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Back to Douglas Terrace!

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Friday, June 5, we went back to Douglas Terrace Apartments and had an outreach. We had beef hotdogs (so people who don’t eat pork could have them), watermelon, cucumbers (the kids love them), homemade deserts and chips. We had crafts and balls for games and this time we managed to get three bounce houses up and running. We brought the mobile clothes closet and had boxes full of children’s books to give away. Almost nothing came back to the church. Best of all, there was lots of time to sit and talk with kids and adults.

This visit celebrated five years nearly to the day since our first trip to Douglas Terrace, and that trip began a relationship with the people of the complex that essentially changed who we are as Zion Church. Let me share with you how we have been changed.

It all begin with a parable of Jesus in Luke 14 called “The Parable of the Great Banquet.” The parable was told to illustrate a point Jesus had just made while sitting at a banquet. He said, “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers, your relatives, or your rich neighbors, if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

What changed for us begins with our motivation. In the past we had done events in order to attract people to the church. In other words, we did what we did so that they would come to the church, like us, and agree to join us so that we would have more people and resources to do more events and attract more people so that we could grow even larger. The difficulty with our thinking about this was that everything we did was then predicated on how many people would join us. In the end we have come to realize that for us this was a self serving philosophy that benefited us and not necessarily the world we were trying to reach or the people we hoped to attract. We see now that what we did we did so that people might “pay us back” by making Zion larger. I suppose you could say that we did loving things in the hopes that people would love us back. But that isn’t what Jesus is asking us to do.

Instead, we have come to understand that Jesus is asking us to go and bless people for his sake and for the sake of loving people never even considering whether they will love us back. So each time we go out to bless people we do so simply to be a blessing and not with any thought of making Zion bigger or better. Our motivation has changed from wanting people to bless us back to simply wanting to bless Jesus, our Master, by blessing those most in need and least likely to be able to repay in any way.

This change in our motivation absolutely squares with another teaching of Jesus where he says, “If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?” Jesus commands us to especially love those who are different from us. I think he does this because it is in his nature to reconcile the things that divide us as people in order that he might make us one new people united in him.

So, five years into this new motivation, we have seen Jesus time and again put us into relationships with people who are different than ourselves. Over these five years, beginning with that first outreach, we have become one church that worships in four languages and prays in more than a dozen. This isn’t without it’s challenges. In fact, it’s very hard to keep on reconciling all the people groups and maintaining unity in Christ. But we understand that this is why Jesus created the church: to be a place where differences are reconciled through the cross and we emerge a new people able to serve him.

What’s new at Zion as a result of that first outreach? Clothes closet, furniture to give away, meals for hundreds, field trips for schools, vans, buses, programs, ESL, summer Bible camps for lots and lots of kids, essential changes in every aspect of everything we do and why.

I simply lack the words to explain the extent of the changes that the first trip to Douglas Terrace brought about. But that change in motivation has created a place where there are daily miracles. In fact, I would posit that another change we’ve experienced is that we are now a church that expects the miraculous. We expect God to show up and do wonders. We expect him to provide. And we expect him to call us to do what we thought was impossible before.

Is there a cost to this kind of change? Of course. It’s high. But it’s totally worth it. It means living a messy life, the life of following Jesus which leads you into the lives of other people. It’s living as a missionary every day. It’s messy and complicated but also glorious and marvelous. And we can’t wait to see what’s next. Will you join us in praying for the next thing God is calling us to do? Thanks for reading. PJ



Jesus, Beds and Serving Our Neighbors

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Two thousand years ago Jesus and his parents had no place to sleep. There was no bed for them.

Two thousand years later, the number one request we get for help at Zion is for beds. People arriving in our city may have a roof to sleep under but they don’t have a bed to sleep on. There are entire apartment complexes we visit where almost every apartment has no beds.

We believe we’re called to change that. If Jesus disguises himself as the very least of these, perhaps we can at least serve him by giving him a bed to sleep on. So Zion has partnered with Midwest Sleep in order to provide beds for people in need in our community. Thanks to a generous donation, we’re able to provide 60 single beds to people who don’t have any. Thanks to Midwest Sleep we are able to purchase the beds at cost. We’ve been taking names for weeks and done our best to verify the need. Verification has been easy as we know many of these families already and can attest to their need.

Here’s the plan:

  • the beds will be delivered to the Johnston Public Schools dock the week of December 15. (Thank you, Johnston Schools for the use of your dock!)
  • From the dock we’ll move the beds to Zion and store them in the cafeteria sometime after the STARS Christmas party on December 17.
  • Then, on December 21, we’ll dismiss early from our worship services and ask the congregation to help us pray for, load, and deliver the beds and also about 150 Christmas food baskets to people in our community.
  • In addition, many of the beds and box springs will be wrapped in bed bug protective wraps in order to extend their usefulness and provide safe and comfortable rest for many years to come.

Everyone is welcome to come and join us on Sunday, December 21, for the big bed lift. In addition, if you’re in need of a bed, please contact Zion’s Parish Nurse, Sherilyn Rittgers at 515.270.8142.

It’s the season of Advent when we focus on getting ready for the coming of King Jesus. What better way for him to find us than doing good for those he came to save.

Clerical Collar: Zion and the FBI

Clerical Collar:  Zion and the FBI


I’ve started a list of things that I never thought I’d see or do as a pastor.  Having the FBI come and visit is definitely on the list.   


Last week I was working in my office and a young man came and stood in the door and asked to see Pastor Kline.  Since most of my flock call me Pastor John, I figured he was a salesman.  (Believe it or not, pastors get a lot of sales calls.  It drives us crazy and it’s so disruptive).  He asked if he could see me and I was a bit short with him, telling him I only had a few minutes.  He introduced himself and gave me his card.  He’s from the FBI.  


I offered him coffee.  


He asked me if I’d spit in it.  


I kid you not.  


That struck me as odd.  Obviously he was joking.  But only sort of.   As he talked about why he was here, his initial defensiveness became understandable.  He was here because as he reached out to people who work with immigrants and refugees, Zion kept coming up.  Everywhere.  So he wanted to offer the FBI’s help with any civil right’s issues we might encounter.  Then I understood why he was defensive.  There’s a lot of tension around immigration issues in our country.  I think he thought that our level of involvement with immigrants might mean that we were radicalized politically.   Such a place would not be pleased to have the Feds around.     I explained we were just serving Jesus, our Master, who was a refugee himself.  


Then he asked what we did to help refugees.  I told him.  He asked to come back with his boss.  I assured him that the FBI was welcome.  


This week the man returned with his boss.  I was struck again by what I felt was a defensiveness from my guests.  Turns out, a lot of people, apparently, refer to these civil servants as “Jack Booted Thugs.”   I asked if the FBI would come and speak to the various immigrant communities we work with at Zion.  Yes, they would.  But...  We had to be polite.  They were pretty clear that while the FBI respected everybody, they also expected to be respected.  Oh.  Well, of course.  We’re a church.  We love everybody.  I guess that some of these meetings get out of hand.  Sad.  


So, we’re setting up an opportunity for the FBI to meet the community.  They will talk about civil rights, hate crimes and terrorism.  Sounds like a fine agenda.  So far, the community is responding very positively.  


What I’m hoping for is that God will use this coming together to build our community stronger and healthier.  It’s my prayer that this meeting will lead to peace and love and joy further breaking out in our city.  The various communities will hear how the FBI is here to serve them and the FBI will hear the fears and concerns and questions of the community.  And I’ll be in the back row, praying.  Praying that our city will be a bright light, a shining city on a hill.  I’d ask you to join me in this prayer.


The words of an Iraqi diplomat who visited our church last month still ring in my ears.  “If a church had reached out to our community in Detroit like yours has here, things would be so much better for us than they are today.”  


We’re called to be salt and light.  We’re called to be reconcilers.  Pray we stay the course and this newest opportunity to serve brings glory to God and peace to our city.  Thanks for reading.  God bless.  PJ 


Trying to keep up with a move of God

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Wednesday Night Tutoring Program Gets a New Name, New Structure

Every Wednesday night we're pleased to welcome to Zion nearly 200 children who are either refugees or the children of refugees.  Many are reading at grade level and speak English well and they are incorporating themselves into WOW, our “regular” Wednesday night program for kids, or the junior high or high school groups.  For the others, we try to work on homework or English reading.  This is our third year.  We've been blessed with tremendous growth, we started 3 years ago with 4 kids, and that fast growth has always been an organizational challenge.  Over the summer a group of committed people met to revamp the program.  Out of those meetings, which continue even now, came the new name.   We continue to try and "organize" in a human way what the Holy Spirit is doing.  

Instead of calling the tutoring program, Whiz Kidz, the new name is STARs.   Whiz Kidz came out of our beginnings as the first church based manifestation of the tutoring and discipling program of Freedom for Youth. We’ve never been able to keep up with the student/tutor ratio of that very good program, so we’ve decided that we have to go our own way.

STAR is an acronym which stands for the four purposes of the program:  

S - Serve.   We serve these children as if we are serving Christ himself.  Jesus wanted us to welcome the little children and in his name we do.  Many have needs for the basics of life and we try to meet those needs: food, clothing, shoes, coats, etc.  Many simply need a friend or role model and we try to be that as well.  

T - Teach.  Thanks to an influx of tutors from many different churches and a great number of Des Moines Christian High School students, we are now able to offer better opportunities to do homework with the kids and help them read.  Our content continues to be in the hands of a professional educator and we work closely with Samuelson School to discuss needs and techniques as many of the kids are in the ELL program there.  

A - Advocate.  Many of the parents of these kids don't know how things work in our country.  So we advocate for the kids in order that they might have the best opportunity to acclimate to our society and thrive in this good land.

R - Reach.  Everything we do is motivated by the love of Christ for us that pushes us beyond ourselves and into the lives of others.  We desire more than anything else to see these kids in the kingdom of God and so through song and drama and teaching, we seek to invite them to follow Jesus.  Our evangelism techniques are sometimes subtle and sometimes very overt. We try to match the approach to the activity and to the kids. Some are Muslim and some are Buddhist and some are Animist and some attend other churches and some now attend Zion and many have no faith background whatever.  It is a mission field ripe for harvest.  

Here is what a typical evening looks like: Vans leave to begin collecting kids at 4 p.m.  We have 2 full vans from an apartment complex about 20 minutes away.  By 5 p.m we are collecting kids from local complexes.  The kids play outside or, when it's cold or inclement, watch a movie inside.  At 5:45 everyone lines up for dinner.  At 6:20 we go to the sanctuary for our opening worship as a church together.  Afterwards, WOW kids go off to their activities and STAR kids stay for a presentation.  Then it's time to break into small groups and begin the learning phase.  We usually finish about 7:45 and start the buses running back home.  The last vans are back at Zion about 9 p.m. It is a day full of joy for those of us who volunteer.  

Would you like to help?   We can always use help as the number of kids continues to grow.  Would you like to work as a homework or reading helper?  A group leader of six or seven kids?  A van driver? (We especially need help in the late afternoon, 4-5:30 p.m.).  We need your help in the kitchen - there are many mouths to feed and many plates to wash.  We need your financial support as well.  It costs money to pay for the gas for the vans, for the food bill (about $1 per plate - amazing!)  We also need your prayers.  Please pray for the continued safety, success and salvation of these priceless children and that they may see Jesus in us.  Thanks for reading. God bless you. PJ

3 More New Things Happening At Zion

3 More New Things at Zion


1.)  A Movement to Work Together as Churches for the Sake of the Kingdom

In June, thanks to our reputation in the community as a church that is doing something incredibly positive, I was invited to share our testimony at the United Way Urban Core initiative (see my blog from June 2). 

 Now let me tell you what happened next.   Borrowing liberally from my friend, Pastor Al Perez’s comments:  As a follow up to that meeting, last month 16 pastors and Christian ministry leaders from diverse backgrounds and denominations met at Zion and had an open dialogue on how the church in Des Moines should move forward. This meeting was to bring together the best diverse group possible so that we could pinpoint our identity, our objectives, and how often it should meet. Needless to say, it was awesome! The bonding and relationships that were fostered left many of us excited and very confident of how we should move ahead.  We learned about some history in Des Moines that allowed us to understand why we have the division we have in our city. Soon, there will be opportunities opening up to hear from many different churches and ministries about what we will do together and how we can support mission and ministry together in our city.  This was the meeting that we wanted to have from the beginning but had no definitive direction or purpose for meeting. I am thrilled at what the Lord is doing with Pastors and Christian leaders. Please be praying also that the evil one will not thwart our plans.


Our third meeting was just a couple weeks ago and we met together with members of the former Black Ministers Alliance, now the Pastors/Ministers Alliance and other Black pastors.  There was a lot of truth telling and reconciliation began to break out.  I think we’re all conscious of the fact that before we can do ministry together as His One Church in the city of Des Moines, all of our pastors and churches need to publicly confess our sins and repent in a very public way together for a not so glorious past.    


I am personally excited and optimistic that with the leadership of Pastor Perez and others we will see a new attitude amongst the churches of Des Moines. 



2.)  Working with Johnston and Des Moines Schools to Create a Neighborhood Education Plan

When we began getting involved in our neighborhood intentionally about two years ago with the battle cry, Jesus Says, “Go!”, we created a list of 25 possible projects to work on that would immediately impact our community in a positive way.  One of those was “Create neighborhood education strategy.”  That sounds very impressive and it was one of those items that people had a hard time wrapping their minds around.  Why would a church seek to create an education strategy for the local school?  For the simple reason that we have so many immigrants in our local schools that the ability of those schools to provide English Language Learner (ELL) services is over taxed.  We haven’t enough money as a church to pay for more ELL teachers, but we thought we could seek to find ways to move some of the new students to other school districts.  It’s a long shot, to be sure, but we’ve met all the major players we need to make it happen and so far no one has said no.  Our current plan involves enrolling at least 10 ELL students in the preschool at Zion, called WEE.  Since Zion is in a unique position, being in the city of Des Moines but actually in the Johnston School District, we thought that if Johnston would agree to take those 10 kids after preschool at Zion into Kindergarten at Johnston, that would be a victory.  The big challenge is for the Des Moines schools to let go of those ELL students and the federal money tied to them.  So I ask for your prayers.  If it’s successful on a small scale, perhaps it could serve as a pilot program involving more suburban districts and perhaps even as a model for other districts.  We believe the most important thing is the education of the children rather than the money.  Please pray that everyone might have that same goal.  


3.)  Refugee Roundtable

Being a follower of Jesus is more than sharing the Gospel and welcoming people into the new community which is the church.  It’s also about helping them to meet their physical needs.  


At Zion, we subscribe to the philosophy that it is better to teach a man to fish than to give him a fish.  At least in the long term.  We believe that we need to honor the dignity of every family by helping them provide for themselves.  Many of our new immigrant families need jobs.   So we convened the first meeting of what, for now, we’re calling the Refugee Roundtable.  It is an idea we had two years ago and we’ve been joined in bringing it into reality by Nick Wuertz at Lutheran Services of Iowa who chairs the meetings.  


People new to this country need a lot of things but the most important thing they need is a job (a way to fish).  The idea is simple: let’s get those who serve refugees like the settlement agencies and those who support the new arrivals, including churches, together with employers and representatives of the immigrant community. 


The first meeting was a great success.  We’re now working on our second meeting which will take place at Zion before the month is over.  I’m looking for great things to come from these meetings.  Employers in Iowa are looking to hire, the new immigrants represent a large labor force looking for work, if we can find out how to teach the necessary skills to fill the jobs and figure out how to bridge the gaps, like transportation or translation, we’ll be able to work together to provide for the welfare of many, many families.  


I’m so optimistic about this Round Table.  I’m amazed at the quality of the people who are giving their professional lives to serve others.  I’m confident that God will use this group for His glory and for the benefit of all. 

Thanks for reading.  God bless you.  The Lord continues to amaze and impress.  PJ 

Ramblings about God, the Church and Everything.

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  • with relevant, Bible based teaching,
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  • of prayer,
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  • where the love of our Lord is evident in the way we live and minister together. 

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