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Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Offering more than a meal

Last Monday night, while on the UBFM Nashville ride, I bumped into a gentleman that I have come to know well. I have provided a meal for him on a few different rides. He is homeless and he makes money by playing his guitar and singing in Nashville. His typical venue is the sidewalk but he occasionally plays in one of Nashville's many country music dives. We'll say his name is Richard (I'd rather not use his name for privacy reasons. Give me a shout if you want to know more about him.) I have come to learn that he's one of many homeless musicians in Nashville. Since it is a common destination for musicians the competition in Nashville is hell, and getting your foot in the door takes an act of congress.

When I met up with Richard I sat with him while he ate one of the burritos I gave him. We talked about some of the places he has been playing. He said the winter time has been tough because there are not as many people out to donate tips. He also said he had been struggling with some voice problems too which makes it very difficult to sing. Then, he changed the subject and asked if I had heard of a particular country music artist. Even if I had heard of this artist, I loathe country music. I told him that I was not familiar. He told me it was his brother and to pull up a video on YouTube so we could watch it. I pulled it up on my phone and Richard and I watched the video. His cigarette-beer breath lingered in my personal space as he gave a detailed commentary of the worst country music video and song I have ever heard. I was temped to "accidentally" drop my iPhone in the nearest drain grate so I could cut the song short. Just when I started to get nauseous the song ended. Richard insisted that I watch some of the other videos later. I nodded and told him that I needed to move on. He then said to me, "Hey man, thanks for taking the time to watch that with me. And thanks for being my friend. We don't get a lot of that out here." I scooped up my humbled heart and crammed it back into my chest before I carried on.

Sometimes we think that ministry has to appear to be life-changing and transformational. We sometimes think that food, clothing, and even shelter are the greatest needs for our homeless communities. But, in many cases the greatest need is in the form of a relationship. People on the streets are so accustomed to being avoided by the greater public. There is a need for a street ministry of listening. Let me suggest that when you get a chance or if you are a UBFM volunteer, on the next ride, make a friend and get to know someone. Listen to them, let them talk for a while, and take the time to create a relationship. A little bit of love can go a long way.  

Peace,

Tommy

Planting a New Tree

During the summer of 2012 I planted a seed in Memphis. In four years this seed has grown into a tree, blossomed, and branched out. A lot of you know exactly what I am talking about. This is a metaphor for the Urban Bicycle Food Ministry. When I planted that seed I had no idea that it would grow into the ministry it is today. I thought it would be a fun project for a small circle of friends. For years we would meet at one of the local pubs that offered 3-dollar pints on Wednesday nights. I never meant to stop doing that; I just thought a short bike ride around town with a mission would be a good way to start the night.

Initially, I was hesitant to tell any one of this idea I had. I wanted to ride my bike around Memphis and deliver food to people in need. I also wanted to meet and make friends with those affected by homelessness. But, I knew if I told my friends and family of this plan they would ask too many questions and potentially discourage me. So, I decided to try it alone and not tell anyone. It was a Wednesday night that my friends and I opted to not hit up the pint night. I made 15 bean and rice burritos in my kitchen; I ate one for myself and rolled out on my fixed gear. I was able to ride from my midtown duplex to the river, about a ten mile roundtrip. With the stops and interactions it took about an hour. After I arrived back at my house and sat down on my couch, a feeling came over me that I have never experienced. I don't have a way to explain it but I knew that it was good and I couldn't wait to do it again. The next day I told my friends about the ride and they were enthusiastic. Some of them wanted to join me on the next ride. The following week there were five of us and we delivered twice as many burritos. From then on, it started to grow. More and more people became involved until it blossomed into a ministry. It is now a legitimate non-profit organization. It has been over four years since that first ride and the project continues to grow and gain publicity.

Though, I planted the seed for this tree to grow, I cannot take credit for where it is today. Numerous people have come along with unique and specific gifts and talents; they have applied their ideas to make it what it is today. My role in all of this has been the creation of a conduit for people to witness a need for their unique gift and apply it. I believe every human creation of God has a specific gift to use for serving God. 1 Peter 4:10 speaks a little bit about this, as does several other excerpts of the text. Though, I am not certain that all people use their gift to serve or use their gift at all. The idea with UBFM has evolved from a simple platform for acts of kindness to a conduit for individuals to use their gifts to serve God through serving their neighbors.

I have since moved on from UBFM Memphis and allowed other people to continue to nurture and grow the organization. Due to that, it has continued to blossom and broaden its reach. I am constantly taken aback by the wonderful things God continues to do with that ministry and its many disciples. But, now I have taken the initiative to plant another seed. Since moving to middle Tennessee the idea of UBFM Nashville has been on my mind. Last summer I began working on it. I have worked out most of the logistics and the time has come to spread it out. I have reached the obstacle of not having enough help. Not only am I looking for more riders but I am also looking for various contributors.

The primary focus of this new project is not just to help our neighbors affected by homelessness and poverty, but rather to create a conduit for individuals to use their unique gifts to help people that are in need. This year I will be searching for churches, clubs, and various organizations that will allow me the opportunity to present and guest speak about UBFM Nashville and applying unique gifts and talents to help people in need.

If you are interested in joining me in growing and nurturing this new plant, we meet to ride at Green Street Church in Nashville, on Mondays at 6:00pm. If you are interested in having me as a guest speaker, I am taking requests. If you are interested in contributing in other various ways or have any questions email me, tgclark@memphisseminary.edu

There is a light that shines on us all; let us allow that light to reflect back onto the world.

Peace,

Tommy