Posts Tagged ‘Calvary Church’

img_8514To the people of Calvary Church and Shelby,

My name is Michael and I’m currently housed in the Centre County Correctional Facility. I’ve been incarcerated since March of 2015. I was 18 years old then, now I’m 20 and approaching my release date. I’m currently sentenced to 23 months and 29 days. As I’ve spent time here I started my journey of recovery. My drugs of choice are heroin and bath salts.

Recently I have been introduced to the Bible, the book of God. I’ve been familiar with the 12 steps of NA and I was able to get a recovery Bible. I’m a new believer and I read my Bible and pray every day. My faith is a little rocky but as I continue my journey God seems to send signs of strength to me. I’ve spent 2 Christmas holidays in jail, the first was a hassle and I was not sure how to respond to an act of kindness from people I don’t know. Calvary Church sent Christmas bags and it was the first time I felt like I mattered. I’ve felt that I didn’t matter, that a convicted felon was forgotten even though I’m a person with a family and hopes and dreams.

I’m older now and I’ve grown and matured mentally, emotionally and physically. I’ve taught myself to appreciate the small things and remain grateful for all things. I would like to say I am grateful for Calvary Church. I’m grateful for the gifts they sent all of the inmates. I’m grateful for all the time, money, and effort that was put into making the Christmas bags possible. It means a lot to me that total strangers put together gifts for people who are often shunned and looked down upon by society. It hurts to say that but it’s the truth. I committed my crime as a minor and was charged as an adult. I made a mistake because I needed to support a habit. As a 17 year old kid I wasn’t able to worry about the consequences of my actions. I’m really grateful that God has put me through these tough times so I could grow. If it weren’t for God I would not be writing this letter of thanks and gratefulness. Thank you Calvary Church for all that you do for us inmates. I’ve already met one member (Shelby) and I’d like to meet more. 

Sincerely, Michael

*His name has been changed and spelling corrected, but otherwise this is just a copy of what I received. Since it was addressed to the whole church I thought this was the best way to get it out to the most people. Thanks to everyone who was a part of this…there are way too many people who gave that I cannot reach you all and am so very grateful.

Dear World,

Thank you for being so nice, sweet and good to me. But please, don’t do any more nice things this month. See, I have a list of 103 thank you cards I need to write, so I simply can’t keep up with anyone else being nice, volunteering, donating money, and just generally doing things to make me so thankful.

thankfulActually, you can still be nice and kind, just be so nice that if your thank you note comes very late…or even not at all…you’ll still be gracious to me. =)

In fact, I’m hoping to provide Christmas presents to up to 400 people who wouldn’t be getting them this year because they are incarcerated. If you’d like to join, please do! You can mail me a check made out to “Calvary Church” with “Prison Ministry” in the memo line to me at 201 Harvest Fields Dr, Boalsburg PA 16827 or give online here and put “Prison Ministry” in the line for who you are supporting. Every bit of your tax deductible gift will go towards buying presents for those incarcerated in the Centre County Correctional Facility. Just $40 would cover the cost of Christmas for one inmate.

So I guess I changed my mind. Don’t stop being nice. Just maybe share your niceness to someone else so they can write you a thank you card. =)

I’m so thankful.
Thankful to have so many reasons to give thanks.
Thankful for Jesus’ redeeming love.
Thankful to know that there are so many people on my team.
Thankful to watch people serve the homeless,
provide for the incarcerated,
and host community movie nights.
Thankful for you.

“So I have one friend?” she asked me nervously.
“Yes,” I answered confidently, “I am your friend.”

This conversation happened in the jail (like most of the ones that make the blog). We were talking about how scary the idea of getting out of jail was. How hard it would be to start over since her husband was divorcing her and she couldn’t go back home after this. Since her addiction had kept her from building any positive relationships in the past. Since she didn’t have custody of her children. Since she wasn’t sure what her relationship with her parents was anymore.

She asked how to make friends. She could do it in a bar, she said, but followed that thought up with the fact that she couldn’t go to a bar because she knew if she took one drink of alcohol all her hard work of staying sober would come crashing down. She knew she still doesn’t have the power to stop after one drink or to say no if offered a drink. She knows if she wants to stay healthy she cannot be around it at all.

“I’m your friend.” I said, and then continued with my list of friend making ideas, “You can go to the park, the library, the same coffee shop every week,” I told her. She said she loved the library but didn’t know how to start talking to people. “You can come with me to church and I can introduce you to people there.” It was here she stopped me to ask about my first statement. “So I have one friend?” It was so meekly asked that I wanted to cry. I wanted to hug her. I wanted to say, of course you do and I know so many more who would love to be your friend. I know the people who don’t care what your past holds and how many more times you mess up. I know the people who will love you with Jesus’ love. But I knew that would be too overwhelming, so instead I gave her a simple yes. “Yes, I am your friend.” And I hope and pray that one day she has so many more.

When I asked to go into the jail 2 years ago I had no idea what that would bring. I thought maybe I’d just teach a class and get to meet some people and whatnot. That’d be cool. I didn’t know I’d become a chaplain, the “party planner”, and the random girl in “street clothes” that eats lunch on the block every Thursday.

I didn’t know that I would start running the Angel Tree program at Calvary to provide Christmas presents to local kids with incarcerated parents. I didn’t know I’d get to bring in a small library to share with everyone. Or that I’d raise a couple thousand dollars and lead a church wide candy bar drive to be able to give presents for each inmate in our local jail for two years now. I didn’t know people on the outside would tell me stories of impact from their loved ones on the inside who received our gifts.

I didn’t know I’d decorate cards with men and woman who would send them to their kids, parents, lovers, and friends around the holidays hoping to not be forgotten. I didn’t know I’d listen and pray with women who signed their kids over for adoption. I didn’t know I’d recruit others to go in and lead events and classes. I didn’t know I’d hear about so much death and the many lost loved ones in these people’s lives. I didn’t know I’d launch a community mentoring program to help people adjust back into life after jail.

I didn’t know I’d become a penpal with someone on the inside. I didn’t know I’d make real friends who have left that place and now I get to see in street clothes sometimes. I definitely didn’t know or even hope that I’d get put in touch with people who live 4 hours away because their son is in our jail and they need help knowing what to do and who to contact. I never expected to hug a random stranger who cried on my shoulder as she thanked me for caring about her son and acknowledging that this was hard and embarrassing, but it didn’t define her. I knew God called me to go into that jail, but there was so much I didn’t know. I keep dreaming of more, but there is still so much I still don’t know. That’s just one reason I keep following after Jesus as He leads me into more and more incredible adventures beyond my wildest dreams.

“Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.” Ephesians 3:20-21

Dream-Big

Last week in the jail I went onto the block for lunch like normal and I sat down at a table with a woman who was 75. When I introduced myself to this tiny but beautiful white haired woman she nodded and responded with her name but quickly added that everyone calls her “granny”. I wanted to cry. I thought about my Grandparents sleeping on the cots in there that are not comfortable. I thought about how although I wouldn’t get to be with my Grandparents over the holidays I was glad it was for different reasons than this woman’s grandkids. I thought about how confusing the system is when you go in and how hard that must be to figure out at that age. I thought about how little respect inmates get, and how after living a full life as an adult being treated more like a child must feel beyond frustrating.  I watched her choose which food she would eat because she knew she couldn’t get through an apple and a sandwich in the allotted time to eat lunch.

I don’t know what she did. I don’t know why she was there. I don’t know when she will be out. But I know that she was sweet. I know that it is hard in jail. And I know that coming out is often like facing culture shock no matter how long you’ve been in. I’m so excited for the mentoring program being launched now so that people like Granny can have someone on their team to call or meet up with when they get out. If you are interested we are looking for more male and female mentors. Check out the website at buildinghope.squarespace.com and follow up with me if you have any questions or just apply today!

#PrayForTheWorld

Posted: November 16, 2015 in Uncategorized
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Guest post by my pastor Dan Nold…got this in an email from him and thought it was wonderfully written…

#PrayforParis has been trending on Twitter and Facebook. Lynn and I spent time Friday night watching the unfolding events in Paris. Such a tragedy. But perhaps it should be #PrayfortheWorld. This isn’t the first or even the worst terrorist attack in 2015. Ten other times in 2015 at least 100 people have died in a terrorist attack. Boko Haram and ISIL account for all those attacks but one. In April Al-Shabaab (Al-Queda offshoot) attacked mostly Christians at the Garissa University in Kenya killing 147. #PrayfortheWorld

Of course all of that pales when compared to the almost 5.5 million children under the age of 5 who have died in 2015 from preventable poverty conditions. About 1/2 of those deaths are from malnutrition and lack of clean water. #PrayfortheWorld

And it’s not just about deaths, it’s also about life. We could talk about 17.9 million children who are true orphans (lost both parents). We could talk about racism. We could talk about drug addictions. #PrayfortheWorld

But do we…pray for the world? We should.

  • We should pray for the world because we have a global God. The prophet Habakkuk said that one day the whole earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of God just as the waters fill the sea. (Habakkuk 2:14)
  • We should pray for the world because even though we may not know anyone in the part of the world where a tragedy has taken place, we know Jesus. He is there. When we care about them, we care about Him. (Matthew 25)
  • We should pray for the world because we have a world-wide mission. The God who loves the whole world (John 3:16) has called us to go to the whole world to tell them about Jesus. (Matthew 24:14)
  • We should pray for the world because it matters. I don’t understand how or why but I know that God has chosen to respond to our prayers. (James 5:16-18)
  • We should pray because our battle is a spiritual battle and it ultimately requires a spiritual solution. (Ephesians 6).

So don’t make the statement “I’ll pray for you” the equivalent of “In this moment I care at least a little about you.” Turn your care into prayer and pray for the world because nothing is more important to our world than the world experiencing the presence of God.

Lately my job ok, life, has been nearly consumed with CityServe. CityServe is a huge weekend of service we plan with the help of 3 other local churches and is completed with volunteers from several more! It is an incredible opportunity to see God at work in our community. And a wonderful chance to share God’s love with people who maybe have never heard about it before.

I’d say it’s a bit overwhelming, but then so incredibly worth it. I’ve been pushing back against it a little bit and being shown lots of grace from the team as I keep running off to jail, and other meetings that are not directly related to this crazy event. I try to make up for my absence by working in bits and pieces here and there. Sometimes early, sometimes late. I think after this I could learn to juggle. =)

Tonight I came home earlier than I was expecting and needed to just not do anything for a while. I needed to process. So I decided to write, because you may have noticed the silence on here lately…it’s been one of the things that just doesn’t get the time. But it seems that the rest of life just refuses to be put on hold during CityServe. So let me tell you a few of the things that made me “take a break” from CityServe work, but just don’t always count as a break…

  • Meeting a new woman in the jail who told me heartbreaking stories and didn’t believe that she deserves to be forgiven. It’s so humbling to be reminded that she is right. We don’t deserve to be forgiven. And it was such a sweet time explaining to her that she can’t earn forgiveness, but she can have forgiveness because of Jesus.
  • Getting a phone call from one of my older friends who comes to our months dinners, and doesn’t have any family in the community to learn that she received some medical tests telling her she is terminal. I tried to hold back my tears as we chatted about her options…will they try chemo? surgery? radiation? …no. I told her I couldn’t imagine how scary that must be, but she is a believer and she seemed to be at peace…at least that day. It was again humbling to remember that we are all terminal…the only difference is she knows her expiration date. She is very excited to be getting a group from CityServe coming to her home to help her this year.
  • Hanging out at the shelter: holding a puppy, chatting with friends, ignoring whatever crazy movie was playing, getting interviewed for a student’s photo journalism project, entering a ton of names into our database, and giving one of our girls a ride to her new apartment with a box full of food and a pillow and some of her few belongings. It was encouraging to see how many of my homeless friends are signed up to serve as volunteers during CityServe.
  • Going to another friend from the monthly dinner’s house unexpectedly. I got a call from her saying, can you please get a group to come help me because I was really sick and there’s …(insert all types of bodily fluids here)… in my bed, and I can’t carry all of that down the stairs to the washing machine while I’m still not fully recovered. Well, I couldn’t very well call the hospitality team to see if someone wanted to go over, so me and one of my amazing co-workers who is the one in charge of CityServe peaced out of the office after staff meeting to go strip her bed and wash it and remake it. She’s excited for her upcoming CityServe project…and I’m sure the volunteers will be glad we were there for the pre-CityServe work to make it a little cleaner for their arrival.
  • As I was getting ready to head over to my Life Group tonight and lead our study, I got a call saying one of my friends was in the ER. This friend is an addict and unfortunately the thought of him in the ER brought more frustration than fear. But I know that it’s really hard to stop being an addict, and that most things are harder when you think your alone in the world. So I made a few calls, and got my awesome co-leaders to fill in for me, and headed over to sit at the hospital and talk about making good choices and to give him a hug when we parted and tell him I love him. He can make me mad, sad, and disappointed, but he can’t make me stop sharing Jesus’ love with him.

So I get lots of distractions, some are emotionally draining, others are life giving, some are both. But I also have lots of emotionally filling things in my life! The moments when I come home and my sweet littles see me before I get in the door and yell, “Shelby! Shelby! Shelby!” or scamper off to hide behind the curtains waiting to be found. A friend I hadn’t seen in over 3 years dropping by on her drive from NY to OH and spending the night. Phone calls that work (even if they are short) to my family in Tanzania and the U.A.E. Encouraging words from so many friends. Lots of prayers. Watching our need for volunteers for CityServe go from 900 down to almost none! It is an incredible time. It is a crazy time. But mostly, it’s a time to remember that God is in control…just like He always is. And that He is going to do big things…just like He always does. Feel free to be praying for the nearly 900 volunteers who will be serving in and around our town this weekend at almost 170 different locations, and for all the people mentioned in this post. I love serving with a team…thanks for being a part of it!

We don’t know when we will get to the end of our lives. It’s like running a race with a hidden finish line. And the finish line is in a different place for everyone. This past weekend I’ve been thinking, when I cross the finish line will people rejoice for me? Will people be proud? Or will it be devastating? A “wasted life”? Without being morbid or making people afraid that I’m suicidal, can I tell you what I dream of? May I share some of the dreams I have for when I’m gone?

This weekend my pastor asked us how we would describe our lives in 6 words. I’m wordy. This was hard. But it got me thinking. I believe that when I die my life will be fully lived. If I died today I would consider my life fully lived. I wouldn’t think I missed out. I would wish I could say with my six words, “I made it to the end,” or “the end is just the beginning”. It’s not that I don’t have huge dreams that will take decades to complete (I’d love to marry a wonderful man, raise beautiful children, travel much more of the world, etc), but the real dream of my heart is to follow God. The rest is extra. So if I follow God today and die, then I’ve completed my dreams and goals. My life will have been complete. Not lacking anything. I would hope when I die these six words are true of my life: “She obeyed God’s call to love”. They are words that bring a challenge everyday. They push me to live better, love more, seek out the hurting, forgive those who hurt me. Yesterday I was reading Francis Chan’s ‘Multiply’ and in talking about the disciples he says, “What began as simple obedience to the call of Jesus ended up changing their lives, and ultimately, the world”. I want to be so willing to obey that even if it’s life changing or world changing…which is scary…I will keep obeying. As of today, I’m not sure what six words would describe my life. How would you describe me in six words? Or make it personal, how would you describe your own life in six words? “Adventurous traveler, compassionate friend, so loved” might be me in six.

Ever since I attended Journey Church during college I’ve been doing “Word of the Year”. It is just a thing some of us do to kind of help us keep our focus. It’s picking a word to focus on between just you and God. Last year, my word was greater. Before that (and before I was blogging so no stories with those) I had intentional – 2013, pursue – 2012, and delight – 2011.

For 2015 my word is overcome.

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This guy might not be able to imagine where the water is, but it’s there. With just a few steps he could overcome the grass, but he has to be brave enough to face the challenge and simply try.

I feel like there are multiple meanings to attach to this word, or reasons for picking it. What’s crazy is that I have a whole year to figure out why God put this word on my heart, but so far here’s what I’ve been thinking about… I want to overcome the daily issues in my life instead of being overwhelmed by them. I know that God’s got it, so I want to focus on overcoming. Another thing is that I think it’s easy to look at the problems of the world and be overwhelmed by them and say that they are too big to solve. Things like racism and knowing that #BlackLivesMatter, but not knowing how to make the world see that. Things like the human sex trade and trafficking. I cannot stop them by myself, but I can do things to raise awareness. I can stand against them and do things like #Dressember. It doesn’t solve the issue, but it is a start. It is doing my part to overcome. I cannot resist the temptation of drugs for my many friends who are addicts, but I can pray for them.

Just yesterday I had asked a friend if she had time to meet and pray for me about some difficult stuff going on. She read some verses that she felt God had put on her heart to share with me. The were the perfect verses to go along with the word overcome…

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” Hebrews 12:1-3

Feel free to remind me to overcome this year. I can always use friends checking in, pushing, stretching, supporting. Life’s a journey. It isn’t easy, but it’s exciting. It’s always an adventure. It’s not too late for you to pick a word! Think about it…there’s so many good ones out there. And if you do pick a word, let me know! I’d love to share the journey with you!

DSC_8207-2 Calvary is hosting Out of the Cold right now which is a temporary emergency shelter that rotates between 12 local churches during the winter months. It is a wonderful program that we work very hard to find lots of volunteers for. We have cots and blankets for our friends, good conversations, games and a warm meal. It’s not the same as having a house, but for an emergency shelter I’d say it’s pretty great.

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A couple weeks ago my life group had a chance to make the dinner and hang out with the guests for the evening. It was a joy to be together and see my two groups of friends collide. Sometimes it catches me by surprise that people I can feel so close to and such good friends with are only involved in one section of my life. I love when there is overlap. I think the reality is there is so much more that is the same between us than what is different. A lot of times we notice what is different. Like “I have a house and you don’t”. Or “I’m not in school and you are”.

photo 2-9But what I saw happening this night was not two separate groups focusing on their differences. But one group of people sharing a dinner together and just enjoying warm food and cheerful company. It brought joy to my heart to listen to my Life Group friends ask my Out of the Cold friends where they were from, what things they had studied in school, and why they had certain opinions. I also loved hearing my Out of the Cold friends asking similar questions of my Life Group friends. I think friends are fabulous and I have wonderful people from all the many sections of my life.

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Please keep Out of the Cold in your prayers. It’s tricky living together with a big group of people all winter long. It’s hard to sleep on cots. Even a warm meal every night is less appealing when you don’t get to chose what it is. No matter what kind of games we play it is not fun to be homeless. It’s scary. It’s overwhelming. It’s challenging. But we have lots of friends who face it bravely. Many of fought their way out of it. And I believe many more will overcome. In the mean time pray. Pray for love. For joy. Peace. Patience. Kindness. Goodness. Gentleness. Faithfulness. Self Control. Pray that my friends would know Jesus. Not just His name, but how He loves them.