Tomorrow is Veterans Day. Veterans Day began when President Woodrow Wilson issued an Armistice Day message, marking the one year anniversary of the end of World War I. Ever since then, Americans have used this day to remember the people who have served in our armed forces. As President Wilson put it in his original message:
To us in America the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with – solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service, and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of nations.
Far too many veterans, however, are forgotten. They are on their own, in need of a warm embrace and a helping hand.
Fortunately, Back Bay Mission never forgets.
Every day, countless veterans come through our doors. They come to the food pantry and the Micah Day Center. They come for utility assistance and rapid rehousing. They come for love and compassion.
And we’re always here.
You can be here, too. This Veterans Day, support our veterans through a gift to our client sustainability campaign. This campaign includes our veterans support fund, which gives immediate help to veterans who hit a bump on the road to self-sustainability. This fund helps veterans fix their cars, buy clothes for job interviews, and overcome other obstacles on the way to a better life.
This Veterans Day, strengthen neighborhoods, seek justice, and transform lives by giving generously to the veterans we serve every day.
When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.
Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs, in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.” (Acts 2:1-13, NRSV)
A happy and spirit-filled Pentecost to everyone!
Today is the day when we mark the coming of the Holy Spirit. Today is the day commonly thought of as the birthday of the church. This is the day when we declare that we are one people joined together. Even though there are times it might not look like it, we are one church.
One of the things we love at Back Bay Mission is that we’re a place where so many people can be the church together. People from all over the country gather here. People from many denominations – and no denomination – gather here. People of many political and theological persuasions gather here.
And the beautiful thing is that all of these people gather here to follow the path set before us by Jesus: to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a time of the Lord’s favor. (Luke 4:18-19)
Thank you to everyone who helps us be the church in service to our brothers and sisters on the Mississippi Gulf Coast!
Happy Easter! Today, along with Christians throughout the Western Church, we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Christ is risen; Christ is risen, indeed!
At Back Bay Mission, we are an Easter people. We believe in the power of resurrection. We believe that the dead can come back to life. We see it all the time.
The low-income family who is scared that one bill will leave them without water and power finds life in the care they receive from our emergency assistance program. The homeless veteran who now has an apartment finds life in our supportive housing program. The low-income family who thought they were going to lose their home to disrepair finds life in our housing rehabilitation ministry.
The woman who thinks that the world has given up on her finds life when she walks through our doors. We are the place that will help her through her struggle today. We are the place that will help her on her journey out of poverty.
And we do all of this because, all those years ago, some women went to a tomb… and found it empty.
Everett Lewis, the Executive Director of the Gulf Coast Housing Initiative, recently shared a story about one of our HomePort clients. We’ll call that client ‘John’.
‘John’ has been at HomePort for a while. When he first moved in, he used some of the Mission’s other services, like our food pantry. Lately, though, he hasn’t been around as much. Everett went to check up on him.
Everett asked John why he hadn’t been at the Mission very much.
And John replied, “I find that when I use the Mission, I don’t use my money as well as I would like to.”
John had discovered that, when he chose to rely on our food pantry, he didn’t save money for his own food. When he chose to rely on us to meet his daily needs, he didn’t chose to do the things that would help him on his journey out of poverty. So he made a different choice: he chose to stop using the services he didn’t need, and to start using the money he had to make that journey.
That’s good news. The Mission has walked with John on his journey and now he is beginning to leave the wilderness of poverty. He has a long way to go, but he’s making the right choices.
And it isn’t just the Mission that’s been with him on that journey. God has been there, too.
God has used the Mission – and people just like you – to make a way in the wilderness and make rivers in the desert. God is doing a new thing. God’s doing that new thing through the Mission, through you, and through all of our clients. God is forging a future for everyone who is in need.
At Back Bay Mission, we celebrate when our clients don’t need us anymore. We rejoice when they can stop using our services. We are here to walk with them for a while. And when they’re ready, we’re glad to let them walk on their own path.
God will make a way in the wilderness. Praise be to God!
So far during this Lenten season, we’ve talked about being tempted by the devil in the wilderness, about being angels in the wilderness, and about the time that it takes for a tree to bear fruit. We know that work in the wilderness is important. We must overcome the devil, we must serve those in need, we must tend to the people we serve.
And we must do those things because one day we will all leave the wilderness.
In today’s scripture, the Israelites have finished their years in the wilderness after escaping slavery in Egypt. They’ve crossed over the Jordan. They’ve come to Canaan and are camped at Gilgal. There’s a long way to go, but they’re out of the wilderness.
While they were in the wilderness, God provided manna so that they would have something to eat. It was a blessing. Everyone had what they needed… but no more. (Exodus 16:16-21) this is one of the challenges of the wilderness: even with God providing enough, there isn’t more than enough. You cannot keep manna.
But when the Israelites leave the wilderness, something changes. They don’t need manna, anymore. They can eat the produce of the land.
The Israelites have made a huge transition. They no longer have to depend on manna. They can depend on the fruit of their own labor. They can plant gardens, they can eat produce, they can be self-sufficient.
When we work with the poor and marginalized of the Mississippi Gulf Coast, we know that they need manna. That’s why we have the Mississippi Gulf Coast’s only client choice food pantry, the Micah Day Center, assistance with rent and utility bills, and other emergency services. We also know that people need the opportunity to grow. That’s why we have art classes, home maintenance classes, supportive housing, and case management.
We also know that people need the chance to be self-sufficient. It’s always our hope that the people we serve will leave the wilderness of poverty. It’s always our hope that they will come to a place where they don’t need manna. It’s always our hope that they will become self-sufficient.
Some of our happiest moments are graduations. When people graduate from our housing rehabilitation ministry and receive the key to their renovated house, we rejoice with them. When people graduate from our supportive housing program and move into their own housing, we celebrate with them.
We love those days when the people we serve no longer need manna. We love those days when they can eat the produce of the produce of the land.
Once upon a time, Back Bay Mission was part of a little German Evangelical Church. That congregation was founded in 1914. In 1920, it was failing: there were 22 people in Sunday School and only 15 people in the service! That’s when Rev. George Hoffman was sent to the church with a simple ultimatum: show a decided increase in attendance over the next six months or the church would close.
That’s when Mrs. McDonnell told him about the people living on the Back Bay. Better yet, she showed him. And the ministry of service we know as Back Bay Mission was born. By 1926 – 12 years after the congregation was founded – the church had 162 Sunday School members, 60 communicant members, and an average worship attendance of 74.
Today’s reading is about a fig tree. A man planted a fig tree and for years it didn’t bear fruit. He went to the gardener and told him to cut it down.
“Why,” asked the man, “should it be wasting the soil?”
But the gardener knew his work, and replied, “Give me another year. I’ll dig around it and fertilize it. And if it bears fruit, all is good. If not, you can cut it down.”
We never actually find out what happened to the fig tree, but we still get the lesson: growth takes time. Organizational growth – like a congregation becoming large enough to be self-sustaining – takes time. Personal growth – like making the journey out of poverty – takes time.
Here at Back Bay Mission, we know that immediate assistance can be a great help. We all need angels to minister to us in the wilderness from time to time.
But we also know that we need gardeners. We need people who will stick with us day after day, month after month, year after year. We need people who will give us the space and the nutrition that we need. We need people who will help us bear fruit.
So do the people we serve.
That’s why we’re adding programs to help our clients grow. Already this year we’ve added home maintenance classes for our housing rehabilitation clients, art classes for our Micah Day Center guests, and a community garden for everyone. We’ll continue adding programs and staff – gardens and gardeners – who can help our clients take control of their lives and grow into the people they aspire to be.
We know that it will take time. We know that there will be times when someone says it’s taking too long. We know that there will be times when someone asks why the soil is being wasted.
We know that there will be times when a tree has to be cut down.
But most of the time we’ll smile and say, “Give us another year, we’ll keep working, and next year there will be fruit.”