Thursday, February 24, 2011

Ahhhh Help!

Over the last six months we have had a brother and sister live with us who in all practical sense are homeless. Their mom has had them live with friends and relatives as she floats between the houses of friends. The mom is well intentioned in looking for work but there always seems to be something that causes tension, stress or drama that sees her lose her job before she is established. So this family has a history of being in an apartment for a few months, losing it and then living with a variety of friends. The challenge is that the friends the mom has are marginal types who usually are drug users. Regardless of the mom’s intentions in this situation she ends up drawn into the party scene especially over the weekends.

So now you have the Bennett’s wanting to bring stability to these two teens, knowing that they will end up in drug houses or be around violence. I know that I don’t want to enable the mom to continue her ‘wacked’ out lifestyle but I also don’t want her teens to crash and burn. So what do you do? We have attempted over the last 4 years to partner with this mom in getting her back on track. The sad reality is that she if anything continues to make horrible choices that impact her and her teens.

We were excited when the mom landed a great job that had real potential making enough money that it would actually provide for an apartment with out any governmental assistance. It was under this framework that we were willing to house, feed, provide transportation and support to her teens over a significant amount of time. The challenge now is that she has made poor choice, after poor choice and now is unemployed again. I am at a conference in Dallas on Monday and Tuesday this last week. I get a text from my wife saying that the mom is at the house totally unglued because her live in boy friend who was supposed to help pay for the rent of the new place had beaten her and tried to strangle her. She had tried kicking him out of the apartment with on success and then called the police. The end result was that she didn’t go to work and got a restraining order, which ultimately means she got fired. Ahhhh!

I ask one of her teens to call her and find out what is happening. The mom has this habitat of only checking in on her teens a few times a week. As typical the mom rails on her daughter for even asking the obvious question. Her usual response is that this is none of your business. She tells her teen that she needs to focus on school and leave the adult stuff to her. The challenge with this is that now both teens are burnt out with moms ongoing drama of losing jobs, having bad boyfriends and leaving them hung out on their own.

I am ready to sit the mom down and give her the ultimate talk on what type of parent are you?? How can you continue to hurt your teens, who you say you love but seem to have little ‘brain power’ to make wise decisions. How can you continue to hang out with friends that are getting high, who get you off track? Don’t you feel guilty a little for driving around with your boyfriend, who changes every weekend and giving your teens the typical line that you don’t have gas money. I know that if I give the tough love lecture that she will disappear with her teens who will end up living between friend’s homes or again left while mom plays.

We continue to dialogue with the teens about life choices, staying focused and choosing to rise above the drama. The unfortunate reality is that both teens are ‘bombing’ out at school. They are now at a point where they are exhausted with their mom’s drama. They are old enough that they can’t stand by and not say anything. The difficulty is that the mom doesn’t want to hear it from them. The son is old enough he could get a job and move out if possible. Yet, he lives in a fantasy world where he believes that his dancing or jerking will bring him fortunes via You Tube. The sister is attending a charter school this is way below her academic ability yet; she is failing at a few classes. She has become embittered and reflects her mom’s brazen attitude.

This is a mess that I truly want God to intersect in the right way. I don’t want to have these two teens end up collateral damage from their mom’s out there life style. Yet, after being around them for four years I don’t see the mom changing at all and see the only way that the mom will come around is when she totally crashes and burns. Is it ok to let to put the kids out in the cold, while the mom figures out life via the school of hard knocks or in this situation with boyfriends that strangle her?

My only resolve is to trust in the Lord with all of my heart. Ask for His direction, protection, wisdom and courage to face the mom and the evil one in this world.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Drugs - to do or not to do?

Last night in our teen dinner and discussion group we talked about drugs. It was amazing how quickly all of the youth hollered out that they weren’t going to do drugs or smoke. I know that many of these kids come out of homes where their parents and relatives do drugs. The topic of discussion was generated because of finding a bag of some type of cloves or spices in a little bag hidden behind our little trash in the downstairs bathroom.

As I am driving around picking up youth for our dinner and discussion it was interesting that a couple of the girls are in the same class where a few of their fellow students were suspended for having pot on them. One of their fellow students had ‘ratted’ these guys out. We talked a little about when it is ok to be a snitch. It was good that all of them agreed that snitched on someone with drugs or a weapon was a good thing.

The key of the discussion was why do people do drugs? What has to happen in order for that person to stop using drugs? It was clear that all of these students were around family and friends who are hooked on drugs and know how difficult it is to change courses in life. One of the kids who lives in this type of environment said the only way to kick a bad habit is by having a good habit to replace it. WOW! Way to go man!

As we talked, joked, laughed and also showed concern for those who are hooked it was clear that this was an important topic of conversation. We talked about how choices in life do have consequences that impact not only us but also those we love the most. We talked about a teen that had been in our group that just had a baby. The implications of being a 15year old mom are huge.

The unfortunate reality is that there will be like 2-3 kids in this group of 20 last night whose lives will be marred by drugs. A few of these kids have dads in prison for selling drugs and so they know first hand what can happen. I shared a little of my history with a few friends who did drugs in high school that OD. The real message, which isn’t as easy to comprehend, is that God made our incredible bodies and that we are called to care for them, nurture them to ultimately give God the attention, honor and thanks for our lives.

So as we finished up it isn’t easy to know how to help these teens stay on the right path. Everything around us pulls us into the drugs, hip-hop, rap and sex culture. My hope is that having open discussions with God at the center of what we say will draw these teens back to the ones who can help them stay on track.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Pleasant Surprises

Yesterday I spent most of the morning at a Social Security Office trying to get my dad’s Medicare sorted out. I am a little frustrated with how the system works and how you get down to the real facts to answer important questions about care for seniors. As I will say to most that there are never any coincidences in life or accidents. So after I talk to the initial person I find out that I was going down the wrong path to get my dad’s Medicare fixed.

I end up waiting for about thirty minutes in a large waiting area where they have windows where some staff helps you or you go into the back room, which obviously are little cubicles where you get help. Eventually my dad’s name is called and I end up with a middle aged Hispanic gentleman by the name of Victor. As we begin our work I start sharing with him what I do and he allows me to have a little window into his work, which is mostly with welfare recipients. He shares how he has raised his daughter’s son and what are some experiences for him in the real world. So I begin to share what we are doing with our youth, neighborhood and seniors.

As we talk I ask what church he attends and he mentions one of the larger churches in Mesa. As we are begin talking about his grandson he blurts out that he doesn’t believe in God. He goes on to mention his experiences in Vietnam and how that had hardened him to the church and his ability to believe. So this began a great intro to talking about why we had been connected for helping my dad. He was very open to listening and talking about his present church experience. He was definitely looking for a real friendship to help him understand the gospel. He made an interesting comment that his grandson just recently told him he didn’t believe in God but in evolution instead. So for the next 20 minutes we talked about life issues, God, church and helping people.

I invited Victor and his grandson to our painting project on Saturday. I hope he will come. Never the less I will see Victor again because of his interest in helping my dad’s situation. So each day I end up with new contacts and opportunities to talk with others the work we are doing and the gospel.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Making Up is Hard to Do!

I have an interesting life in that I relate back to a very diverse community of individuals. I can be talking to one of my church partners who lives in Scottsdale and then the next minute be relating back to a young mom on welfare who is facing a court sentencing. I am blessed to have friends who are behind the scene community activists. I am spoiled to have a few grandmas who are adventurous and even come with us on snow trips or hang out at my house in the midst of a loud superbowl party where you here yellow and black being screamed out.

I also live in a world where feelings are worn out in the open and kids, teens and adults act on things that ultimately can bring hurt and pain to others. I have watched fights erupt over stray dogs, someone being called chicken legs or being accused of being racist by wiping my hands off after shaking the hands of an African American aunt of one of my teens. I tire of being judged for something crazy and then the end result is that one of my ‘kids’ can no longer attend our events or be part of our family.

I have been around people with real life issues that few have the ability to understand and forget trying to help or love on. I am beginning to see that reconciliation and making amends is easy to verbalize but almost impossible to pull off. I totally believe that unless God is part of this type of scenario it is not going to happen. I have little desire to play the game of armchair shrink. I know my tendency is to dive into almost anything. I am seeing my limits and realization that there are some settings that are best left alone and humbly confession that this isn’t for me.

I was born into the hippy drug era of the 60’s. I had a little exposure to the impact of excessive life choices. I did drugs for a short time but have a brother that was ‘sucked’ into the pot world and have seen the results of trying to walk away from addictive situations. So I am not a stranger to being around people that are on the edge. This isn’t to say that I understand them or can relate to them but desire to be available to listen and learn together.

I am learning that it is ok to say no at times to people who I don’t have the emotional energy to weather. This is tough for me to do but I am discovering that it is wise at times and spiritually healthy to let go. So as I go to a breakfast to make amends with someone I don’t understand I will again me reminded how life is a gift from God and that ultimately only our Heavenly Father is the one who mends, restores and reconciles relationships.

Monday, February 7, 2011

People are People?

I know that my wife thinks I plan too much at the same time and at times she is totally correct. We did the snow trip on Saturday and it just turned out that it was also the Superbowl the following Sunday. Do you do our usual bbq at our house and not do church? We were also going to invite the Hispanic Church family to join us. Yeah, I was crazy but it was worth it. It was tragic that my team, the Steelers, didn’t win. I will have to pay my bets off between Chansey and Matthew.

The real point of this is to think a little about having a diverse group over at my house and just watching how everyone interacts. I didn’t know whether Pastor Pablo might react to some watching the Football Game. Yet, I know that even in Lupe’s home he’ll watch movies of soccer games. So we went from having just a few at our house to all of a sudden having like 40 plus. We were blessed to have a large variety of food to offer our guests. It was fascinating to watch a couple of the Hispanic moms interact with one of my African American Grandmas, Doris. Then there was Terrance trying to talk with these moms. It was fun watching everyone connect in a very unlikely setting.

It is exciting and scary to see something I have prayed about over the last four years start to unfold. Is it really possible for Mexicans, Blacks and Whites to hang out together, work together and worship together? I am use to the drama of what happens when everyone is out only for themselves. We are slowly learning how to live better together. It was great hearing everyone’s story and ultimately see that we have lots in common. Our struggles are usual the same, family, money, work, church and the brokenness around us.

I was concerned that the loudness of the teens watching the game would overwhelm some but we ended up eating outside and had a craft table for some of the kids. I know that Pastor Pablo doesn’t understand how I am able to do what I do. So I tried to explain how my network of friends, family and churches enable us, at least at present to make New City – Barrio Nuevo happen. I explained that if I have to get a job and juggle everything I would do that. It is easy for me to say this but I end up job hunting or going back to doing concrete I am up for it.

It was fun watching our Terrance attempt to start a fire. I took over for a few minutes to help him understand that you just didn’t throw all of the logs into the fire pit on top of each other and expect one match to start them. So we wadded up newspaper, put the logs into a tepee and then lit the paper. It wasn’t too long before he was dancing on the fire pit ring with Toniel. Pastor Pablo had to leave to get his son who was working. His wife and another friend chose to help in the kitchen so we talked a little bit more. We walk them out to their large SUV, which Anne was coveting and said our good nights or Buenos Noches.

This was a great night that brought an end to our long but worthwhile weekend. It was great being able to continue to make our friendship with Pastor Pablo a success and see God build trust with people that normally wouldn’t be friends and definitely wouldn’t be working together. I hope and pray that we grow together in our adventure of seeing the kingdom of God unfold where the gospel isn’t about whether you are white, black or brown. I know that in heaven Jesus isn’t going to look like me.

A Snow Day Without Snow?

It is always interesting to see how the best plans, even in advance, work out. We had planned for a couple of months to go to the snow in the beginning of February. It has been extremely cold all of the US the last couple of months so one would assume that Flagstaff at close to 8,000 feet elevation would have now all over the place. I was in the process this last week of ‘nailing’ down who was driving and how many are going. It is not a good thing to have an extra 10 teens show up and realize that we don’t have enough car space.

The night before we are going to leave I go online to check out the place we are going which is great for family groups. So I go to Winged Mountain’s site and see that it has been closed for a few weeks. OOH so now what? I also go back and google other potential places outside of Flagstaff. There are a couple that come up just a few minutes from our normal place.

The kids have been behaved fairly well during the first hour. We pull off at the usual place to get a banio break and get hyped up with McDonalds. The kids are starting to ask, “Where is the snow?” I keep reminding them that we will soon be at a high elevation and there will be plenty of snow. (I did know at this point that there would be much snow on the group until we arrived in Flagstaff.

As usual I take a bunch of pictures with the different kids as we are driving, fueling and enjoying the ride. It is always interesting to listen to the conversation taking place between the teens in our group. It ranges from what is happening at home, school, with us or their shopping aspirations. Donisah, who is celebrating her 11th birthday, is riding shot gun. This is usually the fought over seat even preferred to the back seat. After about an hour on the road she is sawing logs and totally out of it. Once she does wake up she is blabbing about it being her birthday. I don’t make any concessions about getting anything, I should have but didn’t.

As we arrive in Flagstaff we stop at the Texico Station to gas up and let some fuel up. The air is fresh and cold and definitely different from the Phoenix area. We think it is cold when it is 50 out. We talk to the cashier to see what alternatives there happen to be next to Winged Mountain? She does give a couple of suggestions which are not to far away. We get back on the road and drive through Flag which is always like venturing back into hippy land for me. We eventually get close to Winged Mountain exit only to see it all blocked off and a large sign saying CLOSED. Ok, now what do I do that it is really not open? We drive down the road another 5 miles and see a couple of spots with lots of cars pulled off to the side of the road. I see one but don’t pull off quick enough so we drive down to the Nordic Center, which is for cross country skiing.

We make a u turn in the parking lot and all of the cars follow and we go back to the off road destination. There is some mud and lots of snow around so why not pull off. We get all of the cars next to each other and have to maneuver the snow and mud. We set up ‘camp’ and have the table, chairs, blankets, igloos, ice chests and food ready for everyone. We also start the project of inflating the inner tubes which should provide some fun for the kids. My Hispanic moms/grandmas all hang out around the eating area. All of them are bundled in layers and then also put the blankets on them. Then there is Doris, my African American painting grandma, who would rather stand and walk around to stay warm. So for the next 3 hours we enjoy just hanging out, eating, talking, cleaning up trash and eating. The usual happens, most of the teens and kids have fun playing in the snow. There is always a few who get into some heated discussion or argument. The good thing no one really blew up and we had a good time.

I had my questions about having one of the teen guys come who had just had a cast put on his ankle. So here is Jalil trying to keep a trash back on his foot so it wouldn’t get wet. This didn’t work at all so he gave up and just walked around in the snow and mud. I am assuming his Grandma probably jumped on him that night we returned.

I know that some times the destination on a trip isn’t that big of a deal but the journey itself is much more interesting and adventurous. We start cleaning up and slowing the group returns and the obvious happens all of the girls need to use the bathroom. The guys have been walking out into the trees. So we quickly load back up and return to our Wendy’s and Texico Station. Everyone empties out , I get a couple of the dollar burgers and drinks for Anne and myself. No its time for the ride home which is always faster because we are going downhill and everyone is tried so there is less likelihood that drama will unfold.

We return safely at a good time with everyone in one piece. I drop off most of the kids but the ones that live close to me get the privilege of helping clean out the van. I think the expression was, “How could it be this dirty!!! We just cleaned it out a couple of weeks ago and it was still clean. Now the group does get it together and empty all of the McDonald’s bags, cups and misc candy wrappers. I bring over the big trash can, lend one of the broken broom, everyone gets down and dirty and the van is cleaned in 15 minutes. Now it is time to go home, we have to still clean up the rest of the mess, fed the dogs and make sure the house is still in one peace after leaving Terrance there the whole day by himself.

I am reminded that you don’t need to have lots of snow to have a great day. Actually just being with family, friends and even old people, I grew a little tired of Jalil, the cripple, reminding me that I was the old man, it was a great outing. I was blessed that Roger, another old man, concurred with me that it was a good trip even if the snow wasn’t measured by feet but instead by inches.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

New Friends

It is always interesting to see who God brings across my path week to week. One of my goals is to go back to my significant volunteers and hear their stories. Yeah, it takes time and intentionality in order for this to happen. So as I have reconnected with some friends now I hear and see their lives unfold before me.

I know that reconnecting with a family from a partner church has led to our being able to have them put together for us a great marketing tool to be used to further our work. So as I meet my friend, who is a geologist, I see he has a jacket that has my college town written on it, which is way too cool. As we sit and listen to each other I begin the journey of asking questions to get at his heart and passion. Yes, this guy is a MIT grad and has a passion for something that most of us wouldn’t even understand without lots of explanation.

What attracted me to Mike were his twins, his smile and willingness to get ‘dirty’. He has helped paint probably 5 houses over the last year or so. He has brought teens from his new church. As I listened to his story between his college, grad school and now professional life it was clear he loved what he was doing and had worked at the same company for a long time. I listened to the stories around his sons, who are seniors and in college. Mike had a couple of wow type stories that truly showed his openness to see unusual things happen.

I am learning that as long as I am open to talking, smiling, listening that God will lead others across my path. Last night after tutoring I have dropped off most of our group but make a detour by the local hot dog stand. It is literally freezing outside with a wind that just cuts through all of your clothing. The Hispanic mom who does the stand has on her parka and gloves. As I am attempting to tell her our order a Hispanic man pulls up and asks if I need his help to translate. Obvious I can always use some help. So we talk a little and I discover he works for a radio station and had been a contractor and lives a few blocks away from our South Ranch Community. I will know e-mail him and connect.

I just left meeting Mrs. Thelma White who is now one of our newest painting grandmas. She is an amazing lady with a great story of making in spite of her husband leaving her with 3 young kids. She is a believer who isn’t ashamed of the gospel. Another new friend who will help us continue to impact our South Phoenix neighborhoods. She also helped me with her neighbor, Velma, who is in the ER with some health issues, whose house we will also paint in a couple of weeks.

New friends are a vital part of life’s journey. I can’t imagine what would happen if I stayed home all of the time and sat behind my laptop. Yeah, each morning I get up real early to read and write at Starbucks. I do tell my ‘kidz’ that the early bird does catch the worm and then when you snooze you will lose.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011


Last night we had our normal Tuesday night dinner and discussion. After having spent most of the day at a JV Court and still hurting from the trauma of being around many who are fatherless or have fathers who aren’t there I sensed we had to talk about the impact this has on everyone. I was rather shocked when I asked the group to raise their hands of those who didn’t have a dad. Most of the hands went up and then the remainder was still made up of a few that had dads but they weren’t there for the family.

What is the impact of the fatherless generation being raised? I asked how does it make you feel when you know that your dad doesn’t care? Hands shot up quickly! Voices blurted, hurt, upset, mad, angry and the complaints poured out. I also asked how does this effect your view of men? The answers that came out were interesting. One of the girls, new to the group, shared that her mom had told her that being fatherless pushes you into having a boyfriend too soon where you end up throwing yourself at him.

We talked about the impact of being a broken person. We talked about the spiritual dynamics of putting back together failed relationships. The obvious discussion was how could you have a relationship with someone who isn’t interested? Why should I reach back to someone who isn’t there? Why should I act like an adult when my father doesn’t care? All of the responses were totally true from a human perspective. How can I be motivated to love someone who has always ‘stiffed’ me or purposely left me out? Isn’t it the dad’s responsibility to do something and not mine?

I asked the group what are some things that they could do to get on the road to mending the broken relationship? Simple responses, try, don’t give up, be persistent, care when it hurts, listen and most of all ask for help and let someone else know how you are feeling. The clear message that came across was everyone is hurting from these failed relationships but no one wants to talk about it. They have been raised to cover up for their deadbeat dads.

As I sat there and listened it struck me that I didn’t have a clue what it would be like to be raised without my dad. I shared a couple of silly stories about doing crazy rebellious stuff against my dad. I was totally selfish as a teen and didn’t realize the impact I probably had on my dad. The amazing story for me was that my dad was always there for me regardless of how I treated him. Few of these teens will ever have this experience.

My hope is that regardless of what their dads did to them that they would be different as they grow up. Jesus does have a way of impacting a person’s life where he will take the broken pieces to a person’s life and put them back together. Anne has this ancient Ostrich egg from Ethiopia. I asked if it would be possible to piece this egg back together after I tossed it on the floor. The quick response was yeah you could piece it back together but it would never look the same. Yeah, God can put the pieces back together but they won’t look the same and that is ok. God does have a special heart for the fatherless.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Real Punishment?

I spent most of the morning till lunch with one of our teens. We were in a JV Court setting where he was being given some type of diversion program for skateboarding on school property after hours. I went along to help drive and be a support for his mom who doesn't speak much English. The PO was interesting in that he wanted to know about the family life more then whether Stick Boy was good in school, etc... I am assuming because I was with him the PO knew that he had some support behind him. It was clear that the dad didn't have anything to do with the mom or the kids, especially Stick Boy. We had a translator via the phone who helped the PO get his requests across. The PO asked numerous times about the dad and why Stick didn't like to talk with him and slowly it came out that the dad worked and that was his contribution to the family. The mom is really nice, also works outside the home and parents the three kids at home. As the PO is about to give Stick his assignment it hit me that he was going to ask for him and his dad to spend time together. The PO explains that this is a contract that all of the family has to help accomplish. Stick knew that his other friends had received 30 hours of community service to be done in 2 months. The PO proceeds to say that he wanted Stick and his dad to do 20 hours of walking together time. He went on and explained what that meant. I could see both in Stick and his mom's eyes that this was like the worse punishment in the world. I quickly asked what happened if the father wasn't complaint and he responded that nothing would happen to Stick but the dad would be confronted eventually.

As we walked away it struck me that I had become Stick's real father and that those involved with New City - Barrio are his other group of mom & dad's. Stick Boy, Josue, is in a tough situation with a dad who is there but not there. I am thankful that we have been there for Josue and now for his mom. I know that he at times hasn't been the most focused of our group but he is changing and becoming someone who does care and has stood up to become part of the leadership team. (They helped hand out the food boxes last Saturday.)

I came home almost in tears. I know that I don’t have the best relationship with my son or father but never in a million years would I consider spending time with them a punishment. Yet, as the PO explained the diversion program for this teen it really was the best remedy for a broken relationship. I pray that this will help enable them to become closer and learn to listen to one another. I can remember when my long hair got in the way of my relationship with my dad. Much as I know that having a car payment in on time became the nemesis for my son and me. Ultimately I hope reconciliation and the practical outflow, listening, learning and forgiving will become more part of what we do each day. I don’t necessarily cherish going to JV Court but in this case it helped me enter into someone else’s world and have a better understanding of what it means to be a father, a friend to those who have be left out and forgotten.

Amazing Sunday

It will be difficult to describe this last Sunday experience of worship for a few from New City – Barrio Nuevo. We are partnering with Pastor Pablo who lives in our South Ranch Habitat Community. We have become friends and partners in the last couple of months. He has being doing church for over 12 years in our community. His group is fortunate to meet in a small African American Church where they allow them to use one of their small buildings to do their worship. They love their little building, which they have spent much time decorating and arranging.

Pablo and I meet every other week and talk about what we can do together. I have an extra laptop, which I am lending him. This way he has the means to do power point (Keynote) on his wall, which will help with reading Scripture together and also doing songs. We have shown a few of our video clips about different projects we are doing. I know that he is excited to have new faces in church on Sunday and the possibility of helping them grow and become more open to having different people participate who don’t speak Spanish.

This last Sunday I decided that we would attend Pastor Pablo’s church in the morning and assist with worship and also attend Terrance’s church, who is a college student that lives with us. I knew that we would end up spending at least five hours in church that day. I know that our teens and adults attending with us had little idea that this would be a marathon day with a vast array of worship expressions.

Pastor Pablo’s church sings in the ‘typical’ Hispanic style chorritos that are short choruses that are very easy to clap your hands and if the words are on the wall attempt to sing along. Pablo was great to have George, a member of his church, translate for us. I was also given many opportunities during the service to share and have what I said be translated into Spanish. It was exciting to be so warmly received by Pastor Pablo and his group. We easily doubled the size of his church that morning. The service lasted for over two hours. Pastor Pablo doesn’t preach but goes through a lesson guide that has an ongoing theme with Scripture references and questions. He has a few in the church read these passages and questions. He then explains in more detail the message and point of the lesson.

Pastor Pablo has been amazing to allow me to help with the service and actually lead songs in English, read Scripture and pray with him. The service finished with our group still awake and blessed to be given a subway sandwich lunch made by Fry’s. This was an amazing gift, which everyone enjoyed. We will have Pablo’s group come to my house on Sunday for a barbecue and also display a similar open door with hospitality. The worship style was lively with lots of hand clapping and good singing.

I knew that going to Terrance’s church would be another outside of the box experience for our whole group. We arrived on time, which meant we were early. This is a ‘Black’ church where I knew we would be the only non-Blacks in the group that night. They do more of a testimonial type of service at night. This means that individuals from the church stand up and share, sing or pray for about an hour or so. This evening the youth choir was going to sing and help lead. It is difficult to describe the energy and decibel level of this church. The worship leader, George, a good friend of Terrance, is an incredible vocalist who is more than able to sing ‘off the cuff’ with anyone in the church. The keyboardist is also amazing in that he plays by ‘ear’ and is able to blend with almost anyone who just starts singing. It was almost as if anyone who stood up to share was expected to also give forth with song. Most of those who sang were capable and just a few were vocally challenged.

I could tell that this was going to be a long service because it was already past 6:00 and we hadn’t even gotten to the offering or sermon. I have some experience with being around charismatics and Pentecostals so I wasn’t totally surprised when they had a time for the Spirit to freely direct the service. What I hadn’t expected was to have a handful of individuals, both young and old, run around the sanctuary dancing themselves into a frenzy. I loved the music and energy of what was taking place. I could tell for a few this was totally outside their experience. I was attempting to keep my ‘White’ educated notion of Christianity in check so I wouldn’t react to what was happening. After about 20 minutes of Holy Spirit time we transitioned into the offering and the sermon. At this juncture I knew this would be closer to a 2.5 hours service. The visiting pastor who preached did an excellent exposition of Eph. 6:11. This was not your typical scream and sing type of sermon. It had great content and a smooth delivery.

What amazed me again was how quickly this church embraced us as a partner church. Pastor Eddings went out of his way to give both Anne and I an opportunity to speak to the church. They prayed for us, applauded God’s work we are doing and give an overwhelming sense of love. Walking away everyone shaked our hands, gave us hugs and showered out God’s blessings. One of our painting grandpas, Earl, showed up at the last part of the service. He was shocked to see me much as I was to see him. As we walked away it was again like being in a different country or world.

We returned to the Flores house to enjoy some food prepared by Lydia, Joe’s mom or Grandma as we call her. Everyone was anxious to eat and enjoy something before having to go home and get to bed. I know that it would be easy to judge and be critical of both worship experiences. My prayer was to go with an open heart and mind and let the Spirit of God touch and mold our group. This is my heart to be able to worship and work in both cultural contexts. I know that it is easy to say all of this but another thing to actually do it. I got a glimpse that day of what heaven will be like between different languages spoken, different types of songs sung and expressions of worship.

One of the questions, which I am considering, is whether God wants us to step out of our cultural preferences. If you are a Presbyterian you pride yourself on order, doctrinal integrity and singing a certain type of hymns or songs. Whereas if I am coming out of the Black Pentecostal setting I still have a ‘formal’ side to church but have a much more opened ended approach to what can happen at church. My expectations are for God to move in powerful ways which become the norm. I am not surprised when I see someone speak in tongues, dance in the Spirit or hear expressions of God’s directives. I know that meeting in a Hispanic Church I am going to be challenged by the language barrier. I know that in both of these contexts I will love clapping to the music or songs being sung. I won’t know the words but will sense God at work. It is possible, even in Phoenix, to be a global Christian that is able to have a glimpse of the future kingdom expression of worship. I am so thankful that God isn't White, Black, Brown or Red but transcends culture and race!