Wednesday, February 1, 2012

From Silence to Singing: A Story of Transformation

Sometimes I think I have the best job in the world. Very often, on seemingly ordinary days and in seemingly ordinary people, I get to see God at work in big ways. It is thrilling to see His handiwork, His mercy and love evident, as plain as day, in the lives of those we interact with on a daily basis. It has long been my hope to share some of their stories with you so that you can be thrilled as well by the way our God works. Many of you have come and shared in some way in our work here at Western Avenue Ministries, here is an opportunity to share in our joy.

Linda grew up dependent on welfare in the Weiler homes projects. She and her 5 siblings never really thought they were poor. Her mother made sure their lives were rich with tradition, making Thanksgiving and Christmas feasts fun and plentiful. However the combination of the absence of God and the oppression of the neighborhood took it's toll when she found herself with three little girls and married to a physically abusive husband. "It was a very dark time in my life", she says, "I didn't know anything about Domestic Violence Shelters. I thought that if I left, the violence would stop. I thought I was the problem." It was then that she made the difficult choice to leave her husband and her girls. "At the time, I felt it was my only choice, but the sadness of it made me like the walking dead."

It was then that she was introduced to crack cocaine and prostitution. "I was trying to self medicate. The pain of leaving my girls was so terrible." This led to a destructive downward spiral and a second husband who was nothing but trouble, more drugs, more prostitution, but no hope.

 One simple prayer that changed a life
Sometimes it is a simple, desperate prayer that makes all the difference. One night while she was getting high with a customer, he jumped on her and began choking the life out of her. She regained consciousness with a knife to her throat and him confessing to murdering a girl just like her just two days before. Her windpipe crushed, she could not scream for help, but she did cry out to God. Four simple words: "God please save me!" changed everything. Her roommate heard her struggling, got help and got the man out of there.

It took her landing in jail for change to start happening. Still unable to speak because of her crushed windpipe she pleaded with God to restore her voice. "If you give me my voice back, I will only sing your praises!" The first week she was afraid to go near the Bible study group meeting in the jail. The second week she tried to sit close by so that she could hear what was going on. By the third week she was sitting with the group, asking questions. "I didn't want to be dead anymore and I wanted to live, but not like I was living."

 Living Free
Released from jail and rehab, it was time to start a life free from the bondage of sin, drugs and violence and to be re-united with her daughters. "My spirit started to flicker again. Before, it was just a small ember, almost snuffed out." It was during this time her nephew Terry joined her at 6 months old. But her still addicted and violent husband made their home destructive and unstable. "This time I had the strength to break the cycle and go to a shelter. After we got out of the shelter we had only cereal to eat. My neighbor told me about a church where I could get groceries and a meal. I sat way in the back because I didn't feel like I was good enough to be there. I know now that was a lie." It was there that she once again began to ask questions about salvation. Her questions were answered when she began attending our ladies Bible Study and she then gave her life to Christ. It was the first time that she had ever heard that God could bring good out of the bad things in her past and use them to help others. "At first I was just coming for the food, then I started coming for the word."

 Since then, Linda has been a vibrant part of Western Avenue Ministries. She has gone from a young woman with no voice to a beautiful testimony of God's love, at times leading worship and singing His praises. She participates in and sometimes buys the books for our ladies Bible Study and she makes sure that all 8 of her grandchildren come to church. Her most recent testimony is of God's help with her weight loss, she has gone from over 400 lbs to just under 290 pounds and is still losing!

Linda's life did not just get easy after she gave her life to God, in fact she has had many challenges (including a traumatic home invasion by armed robbers who beat her nearly to death) but one thing is very clear in Linda's life. She cannot stop telling people about what God has done for her and what He can do for them. In her cab, in the ER after her home invasion, at work in WAM's kitchen, or at Bible Study it doesn't matter. "Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation" is her verse and life goal. " You don't have to clean up to come to Christ," she tells people, "He cleans you up pretty good. Just look at what He has done for me. He can do the same for you."

Western Avenue Ministries now serves more than 1200 meals a week and continues to pass out groceries to needy families in Toledo's Old South End. We are looking for 100 partners to give just $25 per month to meet our monthly expenses. We just passed 50 partners! Linda is One of a Hundred.  Is God calling you to be One of One Hundred? Send me an email to sign up!

Monday, October 3, 2011

The Jar of Flour and The Jug of Oil

“For the jar of flour was not used up and the jug of oil did not run dry, in keeping with the word of the Lord…” 1 Kings 17:16

  Last week at WAM , by God’s grace, we served over 1,200 meals. 

Just a few months ago, we were only doing one meal a week.  I was asked recently how we are handling the increase.
 Our answer: We have no idea, only God in his infinite wisdom knows!
WAM is now providing breakfast to the needy in our community 6 days a week and dinner 4 nights a week.  Last year, when we sat down to plan our year, providing more meals to the community was not even a blip on the radar screen.
We plan, God laughs, right?!
 We did not feel that we had the time, financial resources or volunteer power for such an undertaking.   The thought had not crossed our minds to even try.
Sometimes God’s plans are a bit bigger than ours….
Our friends and partners at Cherry Street Mission began providing breakfasts and some dinners each week at our building last December in hopes that the community would eventually be able to take it over.  This summer, through a series of unplanned events, WAM was able to step in. We have several wonderful churches who help us out on a monthly or weekly basis with dinners, but mostly the work is being done with volunteers and workers from our own community.  There is a collaboration and unity of the body of Christ in South Toledo. Western Avenue Ministries, Vision Ministries and St. Lucas Lutheran Church now provide a breakfast, lunch and dinner every day of the week for our community. Hunger and food insecurity need no longer be an issue.

With an average income of roughly $800 a month, the average house renting for $500 a month and the skyrocketing cost of utilities, there isn’t much left over at the end of the month for food.  This has caused the number of meals we are serving to swell to up to about 200 per evening at the end of the month.   “It helps a lot to have the meals available here”, one single mom told me recently, “ I don’t have to worry if I don’t have enough money for food. My kids love coming here and I love the feeling of community I get when I am here. It lets me know that I am not alone and that someone cares.”
She is thankful, and we are thankful.
We are thankful for all of the workers and volunteers who get up early and stay late to faithfully provide nutritious meals to their community.

We are thankful for our Church partners who sometimes spend the whole day cooking to provide a meal for those who are struggling in our city. 

Grace United Methodist Church
                Maumee United Methodist Church
                Cedar Creek Community Group
                Trinity United Methodist of Gibsonburg
Faith Baptist Church of Lambertville
Gateway Community Church
Waters Edge Community Church
Church of the Good Shepherd in Malinta, Ohio
    ….. you are all the hands and feet of Jesus and the people of South Toledo are BLESSED by your service!

 We are thankful that somehow we have been able to keep up with the increased demand for breakfasts and dinners.
 But mostly…
 We are thankful for a God who cares for the needy in South Toledo.
 We are thankful for a God who sees the plight of the single moms and struggling families
We are thankful that God has bigger plans than we do!
Is God calling you to help with this undertaking?

Here’s how you can help:
1.  Would your church or small group like to serve God by providing a meal on a weekly or monthly basis?
2.   Would you be able to contribute financially to the cost of providing a meal?
3.  Can you pray that the “oil and flour” would not run out and that God would continue to provide the resources (human and financial) to fund this unplanned for and unbudgeted increase?  Our funds are dangerously low.
4.  Can you pray for perseverance for Gidget and our volunteers who share the burden of cooking these meals on a daily basis, sometimes putting in 12 hours a day?
If God is calling you to contribute financially, your contributions can be mailed to : Western Avenue Ministries, PO Box 20098  Toledo Ohio 43610

Monday, July 4, 2011

The Beauty Project

“When individuals who have made it out of poverty are interviewed, virtually all cite an individual who made a significant difference for them.” Ruby Payne


What would you do if you were a young girl, growing up in generational poverty?
What would your life be like?
First of all, you would be bored. There is not much to do. No birthday parties, skating parties, swimming, going to the mall, hanging out at friend’s houses or reading good books.  Only a TV shared with the rest of the family and the internet if you walk down to the library. You really can’t enjoy being outside much, you know exactly where the drug dealers and prostitutes houses are.
Second of all, you would be bombarded with not so good messages. You have most likely witnessed multiple episodes of domestic violence or experienced abuse of some kind from mom’s multiple boyfriends.  There is no daddy telling you how special you are. You are most likely wistfully waiting for him to get out of jail. Mom is preoccupied with life’s struggles and her most recent man.  The message you have received is that you don’t matter. Sexy is beautiful  and winning the attention of a man is the ultimate goal. School is just somewhere that you have to go and a future career is not looked forward to or considered a reality.  
Third, there are no good role models. There is no one in your neighborhood who waits until they are  married, for that matter, there is no one who gets married.  There is no one who dresses with dignity, there are very few who have jobs or are able to make ends meet without some kind of public assistance. You don’t know anyone who has graduated from high school or gone to college. On the other hand , all the girls that are older than you have a boyfriend and a baby. You just have never known any different.  You don’t know anyone who has done things any other way.

But what if you met someone who was different.  What if you met someone who consistently told you that you had potential... that you were valued, worthwhile and that in fact , that you were the precious daughter of a King?  What if you met someone who could show you better options for your future?  What if you met someone who saw the beauty within you and called it out?  What if you met several someones like that?

Enter the Beauty Project 2.0

The Beauty Project was the brainchild of Sarah Howard, a Moody intern, who expressed a desire to  serve young girls in South Toledo.  On the first day we only had two girls show up…then we had 5…then we had 8 and sometimes 10.
We learned some life skills in the kitchen, cooking up a taco dinner and eating it…

We did crafts, we did nails, foot massages, went shopping, made journals and talked and talked and talked….
We talked about what real beauty is , how to dress with dignity, how to pick an outfit that flatters you, where our REAL worth and identity comes from…

Each girl got to pick an outfit that was flattering to her...

But best of all we talked about who our Heavenly Father is and what He thinks about them….the plans He has for them…. One night, two of them accepted His gift of a lifelong relationship.
We ended with a big celebration.  They wore their new outfits, we did hair and make up....

 ...and each girl had their photos taken by a professional.  

Each girl heard affirming words, describing the individual character qualities that make them beautiful.
And we made a book, with their pictures , scripture and affirming words, so that they could each have one to keep.

We would love for the Beauty Project to continue year round. Each Sunday they call me…” Are we getting together today?! Why not?  "
The Beauty Project is in serious need of leadership. We have several helpers and lots of great ideas, but there is no one at this time to take the helm.  I won’t kid you, it is hard work at times, you are swimming up stream, going against the flow….
… but sometimes when you do that really good things happen.

Besides you don’t have to swim upstream or go against the flow on your own , God swims with you and He is a good swimmer.
It really doesn’t take some huge talent or great knowledge to be significant in a girl’s life. Just a little time, a little love , a little patience and a passion to share God’s love with those who have never really seen it in action.

IF God is calling you…..send me an email!

Special thanks to all who gave the gift of time and resources to make the Beauty Project happen….Sarah Howard, Sierra Torres, Sarah Ramsey, Kate Lucius, Noelle Ann, Charlotte Nolan and Sarah Ersig… you all rock!

Friday, June 24, 2011

Why We Have a Summer Kids Program

As many of you know we at WAM have a summer kids program.  Every day, Monday through Friday, about 50 kids show up at 10 am and stay until 6 pm. It’s crazy, chaotic, fun and challenging to the 10 or so volunteers and workers who have agreed to take this task on. ( I question their sanity!)  The kids get to do fun things like....make silly hats...

.....float homemade boats...

...sing in the microphone....

....and play with sidewalk chalk....

As you can imagine , summer in the inner city can be a challenging time. It’s hot, it’s boring. There are no neighborhood pools, mom often does not have transportation to take kids to do fun things, most often mom is caught up in trying to survive and keep housing, food, utilities, etc stable. Notice I say Mom , mostly because Dad is long gone or not involved much.  I am not aware of one park with playground equipment in our neighborhood, not that it would be safe to let your kids go play there if there was one.  Here is a picture of our nearest park. Hot sun and grass, fun, fun, fun.....NOT!

Summer camp, vacations, sports camps, music lessons, enrichment activities…. things that kids in the burbs do all summer cost money. Not a priority in the city. Survival is the utmost priority for our families.
But the main reason that we have a summer kids program is because of one little girl that I will call Christina.  A couple of years ago, Christina was a regular fixture at WAM. She was about 10 years old then and showed up everytime the doors were open often by herself and especially if we were having a meal. She would  hang out most of the day at the local soup kitchen, where the creepy single guys hung out too, because she had nothing to do and nowhere to go. Christina was told that she had to leave her house every day around 9 am and was not allowed to come home until 9 pm because her parents were involved in questionable activities during that time.  So there she was, a 10 year old, roaming the neighborhood all day, begging to stay at friends houses, eating at the soup kitchen, fending for herself. Eventually people caught on and she did receive help. I am told she is doing well in foster care with a family in Sylvania.  But her story kind of stuck with us. There are a lot more Christinas out there. Maybe not in such dire straights but struggling none the less.
So, with the help of the YMCA, the Sophia Quintero Center and the Northwest Ohio Baptist Association, we have a summer kids program. Most weeks we are blessed to have mission groups from all over the country coming to do VBS with the kids in the afternoons. Here is the one that was here last week. They were awesome!

This week our mission group cancelled. They wanted to help out closer to home since they are from the tornado ravaged south.  Understandable.  But that has made this week difficult and hectic for our workers and volunteers.
In spite of the chaos, they have been patient. They have worked long hours and have come home exhausted. ( I know this because two of them are my kids!)  They have...
 put up with wild kids...
 cleaned up throw up...
 made numerous runs to the dollar store...
 gone without lunch.... tried to track down absent parents who did not show up to get their kids...
 put numerous bandaids on numerous kids...
 put up with big needs and little resources...
 had to be very creative...
  hugged...dried tears...
 shown love...
 shown mercy ...
shown patience...
 shown perseverance...
shown self control...
gotten messy...
 gotten wet….
All in the name of Jesus...
 All because they know what the alternative is for these kids.
All because they get the big picture. 
 I think that’s pretty amazing! 
Feel led to help? There are still two weeks empty, without a mission group. Do you know any groups that are looking for a place to serve? Let us know!  Want to volunteer for a day, a half day, a half hour? (are you crazy?) Come on down! Most of all help us out by praying for peace, safety and fun for the workers and children, and that they would “get it” that Jesus loves them and we do to.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011


In doing what we do , we meet the most interesting, wonderful people….

people who somehow make your life richer for having been in it.

Sometimes you don’t even realize that they have niggled their way into your heart until they are firmly established there.
 Many of the Baby U parents in our last graduating class were just like that. Each class has had a different personality and this class seemed to have a wonderful thirst for knowledge. There are always some who are just there for the freebies. That is to be expected in doing what we do. Our job is to figure out which ones are willing to learn and run with it.
 This class however…was different.
 First of all we had a record number of dads attending, do you know how rare that is in our neighborhood?! A dad who is present in their child’s life …. and not only present but participating in a parenting class? That’s pretty cool. There were two teen dads , both with teen moms expecting their first child. There was a teen dad that after our class on reading to your child, read to his unborn child every week.  There was a single, older dad who fought CSB for custody of his 3 year old twin boys and won, even though he was older than most parents of toddlers and even though he can’t read. Those boys are his life. Everything he does is for them.
 Here’s our class…..

And then there was Lotoya… at first she really wasn’t too sure about us, but quickly established herself in our class.
 She was a single mom of two little girls, Miracle, 7 and Madison 3. Latoya was a talker. She called Monica , her outreach worker, every single day, sometimes more than once, just to check in and see what was going on. She interrupted me constantly in class, always talking about her kids and her family. She was one of these people who always smiled while she was talking, so it was impossible to be irritated with her interrupting.  She talked about her struggles with her kids and the funny things they would say when she was trying to discipline them. She talked a lot about her grandparents who had passed away in the last couple of years and how much she really missed them. It was clear that she had had some significant losses in her life.  She joked and teased constantly. She threatened to quit Baby U every week if she didn’t win the weekly gift card drawing. She teased the big burly teen dads who rarely spoke even though she was about half their height. She came to every single class and each week told me how much money she had saved up with the Toy R Us gift cards she had received for attending. At our next to last class she proudly told me that she had $80 in gift cards saved up and couldn’t wait to go shopping for Miracle’s Birthday coming up. That was the last time we saw her.

On a Friday morning, just before our Saturday Baby U graduation and picnic, we got a phone call informing us that the young mom and three year old girl who had passed away in a fire that morning were our Latoya and Madison.  We were stunned and devastated. We had really come to love her.
The next day, at our graduation we took time to remember her and pray for her family. There were a lot of tears. There was a big hole in our class where Latoya should have been. We made our picnic a celebration of the lives of Latoya and Madison.
I like to think that Latoya knew Jesus. I am told that she attended a church that preaches the gospel. She definitely heard the gospel every week at Baby U. I like to think that she had a happy reunion with her grandparents and most of all is enjoying the presence of our Lord.
She will definitely not be forgotten and if there is anything we have learned, it is to hug people a little tighter, tell them often how much you love  and appreciate them and be faithful with the Word because you really never know when you will never see someone again….
2 Timothy 4:2 Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage --- with great patience and careful instruction.

Friday, June 3, 2011

The Least of These

This blog is a result of a conversation that I had recently with someone who encouraged me to share the ups and downs of working in an inner city ministry. Since I have only managed to get two newsletters out in the last almost four years a blog seemed more appropriate.  We meet amazing people and are able to witness God working in amazing ways. Due to time constraints we often don't get to share the big and little victories that we have the privelege of seeing on a day to day basis.  We often don't get to share the struggles either. Hopefully this will be a forum for both of those things to happen and a chance to those who are unfamiliar with inner city minsitry to get a taste of what life is like for those stuck in generational poverty and those of us who try to help them. So here is the first post.....Baby University is a parenting program for low income parents in Toledo's Old South End....

She sat at the table and just cried.  “Why are you people so nice to me?”  This single mom of three and one on the way had been scraping by so much that she had recently lost the use of her car. She couldn’t make the payment so a family member offered to make the payment for her, only he took the car for the month in exchange.  This left her struggling to get to the store, GED classes, etc. Any time she wanted to go anywhere she had three little ones in tow and she herself very pregnant. No matter the weather or time of day, whenever they needed to go somewhere, they all walked. Do you remember how cold and rainy the month of April was in Toledo? No fun, but not uncommon in WAM’s neck of the woods. Once Baby U became aware of her struggle, we were able to buy her a bus pass for the month, hence the tears. “ This really is a special program, and you are a one of a kind person” she remarked….”you give us hope.” At that moment we were able to share with her that it really isn’t just Baby U caring for her, someone else is really looking out for her too and that someone else is her Heavenly Father. She smiled and said, “Yes, I can see that.” The bus pass seemed like such a small thing but to her it was an affirmation that God cares for a struggling single mom and that maybe, just maybe there is something to all of this. To all of you who have donated your time , money and resources this year to Baby U we thank you. Tomorrow we will graduate our third class of parents and none of it would have been possible without the Body of Christ working together in the beautiful way that you have. Whatever thing you have done for us be it small or big, it was HUGE in the eyes of our parents and in God’s eyes as well .  ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine ( or sisters), you did for me.’  Matthew 25:40.