A Reluctant Writer

Archive for the ‘Testimonies’ Category

From Surgery to Cosmetics

Christine Collier

Christine Collier

Look in Testimonies for part 1 God “Wants You in His Hands” and part 2 “I Want You To Do It” of Christine’s story.

The weight of working full-time as a surgery nurse and running a ministry growing by leaps and bounds grew heavy. Christine broke under the weight at 4:30 a.m. on her way to the hospital to setup for a heart surgery. She loved the new life God had given her, but she was tired and longed for a break. She wept, “God, I’m exhausted. If you don’t stop this train, I don’t know how I will get off of it. I can’t tell my employer I am taking three months off because I’m tired.” That evening, after teaching a group at Jacob’s Well Women’s rehab, Christine fell and broke her foot. The following morning she was in a cast and given three months off work to heal.

The leave was welcome but painful. She filled her free hours writing and promised that God she would not return to her exhausting schedule. At the end of three months, the hospital wanted her to return. Instead of making real change, she reduced her schedule to a four day week instead of five. Two months later, she ran out of surgery to get something and slipped in a puddle of water. She sprained the same ankle, injured both her shoulders and hurt her neck. This time the injuries were serious. She was out of work for more than two years.

A year after her first books released in Spring 2012, she was ready to go back to work. Things had not happened as she imagined, so she consulted her pastor. He advised her to leave the book in God’s hands and continue in the work of the ministry. “God will make things happen in his time,” said her Pastor. This time Christine found a less demanding nursing job working two days a week.

The first day on her new job she was walking down the hall and received a strong impression, “You are done here.” The thought left her distraught. She loved working and being around people. “God, what am I going to do?” she prayed. An appealing idea entered her heart. Go to cosmetology school. Her daughter was a cosmetologist and owned a salon. Christine had been looking for a way to be closer to her daughter. The idea seemed perfect, but she wanted to be sure God had planted the idea. She prayed, “God don’t let me go through a door I am not supposed to go through. Please confirm this to me.”

Christine could not get the thought of cosmetology school out of her mind. She called the school to discuss her possible career change. The teacher invited her to visit the facility. On her drive to the school Christine asked God to “please confirm this decision for me, I don’t want to do anything out of your will.” As soon as she walked in she spotted Michelle, the beautician who cut her hair for years.

“Michelle! What are you doing here?”

“I am the lead instructor at the school. What are you doing here?”

Christine choked out, “Having a mid-life crisis.”

“Let’s go to my office and we will talk.”

Christine sat down in Michelle’s office and started the conversation. “I think I am losing my mind. I am a nurse, but I keep thinking about cosmetology school.”

“Honey, this is what you don’t know. A lot of nurses go into the beauty business when they retire.” That revelation put Christine at ease about making a career change.

Christine, Permanent Make-Up Artist

Christine, Permanent Make-Up Artist

The following weekend, she held her first My New Life NOW Leader training day. Five churches sent representatives. During the question and answer time, a man said, “Christine, I understand RN, how that could be really helpful in ministry to the addicted, but what is this Certified Beauty Technician thing all about?”

Her mouth fell wide open, “What did you say?” exclaimed Christine.

“Well, your credentials say Christine Collier RN, CBT. Certified Beauty Technician.”

Christine grinned. “CBT means Certified Belief Therapist. But you will never know what you just did for me.”

Convinced God had confirmed his direction for her life Christine enrolled in Cosmetology School.  But God wasn’t finished. One day she was telling a friend about her upcoming school when the friend stopped her and said, “You need to learn how to do permanent makeup. It’s been twenty years since I had mine done, and I need a retouch.”

Once again, Christine could not get the thought out of her mind. Two weeks later she flew to Dallas and took a class at Bella Institute in Permanent Makeup.

Christine leaned back in her chair and smiled. “Now I am Christine Collier Registered Nurse, Certified Belief Therapist, Author, Cosmetologist, Permanent Makeup Artist and anything else God may want to add. In fact, I am seriously thinking about going to Bible School.”

I don’t doubt Christine will go to Bible College. I have been acquainted with her for years, but never knew what a treasure she is until I wrote her story. And I love my new eyebrows. If you are in the market for permanent makeup, contact Christine at 601-347-6512 or doxapermmakeup@yahoo.com.

Christine Collier is a native of New Orleans, married to Dennis Collier since 1981 and has two children and seven grandchildren. She and her family reside in Picayune, Ms. where they are active members of Resurrection Life Church. Both she and her husband teach recovery groups in the church and in correctional settings. She enjoys writing, working, gardening and spending time with her family and church family. Christine has won awards for her writing at the Southern Christian Writers Conference in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.  She is available for speaking engagements on a multitude of topics: Her Testimony; Impacting Your World; Dream Again; Beginning a Fruitful Recovery Ministry; Personality Workshops.

Contact Christine Collier by mail: 795 Memorial Blvd., Picayune Ms. 39466; phone (601)-347-6512 or email: newlifeinchristnow@yahoo.com  www.mynewlifenow.net

I Want You To Do It

Christine Collier

Christine Collier

Christine’s salvation instantly transformed her life. Her family thought she had lost her mind. The fits of anger and despair were gone. Filthy language no longer flowed from her lips like sewage. The woman who washed their clothes and cooked their dinner was excited about life and wore a never ending smile.

The Sunday after Christine accepted Christ, she visited Resurrection Life Church. The congregation greeted her and hugged her as though they had known her for years. A lady Christine was acquainted with spotted her from across the church. She invited Christine to sit with her. She immediately felt like family and continued to attend the church.

In the past, Christine had tried to read the Bible but could not understand it. Now its message fed her soul as she grew stronger in her faith.  Christine could not force her husband or daughter to attend church but told her teenage son, “Until you are eighteen you will go to church with me.” He was reluctant to go, but within weeks he was radically saved. Christine and her son could not get enough of God and their newfound church home. They attended every service together.

Her husband attended a church service out of curiosity. He wanted to know who was “brainwashing” his wife and son. He had been saved as a young man and fallen away from his faith. His relationship with God was restored. Then Amanda began attending services. She prayed to receive Christ and was baptized in water. Her family soon learned a difficult lesson. Salvation will not make life perfect. Amanda’s healing would take years.

Four years later, Amanda was sentenced to prison on drug charges. Feeling slighted by God, Christine became very upset. She had devoted her life to God and faithfully served in her church. “How could you let this happen?” Christine demanded of the Almighty. “You promised to save my whole family.”  Her anger dissolved into tears as she told God how disappointed she was that her daughter had not found the peace that the rest of her family did. “Why didn’t you send someone to help us? There are lot of families in the church who have family members or friends struggling with addiction. Why isn’t anyone doing anything?” Christine cried.  Then she heard, “I want you to do it.”

The thought scared Christine. She abruptly stopped praying and went to the kitchen to wash dishes. As she filled the sink with water a list of reasons why she could not do whatever it was God wanted her to do flashed through her mind. She spent the rest of the week pretending she had not heard God say, “I want you to do it.” But it was too late. She knew what she had heard. She knew it was not intentional, but there was a huge need in the church that was not being addressed.

By the end of the week, Christine was exhausted. She could no longer run from God or ignore his call.  She slipped into her closet of prayer and cried, “Lord if you show me how, I will do it. If you open the door, I will walk through it. If you shut the door, I won’t go. If you don’t teach me how to do this, I know there is no way that I can do it.”

Christine close upLater that week, she received her daughter’s court date. She wasn’t required to attend but wanted her daughter to know that she still loved her. Christine entered the courtroom and sat down. Amanda turned to look at her. Christine was aghast at her daughters beaten and bruised face. She was sure her daughter’s facial orbits were broken. Before she left the court room, she demanded that her daughter receive medical care. She left knowing there was nothing else she could do for her daughter.

Christine walked out of the court room feeling helpless. There was nothing more she could do to help her daughter. On the long ride home, she remembered happier times and sobbed. Deep in her heart, she knew that Amanda was never meant to be a drug addict. She was a beautiful young woman with many gifts and talents. She recalled a recovery group a friend had told her about that met in a church an hour from her home, and decided to attend.

Counting Christine, there were twelve people at the meeting. Each of the eleven people gave their name and spoke for a few minutes. Then all eyes turned to Christine. All she could do was cry. They handed her tissues and waited patiently until her sobbing stopped, and she told them about her day.  They listened like they really cared, then encouraged her and prayed for her. Christine left the meeting knowing this is what God meant when he said, “I want you to do it.”

For many years, Resurrection Life Church had practiced a small group ministry called Life Groups. The ministry helps people connect with one another and grow in their relationship with God.  Each group was designed by the leader based on his or her passion and schedule. The program was a perfect place to launch a Recovery Group. Christine’s pastor fully supported her request to start a Life Group for people seeking freedom from addictions.

In September 2003, Christine held her first Life Group meeting with seven people in attendance. She had used a Bible study about the Beatitudes, but found it inadequate for her purpose. At the conclusion of each meeting, Christine returned home stirred to write. She spent hours recording whispers from God’s Spirit, which she incorporated into her group teaching time. Five years later, she had enough material for her first published work. She had also begun writing a new study on the Beatitudes. The group grew steadily over the years reaching 20 to 30 in attendance at every class. She eventually abandoned the initial curriculum and taught her Bible study course, which proved effective in helping addicts find freedom.

Christine bookAbout the time she completed writing her material, a man in her church was elected Sheriff. A month after he took office, he invited Christine to teach her Life Group for addicts in the jail. Soon people were encouraging her to compile her writings into a book that could be printed and distributed through her growing ministry. She realized that she had written more than random Bible studies. She had written a curriculum that could and should be used by others. She named her labor of love My New Life NOW (No Other Way).

Christine ministered to addicts’ for years while her daughter was shuffled from one rehab to another and jailed multiple times. Sometimes people asked her how she could minister to others when her daughter was in need. Christine persevered believing the promise God gave her through prophecy, “If you minister to God’s kids, he will take care of yours.” Five years ago that promise was fulfilled. Amanda’s life was radically changed when she was released to Jacob’s Well Recovery Center instead of serving a two year prison sentence for breaking her parole.

The Light House Ministry Home

The Light House Ministry Home

Amanda returned home with a passion for helping women, who had successfully completed rehab, to reestablish their lives.  Amanda and her husband opened The Light House for New Life; the only Christ centered half-way house in their area. They help women find employment and housing, teach them goal planning, help them with education, transportation and family restoration.

Christine smiled broadly, “Today, my daughter is the most radical, extreme, beautiful Christian I have ever known. She is pure, so pure, because God is faithful.”

Christine is the first woman board member of the Pearl River County Jail Ministry Association. Her Life Group is in its eleventh year. Since the groups beginning, Christine has mentored and raised up a strong team of Leaders and Volunteers who devote their life to teaching the New Life Now curriculum in their local Correctional Facility, the Church, local and regional Christ centered rehabs and halfway houses. Today churches, correction centers, work release and rehab settings around the USA are beginning their own My New Life NOW recovery mentorship programs. It is estimated well over 4,000 people have attended a My New Life NOW meeting, many finding restoration, healing and deliverance.

Christine has written six manuscripts. Two are published, My New Life NOW Leader’s Manual and My New Life NOW Participants Workbook. She recently completed her My New Life NOW Recovery Devotional/Journal, designed to complement the My New Life NOW program. The Devotional is filled with inspiring real-life stories and testimonies from My New Life NOW graduates. Readers are challenged to overcome their addiction with humor, humility and daily scripture readings. She is currently working on her second Bible study course A New Attitude for A New Life Now, which is an in depth study of the Beatitudes.

Christine holds a firm belief that Jesus Christ is still in the business of saving, healing and delivering people and that no one is too far from his grace, forgiveness and healing; even the addicted.

A Call to Action

Christine Collier, author of My New Life Now Curriculum for people seeking freedom from addictions talks about her call to ministry.

God Wants You in His Hands

Christine Collier

Christine Collier

When I received an email about permanent make-up, I was mildly interested. I knew Christine Collier, the sender of the email, from the Southern Christian Writers Guild. She is the author of My New Life NOW: Recovery Course. I also knew she is a Registered Nurse who specialized in Surgery, which contributed to my interested in her new venture. She had trained to be a Permanent Make-up Artist at Bella in Fort Worth and needed clients to practice her new skill during her apprenticeship, which is a requirement to fulfill the Mississippi Board of Health regulations.

Over plucking had left me with eyebrows I hid with colored makeup pencils and glasses. Correcting the damage I’d done appealed to me. The apprentice prices for her services were deeply discounted, so I indulged my vanity, and Christine reserved time at the Beauty Center for her new client.

The morning of the appointment my husband said, “Are you sure you want to do this? It’s permanent and it’s on your face.”

“I know,” I replied. “I have reservations, but the photos she sent look good, and she is going to tell me her testimony after she does my eyebrows.” I departed for a two hour drive to Mississippi with my husband’s blessings.

I laid down on the table. Christine adjusted her light and said, “There will be a little pain.” The pain wasn’t any worse than the pain of plucking my eyebrows. When she was finished, the shape of my eyebrows looked great. A little darker than I wanted, but Christine assured me they would be 30 to 40% lighter when they healed. (A week later they were lighter as promised, and I was pleased with my new eyebrows.)

After the new make-up artist completed her masterpiece we went to Piccadilly’s for lunch, so Christine could tell me her story. I prefer coffee houses when recording someone’s story. It’s difficult to talk and eat at the same time. Christine finished eating her meal before I finished my salad. I looked at her empty plates. She grinned, “Nurses learn to eat in fifteen to twenty minutes. I’m retired now, but I still eat fast.” That was fine with me. She was free to talk while I enjoyed my lunch.

“Start with your salvation,” I said.

“It’s a little hard to start with my salvation. My life now was birthed out of my old life,” said Christine.

Christine’s earliest memory of God was a visit to the Presbyterian Church when she was six years old. The experience left her in awe. She loved the singing and the peaceful feeling. The peace dissolved when she walked out of the church and eluded her until she was thirty-seven years old.

Her parents had married young. Her mother had become pregnant with Christine before her husband was ready for the responsibilities of raising a child. He left when she was an infant. Her mother remarried an older man, but the marriage was difficult. He was a hard worker that provided for his family, but could be mean when he was drunk, and he was drunk often. The marriage produced two step-sisters. Christine’s stepfather never let her forget that she was not his child. The rejection wounded Christine filling her with anger and disappointment.

Her parents liked to socialize and often attended parties. Christine tasted liquor for the first time when she joined some of the other children at a party who were drinking from glasses left near empty and unattended. Christine liked the way the liquor made her feel. By the time she was twelve years old, she often retreated to the backyard to smoke cigarettes and drink her stepfather’s Miller Ponies.  The high from the liquor dulled the pain of rejection. Before she turned thirteen she added smoking marijuana and even overdosed on valium. “I wasn’t trying to commit suicide,” said Christine. “I had no clue what I was doing to myself when I took too many valium. I was trying to get a better buzz than the weed gave me, but all I got was very sick. The sickest I’d ever been in my life.”

Her mother endured her husband’s alcoholism and verbal abuse until she could take no more and divorced him. By that time, Christine had begun a love affair with alcohol and drugs. Christine was seventeen when she met her future husband. He had a voracious appetite for Jack Daniels and coke equaled only by her appetite for pills and weed. Christine’s drug and alcohol abuse lead her to many bad choices and deeds she prefers to forget.

She became pregnant and married her boyfriend. The added responsibility of caring for a child did not change the whirlwind of chaos in her life until her daughter, Amanda, was three. An assailant broke into Christine’s house, assaulted her and robbed her at gunpoint. The experience left her shaken. She later learned the assailant was someone they knew. Christine knew the assault took place because of her drinking and drug use. It scared her straight.

Christine took steps to become clean and sober. Her husband also hit rock bottom and cleaned up his life. Free from the mental fog induced by alcohol and drugs, Christine and her husband decided they would live the “American Dream”. He found a job in the oil fields. She obtained her GED and went to school to become a nurse.

Christine paused her story to explain addiction. “People with addictions tend to be extreme, we moved from one extreme to the other. We were clean and sober, but the chaos continued. We traded that lifestyle only to become workaholics, making money, spending money – a new kind of empty.”

Her husband advanced quickly in the oil field industry, and she had become a good nurse. Life appeared fine. Until they moved to Mississippi, and she saw things in her daughter’s behavior that scared her. Christine and her husband had been sober for years. They had not raised their children with drugs and alcohol in the house, yet Amanda was making many of the same choices and mistakes her mother had made. “It was as if I were looking into a mirror of my life,” said Christine.

Christine focused all of her energy on helping Amanda. Amanda’s behavior became more and more destructive as addiction consumed her. The more Christine tried to control her and make her better, the worse Amanda became. When Amanda was sixteen, Christine learned her daughter had been assaulted by a young man. For the first time, Christine understood the seriousness of her daughter’s problem. She wasn’t just a rebellious teenager, but a wounded young woman trying to numb her pain. Christine tried everything she could think of to help Amanda. Nothing worked.

A friend noticed the stress in Christine’s life and offered her “a little something” to make her feel better. It wasn’t long before Christine’s old habits found a place in her life, but this time it was different. Being high wasn’t fun. By the time Amanda was eighteen, both Christine and her daughter were a wreck. Christine lived in fear of the dreaded phone call. The call no parent wants to receive. “Your daughter was found dead.”

Christine’s work was her only solace as she quickly came close to the end of her rope. About that time the hospital she worked at hired two new surgical technicians. She thought they were both weird, and did not like working with them. She often requested they would not be in her surgery room, but somehow she always wound up with one of them. The women that Christine could only tolerate in small doses were both Christians who loved the Lord.

Christine laughed. “It never failed. If you were working with them the conversation always brought up Jesus. Jesus, Jesus, Jesus. He was all they wanted to talk about.”  They never condemned or forced their beliefs upon her. At separate times in their own individual ways, the women shared the love of Christ and what God had done in their lives.

The love that emanated from the women made them appealing. Christine’s attitude changed from one of disgust to a desire to her about Jesus. She stopped avoiding them in the lunch room and began looking for a seat near them. One day, the one named Marilyn told Christine, “If you ever need somebody, anytime day or night, just come to my house.”

The inability to help Amanda depressed her. The depression created marriage problems and kept her in a cycle of drinking to escape life’s unbearable realities. She often woke up in her beautiful house, on beautiful sunny mornings wondering if life was worth living. One day, she started crying and could not stop. She cried for days. Nothing made her feel better. Then she remembered Marilyn’s offer. If you ever need somebody, come to my house. Desperate for help she grabbed her purse and headed for her car.

Marilyn listened quietly and patiently as Christine poured out her grief and fear. “Christine, you have got to take your hands off of Amanda, so God can get his hands around her. And God wants you in his hands too. Will you go with me to my pastor’s house?”

“I accepted Marilyn’s invitation to talk to her pastor,” said Christine. “The pastor waiting for me. There was an awesome scent in the air and Christian praise music was playing. Marilyn and her pastor lovingly and gently led me to the Lord. We prayed. We cried. I screamed, ‘Jesus, I need you. Please come into my life and forgive me.’ I will never forget the day I called, and he came. It felt like a ton had been picked up off my body. When I walked out of the house it felt like my feet were not even touching the ground. My feelings of hopelessness and thoughts of dying were gone and have never returned. The desire to numb my pain in a destructive way was replaced with a desire to know Jesus.”

Women Keep Silent in the Church?

Pastor Jerry Davis

Pastor Jerry Davis

I recently read a Facebook note titled “Women Keep Silent in the Church?” by Pastor Jerry Davis. Clever title! If a man read it thinking he would find ammunition to keep women out of the ministry, he might have a change of heart before he reached the end. The comments revealed that the the note is a chapter in a soon to be published book.

I know more than one woman who has wrestled with this issue. What is a woman to do? She knows she has a call to ministry. Yet her gift either cannot find a place or she labors under the weight of oppression. Diehards’ tell her God does not use a woman in ministry “PERIOD”. Her ministry is bearing children and washing dishes. Moderates allow her to minister to male children or lead ministries in foreign lands but would never allow her to pastor a church in America. What difference do the age and place make? Let me move on before I tell you what I really think about doctrines that oppress.

I left a comment expressing my desire to purchase the book when it is finished. I know God calls women to ministry because he called me. I didn’t have the Apostle Paul’s blinding light, but I did hear an audible command to “Tell people about me.” There is a reason I tell people about Jesus on a secular website. Telling people about Jesus in church has never worked. I have a suspicion that being a woman contributed to the “never worked.”

The fellowship I attend has changed over the years. Today, they “proudly” ordain women to pastor. I hold ministerial credentials but have never pursued ordination. Frankly, I have a much larger audience writing than I would have teaching a class for five to ten people in a church, and I have never felt called to be a pastor.

The day after I read the note on Facebook, I was invited to write about Pastor Davis when he came to New Orleans to speak at a conference. He gave me enough material to keep me busy for a month. At the end of our conversation, I asked him why he was writing a book favorable to women in ministry. I will let Pastor Davis tell you why in his own words.

http://youtu.be/p6Mk_MDElkQ

Women Keep Silent in the Church? is still in production. Whitaker Publishing House has not set a release date.

Pastor Jerry Davis was dubbed the Disaster Pastor by media for his tireless efforts to minister to the needs of people affected by disasters. He has served in 61 countries specializing in disaster relief evangelistic campaigns. Following Hurricane Katrina, he founded one of the primary relief camps in New Orleans, The Good News Camp, which provided $75 million in goods and services and hosted 17,000 volunteers.

He is known for powerful preaching, soul winning teaching and performances as a soul stirring musical artist. He sings, plays piano and guitar and has written over 150 songs, and released 3 CD’s. He has also made numerous appearances on Christian television and radio networks, including TBN, Daystar, 700 Club and KSBJ. His ministry has been featured in Christianity Today and Charisma Magazine.

An Author Interview with Rev. Allen Smith, Lighthouse International Ministries

Rev. Allen Smith

Rev. Allen Smith

An Author Interview with Rev. Allen Smith

Rev. Smith was born in the town of Neoga, IL in 1951. He was saved at the early age of 12 years, and started preaching when he was just 15. He has been preaching and teaching now for 46 years, 30 of those years as a pastor. He has been a featured speaker at camp-meetings and conventions down through the years. In addition, he spent 3 years as president of International Bible College and Seminary in DeSoto, Missouri, where he authored 9 different syllabi for the Seminary. He presently holds a Master’s Degree in Religious Education, a Doctor of Divinity Degree, and a Doctor of Theology Degree and has published several articles, in nationwide religious publications.

From October of 1993 until July of 2010, Rev. Smith published a nation-wide Southern Gospel news magazine called SGN Scoops Digital. He is currently the founder and President of Lighthouse International Ministries which is a missionary outreach ministry.

FAITH BLOG: What do you think prepared you or qualified you to write in your chosen genre?

ALLEN: I have been a minister now for 48 years. During that time, I have written articles for many religious publications that have been local, regional, and national. I also spent 14 years publishing a national Southern Gospel news magazine. That magazine is still in publication today. It is the first magazine of its type to go from print to digital.

FAITH BLOG: Tell us a little about your Non-writing life?

NEW PORQUÊ COVER - SMALLALLEN: I have been a pastor for over 30 years of my life. I am no longer a pastor, but I still work in my local church, where I teach the Adult Sunday School class, and I also preach on a regular basis. I am married, and I have 2 married daughters, who are both in the ministry with their husbands, I have 7 grandchildren, and 1 great grandchild. I write non-fiction Bible based books for the most part. My inspiration comes from God. I do have a lot of health problems that need to be dealt with, which makes my life very hectic at times. Because of this, I cannot spend as much time writing as I would like. However, when I am out, I do have a tablet and an Iphone with me, which allows me to do research, that does help out my writing. My wife, Susan, does help me out quite a bit. I often run things past her. She helps me proofread, and she translates some of my books into Portuguese. She was raised on the mission field in Brazil, South America, so we do all we can to reach the people of Brazil with the Gospel.

FAITH BLOG: Tell us about things you enjoy — what you do for fun or personal satisfaction?

ALLEN: I do a lot of Bible study. That probably satisfies me more than anything. I am totally devoted to my wife, and I do everything I can to make her happy. Our church work is a total joy to me. In fact, I do not personally receive any royalties for my books. The royalties are set up to go into a church fund for missionary work. Of course, I do watch some TV. I especially enjoy the Sonlife Broadcasting Network. They have what I consider to be the best Gospel music and preaching anywhere.

FAITH BLOG: Tell us about working with any people who help you create your books —Hire an editor or proofreader? How do you get your covers?

ALLEN: I have already mentioned my wife. She helps me more than anyone else. I am both a reader, and a person who enjoys doing things myself. Because of this, I read a lot of do it yourself books. If it is something I can do myself, I will do it. If I can’t do it, I do find someone who can.

FAITH BLOG: What do you think works for promotion. What are your thoughts on ebooks versus print books and different ways to let people know about you and your books?

ALLEN: I believe one of the best forms of promotion, is to have more than one book available, and letting those books cross-promote each other. I also use Facebook and Twitter. In addition, I am a member of several groups on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Goodreads. I also have a blog, that is starting to get a lot of attention. There are a few other things I would like to get into, but I do not have the time for them.

NEW WHY COVER - JPG - SMALLFAITH BLOG: Have you done anything writing-related besides your books, that seemed to get a lot of positive response? Something that encouraged you?

ALLEN: I have already mentioned the articles I have written, and the Southern Gospel news magazine that I used to publish. Some of the things I post on Facebook attracts a lot of attention. The same can be said about my Blog. I do my best to help as many people as I can through all of my posting, and that seems to attract attention.

FAITH BLOG: What is the “message” of your writing?

ALLEN: For the most part my writing encourages Christians to get closer to God. I also add a “Sinner’s Prayer” to each of my Bible based books. That way, if someone who doesn’t know God, reads one of my books, they will have direction on how to come to God.

FAITH BLOG: Tell us one place you visited or person you met, that made a big impression on you, and why.

ALLEN: In 1974, I went on a missionary trip to the country of Haiti. I spent a week there, visiting little churches and orphanages. That week literally changed my life. I now encourage every Christian to take at least one short term missionary trip during their life.

FAITH BLOG: Tell us one place you want to visit, or person you want to meet, and why.

ALLEN: My heart’s desire has always been to visit the land of Israel. I pray that I will be able to make it someday. I would also like to make a missionary trip to Brazil. My wife was raised there, and she has a brother who is still a missionary there.

FAITH BLOG: Share something that makes you laugh, with just plain humor, or happiness, or because it’s so stupid.

ALLEN: Seeing someone being blessed by God gives me so much joy. At times, it can be so joyful, that I simply cannot help but laugh.

FAITH BLOG: Share something that’s amazing, touching, or that makes you angry.

ALLEN: The most amazing thing to me is how God can take someone who the world considers the worst sinner, and turns them into His child.

FAITH BLOG: What’s the worst trouble you ever had with getting a book written?

KINDLE PUBLISHING COVER JPG - SMALLALLEN: I have had books that I have been working on, that all of a sudden, everything seemed to go wrong. It did not matter what I did, whether it was typing, or saving, or anything, it simply did not do what it was supposed to do. It gets very frustrating, especially when you are almost finished, and you are looking forward to the finished project.

FAITH BLOG: What’s your next project?

ALLEN: My next project is actually a secular book. I started writing in May of 2013, which was on my first Kindle edition book. I wanted to do all the formatting and publishing, and marketing myself, so I began downloading Kindle how to books. I soon found out that most of them were almost useless. A few had a little information here and there. It was disappointing. I decide then, that when the Lord allowed me to, that I would write one that people could actually use step by step to format and publish a Kindle format book. I now have 20 chapters of that book written. It will be finished in just a few more weeks. Its title is “The Ultimate Guide To KINDLE PUBLISHING Using Microsoft Word”.

FAITH BLOG: How many books do you have out?

ALLEN: I now have 9 Kindle books, and 3 paperback books: A Daily Devotional called “One Day At A Time – A Daily Devotional Guide For Each Day Of The Year”, which is available on Amazon.com.  Four of my Kindle Ebooks are available on Amazon.com. They Are: “Why? – Answering Questions About The Crucifixion”, “One Day At A Time”, “The Sacrifice”, and “Porquê?”, a Portuguese translation of Why?

FAITH BLOG: What are your future projects?

NEW SACRIFICE KINDLE COVER - JPGALLEN: I have a plan to write a book on the Apostles, explaining where they ended up ministering and dying. Also a book on why Allah is not the Christian God. I am also working on a second daily devotional that will include both morning and evening devotions.

FAITH BLOG: What is your favorite book/character?

ALLEN: My favorite book is the Bible. My favorite character is the Apostle Paul.

Rev. Smith is running a promotion on Kindle this week. Download “The Sacrifice – The Only Way To God” (ASIN: B00ET685YO) for FREE Thursday 1/30/2014, Friday 1/31/2014 and Saturday 2/1/2014.

Connect with Rev. Smith on FACEBOOK and TWITTER

An Education in Social Justice Part 6

1280x427xHyatt-Regency-New-Orleans-Exterior.jpg.pagespeed.ic.Zcmju3wK9iI awoke mentally exhausted from information overload and groggy from a late night and early rise. A full flash drive fulfilled my obligation to the Christian Community Development Association (CCDA) but returning home was not an option. My husband could not pick me up until Sunday morning. I sent a text to the event coordinator requesting a meeting, so I could deliver the flash drive.

“Send me the links to the articles you write,” he said.

“My experience has been positive, but you might not like everything I have to say,” I replied. When I made that statement, I had in mind the conflicting perspectives on the African American fight for equality that I observed between the elder and the younger. Little did I know what the day would yield.

I returned to my room and tried to sleep to no avail, so I went back downstairs to attend the end of the morning plenary. Then I had lunch with a friend. She had thoroughly enjoyed every plenary session and workshop that she attended. We scanned the afternoon workshops in CCDA’s program book and discussed several possibilities. I departed for “A Pastor’s CCDA Traveling Guide Into the City.”  My friend, active in non-profit work, choose “From Addition to Multiplication: How to Expand the Work from One Community to a Region”.

I walked out of the workshop with a throbbing headache from lack of sleep, so I returned to my room for an Advil and to lay down. I wish I had stayed in my room watching mindless entertainment on television. If I had, I would not be writing a difficult article about the last session I attended.

In the pastor’s opening remarks he apologized for offending some people in an earlier workshop, and then made it clear that he uses hyperbole because it is used in the Bible.  Regarding the message he was about to present he said, “I am going to use hyperbole the whole time. That was hyperbole. No, I never use hyperbole.” I think he told us his whole message was hyperbole, and the last two comments were in jest. But it’s also possible that he knew his message would be offensive and left himself a way of escape. If people were offended again, he could say that his message was not meant to be taken literally. Less hyperbole might have been more effective. I walked out of that session serenaded by an orchestra of “sounding brass and clanging cymbals” wondering if I had just heard the most racist stereotyping of a people ever or if I simply misunderstood him (1 Corinthians 13:1).

Before I explain my impressions about his message, I want you to know that I listened to the message twice, listen to it with my husband and discussed it, and then I transcribed his message from the audio copy I purchased. I transcribed it because I wanted to be sure I understood his point. Words can be a cumbersome way of communicating. Unless you know someone intimately and personally it is easy to misconstrue his or her intent. Transcribing the message proved to me that he did not say everything I thought he said, but neither did it change my mind about the error he presented and the racist undertones.

The first bump in the road was a statement that had nothing to do with his message. The pastor said, “Jesus and his family arbitrarily crossed the Egyptian border illegally when he was about a year old.” I had a hard time wrapping my brain around the image of Jesus as an illegal alien in any country. Jesus was in the beginning with God; all things were made by Jesus and without him was not anything made that was made (John 1:1-3). How can you tell the owner of all things it is illegal for you to be here? Arbitrary means “chance, whim, or impulse, and not by necessity, reason, or principle”. How was his trip to Egypt chance, whim or impulse? Jesus fulfilled prophecy when his family went to Egypt and later returned (Matthew 2:15). His family left Bethlehem out of necessity. Jesus would have been killed if they had not obeyed God’s instructions to “escape to Egypt” (Matthew 2:13-18). If his statement was a reference to the millions of illegal aliens in America, there is no comparison. Jesus’ family was not looking for a better life, work or welfare. Nor were they abandoning their country to seek citizenship in another nation. Before they went to Egypt, God gave them gold, incense and myrrh to pay for the things they needed until they returned.

After that jarring distraction, the pastor said something encouraging.

“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me because the Lord has anointed me, he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed white people in America, to bind up the broken hearted white people, to proclaim liberty to the captive white people, and release to those imprisoned white people, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all those mourning white people, to provide for those who mourn in Zion, to give them a garden instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit.

I think this applies to all of us, but in the work that many of us do, in the church and in the field, we typically think of the oppressed, the captive, the imprisoned through media, through statics, through the world as it may seem. But isn’t it interesting that in Matthew it says blessed are the poor in spirit. Luke says blessed are the poor but Matthew says blessed are the poor in spirit. Which one is it? It’s both. There is real poverty in both communities, and there is spiritual poverty in all kinds’ of communities.”

When God gives us a burning passion to meet the needs of a segment of society that passion tends to push other equally important needs into the background. In my brief dealings with CCDA, I did get the impression that God was only concerned about the financially poor. This was the first message I heard during the conference that preached having the same care one for another regardless of who we are and what status we had attained in this life. Wealth cannot buy peace with God. He is concerned about rich people too.  Unfortunately, the positive beginning ran aground on contradiction and misguided applications of God’s word.

In the opening statements, the pastor referenced the recent 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King’s speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and called Dr. King his hero. “I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character,” is one of the most memorable quotes to come from Dr. King’s speech that day. I wondered why this pastor failed to imitate his hero. The balance of his message was a judgment of “white people” whom he perceived as rich, greedy, selfish, and in need of an enema so they could share their wealth.

I am white. Is that who I am? Was I being judged by the color of my skin or by the content of my character? Did the pastor hide racism in the cloak of hyperbole? I don’t have a relationship with this pastor, so I cannot accurately answers to those questions. But I can use his method of hyperbole to communicate my observations about his message. The quotes I took from his message are in italics and in random order.

The pastor argued that Plato is the master of the white American church. Plato taught that human beings were once winged gods that were banished to the evil material world by gods who were jealous of humanities wings and power. The white American church is constantly striving to perfect their lives, so they can get their wings back and attain the divinity once held.

A lot of pale skinned people believed that to be heaven.  They believe that kind of thing to be the goal of the Christian faith. There are a lot of people that are perfectionistic and think that is a Christian virtue. I have news for you; God is perfect. God is not perfectionistic. Human beings are imperfect and yet we are perfectionistic. How opposite is that? How moronic is that? All of us are morons. Hyperbole! Hyperbole!

He explained that perfectionism, a Greek fetish, was exported all over the world through well intentioned white American missionaries. This theology produced preemptive self-judgment, which resulted in an entire culture of traumatized people who are uncomfortable in their own skin.

Is there any group of people in the world less comfortable in their own skin than white Americans? This is because Plato is our master, not Jesus Christ. There is no way that we can judge ourselves as followers of Jesus Christ. Here is why: Jeremiah 4:22, this is God speaking in Jeremiah’s voice, “For my people are foolish, they do not know me, they are stupid children, they have no understanding.” See it is not just me insulting people. I follow God. God is my master. You are stupid. OK, three fingers me to.  We are stupid children is what God says. By the way should stupid people be judges, magistrates, Supreme Court justices? Some of them are, but should it be in an ideal world. No, it requires enormous knowledge, wisdom, and discernment to be a judge. The average person is simply too stupid and moronic to be a judge of anything lest of all themselves. We are not qualified to judge ourselves moralistically or in any other way, and therefore, we have to give judgment to others.

Based on the scripture in Jeremiah, he concluded that we are too stupid to judge ourselves. Therefore, we must find a community of people we trust and let them judge us. If the average person is too stupid and moronic to judge anything, how can that person judge a community is trustworthy?

Everybody is not stupid. The pastor said the “average person” is stupid. Now we have class warfare between the average stupid people and the elite smart people. How do stupid people know who the smart people are unless the smart people tell them they are stupid? History has repeatedly proved elite smart people become self-righteous tyrants who create empires that enrich the elite at the expense of the average stupid people. This whole line of thinking was contrary to the ideals I had observed at the conference, which strived to value everyone. They presented everyone, regardless of race, education or even handicap, as intelligent people with the potential to be leaders.

God was not talking about the “average person” in Jeremiah 4:22. He was talking about the people he delivered from Egypt, yet they continued to worship the idols of surrounding nations. In fact, they never stopped worshiping the gods of Egypt. Those weak an ineffective gods who could not deliver the Egyptians from the God of Abraham. The people of Jeremiah 4:22 were stupid and did not know God because they worshiped idols, not because they were the “average person”.

And this Bible, what I see in this Bible, is a story of a small group of people, who were the most despised people throughout history. In their time, they did some good things in Egypt. Remember Joseph and how he saved the country because he was shrewd. But a few generations later, all of their hard work and sacrifice was written out of the Egyptian narrative. After a few generations, the Egyptian elite forgot about the contribution of the Jewish people. Intentionally wrote them out of history. Does this sound like Native American history? Would white people be here were it not for the hospitality, the generosity, the kindness, the extension of humanity to white settlers?  Yet we have written the Native Americas completely out of our history.

When were the Native Americans written out of history? I was taught about the Native Americans kindness to the white settlers. Every Thanksgiving Day school play I attended or participated in portrayed how the Native Americans taught the Pilgrims to plant corn, hunt and fish. The settlers and the Native Americans held a three day feast when the settlers harvested their first crop, which became the foundation for America’s annual Thanksgiving Day holiday. If Native Americans have been written out of history, it must have happened after I graduated in the 1970’s. I asked by college age son what he learned about the Native Americans in school. “The Native American’s were kind to us and we gave them disease and murdered them,” he said. When was the contribution of the Native American’s written out of American history?

These Israelites then went over to Palestine, and they face all kinds of threatening people. There they had to contend with the Hittites Empire, the Assyrian Empire, the Babylonian Empire, the Greek empire that was split up, and then the Roman Empire.  And Jesus came in the midst of the most heavy handed empire in the Jewish people’s history. The entire Bible is a chronicle of a small group of people, despised group of people, trying to be faithful to the kingdom of God in the midst of oppressive empires that had its way with its people.

Genesis is the prologue, the introduction to the history of Gods people navigating faithfulness to his kingdom which has not yet fully come and trying to make it, to survive among oppressive empires, one after the other, why have we not understood the Bible as the chronology of a faithful band of oppressed people contending with empire?

Did he just completely write God out of the history of Israel? How anyone could read the Bible and conclude that God’s people were a “faithful band” is beyond my comprehension. If they had been a “faithful band”, they would not have been oppressed by the surrounding empires. God told Israel he was raising up the Assyrians and Babylonian empires to oppress them and take them into captivity because Israel was never faithful to him. They ran to other gods and human kings for help, instead of the God who loved them. (Isaiah 7:17-20, 10:5-20; Jeremiah 2:17-19; Hosea 5:13-15, 7:11-16, 10:5-6, 11:5-7)

Let’s compare what God said about his people to what this pastor said.

And the Lord told him [Samuel]: “Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king.  As they have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are doing to you. 1 Sam 8:7-8, NIV

After 400 years of unfaithfulness, they openly rejected God as their king. Did they ever change? Did the nation ever become faithful? Individuals were faithful. Those faithful individuals were oppressed, and some killed for speaking the truth to the oppressive empire the nation of Israel became. 2 Kings 17 explains why God destroyed Israel and sent his people into captivity. They never stopped worshipping idols. And then along came Jesus, who said to the remnant that returned from captivity, “You belong to your father, the devil, …” (John 8:44, NIV).

The pastor answered his own question, “Why have we not understood the Bible as the chronology of a faithful band of oppressed people contending with empire?” this way:

Why? Because we are the empire.  It does not serve us to read the Bible through a post imperial, post-colonial lens because then we would know just how much American Christians are the foot soldiers of American empire. Are we the greatest people on the face of the earth? Are we the greatest country in the world? Or are we the most successful barbarians ever to appear?

One definition barbarism is crudity, but the other definition of what it means to be barbaric is the inability of a group of people to live sustainably on a given piece of territory, so they go marauding from one city to another, from one country to another, from one people group to another raping, pillaging, killing, destroying and when they are done doing their locust thing then they move on. I really want to ask, is American the most civilized country in the world or just the most successfully barbaric country in the world.

What white people did when they came to America is no different than what Israel (that faithful band according to the pastor) did when they left Egypt with a mixed multitude. Israel left Egypt because the ruling elite, the smart people, made the lives of the average stupid people a misery. The stupid people cried out to God, and he sent Moses to teach them how to worship the God of Abraham. When Moses and the elders requested a leave of absence to worship their God (a common request in Pharaoh’s courts), Pharaoh denied them religious freedom. Pharaoh did not know Moses’ God, and could not allow people to worship a god that he did not control (Exodus 5:1-4).

God led Israel to the border of Canaan and instructed his people to show no mercy. Israel destroyed the nations residing on the land that God had promised to Abraham via pillaging and killing (Deuteronomy 7:1-6). Joshua defeated 32 Kings and Israel occupied their land at God’s command. Wealthy nations, better equipped and greater in number were driven out by a small group of Israelites because those nations worshiped what God created instead of the creator. By this pastor’s definition, God is the most successful barbarian in all the word. Hyperbole! Hyperbole!

The pastor said, “Confession is the language of the church.” The white American church needs to confess our shame for pillaging and killing and taking land already occupied by people who used hallucinogenic drugs to seek wisdom and directions from spirits. There is one God and they were not consulting him when they ingested peyote.

Some of the Pastor’s points appeared to contradict.

We like to think of ourselves as the most powerful, most sophisticated, the greatest country on earth, and I do love this country. I am a citizen, and I love living here, but that kind of superiority complex is really childish. Only little kids say my Daddy can beat up your Daddy. That is the psychology of this country. It doesn’t matter if it’s 100, 200, 300 years, it just seems to be our, we seem to be perpetual toddlers, in their terrible twos.

The white American church is a toddler stuck in the terrible twos. He already told us earlier in his message that children should not judge themselves because preemptive judging creates a culture of traumatized people.

But when a 5 year old is told to judge himself, shame on you, shame on you, means to look at yourself from outside of you. Look at yourself as adults see you, and see how wrong you are, and then that software is encoded. Year after year, and the childhood of innocence, of unselfconscious life is robbed of that child. What kind of adult will one be? One who is uncomfortable in their own skin.

I must be one of those average stupid people because I am so confused. He condemned telling children shame on you, shame on you, “look at yourself as adults see you, and see how wrong you are.” Then he said White Christian Americans need to see ourselves as adults see us, see how wrong we are and confess our shame. Didn’t that create the rich white Americans problem to begin with? Hyperbole! Hyperbole!

The pastor concluded his message with these words:

I truly hope that some of us will be evangelist and missionaries in some of the richest whitest elitist neighborhoods in this country because if we can get them to be spiritually “unconstipated” there will be a lot of resources that will flow into New Orleans and into the places where we work.

Does he want to raise up evangelist and missionaries because he has equal concern for rich white people? Or does he just want their resources?

There are two problems in this conclusion. First, the problem of coveting. God said, “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor” (Exodus, 20:17, NIV). We should never look at other people and want what they have. Second, doing so makes us idol worshipers. Are rich white people the reason others live in poverty? Are rich white people greater than God? “You do not have [resources], because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? (James 4:2-4, NIV). God is our source. We don’t need rich white people to fulfill what God has called us to do. God is richer than they are.

In retrospect hyperbole may not be the best way to make a point. I’m certainly no better than this pastor. I used hyperbole the whole time. That was hyperbole. No, I never use hyperbole.

An Education in Social Justice Part 5

CCDA Art Gallery

CCDA Art Gallery

Christian Community Development Association (CCDA) offers conference attendees’ opportunity to visit neighborhoods that are being transformed by the principles CCDA is founded upon. Friday morning, I stood in line at the pre-registration desk intent on purchasing a “Go and See” ticket.

“I’d like to buy a ticket to the St. Roch Workshop?”

“Sold out,” she said.

“Is there another ‘Go and See’ workshop available?”

The woman pointed to the display behind her. Every one of the workshop labels had “Sold Out” written across it in bright red. Mental note: If I ever attend another CCDA conference buy a “Go and See” ticket early.

I had found a suitable seat to film from in the Hyatt’s Celestin Ballroom, where the main sessions were held, and made a habit of arriving early lest someone take my seat. I walked into the morning plenary too late. Mary, a college professor of economics, was sitting in my coveted seat.

I sat next to her. “What brought you to the conference?”

“I love the ethnic diversity,” said Mary, “back home each has their own church: white, black, Asian, Hispanic. I like worshiping together.”

“How did you learn about CCDA?”

“I became involved when it was introduced at the college.” Her voice filled with irritation.  “But I found a lot of resistance when I tried to include economics. The CCDA leaders at the college saw business as the evil oppressors.”

I decided against stirring the pot of frustration bubbling in Mary and changed the subject. “How do you define social justice?”

Mary paused to collect her thoughts. “There is a broad definition of what social justice is, so it depends on who you are talking to.”  The plenary session began ending our conversation.

That afternoon I had a meeting with Charles Anderson. Several months ago, he read my book, Finding Faith in the City Care Forgot, and liked it, so he sent me a friend request on Facebook. On a Facebook update, I saw that his art had been accepted for CCDA’s Art Gallery. I sent Charles a message requesting to meet at the conference and talk about his art.

It is common to meet people who relocated to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, a tragedy created by nature, but Charles was unique. A tragedy created by people prompted him to leave New Jersey and make New Orleans his home.

Charles had been an atheist all of his life when he saw a news report about a peace rally in New Orleans. A news clip of Rev. John Raphael, from the New Hope Baptist Church, gave Charles his first glimpse of God and became a turning point in his life. Rev. Raphael said, “We have come to declare that a city which could not be drowned in the waters of a storm will not be drowned in the blood of its citizens.”

Charles paused his story to reflect on that life defining moment. “That is something I had never seen before that was something other worldly. I thought, is that God. In that moment, I knew I was called to something greater. But it was years later before I became a Christian.

He attended church for the first time in his life at New Hope Baptist. Rev. Raphael preached the first sermon Charles had ever heard. At the conclusion of the service, Charles approached Rev. Raphael. “He was excited about me coming to town and encouraged,” said Charles. “He invited me back and often spoke about me in his sermons. That hooked me, this great man, charismatic, smart pastor of a large church really cared about my coming to New Orleans to help. The people were such great people, so nice to me. I felt wanted.”

Charles joined the Baptist church and founded United for Peace. His organization uses art, songs, stories, speeches and silence to create a sense of community.  Every Tuesday they hold a moment of silence on Martin Luther King Boulevard to remember the lives snuffed out in violent acts. Afterwards, they offer support for the mothers of the victims.

Through his participation in community activism, Charles met Kevin Kieschnick, a practitioner of CCDA. Kevin invited Charles to attend CCDA’s Cincinnati Conference. While at the conference Charles met the woman, he would later marry. Their initial attraction to one another was on the subject of being vegetarians. The conversations about diet quickly evolved to discussions about CCDA and Christianity. Her Christian example led Charles to embrace Christianity.

As we walked to the Art Gallery, Charles told me about a youth meeting being held that evening that wasn’t listed in the program book. I recorded the time and place. Then filmed Charles talking about his art. He is the first to speak on the video at the bottom of the page.

Jolly Oatis of 3D Music Group was in the middle of his testimony when I arrived at the youth meeting. He spoke about the duplicity in his life. As a teenager, he attended Bible Studies but did not practice the principles taught. Basketball was his life. He’d rather be on the court shooting hoops than eating. Eventually, the seed planted at the Bible Studies bore fruit. He realized his prowess on the Basketball court, which filled him with pride and made him popular with the ladies, was a major hindrance to the growth of his spiritual walk. He quit Basketball to pursue God and plans to be a Pastor.

I gathered from comments made during the youth meeting that the small group of teenagers were in training to become CCDA leaders in their community. The future leaders introduced themselves by name, age, state and favorite food. One young man said his favorite food is dead animals. Incredulous looks were met with the explanation “any kind of meat”.

After the introductions Jolly clarified any misconceptions about the meaning of 3D. “It doesn’t mean 3 dimensional or 3 dudes. It is a reference to the 3 days Jesus lay in the grave. His brother Jeremy joined him, and they performed How can I Forget, written by the Oatis brothers. The song questions how we can forget all God has done for us.

A question and answer session followed. “Are they on ITunes?” “How did they start rapping together?” “Was it hard to quit sports?” The subject of giving up other activities became a discussion. One gave up acting and soccer. Another quit a band he had played in for five years. The session concluded with wise words from the moderator. “You don’t have to give up your extracurricular activities unless they have become a hindrance in your spiritual growth.”

When the pizza arrived, I departed for the evening plenary sessions. Pastor Robert Burnside spoke about his unconditional love for his community. Since he has been actively serving and praying for his community murders in his neighborhood have stopped, and the crime rate decreased dramatically. He was followed by the entertaining Father Greg Boyle, an American Jesuit priest and founder and Director of Homeboy Industries. Homeboy Industries is the largest gang intervention, rehab and re-entry program in the United States. He counted it a privilege to work with gang members, who taught him how to text. He has learned the meaning of lol: laugh out loud, omg: O My God, and a recent new addition ohn: Oh Hell No, which he uses frequently! lol, omg that’s one I can use tooJ Father Greg took pleasure in the fact that rival gang members who use to shoot bullets at each other now shoot text messages. He spoke eloquently about serving others, and the sadness of burying 193 gang members.

I stayed late for Open Mic Night attended mostly by young people. An hour of dance, rap and poetry later, I returned to my room to download my camera. By 2 am, I had filled up the 32 gig flash drive I planned to give to the event coordinator of CCDA. I should have bought a flash drive with more gigs. Tomorrow, the last day of the conference, had a full schedule of plenary sessions and workshops that lasted until late in the evening.

An Education in Social Justice Part 4

Conference’s usually have keynote speakers. The premier speaker that draws the largest crowd is given prime time. Other speakers are treated like fillers until “THE” main attraction arrives to conclude the day with his or her message and then sends the well fed sheep on their way chewing on a cud of wisdom.

I found CCDA had a more evenhanded approach. All of the speakers were treated with value and relevance.  No one dominated the evening sessions open to the public, and on most nights two people shared the stage. Unlike some conferences dominated by white men donned with expensive suits trailing PHD’s behind them, the evening speakers were a rich mixture of male, female, white, African American, Hispanic and Asian.

Many in the mixture of speakers were laden with degrees as well. Take the dramatic license I took regarding white men as experience not sarcasm. When God needed an Apostle to the Gentiles, he chose the highly educated Saul of Tarsus. The difference in my experience at CCDA is their acknowledgment that you don’t need a college degree to be an effective leader.

Whenever I attend a Christian event, I look for consensus to determine who has God’s message. God establishes what we need to know in the mouth of two or three (2 Corinthians 13:1). When God told Mary she would bear the Messiah, he confirmed it numerous times by various people saying the same thing, e.g. Zacharias and Elisabeth, the shepherds, Simeon and Anna, men bearing gifts for the king of the Jews. God put everything he wanted us to know in the Bible, which contains the witness of sixty-six people from various professions who lived in different generations yet spoke the same message. If the Bible was written by one person, I doubt we could trust its message.

Therefore, when I hear the same message more than one time coming from different people I know it’s important. The message given at the conference by God, the premier keynote speaker, was imparted through the mouth of a female pastor and confirmed the following morning by a male pastor.  Rev. Laura Sumner Truax, senior pastor at LaSalle Street Church, a non-denominational church in downtown Chicago, addressed the importance of the Sabbath. The next morning, Dr. Wayne L. Gordon, the founding Pastor of Lawndale Community Church and Chairman/President of the Christian Community Development Association addressed the importance of the Sabbath.

I have preserved a portion of their message in the video, audio only. It was impossible to obtain a usable copy in the evening session. The video is full of shadowy figures looking for friends and seats, going to the bathroom and other reasons that remain a mystery.  It is possible this theme was repeated by other speakers in session I did not attend. Attending CCDA conference is like going to Disney World you will never see it all. But one thing is certain. God wants us to rest.

An Education in Social Justice Part 3

I had spent my first day at Christian Community Development Association’s (CCDA) conference at the activities on the third floor of the Hyatt.  Thursday morning, I took the elevator to the second floor. There wasn’t much on the second floor connected to CCDA: volunteer room, prayer room, childcare. The Hyatt’s Starbucks was a strong factor in moving my exploration into new territory.  I exited the elevator to witness a group of people sitting on the floor having a meeting. Snippets of conversation as I walked by told me they were conference attendees planning their day.

I spotted the CCDA Prayer Room sign. Starbucks would have to wait. I enter the room. Gentle instrumental music set a peaceful atmosphere. The walls were covered with pictures clustered by categories to prompt prayer for the city of New Orleans. On my left, two women were holding a quiet conversation. To my right a man and a woman were on their knees in silent prayer. I sat in a nearby chair. Two prayer warriors paced the center of the room interceding for the conference attendees, ministers and speakers.

Everyone had left the prayer room when the prayer warriors sat down to talk to me. Nancy Alonzo, a street evangelist, is friends with CCDA’s Host Team Co-Chair Kevin Brown. Kevin invited her to oversee the prayer room. Nancy enlisted the help of Mimi Crabtree. Nancy, Mimi and I had a few mutual acquaintances. They are now on my list of potential stories for NOLA’s faith blog.

I headed for Starbucks and a cup of vanilla iced coffee, but changed my mind when I saw the long line.  I returned to the third floor to view the Art Gallery and chat with the exhibitors. Colorful clothing at the Mera Parivar exhibit caught my eye. Pastor’s wives make the clothing to support their husbands explained Anil Landge. According to Landge, the organization in Gurgaon Haryana, India was among the first international ministries to be associated with CCDA.

A friendly Pastor Mike Ballman, Cornerstone Church, Utica, New York and Ros Bellassai, an elder of Cornerstone, told me about their ministry and the Oneida Square Project. Both the church and project utilize the eight components of CCDA’s philosophy. They were candid about the challenges of relocating. Ros, who had been living in a quiet farming community prior to relocation, admitted concerns about education and safety might have deterred him from moving to an urban area if his children were still living at home.

Dr. Perkins’ original intent for relocation was to encourage talented people who had fled their neighborhoods to return. Over the years, that concept broadened to include people who are not indigenous to the community. The people I spoke to about relocation shared a similar experience. Adjusting was difficult, but they found wonderful neighbors.

My next stop, a corner booth about Perpetual Help Home (PPH) located in Victoria, Texas. The chatty Bonny Garcia volunteered to speak on camera. The home is a nationally certified site for Christian Women’s Job Corps. They provide training and jobs to help women rebuild shatter lives that they might become productive members of society. After finding the help she needed at PPH, Bonny became the Director of Center for Peace.  Center for Peace teaches women entrepreneurship, business and computer and office skills.

Around the corner from the PPH exhibit were three delightful ladies with a common bond. They told me how Palmer Theological Seminary started in 1925 and gave birth to Eastern University, which gave birth to Evangelicals for Social Action.  A pleasant woman from Trinidad, Sharlene Brown, Development Programs Coordinator at Eastern’s School of Leadership and Development, started the conversation. She moved to America more than ten years ago but has not forgotten Trinidad. She continues to support a church in her homeland with the skills and knowledge that she has acquired from Eastern and CCDA. Next year she plans to return to Trinidad so she can check on the progress of the church and show her husband around her homeland.

Nancy Stahl, Admissions Coordinator for Palmer Theological Seminary loves interacting with the diverse students who attend Palmer. She pointed to posters emblazoned with photos of graduates from Alabama, Ethiopia, and South Korea. Even though Nancy is not involved with the theological aspect, she feels called of God to the work she does at the seminary.

“Dr. Ronald Sider tackled social justice issues before social justice ministry was popular,” said Tiffany Gilmore. Dr. Sider, the founder of Evangelicals for Social Action, recently retired. The organization, currently run by co-presidents, produces Prism Magazine, which challenges the church to respond to  injustices. A free web version of the magazine is available at prismmagazine.org.

Hunger pains reminded me that I had not eaten yet, but it was after 11 am and I had lunch plans with a friend. I was sipping coffee when my cell phone rang. “Where are you?”

“In the Butcher Block Restaurant on the third floor,” I replied.

Five minutes later Dallas McGlinn dropped her purse on my table, “The people at the entrance thought I was crazy.”

“Why?”

Dallas laughed, “This is the 8 Block Kitchen!”

Sheepish grin, “At least I got “Block” right.”

I met Dallas when I became a contributor to Gathering Magazine, which she published to spotlight non-profits in the New Orleans area. While the magazine is on hiatus, she is working as Pastor’s Assistant at Celebration Church in Metairie. She had attended CCDA’s Leadership Development Panel and gave me the details that were now becoming a familiar theme. Teaching people in poor communities how to improve their neighborhoods by raising up indigenous leaders and working together to apply Christian principles. CCDA is a perfect fit for Dallas; serving the less fortunate is her passion.

Dallas liked being downtown where she had worked for many years. We left the Hyatt to walk the streets of New Orleans. She pointed out new businesses and told me how Hurricane Katrina had changed the city. She was thrilled to see a favorite restaurant had not been washed away by the hurricane, so we stopped to eat lunch.

By the time we returned to the Hyatt, the afternoon workshops had begun. Having different interest Dallas and I parted ways. A workshop about stewardship and the poor had caught my attention. The workshop summary promised to “…examine biblical stewardship and its relationship to the poor.” Many years ago, I became disillusioned with making large donations to churches that built bigger buildings and TV studios to win the lost, but their year-end financial statements revealed paltry amounts in benevolence.

I often wondered if the churches I attended were following Jesus example regarding the poor. His alms giving was so prominent, when Judas left during the Passover the disciples thought he had departed to buy something for the feast or to give something to the poor. Giving to the poor currently outweighs what I give to the church, and I wanted to learn more about stewardship and its relationship to the poor.

The workshop speaker opened the session dismissing the word fundraising in favor of “stewardship and development”. When he made the point that small churches don’t have to be dependent on large churches for funding because God is able to supply the need, he had my rapt attention. The Bible states God is able to supply all our needs according to his riches in glory. Yet, most of the churches I have attended never had enough.

I gained some insight into why churches fail to have enough when my husband and I approached a pastor about starting a Teen Bible Quiz. The pastor wanted the church to have the program, but informed us we would have to raise our own funds. “That is what quiz teams do at other churches,” he said. I respectfully informed the pastor that I would not sell T-Shirts, hot dogs, or cupcakes nor would I wash cars to raise money. God is able to supply our needs. If the church could not afford to fund the program, the church did not need a new quiz program. My husband and I collected our things to leave. The Pastor said, “Sit down.” The church funded Teen Bible Quiz.

Apparently, some churches have enough for what they want. This and other similar experiences have made me skeptical about giving. I always question if I am financing what God wants or financing what man wants. During the workshop, I learned that I am not alone. The speaker addressed the current generation as skeptical givers.

Referencing 2 Corinthians 8 and 9, he made a case for stewardship being a vital part of discipleship, which draws us closer to God. While most think of stewardship only in terms of money, he defined stewardship as more than money by including time, talents, prayer, etc. He then challenged ministers to treat stewards as more than a source of money but an integral part of one’s ministry.

The most memorable statement he made was this: “Giving is from the heart. If you don’t capture someone’s heart, he will not give to you.” The speaker was organized and provided detailed notes for us to follow as he spoke. Yet, I left in a bit of a fog. He also identified the poor as stewards, which left me  uncertain about the relationship between the steward and the poor.  When I returned home, I listened to an audio copy of his workshop. Listening a second time did little to focus the relationship.

He had encouraged us to “consume” 2 Corinthians Chapter 8 and 9 if we wanted to understand stewardship, so I read the chapters numerous times in various translations. I’ve heard some of the scriptures used to teach tithing, but Paul was writing about giving to a specific group of impoverished people – the poor saints living in Jerusalem. He argued that the Gentiles had received from the Jews spiritual things. Therefore, it was right that the Jews receive carnal things in compensation.

Apparently, the poor were not due help simply because they were poor. Paul was the reason many of the Jerusalem Christians lived in poverty. Prior to his conversion, he was determined to destroy the church and put many of them in prison. Paul’s passion to help the poor saints flowed from a passion to make amends for the injustices he and other religious leaders had committed against them.

The church at Corinth had promised to give a large gift to help the Jewish Christians at Jerusalem who had been persecuted into poverty. When Paul wrote the letter, the Corinthians had not kept their promise, which put Paul and the Corinthians in a potentially embarrassing position. Paul went to Macedonia boasting about the Corinthian’s zeal to help the poor. His boasting about Corinth had stirred up the Macedonians to give beyond their ability. While Paul was raking in money for the poor in Macedonian, he received word that the Corinthians had not even started collecting their promised donation.

Paul had already taught the Corinthians that our reason for giving is more important than the gift. In his first letter to Corinth he wrote, “If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:3, niv). Paul was concerned that his return to Corinth with some of the Macedonians in tow would force the Corinthians to give the generous gift they promised grudgingly. To avoid embarrassment Paul sent some brothers in advance to collect the donation before he arrived. Paul’s urgency that they give out of love may have been rooted in the experience of Ananias and Sapphira, whose insincere gift to the poor and attempt to deceive the church cost them their lives.

The workshop speaker spoke of sacrificial giving several times. I could not find that theme in Paul’s writings. Giving what you don’t have is an unacceptable gift. Paul wrote, “For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what he does not have” (2 Corinthians 8:12, niv). The speaker also referenced this scripture, which may be why I had difficulty following his message. But I might have created my own confusion by misunderstanding what he meant by sacrificial giving.

I noticed that Paul applied God’s instructions to Israel for collecting manna to the way we should live and give to the poor today. Paul quoted from Exodus 16:18 when he wrote, “The one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little” (2 Corinthians 8:15).  He did not want the Corinthians to give beyond their ability as the Macedonians did because the goal of giving is to create equality. He did not want one group of Christians to be burdened so another could be eased. Our abundance should supply those who are in need. I have heard many sermons about sacrificial giving in the churches I’ve attended. I cannot recall a sermon about creating equality by freely, without compulsion, manipulation or force giving from the abundance God gives us.

After the workshops, Dallas and I reunited to discuss what we had learned. She is the last person to speak on the video.

http://youtu.be/MUSMyWajzZU

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 54 other followers

%d bloggers like this: