Thursday, March 5, 2015

Palms and Prayers



As we walk through our neighborhood we see that our streets are lined with very tall Palm trees. Whenever I see them, I find myself praying, "Lord, raise up new Jesus followers to stand tall like these trees." For me, every palm is a prayer.

But Praying is easy….waiting is hard.

I love palm trees because Palm trees bend they don't break.  When I pray for new Jesus followers to rise up like those Palms, I am praying for durable Christ followers who won't break under the pressure of their culture to conform to its ideology, its morality, and its "wisdom."  I pray that they will face the storm and bend, like Jesus did as he washed his disciples feet... and not break, like Jesus did not break when confronted with death.  

Every palm is a prayer and I want God to answer my prayers.  Soon.    

Thursday, February 26, 2015

A Lesson in Contentment


The picture is terrible….but the metaphor wasn't.

As I took a moment and watched the sheep graze on the edge of our city, Fresno…. I noticed how little they looked up.  Their contentment surprised me. A picture in my mind began to emerge.  I saw myself, a sheep, eating and unworried.  I noticed myself beginning to pray…."Jesus, these your sheep don't worry about anything.  But I worry about everything.  Lord, these sheep don't question the care of their shepherd because they see his grace in ever blade of grass abundantly provided.  But I question Your provision (stupid, I know, Lord) and some days feel blind to the daily bread you're providing."

God, keep teaching me how to be your sheep…..content and unworried under the care of my Shepherd.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Prayer

I've found that when I grow more dependant on God...prayer gets easier.

But often, prayer doesn't feel "easy" or "natural" does it?  Behind the unease is often some measure of self-dependence.  Do we really need god to answer our prayers? ….probably not.  We'd figure it out.

Last year….was a challenging year for our family --  God unsettled in our sense of Call and then we watched Him undo every part of the life we loved…and depended on.  He had to teach us how to depend on Him…..our future Call would depend on that lesson.    

It's my discipline, once a month, to do a day of silence and solitude at a monastery.  Having now moved to California, I've wondered where I'll go.  My brother and I found nunnery close to Fresno and thought we'd check it out….(Dang. I now have that one Beyonce song, "all the single ladies….put your hands up..." in my head)

Song aside….. it was beautiful


there was a trail with prayer stations...


the sun was shining...




and my brother was there. 


There wasn't much silence or solitude this time…but there was prayer.
…..and it felt easy.


Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Stunned. Dream Bigger.

A successful urban farm in Detroit.
Six months ago, we felt the Lord impress a question into our hearts.  The question goes something like this:   

"Can we turn an abandoned property in the Jackson Neighborhood into an urban farm which can produce enough fruits and vegetables for 920 homes in the Jackson Neighborhood?" 

I've shared this question with many people over the last number of months with mixed responses.  We see many people's eyes glaze over because it sounds idealistic and unrealistic.  Others….especially non-Christians are intrigued that a Christian or a church would think that food insecurity and healthy eating are "spiritual" issues which merit a church's attention.

Yet, there have been some who have applauded, encouraged, and asked us to continue to press deeper into our question and seek solutions.  Some of these visionaries have even pledged to donate to the purchase of an abandoned property and another recently agreed to help us work out the correct zoning required.

And yet…sometimes we doubt.  Did God really put this question into our hearts?  Is this really a realistic dream?

It was in the midst of doubt that we had a conversation today with a neighbor who lives directly across the street.

"Hi! When did you move into the neighborhood?  She smiled and quickly responded, "Oh, a month ago."  We inquired further, "Why did you move here?"  She thought for a moment, her eyes glancing to the ceiling before returning to us, said, "It's strange, my partner and I are from Los Angeles but we felt compelled here."  It was that word, "compelled" that caught my attention.  "Are you Christians?" I asked.  "No" she said.  Our conversation changed to the topic of what compels us.  We shared our hope of turning an abandoned property into something that can feed and bless our neighborhood. We saw her eyes light up.  She said, "That's exactly what my partner is currently researching!  It's his passion and dream.  In fact, he is already working with some guys in Fresno who are doing it.  We should do dinner and talk more!"

We were stunned. They live right across the street.

…Blog readers.   Dream big dreams….because there may be someone out there who has dreamt your dream long before you and knows how to turn dreams into reality.


Saturday, February 7, 2015

We're in!


It was only our first day in the neighborhood.  We were moving furniture from our Uhaul to our house and at the threshold of our front door when we heard, "Howdy neighbor.  Your house looks great!"

We turned to see an elderly hispanic woman with a full smile welcoming us to the neighborhood from her car in the middle of the street. She must have been driving by and seen us moving in.

We yelled back, "Thank you!  What's your name?"  She replied enthusiastically, "Lana!".  We walked over to her car, now idling in the middle of the street outside our house.  I asked her, "Are you a Christian?"  I'm not really sure why I asked that….it just kinda came out.  She replied, "Yes!  Praise the Lord.  My husband is actually an evangelist.  He's not with an organization or something….he just tells people about Jesus all the time.  His name is Jose.  And crazy as it sounds, a strange thing happened 2 weeks ago.  We were being prayed for at Church and the person praying for us paused, and said, 'God is going to give you a Church'.  We don't know what this means….but we are waiting on God to find out."

Our hearts leaped.  We wanted to tell her our story….our whole story.   It's a story about how God interrupted our lives and asked us to adopt a specific neighborhood and seek it's wellbeing by planting a neighborhood focused church.  A Church that was going to preach Jesus and meet our neighbors practical needs.

We asked her to dinner, and soon, after we are unpacked, we will have Lana and Jose over for an evening of food, laughter, and story telling (they live just a few houses down the street).

As we parted ways, she raised her hands as if to wave and said, "I am so excited you are here.  Welcome to the neighborhood.  God wants you here".  It felt like a benediction.  God was welcoming us on our first day in 'the hood", and he was also commissioning us…."God wants you here", she said.

That was day 1.  I wonder what day 2 or 3 or 1000 will look like?

Stay tuned.

---

p.s. For all of you who love to keep up with our family….here is a picture of Elizabeth playing the piano.  She LOVES doing this all.day.long.  She sings and plays her own little songs.  Could this become a passion for our little 5 year old?  




Sunday, February 1, 2015

Homes and Hearts


The front door of our house will be opened for us to move in our possessions this coming Tuesday.  Right now the house feels like a corpse….but soon we will give it a heart.

We are ready.  Ready to have rhythms again.  For us, daily rhythms are like blood in a body -- they bring life.  Our daily disciplines include sleep, coffee, scripture, prayer journaling, eating, reading, exercise, parenting, cleaning, playing, working, and ending the day with hospitality or fellowship.  It's these daily sacred tasks which give life to our family and fill our home with heart.

Right now….we have none of these rhythms…and we feel it.
And our kids feel it….they haven't slept well for the last 2 weeks.  

We are looking forward to filling our home with heart, because we know that rhythms are like blood to a body -- it makes it feel alive.

We can't wait to make our home alive for the neighborhood.  





p.s. if you'd like to receive our newsletter we will be posting stories and specific prayer requests that we won't be sharing on FB or through our blog.  Visit http://www.supportthewhites.com/rsvp/ and watch us up-close make life-long followers of Jesus by planting a neighborhood focused church in Fresno.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

A quick update on what's been going on

The Fresno Unified School District serves 90,000 meals a day.  They work hard to make them nutritious.  In fact 85% of their produce included in each meal comes from local sources!  We visited their facility to learn about the meals the kids in our neighborhood are eating.  


We also wanted to understand why the zip code we are living in has a lack of availability of fruits and vegetables in our local convenience stores and supermarkets.  


We got a private tour and saw all the food being prepared and packaged to be sent out to elementary schools across Fresno.  We wondered if Jackson was in there somewhere.  On the way home we said a prayer for all the kids in our neighbourhood who would be eating these meals that day.  We prayed, "Jesus, you fed 5000 hungry people in a day…and today you are feeding 90,000 kids across Fresno.  Thank you for loving our city."  


We are trying to listen to our city….to understand the forces at work within it.  We are learning that to love a city…you have to work to understand it.  Just like a relationship.  There isn't love without understanding. 

But here's a quick update: We plan on moving into our house early next week…something we are really excited about.  We have been meeting neighbors, sharing vision across the city, and trusting God for big things…

Big things like:  purchasing an abandoned property to turn into an urban farm that will provide access to free fruits and vegetables for the 920 homes of Jackson. 

Big things like:  Volunteer at the local elementary and begin to invest our lives into the heart beat of this neighborhood and starting an early childhood education program and tutoring club for little kids. 

Big things like:  Planting a spiritually vibrant neighborhood focused church that will start in our home and end up in a school -- a church that preaches Jesus and meets the practical needs of our neighborhood.

Thanks for following our journey, friends.  

Love you,

p.s. for our weekly blog readers…an update: we just got a check in the mail for the month of January.  Remember the story Joe tells of the the 5000….God did it!! Thank you cards are coming.  We love you.  Thank you for loving our family and taking care of us.  If you'd still like to support us, visit:  www.supportthewhites.com.  Your support will help us accomplish incredible things.


Sunday, January 25, 2015

Sundays



Sunday's are a bit of conundrum for our family.  We haven't moved fully into the neighbourhood yet….we are close….but still unpacking boxes, doing work on the inside, and still very much in transition  -- getting health insurance, car insurance, new drivers licences, etc.  Our whole lives we've attended a church service on Sunday mornings…but now what?  We have many churches we intend to visit over the next two months to connect with pastors who will help us understand the city.

But in the meantime….what do we do on Sundays?  For the last two weeks we have spent a couple hours praying through every block of our neighborhood (8 mi/ 12km), reading scripture, singing, and meeting some neighbors along the way.  It feels a little "hokey"….the voices in our head say, "really, a church is just going to emerge out of some prayer walks and conversations?"

But you see, it's because we have big vision that we have to pray.

Our big questions motivate our big vision.  Questions like:
1.  Can we empower a group of neighbors to purchase and turn an abandoned property into an urban farm which can produce fruits and vegetables for our entire neighborhood using aquaponics and hydroponics?

2.  Can our family show Christian hospitality to 350 families in the next six months and see the Lord grow a community of people who together seek the Shalom of our neighborhood through a vibrant Jesus centred, neighborhood focused Church?

3.  Can we serve Jackson elementary by starting an early childhood education program and after school tutoring program?

And so on Sundays we pray…and maybe soon, others with join us, and together we will believe God for big things in the Jackson neighborhood.


Wednesday, January 21, 2015

A simple exchange

a typical California sunset.

Our neighbor said to us, "So, you've come here to start a church, huh? Where's your building?"
"We don't have a building," I said timidly. 

He seemed perplexed…and searched for a question he perceived wouldn't come across as dumb.  He asked, "So, what kind of church is it?"
"It's a church for people who don't like church!" Heidi said

He looked surprised.  It was like he had never considered churches were open to people who weren't Christians. 

He smiled, saying, "That sounds like my kinda church!  I think I'd like that."

There are 920 homes in the neighborhood and we are praying for every family they represent.  It's takes 8 miles (12 km) to walk every block of our neighborhood.  We pray for every home as we walk, run, or drive.   We are praying that that Jesus would assemble a group of people in the neighborhood to seek it's renewal and we are praying that Jesus would transform people's lives -- spiritually, emotionally, intellectually, relationally, physically, and economically. 

We want to be a neighborhood focused church that preaches Jesus and addresses our neighbors practical needs -- we'll start in a home and grow into a school.  We dream of church full of neighbors all working together to seek the renewal of the neighborhood and city we love -- Jesus focused, mission focused, Spirit led.  

Lord, build your neighborhood Church.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

A Short Story - Our first day in the neighborhood

It was only our first day spending time in the neighborhood.

…and we met a new friend named, M.  Barely into her 20's, M is a single mom trying hard to love and care for her kids.  The father of her child is in jail for planning a murder that a gang in the neighborhood carried out.  As we listened to her story, we were amazed that God was giving us an opportunity to peer into the neighborhood through her eyes.  She told us of many kids and families she knows who are hungry, families who don't have running water because their parents can't pay the bills, and neighbors of hers who don't have winter coats.  "There are lots of needs in this neighborhood" she said.

She told us that the challenging parts of the neighborhood are drugs, alcohol, child neglect & abuse, prostitution, and teen pregnancy.  But she didn't say, "hopelessness."  Contrary, she said that there were many people…good people…who love this neighborhood and are seeing it's renewal.  M is one of them.

As M spoke….we felt our hearts enlarging.

Our hearts are actually small…but when you let people in, they make your heart bigger.

She said, "We've tried going to church before...but the churches we visited are far away and it's a lot of gas to get there."  We are wondering if it was for people like M and her friends that Jesus sent us here.    

Our hearts are growing for this place.

If you'd like to consider joining our financial support team or receive our newsletter, please visit www.supportthewhites.com .  Your financial and prayer support are what allow our family to dedicate our lives to making life-long followers of Jesus by planting a neighbourhood focused church in the Jackson neighborhood.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

What or where is home?



As Heidi and I walked together, praying as we typically do, she paused, saying "Everything is strangely familiar but it doesn't feel like home."

She's right.  Home isn't simply geography…it's what you do with where you live and it's who you are with, that makes home…home.

We've only been here for 60 hours….it's going to take a while.

We need to learn to love Fresno -- to experience again what it can mean to live in Fresno:

Home made tamales at Christmas
Fresh fruits
Awesome Mexican food
Corn dogs at the Fresno Fair
Going on a short car ride to Yosemite/Sequoia/Central Coast
Fresno State football games
Seeing the Blossom Trail
Walking through a thick winter fog

But we also need to experience a new, growing, and vibrant downtown core and those world changers who are seeking the wellbeing of the city.  We want to serve these city influencers and join them in doing the things that Jesus does (Revelation 21:5).

The city is our sanctuary (a place of refuge or safety) and the neighbourhood is our parish (a geographical area of spiritual responsibility) -- our job as pastors is to seek the renewal and wellbeing of both.

We are looking forward to allowing Fresno to become, home.


Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Arrived!


Can you believe it? During 3 days of travel, our kids did not even cry ONE TIME during this long road trip!  We were so impressed (it was a God thing, we think).

There were many moments where Heidi and I just sat quietly in the front seat -- after all…the car was strangely quiet.  It gave us time to read letters written to us for our journey.

These were letters filled with stories which made us belly laugh and cry.  They were all personal stories, written by people in our lives that love our family.  We were deeply moved.

One letter said, "You guys introduced me to Jesus, baptized me, and taught me how to follow Jesus.  I wouldn't be the man I am to day if it weren't for you."  

We are so humbled by words like that and hundreds others who've been in touch through letters, emails and Facebook -- encouraging us love Fresno, to seek its renewal and make life-long followers of Jesus by planting neighbourhood focused churches.

Our missionary journey has started well…because we know…we deeply know…that we are not alone.
  

Sunday, January 11, 2015

First day in America.


It wasn't really the "welcome to America" we were expecting.

After a snafu at the border, now delayed 3 hours into our first day of travel down to California, we were incredibly hungry.  We entered the drive thru at McDonalds (don't judge….we ordered salads) and waited for our turn to pull up to the order station.  The car in front of us finished their order and pulled away from the station, but not nearly far enough to leave us room to pull ahead and order.  So I tapped my horn to alert them to pull forward a tad to allow us to make an order.

Minutes passed, and all of the sudden the passenger of the car in front of us exited his car in a rage.  He was mad that we "honked at his girlfriend" who was driving.  I barely had enough time to lock our doors.  He approached our car, punched our window and pulled on our door handle and begged me to come outside at fight him.  He screamed, "Don't ever honk at me", he said.  He cussed us out, called us everything he could to get us to get out of the car "and settle this his way".

We just stared at him quietly.  

He didn't get the reaction he wanted….and he only got more furious….yelling a few more things to us and our kids before getting back into his car and driving away.

Heidi said quietly, "I'm scared for his girlfriend."

As I thought about all the things he said to us and our kids…I wondered if that's what our Enemy (Ephesians 6:12) is saying to us as we enter new chapter of ministry in the Jackson Neighborhood.  I'm convinced there is an Enemy who hates us more than that man ever could.

….and I hope our enemy knows we won't settle this his way.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

No days left

What an incredible send off last night. Thank you!! Our hearts are full. Pray for us today as we go over the border!

We'll update again later today.

All the love,
Joe and Heidi

Thursday, January 8, 2015

2 Days Left - So tired I'll be a mockingbird

Our brains are so tired.  Moving internationally has unique challenges.  It't not like moving cross provide, state, or town.  There are immigration border requirements which must be met.  We are very organized, methodical, and hard-working people (remember…we did train for Ironman with two kids)….but this "ironman" is somehow harder!

But we'll tell you….we are feeling so encouraged this evening.  Here are two emails which came today from two friends (one in his 60's the other in his 90's).  Can you find their similarity in themes?
Good morning,I was praying for you guys a couple of days ago and then had my QT... Matt 28, the Lord impressed on me verse 8 "...they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy..."The two Mary's were told by the angel to go tell the disciples "The Good News" vs. 8 is their response.They were obedient to the call and they had a purpose. (sound familiar?). Now the part that gets me... They did what they were told with "fear" and "great joy"... Again, this sounds like what you and Heidi are experiencing.Fear... So many things that can side track us, delay us or through us off course... Even paralyze us into inaction. That's why vision and purpose are so critical. And, praise God He has provided the two of you with that!Great Joy... I'm so glad these words were used. They convey the experience of opening a Christmas present and getting exactly what you wanted! But, it's also much deeper... Great joy in knowing that this journey of faith and act of obedience is not accomplished in isolation or by you and Heidi alone. It's the confident assurance that He is with you every step of the way... And your brothers and sisters in the faith (and flesh) are with you as well... praying, partnering and providing for all you need!Joseph, the antidote for fear and anxiety is knowing that Jesus is present with you... Take one minute, a deep breath, bow your head, close your eyes, another deep breath, and thank Him for His presence right now!
Or how about this email: 
Hi Joe and Heidi
Believe me, I am praying for you all.  I love you and thank the Lord for the blessings I have received from you.
Let me share with you something I read this year:  “When you see the ark...then ye shall remove from your place, and go after it...that you may know the way by which you must go; for you have not passed this way before.”  Joshua 3:3-4
Truly God is going before you when you are going through this mix of emotions – both excitement and fear.  God promises that He will instruct us and teach us the way we are to go. This has been an encouragement to me and so I pass it on to encourage you.  
Love to you all
The common thread in this emails are the themes of joy and excitement and fear and our hearts desire to trust God.  


So tonight….my mind is too tired to write an original thought….so I'll just be a Mockingbird and repeat the truth:  We are afraid and we are excited and Jesus is with us.






Wednesday, January 7, 2015

5 Days Left - Birthday Celebration

I'm so tired, friends, so I'll keep this short.

Today is the Day Of Epiphany in the Church calendar -- it's a celebration of God physically revealing himself to the wise men (and us).

Today, God revealed himself to us in everyone who sent kind messages, phone calls, texts, treated me to coffee and meals (multiple times today!) and ended the day with a great celebration among our friends.

God is always revealing Himself -- so look at the people you love and experience tomorrow as another day of Epiphany -- God revealing himself.

Monday, January 5, 2015

5 Days Left - Last Minute Details & Surprises


We have been packing for 9 weeks.  Yes. We are very organized people.  But there is no way to avoid the last minute rush….or is there? (someone enlighten me!!!)

We are maxed out -- transferring our banking, exporting/importing our car, car insurance for getting down there, health insurance to protect us until we can get on US insurance, repositioning all of our giving to dozens of individuals to auto deduct from U.S. based accounts, packing, protecting furniture for travel, doing all the customs requirements (among which is:  providing a list of EVERY SINGLE THING we are taking over the boarder and it's approximate value), …..i could go on. 


Yet, I must say, that amidst the rush….we are still aware of how the Lord is using people around us to encourage us.  


Like, a woman named Nancy who called us the other day saying, "Joe and Heidi, I just want to tell you that the Lord has really layed you on my heart.  You guys are on my mind when I wake up and the last thing I am thinking about before I go to bed.  I was praying for you the other day and I feel the need to tell you that I felt the Lord's excitement for you.  I wanted to tell you that He is excited for you."


We needed that.  God is excited for us?

He celebrates and sings
    because of you (Zephaniah 3:17B) 

Or a woman named A.J. who got in touch with us recently from Fresno.  We haven't spoken in years but she felt compelled to write: "If I can be of help to you and Heidi in cleaning and prepping your home for the move-in, please let me know."

….an unexpected partner in our transition -- A friendly face saying, "I am here to help you".  That means the world to us.  It sounds a lot like Jesus.  


We are maxed out….but we are loved….and that's making all the difference.  


Sunday, January 4, 2015

6 Days Left - Spending time with people we love



Every day of our lives for the past few weeks have been spent with people we love.  Every day, all day, every meal...for weeks.  It's strange that when you know that your time is limited, every interaction and every opportunity to spend time with the people you love is extra special.

Tonight we are spending time with friends in Washington…an older couple that reminds to keeping following Jesus.

I wish my whole life were like this -- to cherish every friend and to invest in every moment you spend with the people you love.  

But often "busyness" (which really means "I establish my identity in my performance")  and the worries of this life crowd out intimate friendships.  This is a tragedy.

I've learned in the last few weeks that we are deeply loved and the many friends we have are more than simply "people who know us"….they are Jesus' presence in our lives.

Every true friend is a reminder that Jesus loves you.


Saturday, January 3, 2015

7 Days Left - Our "No New Years Resolution" Year



Typically the New Year is an opportunity to recalibrate or reset your personal or family goals.  We aren't doing that this year.

What if instead of a resolution….you chose a word.  This word would serve as a guide for your life or family.  We are pregnant with vision and it would be easy to make a set of goals and aim to achieve our vision.

This isn’t what we want.

Our word this year is:  listen.

We think this year is about spending a lot of time listening to our neighbours, listening to Fresno by seeking to better understand it,  listening for the ways God is speaking to us through new friends, and to focus on listening to one another as we all adjust to a new place.


This year our word is listen.  What’s yours?


Friday, January 2, 2015

8 Days Left - Finding Joy among moving boxes


I mentioned yesterday that to wear joy you have to try on gratitude.

Moving is the ultimate test of your marriage and your priorities (do I hear an AMEN!?).  It quickly shows you how much you own and forces you to ask the question, "why do we think this possession is worth keeping in our life?"

Heidi and I love purging things….but I'll tell you we haven't been able to purge very much because most of what we own, we use!  How encouraging!

Maybe it was because for many years we lived by what we called our "10 rule" -- own no more than 10 of anything.  Or maybe it was because we save more than we spend and live on a budget.  Or maybe it was because we've never made enough to acquire excess. Or maybe it's because we've never lived in a place larger than 1100 square feet!

So today we are thankful for what we own -- all gifts, all blessing, all more than we deserve.  Nothing in excess -- all signs of of daily bread.  Thanks, Lord.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

9 Days Left - Looking for Joy



Works of pride, by self-called creators, with their premium on originality, reduce the Creation to novelty — the faint surprises of minds incapable of wonder.

Pursuing originality, the would-be creator works alone. In loneliness one assumes a responsibility for oneself that one cannot fulfill.

Novelty is a new kind of loneliness. (Wendell Berry, What are People For)
What does this quote mean to us?…wait a second.

We all know that joy comes from gratitude.  When you can bring to mind the things you are grateful for, you begin to notice a joy that isn't dependant on circumstance arising in your heart.  As we begin 2015 coming out of the most unsettling year of our lives (in a really good way), we are beginning to talk about all the things we are grateful for.  We want….need….to experience God's joy.

OK…now back to the quote….

Here is what we are grateful for at the start of 2015:  Jesus isn't asking us to be original or to create something that hasn't been done before.  That type of novelty is a kind of loneliness that Jesus isn't requiring of us.  He's asking us to join his missionary movement in Fresno, to stand with His Church and His people and plant neighbourhood focused churches that impact their neighbourhood and make life-long followers of Jesus.  (God has been doing it since here:  Matthew 28:18­20; Acts 2:4147; Acts 16:9,12; Titus 1:5ff; Romans 15:19, 23…..and he hasn't stopped since). 

We are wearing joy by trying on gratitude.  We like how it fits.  

p.s. that's Joe running into VERY cold water this morning to celebrate the start of a new year.  He was wearing a Canada hockey jersey.  We are so grateful for nearly 10 years in Canada.  This years' gratitude started COLD.  


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