Activation: Faith in 2015

This post starts a short series this week wrapping up 2014 and looking forward to some specific goals for the year to come…

I stood in the doorway of the dining area at Hope Rescue Mission at noon on Christmas day. They would serve, as with Thanksgiving, almost 250 men with their holiday meal. The chaplain, Steve Olivo, stood to my left.  We exchanged some small talk and I asked him if he was keeping an eye on things at Hope.  Steve normally is present for the “second shift” of time in the late afternoon and early evenings.

Robert Turchi, the director, passed by us and said, “Yeah he is, twenty-four-seven.” It took me a second.

“Really?” I asked.

“I live here now,” Steve replied. “It’s not the first time.” This is a man with a family and a home outside the walls, living at the Mission and overseeing the more than one hundred residents. I’m still struck by his comment.  I spent the rest of the day asking myself if I could do the same.

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Photo Credit: Karin Viva via Compfight cc

Pastor Olivo is one of my heroes and one of the reasons I’m writing Overcome. The men and women in the city of Reading working on the front lines of the fight against poverty deserve to be highlighted and my goal is that this book shines a light on their efforts.

I pray our faith transforms in 2015, that it is active and moving, engaging and passionate.  I pray that our boys see God reflected in us. I pray that I can serve Val and help guide our family to follow this path we are traveling.

2015 will be a year of lifting.  I’ll be honest, I’ve spent too much time on the sidelines.  I was Zacchaeus climbing the tree.  I’d get myself closer, higher up above the noise of life, yet wouldn’t push though the crowd to get my hands on Jesus.

I know now he has come to me and told me to climb down.

I’m praying that 2015 is the year your writing, your faith, and your dreams are realized. Give yourself permission to climb down or, at this point, just jump for it. The hands of grace are ready and waiting to catch you.

~Matt

Why We Write: To Start a Movement

This post starts a series on writing and inspiration.

I believe we are all called to start something.  You may find yourself in the midst of the corporate world, doing a job you love and building for the future.  You may find your days with children and family members, running a house and being the backbone of a family. You may be alone in your apartment trying to decide what is next and what you can do to make tomorrow different.

We are all called to start something.

You can be satisfied or struggling and, deep inside, feel that pull to create.  What is uniquely yours and how can it be used to make the world a better place?

As I’m writing this book, one of the first organizations included was Mercy Community Crisis Pregnancy Center.  I’ve spoken to family members and coworkers about this outreach and their efforts to help women, children, and their families in the city of Reading, PA. My mother works at a local hospital.  She sent me an email today saying that the Radiology department of the hospital will be sponsoring Mercy for the Christmas season.

Words creating action. A story leading to an outpouring of support. The actions of the hospital employees will directly help families in need.

I want this book to make a difference.  The movement has started. I’m excited to see what is coming and how it will keep growing.

 

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Photo Credit: Abi Booth Photography

So why do something to create movement? Why listen to that small voice urging you to grasp that gift inside and create? To reach out and push against your comfort zone? Because we are called to make a difference, to use this time we have to make someone’s life better.

We write to lift our voices and, hopefully, lift up others at the same time.

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.- Romans 8:28

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Christmas is Val’s holiday.  I’ll admit it.  I love Halloween.  She loves Christmas.  We’ll watch every movie on Hulu and Netflix, play the songs on the car radio, and decorate as much of the house as possible.  The holiday itself carries fond memories for most of us and mixed feelings for others.  This corridor of Thanksgiving and Christmas places us in direct contact with family members who we do not often see the other ten months of the year.

I can’t read the title of this post without hearing Andy Williams singing the first line of the song.  Go ahead. Try it.

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Today, on my lunch break, I visited Mercy Community Crisis Pregnancy Center for the first day of their Christmas events. They are an outreach ministry working with men, women, and families in crisis dealing with issues from unexpected pregnancy to abusive relationships and parenting classes. Mercy has served multiple generations of families across the city.

I spoke with Judy, a volunteer for the past fifteen years, after she had finished handing out the gift bags to the first wave of clients.  Mercy hands out bags of donated toys separated into gender and age groups. Parents register for the gifts and complete parenting classes before they are eligible for the Christmas program.

Three hundred children would be served this month, three hundred children in the city getting some joy from the compassion of people willing to donate toys.

I asked Judy if she has seen an increased need as the economy fell apart in the city.  She said that the severity of need has drastically increased. There are families that walk through Mercy’s door with nothing, no home, no clothes, no food.  She told me she still finds herself crying with clients after all the years of volunteering.

As we hit the malls this month, real and virtual alike, it is important to have perspective.  This is the time to give, to reach out to those in need.  Find a charity near you and pay them a visit or send them an email.  The person you reach should easily be able to give you a list of resources they lack at the moment.

The knowledge that you made a difference is a greater payoff than anything you’ll receive under the tree this year.

~Matt

Soundtrack inspiration: One of my favorites from Lifehouse.

 

Feel Good Friday 9/26/2014

On a previous Feel Good Friday post I mentioned the story of Devon Still, the Cincinnati Bengals defensive lineman whose 4-year-old daughter is currently fighting cancer.  She had surgery today at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. CHOP is one of the best, if not the best, hospital in the country for children and I’m sure she is in good hands.

The Bengals have sold Still’s jersey’s with all profits going to the battle against pediatric cancer. Sean Payton, head coach of the New Orleans Saints, purchased 100 jerseys on his own.  Still posted a picture on his Instagram today of flowers, a stuffed bear, and other gifts sent over by the Philadelphia Eagles and Chip Kelly.

Check out this article for Still’s pep talk delivered to his daughter on the ride to the hospital and make sure you have tissues close. As a father, it tugs at my heart and I can’t imagine what he must be feeling tonight.  We are certainly sending thoughts and prayers their way.

Greater Berks Food Bank

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The Greater Berks Food Bank distributed seven million pounds of food last year. They are in the midst of a transition to a new warehouse that will cost almost $3 million to fund. Their programs assist in over three hundred programs including a weekly presence in local schools handing out food to students and serving meals. In a city where these meals may be the only complete ones they get in a week, it is vitally important.

Requests normally come from pantries, programs, and individuals in Schuylkill and Berks Counties. They will then distribute the food they have and collect from outside organizations. The need is consistent and growing.  Last year, one in five residents in the two counties served accessed food provided from GBFB. Hunger is a real problem, not just in the city but also in the suburbs with a new class of “working poor.”

You can find their website here including facts, figures, and donation information.

Soundtrack Inspiration:

Hillsong, This I Believe.  Val’s new favorite!

Surviving a Crisis of: Money

The day your bank account shows a $0.00 balance can be a humbling experience.

I remember working my first job as a teenager, getting paychecks, and having nothing to do with them.  I remember going to the mall to buy a cd (crazy, I know). You could save up for something you wanted, buy it, and start over again.

Things were simple.

As time passed, obligations increased. In the recession of 2008, millions of people lost their jobs. We had been long enough out of college and into a career that security felt like a guarantee.  Then, in a few months, it all fell apart. Val and I had to look at each other and face reality. We needed to restart and redefine our goals for the future.

We needed to change our view of money.

Money means different things for different people. There are children today being raised to worship the objects they have. It is the embodiment of the old line, “He who dies with the most toys wins.”

There are churches operating with this theme today, leaders talking about money every Sunday, pastors driving luxury vehicles and preaching a gospel of prosperity. Their God is a giant slot machine in the sky. Give to their church and God will give to you, the larger the amount, the better.

They are wrong.

If you are facing a crisis of money, here are two things to think about:

Hustle: Do a search online and you’ll find multiple resources for individuals looking to make extra money. There is a thriving gig-based economy across the digital universe. Have a talent? Someone out there is willing to pay you for it. This is a great time to start a business online.  Find your passion and make it work for you while providing a service to others. Picture yourself as your own boss. Become an entrepreneur. You can start today with a computer and internet connection.  The sky is the limit.

Serve:  In the midst of our money struggles, we would constantly look for a place to cut back. We saw the little we had and, like a child, grabbed and held it close. Jesus calls us to a different path.  He says to serve our brothers and sisters. Find a charity. Donate to your child’s school. Set up a tithe to your home church. Do what you can without expecting anything in return. Your giving can help to change your outlook on money.  Break the chains, have faith, and know that God provides.

Connected Scripture:

Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?” Matthew 6:26

Soundtrack Inspiration:

A classic from Lifehouse. I’ve been in services with this song in worship.  It is the perfect combination of music, lyrics, and depth to draw you closer to God.

 

Feel Good Friday 9/12/2004

On August 25th, at a shooting range in Arizona, instructor Charles Vacca was accidentally shot and killed by a young girl operating an Uzi. The girl’s mother caught the shooting on her cell phone as she was recording her daughter at the time. Vacca’s four children have penned a letter to the girl and it includes thoughts like this:

“We think about you. We are worried about you. We pray for you, and we wish you peace. Our dad would want the same thing.”

Imagine both sides of this story.  The children on will live with it for the rest of their lives.  I’m curious about the idea that kids as young as nine are allowed to shoot an automatic weapon at a range but, the sentiments of the victim’s kids are what should shine at this moment.  How many of us could say or do the same if we had lost a loved one?

I’ve said before that children are the future of this country and, when I read this, I believe it just may be true.  You can find the story here.

 

Mercy Community Crisis Pregnancy Center

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Mercy Community Crisis Pregnancy Center is located across from the Reading Main Library on 5th Street in the city of Reading.  I met with the director, Sherry Camelleri, on a hot summer afternoon in late July.  Mercy opened in 1990. It offers parental education courses, pregnancy tests, information on adoption and medical services, liquid formula, shoes, and clothing for children.  The staff consists of Camelleri, her assistant, and a crew of volunteers.  They receive no funding from the government and every item of supplies is donated.

When we toured the clothing room, most of the bins and racks had a good selection of various sizes.  One bin stood empty and waiting for new donations of socks.

“Winter coats are gold here,” she told me, “we had a family of four sending only one child to school each day in the winter because they had one coat to pass around.  The three other kids stayed home.”

Mercy serves wide range of ages, from teenagers dealing with pregnancy to those later on in life. The doors are also open to men facing unplanned pregnancies who have the desire to better themselves as fathers.  Camelleri’s passion is to meet people where they are, earn their trust, and make their lives better.

Her drive is for the children and, if your are looking to support a valuable outreach, please consider donating here. You can check the main page of Mercy’s website for available services, hours, and contact information.

~Matt

Soundtrack Inspiration: A great song to start the weekend

Feel Good Friday 9-5-14

On Fridays, in this new blog feature,  I will highlight a positive news story, article, or post. I’ll also highlight a local charity that will be part of Overcome when it is published.

The NFL isn’t always known for life-affirming actions.  Players struggle with the law. They can suffer serious injuries.  They make more in a season than most people do in a lifetime while playing a schoolyard game. This week, the Cincinnati Bengals cut and resigned defensive tackle Devon Still to their practice squad.

This happens all the time in the league, but Still’s story has a twist. His daughter, four-year-old Leah was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer in June.  The team signed him to help pay for the girl’s medical treatment.  You can see an article and video piece from Good Morning America here.

 

Hope Rescue Mission

645 North Sixth Street • Reading, PA 19601
Phone (610) 375-4224 • E-Mail hopeforreading@gmail.com

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Hope was the first organization to reply to my request for a tour and interview.  The building, a former corporate property for the Reading Railroad, houses almost seventy beds spread over a dorm space and transitional housing. They have a library, chapel, cafeteria, and computer lab. They offer training in discipleship and job skills. I met with Robert Turchi, the director, and Frank Grill, the associate director. Grill took me on a tour of the buildings and his passion for the men they house was evident from the start of our conversation.

Hope also runs a thrift store and wood shop. They refurbish furniture, sell and recycle wood pallets, and operate gardens to supply vegetables in the summer. Every item is donated, from the stock of the thrift store to the food in the cafeteria. The men are trained and given jobs to offset the cost of their housing.  The average water bill for a winter season is around $18,000 dollars.

They receive no government or city support.

As I walked through, I spoke to the men and listened to their stories.  There are amazing accounts of losing everything and redefining their identities. Some of the guys were at the top of their fields and, through addictions or other factors, ended up in jail or on the streets.  Hope is making a difference in the lives of the men it houses and the city it serves. Please consider making a difference and helping them out.

You can find their website here with photos, media, staff biographies, needs, and ways to give.

If you like this post, please share with your friends and family!

~Matt

Change Agent

What if?

The answers were out there.

Needs were provided.

Free medical care came from compassionate doctors and nurses.

A network existed to find jobs for any applicants.

Childcare was available for the single mother or father who had to work to make ends meet.

A listening ear waited on the other end of the phone, twenty-four hours a day.

Youth had a resource, a refuge, and a place to figure out life.

A warm bed waited on a cold night and no one was homeless.

Every child had breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day of the year.

What if we are missing the point?

What if the church, your church, could provide all of these things?

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After spending time at the outreach ministries I’ve visited, I’ve come to this conclusion. The church can be the front line. Not a news channel. Not a political party. Not an agenda. The church can be a pair of open hands, ready to serve. I’ve seen churches die in less than five years. The Hope Rescue Mission has existed for more than a century. God moves on the front line. When we insulate ourselves behind politics and policies we miss the point.  We are content to let the missionaries work the “mission field.” Step outside, look left and right. Congratulations, you are there.

In the last few weeks I’ve heard so many stories about God moving, real and tangible, touching the lives of those going to these outreach programs. We need more front line work and less insulation. We need to get our hands dirty. We need to stop talking and start doing. We need to be, in the terms of Hope Rescue Mission, a hand up and not a hand out. If that happens, service and teaching, meeting needs and presenting the gospel, we will become change agents. Light can overtake the darkness.   The world can be different, and better.

I look in the eyes of my boys and know that it is possible and that I will fight make their future a better place, to give them a world better than I inherited.

~Matt

Raising Hope

Yesterday I had the honor of spending two hours at the Hope Rescue Mission in the city of Reading.  Hope was the first organization to respond to my emails about interviews for Overcome. I drove through the city running a few minutes behind schedule, my mind scattered from the jumble of things we were attempting to do to get reorganized after returning from vacation. It was a beautiful afternoon. Val was at home with the kids and I was a mix of excitement and nerves. I had a pad and pen next to me and the intent to just go in and ask questions as they came.  Planning, as you can tell, is not my strong suit.

There are moments in life where we feel disconnected.  It doesn’t take much for the impulse to kick in. It can arrive in the voice of shame and doubt, internally or externally from friends or family members.  It can be a whisper or scream. It will tell you everything you need to hear to distract you from your goal. There are ways to silence this impulse and they are valuable to remember.

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I entered the Mission, a large building over a century old, and met with the director and associate director.  Frank Grill, the associate director, took me on a tour of the place.  Frank is a worship leader, man of God, and runs weekly discipleship classes for the men who live there. He is quick to smile and I can hear a taste of his Philadelphia roots as we speak.

He tells me story after story of community organizations who answered God’s calling to donate needed items.  They receive food daily from area restaurants. A local McDonald’s donated enough tiles to redo the kitchen.  Frank managed the expansion of the housing unit and was puzzled as to where they would get the furniture.  He told me that a manager from the Comfort Inn called and asked him if they could use any furniture as the Inn was refurnishing all of their rooms.  He sent over the donation trucks and they were able to outfit thirty rooms, all for free.

“We figure that God will provide what we need when we are meant to have it,” he said.  I met men from all walks of live who had fallen on hard times. They were learning valuable skills and ways to get on their feet.  A key focus of the Mission is a hand UP not a hand OUT. Frank told me that they are guided through prayer and the Holy Spirit. As the tour finished I could feel God in the building.  The work they do is sacred and powerful and I am so blessed that they will be a part of the book.

When you are feeling disconnected, remember three things we can learn from Frank and the Hope Rescue Mission:

1/Meet with God Daily: The men are mentored by pastors and community volunteers. They are focused on prayer, chapel services, and the Bible. One man in the kitchen told Frank that his mother called him yesterday for the first time in four years.  His voice shook with emotion. “See what prayer can do?” Frank said.

2/Know that God will Provide: The Mission houses more than sixty men. It provides a gym, computer lab, library, and career training services.  All of these resources are possible through donations. God will provide in time. If he can furnish thirty rooms at a Mission for free, imagine what he can do with your daily needs.

3/Use the Past as Fuel: The Mission was once a corporate building for the Reading Railroad. The CEO held offices in the room behind the chapel. They had elaborate parties and social events.  The lower floor was a bowling alley. The railroad eventually ended. The money flowed out of the city. Now new social events are happening. Men are finding God on a daily basis. They are gaining new purpose in life, overcoming addiction, and climbing their way towards stability. What would the railroad CEO say if he saw the building today?  God can use the past, all of your ups and downs, to do something great in the present and the future.

I left the Mission inspired and refreshed.  These stories are dying to be told. There is light in the darkness. These are the front lines of the battle against poverty and my goal is to capture as much as possible and put it in print.  This journey is only beginning. Overcome is happening and I can’t wait to see how far it reaches and how many people are inspired.

Have a blessed night,

~Matt