Tuesday, May 19, 2009

A Little Child Shall Lead Them

... Spring Update
After they arrived at Capernaum and settled in a house, Jesus asked his disciples, “What were you discussing out on the road?” But they didn’t answer, because they had been arguing about which of them was the greatest.

Jesus sat down, called the twelve disciples over to him, and said, “Whoever wants to be first must take last place and be the servant of everyone else.

Then he put a little child among them. Taking the child in his arms, he said to them, “Anyone who welcomes a little child like this on my behalf welcomes me, and anyone who welcomes me welcomes not only me but also my Father who sent me. (
Mark 9:33-36, NLT)

I write to you from western Pennsylvania, home of Church Army USA. I moved here in late December, 2007, and soon found myself in charge of a school-age boy on the verge of homelessness. He came to live with me to finish his third and fourth school grades, while his mother worked toward financial recovery and re-establishment of a permanent home for the two of them.

Then along came the recession with its layoffs and scarcity of jobs. Present circumstances are indicating that this young man will remain with me another year, finishing out the fifth grade.

This young man, who I'll call Alex, says that he has Jesus in his heart, and looks up to me to support him in his belief. While I think I am teaching him, though, I suspect he is also teaching me.

From the start, his nature was to contradict everything that I say and imitate everything that I do. That abruptly taught me which was more important: words or actions. As he grows older and begins to test the limits of his behavior, choosing the right actions has become more challenging.

My core ministry has been caring for the homeless. What I'm learning from this small homeless person is what God wants me to do for any of the homeless. He wants me to welcome them as Jesus welcomed the little child. He wants me to be Jesus for them.

I don't think I'm up to that, of course. But that must be my goal. So until God moves me on to my next assignment, I need to learn that lesson so that I can take it with me.

Pray for me, friends, as I continue down the path that God has set out for me.
And thank you for your caring concern.

In that day the wolf and the lamb will live together;
the leopard will lie down with the baby goat.
The calf and the yearling will be safe with the lion,
and a little child will lead them all.
. (Isaiah 11:5 NLT)

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Core Ministry: the Homeless

. Spring Update

From the time I rededicated my life to Jesus out in the desert, I have always assumed that ministering to the homeless would be a part of my life. Here is a short summary of those times, as best as I can reconstruct them at the moment.

1995: My first ministry began right there in the desert. For three months I led a ragtag group of homeless in Morning Prayer on Sundays at Saline Valley Hot Springs, California. I used my experience as a licensed Lay Reader and my copy of the Book of Common Prayer to lead services. Three to six of us (or often just myself) met atop a lonely bluff overlooking our remote desert campground.

1996: Six months with the Mens Home at Victory Outreach Riverside gave me opportunity to interact with the homeless when we went on evangelizing trips into the roughest parts of town, looking for heroin and cocain addicts who needed Jesus. As Office Manager, I was on the front line of contact with men who called in looking for conseling and help. Most of these men were already homeless by the time they began reaching out for release from their addictions.

1997: A year in Springfield, Missouri put me in frequent contact with the homeless. As an outreach of Solid Rock Assembly of God, I went to the Town Square each Saturday evening to pass out leaflets that I had prepared at the church. Later, with another street evangelist, I planted a church just off Springfield's 'Skid Row' where more than one homeless man or woman turned their lives over to God. But when the town fathers found out we were ministering to the homeless—with up to a dozen people sleeping on the pews overnight—they promptly shut off our heat and electricity in the midst of a bitter, icy winter.

1998-99: While attending the School of Ministry at Victory Outreach in La Puente, I had occasion to join groups that visited Skid Row Los Angeles to evangelize.

2000: For a year I was director of the Mens Home for Victory Outreach Pasadena. We not only evangelized but also brought homeless men in from the cold to turn their lives over to Jesus, defeat their addictions, and learn the spiritual disciplines of prayer and bible study.

2001-2002: For two years I was assistant pastor at Harvest of Hope Assembly of God in Skid Row Los Angeles. This storefront church was established to minister to the thousands of homeless in central Los Angeles. Besides preaching and counseling the homeless—and living among them—I spent many hours patrolling the streets of Skid Row, seeking out homeless men and women in distress.

2003-2006: While attending graduate school at Vanguard University I joined Saint James Anglican, finding there an Episcopal church that was also orthodox, evangelical, and charismatic. I had several opportunities to join with members of Saint James in ministering to the homeless and preaching at the homeless shelter. After I graduated, Saint James helped start my ministry by founding the Rolin Bruno Benevolence Fund for the Homeless, and they have continued supporting me to this day.

2006-2007: With the Rev. James Giles of Church Army we launched Church Army Gulf Coast to minister to the homeless that were frequenting the food lines of God's Katrina Kitchen in Mississippi. The kitchen was feeding thousands of hurricane-struck residents and relief workers as they tackled the rebuilding of the Mississippi coastline. For over a year we ministered to the homeless who showed up at the food line in the kitchen, helping with referrals or just a shoulder to lean on. More intense care was provided to others, especially 14 men who we invited into my bunkhouse to work in Katrina relief, practice spiritual disciplines, and learn the 12-step addiction recovery program as taught by Church Army. All of them were touched by their experience there, and one of them—Samuel—we baptised in the Gulf of Mexico.

2008-2009: Moving to Pennsylvania, home of Church Army, I found myself in charge of a school-age boy on the verge of homelessness. He came to live with me to finish out the third grade and attend fourth grade while his mother did some financial recovery and attempted to re-establish a permanent home for the two of them. Then along came the recession with its layoffs and scarcity of jobs. Present circumstances are indicating that this young man will remain with me another year, finishing out the fifth grade.

Dear Friends, I'm late again getting back to you: I posted a dreary Winter Update on my web log, but didn't have the heart to send it out via email. The long and short of it is, after a disastrous year trying to find and maintain a reliable vehicle, God led me to a late-model car with a favorable and entirely unexpected loan approval.

God will provide. He always does. Thank you for your prayers.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Why the Homeless? (a selective autobiography)

I've added Discipling the Homeless to the title of this web log, after recent reflection on where God has been taking my ministry. So, how did a 20-year aerospace engineer end up with a call to serve the homeless? A short, selective autobiography may be in order.

The 1990's collapse of the aerospace industry left me jobless in a market where 20,000 middle management engineers like myself were out on the street. 18,000 of these had college degrees—a crucial qualification that I lacked. After sending out 740 resum├ęs, I finally landed an interview—and a top job—in the exact place where I had sworn I'd never work: central Los Angeles, which I had looked on as the belly of the beast.

My new job as Director of Information Systems for a department of the County of Los Angeles often required working late. This gave me a view of the ebb and flow of contact between the cultures in L.A.'s Korea-town: The 'Suits' (which included me) would arrive at 9am from the suburbs, and abandon the city promptly at 6pm. In my building, they were replaced by the marginalized Hispanic workforce, who came in to vacuum floors, clean bathrooms, and haul trash outside to fill up the dumpsters. By 8pm, the Hispanics had returned to neighborhoods such as East L.A., and were replaced around our building by the homeless, whose job it was to rifle through our dumpsters in search of food, saleable goods, and overnight housing materials. The Koreans, by and large, were the other witnesses of these migrations, as they tended the stores that served all four populations: Koreans, 'Suits,' Hispanics, and the Homeless.

Many of these homeless were mentally unstable, and some were downright dangerous. Others were just lost. A few were quite charming. I remember one small, frail, and elderly Hispanic lady. At night she would pick out small glass vials from the dumpsters behind medical facilities and scraps of flowers from behind florist shops. Then she would fashion these discards into miniature floral bouquets and sell them from her pushcart the next day for a dollar each. Somewhere along the way, and without my knowing it, God gave me a heart for these discarded homeless people.

Little did I know that I would soon be homeless myself. At the time, I had drifted away from religious life, and I was not serving God. In fact, although I was at the peak of my technical career, my personal life was in the toilet. I lost my home, my family, and my job, and ended up running away into the desert for a year. But there Jesus reached out to me and Called Me His Friend, and I rededicated my life to God. Leaving the desert, I was sure that God would be sending me to help the homeless on Skid Row Los Angeles, but that was not to happen right away.

Instead, God led me into Victory Outreach International, a church that was on fire for God. I saw the faith that they had, and wanted a piece of it for myself. I spent 6 months in the Riverside, California men's home learning spiritual disciplines and street ministry while reaching out to heroin addicts. I became the home's office manager; the first contact point for men who were often homeless because of their addictions, and were contemplating turning their lives over to God.

Leaving the men's home behind led me to more personal homelessness, but not for long. In Springfield, Missouri, I joined an Assembly of God church (while also attending three others) and began reaching out to the homeless who frequented the town square. With another street evangelist, I planted a church just off Commercial Street (Springfield's own 'Skid Row') where more than one homeless young man and young woman turned their lives over to God. That was a tough winter, with ice storms coating the streets and bringing tree branches crashing through the roof of the church. But when the town fathers found out we were ministering to the homeless—with a dozen people sleeping on the pews overnight—they promptly shut off our heat and electricity.

That church came to a crushing end, which I attributed to three deficiencies on the part of myself and the other evangelist: lack of training, lack of credentials, and lack of organizational covering. But mostly, the failure could be chalked up to a lack paying attention to the leading of the Holy Spirit, who had been encouraging us to bring more townspeople into church leadership. Nevertheless, I determined that I would not strike out on my own like that again, at least until I had the training, the credentials, and the covering.

When I returned to California, I sought out the mother church of Victory Outreach where its School of Ministry was headquartered. Discipleship and street evangelism to the addicted were the focus there, although there was also some outreach to the homeless. For the first ten weeks I lived under a bush, while attending classes, volunteering at the School, and working a full time job. I gathered every credential they then were offering: Christian Worker's Certificate, Christian Ministry Diploma, and Regional Leadership Training. I moved to Pasadena, where I served for a year as the Director of the Pasadena men's home, teaching Bible lessons and spiritual disciplines to former addicts.

But it was time for more. In fact, it was finally time for Skid Row. I moved into one of the Skid Row hotels (700 rooms, one maid), and within weeks found myself assigned as assistant pastor at Harvest of Hope, a storefront church of the Assemblies of God. Here I was in direct contact with street homeless, running Sunday services and preaching while still holding down that full time job. I attended Latin American Bible Institute to prepare myself for upper division studies before transferring to Vanguard University to get a Bachelor's degree in Religion.

After two years immersed in that once-feared belly of the beast, I moved to Orange County to pursue a Master's degree in Bible Studies. Taking time off from active ministry was painful, but I was gratified some years later when I found some of the formerly homeless that had been a part of Harvest of Hope participating in ministry to others at Saint David's Anglican Church in North Hollywood.

Orange County led me back to my historical roots in the Anglican tradition: I had heard that there was a charismatic Episcopal church in Newport Beach, but I had no idea that there was an Episcopal church that was also evangelical and orthodox. I found all three at Saint James Anglican, a church now aligning with the new Anglican Church in North America, although somewhat distracted by its property fight with The Episcopal Church.

With the completion of my schooling, I was ready to move back into full time ministry. Newport Beach, despite its $2.5 million-plus median home price, had its share of the homeless, but ministry to them was spotty and not well understood. Once-a-month or once-a-week ministry opportunities were just not what I was looking for. Father Richard Menees, who had been trying to recruit me as a missionary from day one at Saint James, suggested that I check out Church Army. "They take in misfits," he said. So off to Church Army headquarters in Pennsylvania I drove.

What I did not expect to find there was a little-noticed branch of the Anglican tradition, the Communion of Evangelical Episcopal Churches and its non-geographical fledgling Missionary Diocese of Saint Aiden Lindisfarne. Its bishop-in-waiting, Alan Morris, was preaching radical discipleship to a pair of house churches and had attracted a following of Trinity Seminary graduates with big ideas. I found in Alan a kindred spirit; combining the fire one might find at Victory Outreach with the respect for tradition known to the Anglican tradition. By the following year, I had been ordained a Deacon in the CEEC as one of 17 ordinands at a CEEC church in Florida.

A month in Pennsylvania and a month in Branson gave me a view of what Church Army was doing, especially with the addicted, but a month in Mississippi captured my heart. Homes, businesses, and whole towns had been wiped off the map (down to the slabs) and most of the help was coming from Church-based organizations, including James and Mary Giles of Church Army. They were making great strides at relief work alongside God's Katrina Kitchen, but had been flummoxed by the traditional homeless, who had always been there, but were now in worse shape than ever before, since their supporting services had been mostly wiped out by Katrina.

In a year-and-a-half in Mississippi, we ministered to the homeless who showed up at the food line in the kitchen, helping with referrals or just a shoulder to lean on. More intense care was provided to others, namely 14 men who we invited into my bunkhouse to work in Katrina relief, practice spiritual disciplines, and learn the 12-step addiction recovery program as taught at Church Army Branson. Of the 14 men, 12 had a history of substance addiction, while the remaining two were simply chronically homeless. All of them were touched by their experience there, but the majority relapsed into their addictions. One of them—Samuel—I baptised in the Gulf of Mexico, assisted by James Giles.

When the Mississippi mission came to an end, I was at a loss as to where to go next. Now I had the training (Men's recovery homes, Skid Row, 12-Step recovery); the credentials (Ministry School, B.A in Religion, M.A. in Bible); and the Covering (Deacon in the CEEC, Captain in Church Army). All I thought I needed was the next task from the Lord . How wrong I was. At my Bishop's invitation, I moved back to Pennsylvania to help the diocese.

It wasn't long before the Lord sent me my next task: caring for a grade-school child on the edge of homelessness. My detailed ministry budget got knocked into a cocked hat while I redirected resources into school lunches, allowance, basketball team fees, and most of all, disastrous automobiles. Yet I'm still being true to my core ministry—as Saint James termed it—the Rolin Bruno Benevolence Fund for the Homeless.

Thank you, Lord, for your promise that you would always be there for me.