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The Colony and the Code

Good morning! We are all up in our dorms getting ready to go to the beach! Woohoo! It’s going to be great.

 

So yesterday was all about the Colony or the community of believers. We spent the day coming to grips with the fact that we need each other and our actions deeply affect each other. It really was an awesome day. If you know me well, you know that this is a subject that I am passionate about anyway, so it was great for our whole group to be processing it for an entire day at a very challenging level. We talked about what it means to be perfect as our Heavenly Father is perfect. We learned that getting rid of filth and things in our lives gives Jesus a clear shot at our hearts, and when He has a clear shot at our hearts He never misses. 

Today is about the Code. It’s the way we love each other that truly is the code for believers. Jesus says that they will know we belong to Him by the way we love. Specifically, today, we are looking at that love in the context of forgiveness. As you can imagine, this is a difficult topic for a lot of our students (and leaders!) to deal with as we come to grasp with the people we need to forgive and the people from whom we need to ask forgiveness. Forgiving people is one of the ways that we love our enemies, and Jesus tells us that it is in loving our enemies that we are set apart from the rest of the world. This radical teaching should define us and shape all of our relationships. Tonight will be very heavy as students are encouraged to confront their need for forgiveness as well as their need to forgive. 

Please pray for the students as they come to grips with this hard, but vital, truth. 

Also, Kenneth Stewart has a black eye… that is all you need to know. 

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Our Father

Hey Everyone! Man, first thing you need to know is that every thing is going great. So far, this has been an awesome couple of days and I only anticipate it getting better. The trip up was easy with no hang-ups or anything at all. We actually made substantially better time then we thought we would! Google maps had our travel time at somewhere in the ballpark of 16.5 hours (with stops), but we actually made it right around 13! These are always the little details that you really nail down after your first time visiting a certain place. Holland, by the way, is gorgeous. I’m trying not to rub anything in but we’ve been in hoodies for most of the day. Low to mid 70s in the heat of the day with temperatures dropping to the high 50s at night. And as if it was planned just for our day at the beach, Thursday is supposed to jump up to the mid 90s.

 

Now…onto the important stuff.  

 

The theme for this year is where Heaven and Earth collide, and the focus is all on the Sermon on the Mount (Mt 5-7). The theme comes from the concept that this is the point in history where this Rabbi from Heaven began to usher in His Kingdom here on this fractured earth. So the first night was really an introduction to the theme and we kind of camped out in the beatitudes. We talked about how backwards it all seems to say, “blessed are the…” and you can fill in the blank with any of the given beatitudes because everyone of them flies directly in the face of out social norms. 

Today (Tuesday) was on the Lord’s prayer and specifically the part where Jesus refers to God as “Father”. The day was all about placing our trust in God as our covenant Father. The point was never to compare Him to our earthly fathers, because (though our experiences with our earthly fathers spread far across a vast plain) they will all ultimately fall short of what God is able to be to us. So we didn’t spend time comparing the two, but rather just focusing on what it means to have God as a Father. He is our provider, He is always here, He is our shelter, He is our righteousness, He is our banner, He is our peace, and so on and so forth. This was a tremendously powerful day as you can imagine. Some students learned that they could trust God for the first time in their lives. 

We also watched a documentary called “Becoming Sons and Daughters” that told three stories dealing with the Fatherless crisis in America. This had a HUGE impact on our students and rather than tell you about it here, I’m just going to let them tell you about it when they get home 🙂

Pray that God would continue to reveal himself to our students as their Father as they sleep tonight. Pray that they would continue to trust Him as the week goes on and when it gets increasingly difficult when we are back home. 

Tomorrow is all about the community of believers and how sin from one affects the entire group. This, too, will be a very powerful way. Pray that the Holy Spirit convicts and that we have the boldness to deal with sin and that God’s grace would be made clear to the students.

Also, Isaiah Johnson has been given the nickname “Britney”. There’s even a dance. That is all you need to know.

Thank you for your prayers. We can feel them from here. I love you all.

Goodnight.

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Playing Favorites

I love Wednesday nights in Chicago. Of all of the nights we spend here, I’d say Wednesdays are my favorite. Now, I know I shouldn’t play favorites and don’t get me wrong the rest of the nights all have their perks, but just between you, me, and big brother (who I think probably keeps a close I on everything that goes on here at the Steve) Wednesdays are the best. Let me explain:

When we get here on Saturday, there is a certain buzz about the group. We’re all excited about the week ahead and the anticipation is not unlike waiting for a beautiful storm you know is right around the corner. So we all try our best to sleep that night while adjusting to the city noise right outside the window, the mattresses on the floor and the anticipation of what’s to come.

Then there’s Sunday night. It’s so fun on this night to hear the students talk about their experience at FCC. They talk about the worship, the greeting time, the bowling, and the ethnic diversity in way that makes it clear that their worldview was changed during the course of that day. It’s awesome…but not Wednesday night awesome.

Monday night varies for us a little bit. That day has typically been spent working on projects around FCC and then we head to Michigan Ave for a few hours before coming back and working on our lessons for chapel at By the Hand. Not much to write home about here other than the fact that we’re going on three nights of anticipating our time at By the Hand!

Tuesday night is perhaps the most interesting night every year. We have just spent our first day at By the Hand and it is always interesting to hear how the students are going to describe the various ways that their expectations collided with reality. To be honest, this is the night that many of the first year students come back slightly discouraged. They have heard (many of them, for years) how much fun we have with the kids, how attached we get to them, and how incredible it feels to invest in the lives of these young children. But it’s hard to know what By the hand is going to be like until you experience it for yourself. The kids are loud, they’re a bit crazy, and sometimes it’s hard to know that what you’re doing is making a difference at all. Many of these kids have walls that they’ve been building for years and it takes time for them to warm up to you. This tends to be a bit of a reality check for the new students because it seems so different from what they’ve heard people say who’ve been on the trip before. That’s because after Wednesday and Thursday, nobody remembers that Tuesday anymore.

Wednesday Night: Somehow there’s a switch that flips. I don’t know exactly when it happens but I can tell you that it’s sometime between the hours of 6:30 on Tuesday night and 3:00 on Wednesday afternoon. When the kids come to the program that Wednesday it just feels like they are themselves. It’s almost as if they were just being cautious on Tuesday to protect themselves in case we didn’t show up the next day. But then they see us on Wednesday and it’s a whole new day. Wednesday is filled with hugs, laughs, testimonies, stories of home, and progress with school work. This leads to the best night of the week for me. On Tuesday night it’s almost as if the new students feel like they’re doing it wrong, or they can’t figure out why that day wasn’t everything they’ve ever heard Chicago would be. But on Wednesday night it’s all clear. It’s as if there’s a collective sigh among the group that says, “Oh, I get it.” It’s a night of encouragement. It’s the night when students relax and feel good because they know that they’ve been used by God to help accomplish a purpose that’s much bigger than them. And they also know that it’s nothing that they could have done on their own. Wednesdays are awesome.

-Steve

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The hype zone and a rat….

Somehow Steve let me guest blog today!! How exciting!

Tuesday was our first day at By The Hand in Cabrini! Our first-timers seemed a little nervous in anticipation of what to expect at By the Hand but by the end of the day, they’d fallen in love as all of the students have come before them over the last 10 years! 

We started the day in the morning meeting with the By The Hand staff. Sarah James and I came up with a “devious” plan for the week since this is the 10-year anniversary trip for HP! We decided that the students and their team leaders would earn points throughout the week by doing things that promote team spirit, getting to know each other (testimonies, meeting parents, etc) and on Friday at our get-together with the staff, we, as “the judges”, will announce the winner! It’s allowing the students to really get to know their team leaders which is an element that hasn’t been true for every student every year. It’s things like Miss Shanta calling Jan Pride so their purple team can earn more points! Sarah also mentioned we’d accept bribes – I can say I’ve received my first chocolate rose on this trip! Oh and the automatic win is if they find us our future husbands by the end of the week – all I can say is apparently we are pickier than we thought considering we’ve had to say no to quite a few options they have pointed out on the street!

After the introductions, our students did whatever their team leaders needed them to do. Most of them cleaned tables, set up the rooms, cleaned out some closets, talked with their team leaders, and even planned some team spirit elements! We also had a couple groups doing some odd jobs like taking a load of coats down to their basement so they can use them next year and cleaning out votives for their Spring Benefit in April. 

At about 2:45, the kids started rolling in! They have a “hype” zone for the younger kids that get here early that includes a whole lot of dancing! Once chapel started, our students jumped right in to singing and loving on the kids! Our skit team (Michelle, Morgan, Mariah, McKinzie, Paige, Bailey, Caleb, and Isaac) did a FANTASTIC job telling the story of the resurrection from the disciples perspectives. Then they joined their teams for homework time and electives. During our “debrief” last night, many of the students made comments about how much they enjoyed encouraging the students on their homework assignments and the various stories the students would tell them. They noticed how much the kids light up with encouragement and one-on-one attention and the team leaders so appreciated having so many volunteers (a team of 30 students from Clemson University are also here serving) providing that for their kids. 

After helping with dinner and clean up, we headed out to Portillos! Many of us look forward to this dinner throughout the year. If you’re ever in Chicago, try it – they have some great Chicago dogs but their pasta is amazing (my personal fave is the Pesto Chicken!)! 

We got around this morning, had our breakfast, spent some time reading in Daniel 4 and breaking up into pairs to pray for each other. Great start to the day! Arrived at By The Hand, after taking a scenic drive on Lake Shore Drive, to start some more projects! Our focus was closets! We had a supply closet upstairs that had mostly school type supplies in it. We had a snack closet to reorganize. And we had a locker-room closet to clean out. (All of which Sarah walked in later in the day and just turned and smiled at how wonderful they looked.) The best moment of the day was hearing a shriek from Bailey, Kelsey, and Lauren as they ran out of the locker-room closet; quickly finding Brian and Lane to frantically explain they found a “used” mousetrap! Brian and Lane calmly reply, “you should probably find a broom and dustpan then”. The girls look at each other and head off to find a broom and dustpan! I won’t say that they were able to remove the mousetrap without some additional shrieking but they did it!! Now that’s what I call sacrificial service!! 🙂

An organization donated some bicycles to By The Hand but when they received the bikes, they were in bad shape. All of them unridable and even needing parts to be able to be usable. Sarah had a volunteer group a few weeks ago take them apart so they could take the metal to the recycling center. We had a team this morning take the parts from the basement to the vans and then a couple of us headed to the recycling center.

After lunch, the group finished a few more projects and made sure the rooms were ready for the kids to arrive. The group welcomed them at the door and joined the hype zone again! Today the teaching team (Kelsey, Taryn, Lauren, and Madison) presented to the kids what the Resurrection means for them – that their sins are forgiven – they have a pure heart because of what Jesus did for them. 

The students joined their team for homework time and electives and are now getting ready to help them for dinner! They are all having a great time and enjoying every moment with the kids and serving their team leaders! It’s been a great week so far and will only get better!!

Continue praying for the group to have the energy to continue to serve the By The Hand staff the next couple days, to continue to love and encourage each other, and please pray for a few of us that are fighting off the allergies in this 80+ degree Chicago weather! 

Hopefully they will let me guest blog again – it’s kind of fun!! 

 

Steve    Shanna

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A real post!

Woo-hoo for wifi! 

So the trip up here was awesome! We ran into a little rain, but nothing major + we needed limited stops + when we stopped it was relatively quick = our best time ever! Heck, we pulled into First Christian and it was till daylight! So far, so good. 

Most years we have either already eaten dinner when we arrive or they have something waiting for us because they have had some kind of fund raiser or banquet the day of our arrival. Not so this year so after unloading our stuff we headed out to find some grub. A 3 minute drive took us to a little place called Potbelly. These awesome sandwiches and shakes are primarily in the northeast but you can also find them in Texas. 

While at Potbelly, Madison began to notice a little tingle in her throat. Before long it became clear that she was having an allergic reaction to what turned out to be carrots that were in her sandwich. After taking some benadryl and calling her parents we kept an eye on the situation for a few minutes and ultimately decided that it was best to take her to the Emergency Room. Shanna, Michelle, Madison and I loaded up and headed out to the Hospital. After a long wait in the ER waiting room they took Madison back to a room, gave her some meds, and kept an eye on her for a while.  We got out of there around 1 am and got back to the church ready for bed time. Here’s the thing, Madison was somewhat of a late addition to our team this year. She graduated a year early which technically put her over the “grade age limit”, but we decided to let her come anyway since she still had one year of eligibility and we just couldn’t leave her behind. Now I know why. Heaven forbid I take Madison all the way through her high school years without ever making a trip to the ER with her. With all of her funky allergies, it’s a wonder it took us this long to share this experience. Take Madison to the ER because of food allergies: Check.

Sunday morning was an awesome time of worship with our family at First Christian. We always feel so welcome here. They are always happy to see us and we love getting to spend some time with them. After our worship time together we went out and had some Philly Cheese Steaks at the Ford City mall which has become something of a Sunday afternoon tradition for us here in Chicago. 

When we got back from lunch we just had enough time to grab our socks and head to the bowling alley to meet the FCC crew for our annual afternoon of bowling. We split everyone up so that the lanes are mixed up with FCC and HP people. This is such an awesome time to get to know people. We ask them their stories, how they got to FCC, where they’re from, etc… Once we got back from bowling we ate some dinner together, went over our lessons for the week at BTH and hit the sack early so we could be well rested and work hard today. 

Monday is the day we spend at FCC doing anything and everything they need us to. Today was spent cleaning pigeon nests and… um…other pigeon stuff from windows and ledges, cleaning out gardens of weeds and leaves, picking up trash around the grounds, trimming hedges, washing windows, and stuffing 2,000 little baggies with Easter programs and tickets to pass out around the neighborhood. Everyone worked hard and we finished up about 40 minutes ago. Just in time to get cleaned up and meet Sarah and Trey Trey for some dinner and ice cream! 

 

P.S. Paige and Bailey say hi.

 

Cheers,

-Steve

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27 hours

Hey everyone! This is basically just a filler to let you all know that we’ve been in Chicago for about 27 hours now (we made great time) and we’re having a great time! We’re awaiting wifi access so we can type up a real update. We should have that by tomorrow night. Look for an update then. For now, suffice it to say that we had an awesome morning of worship with our family here at First Christian! Talk to you soon!

Steve

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An Audacious Commitment

On July 21st of 2011, God began a work in the High School students at Highland Park that would lead to something foolish. It was day 4 of MOVE conference and God had already been doing some pretty cool things in the lives of our students. Sins were being confessed, commitments were being made, and future plans were being altered all in the pursuit of Jesus.  Then, on Thursday, things were shifted into another gear. We had spent the day studying Daniel 3 and the faithfulness of 3 slaves who were willing to give up everything for the sake of their God. That evening we watched a Christ in Youth’s newest documentary, “Love Costs Everything”.  The making of the film took the CIY crew to no fewer than 5 countries as they followed and interviewed men and women who are currently being persecuted for there faith in Jesus Christ. This is not just a church issue or a religious issue, it is a human rights issue. Christians are the most persecuted group in the world today.  It was simultaneously difficult to watch and impossible to take your eyes off of. We were overwhelmed with emotion ranging from intense anger to deep sorrow to shared joy as our brothers and sister worshipped the Father despite the constant threats. At one point, the film followed a certain pastor who is faithfully working and planting churches in the most persecuted region of India, his home country. There, Christians are maliciously hunted, beaten, and killed by Hindu guerrillas in a religious cleansing effort. As this persecution continues, however, a very interesting thing is happening: the church continues to grow! History has shown us time and time again that the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church and when Christians are persecuted, the Gospel spreads. And after hearing our brothers and sisters in India talk and pray, it’s hardly surprising. They don’t pray, nor do they ask us to pray that the persecution would stop. They pray only that they would be faithful in the midst of it, and that their persecutors would come to know Jesus and His grace.

The very next night, Jayson French was speaking and issued a challenge. He wanted 200 of the 850 students at our conference to commit to sending an Indian man through Central India Christian Mission to be a missionary in that same highly persecuted province of India. Once finished with Bible College that missionary will plant for churches.  The catch: it costs $2,000 per missionary to go through Bible College. Our students, undaunted, couldn’t sit in their seats. 7 of them quickly committed to sending 1 missionary a piece through CICM. And when they did, they signed up the whole youth group. That’s what a church is right? A family that loves each other, and serves together.  So we came home from MOVE with changed hearts, open eyes, and a commitment to raise $14,000. Sound foolish? It is. The High School students can’t do this. Oh, it’s ok that I said that on here, they already know. They just also know that God can, and will. They are committed. They’re writing over pay checks, going without things, and working out fundraisers. And they’re counting on the church to be the church. To commit to this along side them. Together, we are flooding India with the Gospel to encourage the saints, and speak truth the their persecutors.

How Can I Help?

We’re so glad you asked! There are a couple of things you can do in the immediate future.

First, give money. $14,000 is a LOT of money and we have a LONG ways to go. Any help is appreciated.

Second, come support the efforts at our “swim for the saints” event. It is Saturday August 27th, from 1-5pm at Camp Loughridge aquatics center. It’s a great big pool as well as a splash pad for kids! Highland Park has reserved this pool for the purpose of the fundraiser.  Feel free to bring the whole family as well as all the friends you can find! There is a minimum donation of $3 per person (you can always give more) and we will be selling snow cones for $1 a piece. EVERY PENNY made from admission and snow cones goes directly to CICM. Camp Loughridge was awesome enough to donate the pool and life guards so nothing is of any cost to us.

New ways to help will constantly creep up so stay tuned here or email lane at lanem@hp4christ.org.

Cheers,

-Steve

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