Looking Back at This Summer

My name is McKenzie Lee. I’m a biology major, and I’m pre-med, so science and numbers are sort of my thing. So here are some statistics for y’all: in 2005, 4% of licensed lawyers were 29 years old or less. In 1900, only 4% of American men were six feet or taller. 4% of newlyweds spend their honeymoon in Europe. And only 4% of people who live in government housing attend a church.

But I’ve learned this summer that percentages can’t explain how it feels when Ms. Summer’s kids run up and tackle me with hugs. There are no numbers that define the love I feel in my heart when Alex and Landon call me sister. Stats don’t do justice to the joy of watching the faithfulness of God as the number of our kids double each day of our first week.

The experiences that I and my co-workers have had this summer just can’t be simplified to numbers. Jeff asked us the other night if it was worth it and why, and I think the answer to that question comes in the small moments. In hearing Jerrell regurgitate almost perfectly the story he learned that morning over Zaxby’s. In our early morning jam sessions. In knowing that these kids are loved and get to learn God’s love through us.

Grey often says, "We GET to do this," and I think that’s an incredible way, and the best way, to describe this summer. We’ve been provided an opportunity that others might not understand and might be skeptical of, but that we’re so incredibly thankful for. I am thankful everyday that I got to do this, and I’m thankful that it doesn’t stop here. Summer Hope may have ended, but the love I have for these kids won’t go away.

Here’s another fact for you: I had never taken a step a day in my life into Rosedale or McKenzie Court before this summer, and after this summer any day not spent at these places I’ll miss.

-McKenzie Lee

The Least of These

One of Jesus’ greatest challenges to us comes in Matthew 25:34-40.

“Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’”

Serving as an S.D. Allen Summer Missionary for these past six weeks has given me a fuller view of what “the least of my brothers” look like. This summer I have been working at McKenzie Court, a government housing project. We partner with Tuscaloosa Urban Missions to do a summer long VBS for elementary and middle school aged students called Summer Hope. The West End of Tuscaloosa, specifically the McKenzie Court and Rosedale apartment communities are home to some of the most poverty-stricken people I have ever encountered. It is not easy to see kids sleeping without beds, walking around in shoes with holes, or missing meals because there simply is not enough food in the cabinet. However, this does not mean that it is not worth it or that there is nothing to learn here. That being said, here are a few things I have learned so far:

1. Just because these people have less does not mean they are less. In just a month I have seen some of the biggest smiles, heard the loudest laughs, and made some of the best memories. These kids never fail to surprise me. A few weeks ago, I legitimately lost a foot race to a 7-year-old. They know Bible verses and are eager to learn more. They know Bible stories and are usually attentive to listen to more. They want to be doctors and entrepreneurs. Some of them want to work at Zaxby’s or Taco Casa. Every single kid there loves hot Cheetos. Our first few Bible lessons were about the creation of the world. My favorite part of the narrative is when God says, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness” (Gen. 1:26). We are all made in the same image. Just because someone looks differently than I do, or has a lifestyle that is foreign to me, does not mean they are loved any less by God or capable of any less than I am. Jesus says that He came to give us ABUNDANT life. The cool thing is that He gives that abundance in many ways. What the kids lack in material things, they more than make up for in the way they carry themselves and the joy they display.

2. People are hard to love. As a human being and especially as a Christian, I find it hard to learn not only how to love but also who to love. I always want to love and invest in those around me with whom I have easy connections, or those people who can give me benefits or make me feel good about myself. But when faced with difficult people, that’s when we run away back to that first kind of person, the easy person. Nowhere has this been more evident than at McKenzie Court this summer. Despite all of the fun and sweet moments we have with the children, sometimes they can be a little hard to handle. Sometimes they fight and cuss; sometimes they complain or are disrespectful. While it would be so easy to avoid these kids and be with the easy ones, these difficult people are the exact people we need to move intentionally toward. As hard as it is, we are called to constantly show humility and compassion to them and trust that the Lord will complete the good work He has begun in them. Every day, God is teaching me to be more patient and loving, and to bear with these kids even when it is extremely difficult.

3. I am the least of these. One of my favorite parables is the parable of the lost sheep. In the story, the shepherd leaves the 99 sheep to chase after the 1 sheep who has gone astray. I love this story so much because the shepherd declares a sheep, as helpless and as useless as is it, worthy of his pursuit. The best thing is that WE are the sheep and Jesus is the shepherd. If He is willing to pursue me, a broken vessel, to the point of giving His life, how much more so should we pursue the least of those around us??

These kids (and everyone else on earth) are worthy, not because of what they have or what they do, but because they are designed in the image of the Father for His glory. Loving God’s people was never supposed to be easy, but it was always going to be worth it. God is honored and our hearts are satisfied when we, who once were the least of these, love the least of our brothers.

- Phil Johnston

Presence

Being present. It seems simple. It seems easy. It seems to be one of those things that we always say we can do, yet our actions say otherwise. There’s always something to get done, someone different to check in with, somewhere else we want to be. This is the constant pace running through my mind, but the Lord is teaching me something different.

Whenever I am asked why I wanted to apply to be an S.D. Allen Missionary, my response is always the same: I wanted to be present where God has placed me. I have now lived in Tuscaloosa for 4 years while attending The University of Alabama. During that time, I’ve been motivated to make good grades, build my resume, meet new people, and grow in my personal relationship with Christ. These are good things, but I never thought of the significance of being in Tuscaloosa while doing them. I’ve spent so much time thinking about what’s next for me, and where I will go after graduation, but I missed the fact that God wants me here. He will take care of where I am going tomorrow, but, for today, I am here. I am in Tuscaloosa. I don’t need to ignore the opportunities I have here while dreaming about opportunities somewhere else. I am called to serve where I am, and until this summer, I didn’t understand how simple yet important that is.  

Each day, we have the opportunity to have an impact on the community around us. For us this summer, we do this through kids camp in low income communities. The cool part is that all we have to do is show up, and the lives of the kids are being impacted! We have a short Bible lesson every day, but there is no stress on having deep and theological conversations with the kids every time we see them. We don’t have to have a teaching point to every single thing we say to them. We have to just (guess what) be present. I love seeing how the Lord uses such simple gestures on our part to have eternal impacts. People can know the love of Christ by seeing the way we love them, and eventually, the deep conversations come. The kids ask “Why do you always come here?”, “Why do you care if I make it home safe?” “Do you love me?”, and the Lord is so faithful in leading us to and through these conversations. Jesus lived about 30 years before He started his ministry. You don’t have to be teaching and leading to be living like Jesus. That is part of it, yes, but there is time of just being present and investing in relationships where you are. So this summer, I am constantly being reminded by the Lord that living on mission daily is intentionally showing the love of Christ through my words and actions wherever I am.

-Emily Shaw

Missions in Your Own Hometown

I want to start this blog off simply with a prayer; a prayer said by a young child that is a part of the Summer Hope program. But what I find funny, is the outline of the prayer. Before the prayer, you hear a loud, “OKAY LISTEN!” Then, as the child gains the focus of the other children, she begins, “Bow yah heads. Dear Lord, I want to say thank you to everyone here who came out today, and grandma please be healed. Amen.” The part you did not hear me say yet, is that I simply asked the student to bless our snack time. Now during the past year every snack that the child has prayed for has been the same prayer. It’s memories and people like this that make me want to get up every morning and put a smile on their faces. Because just like that student, they put a smile on mine.

I was born in Tuscaloosa and have been attending Calvary Baptist Church for a total of nineteen years.  I am a sophomore at the University of Alabama, majoring in Public Relations. Growing up I loved to help people but never thought about missions or let alone serving in my own community. In my years in the youth group, we went on many mission trips. But I never considered or even thought about poverty in my own backyard. That was until I went on a mission trip to the Dominican Republic. This trip taught me multiple things; but the most important thing I learned was when I got back to America. I began to ask myself, “Why do I always go on the mission trips and never bring anything back? Why do I go do missions in another city, state, or country on a mission trip; when there are people who haven’t had a bed in years (or have never had one at all) that go to my school or live just a couple of miles from me? Or more important than that, why do I go to all these places spreading the Gospel when they’re multiple people who haven’t heard or understand Jesus dying on the cross for them here in Tuscaloosa?” I found out more about SD Allen and Tuscaloosa Urban Mission, and I slowly began to volunteer and work for these organizations.

The summer of 2016 is when I became more involved with the kids at McKenzie court. I began to foster relationships with the children, and I knew one day that I would want to be an SD Allen Student Missionary. After the summer was over I still wanted to be involved in the kid’s lives, so I helped lead a Tuesday night Bible study with Tuscaloosa Urban Missions. This Bible study was all year long and will be again next year. Sometimes it may seem like the kids can get out of hand and act like they don’t like you or they hate what we are doing. But deep down they really do care about you being there.

During training for this summer, my team and I went to McKenzie Court to hand out flyers about our Summer Hope program. As we entered the gym, we saw multiple kids that attend Kids Club and Bible study, that we had not seen since May. As I was spotted by a student he simply yelled “JACOB!!” I soon was grabbed and hugged on by all the children. The children do not want us to leave every time we see them. The children who some days I had to get on to. The children that say they “hate bible study.” Each and every single one of them hugged me, telling me they’ve missed me and they can’t wait to see me again. That’s when I knew my life is about to be changed this summer.

This first week of Summer Hope exceeded my expectations. The first and second day we had around 20-30 kids come and by the end of the week we had 40. The best part about those numbers is that more than 60% of those children are faces I had not met in the past. They are all new to what we are doing and I’m excited to get to know them. Most of the regulars are in summer school, so for the month of July we could be looking at close to 60 children attending. I know God has a plan for us at McKenzie Court, and I cannot wait to see how He uses us this summer!

- Jacob Rawson

Until His Nets Are Full

As we get closer to the end of the summer, the Lord has impressed on my heart the scripture of Luke 5:

“When He had finished speaking, He said to Simon, ‘Now go out where it is deeper, and let down your nets to catch some fish.’ Simon replied, ‘we worked hard all last night and didn’t catch a thing. But if you say so, I’ll let the nets down again. And this time their nets were so full of fish they began to tear. A shout for help brought their partners in the other boat, and soon both boats were filled with fish and on the verge of sinking.”  (Verses 4-7)

From this passage in Luke, I have written a few thoughts that I love so deeply about our God:

1.      Jesus calls us to go deeper.

This summer, we have had the sweet privilege of leading the Summer Hope program at the McKenzie Court and Rosedale communities. We play games, eat snacks, dance, do crafts and read a bible story. But more often than not, the kids take a lot of convincing to want to do the bible story part. As you can imagine, this can be a little disheartening. We rarely see the fruit of our labor. It’s a really easy place for Satan to sneak in and tell us that we aren’t doing enough: we aren’t fun enough, we aren’t interesting enough, our teaching abilities aren’t good enough, and our words aren’t sticking with these kids at all. But here, Jesus asks the fisherman to get back in the boat, go to a deeper section of water, and cast their nets again even though they had seen no fruit from their labor. I think He is reminding me that love always chases. A huge theme in the Bible is that God’s love is always going to passionately pursue humankind. He is madly in love with us, whether or not we love Him back. This sweet love isn’t only ours to keep and hold onto but ours we get to reflect. And sometimes reflecting this love looks like continuing to excitedly tell Bible stories to kids that may or may not want to hear it because we love them enough to tell them about how much Jesus loves them. He calls us to go deeper in our relationships with them, deeper in our love for them, because the Gospel is absolutely worth it.

2.      Jesus is not fazed by our doubt and disbelief.

After Jesus asks the fishermen to get back in the boat, Simon reminds Him that they had tried to catch fish all night but didn’t catch one. Doubt and disbelief are strung throughout Simon’s words. It was illogical for them to go back out to catch some fish, considering they had previously caught absolutely nothing. We have a tendency to allow fear to short-circuit what God has planned. Sometimes we project our own limitations on God. But God isn’t fazed by our fear and our doubt and our disbelief. We get to turn and hand over our limitations to a God who has none. Our weaknesses don’t reflect weakness on Him but reflect His strength to make broken people triumphant. Even when we come to the building super tired and unprepared to tackle the day, He continues to be faithful in providing everything we need. He continues to send us kids to form relationships with. He continues to send faithful volunteers to help us love on kids. He continues to send us to our sites to share His Gospel. He continues to allow us to be the hands and feet, even when we doubt His goodness and His grace.

3.      He provides in abundance.

Jesus doesn’t just give the fishermen a few fish. He gives them an abundance of fish – so many fish that the boat begins to sink. And He doesn’t just provide for the fishermen in that one boat. He provides to the fishermen in the other boat as well, people that did not all expect to be on the receiving end of miracle. Jesus has provided and continues to provide exceedingly and abundantly more than we could ask for. He supplies patience and energy in abundance. He has made loving the kids in our ministry almost effortless. And He provides all these things despite the fact that we may not believe that He will. I think Jesus is teaching us what it looks like to love His children like He would, how to give with no conditions and no strings attached.

In anything and everything, He has proven Himself to be faithful and to be enough. He has been our strength and our patience. He is teaching us to be more like Him. He is teaching us to see people through His eyes. Jesus continues to unify. No matter where we are in the world, no matter where we come from, no matter our demographic or socioeconomic background, we are loved by the same Father. And for this reason there will always be unity under one God and one Body as one Family. And we continue to see a clearer picture of what Jesus intended for the Church to look like.

So now, when I look back on all that Jesus has already done, I feel complete peace. I know that we won’t get it all right and that’s okay. We have the perfect Father who doesn’t ask for perfection out of us, He just requires obedience. He’s got this, all of it. So we’ll keep loving hard and leading these kids to Him, not worrying too much about the petty details in between. Some mornings I look around at all the sweet faces and think that my heart has truly reached maximum capacity. I can’t imagine loving these kids and our team and our volunteers more than I do right now. And then I’m wrecked all over again because I know that Jesus holds these kids closer than I ever will and loves them more than I ever could. And for this, I am thankful.

From glory to glory, until His nets are full.

-Katie Belue

We Have Unlimited Potential

The first week of SD Allen has already come to a close and all of us are so thankful to have hit the ground running with all the Lord has in store for us and the people we will serve this summer. We have been working at Calvary's VBS, Plum Grove Baptist Church, training with Tuscaloosa Urban Mission, making furniture deliveries to families in need, as well as picking up donations, and preparing for the SD Allen garage sale.

This week Nathaniel and I had the pleasure to serve with Plum Grove Baptist Church and their boys program "Dare to Be a King." The program strives to teach young African American boys how to become men of God, make good choices, and how to deal with issues such as poverty, violence, absence of father figures and so much more.  

Every morning before we teach the Bible lesson for the day and at the end of every day, Corey, the program director, leads all the boys in an affirmation recitation in the gym. Corey calls it out and they repeat after him. It goes something like this:

I have unlimited potential.
I can make good choices.
I am never alone.
I am amazing, inside and out.
I am of great worth.
He has a plan for me.
I know who I am.
I am a son of God.

The first day we did this, I was blown away. Hearing those boys declare those things was groundbreaking, for them and for me. The experience echoed in my head for the rest of the day.  I confess I'm not one to always love motivational sayings. I can even be quite critical of them, and I tend to think they are corny and cliché. As I thought of the idea of having unlimited potential, the part of me that is self-conscious wanted to choke the life out of those words and dismiss them as nothing but fluff words with no actual substance. But as I dug deeper, the truth and weight of it all became evident. 

As followers of Christ, we truly do have unlimited potential because we have a God that is limitless. We have a God who sent his Son for our sins so that we could have life, so that we might be righteous (2 Corinthians 5:21). In Him, we are new creations and the old has passed away (2 Corinthians 5:17). Because His power is made perfect in our weaknesses (2 Corinthians 12:9), we have unlimited potential. Our limitless God is able to do more than we ask or think (Ephesians 3:20).

This reminder has been an anchor for me this week as we go out. Fixing my identity not on who I am in my success or failures, but on the work that Christ has done.  I know I am only human. I know I am going to make mistakes, and I'm not always going to get it right. But the Lord is my strength and makes me able.

I can't wait to continue on with the work that is taking place. I've already noticed change in the hearts of the boys we've been working with and I'm already so proud of the boys out there.


--David Englert

The participants in the Plum Grove program began building a community garden this week.

The participants in the Plum Grove program began building a community garden this week.