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Monday, March 3, 2014

A Ministry Challenge

Over the past year and a half, since I started Urban Bicycle Food Ministry, I have wondered about its future. I have had good feelings about it all along but I have been blind in regard to its forthcoming. Since I started I have been thinking and praying about things, trying to discern something bigger than simply passing out food and supplies to people on the streets once a week. Naturally, I have some huge ideas. It seems that everybody does. The ideas are, more or less, fun thoughts than anything else. A year ago I had an idea to start shopping around for a bigger location, something that would allow us to reach more people and potentially provide more services. I let that idea slip out of my hands. I have to admit, I was a bit scared. There was a fear of getting away from its original location, my home. At that time I knew the work we were doing was good and I was content with leaving it at that. However, as we ease into this year, I am finding out that was not God’s plan. It may have been my plan: staying comfortable, meeting my friends once a week, and going for a bike ride. But that was not the big picture. God had something else in mind.

I preach a lot about the challenges of being a Christian. There is a challenge always waiting for the Christ follower. Whether we choose to accept the challenge or not, we are loved unconditionally. If we don’t accept, one of two things will happen. One: another challenge will appear. Two: we will become restless. We won’t be able to sleep, nothing will feel right, and it will seem like something is always missing. Have you ever experienced cabin fever? I’m not talking about the 2002 film by Eli Roth. I’m referring to the feeling when you want to get out of the house and do something so bad but you feel trapped? It will feel a lot like that. Not really, but almost. Now, if we do accept the challenge one of two totally different things will happen. One: you will feel a sort of spiritual director, especially when you start to lose confidence. Two: you will face weaknesses. A challenge is an obstacle. Any athlete will tell you that once you overcome an obstacle you become stronger. Accepting these challenges and overcoming these obstacles allows the Christian to become stronger in spirit and ultimately closer to God. 

So, I became restless. I lost sleep. I became irritable, yes I became irritable and yes God made me that way. But we all know that if you irritate someone long enough they will move. I had no choice; I had to move. I started to get so many donations I couldn’t walk around my house. I cut a maze through the boxes of non-perishable food, cases of water, boxes of clothes, and bicycles just so I could walk out the door. Something had to happen and I was ready for it. After much prayer and meditation I received an answer. An email came to me from a large church downtown. They were familiar with UBFM and they offered for us to use the church kitchen and a supply room. We would be able to meet there every Wednesday night. I couldn’t believe it. What was the catch, I wondered. This was way too uncomplicated. As we found out later on the first night of the meeting, there was a catch: don’t harm the poinsettias in the main lobby. That’s it. Just because I like to rise above expectations, I sometimes sit and talk to those plants when the church is empty.

The church is huge. Growing up in a rural small town church, it is bigger than anything I have worshiped in. It even has an elevator we can load up to move donations to our supply room. The kitchen is full of stainless steel equipment. When I went to look at the place, I was in awe. The pastor and associate showed me around the area we would be working in. I couldn’t believe it. Next to the church was an old vacant, two-story building. I mentioned it them while they were showing my girlfriend Ellen, and I around the church. They immediately asked if we wanted to see it. It turns out the church owns the building. It is a little run-down bit it has a lot of potential. I think we were all thinking the same thing. Could this be a potential place for ministry? Could UBFM use this building for something? A community center? Hospitality hub? A shelter? It is big enough for all of the above. At that moment I was already feeling a little overwhelmed. I told them I wanted to think and pray about this. But for the time being, we would love to use the church.

So there you have it. Finally, I move UBFM out of my house and I can walk around my dinning room without tripping. But the restlessness continued. I couldn’t stop thinking about that building and its potential. It’s located on our Wednesday delivery route. I have stopped many times to visit people curled up next to the building. There’s something about this. I started to feel like it is all falling into place. From UBFM, its publicity, and growth to the church and building. There is something at work here. I know this building will require money to renovate; it will most certainly be a costly undertaking but that is not my challenge. As a matter of fact, I feel certain that God will provide. My element of burden in regard to this project is commitment. I have a fear of failure that is clouding my commitment to this project. I prayed. In my prayers I asked for some time to contemplate this whole idea. I also asked for encouragement. So, I think and wait. I try to be open to every possible idea that comes to me. One thing I do have is the most supportive team of people in the world helping me out. Aside from my family, I receive more encouragement and support from my UBFM group than I do anywhere else. It is just a big melting pot of people that have huge hearts and giving spirits. Any time they have a suggestion about something, we try it. This is just as much theirs as it is mine.

One of my loyal members suggested that we should coordinate a silent auction as a fundraiser. I thought this a magnificent proposal. I started to round up all of my resources for the event. At the same time, I continued to think about the building. If this fundraiser is successful, perhaps it will jumpstart not only a building budget, but my confidence as well. As I began organizing this fundraiser, I realized it would cost a bit. I would have to reserve a place, have it catered, and somehow accumulate some items to auction. There was a moment I started to back out of it. The same fear of commitment started to come over me. I prayed. Actually, it was one of those informal prayers while I was driving down a busy street in Memphis, that went like this, “Okay, God, I’m just gonna go for it. I’m going to step out on a limb of faith. You with me? Amen” I guess it was more likely of an affirmation than it was a prayer. Anyway, it was a conversation with the Creator. I continued on with my errand running for the day. Within the hour of that prayer, I got it. I was in line at the super market and decided to check my email, and there it was: PayPal notifying me I just received a $500 donation from a random person. I had to bite my tongue. Tears welled up in my eyes. It might have been from biting my tongue but they were tears of joy, nonetheless. Not only did this jumpstart our funding for the fundraiser, but it furthered my confidence. It was what I needed to make the event happen. But it was also what I needed to shove past the fear of moving forward with the project. It was an answer from God, immediately. This project fell into my lap for a reason, the same reason UBFM happened. It is a call to ministry. It is God’s work in the world.

The following week I received two more PayPal donations affirming this event will happen. It will take place Saturday, April 12, 2014 at the Overton Park Golf Clubhouse. I am still coordinating and accumulating items to be auctioned. The money raised during this event will be focused on this building, God willing. In the meantime, I am doing some research on codes, grants, materials, and estimates. I strongly believe that if God wants something to happen, it will happen. From getting to know the people who are part of this organization, I am certain that anything can be done. I see so much love and compassion in this group of people I can’t help but to be confident. Thank you all for giving me this. I am in my first year as an ordained minister. I had no idea it would be so full of awe. I have been blessed to see God work meticulously. But, I do not necessarily see it through me, the minister. I see it through you, God’s people.