LIVING ROOM OUTREACH

“Move into a neighborhood to reach it for Jesus?” We had contemplated, but had never actually done anything like this before.

God was powerfully moving in our friend Jeff’s neighborhood. “Football Evangelism” (see the last two blogs) was bearing much fruit with many young people coming to Christ. Obviously, God was up to something. Was this only just the beginning of a wonderfully productive evangelistic season? Would it be a window of opportunity for eternity that we would miss out on if we didn’t take action now? These were questions Debbie and I wrestled with as we considered the logistics of selling our current home and taking the risks of buying property in a dicey neighborhood in Annapolis.

One of Jeff’s family members had recently moved into the neighborhood to assist in what God was doing. If we chose to accept this challenge, we would become the third family. It would be like living in a Christian commune from the 60’s except that we would all have our own places. This would be an opportunity for us to fellowship, worship, pray, and reach the lost together. We would be a family, a body reaching out instead of being unconnected individuals on separate missions.

We had to admit, it was a tempting prospect. We continued to pray. As a result, there was a peace and a powerful hunger that drew us in the direction of what is real and for what really matters in this life.

Finding a place to live in Jeff’s neighborhood was an interesting process. One of the homes our realtor showed us had a surprise waiting for us as we walked in. The stench that hit us in the face as we opened the front door, betrayed the fact that the occupants, a mother with small children had been living there for months having had their plumbing and electricity cut off. We scratched that one off of the list.

Finally, we prayerfully set our sights on a townhouse three doors down from Jeff. Our Christian realtor fought our choice. He asked Debbie to give him a chance to show her other houses. As she with him on the beautiful deck of a different house overlooking a peaceful back yard with lovely trees, he began his pitch. “You really need to seriously pray about your plans to buy that place because if you do, you’ll probably be stuck with it forever and ever amen.”

Despite his protests, we pulled the trigger and signed on the dotted line for the townhouse in Jeff’s neighborhood. For better or for worse it was now ours.

Our friends helped us prepare the property for our move in. The former owners had apparently allowed their dogs to urinate throughout the house. As we pulled up the nasty carpet and padding, we saw that the dogs’ business had seeped into the hardwood floors and even the walls. Everyone worked hard to help us clean, seal, carpet and repaint our new place.

After moving in, my parents came to visit us in our new diggs. There’s nothing like the feeling of watching your parents walk out of your front door toward their car as simultaneously a fleet of five cop cars screams in, sirens blaring and lights blazing on their way to a drug bust of one of your neighbors! You kind of just ignore it and pretend nothing is happening as you wave goodbye to your folks.

Now that we were there, the Holy Spirit’s move intensified. It was amazing to have God use our own living rooms as outreach centers. We saw so many kids, teens, and adults accept Jesus right in our homes. Unlike having an outreach and then splitting the scene to return home, we lived right in the middle of our very own American mission field. We got to live with, play with, laugh and cry with our new born babes in Jesus.

These babes were born again with technicolor stories, characteristic of the creativity of the Spirit of God. Our next blog will tell the stories of just a couple of the over 150 souls that were led to Christ during our time in Annapolis.

Next – “Jessica’s Rose” and “Dancing in the Streets”

 

PUGGY THE DEVIL

Puggy was loosing control. During the gospel message and invitation, he tried his best to disrupt and even pull his pals away but they wouldn’t budge. It seemed as if they were glued to the floor, intent on doing business with God. Adding to the eight kids who chose to follow Jesus last week, three more accepted Him tonight.

As we had done last time (see previous blog), we had played a football game with the neighborhood youth. Once again, we invited them afterwards into the community center adjacent to the football field to hear a talk about Jesus.

Tough guy, Puggy, was used to being looked up to. Tonight, his friends were looking elsewhere – to Jesus. In frustration, he left the meeting and went outside. The atmosphere immediately cleared with Puggy’s departure and the Holy Spirit once again showed up in power to fill the new believers as well as ones from the previous week. As icing on the cake, one young person with an incessant asthmatic cough was prayed for by Jeff’s teenaged girls with the result that the symptoms immediately stopped!

This newfound “football evangelism” concept was taking off really well.

The following week, we thought we would try something new. We invited the neighborhood kids over to Jeff’s house for hotdogs minus the football game. After waiting for a long time, we concluded that no one was coming. The experiment had failed. Jeff decided to go out on the deck and cook hot dogs just for us.

Suddenly the door bell rang. Within minutes, Jeff’s living room was full of kids. Debbie looked out the window and exclaimed, “It looks like a Schwinn truck has overturned on the front lawn!” There were kids’ bikes everywhere!

After eating hot dogs together, we split the young people up – elementary kids downstairs and teens upstairs. We thought, after Puggy’s disruptive behavior last week, that this would help maintain some order.

It didn’t.

Heaven was breaking out with the elementary kids downstairs. After the gospel talk, two more accept Jesus and during prayer ministry, kids are seeing Jesus and feeling His burning presence.

Upstairs, hell is breaking out. Puggy is instigating some of the teens to act up and disrupt the gospel discussion. In desperation, Jeff pulls an illustration out of the hat. “Puggy, suppose you went tearing off down the street in your go kart and the thing suddenly had a serious malfunction that caused an accident? If you died, where would you go?”

Admittedly the illustration was desperate and off the cuff. Puggy disregarded it and left the meeting unaffected.

The next day, a shaken version of Puggy showed up at Jeff’s house. Earlier that day, his go kart had almost had an accident due to a serious malfunction. Thankfully, Puggy wasn’t hurt…but God now had his attention! Jeff was suddenly elevated to “prophet status” in Puggy’s eyes.

In a sideline story, Sarah, a teenage friend of our daughter Sarah’s, had been intently listening to the interchange between Jeff and Puggy the night before. While Puggy had left unaffected, she was deeply convicted and gave her life to Christ that night. The talk had initially seemed like a failure but the word of God didn’t return void. It bore fruit in Sarah’s life. She was joyfully filled with the Holy Spirit after accepting Jesus. Her parents couldn’t believe the change that came over her as a result.

Puggy’s day would come. The Word of God would not return void in his case either.

A week later, we played football and again invited the youth up to Jeff’s place for hotdogs. The gospel talk included a skit about the bondage of sin. We needed one of the young people to play the part of the devil. Guess who volunteered?

Puggy wore the mask and played his role to a “T”! Still trying to get a handle on disruption, we split the youth up, one kid per leader. Each leader then led a one-on-one Bible study and discussion on repentance. Toward the end of the night, we looked over towards Puggy. He had his eyes closed and hands raised in surrender as Jeff’s son led him to the Lord!

The former “devil”, Puggy, now had a new light on his face. We started bringing him to church with us. During worship, Puggy would make sure that all the other youth we brought were raising their hands to Jesus!

God’s word certainly does not return void. For some, it just takes a little longer!

Next – “Living Room Outreach” and “Dancing in the Streets”

ANNAPOLIS!

Football evangelism. The idea sounded intriguing.

My friend Jeff was telling me about a breakthrough they were having in their new neighborhood. I say “new neighborhood” because Jeff and his wife Maureen had recently sold their big beautiful home in the suburbs to move into a dicey part of Annapolis.

Jeff was a radical. He didn’t want to live the normal Christian life. Conspiring against the American Dream, he and Maureen sold everything, quit their jobs, and self-funded their way into full time ministry. They were led to buy a townhouse in a neighborhood bordering on the projects, which itself was full of dysfunction, crime, and substance abuse.

…but it was also full of kids!

Their ticket into the hearts of the neighborhood youth was football. Jeff, Maureen, and their kids would start pick-up football games on the large common area field directly in front of their home. Often, up to two dozen kids would show up to play.

At this time, they were still in the stage of building relationships with the young people, but Jeff wanted to see doors open for the gospel. He invited Debbie and I down to Annapolis to check out the scene. We came down on the evening of October 4th, right in the middle of the football season of 2003.

After playing a lively game of football, we decided to push the envelope a bit and attempt a spontaneous outreach with the kids. We invited the sweaty kids and teens to the community center that Jeff had access to, just off to the side of the field. Once inside, we played some group games with the kids. Then, we had them sit in a circle while we told them a story with a gospel message. Brian, our son, happened to have his keyboard in our van, so he brought it in and played some ministry time music while we invited the kids to come to Christ.

Eight young people responded to the invitation to receive Jesus. As we have done in our other outreaches (see past blogs), we laid hands on the new believers and asked that the Holy Spirit would fill them.

When we pray, we don’t just utter a short request and call the matter done. We leave our hands on the new converts for an extended period. It sometimes takes time for the Spirit of God to be tangibly experienced by the recipient. Then it takes even longer for the Spirit of Jesus to “spread” from wherever He has started to manifest (often the top of the head) to the point where He fills their entire being.

We do see manifestations of the Spirit. These manifestations don’t happen 100% of the time but do occur in the vast majority of cases. After extended prayer with the laying on of hands, we routinely see the brand new believer go into a state of inebriation. So much of the Holy Spirit has seeped into their life that they become a little wobbly. Often, they lose strength and collapse to the floor. Most of the time, they enter a zone where they are in the Spirit and it is just them and Jesus. Many will see Jesus and have encounters with Him. Others will see heaven, angels, and various spiritual pictures in still-frame format or as a movie-style vision. Sometimes the child or adult is actually an active participant in the vision. Almost always, the young believer hears the still, soft voice of God for the first time in their lives. The Spirit of Jesus always has encouraging things to say to a minutes-old new lamb of God.

Acts 2:17 states that “in the last days, I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions…” In our meetings, we simply see a modern day fulfillment of what was prophesied millennia ago.

Do we rely on manifestations? No! We believe a person can be powerfully filled and used by God without manifestations like we have detailed above. However, our role is to pray over a new believer, allowing them to be thoroughly soaked in the presence of the Holy Spirit, and give them their best chance of having God do all that He wants to do for them in the first moments of their new Christian life.

Returning to our story, these eight new converts were all receiving prayer. One teen, in particular, seemed like he could not get enough of the manifest presence of the Holy Spirit. He stood and received prayer for 20 minutes, hungrily soaking in God’s presence. His dad, a drug dealer, arrived at the meeting. He saw and sensed what God was doing and asked us to pray with him to recommit his life to the Lord. A group of us counseled him and laid hands on him. A lost sheep decided to return to his Shepherd that very night. After prayer, he remarked that it felt like a heavy weight was lifted from him. His whole countenance and demeanor changed before our eyes. He began helping us with the neighborhood kids each week. This was a great development because the kids all really looked up to him.

Jesus was tugging hearts toward Himself, and at the same time, tugging our hearts in the direction of Annapolis. The God-stories now came fast and furious, coming at us in rapid succession. Jesus was doing something very unique in this neighborhood. He was also creating a new chemistry between us and our friends that would result in an explosion of His saving power. Stay tuned for more!

Next – “Puggy the Devil” and “Living Room Outreach”

MR ED

It was time for us to go back to the streets of the inner city of Baltimore.

Ed was excited. He had been conducting his sidewalk Sunday School ministry pretty much alone. He was elated that Debbie and I wanted to join him.

Ed, or Mister Ed as the kids called him, had labored in some of the most dangerous neighborhoods of the city for years. He gathered children in the housing projects, sat them down on big blue gym mats, and shared Jesus with them. After some games, singing, and a skit, he would give them a gospel message.

As his regular attendees grew older, Ed invited them to join his core group called “Solid Rock”. The teens in this group would accompany him on the streets, assist him in rounding up kids, and help him perform the skits. Ed would also bring them to his church and try to get them vocational training as well. Each year, he would provide school supplies to needy neighborhood children. In the summer, he loaded up vans with scores of inner city kids and took them to an amusement park for free. Ed genuinely loved the children of the Baltimore streets.

Adventures abounded during the time that we worked with Mr. Ed. Here are a few verbal snapshots of the “Thrill of Victory and the Agony of Defeat” of inner city work:

Debbie and I had grown attached to three little girls who faithfully attended Ed’s Saturday morning program at an inner city outreach center named “The Door”. Our favorite role in our work with Ed was to pray over the children who came forward during his salvation invitations. One morning, these three little girls responded to an altar call and were touched by the Holy Spirit. One of them, as we laid hands on her and prayed, started to shriek and wail. We asked her afterwards what had happened. She responded that she was seeing her family going to hell. As one of His first acts in her life, the Holy Spirit had used her in intercession and travail for her own family.

The first morning that we arrived to pick these little girls up for church, we saw the reason for her travail. As the girls opened up their front door, we saw adults strewn across the living room, passed out from a night of partying. The room was littered with empty bottles of hard liquor. Our hearts broke as we saw the environment these newborn lambs of Jesus had to live in. We wondered how they would ever survive. Years later, we discovered that these little girls not only survived but thrived and one actually went on to complete college.

Maurice and his brother, Andre (names changed)  were heartbreakers. They were two of the sweetest and most respectful inner city teens one could know. They had been in Ed’s core group for years. Both were rappers. They didn’t just rap, they freestyled. As we drove around town with them they would start up a fresh rap about life on the streets that was unrehearsed and totally original.

Our son, Brian, struck up a friendship with them and used his musical talents to write and record original music for them to rap to. The boys loved it! The three formed a little rap group and performed together a few times.

Both boys had a dark side though. Debbie went to court with Maurice regarding a charge that he had convinced her that he was innocent of. A lawyer she secured was able to keep him out of prison, hopefully giving him a second chance. Hours later, after leaving court, he was apprehended for allegedly shoplifting a 50 cent bag of donuts.

Driving both boys and their teenage friend home one night after an evening youth program became a scary experience. We had never been to their friend’s home before. Their friend directed us through various dark and lonely streets, including a secluded park area on the supposed way to his home. The dead ends and his apparent confusion in remembering how to get home made us feel nervous. After what seemed like an eternity, we finally arrived at his apartment complex. On his way out of the van, the friend remarked to us, “I was going to rob you, but I changed my mind”. We breathed a big sigh of relief on our way home. We never saw him again.

Maurice and Andre’s father had been shot dead on the streets. It seemed like they lived their lives in the shadow of that horror. Both boys’ lives took a tragic turn.  Andre ended up in the state penitentiary.  Maurice was gunned down on the streets.

We wanted to be able to do more for the people of the inner city. My friend, Jeff, offered to rehab a dilapidated row house in a notorious area of the city called Pig Town. The plan was for our family to live in the house and minister to the drug addicts, prostitutes, and gang bangers right outside the door. We were full of evangelistic zeal but a little short on common sense. It would have been a disaster to move our young family into the gates of hell and to do it alone. Thank God for His patience, mercy, and protection. The plans fell through.

Jesus saw our hearts, though. He knew our desires but also desired our safety. The alternative plans that He was reserving for us would exceeded all of our expectations. Unbeknownst to us, those plans were right around the next corner of our lives.

Next – “Annapolis” and “Living Room Outreach”

RENEWAL IN THE PARK

My friend, Jeff, stood silently in the back of the room. It was only the second meeting of Face2Face, the youth group that our church had asked us to start (see last week’s blog). Face2Face was unique in that it was completely run by the young people themselves. The teens led worship, taught, ministered on prayer teams, and did the evangelism during the meeting. God was blessing mightily and visiting the youth with powerful renewal.

Jeff was having it out with God.

“You don’t need me. I’m just gonna leave right now.”

God listened patiently as Jeff went on.

“You’re not using my talents. The book says that the youth pastor should be in the front leading.”

The Holy Spirit whispered His response to Jeff’s heart, “You’re right, I don’t need you up there”.

Suddenly the beauty of what God was doing through the teens in the absence of adult control overwhelmed Jeff. His heart broke and he began to weep.

“God”, Jeff blubbered, “Just to be in the room when You come like this is enough for me!”.

Some day, Jeff says he will write a book. The book will be about youth leading. He will title it “Shut Up and Sit Down!” It will be directed to youth leaders and will carry the hard hitting message – “You, the leader, are actually the one that is stopping renewal from coming to your teens”.

The amazing outpouring of what the Spirit was doing within brick and mortar wasn’t enough for the young people. Many friends of the teens were not only invited but also being supernaturally drawn to the youth meeting and getting saved. This still didn’t satisfy them.

They wanted to export His presence beyond the church building to a hungry world outside.

Their first chance came when the church invited them to participate in a neighborhood outreach. The outreach was more of a membership drive than an evangelistic event. Leadership instructed them to go from door to door handing out church brochures and inviting them to attend Sunday services.

Then the pastors dropped the bombshell. “Do not share Christ” they ordered. “Do not even mention the name of Jesus”.

The youth then joined the adults and started knocking on doors for the “outreach”.

Returning from their assignment, they were jubilant. “We couldn’t just stand there and not mention Jesus. We HAD to talk about Him. There were even several who accepted Him on their doorsteps today!”

I believe there’s a verse somewhere that speaks about obeying God when man’s orders conflict. We were proud and supportive of them!

Now, they wanted their own outreach, one where they would not be controlled and where God could do what He wanted…and where the name of Jesus could be mentioned!

One of the girls from the youth group lived in a neighborhood that was a little dicey. She invited the rest of the group to do an outreach in a nearby park for the children and teens of her neighborhood.

Once again, our teens did it all. They planned the outreach and went from house to house inviting the children to come.

On the first day of the outreach, the youth group wondered if anyone was going to come. Soon, though, the park was full of kids. They played games with the children and did crafts with them. Picking up their instruments, they led them in worship. Just like He did inside the youth room, the Holy Spirit began to show up with His manifest presence. However, this time it was outside, all across that playground.

We wanted to weep as we watched the teens pour out their hearts in worship, in testimony, and then in an evangelistic message and invitation. What had become deeply implanted in them during their own renewal now became manifest to the outside world as renewal in the park.

Neighborhood children and teens responded en masse to the invitation. Scanning the playground, one would see our youth in little groups and clusters leading children to Christ, praying over them, and counseling them. To us this was the church as it should be. Not a church imprisoned within four walls but liberated to go and bring Jesus and His kingdom outside to a lost and dying world. We were witnessing the church of tomorrow manifesting today in these youth. Best of all, there was no adult, no program, and no hierarchy in charge. Jesus was in charge on that playground. He was responding big time to His name being lifted up and preached!

Then the truly amazing occurred. Spontaneously, as they began accepting Jesus and receiving hands-on-prayer, the neighborhood children went out in the Spirit just as the youth had been doing in their own meetings. What had been imparted to our teens was now clearly being shown to be transferable. These brand new babies in Christ succumbed to the heavy weight of His Shekinah glory, passing out and passing into the spiritual zone where it was just them and Jesus. Afterwards these neighborhood kids recounted the visions they saw and precious things that their Father in heaven had just now spoken over them. These children had not just prayed a prayer, they had a life-changing encounter.

One of our teens was standing in the middle of all of this Holy Spirit activity taking it all in. “I can’t believe this is happening” she exclaimed. “It’s like I’m dreaming. I didn’t know that I could ever, in all of my lifetime, see what I’m seeing today!”

Those comments were well worth the “price of admission”.

Next – “Mr Ed” and “Annapolis!”