Thursday, June 14, 2007

hit or miss... more miss than hit

I have tried to talk to a lot of people: people at their job, people on the street, people simply going about their business. In trying to talk to busy people, for that is what most of us are, I am out of place -- my purpose was to talk and most people could not understand that purpose. I have gotten strange looks from people both young and old, especially when my company is anything but common, and I have had many people just say hi and move off as fast as they possibly could. In starting a conversation, I have learned, the principle thing to remember is that a conversation requires two people, not one. If it were one sided then it would be a monologue. Therefore, if someone decides not to talk to you then its no big deal. You must move on and find another friendly stranger somewhere else.

I have tried to follow up with some people that I met over here... but I have not been able to reconnect and at this point I don't think I will have the chance before I go. I understand that everything is under the Lord's timing, and it is possible that i might meet them again. I am glad for the opportunities that God has given me, for the simple hello's and the deep theological discussions with strangers.
May God Bless those whom I have talked to and observed. May God's peace rest on them. May God's grace be made known to them. Amen

Monday, June 11, 2007

Ethereal Cafe

I don't remember the woman's name ( i didn't have my pad of paper with me) but her husbands name is Jack. They are regulars to the cafe, they come in about three times every week, and talk for a bit over one cup of coffee. The woman was standing in line when she asked me if she read the book i was reading... i said i don't know :) , and turned the cover toward her (Revolution by George Barna). I told her that it was about the church in America and the things it takes to be what Barna calls a revolutionary christian.

We started talking about the church and she told me that I was a nice young man because of the look in my eyes. She then asked me some questions about theology like how i understood the trinity and what do you do with Revelations. I told her what I know and have learned from different people and she thanked me for explaining it to her. I felt a little funny because I am usually the one listening and not explaining, and also I don't tend to explain things to people who have lived my lifetime three times over. It was a good time. I think she had some relatives that were Jehovah's witnesses, her daughter if i remember right, so i don't know if she was testing me or if she had some actual questions. Either way i was happy to explain what I know and have learned. I went into the coffee shop asking God to do what he wanted me to do. If that was read then I was content to read, but she interrupted my reading to talk to me about God. I took the opportunity and gladly talked with her, though her husband was waiting for a while. At the end I asked her if she would like me to pray for anything and she said she was fine: that she prayed every morning.

Panacke Breakfast

I got up rather early on Sunday morning to go wash dishes. There was a pancake breakfast at the local community center and they were short a dish washer: I fit the bill. It was fun cleaning and talking in the couple hours that I worked, and everyone had a good sense of humor and service. The people might be classified as hippies, but it was an enjoyable time. Barry and Nance seemed to be regular volunteers, and everyone there had volunteered before with the exception of me. The pancake cook's name was Oscar, who was there with his new family: Terran, Oscars baby boy, was sleeping in his mothers arms most of the time. Oscar worked till the very end and then finally sat down to eat.

We started talking and I told him that it was interesting to see a difference in the people here vs. the people either back home or at Wheaton. He asked me what I meant and we started to talk about religion and God, and in turn about Christianity and the gospel. We talked about the people who are religious in name only and about the differences between the types of people: whether they followed an organized religion, followed a pseudo-syncretism, or followed their own way completely.

It was a good and fairly long conversation where I was able to explain parts of the Bible and the concept of grace and the message of freedom that we have in the gospel. He told me that I reminded him of one of his friends in the area, and that I should meet her if I have the chance. He said a very interesting thing to me toward the end of my explanation of the Bible and the gospel. He said that even though he's not going to change his convictions I should be someone who spreads the Word. He said that I had a way of explaining things differently from what he's heard before. I left that morning encouraged and with high spirits because a non-Christian told me to spread the Word. I hope God Blesses Oscar and his new family.

Story Evangelism

I have come to believe that evangelism needs a different focus. I believe we have lost the importance of sharing our story, our testimony to what God has done in our lives. If we are to share the love of God what better way then by giving people a first hand account of the difference that love can make. In a Christian book store I visited the biography section was one of the smallest, with theology and commentary being the other two smaller sections. that was an interesting thing to see when those three are perhaps the most important to understanding our faith.

The "method" I have come to believe evangelism needs to take is to share our stories-- any method or sequence, if it becomes a series, is no longer adaptable to an individual, rendering it useless. God has worked in our lives in incredible ways: we have come to know him through different people and circumstances in our lives. Therefore, we have an opportunity to share something that doesn't need to be proved or verified. Someone cannot disprove your personal experience because if that were possible it would be like proving you don't exist. If I tell you what I've seen, how can you deny it?

The first thing is to gain a base of understanding: a platform to speak from. If we have no foundation to talk, the words we say are empty and worthless. Love should be our foundation and platform to speak from. We should show God's love for the people we interact with and that will give us opportunities to share our testimony with them, and one of the best ways to demonstrate love it to show care for where they have been and where they are going: care about their story. In other words simply listening to what they have to say, and caring about what they have to say, shows that you love them. so Listening is the first step in evangelism, and in some cases the only step. The idea of not forcing opportunities will take you a long way, so if an opportunity never comes up for you to tell your story you don't tell it. You listen and love and that's all.

If you do get the opportunity to tell your story, then tell YOUR story. I have asked a lot of people what the gospel is and they give me the three steps: 1, you are a sinner, 2, Christ died for your sins, and 3, accept him as your savior. This is truth, but the gospel is much more than three steps, and in those three steps there is nothing about how you came to know Christ: how you have walked with him, the difference he's made in your life. Give someone the personal connection to Christ through a personal connection with you. You are in Christ, and He has a way of shining through your life to others. Part of your story involves a Jewish man who is also the son of God. It involves the grace extended to you and your freedom from guilt and shame that is both final and complete. I realize the three step process just turned into a two step one. But, perhaps this new focus will change it from a process to a lifestyle -- to live a life of love for others and letting God's love flow through you.

Luke 10

Before I went off to Ashland Tim and I read Luke 10 in preparation. We talked about going in the name of Christ to a place and doing only what He sent you to do. This is where it says, "the harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few". There is a specific call to those who God sends out in His name. He gives commands like "eat what is set before you. Heal the sick who are there and tell them, 'The Kingdom of God is near you.' ." How many of us go and do that today? I know that i hadn't ever thought of this until Tim and I read it, and then Tim sent me out with this passage to guide me. I went and knew that God was with me and if I was rejected, it was Jesus the people were rejecting. I went with a mindset that I was to do great things in Ashland; and I did, just not quite what I had expected.

It was on this trip to Ashland that I met "this girl" and my presence alone ministered to him for his lack of social interaction. I knew that I was supposed to meet him on this trip because God made sure I met him. If something happens twice, or more than twice, it is usually a divine appointment: God is usually calling me to something specific. I was in search of parking and i pulled into a small parking lot that was empty. The lot was for the Unicorn Gift Shop, I wanted to go and find a Wicca magic shop and talk to the people inside. God however wanted me to go to this shop because I left the shop in search of somewhere else to park, and after driving around, and following some public parking signs, I ended up right back where i was -- in front of the Unicorn Gift Shop. I then submitted to Gods direction, which i spurned earlier because of my own desire and will for the day, and went into the shop. I walked in and saw a man, obviously homeless and in a desperate state, talking to the owner of the shop. She was telling him to follow his heart. I didn't think anything of the conversation and walked past them to the other side of the store. There I met a man who worked in the shop. I asked him about the Celtic jewelry and he showed me the Christmas ornaments and then, on his search for a book about meanings behind Celtic symbols, I came across the conversation again. This time the man introduced himself, and i cannot remember his name because from then on he referred to himself as "this girl". We started talking and he asked me if I would take a walk with him. I though " OK God, I get it" so I walked with the man and shared with him a little.

He was the purpose for me going into Ashland that day; going into the only store with parking. I don't know how long I spent with the man but it was at least a couple hours and probably closer to 3 or 4 hours. God usually has a way of making his ordained moments known to us. Mine is repetition, though probably from my stubbornness to do things my way.

Saturday, June 9, 2007

"This Girl"

His story is one that came incomplete and in between an endless search for more alcohol. From what I can gather he was born in Glendale, Ca, and from there his story moves to Berkeley. He majored in something related to math and science and became involved with the rock and roll dream. He said he did the whole drugs, sex and rock n' roll thing for a while and then it spun out of control and he found himself an alcoholic. He moved to Ashland four or five years ago and has been living on the streets for at least that long. He wants to have a sex change in Brazil. I couldn't get much else from His past, but I was able to see the man as he was; a man searching for companionship and trapped by alcohol. He looked about 40, was wearing a white shawl becasue it looked pretty, and sometimes called himself "this old cat".

Most of the time he called himself "this girl" because he saw himself as a girl. He would look at every girl that passed us by and comment on how pretty she was; whether it was longing for the figure of a girl or a show of lust I could not tell. He had been alone for a long time and the people he called his friends were the shop owners who would kick him out of their store. He was always commenting on his appearance saying "I am disgusting": about his breathe and teeth and clothes, he was highly concerned, yet he had no power to change them. He wanted to be desired by someone, but he knew that no one wanted him around.

Once in a while he would stop mumbling and looking in trash cans for more alcohol and look at me. I think he was testing if I was real and perhaps trying to figure out why i was there. My presence alone, for the couple hours we spent together, brought him to tears when i told him i had to go eventually. He kept trying to put off the eventual part: offering me a drink, a place to sit, more "friends" that I must meet. I was able to tell him a little bit about my story and the things that made me a "nice straight, (completely straight?), guy" as he put it. He couldn't believe that i was straight because i was spending time with him.

I learned a lot from my time with "this girl" though he may never know it. At parting I prayed for him and asked God to heal his body and give him the same freedom that he gave me... freedom only found in Christ.

Monday, June 4, 2007

First Friday

First Friday is a time where the art galleries and shops on the main drag of Grants Pass stay open later than usual. I spent the day wandering around Grants Pass and looking at the shops and people. Not many people were around in the beginning of the afternoon but the sidewalk was crowded later that night. I had lunch at Sophia's, a great Italian restaurant, and was able to talk to the waitress a little bit, who i met earlier in my stay here. Faith was a great waitress and hopefully she will be able to get back on her feet soon; the 7 hours a week is not enough to make a living.

I went back to walking around and walked up to a Gospel Rescue Mission. The men there were really friendly and I asked them about their ministry. They have about 30 men who are in desperate need and they offer a program that gives them back their life. They come without a place to live or a job and they leave with a job and enough money for their own space. Its a great ministry. They were a little surprised to find me inside and not needing help, but they welcomed me none-the-less.

I met a couple artists during my day in Grants Pass. one was a cartoonist drawing for people on the street, where the caricature came from, and another was a musician playing in a cafe. The musicians grandson and I played chess: I think he was around 10 and wanted to play it like a video game. We played for some time and then I got a call from Tim asking me where I was, I was supposed to meet up with some Vineyard Church people but failed to find them for a while. With the help of Tim's call and looking a little bit like a tourist, I was able to find the group.

This group came to hang out and maybe do a little bit of evangelism as well. But, without specific direction and there being tons of people on the street now, we eventually split up and went our own way. I walked along with a family I met before and eventually met up with Tom, the one who was leading the group that day. He was asking a pianist, who was playing in an art gallery, about jazz music, saying that he wished to play like that some day. I talked briefly with the guitarist that was there, and, being in the music mood, we went over to a kids music store and I played a little classical guitar for him. Overall it was an enjoyable time that let me see more of the cummunity.

At First Friday most if not all the teenagers come out on the street. They come for the atmosphere because it is fairly free with music and food, but no store wants them hanging around too much because it is the rare teenager who is willing and able to buy a $300 painting. There is a dynamic then, to the entire evening that is interesting to observe. I wonder where else there is a First Friday and possibly what would happen if there were simply a place for teenagers to hang out; what effect that might have.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Boat Nik

Boat Nik is a time where the community comes and enjoys a festive celebration by the river. There are simply lots of different types of people that come to this event, so Boat Nik gives a glimpse of the cultural setting in grants pass. I went with Tim and his family to enjoy the fireworks. They were shot from the other side of the river: close enough to add some real excitement to the shock wave traversing your body. The fireworks lit up the sky as though it was in the afternoon.

I was able to observe something at Boat Nik; Tim stated it this way "Motherhood comes early here". I looked around and saw lots of babies, this was the family event of the year, but the mommy that was pushing the stroller was between 14 and 18 years old: the grandmother is 35 years old. If this was only one or two teenage girls, I could understand, but this was most of the teenage girls. There were basically two types at this event, those that had a boyfriend, and those that had a stroller.

The young people were fascinating at Boat Nik. The goths travelled around in groups of black and metal, the tough guys with tattoos and muscle shirts moved from booth to booth, everyone enjoyed the festival and the fireworks that came after dusk. Most of my time was spent on the bank of the river, watching and listening to people before the fireworks started. Some teenage girls sat behind me and started talking rather loudly, they were enjoying being counter-cultural, though they wouldn't phrase it that way. I sat on the grass and took in what was going on.

Prayer Meeting

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On a Friday night I went into grants pass and spent some time walking and praying with a group from the vineyard church in grants pass. This group is exceptional because the motivation for going out onto the streets doesn't come from an adult leader alone. This is a youth lead and directed demonstration of what God can do in a city. These kids go out and do great things because they want to, and because they have a heart for the city.

The prayer meeting consisted of 4 separate groups of about 10 who dispense themselves into different areas of the city. Some targets are specific, like the courthouse, where the group will pray for a particular agenda. The other specific target is the adult entertainment club in the city limits. The youth will meet outside on the sidewalks and spend time in communal or private prayer, asking for his light and redemption over these venues.

Two other groups find places in town where they can be available to meet others on the streets and bless them. When given a chance one of these kids will pray for healing, help, understanding or just ask for God's blessings in a persons life. Truly God works wonders through the least; a ten year old, getting a prophetic word for someone walking past.

After the group had been on the streets of Grants Pass for an hour of two, some people shared what they had done, the prophetic words they got for others, the prayers they prayed; they shared with the group all that the Lord had done. After the sharing the group then prayed. they went through a sequence of praise, thanksgiving, speaking in tongues, and applause.

I enjoyed my time and experience with this group. And I pray that God will continue the work He has begun in their lives.

A House in the Woods

The Thompson family has four active boys and another child on the way. One of the projects that is simply fun to do is to help out with building a treehouse. I remember the days of hauling old planks of wood and even a part of a chain link fence up into a tree to create my own fort, so getting to do it again is pretty fun. Tim came up with the idea of a semi log cabin for walls with perhaps a second story and trap door if we are up to it.

we needed some more wood so Connor lead me over to a tree that would work and I chopped it down. I should have done a better job though; it fell right on top of another tree. We had to get some rope and pull it down. Then we had a chopping contest, everyone takes a turn and the person who breaks through with their chop wins. I almost broke through on one of my chops but Tim got all the glory because his turn was next. . . but next time I'm going to win.

Spirituality and the Gospel

I can't convert, I can only explain who I am. . . If I don't understand the gospel and let its message govern my life, how then can I expect to lead others to God. If I can't understand the gospel in the context of the current cultural setting then how am I to be heard over the cultural roar. If I can't break the common perception of what a christian is -- the arrogant, ignorant, close-minded fool who believes in contradictions -- if I can't break that mold then I can't preach the gospel effectively. If people hear my message and associate it with the common perception of Christianity then I will have reinforced their perception of Christians; just another preacher telling me how to live my life.

There is a cultural difference in this area from the rest of the united states, with the exception of small communities. This state is spiritually rich. The general populace, at least those of which I have been able to observe and talk to, takes great stock in spiritual things: they have a the desire and worldview that says there is a divine presence, in whatever manifestation that is, and they want to take part in that divine presence. If you talk about a spiritual encounter, a conversion experience, even a time when you walked on water, it has more validity then if you give them reasons to believe in God or in Christs work. They already accept, or at least understand, some type of divine presence. You don't need to prove God. You need to show and demonstrate God's love, God's power, God's presence in order to be heard. However, this needs to be done in a way that isn't overbearing or forceful; that might lead to reinforcing the common perception once again. It needs to be done by living the gospel and its message.

In observing this culture, typical evangelical methods won't have the same effect. We have grown our apologetics around a rational and reasonable framework. That framework doesn't have the same weight in southern Oregon as it does in a university or the heart of L.A. This is not to say that by giving people apologetics training they aren't living out the gospel, or even to say that in preaching the gospel you can't use any type of rational argument. This is saying that the focus needs to be shifted -- shifted from giving someone a reason, to giving someone a story from your life. A story that just happens to include a Jewish guy that was born of a virgin, lived a life of service, died a criminals death, and rose from the dead. A story that brought you to the floor, to your knees, to your feet, out of bed, into bed, or wherever else you found Christ. A story that involved someone else's message, or a story that was between you and God.

These are some of my thoughts about what evangelism might look like in the area of Williams Oregon. These are some of my observations about the culture of Spirituality and what that means for the gospel. Peace and Grace.

Friday, June 1, 2007

Good bean and Applegate Fellowship

on may 30th I went to the Good Bean Cafe in Jacksonville and Applegate Christian Fellowship. I went to these places, always on the recomendation of Tim :), to try and learn what is going on in the community around Williams. The contrast between these two places is not as much as one might think but it was still interesting to observe.
First i went to Applegate to look at the grounds and facilities there... the place is beautiful and excelently maintained. The lawns are perfect, the outside amplitheatre emaculate; with trees and plants covering the place in a wonderful green calming atmosphere. There is a retreat center up a steep mountain road that has the same effect and perfect appearance as the church grounds itself, excepting that it is on a hilltop and has a beautiful view of the surrounding countryside. The place raises a lot of questions in my mind, such as why put so much money into the church grounds, why is the purpose and philosophy of the church to rest and recharge, what is this massive church accomplihsing with their success, how is this church this successful when Williams Community church has only 50 people at best, exc... I have a few questions for the pastor, one of three, that talked later that day, and i will meet with him after I attend the service on sunday morning.
After this visit to "heaven on earth" i went to earth. I went to the Good Bean Cafe in Jacksonville. It was a quiet afternoon with a few people coming in and out and possibly three people sitting quietly in the cafe. I walked in and started talking to Riley the server behind the counter. He was a friendly young man of 16 and i went between reading a little bit in the quiet place to talking with him. He asked what i was reading, a history of the people and religion of the northwest, and we started talking about religion. He said he was agnostic and didn't believe either way in or against God. I talked with him a little about spirituality and he told me that he was interested in the new age, pagan religions because they offered something different than the typical atheism or christianity. I plan on going back and talking with him sometime soon to get some more understanding on what would make a highschooler interested in wicka and pagan religion.
I went back to the church at this point and took part in a small worship, bible study, communion service. It was an interesting message using 1 king 20 to talk about young men leading the church and having the church support them. I am curious about how he came to use that passage to prove that point or perhaps came to that point from the passage. I don't know which one. I plan to ask him what method he uses to teach... I researched his church and he made a membership of 20 grow to a membership to between 5 and 8 thousand... I have something to learn from him, but i don't know exactly what.
I hope and pray that God uses me here, and that I learn much to carry wherever I am.