Welcome to my blog...

Green trees, cool water, a gentle breeze...the perfect place to sit at the feet of the Master and learn. Jesus taught so often on the shoreline, and He's still speaking today.

This is where I share the lessons He teaches me, often during the time I spend on the shores of a local lake. I don't have all the answers...and some days I don't have any. But I go here when I need to draw near to Him in a tangible way. Come with me...

Monday, June 25, 2012

Adventures in Community Outreach: Part 1 - What is a Free Market?

My writing has been quite limited as of late because my time and efforts have been redirected a bit.  This is the first of a 3-part series about my distraction.  My church has been working on something called a "Free Market".  It's a pretty foreign concept for most.  It's like a traditional flea market with one great big difference.  It wasn't a fundraiser.  No one was selling spaces for people to come and put out their "junk" to sell.  No, a free market means that the goods - new or like new - are all donated and then given away.  For free, no strings attached.

It's an idea that been more than 2 years in the making and about 5 months in the planning.  I've shared the background before, but for those who are unfamiliar, here's a brief synopsis...a little more than 2 years ago, after reading the book "The Externally Focused Church", I went to my pastor and told him about the nagging feeling in my spirit that we were just not involved enough in our community.  The CommunityConnections ministry was born.  I invited 4 or 5 like-minded individuals to form the team and we began with a food drive.  In the past 2 years, the outreaches have gotten larger and more involved: from serving meals at a Salvation Army drop-in center, re-modeling a local Dress for Success office, and adopting a shelter to do an "Extreme Home Makeover" on its 17 bedrooms, to hosting a Christmas store this past December that involved purchasing gifts and allowing those in local shelters to maintain their dignity by choosing and purchasing items for their children at 10 cents on the dollar.

The Free Market was something my pastor had encouraged me to investigate in those early days, but it took two years for God to grow our ministry team to about 15 people, and to have service truly become part of our congregation's DNA.  That's why, when we put out a call for over a hundred volunteers just 3 weeks before volunteer intensive Kids Camp (our VBS program), people still answered the call.  God had prepared their hearts and minds to do what needed to be done.

As the ministry head, I am blessed to work with people who aren't afraid to step up and take the reigns on different outreaches. This time around, Cathy, a woman who's organizational skills know no bounds, stepped up to the plate.  Her previous church had done a Free Market a few years prior and so she was the one to cast the vision to our team and supply the details.  Her former church was several times bigger than our congregation of about 600, and their budget for the outreach was slightly more than double ours, so we needed to tailor the specifics to what our numbers and budget could handle.  For the past 5 months, our ministry team and some additional individuals who joined us specifically for the task at hand, have been working out the details. 

To fully explain the Free Market concept's purpose and goals, Cathy shared a passage of scripture with us.  Deuteronomy 24:19:  "When you are harvesting in your field and you overlook a sheaf, do not go back and get it.  Leave it for the alien, the fatherless and the widow, so that the Lord you God may bless you in all the work of your hands."  People were to harvest their fields in a circular pattern, leaving the corners (as well as any 'overlooked sheaf' from the circular harvest) for those on the fringes of that ancient society - strangers, orphans and widows, so they could survive.  There was nothing less desirable about what was left behind...it was just as viable a crop.  The idea was that God had given them a harvest, but it wasn't to be assumed that it was all for them.  He gave them bounty and they were to share out of that bounty.

The Free Market was rather like a modern day concept of gleaning.  God has been generous to us, so we need to in turn, be generous to others.  A three week sermon series entitled "The Blessed Life" instructed and encouraged the congregation to see exactly what God had put into their hands and what they could do with it.  God doesn't need a lot - He just needs a person who is willing to give what they have for Him to use.  Think David with his sling and a few stones...or Moses and his staff...Shamgar and his ox goad (yes, that's someone in the Bible - you'll just have to research it :)

So that's how it all began...an idea, a vision, some teaching.  In the next installment I'll share about the actual details of planning the event - just in case it's something you'd like to bring to your church.  Trust me, if you do, the harvest of blessings you'll reap will be difficult to contain!

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