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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 

Why the Lead Pastor Is Not at the 10:30 Service for Much of the Summer

Wednesday nights during the school year, we have a joyous time offering Jesus and English language tutoring to a bunch of refugee kids and other kids who were born here.  Some of our most challenging kids are from the Karenni people group.  There are a bunch of them.  They are overwhelmingly boys, through and through.  They like to be up front during the worship time.  They jump up and down to the music and then summersault off the stage.  They like to climb the walls behind the stage.  They frequently drive the volunteers and other dinner guests we might have at church to distraction.  Which isn’t surprising.  Most of them have no contact with our society outside of school and Wednesday night church.  


But they have come so far.  The teachers at the local elementary tell me that many of them have started to pray before they eat their lunch.  And, in His Infinite Wisdom and Mercy, the Almighty has laid these kids on my heart.  They need Jesus.  They need discipline.  They need someone to care about them.


Wednesday nights are over for the summer.  So is Sunday School.  The Wednesday and Sunday volunteers have done an amazing job soldiering on with ever increasing numbers of kids.  I am very, very grateful.  But what will happen to these Karenni kids over the summer.  Sure we have a few outreaches.  Sure we have Bible School and Art Camp.  But I can’t help feeling we’ll lose some of the amazing growth we’ve seen if we don’t keep at it. 


A few weeks ago at church I shared my concerns with a dear lady.  She told me that God undoubtedly wanted us to continue.  But how?, I asked.  After all, our volunteers have done a heroic job and need a rest and frankly, we can’t field a relief team right now.  There just aren’t enough of us.  She was quite sure we had to keep at it.  


Keep in mind, please, that the Karenni kids are more than likely to be recipients of our Back Pack Buddies program where we supply food for the weekend to kids identified by the school as being in need over the weekend.   They need food, too.  


So three weekends ago, a solution presented itself.   We were having a joint worship service at the 10:30 service with Pastor Gakunzi’s church and a big lunch afterwards.  Why not invite the Karenni kids?  No one I talked to about this really thought they’d show up.  But they did.  About 10 boys.  I put them in the front row at the 10:30 service.  They joined the kids on the stage for worship in English and when the Swahili songs started they still danced.  Then the preaching started and my wife, seated at the other end of the row, turned deathly pale.  She knew what could happen next.  Kids swinging from the chandeliers.  Kids summersaulting off the stage.  Kids climbing over the back of the pews.  Yet more people getting fed up with ill behaved kids.  I found one other person willing to help.   The preaching was in Swahili and translated.  We all thought I’d have to take the kids out.  But I didn’t.  God showed up.  (In church, imagine that!).  The kids watched the preacher.  After a while they started to imitate (but not in a mean way) his hand gestures.  It was as if they’d never realized that the hands could be used in talking.  The little boy next to me picked up my hands and started to form them in similar gestures to Pastor Gakunzi’s.  It worked.  We all made it to lunch and everyone ate as much as they could and ran off to play on the playground.  God is good.  All the time.  


So the next week we invited them back.  There was a guest preacher from South Sudan.  He didn’t mind if I missed the 10:30 service so I could talk about Jesus with a bunch of kids.  After all, his job is planting new churches.  Miraculously, previously that week, during a board meeting, I discovered seven minute Bible studies online in the Kayah language.  We sent the van.  It came back with five kids and five adults for Sunday School.  We stayed with the big group until the offering and then left when the Arabic Alpha folks leave for their Arabic teaching.  We went to the cafeteria and watched a Bible Study in the Kayah Li language on the big screen.  Then we talked about it.  The adults asked for ESL classes.  The kids heard about Adam and Eve and sin.  One young boy, Tawh Rey, said, “Pastor John, Everything was good.  Adam and Eve ate the apple and everything changed.  It became bad.  Can it ever be good again?”  Oh.  Let me tell you the Gospel.  Thank you, Jesus.  And they listened.  


Last week they came back.  Ten kids and 3 adults and one helper from the 1:00 Mizo service.  Pastor Tina is preaching for the next three weeks so I’m free at 10:30.  Let me tell you about that helper, Zuali, a young lady in High School, and my helper in this Sunday School venture.  She is so good with the kids.  


I am so pleased to tell you that we have ESL classes for the adults.  The teacher would even like to go every day with the adults during the summer.  The ten kids watched another lesson and then we did the salvation message with them.  I know that later this summer there will be some baptisms.  I’m so pleased, so amazed, so thankful.  Thank you, Jesus.  Thank you, Zuali.  Thank you, Zion.  Thank you, for your patience.  Thank you for letting your pastor do missionary work over the summer.  Thanks for reading.  God bless you.  PJ  


For more about the Karenni people, please see:  http://www.karennirefugees.com/



P.S.  Would you like to help?  I’m taking volunteers!  

A Big Gift

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This week Zion received a major gift of $10,300 from a local philanthropic group called 100+ Men on a Mission.  


100+ Men on a Mission, as it’s name implies, is a group of 100+ men in our community who meet quarterly.  Each man pledges $100 each quarter to a charity that the majority of men vote to support.   The names of three charities are drawn from a hat at each meeting.  Those three charities are permitted to make their case.  Then the men vote.  The winner receives $100 from each man.  It’s a great concept and you can read more about it on their website:  www.100menonamission.com


Matt Lenaghan, one of the guys in our church, spoke eloquently on our behalf at the 100+ meeting.  We’re thankful to 100+ Men, to Matt, and to God for his provision in this unique way.


Zion received the funds this week during an ice cream social at Douglas Terrace Apartments.  Douglas Terrace was a good location for the event because that’s where Zion’s latest outreach efforts to our community started two years ago this month.  It was a moving experience to be with the kids we met back in those early days and with the new kids who have moved in recently.  We took the opportunity to register kids for Bible School and Art Camp this summer.

 You can see the flier we prepared for this event here.

So how will the money be used?  It is our intention to use part of the gift as a challenge grant for another van.  We intend to challenge the congregation this summer to raise $5,000 which will all be used to purchase a badly needed second van.  The response to our outreach efforts continues to be amazing.  But we need more transportation capacity to get people to Zion.  This spring we started renting a second van and it’s expensive.  Even with two vans it takes 2 hours to get everyone to church on Wednesday nights.  Sunday mornings we’re running our van twice, having a second van will certainly make things easier.  


Some of the money will be used to purchase some supplies and furniture that are needed for our Wednesday night tutoring program.  


Some of the money will be used to purchase some beds for needy people in our community.  It seems that not a day goes by without at least one request from Zion for a bed.  Hopefully we can meet our current need for beds (about 12) and have a few extra for the coming months.  We’ve been so blessed to receive so many gently used beds from people.  Right now, the demand is far exceeding our supply so it will be a wonderful gift to be able to get caught up.  


Some of the money will be used to prepare for fall when we resume Wednesday night community meals and the Back Pack Buddies program that supplies kids identified by the local school with meals on the weekends.  


We are very thankful and very blessed.  One of the best blessings is the joy that comes when someone from the outside sees what you’re doing as important; important enough to give $10,000 toward.  That’s been a big boost at the end of the school year to us and motivates us to prepare with diligence for the fall.


And our outreaches continue this summer.  Remember the almost weekly activities for kids as well as Bible School and Art Camp and our two scheduled outreaches to Douglas Terrace on July 1 and August 26.  


Please keep Zion in your prayers.  Thanks for reading.  God bless you.  PJ

And Now For Some Good News...

And Now For Some Good News...


This past Thursday afternoon I was privileged to be invited to come to the United Way offices in Des Moines for an extraordinary meeting.  Pastor Al Perez and a group working with former Des Moines mayor Tom Urban assembled a group of pastors, ministry leaders and representatives of various community non-profits to talk about the challenges facing our city as we seek to minister to those who live in our city’s urban core.  The urban core, our city’s inner core, is really a crossroads where you can literally meet people from every tongue, tribe and nation.  


Tom Urban shared about how that core is composed of the following demographics:


25%  Hispanic

25% African American

x% African  (No one is really sure yet what the percentage of those coming directly from Africa will be but all agree they are a different demographic from African Americans).  

11% Asian

30 % Anglo 


Mr. Urban continued his presentation by saying that because of years of study and research, we already know how to do everything that needs to be done, and, that there are no more new problems in the urban core.  They’ve all been identified.  We’ve studied them, analyzed them, even come up with solutions for most of them.  


So why do we still see people in such dramatic need in the urban core of our city?  Why haven’t the solutions been put into place to solve all the problems we’ve identified over the last four decades? 


His honor concludes that the problems haven’t yet been solved because of limited funds.  There just isn’t enough money in the world to solve all the issues that need to be solved.  He believes that we must achieve both scalability and persistency in our efforts.  I’m not sure what scalability and persistency are but I believe him.  New efforts to solve problems are launched but only have funding for a few years.  Then they fold and we’re back to square one.  


I’ll stop here and interject my own comments.  Mr. Urban has devoted much of his life to solving problems in the city of Des Moines.  We all owe him a debt of gratitude because of those of us who approach these issues today stand on his, and others, shoulders.   He comes from a solid Quaker upbringing and loves people very, very much.  But I think our problem is bigger than money.  I think every pastor at the meeting would say that ultimately the urban core is dysfunctional because of human sin and the very real fact that we live in a fallen creation.  In that way, the problem is bigger than the urban core itself.  It extends to the suburbs and even to the countryside.  It’s everywhere. 


I’m sure it’s a controversial opinion to hold, but I’d say that the failure of non-profit groups like the United Way is that they simply can’t call the problem what it is:  sin.  But we’re preachers, calling out sin is our stock and trade.  Now I completely understand why they can’t call sin, sin.  It’s for purposes of funding and to a create a broader unity in finding solutions.  They believe they must embrace a more secular approach in which Jesus is seen as someone who divides instead of unites.  The irony is that if the problem is sin, Jesus is the only solution.  He’s the only one who takes away the sin of the world.  He’s the only one who can make all things new.  


During our meeting there was a real demonstration of this which proves my point entirely.  Tom Urban shared with us that if a third grade student can’t read at grade level, there is an extremely high probability that they will go to prison.  In fact, the State of Texas plans it’s future prison cell needs based upon third grade reading statistics.  I guess they plan on building a future cell for every kid who can’t read.  One pastor was sharing how he and his church were working to address this problem with a new curriculum to teach students to read at grade level.  Another pastor got up and said, basically, “You forgot one thing - God.”  And then that pastor went on to share how he and his family have taken in 19 young men who were bound (according to the statistics) to prison and how these young men are on target to graduate from either high school or college.   This pastor reminded all of us that God is the one who transforms the sinner to a saint, through the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  And that Jesus still changes the lives of even hardened criminals and young people on the wrong track.  Even atheists come to know Jesus and are changed.  


So, I guess you could say that the result of the meeting will be an attempt by a whole bunch of pastors and churches and ministries to work together with more secular non-profits in order to teach kids to read, meet the needs of our community, and by so doing, show our city Jesus so that he might transform all of us.   


Pastor Perez says we’ll have some more meetings shortly in smaller groups so we can identify what needs to be done in our area and figure out how to do it.  And, for the more cynical among my readers:  don’t worry.  There isn’t any money in this.  


I have to tell you that I’m really, really excited about this.  One of the things we’ve been dreaming about at Zion is how people could come together from every center of influence in our community and work together to solve our city’s problems.  Here it comes.  Watch out, Devil, here we come.  We’re coming together across racial lines, denominational lines, cultural lines, and we’ve even got those who aren’t supposed to say the name of Jesus on board.  We are united.  We have a common goal.  This is what Paul talked about in Ephesians.  This is uniting all things in Christ to put all things under his feet.  


Here are a few random observations from the two hour meeting:

  • I was overjoyed to see so many of my friends were also invited to be there.  These are amazing men and women of God who have such a fire in the belly to make disciples and bring about the redemption of the world through the work of Christ.  It’s always amazing to me who God brings into my life and the significant role they play not only in developing me and my faith, but the faith of others as well.  
  • One of the things that was universally recognized by the group of at least 75 was that in the past there has been such a veil of darkness over our city.  I was amazed to hear even more stories about how Des Moines has been known as “The Pastor’s Graveyard.”  People come here with great passion for the kingdom and for some reason, most seem to fail.  There has been such a spirit of divisiveness in our city, a spirit of competition and territorialism between churches and groups and even within churches.  (I follow Paul, I follow Apollos...).  
  • I was so blessed to hear from so many wonderful ministries in our city truly doing the Lord’s work with very few resources:  Asian Open Bible Church, Trinity/Las Americas (where Zion serves supper 3 times a year); the ministry of Pastor Andre Brooks, just to name a few.  
  • Tom Urban urged us to overcome our biases in order that we might work together.  Amen.  For the greater glory of God and for the redemption of all things.  


One of the reasons I was asked to be there was because of the work Zion Church is already doing.  With several other ministries, I was asked to share the story of what God is doing in us and through us in Lower Beaver.  Al Perez held up Zion as an example for others.  He introduced me by saying that when you walk into our lobby, the first thing you see is mattresses and furniture, ready for giving away to those in need. He said that’s one way you know that Zion is really serious about serving people.  As pastor, I’m really, really honored that our ministry together might be seen as being where it needs to be: on the front lines of what God is doing in our city.  To God be all the glory, forever and ever.  Amen.  Thanks for reading.  God bless you.  PJ  

A Plan to Meet Some of Our Neighborhood's Needs

This blog might not make sense until you read my previous blog which tells the story of Zion Church.

Our desire all along has been to do something beautiful for Jesus.  To serve him.  When we serve others we are motivated by our great love for Jesus.  Mother Theresa but it this way,  “Many people mistake our work for our vocation. Our vocation is the love of God.”
  We do what we do because we love Jesus. 

Here is a draft of things we've been doing/thinking about that involves a great deal of collaboration with various groups, institutions and individuals in our community.

Let’s Do Something Beautiful for Jesus

What follows is a very rough draft of where I think Zion could lead our neighborhood.  It is simply the result of prayer and watching where God has led us this far. 

Vision:  That Zion lead the way in our community to God’s brighter future.  This is accomplished by getting to know our neighborhood, analyzing it’s needs, and finding innovative and faithful ways of meeting them. 

Who is our community?:  Our community is roughly defined as the Lower Beaver, Beaver and Meredith Drive neighborhoods.  Our immediate activities focus primarily on the Lower Beaver neighborhood with the intention of expanding our ministry work from neighborhood to neighborhood throughout the city as God leads.

Goal:  That Zion Lutheran Church will fully engage with it’s community as a force for God’s redemption through Jesus Christ. 

Imagine living in a community where the church led the way in truly knowing and loving our neighbor.  Imagine living in a neighborhood, for instance, where every child was intentionally offered pre-college career counseling; college admissions counseling and help finding a job while a student.  Imagine a neighborhood where there were people who wanted to coach you on how to handle your money, buy a house or a car,  or even learn how to cook economically and nutritionally.  Imagine a community where the major businesses and institutions regularly sat down to consider neighborhood issues and how to help solve local problems.  Imagine a community where every child was offered a chance to attend camp and where each child was individually known and valued and their future was the top priority of the whole neighborhood.  Imagine a community where there was help for those who couldn’t afford their medications and there was emergency help available to solve the kinds of problems that systematic programs cannot address.  Imagine a community that united around the concept of education and found ways to provide quality education for all it’s children and supported it’s teachers and made itself available to ensure the best present and future possible for it’s children.  Such a community would be a community that had been redeemed, a community where all things were possible, a community that could help other communities unite to bring redemption and hope in other parts of town.  This doesn’t have to be a dream.  We believe that such things are possible if the church leads the way.

Why is the church uniquely suited to accomplish this task?  Because of Jesus.  Jesus, the founder and Lord of the church showed us that all people are our neighbors.  He encouraged us to deny ourselves, pick up our cross and follow him into a life of sacrifice and service.  Jesus desires the daily death of the church to itself as it pours his life into the world around it.  The church, when it is truly the church, is the last altruistic establishment in our society.  The church is capable, when it is truly the church, of uniting disparate groups within our neighborhood to work for good.  Finally, the church is the only institution in the world that was founded to sacrifice itself for the good of others.    It’s founder set the mark very high.  To bring redemption, the church is willing to lay down it’s life and die.

One big value we have is to open as many opportunities as possible for other churches and organizations to partner with us.  We realize that we can’t do this alone.  We realize that this is a miraculous opportunity for the church in Des Moines to truly be One. 

Those who have agreed to be in partnership with us in our community so far:  Freedom for Youth, Merle Hay Mall, VA hospital, Broadlawns, various local ethnic restaurants, Wunder Years Academy, Meredith Drive Reformed Church, Lutheran Services of Iowa, International House of Prayer - Iowa, Samuelson Elementary,

Change is coming to the Lower Beaver Neighborhood.  The neighborhood is composed of single family and multi-family dwellings built after the second world war.  The neighborhood is a great place for a starter or first time home.  Prices are reasonable and quality is good.  Local apartment complexes have also found recent immigrants to America who are being resettled here through federal partnerships, to be excellent renters.  As the immigrants establish themselves, they are purchasing homes in the neighborhood.  With the addition of the Thai Village Complex on MLK, which anchors the eastern part of the neighborhood, immigrants are likely to continue to move into the neighborhood.  Immigrants have different needs than other minority groups.  These needs are tantamount in our consideration as our plans continue. 

Below are a series of projects that we believe would help in the redemption of our neighborhood.  Some are in progress and could expand,  Some are yet to be started.  A list of needed resources is also provided for each project.  The projects are divided by category: Children, Family and Community.  Projects which have already been started are listed first under each category.  The rest of the projects are listed in priority order. Sponsorship or availability of resources can and will affect the priority of projects.


School transportation for ELL students living 1.7 miles from the school.  Because of a very busy street and the distance from school (especially in the winter), Zion is currently providing transportation for 14 students each school day.  The current students have been selected by the school.  Different groups, living in the same apartment complexes as the students, are now petitioning the church through Lutheran Services of Iowa to increase our activity to include their children as well.  There is definitely an identified need here for expansion.   Needed resources:  Another van or larger bus.  Drivers. Gas.  Maintenance of vehicle. Vehicle insurance. 

Whiz Kidz Tutoring Program (in affiliation with Freedom for Youth).  Currently, as many as 55 kids participate on Wednesday nights (Sept - May).  With 15 tutors, we are hard pressed to provide one-one tutoring but consider the fact that the kids keep coming (and bringing friends) to be justification to continue.  The environment is safe and the atmosphere fun.  Dinner is also provided.  Needed resources:  educational supplies, furniture, tutors, transportation, drivers. 

Art Camp:  Creativity is an important aspect of human life and as we seek to provide opportunities for kids in our neighborhood we don’t want to forget to foster their creative and innovative spirit.  Beginning in July, 2011, Zion will host a week long summer art camp for kids 3rd - 6th grade.  The week long camp, which begins with a meal, will expose the kids to various artistic media and allow them to express themselves in a productive way.  Needs:  about $25 per child; supplies.

Vacation Bible School:  Looks like we’ll be having a lot more kids this year from the neighborhood.  Having successfully brought them to church for Wednesday nights, we’re confident they’ll come in the summer for things like VBS. 

Partnership with Samuelson Elementary:  Samuelson probably already has a corporate partner and we don’t know who that is yet or what they do.  But our brothers and sisters at Meredith Drive have been doing such a good job at Moulton Elementary, having monthly birthday events for the kids, writing encouraging words to the teachers, and trying to supply needs in the classroom, that we thought we ought to at least try something like this for Samuelson. 

After School program:  In the next 18 months, we hope to develop an after school program for the neighborhood that would provide education, food, Jesus, and a safe environment for all. 

Comprehensive Neighborhood Education Strategy:   Everyone agrees that our local teachers are doing a wonderful job working with the ELL students.  There is a volume problem, however.  The school’s resources are overwhelmed and in a season of cutbacks, it’s probably naive to look for help from the district.  But perhaps we could work with other districts and even parochial schools to spread the joy and intentionally open enroll some of the children into other schools with more current capacity. 

Soccer team:  The local apartment complexes are full of young kids with nothing to do.  In order to provide structure and discipline, we propose starting a soccer team.  The kids would help to raise some of their own support and the church would help with the rest.   Soccer is universally played by the kids and this would serve as a way of bringing them together in a positive activity.  We would either join a league or find a way to enter into competition with other clubs.  Needs: Uniforms, equipment, any fees associated with being part of a league; travel expenses?

Music Camp.  We propose sponsoring a music camp in the summer.  There are many musicians in the church happy to teach and these musicians have friends in the community who could help.  The camp could run for a week or be a weekly activity, depending upon the response from musicians.  We would seek to find instruments for the kids to play.  A small guitar, for instance, runs about $100.  We could borrow rhythm instruments from local schools.  A few more electronic keyboards and maybe another drum set would help as well.  The next challenge would be how to find instruments the kids could afford if they proved to have a desire to continue with their musical studies.  The music camp experience would conclude with community concert.

Camperships:  This year, our dream is to send about 28 kids to Riverside Camp.  We think the camping experience will be formative in the lives of our neighborhood kids.  We’d like to be able to offer scholarships to every child in the neighborhood and church.  We’ve found an amazing partner in Riverside Camp who will work with us to accommodate our children.  We believe it would be best for the children to earn some of the money themselves through fund raisers or through doing various jobs at church or in the neighborhood.  Needs:  money for scholarships.  A selection process.  Someone to oversee the project, especially helping the kids to raise their part of the expense.

Career and education counseling:   There are so many opportunities open to kids you wonder how come any of them would fail to take advantage.  But while there are many opportunities, there are very few people in the lives of the kids telling them what they’re good at.  Kids are attracted to the things that high salaries can buy, but may not have the right set of aptitudes to succeed in a particular field.  However, they may have amazing aptitudes in another field.  The idea for this project is to offer counseling by professionals to help the kids determine where they are gifted and in what kinds of things they are interested in or even good at.  When a field of interest is selected, it should be possible for the kids to shadow or observe that profession.  Finally, a course of study and direction can be lined out for the kids to follow as they seek to achieve their goals.  The desire of the program is to give intentionality to the process of deciding “what do I want to be when I grow up?”  Without a future to dream about, the present often seems bleak.  Perhaps the best way to describe this process is to say that the goal is to help the child choose a target, take aim, and hit the target.  Needs:  counselors and their fees; a way to market the program.

College/Vo-Tech Scholarship program:  We hope to find individuals and corporations that would consider contributing to a neighborhood scholarship fund.  This is one way we could celebrate as a neighborhood the graduation of our local children.  It would unite the community in showing our kids that they do matter and that they are known. 

Toys/hobbies:  We hope to put in some little money into some “hobby” projects for the kids that they could build or work on at church.  For instance, building a model race track, a train layout, etc.  This helps in teaching the kids to work together, to be part of something larger than themselves, and helps to work on English.  Not to mention the fact it is an excellent way to bring hobby enthusiasts and the kids together. 


Neighborhood Emergency Fund:  The idea is to establish a fund, replenished on a regular basis; that would be available to aid families in our neighborhood in an intentional but non-recurring way.  Examples would be, helping with a special, one time project or emergency need (car repair).  Special counselors would administer the fund and would meet with each applicant to determine how needs could best be addressed.  Needs:  money for fund

Prescription Assistance Fund:  A special fund would be established and made available to help people in the neighborhood who are having trouble filling their medications.  The fund could be accessed only at the request of a local pharmacist.   Needs:  money for fund

ESL classes for parents:  Much of the work so far has focused on children.  But it is very important that learning English doesn’t isolate parents from their children.  Parents need to learn English as well.  We proposed hosting ESL classes at the church taught by volunteers from inside and outside the church.  Classes would be held at times convenient for the parents work schedules, perhaps on weekends or Wednesday evenings.

Furniture and clothing for immigrant families.  New immigrants being resettled in Des Moines will number about 100 persons per year in 2011.  That’s down from over 300 per year three years previously.  The decrease in new immigrants comes about because sponsoring organizations no longer felt they could do a good job in light of budget cuts and many of the supporting systems, like education, were already overwhelmed.  Des Moines is now becoming a secondary settlement site, however, as families move here now after having been settled in other areas of the country, to be close to family and friends and also because Iowa has a good job market.  The Chin people and Iraqis are now coming to Des Moines in “second migrations.”  Zion is well connected in the local refugee community and we are consistently asked to help new families establish themselves in apartments with donations of furniture or clothing.

Establish a neighborhood employment network:  On the westside, Lutheran Church of Hope has Hope@work, a successful ministry dedicated to helping people find employment and pursue their goals.  While Hope@work is much more than an employment agency, we have no equivalent in our neighborhood for far less skilled positions.  What if we could partner with Hope@work to start a northside version of the ministry that would focus on jobs that were open to new immigrants or less educated people.  The goal would be to help new immigrants and others to find local employment with good wages so that they wouldn’t have to travel so far for work and be away from their families for so long (see previous).  Hope@work also helps people prepare resumes and determine the steps necessary to advance their careers.  Need:  cooperation from Hope@work and some people with a passion for this. 

Parenting Seminars:  with translation...  In many refugee families both mother and father are working very long hours.  Since many are working in meat packing plants an hour or more away, they are gone from home much of the time.  This has led to some discipline problems as parents are too tired to raise their children.  Compounded by the fact that the children are learning English at school faster than their parents are at work, inequities and imbalances are developing in the traditional roles of parents and children.  Parenting skills are now in serious need of being taught given the new reality of families.    We understand that not many will want to attend these sessions but we also know that these sessions are critically important.  Needs:  presenters.  presenter fees? 

Life skills training:  We live in a world of fractured families, and often times that means that information doesn’t get passed down from one generation to another.  Holes develop, and critical information doesn’t get passed along.  This project would seek to plug some of those holes, as well as train people who are new to our culture who may  never have developed the skills necessary to manipulate the systems we take for granted.  Topics include bill paying, budgeting, house and car purchasing, cooking/menu planning.  Needs:  There are plenty of realtors, car salesmen and financial planners in the church we can rely on.  Home economics people, maybe money for demonstrations. 


Local Outreaches:  Our involvement in the community started with these outreaches and they seem the best way to get to know the kids and invite them to church.  We have four planned at Redeemer Lutheran Church and plans are underway for a joint event in our neighborhood with Wunder Years Academy.  We plan to return to Douglas Terrace as well.

Community Garden:  Using available land at Zion that is currently not in use, the idea is to create garden plots that would be available to immigrant families.  Some small percentage of plots would be made available to families in the church.  The plots would follow basic guidelines established by the City of Des Moines in their community gardening program.  Applications would be taken from immigrant families and then a lottery would be used to choose which would receive the plots.  Lutheran Services of Iowa would be our partner in this.  Needs:  fence, ultimately, a water line, monthly water charge.

Establish a neighborhood round table:  Basically to continue what we’re doing in terms of networking local businesses, institutions, schools, churches, apartment complexes, home owner associations, etc, together for future planning, co-operation and collective response to neighborhood needs. 

Establish a Des Moines area refugee resettlement and assimilation round table:  Referencing the beginning paragraphs of this document, Des Moines was once proud to welcome over 300 new refugees a year.  Currently, many regard our resettlement efforts as being broken.  The schools and social services seem overwhelmed, as do the resettlement agencies themselves.  Perhaps during this “lull in the action,” we should strive to bring together city, county, school, resettlement agencies, employers, churches and others and establish a round table group to plan the way forward.  Perhaps by creating space for people and institutions to work together, we might establish a united approach to welcoming new refugees to our city. 

Partnerships with Local Apartment management:   Keeping good relationships with the apartment managers and owners allows us to advocate on behalf of the tenants.  For instance, when bed bugs are a problem, some managers are reluctant to spray.  If the managers trusted the church as a positive force in their properties, perhaps the church could accomplish things on behalf of the tenants to keep the apartments healthy and habitable.  Helping the managers make small improvements to their properties while raising the quality of life for the tenants might be one way to build relationships and trust.  Such things as building and installing picnic tables, charcoal grills, outdoor seating areas, even helping with routine cleaning or maintenance are ideas.  Needs:  money for supplies.

Community education experiences about the refugee community:  Offer short seminars on what it’s like to be a refugee, the history and individual stories of the people in our neighborhood, maybe some role playing and some ideas on how individuals and organizations can help. 

Thanks for reading.  God bless.  PJ

Suggested Resources: 
At our denomination's National Gathering, speakers urged participants to get their churches involved in their communities.  Here is a sampling of those presentations:

Rev. Greg Ogden's two presentations at LCMC's National Gathering, October 2011

Rev. T.J. Anderson's presentation at LCMC's National Gathering, October 2011

Rev. Elisa Ashley's presentation at LCMC's National Gathering, October 2011

Rev. Gemchis Buba

Read the book Ethnic Blends by Mark DeYmaz:

I want to restate last week's suggested resources as well:

Suggested Reading:  The Next Christians by Gabe Lyons.

We're offering this amazing class to go along with this sermon series:  Mission Shift.  Read about it at:  http://www.stpaulsevlutheran.org/sum/missionshift/index.html
Posted by John Kline with

Our Story

This story began with a question: “If our church closed, would anyone miss us?” We asked our board to consider the question. The answer they all reached was, “no.” After all, our members would simply go to other churches. It seemed a shame that we were so unconnected with our neighborhood that no one would miss us if we weren’t here. It seemed that maybe Jesus Himself would want his church to have a better relationship with those around us. 

So we embarked on a project. Our lead pastor would visit every neighbor who lived around the church. He would try to meet them, ask them how we could bless them, find out if we were being a good neighbor, and give them information about the church and a gift card to a new local restaurant. He visited 30 some houses. People were polite, impressed with the gift, but really didn’t have much to say about how the church could bless them. 

We broadened the project to include local businesses and institutions. The pastor went to the local mall. “How can the church bless you?”, he asked the general manager. Short of being willing to work together, there wasn’t anything we could do. Then he went to the VA Hospital down the street. “How can the church bless you?,” he asked. They wanted volunteers. Of course, since they are a federal institution, the application process is a bit hard. We advertised the need but we are still waiting for our first volunteer from the church. 

A prayer changed everything. One evening, sitting in the backyard and reading the Bible, our pastor cried out to the Lord in frustration. “What kind of a church do you want us to be?” “Banquet.” Came the reply, clear as a bell. “What kind of banquet?” “Like Luke 14,” he heard. And then his mind was filled with images of a local apartment complex. 

Turning to Luke 14 we find the parable of the great banquet. There are three things that leap out at you immediately when you read this chapter. 
1.) Jesus says, “When you give a banquet, don’t invite those who can invite you back. Invite those who can never repay you.” So we determined that Jesus wanted us to focus first on the very least, those who couldn’t repay us in any way for serving them. 2.) The guests who were invited, the intended recipients of God’s favor, didn’t come and sent their excuses. We believe that many in the church today don’t realize that they are saved for a purpose. That purpose is to serve the Lord who saved us by serving others. 3.) God instructs his servants to go to the alleyways and the country roads and compel the poor and the lame and the lost to come to the banquet. We understand this to mean that the church is to go out and seek, not stay home and wait for people to come to us. 

So we packed up a luncheon feast for 150 people, some games and crafts for the kids and went to the Douglas Terrace Apartments. We met a lot of kids and found out that most of the people living in this complex were recent refugees. Mostly from Burma. We came back monthly for four months, bringing food, games, bounce houses, whatever we could think of, and we began learning names and building relationships. 

By the fall it began to occur to us that perhaps we could invite these kids to our Wednesday night tutoring program. That program had 4 kids in it. Overnight it multiplied to 40. Then we needed to find more innovative ways to transport kids, feed kids, and provide the tutoring they needed in a fun atmosphere. 

Next stop for us was the local elementary school. “How can the church bless you?” Naturally, we expected a polite “no thank you.” But we were surprised. The school was having trouble getting new immigrants to come to school in the cold weather. The kids lived at the very edge of the busing zone and didn’t qualify to ride the bus. Could the church help? We asked the congregation and ten people volunteered to drive vans borrowed from local churches and ministries. Each school day we began transporting 14 children to school and back. The congregation stepped forward and we bought our first van. The local school asked the local church for help and, praise God, we worked together to meet the need and the get the kids to school. Turns out that the kids who needed rides lived in the apartment complexes we were doing outreaches. 

Next, we went to some local restaurants. “How can the church bless you?” The Muslim owner of restaurant was well connected with his Iraqi refugee community. “We need furniture,” he replied. The call went out to the church and furniture started to fill the lobby. Just as quickly it went out to families from Iraq, Burma, and other places. Friendships were made. Jesus was honored. The church became the go to place for help with everything from job applications to utilities to translation and even resolving disputes. Furniture now comes from all over the city as word about the need gets out. 

The interest in Jesus by some of our neighborhood friends has caused us to start an Arabic language Alpha Course on Sundays. 

Our visits took us to the local mosque. Now our pastor and the imam regularly meet for coffee and conversation and we are committed to working together. The imam and some of his congregation joined us this year at church for Christmas Eve dinner. 

As Christmas approached, people in the church wanted to bless our new friends in the community with Christmas presents and food and scarves and gloves. So current ministries like Angel Tree and Christmas food baskets were expanded to meet the growing needs. 

There was a growing need for clothes among the children and parents and that were coming to the church for help. So a clothes closet was started. 

In the midst of all this activity, the church was approached by the Mizo, an ethnic group from Burma who wanted a church and a pastor to help them. Zion obliged and today the 1:00 Mizo service is vibrant and growing and our Mizo brothers and sisters work side by side with us cleaning the church, exchanging preachers and choirs, sharing meals and going through life together as one church. 

Sunday School is now an integrated experience, with Mizo kids and kids from the neighborhood joining us weekly to learn about Jesus. A whole team of people joined together to provide transportation and to receive the kids when they arrive and depart. 

Our congregation caught the spirit of what God was doing and things like our Street Outreach, which delivers meals to the city’s homeless, began to grown. Invited Inn, a ministry that turns the church building into a shelter for homeless families four times a year came into existence. 

We had a long tradition of Wednesday night meals at our church. Now those meals feed four times the people and have provided an avenue for people from our community to come and eat for free and stay for worship afterwards. 

We’ve learned so much over the last 18 months. We’ve learned that the church can become essential to the neighborhood simply by going out into the community and finding a way to serve people who can’t ever pay you back. Simply put, Jesus told us to “go.” When we are obedient and go, the way the world looks at the church changes.

We’ve also learned that we are a part of something bigger than ourselves. Some of the things we’ve been led to do would never have happened without the help of other churches and ministries and even secular organizations. What we learned was that when we work with others, Jesus gets the glory and miraculous things are done in his name. 

We’ve learned that we don’t have to be afraid to simply ask, “How can the church bless you?” Sure, some will send us away, but others are dying for our help. They are looking for Christ but how will he come to them if, his body, don’t bring him? We never thought the local school would consider partnering with us. After all, there is a lot of talk these days about separation between church and government. But there are wonderful partnerships to be made out there if we are willing to humble ourselves and serve on terms other than our own. 

We also want everyone to understand a few things.
We believe that Jesus has called us to minister everywhere, wherever we are, not just in this neighborhood. But you have to start somewhere. And we encourage all our members to be open to the ministry that Jesus is calling you to right where you are. 
We believe that our ministry is to everyone, not just immigrants, but that’s how it started for us and that’s what Jesus has put in front of us today. A few years from now, as our immigrant friends become part of our neighborhood, our ministry focus will undoubtedly change as Jesus calls us forward into new adventures. 
We believe that our ministry is not just local. In other words, we still care about the rest of the world. We still seek to support the people and things that God is doing globally. 

Eighteen months after beginning our project, the results, to us, are nothing short of miraculous. We believe that we have found the ministry Jesus wants for us in this place at this time. And, amazingly, new opportunities keep on presenting themselves.

The local middle school and high school are now asking for help in transporting students. The local elementary has asked us to double our student transportation. We were able to provide over 500 books to the elementary school, one for every student, just before Christmas. The parents of the children, regardless of their ability to pay for books themselves, have expressed gratitude that the local church cares about their children. The school has also asked us to provide weekend meals for students that the school is concerned have no food when they are not at school. We are currently providing 22 students with food each weekend. 

This spring, we’re turning extra land on our campus into community gardens, especially for immigrants who miss being on the land and working the soil. The idea came about at a neighborhood meeting and will involve a partnership between the city, the church and Lutheran Services, a social service organization. 

Life skills classes will begin shortly for the 1:00 service. This is a pilot program for us and if it is successful, we hope to open it to the community at large. The classes include things like “how to manage money,” “how to go to the pharmacy and what medicines to buy when your children are sick.” These classes will again be an opportunity for partnership between the church and other members of our community.

We are beginning training now on an Iowa Career Access Point computer. This means that the church will host a computer with available jobs. We’ll provide volunteers from the congregation to help people use it. 

What’s next? Only God knows. We continue to pray we will be faithful in responding to his call. What’s next for you? Will you find your story in our story? We invite you to come along and be part of the adventure. 

Suggested Reading:  The Next Christians by Gabe Lyons. 

We're offering this amazing class to go along with this sermon series:  Mission Shift.  Read about it at:  http://www.stpaulsevlutheran.org/sum/missionshift/index.html

Can a church add value to it’s community beyond care of poor and Biblical/moral teaching?


This continuing conversation will make more sense if you read my previous blog at: http://www.pastorjohnsthoughts.blogspot.com/2012/01/plan-to-meet-some-of-our-neighborhoods.html
Can a church add value to it’s community beyond care of poor and Biblical/moral teaching?
If you read the neighborhood plan put forward in the last blog, you’ll see that we want to do at Zion is more than feed the hungry and house the homeless, we want to be a positive and innovative witness within our community that helps the neighborhood become the best place to live this side of heaven.  We want to see the kingdom of God manifest in our neighborhood.  We not only want to address the issues of people not having enough, we want to better the lives of those who have plenty.  What we desire is nothing less then the redemption of our community as a whole.  We want to help people not only get established, but enhance the quality of life for those already here.  We don’t want just the refugee or underprivileged children to get career counseling, we want every child to have assistance discovering what they are good at and getting help developing a plan to “become” what they are good at in life.
The idea that the local congregation exists as an outpost of heaven for the benefit of all within the community is an old one.  I think it’s most common manifestation was in what was called “the Parish Model.”  My favorite example of this model comes from 17th and 18th century England where geographic areas were divided into “parishes.”  Each parish had a church which was responsible to call people to the worship of God and prayer on Sundays and other holy days and when necessary for special prayers on behalf of the king and nation.  It was responsible for baptisms, weddings, funerals, and all the rest, and also for the care of the poor.   The parish church might be a large edifice which was used for many kinds of community activities, including concerts and meetings.  It was a very public sort of “community room.”  Frequently, the “parish council,” the local government met at the church.  The council frequently included the “parish pastor” who was responsible for the spiritual needs of the community.  In such a way, the government, the church and others worked hand in hand for the benefit of the entire community.  
What w’ere talking about at Zion is to effectively put this model of ministry into use in our relationship with our community.  We imagine being able to convene various groups and organizations together to solve various problems in the neighborhood but to also work together to form a plan for the future.  Every group we’ve spoken to thus far has been very open to such meetings.  We believe that our local community has the opportunity to be one of the most vibrant, diverse and exciting neighborhoods in the city and that the church should be a part of that vitality, diversity and excitement.  We believe that by modeling the kingdom of God and showing how things could be, that we can help the entire community bring “could be” into reality.  
Another hallmark of the old parish model is that every resident of the geographic area of the parish was a de facto member of the church.  Now of course in England, where there is a state church and so you are a member of this state church simply by being born, this makes sense.  But what would it be like for our church to simply acknowledge that every person within our geographic area was also a de facto member of church, able to use the building and receive various services from the church?  In other words, what if we erased the lines between church and neighborhood and earnestly sought to integrate the church and the neighborhood, the neighborhood and the church?   No doubt such a church would be a place that would provide more to the community than help with the poor and Biblical/moral teaching.  No doubt such a church would be the center of activity within the community, the place to go to for everything, not just help.  
Here’s an example of how this thinking might play out:  A certain world famous artist lives in our area, he is a refugee from a certain country.  What if Zion provided our space for a showing of his art?  His entire ethnic community would attend the opening  and it would give us a chance to show hospitality to this group.  The whole community would be invited and for many, it would be the first time that they had ever been to our church, or even in a church.  Later, with the art still in view, we could invite the entire community to a round table discussion about the refugee experience in our own city.  In such a way we provide public space for art, for the education of the community, and for fellowship between the various ethnic groups, generations and economic groups within our neighborhood.  And it all happens in God’s house, under the cross.  Redemption, reconciliation and peace result within our community and our Lord Jesus is glorified.  And people who were far from the church come near to experience our common life together.  
Barna Group has done some research on this approach.  You can read about it at 
 I think there is no doubt that the church can add value to the community beyond it's traditional role.  I think that some might ask, "But should it?"  I would answer with another question:  "Will so doing make our Master smile?"  I think it would.  I think he intended for his church to be the way forward for the world.  
Thanks for reading.  God bless.  PJ 

Ramblings about God, the Church and Everything.

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