Thanks, Humans of Youngstown

This fine young man goes to the school I sub at

This fine young man goes to the school where I sub

Youngstown has been a place with a bad reputation for many years. So it was great to learn about this group on facebook called Humans of Youngstown. The point of their page is to feature pictures of people who have been stopped on the streets of downtown Youngstown, OH, and who’ve been asked questions not about things like politics or the economy, but about themselves.

The reason I first looked was because I recognized this mug as a student – and friend – who I work with where I substitute teach in Youngstown. We were working on his snare drum skills just yesterday! Continue reading


Some choose to be a Bi-vocational pastor. I’m softening on the idea.

Photo credit: Celestine Chua / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

Photo credit: Celestine Chua / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

Who wants to go into a profession that will require you to have another job?  It means that you’ll have to be good enough in more than one area to make ends meet.  Working out vacation and other benefits is tricky too. Then, as a pastor, there’s the problem of fulfilling your obligation to your church community with half the time to do it in.

So when I heard a few years ago that some progressive pastors actually chose to be bi-vocational, it bugged me. First of all . . . what a luxury! I’m not a professional painter, successful salesman or someone else who has the capacity to earn what my family needs. Secondly, their point about how useful it would be to have pastors who work with people who don’t go to church made sense to me, and I felt a little guilty.

I’m not suggesting that every pastor should choose to be bi-vocational, but I’d like to share with you what happened last week that nudged me a bit further in this direction. Continue reading

Our new church on mission: Pre-prom for kids with Autism

I wasn’t thrilled with having to get a part-time job.  Vanda, my wife, reminded me that God uses our situations – even situations we might see as a bump in the road – to do amazing things.  And so he did.

My first assignment as a substitute teacher for Summit Academy was with the Autism Unit on the west side of Youngstown, OH.  There are always at least two teachers in a classroom, and since Kristen Dimas was on maternity leave for the first few weeks of the school year, I had a steady gig filling in for her and working with Michelle Walsh. Continue reading

A new twist on giving back packs

Out back pack packing crew for 2013

Out back pack packing crew for 2013

Last year, our church – Evangel Baptist – had a goal for our inaugural year of our new ministry of giving 20 back packs to needy families in our community.  We ended up giving 120!  Focusing on the two closest elementary schools to our church, we purchased back packs and filled them with supplies based on the schools’ supply lists for their grades.  The guidance counselors at the schools distributed them to the children on opening day 2012.

This year we tried doing it differently.  We had a back pack bash – a party celebrating the new school year!  It took a lot more work to do it this way.  Before our guests arrived I had a brief chat with our volunteers for the party.  I told them we were doing it this way because it was more practical and Biblical.


About 100 people came to the Back Pack Bash.

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It’s time to leave the Shire

“. . . I was entirely respectable, and nothing unexpected ever happened.”

Am I the only one who recalls the 19th Century American hymn This is My Father’s World when the theme music for the Shire plays in the Lord of the Rings movies?  Listen to the first few seconds of the clips below and see if you get where I’m coming from.

Maybe that was the intention of the movie makers.  The hymn was written by a pastor in upstate NY who loved nature walks.  It’s about how God’s creation reminds us that he is in control.  You’d be hard pressed to find a more tranquil tune.  If it was intentional, it was a brilliant move because it enhances the description of the Shire.

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How to speak the international language

A dozen children raced to the fence to greet us before our van stopped in front of the children’s home in Tijuana. It was Friday, the final day of our missions trip to Mexico. There were no houses to build or garbage to walk through to minister in the name of Jesus Christ.  This time we brought pizza to about 25 children who had been either orphaned or abandoned.  It was in many ways the easiest day of the trip. In another way it was the hardest.

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Down in the dumps (literally) in Mexico.

This is from Tuesday, our 2nd build

This is from Tuesday, our 2nd build

There are no photos to show you of Thursday of our week in Mexico because we were forbidden to take them.  So here’s a description of one of the worst and yet most inspiring experiences of my life.  We had been in the slums of Tijuana to bless families with homes that, as our teens had pointed out, were smaller than their bedrooms in Ohio.  That served as a primer for our trip to the dump.

Yes, a garbage dump.  Eddie Passmore, co-director of Mexico Caravan Ministries with his wife Maggie, had cautioned us before we left.  It’s important to quickly get past the shock of what we were about to see so that way we could bless the people in the name of Jesus Christ.

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How to build a house in Mexico

Our 3rd build. Everyone was hard at work!

Our 3rd build. Everyone was hard at work!

At one point, we hadn’t showered for four days.  We were cramped in rooms that each housed 26 people piled on triple-stacked bunk beds. And we weren’t allowed to wear shorts despite being in the hot Mexican desert for the week.

There are other aspects of our trip to Mexico that would gross you out, some would sadden and hopefully most would inspire you. I plan to share more about that in future blog posts. One of the most intriguing things for me, though, was the actions of our own kids.

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An attractive billboard

Northside Medical Center BillboardHere’s the billboard that grabs my attention every time I’m at the traffic light on Glenwood Avenue and Route 224. You can’t tell from my amateur photo, but a number lights up in that blank spot to advertise the average time a guest to Northside Hospital’s Emergency Room has to wait to be seen by a medical professional.

What a brilliant idea!  Even though that facility is miles from my home, I’m still interested in the billboard because I’ve done the parent thing; hanging out in ER waiting rooms for hours with a sick or injured child.  In those situations, it’s hard not to speculate on why it takes so long.

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Jesus was ticked off. Lucky for us.

Photo credit: ....Tim / / CC BY-NC-ND

Photo credit: ….Tim / / CC BY-NC-ND

The Hulk is a very confusing super hero. In the movie The Avengers everyone, including Bruce Banner (the guy who turns into the Hulk when he gets angry), is wary of the appearance of the green monster. But they know they need him at some point if they are to be successful against the evil Loki.

Towards the end of the movie when things were getting rough for the Avengers, Banner realizes that the Hulk must appear. He calmly walks in the direction of the massive enemy and reveals how he has learned to control when the Hulk appears. Captain America tells him that now might be a good time to get angry. Banner looks back just before he transforms into the enigmatic hero and says, “That’s my secret . . . I’m always angry.”

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