Sunday, January 28, 2007

question and answers - part two

one of the bloggers who always makes me think outside the box, kristen noelle asked:
Have you had a chance to visit any soup kitchens? If so, what kinds of thoughts or feelings were evoked?
i remember visiting the famous "Pacific Garden Mission" in downtown chicago as a teenager. it was a very "us and them" situation to me at that time. the smell was overwhelming and all i could think of was how long before we got to leave.

facing my own addictions and living under crushing debt and in a situation where we had no options but the food back during our first time in ministry i realized there is no "us and them" in my life. we were one bad debt away from loosing everything. we probably wouldn't have been homeless as liam's family would have taken us in, but i know that the church we were killing ourselves for wouldn't have stood by us at all. they promised us when they hired him "part time" that we wouldn't starve. i think they invited us to their homes about 6 times in 30 months and like i said we were eating out of the foodbank. we starved in more ways than one.

this was where the seed was planted for this ministry dream. we had sold our house at a loss, moved away from family, had 2 kids under 4 and all we wanted to do was 'serve jesus'... in no time we were in a deep financial hole. as we slowly climbed out of it i remember being at the grocery store and seeing the donation boxes for the foodbank. a penny dropped and i began to ponder a better way.

at the same time i had begun reading henri nouwen. he wrote in one of his books (i think it might have been reaching out, but i can't be sure) about the idea that our western world is so full of people talking about doing things and never really getting things done. i knew i was one of those westerners. i hated that about myself. so i decided to take his advice. he called it 'furnacing' - allowing our ideas to be ours and god's and to spend time thinking about them instead of talking about them, and pouring the steam created by the excitement back into to project and allowing that to propel us farther on in the doing.

it was then that i decided to begin to furnace the idea of the foodbank. i worked on it in secrecy for 5 years. it became a wonderful dream, i designed logos, brainstormed contacts and prepared it all to the point of not having anything left to do except hand it away.

i told god that it was ready and i was willing to give it to anyone to do - (this is a HUGE project, not just a single foodbank, but a total revamp for feeding people with dignity and creativity). i told god i would wait until he told me who to hand it to.

it wasn't a month later that he did. he told me to give it to tony campolo. i laughed out loud. i knew i had misunderstood. i keep waiting and nothing else ever came. tony is one of my heroes. i literally would have followed him around the country with a little notepad writing down everything he said. i had never heard anyone speak so clearly about the heart of god, helping those in need and actually putting feet to the gospel.

i knew he would be at the national youth workers convention in pittsburgh that year, so i told god "fine, you won't give me any other names, then you have to work this out - you have to introduce me."

i went to every one of tony's seminars. after each session he is so kind and he stays to speak to anyone who will wait. i would stand to the side and so many pushy, male (sorry guys) youth workers just had to tell him something or other. i just couldn't get a word in edgewise. after the second seminar i looked at the front row and sitting there was peggy, tony's wife. she is a dear, sweet, spunky woman and i decided to make her acquaintance.

after introducing myself i asked if she could tell me how to get his attention. she told me that one page typed, no more, sent to his office at the school with an overview of what i wanted him to know would be the best way. i thanked her and left him to the swarms of pushy youth workers.

that same week tony's son bart's ministry, mission year had a booth in the exhibit hall. one of the goals of exhibitors is to get addresses for their mailing list. to do this a lot of the booths give away free ipods, laptops, gamecubes, etc. well mission year was having a 'free lunch with tony campolo'. i saw that and thought 'okay god, i'm calling your bluff, if this is real (and trust me i doubted it with nearly ever fiber of my being) i need to win that lunch.

you had to be on site during the draw to win. i found out when i got there there would be four winners. they picked the names and the final entry wasn't present. i was so disappointed. i really wanted it to be real. the girl reached into the bowl and pulled my name out.

i got to have lunch with tony and peggy, and three other very pushy youthworkers (i know you all aren't, but how could someone sit at lunch with tony campolo and decide that what they had to say was more important than what he or peggy had to say?? they commandeered the whole conversation) but i didn't care. i knew the lunch wasn't the time to get his attention, i just wanted confirmation. and i got it. i knew that when i said "i am the red haired woman you had lunch with in pittsburgh" he would know who i was.

i got home, typed up my one page, put it in a big, official envelope and mailed it away. i dusted off my hands and thought "good, now that is DONE". about 10 days later i had a letter from tony telling me that he loved my idea, i was to put together my board and enroll at eastern for their module masters degree in microbusiness where we would make this the project for the year and get it off the ground.

i shook, i cried, i called those who were in my tribe. i was dumbfounded. now i had to talk to my husband. in his defense (which by the way, he has repented of all of this, but at the time it was dastardly indeed) we had just moved to a new, huge church and had two pre-school aged children. he nay-sayed and bemoaned the possibilities that this could be real, that this could be god and that this could be for me. with my background i had two HUGE hurdles to overcome, patriarchy and the silent god. if the 'head of the household said no it meant no' and who was i to think that god really spoke to me?

i folded. i had no idea how to tell him i wasn't who he thought i was. it must have all been a mistake. the door slammed shut and i never even wrote him back to at least say thank you. it is the biggest regret of my life.

but i know that god is the god of second chances, and this idea really has legs. i don't know if it is for now, and looking back it probably wasn't for 'then' either - but it is really good and god did speak to me, and one of my heroes spoke truth into my life in a way i will never forget.

so while it might not ever look like i dreamed, the seed to feed the hungry has been placed deep within my soul and i know that it is a call on my life. thank you kristen for your question and encouragement. i need it. it's a lonely call and not immediately gratifying. you can see from above that i get easily discouraged. i need stamina and steam and a tribe. if you are the praying type please pray for me. i truly long to fulfill this and put it into the hands of those who can take this dream and make it a reality.


Hope said...

Wow - what a story and what a journey.

I'm reading a book right now called Same Kind of Different As Me. It's about a homeless man and a business man and their friendship. They met when the business man volunteered at a soup kitchen. It's a true story that might interest you.

Dearest one and I were brand new Christians when our church family sent us to hear Tony Campolo speak. It was during the Christmas holidays and there were maybe 20 people present. I never knew who Tony Campolo was but I never forgot how much I enjoyed listening to him speak.

God bless you my dear friend. The story isn't over yet.

sonja said...

Such a beautiful story, Bobbie. I love how steadfast you've been.

Kel said...

perhaps it is already in the hands of the one who can take this dream and make it reality

Kristin said...

I agree with Sonja--such a beautiful story. Thank you so much for gifting us with it.