Easter Sunday. A time to celebrate our risen King with family and friends, and to see the joy in our children's faces as they chase after hidden eggs.
It is also another day we need to spread God's love and show His grace to those around us, many of who have long been denied this basic human need.
On our way to visit a downtown neighbor in the hospital with a very serious MRSA staph infection, we stopped by a nursing home to visit/say goodbye to a dear friend at the end of his battle with cancer. Months before, this friend was homeless and all alone, trying to process a terminal cancer diagnosis, when a friend of our ministry and church reached out to 'do you know Him? Ministries'. Today, he is surrounded by a roomful of people, including his son (a relationship God has recently restored), loving on him, many there for the day. Though it is a sad moment, it is beautiful to see a once lonely man surrounded by so much love, knowing he now has a relationship with the Lord who received him into his kingdom the morning following Easter. (He departed this world not alone, but in the presence of a group of friends who stayed by his side for more than 20 straight hours through the night to shepherd him into the Lord’s arms.)
Before leaving for the hospital, we found out that another neighbor had a seizure on his way to Manchester Christian Church's Easter celebration at the JFK and was now in that same hospital, and we needed to check on him while we were there. As we visited with him, he explains that he was alone when it happened and another neighbor saw it to get him help. The comment that struck me hardest was him telling of how lonely and scared he was being there without anyone knowing and the doctors unsure of what is wrong. The hospital was able to contact his mother, who had just left right before we arrived, but he had no way of letting his girlfriend know what was going on because his phone was dead and he didn't have her number memorized. Fortunately, we were able to reach her for him so he wouldn't be so alone any longer.
Though I am exhausted from a long, busy day, I feel so blessed to be the hands and feet of Jesus, shining His light to scatter the darkness and ward off the loneliness. While the breakfasts introduce us to our neighbors, it is these one-on-one moments where they get to know Him by seeing His love and His grace first hand.
God is so AMAZING!!!
A couple of weeks ago, we decided to hold a movie matinee for our friends. We made a list of what we need and put that out into cyberspace via e-mail to our volunteers and Facebook friends. Quite a few volunteers signed up and pledged a few yummy treats.
We sent a request for popcorn to a local theatre and continued to plan the rest of the event. We also had a popcorn popper pledged from a local school one of our volunteers attends.
With a little over a week left, we hadn't heard anything from the theatre, the popcorn popper that was pledged fell off a table and broke, and low in the pledged goodies department, so we came up with a plan B. We would rent a popper from a local party place and run to our local wholesale club and pick up candies, baked goodies, etc..
Five days before the event, we received an e-mail from Cinemagic that said:
"We have never donated our popcorn to any organization. In the past, no non-profit organization has asked for this type of donation to help homeless and under-resourced area residents. They have been completely self-serving. I visited your website and was moved by your churches generosity of spirit. We would be pleased to donate a large bag of popcorn for your event."
At the bottom of her e-mail, it said:
"If you can see the invisible, God will do the impossible." He truly did!
Later that same day, I received a Facebook message from a dear friend/sister in Christ, Heidi, that said:
"I saw your post regarding popcorn. Do you need more? Manchester 99 is happy to donate more popcorn. Also, for future matinees they are willing to donate bottled water."
Wow! That's TWO God Winks!!
This morning, I received a text from a dear friend/sister in Christ, Leia (Leader of the awesome Girl Scout Troop #10205), which said:
"I have four cases of cookies to donate to 'do you know Him'.
God, you are AMAZING!!! THREE God winks within 24 hours!!!
Thank you so much to all who have made this wonderful event happen. We are so excited to see what God is going to do next! Aren't you? We are all so very blessed!
"Joe, I can't live like this anymore. I can't do this, being a <expletive> drunk. I need help," he said looking up at me with a look of desperation through tired, drunken eyes, one of which was blood-filled from getting tossed down a flight of stairs a week earlier. Then he took a swig of yet another beer.
"Did you make those phone calls every day this week like we talked about? That's the only way you'll get better," I responded, referring to calling area drug and alcohol rehab programs to stay on the waiting list for an open bed.
A few days ago, he was robbed of all his disability money when he passed out drunk in a nearby hallway. The week before, he lost all his clothes, except what he had on, when he left his bags at the last place he was crashing at because some of the residents were regularly beating on him when he was drunk (which obviously is most of the time), including the aforementioned tumble down the stairs.
This was supposed to be a quick stop to drop off some personal care items he needed. I did not intend to get into this conversation again; however, he was in a bad place and he was reaching out for help from someone who loves him, regardless of his situation or his past. As much as I have tried to fight it, I am that person.
This ministry has given me the opportunity to meet many lost souls in search of a better life. This ministry has enabled me to show God's amazing love by connecting to those most in need of a savior. More importantly, this ministry has taught me that some of the best work happens in uncomfortable, unplanned situations when you don’t think you have the time to handle it.
It's one thing to deal with a homeless drunk begging for a dollar at an intersection in the time it takes for a stop light to turn green. It is quite another thing to hop down into the gutter with that drunk and begin the process of getting cleaned up. It is at times heartwarming to see the progress toward sobriety and then heartbreaking to deal with the struggles, stumbles, slip-ups, and setbacks. I've learned it is a long process of ups and downs to finally break free from the ice-cold grip of addiction into the warm, grace-filled embrace of a loving God.
Another tough lesson learned is that we can't get him the help he so earnestly desires. He can get the help only if his desire for sobriety is strong enough to push him to do the legwork. We can only try to guide and encourage him, and to love this neighbor as the Lord has commanded us. I wholeheartedly believe that I am in this man’s life for a reason and I am confident that he will eventually manage to get over his addiction. In the meantime, I will be there at inconvenient times to help lead him toward sobriety and to continue to show him the love that’s missing in his life.
During the winter of 2012-2013 at breakfast I met Mike, one of our neighbors. Over the next few months I continued to get to know him. In May of 2013, he expressed he needed help with groceries and laundry and while assisting him with this, I noticed a greater need of cleaning was in order. I enlisted the help of Tim and a few others, and over the next few months we helped Mike get organized. We would share a meal together once a week in addition to cleaning, something we all looked forward to. A friendship was formed.
God placed on my heart that many of our neighbors, friends could really benefit from this.
I was praying for patience and God answered that by giving me Mike. This ministry has forever changed me I now call people my friends that I would never have imagined before. Going to breakfast on Saturdays is the highlight of my week.
"Soon after I began to volunteer with dykH on Saturday mornings on the Ministry Team at breakfast, I met a young man named Kenny. I would see him at breakfast and at church on Sunday, and something about this young man touched my heart. He’s close in age to my daughter and I just saw so much potential in him, if he could just turn his life around. It wasn’t long until he ended up in jail. At first, he was in Manchester and I could visit him, but then he was transferred and now I am not able to see him. I still pray for Kenny every day. Just a couple of weeks ago, his girlfriend came up to me at church and handed me her cell phone, saying “someone wants to talk to you”. I was thrilled to hear Kenny’s voice, saying hello and asking me how I was! He told me that he’s looking forward to getting out of jail fairly soon. Knowing this young man has been a blessing for me. I continue to pray for him, that once he is out of jail he will be able to follow the Lord and take his life in a new direction. This is just one example of how our neighbors touch my life every week. I thank God for allowing me the honor of serving in this ministry."