Archive for February, 2012

Summit Super Bowl Party@ 33rd Street Jail

February 25, 2012

By Bill Behr

Every Sunday night, the team from Summit’s 33rd Street campus has the privilege of spending time in Orange County Jail with the male inmates from the Horizon 4D dorm.

We lead  these men in worship and song, and their lively singing and praise would lift anyone’s heart!  Every Tuesday night, we also lead them through Summit’s reGROUP curriculum, which helps them discover how God can restore their hurts, habits and hang-ups.  Together, these services have given us the opportunity to personally get to know many of the inmates and encourage them to follow Christ.

I am very proud of our team that serves the men in 33rd.  We made sure each volunteer was able to make a one-year commitment to serve the inmates and go through Dignity Serves training to better understand how God wants us to build dignified, interdependent relationships with those that we are serving.

We were very blessed a few weeks ago, when Good News Jail Ministries (the ministry we partner with that serves them men in Horizon 4D) and the Orange County Jail agreed to let us move the worship service to the early afternoon instead of 7 p.m., so that our worship service would not interfere with the Super Bowl game that night.

What was more amazing is that they agreed to let some of our team come back to the dorm that night to minister to the men and watch the first half of the Super Bowl game with them.   We were really getting to know some of these men, so we were very excited to be able to go back and hang out with them.

Just a week earlier, Rene Vazquez, our campus minister for the 33rd Street campus, spoke to us at Horizon 4D about how Christ taught us to humbly serve each other out of love, by giving and receiving. That lesson was remembered.  When we came back that night, we were greeted by a group of men who were becoming our friends.  They told us that they were honored that we left our family and friends to be with them that night, so they wanted to serve us.  They arranged special seating for us to watch the game and used what little money they had to buy some snack food from their commissary for us.

Kyle Cox, Marco Randazzo and Scott Pausal, who all lead Summit’s worship band at 33rd Street, remembered Rene’s teaching and realized that, by accepting the snack food from them instead of refusing it, they were honoring our friends. By accepting their gifts, they validated the dignity in them that God has given us all.  You should have seen the joy in the faces of our friends as we sat together and shared genuine fellowship!

The men at the jail were following Paul’s teaching in Philippians 2:3-5, which says, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit.  Rather, in humility, value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests, but each of you to the interests of others.  In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus.”

We are thankful to God for helping us recognize the great dignity we each have. We continue to pray that God will encourage us to keep reaching out, taking time, and sharing genuine fellowship with our neighbors – including those we might otherwise look down upon

Bill Behr

Bill Behr is the Associate Campus Minister of Summit @ 33rd St. and can be reached at bbehr@summitconnect.org.

Consider signing up for Dignity Serves, a six-week course that helps you rethink the way we serve others in our community. It teaches you to see problems differently and respond in a way that empowers those you serve rather than just meeting their immediate needs. 

Neighborhood Leading with LaDeitra: Determination and Patience

February 18, 2012

LaDeitra and Rebecca

By Rebecca Lujan Loveless

The Community Center at The Palms Trailer Park bustled with life on a recent cool Saturday morning. This was unusual because up until that week, the trailer that housed the Community Center was open only Monday through Friday. This Saturday, the residents came in and out, using the computers, sitting to chat with neighbors over cups of coffee, and I felt a deep sense of gratitude for the spirit of “togetherness” in this overlooked but much under-rated community.

The Palms Trailer Park is located between two highways on Orange Blossom Trail – “OBT” as it is affectionately referred to. OBT is notorious for the business of buying and selling women. So whenever I tell people where my office is located – in a trailer park on OBT – I am generally met with some kind of a joke about “working the Trail.” And while my work involves befriending women who do, in fact, “work the Trail,” it also involves listening to the hopes and concerns of other people, too:

  • The former inmate who is unemployable because of his past.
  • The older woman who has never worked a day in her life because of her crippling disabilities.
  • The young, single mom who is passionate about her children having a chance to succeed with opportunities she never had.

Recently, I have become friends with a young, single mom who has taught me so much about determination and quiet patience. LaDeitra is curious and funny. She is hopeful yet cautious. She leads people with ease and yet is hesitant to be called a “leader.” She cares about her neighborhood and wants to be a part of creating a place where her kids can play safely, where she knows her neighbors well enough to understand their needs.

When I first met her at the Community Center, LaDeitra was shy and quiet. She would come to use the computers and then leave as quietly as she came in. But over time she began to pick up on some of the conversations around her. As people would visit the Community Center, we would talk about their ideas to improve the neighborhood. LaDeitra grew curious. Eventually she started contributing to these informal conversations. Finally, after several months of listening and observing she asked if she could come to the weekly meeting for our volunteer Hosts of the Community Center.

Once LaDeitra was trained as a Community Center Host, there was no stopping her. She began talking to her neighbors, listening to them dream about “what could be” at The Palms. She convenes people for Neighborhood Meetings, and it was her organization and determination that allowed the center to start opening on Saturdays.

The work of Asset Based Community Development can be very lonely. Am I the only one who thinks this neighborhood is great? Does everyone (including the residents here) think this place is a joke? These are admittedly my dismal thoughts on days when I feel heavy-laden with the reality of generational poverty.

But LaDeitra reminds me, “Things take time.” She reminds me that there are others who care about this forgotten part of Orlando. She confirms my deep suspicion that when the talents of the poor are properly engaged, their well-being improves. She engages my talents of leadership and organization and, in turn, allows me – even invites me – to engage her talents to influence her neighbors toward change.

Each Saturday, if you stop by The Palms Trailer Park, you will see LaDeitra with her notebook open, listening to the dreams of her neighbors. She writes them down, showing that what her neighbors have to say is important. She talks to others about these ideas and invites people to find ways to empower them.

LaDeitra is hesitant to be called a “leader,” and yet each week she leads me to believe that change – even in the most unlikely place – is possible.

Consider signing up for Dignity Serves, a six-week course that helps you rethink the way we serve others in our community. It teaches you to see problems differently and respond in a way that empowers those you serve rather than just meeting their immediate needs.

Don’t short-circuit God – ask for help

February 17, 2012

By Dan Crain

ATLANTA – A few years ago, I was going through some very dark periods in my life. I knew I needed help but was not willing to ask for it. I was visiting my home in Pennsylvania for a party, and I ended up sitting next to a friend who is a trained counselor – the kind of person who, when she asked how I was doing, peered deeply into my soul.  Her eyes pierced any superficial mask I wore. I immediately grew extremely nervous and started to sweat.

Reality confronted me: I needed help, and I wasn’t seeking it. It did not feel good as I began to lose control.  Yet my initial fear and trembling gave way to redemption, as God spoke deeply to me, to my soul. My friend helped me to realize that I didn’t trust God enough to ask for help.

Face it: No one likes to ask for help.

We don’t like to confess our need for help because it reveals that we are weak, small, messy and vulnerable, and that we actually don’t have our act together. I mean, come on: Who wants to be known as “needy”?

News reports often tell of families in foreclosure, losing their homes and “being forced to move in” with relatives. Too often the media portray these stories of economic hardship as the worst event that could ever happen – a loss of independence.

The biggest problem with such thinking is that it is completely antithetical to the themes you find in Scripture regarding community. I absolutely love the book of Philippians, particularly the relationship the Apostle Paul models with the church in Philippi. There is a deep sense throughout the letter that Paul needs their help. He needs their prayers, their friendship, their financial gifts, and their encouragement.

Paul writes that the church in Philippi was the only one that entered into the matter of giving and receiving. He gave to them, and they gave back. But it wasn’t just a transactional relationship. They needed each other.

And as they asked for help from each other, who received the praise? God.

In the midst of this giving and receiving, God was helping Paul and the Philippians through each other. Paul’s comment at the end of the letter is brilliant: “And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.”

God meets our needs as we ask for help from one another.  If I don’t ask, I short-circuit God’s help through community. The beautiful, shared relationship – God, others and self – breaks down.

And there’s a flip side to this: Why we are so good at giving and really bad at receiving?

Giving puts us in control. Receiving usually makes us feel weird, as if we actually need help. Bob Lupton writes, “Receiving, I am beginning to realize, is a humbling thing. It implies neediness. It categorizes one as being ‘worse off’ than the giver. Perhaps it is for this reason that we tend to reserve for ourselves the ‘more blessed’ position.”

I have experienced asking for help from the most vulnerable people who live on the streets. There is something so raw and authentic in having someone who lives on the streets take your hand and pray over you. It is life giving not only to me but also to the one now in the helping position.

Be aware of the ways in which God wants to help you through others. We all need it.

Consider signing up for Dignity Serves, a six-week course that helps you rethink the way we serve others in our community. It teaches you to see problems differently and respond in a way that empowers those you serve rather than just meeting their immediate needs. 

Why don’t your neighbors know you?

February 8, 2012

By Bill Behr

What is a neighbor?  Mr. Webster (the dictionary) says a neighbor is someone who lives (or is located) near another.  The definition of a neighbor as “someone living near me” makes sense.  But is someone “located near me” really my neighbor?  What does “located near me” mean?   Does that mean anyone I meet each day?  Is that everyone in my neighborhood?  Does that mean the distressed neighborhood, near me, that I drive past every day – are its residents my neighbors, too?

Jesus’ story of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:25-37 teaches who our neighbors are and how we should treat them.  A man is mugged, robbed and nearly beaten to death.  On separate occasions, a priest and a Levite (a holy man) pass by the dying man, but walk on the other side of the road to avoid him.  A Samaritan (in today’s terms a Samaritan would be anyone we look down on – think through your mind and fill in the blank of your Samaritan) took pity on him, used his own meager resources to take care of him, then asked another (neighbor) to assist him in helping the man in his recovery.   Great story!

Jesus showed us that when we are confronted with someone (our neighbor) in need, love should compel us to enter his or her suffering.  If we are brave enough to assist our neighbors out of love and compassion when we see their need, it might surprise us to learn that our neighbors have something to give back to us as well.

My dad worked in a prison ministry/retreat weekend called Kairos.  He would go into a prison with a team of men and spend all weekend there in small groups with inmates, talking about and listening to their problems.  And through this process, Christ transformed lives.

One of the men God put in Dad’s life was Bob.  Convicted of second-degree murder, Bob was at the end of his rope and felt unworthy of anyone’s love and forgiveness.  Bob listened to Dad’s message about a man (a man who was also God – Jesus) who loved each of us so much, that He died and rose again, so that if we believe in Him, we may all be washed clean of our sins (even murder) and have eternal life together.  All the men on the team showed loving community, grace, forgiveness and acceptance to these inmates, and lives were transformed – including Bob’s.

Dad and Bob kept in touch by writing back and forth after Kairos.  It was not long before Bob got to know my Dad well, and asked if he could write to me, my two sisters, and my younger brother.   I was only 15 years old at the time.  Dad asked us kids if it would be OK to get letters from Bob.  We all said, “OK.”  It was the first time I communicated with someone who committed murder, and realized that Bob was just a guy who made a very bad mistake.  Bob became Dad’s neighbor, and then he became a neighbor and eventual friend to the rest of my family.  The relationship taught us that everyone is made in God’s image and has great value, even inmates.   Dad gave love to Bob, and Bob gave back love to Dad and my family.  We accepted the beautiful reality that God put us together as neighbors.

So, back to the question: Why don’t your neighbors know you?

Don’t miss the opportunity God gives you to meet your neighbor.   You are in need (think about it).  God calls us to be the one who yields first to our neighbor in need.   Love sees each other’s dignity and serves each other’s needs.

Consider signing up for Dignity Serves, a six-week course that helps you rethink the way we serve others in our community. It teaches you to see problems differently and respond in a way that empowers those you serve rather than just meeting their immediate needs.