Time to Quit or Go Deeper

Many of you know that, after several months of praying for our neighbors, a battle arose in which we actually came to know our neighbors, care sincerely for them, and join along side them.  In the past posts, the saga of Columbia University’s take over of Haven Avenue covered our victory and subsequent defeat.  In Defeat and Confusion – Lord, Press On!  I described hope arising with in a New York Times reporter who interviewed us extensively.  We prayed for a ‘Watergate breakthrough’…. That was four weeks ago!  The reporter told us last week that it’s coming a-n-y day now.

As Columbia gets set to launch their campus expansion, another development arose, championed by the same Councilman, Ydanis Rodriguez!  After selling out the residents of Haven Avenue,  he spearheaded a major plan by outside developers to rezone Inwood, the northern part of our neighborhood.  This plan would open the gates to commercial and luxury development, zoning out much of the affordable housing and small businesses.

I will not post details or sources, but there is a lot of money shuffling under the table.

I am all for renewal and upgrade but in NYC, rezoning results in gentrification and displacement of working class families.  The Councilman in Williamsburg, for example, pointed out that rezoning displaced 30,000 Hispanics from his catchment area.  Inwood is 71% Hispanic.

I totally understand that, as this world spins into the last days and coming judgment, these issues may count for nothing.  Admittedly, we are not facing famine, human trafficking, or persecution.  But the Lord doesn’t require desperate and dire need to care and intervene.  When He fed over 5,000, described in Matthew 14, they weren’t starving to death.  They weren’t even asking Him for food!  But Jesus had compassion for their present need.

Will blocks of Haven Avenue soon close and morph into a campus?  Will the ax fall on Inwood, final vote for rezoning on Wednesday, August 8th?  It certainly looks that way!

It’s time to either quit or go deeper.  

bob and protest sign  

There is a protest march this evening in Inwood, calling for the City Council to vote against the rezoning.  Rodriguez, a lame duck in his current office, refuses the outcry of his constituents.  The grapevine describes his sites upon the office of Public Advocate.  Laugh/cry moment here!

How does a believer go deeper when the battle seems lost? 

The only way to go deeper into the battle is shutting in with the Lord.  While the world turns with backroom deals, the Kingdom of God advances through faith.  Going deeper will test you and cost you.

My neighbors will be marching this evening…it just so happens my husband and I cannot make it.  But even better, we can forge ahead with all night prayer.  I believe prayer deserves appointment and schedule, as though one were meeting with a president, a prime minister, a King!

I do not sense a call to quit but to go deeper, not only for the speck on earth called Haven Avenue and Inwood, but for my neighbors to see the Lord.   May the Lord alone be exalted even as all other hope and options flush away.

It is not shocking to find a corrupt politician or greedy opportunists.  But if the Lord puts them before you, He may be drawing you to cry out for their souls, that they come to godly sorrow and repentance. 

By the time many of you read this, my all night prayer meeting will be over.  While it may end up with only me and the Holy Spirit, I invite anyone online to join in and ask the Lord to intervene.

If your heart is burdened, if heaven seems silent, if the battle seems totally lost – even worsening – commit to go deeper.  As always, with the Lord the thing at hand is not always His focus.  He can churn a storm to bring out one Jonah.

Let’s see what the Lord will do….

 

When Angels Operate Elevators

“How then can evil overtake me or any plague come near?  For He orders His angels to protect you wherever you go.”  (Psalm 91:10-11)

There is another Parole testimony which lives in my heart as a constant reminder of the Lord’s presence and protection as we serve Him.  I covered two Harlem precincts as a Parole Officer, the 28 and the 32.  Within the 32nd Precinct stand the infamous Polo Grounds,  a huge concentration  of city housing projects built upon the former baseball field.

polo grounds II

Each one of these 4 buildings contains over 1600 apartments.  

These buildings are a hotbed for crime and gangs, ergo I had many assignments here.  It was a good thing for ‘one stop shopping’ – I could make many home visits and curfew checks in one location.  However, it was dangerous as well.  Over the years I came to know many of the parolees and their families here, had many ‘meet and greet’ moments on walkways and lobbies and often had open doors to share the Gospel.   However, during one early morning curfew check, the encounter was not friendly at all…

 

It was a bit past 5am, I hopped off the city bus and walked briskly down the project’s walkway.  The sun had not yet risen over the city high risers but it was not dark.  I passed by the park benches in the grassy area and took a mental photo of 5 youths sitting upon the bench and atop the bench back – five gang members who apparently ‘broke night’.  They clocked me as I walked past but did not move.  A warning pang struck me as I entered the building and pushed the elevator button – however, I was obviously alone.

When the elevator door opened I was still alone – I quickly stepped in but before I could press any button those 5 youths jumped in and the decrepit doors shut behind them.  

A powerful ‘oh crap’ moment struck me – bum-rush, disarm, rape and worse flashed in my mind.   “Lord!” was the cry in my heart, but before they could reach the floor buttons…

the elevator doors flew open for one secondI jumped out – the doors slammed shut! …the elevator quickly lifted away!

Those moments,  deeply etched in my heart, are a continual reminder to me of God’s presence as we walk in His will and His power to intervene.  I do believe that angels operated that elevator, confounding wicked plans.  (After thanking God and gaining composure, I actually did take another elevator and made the visit!)

The word of God describes many angelic interventions, there is no doubt of their endowed power, evidenced through the Old and New Testament.  While it is Biblical for believers to accept the presence of angels it is not Biblical or godly to engage angels or place our faith in these servants of God.  They are dispatched by God alone and exist to enact His commands and will.  We should be aware though, as demonic spirits influence and darken the world around us, our God has more powerful beings to launch on behalf of His beloved, us.  

Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?    (Hebrews 1:14)

The essential truth that marks my heart from those memorable moments is this:  if we are walking in obedience to God’s will, if we are where He has placed us and busy at what He assigns, we are backed by heaven.  God will go before us, protect us, and sovereignly bring His plan to fruition.  

Thank you Lord for Your presence and intervention in our lives even if we don’t see it.  Let us walk in total assurance that our names are “engraved in the palm of Your hand” and, as the Lord promises, “no one will snatch them out of My hand.”   Help us to obey and trust in Your word, serving as You assign and plan our lives.  Amen.  

 

“Hey, I Remember YOU!”

dark city street

 

New York State Parole Officers are required to make many random home visits in their assigned precincts.  Many visits were ‘surprise’ visits during curfew hours, 9pm to 6am.  Unlike most of my fellow officers, I chose to work alone in the field and, moreover, walked through the neighborhoods block by block.  Although the Harlem precincts were quite rough at the time, I grew to know and love the community.

However rewarding my lone and lengthy excursions, there were also a few hairy moments to remember.

One early morning, a little past 5am….

It was a cold and dark winter morning, I hopped off the bus and started my scheduled visits, block by block.  Except for a few figures huddled inside doorways, either selling drugs or loitering for warmth, the streets and sidewalks were empty.  I walked into a side street, between two major avenues and, halfway in the block an eerie feeling came upon me.  I noticed a large hooded man across the street, picking up his pace, following me.  There was no once else to follow!

I looked ahead towards the avenue which was well lit.  “Lord, let me get there”.  However, this man sped up, crossed the street diagonally towards me.  A flashback of being jumped as a youth shot a warning inside me…As he walked between two parked cars to the sidewalk,  I neared the street light.  He slowed his pace and looked at me, his countenance clearly changing…

“Hey, I remember YOU!  You were my Parole Officer a long time ago!”

“Really?”  I did not remember him!

“Yeah!  I remember you, you invited me to your church!”

“Oh, well did you go?”  I asked this possible mugger.

“Actually, I did go once, a long time ago…but things just fell apart…”  his voice drifted.  No doubt that “things just fell apart” since he was roaming the streets for no good reason.  “Well, maybe you need to go back to the church, remember where it is?  51st and Broadway…Start praying, call out to the Lord.  He’s the only one that can change your life…”

“Yeah, I know…” with that he turned and walked away…and I, somewhat stunned,   headed towards the avenue, the sun now rising.

I call upon this memory often, it refreshes my trust in God’s protection and His “order to my steps”.  I am fairly certain of that ex-convict’s initial criminal intent as he eyed and followed me – but I believe the Lord had an appointment that morning.  At just the right moment, that man saw my face in the light and remembered me, and God stopped and redirected him.  Of all the scenarios that flew to mind, I did not imagine what God had in store.

That morning also brought life to the truth…”He who plants and he who waters are one in purpose, and each will be rewarded according to his own labor.  For we are God’s fellow workers…”  (I Corin 3:8-9)   If I indeed invited this former parolee to church it was after counseling him in the Lord and sensing a receptive heart to know God.  What happened during the subsequent years is unknown but serving God under His direction and calling is never futile – the Lord of the harvest will yield His intended fruit.  

I pray for Lord’s encouragement upon us all, may we seek and anticipate His possibilities everyday…appointments – even unlikely ones – where we might water the seed within someone’s heart or refresh someone’s damaged faith and even more, sense a unity with the Lord of the harvest as He causes the seeds to grow.

 “The rain and snow come down from the heavens
    and stay on the ground to water the earth.
They cause the grain to grow,
    producing seed for the farmer
    and bread for the hungry.
 It is the same with my word.
    I send it out, and it always produces fruit.
It will accomplish all I want it to,
    and it will prosper everywhere I send it.”

(Isaiah 55:10-11)

God in the Midst of a Jail Cell

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The Lord revealed important truths to me as I shared the Gospel with parolees and inmates.  One is eloquently expressed by Charles Spurgeon in “What the Farm Laborers Can Do and What They Cannot Do”  Farm Sermons, The Spurgeon Archives. (great article, can read:  here)

Let us now think of what you cannot do. You cannot, after the seed has left your hand, cause it to put forth life. 

I learned this best when working with Ms. “M”, who was on parole for manslaughter.   Ms. M was very receptive to parole and a positive working relationship was easily established.  She was also very receptive to the Gospel and was grateful to receive a Bible, sermon tapes and church invites.  Home visits were meaningful as her two children were happy to see me.  Ms. M brought her children to special church events however, while she wanted her children to learn of the Bible, she herself remained carnal and unsurrendered.

I became a bit really discouraged, it seemed that two years of counsel and prayer yielded little. In fact, things worsened…Ms. M relapsed into drug use and became non compliant to treatment.  I was very concerned as a violation for a violent felony offender would result in significant jail time, a hardship for a single mother.  After a two years of community living, would she now go back to jail?

Finally, there was no choice.  Arresting her unleashed a torrent of drama, tears, and even anger….then pleading….but the die was cast.

I transported her to Rikers Island, shut her in a holding cell, and lodged the warrant.

Normally a VFO (violent felony offender) would be mandated to minimum one year incarceration however, it seemed that an exception was happening for Ms. M.  In fact, she was released within several weeks, mandated again to a program, and reported to my office.  I was ready for the same-old same-old…..but things had changed.

Her heart erupted as she shared….

When you locked me in that cell I sat on that bench crying, my head in my hands…I was so angry and felt like such a failure…when I opened my eyes I noticed a torn piece of paper on the bench.  It was just a scrap from a Bible tract….on it was half a verse from Acts.  When I read it I broke down and gave my life to the Lord!

I was speechless.  After all the sharing, inviting, godly counsel and admonishments, a half a verse in a jail cell brought her to repentance and surrender!  I could see how the Lord moved on her behalf, expediting her release, returning her home to her children, and revealing to her His faithfulness.  She planted herself in church and opened her life to serving God.

I often share this testimony with others to encourage them (and remind myself!) that we cannot “make anything happen” but God Himself takes action when we are faithful to sow seeds, serve as He calls, and pray for Him to intervene.

I am so grateful when the Lord confounds me!

 So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.  (I Corinthians 3:7)

plant growing

Only God Can Make It Happen

 

God in the Midst of the Ashes

Security Ministries in large urban churches address everything from intentional service disturbances and criminal activities to the behavior of broken and lost sheep.  I have served in this ministry for 20 years now.  In many venues of security, ‘nothing usually happens’.  However, for the expectant heart, something might surely happen.  As a Parole Officer, I had an expectant heart so when in 2013 the church produced The Cross and the Switchblade from Pastor David Wilkerson’s book, I invited many parolees and their families.  Several parolees did attend and were encouraged but I might add that many more were encouraged just to be invited somewhere!

Here is a testimony that I shared with one of the pastors on the last night of the production:

Although we had to shut the doors by 7 pm, turning away about 100 people, at 7:30 there were still determined folks in the foyer of the rotunda trying to get in any way possible.  We tried to squeeze people in every area of the church, the annex, the lower rotunda and the fourth floor but we reached the limit.

One young woman approached me with a passionate plea.  “Please, there must be one more space for us.  This young man, (she motioned behind her) must hear from the Lord!  This play was meant for him!”

I looked at the young man behind her, leaning against the wall, slightly swaying with anxiety and chewing gum ferociously.  He looked rough and  nervous and I thought, ‘he’s been in jail.’  I had to reply though, “I believe you!  But I am SO sorry, there is not one seat left…there are fire codes…blah, blah”  However, when I turned to address other folks, I felt drawn back to her.  It was as if the Lord had a spotlight on these two.

“Please”, she pleaded, “He must see this play!  He was meant to be here!”

I really felt the Lord moving.  “Look.  If the Lord really wants him here, there will be a spot for you both.  Come with me.”

As we entered the rotunda, heading toward the sanctuary, the young man went ahead of the woman.  She quietly shared with me, “He just did 13 years in prison for setting a fire.”

I asked, “Is he on parole?”  She said yes.  I shared that I am a parole officer and was so glad that they had come.  Then I asked, “Are you a relative of his?”

With a slightly pained look she said, “Ah, no….It was my father that was burned in the fire he set.”

I planted them in the back of the sanctuary, she was so grateful.  He did not say a word. 

I really sensed the Lord’s burden to pray for this young man.  When I resumed my lobby post, everything was quiet and peaceful.  I was able to quietly cry out to God while on duty.  Occasionally I peered into the sanctuary (parole officer that I am) to see how things were.  This young man seemed more relaxed, totally riveted by the play.

At the end of the play, when the actor comes out for the final narration, the whole church was silent and attentive.  I watched through the glass door.  While not a soul stirred, this young man slowly started walking down the aisle.  As the actor cried out to the audience with passion, this young man continued a lone walk to the stage, no one stopped him  It was as if chains were falling from him and he was surrendering.

The play ended with an altar call and both the young woman and man came up to me full of joy.  The woman hugged and kissed me.  Pastor, this young man was truly changed.  There was a peace over him and he had real joy.  He hugged and kissed me also.  I asked his name and told him mine and said, “Please come back!  Please make this church your home!”

I do not know what happened to these folks after this night but I do know that the Lord had them on a journey toward Him.  I am so grateful that He allowed me to peek in at the work of His hand, touching the lives of broken people.

My ‘joie de vivre’ was parole, where God put a love and burden in my heart, an assurance that He assigned my cases, and an expectation of His presence in the midst.

I am no longer at Parole but a place in life which seems to me more like barren Patmos.  For more on that click here:   (Ever Find Yourself in Patmos?) But even Patmos has divine purpose.

And the Lord is here as well….I anticipate a post, ‘Testimonies From Patmos’.  🙂

“Lord, thank you for Your faithfulness through all the seasons of our lives.  You remain the same even if the season painfully changes.  Help us Heavenly Father to fix our eyes on Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith.  Incline our hearts toward You. I sincerely pray that You renew our passion and grant us that burdening love that compels us to share Your Gospel with great expectation.”

Amen.

 

God in the Midst of Parole

During my years as a parole officer, the Lord opened many doors to share the Gospel with parolees, their family members, and others in the community. It was such an exciting part of my work. I journaled a few of the many testimonies to share with a ministry at my church. They still move me and encourage me, even now as I wait upon the Lord.

Perhaps one will encourage you…

‘Last year I received the case of Ms. G, a female with a long history of violence, prostitution, and drugs. I prayed but initially found no open door to share the Gospel – in fact, I saw the door quite closed. As a lesbian, she was living with her female partner who was Muslim. Within weeks of her release to Parole she proudly presented a marriage certificate from the Domestic Partnership Office of City Hall. Ms. G was so happy but my heart sank – she seemed so unreachable. I kept praying, often adding, “…Lord, I have no idea how you can reach her.”

Shortly thereafter her life began to unravel. She became difficult to find and unstable. In her last office report it was apparent that her life was undone….there was violence in her home, relapse into drugs, and total despair. I hardly recognized her, she looked like a wild woman. Before I could intervene with any real help, she absconded.

Ms. G was soon arrested on drug charges. With a warrant and violation charges, I planned to see her at Rikers Island the next day. That was the day I committed to the Lord to wake up early for devotions and prayer. At 4:30am I prayed for Ms. G and truly believed in my heart that the Lord was going to do something.

I always liked to have encouraging things to share when an opportunity arises…a booklet, tape, or small New Testament. But while on the train I realized that I had nothing special to share with Ms. G, should she be receptive. I sat back and began reading my Billy Graham magazine, ‘DECISION’. The first article explained salvation, how to be born again. The second article was about obedience to the Lord. The third article was a powerful testimony about a lesbian prostitute who became a Christian. The Holy Spirit washed over me with confidence that this was for Ms. G.   I was so excited I could hardly wait to get to Rikers Island!

I arrived at the facility and waited a long while…but so full of anticipation knowing with confidence that the Lord is working. Finally correction officers brought Ms. G to the Counsel Room, a tiny room where thick glass separates the inmate from the P.O. I took the violation papers and magazine out of my brief case. Ms. G still had that wild look and when she realized I had a warrant she lashed out with fury…

She was demanding and angry, blaming me for her failures and woes. My heart sank, I thought, ‘Lord, how could I have been so wrong?…No, I’m not wrong! I know what You spoke to my heart!’ After her tirade, I delivered some forceful pointed truth to Ms. G about her destructive behaviors and bad decisions. At the end I added, “…and don’t lie about no one helping you! Didn’t I do such – and – such…” I slowly began putting the magazine back in my bag but for some odd reason I blurted out, “…and on top of that, I brought you this magazine!”

Her face froze, as though I had said, “…a million dollars!” She became so deflated and meek, “You brought me a magazine?” Something happened inwardly, the Holy Spirit was moving. I pulled out the Decision Magazine and began to cautiously minister to her. ‘Well, I don’t know if you believe in God…’ She cut me off, “Yes! Yes I do! I was praying all day yesterday for God to get me out of jail!” I slipped the magazine under the plexiglass opening. ‘This is one of Billy Graham’s magazines…’ Ms. G blurted, “I know Billy Graham!”

Everything I shared seemed to touch a hunger in her. I was so amazed. I asked her if she believed in Jesus. “Yes I do! But I don’t know how to pray or what to do…I need SO MUCH HELP!” For the next hour she shared with me all her brokenness and despair. Ms. G said she was in the Rikers Island infirmary because she had a heart attack from cocaine abuse. I encouraged her that the Lord was able to heal her, that He loved her and could give her a new life…wash away the old. I spoke about being born again, surrendering our lives to Jesus Christ. Ms. G exclaimed, “That’s what I want! How can I do that? How can I be born again?”

Just then, at that exact moment…the door swung open to the counsel room. A cheerful female Correction Officer asked with joy, “Did I hear someone wants to make a decision of Jesus Christ? Praise God! I’m a Christian too!!” By this time, all my hair is standing on end.

The magazine and the Christian C.O. proved to be a great encouragement to Ms. G. Her parole was violated, she was sent upstate for a brief period, and mandated to a treatment program.

Upon her release she returned to my office but I hardly recognized her. She was dressed with modesty and had an inner calm. I had never seen such a transformation. Ms. G was so eager to tell me – to testify – all that the Lord was doing. During her 4 month incarceration, the Lord had godly C.O’s around her and she attended the prison church. She learned about worship, prayer, and scripture. The C.O. assigned to her (by the State and by God) brought her into Bible study and foundational truths.

“The first place she brought me,” Ms. G explained, “was to Leviticus. I didn’t know homosexuality was so horrible to God. I had so much to repent…” I was truly amazed with her expressed love for the Lord and her knowledge of scripture as a new believer. Ms. G was full of joy describing how she was baptized while at the prison.

I visited Ms. G at the residential program some days later. She had given her testimony to the groups there, speaking strongly about the power of sin to destroy and the power of Jesus to save. She wrote a song, ‘Jesus Gets You Out’, it was wonderful!’

That was the end of the journal entry. I know Ms. G was transferred off my caseload as the program was out of my assigned area….that was several years and hundreds of cases ago.  It was a season of open doors during the early years of my walk with the Lord.

When eligible for retirement, a personal matter arose in my home and the Lord made the decision clear. It was, however, a deep loss for me. People thought I was crazy when I said, “I really love my job!”  A season of brokenness followed with unexpected loss, betrayal, and disappointment.  Crushed By God came forth from this season.

Whatever the season, may we move forward, press on, keep the faith….

“Lord, thank you for all Your faithfulness throughout every season. Help us to be faithful, regardless of our assigned station or place that we may fulfill the call to,

“Do your best to present yourself  to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.”  (II Tim 2:15)

Lord, I pray for all those who have heard the Gospel through our lives, no matter how small the seed.  Water every seed, fan every ember and encourage us in our daily walk.  Open our eyes Lord to every appointed encounter.  In Jesus name, Amen.”