Brendan, one of the brothers in our congregation, mentioned to me recently that Jesus fed 5,000 people and 4,000 people on two separate occasions (it’s actually more than that, because those numbers do not seem to reflect the women and children in attendance), and Jesus did not differentiate between those who “needed” and those who could go out and get their own food. Jesus thanked Father, distributed the food, and everyone was fed. So when we give out boxes of food or flats of eggs, we certainly want to get them in the hands of the most needy among us. But the pressure is not so much on us that we have to interview each person and make a judgment call on the needs-based information presented. This was a helpful thought, since there are many people who ask for food boxes and many people who willingly receive food boxes, but the needs vary from extremely urgent to not-so-much.
Are you hungry? You can probably go into the refrigerator or pantry or freezer and get something to eat. And if that’s not there you probably can go to the store or restaurant to buy something. I have never gone hungry in my life, except for those times when I have intentionally fasted. So I think of those right around us who are facing food insecurity and food scarcity, and I pray that we can offer physical food when possible. I also pray for spiritual re-birth for those who receive this food. I practiced some Spanish lines that speak of Jesus Christ and him crucified, and implored the Spanish-speaking day laborers at Home Depot to give their hearts to Jesus as we gave out food to them last Friday. There is a much deeper need than food here—there are souls that are resisting the call of God on their lives, and there are souls that are yearning to know more of their Creator. The food that fills the hungry with the Bread of Life is food that we need to present to those around us. This is soul-satisfying food that leads to eternal life.
Brother Stan is bringing food boxes on Tuesday to the Baychester women and children’s shelter, and to the Eden shelter. As an additional opportunity, the director has said that after this Covid-19 crisis blows over she believes we could host Bible studies at these shelters. We have prayed for the Baychester shelter for nearly a year, and this opportunity has just appeared.
I still believe that the day-laborers and those in the undocumented immigrant community have been affected the most financially here in our city. Next on the list are the small business owners who either could not apply for the small business relief or did not apply it. As the city slowly opens back up, there is still an undercurrent of food insecurity all over. A Blessings of Hope driver who delivered CAM boxes to us on Saturday told us of a food distribution ministry in Long Island to whom he had delivered food boxes. They said that, prior to Covid-19, they were serving about 85 people on the day they gave out food. Now, they are getting over 400 people showing up on those days. Life in Christ Mennonite Church in Queens handed out 800 boxes of food on Saturday, May 16th. They have over 800 contacts who have reached out to them for help, requesting food. Pastor Felix, in Mt. Vernon, has served over 400 families in the past seven weeks as they come through his line for food from the Blessings of Hope boxes. He opens the boxes and distributes food to the people into their bags, this way he can serve more people on the day he gives out food. Our distribution at Edenwald has gone from 20 boxes to 40 boxes to 60 boxes to 85 boxes. We do not do as many deliveries during the week; people are encouraged to come by our house and get a box of food if they contact us with a food need.
Today, weather permitting, we will set up outside of our church space on E. 224th Street and distribute boxes of food to the local community. I look forward to these kind of interactions. This evening at 4:00 p.m., Brother Ike and I hope to set up near his house in Mt. Vernon and offer food boxes to people in his community. May God work in his church and through his church in this time. Food pantries are considered essential services.
As the weeks pass, the intensity of the Covid-19 crisis here in NYC seems to diminish, and we look forward to going out and meeting with people a little more. Last week, the governor opened up religious gatherings to 10 people, and on Friday President Trump made that announcement stating that churches are Essential Services. I knew all along that churches are Essential Services, so that announcement did not come as a surprise. That said, here in NYC it was very wise to stop in-person meetings at churches for those weeks from late March through the end of April. Even now, when I am aching to get back to face-to-face meetings, I recognize that we are all on a journey in this season. Some people will be ready to get back to meet, and some need some more time. An interesting side note—I have talked with several of my African-American pastor friends and none of them are pushing to re-open their churches against the governor’s orders. I think they all recognize that this virus has taken an especially significant toll on the black community, and they are in no rush to try to circumvent local and state protocol. One church, St. Luke’s Episcopal Church located about 1 mile from our house, lost 21 members to Covid-19. I’m sure a church leader facing that kind of mortality rate in his congregation is going to take a wider look at this situation. This is not just about what is allowed by law, but what is safe and wise for the congregation. On that note, I’m seeing about a 60/40 percentage in terms of the law. 60% says to start meeting again (Constitution and President) but 40% (Governor and Mayor) says to hold off on religious meetings with more than 10 people. My percentages are arbitrary and based on mental gymnastics only, so don’t hold me to them. It just shows that in this case, each church is going to have to ask “What is best for us to do?”
This morning, Sandy took a walk with our friend who had a near-death experience with Covid-19 and is slowly recovering. She contacted Sandy this morning and said she has nightmares of her experiences with this sickness, and since she is back from rehab she is still not able to walk well. Pray for us as we relate with this friend. She believes (and we agree) that God saved her from this sickness. So now what would He have for her?
Are you hungry? Take of the Bread of Life, eat, and give away this Bread of Life to others who hunger. Are you thirsty? Drink of the Living Water, and you will thirst no more.
Believers in Jesus Church distributed food boxes again at the Edenwald Community Center on Tuesday. My last update had noted that our neighbor has a friend who was a part of the 90’s rock group Living Colour, and he was going to help us with crowd control. It turns out our neighbor couldn’t get any friends to commit. He sent me a text listing all the other housing projects around us and then said “but Edenwald? Everyone’s asking me if u and ur family are going over there armed with Bullet Proof clothing. " His next text went like this “I asked some of the roughest toughest thugs I know if they would mind helping giving out food with u guys and girls in Edenwald and they all said “Naw man I ain’t messin’ with Edenwald.” I have not seen the dark side of Edenwald yet, besides a few skirmishes two weeks ago. Each person is created in the image of God, so it is a privilege to extend dignity and grace even to groups who may be considered "less than." Joy, the community center’s director, spent about 1.5 hours getting all of them to sign in with their ID’s and gave them each a printed number. Some of them waited in line for over three hours. We passed out 60 boxes of food in less than 30 minutes. We have a portable speaker with a microphone, so I had the chance to preach a short gospel message while Joy was finishing up the list, and our daughter Corinne sang “Do You Know the Savior?” while Sandy and I accompanied her. It's hard to describe how rewarding these opportunities are to me.
I then was able to meet up with Silvia, the contact in Mt. Vernon who has been receiving food boxes at the Doles Center. Silvia is so excited about this food box ministry. She works at City Hall in Mt. Vernon, but she said “I have asked God for years to let me have a food pantry! I never thought I would get a chance to do something like this in this way!” Silvia has had to add two different phone lines since April 1 because of the high demand for food boxes in the senior center close to their location. Mt. Vernon is described by another of my friends who lives there as the forgotten stepchild of Westchester County. If you ever get the vision to explore the difference between Scarsdale and Mt. Vernon, it’s a fascinating study in contrasts. Two cities—two completely different socioeconomic spectrums. I met Silvia through my neighbor’s friend. When I told Silvia that the boxes will be winding down next week and after that it will be seven dollars a box, she actually seemed to get excited. “Wow, I can start fundraising for more boxes!” She was the first person in our network who actually seemed energized by the opportunity to purchase boxes to distribute.
Wednesday, we received a shipment of 1,000 boxes of food from CAM (Christian Aid Ministries). The boxes weigh 20 pounds, and include rice, beans, canned chicken, oil, flour, sugar, and Christian literature. These are good, solid staples. Some of the churches in The Bronx with whom we are partnering have already received some of those 1,000 boxes. Life in Christ in Queens and Followers of Jesus in Brooklyn have received CAM boxes as well.
Thursday, our friend in South Brooklyn received a van load of eggs from Westfield Farms in PA. He asked if we could take some. I think they had 750 dozen delivered to them. I drove down and loaded 26 boxes (390 dozen) of eggs in our van. Life in Christ Mennonite Church in Queens took 16 boxes, and we have already distributed our 150 dozen here in the Bronx. It was so good to see friends from Brooklyn and Queens, mask-to-mask (we don’t do face-to-face yet here). Food pantries are considered essential services in NY.
Friday, Brianna and I went to Home Depot at 4:00 p.m. with CAM Boxes and 37 dozen eggs. I parked the van in a kind of distant parking lot and walked over to four day laborers who were still standing there, hoping a contractor or homeowner would come by with work. “Necesita comida?” Si, si. These guys walked over, and somehow by the time we were finished we had given out boxes to 19 people, and we were done with our eggs. These guys want to work but there are no jobs for them right now. The day laborers are certainly facing tough times.
A man to whom I delivered a box yesterday used to be an Uber driver but when the customer base diminished from the lockdown his mileage went down, and his lease for his car increased. He had to return his car, so he has no vehicle at this point. He has been off work for over a month, and he has three children. He was very appreciative of the food, and he asked me questions from the Bible. It was a good interaction.
There are certainly needs all around us. If anyone is interested in donating to Blessings of Hope (www.blessingsofhope.com) for food boxes, you just put in the comments box “Food boxes for NYC” and you can specify the church to which you want the boxes to go. You can also give to Believers in Jesus Church through PayPal at email@example.com. Moving forward, we are hoping to have a delivery come to NYC every Thursday for the next few months. A forty pound box costs $7. It’s an amazing opportunity.
Remember the meals for healthcare workers that we began bringing in early April? I just pictured doing a few meals a week here and there. The Anabaptist Covid-19 Response team took that to a whole new level and had a team here for five weeks bringing thousands of pre-packaged box lunches to EMS workers and hospitals who were stretched thin during the Covid-19 crisis here in New York City.
Oh, and I want to give a short update on two of our friends. On Thursday, Sandy had a chance to talk for about an hour with our neighbor who had been on the ventilator with C-19 for about ten days. She has come out of this a changed woman. She’s more gentle, and she says that God saved her life. Sandy was so encouraged with the conversation. I spoke with a good friend Thursday evening who also was deathly sick with Covid. He said that on day 10 he was sure he was going to die, but he began rebuking Covid-19 and claiming the blood of Jesus, and it’s like his sickness lifted. He said that he learned a lesson in that time that we have a lot of authority in the name of Jesus. On the same day we had the chance to hear testimonies from two different persons whose C-19 sickness had actually served to strengthen their faith. Testimonies of God's goodness are better than an iced coffee in July.
My writing motivation has lagged recently. On and off over the past several weeks I have had to push back a heavy fog of bad news, face the fact that we still have no church in-person meetings, and look for the good in this season with less face-to-face interaction. Officiating at a funeral last Thursday took a toll on me. Two of my former students lost their father to COVID-19, and I was asked to share some Scriptures at the graveside service at Evergreen Cemetery in Brooklyn. It was raining that morning, but as I drove to the funeral home I thanked God that the rain had stopped. We gathered, eleven of us, at the funeral home, and talked together for a while. We then got in our cars to follow the hearse over to the cemetery. The rain poured down again, and I clenched my steering wheel and prayed and prayed: “Oh God, please hold back the rain. Please hold back the rain. Let them have a graveside service with only a drizzle or maybe no rain at all. Please hold back the rain.” The rain slowed a bit as we waited in line at the cemetery—there were at least four other small burials taking place. When the rain came down hard again, my prayers went up again “Please hold back the rain, please hold back the rain.” Thank God the rain completely stopped when we stepped out of our cars. I need to thank God for his small and big answers to prayer. The cemetery gave us 30 minutes to remember the life and death of our friend, a father of three, a husband of one, and relative to many. At the end, it seemed so cold and formal to exchange elbow bumps. No hugs. I felt helpless watching my former student, a strapping 28 year old man, hugging his girlfriend and his mother and sobbing uncontrollably. That’s when the rain came. I stepped into my car and let my eyes have their own little moment of rain. “Man, I need a drink,” I caught myself saying out loud. Thank God I have never dealt with addictions, because I’m sure that scene would have been a trigger point. I did stop by Dunkin’ Donuts to get a large coffee on the way home. I have to admit, that afternoon it was hard to focus on work.
Crowd control has never been my forte. I’m a dedicated follower of Jesus, but I do not have high marks on my resume for policing unruly groups. Yesterday the group at the community center for Edenwald Housing got kind of out of hand. We had delivered boxes there three times before with no incident, but this last time I guess the word had gotten out, because some people were already standing in line at 11:00 a.m. for the 1:30 p.m. delivery. That’s what the staff told us later. So we arrived and it went downhill rather quickly, because I started reading off names of people we had on our list from last week who did not get a box. Mistake number one. Suddenly there were maybe 10-15 other people who were convinced they were on my list of 19, but try as I might I couldn’t find their names. I gave two boxes to an elderly woman and her 90 year old mother. Mistake number two. Apparently they were in the same household, even though they said they lived across the hall from each other. The fairness doctrine got trotted out by others in line, and the mood of some darkened considerably. Eventually we were able to distribute our boxes of food but we had some emotional battle scars by the time it was over. We talked it over with the staff at the community center and hopefully we have a reasonably fair way to deal with it next week.
This afternoon my neighbor was texting me and thanking me for the two boxes he had received, one to give to a friend who is out of work and whose mother died of COVID-19, and another to give to an elderly couple. My friend told me he has friends who want to help me distribute food boxes. He then sent a photo of a Rolling Stones magazine cover with the rock group “Living Colour,” featured prominently on the front. His friend from Living Colour wants to help us distribute boxes. I jumped on that offer and asked if he can show up at the Edenwald Housing community center next Tuesday at 1:15 p.m. and help me with crowd control. This same neighbor had told me in an earlier text today that “At one time Edenwald Projects was named one of the most dangerous projects in New York. They are wild over there, there’s a lot of drugs, prostitution, violence and abuse going on over there.” But I guess we are in for an adventure next week, because it sounds like Living Colour representatives will be helping us give out some food boxes next Saturday. A historically famous local rock group helping our small church group distribute food boxes at a community center. Who knew?
The Anabaptist Covid-19 response group that has been responsible to bring the boxes up to NYC and drop them off in The Bronx, Queens, and Brooklyn will be winding down their efforts towards the end of May. After that point, Believers in Jesus Church and some other churches here in the Bronx, along with a number of churches in Queens and Brooklyn, hope to continue purchasing food boxes from Blessings of Hope (based in Lancaster, PA) for $7/box and distributing them as God enables us. We need to somehow manage the requests that come in, but that management goal is a moving target. From Saturday evening to last night (3 days) I had 57 individual requests for food boxes. Today alone I had over 30 individual requests, but we are now texting people that they will need to check back in next week. So I’ll probably be sending 90 (or more) text messages in the next three days saying that they will need to try again next week because this week we have no more left. We have nine other churches and two homeless shelters here in The Bronx who are helping distribute boxes. Our Muslim friend has been getting 10 boxes a week from Sandy to distribute to her other Muslim friends. For that group, we go through the boxes to make sure there is no pork. Last week we delivered the boxes to her apartment building and she had seven boxes left in the lobby. Apparently she went up to her apartment to get something and came back down. No boxes. All gone. Sandy asked her if she got mad, and she said “Well, whoever took them must have needed them, but I was sad for my friends who were coming to get their boxes.” Was the box thief one person or seven distinctly different perps? We may never know.
I wonder what a food pantry could look like for our church here in the Bronx, moving forward. I could get excited about doing something like a food pantry if it could be a 1-2 day a week venture. If it got to be more than that, it may become the tail that wags the dog. To develop and manage a good food pantry probably takes days a week for one person, plus hours and hours of volunteer labor. Anyway, this is something to consider.
Our friend who was on the ventilator with COVID-19 has recovered and is out of the hospital, thank God. What’s strange is that she had to go to rehab. She’s about our age, but she had to relearn to walk, and her one hand could not grasp a pen the first several weeks after getting out of the hospital. This a strange new world we live in, folks. She's still at rehab in White Plains, weeks after being released from the hospital.
May God be with us all. We need to pray, praise, love God, love others, read the Word of God, and keep in step with the Spirit. It’s a strange but opportune time to be alive.
I called my Dad today for his 70th birthday. He missed my first call because he said "I was up on a ladder." My brother sent a picture later and there was Dad, standing on a plank between two ladders probably fifteen feet above the floor, finishing a high drywall ceiling. I wonder where I’ll be when I turn 70, if the Lord has not returned and my heart is still beating. I’m reasonably certain I won’t be fifteen feet up on a plank finishing a high drywall ceiling. They don’t make guys like my Dad anymore. He’s a good Pops.
Tonight we had the privilege to meet several supervisors of the EMS station at Bronxcare Hospital in the South Bronx. The four guys working with ACR (Anabaptist Covid-19 Response) have been bringing meals for healthcare workers and, especially with some of the EMS stations, have had some good interactions. Those four guys are leaving The Bronx tonight and a new team of helpers will be around for about two weeks yet. Both EMS supervisors have had 9 + years of experience, and they both said that the last month and a half have had more activity that a ten year career would have had in normal EMS protocol. In fact, the one day in early April they had more cardiac arrest calls for their 36 EMS workers (in one day) than they would have had in a normal month in the past year. We got to talking about the “hoaxers” out there who say this COVID-19 situation is all a hoax, and that really set them off. Jessica and Jeremy are very convinced that, given the enormous call volume that they (South Bronx) and their compadres in other boroughs have had, the NYC hospitalization counts AND death counts are under-reported. They believe that, when this all clears and a closer look at death records and hospitalization records occurs, the counts will go up in all categories. It is their belief that the numbers were not all being reported because it was so scary what was happening at the peak here in NYC. Another belief of both of these EMS supervisors? We are not yet in the clear. Prepare for the second wave.
Jeremy extended his thanks to the network of people who have given to, helped prepare, and distribute the meals for healthcare workers. It was good to hear the heartfelt thanks from both of them.
As for the food box distribution, we have reached critical mass and may implode if we are not careful. There are boxes going to Queens and Brooklyn, and churches there are handling those distributions, but one friend from Queens told me that they can’t keep up with the demand there either. The needs for food all around us is so real and overwhelming that I honestly do not know what our next best step is here in The Bronx as ACR (Anabaptist Covid Response) begins to phase out in the next two weeks. I believe we will try to continue some kind of food box distribution for at least the next few months, Lord willing. For example, Brothers Ike & Stan brought 20 boxes to a local community center last week that were distributed in about 15 minutes, and Ike had to play umpire with the last box to stop a food fight. He took down ten names for the next food distribution at that site. We brought 30 boxes the next time and they were also gone in minutes, and we had another ten people sign up for the next delivery. Yesterday we brought forty boxes and gave them away and 19 people signed up for the next delivery. I had a list of 30 people who called my phone in the previous three days, so some of the guys delivered those boxes. Those calls to my phone are coming mostly from Spanish-speaking residents, so I am trying to get a local Spanish pastor to get involved so he could be available for ministry beyond the food needs. For linguistic comedy, I should record some of those painful calls involving my butchered Spanish trying to communicate, and the occasional broken English coming from the callers requesting food. Sure, some of these calls may not be real needs, but many of them have lost jobs, some of them are single mothers with children and no more work, and some of them are desperate for help.
Our friend Brendan delivered a few boxes today to people who are on a caseload of his neighbor who is an ACS (Administration for Children’s Services) worker. He told me that at the one place the door was opened and he looked in and saw children in the apartment, no furniture anywhere that he could see, and several adults strung out, likely on drugs. He says he thought to himself that this family needs a lot more than a box of food.
Jesus told his disciples “You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me. “ This was in response to the criticism directed at Mary for pouring an expensive bottle of perfume on his feet. I think one take-away from Jesus' comment is that extravagant worship of the Lord is fitting even if there are needs around us. I also think that, this side of heaven, we will not be able to eradicate world poverty. We will always have the poor with us. Distributing food boxes alone will not resolve the hunger problem, the homeless problem, and the global economic destruction. But as each child of God does his or her part in considering how to GIVE to church, family, friends, neighbors, and strangers during this crisis, the KINGDOM of God will advance. We preach the gospel, we live the gospel, and we give the gospel. Christians everywhere have an amazing opportunity to repent, to recommit to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, and to GIVE until it hurts—and then until it tickles.
I’ve been reading through Revelation, and some of those four horsemen of Revelation 6 seem real and current, even if they may be representative of something figurative. In my humble opinion, this is not the time to try to change the politician’s minds or to try to shape policy around this. I do not like that so many people are making more money now collecting unemployment than they were while employed. I dislike the 2.2 trillion dollar bailout. Politics surrounding COVID-19 has become even more polarized, so what will demonstrations or political postings serve except to populate our echo chamber, or make us aware of the so-called “toxic” people who disagree with us or make us mad? How now shall we live? With love and truth.
It’s a good time to be alive, but it’s a terrible time to die. The needs are real in my heart, in my family, in our church, in our community, and in this world. I have been asked to be the clergy representative at a graveside service for a man who died of COVID-19. I taught his two sons at Followers of Jesus School 15-20 years ago. Those two guys, their mother, and two other people can join us at this graveside service. I hope I can be an encouragement to the family, and I hope that they can be inspired by Words of Life from the Word of God.
A bit of commenting paraphrase on one of my favorite Psalms this evening. You could call it clarity therapy, perhaps. When the enemy attacks, keep your ears tuned to the voice of the Mighty Warrior, Commander-in-Chief of the Kingdom of Heaven. He speaks through His Word, through His Spirit, and through His saints.
How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord Almighty! My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the Lord; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God.
Some days the cry sticks in the throat.
Other days the cry springs out of a throat full of emotion.
Even the sparrow has found a home, and the swallow a nest for herself,
where she may have her young—a place near your altar,
Lord Almighty, my King and my God.
Yes, it is nice to have the young near your altar, Lord. Keep my children near your altar, please.
Blessed are those who dwell in your house; they are ever praising you.
Sometimes praise is all one has left to do.
Blessed are those whose strength is in you, whose hearts are set on pilgrimage.
As they pass through the Valley of Baka,
they make it a place of springs;
the autumn rains also cover it with pools.
They go from strength to strength, till each appears before God in Zion.
It would be kind of nice to ride on perpetual strength, but I guess if we are to “go from strength to strength,” I’m thankful for the big strength times that see me through the little strength times.
Hear my prayer, Lord God Almighty;
listen to me, God of Jacob.
Look on our shield,[e] O God;
look with favor on your anointed one.
Better is one day in your courts
than a thousand elsewhere;
I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God
than dwell in the tents of the wicked.
In the end, what better place to be than in the presence of our God?
For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord bestows favor and honor;
no good thing does he withhold from those whose walk is blameless.
Lord Almighty, blessed is the one who trusts in you.
And we are back to the starting point.
Through it all, I will trust in You, Lord.
Through the blessings of donors and a partnership with Anabaptist Covid-19 Response and Blessings of Hope, Believers in Jesus Church has both handed out food boxes ourselves and have been around others who have distributed lunch boxes and food boxes. I have given out more boxes of food in the past few weeks than I have given out in my entire life up to this point. God opened a door through ACR (Anabaptist Covid-19 Response) and we ran (did He push us?) through it. Eventually we should be able to slowly walk down this narrow path, but sometimes it feels almost like we are hurtling along on a turbo conveyor belt.
Up until a month ago, I was mostly ambivalent and sometimes skeptical of food pantry and soup kitchen ministries in New York City. I mean, this city has so much access to food, and there seem to be a number of food pantries scattered here and there. I discovered while at Followers of Jesus School and analyzing the income of school families that for a family with six children, the federal food stamp program gives several hundred dollars a month MORE than our family’s monthly food budget. By God’s grace, we never needed to collect food stamps, but it was my understanding that needy families had that safety net to apply for food stamps, so in my mind food was not a real need here.
These last few weeks of food distribution have brought me to a humbling new realization. There are definitely individuals and families in New York City who are living with food scarcity. Others do not have access to healthy and nutritious food options. This current COVID-19 crisis has accentuated the problem, but I’m afraid I have been out of touch with the dark underside of the food scarcity issue here in New York City. Especially for immigrant individuals and families who do not have access to the typical safety nets available for other low-income citizens, the teaching in II Thessalonians 3 is a harsh new reality “"If a man will not work, he shall not eat." You know the day laborers who wait outside The Home Depot? They aren’t getting work these days. They don’t work, they don’t eat. They don’t get ANY cash, day after day, and they don’t have access to unemployment benefits, and they probably can’t get back to their countries. Many of them have families they support here, or maybe “supported” is more accurate.
And then there are the lower-income working class American citizens. Here in New York, a man and his wife could each be working 40 hours a week on some entry-level job and just barely making enough to pay their rent, utilities, food, and other things. In too many cases, the entry-level jobs at “Non-essential” businesses have been lost over the past five weeks, and these missing paychecks are putting a hurt on households. From what I can see, those who were already on complete government assistance for rent, utilities, food stamps, and welfare checks before COVID-19 may be the least affected by this crisis—their checks will likely still be coming. It’s the lower income working class people, both those undocumented AND those documented, who are hitting a crisis of food shortage or food quality. Maybe they have food to eat, so it may not be always a food scarcity issue, but the quality of food and the healthiness of the diet is very poor.
Brianna did a report on homelessness for one of her college classes last fall, and we talked about the surprising statistic that up to 40% of American households (New York City and otherwise) are living paycheck-to-paycheck. For some, if they miss two successive paychecks, they face the imminent possibility of homelessness if there is no intervention.
I am sure this issue of food scarcity is showing up all across America and around the world. I’ve been reading Revelation again. Could it be that the horseman of Revelation 6:5-6, seemingly unleashing economic collapse, is upon us? That last question is not intended to make the Christian quake in fear, but at the least we can ask ourselves “How now shall we live?” What about the local town or city near you? What about your neighbors?
In the past month or so, Believers in Jesus Church has been given over $5,000 towards relief efforts in this COVID-19 Crisis. In the first week of the option to serve meals to medical workers and EMS workers, we were able to do that some as a local church. We also were able to financially assist a sister church in South Brooklyn to do this, assist a brother with rent whose business has taken a 70% hit in revenue, and partner directly with Blessings of Hope. Thank God, we still have funds available to continue serving our community, and thank God for the generosity of those who have given!
This weekend, we received an incredible update from the Anabaptist Covid-19 Response team that outlines what they have done so far in New York City. The “Food Boxes for Families” have gone out to pastors and churches in The Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens, Manhattan, and also in Mount Vernon, NY (a city just north of us in Westchester County). This is way more than I ever imagined would happen. Of the total 1,908 Food Boxes given out, Believers in Jesus Church has only handled a fraction. There are currently four young men volunteering full-time to distribute lunches to healthcare workers and food boxes to churches around the city, and many others are helping as they are able.
Anabaptist Covid-19 Response numbers as of 04/19/2020
9,187 Lunches for Healthcare Workers
1,908 Food Boxes for Families
With New York State being on Shutdown Order to May 15 here are the ACR tentative plans:
*Next week starting 04/20/20*
5,000 Lunches for Healthcare Workers
1,650 Food Boxes for Families
*Week starting 04/27/20*
2,500 Lunches for Healthcare Workers
1,000 Food Boxes for Families
Assist C.A.M. with arranging transportation/distribution of food boxes they are packing (more to come on that later)
*Week starting 05/04/20*
2,000 Lunches for Healthcare Workers
1,000 Food Boxes for Families
Assist C.A.M. with arranging transportation/distribution of food boxes they are packing(more to come on that later)
Probably be wrapping up May 15 or so.
So that is somewhat of an update on the food distribution. Time does not permit me to tell of Pastor Felix in Mt. Vernon, New York, who has so many people coming by that the 10 boxes we give him a day he opens up and hands out items to people to “stretch” the boxes, or of Hafsa, Sandy’s Muslim friend who took 10 boxes last week to give to her friends (we just needed to take out some items that would not be Muslim-friendly, or of L, who took a box from friends who persuaded her in December not to abort her baby. If Christians are going to convince a young woman not to abort her baby, can Christians rise up to help her with food for her baby? Or our neighbor S, who lives in the house right beside us, has been so happy to give two food boxes a week to her sister F, who has lost her job in this COVID-19 crisis and is raising two children.
My refrigerator remains mostly full. We have more than we need to eat. I have taken food for granted.
My friend Ike took a box of food to his elderly neighbor. She stood on the stoop and said “I have been young, but now I am old, and I have never seen the righteous forsaken.” She paused for a moment to smile at him, and he finished it for her… “Or their seed begging for bread.” We will not be able to meet all the needs. But we will bless in the name of Jesus and do good to all people, especially unto those who are of the household of faith.
These last weeks of ministry opportunity have been an incredible partnership with the family of God. I wonder if God will lead us to start a food pantry here in The Bronx? That would be like God. Sending me through a door and pushing me down a road I never imagined. What did Rich Mullins say? “God is like the kid who punches you in the face and then gives you a ride home on his bike.” Something like that. When I was 14, it was “I will go live in the mountains of West Virginia or Kentucky with my cousin Joe because there are too many people in Huntsburg, Ohio.” Then I thought I would become an architect, then I went to college to become an English teacher, then God led me to become a pastor. Now I am a bi-vocational pastor, working as an insurance adjuster to pay the bills. Maybe “Food pantry guy” is somewhere down the road soon.
I’m going to reflect a little bit about government and experts and news, three entities which have recently received an inordinate amount of attention from the rest of us earthlings who are not in government, who are not “experts,” and who are not journalists.
On government, my position remains that Romans 13:1-5 still applies to me, an American citizen, even if we live in a supposed “democracy” and we do not live under the narcissistic, authoritarian emperor Nero. “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience.” Governors and mayors and presidents and their respective bureaucrats have been wrong before and they will be wrong again. I am a soldier in the army of the Kingdom of God, and that is where I receive my marching orders. I take the position that it is my responsibility to pray for my government, to try to extend honor, and to pay taxes. Sometimes it’s tough to honor the government, but that doesn’t mean I should throw away the instructions and move towardsdishonor. I just don’t think that is my calling, and I pray I can honor even when they are blatantly wrong.
On “experts,” I’ll pivot briefly to meteorologists. For about twenty years I have been skeptical of meteorologists, especially when big storms may be approaching. In New York, whenever a hurricane is predicted to land in the south and “may” work its way up the East coast, the meteorologists love the limelight and spend minutes on television and radio mapping out the scary models of what could happen. I turn them off. Radio, television, whatever, I figure these meteorologists love that they are finally considered important so they kind of rise to the occasion and their self-importance turns me off. We were in Ohio when Hurricane Irene was slated to hit NYC hard, and those in NYC canceled church much to my chagrin. A few trees fell and church could have easily been held. Oh well. But a year or so later, in 2012, the “experts” rose up and predicted Hurricane Sandy, and it was a devastating hurricane (superstorm) that hit NYC. It didn’t hit their worse-case predictions, but it was still really bad. So there we have it. 20 years of skepticism of meteorologists, and one big Superstorm Sandy that kind of validated their role.
With today’s COVID-19 crisis, I have friends who have doubted the epidemiologists from the beginning and have been largely correct in their skepticism, at least in most of America. The dire predictions of the experts have not played out, at least not yet in most of America. (Side note, if we take the rate of NYC deaths per capita from COVID-19 as of 04/12/2020 and translate that across the country per capita, we'd already be at 270,000 deaths, so they are not as off as people think when you look at our region here in NYC). I’ve only listened to Dr. Fauci maybe 5 minutes total on two separate reports he gave, and I have never listened to Dr. Birx. It sounds like their scary models and possible scenarios are being down-graded weekly. So it seems they have been very wrong, and the skeptics may have been proven right. We are not through the crisis yet, so I’m reserving my analysis until it’s over. I actually hope that the experts are proven wrong. I’m very grateful to God if the numbers of deaths from COVID-19 come in at a much lower rate than was expected. And today, I do not feel any compulsion to reject or defend the “experts”. We need experts. Sometimes they are way wrong, and sometimes they are dead right. I don’t feel the need to find another “expert” to prove the “experts” were wrong, so I don’t share news feeds and citizens reports and “Dr. _______” reports that expose the “experts.” Hey, it is even possible that the experts were in line to be correct, but the prayers of God’s people downgraded the threat and God heard from heaven, forgave sin, and healed the land. I honestly don’t think that scenario is a far out, implausible theory. So there you have it. I am grateful for experts. They DO get it wrong many times. In the case of COVID-19, if the USA is able to get out of this crisis with only 60,000 deaths, I’ll spend more time praising God than petitioning for new “experts” or new government or new ____________.
On news, I don't have much to say. I have a suspicion that whatever was considered my primary sources of trustworthy news BEFORE this crisis probably became even more my primary sources, and I am even more skeptical of the underground alternative news sources than before. And I have a suspicion that many of my friends who only went to alternative news sources and decried the “lame stream media” before have now only had their fears and suspicions confirmed. We have to intentionally engage one another in this time, especially as Christ-followers, or we will miss each other and may end up making the dangerous mistake of calling each other the enemy.
A long monologue, I know. These are some of my thoughts on this. I was going to post this on Facebook and open it up for others to respond. People certainly do not have to agree with me. And you do not have to only present cogent, lucid, logical arguments one way or another. Emotion is fine because emotion affects all of us in this. But it would be helpful if the comments would remain civil. In fact, if you have something to say, I request that civility and love be higher motivators than proving yourself “right” and the other “wrong.” I don't really trust Facebook for civility and love right now, so I'm just putting my thoughts here.
Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Ephesians 5:15-16 (NIV)
My Dad told me Friday that he is beginning a 14 day quarantine. His first cousin was hospitalized with COVID-19 on Thursday and is on a ventilator. Dad worked with a relative who was exposed to the virus, so Dad is taking the responsible step to wait it out at home for fourteen days to see if he escaped transmission. He seems okay with staying at home: “Hey, I have three trees I have to cut down and then cut up which will take me three days, then I have garden plots to repair and other jobs to do at home. I have more to do than I’ll get done in two weeks.” This from a man looking to turn 70 years old next month. It looks like he is making the most of the opportunity to stay at home.
Make the most of every opportunity. Yesterday Sandy and I cried. I texted condolences to two former students, brothers whose Dad just passed away from COVID-19. He had been hospitalized and on a ventilator for about a week, but he died yesterday. We have been good friends with his wife, the mother of my two former students, for twenty-plus years. She has definitely been making the most of her opportunities to pray for her husband every day these past decades. Sadly, she and her sons could not be with her husband as he slipped away from them, and sadly, as far as I know he never professed faith in Jesus Christ. I hope his sons, my former students, make the most of this opportunity to give their hearts fully to Jesus today.
Make the most of every opportunity. This passage is on my mind today. The KJV line is perhaps more familiar to “old” Christians. “Redeeming the time.” Use time well. Buy it back. Don’t waste your life. Take full advantage of what’s before you. Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might. I’ve noticed that a phrase attributed to Rahm Emmanuel “Never let a crisis go to waste” has been said to be traced back to Winston Churchill. Upon further review, I doubt that Churchill said it, but Rahm Emmanuel undoubtedly did say it. Anyone who was decidedly against the politics of President Obama and his then-chief of staff seems to think this is an odious quote to lambast and ridicule. But I say it has huge implications for this season. We are in an existential global crisis that has upended, among other things, our economy, our churches, our government, and our sense of civility. Christ followers have, today, greater opportunities and more open doors to love God and love others than any era in recent memory. Let us not let this crisis go to waste! Let us make the most of every opportunity.
Make the most of every opportunity. In NYC, three young men have traveled in to help distribute lunch boxes to health care workers, and 40 pound boxes of food to churches and persons requesting food assistance. I call them the UFA (Underground Food Agents); they carry a letter with them from “Anabaptist COVID19 Response” that authorizes them to: provide PPE and pre-packaged lunches to health care professionals, provide prepared Hands of Hope food boxes to out-of-work and/or low-income individuals and families, conduct surveys of individuals and facilities involved in the above effort, and coordinate logistics, supplies and transportation to effect the above projects. When these guys leave on April 26, they will self-quarantine at a remote undisclosed location for 14 days. It has been good seeing them serve the NYC community with selfless, compassionate care during this season. If you are interested in donating to the “Anabaptist COVID19 Response” network of Plain Compassion, Kingdom Channels, Blessings of Hope, and other businesses and ministries, the website link is https://www.anabaptistcovidresponse.org/ . There are people making the most of this opportunity! Last night, Sandy took 10 boxes of food to her Muslim friend who asked for 10 boxes. We took a salad out of each box, because the salad had bacon in it. When they opened the boxes in front of their friend, they realized that what they thought were bags of chips were actually pork rinds, so those were taken out as well. We live and learn. I am hoping to get in touch with the Imam at the mosque that’s about seven blocks from our place and see if we can bring them some boxes of food as well.
Make the most of every opportunity. Our friends in Georgia, Gary & Anne Swartzentruber, posted last week that their hospital and surrounding EMS station and nursing homes are facing a crisis of mask shortages. So they were organizing local Georgia neighbors to make masks. They have received masks from Ohio and Pennsylvania and I think from Colorado. This is an example of making the most of every opportunity, and not letting a crisis go to waste.
It doesn’t have to be complicated. Search your heart. Ask God to cleanse you from sin. Confess and renounce sins. If necessary, seek reconciliation with others, and forgiveness from others. We received a private message this week from a friend who is so excited about what God is doing in her daughter, who has pursued reconciliation with a former friend and is moving back towards God. This was exciting news! Take time daily to ask God to show you opportunities to serve. He has been gracious in opening up the windows of heaven with boundless opportunities to love and serve here in NYC. Will you join the Kingdom of God in service to the King wherever you are?
Make the most of every opportunity. This Facebook fast of last week was a good thing. I realized that I was tending towards Phariseeism in the news. I tend to gravitate towards news that gives figures, charts, graphs, doctors reports, and a smattering of main-stream outlets that I more or less believe. Yes, I’ve noticed that the New York Times has sunk to new lows to criticize every response of our current administration. And yes, I’ve seen misinformation from the New York Post. And yes, I’ve hear of that travesty from the one outlet reporting on the NYC crisis that included an “editing error” by adding video from a hospital in Italy. Yes, there is “fake news,” but I tend to more or less discount the shared alternative news with titles like “Deep State Exposed” or “What the Main Stream Media isn’t telling us about COVID-19”. I realized that I have been over-reacting in all of this misinformation and kind of looking down my nose at the conspiracy theorists and alternative news believers. For one thing, I know COVID-19 is real. It is too far-reaching and too global in its effect to be a conspiracy of some evil cabal of sinister maniacs. But I still have a responsibility to extend love and grace to people who think differently than me—especially if they profess to be followers of Jesus.
Sandy’s niece Teresa spoke with a woman outside of Planned Parenthood in NYC in late January and convinced her not to have an abortion that day. Teresa was in and out of touch with L, the woman who was considering saving her baby, and we put L in touch with our friend AnnaMarie Salyer. The communication has been sporadic, but just two days ago Mrs. Salyer got back in contact with L and delivered a box of food to her. She took a picture of this pregnant lady with her food box. It’s one thing for a single woman to decide to keep her baby. It’s another thing entirely if she already has a 12 year old daughter and is supporting her parents as an Uber driver. I was so glad that she at least got a box of food. Now we pray for her spiritual rebirth. So this food distribution reconnected L with our Christians friends, and now our Christian friends want to do a baby shower for the baby that would have been aborted.
Make the most of every opportunity. Christ-followers have joined an upside down Kingdom. Moses was told to put up a bronze serpent so that people could look at it to stop the plague. But they had previously been told not to make a graven image. I don’t get that. Jesus, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but took upon himself the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of man. He humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death on the cross. Such an amazing, upended, God-became-man reality that has changed everything about my life and my future.
This Resurrection Sunday we celebrate the Risen Lord. Let’s make the most of this opportunity. I do mourn the reality that I can’t meet with a gathered assembly to celebrate Resurrection Sunday. I wish I could sing “Lift Your Glad Voices” with other believers. That is a loss. A part of me aches at the loss of gathered fellowship right now. But I thank God that he has me alive for such a time as this! Now, more than ever, the call to love the Lord our God and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves rings out so loud and clear that I cannot escape it. The message reverberates through this season in undulating, persistent, passionate waves.
Make the most of every opportunity.
Christ is Risen!
We sang Darlene Zschech's "The Potter's Hand" as a family and recorded it on a cell phone video, the videographer gliding in and then gliding out. It would be fun to record sometime with real microphones and a mixer. The link is below.
Then he told a parable to a 2020 audience who trusted in themselves as purveyors of truth—those convinced that they were called to expose false reports and share the real truth about this crisis:
“Three men went to church to pray, two of them truth-tellers (Pharisees) and the other an introspective sort (publican).
The first truth-teller stood and prayed thus with himself, “God, I thank you that you have given me better discernment regarding the news and the times than other people—conspiracy theorists, fear-mongers, and talk show crazies. I listen to the government, I do what the experts say, and I don’t call main stream media “lame stream media.” I thank you that, if the virus gets worse or if it goes away, I can still prove that I was right and all other doubters were wrong. Please bless my truth-telling mission, dear Lord, to win my battles for You.”
The second truth-teller stood and prayed thus with himself, “God, I thank you that you have showed me that I can never trust anything from main stream media. All of their content is lies, and anyone who believes the mainstream media, the “experts,” and big government is just wrong. Thank you, God, that you have revealed to me that this crisis is a hoax from the deep state, and thank you that You will show me who the deep state is so that I can expose them. Thank you that, if the virus explodes, I can blame it on the deep state, but if the virus is contained soon, I can prove that all this stay-at-home stuff was bogus. Either way, I win and the other clowns lose. Please bless my truth-telling mission, dear Lord.”
The introspective sort, standing away from the other two, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but closed his eyes and put his hands on his chest, saying, “God, some days I don’t even know what is truth regarding all this news out there. But I need you. I confess I have gotten angry at others, I have been confused sometimes over what is truth, and I have lashed out wrongly. I’m turning back to you, because I know you are truth. Jesus said “You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.” I’m running back to You. Your Kingdom is an unshakeable Kingdom, so I’ll major on the truths of your unshakeable Kingdom. God, be merciful to me, a sinner.”
Today's Perspective, loosely modeled after Luke 18:11-13
Polarization on this matter is real, even in the Christian community. I believe God is calling us to focus on “the knowledge of Him (Jesus) who called us by his own glory and goodness.” His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness! And how so? “Through our knowledge of him who called us by His own glory and goodness!” Let us know, let us listen to know the Lord. Some of the news is fake, at both ends of the spectrum. Even the real stuff is scary and fearful, so we will do ourselves and our family a favor to greatly limit the intake of news during this season. Focus on knowing Jesus.
Sure, I have opinions. We all do. I may be right about some of my opinions, but I may also be wrong about some. I come to this discussion with a particular bias and perspective that colors my viewpoint and has the capacity to fuzz what should be clear.
So I’m heading back to the ultimate message of truth. This is the time before Resurrection Sunday to think about Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. A sacrificial Lamb died for me and for you. And then on the third day Jesus rose from the dead. He is now seated at the right hand of the majesty on High! We are called to be a part of the Kingdom of Heaven, here and now.
Christians, our full focus should be on the Kingdom of God now! If there is any “deep state” we should consider and study, it is this: “Deep calls unto deep at the noise of Your waterfalls; All Your waves and billows have gone over me.” Psalm 42:7.
It’s time to say “Father, forgive us.” We have been focusing on the less-important truths that we will not be able to change anyway. It is time to again repent and believe the good news of Jesus, the everlasting gospel for all people everywhere!
Also he spoke this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others:"Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, 'God, I thank You that I am not like other men--extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.'
And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, 'God, be merciful to me a sinner!'
I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted." (Luke 18:12-14)
Son of the Father, husband to Sandy, father of six amazing gifts, Bronx brother, active participant in Believers in Jesus Church, insurance adjuster, occasional runner