Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Planning for a happy new year!

The coming of the new year is more than banging pans and drinking champagne. It is a great time to check in on how we are doing and make plans for the coming year. Here are a few suggestions I jotted down.
  • The Red Dot: Where Are You Now?
    Start with a frank assessment of your present situation. Most shopping malls have maps encased in glass to help us find our way. The key to reading the map is to find the red dot with the declaration, “YOU ARE HERE.” If we can locate where we are, we have a better chance of knowing how to get to where we want to be.

  • Your Passion: What Moves You?
    Once you have a good idea where you are, you can start asking yourself questions that will reveal what you want to achieve in 2010.

    What are the issues you care about? What breaks your heart, makes you cry, makes you feel? Is it children? The mentally ill? The elderly? Single mothers? Is there some issue that has evidenced itself in your family?

    I care about arthritis because my father suffered with it. I care about single moms because my daughter has become one. I care about kids in the city because my kids were raised in the city, and many of their friends have been incarcerated, are living in dire circumstances, or have lost their lives to street violence. I care about the homeless because many of them have become my friends, and I have listened to their stories.

    What issues matter most to you? Education? Healthcare? Economic development? Housing? Nutrition? Hunger? What do you think needs to be changed in order for everyone to have equal opportunity? What moves you emotionally?

    Theologian Frederick Buechner wrote, “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” What makes you glad?

    I am made glad by seeing underdogs turn their lives around. I love to see people who have never had hope for their future begin to dream. I love to develop leaders. I love to see people operate in their area of giftedness. I love to build things, create things. It makes me glad. Where does your deep gladness meet the world’s deep hunger?

  • Pray for Guidance: Where Is God Leading You?
    Take time to sit in prayer with God, affirming you openness to making changes in your life as the Spirit directs you.

    If there is any hint of guilt or self-condemnation, lay it at Jesus’ feet and know that he loves you. Imagine that Jesus is picking up a towel and washing your feet. Look into his eyes and feel his love for you just as you are. There is nothing you can do to get God to love you more. Jesus does not require your acts of service to win his love. He just invites you to take up the towel and follow him because he loves you. This is not a burden. It’s an adventure.

    Where is God leading you? Ask God to give you a vision for what you are being called to. Spend thirty minutes in uninterrupted silence, letting God speak to you through your thoughts.

  • Write Down Your Vision: Where Are You Going? What would your life look like if you responded fully to your calling. Can you picture it? Write about it in as much detail as you can. Draw or paint your image of yourself carrying out your vision. What will you be doing five years from now that will leave your mark on the world? What will you do in 2010 to move toward your calling. What would you like to be said of you at your funeral? Write it down. Read it out loud.

  • Build Your Plan
    What do you need to do now to move you toward your goal? Build a five-year plan and break it down into years, quarters, weeks and days. Schedule appointments with God on your calendar in order to check in on how you are doing in carrying out the plan that God has given you.

    Bill Lutes, former program manager for Wisconsin Public Radio, wrote, “All one can do is make little beginnings, to try to do ‘the next right thing.’” What is the next right thing for you to do? What do you need to focus on? What do you need to cut out? What do you need to prioritize?

  • Share Your Plan with a Friend
    This is not something you can do by yourself. You need others to join you. Invite them into your plan. Ask for their help. Ask a trusted friend to hold you accountable.

  • Execute
    Nike says it best, “Just do it”! Your life will become so much more meaningful when you begin to spend it meaningfully on behalf of others. I don’t know anyone who has begun to invest their time, talent and treasure on behalf of others who has lived to regret it.

  • Dream Big
    Big problems need big solutions. There is no end to the opportunities to change the world and to make an impact. There are emerging enterprise initiatives that stretch our imagination and creativity with new ways of empowering people. Dare to dream big and join a coalition of others who share your vision.
I'm looking forward to a great year in 2010. I hope you are too. Happy new year!!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Making Rough Ways Smooth

Merry Christmas! This is the season when we talk about peace and good will, family and love. It is a special time of the year when we listen to the voices of John the Baptist and Mary, the mother of Jesus, announce that, “every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill made low. The crooked roads shall become straight, the rough ways smooth,” The coming of the Messiah would “lift up the humble” and fill the “hungry with good things”.

At Breakthrough we get to see the hungry filled with good things every day, a beautiful fulfillment of the prophecies as the people of God come together to care for those in the low valleys of life. It involves all of us listening to God’s whisper in our hearts and responding to the call to love. God intends that we care for and learn from each other.

I pray that this Christmas you will join the movement to make the “rough ways smooth” for those who are stumbling on the broken ground and the cracked sidewalks in our own backyard. This is the true meaning of Christmas, the announcement of the good news that Christ has come to bring new life. May you experience the joy of participating with Christ in the redemption of all that is broken this holiday season!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Dr. Brenda Salter-McNeil's Message at River City Community Church

The message below is one of the best messages I have ever heard on the incarnation and why we need to cross cultures to care for people. It's an hour long, but very worth the time. A powerful word. You can download the podcast version here.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

When did you know?

Seth Harris, who works for the Inspiration Corporation and volunteers for i.c.stars, interviewed me a couple of months ago as part of his series of blog posts of interviews with leaders asking them, "When did you know" that you would be working for substantial change in the world? I don't know how he managed to get my Iowa farm lamb story out of me, but he did. I think he asked me to reflect back to when I was ten. Anyway... here's a link to the audio of the interview.

Health gap between blacks and whites in Chicago widens

Here's a link to a very discouraging article in the Chicago Tribune that reveals that a study conducted by the Sinai Urban Health Institute shows that the health gap between whites and blacks in Chicago is getting WIDER!
Institute director Steve Whitman, whose work has compared breast cancer disparities in Chicago and New York, said the health of African-Americans in Chicago fares worse than blacks elsewhere.

"The underlying issue here is racism and poverty," Whitman said. "In Chicago, it's exacerbated by segregation. Black people in Chicago are forced to live in neighborhoods where there are no stores to buy fresh fruits and vegetables, where schools are failing, where they don't have parks to exercise in and where they tend to go to segregated health facilities that are poorly funded and, in different ways, failing."
This is what we have been trying to say at Breakthrough! And why we are raising $15M to build the Breakthrough FamilyPlex to provide a health clinic, fitness center, sports and arts programs, early childhood education and after school tutoring. We are also bringing fresh produce into the neighborhood and beginning to grow our own vegetables. It is urgent that we get this project done and continue to strengthen our work at Breakthrough.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

New Poverty and Justice Bible Available

I'm looking forward to getting this new Poverty and Justice Bible. The book highlights the more than 2000 references in Scripture to poverty and justice and includes a 56-page guide for personal and group study. This will be an excellent resource. Recognizing the importance of poverty and justice to the heart of God has changed my life.

Thursday, November 19, 2009


The audio below is a voice mail thank you from a Breakthrough Fresh Market participant who had no food in the house. This is why we do what we do.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Telling a story with sand art

This is an amazing video of Kseniya Simonova, a Ukrainian artist, portraying Germany’s invasion and occupation of Ukraine during WWII through sand art. Absolutely amazing!!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

The Harlem Children's Zone Conference

This week, Bill Curry (Breakthrough's COO) and I traveled to NYC to attend a conference put on by the Harlem Children's Zone. The HCZ came to our attention during Obama's campaign when he heralded it as an example of how organizations should be approaching community transformation. Basically they have created a pipeline of best practice programs that follow children from before birth through college. They start with what they call Baby College, a program for expectant parents, through Harlem Gems, their early childhood education program and into Promise Academy, their school. Their goal is to make sure all of their students go on to college. They hire one staff member for every 20 students they help place in college to ensure that the students make it through college to graduation.

The idea is to discover what works and bring it to scale. Obama wants to locate 20 organizations that will replicate the HCZ approach in what he has called "Promise Neighborhoods" throughout the country. Their approach is strikingly similar to what we are trying to do at Breakthrough. We went to the conference because we want to learn from what they are doing.

Key takeaways for me were the emphasis on measuring impact, the high expectations they place on their staff, and the combination of passion and excellence that marks everything they do. The people in our community deserve our best and I came back with more resolve than ever to continue to grow Breakthrough in excellence and bring it to scale until it becomes the norm in our community for children to go to college and return to the community.

I think Breakthrough has an important contribution to the Promise Neighborhood conversation in that on top of creating this pipeline, which Breakthrough is already doing on a micro level through our preschool and after school programs, we have introduced a model for relationships. I think this is missing at the HCZ or it is happening informally. Here is a link to the Breakthrough video in which Bill Curry discusses the Network Model. Beyond building skills, Breakthrough connects people to opportunity through the creation of intentional supportive relationships that link people to schools, jobs and other opportunities.

1,400 people attended the conference which was sold out with a waiting list of 400, many of whom came anyway and joined in without registering. It was inspiring to be around so many bright people who are passionate about finding solutions to the demise of impoverished urban communities. I returned with a renewed sense of urgency to do all that I can to impact our community.

Precious, the movie

Last weekend I went with a group of friends to see the movie, Precious. It's very raw, mostly due to language and the image of Precious being so horribly abused by her parents. When things get real ugly Precious switches into a fantasy world which saves us from having to watch. It is deeply moving. By the end I wanted to go out and start alternative schools and half way houses for people like Precious.

When she tries to escape her abusive situation she goes to a church. The choir is inside practicing but the doors are locked. She goes to her teacher instead. It is a sad commentary on the church, which I don't know is really accurate (in my experience it is mostly church-going people who are running caring ministries), but it is a real challenge for us in the church to step up our game in caring for hurting people.

The movie is a great discussion starter. Precious needs a lot of help, a support network, and she will need it for a long time. As in the film I find it amazing what a little kindness means to people who have lived with so much cruelty. May we all learn to be better lovers. And yes, I agree with the reviewers, Mo'Nique deserves an Oscar for this one!

Saturday, October 17, 2009

A conversation with experts on street violence: the kids in the middle of it

Yesterday, at the request of Steven Levitt, author of the best selling book, Freakonomics, a group of us sat down with 10 young men from the neighborhood who are insiders to the escalating violence we have been seeing on the streets and in and around the Chicago Public Schools. We asked them what they thought about possible solutions.

They were eager to share their thoughts and ideas (especially since we paid them cash to do it!) Most seemed to agree there are no easy solutions.

Question: What if you were promised $5,000 if you stayed in school and got good grades?

Answer: I would use the $5,000 to buy myself some work (drugs) and turn it into $10,000 very quickly.

Question: How hard is it for you to get guns?

Answer: Very hard… later… sure I’ve had lots of guns. I need a gun for protection.

Question: Would more police help?

Answer: Sure if they did their job. They planted drugs on me and hauled me in. They picked me up for no reason and dropped me off in a community where they knew I would be in danger. They let us go if we give them a couple of guns and they use the guns later to plant them on us when they want to take us in.

Question: Are gangs a problem in the schools?

Answer: Yes, and not just the big gangs. It could be between floors. Like, don’t come up on the second floor unless you have a class, or don’t come over to the east side of the school if you don’t want to get beat up. There are little clicks and groups.

I wish I could capture the conversation better. There were times I could barely understand what was being said because of such heavy code language.

The “old heads”, former gang leaders, get out of prison and come back and think they can run things, but there are new leaders in place. That causes conflict.

Natasha, who was killed at a bus stop on Madison last week, happened to be standing next to a couple of guys who had killed Little Jim a few weeks earlier. It was retaliation and Natasha was hit by mistake.

Madison Avenue is the dividing street right now between the Black Souls and the Unknowns.

Hip hop sets the standard. If Li’l Wayne would rap the times tables that's what they'd be doing.

There are people out there who ain’t got no one.

Sometimes the streets show you more love.

Guys get bored. There’s nothing to do. We need jobs.

Question: What would you suggest as solutions?

Answer: More places like Breakthrough. (Honestly, I didn’t set them up!) Everyone loves basketball and we need to learn how to do stuff like woodworking, auto mechanics, how to build a house. If I knew how to build a house, I would build one for you right now. (He said to the guy next to him.)

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Youth Violence in East Garfield Park

This has been a tragic week in our neighborhood. On Wednesday, Natasha Howliet, a 20 year old mother of three was gunned down at a bus stop on the day of her three year old's birthday. She was a graduate of West Town Academy, 2021 W. Fulton St., and worked at KMart. Someone in a red car shot into the group of bystanders, probably hoping to hit the guys standing near her who still have not been located.

On Friday night, Stacey Adams, 22, was gunned down and killed in East Garfield Park. Terrence Gallaway, 28, has been charged with his murder.

On Tuesday a 23 year old young man was shot in the leg. When police tried to apprehend the shooter he fired at them!

Last Sunday, Demetrius Watson, 23, from East Garfield Park was found shot to death in the Little Village neighborhood.

The violence in Chicago is making national news and much of it is right in my neighborhood. I have heard there is a turf war going on between a couple of the local gangs. This is prime territory for the drug trafficking business

Sadly, I don't think there are any quick fixes. Young men who have been tossed aside, profiled because of the color of their skin and not challenged to believe in their future, feel they have little to lose in this war. They are the victims of generational poverty and institutional racism.

A 17 year old who participated in the Fenger mob scene a few weeks ago that left Derrion Albert beaten to death remarked, "I don't think a new day is promised to nobody. Anything could happen at any time." The Tribune ran an interesting article about why they fight.

We recently interviewed young men for our new Launch Pad program at Breakthrough. Launch Pad is a residential leadership development program for 18 to 24 year old men. We were deeply saddened by their stories. Most of them have recently come out of the foster care system and at age 18 are tossed to the streets with nothing.

I wish we had room for hundreds of these young men at Breakthrough. It is urgent that we grow this program.

Monday, September 21, 2009

We are all family

As I turned the corner a block from my home I was surprised to see a wave of nearly fifty young men and women, all wearing white T-shirts. It’s not unusual to see groups of young men wearing white tees in my neighborhood. They have become a kind of uniform publicized by the hip-hop group, Dem Franchize Boyz, in their song, The White Tee Gang, and by other rappers.

Some schools, restaurants and clubs have even begun to ban white tees because they have become so associated with gang affiliation. Police officers are often baffled when the description is broadcast that they are looking for a young black man in a white tee. They arrive to find ten young men who would fit the description. The tees have become a symbol of solidarity in the face of the injustice of the system.

These tees were different. They had black writing on them. I strained to read what was on the shirts as I slowed to let a group of them cross the street in front of me. As young man graciously waved me on, I read his shirt. “We are all family.”

“Isn’t that nice?” I thought. “Someone on the block is having a family reunion.” Then I noticed the backs of the shirts. In bold letters was written, “Black Souls.” My heart sank. The family that all of these young people on my block were associating with is a notorious street gang.

I have a dream that someday the white tees in our neighborhood will be replaced by Breakthrough tees. The kids get them when they participate in any of our sports leagues, after school programs, the choir or the hunger walk. One by one the white tees in our neighborhood are being offset by the multi-colored Breakthrough tees symbolizing the young people who really want to do well in school and to participate in positive activities that ensure a bright future instead of the violence and the hopeless downward spiral of gang life.

"We are all family". It's how I would describe the reign of the shalom of God, the answer to Jesus' prayer that the will of God be done on earth as it is in heaven. But if we are not family to our children, they will find their family somewhere else.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Living in a War Zone

Last night, while I slept, there was a shooting less than a block from my apartment. Seven young men were wounded, several of them critically, when someone ran through a vacant lot and opened fire on a group of bystanders.

Homan and Walnut is a notorious corner in our neighborhood. There is nearly always a group of people hanging out in front of the convenience store on the corner. I have heard stories of the covert drug trafficking business that takes place in and around the store. Even the blue police observance camera has not deterred it. If you have ever seen the HBO miniseries or read the book, The Corner, by David Simon and Edward Burns, you would have an image of what that corner is like. It is a center of commiserating hopelessness, an emblem of a crumbling community crippled by spiraling poverty, joblessness and despair.

We are living in a war zone. Research shows that gang members living in the city are seven times more likely to become casualties of this war than they would be if they had been deployed to Iraq in the height of the conflict. Yet this war goes on in our back yards with little fanfare or public outcry, perhaps because we are confounded by it and tend to blame the victims.

Granted, every individual who was out there on the corner last night could probably have made a better choice about where to be and what to do on a nice Chicago evening. But there are too few options in communities like ours and life seems cheap and dispensable for our young people when they have the very real sense that no one cares. No one cares enough about their welfare to ensure that they are given a good education with marketable skills, or that they have even half a chance of ever actualizing their dreams, if they even have the audacity to still dream.

So the mounting distress finally gets released, turned in upon young black men by young black men, and the rest of us shake our heads and believe that if we were in their situation we would be different. We would pull together self-esteem from some dark hole and walk past the guys on the corner with their wads of money. We would flip burgers at a greasy spoon for eight bucks an hour and save every penny for our future. We would be home working on our homework while people around us scream at each other about who took the last piece of food and how they are going to pay the rent. We would get ourselves out of that hell hole and never look back. Why? Because we know that’s not the way life is supposed to be, for us, for anyone.

We are calling people back in to the East Garfield Park community
, to rebuild it, to restore hope. Some of us have relocated from outside the community to join the many warriors who have stayed, who have been faithfully working, hoping and praying for its renewal. Others are returning with a dream. A dream that things can change. That a network of shalom can replace the spiral of despair. That healthy community can be restored, kids can learn, jobs can be created, loving families can support one another in raising healthy happy children. It’s a dream that must not fail. It’s a big dream.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Dr. Soong-Chan Rha

Below is the audio of Dr. Soong-Chan Rha's important message during Euro American Heritage Month at the River City Community Church on July 19, 2009. Soong-Chan Rah is the author of The Next Evangelicalism: Freeing the Church from Western Cultural Captivity and the Milton B. Engebretson Associate Professor of Church Growth and Evangelism at North Park Theological Seminary.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

How Should We Respond to Panhandlers?

Panhandlers seem to bombard us in the city. They wash our car windshields at the gas station and then come to our windows expecting payments. They cling to rag tag cardboard signs and approach us with forlorn faces. Some are in obvious need. We can tell by their faces that they truly are blind or they are missing legs or they are sitting in wheelchairs holding dirty cups.

What should we do?

As the leader of a large organization that specializes in ministry among the homeless, let me give you my expert opinion: I don’t know!

I think God gives us these dilemmas to cause us to rely on the compassion of Christ he has implanted in our hearts. Coming face to face with someone who asks us for money is an opportunity to be led by the Spirit instead of being driven by need or guilt or obligation or the desire to bolster our own ego as a “generous person.” There is no simple answer.

Jesus said in Luke 6:30 that we are to give to everyone who asks of us. Most of us are hesitant to do that because we are afraid that we will be taken advantage of. Perhaps the recipient of our charity will use our hard earned cash for booze or drugs. Surely giving to someone who would use our money for those purposes would not be in anyone’s best interest, would it? Yet, the directive is clear. We are to give without question and without judgment.

While we don’t want to contribute to someone’s addiction, it is helpful to understand that people who are living on the street usually do not have access to appropriate pain medicine, mental health counseling, or the gentle pacifiers such as chocolate and ice cream that we turn to when we need a lift. Who are we to judge them for how they spend money? I certainly have not always made the best decisions with the money that God sends my way. Yet God keeps giving to me.

On the other hand, our gifts do not always have to be cash. I urge people to give their financial gifts to an organization like Breakthrough that specializes in wise care for the under-resourced and then get involved by volunteering to help the ministry. Then when asked for cash, we can then respond like Peter and John did when confronted by the crippled beggar. “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.”

A financial gift to a mission or an organization that provides opportunities for the homeless will help men and women who have been crippled by life get back on their feet and—in the name of Jesus Christ—walk a new walk. As stewards of the resources God entrusts to us, we want to make sure our gifts to the poor are invested wisely.

Instead of giving cash to people on the street, we can give directions, or perhaps a ride, to the nearest ministry that provides loving care in the name of Christ. Like the Good Samaritan that Jesus described in Luke 10, we can transport those who are battered and broken to the nearest rehab center and pay for their rehabilitation.

I have a friend who always gives people exactly what they ask for. If they ask for change, he gives them change. If they ask for a couple of dollars, he gives them a couple of dollars. He says that in the grand scheme of things, considering his budget for giving to the poor, the amount of money he hands out is actually relatively small. He thinks we make a bigger deal of being taken advantage of than we should. After all, Jesus let himself be stripped, beaten and hung on a cross unjustly to show his great love. It is not likely that we will ever experience that much injustice in our giving to the poor.

Oswald Chambers says in his June 13th devotional in his great book, My Utmost for His Highest, “Never make a principle out of your experience; let God be as original with other people as He is with you.” So, again, we are asked to let the Spirit guide our practices when we come face to face with someone asking us for money.

One thing I am quite certain about is this:
When I stand before God in the judgment, I don’t think God is going to drill me about how smart and frugal I was when face to face with someone who asked me for money. I doubt that God will point out how proud he is of me that I didn’t let myself get scammed by someone who was lying to get a few bucks out of me.

God is more likely to say something like this, “I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.… I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.”

Monday, July 13, 2009

Urban Farming - Will Allen

I am really interested in doing urban farming in East Garfield Park. As Will Allen says in this NY Times magazine article, there are 77,000 vacant lots in Chicago. One out of every three lots in East Garfield Park is vacant. The time for urban farming is now. Let me know if you want to be included in the planning task force.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Being Spiritually Well

We serve the world by being spiritually well.
The first question is not, “How much do we do?”
or “How many people do we help out?”,
but “Are we interiorly at peace?”
The distinction between contemplation and action can be misleading.
Jesus’ actions flowed from his interior communion with God.
His presence was healing, and it changed the world
In a sense he didn’t do anything!
Everyone who touched him was healed.

—Joseph Campbell

Friday, July 10, 2009


“Arloa!” I was in the center of Chicago striding toward the train. I swung around to see who was calling my name.

My heart nearly leapt out of my skin. It was Jerry with his rugged tan face outlining crinkly eyes and a huge white toothed smile. It had been nearly ten years since I had seen him but he looked just the same, the story book picture of a gypsy man, his worn hat doffed to the side, curly brown hair wafting from underneath, good wrinkles patterned from years of smiling just like he was doing now.

Jerry always rode a bike, an old, thick tire one with a horn and baskets, lots of baskets stuffed with little happy teddy bears and toys and trinkets, gadgets and widgets hanging everywhere.

He had been part of the early Breakthrough family and had moved on, not wanting to be tied down to anyone’s rules. He never asked us for anything and didn’t really want any assistance into housing. He prefers to live off the land, sleeping and finding food where ever he can and occasionally stopping in to visit family and friends. He doesn’t drink alcohol or use drugs to my knowledge, and is one of the happiest people I know. He is at peace with just his bike, the shirt on his back and his love for God and people.

Sometimes I envy him.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Regarding the garbage? It's easier to blog about it!

"Why don't you just go out and pick it up?" someone asked. The problem of trash in our neighborhood becomes discouraging and as I said in my first post on this, there is a strong tendency to just give up.

There is often loose trash in the alley and we get used to seeing it there. There is a constant stream of people who go through the garbage to take anything useful. What is left gets strewn about. When one of my neighbors did neatly bag the items shown in my first post, the bags were ripped open and the trash strewn about again. We also have a problem with "fly dumping". When someone has a lot of garbage, rather than putting it behind their own homes, they put it in someone else's alley. That way they are not responsible for the fines. In this case the sanitation workers didn't take the garbage even after it was bagged, saying they needed help loading it into the truck. Eventually, after nearly a month, that garbage has been removed, but there is a similar pile of loose garbage a few houses down from us.

In order to "just go out and pick it up" we have to supply the bags, put the garbage in the bags, watch over the bags until the garbage truck comes, and then go out and help them load it into the truck. That's what eventually happened, but it's a lot of work, so we tend to look at it for weeks. It's a lot easier to blog about it.

OK,I'm going to go out and bag up some garbage now.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Whenever I get discouraged...

I look at this.

My grandkids have my heart!

Trash Removal

After I published my last post there was a google ad on my "successful post" page for a trash removal company. Coincidence?

The garbage in my alley

My daughter has my camera or I would post another picture of the garbage in my alley. After weeks of seeing the image in my June 13th post, one of my neighbors finally went out and gathered the pile of garbage into a neat line of about six large black bags. Since then the garbage trucks have been by twice but they have not taken the garbage. One of my neighbors said the garbage collectors said they only pick up the garbage from the black dumpsters and they would need help from someone from the neighborhood to lift all of the extra bags into their truck. Somehow, I guess, we are supposed to know when they are coming and be out their waiting for them.

In the meantime, alley scrappers have ripped the bags apart to go through them and the garbage, once again, is strewn throughout the alley.

Here is the dilemma. If I call Streets and Sanitation, they will ticket my neighbor who I know does not have discretionary funds to pay fines. I also don't want to be targeted as the neighbor who complains. So the garbage remains. There is another pile of garbage just like it a few houses down.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Walter Brueggemann on Preaching

"I believe that many preachers finally get around to their sermon in their fatigue from everything else, and if imagination is the key to good preaching, you cannot be imaginative when you are exhausted."

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Pray for peace in Iran

Listen to the desperation in this poem from one woman, alone in the dark on a rooftop in Tehran. I pray today for freedom from tyranny and oppression in Iran. That God's shalom will prevail.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The worst question to ask a charity

Rosita Cortez, one of the people I follow on Twitter, linked me to this article by Dan Pollata on the Harvard Business Publishing blog. He writes about one of the most frequently asked questions that affects a nonprofit's rating with Charity Navigator, the Better Business Bureau, and the American Institute of Philanthropy. The question is "What percentage of my contribution goes to the cause rather than to overhead?"

His point is that because these watch dog groups make this the only question in determining an organization's effectiveness, they don't lead donors to consider the more important question, "Is the organization making a difference?"
How can that be, you ask? Well, the media, the watchdogs, and the sector itself have done an amazing job of training the public to think that the two things are the same, i.e., that if a charity has low overhead, it must be making a difference. Major studies on the relationship between organizational strength and impact find otherwise.
A strong organization needs a strong infrastructure. By continually forcing charities to scrimp on such things as operational management, fund raising, human resource development, marketing and information technology, misinformed funders are weakening the potential of nonprofits to diversify their funding base and ensure for the welfare of their staff.

Here's a link to another article from Bridgespan entitled, Nonprofit Overhead Costs: Breaking the Vicious Cycle of Misleading Reporting, Unrealistic Expectations, and Pressure to Conform, that makes a similar case. the authors write, "When nonprofit organizations are able to invest adequately in staffing and infrastructure-- “overhead”--they are better able to carry out their missions."

At Breakthrough we try to stretch every dollar. Funding for overhead is the most difficult to find and yet it I believe adequate funding for overhead is essential for us to carry out our mission effectively. Here's what I would suggest you do before you give to any organization.
  • Visit the organization to witness their effectiveness
  • Meet the leaders of the organization
  • Ask to see an audited financial statement
  • Spend time observing operations
  • Volunteer so you get to know the staff and observe how they relate to the program participants
  • Ask about the accountability structure of the organization and the involvement of the Board of Directors
  • Ask how the organization measures outcomes
If you like what you see and you determine that you can trust the organization to use your donation wisely, give an undesignated gift so it can be used where it is most needed.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Skid Row LA

After awhile you tend to give up

This is a picture from my back door of the alley behind my apartment. It has looked like this for weeks. So why don't I clean it up? Probably for the same reason none of us on the block do. After awhile you get used to it, overwhelmed by it, and just give up. Maybe tomorrow.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Interesting facts about Warren Buffet

Here are some very interesting facts about Warren Buffet, the second-richest man, who has donated $31 billion to charity.

He bought his first stock share at age 11 and he now regrets that he started too late!

He bought a small farm at age 14 with savings from delivering newspapers.

He still lives in the same small 3-bedroom house in mid-town Omaha, that he bought after he got married 50 years ago. He says that he has everything he needs in that house. His house does not have a wall or a fence surrounding it.

He drives his own car everywhere and does not have a driver or security people around him.

He never travels by private jet, although he owns the world's largest private jet company.

Buffett's company, Berkshire Hathaway, owns 63 companies. He writes only one letter each year to the CEO's of these companies, giving them goals for the year! He never holds meetings or calls them on a regular basis.

He has given his CEO's only two rules:

Rule number 1: Do not lose any of your shareholder's money.

Rule number 2: Do not forget rule number 1.

He does not socialize with the high-society crowd. His pastime, after he gets home is to make himself some popcorn and watch television.

Bill Gates, the world's richest man met him for the first time only 5 years ago. Bill Gates did not think he had anything in common with Warren Buffet, so he had scheduled his meeting only for half hour, but when Gates met him, the meeting lasted for ten hours, and Bill Gates became a devotee of Warren Buffet.

Warren Buffet does not carry a cell phone, and he doesn't have a computer on his desk.

His advice to young people: Stay away from credit cards and invest in yourself and remember:

A. Money doesn't create man but it is the man who created money.

B. Live your life as simple as you are.

C. Don't do what others say, just listen to them, but do what you feel is good.

D. Don't go on brand names; just wear those things in which you feel comfortable.

E. Don't waste your money on unnecessary things; rather, spend on those people who are really in need.

F. After all it's your life, then why give chance to others to rule your life?

G. The best investment you can ever make, is to invest in the Kingdom of God.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Cause Marketing vs. the Virtue of Giving

Here's a link to an interesting article in the Chronicle of Philanthropy asking the question, "Does Cause Marketing Replace Virtue with 'Mindless Buying'?" Writer, Brennen Jensen, refers to an article by Angela M. Eikenberry, assistant professor in the School of Public Administration at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, in the Stanford Social Innovation Review,in which she makes the case that
"the short-term benefits of cause marketing—also known as consumption philanthropy—belie its long-term costs. These hidden costs include individualizing solutions to collective problems; replacing virtuous action with mindless buying; and hiding how markets create many social problems in the first place. Consumption philanthropy is therefore unsuited to create real social change."
I think she makes a great point. Do we encourage more consumption in order to fund causes that have become causes because of consumption?

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Faith Leaders Are Green Mapping Harlem

“Faith leaders are responding because we have a mandate from our faith to protect the poor and to protect human life… Sojourner Truth had her watch. Martin Luther King, Jr. had his watch. This is our watch, and on our watch, this is the issue. On our watch people are dying. Whole communities are being held captive to environmental injustices and it’s our mandate to do something about that.” -- Lisa Sharon Harper, NY Faith and Justice

Prison, Drug Crimes and Racial Disparities

Here are some facts posted recently by Protestants for the Common Good.
  • The United States leads the world in the number - 2.3 million - and percentage of residents it holds in prison. One in every 38 individuals is involved with the criminal justice system through probation, parole, prison or jail.
  • About 78 percent of Illinois drug offenders are African-American, vastly higher than their 15 percent share of the overall population.
  • A Human Rights Watch study from 2000 found that Illinois ranked first in the country with respect to racial disparities in prison sentences for drug crimes.
  • The number of African-Americans admitted to prison in Illinois for drug offenses grew from 1,421 in 1990 to 9,088 in 2000 - a six-fold increase. During this same period, there was virtually no change in the number of whites admitted to prison.
  • This difference exists despite the fact that rates of illicit drug use vary little by ethnicity.
Is incarceration the new slavery?

The Importance of Preschool

Because my grandson was not talking very well at age three he was eligible for free preschool in Will County. My daughter and I talk all the time about what an incredible blessing it was that preschool was made available to him. He will start kindergarten next fall with a much better chance of success.

Unfortunately, in my community on the west side of Chicago and other low income Chicago neighborhoods, most of the children do not have this advantage. Recent research conducted by Community Organizing and Family Issues (COFI), found that 40 to 64% of preschool aged children in low-income communities are not in any early education program. The report, “Why Isn’t Johnny In Preschool?” is based on over 5,000 interviews in 19 low-income African-American and Latino neighborhoods across the city.

The Catalyst Notebook blog noted, "Factors that kept children out of preschool included lack of transportation, scheduling conflicts, immigrant families’ fear of deportation and a shortage of slots."

We were encouraged to learn that the students who participated in our Breakthrough Beginners program tested at 72% in the Bracken Kindergarten Readiness Assessment, compared to 17% for those in our after school program who did not attend Breakthrough Beginners. What a difference good early childhood education makes! We plan to open a licensed preschool in our new FamilyPlex facility scheduled to open in 2011.

School Attendance and Academic Success

Research conducted by the University of Chicago shows that a student's attendance is 8 times more predictive of failure than prior test scores.

This is especially significant for us at Breakthrough because we learned recently that at our local high school, John Marshall HS, the average number of days missed by students is 95 out of 180 days in the school year. Is it any wonder that in 2008, only 4% of the 11th graders at Marshall met or exceeded the state standards in the PSAE (Prairie State Achievement Exam)?

Here's a link to a Catalyst Notebook post about what not-for-profits should do to help students graduate. “There are a lot of really good programs out there,” said Elaine Allensworth, a co-director of the Consortium on Chicago School Research. “But if the people who work with kids don’t know how they are doing in class, they’re working blind.”

Garfield Park Preparatoy Academy

We are excited to welcome Garfield Park Preparatory Academy , a new contract school to our neighborhood. GPPA is the result of a two-year effort by the Applied Behavior Analysis Department to establish an elementary school that would improve elementary education in unique and powerful ways and also leverage the talents of Chicago School faculty and graduate students. It is slated to open in September and will share space with Faraday Elementary School, 3250 W. Monroe St.

Friday, May 22, 2009

What the warm weather brings

Two people were killed in our neighborhood last night. The shooting occurred near Horan Park at Kedzie and Van Buren, where our Breakthrough kids play t-ball, soccer and softball. While most of us are happy to see warm weather finally descending upon Chicago, the sad fact is, when the weather warms up, the violence escalates. Please pray for the safety of our neighbors, staff and program participants and that God would give us grace as we minister to people who are facing extremely difficult situations.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Truth, Soul and Social Justice

Thanks to Breakthrough Youth and Family staffer, Robin Rankin, for linking me to this great Commencement Speech from John Legend, University of Pennsylvania, College of Arts and Sciences May 17, 2009.

The High Cost of Poverty

There was a great article in Monday's Washington Post about how expensive it is to be poor. The poor pay more for a gallon of milk, pay more for inferior housing, for transportation and health care. Prices at the corner stores are higher. You spend time waiting for the bus and at the laundromat. You spend money at check cashing and pay day loan joints, etc. etc.

Here's another link to an article from a paper in Texas that makes the point that the poverty line is set too low.
Consider the current U.S. “poverty line” amount for a single-parent family with two children. According to the Census Bureau, the 2008 amount was $17,346. Would this annual income cover a family’s basic needs?

According to the Economic Policy Institute’s Web site, this three-person family in the Kerrville area (rural Texas) must earn $31,320 annually to pay for key necessities, without setting aside any money in savings or investments.
Is this our country's way to keep the number of people living in poverty down? Just don't change the "poverty line" level even though prices go up?

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

North Lawndale Churches: More Harm Than Good?

There was a challenging article in the Sunday Chicago Tribune about the proliferation of churches in North Lawndale. I thought the article was kind of on target. As the community experienced disinvestment in the 60's, businesses moved out and storefront churches moved in, often side by side in the heart of the neighborhood's business district. If businesses are going to be brought back into the community, it makes sense to me that the churches should be given incentives to move off the business strip and into the residential communities. Tax revenue from thriving businesses would do a lot to turn the community around.

The article also mentioned concern from some community leaders and even some pastors that the churches aren't doing enough to heal the community's ills.

What is disheartening to me is the raw anger expressed in some of the 95 comments that have been left on the site. Here's what one commenter had to say...
Wow. I live in this ward. From many years of Neglect, I must say that it's depressing. We have almost "200" Churches in our ward and at least 90% of them are Powerless beyond their own front Door. It's depressing that many of these churches are constantly getting Grants, Tax- exempt Status without giving back to their community. How can you have this many churches and still have a ward that has to be almost one of the worst to live in? It's Deprived, Depressed and our entire make-up are Second Class Grocery Stores that hike Prices because most of their make-up are due to Link Aide, Mounds of Liquor Stores who's bottles are picked up by residents DAILY (Yea even the liquor stores have no respect for the community that they do business in. Mostly "Dollar General Stores" ... Forget Coffee Shops, Dry Cleaners, places to sit and eat. Those don't exist here but hey How about ALL OF THOSE CHURCHES
Another wrote:
One would think that a community that has received the attention of so many "men of the cloth" would have no need of a police force.
I'm thankful for Lawndale Community Church. They are on the Ogden Avenue strip too, but they have Hope House for recovering addicts, a thriving Community Health Center with 241,000 annual visits, and a Christian Development Corporation which has generated over $14 million of investment in the Lawndale community. They are being the true Church in Lawndale.

What Doesn't Go Away

Here's a link to a very real and pithy article by our own Breakthrough Housing Specialist, Paul Luikart, published by Burnside Writers Collective. He writes...
It’s good work, very good work, but being involved in the lives of these men and women takes its emotional toll, believe me. Of course there is a lot of joy in the work, but the moments of pain tend to stick to my psyche a lot longer. Some days I come home and sit on the couch and stare and stare at nothing, having completely retreated from the day into the darkest depths of my brain...If I believe (I do believe this, you should know) that an essential element of this kind of work is identification with the poor, then what elements of the lives of these men and women will never leave me? It’s sort of like I fear transference of the emotion of their experiences.
Paul expresses eloquently the challenges of hearing the troubling stories of abuse over and over and carrying that burden as well as the tendency to feel proud.
It’s not like a real overt sense of superiority, but just a little something I carry around in the back of my mind so when I meet somebody new at church, let’s say, and I ask him what he does and he says something like, “I’m in finance,” I can dip into that little sack of pride in the back of my mind and think at him, “Finance, huh? Well, who gives a rat’s ass? I know a guy with a huge crack problem and it’s my job to help him. Finance? Please. Come on, ask me what I do, you sucker.”
I'm trying to whet your appetite with these quotes, but you really need to read the entire piece. Great writing, very honest, profound.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

"Good News?! You can’t handle The Good News!!" - Raffi Shahinian

Check out JR Woodward's blog. He has posted an article by Raffi Shanhinian implying we really don't want to hear the good news about "the first being last, and the most powerful being slaves."
Do you really wanna hear about allegiance to a Master? Do you really wanna hear about ultimate justice for the poor and the oppressed?

I mean deep down, in places you don’t talk about at parties, do you really wanna hear about serving others as a lifestyle? And not just friends and family, I mean others, you know, those uncool, unwealthy, unsexy others, or as some people put it, “the least of these?”
Indeed! The gospel Jesus taught in Luke 4:18 is good news for the poor.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Prayer for Children

Listen to this beautiful audio of Pastor Daniel Hill and the congregation reading one of Marian Wright Edelman's A Prayer for Children during the benediction at River City Community Church this morning. You can listen to Daniel Hill's dynamic sermon about children at this itunes podcast link.

A Prayer for Children


We pray for children
Who sneak popsicles before supper,
Who erase holes in math workbooks,
Who can never find their shoes.

And we pray for those
Who stare at photographers from behind barbed wire,
Who can't bound down the street in a new pair of sneakers,
Who never "counted potatoes,"
Who are born in places we wouldn't be caught dead,
Who never go to the circus,
Who live in an X-rated world.

We pray for children
Who bring us sticky kisses and fistfuls of dandelions,
Who hug us in a hurry and forget their lunch money.
And we pray for those
Who never get dessert,
Who have no safe blanket to drag behind them,
Who watch their parents watch them die,
Who can't find any bread to steal,
Who don't have any rooms to clean up,
Whose pictures aren't on anybody's dresser,
Whose monsters are real.

We pray for children
Who spend all their allowance before Tuesday,
Who throw tantrums in the grocery store and pick at their food,
Who like ghost stories,
Who shove dirty clothes under the bed and never rinse out the tub,
Who get visits from the tooth fairy,
Who don't like to be kissed in front of the carpool,
Who squirm in church or temple and scream in the phone,
Whose tears we sometimes laugh at and whose smiles can make us cry.

And we pray for those
Whose nightmares come in the daytime,
Who will eat anything,
Who have never seen a dentist,
Who aren't spoiled by anybody,
Who go to bed hungry and cry themselves to sleep,
Who live and move, but have no being.

We pray for children who want to be carried and for those who must,
For those we never give up on and for those who don't get a second chance.
For those we smother ... and for those who will grab the hand of anybody kind enough to offer it.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Blacks hit hard by the recession

Here's a link to an article from BBC news about poverty and the profound effect of the recession on the African American community in Chicago.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, black unemployment has risen to 13.4% since the recession began in December 2007. The national unemployment rate is 8.5%.
You will see pictures of the Greater Chicago Food Depository produce truck. When the truck comes to our neighborhood, East Garfield Park, on the west side of Chicago, a line circles the block. Fresh produce is difficult to obtain in our neighborhood. East Garfield Park has been labeled a food desert by a researchers. The study indicates that Chicago’s food deserts are nearly exclusively African-American.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

What I did on my personal retreat

I've been asked by several people what I did during my personal retreat day last Thursday. I hadn't taken a personal retreat day in a long time, much too long. Every time I do it I wonder why I don't do it more often. I really want to make it a more regular practice. I really needed this time for restoration and direction. "He restores my soul". Psalm 23:3

If I don't block out time on my calendar far in advance and guard it ferociously, it just doesn't happen. In fact, there were several things that came up on Thursday that seemed pretty important. It almost seemed like a test to see if I would cave and not follow through. But, of course, I was able to delegate everything, which I think is part of the benefit of taking the day. It is kind of like fasting. It reminds me that the world and Breakthrough go on just fine without me. I get untangled from my co-dependence on my work.

By the way, isn't it interesting that the Israelites were told to "deny" themselves and take a sabbath of rest (Leviticus 16:31)? I would think a sabbath of rest would be considered self-centered rather than self denying, but it really is about withdrawing from the many things that hold our focus and about presenting ourselves, instead, to God, for reflection and renewal.

I started the day in my usual place where I light candles and sit in prayer, meditation and Scripture. For this special day I followed several of the retreats from the blue Upper Room Guide to Prayer. There are 12 monthly retreat models in the back of the book. They involve 30 minutes of silent listening followed by Scripture readings, readings for reflection, reflection, prayer, journal writing, recreation, rest and then repeating the cycle.

At one point in the retreat I felt led to get out my acrylic paints and try to put on canvas what I was experiencing. I created this painting.

I'm not sure what it is exactly. There is the sense of being carried on water which is a bit turbulent. (I often feel carried.) Then there is definitly new green growth, sprouts, shoots of new life coming out of something that looks like a heart on fire, or a germinating seed or an egg. Anyway, I have never done a painting like this before, so it was an experiment for me and I actually kind of like it.

Then I did another retreat cycle and then drove out to the Morton Arboretum in Lisle. I hadn't been there for years. It has changed a lot (great new kids play area). I walked several miles until I found a place to sit and did another of the retreats.

I was affected in several ways by the day. My soul, which had begun to feel dry, was definitely stirred and restored. One of the themes of the day for me was power. Luke 6:12-19 describes the effect a night of prayer had on Jesus. "One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God." After the night in prayer Jesus chooses his disciples and a large crowd gathers around him and it says in verse 19, "the people all tried to touch him, because power was coming from him and healing them all."

Power was coming from Jesus. He would later say in Acts 1:8 "you shall receive power".

Zech 4:6 "Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord. Spirit = Ruwach = breath

Acts 17:28 “For in him we live and move and have our being.”

Ephesians 3:16, “strengthened by his Spirit in your inner being”

Joshua 3:5 “Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do amazing things among you.”

Consecrate - sanctify, prepare, dedicate, be hallowed, be holy, be sanctified

Amazing things, wonders = alp, pala, paw-law’
  • to be marvellous, be wonderful, be surpassing, be extraordinary, separate by distinguishing action
  • to be beyond one's power, be difficult to do
  • to be difficult to understand
  • to be wonderful, be extraordinary, marvellous (participle)
Psalm 20:7 "Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God."

Anyway, there was lots to ponder. I ended my time by refocusing on my personal mission in life and did some planning. It was an amazing day. I really want to make this a monthly practice.

Do you have personal retreat days? Where do you go? What do you do?

Why we need to focus on education

The schools in our community are in bad shape. There are 2,265 grammar schools in the state if Illinois and all four of our local schools are in the bottom 100. At John Marshall, our local high school, 3.5% of the juniors are at or above their grade levels in math and science and only 6% in reading. The average PSAT school is 4% at or above their grade level. There are 180 days in a school year. At John Marshall High School the average number of days missed is 95! Westinghouse High School, just a block away from Breakthrough, will open a new facility in the fall and none of the kids from the community grammar schools have been able to test into it.

On a positive note, we gave the Bracken test for kindergarten readiness to the kids in our Nettie Bailey Student Achievement Program. The kids who attended our Breakthrough Beginners (preschool) program tested at 72% compared to those who did not attend who are at 17%. This is strong evidence that what we are doing is important and is working. Twenty of our program graduates started college last fall. While this is significant and encouraging, we recognize we have much work to do.

Click here to support Breakthrough's academic program.

Friday, April 10, 2009

The stress of poverty affects kids' learning ability

Here's a link to an interesting article in the Washington Post that discusses recent research on the affects that the stress of living in poverty has on the cognitive ability of children.
Now, research is providing what could be crucial clues to explain how childhood poverty translates into dimmer chances of success: Chronic stress from growing up poor appears to have a direct impact on the brain, leaving children with impairment in at least one key area -- working memory.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Food as art

I had a wonderful dinner last night with dear friends at "Arun", a Thai restaurant at 4156 North Kedzie in Chicago. Breath taking taste and presentation! Check out the Nemo fish below made from a carrot!!

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Race still matters

In tomorrow's Chicago Tribune, Clarence Page has written an editorial entitled, Race still matters for poor blacks.
Mainstream black leaders tend to blame black poverty on external barriers like racism, discrimination and the disappearance of low-skill jobs.

Conservative critics tend to blame black poverty on black behavior, attitudes and other "cultural" conditioning.
Page suggests that Obama and other lawmakers should work on legislation that recognizes the power of both culture and racism. He writes, "Obama won the presidency by insisting that racism was no longer powerful enough to stop him. But is it still powerful enough to stop those whom the civil rights movement left behind in poverty?"

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Big Dreams

Listen below to the kids from our neighborhood expressing their dreams and feel their struggle to change the community.

Jim Collins on Distinguising Great Talent

How do you distinguish the truly great talent from the rest?
The right people don't need to be managed. The moment you feel the need to tightly manage someone, you've made a hiring mistake.

The right people don't think they have a job: They have responsibilities. If I'm a climber, my job is not [just] to belay. My responsibility is that if we get in trouble, I don't let my partner down.

The right people do what they say they will do, which means being really careful about what they say they will do. It's key in difficult times. In difficult environments our results are our responsibility. People who take credit in good times and blame external forces in bad times do not deserve to lead. End of story.
Click here for the full article.

Monday, March 16, 2009

CompassionArt: A Creative Attack on Poverty

Martin Smith from Delirious brought twelve top Christian singers and song writers together in Scotland for a week to produce a CD of new music called CompassionArt. Included were Michael W. Smith, Darlene Zschech, Chris Tomlin, Matt Redman, Tim Hughes, Paul Baloche, Israel Houghton, Graham Kendrick, Steven Curtis-Chapman, Andy Park, Stu Garrard, and Martin Smith. All of the proceeds from the album and the use of the songs will go to charities that care for the poor. I downloaded it through iTunes. Not only does this project strike a blow at poverty financially, but it is really great music! I love Highly Favored, King of the Broken, Friend of the Poor and Fill My Cup which features CeCe Winans and the Lakewood Choir.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Notes from Breakthrough donors affected by the economy

I am blown away lately by the faithfulness of the Breakthrough donors... and I mean they are putting REAL faith into action. Here are excerpts from two notes I received just this week.
I have been studying Elisha and the story of the man in 2 Kings 4 who brought 20 loaves to Elisha. It was probably his tithe, and Elisha was able to feed the one hundred people with him and there were leftovers! -- during a famine!! Don't you love God?! He can take even the smaller amount of money and make it go farther than we ever dreamed it would go!! We love you guys!
Here's another note that came with a large unexpected donation!
We have certainly been impacted by the financial decline in 2008 (but that doesn't make us special!) but continue to be challenged by God to give generously and faithfully. We have been meditating on the story in Mark of the "Young Rich Man" and have been following Jesus' simple and clear words " have only one thing left to do... sell your possessions, give to the poor and follow me." "Only one thing left to do" is the mantra that we are focusing on when we are worried about the scarcity of money and want to keep it for ourselves -- it is encouraging us to give.
Another of our supporters has decided to restrict herself to $176 per month for groceries which is what Illinois Food Stamp (Link) recipients receive so she can continue to give. She is practicing intentional "self regulation".

This is the real deal. I am humbled and inspired. I'm not sure what God is up to right now, but I have a feeling it is very good for us as we learn to activate what Brennan Manning calls, Ruthless Trust!

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Waterfront Community Church is giving it all away!

Here's a video from NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams about Waterfront Community Church in Schaumburg, a church that gives all of it's weekly offerings to help the poor!

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Trusting God in tough times

My word this week is from Ps. 78:19-22. The whole chapter is good, but basically God is ticked with the Israelites cuz they don’t remember all of the things he provided for them. They say, “Can God spread a table in the desert?… When the Lord heard them, he was very angry… for they did not believe in God or trust in his deliverance.”

Monday, March 02, 2009

Led to Pray

I don’t even remember why I was so exhausted and depressed. I just know I went to bed with an oppressive foreboding that I couldn’t shake. Everything in me ached. I struggled with my “dark night of the soul” until I fell into a fitful, anxiety ridden sleep.

I awoke the next morning to the sound of my alarm awakening me to attend a 6:00 AM church prayer meeting. Instantly I knew something had changed. My heart was light and cheery. I bounced out of bed delighted to face the day. My heart sang with joy. I danced my happy self into the living room of one of our church members where a small group of prayer warriors were gathered.

“Arloa, are you alright?” asked Dorrine Kain worriedly. Dorrine’s brother, Lester Foster, had been staying at her home while on furlough from his missionary work in Bolivia.

“Yes, I am great!” I responded. “Why do you ask?”

“My brother, Les, just returned from his two hour prayer walk. He told me that for some reason this morning, God led him to pray for you and he has been fervently interceding for you for the past two hours!”

I was dumbfounded. First of all by the immense love God had for me, and secondly that Les Foster had made himself available to God at 4 AM which was his daily practice and that he had been obedient to the call of God to pray for me! For two hours, while I slept, Lester Foster was wrestling in the spirit world for my soul!

The following Sunday I caught him at the door of our church. “Les, thank you so much for praying for me,” I told him. “You couldn’t have known how important it was to me at that moment!”

He looked caringly into my grateful eyes and replied assuredly, “I know”.

I wish I could tell you that I have that kind of prayer life. I don’t. People who sacrifice sleeping in or watching television to intercede in prayer for others, know something about laying down their lives to follow Jesus that I hunger for. Their obedience to the call to prayer effectively influences the deep spiritual work of pulling down strongholds and changing the course of our lives. The work of prayer is the most important work we can do. I know I need to be surrounded by people who know how to pray and I need to prioritize my personal time with God above all.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Under Bridges

Paul Luikart read the lyrics to the song, Under Bridges, by Brave Saint Saturn, today during his devotional at our Breakthrough Staff Development Day today. I downloaded their album, So Far From Home, on iTunes.

Here are the lyrics to "Under Bridges"...
Yesterday while walking,
Beneath an overpass,
I saw the figure of Jesus,
Standing barefoot on broken glass.
His beard was graying,
The smell of urine filled the air,
Asking if I had some change,
Anything that I could spare.

His shaking fists balled up,
Influenza and pneumonia,
Begging God to take his cup.
So different from his pictures,
Breathing air through yellowed tubes,
Jesus Christ, dying of AIDS,
Can look right through you.

And all have hated,
Crucified and walked away,
The Savior of the prostitutes,
Drunkards, rapists, and the gays.

Under bridges,
With hands raised,
From the ghettos they praise his name.
Broke and crippled in the dark of night,
Raise your voices to Jesus Christ,

Monday, February 09, 2009

Carl Ellis on the Breakthrough Stories Podcast

If you missed our Breakthrough Breakfast Symposium with Carl Ellis on January 17th you can listen to or view a podcast of the event on the Breakthrough Stories Podcast. Those of us who attended agreed that we could have listened to him for hours and want to get him back for a longer class.

Bill Shereos' Sermon on the Economy

Yesterday, Bill Shereos, pastor of the First Evangelical Free Church in Chicago, preached a sermon that I think is very helpful as we navigate as Christians in the present economic crisis. Here is the audio blog...

Saturday, February 07, 2009

A live birth aborted

Did you hear about the teenager who went to get an abortion and while waiting for the doctor gave birth to a live baby girl? The clinic staffers cut the cord, stuck it in a plastic bag and dumped it in the trash. Ugh!

Pornography in the Chicago Library

I had lunch with my friends Don and Amanda Bratschie yesterday and they told me about a crusade they have launched to try to get the Chicago library to block porn on their internet computers. It is really a shocking story. Check out this link to see Don and Amanda on WGN TV and this one to read Amanda's blog.

Monday, February 02, 2009

The economic mess and what we trust in

Hat tip to Jim Wallis and his facebook status update for linking me to this New York Times editorial by Thomas Friedman from the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. He says everyone is looking for "the guy" who will tell us how to get out of our economic mess and how to protect our savings, but there is no such guy! We are going to have to live with more uncertainty and with a lower level of trust.

So what does it mean to live with a lower level of trust? Perhaps we have been misplacing our trust. Hmm. I think we need to trust now more than ever, but in our Provider, Jehovah-Jireh. Remember this old song?

Friday, January 30, 2009

Dr. Peter Cha on Social Justice

Dr. Peter Cha (Ph.D., Northwestern University/Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary) is a friend of mine and has had a huge influence on me. He is Associate Professor of Pastoral Theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. Here is a portion of a message he gave to an Intervarsity group in which he describes the historical split of the Christian church over social justice. You can watch his entire message on youtube.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Bill Gates on Aid to the Poor

The NY Times posted a video today of an interview by Nicholas Kristof with Bill Gates. Gates explains why aid to the poor is more important now than ever. He suggests you pick a cause and get more in depth knowledge about it, and that you visit great nonprofit organizations that are successfully making a difference. Seeing what is going on will draw you in to action. May I suggest Breakthrough?

Friday, January 16, 2009

Carl Ellis at Breakthrough Tomorrow Morning

You can still get in on the Breakthrough Breakfast Symposium with Carl Ellis. It's tomorrow morning at 9:30 until noon at 402 N. St. Louis in Chicago. See you in the morning!


Last Sunday, our pastor, Daniel Hill, of the River City Community Church, started a new series called Alive, so the worship team led us in this rousing song by Rebecca St. James. Love it! You can purchase it on iTunes here.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

The Sheep and the Goats Revisited

Heather Wax wrote an article for the Ooze that I am pondering.
Jesus answered, "In as much as you were not a brother to your sister, you were not a friend to me either. However, since this is the revised story, and I'm just a caricature of the real Jesus, I'm not going to sentence you to fire or anything. But I am going to sentence you to think long and hard about the heart of both sheep and goats - when you lay in bed at night, when you're in the shower,and driving to work...and ask you to read the real story over again. That way, when you meet the real Jesus, you'll hopefully be a little more ready. Watch and pray."

Friday, January 02, 2009

Homelessness on the rise

It is not surprising in light of the current economic climate in the US that the latest survey by the US Conference of Mayors shows that homelessness is on the rise. Most US cities are reporting double digit increases in the demand for homeless services and emergency food assistance. This trend is reflected in the requests for assistance that we are seeing at Breakthrough. We have always had waiting lists for people who are seeking to enter our shelters, but now we have a waiting list to get on the waiting list. At a time when some donors do not have the ability to give at the capacity they once did, we are experiencing an increasing demand for our services. Those of us who can will need to step up to even higher levels of compassionate care.