Saturday, October 28, 2017

Good Samaritan Cycling Team

About to hit the streets with Art.
Do you ever have those moments when you just know that what you are about to do is either going to be totally awesome or an epic fail? Where the line between innovation and ignorance is blurred, and probably you will look like a fool, but maybe do something significant in someone’s life?

That’s basically what the Good Samaritan Cycling Team is all about.

We are a (small) team of bike riders (I don’t think we qualify as cyclists yet!) who are dedicating to serving our homeless, transient or just struggling neighbors in downtown Fort Myers. Basically, we ride around downtown to places where people find shelter during the day and pass out cold water, granola bars, socks, bug spray and other helpful items to folks on the street. But frankly, that is just an excuse for us to get to know the neighbors we serve. Really we’re just looking to love on them, and if possible to help them figure out how to get into a healthier and safer situation. I’ll confess up front: the idea might sound ludicrous. But, over the last three months it has been the source of a lot of joy, and even fun, for our riders and the friends we serve.

The inspiration for this ministry came on one (of many!) trips of John’s to physical therapy downtown. Day after day he would pass obviously struggling people waiting for buses, pushing carts or loaded-down bikes, and just trying to find shade from the brutal heat here. In the midst of watching this scene unfold repeatedly he felt God push ask him how he might love those neighbors. The answer that immediately came to mind was cold water. The public water or water in the parks of downtown Fort Myers is warm and nasty and not a relief for hot, tired people. The question then was how. It’s not practical to walk, and it’s very difficult to pull over a car every time you see someone in need (not to mention it would freak people out). After chewing on this question for a few weeks the light finally came on: bikes! If the bikes were outfitted to carry coolers you could get around quickly and approach people naturally (well, as natural as can be when you are doing something weird like this).

We then had the pleasure of finding a local bike shop, The Bike Route Inc., who wanted to help us out. Their team agreed to provide four bikes at no cost to us; we just paid for tune ups and the gear (thanks Bill, you’re the man!). So we had the bikes, we got some supplies, and that’s how the Good Samaritan Cycling Team began!

As you can imagine, it has been a very interesting experience (to say the least) . . . we’ve done lots and lots of learning, seen many new relationships develop, and have found God at work in downtown Fort Myers. Over the next series of posts, I will share a handful of experiences from our rides and a few takeaways  from the ministry thus far.

We've definitely upgraded the cooler since beginning!

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Why Are You Doing This: Motivations, Part Four

So, let’s ask the question one last time . . . “Now why are you doing this?”

We're doing this because there are lots of disciples out there serving now, and we believe that a network of like-minded local missionaries can maximize our impact.

We don’t want Burning Bush Communities to be limited to the work that John, Amy and our small community will do.  Our desire is to grow into a network that supports ALL the grassroots ministries and missionaries in our backyard who are already working and sacrificing for Kingdom transformation. We are newcomers and novices when it comes to grassroots ministry in Fort Myers, and our hope is to support and encourage the folks that we are joining in this work.

Since beginning this journey we have discovered a number of amazing ministries being led by “normal”, working people, who sacrifice their time, energy and money to serve others in Christ’s name. They do all kinds of awesome things, like:

- serving hot, delicious meals to the homeless in parks downtown,
- developing resource sharing networks for struggling people in central Fort Myers,
- mentoring adolescents in Dunbar and Lehigh,
- holding church services for the homeless at Centennial Park,
- operating bike repair and refurbishing services for the poor,
- and much more.

Many of these grassroots ministries have very little financial and development assistance, or administrative help, or even simply emotional or spiritual supports. We want to change that! It is a goal of BBC to create an “opt-in” network for all the grassroots ministries serving in Jesus’ name. There will be no cost for ministries join this network; we will simply offer support administratively, financially, emotionally and spiritually so that they can focus their time and energy on their ministry. Furthermore, we hope a network like this will encourage others to join into the labor. We believe that if we can provide a “mission hub”, a place where aspiring missionaries are supported in their ministry efforts from start to finish, they will be more willing to take the risk in trying to birth a new ministry.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Why Are You Doing This: Motivations, Part Three

Today, I will get straight to the point with a motivation that is simple and personal.

Why are we working on launching Burning Bush Communities?

We are launching BBC because we are compelled to share the gifts we've received from God. More specifically, both Amy and I (John) have been outrageously blessed by people who loved us, shared their lives with us, and poured into us as disciples, many outside of "normal church ministries," and it is our joy to calling to now do the same for others. I don't say that to take away from what we received from established church ministries, but simply to recognize that many of the people who shared what faith in Christ was about with us often did so through unrecognized, un-lucrative (at least in the eyes of our soceity) and "underground" type ministries.

These are the people who:
- sought out the company of confused and angsty middle and high-school kids to share God's love with them
- took crazy college students on retreats, put up with their arrogance, antics and failures,
- patiently listened to the aforementioned students and walked with them joyfully,
- invited us to live and work with them overseas, when we were culturally (and perhaps hygienically   in the case of John) clueless,
- invited us to be a part of an amazing ministry, even when we (John, again!) were putting the pieces of our faith together after walking away,
- ultimately shared in Christ's labor to give birth to us as children of God.

If it seems hyperbolic to say we were "outrageously blessed" I hope the above list provides some justification. The truth is, these were outrageous people, in all the best ways. And now it is our motivation and our joy to take the gift we received from them and pass it on to all the people around us (each of whom is outrageously loved by God!) who are searching, hoping and fighting to see God outside the walls of our established churches.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Why Are You Doing This: Motivations, Part Two

Today, fearless readers, we are continuing along in our mini-series about what a few of our motivations are in launching Burning Bush Communities. However, before diving back into that conversation I do want to make you aware of one thing: there are many statistics we could cite to back up our claims in the previous post and in this post, yet we will not be citing these statistics. Frankly, as a society we are inundated by statistics and data that are taken out of context or not explained, and as good as statistics can look they rarely convince people who believe otherwise. So, you'll just have to trust us that there is evidence to back us up, or if you are truly desperate to get to the bottom of things you can always email us through the website and we'll take care of it!

And now we can move forward!

In our last post we shared that God gave us a heart for the people (our people!) of our generation, who are largely not connected in any significant way to mainstream (both traditional and contemporary) churches. I also made the comment that we had not always had a heart for our generation, and indeed it came as something of a surprise to us. Both Amy and I (John) served full-time in cross-cultural ministries for several years; Amy served with Youth With a Mission all over the world, and I served with Faithful Servant Missions in Costa Rica. Both of our journeys and faiths were significantly impacted by serving children, the poor and the forgotten in the corners of the world. As such, we felt that there were plenty of great people serving in the US and God could do more with us elsewhere.

Clearly, based on the last post, God changed our thinking! However, God did not change our desire to serve those who are not a priority in our society or world. As we spent time considering our work in the church in America and researching church realities we recognized a significant issue: a great many churches have programs that benefit marginalized and poor neighbors, but these neighbors rarely are the target audience of the church. The hard truth is that because churches use modern marketing techniques and strategies (no judgment intended here), and base their programming on those strategies, they tend to aim at the "median" sections of the population around them. In many parts of our country, and certainly in SWFL, that means they are aiming at bringing white, middle-class, cultural Christians into church. Again, this is not to pass judgment, but just a demographic reality. Furthermore, because churches have an eye on stable members for the future, they typically target stable families.

One of our core motivations in launching BBC is to create a ministry dedicated to serving and making disciples who are not around the "median" or on the "beaten path" culturally. The same motivation that sent across foreign borders is now sending us across domestic borders. Specifically, we want to go be with and love on the groups who are not on the radar of other local churches, but who are unseen or always slipping through the cracks. These people come in all shapes and sizes and colors and backgrounds, and they are people who God created for a purpose and who Christ gave His life for. Our prayer is that as God grows us we will see all kinds of crazy ministries birthed to love these neighbors and share the Kingdom with them... and that you, fearless reader, will stick around to enjoy the ride with us!

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Why Are You Doing This: Motivations, Part One

Keeping with the topic of frequently asked questions, and perhaps the biggest question we get, is,
(drum roll please!)

"Now, why are you doing this?"

A simple yet profound question!

Of course it takes far more than a casual blog to get to the bottom of all our motivations, but I will dedicate the next series of blog posts (or at least until Baby Halley #2 arrives) to dealing with a few of the motivations that drove us to launch Burning Bush Communities. (Note that this discussion will assume that we believe we've been called to serve in full-time ministry and that we also believe God put BBC on our hearts.)

The most important motivating factor in our decision to start BBC is the love that God placed in our hearts for our own, much maligned, generation. We are the generation that grew up with all the youth groups, well funded trips, "relevant" leaders, Christian paraphenalia and were super saturated with cultural Christianity, and then as soon as we left home many of us left the church and haven't looked back much. I believe we are also the first generation that got to drink the full brew of modern American dysfunction: disentegrating families, disconnection from community, endless entertainment, all encompassing individualism and of course the materialism that we hoped would bring a better tomorrow. Not surprisingly, the outcome of this toxic brew is cynicism and skepticism towards all institutional religion, and particularly the church.

For a long time I (John) felt no calling to my own generation. For a variety of reasons (which I will explain in later posts) my heart was elsewhere. But over the last three years God grew a passionate love in my heart for my own generation, and showed me that they are in fact my people, and a people God is after. God gave me a holy dissatisfaction with the reality of my generation leaving the church, estranged from community, and pursuing the empty promises and idols that our culture clings to.

As that passion grew for my people so did my discontent with the response from the American church. This is not to point fingers or blame (and I understand the social and historical factors here- it isn't easy to change how you operate!), but I became convinced that our response as a church had not been nearly radical enough in light of such a massive failure to make disciples of a generation. There are many great people who are spending themselves to see children's ministries and youth group ministries transformed in light of what happened with my generation. But frankly there seems to be very little interest in or passion for my people in their 20's or 30's who left the church and are desperately trying to making it through life, and are accumulating scars in the process.

All of this crystallized for me last January, as I sat and listened to a message about the Prodigal Son.* It was all a very good message, but a handful of lines spoke directly to me. The speaker was discussing the older son who never left home and was upset with the love the father showed for the younger son when he returned, and said, "A true child of the Father would share His heart... the Father couldn't leave home and go after the younger son, but his older brother could have! And if he had been a true son of the father, and a true brother, he would have."

Hearing those words I recognized that God had put this love on my heart for a reason, and it was to go after my brothers and sisters, my people, who desperately needed to make it back home. That realization, that God was calling us to go after our people, was the primal motivation that started the movement in our lives that became Burning Bush Communities.

*The talk was the final address at the Underground Network's 2017 "One" conference, given by Brian Sanders. Thanks for the motivation Brian!  

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

What's in a Name?

"So what does your name mean?"

We get this question frequently. . . and there's a lot to our answer. So, if you are curious, please bear with me as I share a bit about our name, Burning Bush Communities!

The simplest answer is that while we were at a conference last year praying for our city the image of the burning bush from Exodus 3 popped into my head. Interestingly, that was a symbol used later that evening during a worship time, but at that point it had not been used or mentioned. The image made a definite impression on us, and as we made the decision to launch a new ministry the image of a burning bush immediately came to mind.

If you don't know the story of the burning bush, or haven't read it in a while, the key is that God gets Moses' attention through a bush that is burning but not consumed. Once God has Moses' full attention, he then commissions him to go and confront Pharaoh and lead the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt, saying in 3:10, "So come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.” (Of course at that point Moses does everything in his power to avoid that job, but that's a story for a different post!)

So what does that have to do with us?

1. We believe we share Moses' vocation. 
Our city (and world) is full of people who are hurting and downtrodden. The so-called freedom that our culture promises has not brought about flourishing, but rather all kinds of new 'Pharaohs', addictions, enslavements, and lost promises. Given our situation, we cannot simply wait inside our churches or social service agencies, or with our standard 'charitable postures' and hope for the best. Rather, God is sending us out to join him in the fight for his people. (It's important to say here also that we are no saviors ourselves, but simply people who accept that loving your neighbor means sharing their burdens and laboring for their God-desired flourishing.)

2. We want to be a burning bush (#shrublife anyone?).  
We believe God intends to get everyone in on this work! We want to call, train, serve and support anyone in our city who is ready to ask what God is up to and how they can be a part of it. This is not a battle for a handful of select people. This battle is for an ever-growing team of ordinary people taking hold of their true vocations to love God and neighbor. Ultimately, we can only fulfill our commission by bringing others into the work.

3. Communities are more capable instruments of transformation than individuals.
It's hard work to try to love a neighbor as ourselves and serve God with passion. If we're serious about doing this for the long-haul then we have to do it together. Alone, we will simply run out of gas. Additionally, we believe that we can best hear our call into God's work and be equipped for it through the nurture of a community. The community is the bonfire flame that sends out the sparks to ignite others. And finally, a community that struggles together, loves together and holds together is far greater witness to God's movement in our world than a lone ranger, and therefore is more capable of calling others into God's work of transformation.

So that's the story of how and why we named ourselves after history's most famous flame-proof shrub!

Baby Steps into Mission: Presence, Part 2

Faithful readers, I apologize for the long delay in getting this blog up. Between summer vacation, official cross country practices starting...