I Am Cumberland Presbyterian

I am Cumberland Presbyterian. More specifically, I am an ordained minister who comes out of the Cumberland Presbyterian tradition. I am a pastor with a unique call, serving people who are experiencing homelessness and extreme poverty.  The ministry through which this work takes place is Sacred Sparks Ministry.

This small but mighty ministry was entrusted by God to the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, and I was a called to serve as its pastor.  I am constantly overwhelmed with the support I get from all walks of people, and from all walks of faith. I am constantly grateful for everyone who sees God at work in Sacred Sparks Ministry and decides to support or get involved in some way. However, right now I want to take a moment to lift up and shout out my gratitude for my Cumberland Presbyterian church family. They amaze me every day in their support of this ministry!

Each and every day I feel the prayers of my CP family. When the days get long and the work gets hard, it is the chorus of encouraging words I can remember from my many CP friends along the years that keeps me going.

When I get to a place where I think I know what’s best and nobody can tell me how to live out this call any better than me, myself, and I, it is my CP friends who reel me in, slow me down, reorient me, tell me they love me, make me rest, encourage me to regroup, and get me back to work, serving as I have been called.

And when the friends I serve are in need, my CP family responds with a passion and love that is hard to explain with words, but let me try.

This month, April 2017 marks the two year anniversary of the Laundry Ministry. Two years washing clothes for 25-30 friends each week, two years of lunch provided to those friends, two years of fellowship and pastoral care, two years of church in a laundry mat. Two years of funding, quarters, soap, pizza, provided primarily by CP church families and CP friends.

And speaking of Laundry Ministry, it was a CP church who prayed about what to do with their church van when they purchased a new bus. That same CP church prayed and felt led to donate that van to Sacred Sparks Ministry. With seating for 13, it is a game-changer for Laundry Ministry!! Whenever my friends ride in that van with their laundry, they are surrounded by a tangible symbol of love that the Cumberland Presbyterian church has for them!!

And speaking of my friends, it is a CP church that has embraced two of my friends and has surrounded them with a circle of support that will enable them to make major improvements in their living conditions.  This church needed work done and had no members physically able to do the work easily. They took a chance on a friend of mine, providing payment up front and a list of chores to complete. The payment up front allowed for a purchase that has provided something much more stable and functional than a tent, even though it is not quite a permanent dwelling.

And speaking of that not quite permanent dwelling, it was a CP minister, led with his huge heart for people and social justice who decided to take a risk and allow my friends to place their new home on his business’ property for the summer months, allowing them the opportunity to find work and to take the next step in bettering their lives.

I could go on and on about stories from my CP church family and how they support this ministry, these are just some of the most recent happenings I have mentioned here. Take a look at my social media presence and you will get a good feel for these awesome people called Cumberland Presbyterians and how they support and love on my Sacred Sparks friends.

I am Cumberland Presbyterian, and today I am so very thankful for this tradition out of which my faith and my call has been, and continues to be, shaped, cultivated, and molded.

 

Love Beyond Measure

15442313_10210194991924905_2275339079425697639_n“Love Beyond Measure” is both a great name for a service organization AND a great way to describe the young lady I want you to know more about.

Her name is Mallory Grace Hassell. Mallory is the daughter of Victor and Samantha Hassell and currently lives in Sturgis, KY with her family, including older sister, Victoria and younger brother, John.

Mallory is a 6th grader at Union County Middle School and attends Sturgis Cumberland Presbyterian Church where both her Dad (Pastor) and Mom (Director of Christian Education) serve.

Mallory is also the founder and director of “Love Beyond Measure” which is a partner organization of Sacred Sparks Ministry. Both organizations exist to serve people experiencing homelessness and extreme poverty.

Mallory’s story is an interesting one. I had the opportunity recently to sit down and visit with her and to ask her some questions about how God is calling her to serve.

She described for me visiting a homeless camp in Nashville with her family and feeling the stirrings of “something” beginning to speak to her about this unique community of people.

She then had the opportunity to attend Children’s Fest on the campus of Bethel University in McKenzie, TN during the summer of 2016. This denominational event is held each year as a way to connect and engage Cumberland Presbyterian children all over the globe.

The Children’s Fest theme for 2016 was “Hearing God’s Call” and not long after attending, Mallory mentioned to her Mom that she heard God telling her to help Pastor Lisa with Sacred Sparks Ministry. Mallory not only heard, but she also acted!!

Since answering God’s call to serve in this way, Mallory has created a name and logo for her organization and she applied for a Butterfly Bucks grant and used it to launch a donations drive to fill blessing bags full of goodies and necessities to be handed out in Nashville and to collect quarters and laundry detergent for Sacred Sparks Laundry Ministry Day. Mallory also has spoken at two different Cumberland Presbyterian Churches about her service work (Rose Creek CPC and Sturgis CPC).

Mallory admits that serving others just come natural to her. She especially enjoys helping with a community meal called “Taste of Heaven” hosted by her home church of Sturgis CPC. She loves to sit and talk with folks who visit and enjoy a meal together and she shared with me that this experience “opened her eyes” to the many people living in extreme poverty in her home town.

Although Mallory is not sure what the future holds for her (do any of us really?), she IS sure that she is doing exactly what God has asked of her for now through “Love Beyond Measure.”

~Pastor Lisa, Sacred Sparks Ministry

 

 

 

 

God Moments: “Is his name Rod?”

So, all kinds of stuff going on lately, huh?

In the meanwhile, Jesus continues to love and calls us to love. I hope you enjoy the latest glimpse of heaven on earth via Sacred Sparks Ministry:

“I knew for sure I was reuniting one family that day because I bought the bus ticket, but the other reunion, that one, I never saw it coming.”

These are my words, and they only just begin to describe an amazing experience I was witness to about a month ago.

My friend Georgia has a son who had just reached a milestone in his life this summer when he graduated high school. He wanted to come see his mom to celebrate. The bus ticket was bought and we planned to pick him up on a Thursday morning in May. We had some extra time before the bus was to arrive so we stopped at a place called Ken & Carol’s. This is a resource here in Nashville where the homeless can receive mail, take a shower, and catch a meal. We stopped to check mail for Georgia.

While she was inside, Georgia noticed a woman with a picture. The woman eventually approached Georgia and showed the picture to her, asking if she knew the man in the photo. Georgia thought he seemed familiar, but could not quite recall where she had seen him, so she brought the woman and the picture outside to me in my van.

I took one look at the picture and asked her: “Is his name Rod?”  Her face lit up and she began talking.

She told me she had come here from Illinois to find him. She was his ex-wife. Her children, adults themselves, had been worried sick recently about their Dad. They had not heard from him in two years following the divorce. They had heard from others, and feared that he was dead. She had been here for two weeks, sleeping in parks and eating what she could find while she searched for him. She spent the night before I met her in a not-so-safe homeless camp. She was out of time and leaving that night on the bus to return home. She asked me to please try to find him before she had to leave. She wanted to take him home with her.

I made sure she was safe with a homeless friend of mine, who would take her to a lunch feeding in East Nashville, because she was hungry, and I had some work to do.

So, I took Georgia to meet her son at the Greyhound bus station and she lightly joked that I might be coming back there later today. After that planned reunion took place, we all set out to try to find Rod, unsure of what his reaction might be, but hopeful that it would all turn out okay in the end.

I found him in his camp, inside his tent, settling in for a nap after his morning trip to Wal-Mart for needed camp supplies. I told him who I had met and asked if if wanted to go see her. He did, so we went. I pulled up and she was waiting outside, I told her I had found him and watched as he climbed out of the van and they embraced. After a few moments, she told him the kids were worried about him and asked if he would go home with her.

He said yes and we went to pack up what little he had at the camp.

Georgia had been correct, I ended up back at the bus station that night and saw my friend Rod leave to be reunited with his family. Last I heard, he was doing great, getting reacquainted with his children, and considering re-marriage to this woman who had risked so much to find him.

I cannot describe how humbling it is to be witness to God at work in our lives in this way. I am so grateful for this call that God has placed on me and just hope I can one day bless the friends I serve as much as they bless me by allowing me to be witness to their life experiences.

Don’t get me wrong, there are tough days that make me want to bang my head against a wall, any wall. But, wow, it is moments like these that make all those crazy, bad days so worth it!

So, yeah, there are a flurry of things happening lately that have folks divided along all kinds of lines. I guess all of that has its importance in some way, I just can’t pay attention long enough to all of that noise to care. Maybe I should, but I am too busy loving the best I can, and watching for God moments like these…my prayer is that you do not miss your God moments in all the chaos of life my friends.

Peace out…

Rod

The Gospel According to Tide and Little Caesars

Greetings to all!!

It has been a while since I blogged and that is because I have been immersed in the calling God has placed on me. However, I realize that the blessings I experience are multiplied when I am able to share them with you, so I promise to blog at least once a month moving forward!

So, we made it through the winter, which culminated in that awful few days in February where we were bombarded with cold temperatures and icy conditions. Through it all, our awesome crew of volunteers (affectionately know as the “Skeleton Crew” forevermore) kept 30 plus friends warm, safe, and fed at our Emergency Warming Shelter. And for the first time, another CP church opened their doors when Brenthaven could not, so much thanks and love to the good folks at Mt Sharon CP!!

We are now moving through spring and headed towards a hot and humid summer to be sure. Through it all, I continue to serve the friends I have made who are experiencing homelessness and extreme poverty, relying all the way on your love, prayers, and support.

A new aspect of Sacred Sparks has been the recently launched Laundry Ministry.  This is a very unique and simple way to show God’s love to others and to take church outside the walls of our church buildings. One of the many struggles of being homeless or living in poverty is how to keep your clothes clean. Without easy access to laundry facilities, money to make the washers and dryers turn on, and soap to make the clean happen, it is a real challenge to keep your clothes clean and dry.

So, with the help from some very creative folks, inside about 15 CP churches sit containers for collecting quarters. Laundry soap has already been donated by many. Once a week, the word goes out that the Laundry Ministry will take place on a certain day.

This is a great thing for sure, but it is MORE, so much MORE…

The pickup of our friends is almost circus-like. We see how many people and how many bags of laundry we can fit inside my handy, dandy van, also known as the “Spark-Mobile.” They come out of their camps and walk out of their apartments with smiles on their faces, pushing shopping carts full of dirty clothing and blankets.  We exchange hellos and hugs, load up and head to the laundry. If we need to make two or three trips to get everyone there, that is what we do.

We then roll up to the place and unload. We must be quite a sight! Yesterday, the attendant who is usually there finally decided to ask exactly what in the world we were doing. My friend Robert took the lead and explained what was going on and she finally understood. Later in the day, she called me aside and said, “I don’t have much but hopefully this will help some” as she slipped a wrinkled $5 bill into my hand.

Then one of our friends pulled me aside after we got clothes loaded and said “Will we be able to get pizza again today??”

You see on our first wash day, several folks were hungry so I drove to Little Caesars and picked up some pizzas. This has become a bit of a tradition as we break crust together while the water cleans the clothes.

My friend tells me it is like a field day for them to get out together and share a meal of pizza, something they do not get very often.

While the clothes are cleaned and dried, we talk, we laugh, we eat, we help each other fold.

Yesterday, in addition to the $5 bill, I was given two stuffed animals from the claw machine as an offering.

Then we packed up inside the van, clothes now clean instead of dirty, bellies now full instead of empty, people existing in loving community instead of in lonely isolation, and everyone went back “home”

We gather, we have bread, we have water, we love and support one another, we cry, we laugh, we talk about God, we offer what we can, and we dismiss in peace and love.

Go ahead, you just try to tell me and my friends we are not having church at the laundromat, I dare you… 🙂
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A THANK YOU from Sacred Sparks Ministry

It is hard to believe it is now 2015! It is even harder to believe that a year has passed since I was ordained and “Sacred Sparks Ministry” was “officially” launched.  I really had no idea what to expect from this call God had placed on me, I just knew with all my heart and soul that it was what I was supposed to be doing, so I stepped out on faith.

However, I never expected the overwhelming support and love that I would receive from Brenthaven CP church (my “home-base”),  many other churches in Nashville Presbytery, and even Cumberland Presbyterian churches and other friends in a variety of cities and states.

I thought about trying to list all the blessings, but they are truly too many to count!

Please know that without YOU, this ministry does not exist. Please know that without YOU, the many friends we have made in the homeless community would not feel so loved. Please know that YOU are making a difference through your support of this ministry. Please know that YOU are truly being the hands and feet of Christ. Please know that I appreciate and love YOU so much! So, thank YOU for a wonderful 2014 and I look forward to another great year of service in 2015!

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Mourning this Morning

It has happened again, even though we are early in the winter season, another child of God experiencing homelessness died while sitting on a bench yesterday in downtown Nashville. About a month ago, another child of God experiencing homelessness died while sleeping on the steps of a church in the Madison area.

I am in mourning this morning…

No foul play is suspected in either case, and we do not know yet if the deaths were weather related, health related, or a mixture of both. Quite honestly, when you have no choice but to live and sleep outside exposed to the elements, and you have health problems, the two are so intertwined it is hard to separate the two causes. What matters here is precious children of God who have been amazingly and wonderfully made are dying all alone, outside.

I am in mourning this morning…

To add insult to injury, the city is making noise again about shutting down campsites this winter; campsites which provide many friends a much better chance of surviving the elements. Campsites are not the answer. Affordable housing for all is the answer. However, affordable housing for all is not going to happen anytime soon, so campsites are a must, and they are a much better alternative to sleeping outside on a bench or on church steps exposed to the elements.

I am in mourning this morning…

People will react in various ways to these deaths…many will get angry, some will protest and make signs, some will pray, some will work for change, some might pause and say “what a shame” and then go about their day, and some will never even realize that God lost two precious children already this winter season.

Jesus is in mourning this morning…

How will I (we) react?

I (we) will continue to follow the call that God has placed upon me (us), to love on and be present with this community who experience homelessness and poverty.

I (we) will shelter people when I (we) can inside the safety of a church building.

I (we) will provide blankets, tents, heaters, propane, warm clothing and socks.

I (we) will not pretend I (we) can save the world or end homelessness.

I (we) will love them unconditionally and I (we) will stand with my (our) friends through their struggles this winter and beyond.

If you are a supporter of Sacred Sparks Ministry of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, you are the “we/us/our” in the statements above.

I do not pretend at all that I do this work alone. Please know that your support and prayers are needed now more than ever, and that they make a difference in the lives of this precious community.

Are you in mourning this morning?

A Message from Pastor Lisa: Cold, Cold, Cold!

Hello good people!!

You have probably noticed the weather has changed a bit…and so the winter struggle begins for our friends on the streets. Here is what we can do together this winter to serve and help our friends, while showing them love and hospitality.
Open Table Nashville will not be doing emergency warming shelters this winter and will be relying on and partnering with the city of Nashville and Room in the Inn to increase their bed capacity this winter. However, this still leaves gaps for our friends…friends who are couples who refuse to split up, our friends with pets, our friends who are intoxicated and will not be allowed in typical shelters, and our friends with various issues that keep them from coming in out of the cold to a typical shelter.
So, Sacred Sparks Ministry, with your help, will do what we can this winter to fill this gap!!
Some education, communication, and coordination needs to take place this week to find these folks and arrange a new pick-up plan.  That is what me and Starr will be doing today, tonight, and all day tomorrow. Walking the streets, finding those who will need to come inside, and letting them know that Sacred Sparks and Brenthaven stands ready to welcome them with radical hospitality!!
Beginning next week, when the temperature is forecasted to be at or below 27 degrees (the new threshold set by the city) we will open our doors for up to 30 friends to come inside, to be warm and safe, to eat until they are full, and to be loved on by our wonderful volunteers (YOU!)
So, get ready you wonderful volunteers, it is cold outside and that means it is our opportunity to once again share our blessings with others and to show them what Jesus looks like!! I am thankful for and love you all!  Have a great rest of your week and keep an eye on your email!!
~ Pastor Lisa
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Sacred Sparks Ministry: News & Notes

Sacred Sparks Ministry of Nashville Presbytery continues to be in pastoral relationship with and provides outreach to the homeless community of Nashville and surrounding areas.

The past couple of months have seen a flurry of God’s blessings showered on many of the men and women in the Sacred Sparks community:

  • Two have moved into new homes and off the streets
  • Furniture and household items were provided so four walls could become “home”
  • Four more friends will move in to their new homes by the end of October
  • A job was obtained because steel-toed boots were provided
  • Shoes worn out by a long, hot summer of walking were replaced with newer models
  • Marriage vows originally taken while living in a tent were renewed with love now that the couple are safely living in their own home and off the streets
  • Service work has been done by youth, adults, and children for the homeless community
  • Relationships have been built where none existed otherwise
  • Prayers were shares, stories were honored, and laughs were shared

In the midst of all these blessings, a friend lost his life; many others were sick and dealing with one crisis or another.  Some were arrested for simply existing. Thousands remain homeless or are living on the edge in poverty. Winter is coming.

On the cusp of the most challenging time of year for our homeless friends, I ask that you continue to pray for God’s work being done through Sacred Sparks Ministry.

Visit our website often to read the blog, view the pictures, and donate securely to the ministry online. www.sacredsparksministry.wordpress.com

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It’s Just Not That Simple…

We humans like things simple…black and white…cut and dry. Because of this many complex issues in our society get over-simplified just to help us maintain a false sense of order. Homelessness is one of the issues that often is misunderstood due to our tendency to shy away from the complexities that weave and tangle in and out of the issue of homelessness and poverty.

The truth is, for every homeless man, woman, and child there is at any given time living on the streets or in poverty, there are as many unique and different stories that each one could tell to help you understand the trajectory of their lives.

As an example, here is a recent snapshot of homelessness in the Nashville area from “The Contributor,” a weekly Nashville street newspaper, with the initials of friends that I am in relationship with through Sacred Sparks Ministry next to the categories that apply to them.

I do this to show that this snapshot is reality and indicative of the real men and women who live day to day on the streets and in smothering poverty. Indicative that homelessness and poverty is complicated. Indicative that despite what we want to believe, it’s just not that simple:

Between February and August of 2014, individuals who have experienced homelessness in Nashville completed 716 VI-SPDAT assessments with. VI-SPDAT is a self-reported survey that serves as an assessment tool to prioritize people’s access to services based on need moving homeless providers away from a first-come, first-serve system.

Of the 716 individuals surveyed:

  • 516 or 81% experienced chronic homelessness (JB, TP, EC, RN)
  • 88% had compromised mental health issues (BM, DF, ST, RC, TS)
  • 37% reported head trauma or brain injury (RC, EC, DF, CP, PS)
  • 78% had a serious health condition (RS, JP, JC, OT, JB, LS, AD)
  • 69% dealt with substance use issues (EC, JC, PS, EG, CP, LJ, DG)

Of the 516 identified as chronically homeless:

  • 53% had no health insurance; (AD, BM, VP, KH, JC, TS)
  • 49% dealt with tri-morbidity, or mental, physical health, and substance use issues (JC, AD, JB, CC, DG, JP, CP)

I only listed the initials of a few of my friends, but there are many more that could be included…Lord have mercy.

It’s In Me! It’s In Us!

So many unique stories live and breathe on the streets.  So many complex situations.  So many interesting and beautiful people with the sacred spark of God burning within.

I met Byron (Alabama) last night.  I was immediately drawn to him because he was such a sweet, gentle spirit.  I wanted to know his story and he wanted to share his story, so God put us both in each other’s presence at just the right moment.

Me & Byron

Me & Byron

As we stood together on the warm pavement of the parking lot where I had met up with some good Cumberland Presbyterians who deliver burritos every Monday, we began to talk.  He learned I was a pastor and shared with me that he always felt the call to minister to others also.  Between bites of his burrito he told me that his father was a pastor and his mother taught religion at a college.

Byron told me that he is homeless, he has a job, he works every day, and he makes bad choices. He knows he needs to get out and stay out of east Nashville.  He belongs in south Nashville, closer to his job and his limited support system and he knows it.  He knows when he crosses that bridge to the east he has made another bad choice.  He knows on the east side he is way too free with his money and that he has a hard time saying “no.”

Byron told me that he knows something else though. He knows he grew up with parents who encouraged him to know God and to spend time with God’s Word every day. He knows that a spiritual foundation was carefully laid within him by his parents. In Byron’s words: IT’S IN ME!  The peace on his face was unmistakable when he shared this truth with me. It brought him comfort to speak out loud that all is not lost, that God was still present with him despite all the bad choices he makes.

Every day I am reminded that there is really little, if any, substantial difference between me and the friends I serve like Byron. Don’t we all make bad choices? Yes, some bad choices are more extreme than others, but don’t we all slip too far away from God too often?  Of course we do…but God forgives us, covers us in grace, and loves us beyond understanding.

So, may we all learn a valuable lesson this day from Byron: IT’S IN US!

So many wise and spirit-filled folks live and breathe on the streets.  So many blessed encounters to be had.  So many interesting and beautiful people with the sacred spark of God burning within.

 

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