Archive for January 2015

A Day in the Life of a Substitute

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       The greatest part about subbing, is that I get to be a part of the kids lives. I get a pulse for this community I love, in a very up close and personal sort of way. Honestly, the best way for you to know what our city is like, is for me to tell you about some of what takes place in my classrooms

       A day in my life substitute teaching is always interesting. This week I was in a middle school I sub at a lot. It's in downtown Hammond.
      I enjoy this school. It has a reputation, as many of the schools here do, of being bad. I'm never really sure what "bad" means when ascribed to schools and communities.
      Sometimes when people say it, they mean that it's rough. That the area or school can be dangerous, with violence and drug use. Sometimes people mean that the level of education isn't up to par with other schools. They mean test scores are lower, and drop out rates are higher. More often than not, I've discovered, that people usually toss the word around with very little understanding of what it means, or very little experience or knowledge of the school or community.
       I take reputations of areas and schools with a grain of salt, so to speak. Because they tend to be a very poor way to judge anything.
       The middle school I was in this week, as I said, has just that sort of reputation.
       Each class starts out the same way, I have the students walk in, and check to make sure they are in uniform. I take attendance and introduce myself. Then I give them their assignment.
       Once they are given their assignment, the fun really begins. I help students with work, and review the rules, 500 times, because middle school students have about as much energy as 4th graders, but they don't get recess.

      The other day a group of girls were talking. The conversation went like this.
Girl 1- My dad is a vegan, and I always have to clean up his gross dishes of beans.
Girl 2- Your parents still together?
Girl 1- No girl! Who stays married these days?! Seriously, I don't know anybodies parents who are married.
Girl 3- I know mine aren't!
Girl 2- I always tell my momma I'm going to move in with my daddy. She says "there's the door".
Girl 1- My momma says the same thing!

      After class I had a little boy still sitting at his desk. I could tell he was crying.
Me- What's wrong?
Student- (puts his head against the doorway sobbing)
me- Come over here. I can't fix the problem if you don't tell me what's wrong.
Student- (walks over with tears streaming down his face)
me- ok, what's going on?
Student- They always pick on me.
Me- what were they saying?
Student- They called me a coward, and told me I was scared because i wouldn't hit a girl."
Me- Why won't you hit a girl?
Student- Because it's disrespectful.
Me- Do you think you are a coward?
Student- No. I just think it's wrong to hit someone, and they just keep picking on me.
Me- If you know you aren't a coward in your heart, don't worry about what they say. I think it's far braver to do the right thing sometimes. Cowards hit girls, brave people stand up for what's right even when it's hard.
(me trying not to tear up) I think you are brave and kind, don't let them tell you any different.
Student- Ok, thanks.

     A different conversation with some students
Student 1- Ms. Cansler I think you are the nicest teacher, can you be our permanent teacher.
Me- I can't.
Student 2- Why not?
Me- I have another job?
Student 1- What's your job Ms. Cansler?
Me- I'm a pastor
Student 3- You a girl pastor??
Me- Well I'm a girl, and I'm a pastor, so yes.
Student 1 and 3- You go to church Ms. Cansler?
Me- Well since I"m a pastor, yes I go to church.
Student 3- I go every sunday and wednesday. Sunday for worship service and Wednesday for Bible study.
Me- We only have Sundays, because we are a new church.

       These are just a few glimpses. Lots of things happen every day. Some heartbreaking. Some victories. However, I wouldn't describe these places as "bad" ever.
      The school's I work in are filled with exhausted teachers who do their best, in an area where many parents have given up at getting their kids to even go to school in the first place. The high school where I work the most has a long list of expelled students, and sometimes I take attendance based on who is present, vs. who is absent, because that list is shorter. These teachers try to give them hope, help them to see life beyond these few years, while many of their students become parents at the age their parents had them.
     These schools definitely have their issues, but ultimately they are filled with students who long for love. Who need some direction. Who try their best. They aren't different from kids anywhere else, just that their zip code happens to be different. Just that they have things stacked against them a little higher than others. I have kids who run up to me and give me hugs every time they see me. I have a student who told me all about her dream prom dress and about going to college, and what shoes I thought she should get for prom.
      No... they aren't bad. Much like the world around us, the image of God is there. It just sometimes takes a couple looks to see it. I'm blessed that I get to be the one to take the second look.

An Encounter

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     Homelessness has always torn at my heart. I spent time doing homeless ministry in college, and always try to do something when I encounter homeless individuals on the street. The biggest thing I've learned I can do, is treat people like human beings. I don't always have money (and I'm often hesitant to give money out, though I always like to do something. A post for another day), and I often don't come prepared.
        My mom once said to me that I needed to not give my coat away, because if I came back with nothing and got sick, I'd no longer be able to help people. I understand what she says, so now I try to go into situations prepared.
        When we moved into our church building, we noticed a sleeping bag at the bottom of some outdoor steps. It seemed that this was implying that someone used this space for shelter.

         Due to that discovery, every time I take the trash out to the back of the church, I check the steps, to see if anyone is there. I never found anyone, until a few days ago.
        Despite the fact that I check the steps all the time, I was a bit surprised to see someone there. Their back was turned to me, and the distinct smell of someone unwashed and living on the streets hit me. I called out "hello".
        The person stirred and said "oh hi". I could tell that I startled her. She began to gather up her things, and I said "I'm pastor Robbie, is there anything I can do to help you? I'm the pastor here."
        She said no, as she continued to gather her few things together.
         "what is your name?" I said.
          She told me, and I asked again if I could help her with anything, trying to reassure her that she was welcome here, that I wasn't going to chase her away. I guess after being treated like a rodent for long enough, you start to assume that anyone approaching is going to do the same thing, and so you scurry like one when approached.
           I told her she was welcome to sit there and rest, and I went to gather something for her. We keep these packs in the office specifically for people without homes, they have new socks, a new toothbrush, a washcloth, some snacks, a water bottle, a gift card for a meal, some soap, and a few other things. It's not much, but it's something.

           I rushed back hoping to catch her, and I got there just in time. "This is for you."
           She was so grateful, and I really believe she was a bit surprised. "Thank you. Thank you. Thank you." She kept saying.
            The encounter has haunted me a bit. It was so small a gesture. I could have asked her into the church, and allowed her to use the restroom (having a place to use a restroom is a huge issue among homeless individuals). I could have asked her to come in, and made her a cup of something hot to drink, or to sit down in the heat for a few moments. In the moment, however, all of those things alluded me, as I just tried to think of something, anything, I could do to convey that I saw her, that I cared for her, and to represent a God who cares for her more than I ever could.
        I'm still wrestling with the answers. I'm still praying and seeking direction for what to do. What I pray even more is, that I would be like the boy with the loaves and the fish, and Christ would be as faithful to us as we was the day he fed so many with so little. I pray I will always be faithful and generous with what little we have, and that God would take that little and make much out of it. I pray that even if we do nothing else, that we will always see people as the beloved of God, and treat them as such.

Ringing in the New Year

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     It is never my intention to go so long without blogging. In my mind, I blog every day. Getting it out there, is another story. Technology glitches, and the difficulty of blogging from my phone all play a part, but mostly it's because we are incredibly busy people.
     We are busier than we've been thus far, because we have started having informal worship services on Sunday morning. This is a big step for us, and one I know a lot of you have been praying about.
    A launch meeting was held just before advent. We compiled a small group of friends and family to be our core. It's an incredible blessing to plant a church where you can pull form family and friends to make up that initial group of people.
     Creating this leadership team has been one of the biggest blessings since we've started this journey. First, we feel much less alone. Second, we are able to accomplish a significantly higher amount of work. Three, church isn't really church if there are no people.
     This leadership team really pushed fast forward on our church planting. They are excited and eager to walk this journey as we learn together. They have energy, insight, and wisdom that I lack on my own.
      The reality is, the Christian life was meant to be lived in community, and that is proved more and more as we are building this small community here in our city.
      A snapshot of the last several weeks:

  • We have been holding worship services.
        This may be the coolest thing we are doing. They are small. They are intimate. We eat breakfast together every Sunday. We visit. We explore what it means to be a part of the Church of the Nazarene. We sing a few songs. We read scripture. We pray. We work. Our Sundays are almost entirely spent at the church which is a neat phenomenon. When there are so few of you EVERYONE has to help, and everyone does help. Since we are all there on Sundays, that tends to be the day we work. We clean, we build, we fellowship, we eat, we drink coffee. It's a really cool thing that just sort of was born out of necessity.

  • We held a Christmas eve Service
         We were a small group, but we were there. We lit close to 100 luminaries outside to illustrate our presence (trying to be a light in the darkness) as well as to show our vigil for the coming Christ child. Our hope was that neighbors would see the lights and wander in. This didn't happen, but it was a great learning curve for us. One of the things we learned is that things take time. It takes time to be recognized as people who care and are present. We also learned we'll have to do more than light some candles to illustrate that.
             Mainly the main thing we learned during the season of advent, was that longing and expectation aren't bad things. Advent is the season we live in these days, and being able to come together and reflect on why we do what we do, that it's ok to long, and what hope looks like, was incredibly meaningful.
  • We've met some more neighbors
            If we've learned nothing else, we've learned a lot about prevenient grace. This grace that goes before us, calling people to the heart of God. That's truly the only way to explain some of our conversations and chance meetings.
             Last sunday, one of our Church members was outside, and a neighbor walked by and started talking to him. I went out and he said "I walk by this church a lot and I always pray that God would open it's doors, and that he would send people to it. I really believe God is going to send you a lot of people."
              It was really an amazing thing, and not an isolated incident. We are glad that God has called Christians in our neighborhood to pray for this old church on the corner. We are grateful that the Holy Spirit is moving in the hearts of our neighbors.
             Would we love to see them walk in our doors? Absolutely, we'd be dishonest if we said we didn't, but ultimately we are here to bring about light in darkness, and transformation to a neighborhood. The transformation we want to see doesn't happen over night, and it won't happen just be getting people in seats on a Sunday morning.

  • We've cleaned A LOT
                If you were here this summer, you should come back for a visit, because the building is beginning to become unrecognizable (in a good way). Things are becoming more and more organized, change is really taking place, rooms that were once filled with stuff are now ready to be filled with people. It's actually astounding given the task we had at the beginning of the summer. It's easy for us to be overwhelmed, because there is still so much to do (we still need to tear down some ceilings downstairs, and install new ceilings and light fixtures.... do you know how to do that? Because we'd love to have your help). We really need a new front door, and a new air conditioner, as well as a new window installed, on top of other projects we can't even think about affording right now... BUT, we have this awesome new sound booth built that a couple members took on themselves to put in, and it looks better than I even imagined (and it's not done yet). We set up this amazing breakfast/coffee area in the back of the sanctuary, that my mother-in-law turned into this really warm and welcoming space. The coat closet is completely cleaned out and ready to go. We are preparing to paint the foyer steps and put in new carpet. The bathrooms smell the best they have since I first stepped into them. We have diaper changing stations in the bathrooms. We have new hymnals. We have bulletins. We have a working sound system. We have chairs set up like a real sanctuary. The lights no longer have bugs in them. The stained glass windows shut all the way! The church is getting internet on Friday, which means I'll be able to hold real office hours! This has all happened over the last several weeks. Just imagine what can happen in the next several years?

People ask me sometimes how we get the funding to make all this happen, how we have the time or ability. Sometimes I'm astounded myself. City Connexx has helped us tremendously, and has been one of the most amazing blessings in my life. Our launch team is the best in the world, dedicating significant amounts of time, money, and energy into seeing this vision come to life. On top of that, Mac and I work... as much as possible outside of the church.
       I'm not sure what things will look like 6 months from now, but if it's anything like these last 6, it'll be greater than what we could ever hope or imagine. So, we are ready, 2015, for this to be a year set aside to do great things for the Kingdom of God.