Saturday, August 29, 2009

My friend Al Sanchez

It was almost a year ago that I got a call from Stella who had heard about New City painting houses in her father’s neighborhood. She explained how her mom had just recently died and that her dad ended living back in their original house that had been a rental but now became his casa. Unfortunately the house hadn’t been maintained much, so it was in great need of lots of TLC. I explained that I didn’t do roofs or repair doors but did paint the exterior of low-income family homes and especially seniors. Someone in the neighborhood had told Stella about Ramona and Jesse’s house which we had painted a year ago spring.

As with all houses I visit with the families and explain the who and what of New City and that our heart is to share the gospel in a tangible fashion and bring people together to love on their neighbors. I explained that we would be there in a couple of Saturdays with around 35 people and the house would be painted in about 3 hours. I got Mr. Sanchez a Spanish and English Bible as a gift from New City. We had a big group and painted the house in record time and Al and some of his 5 daughters were there that day.

This was the beginning of my friendship with Mr. Sanchez. As with all of our families we help we invite them to our monthly dinner. Al came to a couple of our dinners and I made a personal commitment to visit him once a week and bring him a taco or burrito. Over a couple months of time I notice that he was actually reading through his Bible starting in Genesis and just going page to page everyday. It was about 2 months after his house was painted that I get a call about him being in the hospital. I seriously think he mistakenly thought my number was his daughter’s boyfriend. Anne and I show up in the ER and there is Al in lots of pain but glowing to see us there. I visit again and he is released in a couple of days. I continue to visit, listen, talk and watch over the next 4 months. He does come to church occasionally and remember that he has difficulty getting around so he uses a walker or scooter. He loves to play bingo at the casino and actually wins on occasion. He was able to have a block wall put around his house because of his bingo winnings.

I get a call from Stella telling me that her dad has had some serious health things happen, possible stroke, colitis and ??? So I search my way through Good Sam Hospital and eventually find his ICU room after getting lost a couple of times. He is in horrible shape and the doctors and the daughters don’t give him much hope. I sit and listen to the family dynamics between five daughters, a sister and others. Lots of lively interaction is taking place about the practical side of life if dad dies. As we are talking and I am listening it becomes clear that Al has become a Christian over the last year since we have painted his house. Our giving him the Bible has been a key to his heart and mind being open to the gospel and understanding God’s love and forgiveness for him. Now, please remember that Al is 81 and still a crusty ol man who when I first met was more concerned about the fact that his heart medicine stopped him from taking the ‘blue pill’.

A miracle does take place and Al actually starts to improve and his failing kidneys start to work and his overall appearance goes from almost dead to ‘I’m alive!’. I eventually get to see him at home and to my surprise he screams at me for taking so long to come to see him. I have obviously endeared myself to Al. Over the last month or so he continues to improve and it gives me real justification that the work that New City is doing is truly a ‘God thing’! He actually gave up a slightly used swamp cooler to help someone else whose house we have painted so they don’t die during the horrible summer heat.

My last visit with Al was yesterday and because I had been on vacation it had been over a week since I saw him last. He did lovingly scream at me and asked ‘where the hell have you been’ as he smiles and gives me his mano to shake. God is a work in Al’s life and whether he lives to be a 100 or goes home to be with Jesus tomorrow his life has impacted the lives of his daughters and grandkids. I am thankful for God bringing Mr. Sanchez into my life this last year.

Dios Bendiga – Dave

I forgot to mention that Al's last big win at the Bingo table he gave to New City.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Go Figure

I am getting use to seeing the police squad show up in my neighborhood. Today I was talking with some of my grandmas in my painting neighborhood. I had brought donuts and was recruiting grandkids for our tutoring club that starts in a few weeks. I hadn’t seen one of the ladies for a few weeks and realized she had a huge bandage on her hand. After asking her she explained that she had part of her index finger amputated because of it being badly infected.

I have spent significant time with these ladies over the last 7 months and am learning about life in South Phoenix. As I am talking with one of them I see not one but multiple police cars pull up with six officers walking up to us. It was obvious they were looking for someone and came equipped to get him. The grandma I was sitting and chatting with responded to the sergeant’s request whether she knew the location of her son. The officer was polite and to the point. Just as quickly as they appeared out of nowhere they also left and said they would be back. This brought the rest of the family and neighbors out to talk about what was happening and who was in trouble. Then the talk started to flow about a house that had been abandoned that had an assortment of ‘hot’ items inside in addition to drugs.

I have started to feel comfortable around this neighborhood and the interesting choice of language still bothers me, which is good otherwise I will start to mimic the trash talk. I continued to listen to the story about the man who was soon to be under arrest because of some poor choices he had made for friends and roommates. I stood next to the fence and listened to the saga of many of the kids who are now adults with kids. As I am listening another car pulls up with policemen who are dressed in normal attire who are looking for one of the older ladies who had recently been in the hospital for an infected finger. After watching the officers ask for this lady she obviously knew they were coming and disappeared. They were like the other officers very polite and to the point and then left. As they left my one grandma friend explained the real circumstances that this lady had cut her finger with a crack pipe and had to have part of her finger amputated because of a serious infection. Wow – as I come back down to earth I begin to realize what God had put me in the middle of a typical neighborhood in South Phoenix.

After finishing our normal Wednesday night dinner and study gathering I was taking home our kids to the different neighborhoods. One of the gals, an older teen, lives in this same painting neighborhood. She began to mention that the night before there had been a drug bust and that a few of the gang bangers had been arrested. We talked a little about her neighborhood and what was going down and why people were so brain dead to get hooked on crack or other drugs.

My night finishes talking to another college student who is part of what we are doing and had just returned from doing a six month internship at Disney World in Orlando. We were reflecting on some of the teens in our group and how to help them figure out life, avoid trash talk, fighting and ultimately ending up like these gang bangers in our neighborhood.

The journey continues - Dave

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Crazy Day!

A Crazy Day

I always get a lot of questions from people about what actually does a pastor do and especially in the context of doing a multi-cultural church that has a passion for doing mercy and justice work. Let me give you a snapshot of just a Friday night to a Saturday night.

We are blessed to have a Somali neighbor who lives a couple of houses down from us. She is an amazing lady because she juggles having six kids and a husband who is unemployed but going through training. She very graciously has taken in a 10-year-old boy from her kid’s school. He does have a mother who does have a house in our larger neighborhood. The sad fact is that the mom is on drugs and has essentially allowed our neighbor to care for her son the last month. He for all intents and purposes lives with our neighbor and seldom sees his mom or sister.

The challenge has been as to whether or not to call CPS or the Phoenix Police to have them intervene in a difficult situation. This situation came to a head when the mom continues to come over and use our neighbor for food, get money, which usually is from us and to continue to live on the wild side. She has threatened our neighbor repeatedly that if she calls the police she will have her boy friend beat her up. The problem arouse when our neighbor took her to Circle K to get some food and realized as they were walking out that she had shoplifted a bunch of candy. Our neighbor rightfully protested and didn’t want to drive her any where without her taking back to stolen goods. The lady screamed at our neighbor that she would scream and both of them would get in trouble.

Now after a busy Friday after a 4-day vacation I was ready to collapse and veg that night. Instead our neighbor knocks on the door and obviously is totally unglued about allowing the lady to shoplift and put her in a situation that she might get in trouble. After about an hour of discussing the situation I finally said let’s go to Circle K and talk to the manager and tell him about the lady and ask for his help. Our neighbor wanted to do this but was totally scared. So we drove around the corner after praying and was pleasantly surprised to see the same man on duty. He was quick to greet our neighbor and go out of his way to say he knew she hadn’t done anything and that the other lady had stolen repeatedly from his store. The man gave our neighbor a free drink and took down a description of what she had taken.

We drive back to our house and I again bring up the subject that we need to call the police and file a report about the mom continuing to abandon her son and also make repeated threats against our neighbor. I made the call as our neighbor was literally shaking. We reassured her that she had nothing to fear but that she was doing what was right and standing up for the little boy who deserved better. After talking to the non-emergency person the officers arrived about an hour later. It was great to have two officers come to our house. They both listened intently and took notes and explained that they had to talk with the boy and then call CPS.

We walked them out the front door and waited for about an hour. They came back and explained that the little boy had broken down and said he was tired of his mom’s way of living. They officers assured him and our neighbor that his life would change. It had been a long day as I looked at my iphone to see that it was midnight and I had to get up early in the morning for a car wash with our youth. Just as I was going to bed I checked my phone to see a txt from one of the kid’s mom asking if I would help her go to the bank and get her delinquent rent check to the manager so as not to get evicted.

As I pulled up to take my friend to the bank it struck me how most people in the urban centers of cities live this way, hand to mouth. I had never heard of someone paying their utilities by paying a machine at a grocery store. Everyone pays a couple of dollars at a time to keep on their power. The different power companies in the area allow customers to do this especially when the summer heat is horrible. As we pull up to the bank my friend gets out to cash her check. I then make a call to someone in our church that is having a baby with special needs. I connect with the dad and he quickly shares about what is presently happening and that his wife is in the process of going back to the hospital and that the baby might come in the next couple of hours. My friend comes back form the bank with a forlorn look on her face; she needed two forms of identification and had forgotten to bring a second ID. So we drive back to her apartment to get her other ID and go back to the back, get the money and then have to go to a Circle K to get a money order to pay the back rent.

I was so glad that I had done most of my sermon prep during the week and really only had to finish my outline for the keynote presentation. I join my friend who then takes her cashier’s check to the apartment office and then hopes that she doesn’t have to go to court. The lady assures her that bringing the check stopped the court process and then has her sign something else that explains what else she has to pay and when to become current on her rent. A big sigh of relief came from my friend as we walked out of the office.

The weather had been on the rainy side, which is unusual for Phoenix so we ended up canceling the car wash until the following weekend. So I came home and actually kicked back and did a little reading of Les Mez and listened to some music on my ipod. I eventually had to get ready to oversee a table at the downtown ASU campus’ fall opening. This was an opportunity to connect with of the new students and potential recruit a few for doing New City Mercy Projects. I also brought a long a couple of the girls from our South Ranch Tutoring Club. They had proven themselves to be accomplished face painters. So we spend a couple of hours handing out free candy, painting a few faces and talking about New City. My gals end up talking with someone else helping with the table. After one of them asks the Episcopal whether he is married and what it is like to be a priest. The priest proceeds to explain that he is gay and not presently married. This began a discussion that lasted a couple of hours as we walked around the campus and drove home about whether there can be lady priest or if being gay is a sin.

I come home to my Anne, who had also been at the downtown campus and our son and his girlfriend abandon us so we eat something from the hole in the wall restaurant around the corner. The close of a busy two days that taught me much about the life of the typical person in South Phoenix.


Friday, August 21, 2009


Rest, Reflection and Renewal

I have just finished a week of vacation and have to admit that it isn’t easy to slow down and not do any work or think about what’s happening. I have been blessed over the years to be raised in a family where we did take vacations every year. My father was in the Air Force and actually got a month off which meant that we did a variety of things over the years in addition to the typical visiting of all the relatives. I was also not raised in a strict setting when it came to what we could or couldn’t do on Sundays or the Lord’s Day. We did church as a family when I was growing up and when my dad was home this was special as we spent the day together. I did marry into a more traditional setting where doing anything on Sunday outside of church or rest was frowned upon a little. (I do have some memories of my father in-law watching a football game.)

My point in writing this blog is to admit my need for rest, reflection and renewal. I confess that I am one to dive into my work and be always attempting to squeeze more into the time that I have left. Working out of my house does make it easy to focus on something or at least feel self-imposed pressure. We do take family vacations and I have kidnapped Anne to do special little getaways. I don’t want to be the legalist that beats myself up for not taking a day off or feeling guilty for taking a nap in the afternoon before a meeting at night.

It doesn’t take much to discover that the Lord God Himself is the one who created the notion of rest and taking a day to reflect on the creation of the universe. I also believe that there is a connection between rest, being able to reflect and be creative as individuals, families and churches. Again as you look at the creation account in Genesis it is obvious that God is the master artist and designer who then instills in his creation a similar passion for beauty.

Ok back to my personal dilemma of taking little bits and big bits of time to chill, reflect and recharge. I know that I have learned the blessing of my big leather couch and listening to my ipod as I read or just veg. I also see the need for planning both on a daily basis and bigger picture setting to insure that I don’t burn out. It is too easy to put things off or believe that I don’t need the rest or that it isn’t profitable. I don’t want to be overly focused on my calendar but it might help. I know that I am learning to schedule people days and study days instead of trying to juggle both in the same day. It is also true that having few distractions can help me accomplish a lot in a short period of time instead of answering the phone or being the nerd who has to answer e-mail as it arrives.

I know that Jesus was great at getting away early in the morning to be alone and connect with His Father. I have been blessed with a wife who usually wakes early and wants to go for a jog/walk with our dogs. I am also the one who sins by staying up too late on occasion and not going to bed as early as I should. I have to admit that going to bed early isn’t totally a sign of old age or a boring life. I know that disciples were shocked to find Jesus out before dawn and also shocked to see him sound asleep in the stern of the boat as the storm began to make them come unglued.

I also understand from a personal perspective that there is spiritual rest that comes from having a living ongoing relationship with Christ. There is a spiritual side to life that can be encouraged and grown from seeking God’s face on a daily basis. Prayer is a combination of experiences and expressions that allow the Spirit to work through our situations regardless of whether we are on the patio alone, driving to work or cleaning the house. I can worship and listen to the Spirit’s direction as live out my daily routine. The challenge comes to being able to be honest to my Anne and myself as to whether I am doing this enough.

I am going to have to stop so I can relax on my couch and listen to some tunes.


Friday, August 14, 2009

My Life

Real Life in South Phoenix

I have to admit that at times I love rocking other people’s boats but also see the advantage to ‘calm seas’ and not purposely entering into a hurricane. This last week I had a couple of things happen that keep me humble and continue to show me the reality that God is not only in control but has a bigger plan that is unfolding. (Yes I affirm God’s total sovereignty and see the awesome fact that He works around and through our pursuit of total autonomy.)

I knew that moving into South Phoenix might see me on occasion encounter people with attitude. I didn’t expect to meet a Phoenix PD Officer outside of my normal context of doing community development work until this week. I am helping a good friend do a room addition that is relatively close to my tutoring neighborhood and also the painting neighborhood. Like any good concrete guy I knew that I wanted to get an early start, yeah like before the sun peaks over the horizon. So we are all set to start pouring this foundation for an addition and a patio extension. After all of us pour a few wheel barrows into the footings the next door neighbor, who is living in a 5th wheel on the street, comes out totally unglued ready to tear me apart. I attempt to explain to him that I am sorry for the noise we are making and that this will be done in an hour and won’t happen again. Unfortunately he was more interested in calling the police for me making a disturbance. So as we continue to pour the concrete one of the guys who is helping is now paranoid that the police will come and arrest him. The reality for this young man is that he is undocumented and has already been picked up once and deported. So picture an irate neighbor and now a panic stricken helper who now wants to leave and go any where besides here.

I am thinking to myself boy did I pick the wrong day and time to do this concrete. I drive my helper over to a friend’s house that is close by and knock on their door at 5:30 AM. I knew that I would wake up the mom and kids. I explained the situation and she was willing to take in my friend for an hour till the sun appeared. She too has lived in fear of the immigration situation. I return to the house where we are pouring and jump back into helping wheel the concrete. The Phoenix PD do show up and I apologize for doing this early and the officer calms down the neighbor. We finish pouring out the truck and I return to get my helper who is still shaking from what could have happened. The police are now gone and the morning is upon us. I finish the foundation for this room addition and am back home by 9:30 AM.

I am learning that life is an adventure and seldom predictable. I have to admit I am the one that took the risk of offending the neighbor who was prone to over reacting. I also knew that once this happened that my one helper would run to get away because of his fear of being deported. (He had already been sent back once and he has a wife and young son.) I tell my 'kids' and the grandmas in my ministry neighborhood that grace is the only solution to our neighbor or family spats and that two wrongs never make anything better. I was just recovering from taking a group of 25 teens to a basketball game and had to break up a spat between a Hispanic girl and an African American girl. I have been trying to learn about reconciliation and how to model it and attempt to apply it. I know I am learning that everyone has a story that ultimately promotes and protects their self interest. The opportunity is that Christ calls us not to protect or promote ourselves but if anything to lay our lives down so others can hear and see the gospel lived out. I probably will pour concrete early again but will ask the neighbor without assuming it won’t matter. I know that I will be in the middle of lots more fights between both adults and teens. This can be hazardous to my well-being but it is worth it to see the gospel rock the world of those that live in South Phoenix. My God be gloried both through my blunders but more so through my actively living out the gospel.


Saturday, August 1, 2009

The Battle

The Battle

I know that when we first moved into the ‘hood’ or inner city that I had this vague notion that the gospel was like some magic pill that when given out generously would bring out about instant transformation. Little did I know that after living here for 2 years I would see that it takes time, prayer, patience, the Spirit at work, huge effort on our part for lives to be turned around and the enemy to be put aside. As I was driving with one of my kids it dawned on me, dah, most of these kids, teens and adults have been raised in a world that is void of fathers and a real understanding of Jesus Christ and God. No wonder they are at war for their own turf and identity.

I took a group of teens skating from our different projects we are doing and found myself in the middle of a catfight between two gals. The challenge is that I really like both of these girls. I didn’t see the initial foray between these two but intervened in the middle of shouts and almost punches being exchanged. The good thing was that the rink was loud enough that only a few noticed the incident. I feebly attempted to talk with each of the gals to explain that it was much wiser to walk away and forgive then to exchange blows. I don’t think I got my point across. What I did realize was that I had spent enough time with both of them that they understood what I was saying but it was just that they had been taught from birth to not walk away from a fight unless they won. I was promoting losing and not worrying about what the original point of the battle was about. Yeah, they have been told two wrongs never make a right but to win feels so good.

I have spent a lot of time over the last three years thinking through and praying about reconciliation, grace and mercy. As I dialogued with the one gal as we were driving it was easy to discuss this when you aren’t in the middle of a battle over who is the queen bee. I am learning that God’s call in my life is to be an ambassador who continues to throw out at everyone the invitation to be reconciled to God and one another. This is something that is easy to say but requires a supernatural act of God for it to become a reality. The reality is that few want to be broken or humbled whether you live in yuppies’ suburban neighborhoods or in the urban center. I too am rebellious when someone tells me that I’ve got it all wrong. It is real work to stand up against the evil that is so prevalent because it is much easier to just walk away and let the enemy win.

I do sense that both Jesus and Paul had their moments when they were frustrated with their disciples and were ready to ‘shoot’ them for being so ‘brain dead’. I continually need the reminder that I am not any different from anyone else when it comes to understanding grace and then being one who hands out grace and mercy instead of wanting to get even. I am afraid that I will be in the middle of many more cat or dog fights both between youth and also adults. I am learning that listening and being around people helps you understand their circumstances and also gives you opportunity to love them right where they are.