Ready, Set, Go!…But How? Practical advice on serving refugees & immigrants

You want to serve your refugee and immigrant neighbors?

That is fantastic! How do you go about accomplishing that goal? Sometimes the topic may feel so big or politically charged that you are not sure how to take action, how to go from the idea to the actions. Here are a few things to consider…

Continue reading “Ready, Set, Go!…But How? Practical advice on serving refugees & immigrants”

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L-O-V-E

L-O-V-E.

Arguably, the most powerful word in existence, and even more so in action. Love is a force like no other. It covers a multitude of sins and darkness, including hatred, racism, fear, and indifference. Love gets so watered down, as we use it to describe our emotions about one thing or another, but true, pure, unconditional love comes from the Father and can only be felt when we give ourselves over to the Creator (who Himself is love) and made us in His image. Continue reading “L-O-V-E”

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Human Trafficking Awareness Month

January is Human Trafficking Awareness Month: Here’s What You Can Do, Pittsburgh

Get your clicking finger ready: It’s time to test that “fake news IQ” you’ve spent the past year developing. Sure, you can spot a click-bait headline a mile away—“Joanna Gaines is Leaving ‘Fixer Upper’ to Become a Scuba Diving Instructor!”—but can you figure out what’s missing from the following real-news headlines? Hint: It has to do with where they happened. Go ahead and Google them; I’ll wait. Continue reading “Human Trafficking Awareness Month”

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Wall-Breakers

The day’s light was just beginning to dim at the onset of a crisp, autumn evening.

The cool air made for perfect weather for a walk around the neighborhood. Children’s laughter echoed down the car-lined streets as friends gathered to play in the grass beyond the sidewalks. Some parents and other adults, recently returned from a day at work, trickled outside to share in the enjoyment of the beautiful evening.

As I strolled down the road, another gentleman was just reaching the sidewalk. We exchanged names and pleasantries and briefly talked about the nice weather, work, and family before our paths took us in different directions. I rounded the bend and squeezed to the side of the pathway to allow space for two young women, one of them pushing a baby stroller carrying a bright-eyed infant, to pass by on my left. They smiled warmly and said hello in passing.

I noticed one of my son’s friends playing soccer with some other boys from the neighborhood and stopped to greet him. I asked how school was going and listened as he told me about a recently acquired Pokémon card. His mom, a friend of our family, invited me in for tea, but I had to decline. I already had plans and couldn’t take her up on the offer this time. We said goodbye with the promise of getting our kids together to play sometime soon.

It is a wonderful neighborhood filled with loving families, friendly faces, energetic children, and joy in life.

But, how did you picture that neighborhood?

What did those faces look like in your mind’s eye? Where would you find this place? Who are the people who live there, what do they do for a living, and what is their background?

This brief story is an account of one evening walk that I had through a neighborhood in Pittsburgh. What I didn’t tell you is that the people I mentioned were from the Congo, Syria, and Nepal living in the United States as internationally displaced refugees. I did my best to paint a picture through my words, but they are not at all embellished or untrue in their description. This neighborhood is a welcoming and friendly place where I and my family love to spend time.

Is this what you would imagine as a description of a community largely comprised of diverse refugees?

These are our neighbors, and though they are typically very welcoming, hospitable, and generous, many of these people have never had an American friend or even had an American visit them in their home or apartment.

It’s not actually there, but you can almost see the wall that divides this neighborhood from the rest of the surrounding community.

Not long ago, I sensed the Lord speaking to me as He said,

people are building walls that are making it harder for others to get to Me.

My heart was broken at this thought! To the contrary, it is our responsibility to be wall-breakers, to bridge the gap, and to welcome our neighbors with Godly love and compassionate friendship.

Take a step out in faith and go for a walk…it’s amazing where God will lead you!


Adam Gebhart, Founder and Director Agapao Refugee Ministry

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Ordinary People Living Out an Extraordinary Calling to Love

Imagine 2017

Over 600 completely average people joined us for Imagine last weekend. We joined together because we believe that the gospel of Jesus Christ is that He came to seek and to save sinners just like us. We also believe that the whole of the Gospel is much more radical: it invites us to live as a disciple of the One who fed the hungry, clothed the naked, welcomed children, and spent time with those society deemed unworthy and outcasts.

 

This past weekend, over 600 ordinary followers of Jesus joined together to learn how to better seek justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God (Micah 6:8). We recognized the fears that often paralyze us, and we leaned into the truths from Scripture: that the same way our Savior walked right into the “Samarias” of His world, we are called to the “Samarias” of ours…the places others would rather avoid: the streets, the group home, the orphanage, the prison, the abortion clinic, the rehab center, and the strip club. He walked in, bent down, and looked people right in the eye because relationships transform. He not only calls us to follow Him, but equips us as we do.

 

“Imagine made me realize that my fear of stepping out is normal, and reminded me that God can use anyone.”

“Some moments my heart was breaking and at the same time my fears are lessening. Opening my mind to what it means to truly love others as God loves us!”

“It gave me further conviction to open up to more possibilities that previously scared me.”

 

Throughout the weekend together we considered the idea of “What’s my one?” Our God is an intentional God seeking out the one lost sheep, the one lost coin, and the prodigal son (Luke 15). He has designed and equipped each of us with a different, yet complementary role to play in living out the Gospel (Romans 12:3-6). As each attendee prayerfully considers, “What’s my one?”, together we are able to make an impact in our world.

Here are just a few of the “ones” God led attendees to:

  • Haiti
  • Foster Dad
  • Short-term missions
  • Mentoring
  • Cambodia
  • Refugees learning English
  • Sex Trafficking
  • Strengthening a culture of life in our churches
  • China special needs adoption
  • Foster mom advocate
  • Homelessness
  • Encouraging adoptive families

 

Our prayer is that each person to whom the Lord spoke one thing would respond with prompt obedience to this call. Imagine what would happen if followers of Jesus took a stand for the hungry, the hurting and the fatherless. Let us bring that to life each and every day of the coming year!

Our deepest appreciation to each speaker, exhibitor and to the team of volunteers who planned and executed this event. Our time together was encouraging, refreshing, and equipping. We look forward to seeing you at Imagine 2018.

 

We’d love to hear your story of how God is using you, a completely ordinary person to live out His extraordinary calling to love.

Email us at connect@imagineconferencepgh.com

For encouragement and practical help living out this calling year round, be sure to subscribe to our blog.

 

 

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Listening to God’s Heart for Justice

Brace yourself for a story of miraculous proportions…

On the night of Saturday, August 13, 2016, I attended a church that delivered a powerful message of biblical justice for the oppressed and how women are under attack from Satan. At the end of the service, without hint or preview, Facebook Private Messenger decided to reveal messages that were undelivered, dating back three years, one year, six months, and three months. I never saw this screen before or since on my smart phone. It quickly disappeared and I could not get it back. While recognizing some of the senders, I was suddenly concerned about conversations that others were attempting to have with me and that they probably thought I did not care.

Knowing that apps and websites can look drastically different on a mobile device versus a laptop, I logged-on when I got home. I was able to locate this hidden screen and discovered two dozen messages. Many were unimportant, but one clearly stood out. It was a response to a message that I sent six months prior, on a Facebook Page, in February 2016. The conversation was from Philadelphia-based Do What’s Wright Production Company, LLC. They had been filming a documentary throughout Pennsylvania focusing on statewide anti-human trafficking efforts and the history of abolitionism concerning slavery. I offered to help and asked how I could be involved should they come to Pittsburgh. At that time, I thought my message was either being ignored or forgotten, so I was disappointed.

As it turns out, the producer responded right away and accepted the assistance. However, now I am reading this for the first time, six months later. I responded with an apology for the half-year delay and tried to explain what seemed inexplicable. Since she also gave her email address in the message, I doubled my efforts to reach out. This documentary could easily have been in post-production by now and I feared that I might have missed an incredible opportunity.

However, two days later, the associate producer of ‘From Liberty to Captivity’ responded and assured that this was no coincidence. You see, just this week, the filmmakers were going to start calling contacts in Western PA to schedule appointments.

Let’s take a step back for a moment. A conversation that I initiated was lost for a period of six months, then it “just happened” to appear at a perfectly timed moment which was literally the best week possible.

The next miraculous occurrence: she described a major gap that they had regarding content. She said that they did not have anyone to report on outreach in the hospitality industry, as related to sex trafficking.

Wait a minute. For the past two years, I had led a hotel/motel ministry that brought awareness of warning signs and resources to take action for front desk staff and managers. The team had been to 130 hotels and motels from Pittsburgh, Erie, Harrisburg, New York City, Washington, D.C., Chicago, Los Angeles, etc.

Furthermore, I had recently trained a church group of 6-10 in Philadelphia to mirror these outreach efforts.

Next, she referenced advocates in the Pittsburgh area that she was trying to reach without much success. One-by-one I began to close the gaps with my local network of faith-based, law enforcement, and clinical contacts. I was becoming somewhat of a consultant for the film.

If that is not enough evidence for you that this was a divine appointment, I suggested a regional event that should be of interest to them. The Imagine Conference focuses on the most vulnerable population of children that are at the highest risk of being trafficked; which is those that need mentored, sponsored, fostered, and adopted. The year before, I spoke during a segment representing the plague and battle of domestic minor sex trafficking. After I explained that the event would be held on October 22, 2016, she said that is THE WEEK that production was planning on relocating to Pittsburgh! Progress moved swiftly and with few obstacles, from filming locations to interviews of courageous survivors, former traffickers, and local advocates. Exactly what they were seeking is what I had been prepared to provide.

With continued collaboration, I was told that I no longer was going to be a subject interviewed for the film. Rather, I was being tapped to be Assistant Producer. (Perhaps, I edged myself out by finding way more interesting people than myself to interview, but who cares!)

To give a little more personal context: the year 2016 was extremely difficult. Within the first six months of the year, I grieved for the loss of two very close family members and experienced spousal job loss. Probably somewhere around early to mid-summer, I was longing for another sign from God that I was on the right path by fighting human trafficking, as I was starting to become a little stagnant. All I knew was, I had never felt as close to God as I did when I was deeply serving Him in this area. Defining moments have been instituting the hotel/motel ministry; lobbying for International Justice Mission on Capitol Hill; making an awareness video through my church; and speaking at the Imagine Conference before 400 attendees. I was ready for the next level.

The two Sundays after the second family death, I was at my home church and acutely engaged with the worship. Suddenly I heard God’s audible voice-as audible as it could be while in my head-say, “Trust me. You won’t believe what I have for you.” I literally heard this message and cannot even type it without tears. I had this divine experience on Sunday, July 31st and again on Sunday, August 7th. The following Saturday, August 13th the archived/lost Facebook Private Messenger messages popped-up, which guided me to the six-month old correspondence, and becoming Assistant Producer on ‘From Liberty to Captivity’. I do not tell this story to say – “Hey look at me!” Make no mistake; I am ecstatic as this marries my lifelong passion of film and compassion for victims/survivors of human trafficking.

I am telling this story as a real-life illustration of God’s perfect timing and divine intervention.

This is something beyond our understanding. If God knows all things, can be all places, and is all-powerful, He certainly can control something like our electronic devices. There is no way this is a coincidence, by happenstance, or irony. This can only be explained as the movement of God.

He has orchestrated this to the point of it being undeniable. He has been preparing this opportunity for years. I just had to learn to listen to God’s heart for justice.

You can too:

Register for the Imagine Conference

Learn more, and get involved in supporting “From Liberty to Captivity”

“Local Activist Battling Human Trafficking in PA”

Walk Her Home


Written by Gary Caldwell, Assistant Producer of ‘From Liberty to Captivity’ film

 

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A Walk Through Systemic Racism

Walking along North Avenue in Pittsburgh’s Central North Side and Mexican War Streets neighborhoods, I am surrounded by humanity. The beauty of God’s handiwork passes me on the left and the right on the wide sidewalk. Skin of every shade meets my eyes as a half dozen languages are picked up by my ears. The playground is filled with dozens of children from every background and socioeconomic group running around and giggling. Kids in boutique dresses play next to those in worn hand-me-downs while parents sit on the sidelines. Some are black, some are white. Some wear hijab, some wear yarmulkes. Some push expensive strollers. One has a shopping cart with all of their worldly belongings in it.

At first glance this scene encompasses everything about humanity Jesus calls us to hold dear. It sounds like the description of heaven.

“I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands.” (Revelation 7:9)

Yet, Jesus also calls us to sometimes look beyond the surface and dig deeper. He calls us to challenge our thinking and break free of our safety zones.

Further observation of this neighborhood reveals that not everything is as it seems at first glance. The line for dinner outside of the Light of Life Rescue Mission is made up nearly entirely of black men. Just a few short blocks away, in sight of the line of homeless black men, is another place to eat a warm dinner. The patio of diners at Casellula, a fantastic- but pricey- new restaurant is nearly entirely a white crowd. This is not intentional on the part of either establishment. Both organizations are wonderful additions to this neighborhood. Light of Life is open to those of all races and backgrounds who are homeless and seeking a meal. Casellula is partnered with City of Asylum bookstore, which strives to elevate the voices of refugees, asylum seekers, and marginalized voices around the world. Segregation, especially in Pittsburgh, is rarely intentional. Yet it is ever present.

If we begin to reflect on this dinner scene, one looming question emerges that followers of Jesus must wrestle with. If these establishments are not actively segregating themselves, then what causes this visual divide?

Why are so many white adults able to afford dinner at Casellula, and so many black adults need to eat dinner at the rescue mission for free? We must ask ourselves a fundamental question as we analyze this evening meal. Do we believe that people of color do not work as hard, are not as smart, and are not as able to earn a living than their white brothers and sisters? Knowing that God created all of us in His image, we must reject this idea as false. Coded messages in society, in politics, and in this very neighborhood lead many to draw that conclusion. Those messages lead us to draw the conclusion that there must be something fundamentally “wrong” with the actions or inherent qualities of the individuals waiting for dinner at the mission that prevents them from being seated at the Casellula table.

Through reflection, then, we realize that if it is not an inherent character trait that makes one group less able to thrive, then it must be a systemic or societal reason. Once we conclude there is a societal injustice at play, we are called as followers of Jesus to stand against that. We are called to be on the side of justice, and of truth.

Pittsburgh has a long history with racial inequality, one that is often hidden and brushed aside. We did not have the public vestiges of Jim Crow nailed up around our city, but we had de facto segregation and inequality just the same. Even today, Black citizens of Pittsburgh who work for the city earn eighty-three cents on the dollar for every white employee, and this trend spills out into nearly every field in the region. So, even if the men outside of Light of Life work through the program with their mentors at Light of Life, they will be making less than their white counterparts.

Then we can examine the housing market in our city. Pittsburgh has a long history of discriminatory lending from days past, and the present. Today’s low income neighborhoods align nearly perfectly with the “redlining” map two generations ago. Those in a red neighborhood could not get a mortgage, and thus those communities remained largely renters and subsidized housing. Owning homes builds familial wealth. The people eating at Casellula- their parents probably owned their homes. The people eating at Light of Life- their parents likely did not own a home. Only four generations removed from slavery, black families have much less inherited wealth and stability than white families. The wealth of a child’s family is the single most accurate predictor of a child’s success in life (Dalton Conley, Princeton University sociologist). By the time these diners were a year old, one could likely predict what table they would be eating dinner at tonight.

So, as believers called to wade into the messy waters of racial reconciliation, what do we do? The first step is naming injustice when we see it. We don’t make excuses or shame the person in poverty with our idea of what they “should” do to overcome their circumstances.

We sit down and share a table with them. Maybe we ask them to join us at Casellula. Maybe we join them at Light of Life, or maybe we meet somewhere in the figurative middle. God calls us as believers to function on a potluck mentality, more than a soup kitchen line. He is most honored when his children sit down as brothers and sisters and break bread together across the societal lines imposed on them.

The next thing we do is lay our guilt and defenses down. God has freed us from the sin of guilt. He has set us free. Feeling guilty for the path our life has taken does nothing for reconciliation. Feeling defensive about our successes also hinders conversation. We must pray for open transparency as we hear the stories of our brothers and sisters in Christ in their pain.

And lastly, we speak up and work for change in whatever arena we are in. Banking, human resources, church leadership. Real estate agents, teachers, stay-at-home moms planning playdates. Decades, and generations of silence has led to this disparity in our society. We educate ourselves so that we can work for God’s justice in all areas of our life.

Some resources:

Waking up White by Debbie Irving

Why are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? by Beverly Daniel Tatum

Trouble I’ve Seen: Changing the Way the Church Views Racism by Drew I. G. Hart

Register for the Imagine Conference


Meg McKivigan, M. Ed., Freelance Writer

www.megstesprit.com

Twitter: @megstesprit

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Transformational Urban Mission

On a warm spring day, I sat outside the main entrance of the urban church where I serve as a pastor to soak in the sunshine and also soak in the sights and sounds of the neighborhood. I have been serving this vulnerable urban neighborhood in the city of Pittsburgh for more than a decade now, and it feels like I am still learning so many new things about this place. There are many challenges facing the neighborhood. There are many assets here as well. I’ve come to learn to love this place and the people who inhabit it.

As I looked around the area directly surrounding the church ministry center, I noticed many signs of need. I saw people selling and using drugs. I saw women who were walking the streets, potentially victims of human trafficking. I saw boarded up row homes. I saw a homeless camp in a vacant lot off in the distance. I heard the sirens of police, fire, and paramedics in the area. I saw and heard other signs of poverty and brokenness.

When I looked around, though, I also saw many signs of hope in what looked like such a hard place. I saw people looking out for each other, telling jokes, stories, and, in general, having a good time enjoying such a nice day. I heard people laughing and encouraging one another. I saw busses traveling up and down the main street through the neighborhood, carrying residents to and from work and other places around town. I saw dump trucks going to and from the new home construction sites that are being built for, and with, residents of the neighborhood. I saw residents from the local seniors apartment complex strolling around the outside of the building, hoping to take in some of the neighborhood. I saw resilience in the midst of difficult circumstances.

I started to walk around the block with one of the other pastors of the church, and we had a fun time praying with people, encouraging people, and inviting everyone to join us at the church for worship services, outreach events, and Bible studies. Our church throws block parties where everyone is invited to come, just as they are. Most days we meet people right where they are at—right in the middle of a marginalized urban neighborhood that residents in the other parts of the city have written off as dangerous and troublesome.

Yes, violence and struggles are heightened in the neighborhood, but those things don’t define this place. God’s presence is strong in this little church and in this little neighborhood. The Holy Spirit’s presence was in the neighborhood long before our church arrived, and the Holy Spirit will be here long after we are gone. God is on a constant mission to redeem every person and place in the neighborhood, just like everywhere else in the world.

This church does have an important purpose in this neighborhood, though. We are here strategically. This is the place to be. It’s the place we want to be. Why would it be such a priority for us to locate our church right smack in the middle of a vulnerable urban neighborhood? Surely there are easier places to plant and grow churches. What is it about this particular place?

The leaders at our church know that the world is rapidly urbanizing. More people now live in cities than in any other places around the world. Within the next 20 or 30 years, nearly 75% of the world’s population will be urban. This shift from rural to urban represents the largest migration of human beings in the history of the world. That means that the cities of the world represent a huge opportunity for Christians to reach people who are increasingly more densely congregating together. Rapid urbanization has brought many challenges with it, though, as nearly 1 in 6 people on this planet now lives in urban poverty. Most cities around the world have not been ready for urban expansion at such an explosive pace. Billions of people around the world live in urban poverty as a result.

In response, Christians must engage cities with the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Not only that, but Christians must be willing to engage urban residents living in poverty with the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Nothing could be more important for modern Christians. We must learn to participate in God’s mission in hard places; especially in urban places with people living on the margins of society. These places will be the key to the spread of Christianity throughout the remainder of the 21st century and beyond.

Furthermore, God’s mission with marginalized urban people should lead to a process of transformation that takes place over the course of time. Too often in Christian circles, calls to engage in urban mission lead to transactional, short-sighted approaches that can cause more harm than good. I believe that God is calling Hs Church to build long-term, meaningful relationships that are mutually transformational in complex urban environments.

The urban church where I serve as a pastor definitely does not have it all figured out. I have seen God do remarkable works of transformation in people’s lives and in the streets where people live. I have also witnessed painful failures while experiencing the brokenness of people’s lives and the brokenness of the city’s systems first-hand. Regardless of the signs of need and the signs of hope in the great cities of today’s modern world, God is empowering his people to engage cities in creative and meaningful ways amongst people who desperately need the hope that Jesus Christ has to offer. There is no better place to participate in God’s redemptive mission than with people on the margins of the cities of the world.

Register for the Imagine Conference


Dr. Bryan McCabe, Pastor of Transformational Urban Leadership, North Way Christian Community

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