So Long, Farewell, Auf Wiedersehen, Goodbye

No matter how much we try and plan for the future, none of us can know the twists and turns of “what’s next.” The truth of this principle has recently been reinforced to me. I have resigned from CCC, effective by the end of February. How this came about is a bit of a long story, but I think it’s a good one, so please bear with me.

My 88-year-old dad has been battling a crippling neuro-muscular disease for about 10 years. (Some of you may recall that I wrote a post about him back in the fall of 2016.) This disease has left him unable to walk, confined to a wheelchair, and essentially homebound. He lives in Orange County, Texas, between Orange and Beaumont, in the same house where I was raised, and on the same piece of land where he was born and raised. Recent events, including a visit last month to help care for him, have convinced my brothers and me that dad is simply no longer able to stay by himself.

My brothers and I have discussed this at length, and considered all the various options available – hiring an outside caregiver, relocating dad to live with one of us, moving him into a nursing home. For various reasons, none of these options can work for him, or for us. We have decided that the best course of action would be for me to move in with dad and serve as his full-time caregiver.

While I am looking forward to spending more time with my dad and serving him, I am overwhelmingly sad about leaving Abilene and the non-profit I work for, Connecting Caring Communities. In the nearly nine years since I joined CCC, I have been blessed to make some wonderful friends and see amazing things done, working with neighbors and others to better our community.

(I’m also going to really, REALLY miss our church, Beltway Park, and so many friends from our Sunday School class and our Bible Study life group. The folks in my Sunday class gave me a great send-off yesterday, with lots of prayers, hugs, tears, kind notes & cards, and even gifts of cash and more. Our Sunday night group had a farewell dinner for us last night. It was a very rich, full day of love and friendship, and one more thing I will miss about Abilene. But right now I’m talking about work…)

I have learned so much during my time with CCC – especially about what it really means to “love your neighbor as yourself.” The opportunity to meet some great people, to get to know neighbors from different backgrounds, different cultures, different religions, and to host them in our home – these have been priceless blessings that I will always cherish.

I think of friends I made who have passed away: people like sweet Sandy, a tattooed elderly lady that I met through Meals on Wheels. Sandy, you must have lived an interesting life in your younger days; I’m sorry I never got to hear the stories I’ll bet you could have told. People like David, confined to a wheelchair, yet always with a smile on his face. Rhonda; Jimmy; Paul; all of you blessed me with your friendship, and I thank you. I will continue to miss you, and remember you fondly.

I think of the kids who spent part of their afternoons with me and our volunteers at “Kids’ Club,” and the parents who trusted me to watch their little ones for a while. It was my honor, and my pleasure. We had a good time doing homework, drawing on the sidewalks, climbing trees, doing crafts, and more. And I remember the Bible stories we told – “they say stories like that make a boy grow bold, stories like that make a man walk straight.” The Fruit of the Spirit and the Armor of God, David, Deborah, Moses and Esther. Mary & Joseph, Peter and John and the boys, and best of all, Jesus, the manger, the parables, the miracles, and the cross. And the twelfth and final egg, which is, of course, empty.

I think of the meals, and all the laughs we had around the table and out in the yard. Easter egg hunts and Halloween carnivals. Banana boats and dirt cake, hot dogs and Frito pie. A dunking booth on a certain very cool October day, and kickball games. Swing sets and bluebonnets. The prayer walks and recruiting volunteers. Working with teens for the “Young Leaders of Abilene.” Finding unexpected skills, like the time I handed my neighbor Diego the spatula during a cookout, then couldn’t get it back, only to learn that he used to be a short-order cook! I wouldn’t trade a minute of any of it.

And I think of so many friends who have supported, and continue to support, our work through your prayers, your gifts and your financial participation, a huge and heartfelt “thank you.” We literally could not do this without your gracious assistance and partnership.

To the colleagues I’m leaving behind, past and present: Please know that I’ve enjoyed every minute of working beside you. It has been a privilege to serve with you. I’m praying for your continued success.

Working for CCC has been one of the greatest blessings of my life, and I shall always cherish the opportunity to live out the call to love our neighbors, to bind up the broken-hearted, and to seek the shalom of our city. Thanks to everyone who participated in this ministry, and may the Lord continue to bless and guide all of you, as you continue to work on behalf of CCC, our neighbors, and our community.

Hello, I Must Be Going

A little over two years ago, my family and I moved into a beautiful, spacious home on Abilene’s far north side, to continue doing the work of meeting neighbors, building relationships, and serving the community. It has been a very enjoyable time, we love this house, and we have made some wonderful friends among our neighbors in the North Park neighborhood.

npfh-sw-1And we’re leaving.

About a year ago, my colleagues and I at CCC began asking some very hard questions about ourselves and the work we are doing in Abilene neighborhoods; the result of those conversations was to decide that as an organization, we were not being as effective as we would like to be. The work of building relationships is great work, but relationships in and of themselves will not bring about the kind of community renewal that we all want to see. Creating the social capital of bringing neighbors together is great, but you have to then “invest” that social capital in ways that make sense.

npfh-se-2Part of the way CCC had been doing things was to have several community coordinators – that’s my “official” job title – and place each coordinator in a separate neighborhood. Some of those neighborhoods were small; some were enormous. Some coordinators enjoyed focusing on kids and families; some were more interested in working on “bigger picture” issues. All of us wanted to bring about the “safe, caring, whole community” our mission statement envisions – we just weren’t sure that the strategy we were following was going to get us there.

We talked with a lot of people. We read books from numerous experts in this field. We sought input and approval from our board. And at the end of that process, we decided that what was needed was for all the coordinators to live in the same neighborhood, so that we could more effectively work together – to share the load and to take advantage of our various gifts and talents, and also to support each other, so that one individual was not having to be responsible for an entire neighborhood by himself or herself.

From there, we naturally began to ask, “Which neighborhood?” And again, following a lot of discussion, we settled on College Heights as being the most logical choice. The irony, of course, is that College Heights is the neighborhood where my family and I lived for over six years, in the old Friendship House there, before we moved to North Park. For a lot of reasons, though, College Heights makes the most sense as the place to refocus our team efforts. We talked with our partners; we talked with our funders.

Then I had to confirm to my family that we were, indeed, going to have to leave this beautiful house.

There have been a lot of logistics in all this. Buy or rent? New or old? How large? Which section of the neighborhood? We searched for over eight months, until we finally found a small house in the southeastern part of College Heights that we think will work for us. It’s currently being re-habbed, and we should be able to start moving sometime by mid-October.

To be honest, we’re not sure what will be happening with the North Park Friendship House. It could become CCC’s administrative offices, and continue to serve as a venue for neighborhood events; there are other options as well. Certainly, we want to carry on the wonderful relationship we have had with Hardin-Simmons University, and CCC is definitely planning to have an ongoing presence in the North Park neighborhood.

This move will be an adjustment for our family, to be sure. Like many older homes, our new house has precious little storage space, so we’re having to downsize and get rid of a bunch of stuff. It’s a two bedroom home with a living room and dining room, but less than half of the square footage of our current home, and certainly without the large community room for hosting events. It will take some getting used to, but it will be fine, and I’m looking forward to renewing friendships with some of the neighbors in that immediate area, and to making new friends, too.

I’m especially looking forward to continuing to partner with my CCC colleagues, to loving neighbors in Jesus’ name, and to helping build a stronger, safer, better community by building relationships one neighbor, one home, one block at a time.

So, farewell, North Park. You have blessed us and welcomed us into your lives, and we’ve enjoyed being your neighbors for the last couple of years.  We look forward to continuing as friends. And hello again, College Heights. It’s good to be back.

Here we go.




Peace for One and All

And just like that, it was over.

If you’ve been reading this blog for some time, you know that my colleagues at CCC and I have been leading a series of summer day camps in various neighborhoods around the city where we serve. It’s part of the “Young Leaders of Abilene” program; the summer camps are made possible in part through gifts from the Ruth & Bill Burton Family Fund, and the T & T Family Foundation, at the Community Foundation of Abilene.

So, all summer long, we have conducted a series of day camps across Abilene. Teenagers from our neighborhoods have been working as counselors, and their elementary-aged siblings, cousins and neighbors have enjoyed the fun program of snacks, crafts, games, and more. The theme for the summer has been, “Kids for Peace,” and we have tried to reinforce the message that you’re never too young to be a peacemaker – and there are many ways to work for peace. Part of our curriculum has included saying the “Peace Pledge,” which challenges and encourages kids to make a difference for peace through kind words, through caring for the earth, through valuing diversity in all things, and through everyone working together.

But now, we’re up to our final week, and we’re doing something a little different – a week of service projects, involving our teenage counselors putting into practice the peacemaking activities they’ve been talking about all summer. We’re going to a neighborhood nursing home, to use our kind words to brighten someone’s day. We’re doing yard work for some disabled neighbors, and picking up trash in a part of the city that’s too often overlooked. We’re assembling packets of school supplies for kids whose families have recently arrived in Abilene, from places in the world that aren’t safe.

On Thursday, we’re meeting at Hendrick Medical Center, in a beautiful little spot on the west side of their campus, to install and dedicate a “Peace Pole.” If you’re not familiar with them, Peace Poles are hand-crafted posts that display the message and the prayer, “May Peace Prevail on Earth,” in different languages on each of its four sides. The idea began in Japan in the 1950s; today there are over 100,000 peace poles in more than 180 countries around the world. And this week, we will be installing three more, including the one we’re putting in at Hendrick. The kids will be in charge of the dedication ceremony. They’ll offer prayers for peace, and say their peace pledge one more time.

So, after a week of training camp, four weeks of neighborhood camps, and now a week of service camp, the “Young Leaders” summer program wraps up for another year. We will continue meeting with the teenagers throughout the coming school year, and they will continue to serve as leaders and role models for the younger kids around them. We will continue to help them with service projects and activities for neighbors and neighborhoods across Abilene. And we will encourage them to continue to be peacemakers as they go about their lives.

Now if we can just get the grown-ups to do the same. Shalom.

Kids for Peace

A few weeks ago, I wrote about CCC’s “Young Leaders of Abilene” program, and the summer day camps we would be hosting in some of the neighborhoods across the city. (If you missed it, you can click HERE to read that article.) So now, with mid-July approaching, we have finished two weeks of camp , we have one in progress this week in College Heights, and we have two weeks more ahead of us.

Our theme for this year is “Kids for Peace.” That’s a name that we borrowed from an organization that is accomplishing great things, doing just what that name suggests.

Ten years ago, Jill McManigal and Danielle Gram met at a neighborhood party in their home of Carlsbad, California. Jill was the mother of two young children, and Danielle was a high school honors student. The new friends began to discuss ideas about ways of working for peace, and they realized they both shared a vision of finding ways for children to be more active in making that happen. And the “Kids for Peace” movement was born.

The kids began working together, learning about other cultures, and learning to respect people of different backgrounds. They began to join together on various projects to make practical, positive changes in the world around them – as well as around the world. Currently there are 113 recognized chapters of “Kids for Peace” at work in 23 states and more than 20 foreign countries, and they’re involved with conservation and recycling efforts, neighborhood clean-ups, and community art projects. They’re working to promote listening and understanding, and learning to celebrate diversity of cultures, languages and traditions.

One of the most visible parts of “Kids for Peace” is shown by their motto: “Kindness Matters.” This past January, through their “Great Kindness Challenge,” they coordinated more than 5 million schoolkids around the world and more than 250 million specific acts of kindness! And they’re hoping for an even bigger response in January, 2017.

In our summer camps, we are putting these principles to work. The kids are making “Kindness Coupons,” which they can share with family members or neighbors, while they learn about specific ways of helping others. We’re planting flowers, to help the campers learn respect for the earth. We play games from different countries around the world, to help them learn to appreciate diversity. And we have fun through it all!

We are also teaching our campers the “Peace Pledge:”

I pledge to use my words to speak in a kind way.
I pledge to help others as I go throughout my day.
I pledge to care for our earth with my healing heart and hands.
I pledge to respect people in each and every land.
I pledge to join together as we unite the big and small.
I pledge to do my part to create PEACE for one and all.

In the Old Testament, the prophet Isaiah looks ahead to the establishment of God’s peaceable kingdom, and he says, “The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together, and a little child will lead them” (Isaiah 11:6).

Kids for Peace is getting a head start on it.


It was a big job.

Jerusalem was a big city, rebuilding its walls was a big task, and Nehemiah was facing some big challenges. And there were times when he wondered if his dream would ever be finished.

It wasn’t as if no one had tried. The walls had been torn down about 120 years earlier, when the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar had destroyed the city. But the Babylonians had themselves been overthrown, and one of the first things that the new Persian king had done was give permission for work to begin on rebuilding the Temple in Jerusalem. Ezra, a highly respected priest, headed up that project until its completion.

But Ezra’s efforts failed after that. Old family feuds surfaced again. Political enemies created dissension. Turf wars over who should do what paralyzed their efforts. The people were overwhelmed by the enormity of the task. And so the walls of Jerusalem remained in ruins, symbolic of the shame that continued to grip the once-proud city.

And this wasn’t just a matter of bragging rights or civic pride. A city’s entire well-being depended on a well-built wall. Without a stable wall, bandits could raid the city and harass its inhabitants. Without a patrolled wall, thieves would loot and plunder at will. Without a secure wall, enemy warlords could even kidnap citizens and hold them for ransom. So for nearly 120 years, with no wall, Jerusalem remained a city without security, without peace, without hope.

Nehemiah was far removed from that despair. He enjoyed both personal and professional fulfillment in Susa, the capital city of the empire, far removed from the trouble in Jerusalem. Yes, he was a Jew, but he had worked his way up to become a trusted adviser to the king, with the honored title of cupbearer. What happened in Jerusalem wasn’t really his problem. Or was it?

When some emissaries from Jerusalem arrived in Susa, Nehemiah asked about how things were back in his homeland, and that’s when he got a troubling report: even though many had returned to Jerusalem a generation earlier, the city walls were still in ruins, the city gates, scorched and worthless.

So Nehemiah began to pray. And he began to have a daring dream of a plan. It was risky – as in, if it didn’t work, he would not only be dismissed from the king’s service, but probably executed. But trusting the future to God, he suggested his plan to the king, who prompted agreed. Nehemiah was made governor and given great resources from the royal treasury to make his dream a reality.

When he arrived in Jerusalem, he rode around the perimeter of the city, surveying it and assessing what needed to be done. And somehow along the way, he came up with an idea.

Nobody really knows what gave him the idea, but it was brilliant. Besides needing the wall rebuilt, the people of Jerusalem also needed their hope and confidence rebuilt. So, thought Nehemiah, why not get them involved in the work?

So here was the plan: he put all the families of Jerusalem to work, rebuilding the section of the city wall closest to their home. You work on your section; other people will work on theirs. That was it. He made sure that everyone knew that each family had a stake in this project, and each individual had a part to play. He made it a matter of honor to work diligently on your section, joining up with your neighbor, knowing that together you would be able to accomplish something great.

For his part, Nehemiah himself went around encouraging and keeping up everyone’s spirits. When would-be enemies conspired to attack, he stationed guards and watchmen at strategic locations, with a promise that if anyone came under attack, everyone would come to help. When economic issues threatened to halt the work, he called in the rich landowners who were exploiting their neighbors and challenged them to do the right thing, and they did.

Everyone worked together. Everyone had something to contribute. Neighbors became friends as they labored side by side. Old grievances were forgotten for the sake of a greater cause. Nobody much cared who got the credit as long as the job got done.

For 120 years, the walls of Jerusalem had been in ruins. 120 years. But under Nehemiah’s leadership, working together, the people of Jerusalem rebuilt them in just 52 days. That’s right – 52 days.

Each of us has a part to play. Each of us has a job to do. And together, we can dream. And with God’s help, what we dream together, we can do. Together.

Who Is My Neighbor?

I was visiting with some friends the other who knew me when I was a pastor in Haskell, and they asked, “So, what is it you’re doing now?”  It’s a fair question.


I work for a Christian faith-based non-profit organization called Connecting Caring Communities. As our mission statement says, “Connecting Caring Communities (CCC) exists to built meaningful relationships that foster safe, caring and whole communities.”

What that means is both simple and profound. Simple, because God created humans to exist in relationship, with Him and with one another.  Profound, because it’s not easy to do.

As far back as the Garden of Eden, God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone.”  In that context, of course, He was speaking of the relationship between husband and wife, but the principle applies to life in general.  God Himself exists in a perfect relationship, the beautiful mystery of the Triune, Three-in-One Being, of God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit.  And He created us to exist in relationship with Him and with others.

Unfortunately, those relationships were damaged along with everything else when our first parents sinned.  As Christians, we would say that Jesus came to rebuild those relationships, to provide a way for us to have our relationship with God restored, and to show us how we ought to live with one another.

When Jesus began His earthly ministry, He was in the synagogue in Nazareth, and read Isaiah 61:

The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me,
    because the LORD has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
    to proclaim freedom for the captives
    and release from darkness for the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor...
For I, the LORD, love justice;
    I hate robbery and wrongdoing.
In my faithfulness I will reward my people
    and make an everlasting covenant with them.

When Jesus was asked about the most important commandment, recall His answer in Mark 12: “Hear, O Israel, the LORD our God, the LORD is one.  Love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.  And the second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself.”

In other words, the most important thing is to recognize the relationship with God on a community level (OUR God), on a personal level (all YOUR heart, soul, mind, strength), and on an interactive level (love your NEIGHBOR).

Or as 1 John says, “No one can claim to love God, Whom he has not seen, if he cannot love his brother, whom he has seen.”

So at CCC, our goal is do anything and everything we can to help build better relationships with neighbors, and to help neighbors build relationships with each other.  We do that through several different strategies, including what we call a “Friendship House.”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA Friendship House is just that: it’s a house where a CCC staff member lives with his or her family.  Our house is in the College Heights neighborhood of North Abilene, near Hendrick Medical Center.  CCC also has Friendship Houses in the North Park neighborhood, and in the Valley View neighborhood.  We work with our neighbors to get to know them, to help them get to know each other, and to work together to build a stronger, better, safer community for everyone.

We do many different things at the Friendship House, including an after-school program, summer activities for neighborhood kids, block parties, prayer walks, neighborhood cleanups, and more.  But these activities are NEVER done as ends in and of themselves; they are all done with the goal of meeting neighbors, building relationships with neighbors, then mobilizing those relationships to grow a better neighborhood.  We want to allow those relationships to develop naturally and organically, listening to each other and growing together.

What does this mean?

  • It means that CCC wants to work with neighbors – we don’t ever want to be a bunch of outsiders who come into a neighborhood with an attitude that says, “Hi, you’re broken, and I’m here to fix you.”
  • It means that we value relationships above things.  We believe that by building relationships, we can restore the fabric of our community, and ultimately, our society.
  • It means that we seek mutually-enhancing relationships.  In other words, we don’t want to maintain a traditional service provider – client model.  We want to walk beside our neighbors and learn from each other.
  • It means that we seek to build on the strengths inherent in every neighborhood and work with neighbors to grow and develop new strengths that can benefit the entire community.

Some people call this community development, or intentional neighboring, or missional living, but really, it’s just living out the Kingdom principle of showing our love for God but loving one another.  When we do this in gentleness and humility, we discover that we don’t have to “take God to the neighborhood” – He has been here all along, waiting for us to love people in His name.

Want to know more?  Our website is currently undergoing to a major rebuild, but you can go to for more information, or you can visit us on Facebook.  We appreciate your prayers, and if you feel so led, we can always use additional financial support.

Meanwhile, let me encourage you to come along beside us by getting to know YOUR neighbors, where YOU are.  Proverbs 27:10 says, “A neighbor nearby is better than a brother far away.”  Love the people God has placed near you.  It seems to me that if more of us would do this simple thing, the Kingdom of God would grow and spread beyond our wildest dreams.