Sunday, December 28, 2008

Prayer and Praise Night at Breakthrough - January 10th

At 6:00 PM on January 10th at the BMC (Breakthrough Ministry Cernter) at 402 N. St. Louis, Von Matthews is going to lead anyone who wants to show up in a time of prayer and praise at Breakthrough. We hope this will become a regular event that will unite our guests, staff and volunteers in a time of worship and prayer. Please come.

Mark you calendar for Carl Ellis on January 17th

I mentioned before that we have invited Carl Ellis to join us at Breakthrough for a breakfast symposium on January 17th. I have quoted Ellis often in my own teaching about the centrality of social justice to the message of the gospel. He has a way of describing what I have called the "righteousness window" and the "gospel gap" that has transformed my theological understanding of racial and social justice. Click here to learn more about the symposium and to register, and click here to listen to one of Carl Ellis' messages. You won't want to miss this event!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

US Senator Dick Durbin visits Breakthrough

We were honored today when Kate Maher and her staff at the Greater Chicago Food Depository brought Senator Dick Durbin by for a visit to see the front line of food service and distribution. Senator Durbin has been influential in supporting a farm bill that will help to make more food resources available for communities like ours. The Senator ate lunch with us and stayed for more than an hour in spite of a ferocious blizzard. In this picture he is discussing the needs of the people served at Breakthrough with Breakthrough's Associate Director of Interim Housing, Cheron Massonburg.

What the experts have to say about being homeless when it's cold

I sat in the Breakthrough Ministry Center with a group of guys who are residents at Breakthrough and asked them about their experiences. Here is the Breakthrough Stories podcast. You can subscribe to Breakthrough Stories here.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Woman's body found frozen on sidewalk

This is the kind of headline that makes me cringe. I literally feel pain over it. God help us not to let anyone near us experience this kind of neglect.

Another reason why I love Chicago!

I went to dinner and a play with friends on Friday night. I hadn't shoveled my car out from the last snow storm, so at the end of the evening the two guys in the group shoveled out my parking space. All of us who live in the city without garages know that once you get your spot shoveled, it is understood that it is yours. Some put out chairs to make sure no one takes their spot, but in neighborhoods like mine, everyone knows where I always park and they have the courtesy to leave my parking spot for me. Of course, I would never take someone else's spot either.

Saturday, I walked to the Christmas store at the Breakthrough Ministry Center and then to the Breakthrough Joshua Center for the Breakthrough kids program and then drove to a friend's party. I wasn't surprised to find my spot still neatly available when I got home.

Sunday, I spoke at River City Community Church and then drove out to Willow Creek to see their amazing Christmas show with some friends. When I got back to let Charlie (my dog) out before going to another friend's party, I discovered the snow plow had gone down our street and had thrown snow into my spot. Not wanting to violate the unspoken parking code I rammed my car into the spot and knew instantly I was severely stuck. I rocked back and forth a bit and finally called my friends to say I was going to have to miss their party. I had a nice night at home.

Since my apartment is just two blocks from Breakthrough's offices, I had no problem walking to work this morning, but had this nagging concern over how I was going to get my car unstuck.

So I did another commonly accepted routine. I got out my shovel, dug out a few shovels of ice (everything is frozen solid with sub-zero weather in Chicago), and began to rock my car back and forth. Sure enough, within about five minutes my neighbor, Darnell, was there to grab the shovel and a few moments later, Gary from down the street arrived. They shoveled, yelled directions about how my wheels needed to be positioned and whether to move forward or backward, and with combined effort, they lifted my car out of the rut I had dug and I was on my way.

I got out of the car to thank them and ask them if they needed anything. "Oh no", Gary replied, "That's what neighbors are for." So I gave them both hugs! I love my neighbors and I love how Chicagoans pull together in times like these. It seems everyone has a story like mine.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Tony Escobar and the Breakthrough Christmas Store

I posted a new audio on the Breakthrough Stories Podcast in which I interview Tony Escobar, Breakthrough's Volunteer Coordinator, about the Breakthrough Christmas Store that will be held tomorrow at 402 N. St. Louis in Chicago. There is still time to contribute to the store and to join us tomorrow. You can click here to listen to the podcast and click here to learn more about the store.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Midday Connection and Irving Wasserman

Yesterday, my good friend, Anita Lustrea, interviewed me on Midday Connection. She asked me about the affect of the cold weather on the homeless and about Irving Wasserman, whom I had written about in one of the devotionals in her new book, Daily Seeds, which she co-authored with her associates, Lori Neff and Melinda Schmidt. You can listen to the program at this link.

Irving Wasserman taught me how powerfully God can use people who seem to the world to be "weak and foolish" (1 Corinthians 1:27). Irving came to Breakthrough shortly after it opened in 1992. Peering curiously into the Center’s storefront window, he seemed pleased when I invited him into the center for a cup of coffee. Soon he came regularly for a hot lunch at noon.

Living on disability support, Irving had been diagnosed with schizophrenia as a young man. He had been institutionalized and given shock treatments, and he spoke of being sexually assaulted in the state hospital and out on the street after he was released. He was odd-looking, with the top of his pants lifted high above his waste and the bottoms high above his ankles. He was the object of frequent torment from neighborhood children.

Clearly, Irving was very alone, and Breakthrough became a sort of family for him. He enjoyed talking about current events and the world economy. Sometimes he would make perfect sense; other times he would release a string of profanity for no apparent reason, or become enraged over things that seemed insignificant. Conversations were unpredictable, but always interesting.

Irving’s overarching concern in life was the national debt. He had a great mind for numbers and watched the interest rates and markets closely. He was sure that with wise economic policies and habits, he could personally make a difference. He wanted to eradicate the national debt “for his own self respect”.

In fact, Irving was very particular about how he spent and saved his money. He washed his dirty laundry about once a year, bringing it to Breakthrough in a worn potato bag. He stuffed his pockets with used paper towels from the bathroom garbage to use for toilet paper. Irving’s apartment had plain plywood floors It hadn’t been painted or renovated in years. Irving wanted it that way because he didn’t want the landlord to raise the rent. He even asked us to help him move his stove out to the alley for the garbage men to pick up, because he didn’t want to pay the monthly gas bill to keep the pilot light lit. He picked up loose change he’d find on the sidewalk and immediately deposit it at the local bank, even if it were only five or six cents at a time. “I can’t trust myself with money,” he’d say.

I was surprised when one day, Irving asked me to help him to find a lawyer who would set up a living revocable trust for his estate. He said he knew he didn’t have long to live and that he had decided he wanted to give his savings to Breakthrough to be used for job training for the homeless and mentally ill. By living frugally and saving nearly $700 per month from his disability checks, Irving had bought government bonds every quarter for 50 years. With $500,000, this eccentric man, who had been forgotten by many, became Breakthrough’s biggest donor!

A year later, Irving was hospitalized with terminal cancer and hepatitis C, and he died shortly thereafter. He never wanted fame or a building named after him, yet Irving’s legacy will live on for many years to come through the changed lives of people who have been trained and have earned jobs because of his gift.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Getting out of debt

As we head into the holiday shopping season I appreciate this great video clip from Dave Ramsey about basic money management. He says we should sell so much stuff the kids think they're next and name our dogs "Ebay".
1) Live on less than you make.
2) Get out of debt. (Attack smallest to largest debt.)
3) Create a budget.
4) Save money for a rainy day. (Emergency money.)
5) Give, Give, Give (Be a blessing to others.)

An Amazing Story of God's Presence in Prison

Misrepresented in the justice system, Geraldine Smith became the first woman sentenced to death in Illinois when the state's death penalty law was re-enacted in 1977. The Illinois Supreme Court vacated her sentence in 1997. This podcast is a story in Geraldine's own words about how God ministered to her while she was in solitary confinement on death row. You can also download the interview at the Breakthrough Stories Podcast on iTunes. Geraldine is the sister of Martin Coffer who works with us at Breakthrough.

Friday, November 21, 2008

What would you do if you lost everything?

Thanks to Ryan Westrom for this link to the Freakonomics Blog that asks the questions, "What would you do if you lost everything?"
Imagine you just lost all your possessions and money, and you were suddenly living in the streets.

1. What’s the first move you would make?

2. What’s the first organization you would turn to?

3. What would your extended plan look like?
So here are my answers.

My first move...

Of course, I would make a beeline straight to Breakthrough. Before I would need to turn to a shelter, though, I have multiple friends and family that I am quite sure would take me in, at least for awhile. I would try to find someone who would let me stay with them in return for me doing housework or childcare.

The first organization I would turn to...

. But since the women's interim housing facility is always full, I would have to get on the list and sleep at the DHS office at 10 S. Kedzie or under a bridge somewhere until a bed opened up for me. I would ask people on the street where to find free meals.

My extended plan...

I am privileged. I'm educated and white. I know people who would help me. I would probably have to beg one of my friends to help me print flyers offering interior house painting services or carpet shampooing services real cheap. Then I would borrow the supplies and rent the carpet cleaning machine until I could afford to buy my own.

It is really hard for me to imagine being totally out there alone, because I have such a strong network of friends. It's the absence of that network that is most devastating for our guests at Breakthrough.

What would you do?

Breaking Down the Barriers of Race

My friend, Mike Ivers, was featured on Chicago Public Television's 30 Good Minutes on November 2nd. The title of his message was "Breaking Down the Barriers of Race". Mike has been in ministry for 34 years, most of the time in African American communities. He is now the Executive Director of Goodcity, a Chicago Leadership Foundation. Mike always uses creative objects in his message. This one is a bucket of water with a sponge and a mirror. Here's the link.

Walking Through the Darkness

Dr. George Beukema is a friend and comrade in ministry who supervised my Doctorate of Ministry dissertation. He and his wife, Lila, have been in urban ministry for many years. Dr. Beukema provides supportive counseling and psychotherapy services to Breakthrough's interim housing guests as well as to men, women and couples on Chicago’s north side. If you need someone to walk through the darkness with you right now, you should definitely give him a call. He wrote the article below about depression, which, of course, is a condition that often rears its ugly head this time of the year.

For the thing which
I greatly feared is come upon me,
and that which I was afraid of
Is come unto me.
I was not in safety, neither
had I rest, neither was I quiet;
yet trouble came.


Depression is hard to grab hold of. In “Darkness Visible,” renowned author William Styron chronicles his life-long struggle with depression. In the introduction Styron states, “Depression is a disorder of mood, so mysteriously painful and elusive in the way it becomes known to the self…as to verge close to being beyond description.” Styron, like so many other men and women throughout the ages, suffered deeply with this mysterious yet ever present malady. There was Abraham Lincoln and his “melancholy” which troubled him throughout his life. There was Winston Churchill and his “Black Dog”—an interesting metaphor, perhaps chosen for the way depression seems to forever be on your heels. And we needn’t look to the past for examples of people who suffer from depression. They surround us. Simply Google “famous people with depression” and you will find more names than you might imagine such as Hugh Laurie, Heath Ledger, Terry Bradshaw, Harrison Ford, Ashley Judd, Amy Tan, Drew Carrey, Jim Carey to name just a few.

In my practice I work with men and women—young and old—who suffer from depression. Its faces are many. For example, men, a bit more than women, are likely to experience depression in ways more behavioral than emotional. Men tend to “do” depression more than feel it. Some common ways of “doing depression” are expressing anger in sudden or intense ways; brooding incessantly; spending significant amounts of time and energy engaged in particular tasks like work, sports, or hobbies; engaging in behaviors that are reckless or dangerous; feeling driven (addiction-like) to certain behaviors which provide some sort of temporary relief or calm. Other symptoms of depression common to men and women alike are eating too little or too much, sleeping too little or too much, having difficulty feeling pleasure, or being consumed with negative thoughts. And sometimes depression is experienced simply as a pervasive sadness.

We’ve come a long way since the days of Lincoln’s melancholy and Churchill’s “black dog” in understanding depression. We know the location in the brain where it seems to reside; we know that in some circumstances medication can be very helpful. And we’ve learned that talk therapy provides significant relief for many. This last part shouldn’t come as a surprise to those of us who know the healing power that comes “where two or more are gathered.” It is this power that led me into the field of psychotherapy and it is this power that leads many to the church. I believe it is also this power of which the Psalmist speaks when he says, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I fear no evil, for you are with me.” It’s a good thing to have someone walk with you in the darkness.

Dr. George Beukema can be reached at 773.350.2953 or

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Carl Ellis on the Breakthrough Stories Podcast

After a one year break I have resurrected the Breakthrough Stories Podcast on iTunes. I wanted to podcast a message by Carl Ellis entitled, "Bridging the Racial Divide". I learned so much from this message about the theological basis for social justice. It has influenced much of my understanding and teaching. I called Carl and got permission to put it on our podcast and I invited him to come to do a similar teaching live and in person on January 17th at Breakthrough. So put it on your calendar. It will most likely be in the morning from 9:00 until noon on January 17th. I'll keep you posted.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Teaching kids not to be self absorbed

Here's a link to a very nice article written by Abbey Cramton and published in the Oak Park and River Forest Journal about some great Breakthrough volunteers who serve together as families, the Russos and the Birkeys. This is what Debbie Birkey had to say about the importance she places on leading her children into volunteering.
"That my kids will grow up completely self-absorbed is a greater fear than our personal safety," Birkey said firmly, noting that she has seen the benefits outweigh the risks time and again as her children move into their own roles of servant leadership in adulthood. In fact, her son Noel, 23, goes to work early twice a week so he can tutor with his family on Tuesday.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

That would be all of us

Marcie said it beautifully at Breakthrough's Staff Development Day, "We are all undeserving poor". We "love people out the door" when it is clear they are not ready to take advantage of the many opportunities available at Breakthrough, but we are always ready for people to come back when they are ready. We provide a presence on the street late into the night on weekends to let people know there is somewhere to turn when they want to receive the love of Christ through the community of faith. But we never give up on people, because God hasn't given up on us. None of us deserve what we've been given. It is the grace of God.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

The Undeserving Poor?

I have been struggling lately with the notion that I hear from some Christians that there is a group of people who could be categorized as "the undeserving poor". Who are they? The able bodied who don't work? What if they want to work and can't find a job? What if the manufacturing jobs have been replaced by white collar jobs that necessitate a good education in a community where schools are failing? Are they the "undeserving poor"?

Of course there are people who don't take advantage of opportunity, but in our community it seems it is more the opportunities that are missing. Many, after being rejected again and again, just give up, assuming the notion that they will never be able to draw a legitimate income. I don't think I have ever met one of those "undeserving poor" and I know a lot of very poor people.

Here's a link to a New York Times article in which Jonathan Kozul is quoted as saying,
"The ultimate question is a theological one: What does any human being deserve? The Bible tells us that a person's humanity is enough for our compassion."
Amen Jonathan!

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Wide Awake

"What would happen if all of us began to discover our God given dreams? What would happen if all of us began to live wide awake and began to live our lives in such a way that everything we did, every choice, every act, all of it was used to fulfill those dreams and make the world a different place?"

              --Erwin McManus at the Breakthrough Benefit

Saturday, November 01, 2008

I'm an idealist!

Here's another one of those fun online tests that is supposed to reveal your world view. What's yours?
Idealist 81%
Cultural Creative 75%
Postmodernist 56%
Modernist 44%
Existentialist 44%
Romanticist 44%
Fundamentalist 38%
Materialist 13%

Friday, October 31, 2008

You can vote however you like!

This makes me smile...

Being Poor

I got this from my friend Tracy Turner...
Being poor is getting angry at your kids for asking for all the crap they see on TV.

Being poor is having to keep buying $800 cars because they're what you can afford, and then having the cars break down on you, because there's not an $800 car in America that's worth a damn.

Being poor is hoping the toothache goes away.

Being poor is knowing your kid goes to friends' houses but never has friends over to yours.

Being poor is going to the restroom before you get in the school lunch line so your friends will be ahead of you and won't hear you say "I get free lunch" when you get to the cashier.

Being poor is living next to the freeway.

Being poor is coming back to the car with your children in the back seat, clutching that box of Raisin Bran you just bought and trying to think of a way to make the kids understand that the box has to last.

Being poor is wondering if your well-off sibling is lying when he says he doesn't mind when you ask for help.

Being poor is off-brand toys.

Being poor is a heater in only one room of the house.

Being poor is knowing you can't leave $5 on the coffee table when your friends are around.

Being poor is hoping your kids don't have a growth spurt.

Being poor is stealing meat from the store, frying it up before your mom gets home and then telling her she doesn't have make dinner tonight because you're not hungry anyway.

Being poor is Goodwill underwear.

Being poor is not enough space for everyone who lives with you.

Being poor is feeling the glued soles tear off your supermarket shoes when you run around the playground.

Being poor is your kid's school being the one with the 15-year-old textbooks and no air conditioning.

Being poor is thinking $8 an hour is a really good deal.

Being poor is relying on people who don't give a damn about you.

Being poor is an overnight shift under florescent lights.

Being poor is finding the letter your mom wrote to your dad, begging him for the child support.

Being poor is a bathtub you have to empty into the toilet.

Being poor is stopping the car to take a lamp from a stranger's trash.

Being poor is making lunch for your kid when a cockroach skitters over the bread, and you looking over to see if your kid saw.

Being poor is believing a GED actually makes a difference.

Being poor is people angry at you just for walking around in the mall.

Being poor is not taking the job because you can't find someone you trust to watch your kids.

Being poor is the police busting into the apartment right next to yours.

Being poor is not talking to that girl because she'll probably just laugh at your clothes.

Being poor is hoping you'll be invited for dinner.

Being poor is a sidewalk with lots of brown glass on it.

Being poor is people thinking they know something about you by the way you talk.

Being poor is needing that 35-cent raise.

Being poor is your kid's teacher assuming you don't have any books in your home.

Being poor is six dollars short on the utility bill and no way to close the gap.

Being poor is crying when you drop the mac and cheese on the floor.

Being poor is knowing you work as hard as anyone, anywhere.

Being poor is people surprised to discover you're not actually stupid.

Being poor is people surprised to discover you're not actually lazy.

Being poor is a six-hour wait in an emergency room with a sick child asleep on your lap.

Being poor is never buying anything someone else hasn't bought first.

Being poor is picking the 10 cent ramen instead of the 12 cent ramen because that's two extra packages for every dollar.

Being poor is having to live with choices you didn't know you made when you were 14 years old.

Being poor is getting tired of people wanting you to be grateful.

Being poor is knowing you're being judged.

Being poor is a box of crayons and a $1 coloring book from a community center Santa.

Being poor is checking the coin return slot of every soda machine you go by.

Being poor is deciding that it's all right to base a relationship on shelter.

Being poor is knowing you really shouldn't spend that buck on a Lotto ticket.

Being poor is hoping the register lady will spot you the dime.

Being poor is feeling helpless when your child makes the same mistakes you did, and won't listen to you beg them against doing so.

Being poor is a cough that doesn't go away.

Being poor is making sure you don't spill on the couch, just in case you have to give it back before the lease is up.

Being poor is a $200 paycheck advance from a company that takes $250 when the paycheck comes in.

Being poor is four years of night classes for an Associates of Art degree.

Being poor is a lumpy futon bed.

Being poor is knowing where the shelter is.

Being poor is people who have never been poor wondering why you choose to be so.

Being poor is knowing how hard it is to stop being poor.

Being poor is seeing how few options you have.

Being poor is running in place.

Being poor is people wondering why you didn't leave.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Finally, Justification for Buying Starbucks?

I confess. I have an addiction. I love coffee, especially Starbucks coffee. I feel guilty spending so much money on it. I rarely buy the drinks in the coffee shops (unless I'm meeting friends). But I buy it by the pound for my morning coffee maker at home. I carry it with me backpacking and everywhere I travel. So, I was pleased to learn that Starbucks is teaming up with my hero, Bono, on a new initiative to combat AIDs in Africa.
"Here we are, talking about the economy tanking. People are saying, 'Maybe the world doesn't need more coffee houses.' And what do you do? What does Starbucks do? You decide to give your money away," said Bono to his star-struck audience. "This is not charity. This is commerce."

In a press statement, Starbucks discussed the new initiative as framing "our commitment to doing business responsibly, our ability to use our scale as a catalyst of doing good, for our framers, our customers, our planet at large."

"If every single Starbucks customer bought one (RED) Holiday Exclusive (beverage) for a week, we would save 15,000 lives for a year in Africa," said Starbucks Senior Vice President Michelle Gass.
The world would probably be an even better place if I just quit drinking coffee and gave the money to charity. But since that isn't likely to happen soon, I'm at least encouraged that Starbucks is committed to doing good. It's a step in the right direction

The American Way

I found this picture on Paul Luikart's blog.

A Cold Winter for the Homeless in Edgewater

In March of this year Breakthrough moved our men's services from the Edgewater community on the north side of Chicago to the East Garfield Park community on Chicago's west side. While we enjoyed a wonderful 16 year stay within the facilites of the First Evangelical Free Church, we were growing and needed more space that was better designed for the dignity of our homeless guests. We are very happy to be in our new building.

Unfortunately, our exit from the Edgewater community, along with the closing of several other shelters there, is causing a bit of a crisis for the homeless that want to remain on the north side. Here's an article about it. I have gotten several calls from journalists asking why we left.

It made sense for us organizationally to move all of our services into one community. We were serving women at our Breakthrough Joshua Center in East Garfield Park and it was challenging to build staff camaraderie when we were in two very different communities.

Beyond that though, we did try to find space in Edgewater both when we opened our women's center in 2000 and when we knew we needed to relocate our facility to serve men in 2004. On both occasions we faced two obstacles - the high cost of securing a site in a neighborhood where property values had appreciated beyond what we thought we could afford, and NIMBYism (Not In My Back Yard) from the community. Aldermen in the community let us know that they would have a difficult time convincing neighbors to accept a homeless service center in the areas we targeted. Eventually we found space on the west side that we could afford and Alderman Burnett supported us at a community meeting saying, "Other communities don't want homeless services in their neighborhoods. If we don't help our people who will?" The neighbors accepted us because they recognized the need for the services we offer.

I'm concerned that communities like Andersonville, Edgewater and Uptown are trying to make the homeless problem go away by edging out services. The result? Many who could be assisted into stable housing will continue to roam the streets and sleep under bridges and along the lake front. This will be a very cold winter for the homeless if they continue to get the cold shoulder from those communities.

Monday, October 20, 2008

CCDA Conference This Week

I look forward to seeing many of you at the Christian Community Development Conference in Miami this week. I am doing a plenary message and a workshop. Please pray for me!

Community Ministry Resources

Dr. Amy Sherman, who has written several great books and articles about urban ministry, sent me a couple of links that provide resources for urban practitioners. The first is FASTEN (Faith and Service Technical Education Network). The second is a link to Amy's web site entitled, the Center on Faith in Communities. I highly recommend her devotional guide entitled, Sharing God's Heart for the Poor. We have used the book as gifts for our donors. It is beautifully written.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

With my Grandkids at the Pumpkin Farm

Race Relations -- Better or Worse?

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America's Metropolitan Chicago Synod Antiracism Team is hosting an Antiracism Town Hall Event and Worship of Healing & Reconciliation

Sunday, November 2, 2008
3:00 PM - 6:00 PM
Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago
1100 East 55th Street, Chicago, Illinois

Click here to learn more about the event. All are invited.

Donna Brazile Is Not Going To The Back Of The Bus

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Aversive Racism

Here's a link to an interesting article in the New York Times entitled, Racism Without Racists by columnist Nicholas Kristoff. He writes, "a careful survey completed last month by Stanford University, with The Associated Press and Yahoo, suggested that Mr. Obama’s support would be about six percentage points higher if he were white." Many whites and even blacks would not consider themselves to be racist, yet they discriminate unconsciously. This is called "aversive racism".
“In the U.S., there’s a small percentage of people who in nationwide surveys say they won’t vote for a qualified black presidential candidate,” Professor Dovidio said. “But a bigger factor is the aversive racists, those who don’t think that they’re racist.”

Faced with a complex decision, he said, aversive racists feel doubts about a black person that they don’t feel about an identical white. “These doubts tend to be attributed not to the person’s race — because that would be racism — but deflected to other areas that can be talked about, such as lack of experience,” he added.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

The Uncertainty of Riches

Here's what the apostle Paul told young Timothy, "Instruct those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited or to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy." (1 Timothy 6:17) Great words for us today!

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

A Creative Idea for a Birthday Party

Here's a link to a heartwarming article about a woman from Naperville, Sherilyn Sheets, who threw a party for the homeless for her birthday.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Westbrook Christian Church

I enjoyed dinner tonight at the home of Gordon and Resa Venturella. Gordon is the Vice President of Stewardship Development at Lincoln Christian College and Seminary from which I received my MA in Urban Mission. Gordon introduced me to Mont Mitchell, the pastor of Westbrook Christian Church and his wife Christie, and their executive pastor, Rob Daniels, and his wife, Ruthie. Mont and Christie planted Westbrook Christian Church in 1996. It is a thriving multi-ethnic church in Bolingbrook, southwest of Chicago. They are great partners with Breakthrough. Their church serves meals at both of our shelters each month.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Bono on the Bail Out

“It is extraordinary to me that you can find $700 billion to save Wall Street and the entire G8 can’t find $25 billion to save 25,000 children who die every day of preventable treatable disease and hunger,” the U2 lead singer told Clinton’s fourth annual philanthropic summit in New York. “That’s mad, that is mad. Bankruptcy is a serious business and we all know people who have lost their jobs,” Bono said, "but this is moral bankruptcy.”

A Letter to the Church in the US: "We have this against you"

Here's a link to a challenging letter to the church in the US from Christian leaders from around the world. We are being asked to speak up on behalf of the poor and to call our people to action on their behalf.
We have this against you, brothers and sisters, that along with this powerful announcing of the Gospel, the Church from the United States has not also raised its voice in protest against the injustices that powerful governments and institutions are inflicting on the global South.

The Church in the United States has the opportunity today to be faithful to the Hope that it preaches. We urge you to remember that the Hope to which you were called as a messenger demands that you seek first the Kingdom of God and God's justice.

Out of love for us, the global Church, in holiness, use your citizenship responsibly for the benefit of the entire world; it is for this very reason that the Lord poured out His life on the Cross.

Friday, September 19, 2008

The Big Red Shoe Motorcycle

This was parked out in front of our ministry center today. Only in Chicago!!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Let Justice Roll

Will I see you Saturday at the "Let Justice Roll" event?

September 20, 2008
Park Community Church
1001 N Crosby Street
Chicago, Illinois 60610

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Here's my estamp! Give it a click!!

E-Stamp Image

Click this e-stamp, and $0.42 will be donated to Breakthrough Urban Ministries in Chicago.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Obama and the African American Experience

Here's a link to an interesting article from the Wall Street Journal, Black in a New Light, about Obama's presidency bid and how it is generating discussion about what it means to be Black in the US.

The Washington Post Highlights School Funding Disparities in Illinois

Here's a link to an article from yesterday's Washington Post about the school boycott and the disparities in funding for schools.
"The nonprofit Education Trust calculates that although the average gap in per-pupil spending across the country between high-income districts and low-income ones was $938 in 2005, the gap was $2,235 in Illinois. Only New York had a larger gap that year."

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

School Funding

This is the first week of classes for the Chicago Public Schools. Rev. James Meeks, Illinois State Senator and Pastor of the Salem Baptist Church on the south side of Chicago has asked students from the south and west sides of Chicago to boycott classes to draw attention to inadequate state funding for education in our communities. While some of us may disagree with the method, most of us would agree that the quality of government funded education should not depend upon where our children live. While money is not entirely the answer, there is something wrong when children in impoverished Chicago communities attend schools that do not have the resources to provide a rich diverse curriculum with well equipped science labs, libraries and books.

Part of the problem, as I see it, is that funding for education in Illinois is dependent upon revenue from real estate taxes. In East Garfield Park, where one out of every three lots is vacant and real estate values remain low, the funding is not adequate to provide quality education for our children. Many of the schools are failing and closing.

Ironically, residents from one zip code community on the west side of Chicago spend 28 million dollars a year on the state lottery just for the hope of winning a windfall that will set them free from the bondage of poverty. It makes sense to me that lottery revenue that tends to tax the poor should stay in our communities to fund education. Instead, unlike real estate taxes, lottery income is spread throughout the state.

As Christians, we will continue to do all we can to supplement the education of the children in our community with academic support and caring networks of relationships. We are also called to take a stand for justice and give voice to the oppressed. In the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “We are not to simply bandage the wounds of victims beneath the wheels of injustice, but we are to drive a spoke into the wheel itself.”

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Can't Pay, Don't Know, Don't Belong

Something happens to a society when its wealth is reckoned in commodities, and it is stashed away for some to have and some not to have. Some can pay and some can’t.

Something happens to a society when its ‘know how’ becomes sophisticated and mystifying and technical, and it is possessed by some and not possessed by others. Some know and some don’t.

Something happens to a society when a sense of solidarity among persons yields to a kind of individuality, when a sense of belonging with each other is diminished and a sense of being apart from each other takes its place. Some belong and some don’t.

Whatever it is that happens is happening to us. And there is the new, powerful emergence of those who can pay and those who know and those who belong. Very often the paying ones and the knowing ones and the belonging ones are the same ones—or at least they talk only with one another and trust one another. They are content to be left to their own resources, which are ample. And so the others—the ones who can’t pay and don’t know and don’t belong—are left to their own resourcelessness.

                 -             — Walter Brueggemann

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

West Side Students take on the Olympics Video Challenge

Students from North Lawndale College Prep in Collins High School on the west side explain how the Olympics would benefit the community in this video produced by Free Spirit Media in response to the Chicago 2016 video challenge.

Inspired by the Willow Summit

Lake County Sheriff, Mark Curan, was evidently inspired by Catherine Rohr at the Willow Creek Leadership Summit to sentence himself to a week in the Lake County Jail so he could better understand jail operations from the perspective of an inmate. It was the first thing mentioned on the channel 2 news this evening. Here's what the SunTimes had to say.
"In Lake County, we have embraced the scriptural mandate to love our neighbor. Your neighbor must be everyone if we are truly going to see peace on Earth," he said. "In the eyes of society, I may be sheriff, but in God’s eyes, I am no better than anyone else."

Sprinkling his explanation with religious references, Curran said the idea came to him while he was visiting a northwest suburban church earlier this month for a leadership meeting focusing on prison and correctional issues.

"I believe that because the idea came to me in church that it may have been divinely inspired," said Curran. He said he hopes his time in the jail will call attention to the need to have rehabilitation and job programs for inmates — most of whom ultimately will be released back into society.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Gang Warfare

Steven Levitt, University of Chicago Economics Professor and author of Freakonomics, visited our center today to look in on the research his students are doing at Breakthrough. Freakonomics was on the NY Times best seller list for two years. All of our staff were meeting for Staff Development Day, so he came in and interacted with us for awhile. It was a real treat for our staff to be able to ask him questions. Much of Levitt's research is very relavant to what we do at Breakthrough, especially in the area of prostitution, drug trafficking and gangs. He said that in a study they conducted with gang members they found that 7% of them died over a three year period. He compared it to soldiers in Iraq who die at a rate of 1% over the same time period. Gang members are seven times more likely to die in the city than they would be serving in Iraq. There is a literal war going on in our neighborhoods with huge casualties.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Anointed Preaching

My daughter, Monica, went to Calvary Church in Naperville on Sunday and heard what she said was the best sermon she's ever heard in her life! They had a guest speaker, a guy in his twenties named Robert Madu. Here's the podcast.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

The Education Challenge

"How many effective schools would you have to see to be persuaded of the educability of poor children?...We can, whenever and wherever we choose, successfully teach all children whose schooling is of interest to us. We already know more than we need to do that. Whether or not we do it must finally depend on how we feel about the fact that we haven't so far."
                 - Ronald Edmonds, Harvard University

Chicago Public School Facts

  • Only 6 of 100 African American and Latino high school freshmen males will graduate from a 4-year college (Chicago Sun-Times, Oct. 31, 2007)
  • Only 9% of African American 4th graders ranked proficient or above in reading, ranking Illinois 38 out of 41 states (Chicago Sun-Times, Nov. 2nd 2006)
  • Illinois ranks 49 out of 50 states when it comes to funding education from state funds. The education funding gap between the wealthiest district and poorest district is the largest in the nation. (Source: Education Trust)
  • 2005-2006 School Year Graduation Rates in Chicago
    Black males - 37%
    White males - 62%
    (Source: Schott Foundation)

Go to: for more information.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Wow! China knows how to throw a party!

I just finished watching the highlights of the opening ceremony at this link. Check out these pictures. Amazing!! Can Chicago top that in 2016?

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Let the Door Swing Wide

Joe, the owner of the beach house I am staying in, told me he thought I would like Kim Kalman, a local musician that leads worship at his church and sings in local restaurants. So today I went to hear her at the Beach Bread Company and he was right. She has a great mix of her own originals, classics from the 30s, 40s and 50s, and two Christian cds. I bought her latest, Let the Door Swing Wide.

Lessons from the Sea

I watched the sun rise over the ocean this morning. I am blessed to be in a beach house on the shores of the Atlantic in the Outer Banks of North Carolina, the extravagant gift of friends who like to bless people in ministry by offering the gift of a vacation in their beautiful home on the ocean. From the beach house window I watched dolphins jump in synchronicity. A wide eyed crab seemed to pose for me in the sand as I took his picture. All day I have listened to the powerful roar of the waves as they crescendo and crash.

In my first year out of college I became a certified scuba diver. I have done enough diving and snorkeling to know that as I look out over the blue waves of the ocean there is another world below its surface. Underneath, the ocean is teeming with thousands of species of multi-colored fish, sea turtles, lobster, stingrays, sharks, porpoises and jellyfish. Oceans cover more than 75% of the earth’s surface and most of the life in it has never been observed by a human eye. It’s just there, wonderfully complex and beautiful.

I enjoy backpacking in the Appalachian and Rocky Mountains. I love going to the book stores in the areas where I hike. I have to restrain myself. Alongside shelf after shelf of books about birds and trees and animals, I have seen books identifying at least 10,000 different types of mushrooms! And you can buy animal scat guides. It’s amazing what you can learn from the excrement of the animals on the trail. I have become especially interested in using this method to identify the beasts I might encounter while hiking. Every animal’s scat is different. Come on, God, did you have to pay such attention to detail?!

As I trek along the ocean beach and through the mountains and the woods I am amazed by the variety of species of plants and animals. God could have created one kind of flower, or perhaps two or three, and the world would have been beautiful. But there are 40,000 identified species of Orchids alone! There is an effusiveness to God’s character, an overflowing extravagance. St. Augustine called it the “plentitude” of God, the lavish, overflowing love and creativity of God is bountifully displayed in nature. I want to live in that place of extravagant love, creativity and generosity, the kind of generosity I am experiencing from the friends who have provided this vacation for me, and in the effusive plentitude of God.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Monday, July 21, 2008

Teri free falling

Here's a picture of my 24 year old daughter, Teri, after she jumped out of a plane!

Soul Collage

My friend Carolyn Durgin leads soul collage workshops. The practice facilitates self discovery and attentiveness to the soul. Here are four collages that I have created in the past year.

NIMBYism in Park Ridge

Here's a link to a Chicago Tribune article about Carl Morello, the pastor of St. Paul of the Cross in Park Ridge, and his attempt to open a PADs shelter in a gym in the church. While most Christians would probably say it is important to follow the teachings of Jesus in Matthew 25, there is still a prevailing prejudice that screams NOT IN MY BACK YARD!

Matthew 25

42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.'

44 "They also will answer, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?'

45 "He will reply, 'Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.'

Ahh, the mountains, the woods!

I just returned from a wonderful trip to Colorado where I backpacked with Carolyn, a good friend from college. Remind me when I get stressed to head for the woods. I see and hear God in nature and it fills me up! It was also great to have lots of challenging and inspiring conversations. Thanks Carolyn!

Black In America

On July 23 at 9PM and July 24 at 9PM, CNN will premier a series, Black In America, a story of success, struggle, pain and pride.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Complicity in Poverty and the Goodness of God

I read this great article this morning from The Other Journal at Mars Hill. Author, Christopher Heuertz put into words the philosophy undergirding our BUILD groups based on many of the writings of Paulo Friere.
Practically speaking, after our community passed around copies of Education for Critical Consciousness, we set out to implement what we had absorbed from Freire. In part of the book, he shares from his experience of "culture circles" of dialogue, which are methods used to reflect on one's reality and move one toward a reshaping of that reality.

By forming friendships that are characterized by true mutual reciprocity, we are granted the courage to engage in the pain of our shared realities, and this unity is itself a gift of grace, a hope that human dignity thus realized can transform society.

The courage to admit our complicity in poverty, embody this grace, and struggle to overcome this reality is, as Freire notes, real education.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Compassion and Justice classes at Willow

I taught the Week Two session of the Beyond Charity: Living a Life of Compassion and Justice class at Willow Creek last Wednesday. Here's a link to the audio and video streams.

Chicago's Working Poor Are Struggling to Eat

Crains Chicago Business issued an article today about a study conducted by the Greater Chicago Food Depository and the University of Chicago. They surveryed 301 working-poor residents of Cook County and found that 61% of them said their families had faced financial difficulties in securing food in the past year. Breakthrough provides supplemental groceries to 225 families in the East Garfield Park neighborhood on Chicago's west side. More than half of the community of East Garfield Park has been determined to be a "food desert" by a study commissioned by LaSalle Bank in 2006 entitled Examining the Impact of Food Deserts on Public Health in Chicago.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Obama to Expand Bush's Faith-Based Initiatives

Here's a link to an interesting article about Senator Obama's plans to expand the Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives. He says,
"In time, I came to see faith as being both a personal commitment to Christ and a commitment to my community; that while I could sit in church and pray all I want, I wouldn't be fulfilling God's will unless I went out and did the Lord's work."

Monday, June 30, 2008

Celebrating in the City

Tom Regan took some awesome pictures of our Grand Opening celebration last week. You can see them here on Flickr. They make me smile.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008


Paul Luikart, Breakthrough's housing coordinator, is not only a great Breakthrough staffer, but is a comedian and writer. Check out this fictional story by him published in the Boston Literary Magazine!

Sunday, June 22, 2008

The role of architecture in the Breakthrough Ministry Center

Manya Brachear wrote about the design of the Breakthrough Ministry Center in her blog on the Chicago Tribune's web site on Friday. She says, "Unlike most soup kitchens, food pantries and homeless shelters, the design of the building was commissioned by Breakthrough Urban Ministries to inspire the men who seek help there to believe in themselves and know that others care about their well-being." She asks the interesting question, "Does belief shape architecture?"

When we started working with the Built Form Architects nearly four years ago, they asked the question, "What do you want people to feel when they walk in the building?" I remember saying words like "uplifted", "transcendent", "warmth", "family", "home". It is amazing to me how gifted artisans can take those thoughts and design a building around them. Yes, belief shapes architecture! Have you experienced the affects of architecture on your beliefs?

The Taste of Breakthrough Grand Opening Celebration

We had a great day yesterday as we celebrated the Grand Opening of the Breakthrough Ministry Center at 402 N. St. Louis. God blessed us with wonderful weather and a great turnout. This is a picture of the crowd mesmerized by the Jesse White Tumblers.

We were honored to have Alderman Walter Burnett and the Department of Human Services Commissioner Sheryl McGill join us.

Black church, white church: What’s the difference?

My friend, Cynthia Milsap, wrote an article in the latest SCUPE newsletter that reminds us of the historical foundations of the Black church that place the present distinctions between the Black and White church in context.
Historically, the early Christian churches in America were mostly interracial and attended by both African and European members. However, the reason for this “integration” was to ensure that enslaved Africans in the South could be watched, monitored, and taught that slavery and obedience were God’s plan and will for them. Africans were commonly told by the Christian church leaders to remember Paul’s admonition that “slaves should obey their masters,” or that they were slaves because they are members of the cursed descendants of Noah’s son and therefore have been chosen to be a “servant class.” Thus the Christian church in America that was founded and controlled by Europeans was one that preached and practiced a theology which supported the domination of whites over blacks. It was a theology which blessed slave ships and “justified” the mistreatment and enslavement of African Americans. These early “integrated” or “multi-cultural” congregations had African American bodies in the pews, although they were forced to sit in the balconies or in the back of the church, but they did not allow Africans equal participation in the leadership and decision-making structures or positions within their churches and denominations.
Black churches were formed to give African Americans the freedom to worship without the tyranny of white oppression.
It is important to recognize the value and the role of these culture-based congregations. Likewise, it is a grave misunderstanding of these healing places to label the actions of these persons as “racist” or “reverse-racist.” Instead, we need to realize that this is the first step in healing for socially excluded or oppressed groups.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The Social Obligations of the Gospel

It is an exciting time in the church today. I really think more and more pastors and church leaders are understanding the horizontal as well as the vertical implications of taking up the cross of Christ. Here's an interesting article by Mark Buchanan. He writes...
"In short, I'm learning the social obligations of the gospel. A redeemed people, living Christ-like lives in a broken world, ought to reclaim that broken world here and now. The atonement of Christ and the indwelling of the Spirit will always be the sole remedy for personal sin. But the church of Christ, empowered by the Spirit, will always be part of the remedy for the world's sin. God entrusts you and me—God's new creations—with the ministry of reconciliation. It's you and me through whom he makes his appeal (2 Corinthians 5:18–20)."

Sunday, June 15, 2008

CFL Light Bulbs

Can someone explain this video to me? I have been using my compact florescent light bulbs with pride with the understanding that they save energy and are good for the environment. If this video is true I have to question whether the danger of breaking them and the disposal of them brings more harm then good. Help!

June 14th - Hunger Walk, beds and fishing

Yesterday was a big day at Breakthrough. We started with the Hunger Walk. More than 100 Breakthrough volunteers joined 5,000 others in the walk sponsored by the Greater Chicago Food Depository. Then I stopped by the Breakthrough Ministry Center where the Solid Rock Carpenters were installing beds for our men.

Then my grandson, Jayden, and I went fishing at the Lake Julian Trout Farm in Cary, IL with my friend, Gus Wilhelmy and his grandson, DJ.

Jay and I caught six trout. I ate one for dinner!

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

The Model Minority Myth

Thanks to Jennifer Ikomo-Motzko for linking me to this article in the New York Times about the difficulties Asian-Americans face by the assumption that they are "the model minority". The Asian-American population is very diverse and includes many who struggle with minimal education and opportunity.
“The notion of lumping all people into a single category and assuming they have no needs is wrong,” said Alma R. Clayton-Pederson, vice president of the Association of American Colleges and Universities.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

The Sacrifice Syndrome

I'm listening to the audio book Resonant Leadership by Richard E. Boyatzis and Annie McKee. They discuss the concept of "sacrifice syndrome" as it relates to CEO's. I'm thinking some of us in urban ministry might be prone to experience this condition. Here are the symptoms.

Am I:
  • Working harder with less result?
  • Getting home later or leaving home earlier each day?
  • Feeling tired, even after sleeping?
  • Having trouble falling asleep, or waking up in the middle of the night?
  • Finding less time (or no time at all) for the things that used to be enjoyable?
  • Rarely relaxed, or only really relaxed with alcohol?
  • Drinking more coffee?
Have I noticed changes in myself or my relationships, such as:
  • I can no longer really talk about my problems with my spouse.
  • I don't care what I eat, or whether I eat too much or too little.
  • I can't remember the last time I had a long conversation with a trusted friend or family member.
  • My children have stopped asking me to attend their functions or games.
  • I no longer attend my place of worship or find time for quiet contemplation.
  • I don't exercise as much as I used to.
  • I don't smile or laugh as much as I used to.
Do I:
  • Have frequent headaches, backaches or pain?
  • Routinely take over-the-counter antacids or painkillers?
  • Feel as if nothing I do seems to matter anymore, or have the impact I want?
  • Feel as if no one can understand what I need to do, or how much work I have?
  • Sometimes feel numb or react to situations with inappropriately strong emotions?
  • Feel too overwhelmed to see new experiences, ideas or ways of doing things?
  • Frequently think about how to escape my current situation?
I think the urgency of the causes we represent can sometimes cause us to sacrifice to the expense of our own health and spiritual well being. If we take the burdens upon ourselves instead of letting God carry us it can cause overwhelming stress.The anecdote is personal renewal, time away, healthy friendships, and I would add prayer, meditation and reflection.

I appreciate this Eugene Peterson quote from his book Under the Predictable Plant.
Those of us who do work explicitly defined as Christian… live in an especially hazardous environment, for the very nature of the work is a constant temptation to sin. The sin is, to put an old word on it, pride. But it is often nearly impossible to identify it as pride, especially in its early stages. It looks and feels like energetic commitment, sacrificial zeal, selfless devotion.

This vocation-exacerbated pride usually originates in a hairline split between personal faith and public ministry. In our personal faith we believe that God has created, saved, and blessed us. In our ministerial vocation we embark on a career of creating, saving, and blessing on behalf of God. We become Christians because we are convinced that we need a Savior. But the minute we enter into a life of ministry, we set about acting on behalf of the Savior. It is compelling work: a world in need, a world in pain, friends and neighbors and strangers in trouble—and all of them in need of compassion and food, healing and witness, confrontation and consolation and redemption.

We start out on this urgent work telling them about God and attempting to reflect in our work the work of Christ. Our work is initiated and defined by world-converting, life-restoring biblical commands. Because we are motivated out of our saving experience with Christ, and because our goals among those with whom we work are all shaped by God’s justice and peace, his forgiveness and salvation, it seldom occurs to us that in work that is so purely motivated and well-intended anything might go wrong.

But something almost always does go wrong. In our zeal to proclaim the Savior and enact his commands, we lose touch with our own basic and daily need for the Savior. At first it is nearly invisible, this split between our need of the Savior and our work for the Savior. We feel so good, so grateful, so saved. And these people around us are in such need. We throw ourselves recklessly into the fray. Along the way most of us end up so identifying our work with Christ’s work that Christ himself recedes into the shadows and our work is spotlighted at center stage. Because the work is so compelling, so engaging – so right – we work with what feels like divine energy. One day we find ourselves (or other find us) worked into the ground. The work may be wonderful, but we ourselves turn out to be not so wonderful, becoming cranky, exhausted pushy, and patronizing in the process.

The alternative to acting like gods who have no need of God is to become a contemplative minister. If we do not develop a contemplative life adequate to our vocation, the very work we do and our very best intentions, insidiously pride-fueled as they inevitably become, destroy us and all with whom and for whom we work.

Contemplation comprises the huge realities of worship and prayer without which we become performance-driven and program-obsessed ministers. A contemplative life is not an alternative to the active life, but its root and foundation. True contemplatives are a standing refutation of all who mislabel spirituality as escapism. If ministers do not practice the contemplative life, how will people know the truth of it and have access to its energy? The contemplative life generates and releases an enormous amount of energy into the world—the enlivening energy of God’s grace rather than the enervating frenzy of our pride.

The Shack

I'm not sure how I learned about The Shack, but it is another great book that I read through in one day. It is fiction but filled with great theology. Mack, the main character, experiences a family tragedy that leaves him overwhelmed with "the great sadness". He is beckoned by God to the place of the crime and experiences personal interaction with the Trinity. The book renewed a longing in me to go to the dark places of my life to experience God more deeply. It also reminded me of God's love and goodness and the power of forgiveness and community. It's a remarkable book.

Another amazing thing about the book is that is was self published by a couple of former pastors who had a budget of $300. Now the book is listed in USA Today as a best selling book with 880,000 copies in print! They promoted it with an interactive website complete with promotional jpgs for our web posts and a blog. I think this may the be future of publishing. Self publishing and viral marketing may be the way to go for new authors.

Here's a CBN interview with the author, William Young.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Two Villages

YouTube Attention

The Breakthrough video below created by our friend Jonathon Choe is featured on the home page of YouTube today. The attention has grown the number of views to more than 199,000!

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Funding Ministry

Chris Brooks has started an interesting conversation on his blog about ministry and fundraising. It is especially challenging for people who have to raise their own salaries while at the same time trying to minister to so many hurting people. I started raising my salary with Youth for Christ back in the 70's. Here's how I responded in a comment on Chris' blog.
Thanks for bringing this up Chris. I feel your pain, brother. A few weeks ago a friend of mine did a short survey for a workshop he was presenting and asked me what my three biggest challenges were as an Executive Director. My answer was fundraising, fundraising, fundraising. There is nothing that drives me to my knees more consistently than the constant pressure of raising money.

There are lots of ethical dilemmas in fundraising. How do we represent the ministry in such a way that people will give and do it without “pimping the poor”? How do we maintain the dignity of the people who participate in our ministries and still communicate need?

We decided early on at Breakthrough to establish a development department instead of having staff raise their salaries, in part, because we found that people who grew up in privileged settings had a much easier time raising funds than those who did not, so it just wasn’t fair to some of our most effective staff members who come from less privileged communities. I found my role in being able to help resource those staff members actually rewarding. I believe in them and what they do so it is easy to sell their ministry to donors.

As ministry leaders, I think part of our responsibility is to build bridges between those who have resources and those who are in need. Both need to be loved, listened to and challenged. Lila Watson, an aboriginal activist said, “If you are coming to help me, you are wasting your time. If you are coming because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us struggle together.” I like that quote, because I think those with resources need liberation as much as the men and women in our shelters. They need to learn as the apostle Paul warned in 1 Timothy 6:17, “not to become haughty or to put their hope in the uncertainty of riches.” Potential ministry investors look to us to help them make connections so that their contributions can make a difference.

I like what Joel wrote about learning to minister to donors. I love the Breakthrough donors. I really do. I have met so many really caring and generous people. I am by nature very shy, but because I know the ministry needs money, God has pushed me out to be with people I would not ordinarily know or associate with.

I can’t say that I enjoy fundraising. It is always a huge challenge for me and really stretches my faith. There actually are people out there who love to raise funds and I say we should get them on our teams. We’re actually looking for someone right now to fill our Director of Development position so if you know anyone, email me.

Here’s a great link to an article by Marc Pitman called Fundraising in the Bible. Jeff Brooks and Steven Screen have a new podcast at this link called Fundraising is Beautiful that I am finding helpful.

So, keep the faith, and as Winston Churchill said, "Nevah give up!!"

Does this picture symbolize terrorism to you?

Dunkin' Donuts pulled this ad because they were being accused of promoting terrorism because the paisley scarf Rachel Ray is wearing looks a little like a Kaffiyeh worn by many Arabs. Such ridiculous fear smacks at cultural prejudice to me. Are we beginning to think that anyone wearing the traditional Middle Eastern head dress is a terrorist?

Thursday, May 29, 2008

The New Face of Hunger

Here's a link to an MSNBC video about the surge in the number of people using food banks to supplement their shrinking resources as fuel and food prices are rising. The report says the numbers are up 15 to 20% and even higher in some communities. Thousands of middle class Americans are visiting food banks for the first time.

The Greater Chicago Food Depository leadership visits Breakthrough

The Missions and Programs Committee of the Greater Chicago Food Depository toured our new facility and held a meeting at our site today. I am so impressed with the leadership of the GCFD. You can sense from everyone involved that they are passionate about what they do and have established a culture of personal care and excellence. I appreciate that they are moving more into the area of advocacy to address the root causes of hunger. They want to work more closely with grassroots organizations like ours. We are blessed!

Pictured above are...

Kate Maehr, Executive Director
Caroline Howe, Chief Operating Officer
Angel La Luz, Jr., Director of Agency Programs and Services
Jamie Stanesa, Director of Agency Relations
DonElla Bradford, Director of Community Outreach
Todd Warnock, Chairman of the Board
Pastor Leonardo Gilbert, Vice Chairman of the Board
Monica Haslip, Chairman Missions & Programs Committee
Carl DuBose, Missions & Programs Committee Member
Dennis Delavara, Emeritus Trustee and Missions & Programs committee member
Bill Curry, Chief Operating Officer of Breakthrough

[They are not pictured in that order, and for some reason my camera decided to take the picture in black and white with a touch of gold... I dunno!]

Here's a word cloud generated from my blog

created at