Do Something

Today, the Woodbury Community Church School of Discipleship began our fall term. I love this school! 18 students gathered at 5:30 in the morning to discuss Richard Stearns’ fantastic book, The Hole in Our Gospel.

If you are unfamiliar with the book, Stearns makes the case that the good news of Jesus Christ was meant to change the world. He writes, “The whole gospel is a vision for ushering God’s kingdom – now, not in some future time, and here, on earth, not in some distant heaven. What if two billion people (the number of those around the world who profess faith in Christ) embraced this vision of God transforming our world – through them? Imagine it. Indeed, what if even two thousand people took their faith to the next level – what might God do? Two thousand years ago, the world was changed forever by just twelve.

It can happen again.” (pg. 5)

Do you believe that?

One of the joys of my life is watching the people of God become passionate about the things of God. I love when I see people whose hearts break for the things that break the heart of God. At Woodbury Community Church, we’re seeking to be a people who care deeply about the people and the things that God cares so deeply about. All throughout the Bible we read about God’s heart for the poor, the oppressed, the orphan, the widow, the prisoner, the refugee and the city.

In 2012 a vision team from our church began to seek God’s direction for the next chapter of Woodbury Community Church. It became clear that one of the initiatives that God wanted us to pursue was caring for the poor, the oppressed, the orphan, the widow, the prisoner, and the refugee like never before. I am blown away at what God has done since!

In the past few months the Lord has worked through the people of WCC in a variety of ways.

There is Sara and her team of volunteers whose hearts are broken for the children of Haiti. Sara is a teacher by trade who became involved in an organization called Kozefò that is making a difference in education in Haiti. When it became apparent that Kozefò might have to shut down, Sara and some friends, by faith stepped up to save the school.

Here is the revised mission statement of Kozefò:

Kozefò is a mergence of two Kreyòl words: Koze and Fò, meaning, to speak in a loud voice. Kozefò, as an organization, believes education is the key to developing thinking, creative individuals. As Christians, we are called to care and to speak loud against the injustices in the world. This is the true meaning of Kozefò, people together, hand in hand, speaking in a loud voice to bring about positive change in education, one school at a time. Kozefò is committed to supporting the primary school at A New Arrival Center in the Pernier community of Port au Prince.

Then there is Tammie. Tammie caught a vision for the “orphan” in our own backyard. Struck by a need to come alongside of families in times of crisis, to help single moms who had no familial support system, and to just be there for children who have no one else, Tammie got involved in the tremendous work that Safe Families for Children is doing in our area. When she found out that there is a tremendous need for host families in the Washington County area, Tammie decided to get involved in recruiting other families to help. There are already several families from WCC that have signed on to be host families. 

Here is how the Safe Families website describes their work:

When crisis strikes, many of us rely on relatives and our church family for support. But for some parents, there isn’t a safety net. Often problems such as drug addiction, domestic abuse, incarceration, or illness can be debilitating, making it impossible for parents to care for their children. With the changing economy many more families are experiencing financial crisis, unemployment, and homelessness. During such crisis, children are especially at-risk for neglect or abuse as their parents struggle to cope with crushing circumstances and emotions.

State welfare emergency hotlines throughout the nation reportedly receive over 5 million calls each year of suspected child abuse or neglect. Of those calls, about one million meet the criteria for state intervention. What happens to the remaining four million families that don’t qualify for help?

Overburdened by need and restrained by resources, law and policy most state welfare agencies are allowed to rescue only children who have suffered blatant abuse or neglect. Overwhelmed and underfunded, the state is ill-equipped to deal with a problem of this magnitude.

Without assistance, many of these families will find the issues in their homes escalating to episodes of abuse and/or neglect with long lasting consequences for not only the child, but also for our communities as well.

Since 2005, Safe Families for Children has offered sanctuary to thousands of children, minimizing the risk for abuse or neglect and giving parents the time and tools they need to help their families thrive. The ultimate goal is to strengthen and support parents so they can become Safe Families for their own children.

Safe Families for Children strives to meet three objectives:

  1. Child Welfare Deflection: Safe Families provides a safe alternative to child welfare custody, thus significantly reducing the number of children entering the child welfare system.
  2. Child Abuse Prevention: Providing an overwhelmed and resource limited parent with a safe, temporary place for their child without threat of losing custody. By offering support, the goal is to avert potential abuse/neglect episodes.
  3. Family Support and Stabilization: Many parents struggle because of limited social support and unavailable extended family. Many Safe Families Volunteers become the extended family that a parent never had.

A couple weeks ago we held a breakfast for people to hear how they could get involved and over 50 people showed up representing seven different churches and a number of social service organizations. God is at work!

Then there is Grant. Grant is a detective with the City of Minneapolis police department leading their efforts to fight against juvenile sex trafficking. Here is a video of Grant speaking about the subject on Minnesota Public Television.

It’s amazing how after praying about impacting the oppressed in our culture that the Lord brought Grant to WCC. Earlier this week Grant and I filmed a video about how the church can get involved in the fight against human trafficking, which is really modern-day slavery. The problem is immense, but it’s not too big for God to solve as His people get involved. Grant, Cory (another member of WCC) and I are a part of a human trafficking task force that is meeting monthly in the Twin Cities with the purpose of eradicating this insidious problem.

Then there is Scott and Bob. For the past four years Scott and Bob have led the Refugee Life Ministry team at Woodbury Community Church. We’ve partnered with World Relief Minnesota and a couple dozen other churches to welcome the stranger with the love of Jesus here in the Twin Cities. Over the past fast four years the Lord has allowed us to welcome three families from Myanmar to the Twin Cities. We’ll be bringing our fourth family in later this year. I can’t wait!

Those involved in Refugee Life Ministry are seeing their eyes opened to a global issue in a local way. The relationships between WCC families and their new friends from Myanmar is a beautiful thing to watch. What started out as supplying furniture and household goods to a refugee family quickly became tutoring, game nights, a trip to the zoo or for ice cream. Many of the families that we work with have waited almost 20 years to get out of the refugee camp and begin a new life in America. It is a beautiful thing to see God work through.

I could go on and on . . .

There is Pam who has a passion for coming alongside of widows and widowers who are residents living in government subsidized housing in Hastings. She is working to provide them with basic household essentials that they don’t have the funds to purchase. Pam has already organized a couple of donation drives that have resulted in practical blessings to the residents.

There is Sue, who on her own serves the elderly by helping them run errands, befriending them and being a listening ear.

There is Alisa who is serving as a liaison between Woodbury Community Church and the Christian Cupboard Emergency Food Shelf. She is encouraging our congregation to engage in generous giving to help this organization that serves as many as 100 households each week. Each one of these households receives four or more grocery bags of food depending upon the size of the family. The food shelf also provides over 300 households with traditional Thanksgiving and Christmas meals and 650 children with Christmas gifts.

I know that I am just hitting the tip of the iceberg.

So, my challenge to you today is to get involved in something.

JusticeOver the next four weeks, our church will be going through a series entitled, Justice. We’ll hear about God’s love for the city, the widow, the orphan, the refugee, the poor, the oppressed, and the prisoner. I’d love to have you join us. We meet at 9:00 and 10:30 each Sunday. It all starts this week with a Minnesota guy who moved his family to one of the toughest neighborhoods in Chicago to be part of transforming his community through the Gospel. His name is Joel Hamernick and he serves as the Executive Director of Sunshine Gospel Ministries in Chicago. You won’t want to miss his message as he talks about God’s heart for the city.

On September 15, I’ll be talking about God’s heart for widows and orphans. After the service we’ll be taking an all-church field trip to the Midtown Global Market, Karmel Square and Mercado Central in the Midtown Section of Minneapolis. This little corner of the cities is like taking a trip to a different world. We are encouraging all families and individuals to plan on taking this field trip, which will include lunch at the Global Market . Here, you will be exposed to a number of different ethnic groups and see just how great our opportunity is. We’ll also hear about the real life stories of human trafficking that happen in this part of the cities every week.

Randy Mortensen of World Wide Village will be speaking on Sunday, September 22. He will be talking about human trafficking and how the church can respond to modern day slavery.

Then I’ll conclude the series with a message on how the church should respond to prisoners.

Justice Series

September 8: God’s Heart for the City

September 15: God’s Heart for the Widow and Orphan

September 22: Unacceptable – Modern Day Slavery

September 29: Loving Society’s Throwaways

In Matthew 25, Jesus talks about the final judgment. He said:

31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. 34 Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38 And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? 39 And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ 40 And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers,you did it to me.’

41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44 Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ 45 Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ 46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

I want to be among those whose heart beats for that which Jesus heart beats for. I hope you do too!

I want to leave you with a video from this year Q Conference. In it, Richard Stearns presents how the church could help solve the issues of clean water, starvation, education and a host of other issues in our generation. I encourage all of you to take the time to watch this. It is a life-changing and paradigm shifting video.

The Day We’ve Been Looking Forward To For Months

2012 Haiti Trip 072Today has been a good day! For several months I have been looking forward to meeting Stanley and Davinsly, two young boys who are being adopted by two wonderful families in our church. We had that chance this morning.

We began the day with another fantastic breakfast at the World Wide Village home. We said, “good-bye” to Jane, our new friend from the Starkey Foundation, who has been in Haiti working with kids with hearing loss.From there it was off to Haiti’s version of a Home Depot.

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We went to get a sense of what building materials cost in Haiti. It was also an eye-opener to the reality that so much reconstruction is happening here. This would be a good reminder for us later in the day. I was amazed at the amount of Christmas decorations in the Haitian store, because we had been told earlier in the trip that gift giving and celebrating Christmas wan’t a big deal here. We would see lots of Christmas decorations throughout the day.

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From the hardware store it was off to the New Arrival Orphanage to see first-hand what we have heard so much about from Sara Lein. We were greeted by Dukens who shared about the work of the orphanage and school. There are about 40 students enrolled in the school associated with the orphanage, in two grades. Five of those students are orphans who live at the home. The Pearcy, Haroldson and Lein families had filled a suitcase full of gifts for the five boys, and the orphanage.

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When we walked into the classroom, I immediately noticed Stanley. His big smile and bright eyes were staring at us as we walked in. He immediately hid his face behind a book, and then came out behind the book, chucking. Dukens told the class that I was Miss Sara’s pastor. That is when I saw Davinsly on the other side of the room.The boys’ teacher was fantastic. And soon the entire classroom was up performing a rousing song for us.

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Both of the boys participated in the singing. They had big smiles on their faces as they sang and chuckled because the song was kind of fun to sing.We left the classroom and talked with Dukens a bit more. Since we had gifts for the boys, but not all of the students, we asked if the five guys who were orphans could be brought out of the classroom.It was so special to be able to present them with gifts from their families.

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Each of the boys’ faces lit up when they received their packages. There was such pride in their eyes as the looked over each one of the gifts. The families did a great job of putting together gifts that boys would love. From matchbox cars to superhero items, everything in the bag was a hit.

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Davinsly shouted, “Captain America!” as soon as he picked up his new superhero toy. The Pearcy and Haroldson families put together beautiful books for the boys. At first, the boys looked at the cover, and quickly moved on to the toys. Then, I took some itme to go through each page with the boys, and their eyes were riveted to the pages of the book. They LOVED seeing the pictures of themselves in the book. I know this is something that they will treasure as the days go by.

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When it came time for the boys to put their new gifts away, I followed Davinsly. He has a chest in his room where he keeps his precious items. He very carefully put away his bag with great pride. You could tell that he was so excited about these new blessings.

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Stanley placed his gifts on his bed, next to a blanket that I believe was made by our kids in Vacation Bible School.It was amazing to spend time with these guys. I was blown away at the quality of the care and the love that these guys are shown by their caregivers. There are some very good things happening at this school and orphanage. We were able to capture some video that I’ll share with the families when we get back into town.

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Both boys really lit up when I showed them their future siblings in the picture books. I think they understood what I was telling them about having sisters and a brother. They were genuinely excited.It was hard to leave the guys at the orphanage. A big part of me wished I could just bring them home to meet their terrific families. They are so precious and full of joy. I can only imagine how difficult it is to wait for an unknown amount of time to meet your sons and brothers.

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From the orphanage, we went to the school that Randy Mortensen considers to be one of the best in the nation, with the educator who he believes does the best job. The school runs from K-13, with 100% of students passing the entrance exams for the next grade. This educator is running teacher clinics throughout the programs World Wide Village Runs. While not a WWV school, this school has a close working relationship with Randy and the WWV team that is essential for the year’s ahead.

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After the school we had lunch at a hotel that used to be a Holiday Inn and Best Western. It was located in the region of Port au Prince that suffered the most damage during the earthquake. You would have never known this peaceful, beautiful and serene hotel existed behind the concrete barrier in front of it. I couldn’t believe my eyes when we walked in. This hotel served as a home base for foreign aid workers during the crisis. We went from lunch to the old presidential palace, that was destroyed in the earthquake and has since been bulldozed. The palace will be rebuilt sometime soon.

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We ended our day driving through the rebuilding city of Port au Prince. We saw the outside of the tent cities, where 400,000 Haitians still live some 2 years after the quake. I was stunned when I saw so many buildings looking like they could fall down at any moment. The trash and open sewage on the streets were heartbreaking. Our Haitian driver didn’t want to take us into the even worse section of town for fear of safety.We leave this country tomorrow. I will miss the people and look forward to returning some day in the future. God is doing good things here and there is hope in the midst of such continuing heartache. Pray for the people of Haiti and for discernment as our church seeks God wisdom on how to best make a difference. Thank you to all of you who helped Darrin and I get here. It has been a humbling and learning experience.I took over 150 pictures today and all of them are available on my Facebook page. Thank you for taking the time to read our experiences.

Audio Adrenaline Is Back With a Passion for Haiti

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I’m heading to Haiti next month with a group of pastors from area churches to take a look at how Woodbury Community Church can be even more engaged in making a difference in the island nation. Haiti was already one of the world’s poorest countries when it was ravaged by the devastating earthquake of 2010. It is amazing how quickly we can forget about the impact that earthquake had on Haiti. An estimated 316,000 people lost their lives. That is more people than live in the entire city of St. Paul. Countless children became orphans and over 1,000,000 people became homeless. Over 30,000 commercial buildings were destroyed, making any kind of economic recovery something that is years away at best.There are many great Christian organizations making a difference in Haiti. I’ll be going with World Wide Village, an organization located here in the Twin Cities that has been committed to transforming lives, empowering communities and loving people since 2001. I believe with all of my heart that the answer for Haiti is found in Jesus Christ.Today, Audio Adrenaline, with new lead singer, Kevin Max, released the first video of the band’s new era. Mark Stuart, former lead singer of this group lost his voice six years ago. The group folded but the ministry of the initial band members didn’t. Stuart became passionate about Haiti and what could be accomplished there if the church banded together. The new band exists to help orphans in Haiti. That is why they are back together. You can read more about their new mission at  http://www.handsandfeetproject.org/. I think it is so cool that even though Mark’s voice is gone that he is still involved in the songwriting, vision casting and day-to-day operations of the band.Enjoy the video below and if you are interested in hearing more about my upcoming trip to Haiti, I’d love to talk with you. You can e-mail me at bschulenburg@wccmn.org.