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Pastor Testimonies

“ Who loves cleaning public restrooms?” was the question that always led to my favorite moment of the week. It led to wide eyed stares and disgusted moans from all over the room. Students would come from all over the country, mainly the great Republic of Texas, to downtown Chicago for their mission trips. I don’t know what they were expecting to do when they got there, but I do know that we flipped their expectation on its head.

A few summers ago I left Dallas Baptist University for the summer to help Scott Venable launch Mosaic Church (now New City Church) in the Wicker Park neighborhood of Chicago. We had no foundation to build on other than a few friendships Scott had built having moved to Chicago a few months earlier. By the time our first mission teams were arriving for the summer we didn’t even have a “church” to point them too.

Wicker Park is one of the most interesting neighborhoods you could ever visit. On one side you have “six corners” where 3 major avenues collide and the “El” lets its passengers off the blue line stop. Six corners is one of the trendiest spots in all of Chicago, the hipsters party all night. But just blocks away are government housing projects packed with under-resourced families who were there long before Wicker Park was the next “place to be”. There are few places I know of in the world where demographics change so drastically simply by crossing the street.

Kindness outreach is never “easy” in an urban context, especially one as drastically diverse as Wicker Park. But we decided we would try it anyway. Our first project was going to be weekly toilet cleanings for businesses down Milwaukee and Damen avenues. Many of the students who would come each week were uncomfortable cleaning strangers toilets, and even more were afraid of ASKING someone if they could clean their restrooms for no other reason than to show Gods love. But I believe that God shows up in the biggest ways when we are willing to cross the line of comfort.

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My favorite story came from cleaning the restrooms of an “adult toy store”. There is really nothing more cringe-worthy than washing the bathroom of a store that you’re not even allowed in unless you’re 18+. Since most of the people serving on mission teams were High School students I knew that cleaning this bathroom was up to me, and I felt clearly in that moment that God was leading me to not pass up on an establishment only because it was a place that I would not endorse. If anything I felt God saying that the need for that stores toilets to be scrubbed was greater. So I went inside by myself and said to the shop owner “Hi Im with Mosaic Church down the street and we’re washing toilets today to show people that God loves them. Would you let me clean yours for you?”

I’ve never seen anyone so confused. She stumbled over her next few words, almost laughing at the thought that anyone would volunteer to clean the toilets in that kind of store, but agreed to let me. When I came back out she had a tear on her cheek. I asked if there was anything else I could do for her and she asked me to explain why anyone from a church would come into her store and do something nobody wanted to do without asking for anything in return. I told her it was because that is exactly how God loves us, freely and undeservedly, and Mosaic Church wanted to be a reflection of that.

There was no “conversion story” that day and to the best of my knowledge that lady never became a “member” of Mosaic Church. But when she went home that night she did know that Jesus loved her, even if she didn’t understand it. And she knew that people in her neighborhood who followed Jesus loved her too. And that’s the goal of kindness outreach, that people would walk away knowing that Jesus loves them. Church membership is great, but people knowing that the Son of God loves them because Christians in your community are obedient to Jesus commands in Matthew 22: 34-40 is far better.

Kindness is bigger than context. Chicago may be one of the hardest places to do kindness outreach in the country. Most people there hate the church, many with good reason. So creating more church programs is rarely the answer. But few people hate love, and when it is given freely as Jesus commands it changes lives regardless of what your community looks like.

“Sail into the wind.” These were the words Tim St. Clair spoke to me in March 1995 following a three-week revival emphasis in our church. God had poured out His Presence on us, and had touched the hearts of our people to embrace a community that been tolerated at best, and stiff-armed at worst.

For five years I had been pastoring a church that had once been a leading church in the city of Fort Worth, but had experienced dramatic socio-economic and demographic change. The median income of the households surrounding our church was eight thousand dollars a year.

The once vibrant blue-collar neighborhood had transitioned into a Hispanic community. The school across the street, where the church had been founded 80 years before was now 90% Hispanic as families from Mexico, Cuba and several different Central American countries came pouring into the city searching for employment and affordable housing.

Racial tension existed between the neighboring black community and our newly arrived Hispanic neighbors, and it was fed by the rivalry for turf among the Crips, The Bloods and The Latin Kings. Businesses in the area were tagged with gang signs, as each group marked their territory.

I vividly remember the Saturday morning a drive by shooting left a riddled car and two dazed gang members on the steps of our church as we prepared for a wedding. The families visiting from Oklahoma couldn’t wait to make a run back to the border, north of the Red River.

A little over a month after I heard the words, “Sail into the wind,” our church was hit by “The Mayfest Hailstorm.” Softball sized hail swept through our neighborhood as the 10th Worst Storm in American history destroyed the roofs of our church, 70 A.C. units, three vans, and took out 500 windows. Just four years before we had rebuilt our church from a fire that gutted our auditorium. It was very discouraging as we said to ourselves, “Here we go again.”

As only God could do, He began to give me a vision to lead our people to sail into the winds of adversity and find His way through the storm. I formed MISSION FT. WORTH DISASTER RELIEF, and on Sunday afternoons after church we began by knocking on doors in a six square mile area, conducting a Disaster Relief Survey to determine the most pressing needs.

Over the next two years, we learned what it meant to sail into the wind as we…

  • Provided disaster relief to hundreds of homes in our neighborhood, and enlisted our people and teams all over the country to roof over 100 homes.
  • Launched a Language Center, offering the residents assistance in learning English as a second language.
  • Adopted the elementary school across the street and provided winter coats for 900 students and teachers. These were designed as a school letter jacket in the schools purple and white colors, bearing the logo of their mascot and the school name on the back.
  • Expanded our ministry to the community through a Food Pantry / Clothing Closet.
  • Enlisted and trained volunteers to serve in the Choice Crisis Pregnancy Center that was opened by our church and operated on the outskirts of our property. Today it continues to lead expectant mothers to Christ and provide them with the resources they need to raise the children they choose to protect.

During this period of upheaval and uncertainty about our own future, we sailed into the wind by investing our lives in our community and embracing the people with the love of Jesus.

I personally dispensed with wearing a coat and tie for a year, since many of the people we were reaching had lost everything in the storm. All summer long, after church on Sunday mornings we would walk the streets of our neighborhood to knock on doors and follow up on the needs of people from Noon until night.

Three years later when I left the city of Fort Worth, a member of the City Council said to me, “I have never been to your church, but people all over the Eastside tell me you pastor that church that gets out of the walls of the building and takes it to the streets.” I don’t know if I have ever been given a greater compliment of my ministry.

As I recall those days, I remember a statement repeated to me over and over again by the people who invested so much and received so little in return. They would say, “I finally feel like I am being the church and not just going to church.”

My challenge to anyone interested in sailing into the wind and ministering to people where they are before they come to church is this:

“Be the church. Don’t just go to church. People may just follow you to church if you are the church where they need you the most.”

What can God use to reach people?  The options are limitless.  God has opened my eyes as a pastor to a plethora of possibilities.  My favorite story that really made it real is the story of Mary.  A mission team from our church delivered a dozen donuts to a butcher shop where Mary was working.  With the donuts we left a card that said, “No Perfect People Allowed” at our church.  That act (not random) of kindness was the act of grace that touched Mary’s heart.  When the team came in, she thought, if this church would love me enough to give me a gift and invite me just as I am…that is a church I will try!  She came to church that Sunday, gave her heart to Jesus and was baptized a few weeks later.  Her life has radically changed and she now leads one of our college small groups.

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We live in a society that is totally flipped out by anything free.  Unfortunately, many churches are the worst offenders.  Advertising free events and then having a donation bucket or charging for things.  To this date, we do everything for free, and with no strings attached.  Those opportunities to serve people, love people and give unmerited grace allows us to share the love of Jesus and our story of why we do what we do.

We very often get the question…”what is the catch?”  Our answer is always the same.  We want to show God’s love to you in a practical way today.  It has taken many forms at our church, from free coffee, free oil change and car repairs for needy families, free donuts, cookies, etc…  Each time, whether in an upscale coffee shop or a mechanic’s bay, most people receive our gift and we are able to plant one more seed of the Gospel.

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As long as I pastor this church, we will find ways to love our city, remove the barriers of fear and skepticism and be able to share with them the most amazing story that God has done for us…the message of the Gospel.  From big groups to individual acts we are taking our town, one act of kindness at a time!

As I walked up to two ladies, I could tell they were skeptical. “Would you like a free bottle of water?” I asked them, and one cautiously, said “yes.” The other lady just looked at me with a very suspicious look on her face. “You think I’m trying to pull something, don’t you?” I asked, and she slowly shook her head yes. So I continued, “I’ll tell you what. I’m just going to put this bottle of water down right here, leave this card beside it, and walk away. The only catch is that I’m trying to invite you to church.”

A few years ago, God called my wife, Lindsay, and me to start Christ Centered Church (C2 Church) in Miami, and we knew that kindness outreach events, which we call Love Louds, would be an important part of our strategy to love others in the name of Jesus and reach them with the Gospel.

Even before we started meeting for worship, the C2 Church launch team participated in Love Louds across North Miami. Some of our most successful Love Louds have been: water giveaways in the medians at busy intersections (of course we wait for the light to turn red!), block parties at parks in low income neighborhoods, doughnuts giveaways at local businesses and in the carlines at local schools, free yard sales, free cookouts, and coffee giveaways in local parks.

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Through doing Kindness Outreaches, we’ve seen countless first time guests, established strong relationships with local schools and businesses, and earned a reputation in the city of North Miami of being a church that cares about the community. Two years ago, no one had ever heard of Christ Centered Church, but now, people call us when there is a need.

Rosa’s story illustrates the power of Love Louds—Rosa was a Christian, but she was struggling with her faith and was investigating Buddhism. Every Sunday morning, she used to ride her bike by our church and pass about 100 small yard signs we put out each week letting people know where and when we meet, but she never came. Then one day, someone gave her a bottle of water during one of our Love Louds, and she showed up the next week. Rosa told me, “I had to come check out a church that gives away free water!” Over the next few months, Rosa got completely plugged into our discipleship process, grew stronger in her faith, and made a recommitment to Christ before moving away to another city.

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The hardest part of Loving Loud in a place like Miami is convincing people that everything is free! In fact, we use huge signs that say “Free Water, “Free Hotdogs,” or “Free Games” and “Christ Centered Church Loves Miami”, but some people still think there is a catch. Like the lady I wanted to give a bottle of water to, people in Miami are skeptical because people aren’t normally nice unless they are up to something. But that’s the power of kindness outreach—it’s not normal to do something nice and expect nothing in return. That’s also why Love Louds and kindness outreach create natural bridges to the gospel. Why do we love our community and expect nothing in return? Because that’s what Jesus did for us. “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” 1 John 4:10

Greeting from New York City!

My name is Stephen Trainer and I am the Pastor of Graffiti Coney Island, a ministry-based church plant in the Coney Island neighborhood of Brooklyn. I have been a student/practitioner of kindness outreach for a couple of years now, thanks to my friendship with someone I admire a great deal (who happens to produce this blog) and I’d like to take a few moments to share with you a little about our experiences showing God’s love in a city that has a reputation for impossibly hard hearts.

In New York City, you are told to speak to no one, mind your own business, and for the love of all things do not make eye contact with anyone on the subway. In the largest city in the United States, people are frequently alone even as they stand in a subway car so full the doors have difficulty closing. Headphones are the accessory of choice – everyone dons them each time they leave home, from kids to grandmothers, a strategy designed to ensure they are not forced to interact with anyone.

I’ve been told New Yorkers will never respond well to kindness outreach. I’ve been warned not to try in certain neighborhoods because the culture isn’t conducive and people will just become angry. Coney Island, where we are planting Graffiti, is a challenging neighborhood were violence is all too common, and I’ve been cautioned that kindness outreach is simply not safe in this area. I am convinced that kindness combined with the leading of the Holy Spirit works every time it is tried, regardless of venue, so duly noting the conventional wisdom we elected to advance as we have in many other of life’s areas, we did it anyway.

About an hour ago I was on the subway, and thinking about what I would write here I noticed a poster on the train that said, “Courtesy Counts. Others will thank you. Ok we can’t guarantee a thank you, but they will notice – and appreciate it.”

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People are people no matter where they live or where they are from, even New Yorkers. Who cannot appreciate and understand kindness? Let me qualify my words with this disclaimer – I am not claiming to be an expert on any subject. We have been doing ministry full-time in New York City for a grand total of 8 weeks, and I am certain our day is coming when we have a negative experience as we seek to show God’s love in tangible ways with no strings attached. I can only share with you what we have experienced so far; here are three stories.

It snows in New York City, in case you haven’t heard. It’s snowing now as I write this in fact. One of the seasonal outreaches Austin speaks a great deal about is leaf raking from yards in the Autumn months, and although almost no one has a lawn in NYC, business and home owners are required by law to clear the snow from the sidewalks in front of their buildings. We thought a great way to show God’s love to people in our neighborhood would be to do it for them! God used this particular outreach to help us establish a very positive relationship with a prominent business owner in our community. He is a not-yet believer, but knows who we are, why we are here, and every time I go into his store now he engages me in meaningful conversation. Once I was in his store when the phone rang. I couldn’t help but overhear his conversation, and was really moved when I heard him say, “Yeah, my friend Stephen is here…” This new friendship will no doubt continue to lead to gospel conversations.

This past Valentine’s Day, we tried our hand at another outreach Austin has lead many through. We made up 125 small bags of candy and placed an outreach card very similar to the ones Austin has demonstrated here. My wife, our two boys (aged 5 & 2) and I stood on a busy street corner in our neighborhood and gave passers-by the free gifts and very warmly wished them a happy Valentine’s Day. Out of 127 people we encountered, only two refused our gift. Not bad for stone-cold New Yorkers! People’s reactions were priceless, and I could not count how many people hugged our kids when they handed them the little bag. We even saw a spike in traffic at our website that afternoon.

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The last experience I will share is my favorite. Some friends from a partnering church of ours and I went out one day for my personal favorite outreach, cleaning restrooms of area businesses. We visited four shops that day, one refused our offer to clean their restrooms, and the other three permitted us. One bodega owner, a Muslim gentleman from Yemen pointed us in the direction of his restroom, scarcely glancing up from his work. We did not know it just then, but because of a language barrier he thought we were there to use his bathroom, not clean it. He came to investigate when the three dudes did not immerge from his single occupancy restroom after several minutes; imagine his surprise when he found us cleaning it! He was at a legitimate loss for words in any language. As my friends finished up, I began to speak to him, and realizing our communication difficulties I asked if he read Arabic. He nodded, and so using my phone and Google Translate, I copied the “Just for You, Just Because” message from our outreach cards and translated it to Arabic for him to read. When he finished, his eyes filled with tears as he said, “We are brothers.”

Toliet Outreach

Is New York City too hard a place for kindness outreach? I do not think so. I am convinced that kindness combined with the leading of the Holy Spirit works, every time it is tried, regardless of venue. It seems to be working in my city, and I believe it will in yours as well.

I got a very encouraging email from one of the pastors that we coach in Kindness Outreach named Scott Hedges. Scott had told me his church, Brazos Meadows in Waco, Texas, was doing a Valentines Outreach where they were going to bring bags with baked goodies and connection cards to those having to work the midnight shift on Valentines. The response below is an email of Steve’s to me telling me how the outreach went.

It was a great time.  We had 12 Youth and 9 adults.  We sorted food and headed out in teams of three just after midnight.  The first team started at Wal-Mart.  I had my concerns whether they’d even let us in or let us stay. We met with the store manager and she was overwhelmed to the point of tears.  Not only did she let us stay, she gave us free run to every department and invited us to walk up and down each isle.  Can you believe that?  We met one employee and told her who we were.  She said she knew about Brazos Meadows.  When we asked her how, she pulled out our Outreach card and said we paid for her laundry last month.  Pretty cool huh?  I don’t know where she stands “spiritually” but if she’s not a believer, I’ll guarantee her attitude about God and the church are changing! 

We visited everything from gas stations, to fast food restaurants and even hotels.  Some were a bit skeptical (which is understandable) but we were well received by all.  We even had one of our Youth pray for the night manager at Domino’s Pizza.  Can you imagine having an 11th grader come to your job, show you God’s love by handing out some baked goodies and then offering to pray for you and your family?  Incredible stuff!

By the way, if you show up to your local Police Department at 1:30am (with a couple of bags in hand), they will dispatch  officers to check you out. We have a great relationship with our PD so everything was fine.  They were very grateful that we thought of them too.  So other than a few people falling asleep in SS, I’d say it was a great success.

Hopefully this email will encourage you that God is using Kindness Outreach in different churches all around the nation to reach people. We will be having more pastors, from different church, write articles and share stories in the months to come. If you would like to be apart of this, please contact me.