Story County Jail Ministry pt. 2


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I want to begin this post by sharing that the impetus for it was provided by Jan. We had a conversation after a meeting last Saturday and she shared some thoughts and asked some questions that got me thinking.

As I have had the opportunity to minister to the inmates at Story County Jail for a little over a year, I find myself always wanting to leave them with the knowledge and understanding of the love that God has for them. Because of their life experience(s) many have not had this communicated to them. As I have listened to the Holy Spirit, I have realized that this is a message that cannot be emphasized too much. I can recall several times when I was delivering a sermon and I underscored the truth in this message emphatically. It is something I have come to realize more even as I have conveyed it to others.

Another thing  that I have come to realize is that many inmates are dealing with the manifestations of life issues that have a spiritual genesis. I recall one particular time when I was ministering to a group of women and, as I usually do at the end of the service, I asked for prayer requests. One of the women present presented a request for another woman who was present at the time. In order to be respectful and also direct my prayer, I asked the woman who the request was being offered for if there was anything specific she wanted prayer for. She declined to offer any specifics, but as I was praying I had a strong urging from the Holy Spirit to pray in tongues. As I was praying for her specifically, she began to openly weep. I didn’t know what the issue was, but even as I was riding home I felt the need to continue to pray for her. I even encouraged Liz who was giving me a ride home to pray with me. We continued to pray until I felt a release from the Holy Spirit, but this incident created in me a stronger desire to see people freed from the strongholds of the enemy and walk in the freedom that Christ purchased on the cross.

One of the greatest causes for joy is to see inmates released. Their have been several people that I have had the opportunity to meet with and minister to inside and outside of the jail. There is one particular person who has been housed at the jail that has served as an inspiration for the work that I, and many others, are doing. I cannot mention his name, but he has shared the work that God is doing in his life. He is also having the opportunity to live out his life with Christ by sharing the work that God is doing in him with his fellow inmates. He always encourages others to come with him to the services. He even shared an incident he had with another inmate where God called him to realize the need to apologize for something he said and done. I am always overjoyed and delighted to see the fruit of good works that comes from people when Christ is the center of their life.

In closing, I invite you to pray with me for the ministry work that is going on in the Story County Jail. I also want to offer a thank you to Pastor Knight who recently stepped down as chaplain of the Story County Jail. For all the work you and fellow ministers have done and continue to do, Thank YOU!

 

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Thank YOU!


While I was in Atlanta for the holidays, I noticed something my mother starting doing during mealtimes. We have always asked a blessing and thanked God for our food prior to eating. I grew up with “God is great,God is good…” What my mother recently started doing after we were done eating is thanking God for the provision for our meals and praying that that would multiply as well as AGAIN thanking God for the meal. o_O

My mother and I have different ways of looking at the world and life, in general. My initial was impulse was, “That’s too much, why we gotta…” Try as I did, I could not completely dismiss what she was doing. She has developed an attitude of gratitude, sincere gratitude. Even as I’m writing this, I am understanding that this has become a way of transforming saying grace — which can become somewhat stale — into something more life giving. That’s the beauty and the power of the Holy Spirit; to breathe new life into complacent and stale areas in our hearts.

While I might not completely adopt this practice for myself, it has certainly awakened something in me that has been dormant. Sincere, heartfelt gratitude. I’m not (I hope) one who often goes without saying thanks to the people who have blessed me in a myriad of ways. I do, however understand that I can, and will, elevate an attitude of gratitude for all the many blessings God has poured over my life…. Starting now:

Chris and Amanda – Thank you for opening your home to me and allowing me to have a place to lay my head.

Lynette – Thank you for paying my way to Nicaragua and allowing me to have the joy of seeing God’s people have a better place to call home.

Don Carlos Alemán – Thank you for pouring into my life and allowing me the opportunity to become an international minister of the gospel.

Andrea – Thank you for always asking me about my progress on the book.

Pastor Toran, Ana, Luke, T’Ana, and mother Smith – Thank you for allowing me to travel to St. Louis, the hospitality and the White Castles.

Paul (and Patience) – Thank you for being a brother, your prayers, and even relationship advice.

Vinecia – Thank you for consisitently beating the snot out of me in Scramble with Friends; Since I started playing you, no one else has beaten me.

Pastors Anthony, Holly, and Jeremy – Thank you for allowing me to serve alongside you and the encouragement to live out the call that is on my life.

Liz – Thank you for the rides to work and the delicious food from Mandarin.

Aunt Ginny, Aunt Barbara, and Vicki – Thank you for always asking about my romantic attachments (more on that in a different post). 😉

Auntie Jack and Uncle Herbert – Thank you for sharing your home and your lives with me.

Sigler Companies family – Thank you for allowing me to be a part of your lives and continuing to connect with me.

Sarah – Thank you for giving me a job when no one else would give me so much as an interview.

To the gentleman who stops by the store on frequent early mornings – I don’t know your name, but I am thankful for the ways you encourage me to continue to look toward the future and not get stuck in the temporary.

Stevie – Thank you for being more than a brother, brother.

Dad – Thank you for always believing in me and giving me the courage to believe in my dreams.

Mom – Thank you for all the ways you’ve poured out your life to give me the opportunity to have a better one.

This list is by no means exhaustive. If I were to try to thank everyone for everything that they have done for me… well there’s not enough time or space for that. I just want to open my heart and show my appreciation for those who have my life so much easier, so worthwhile, so….

 

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Be angry and do not sin.


Ephesians 4:26 as well as Psalm 4:4 tell us to “Be angry and do not sin.” I have to be honest and share that I am having serious trouble with that right now. Let me first state that I love the nation in which I reside. I still get choked-up teary whenever I hear “The Star-Spangled Banner,” whether it be at a ballgame, school assembly or any other place. I also find myself trying to sort through my emotions and search for answers to what ails this great nation.

In the spring of 1992, I was a senior in high school when the when the officers who brutally attacked Rodney King were acquitted on the assault charges in the incident. This verdict set off days of rioting in Los Angeles and was widely covered in the national media. At the time, I found myself asking, “Why are they so angry?” I knew that the verdict was unjust, but growing up as a black male in this nation I had become accustomed to injustice. That’s one problem. The fact that I had come to expect being mistreated, put-upon, troubled on every side, persecuted, and cast down is telling about how those who are not white are per misperceived in the eyes of much of the white population. This is not as simple as the “the MAN holding a brother down” narrative that any cat on the corner will give you a diatribe on if you’re willing to listen. By growing up in America in the time I did, I expected different treatment because of my ethnicity. I am sure that the opinions I shared were not unlike those of others who shared my same skin color. I knew the frustrations of those who were in the streets of Los Angeles, yet something seemed different. I knew that there was something more at play here.

Context

As we would later find out, there was rampant police corruption and a long history of racial profiling involved in how the police in Los Angeles were enforcing the laws of their community. As we would also find out after the death of Michael Brown at the hands of police officer Darren Wilson, a similar pattern of unjust practices was at work at the hands of the police and courts in Ferguson, MO. Now, and then, I understood. Their frustrations weren’t just the result of being black in America and facing the microagressions that result from our place in this country. Dr Martin Luther King, Jr once said, “a riot is the language of the unheard.” The injustices that the black citizens of Los Angeles, then and Ferguson, Missouri, more recently, came to a flash point with the beating of Rodney King and the killing of Michael Brown. The people had simply had enough.

This brings me to the recent grand jury into the death of Eric Garner at the hand of police in the Staten Island neighborhood of Tompkinsville. This SEEMED to be a clear cut case of murder and it appeared that the officers responsible would be charged with murder. The grand jury decided differently. And this is where I am having trouble with that anger. Garner was placed in a chokehold and was repeatedly heard saying “I can’t breathe” during his arrest. I can’t breathe. I CAN’T BREATHE! The medical examiner in the case ruled that Eric Garner’s death was a homicide as a result of the chokehold and…

So I’m angry, and I’m tired. I’m tired of living in a country where I have to explain my existence. I’m tired of the assumption that I’m up to no good. I’m sick and tired of the inhumanity.

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Living the dream…


So I’ve been waiting to post this, and now I feel the time is right, so here goes…

I’ve been blessed to see 40+ years on this planet. As I think about where I thought I’d be by now compared to what I imagined back in high school, it’s not even close. The reality is that it’s much different, because I’m on a much different trajectory. I certainly couldn’t have seen or even imagined I’d be where I am, but it’s so much greater than anything I could have asked for.

What I’ve come to realize is that what God had in store for me, completely blows my own imagination of what my life would become out of the water. As I reflect on what I thought I wanted, it was nice and comfortable. The word teaches us in Psalms 37:4 that as we delight ourselves in the Lord, he will give us the desires of our heart. My desires for my life weren’t bad or wrong in and of themselves, but they weren’t truly connected to delighting myself in the Lord. The reality is they were connected to the culture I grew up in and attached to the “American Dream.” Simple things like nice job, nice car(s), nice house, beautiful wife and a couple of kids. To a certain extent, those things are still true. The difference now is they are centered in an adoration for what God desires. The reality is if I had continued on a different path, I may have accomplished these things or seen them come to pass by now. If my heart had not been regenerated and transformed by an understanding of the love God has for me and what brings Him joy, there’s no telling what I might have done to see them come to pass. Lie, cheat, steal, manipulate people, etc. Because I now understand the deceitfulness of my heart before the transformation that is now come through the work of the Holy Spirit at the hand of God through Jesus, I’ve let go of inconsequential timelines. It’s not that I am no longer planning and taking steps to see my dreams come true, it’s that I am content with God’s timing. I don’t have to look at what those around me have achieved and feel as though my own accomplishments are insignificant. I can see and now I know and believe that what God has for me is for ME and no one else. The more I focus on and direct my attention to Him, the less I worry about a false perception of what I don’t have.

The word teaches in Luke 6:45 that out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. As we were fundraising and making preparations for building homes in Nicaragua, a young lady whom I had never met sat in on one of our meetings. At some point during this meeting I believe we talked about who would be traveling to Nicaragua to actually build the homes. I knew that financially I was in NO position to go. I just “happened” to blurt out, “I’ll go if someone pays my way.” When I did this I had no intention of this being answered. In my mind, it was simply a statement of the facts. Well, that young lady who just “happened” to be at that particular meeting volunteered to pay my way. Thanks Lynette! As a result of this tremendous blessing, I was able to travel internationally for the first time in my life and begin the process of building homes. All the work that the team and I put in came to fruition and now two families have new homes. As a result of being recently ordained, I was given the opportunity to preach and witnessed a young man re-dedicate his life to Christ. As Don Carlos Alemán said, I’m now an international pastor. ¡Gloria a Dios!

The trip to Nicaragua was so much more than I could ever have imagined. God connected us and knitted our hearts to our brothers and sisters in Christ in Nicaragua in such a marvelous way that it defies description. There is no lack or hint of insufficiency in the economy of God. There’s always more. Exceedingly abundantly more. I am a living witness of the majestic profound depth of not only who God is, but also what he desires for His children. As I have committed my way to Him, more and more, day by day I am truly living the dream.

Me and the team…

Cristian, me, John and Dan

Cristian, me, John and Dan

At the site in Masaya minus Cristian

At the site in Masaya minus Cristian

At the site in Managua

At the site in Managua

My Life, I Like It!

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Smitten


Conversations…
I just want to hang around her
Wanting to pursue her
Not to knock it down,  but to stay around
To see her smile,  her eyes,  her hair
To be there
With her
Wherever
Forever
Together
Someday…

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My Vitiligo Story


The Genesis

Recently I have had a number of interactions where people have made comments or asked me about my vitligo. I have had this disease since I was born. As I grew up as a child, the disease spread until it became prevalent about the time I started grade school. I began getting treatments which involved taking (at that time) topical oxsoralen and spending 15-30 minutes in a UV light box. As I grew older, the treatments involved taking oxsoralen by mouth and then having the same treatments in a UV light box. It has been over twenty years since I have gotten these treatments. Since then and before I have been diagnosed with several other autoimmune diseases. These include pernicious anemia, type 1 diabetes, and hypothyroidism. With the vitiligo I have been diagnosed with, the immune system is attacking pigment cells which causes patches of “white” skin. The truth is that those with white skin actually have more melanin in their skin than I do in the patches that the vitiligo has affected.

About a month ago, I was at a restaurant where the waiter commented on my vitiligo by saying something like, “That’s so cool.” I thought, “What is he talking about?” I looked at my phone. He said, “No, your skin.” At first, I was taken aback. For a greater part of my life, when someone asked me about my skin, I became very defensive. What I’ve come to realize is that people are really asking questions because they don’t know. Vitiligo is rare enough that many people haven’t seen someone or known someone who has it. Even yet, many people haven’t been able to ask those questions that are running through their mind. It’s unnerving for me to have people view this as “cool” or as someone else referred to it “boss.” The interesting thing is that as long as I can remember, I’ve been praying for this disease to be healed. Maybe the healing that I so sought needed to begin in my heart.

My Story

What follows is an excerpt from a book I am writing. In essence it will be the first volume of my autobiography. I got the idea to write my autobiography in several volumes from reading the works of Maya Angelou, who recently passed. So this is opening the door on how I viewED myself and honoring one of the greatest writers I have ever had the pleasure to read.

~

Later on, during that first year at Peyton Forest one of my new classmates asked me about the vitiligo which I was born with and was now spreading over my face, hands and legs. My mom tells me that there was a small spot on my butt but she and my dad didn’t realize it would grow to the degree that it did. About that time, it was becoming more noticeable and my mom started taking me to a dermatologist, Dr. Wilborn, to get it treated. The treatments consisted of the application of topical oxsoralen followed by exposure to UV light in a light box. This treatment is commonly known as repigmentation.
 
When Marlon asked me about it, I told him it was a skin disease. “Is it contagious,” he asked? “No, I replied. You can’t catch it.” “Does it hurt,” he asked. “No,” I responded. Why all the questions? Why was he singling me out? Healthy and emotionally grounded children are generally curious about the world around them. When they don’t understand something, they ask questions. I, however felt isolated. I was the center of attention. All eyes were on me and I did not like it. I never have. Some people seek out attention as the “be all to end all.” You can have it. I’d much rather stay in the corner of the room and go unnoticed.
 
At some point, after this day my mom asked me about what had happened. I recalled the incident, with great embellishment. Once while I was attending S.L. Lewis elementary in College Park, a young girl, Qui, referred to me as a “spotted pig.” I didn’t hear this from her directly, but from one of her close friends. And to think, I actually had a crush on her. I know it was true, because she never had a kind word for me. If I raised my hand to answer a question in class, I was trying to be the teacher’s pet. I recall her telling me, in so many words, that she really didn’t like me.
So there I was recalling the events of the day to my mom and the words just came out, “spotted pig.” Marlon really didn’t mean any harm. He was just asking a question. What he didn’t, nay couldn’t have known was that his questions put me in a position where I felt uncomfortable. I felt so uncomfortable that when the incident was recounted to my mother, he would become the villain. The worst part was that my cousin Brian overheard the story. Marlon would have to answer to Brian for insulting his cousin.
 
At some point over the next day, Marlon asked me why I told Brian what I did about our conversation. I can’t even recall what my response was. I just know I was taken back to what Qui had called me and I thought I was going to be isolated and singled out for scorn.
 
 
 
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Story County Jail Ministry (borrowed from every1one.org)


The opportunity to meet with the inmates at the Story County Jail was presented to me by Pastor Toran. I was informed of this in November of last year, after I was ordained. Pastor Toran asked if it was something that I was interested in. I can’t recall a time when I have turned him down for something that he presented as a ministry opportunity, and I wasn’t inclined to start with this, but it wasn’t an opportunity I jumped at the idea of having. I’ll get to that later.

After I agreed he had me contact Pastor Knight at New Birth Baptist Church who would go on to inform me of everything this would entail. He let me know that I would be meeting with the inmates one Sunday each month. He also let me know that I would be leading three services with two groups of males and one group of females. He tried to give me some background information about what the services could look like and shared some of his experiences as well. I still wasn’t overjoyed at the opportunity, but I felt it would be good for the inmates, and for BCC, and I was sure God would not allow the experience to be without its own rewards for me also.

Pastor Knight passed along the application and I contacted Sgt. Belz who was in charge of reviewing my application as well as giving me an orientation, which included a tour of the facility. He showed me the different housing units as well as the kitchen, which earned me a cookie because we came through that area as some were being prepared. SCORE! The inmates that I meet with are in two areas where they are rewarded for their good behavior. Because it is a more open environment, less supervision is required. This is good for the inmates and these areas require fewer staff. He showed me the room that would be used for holding services as well. There were tables and chairs as well as bibles that could be used and several other materials for AA and other substance abuse programs. The room where the services are held, is also used by a counselor. She counsels inmates on ways to improve their decision-making when they are released, among other life skills. Sgt. Belz was very warm and welcoming and also asked a question that Pastor Knight asked, “Who will be coming with you?” I told him that it would be me for now and that we, BCC, were working toward having someone partner with me at some point in the future.

I didn’t really know what to expect during my first Sunday. I did recall Sgt. Belz pointing out to me where the cameras were located in the room and where the blind spot was. I was keenly aware of this, but I wasn’t expecting any disturbances to occur. When the prisoners were allowed to come in I introduced myself to them, which I would have them do later as well. I’m still learning to improve on learning and remembering names in all areas of my life. The message I had would probably look more like a bible study. I started with having us read through John 13 and 14 and I picked several verses from these chapters to underscore God’s love for us through Jesus Christ. I was really focused on sharing how Jesus paid the ultimate price for our sins, knowing EVERYTHING about us. There is nothing that we have done or ever will do to separate us from this truth. There are generally 6-10 men in each group every time I have gone, with the exception of Resurrection Sunday, for obvious reasons.

The women’s group generally has about 5-8 attendees. One thing I noticed the first Sunday and subsequently each Sunday since is that I have really been able to connect with the women. As I have recounted this to a number of people I always share that the women are the last group I meet with and it might be that I have shared this word for two times prior and by the time I meet with the women, I’ve really gotten fired up and I know what I’m going to deliver. While this is true to a certain extent, I don’t think that’s all that is going on. Even in ministering the word, I have to be careful to listen to the Holy Spirit when I share what God has given me. Sometimes that means that something that was potentially powerful to one group may not translate as well to another. The other thing that I believe is God is developing in me a heart to minister to women. Had this been the only way this happened, I might have dismissed or just plain missed it. I had, however the opportunity to minister to two women on two separate occasions who showed up at BCC after Men’s Bible Study on Saturday. Both times this happened I immediately thought about whom I should call. We are taught, in this age, that men meet with and minister to men and women do likewise. This is sound practice and is set up to eliminate opportunities for compromise. But both times, I found myself in a situation where there were no women present. As I shared both experiences with Pastors Toran and Ana, I mentioned how this was my first instinct. Sometimes, God has a different purpose in mind. In both instances I listened to what their problems were and tried to leave them with scriptures that they could meditate on and know God’s love for them. I prayed with both and left pondering even more, “God what are you doing?” I don’t feel I have the full picture, but God has given me the experience(s) to piece together His revelation to me.

The last thing I will share is this: don’t wait to get all your ducks in a row to do what God is leading you to do. One thing I haven’t shared is how this experience has occurred during a time when I work most Saturday and Sunday nights. The beautiful thing about this experience is that since Pastor Toran knows my schedule, he gave me an “out” for not being in service on the third Sunday each month because of this opportunity. I’m not even sure if I would have taken it if he hadn’t suggested it. Even though I get to sleep in one Sunday each month, this experience didn’t come along at a time where I felt it would be particularly easy to do. I’ve had the opportunity to experience much of the joy as well as much of the sadness of walking beside and ministering to and with people. Weddings came alongside funerals alongside childbirths alongside divorces. I don’t regret one moment of any Never Ending Ministry Opportunity (Thanks Pastor Toran) I’ve had. Though many were joyous, many were also sad. It is, however through these experiences I came to understand and appreciate and love what God has called me to do. It didn’t happen on the sidelines, though. Whatever God is calling YOU to do, get your hands dirty and get in the arena.

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