Monday, December 09, 2013

Food Pantry Paradigm Shift

Over the last couple of years, we have had the distinct pleasure of learning a great deal about the operations of food rescue programs and food pantries. And, we have been fortunate to work alongside some people with sincere hearts for ministry and yet are completely unconstrained by conventional wisdom for how a food pantry should be operated. Because of their heart for the families they serve, they have continued to ask the hard questions: Why has it always been done that way? How can we better serve these families? How do we need to change how we operate to better serve these families long-term? How can we equip these families to re-establish their independence?

Steve and Suellen Daniels at Meals by Grace identified a group of families that sincerely needed food assistance. They put together meals for the families and invited them to come by and pick them up. When several families did show up for the food, they asked why not. A social worker assisting them provided the answer. Those families did not own a car. They had no way to come pick up the food. Their response? This is a broken model. Let's come up with a solution that meets their needs. Now, they prepare a hot meal and a weeks worth of groceries for the families they serve and then deliver them to their homes. This also provides the volunteers an opportunity to interact with the families in their homes, and they can observe other needs the family may have. They notice an infant in the house - they probably need diapers and formula. Discussions begin. One family mentioned they were struggling accepting food, but the father was having trouble getting a job. He was a construction worker but did not own any steel-toed boots. Everywhere he had applied required steel-toed boots. They provided the family food, secured the father a pair of steel-toed boots, and helped the family restore their independence and dignity. They tailor the weekly groceries to each families specific size and needs. Every time someone talks to me about starting a food pantry, I tell them they need to volunteer at Meals by Grace and see their model in action.

For years, we have heard about well meaning churches requiring needy families to attend a service before receiving assistance. And, honestly, I have always thought that was backwards. I also could never find where that was scriptural. Why not just help the hurting families that are in front of you? Greater Heights Baptist Church launched the John 6:35 food pantry this year, and we pledged our assistance in any way we could help. We provided suggestions including contact information for the folks at Meals by Grace, local social workers, and the food bank. We recommended they acquire refrigerators and freezers, so that we could provide them perishables and set them up with bread deliveries. After the canned good drive at the local Fair, we delivered them a pallet of canned goods, and they were up and running. They have since began offering financial management classes and assisting with job placement. What have they seen since they began providing food to struggling families in the community with no strings attached? They have seen a steady increase in attendance, families going back to work, and regaining their independence. That is right. A church that did not fret over the numbers! They just set out doing what they believed they were commissioned to do - help struggling families.

All the stuff we learned in school about the hierarchy of needs - it is true. Physical needs usually are accompanied with emotional needs, and spiritual needs. But you cannot start trying to address someone's spiritual and emotional issues when they are starving. If they have not eaten in four days, they are not going to be able to pay any attention in an hour long church service waiting to fill their bellies. So, they got it right. Feed them. Love on them. Demonstrate the love God has shown in our lives. Provide the rest when they are ready.

These are just two of the food pantries that Feed Forsyth provides food, but their stories are very encouraging. It is a real pleasure to serve our community alongside these kinds of ministries.

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Book Review: The Slaves Have Names: Ancestors Of My Home

Book Review: The Slaves Have Names: Ancestors Of My Home by Andi Cumbo-Floyd 


They were the nameless and faceless people who served the General, built the plantation houses and barns, who tended to the horses and the fields, and who nursed the plantation owners children. They were the people who were enslaved at Bremo plantation in Virginia. When a white woman, Andi begins to study the history of Bremo, where she was raised, she begins to learn not only the names of the people buried in the graveyard on the land where she grew up, but she learns of their lives. Her research allows her to connect to the descendants of the former slaves and share with them about their ancestors.

I found this to be a very emotionally moving look at the history of slavery in the United States. I recommend it to anyone willing to take a look at the underbelly of the history of our country.

Friday, November 29, 2013

The Struggle

We rise before the sun. I check the weather on my phone, its 24F outside. I shiver at the thought and dig out a thermal undershirt, fleece skull cap, gloves and jacket. Without much conversation, we crawl in the car and drive to a desolate parking lot. I crank the old diesel box van and it clatters to life. A few minutes of window scraping, and we are off.

After what seems an arduous journey that's actually a 15 minute drive, we pull into a dark parking lot where a couple people are setting out cones and erecting a finish line structure for the brave soles that will run in this cold. "Crazy people", I think to myself as we unload our tent, tables, and a pallet of cardboard boxes.


Volunteers arrive and begin assembling boxes in the cold darkness. As the sun begins to rise, I see more bodies begin to arrive and race registration begins to setup inside the warm building. I walk in and see that the early registration the day before has netted about 800 lbs of canned goods. Volunteers load the bags of food into a van and shuttle it out to our tent. We begin unloading the van, unpacking the bags, boxing up the canned goods and stacking the boxes onto a pallet.



630 am arrives with a wave of people wearing brightly colored skin tight running gear carrying bags of canned goods. We move furiously thanking each donor, opening the bags, boxing the food, stacking the boxes.

An older woman approaches with a bag and hands it to me. I thank her and wish her a good run. I set the bag on a table and open it preparing to box the items, but the contents give me pause. Two bottles of water, three diet Cokes, and five bags of Delta complimentary pretzels. I can feel righteous indignation swelling up inside of me. I want to scream. What's the matter with people? This is not anything listed on the list of items needed by the food pantries. I think about the food collection barrel I picked up earlier in the week that had an energy shot and packs of sweet tarts in it. Do these people not understand that we are trying to provide for families that have nothing to eat? Would they really give a starving person an energy shot? Are they so isolated in their shopping mall sized houses and huge BMWs that they cannot fathom someone not eating for days? I want to shake someone.

I draw a breath and contemplate. The lady that handed me the bag was not dressed in the shiny colorful skin tight running gear. She had been wearing older sweats and running shoes. Maybe she had given from what she had. Maybe that was all she had for herself. Who am I to pass judgement. I have not been charged with that task.



We box and stack until 8 am when the race starts. We have filled two pallets with food we can deliver to community food pantries. It's not going to permanently resolve hunger in our community, but it will make a difference for several families over the next several days. I can be thankful that my family does not have to go to bed hungry and that I have been a part of making that difference in someone else's family.

-Peace

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Book Review: UNFINISHED

Book Review: Unfinished: Believing Is Only the Beginning by  Richard Stearns


Richard Sterns throws down the gauntlet in Unfinished. Believing is not enough. It is not OK to become a believer and then live the rest of our lives focused on ourselves. If Jesus meant all that stuff He said that we see in red ink in the New Testament, then becoming a believer and then devising our early retirement in the Bahamas is probably not what He is calling us to do. We are called to be the hands and feet of Jesus. We were commanded to complete the work He started when He walked the earth. Did we somehow miss that part? Many believers wonder when He will return. Sterns suggests that He has not returned because He is waiting for us to complete the work we were tasked to do when He left. 

Over the last two years working in a nonprofit working to help eliminate hunger in our community, I regularly wonder why so many churches and so many believers seem so unconcerned with the suffering in their own communities. I wonder why so many believers are not busy serving in some shape, form, or fashion. As I read this book, it dawned on me. The unengaged believers somehow believe that they have done what is required. They believe they have checked the box. Job done. But as Sterns so clearly points out, believing is just the beginning and there is so much more.

If you are a believer and you do not read another book this year, I strongly suggest I urge you  I DARE you to read this book. And then get the six series DVD set and use it for a small group setting.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

My First Lesson at College



In late August of 1982, I made the four hour drive from my rural hometown (population 5,000) to Statesboro, GA to begin my freshman year at what was then Georgia Southern College - now Georgia Southern University. This was an exciting time that I had anticipated for years - making my break from the watching eyes of a small town, the rule of my parents, and being on my own. I had managed to coast through high school tossing my books in my locker at the end of the day and going fishing on the Flint River or hunting in the woods of South Georgia instead of studying course materials. Being the first in my family, I did not have the advise of anyone in the family of what to expect in the college experience. And, even if I had, I am sure I would have blew it off. Looking back, I can remember my high school guidance counselor cautioning me that I would need to take my college classes more seriously than I had my high school coursework, but I had heard the same advise before going into high school.

Arriving at Georgia Southern was a wonderful experience. In 1982, Southern had its largest freshmen class of its history at the time - 5,000 incoming students. The girl to guy ratio was three to one, and I was determined to find my three. I sat through my classes, and then embarked on finding any and every social activity that was happening. I was having the time of my life. There were gorgeous girls everywhere and always something going on somewhere around the campus.

By the end of the first quarter, I knew I was in trouble but figured I would pull it out by the skin of my teeth like I had always done in high school. But it was not the case. Instead, I garnered an amazing 0.66 grade point average. When I went home for the holidays, my Dad gave me a brief but pointed talk. If I did not start making passing grades, he would cut-off the finances, and I could come home and drive nails. Upon returning to Southern in January, I received an invitation to meet the Dean of the Business School. He and the Assistant Dean played a 15 minute game of "Good Cop/Bad Cop" with the Dean telling me I was about to flunk out of school and the Assistant Dean telling me that I could do this if I applied myself. A few days after this delightful exchange, I received a letter in the mail informing me that my placement exams indicated that I needed Remedial Math and Remedial Composition. Surprising news since I had just flunked a Math and Composition class.

A struggle for survival ensued. I was not sure what I wanted to do for a career, but I was darn certain I did not want to roof house and perform general construction. Applying myself to coursework that did not interest me was painful, but somehow I learned how to study and how to prepare. Unfortunately, during my Sophomore year while still on Academic Probation from the results of my first quarter, one of my professors turned in our grades late. The school computed my grades as if I had made a zero in the class, and the school's computer system suspended me and dropped all of my classes scheduled for the following quarter. I discovered this grand news over the holiday break at home. After several phone calls to the Assistant Dean who had become my assigned Success Counselor, the grades finally got turned in and my status was restored. But they could not or would not reschedule my classes and informed me I would have to try to pick them up in late registration. In my frustration, I informed them that if that was how they were going to treat me after how I had struggled to make the grades and get my GPA up, I would just quit. My last words with the Assistant Dean was that I was never coming back. He suggested I be careful saying what I would never do.

I returned to the campus following Christmas with a U-haul trailer, loaded my possessions and said to hell with college and watched Statesboro get smaller in my rear view mirror. my game plan was to apply for a position with the Georgia State Patrol. I submitted my application and learned I would have to wait until an exam date became available. In the meantime, I began applying for jobs. I quickly discovered that there was not a great market for a high school graduate. After a couple of months, my Dad convinced a manager in Albany to hire me part-time at a Nursery/Landscaping operation. My part-time job began averaging 72 hours a week. I had Tuesdays off. Needless to say, there is not a lot one can do on Tuesdays when everyone your age is either at work or in school.

After three months, I returned to Southern with a renewed interest in obtaining a college education and a higher level of motivation. I did not make the Dean's List and I did not graduate with honors. But, in August 1986, I walked across the stage in the Hanner Fieldhouse in a cap and gown and a pair of Justin cowboy boots and accepted my Bachelors of Business Administration. I learned a great deal in the four years I spent at Southern. Much of what I learned was not in a text book or in a professor's lecture. I learned that I could accomplish anything that I put my mind to and that partial commitment would provide less than ideal results. If I wanted something of real value, I needed to genuinely invest in it or not bother.

Two years ago, I returned to school to acquire my MBA. While the work involved was difficult and the amount of time I had to invest was significant, I graduated with honors - something I am sure would give pause to the former Dean of the Business School at Georgia Southern. The major difference in my Graduate School experience and my Undergraduate experience can be summed up as perspective and dedication. Looking back, I wonder how different my experience at Georgia Southern in the mid 1980's would have been if I had applied the same dedication and devotion.

My late Grandfather used to tell me that if a job was worth doing, it was worth doing well. Unfortunately for me, I had to learn that lesson the hard way. But thankfully, I learned from it and have grown from it. Have you ever failed at something simply because you were partially committed?

Monday, October 28, 2013

Scare the Hell Out of Them?

Every year around Halloween, I start seeing the billboards and yard signs for Hell Houses, Hell' Gates, and other versions of a "Christian" haunted house experience. At some point, some churches decided an effective means of evangelism would be to literally scare the hell out of people. The whole approach reminds me of the travelling evangelist we used to encounter when I was growing up in the 1970's. He was a loud guy who turned red in the face, beating on the pulpit and his Bible, jumping and shouting "Turn or Burn!" and "REPENT!"

OK, so let me just ask you this simple question. Have you ever been scared or threatened into any relationship with anyone that you would want anything to do with in the first place? Yes, we need to understand our sinful nature and that the wages of sin is death. But my experience has been that most folks understand their personal failures. In fact, the majority of people that I have met do not need to be convinced how messed up their lives are. They are quite familiar with it. The reason they do not have a personal relationship with their Creator is not because they are content with their situations. Quite the opposite. The response I regularly receive is something along the lines of this, "God would not want to have a relationship with anyone as screwed up as me. He knows everything and knows the horrible things I have done in my life. There is no way He could love me." They then begin to tell you of their struggles with parents that abandoned them, or spouses that left them. They discuss significant people in their lives that could not love them and draw a seemingly logical conclusion that God could not love them. So does screaming "Turn or Burn" or "Repent" in their faces draw them to establishing a relationship with God? Would a depiction of one's interpretation of what eternal suffering might be like suddenly be the break-thru that causes them to surrender their control of their life to God?

Maybe the folks throwing these huge productions have different encounters than I have, but I have spent more time trying to get people to accept and understand that the God that created the universe and set the Earth spinning in its orbit loves them despite all the mess in their life and wants a personal relationship with them. So, to see if I was missing something, I referred back to what Jesus did while he walked the face of the Earth. Call it my version of WWJD. But do not take my word for it, look it up. John 4:1-26. Jesus meets a Samaritan woman at the well. He begins having a conversation with her. She has had five husbands and at the time of their conversation is shacking up with another man. Think I am joking, go read it! John 4:1-26. Nowhere in the encounter does he tell her what her sin will get her. Then there was the woman brought to him by the Pharisees and teachers of the law because she was caught in the act of adultery in John 8:1-11. Did he begin a long lecture of what the sins were in her life and what Hell would be like? NO! He first told the Pharisees that whoever among them that was sinless could throw the first stone at her. They one by one walked away until it was just Jesus and the woman left by themselves. What did He say to her? He said "Where are they? Has no one condemned you?" "Then neither do I, Go now and sin no more." That is right. Jesus himself told an adulterer he did not condemn her.

Ponder this passage, John 3:17, "For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him." I submit to you that if Jesus himself did not come to the world to condemn folks, that He probably does not want us to condemn folks. I would also submit that if Jesus did not walk the earth trying to scare the hell out of them, we probably should not be trying to either.

Then what should we be doing? Actually Jesus told us in pretty simple terms in John 13:34, "A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another." Hold the phone! That is Jesus' business plan for evangelism? Yup. That is it. Love people. And guess what? It works. I have seen it work in prisons where men with some of the hardest of hearts that thought no one could love them have come to understand that God has not given up on them, because someone decided to love them the way God has loved them. What if we went with that approach?

-Peace

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Stuck Leaders and Navigating Hurdles


OK, I admit it. I have had a cynical view of the millennial generation, the 20-somethings. But a couple of weeks ago, I got a glimpse of a couple hundred millennials that seriously restored my faith in this generation. I was invited to attend a Hive Gathering. In a nutshell, it is a group of a couple hundred people coming together to discuss what their dreams are, and to support them and help them move forward with their endeavor. When I began talking with some of the attendees, I quickly realized that there are a lot of people in this age range that are passionate about improving their communities and their world which was refreshing and encouraging. When I told them about Feed Forsyth, they all seemed to get excited about what we were doing and eager to find how they could help.

The other big discovery for me was that so many of them had great ideas and ambitions but were stuck somewhere in the process. And, for many the sticking point was something on the horizon. I found myself asking, "What can you do today or this week that would move you in the direction you want to go?" On the drive home and over the next few days, the more I thought about those discussions, the more I began to realize that there are many people walking around with a great ambition to make a difference in the world, but stick somewhere along the way. For many of us, we perceive that there is a hurdle on the path of accomplishing a dream or ambition and we are paralyzed by it. But we do not have to throw the dream down and walk away. Instead we need to figure out what we can accomplish that gets us moving towards accomplishing the dream and not concentrate on the upcoming hurdle.

I knew when we launched Feed Forsyth that we would need a refrigerated truck. We did not have the money to go out and buy one. But we did not throw up our hands and say "If only" or "We cannot pursue this". Instead, I created a list of what would need to be accomplished. Things like writing a business plan, writing a case of support, writing a mission statement, writing a purpose, interviewing food pantry managers to determine the best way we could help, assembling a board of directors, filing for incorporation with the state, securing an EIN from the IRS, applying for 501c3 nonprofit status, deciding on a name for the organization, designing a logo, securing a domain name, creating a website, creating a Facebook page, creating a Twitter account, developing my elevator pitch, applying for a business license, etc.

A lot of the items on my list had no related costs. Some did. Some required more money than we had available. So every chance I had some free time, I looked at the list and asked, "What can I accomplish before we have to have a 501c3?", "What can I accomplish before we have to pay to register with the State?", and "What can I accomplish without a refrigerated truck?"

Do you have a dream rattling around in your head, but you have not moved forward do to an impending hurdle? What can you do to move forward before arriving at the hurdle? If the hurdle is at position 26, why not start working through positions 1-25? We started all of the organizing pieces of the puzzle in January of our first year. In May, I found a sandwich restaurant that wanted to donate bread, and I knew of two church food pantries that could use bread. So, I found two volunteers who were willing to pick up bread one day a week from the restaurant and deliver it to one of the two pantries. BOOM! We were doing something. Albeit small, we were collecting and distributing perfectly good bread that would otherwise be thrown in the garbage and delivering it to food pantries that were working to try and meet the demands of struggling families showing up weekly at their doors.

Did we have a refrigerated truck that could haul a couple thousand pounds of food? Nope. Were we accomplishing something worthwhile? You bet! When we got word of a pantry needing frozen turkey and knew where some was that could meet the need, I grabbed a cooler, tossed it in my SUV and made the pickup and delivery. The cost of filing for the 501c3 and the cost of purchasing a refrigerated truck were hurdles. And, I did not have an answer for immediately clearing those hurdles, but there was no reason that we could not move some food.

At the same time, we began volunteering with some of the food pantries we eventually wanted to supply rescued food. By volunteering with the pantries, we saw things first hand and recognized needs we could eventually fill, and we were able to help prepare meals and distribute them. At the same time, the food pantries got to know us and understand our heart for families struggling with hunger. They began to realize that we genuinely wanted to help them accomplish their mission and goal, and that we believed in working together as partners not competitors.

I strongly encourage you to begin considering that dream that has been rattling around in your head and develop a list of things that would need to be accomplished to make it a reality. And then, review the list weekly and ask, "What can I do this week that will move me down the path?" If you are in Atlanta, I strongly recommend attending a Hive Gathering and meet some other leaders. Share your visions and goals and ask, "How can I help?" You just might find a web designer, a graphical artist to design your logo, someone that has filed their own 501c3 application, or someone that can advise you on writing a business plan.

Do NOT stay stuck. Start making forward progress and concentrate of maintaining forward momentum. In racing, as a driver, you quickly learn when you come up on a slower car, your first reaction is NOT to go to the brakes. You instead look for an open lane to move around them while keeping your foot firmly pressed on the accelerator. Maintaining momentum is essential. Do not step on the brake of progress for that hurdle you see coming up in the future. Keep your foot firmly planted on the accelerator and begin looking for an open lane to bypass that hurdle.

Doing SOMETHING, no matter how small, is always better than doing nothing. You might not be able to change the world, this nation, your state, or your city. But you can change your neighborhood. You can help one neighbor. Get started. Do something!

Monday, October 21, 2013

Consuming Bad News



Over the last couple of months, it seems no matter where I turn, there is a steady stream of sad news. During a routine visit to a physician, a high school friend of mine discovered she has a tumor on her lung. She has been a trooper enduring test after test and finally surgery to remove part of her lung. I took a day of vacation to make preparations for the big canned good drive our nonprofit was holding at the local fair. At the end of the day, we drove up to where my SUV was parked to discover someone had run into the passenger door. They did not feel obligated to leave a note and assume responsibility for the damage. The next day, I had my hand squashed between a pallet jack and a slab of concrete.



Later that afternoon while loading supplies in my SUV, we kept hearing sirens. I turned around to discover a neighbor's house was on fire. Fortunately, the family escaped without injury, and the Fire Department got it extinguished before it spread to other homes, but sadly, the family lost their home. A college friend of mine's husband was diagnosed with terminal cancer. And, a friend of mine's daughter was found to have blood clots on her brain causing her severe migraines and excruciating pain. I turn on the radio, read the news at AJC online or USAToday and learn of families devastated by automobile accidents and brutal violence. For almost a month, I have read messages and heard voicemails from community food pantries running out of food.

Through all this, I find myself overwhelmed with sadness and grief and a feeling of being completely powerless to do anything to make a positive difference in the lives of the people involved in all of these situations. I know that God is still in charge and as my heart is breaking for hurting families, I know His is too. I find myself sitting and wondering how do we change the world as we know it. How do we stop the violence in our cities? How do we stop the senseless deaths on our roadways? How do we end the rage that seems so prevalent in our society? How do we end homelessness and childhood hunger?

The Sun came up on Sunday, and we set out to the local fair and the canned good drive we had been planning for two months. As the day progressed, I watched 105 volunteers arrive and work diligently to collect and box canned goods. I watched thousands of local citizens arrive with bags of canned goods to donate to help feed struggling families in our community. When the Sun had set, we had 10 pallets of canned goods (approximately 12, 750 lbs). We woke up early Monday, climbed in the rented truck and began making deliveries to community food pantries. By the time the day was over, we had restocked the shelves of 9 pantries that had been struggling to meet the needs of the families arriving at their doors.



This weekend, my brother called and told me about a malnourished horse that they had rescued and were working to get her fed and healthy. This is the second horse they have taken in, fed, and cared for along with dogs, cats, and squirrels. Are they an organized nonprofit with regular contributors? Not at all. Just a couple of people that saw a need and decided they could step in the gap and make a difference.

I know we have not changed the world in the last two weeks, but we have made a small difference in a hurting world. I pause and think what could happen if everyone looked around them and decided to make a small difference in the lives of those they encounter everyday. I heard Andy Stanley encourage the church last year to do for one what you wish you could do for all. It makes sense to me. You do not have to launch a nonprofit. You do not have to have a significant sum of money. Just be aware of those around you struggling and ask yourself, "What can I do?" Take a hurting friend to dinner and listen to them. Give a cold homeless stranger your jacket. Do something - no matter how small - something is better than nothing.

-Peace

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Reducing SNAP Food Assistance

There has been a lot of talk in the news lately about Congress and State legislatures cutting the funding of the SNAP program (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program). For those of you that might have missed this bit of news, SNAP benefits are scheduled to be reduced $11 a month for a family of one to a reduction of $36 a month for a family of four. All told, SNAP benefits will average under $1.40 a meal. (source: Center on Budget and Policy Priorities)

(Image Credit: Cbpp.org)


This discussion soon turns to the abuses of the system, people needing to work to qualify for assistance, and more. I have been stopped a couple of times over the last few weeks for my thoughts on the situation. While I know there are those who abuse the program, much like I know many people abuse many government programs, I also know that there are a lot of elderly and struggling families that need food assistance. I  also know that when the government reduces SNAP benefits, it sends those who need assistance to the doors of the community food pantries to seek assistance feeding their families. And, I know first hand that many of those food pantries are overwhelmed with requests for food assistance and underwhelmed with resources (i.e. food supply, budget, and volunteers).

Do I see this as a failure of the government? No. Not at all. I never thought it was the government's responsibility to feed hungry families.

Well then who do you think is responsible? That is an easy answer. Take a look at what Jesus taught in Matthew 25:

31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

Jesus called his followers to provide for the poor and hungry. He did not command the government to develop programs from the tax base, He charged his church to love on their communities by providing for the sick and hungry.

Was this something new that Jesus sprung on his followers? No, It even goes further back than Jesus' time. Leviticus discusses feeding the poor:
Leviticus 23: 22 “‘When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Leave them for the poor and for the foreigner residing among you. I am the Lord your God.’”

So why has the church not stepped into the gap and solved this issue? That is a really good question. There are churches that are, but there is a significant percentage of churches that are not. One discussion I heard this week threw me for a real loop. The lady talking was on staff at a large old church in the downtown of a historical community. "We cannot afford to consider feeding the hungry. We can barely pay our utility bills." OK, so where in did Jesus say, "Construct a grand cathedral to me as your first priority. Worry with the needs of the people later"? I have done some research and cannot find anything along those lines. He told the rich young ruler, in Mark 10:21 Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” Does that apply to churches where the congregation has dwindled down to a handful that cannot support the building? Sorry to step on toes, but I believe it does. If the facilities operating costs are preventing a church from providing for the hungry and hurting in their immediate community, I believe they have an obligation to reassess their priorities. Sell that expensive building and find another place to meet. There are congregations all over this country meeting in hotels, theaters, and civic centers.

If you are sitting in a church that is not taking the Matthew 25 charge seriously, you need to ask why. And you need to look around and find a way to get involved. It is not a matter of throwing money at this problem and walking away. These are struggling people with real life stories and real value. They deserve to be loved on the way Christ has loved on the church. There are a lot of ways each of us can help by donating can goods, volunteering to collect food and deliver it to food pantries, serving in a soup kitchen, delivering meals to families that do not have transportation. If you own and/or operate a restaurant, are you participating in the Harvest Program or another Food Rescue program or are you throwing away good food at closing time everyday? Jesus even set the example for food rescue when he spoke to the disciples in John 6:12, 'When they had all had enough to eat, Jesus said to his disciples, "Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted." Can you in good conscious throw away perfectly edible food everyday knowing there are families going to bed without a single meal for the day?

Disagree with me if you will, but I do not believe Jesus called the church to construct majestic cathedrals and turn a blind eye on the hurting and hungry around us. I believe He charged the church and his followers to do good and feed the hungry.

John 21:17 The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my sheep".




Friday, July 12, 2013

Epoch 2013 Nomination




A few weeks I go, I learned that I had been nominated for an Epoch award. If you have not heard of the Epoch awards, they seek to honor the unsung heroes that are quietly working to overcome poverty, drought, HIV/AIDS, sex trafficking, homelessness, and fear. There will be six winners chosen from a plethora of nominees and $50,000 will be awarded among the six winners. I had several reactions to learning of the nomination. First, I was humbled and honored to be in the nominations among the throngs of individuals and ministries. Every time I read the listing of the nominees and the work they are doing, I cannot help but feel like one guy trying to bail the ocean with a spoon. But I also am reminded that when an army of individuals do their part, a great deal of good can be accomplished. I keep getting hung up on the "unsung hero" part of their description, because I do not consider myself to be a hero with what we are doing. The real heroes to me are the volunteers that use their own automobiles every week to pickup bread and bagels and deliver them to the food pantries and residential programs within the community, the volunteers who drive our refrigerated truck to restaurants and big box grocery stores and load box after box of heavy frozen food and then offload them at local ministries, the volunteers that answer our phones, coordinate volunteers and routes each week, the volunteers that fill-in on a moments notice when one of our regular volunteers is sick or out of town, and the people that serve at the food pantries where we deliver the food that prepare it and distribute it to the folks in our community struggling with hunger. Those are the heroes in my eyes.

Second, I thought what a blessing it would be for Feed the Hungry Forsyth to receive some of the $50,000. To date this year, with the one refrigerated truck that we purchased at the end of 2012 and a small army of volunteers, we have collected and distributed 18,000lbs of food to the food pantries and residential programs in the county. We have already begun needing a second truck capable of handling pallets of food, and we are needing to hire a full time truck driver. I pray daily for more volunteers that can commit time to our cause since we cannot afford a full time driver, and I continue to wonder how we can move more food as it continues to become available.

I am grateful their are groups like the numerous generous caring people behind the Epoch Awards that desire to recognize the little people behind the scenes and their desire to shine a light on people working to make a positive difference in the world. And, I pray that everyone nominated benefits from being a part of the process.

Monday, July 01, 2013

Picking up Sea Shells



I have loved the beach as long as I can remember. One of my fondest memories as a small child was
going to Ft. Myers, Florida where my Grandfather retreated in the annual pilgrimage known as the flight of the blue hairs. Grandpa had a boat and loved to fish. I fondly remember the boat had a closed bow where he stored all of the life jackets, and this was where I would crawl up and sleep while the boat was in motion.

In high school, the local Baptist Church youth group held a retreat every Summer at Panama City, and I made sure that my parents signed me up for it. I could not have given two shakes about the roll-a-coaster rides and amusement parks. I just wanted to be on the beach. When I was old enough to drive, I convinced my parents to let me go to the beach with a couple high school friends for Spring Break. While the some of the other kids were trying fake IDs to get into the Red Rooster bar, I was walking the beach - multiple trips a day. During college, I was 60 miles away from Tybee Island and regularly found excuses for day trips.

Not having a lot of money on the majority of these trips to the beach, I had to forgo the jet skis and para sailing, but I did not really mind. Instead, I began picking up sea shells. I know without a doubt that my fascination with sea shells came directly from Grandpa. I still have some of the big Conch shells he collected. Those Conch shells along with starfish, sand dollars, and lamps and glass jars filled with sea shells adorn our home and remind me of the tranquility of the beach even when I am six hours away.

Originally, I took a great deal of care in selecting shells that were perfectly intact and defect free. The amount of shells I discarded back into the rolling foamy tide with a flick of the wrist over 20 years would probably fill a train car. But as I have gotten older, I have noticed a gradual change in my criteria for shell collection. I have noticed that my eyes have started appreciating the beauty of the shells that contain pit marks and scars of the storms they have weathered. They have character. They are not perfect. They have holes. They have broken edges. No two are the same.

As I look at these shells, I see beauty in their imperfections. And I wonder, is this how our God looks at us? He finds the beauty in our imperfections and weaknesses, and through those weaknesses, He is able to use us. Have you ever noticed that when you are struggling through the storms of life, the people you encounter that seem to have perfect lives are of little help in your struggle? Who do you gravitate towards? The people who have the battle scars of the storms they have weathered in their lives - the survivors. So why do we feel so inadequate and ill equipped to serve those hurting around us? We tell ourselves it is because our lives are such a screwed up mess, but the truth is, that is what qualifies us for service. He uses our brokenness as an area of strength.

We should not be amazed or shocked at the realization. After all, He has been choosing the unqualified and broken for years. Remember Moses? He had a stuttering problem. God chose him to lead His people out of Egypt and to speak in the Pharaoh's court. He chose a young shepherd boy to slay a giant that instilled fear in the hearts of trained warriors. He chose Saul, a guy that was running around killing Christians, to spread the Gospel. So, why could He not use you? You with your brokenness, with the scars of weathered storms. You with a past that other struggling people can relate.

I am standing on a beach, listening to the birds and the roar of a mighty ocean, marvelling at the beauty of imperfect shells. And something tells me that He is looking down on us admiring our imperfections and designing ways to use us in other peoples lives.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Twitter: Do Not Throw Out The Baby With The Bath Water

(image source: http://www.spring.org.uk/)

Earlier this week,  I was a part of a conversation regarding Twitter and how it seemed to be getting saturated with promotion and advertising while quality conversations were diminishing. I had been thinking this for a few months, but had been so busy finishing all of the work for graduate school and dealing with the needs of our nonprofit, I had not give it much attention. But the conversation gave me pause to consider that over the last several months I had begun to scroll through what was in my Twitter conversation stream trying to glean out anything of value and skipping the rest. It had gotten to where I was just scrolling and scrolling and scrolling and finding it quite annoying. What had changed? Was Twitter simply not of value anymore? As I began to consider the situation, I began to consider why I had originally begun to use Twitter and what value I had found in it.

As I considered this, I started recalling conversations from Twitter that called me to action. Conversations with people like Kenworth Reeves, Jr. who's motto is "Use your powers for good", Jeff Goins who constantly encourages writers to keep writing, John Crist who's comedy keeps me smiling when days are less than fun, and of course Jen Hatmaker whose transparency and honesty is contagious. I clearly did not want to eliminate these and countless other conversations. I just wanted to shut down some of the noise that my Twitter stream had developed. So, I took a look, and it dawned on me. I was following over 1,100 people and businesses on Twitter. The mere bulk of it had become more than I could digest and the overall quality of what it was providing to me had significantly diminished.

What to do? Run in circles, scream and yell? No. I simply elected to prune the constant stream of conversation back to something manageable. I set a goal of trimming it down to something in the neighborhood of 300 as opposed to 1,100. No, I did not manage to do that much pruning in one setting. But once I had the goal in mind, I then could develop a criteria for the pruning process. If the bulk of a twitter account's was trying to convince me to sign up for a paid service of some sort or one of the dreadful twitter based daily newspapers, I would prune it. If I communicated with a specific twitter user and they would not respond to me, that account could be pruned as well. In a nutshell, I spent a few days evaluating the postings that were flowing through my Twitter stream every time I opened it. If there was not significant value being returned from it, then it was just adding noise to the conversations that I valued.

As of today, I have it whittled down to just over 475 accounts that I am following. And you know what I have found? The quality of the conversations in the Twitter stream has increased dramatically. Twitter is just the medium. We control what it displays to us when we open it. Actively managing the conversation flow is our responsibility.

Are you overwhelmed by your Twitter stream? Try pruning it down and see what happens. Hopefully, I will still be in your conversation flow, but if not, no hard feelings.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

When You Least Expect it


9 years ago, this woman came walking into my life. After two failed marriages and a failed engagement, I was done with marriage or the thought of it. I had lost almost everything emotionally and the two divorces had cleaned me out financially. I was living hand to mouth working a fulltime job, performing computer consulting on the side, and performing electronics recycling to make ends meet. I was drowning in credit card debt, struggling to make child support, driving a car that the A/C had died on and I could not afford to have repaired, and worried I was going to lose the mobile home where I lived. The light of hope at the end of the tunnel was extinguished. I was simply surviving as best as I knew how.

The only real love I knew in life was the relationship I had with my daughter who visited two weekends a month. I remember lying in bed at night staring at the ceiling listening to the words replay in my mind from the exs in my life. It was a grocery list of all my failures. I wondered how my daughter could love me like she did, and I wondered if it too would end one day when she grew up and realized what a failure I truly was.

I continued dating, but it seemed pointless and amounted to a means to fill my time on the weekends when I did not have my daughter. And then, Allison showed up. We had chatted online for a while and then began talking on the phone occassionally. One Sunday night, I dropped my daughter off at her mom's house and began the lonely one-hour drive back home. I decided to call Allison just to pass the time on the return trip. She asked me where I was, and I told her. She seemed suprised, and at first I did not understand why. But then she explained that she lived near where I was. She directed me to a local Ruby Tuesday's and told me to meet her there in 30 minutes. I did not think anything of it, but the thought of dinner with pleasant company was a welcomed proposal so I agreed.

Promptly 30 minutes later, she appeared. I would later learn that promptness was one of her hallmarks. We talked non-stop right up until the waitress brought our check and said they were closing. I looked around and realized we were the only remaining customers. We had been there from 3 hours. So, we did what any sane individuals would do. That is right. We drove across the street to the Waffle House and resumed our conversation. Finally at 2am, we departed.

After that we saw each other every night. One night I would drive an hour to her house. The next night she would drive an hour to mine. I fondly remember walking into work dead tired the mornings after driving to her house. But, I did not mind. The relationship was very different than anything I had ever been involved in before. Instead of judging my financial struggles like most of the women I had dated, she understood and offered to take me to dinner at times. Instead of complaining about the broken A/C in my car during the hot and humid Georgia Summer, she offered her car when we went somewhere.

As much as I was enjoying the relationship, marriage was not on my radar. I would not let myself even entertain the thought. I had failed miserably at it twice. After the first one ended, I had read every book on relationships and marriage I could find. And the second marriage was a bigger failure than the first. I was not marriage material, and I refused to consider it any more.

To make matters worse, when I was dating someone, my daughter would get attached to them. Then I would have problems with the person I was dating and elect to end the relationship, and I would see the sadness in my daughter's face when she got the news. I was tired of breaking her heart too. So it was a while before I even let Allison meet my precious little girl. When I did, Allison loved her. I still remember going to the World of Coca-Cola. When the tour was over, we ended up in the gift shop. Funny how most attractions utilize that marketing scheme. While gazing at T-shirts and such, I looked up to see Allison give Lindsey some cash so she could buy herself a souvenir. It struck me as sweet and selfless. My daughter took the money and bought Allison a gift. I set in amazement watching the two of them and thinking I could learn a lot from both of them.

One night, I was cooking dinner and waiting Allison's arrival. She walked in the door wearing this ankle-length skirt She stopped just inside the door and begin pulling the skirt up towards her knees. I could not figure out what in the world the woman was trying to do. Then she dropped to one knee and proposed to me. I felt all of the air in my lungs escape. I felt paralized in my chest. My mind raced 100mph. All of the books I had read said that you should date for a year before considering marriage. We had been dating two months. I thought about my second marriage that I had rushed into and how it failed. I also knew if I said, "No" that I could provoke the rath of a Southern woman. And I knew all about the rath of a Southern woman scorned. So, I answered, "Yes, but not right now."
Allison was undetered. Six weeks later we were married with my daughter standing by our sides. That was nine years ago.

Over the last nine years, we have endured a great deal together. She has been that quiet steady encouraging voice. She has stood beside me when it seemed no one else was on my side. She has restored my faith in marriage and has demonstrated what love is over and over. We have served side by side building Habitat homes and on mission trips in other countries. We even launched a nonprofit to reduce hunger in our community. She was the encouragement that convinced me to go to Grad school at 47 years old. When I struggled with the workload for accounting classes, she quietly say by while I spent 4 hours a night buried in a spreadsheet. When I became discouraged and overwhelmed, she was the steady voice that kept saying, "You can do this."

Today, this amazing woman celebrates her birthday. I cannot think of anything I could buy that would remotely honor her at the level she deserves. So, I thought I would share with you, her story. This is the woman that walked into my life 9 years ago and restored my belief in marriage and my hope in life. I am grateful for the blessing of having her in my life.

Happy Birthday, Allison.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Headache! - A Father's Day Story



Growing up, my Dad worked construction. One of the jobs he performed was erecting a three-story fertilizer blending plant. This structure would arrive on three semi's with each level lifted into place by a hydraulic crane. Having gone on-site with Pop over the years during any school holiday, I knew that on his work site, one did not holler "Look Out!", because the natural reaction would be to look up. Looking up would expose your unprotected face to a falling object and present an open invitation for an injury. Instead, if you saw something falling, you were to holler "Headache!" which indicated something was falling. Without looking up, you should then run away from the general area around the structure being lifted.

One Thursday afternoon, we received a phone call at the house. From my Mom's general face expressions during the conversation, I knew something bad had happened. Pop's crew had been erecting a blend plant. While lifting the third and final story, a C-Clamp had broken and fell. A new guy on the crew saw it and shouted, "Look out!" Pop looked up just in time for the broken piece of the steel clamp to hit him in the face. It broke his nose, and when he arrived home late that night, both of his eyes were swollen shut. It was almost sickening to see this big bull of a man having to be led around by his hand because he could not see.

I volunteered to be his personal assistant and chauffeur on Friday. One of the errands on his list was to deposit his paycheck at the bank. At the time we lived in a little town in South Georgia population 5,000. And in a small town, the newspaper is published two days a week, Wednesdays and Fridays. But the newspaper was always the second best source of community news. The best source of news was the break room at the two banks. Farmers and retired men would make their way to one or both of these break rooms, drink a free cup of coffee or a cold Coke and share the latest news of the day. Some of them would even sit at one a while and then go over to the other to pass on what they had learned at the first site.

We walked into the bank lobby with me leading Pop by the arm and quietly speaking in his ear. We were standing in a teller line waiting to make his deposit when the bank President spotted us. He made a bee-line for us. Took one look at Pop and said, "Dick, what in the world happened to you?"

Pop did not change the expression on his face or take a moment to consider his response. He turned towards the bank President's voice and replied flatly, "My wife. My firewood. My business." Without any response, the bank President turned and hurried back to his office. Pop turned to me and quietly said, "That will be all over this town in 10 minutes."

I chuckled to myself and the thought of all of the flapping jaws in both bank break rooms as soon as they caught wind of the story. Pop made his bank deposit with me guiding his hand where to sign the deposit slip. He had me write a couple checks to pay bills with me again guiding his hand where to sign them.

When we arrived home, my Mom was standing in the driveway awaiting our arrival. As soon as Pop emerged from the truck, I could hear her question, "What on earth did you say at the bank?" We both busted out laughing. His 10-minute estimate has been pretty accurate. The story had gotten around town and a couple well meaning individuals had called the house to inquire with my Mom what was going on between her and Pop.

When people ask me where I acquired my sense of humor. I tell them I got it honest.

Happy Father's Day, Pop!

Saturday, June 01, 2013

Sometimes It Requires Some Heartbreak


Growing up with idols like John Wayne and Clint Eastwood, you get the image that a man is rough and tough and does not show weakness. And that worked great for me for years. But when I turned 30, my wife delivered a beautiful little girl. Little did I know that night as I held that small shrieking little bundle of flesh, that this little girl would completely change my heart and my overall disposition.

One night she was sitting in her high chair and her mother was feeding her when she became choked and stopped breathing. To this day, I cannot tell you how I got past her mom to get her out of the high chair. But before I knew what had happened, I had her across my knee and was applying the infant airway maneuver that I had been taught in EMT school. She coughed, her airway cleared, and she began to cry. I held her in a delicate hug and cried like a school child.

Soon she was walking, then running. I cherished the time each evening when the backdoor of our farm house would swing open. And I would hear, "DADDY!" followed by little small tennis shoes running across the linoleum floor in our kitchen as she ran to my office to fling herself in my arms. Several times over the last 10 years, I pull out an old VHS tape to see her smacking a small palm on the glass doors saying, "Dah Dah" as she saw me walking across the backyard.

And then one of the hardest days of my life came. Her mom announced she could not live with me anymore because I was treated her like she was stupid and was too demanding. My little daughter was too young to understand what was happening that night. All she new was that she and her mom was packing a suite case to go to Pop and NeeNee's house. she asked me several times if I wanted to go with them. I told her I did, but her mom did not want me to go. It broke my heart, and I could not help her understand. I stood in the driveway and watched my daughter being driven out of my life. I stood there for almost an hour after they were gone, crying like I had never cried before in my life. Not really mourning the loss of a broken marriage, but the loss of my daughter being in my life daily.
I prayed intently that God would build a hedge of protection around my precious little girl and protect her. I had to trust Him to protect her since I was not around to be able to be her protector.

After the separation and divorce, my precious little girl called me every night before she went to bed. Most of the phone calls began with, "I cried for you tonight Daddy." It would just kill me. And who could I blame but myself for driving her mom away. She would come to spend the weekend with me every other weekend, and I always tried to make it fun. I would see to it that her Barbie Jeep was plugged into the charger before going to bed on Friday nights.

I did my best to make all of her school events no matter what had to be pushed aside. Even after her and her mom moved two hours away, I tried to be there for as much as possible and keep up the weekend visits. I always looked forward to the Summer when she would spend 6 weeks with me. I always wished the Summer would never end. I always loved the beach and the water, and we grew to share that love. I taught her to swim, and after I moved to an apartment in Atlanta she spent several Summers swimming in the pool everyday.

She was my biggest fan when I was racing short track. She would stand on the top of the racecar trailer and walk circles when I was on the track with her eyes glued on me. It killed me that I was never able to win a race for her, because I knew she wanted that so badly. When I finally retired from racing, she did not take the news well. She told me so quite clearly.

When I bought my first Harley. She was so excited and made it clear she wanted to ride it with me. And ride it she did. She listened carefully to what I told her she needed to do as a motorcycle passenger, and fell in love with it. It was a wonderful thing to take her out on the bike. It was our time. The rest of the world could melt away as time stood still and all seemed perfect.

First the nightly phone calls began to stop. They became once a week. Then occasional. Then the every other weekend visits began to be replaced by weekend with friends and concerts she wanted to attend. Then the Summers became a week visit instead of six. Then they stopped. It was not anything personal, she was becoming a teenager and there were more exciting things to do. And I understood.

The tears never did stop. I would see a movie or TV story about a father and daughter and I would be melted into a sobbing mess. I missed my little girl and nothing could change that no matter how hard I tried.

Memorial Day she came over to our house with her boyfriend of to years who was home fresh out of Army boot camp. He sat down to talk with me while my daughter and my wife sorted through the things that remained in the room of our house that has been her for the last 7 years. Despite her infrequent visits of the last couple of years, we had kept it and her belongings just in case she ever decided to spend a weekend. Her boyfriend began a speech he had carefully prepared in his head requesting my permission to marry my daughter and detailing how he would take care of her. I knew it was coming. My wife and I had discussed it for months, but it still did not seem real. He is a fine young man, and I am sure he will do his best to provid and protect her.

My daughter has lived with her mom and step dad and hour away for the last 10 years. But now she will be marrying this young man and moving 11 hours away. I again have to trust God to be her protector because I will be even further out of her life.

I have walked around numb for the last several days. As I have tried to identify what I was feeling, I have realized that it felt and tasted very familiar. And then I realized what that feeling was. I closed my eyes. I could see myself 16 years ago standing at the edge of a brick farm house on a gravel driveway watching the taillights of a suburban fading into the distance with the words of a small precious little girl strapped in her car seat ringing in my ears, "Daddy, don't you want to go with us?"

God blessed me with a precious, sweet, kind hearted, soft spoken little girl to break my heart and make me a kinder and gentler man. I sincerely regret it took this kind of heartache to make me more into His image.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Who Are These Hungry Folks?



I continually get questions about the people we serve in our efforts to eliminate hunger in our community. These conversations typically follow the lines of "Do y'all give out food to anyone that wants it or do you check them out to make sure they really need it?" I understand where these folks are coming from, honest I do. Growing up in rural South Georgia, I have seen the abuse of governmental programs first hand.

So when I answer this question, I first describe what our organization does. It collects and transports food to food pantries and shelters. The food pantries are operated by local churches and other nonprofit organizations. These groups work very hard to get to know the families they serve and their individual situations. Not because they are trying to stop people from receiving help, but because they want to ensure they are helping them in the most appropriate and effective manner.

A couple of stories to illustrate this point. One of the food pantries works with a social worker in the local school system to identify families in need. They then make contact with these families and determine if they have transportation so they can come to the pantry and pickup groceries. At any given time, they have 18-20 families that do not have transportation. For these families, they make a weekly delivery of food. these deliveries provide their volunteers with a first hand look at the family's situation. When the family obtains transportation, they notify the pantry so another somewhere can receive a delivery. The manager of the pantry shared with me that they delivered to a Hispanic family and the father was quite bothered with accepting the assistance despite the fact they genuinely needed the food. A volunteer that could speak Spanish began talking with him, and he shared that he did not want free food. What he wanted was a job. He was a construction worker. He was able bodied, and he wanted to work and provide for his family. The volunteer discovered that the man had been turned down for job after job because he did not have steel-toed boots. And, being out of work and trying to keep the lights on, he did not have a means to buy a new pair of boots. The church that operated the pantry got him and the other men in his family steel-toed boots. All of the men in the family got jobs and notified the pantry they no longer needed their assistance.

A couple weekends ago, my wife and I made 5 of these deliveries one rainy day. Not only did we not see any undeserving recipients, we saw families doing everything within their power to be independent. One family consisted of a grandmother, mother, and two small children. When we were there, the grandmother had just arrived home from working 14 hours straight - working to keep the utilities on, rent paid, and medical bills covered. By anyone's standards, she should have been retired and enjoying her years. Instead, she was trying to provide for her family in hard times.

These are authentic needs. These are real families that have endured setbacks and hard times that they are struggling to overcome. They have swallowed their pride and asked for help not wanting their children to go hungry. I cannot fault them.

So, we serve.

-Peace

Allen

Monday, May 13, 2013

Review: When Mockingbirds Sing - Billy Coffey

(image source: Amazon.com)

What would happen in a small rural town if God chose to speak through a shy little girl with a stuttering problem? How would the local preacher accept the fact that God chose this odd little girl instead of a professional minister? How would the local gossip society accept this turn of events? How would the church elders react? How would it affect her family? Especially her Dad the professional psychologist struggling with his inability to help his daughter and failing to salvage his own marriage?

Didn't God select Moses in the Old Testament, a guy with a stuttering problem and insecurity issues? Maybe God likes to select the least capable to display His power. Maybe He could use anyone. Maybe he could speak through anyone.

Billy Coffey goes to the heart of out piety. He makes us look at our self-righteousness and our judgemental attitudes. This book will make the reader take a painful look at their penchant to snap judgements and check their heart.

I highly recommend this book and the pause it may give you upon reading it.

Author's website: http://www.billycoffey.com/

More info on When Mockingbirds Sing: http://www.billycoffey.com/coming-soon/

Monday, April 01, 2013

It Ain't Always Easy

 
When you think about embarking on an endeavour like clothing the poor or feeding the hungry, you do not begin thinking about the naysayers or any road blocks. Who would be against doing good right? The whole world ought to get right behind you, and it should be easy right? And aren't we supposed to be doing that kind of stuff? Didn't a carpenter turned prophet talk about doing that kind of thing?

Matthew 25:34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

Yeah, that's it. So since we are supposed to do it, everyone will jump in and be supportive right? Shake yourself awake. Welcome back to planet earth filled with SUVs, crowded WalMarts, and traffic jams.

Saturday we were invited to hold a food drive at the local fairgrounds in conjunction with a huge Easter egg hunt. So, we got up early, got out to the fairground, set up a canopy, table, and chairs, and we set down to wait for the can goods to begin arriving. We noticed right behind our spot was a field littered in plastic Easter eggs, and we quickly surmised it was not going to be an Easter egg "hunt" but more of an Easter egg "gather". If you walked across the field, you literally could not take a step without stepping on five plastic eggs.

As it approached 11am, the crowds began arriving, you know the SUVs and minivans with two parents, four or five kids and the stick family decals on the back window. Yeah, those crowds. When the firetruck blew the airhorn for the first "gather", parents came running to the edge of the field to witness this incredible experience. In their haste to witness this once in a lifetime encounter, they failed to notice they were pushing into our canopy or spreading out on our table that had our brochures and can good collection on it. When we politely asked if they might relinquish the table we were using for food collection, one gentleman replied, "I see y'all ain't very busy."

Seriously? I swallowed hard while suppressing my gut reaction, and I could hear it...
Matthew 5:43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor[a] and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Yeah, I know. I cannot lash out. This is not about me. This is about what we are trying to do - to help those in our community struggling with hunger. But this guy is being obnoxious and needs to learn some manners and basic respect. OK, not my job to teach him what his parents left out. OK, I get it.

Soon the first round of egg gathering was complete and the field was as clean as a bowling ball. City workers appeared with boxes of plastic eggs and began to pour them all over the field to prepare for round two. And before we knew it, here came another wave of pushing and shoving parents oblivious to what was going on under the canopy. Once wave two was gone, one of the volunteers magically appeared with a web strap to limit access into the canopy from three sides. The final round of egg gathering should go a little easier I surmised. Go ahead. Laugh. You know you want to laugh.

My wife and one of the volunteers walked out to the midway to get something to eat. While they were buying food, people slowly began assembling around us to watch their children and grandchildren's shining moment gathering eggs. One woman looks over under the canopy and asked if she could "steal" (her words) one of our chairs. I said sorry but no, my wife was getting something to eat and would need to be able to sit down to eat. The woman was not happy with my answer and began trying to argue me out of the chair. I held my ground and said no, sorry a few more times. She finally dropped the subject and gave me an ugly glare.

Another guy walks up, sees the banner "Feed the Hungry" and wants to be funny. "Hey, I am hungry. Are you gonna feed me?" He asks. I take a look at him. He has a plump belly that indicates he has not missed a meal in many years. His clothing indicates he has not slept outside. He just wants to me a comedian. But it falls flat on those of us under the canopy. We all think the same thing, 16,740 people in our community - 11,020 of them children have missed many meals. They do not know where their next meal is coming from and in fact, they do not know that there is going to be a next meal. As kind as possible, I hear my wife respond, "No, I am afraid not. We are collecting food for hungry people. We would be happy to accept a financial contribution." He says he will check us out later and walks off.

I was quickly losing my hope in humanity. In the midst of all of the confusion, I see a man and a couple small children stop in front of our canopy. The father squats down to talk to the smallest child, but I cannot make out the discussion from the noise around me. They sit there for several minutes. They stand, my wife speaks with them. They smile and leave. She tells me that the parts of their conversation went along these lines, "You remember when sometimes at dinner we talk about we have a lot to eat and some people do not have anything to eat? That is what this table is for. These folks are collecting food for the people that do not have anything to eat. Of all the tables we have looked at today, this is the most important one." The father then asked his young son if he wanted to go home and get some of the money he had set a side for giving or if he wanted to go home and get some food. The little boy quietly said he wanted to go home and get some food to bring back.

BAM! My faith in humanity restored on the spot by one quiet and gentle father and his young son. All of the rudeness, shoving, and narcissism did not matter any more. These were little pot holes in the road to doing what needed to be done. If this was the biggest shot we had to endure to make a positive difference in the world, a little disrespect and attitude was small potatoes, right?

At the conclusion of the event, we talked with the food vendors and our mission was warmly received. One vendor provided 23 pizzas and 17 salads. Then came a pan full of ribs, pulled BBQ, salmon patties...before it was all over, we had approximately 150 pounds of leftover food donated by the event vendors. We delivered to four different ministries which fed well over 100 people that night with the food we collected.

Yeah, suck it up. Not everyone is on your team. It is not going to always be easy, but it is still important.

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Ever Wished Your Insurance Agent Would Just Freaking Listen to You?

Ever wished your insurance agent would just freaking listen to you? I sat and had a conversation with Van Baird at Van Baird State Farm Agency several weeks ago after having applied for insurance for our nonprofit. It was an enjoyable conversation and I could tell that he was genuinely interested in supporting our cause.
Van Baird (photo: Van Baird)
Van Baird State Farm Agency

Little did I know how well he was paying attention. The underwriters contacted him and said they were not going to be able to write the policy. When he inquired why, the explained that Feed the Hungry Forsyth, Inc. transported food and they were concerned about the liabilities if someone got sick from eating some of the food. Because Van had paid attention during our conversation, he knew that the Bill Emerson federal Good Samaritan Food Donation law and State of Georgia Good Samaritan Food Donation laws protect us from these kinds of liabilities (as they also protect restaurants donating food). Without even calling me, he was able to resolve the situation and point the underwriters to what they needed to research.

Was he just trying to save his commission? No. I don't think so at all. I believe he genuinely wants to help and listens to his customers carefully. THAT is a good neighbor!

Monday, February 25, 2013

Kids Keep You Humble

Several years ago while living on 11 acres on a dirt road in rural South Georgia, I served on a volunteer Fire Department. We received the gamut of calls ranging from house fires, car fires, automobile accidents, attempted suicides, and flooding to name a few. One rainy night, our department was dispatched to assist a neighbor whose home was being threatened with flooding by a large highway drainage ditch which was rapidly overflowing. I walked into the utility room of our farm house and began pulling on my bright yellow rain gear complete with jacket and hood with a built-in bill like a baseball cap.



I began thinking how miserable it was going to be out working in this torrential downpour. I pulled up the hood on the rain jacket and walked out of the utility room towards the backdoor of the house where I met our 3 yr old daughter. I could feel some pride rise in my chest that my young daughter was seeing her father preparing to go out in miserable weather to help someone. For a mere moment, I thought I would earn some admiration and respect for my civic duty. She looked me head to toe, paused for a moment, and said, "Daddy, You look like a duck!"

I quickly realized she was right and was brought back to reality. There was no need to feel sorry for myself. Someone was faced with their home being flooded and that was worse than being out in the rain to run a pump. With my ego in check, I crawled into my pickup and headed to the scene. Along the way, I glanced in the rear view mirror at myself and the yellow billed hood of my rain gear, chuckled, and did my best Donald Duck impression.