This is another installment of my thoughts from World Changers in upstate New York.
Her tired eyes are shining as she instructs me, “Ask him what a transformer sounds like”.
It sounds like a simple request but the 6 year old has been bouncing off the walls and tables ever since he entered the cafeteria. That’s why I had noticed them – he was literally bouncing off the walls and tables in his own unique way. From his wheelchair, he would grab the corner of a support beam and swing his chair towards a table where he would use his arms or legs to bounce away from it.
He is the splitting image of the little boy from the movie Jerry Maguire right down the curly blond hair and glasses. I keep waiting for him to ask a question about how much the human head weighs. Instead, I catch up to him and ask him, “Hey, what does a Transformer sound like?”
He stops moving long enough to look up and articulate, “hol-hol-hol-uh-uh-hol-hol”, and then he is off moving again. The impression is terrific and I am left standing there in the wake of air he created with a smile stretching across my face. I watch him as he runs up against kids playing cards and he has the same affect on them as he steals a 4 of hearts and takes off with it. They all look after him and smile. He’s contagious. His exuberance rubs off on those he comes into contact with.
His name is Joshua and he does a great job of breaking down walls.
Before I leave the cafeteria, I spend some time with his mother and she tells me their story:
“Joshua comes here every year looking for people that he met from last year. We love World Changers and the church we used to attend would always support World Changers when they came into town. But I haven’t been able to part of that since Joshua’s dad died and I have had to take care of all his medical needs by myself. His condition is degenerative and he is going to need a lung and heart transplant. And though he is a little mentally delayed, he is such a little Casanova with the girls and loves to be around the boys because he misses his daddy.”
Our conversation went back and forth for a while and Joshua would come up to us from time-to-time so that he could bounce to a new adventure. Each time he was in reach, I would give him a high-five or ask him a question about his chair. His answers were quick and to the point because he had bouncing to do.
I left the cafeteria not knowing if I would see Joshua or his mother again. God knew.
Later that evening, I found a place to sit in the back of the auditorium that was serving as our worship venue for the week. Just so you are aware, all good Baptists sit in the back to make sure no one takes the Holy Spirit with them as they try to sneak out the back door. I had just got comfortable when I heard Joshua’s voice preceding the halting stop that his wheelchair came to right behind my seat. I looked over my shoulder and was pleasantly surprised to see that both he and his mother had joined us for worship.
Joshua quickly whispered something to his mother that I couldn’t make out and I could tell she wasn’t sure how to respond to Joshua. Her delayed response allowed him time to speak his request again, this time more loudly and clearly.
“I want to cuddle.” This statement became a request because he was motioning to his mother that I was to be the recipient of that cuddle.
It wasn’t hard to see that his mother was struggling with how to respond to Joshua, so I offered, “If its okay, I will hold him.” Those words were barely out of my mouth before he was crawling out of his chair and across the back of mine. He sat down in my lap, laid his head against my chest and said, “I want you to be my daddy.”
Heart-warming. Gut wrenching. I didn’t know how to respond. His mother saved me, “He can’t be your daddy, he has a wife and children of his own.”
Joshua didn’t sit still for very long. The next fifteen minutes was his time to entertain those of us at the back of the auditorium. He would bounce from lap to lap and try to bang people’s heads together. At one point, he was standing on the chair next to me facing back towards his mother and she used that opportunity to get onto him for moving around so much. He started to slide down the chair, to the seat of the chair, and eventually the floor. The whole time he was sliding he was saying in his best witch voice, “I’m melting!”
I can’t say for sure but I think he was stealing the hearts of all of us that were part of his displays that evening.
When he finally melted to the floor, he crawled underneath my legs and the legs of the teen aged boy beside me. He looked up and noticed where he was located and in a dramatic voice relayed the following statement:
“I better move before you guys pee on me.”
I have never heard that in a church service before. I doubt I will again. But this I can say, I wasn’t bothered in the least to hear it that night. Joshua broke down walls and left smiles. Before he left my lap for the final time that night, he leaned in and kissed me on the cheek.
There are several kids from Jersey that were heartbroken when Josh had to leave the following night to go to his next hospital appointment. I hope they read this and add some of their own stories about Joshua.
We all learned something valuable from him. In our desire to bless those around us, God sent a 6 year old to bless us. Our circumstances and station in life do not limit the capacity to impact someone else’s life in a positive way… especially, if we will just be who God is working in us to be.
This is another installment of my thoughts from World Changers in upstate New York.
Part of the reason that I enjoy World Changers so much is because they get it when it comes to evangelism. They go into a neighborhood with willing hands to help those who have a need. Because they do this, the kids and adults at the job sites have the ability to show their faith in action which translates to open conversations with the home owners and neighbors.
Following our Sunday service and meal, we drove over to the house that we would be working on starting that Monday. Our house was a large, two-story with a wrap around front porch. Our job for the week was to install insulation board and siding over the existing, delipitated, asbestos siding. We also needed to scrape and paint the front porch and any trim that would not have siding installed as well as tear out and replace some steps that were attached to the back of the house that were in a bad shape. Our home owner was not there that day so we didn’t get to meet him before we met his neighbors.
After looking over the house, we broke into several groups and made our way up and down the streets that surrounded our work site. Our job for that afternoon was to go door-to-door in order to let people know we were in the neighborhood and why we were there. Ultimately, our hopes were that some of them would give us the opportunity to have more than a cursory conversation.
One meeting that day still sticks out more than the others for me.
In front of a rundown duplex, a young lady was sitting on one of the steps that lead to her apartment. She was taking advantage of some sun while doing something on her Apple laptop. She had purple hair and many piercings about her face. Next to her was standing a lean man, short of stature, sporting a few less piercings than the young lady. As we walked up, I noticed that the front door was standing open behind them and in the shadows sat another young man with pale skin and long, dark hair. I would eventually learn there names as Darla (the girl with the purple hair), Lee (the lean man standing next to Darla), and Preston (the ghostly image in the background).
We gave them our usual opening spiel about being down the road working on a neighbor’s house and that we wanted the neighbors to know why we were there. Darla was pretty busy working on her laptop so she was never quite into the conversation except to throw out some expletives from time-to-time about whatever it was that was happening on her personal view to the internet. Lee was more into the conversation and at some point, Preston decided that he wanted to be more part of the goings-on. So he left his shadows and stepped into the sunlight with the rest of us on the stoop and in the front yard of their apartment.
Preston wore saint pendant around his neck which I asked him about. He explained that he had come across it in a shop and it just gave off a good vibe so he just had to purchase it. He excitedly told us about the research he had done about his particular saint (whom I can’t remember), and how his saint wasn’t very well known. That added to the attraction of the pendant for him.
Since we were on the subject of necklaces, I noticed that Lee wore a rather large, antique key on a chain around his neck and decided to ask him about its significance. His joking reply that it was the key to Preston’s chastity belt only confirmed what we had already suspected – these were Happy neighbors. I don’t mean that in a derogatory manner so let me explain.
The word gay has been reduced to a label of one’s sexual proclivity instead of its original meaning of describing someone or something as being happy or merry.
As I stood there on the trash littered lawn in front of the rundown apartment, I couldn’t help but connect some thoughts about happiness. These young people who we were conversing with had the same issues as the straight family next door – they were seeking happiness instead of joy. Their piercings, electronics, trinkets, and even their relationships, attested to that. I was also reminded that the people who profess Christianity are not immune to that circumstance either.
All of us, if we could see our state for what it really is, are mucking around in our pig sty lives trying to convince ourselves that the next trinket, job promotion, or relationship is what we need to have a happy life. Then when we get that thing that we thought was the answer we find that our circumstances haven’t changed…we have just brought that next trinket, job promotion, or relationship into the pig sty with us. Happiness is a temporary state connected to a singular event or situation.
To find true joy is to find that eternal hope that goes beyond circumstance or situation. We visited those Happy neighbors because we had a message of eternal hope. It wasn’t something that we could give them because it’s not something we took hold of ourselves. It was a gift freely given and we were there to point people to the Giver.
I prayed for those neighbors throughout the week and on the last day of our job I had an opportunity to take some of the kids back to visit with the Happy neighbors again. No one responded when we knocked on the door.
On our previous visit we had left them with a door hanger that explained why we were in their neighborhood and as we turned to leave, we noticed that it had been torn up and added to the litter on the front lawn.
How often are each of us guilty of just that – throwing away the Good Report in our search for happiness?
This is another installment of my thoughts from World Changers in upstate New York.
On Sunday, the 5th of July, the crews that I would be working with were blessed with visiting the church who would be sponsoring our lunches all week. I really enjoy visiting other churches because it gives me a chance to see how others conduct themselves when gathered together as a body of believers. I was really interested in experiencing the upstate New York Baptist church that we were going to visit.
We arrived at service time for the small church that sat next to a muddy river in the foothills of the Appalachians. I was immediately taken back to the small churches that I had visited down in the south (Kentucky and Tennessee). Our 17 World Changer members did two things to that church that morning: doubled their attendance and lowered the average age drastically. I wasn’t surprised to learn that the pastor was a transplant from Kentucky because the little church and its members could have been picked up from the south and dropped right there in New York such was its make-up and conduct.
I wondered if that was an underlying reason for the small size of the congregation. The church conducted themselves like a southern church while being surrounded by northern people. They had been able to attract congregants that had grown up in the south and now found themselves in the north because that was the demographic to which they had made themselves relevant.
Now the gospel is relevant to all, so don’t get me wrong, but the way that we practice community can be very different from one demographic to the next. Most of us would find ourselves in an uncomfortable situation if we were dropped off in a Christ-believing church in a small African village for no more reason than we may not be able to understand their language – though that is an important reason. The interesting thing about language is that its not limited to just the spoken or written word. We communicate through our actions as well and the church that we visited acted like a southern church though they were surrounded by northern people.
Let me mention one weird thing… we pledged allegiance that morning to the United States flag, the Christian flag, and the bible. I understand that this is common practice in some schools and even in some churches. To me, it was just weird. We followed that up with a bunch of patriotic hymns – most likely because it was Independence weekend. For some reason, that just carried over the weirdness of all the pledging to the music part of the worship.
The pastor got up and preached a message that was fantastic. He geared the message that morning to those of us there from World Changers AND to his congregation. In short, his message to us was ‘make sure you are here for the right reasons’ and to his congregation he challenged them to follow-up on the work that we would start in their neighborhoods. I really appreciated what God had led him to speak that morning.
Following service, they invited us to a meal that they had prepared and, boy, were we blessed. That is where the southern community can speak the universal language – food. There were at least 7 different potato salads on display that day and I had my first home-made whoopee pie. Being an extrovert, I enjoyed getting to know those that sat around me during lunch, and truth be told, some that were not so directly around me. We laughed and cut up like we were old acquaintances. I can’t say how much I enjoyed lunch with that body of believers. Its interesting how eating together can have that type of impact… no wonder the bible records that as one of the many things that the early church did.
As I sit here and reflect on them today, I pray that God blesses them and hope that they accepted the pastor’s challenge to follow up on the work we had started. I met several people in their neighborhoods that were touched by the love on display that week…people who needed the ultimate touch of love that only knowing Christ can bring.
For those of you expecting the next installment of my World Changers posts, my apologies.. I will get back to them. I had to interject this post because its just a way cool thought that hit me last night as I was talking to a young man about dating.
The young man and I were discussing how the female gender is forever strange to us and not so easily figured out. One thing we agreed on was that most ladies shared the common desire to be pursued by the man of their dreams. They want to feel like they are desired above all other women to the man that they give their hearts to… and that is just how it should be.
I used Jacob and Rachel as an example from the bible on how well a man could pursue a lady. I, mean, how many women would not be flattered by a man that was willing to work 14 years for her hand in marriage. (Let’s leave Leah out of this discussion because in today’s society it just confuses the picture 🙂 ).
Imagine. 14 years of toil in order to marry the girl that captured your heart. I don’t know about you, but there was a big difference in the girl that I met at 17 and the woman I was married to at 31. A lot of changes occur over the span of 14 years – some good and some not so good (if my wife is reading this… all your changes were GREAT!). It just blows me away to think that Jacob waited 14 years…not just waited, but worked. Seven of those years after being horn-swaggled by his future father-in-law, but that didn’t deter him. He just kept on pursuing the woman of his dreams.
Young men. There is an example of the kind of devotion that your future bride should stir up inside of you. And THAT kind of devotion doesn’t even match the devotion that Christ showed to His church… which is what men are called to in their love for their wives.
In Paul Harvey like fashion, I have to share the part that is really, really cool about this story.
Jacob pursued Rachel for 14 years. BUT.. and get this… She WAITED for him during those 14 years. She shared in that pursuit by honoring Jacob’s devotion. She didn’t play coy or hard-to-get. We are not told that she wished she could be free to chase after some other man or that she relished the fact that Jacob had to work so long to have her hand in marriage. Her pure devotion is displayed in her patience to wait on him.
I don’t know that we can fully appreciate that story in our society where we demand everything to be accomplished now so that we can assuage our need for instant-gratification.
In our desire for instant everything, we build the foundation of our relationships from pre-fab bricks of expectation when they need to be built from stones that have been hand-fit by those who will live upon that foundation. It takes time to shape those types of blocks but once they are in place they become a fortress against a life of storms.
They become a place of celebration.
And ladies, isn’t that what you want?
What dating advice would you give to young people who are trying to build a future together?
Our World Changers trip started with a jaunt up the coast of Lake Eerie and eventually brought us to the borders of the Niagara Falls. We had to stay on the American side of the falls because of the new restrictions that require passports for individuals crossing over the Canadian border. That wasn’t really an issue as we really wanted to watch the fireworks as the main attraction over the falls themselves.
At least, that is what we were thinking on the drive up. Those thoughts kind of change when you see the plume of mist that rises up from the falls and announces the presence of something unusual on the horizon.
I have been to the falls on several occasions and much prefer the Canadian side to the American side as it affords a much better view of the main horseshoe. As I stood there on Friday, July 3rd on the American side, I couldn’t help but become introspective at the sheer power of the water falling over the edge of the cliff and arriving noisily in the basin below. It is simply magnificent.
It encompasses all of the senses. The roar reverberates in the ears and thrums against the body like a massive bass drum. The mist falls as a chilly blanket across any part of the skin left exposed and allows for a subtle aroma and taste of the falls itself. Even though the eye can see what is occurring, it is difficult to comprehend the amount of water that is falling every second of every minute of every hour of every day across that precipice.
It is so easy to feel insignificant in the audience of such splendor. And yet, given to contemplation, we can realize that the falls become insignificant in the greater picture of creation. All of the water that has made the Niagara falls from the time they were set in motion are not even a drop of sweat from the brow of God.
Drive just an hour away and they are all but forgotten as they are not readily apparent. Distance destroys the affect of their power.
When the fireworks were finally set off, they were a disappointment as the man-made explosions of color could not compete with the insignificance of the natural creation on display. What a great reminder for the group of people on their way to New York to bring God Glory.
No matter how much siding, roofing, or paint we were going to apply to houses that were in much need of attention, those man-made works were going to pale in comparison to the eternal beauty of love at work. Just as the fireworks were limited and finally cleared from the sky while the falls continued to thunder on and on, the work of our hands will one day fall in disrepair while the love at work has been moving from the beginning of time and will continue to echo across eternity.
And what a cool thought it is to realize that our love pales in comparison to the Love that God displayed through the sacrifice of His Son… just as the falls become insignificant in light of all of creation.
I arrived safely back in Ohio on Saturday evening – completely worn out. I needed to spend some time with the family and prepare a lesson for Sunday morning so it wasn’t an early-to-bed kind of evening and I was back on my schedule of getting up early on Sunday morning so by the time I finished with church service, teaching, and having lunch with church family, I was wasted. I spent several hours on Sunday afternoon and evening just napping and was still able to sleep through the night once I went back to bed.
A week of physical labor and attention spent on kids can wipe a person out. All of it in a great way.
So, I am back and ready to start posting again. I have decided to do a series this week about my adventure to World Changers in Watertown, New York. Here are some of the upcoming posts that I will be offering:
- The Insignificant Niagara Falls
- Northern Church done Southern Style
- Meeting the Happy Neighbors
- Joshua Knocked Down the Walls (could be titled, “Don’t pee on me”)
- Tuesday Night Chats with Future Men
- White Water Rafting on the Black River
- Cutouts from Life’s Photo Album
- Finishing Strong and Gas Station Appointments
- Washing Your Feet before Leaving the Mountain Top
- Coming Home
As I look over the list of things that I could post about from that one, week-long trip, I can’t help but be amazed by all of the lessons and moments of inspiration that can happen when we are fully aware of our mission in life. There are more things that I could have chosen to blog about from that trip than what I have selected to write about.
Its truly amazing what we can see while we are awake.
Sorry folks for my extended absence from the blog-o-sphere. Unfortunately, its going to be longer.
I have been preparing for several things recently:
- Completion of bathroom remodel
- Big projects at work
- AND.. going to Watertown, NY for World Changers
All those things have equaled a hectic schedule for this past week. I can’t tell you how much that I am looking forward to World Changers. We are heading out tomorrow morning and will be gone until Saturday, July 11. I won’t have access to much in the way of technology so I won’t be able to update my blog during that time. If I get a chance, I will post some stuff tonight that will be scheduled during my absense. We will have to see if I have that much time on my hands tonight. Packing. A final document for work to be completed and emailed. Golf league. Did I mention Packing? Oh, and sleep!
I am tired already.
Oh, you want to know what World Changers is?
OK. I got two minutes to convey this, so here is the quick scoop.
We are taking about 55 students and 20 adults to a city where we can make an impact by repairing homes for those persons who just can’t afford to do it themselves. We will replace roofing, put on siding, paint, and any other task that we can find to fix up the places that people call home. We will sleep on the floor of a school and will be fed by different church group’s in the city.
And we will witness to people about the love of Christ. We will put a face on that love by being servants for a week.
I ask that you pray for me to have a servant’s heart and the energy to encourage the young men that I will be chaperoning on this event. They are some of the best young men that I have had opportunity to associate with. Pray that we all are open to opportunities the Holy Spirit prepares for us and for the courage to be part of that greater work. After all, fixing a house this side of heaven is just a temporary condition, giving the gospel to someone is giving a key to an everlasting home.
See you all on the other side!