Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Playing Soccer as a way to do ministry

Matt's face was striking when he came into the house at almost 7pm. He was talking on the phone, his eyes open in perpetual shock.

His voice was unusual, raspy and deep. "Man I was seeing stars coming over here!". "You guys won?" I asked, amused. "We lost. We were tied by the end of the game. We had the option of going to extra time or penalties, for some reason they decided to play extra time!"

It was 94° outside, and they played soccer for two hours.

He immediately went to the fridge to get some orange juice to recover from his sugar low.

He tried watching t.v for a while, and his face of comical affliction reminded me of my Sims characters when I willfully neglect their basic needs.

The park was literally a hellhole. The field was uneven and the sparse grass spots struggled to cover it. The thing could have easily been confused with an immense abandoned lot. The only seats available was a miserable couch someone had abandoned there, which the guys covered with blankets to make it usable.

And then there were the young guys playing. They were full of energy. Most of them came from Central America. All of them seemed amiable. Some of them were gangbangers. 

I connected with some of them, playing with them for a while before the game began. At the same time I had this deep sense that a huge ministry opportunity was being opened for us.

Many hours later, when both Matt and I were at the house, I realized that I wasn't the only one with that sense.

"Daniel, I had this 'Holy Spirit moment'", he told me. I got closer to him, intrigued. "Yes, when I was playing with those kids it just hit me, there could be a ministry opportunity there". "I'm glad I'm not the only one who felt it" I responded with my usual smile.

The gangbangers who were playing were from a different gang than the "chili peppers". Maybe God is trying to connect us with these two prominent gangs.

Many of them want to learn English but are unable to go to night classes because of their schedule. They told him that if only they could find somewhere they could go to learn English that would fit their schedule, many of them would gladly go. Matt had the idea that maybe we can offer them English classes in the context of a Bible study. We'll see.

Who knew that playing soccer was a legit way to do ministry?

Photo Credit: ElvertBarnes.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Scripture Tag- My Three Favorite Verses

    Trista from not a minx, a moron, or a parasite tagged me in a blog meme to blog about my three favorite verses. Seeing the fun in all of this, I began to think about my favorite verses. Truth is, there are too many to choose from! But I managed to narrow it down to three verses.

Corinthians 12:3

"Therefore I tell you that no one who is speaking by the spirit of God says, 'Jesus be cursed', and no one can say 'Jesus is Lord', except by the Holy Spirit" (NIV)

Those who know my testimony can tell you how important the outpouring of the Holy Spirit was in it (you can read it in the "About Me" section above). Being drawn to the Charismatic Renovation movement, this verse is particularly interesting to me. Knowing that I am able to say with that "Jesus is Lord!" only through the Holy Spirit brings me a lot of joy.

Psalm 23:1
"The LORD is my Shepherd, I shall not want" (King James Version)

Yes, I know, this verse is too popular, but for a good reason. I know that if I make Jesus my Lord, leaving everything into His hands and putting Him first above anything else, then I shall not want anything, for I have everything I need in Him. But this is easier said than done! Our pride gets in the way, our need to have control over our lives and surroundings. This is our daily struggle, our constant surrendering to Him as we die to ourselves to live for Him.

James 2:17
"In the same way, faith by itself, if it's not accompanied by action, is dead" (NIV)

This is one of my favorite verses not only for the potential apologetic discussion it brings against the doctrine of "Sola Fide", but also because it is a reminder that our faith in Christ, in order to be alive, must be accompanied by works. It is easy to get comfortable and feel that we have accomplished what is "needed of us" by simply going to church every Sunday. As if we are making God a favor just by going to Church on Sundays! This can happen to many of us, myself included. My prayer is that we reflect on ourselves and our actions so that we learn that this "church thing" is not a duty for every Sunday, but a living faith sustained by a relationship with the living God and those around us.

So there they are! And know it's my turn to tag:

Rules of the game: You must include a link to my blog, blog about your favorite three verses and tag three other bloggers. Simple, right?

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Doors being Opened in Oakland

I think I'm starting to like this place. Today marked my second day working as an intern for InnerCHANGE in Oakland, and it was a hectic, at times tedious, and yet satisfying day.

We started off the day with mass, going to the beautiful parish of St. Elizabeth. We had the opportunity to listen to a passionate preacher, Father Martin. His message of forgiveness as an important aspect in working toward justice with the poor was not only touching, but fitting to my experience.

I introduced myself to Fr. Martin, telling him my involvement with a missionary order for the summer, and that I was looking for a parish and for some ministry opportunities. He welcomed me warmly, and instructed me to come back to the parish office for more instructions.

After mass, our little group of three (my leader, her fiancee and me) went to one of the leader's house for morning prayer. After prayer and lunch we went grocery shopping and found ourselves burdened with unforgiving loads of bags, walking for one mile to get home.

We walked approximately 5 miles in our little adventure.

Arriving at the house, we didn't even bother with putting the groceries inside the fridge, but we were automatically led to the couch, where the three of us crashed simultaneously. 

Minutes later we awoke from our improvised nap and headed out to the parish office. We had a meeting with Fr. Martin where we shared our work with InnerCHANGE and our desire to connect in some way or another with the parish.

We talked about gangs. He shared how the parish High School is unfortunately known as a Chilli Peppers gang (not actual name of the gang, of course). He told us of the multiple ministries opportunities available in the parish, and that if we wanted to work on something specific he is open to listen about it.

He also told us of the charismatic nature of the parish (yay!) and of the two youth groups available at church.

We went out from our meeting rejoicing for the door God was clearly opening for us. "It's a Chilli Peppers High School!" I absurdly said with joy to the group. As I did this I felt the presence of the Holy Spirit stirring in me. I feel this is a great ministry opportunity and I'm excited to see how God will develop it.

It is unfortunate that these streets are filled with violence and tragedy. The stains of poverty are clearly seen in the colorful garments that these streets wear. The poignant faces of  frustration and struggle are looking at us from every corner.

But there is also great joy in these streets. Openness and friendship meets our gazing eyes almost everywhere. There is the hope of an open field, where the seed of the gospel is being planted by many. Its fruits are clearly seen with the eyes of faith.

Photo Credit: jdnx.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Oakland Here We Go!

Orientation is finally over. 5 days of information overload can, in a tragically fun way, burn you out.

I learned a lot about InnerCHANGE, so much that I'm afraid I'll forget half of it by the end of the summer. And what a better way to start my internship in Oakland with a much needed day off?

To say that I'm excited about this opportunity is an understatement. This is in spite of (or perhaps because of it) there's no clear direction in this ministry.

I'm staying with a group that it's just starting out in Oakland. Are we going to minister to the youth or the homeless, or even better, both? Is God calling us to this neighborhood or another one? There are so many open questions, and it is exciting to be part of this new beginning.

And then there's the danger. Oakland is infamous for its dangerous streets. I even think I heard gunshots last night before going to bed. And this being an incarnational ministry, we normally move in to the worst neighborhoods to minister.

To say that I'm missing the ministry in San Francisco is also and understatement. I haven't been gone for a full day and  yet I find myself missing it.

One misses the immensity of transitions until we are taking that last step to them. As I was in a car last night, my things jam-packed in the trunk and back seat, with the Oakland skyline ahead of me, it suddenly dawned on me.

This is probably one of the biggest steps I have ever taken in my life, and to say that I'm excited is a gross understatement.

Photo Credit: gerbache.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Sometimes I feel Discouraged...

This ministry has its way of surprising you. These mixed surprises are one of the few constants that one can rely upon in this seemingly unstable, volatile and at times fragile ministry.
They aren't always pleasant. Half of them aren't. Last night shouldn't have come as a surprise, but its unpleasantness can still be felt.

Nothing extraordinarily bad happened last Thursday night. It's seemingly uneventful nature was striking. It felt just "meh", boring even, and that was the biggest problem. Usually on Thursday nights things go one way or the other, great or terribly bad. The unbearable middle is unfamiliar, and to a certain extent, unwanted. Best part is that I was leading. Perhaps this is just an overly pessimistic view of it, it probably is. I know good things came out of it in the end.

I know God wants to do great things with this little group, but sometimes it feels like it's just dying. One night, last year, I was to lead the group as well. Nobody came so I just stayed there praying. I was saddened by the absence of the boys. But something happened while praying.

I felt God was giving me these undeniable sense that He wanted to do great things in this little group. He wanted to revitalize it, and He wanted me to be part of it. I was deciding whether I should continue volunteering in the group at the moment.

So I stayed, and the group slowly became one of my priorities. In fact, I felt in love with it. Good things started to come, but no drastic change, and at times it feels like nothing has changed. 

The group isn't consistently growing. There seems to be a lack of progress. Nights like yesterday makes me wonder if I was wrong in thinking that I was listening from God. It can be difficult to believe that when you see not much change.

But then again I have been lazy. I haven't planned out things as I should. I had relied too much on improvisation. I haven't prayed as much about it as I should. I forget that it is not my work, but His.

I find encouragement in this 19th century African American Spiritual, There is a Balm in Gilead:

Sometimes I feel discouraged
and think my work's in vain,
but then the Holy Spirit
revives my soul again.

This is my prayer today. Come Holy Spirit come. In the name of Jesus, Amen.

Photo Credit: jhcloud8.