One of my all time favorite passages of scripture is Jeremiah 29:11; “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
This past week I resigned my position as the Director of CARITAS Works. I have been in the process of transitioning out for the past two months and with the addition of Karen O’Brien I was finally ready and able to hand the furniture bank off fully to CARITAS. It was exciting and sad all at the same time. I was actually a little shocked at the sadness because I have been working toward this goal for more than two years. I think the sadness was more about feeling a little lost than about actually wanting to keep the furniture bank. It only took me about a day to morn the loss and to begin to see the future God has been preparing.
For the past few months I have been spending a lot of time in prayer and solitude seeking to discern what’s next for me and Embrace and in the past few weeks, the haze of confusion that has so clouded my mind has started to lift. I think the key word for me in this season is “integrate”. In the past five years I have birthed three ministries; Quest which was a small group ministry for women that I started when I first moved to Richmond, Shine which was a missional small group ministry for youth that I did with my daughter, and Embrace which was focused on the needs of the homeless population. When the furniture bank component of Embrace grew so large, I had to let go of Quest and Shine. However, I have longed for the day when I could bring all three together. I think that day has come.
I have had a large number of people over the years lament the fact that there are no opportunities for families to go on mission together in the local context in a relational way. I have also become increasingly aware of the lack of community and belonging both in the suburban and urban context. What if I combined the community building aspects of Quest, with the youth focus of Shine and the missional heart of Embrace into one? What if instead of separating women, men and youth into separate groups and then dividing those groups up into mission, bible studies and fellowship groups, we instead put it all together? What would it look like to be the family of God on mission together as families?
I heard a new word this week; it was the word “twinning”. I learned that the Catholic churches in the area are “twinning” with congregations in Haiti. The one congregation that I was visiting with was going to start an organic garden at their church and help a congregation in Haiti do the same thing. I liked this idea of two communities from different areas doing the same thing but in different context. The struggles in Richmond will be different than the struggles in Haiti but they are both on the same mission “to grow an organic garden” in order to feed those in need in their community and they can each share their journey and will likely help one another learn as they go.
The mission of Embrace has always been to help prevent and end homelessness by mobilizing people of faith. What I have come to see in the last few months is that if we do not invest in urban young people, the cycle of poverty and homelessness will continue and if we do not invest in suburban young people the destructive patterns of materialism and consumption will continue to erode our sense of community and belonging.
So what if we tried some “twinning” around empowering youth? What if we started a missional community in suburbs that had the mission of empowering young people to be a blessing to their community (which was the Shine mission) and we twinned that group with a missional community in the urban setting that had the same mission of empowering youth and blessing the community. The mission is the same but the challenges will be different. In the urban setting people tend to have more time and in the suburban setting people tend to have more resources. Many of our urban youth have developed a strong faith which has helped them persevere through great challenges and our suburban youth have often benefited from education and enrichment programs that have fostered their creativity and talents. I believe bringing these two together would be a blessing to both.
I am still praying about exactly what this might look like but some amazing things happened this week. A lovely lady I have known for years offered her home school network facility, which is near Chesterfield Town Center, to us as a gathering place. It is a great space with a large group meeting area and four good size classrooms. This would provide us with a place to gather, plan and meet before mission events.
I also met a lovely woman who is doing amazing work with inner city girls in Hillside Court. We have hired two summer interns who will both be focusing on empowering youth, both suburban and urban, throughout the summer. In addition, the past few weeks we have been doing home visits in the east end with our clients. In those visits we have met some wonderful people many of whom want to be a part of blessing their community.
I heard at the conference I went to last month a description of the church that I really liked. They described the church as “The family of God on mission together.” I am thankful that so many of you are already on mission with us. It has been such a joy to meet so many people who are passionate about what God is doing in our city. I am thankful the season of letting go is over. I hope you will travel with us through this season of integration. If you have any ideas or questions please either leave your post here or contact me via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.