Moving my blog

Last week, I changed the location of this blog and it is much better looking and has pages that link to our church and my upcoming book. I will no longer be writing here but all my old poasts and writing will be found at my new blog location which is:

You can subscribe to the new blog by clicking in the upper right hand corner on subscribe by email on the new blog. For the 12 of you who are subscribed, thank you! 🙂


Community engagement – what a radical idea

This morning I sat with a key community leader of one of the most influential institutions in our neighborhood to hear what her perceptions were on the community, what her organization offered, and how we could come alongside. I explained that the vision and posture of our ministry is to really hear from the community through people like her and other residents what they really dream for this place – what is needed, what do we already have within our grasp, what can we do together that could truly make a difference. At the core this is simply knowing your neighbors and engaging a community.

Her response.

Wait for it.

“What a radical idea!” This was not sarcasm or coddling. It was an honest reflection from someone who has worked with the library, schools, and non-profits for over 40 years and was speaking into the situation as she saw it. The Church in North America has simply become so invisible to our surrounding communities that actually engaging the culture all around us is viewed as radical. Guys, while I was honored at the life and hope the conversation brought today, I was inwardly mourning what got us to this place.

May we regain our voice as we engage our communities. One conversation at a time. One day at a time. One week at a time. One month at a time. The way of the Kingdom is often slow and unassuming. Let’s go!


In January, many of you prayed along with us as our ministry took 21 days to fast and pray, asking God to clarify His direction as we move forward. My friend Chris who lives in a Mexican neighborhood in Chicago commented to me that a month long fast at the beginning of the year is literally like giving the Lord the very first of all you are and all you long to do for that year. Similar to the tithe, we submit all to Christ during this time.

The last two weeks have been pretty tough as we’ve tried to plow through some challenges in ministry here. The Spirit spoke so clearly about some things in January but as is expected, there has been a lot of challenge over the last few weeks. One of the key words the Lord gave me about 10 days into the fast was the word “tenacious”. If you know anything about me, you know this word describes me well. I don’t quit and I won’t back down. This last two weeks of discouragement though has found me questioning the Lord’s strong voice as I heard it in January. I’m going back to what I know to be true of Jesus, His plan, and His pursuit of me. It is time to raise the flag again and be tenacious.

Maybe you find yourself at a spot today when you are just tired of trying. Maybe you’re tired of being alone or starting over again and again. I get that. I also get that Jesus is with you; He is with me. Our Redeemer has not called us to passivity and comfort. He is a relentless God who keeps pursuing us. Dare to pick up your feet once more and follow the One you know is trustworthy. Tenacious.

We have some extremely big news coming about the direction the Lord has given us for the Carrick neighborhood here in Pittsburgh and we’ll be announcing that little by little starting next week and towards the end of March. In the meantime we are holding tight to the love of Jesus that sees every pocket of our neighborhood, sees every corner of our hearts, and we are following Him in His tenacious love for this place.

Walking around – Seeing through the eyes of Jesus

Over the last couple weeks I have been trying to walk around the neighborhood a lot more and pop in at local businesses to stay present. We had been engaging the Nepali community well over the last couple years but realized that we had been missing large sections of our neighborhood with this exclusive focus on Bhutanese-Nepalis. So we’ve been trying to learn more, hear people’s stories, and get a broader sense for what is happening.

Some of the conversations and interactions have confirmed what we already know while others have been extremely insightful. Today my teammate Molly and I must have talked to more than 5 people who were pretty rough around the edges but were genuinely seeking for deeper relationship, even connection to the body of Christ. Seriously? Who wants to mess with the church these days?? 😊 That shocked me quite honestly. In a culture that seems to be preoccupied with so many other things, our community is waiting for meaningful engagement. Sometimes you just have to show up.

We walked south of my house last week and one in every three storefronts was open for business. The rest were simply shut down or boarded up. Yesterday and today we walked north and the neighborhood gets rougher in that direction. Probably less than 20% of businesses were still in business making the ratio more like 1 in very 8 storefronts still with the lights on. As we walked deeper into the heart of the blight though, people were so incredibly open to talk. The longing for connection was like few things I’ve ever experienced.

Every Thursday and Friday morning we are taking an hour and a half to prayer walk the streets around here. After the walk we will begin chatting with folks who are out and about, visiting storefronts, and engaging neighbors in conversation. Nepali, African-American, white – we are increasing the temperature in being present. Many of you know that we did a 3 week fast back in January and one of the take-aways from that concentrated time of prayer was to begin to drench ourselves in the entire community. We know the future for Nepalis is one of integration and we will do our best to lead the charge.

It never ceases to amaze me that some of the most impactful and paradigm-shifting moments I’ve had in ministry have been ones of extreme simplicity. Walking around. Praying. Chatting with folks. Passing out chocolate covered pretzels. Anyone in the world can do this. We’re upbeat as we will continually raise the bar in our presence in the community as we join Jesus in bringing His love, liberty, and hope to every pocket of our neighborhood. Let’s go!

Surviving to Adulthood 

Surviving to adulthood isn’t really something too many of us think about but for so many in our world, this is something that isn’t assumed. In so many urban centers, the potential for derailment, even death, loom overhead. Yesterday I began reading a book titled Nobody Cries when We die: God, Community, and Surviving to Adulthood by Patrick Reyes. It is probably the best book I’ve read this year and I read more than most. It captures well this idea of simply surviving to adulthood as a noble achievement.
Reyes survives an abusive home, gangs all around, witnesses a young girl being murdered, is mocked for reading books and valuing education. His mom’s boyfriend pulled him off the ground by his throat and attempted to strangle him when he was a small boy. One day he and his buddy were wearing the wrong colors when gang members shot at them. They missed and killed a school girl on the same playground. Experience after experience occurs when Reyes finds himself at Boston University studying theology.
At the start of one of his classes, the professor goes around the room asking grad students how their life trajectory has prepared them for this moment. Echoes of privileged and ministry exploits are told. Most of the white students began to tell how they’d gone into ministry situations working amongst those least fortunate, started this program or that program, proved themselves in research of some sort – all of which are wonderful contributions as Reyes admits. They come to Patrick and the best and most honest answer was given. “I survived to adulthood.” Everyone laughs. The professor tells him to give a real answer.
Reyes goes on to explain that everything in his life that had prepared him for that moment was mocked. Relatives who had been shot and killed. Dark walks home at night. A fight for education amid people who put him down for his pursuits the laughs and the shame did not change the truth. He had made it to adulthood and it was time to fight to make a theological contribution to the world.
It really got me this morning as I read. I think often about these sorts of things as we are trying to train up leaders and see them released into ministry. Their sets of circumstances are just so very different from most of the folks rolling into suburban local churches, bible colleges, or missions agencies. The precedent has been set based upon the life experience and set of conditions you are dealt.
I know people in our neighborhood who have been unable to see their family in 25 years because they were working for the Bhutanese government at the time their relatives were kicked out of the country. I work with friends who had no place to sleep for several years at a time because refugee camp life was so bad at home. I’ve watched families breakdown almost overnight as people move to the US and the pressures are just so great and substance abuse becomes the answer. Just last week in Vermont, a man who grew up in the camp with some of our friends snapped. He had just gotten out of mental health treatment when he lost it on his wife and killed her in the driveway with a butcher knife and nearly killed his mother-in-law. When his daughter came home from school, everything had changed. Will she survive to adulthood?
So what then does ministry training and leadership development look like for those who barely, just barely survived to adulthood? I don’t see my friends rolling up to the most prestigious Christian college with their parents helping them unpack all teary eyed. I don’t see them going to churches and mid to upper class churches/individuals and becoming supported missionaries. They have survived to adulthood and the conditions are just so incredibly different.
Two weeks ago, we had a big celebration for 15 Nepali church leaders who went through a 12 month leadership and discipleship training that I was honored to facilitate. They asked me to be the main speaker for the gathering. Local Nepali pastors from other congregations were there. Members from other churches came. A local American pastor who is well known in the Nepali community was present. There were probably more than 100 people there and the atmosphere was electric. To those who have access to this sort of thing we say, “so what’s the big deal? It is such a minimal length of study.” For someone who survived, for people who have survived hell, it was something with few words to describe. I will never forget that weekend. It was perhaps the most meaningful thing I’ve ever been part of and I’m humbled by all that transpired.
But I know that this is just the start of something bigger. For a couple months now I have been dreaming with others what a yearlong training program could look like with the privileged and those who survived to adulthood. What would it earn to have a strong, robust training program that is both theoretical and practical that includes both crowds? Not just “an immigrant thing” or “white guys thing” but truly a time where 8-10 folks move into the neighborhood and work their tails off to become the kinds of leaders God has called them to be?
We are looking at next fall as a launch to start such an internship where the holistic Gospel is embraced and celebrated and where the playing field is leveled. We dream of the day where people do care when you die, where surviving to adulthood is not laughed at, where suburban servants of Jesus come with all their access and say, “yes, we too bring something to the table but it is so very different now because we are learning with our Nepali brothers and sisters.” We dream of an even playing field where Nepali students who have survived to adulthood would say, yes, this is awesome to be part of this together with those from different circumstances. We are not better. You are not better. We all are after this Jesus who has so changed us.
As we continue to move things along around here, pray with us that we honor one another with the utmost respect and remember that we are all simply servants in God’s vineyard. He is the King who has conquered but He is also the God who has struggled with us. Pray that this would be expressed in our every word and deed as we announce the Kingdom.

World Refugee Day – Staying attentive

Yesterday was World Refugee Day, an internationally designated remembrance of the story of forcefully displaced people around the globe. In 2001, UNHCR set aside June 20th to help us reframe the conversation and take time out to reflect. Yesterday, cultural dances, songs, and bazaars filled city centers around the US as people took time to remember the journey of those who have been resettled and millions still stuck in limbo.
I didn’t go to any of the big celebrations this year but I found my way into an unassuming 6 unit apartment building where my family hung out with a Bhutanese-Nepali family who has been in the country just shy of 3 years. It is only the second time I had been in their home but I found everyone there to be most welcoming. Uncle opened the door and we had never met. He was deaf and unable to speak so the blind guy talking to the deaf guy was miraculous to say the least. Why do these things constantly happen to me? I had Charity get out the phone and show him some pictures and uncle had a grand time playing with Amos throughout our visit.
I have been teaching the eldest son in the family English for about a year now and know him well. Because of that foundation, the relatives were pretty cool with entertaining us yesterday. The father of the home eventually got home and we began discussing life, America, and our past journeys. He was speaking broken English with me and I was encouraging him to speak when his wife walked into the room and said in Nepali, “What are you doing? He knows Nepali.” I interjected and said this was a good opportunity for him to practice his English. Laughter followed.
As we chatted, father became much more comfortable with me and his thoughts went back to Bhutan. Without any prodding or encouragement, he began to share about Bhutan and his siblings that remained there. They somehow stayed during the ousting and remain there to this day. Father said he was 26 when he left and we discussed the farming lifestyle that is true for most people in the country, contrasting that with the urban life he has come to know in Pittsburgh. At one point father said, “We left and we had nothing. No citizenship. No green card. Nothing.” I said in disgust, “They only gave you a red card.” Now the conversation was fully in Nepali as father was very comfortable with me. “Well once we got to the camp in Nepal, we got a rice card. Maybe the rice card was the good card we had.” We both about fell over laughing as one of the only things you can do when reflecting on the crazy situation is to reflect and chuckle at the pain.
By the end of the conversation, I learned that the man sitting across from me was extremely sharp. He spoke broken English as we first started the conversation and to some it would have been assumed that he may not have a good handle on what is going on in our country or the world. Quite the contrary, he knew the political situations of Bhutan, Nepal, and the United States very well. This guy has had to navigate three very different systems in three countries. Three countries. Three systems. Three lives. He knew them all. He knew what was fair and what was not in the US. His last day at his first job in the country will be today and he will start another job on Friday that will hopefully be a step up.
I asked father about how safe he felt in his apartment complex and he did not give me real strong affirmation in that direction. He simply said, “We have to stay busy and mind our own business and we will be fine.” Again, cultural knowledge that is completely contradictory of all he has known has been learned an applied.
“We have to stay busy and mind our own business and we will be fine.” What a sobering testimony. I was likely the first American that father was able to tell his story to. We find, over and over again, that for anyone who grew up in Bhutan, they simply want to reflect. They simply want someone, anyone really, who could possibly understand. And maybe that person may never understand but the generation of former Bhutanese refugees who clearly remember their exit from Bhutan 27 years ago simply want their story to be heard. Their kids have often grown weary from listening and can’t relate. So on World Refugee Day, I can’t think of a better thing than to sit. To listen. To reflect. And the whole rice card comment was definitely worth the visit.
The story of Jesus undoubtedly intersects with this story. Jesus was a refugee. He was unwanted. In His humility though, He laid His life down, served, and gave His life so all would live again. I can’t help but to think that God the Spirit too longs for His story to be heard – a story of grace, acceptance, and redemption. I’m eager in the coming days to tell this story with father and his family.

Phone calls on your day off reframe things

I just got off the phone with a dear friend who has been doing urban work for nearly three decades. For both of us, it was our off day and we were sitting around the house sipping coffee, unwinding from pretty busy weekends of ministry. I called to ask Nancy a bit about developing ministry in the city and the tension that I’ve been feeling between building relationships versus starting ministry programs. Three or four days a week, Charity and I end up visiting families in the neighborhood, deepening trust and friendship. Many of those days visitors pop in at our house at random times keeping us pretty well surrounded by continuous relationship building.
During our call I was venting a bit on how to best establish collaborative ministry amongst different groups, how to get people to work well together, how long to wait to pull the trigger on larger ministry projects and Nancy reminded me that sometimes sitting on the porch and chatting with neighbors is the most strategic and necessary thing we could possibly be doing with our time. We have all seen ministries that charge ahead with program after program but in the end are left wondering how deep-rooted relationships slipped from their grasp. The tension of walking between both of those worlds is real.
My weekends find me teaching four different groups of students with initiatives ranging from Sunday school, to youth group, to conversational English. We have some very big projects in the planning phase and these are the sorts of things donors and people on the outside get excited about. But man, it is really us showing up at neighbors houses in the evening and staying for 2-3 hours at a time that brings the most joy, encouragement, and energy to our neighbors. Sometimes the best thing we can do in ministry is to block out all the noise, block out the need to be recognized by those from the outside, block out the buzz that comes from the intoxication of power and ministry success evidenced by big donations and fancy programs. Thinking through what those all around us really need or want are questions I never want to pass over.
We’ve planted churches, started community centers, run ESL programs – all of those are extremely necessary in urban work. I’m not against those things, especially the establishment of local multiplying churches. But, our neighborhoods will probably survive without those programs. I’m not sure our neighborhood will survive though without friendship rooted in the beauty of the Gospel. Without relationships, there is simply no foundation for anything else we say or do.
I’m wondering today if start-up ministries and churches should advise a much more extensive requirement on building relationships before rushing into anything else they do in ministry. The complaints I have often heard are that mission donors and churches are expecting results, more bang for their buck so we need to start initiatives quickly. I can’t say how representative that is or if that pressure is real but if relational focus is short-circuited, what will really come in the long run?
So today I rest. I rest in Jesus and His friendship in my life. I will start afresh tomorrow to again continue to deepen trust and relationship with those around me. Sometimes a phone call on your off day reframes things and the pieces come together. Thankful for this Monday of rest.