Monthly Archives: December 2009

Yolanda’s Gift

My Embrace team may not be biological family but we are very much a spiritual family.  Only God could have brought us together and given us such a love for one another.  My sister Yolanda has a special talent for liturgical dancing.  Yesterday at the Embrace Christmas party she gave us the most incredible gift; she performed to the song “Yes”.  I rarely cry, even with all the heartache and pain I see in my work, but there was such a movement of the spirit as I listened to the words of this song and watched Yolanda move into a place of oneness with the Holy Spirit, her body and soul literally melting into God. I felt God speaking these words directly to me and was moved to tears.

Will your heart and soul say yes
will your Spirit still say yes
There is more that I require of thee
Will your heart and soul say yes

Now will your heart and soul say yes
Will your Spirit still say yes
If I told you what I really need
Will your heart and soul say yes

Now will your heart and soul say yes yea~
Will your spirit still say yes
God is saying there is more that I require of thee
Will your heart and soul say yes

Will your heart and soul say yea~
Will your spirit still say yes
If I told you what I really need from thee
Would your heart and soul say yes so just say

There is more that I require of thee
so let your heart and soul says Yes

These past few months have been difficult.  We have gone from two AmeriCorps members focused on providing aftercare support to families in transition to seventeen people and expanded into two community based missional teams.  To say I have been a little stretched is a major understatement.  They are all good people but they need direction, encouragement and on-going training.  The work we are doing is complex and there is no manual to follow.  We have to move with the spirit, build relationships with the saints who were there before us and allow our collective vision to take shape before we move into action.  It is a work of art, not something you can do in your own power.

I realized as I listened to the words of this song, that God is saying these words to me and our team continually.  Many of us, myself included, have been tempted to say “no”.  My teammates have given up lucrative careers, have sacrificed time with their families, and have literally put their lives on the line.  The enemy tempts us to focus our attention on the darkness, the danger, and the disease of hopelessness that surrounds us.  The enemy seeks to confuse us with personality conflicts and miscommunications, and lies.  Our adversary has us focus on the cost of obedience instead of the voice of God calling us deeper.

We all hear God’s voice and we have to daily say “Yes”.  Will you choose to say “Yes lord I will go with you a little farther, I will give a little more, I will not be afraid, I will not turn back, Yes Lord, Yes.”

In this season where so many focus on material gifts, I am thankful to my sister Yolanda who reminded me that the greatest gift and privilege is to say “Yes, Lord, where ever you may lead, no matter what the cost, I will follow.”


Filed under Stories from the Street, Urban Ministry

I choose “not Fear”

The headlines in the Richmond Times Dispatch today reads:

Two males were found shot today near the Hillside Court public-housing complex in South Richmond. Authorities were investigating to see if the shootings were related.

Richmond police said one male was found shot in the abdomen about 10:15 a.m. near Rosecrest Avenue and Harwood Street. Another male was found with a gunshot wound to his lower left arm about five minutes later in the 1300 block of Minefee Street, a short distance southwest of the first shooting scene.

At 10:45 my team turned the corner onto Rosecrest to see squad cars and ambulances removing the bodies from the scene. 

At the same time I was facilitating a conversation at Fairfield Court where two weeks earlier an elderly team member was beaten and robbed.  The goal for today was to help the team cast a vision for what they would like to see in their community.  The prior week they drew pictures of children playing and people walking the street without fear.  Safety is the #1 concern of residence. 

However, I was shocked when I said to the group “How do we help your community overcome fear?”  One very thoughtful member of our team boldly said “What do you mean fear?  I do not have any fear.  I have Jesus, what is there to fear?”  He did not say it in an arrogant manner, but more as a stated fact.  Every member of the group shared that it was their faith that helped them overcome their battles with fear.   

I was so astounded by their incredibly bold rebuke of the spirit of fear that I was completely insensitive to my dear friend who was driving my Hillside team home right after the hillside shootings.  When I arrived at lunch I could tell she was upset about the shootings and I naively thought that calling on her faith and sharing the bold spirit of our East End friends would enable her to overcome her fear.  I was wrong and my insensitivity to her very real fear, was inexcusable. 

As we have sought to build bridges from some of the safest communities in Richmond to some of the most dangerous, fear has been our enemy.  It is an enemy I have had to do battle with in many different ways and many different forms. 

In 2005, a gun man began firing at one of my clients across the street from where my children were serving in the courtyard of a church building in Highland Park.  That was my first real test.  I consulted those wiser than me and they all challenged me to overcome my fear and remain in the community but fear won that battle and I left Highland Park.  I abandoned the team that had served with me there for safer territory and I have regretted it every since. 

We are now in communities equally as dangerous as Highland Park and today I was consumed by a different spirit, a spirit of boldness.  I refuse to be intimidated and I refuse to allow the enemy to derail our team from the good work it is called to. 

I understand why many of my teammates choose not to be in the community today, years ago I would have made the same choice.  However, I pray they understand why that was not an option for me.  I rarely do aftercare visits in the community anymore because of my busy schedule but when my team choose not to go, I heard God saying “Whom shall I send?” and I boldly said “I will go.”  This decision, this battle, was my own.  It was a show down between me and the enemy and this time, I overcame fear.  The strange thing is, I was not fearful.  After the Highland Park incident, I prayed that God would remove far from me that spirit of fear and give me a boldness and God in his faithfulness has and I see this same spirit in my urban friends.

I apologize to those I was insensitive to today.  I pray you understand that years ago, I choose never again to allow fear of bodily harm to keep me from what God called me to.  Perhaps it is a unique gift that not all receive, or perhaps it only comes after many battles, or perhaps I am simply foolish. 

I do want you all to know, should by some chance the enemy win and take me from this earth, I pray you will celebrate my call to be faithful and recognize that should I depart, it is because it is God’s will and not because of some foolish choice I made.  I choose to believe that God is in control and that even I can not mess that up.

My dear friend Martha Rollins has been leading inner city ministries in Highland Park for much longer than I.  She once said to me we decided we would “choose love not fear” and every time we are tempted to give into fear we just remind challenge ourselves “choose love not fear”.  Martha’s ministry has adopted her bold spirit and when I asked her how she did it, she said “it takes a couragous leader” to model “not fear”.  Today, in my spirit, I knew I had to model courage and I pray someday my team will follow or at least understand my choice.

A dear friend Jamie helped me see that we all have fears.  While I have overcome my fear of bodily harm, I am still fearful of other things, like not being able to make payroll, or not meeting our outcomes goals.  Today was both a victory for me and a conviction.   I pray God continues to work in me and continues to drive out all fear, in all parts of my life.  These passages remind us that fear, all types of fear, other than the fear of God, are not of God.   I pray they bless you as much as they have me.

For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind. 2 Timothy 1:7

There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.
1 John 4:17-19


This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.
1 John 3:15-17


Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.
1 John 3:17-19


But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear what they fear ; do not be frightened.”
1 Peter 3:13-15


For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.”
Romans 8:14-16



Filed under Stories from the Street, Urban Ministry


The headline reads “Elderly Woman Beaten and Robbed.”  How many captions of this nature do we see and dismiss?  Normally I would not even pause to consider the victim or the perpetrator, that is not until the “Elderly Woman” moved from an anonymous victim to a friend, co-laborer, and teammate.  Mrs. Gabriel is a kind-hearted resident of Fairfield Court.  She cares for her grand children, serves on the tenant council and comes faithfully twice a week to serve on our Embrace Fairfield team; at least she did until a twisted, cruel person beat her, robbed her and stole her peace of mind. 

It was not until this week, with the beating of this sweet elderly friend that I really realized the level of fear and oppression my friends live under.  Every Tuesday and Thursday, my team and I drive into some of the most dangerous neighborhoods in Richmond but it is easy to forget where we are.  We arrive to see the smiling faces of women like Mrs. Gabriel. They are the saints, the remnant, who were left behind to pray and seek justice for their impoverished neighbors.  Many of them have lived in these communities 30+ years and tell stories of how the projects used to be. How back in the day, children played on the streets and families cared for and supported one another.  Now mothers who care about their children keep them locked inside, and neighbors avoid one another and isolate behind closed doors.  The once peaceful communities are now controlled by drug dealers and their residents consumed by fear.

At the conclusions of our gatherings, my staff and I return to our safe havens in the suburbs, leaving behind our fragile friends in this crime infested battle zone.  When I heard the news about Mrs. Gabriel, I was sad but the sadness quickly turned to anger, then outrage.  This would never happen in my community, we would not stand for it!  I was even more shocked when my friend Charles was surprised by my anger and said “What’s wrong with you, this kind of thing is normal. They target the elderly on the 1st of the month and follow them home from the store where they cash their social security check.” He said as if I should expect such things.  He sees the beating of the elderly as “normal”.  I suspect that Charles may have either known perpetrators of crimes of this nature or he could have even been the perpetrator back before he was freed from his 30 year addiction.

This event happened just a few days after I met a lovely man named Calvin.  Calvin is trying to raise awareness of what he feels is an unjust sentence imposed on his nephew.  His nephew was sentenced to 30 years in jail for possessing $350 of drugs.  My first thought was “Would a white kid in the burbs receive a 30 year sentence for possessing $350 in drugs?”  My heart went out to Calvin and the three small children who will grow up without a father.  It seemed so unjust, so extreme, so over the top.  But that was on Thursday and today is Sunday and a sweet little old lady is now in the hospital due to the madness of an addict.  I now empathize with that judge…the madness must stop! We are at war and the enemy is drugs and those who are supporting the drug trade. 

Drugs lie behind almost all of the suffering I have witnessed over the past five year.  It is the number one contributor to homelessness, domestic violence, child abuse and neglect, robberies, violence, and the utter insanity that plagues communities of intense poverty.  I believe in being tough on crime and I understand zero tolerance and the determination of those we have charged with the responsibility of protecting citizens like Mrs. Gabriel.  However, I am still haunted by the faces of the children at our inner city elementary schools, more than 25% of whom are growing up without parents due to incarceration.  How do we keep Mrs. Gabriel safe and give these kids what they need; healthy parents?   

In the past five years I have met some of the nicest addicts and have witnessed how their addiction leads them to do some very evil things.   I hate the violence but I have come to see that when these individuals are not using substances, they really can be contributing members of society.   They can be good mothers and fathers and most deeply love their families…that is when they are not on drugs.  I have also seen how these loving, caring parents can become some of the most neglectful hurtful people when they fall prey to addiction. The war is not between us and them, most do not want to live the way they are living.  The war is between them and the addiction that is stealing their lives and destroying our communities. 

I have interviewed a number of former inmates and all of them have confirmed that all jail did for them was make them better criminals.  They learned who the major players in the drug world were, where to get the best stuff, how to conceal the drugs better and  built a network to keep themselves safe on the outside.  Our jails are simply a school for criminals and we are turning out people with PHD’s in Criminal Behavior. 

I write this post not because I have an answer but more out of utter frustration that no one seems to have a clue how to address this issue but worse is the fact that the vast majority of us do not even care to try.  Mrs. Gabriel is “down there” and we are “out here”.  It is not our problem.  “Those people” need to figure it out.   As a society, we have done some amazing things, found the cure for deadly diseases, achieved major advances in technology, but we cannot rid our community of drugs or prevent the suffering it causes.  30 year jail sentences are not the answer but neither is allowing my friends like Mrs. Gabriel to live in fear.  There has to be a better way!


Filed under Stories from the Street, Urban Ministry