I had a pretty intense day today. I traveled down to Pittsburgh with a couple of ServErie colleagues to visit a ministry called Hosanna Industries, Inc. It was an eye-opening visit. The organization basically used a similar concept that we used for TARGET (a program back in the mid 90's that we did through the youth ministry at Grace to rehab homes of needy families in Erie) but they do it a 365 days a year. They do construction projects throughout the city for poor and needy families.
They now have a campus that houses a dormatory for up to 60 volunteers, warehouses for equipment, trucks, tractors, supplies, a training center for basic construction skills, a staff housing area, office complex, etc. The ministry began in 1990 by a man named Donn - who was a pastor at the time.
I knew as soon as we joined him at the table that he was a Jesus follower in the true sense - he took all of Jesus very seriously. He had plumbed the depths of faith and obedience - it was all over his face, it was in his voice, his soul was out in front of his words. I learned some stuff in the 2 1/2 hours we spent with him. Here's some of it:
1. Big dreams often start very small - in the last 18 years - this organization has done over $26 million worth of construction. It started with Donn driving around town stopping at run-down homes and knocking to see how he might help. No strategic plan, no org chart...
2. The key to the success of any organization is deep love and trust among its leaders- he repeated often that the difficult ministry times always involved a breakdown of relationship among the team. But the love of the team and their love of the mission is what keeps him going.
3. Even really godly leaders struggle with criticizm - a huge downer in ministry is when you pour yourself into what you think Jesus has called you to do and what you think is the right thing to do - and Christians criticize. It happens to him regularly and when it does he wants to quit.
4. You can tell alot about a person by what makes them cry. Three times during our conversation Donn came to tears. Once when he was talking about Jesus and his love for the poor, and twice when he was talking about the love and community that exists among his core team. Too many people only come to tears about themselves.
5. I like smart people. I've known this for a while - but I love to be around bright shining bulbs. It challenges me and puts me into "learner mode" - I just begin firing questions and writing furiously. Donn is not only a great servant -but he's really smart.
6. Even really godly leaders can have messed up families - Donn was honest about basically working 80-90 hours per week for the last 18 years and that it has been unhealthy. It's had a negative affect on his wife and kids. Ministry can be intoxicating and addictive - and before long all kinds of stuff can appear to be more important than family - and then before you know it your kids are gone and you've missed the whole thing.
7. Sometimes our hands and feet should do all the talking - some people go into the business of serving the poor with the expectation that they will lead a goodly number of them to salvation - many times, just serving them is enough. Leave the heart-changing business to God.
8. Being taken advantage of is part of what we signed up for as Christians - following the savior that we follow - we should know that we will never insulate ourselves from beging scammed, abused, and taken advantage of. There were a number of jobs that Donn walked away from in the end knowing that he had been scammed. They try to not let it happen but when it does it's in God's hands - they seek no retribution.
9. Jesus loves the poor - Donn never mentioned this one time - but it bled through in every comment he made, every breath he took, and rang true in my spirit just being near him.
10. I have an affinity for older guys who smoke pipes - after lunch Donn took out his pipe - lit it - took a robust draw on it - and kept talking - man did that thing smell good! It also somehow added to the mystique of the moment. CS Lewis, a hero of mine, also smoked a pipe. I've never owned a pipe - never smoked a pipe - maybe I'll have to run out and get me a corncob pipe and some tobaccee. (please don't send me hate mail about how christians shouldn't smoke and how I shouldn't be advocating it here on this blog - I know all that - I'm just sayin...)
It was quite a day - some debriefing is in order.