of adventure before. Some may have ventured out previously during our LHCC 2018 summer camp, but for most part, this was a new experience filled with trepidation. They swallowed their pride, and bravely took their first steps, guided by parents shouting encouragement from below. “Don’t let go!” they pleaded. They were dependent on a harness that seemed all too necessary all of a sudden.
We were very proud of them all. Some had tears in their eyes, as they overcame their fears and made it across the rubicon from one platform to another. Others were stage struck, unable to move a muscle. Words of encouragement were everywhere and they did the necessary with wide eyes and tensed muscles. Courage was in play, as the support from others was palpable. I knew how they felt. I had felt that way many times before as a young kid, but the life lessons were priceless. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. I was just thrilled to be able to witness this experience, hold their hands as necessary, and see their delight at overcoming their fears, and accomplishing their what they thought was not in the realm of probability when they began. It is a joy to serve these families. I thank God that He made this provision for me and my family to be His hands and feet in serving our neighbors.
When you think wisdom, do you envision an old man with grey hair sitting on a stool imparting his worldly knowledge? Perhaps someone you know who has lived a long time, gained experience and therefore acquired untold insights that have resulted in what we call wisdom?
Franklin said: “Early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy,
wealthy, and wise”. It is a saying that is viewed as a commonsensical
proverb. This proverb actually originated long before Franklin’s time. It was
seen in print as early as 1496, in a piece called “The Treatise of Fishing with
an Angle” where it is referred to as an old English proverb: Also, whoever
wishes to practice the sport of angling, he must rise early, which is profitable
to a man in this way. That is, to wit: most for the welfare of his soul. For it
will cause him to be holy, and for the health of his body. For it will cause
him to be well, also for the increase of his goods, for it will make him rich.
As the old English proverb says: “Whoever will rise early shall be holy,
healthy, and happy.”
wife, Caren, gifted me this Christmas with a “Wisdom for Each Day”
inspirational quote calendar. She must surely think I need it, right? Well, who
would turn down a daily dose of wise counsel from a trusted theologian and man
of God like Rev. Billy Graham, along with its numerous quotes from the holy scriptures?
also recently came across an excellent read called Gospel Fluency, that
contains a remarkably insightful chapter near the end on growing in love and
wisdom. The book concludes with the premise that wisdom doesn’t actually come
from our education after all.
my study I have learned that wisdom isn’t just increased knowledge. As the book
illuminates, knowledge without grace leads to pride, and pride leads to
destruction in our lives and the lives of others. Wisdom is knowledge applied
so that we do the right thing, at the right time, with the right motive, in the
right way. I like that perspective a lot. Knowing what to do at the right time,
and having our motives in check is an improvement on merely having the
knowledge. To expand upon this truth, wisdom is gracious, loving, kind and
the new testament, Paul instructs the church in Colossae: “Walk in wisdom
toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be
gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each
person.” Colossians 4:5-6. Wisdom is a gift and all who have it are a blessing.
I reflect upon the past six years with Learning Help Centers of Charlotte, and all
the relationships we have established, I contemplate the many ways to help the communities
and families we serve through LHCC. There are many opportunities to collaborate
with community partners, donors and volunteers. If we get it somewhat right, we
will enjoy another beneficial year for everyone. We can do our tiny part to
enhance the lives of all community members, who cross our paths, in the two regions
of the city we call the “ends of the crescent”.
for one, can and will take heed of the wisdom insights gleaned from my latest
read. I also eagerly anticipate the wisdom truth reminders contained in my new daily
devotional calendar. One of my goals this coming year, is to gain greater perspective
and also seek wisdom, by firstly praying and secondly, being present, rather
than simply doing what I usually do. Might I rather seek to walk in wisdom, and
show care and kindness, toward others, as I endeavor to be loving, gracious and
gentle, just as Jesus modeled for all of us. This is the wisdom that I will
aspire to acquire in 2019!
Wisdom perspectives and
comments adapted from Gospel Fluency by Jeff Vanderstelt chapter 15, Grow in
Love and Wisdom, pg. 197
Thank-you for taking a minute to read our holiday greeting…
During this special time of year, with family celebrations, gifts to buy and meals to prepare, we hope you will take a moment to cherish the good news of great joy given us in the birth of our Savior. Because of Jesus and the mission He began when He came into the world, we are grateful to have the opportunity to share the good news of the gospel with everyone we encounter, from young children, their families, and our volunteers! May the message of our Saviors birth have special meaning for you this holiday season, as you count your blessings and praise the One who came to give us eternal life!
They say that when the world sends you lemons, make lemonade.
When I watch Shark Tank, I am always inspired by the innovation of entrepreneurs This short clip is about a company called Game Face However, there is a meaning hidden behind the mask, so to speak. When your optimism wanes after say a tough week, challenges persist, and trials get you down, it is easy to get angry and discouraged. But you can’t always show your emotions when you have children and their parents to serve. You have to keep your game face on.
I, along with our staff and volunteers, have been serving predominantly immigrant and refugee families and children through LHCC program services for the past six years. We do everything from after-school to summer camps, community events, and services for adults. It is easy to get to a point of saying enough is enough… Then you remember why God has you here. This is a calling. A calling to do for others what they can’t do for themselves. This is a labor of love and a lot of hard work, with plenty of sacrifices to be made. You gotta keep that game face on for the benefit of others, even when you don’t have the kind of day that justifies it. That’s called sucking it up, and trying hard to make every situation a blessing for others. If local ministry were easy, everyone would be doing it.
When the lemons are obvious, make lemonade. Promote and encourage optimism and a positive can-do attitude in the face of adversity or misfortune. We have much to be grateful for (as compared to so many of our immigrant and refugee neighbors) in our midst who have nothing to be happy about) even when we get sent lemons!