A Burning Passion to Serve
By John Ashmen
This issue of Executive Session is coming to you from a Starbucks located on Alpine Shadows View in Colorado Springs. The landscape outside the window is as black as the Grande Americano I’m sipping. Just a few blocks away, the recent Waldo Canyon fire did some of its heaviest neighborhood damage.
Pictures of the fire breaching the ridge west of town and roaring into the Mountain Shadows area have gone around the world. I have been communicating with friends in Australia and Europe who were shocked and are still upholding everyone here in prayer.
If it had have been any other week, the fire would have been the lead story on everybody’s nightly news for four days straight. As it was, the Supreme Court’s decision on Obamacare occupied a lot of the headlines.
I want to say thank you, one more time, for all of the notes and calls we received at AGRM. Our office was evacuated for several days. Friends at the Christian and Missionary Alliance national headquarters provided a “wired” landing place for us. We did business via cellphones and laptops. We’re now back in our own digs.
There are plenty of pictures on the Internet for those who want to see the blaze in all of its furry. But it’s the aftermath of the fire that I want to share with you.
All of AGRM’s employees live east of I-25, so none of our houses were directly affected. But we all know people whose houses were. Sometime back, Judi and I were eating dinner with friends on the deck of their house on Talleson Court. That place is now nothing but rubble and ash.
AGRM Director of Operations Stacie Hughes became a homeowner earlier this year. The place she didn’t purchase was on Majestic Drive—where every house on both sides of the street was leveled. “For some reason, I just didn’t feel a peace about buying it,” Stacie told me.
Judi and I attend Woodmen Valley Chapel. Last Sunday, Pastor Matt Heard, a resident of Mountain Shadows himself, led an amazing service: “Beauty from Ashes.” Of the 347 houses that were destroyed, 138 of them were owned by people connected to our church (i.e., members and regular or semi-regular attenders).
Last week, Matt—who spoke at the 2009 AGRM annual convention in Denver—was in the hardest hit area with city officials when a Red Cross worker from Arizona walked up and joined his group. As they gazed over a landscape of charred foundations and tree skeletons, Matt said, “This is just amazing.” The Red Cross worker said, “What’s more amazing is the way Colorado Springs is rallying around everyone who’s been affected. I’ve never seen anything thing like this in all my years of disaster relief.” Apparently, the Red Cross has run out of people to relocate because so many residents have opened their homes to families who have been displaced.
Woodmen Valley Chapel posted a page on its website to see who could take folks in, who could loan cars, and who could donate clothes, food, and other necessities. Staff members had to take the site down a day or two later because they had more help than need.
At the conclusion of Sunday’s service, Matt asked folks to shop in Manitou Springs, Green Mountain Falls, and other communities west of town because the mandatory evacuations and ensuing cleanup had forced them to shut down for a week or more—and summer is when those businesses make their money. Judi and I went to Manitou Springs to eat lunch and buy our daughter a birthday present. We had to hunt for 15 minutes for a place to park. One of the locals said the crowd in town—people going in and out of stores with packages—was estimated to be three or four times what it would normally be on a summer Sunday. And everywhere you looked were homemade signs thanking the firefighters, police, and neighbors.
The question that everyone out here is asking is not, “How could this have been prevented?” They are asking, “Why does it take a catastrophe to bring out the best in people?”
On a typical day in any given city, politics and theology can divide us. Busy schedules can keep us moving amid people without seeing individuals. And then disaster burns down our walls. We no longer distinguish among Democrats, Republicans, or Independents; or Baptists, Lutherans, or Catholics. We fully understand everyone’s wounded spirits, broken hearts, and shattered dreams—at least for a while.
The Mountain Shadows image that AGRM Director of Member Services Justin Boles reflected on was that of a family wearing surgical masks, sifting through ashes, hoping to salvage a few charred treasures. On the very next property, at a house totally untouched by the flames, a young man plugged into his iPod was mowing green grass. A pitcher of ice-cold lemonade awaited him on the porch.
In so many ways, this is a picture of the pain and the gain that are side by side in our society. What does it take to get us to turn off our mowers, put down our iPods, and carry our lemonade next door? I hope it’s not our own personal tragedy.
If only the church could kindle and fan a burning passion to serve—as a style of living, not an occasional reaction to misfortune—it would sweep through our communities and permanently change our landscape.
Whether the people we encounter have a house on a hill or just cardboard in a culvert, we need to be in tune with their spiritual and physical needs. We must show concern and provide care while minimizing the temporal and emphasizing the eternal. This is not to say that we minimize pain or loss. No one who lost a house in the Waldo Canyon fire will respect anyone who tells him or her: “Don’t fret. It’s just stuff.” But as we console over loss, we gradually emphasize what is to be gained by receiving the abundant life that comes through Christ Jesus.
John points out the incomparable worth of Christ in his first epistle: “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of possessions—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever” (1 John 2:15–17, ESV).
I smile with delight with the knowledge that you who serve in rescue missions understand this critical commitment to serving others more than most, and you have a strong desire to train others to understand it, too. Thank you that the hope in your hearts is demonstrated by the work of your hands.
We're Sockin' It to Ya...But We Need You to Box!
The North American Sock Drive, sponsored by Hanes to benefit AGRM member missions, uses the Walt Disney family picture “The Odd Life of Timothy Green” as the catalyst for collection. This stands to be a major North American public relations initiative—something that missions have been asking AGRM to provide for a long time.
Two things will happen if you participate:
- You will receive new socks to distribute. These include socks collected in your community, as well as some donated by Hanes.
- You will realize public relation benefits every time the movie and the sock drive are mentioned. (Disney’s press release went out on Tuesday and we are already receiving calls from newspaper and broadcast reporters asking who in their local communities is participating.)
But for this to be successful (so that AGRM will be selected to do more things like this in the future) we need a lot more missions to participate. So far, 26 percent of our members are “in”—but we need more to follow suit. Some areas of North America are not yet represented.
We did a quick conference call with an officer in each of our nine districts last week. Of the nine, three had signed up and were already placing collection boxes in their communities. Fom the other six, this is what we heard:
- We want to do that. Is it time? Our response: Yes!! The press releases have gone out and people are already starting to look for boxes in stores in their area.
- We haven’t budgeted to do this. Our response: It’s free! There is no cost for missions to participate.
- We want to do this but we don’t have the manpower. Our response: There’s no real manpower needed. It’s a matter of somebody pulling up a website and ordering the boxes. They’ll arrive at your mission. You can then have staff (and their spouses) drop off boxes on their way to and from work.
- We are already doing a back-to-school fall clothes drive. Our Response: Use this as part of your existing drive. You’ll have plenty of socks, for sure, and the PR will help you bring in other items you need.
- We have concerns about the stand Disney takes on certain issues. Our response: AGRM did not sign a contract with Disney. We are simply the recipient-of-choice who will benefit from the agreement between Disney and Hanes. As a result, our missions will be promoted as they receive and distribute socks to families in need. “The Odd Life of Timothy Green” will be promoted in this process, but it’s going to be promoted anyway—in conjunction with us or another charity. (NOTE: We understand that some CEOs might be concerned about how their more conservative supporters will view their ministries if they participate, and therefore will let this opportunity pass. We respect that.)
- We didn’t know about it. Our response: Even if you haven’t seen any of the previous info, you can read all about it right now on our website. Go to www.agrm.org/sockdrive. Everything you need to know is right there.
(Three of the six missions that responded above have since jumped in.)
Jeff Lilley, CEO at Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission, is helping to give this venture legs in his community!