On Saturday, August 8th my wife Michelle and I led a group seven young adults to Clarksville, TN on a short mission trip. Our trip's focus was to work with an inner city ministry called The Well that some good friends of ours, Craig and Marcia Hines, had help start a few years ago. Early that Saturday evening we arrived at the Hines' home where would be staying. The night was full fun laughter and joy, as we played games, roasted marshmallows and sang songs into the star lit sky.
The next morning we went to go eat breakfast at a soup kitchen with some of the homeless and poor that we would be worshiping with latter on at the Well. The soup kitchen in Clarksville is hosted by several churches in the area that open up their buildings to use as the soup kitchen. And every Sunday the downtown Methodist church hosts the soup kitchen. The crowd was large, easily around 100 people when we first got there and the crowed doubled by the time we left. While we were there we spent time meeting and getting to know people. Craig and Marcia had several that they really wanted us to meet. Like Jr., who would see every day while we were there.
Jordan and our new friend Jr.
While there I talked to man who had been in prison for over 20 years for murder. He was a really nice and friendly guy, looked kind of like an older and smaller Morgan Freeman --white beard and all. He told me with a joyful chuckle, "some people will say that I'm dangerous. But I'm not dangerous, you just don't won't to make me mad." He then told me how he wasn't sorry for killing the that he was sentenced for murdering. "I'd do it again if he were right here!" He told me boldly. "And that's what I told them when I was in court." Many of the people there have pretty rough pasts and were in need of the Liberation that Christ in their lives.
After eating we went to The Well which was just a short drive around the corner. The building itself was once an old Moose Lodge. It had a bar, a dance floor -the whole shabang . Now, the building is a place where the people of all walks of life gather to encourage one another and celebrate their lives in Christ.
Not everyone there was homeless. There were some that were from Madison St. church of Christ, the church that now sponsors the Well, and others who liked in the neighborhood who like to gather at the Well because of its intimate and loving atmosphere.
We began worship by singing. Anyone who could start and lead a song could. We sang all kinds of songs, new and old. And praise to God filled the air. After singing, a young man named Brian told us the scripture that we would be reading for that morning and together we all read the text. Brian then asked us about what that passage of scripture teaches us about Jesus and His Kingdom. Many people contributed their thoughts, sharing what the message meant them. When we were done, everyone had a new understanding of the passage we explored because nearly everyone contributed to the discussion. Rob, who is one of the deacon over the Well, prayed over the Lord's Supper, and passed around the bread and fruit of the vine. After we prayed we spent time in fellowship (a.k.a "hanging out") with some of the people there.
Our teens loved the way that we gathered for worship this day. They loved how everyone had a place. Everyone was welcome. They loved the strong unity, and wide diversity of the Christians that met. Some of our teens said, "I'm sad that we don't get to go back next Sunday."
Craig, Benny and Marcia
After church we all went over to spend some time with a friend of Craig and Marcia named Benny. Benny had been homeless for three years and just in the last several months had been able to get off the streets. He now has a job and his own place and wanted to have our group over to his house to tell us his story. Even though he had very little, he had bought snacks and drinks for us. After everyone was able to grab a bite we all gathered around as he began to tell us his story. He told us how his wife had died about five years ago and performing the funeral cost him everything --including his house. Benny became very angry and went into a deep depression that led to a crack addiction. For three years Benny lived homeless in a tent because of his addiction and deep anger. He then met Craig and Marcia at The Well. They would spend a lot of time with Benny encouraging him to work on his relationship with God, and to pray. They encouraged him to pray harder and harder, about his anger and his struggles. And Benny said, "God was working! He is real and he really works in our lives if we allow him!" Benny encouraged us with tears in his eyes to pray always because God will hear us and answer our prayers. Today, Benny is one of the most joyful, and kind people you could ever meet. It's hard to imagine him the way he once was. He kept his tent that he lived in for so long to remind himself of where he once was and how God brought him out of that bondage into a new life in Christ. We were all deeply touched by his story. And after many hugs we had to say goodbye.
Monday morning we met with Mark at the well at 8:30. Kind of a early start for some of our group since it's the summer and we had to leave Craig and Marsha's by 8:00 -but there was no complaining. Mark is the other deacon from Madison St. church of Christ who oversees The Well. He told us our game plan for getting the meeting area of The Well renovated. We first would have to sand down the whole room, and then if we had time would put up the primmer. Our teens worked their hearts out sanding down those walls. We had been doing work and service projects all summer long so we were well ready for the task. Much to Mark's surprise were able to get all of the sanding done and a lot of the room painted in that first day! And had we had the whole project done before lunch on Tuesday.
Tuesday night The Well has what they call Bread of Life. At Bread of Life a free meal is served to all who attended. We saw many of the same people we saw on Sunday morning. While everyone is eating a lesson from the Bible is shared. I was able to speak to the group that evening. Then while people finishing up their meals they have an open mic session where people can sing, rap, slam a poem, or share whatever it is they want to share. I told the teens before we went done to Clarksville that I wanted everyone to participate in the open mic session. Everyone in our group has a good voice and are musically talented. So just before leaving Craig and Marcia's house for Bread of Life we went over a few things that we could do. Our line up was to (1st) Sing amazing grace, just the first verse twice and invite everyone to join in. (2nd) Read a montage of scriptures that I had prepared about creation, life, and light from Genesis, the gospel of John, and 1 John. The montage accents poetic, rhythmic nature of the Word of God. The girls read, while a group of us guys played drums throughout the reading. (3rd) We played "Come Though Fount". (4th) And for our grand finally we played a song called "Wake up" by Arcade Fire, which was basically our mission trips theme song because we played it so much.
When we first got on "stage" the teens were acting a bit nervous and shy. Rightly so, I came to realize latter on since there were nearly 100 people watching us. As we sang and played it was just awesome to see the faces of everyone there that night. People were just glowing with joy and life.
Before we left the well and called it night several people came up to me to say thank you for us coming down and helping paint their building. They told me that our group has been a huge blessing and that we had touched so many lives just over the past few days. They said that our whole group was very talented and so free and full of life. There was a huge contrast between that night at The Well and our morning at the soup kitchen. That night at The Well, everyone was just full joy, and life. There was great since of awe and amazement over the whole crowd. Everyone, ourselves included knew that God's presence was there among us. Everyone went away, blessed, touched and impacted.
I wish that I could tell you more and more about all that happened but it would take a whole book to tell the full story. On our way home to Illinois we stopped in Evansville, IN for a wrap up session. We shared with each other our trip highlights and how the trip effected us. It was so encouraging to hear what the teens had to say. To see how they had grown and been stretched by God. We had been focusing all Summer on living out the message of Jesus. Living as Liberated people, sharing the abundant Life with others that only comes through Christ. And Loving others with the overflow of our Love for God. We have focused on being the Jesus Movement in our world, and have been richly blessed because of it.
John writes in one of his letters:
"God's love was revealed among us in this way: God sent His One and Only Son into the world so that we might Live through Him. Love consists in this: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to Liberate us from our sins. Dear friends, if God loved us in this way, we also must love one another. No one has ever seen God. If we love one another God remains among us and His love is made complete in us."
-1 John 4:9-12
John is saying, "no one has ever seen God but if you're living out the Jesus Movement, if you are Loving others with the Love of God --then God is revealed among you!"
And it is literally awesome to have God among you.