‘Defeated’ but Refocused and Refreshed

In Time to Quit or Go Deeper , a looming social and political threat hung over our neighborhood at large.  The same villainous City Councilman who championed Columbia University’s takeover of our street, now spearheaded a major rezoning of the neighborhood at large, opening floodgates of opportunities to big developers and real estate moguls.  Without exception, ‘rezoning’ = ‘gentrification’ in NYC, always resulting in the eventual displacement of thousands.

protest sign

We were, indeed, sold out!

Yesterday, August 8th, I joined a large gathering at City Hall, planning to attend this fateful public vote but found we were all shut out.  Nonetheless we stayed and voiced our opposition on the steps of City Hall.

The City Council was well aware of the residents’ vehement objection to this pervasive plan.  None the less, they voted  43-1 in favor.  Even Councilmen who previously expressed objection changed their vote. 

If pressing in with the Lord, going deeper, results in such a devastating defeat, why bother?  Because the ‘issue at hand’ is usually not God’s focus.  I prayed for my neighbors, whom I hardly knew and found myself alongside them in battle.  Personally, I do not subscribe to the ‘social gospel’ or ‘felt needs gospel’ and never believe, ‘together we can change the world!’  But as our hearts were charged with the issues at hand, the Lord did a work that eluded me for all these years living here.  I came to know and love my neighbors, enabling me to care and truly pray for them.   

Going deeper into fellowship with the Lord, through worship, prayer and His word, will not guarantee any worldly victory.  But a sincere heart, determined to meet with sovereign God, will hear from Him.  All else becomes inconsequential in His presence as His word brings clarity, light, and understanding.  Moreover, as we present ‘our heart’s desires’ to Him,  the Lord may refocus and redirect us to His desires, His focus, and His plan.  He is, after all, our Commanding Officer.

Amid the earthly defeat – and there will be many more and worse in these last days – there is one sign that I will never stop ‘carrying’.  I posted it in my young brother’s hospital room.  Soon, nurses and attendants were taking photos of it to share with those who suffer.

My brother died in that room, but the sign is still here…

faith-is-sign.jpg

May we, as the Body of Christ, lock arms and go deeper – not into the world but into His presence.

Still praying for my neighbors……

 

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….

 

Waiting on God, Praying for my Enemies

We’re waiting on the Lord to reveal His will in this battle, remembering that, with God, the ‘thing at hand isn’t always the thing He’s after’.

haven avenue photo

God is not concerned about the asphalt and tar but the souls upon Haven Avenue.

The reporter from the NY Times that interviewed us, story here, is a Rhodes Scholar, here in NYC from Oxford, perhaps just for the summer.  Was this a divine appointment?  Will his report come forth with passion – come forth at all?

As believers in our community group, we fervently pray to share and demonstrate faith in God and worthiness of trusting Him.  May the Lord be exalted apart from every fleshly effort and plan!

But we are also strongly praying for our ‘enemies’, the executives of Columbia University who have forged a trail of expansion through NYC, currently staking more claim upon our street, Haven Avenue.  We’re praying for our Community Board members – those who turned their face from the outcry of the residents to align themselves with a power source.   And, we’re praying for our City Councilman who betrayed his constituents while sitting amongst the executives of CU,  championing their conquest in our neighborhood.

What is my outcry to heaven for my enemies?  It is for their souls.  “Lord, bring them to a place of shame, to their knees in godly sorrow, quicken their conscience and take away their false peace.  Lead them to true repentance, the doors of life.  (not sure if this qualifies for ‘loving my enemies’ but hopefully my heart is moving in the right direction!)

I am not a Bible teacher, but today while reading II Kings 6:8-23, I saw a true display of godliness toward ‘enemies’.  As the King of Aram dispatched an army to capture Elisha, I am reminded and refreshed by the revelation that God dispatches His own army (as given in Hebrews 1) to defend and protect His people.  Elisha’s prayer for his servant is akin to mine for my neighbors,  “Open their eyes Lord, let them see”.

Moreover, Elisha’s prayer for his enemies, “Strike these people with blindness” was not at all to conquer or crush them but rather, to steer them in an unexpected direction, away from their wicked path.  Once blinded and led before the king of Israel, they were helpless captives, easily positioned to die.  But God’s prophet Elisha prepared a great feast for them!…and “Aram stopped raiding Israel’s territory”.

And so I pray for my enemies.  May the Lord disarm them, lead them to His Kingdom where they may eat and drink, and go forth surrendered to His will.

Please pray for my neighbors and my enemies!  May the Lord forge ahead through your trials and battles as well.

 

Defeat and Confusion – Lord, Press On!

This is my fifth article reporting God’s answer to our prayers for our neighbors.  First was,  I Prayed For My Neighbors, Look What Happened  then, I Prayed For My Neighbors….Part II    thirdly, When God Allows Defeat  and fourth – When God Allows Defeat…and Confusion.   Yes, our hopes were totally deflated on June 26th, when enough of our neighborhood representatives betrayed us and stood by Columbia University to expand their campus.  The large community opposition – working folks, seniors, single parents and youths, shuffled out of the forum, battle worn.

While CU calls it a ‘pedestrian plaza for the community’ (even though the community doesn’t want it) their reputation of trampling into neighborhoods and seizing land goes before them.  Shutting down part of our street, gnarling traffic, adding to our parking crisis – enlarging their ‘footprint’ –  is not good for us, it’s good for them!   Their actual plan was uncovered,

 

Columbia's real plaza plan

This is their private rendition of our street.  Notice, no cars…and no residents!  But the Lord, “catches the wise in their craftiness, and the schemes of the wily are swept away.”  (Job 5:13)

Our core group kept digging, finding more devious political connections and power exerted by Columbia University.  My husband and I kept praying.  Was this over?

Two days after the June 26th defeat, I was doing my laundry in the basement, lamenting a bit until a fire got in my bones, “Hey, maybe we did lose, but I’m writing to the newspapers!” Folding the last sock, I dashed up to my computer and tapped out this letter:

Dear Editor,

Columbia University once again triumphed over the residents of NYC. After demolishing apartment buildings and evicting small businesses on Haven Avenue, this week they claimed victory in their fight to close blocks of our street. Their campus expansion, described in their Columbia Medicine Journal, morphed into a ‘pedestrian plaza’ to somehow make it palatable.

The residents in this Washington Heights neighborhood are not fooled. They fought Columbia’s self-enlarging plan in Nov and Dec last year. Due to public outrage and the detriment of street closure, the Community Board voted against it in December 2017. However, in May and June this year, somehow this plan mysteriously appeared for another vote.

That Columbia paid for their own ‘traffic study’ is the fox pointing to his tail, “Here is my witness”!

Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez, a lame duck beholden to Columbia, strongly championed this campus expansion and did so right in front of his outraged constituents. Paid lobbyists circulated through these meetings to secure the final vote. The public was essentially disavowed.

We invite anyone to see how closing blocks of Haven Avenue for “students to sit and have a cup of coffee” is a traffic and parking nightmare in this congested medical and residential neighborhood.

Shame on you Councilman Rodriguez for betraying your community! Shame on the many Community Board members who turned their face from their neighbors!  Shame on you, Columbia, my alma mater, and all your mega donors who compete to get their names on your conquests!

Well, that went out to all the NYC papers.  Even defeated and deflated, I sensed a real unction to somehow go forward. Within one day I heard from a large community newspaper – they contacted our core group and sent a reporter out!

On July 1st the NY Daily News printed an edited version of my letter.  On July 11th The Manhattan Times printed a 3 page article with photos!  At first this was fabulous until we took a closer look….no mention of community betrayal or Columbia’s conquests – no mention of the big picture plan that would consume more of our neighborhood.  It was a ‘safe’ article, stepping on no one’s toes…

THEN this week one in our group got a call from the New York Times!  After interviewing us by phone,  the reporter and photographer came up to Haven Avenue for full scale walking/talking tour.   He gave us over two hours of attention – seemingly familiar with Columbia’s West Harlem takeover several years ago.

That was yesterday. 

My heart recalled Pastor Dave Wilkerson’s preaching on ‘death of a promise’.   He taught that, when God promises or plans something, He often ‘puts it to death’ – eliminating the possibility of man claiming victory.  Abraham’s promise of a son was ‘put to death’ as they were incapable of bearing children – God alone brought it to pass.  Moses’ 40 year exile,  Joseph in prison…all circumstances of ‘defeat’ awaiting the hand of God.

Is the Lord moving here, rising up to confound the unbelievers – and believers as well?  I  steadfastly pray for those who betrayed and disavowed us – may the Lord quicken their conscience and convict their hearts – take away their false peace – and lead them to repentance!

Praying that the Lord be high and exalted, may our neighbors see that He is living hope, even when all seems lost.  May our group truly say, “only God could have done this!”, and acknowledge Him.

There is a truth, not quite a Bible verse, but demonstrated throughout scriptures, which I keep pressed in my heart.  Of the Lord,

“He takes personally every act of dishonor as well as every act of kindness done to His disciples.”   (from Safely Home, by Randy Alcorn)

 This should grant us great assurance – and pity for our enemies.

Please pray for a New York Times article!  Thank you!

 

When God Allows Defeat

I Prayed For My Neighbors, Look What Happened  and I Prayed For My Neighbors….Part II  describe how, after months of praying for my neighbors and our community, my husband and I were drawn into a calamity.  Columbia University, the largest private land owner in NYC, was pushing a plan to close down part of our street to expand their campus.  After demolishing apartment buildings across the street and erecting a huge conference center….

CU conference center

This gargantuan building looms over our small residential street!

…they want to expand their campus onto our street!

Although they are confident and shovel ready, CU could not proceed with campus expansion unless they obtained approval by the governing Community Board.

With Columbia’s ongoing pattern of displacing residents and shutting small businesses, our community was alarmed and, as we drew together, Bob and I came to know and more personally care about them.  We spoke out in public gatherings and united.

We won on 12/4/17, when the Community Board voted against CU.

But over the past 3 months, Board members changed and ‘temporary appointees’ strategically put in – suddenly CU pushed back on their agenda although they had no justification to appeal the last decision!

Once again, we canvassed and met with residents…petitions, signs, flyers…nothing left undone.  We prayed, especially to assure that we were in God’s will.   If “the nations are a drop in the bucket” to God,  could our little street have any significance to Him?  Is there anything of eternal value knitted into this issue?

Bob said, “I keep going back to Proverbs 31:8, “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves..”  The NLT states, “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves; ensure justice for those being crushed.”

 

Columbia had a small cluster of executives…but in their midst was our City Councilman!

The entire community was prepared to speak, many had done research on vital traffic issues that would preclude CU’s plan.  There were strong procedural objections from community representatives.  Many, if not most, came to express their outrage of CU’s ongoing neighborhood take over.

While public input is protocol, the ‘interim’ chairperson said, “You are all welcome to stay but will not be acknowledged to speak.  We are voting on this issue without public input.”   BAMBOOZLED!!

The uproar and outcry could not be stopped.  Almost unbelievably, an elderly Hispanic man came up to my husband and asked, “Sir, could you speak for me?  I cannot speak for myself.”!  

Bob did speak and, while I truly seek to obey scripture (Submit to governing authorities), a deep lament welled up in me.  I did not speak on the material I had planned, but stood up and cried out,

“You’re betraying us!  You’re supposed to represent us!! You will nullify yourselves in this community – No one will trust you!!” 

They turned their faces from the public and voted, majority in favor of Columbia.

The cluster of executives walked away happy, in the company of our City Councilman!  The final step is approval by the General Board – CU does not look worried.

Should we press on to the General Board?  Are we totally defeated?

The only question that need be answered is this:  what is God’s will?  The Lord can lead us into what seems unwinnable – and we might be defeated!  But God is never defeated, never.  With Sovereign God, the ‘thing at hand’ isn’t always His focus.

Although pointing to our spiritual battles, this excerpt from Anchored in the Cross challenges us to endure in the battle….

“Great victories come from great warriors!  Great warriors are made from greatness of character!….Territory is always vital in war.  It’s a battle of turf and who will occupy the ground.  Has the enemy attempted to enter your home, children, family?…We must stand and defend the territory God has given us and not allow the enemy to overtake it…..

What does it require inside you in order to stand relentlessly?…God uses people in your life to build character that will make you a fighter for the Kingdom of God…

Outnumbered?…with God with you, you’re never outnumbered and have no need to retreat….It not only takes boldness to stand, but faith as well.  Numbers are irrelevant when God is with you.

Anchored in the Cross May 25th

We prayed for our neighbors,  met them and came alongside them into the battle.  I believe that boldness is strengthening my heart, enabling me to speak to strangers and in public forums with conviction.  If God is “training my hand for war; my fingers for battle” then I believe those skills will be used for God’s Kingdom.

Speaking up for those who cannot speak for themselves?  Training my hands for war?  Go on to the General Board meeting?  Only God knows.  I pray that He will order our steps.  No matter what, His purposes will not be defeated, in His shadow we will  find victory.     

 

Hurricanes Strip but Jesus Covers

hurricane upheaval, tree

Upheavals expose the futility of man and often prepare the ground for seeds of true life.

Nothing in all creation is hidden from God. Everything is naked and exposed before His eyes, and He is the one to whom we are accountable.  Hebrews 4:13

While tucked away under prevailing current events, the devastation of Hurricane Maria continues to impact the communities of Puerto Rico.  Reconstruction is slow, 40% of the island remains without power and the hearts of the people, especially in remote areas,  grow heavier with the passing days.

Maria whipped through an already failed economy with 45% of residents living at the poverty level before she struck.  While the island fades from the media the darkness grows deeper as murder rates soar and suicides increase.  Failing government flounders.  Massive sick-outs by overwhelmed law enforcement agents, unpaid due wages,  exacerbate crime rate and fear.

Storms expose the condition of our hearts, our homes, and our community.  When governments fail and hopelessness abounds it may well become fertile and tilled ground for the Body of Christ.  My husband saw this when working on the island as part of a mission team.  While planning to provide some reconstruction and repair, the team soon found that the greatest need and longing is restoration of the heart and soul.

The Lord moves His Body in place to answer the cries of brokenness.

While in a devastated area, going door to door with care packages and the love of God,  team members Chris, who also directs security at our church and Sarah, a psychiatric nurse worked together with a local pastor and shared this testimony…

At one point in our canvassing we found no one home but the way led to a park where we saw a woman, sitting alone, underneath a tree.  We approached her to ask about her needs, how we might help in any way.  The woman was obviously downcast and heavy hearted. 

“I’ve been praying for days, asking for God’s direction, what I should do” she shared. “Ten years ago I lived in New York City, I used to go to Times Square Church.  My husband lives in New York City but I don’t know what to do.  My mother lives here….I’m praying for direction, I’m asking God for a sign…”

Chris said, “We’re here from Times Square Church.” 

“Oh my God!” she exclaimed and looked up directly at Chris.  At 6’5″ with  memorable looks and physique, she added with amazement,  “I remember you, I used to see you at the front of the church!”  (a security post!)   

An emotional dam burst forth and this woman shared her brokenness and deep fears.  The team counseled her, ministered to her and prayed with her.  No provisions would ever compare to the ‘care package’ delivered by God – the Body of Christ whom she knew from a church she loved, finding her in a remote corner of an island, praying alone underneath a tree.   

There were many such testimonies, even from that same day.  My husband’s team found a woman who readily answered their call.  Inwardly desperate,  she is literally dying and described to the team her terminal condition and prognosis – less than three weeks to live.  Broken, she described her ‘backslidden’ condition, having known the Lord but turned away from Him.  Would He receive her again?  Could she be assured of eternal life?

My husband knows very well the downfall and despair from turning away from the Lord and also knows the true renewal and assurance awaiting those who repent.  He and the brother with him ministered to this woman, praying for her and with her, leading her to the assurance of eternal life.

God’s purpose in the storm, whether it is a personal trauma or natural catastrophe, may be to expose the roots of our condition and cause us to seek Him in a deeper way.  If we, as the Body of Christ, offer ourselves as a “living sacrifice” unto the Lord, He may maneuver us toward those broken people who are crying out for Him.

Please continue to pray for Puerto Rico, the work of God continues…

Is This Church?

The life of Christ dwelt within the heart of Haig but we missed it for many years.  Haigie was a mentally and physically disabled Armenian man, without family, who lived with the elderly at the Armenian Nursing Home.  Culturally vibrant and lively, this ‘nursing home’ was a beloved Armenian community for Haigie, even though he wasn’t elderly.  Since my husband and I live 200 miles away, our visits were infrequent and our attention was spread over several residents.

After many years there, Haigie was evaluated by the state for placement into a residential group home for the mentally and physically disabled.  Now in his sixties, leaving his aged Armenian community was a crushing blow, many tried to circumvent this move but in the end it was a ‘God move’, a tremendous blessing for us all.

My husband and I began visiting Haigie at the group home, which did not have 80 residents but under 10.  With Haigie our only focus, we grew closer and the Lord soon revealed his living faith in Jesus Christ.  As a brother in the Lord, visits with Haigie became times of scriptural sharing and worship, including Armenian and English hymns.

However, within two years, Haigie’s health begun to fail.

Bob and haigy

For his memorial I wrote, in part,

It was clear that Haigie had a living faith.  We hadn’t realized before, that in his broken body was a vibrant love for God…In spite of longsuffering, he was ready to worship and expressed his love for Jesus Christ.  Haigie was a true believer whose faith greatly encourages us.  It will be a joy to worship the Lord with Haigie one day in God’s Kingdom.

I believe that ‘living faith’ doesn’t die.  

During our last visits with Haigie,  a woman wheeled herself into his bedroom as we were singing.  Mentally and physically disabled and mute, Adrienne somehow communicated to us that she was Armenian and friends with Haigie.  Another Armenian in this residence?  Adrienne joined us and we soon learned that she cared deeply for Haigie, his death would be a great loss to her.

SO following Haigie’s death we continued to visit this group home, Adrienne seemed to cherish this fellowship.  We sang songs and had scriptural reading in the ‘sun room’.  It was different.  But I soon saw the Lord doing a new thing.

One day Linda was in the ‘sun room’, her wheelchair parked by our sitting area as she worked on an art craft.  We hardly knew her but she seemed happy to have us there.  We socialized a bit with Adrienne then we opened up fellowship with singing (accompanied by much needed YouTube songs online!)  and Bible reading.  Although Adrienne is mute, Linda is not and we soon found that she had faith and something to say about it!

We came to know the other residents and the staff as well.

This Christmas our visit moved from the ‘sun room’ to the living room, the common social area.  A group seemed to form around us, including a Jewish resident!  The ball started rolling with Linda’s request for the all popular ‘Jingle Bell Rock’.  We sang out Christmas songs in every pitch and tone that perhaps only the Lord could love.  We even sang a Hanukkah song before sharing God’s word about Christ’s birth.  The story highlight became the shepherds and God’s choice to miraculously announce the Savior to simple folks huddled around sheep.

This is the best part…there was a time of prayer before leaving.  With joined hands and bowed heads I looked up, and saw residence staff come and join in!  

Was this church?  I think so!

 

Lord, speak to the heart of every resident and staff member in that home, water every seed of faith.  Open our eyes to value and seek the childlike faith of Matthew 18:3, humble and dependent upon you.  Press upon our hearts the kind of fellowship You desire, in the places that You ordain to make Yourself known.

I pray for each reader that visits this site, whet their appetite for more of You, Jesus.  Speak to their hearts and encourage them as they walk through each day, no matter how heavy the steps.  I pray for every writer that visits here, anoint them and inspire them with Your Holy Spirit.  Let Your seeds of living truth come to fruition through their work.

Amen.