Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Affordable Housing Shortage Likely to Get Worse

A new study released by the Voorhees Center at the University of Illinois at Chicago reveals a huge mismatch between the demand and supply of affordable housing in Chicago. Small low-income households increased over the last decade by 11,970 while rental housing affordable to their price range declined. The projected shortage in rental options is a serious concern because few low-income households can afford to buy a house in the city. The gap between demand and supply of rental housing is likely to widen further with the potential loss of existing units because of expiring contracts, condo conversion, and public housing transformation. The full 54 page study is available at this link.

Growing Dental Care Needs Among the Poor

Sunday's Tribune contained an interesting article highlighting a problem that we encounter often in our work among people who face economic challenges. Affordable dental care is very difficult to find, so many, with looming needs, remain untreated. 1.8 million state residents are uninsured; of those with medical coverage, as many as 40 percent don't have dental insurance. Stroger Hospital (formerly Cook County Hospital) gets 7,000 calls a month from people who want to see a dentist, but its clinic has only 777 monthly appointments. Fortunately, a dental van from Advocate Health Care, makes a monthly stop at our women's shelter in East Garfiel Park so our homeless women can be treated. But even our staff struggle to maintain adequate dental care. Our salaries are relatively low, our health insurance doesn't cover dental care, and we are not allowed to use the dental van.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Biggest Rent Hikes in Five Years

The Chicago Sun Times reported yesterday that rents will rise by 3% to 11% this year. The years of the renters are over and we are moving into a landlords' market as landlords pass on to renters the increases in housing values and taxes. Condo conversions are making rental units more scarce, pushing up the prices. This is another hit for those who cannot afford to own their own homes. Isaiah 65:17-25 describes God's vision for the "New Jerusalem".
"They will build houses and dwell in them; they will plant vineyards and eat their fruit. No longer will they build houses and others live in them, or plant and others eat." (verses 21 and 21)

My FitDay stats

I've made some progress, but have a long way to go to get back into shape. I ran three times this week. According to my FitDay stats I took in an average of 1261 calories per day and burned an average of 2524 calories. That means I am burning about 1263 more calories than I am eating. Since there are 3500 calories in a pound, in the course of a week I should have lost two pounds, and I did! Amazing!

Almost there with my DMin

I passed my oral reviews for my Doctorate of Ministry in Global Transformational Leadership on Monday! Praise God! I just have to make a few adjustments to my dissertation and send it off to Seattle to the Bakke Graduate University. Graduation is in June, but I will be in Israel, so Dr. Ray Bakke came to Chicago for my own little graduation! I am so blessed! This is me and Dr. Bakke...

Monday, March 20, 2006

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Living in East Garfield Park (Chicago)

In January I moved into East Garfield Park, just a few blocks from the Breakthrough Joshua Center. Living here has been something that I have wanted to do for several years. I love my apartment and feel that it is clearly a gift from God.

As I walk through the neighborhood and talk with my neighbors I have been saddened by the difficult stories I have heard. Life in East Garfield Park is a struggle for many. The despair is evidenced by the liquor bottles and empty crack bags strewn along the streets and in the parks. It seems there is broken glass and rubbish everywhere.

While I know we could bring in busloads of people from outside the neighborhood to clean it up, I recognize also, that the sight of outsiders coming in to work for a few hours and then leaving to go back to better neighborhoods can add to the sense of powerlessness of the residents. The issues we face are complicated and difficult.

So, we join in the struggle in small ways and we begin to see rays of hope.

Kids who would otherwise be roaming the streets are eager to participate in our Starfish studio film production classes. The reading levels of the participants of the Nettie Bailey Student Achievement program are continuing to rise preparing them for entrance into college and gainful employment. The mothers of our Breakthrough Beginners want to join the community of support developing around their children. Homeless men and women are engaging passionately with our Bible studies and devotions.

I think we all want to participate in something that is bigger than us, something worthy of our best effort, something that will truly transform the lives of those who live amidst the hopelessness. For me, that is Breakthrough. I love what involvement in this ministry does in me. My prayer life is enriched. My heart is made tender. I meet real heroes day after day. Jesus is at work here and I am so glad to be in the middle of it.
"If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time ... But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together." Lilla Watson, A Brisbane based Aboriginal educator and activist.

Working the streets

Where do you turn to find hope? Maybe you turn to your family . . . your church . . . your friends. For Tyra,* there seemed to be no one . . . and no hope.

At the age of fourteen, Tyra began doing drugs. At fifteen, her family kicked her out of the house, and she began doing “tricks” to support her lifestyle. By 19, she didn’t have a home, and she was sleeping on the couch in an acquaintance’s apartment . . . just making ends meet to support her drug habit. That was when we met Tyra.

It was a cold Friday night when Brenda, our coordinator of street outreach, invited Tyra into the Breakthrough RV. Tyra was immediately suspicious. Why was someone being kind to her? But Tyra was so cold she agreed to come in for a cup of coffee. She and the staff member talked. Tyra left. We prayed. Over the course of the next year, we saw Tyra once or twice a month. Each time we listened. We provided safety. We talked about people and programs which were available to help her get over the drugs. We shared the gospel message, and we told her about the Breakthrough Joshua Center. Then last week one of the girls doing tricks on Tyra’s street was beaten to death. Tyra was scared and ready to get help.

Today Tyra is living at the Breakthrough Joshua Center and enrolled in a drug rehabilitation program. I am so grateful for God’s beginning work in Tyra’s life, but I am so concerned about the other girls and women on the streets. Some estimate 16,000 girls and women in Chicago are involved in prostitution. The streets are not safe. Within the last few weeks, three of the women we ministered to have died. Two were murdered. The other died of Aids.

The recent deaths of these three women from the street have been hard on our staff, especially Brenda. Please pray. Our hearts are broken.

Breakthrough Director of Women's Services, Yolanda Fields and Street Outreach Coordinator, Brenda Williams

"Nickel" pot bags in Garfield Park

I thought they were crack or cocaine bags but have been told they are $5 pot bags, mini ziplock bags. There are lots of them on the ground in the park...

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Two times around the lagoon... feeling better

It seems God always gives me waterfront to jog near. In Keokuk, it was the Mississippi River; in Andersonville, the Chicago lakefront; in Plainfield, the pond behind our house, and now, the Garfield Park lagoon. The geese were there to cheer me on and join me in praising to God. I'm feeling much better. No more excuses.

Gotta get back into shape

I have excuses... I live alone now and eat out of boredom. I need to find a new routine since I moved. I did a full court press to finish my disseration in the last three months and binged. I have to get back into my exercise routine. It's going on my prayer rope today. I found a helpful link and will begin entering my activities and everything I eat into my Fitday software.

Friday, March 17, 2006

My Prayer Rope

OK, this may seem weird, but after reading about the ancient use of prayer ropes in Tony Jones' book, The Sacred Way, I designed a rope of my own and it has really helped me to remember to pray throughout the day. Don't worry, I don't think there is special power in the rope, or in my case, a shoe string, but holding it in my hand as I drive or sit in boring meetings (at city hall) it reminds me of the top ten things I have felt led to pray for during my morning reflections. Ten knots, ten reminders. I spend as much time as I want at each knot, pondering the person or situation, trying to listen to what God is telling me about it or them, asking how to pray, communing, praying. Every once in awhile I need something fresh to refocus my spiritual disciplines. This week it is the prayer rope... not to be confused with remote control beads!

Hemant, the ebay atheist, may be coming your way on Sunday

Several weeks ago, Hemant Mehta, a DePaul graduate student and an avowed atheist, sold his soul on ebay. He declared that for each $10 bid he would attend an hour of church. The winning bid of $504 came from Jim Henderson on February 3rd. Henderson manages the web site Instead of the 50 hours he had purchased, Henderson contracted with Hemant to visit 10 to 15 church services of Henderson's choosing and write about his experiences on the off the map web site.

So far, Hemant has visited Old St. Pats, Park Community, Parkview Christian, Willow Creek and Salem Baptist. All of them are in the Chicago area. You can read his commentary on the off-the-map web site.

Michael Gerson, Bush's Speech Writer

Here is a link to an interesting article in the New Yorker about Michael Gerson, Bush's speech writer. Gerson seems like a man who is serious about his faith and really cares about issues of justice and poverty.
Jim Towey, who directs the White House’s Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, which steers government funds to religious groups that provide social services, explained Gerson’s role in the Bush Administration this way: “There are some people in the White House who are more conservative than compassionate, and some who are more compassionate than conservative. Mike is more compassionate than conservative.”

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Sometimes I feel like Rocky Balboa

I relate to the Rocky image when it comes to ministry in the city. I'm not very smart and I'm pretty beat up. But as Rocky says, "It's about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward, how much you can take and keep moving forward. You've got to be willing to take the hit." Here's a great clip.
"For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms". Ephesians 6:12

Tom Fox

A few days when they showed some of the Peacemaker captives in Iraq I feared the worst for Tom Fox as he was not among them. Today I read the sad news that they have found his body. Tom was a Quaker who joined the Chicago-based Peacemaker Team out of his concern for demonstraing the love of Christ and standing firm against evil. Here is a quote from his blog...

“If an attacker inspires anger or fear in my heart, it means that I have not purged myself of violence. To realize nonviolence means to feel within you its strength--soul force--to know God. A person who has known God will be incapable of harboring anger or fear within him [or her], no matter how overpowering the cause for that anger or fear may be.” (Gandhi speaking to Badshah Kahn’s Khudai Khidmatgar officers; “A Man to Match His Mountains” by Eknath Easwaran, pg. 157.)

When I allow myself to become angry I disconnect from God and connect with the evil force that empowers fighting. When I allow myself to become fearful I disconnect from God and connect with the evil force that encourages flight. I take Gandhi and Jesus at their word--if I am not one with God then I am one with Satan. I don’t think Gandhi would use that word but Jesus certainly did, on numerous occasions. The French theologian Rene Girard has a very powerful vision of Satan that speaks to me: “Satan sustains himself as a parasite on what God creates by imitating God in a manner that is jealous, grotesque, perverse and as contrary as possible to the loving and obedient imitation of Jesus” (“I Saw Satan Fall Like Lighting”, R. Girard, pg. 45).

If I am not to fight or flee in the face of armed aggression, be it the overt aggression of the army or the subversive aggression of the terrorist, then what am I to do? “Stand firm against evil” (Matthew 5:39, translated by Walter Wink) seems to be the guidance of Jesus and Gandhi in order to stay connected with God. But here in Iraq I struggle with that second form of aggression. I have visual references and written models of CPTers standing firm against the overt aggression of an army, be it regular or paramilitary. But how do you stand firm against a car--bomber or a kidnapper? Clearly the soldier being disconnected from God needs to have me fight. Just as clearly the terrorist being disconnected from God needs to have me flee. Both are willing to kill me using different means to achieve the same end. That end being to increase the parasitic power of Satan within God’s good creation.

It seems easier somehow to confront anger within my heart than it is to confront fear. But if Jesus and Gandhi are right then I am not to give in to either. I am to stand firm against the kidnapper as I am to stand firm against the soldier. Does that mean I walk into a raging battle to confront the soldiers? Does that mean I walk the streets of Baghdad with a sign saying “American for the Taking”? No to both counts. But if Jesus and Gandhi are right, then I am asked to risk my life and if I lose it to be as forgiving as they were when murdered by the forces of Satan. I struggle to stand firm but I’m willing to keep working at it.
Tom was called to face his fear and to give his life as a marter. "Greater love has no man than this." He gets the white robe. Well done, good and faithful servant.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Malcolm Gladwell Radio Segment

On 2/21/06 I presented a link to an article in the New Yorker by Malcolm Gladwell entitled "Million Dollar Murray" which articulated the cost to society of not concentrating services and housing opportunities on the chronically homeless. Here is a link to a National Public Radio interview with Gladwell on the subject.

Monday, March 06, 2006

The Woman at the Well

In preparing a Bible study for a women's group in Barrington I learned some new things about the story of the Samaritan woman that met Jesus at Jacob's well.

The well was in Shechem, which is where Hamor's son, Shechem, raped Dinah, Jacob's daughter, and then her brothers came and slaughtered all of the men of Shechem's family.

God instructs Jacob to bury all of his foreign gods under the oak of Shechem and get out of there and go to Bethel, the "House of God".

It is also the place where Joseph's brothers were herding sheep when Joseph was thrown into a cistern and then sold into slavery.

Bad stuff happened there.
"My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water."---(Jeremiah 2:13)
Then along comes a despised Samaritan woman. Too filled with shame to draw water with the other women in the early evening, she comes alone at noon and finds Jesus waiting for her there. Disregarding barriers of gender and ethnicity, Jesus humbly asks her to draw water for him because he is tired and thirsty.

She had experienced bad relationships with men. Five times she had entered into marriage, surely feeling each time that this would be the relationship that would bring her happiness, but each time she was either dumped, or things got so bad that she walked out, or perhaps the men found someone they liked better, or maybe there was abuse... we don't know, but five times something happened, and her dream of ever finding happiness was shattered. She finally gave up on marriage completely and just shacked up with another guy.

Then she meets Jesus and he talks to her of living water, the kind that flows from within, the spring of living water that satisfies all thirst forever, the cleasing fountain that washes away all guilt and shame, and she was transformed. Her "Valley of Trouble" becomes a "Door of Hope" and she is so excited about her new relationship with Jesus that she runs back to town and brings the entire village to meet Jesus.

There are several examples in Scripture of women going about their daily chores of drawing water when they are surprised to meet their husbands. Rebecah found her husband, Isaac, at a well. Rachel met Jacob at a well. Zipporah met Moses at a well.
I will lead her into the desert and speak tenderly to her. There I will give her back her vineyards, and will make the Valley of Achor (ie. "Trouble") a door of hope. There she will sing as in the days of her youth... "In that day", declares the LORD, "you will call me 'my husband'."---(Hosea 2:14-16)
There is healing, cleansing, forgiveness and true happiness at the well. Jesus is waiting for me to call him "my husband".

Saturday, March 04, 2006

American Charity Short Changes the Poor

Thanks to Nathan Kaufman from my Saturday morning BUILD group for this link to a very interesting article from the Stanford Social Intervention Review entitled, "A Failure of Philanthropy: American Charity Short Changes the Poor and Public Policy is Partly to Blame" . The paper is written by Robert Reich who was U.S. Secretary of Labor during President Clinton's first term.

He brings up a point that I had never considered. I'll try to summarize, but you really should read this eleven page article.

Most of the philanthropic giving in America goes to fund education, the arts and religion (to pay for facilites and internal church operations) rather than to organizations and institutions that help the poor. Social welfare groups receive only 2% of charitable gifts and social service organizations, 9%. Since people with wealth get the largest tax deduction for those gifts, charitable giving really mostly benefits rich people!! Ouch!!

Here's an example...

A school district in a wealthy community collects ten million dollars for its local school. The rich contributors get 35 cents on every dollar back in their pockets in tax deductions and their kids have a terrific school. This takes three and a half million dollars away from the tax base that could have helped to fund the nearby school in a poorer neighborhood.

Since the qualifications to be considered a 501c3 organization are quite loose, a $1,000 donation to support baldness research is considered as valuable to the IRS as your gifts to fund feeding hungry people through Breakthrough Urban Ministries.

The author, Rob Reich gives some ideas for changes in social policy that would redirect funds to help the poor.

"We should stop kidding ourselves that charity and philanthropy do much to help the poor," says Reich.