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My brother-in-arms, Manuel, said something to me a while back that I hope I’ll never forget. “Hold it loosely,” he said. If you can clear your mind of yourself, you’ll hear that God calls us–and indeed commands us–to do certain things with certain people at certain times. He gives us talents, shapes us and then gives us Kingdom tasks. But we have to hold those tasks loosely. If we don’t, they become our work, not His work. When that happens Psalm 135 says we will no longer see what He wants us to see, hear what He wants us to hear or breathe His Spirit on others. “Hold it loosely,” Manuel said, because we will kill it if we hold too tightly.

Things don’t happen the way we want them to, and believe me I had different expectations for the first 45 days of Willie’s participation in the RighTrak program. We encountered challenges almost immediately after the luster of the initiation weekend wore off. I naively underestimated the power of our desire to do what we know–to do what we’ve done in the past–no matter how poor a decision it might be. Perhaps it’s the evil one whispering in our ear, “Do what’s comfortable. Don’t risk doing something new.” Perhaps it’s just human nature.

Don’t get me wrong. We didn’t have a big backslide. It was more of a preview of what could be if we’re not vigilantly and intentionally discipling one another–that is, going through the slow, methodical process of teaching, showing, assisting and watching. Perhaps it was my first, real understanding that this is going to be hard, very hard.

But here’s the kicker. If it were easy, we wouldn’t need to have faith, we wouldn’t need to rely on Him, and it wouldn’t be Kingdom work. When things don’t go the way we planned, we have a choice. Keep holding it tightly, be disappointed and try to hold it tighter in the future, or loosen the grip, recognize we are not in control, listen to what God is trying to tell us and keep working the circle.

Pray that we hold it loosely, work the circle and allow Him to work through us. “We can make our plans, but the Lord determines our steps.” Prov. 16:9 (NLT)

 
 

2012-11-25 14.58.05A big part of what RighTrak Industries does is promote and demonstrate missional living. Willie isn’t a project or a candidate or a client; he’s a child of God, and to many of us he’s a friend. If we are to be the hands and feet of Christ, then he’s someone we should embrace and love. This means inviting him–and others like him who might need a lot of help and support–into our regular, daily lives. The “mission” isn’t necessarily in China or Haiti or Africa, though it certainly might be. More often than not, though, the mission field is right here in our own community, and the mission is to share life experiences with people who could use some of God’s love, expressed through us.  As the Building 429 song goes, “By His wounds we have been healed; and in our love He is revealed.” Enough preaching. On to the fun stuff!

In the month since Willie started with RighTrak Industries we and he have had quite a bit of fun. After the West U Rotary’s Veterans’ Day flag deployment, David and Willie traipsed around West U retrieving the flags that had been put out the week before. (The West U Rotary Club’s biggest fundraiser is a flag subscription program. West U residents can subscribe for $50 per year per flag and have members of the club put one or more flags in the subscriber’s yard on 4 holidays during the year. In fact, if you live in West U and want to sign up go here!)

On the weekend of Thanksgiving David and his father, Lance, took Willie to a par 3 golf course and had a ball (pun intended) chipping and putting to their hearts’ content. No talk about ending poverty or making this or that change in Willie’s life–just regular ol’ talk, plus, of course, lots of unsolicited golf tips for the one hitting at the time from the other two who were not. The mosquitos were terrible, but the three of them had a good time just enjoying each other’s company.

2012-12-14 11.47.59Frank has also been spending quite a lot of time with Willie. A week or so ago they went to the movies together and saw Red Dawn. The reviews from Frank and Willie were so-so. Then over the weekend Frank took Willie to lunch to a Mexican place where Willie apparently had a lot of fun as this was the picture Frank sent David from the restaurant. Frank suggested maybe Willie should give up the car washing business and join a mariachi band.

It turns out, besides being a really nice, really personable guy, Willie is quite the chess player. Once a week or so Matthew will join Willie at Taft Street Coffee for a duel. We won’t embarrass Matthew with the details, but it’s safe to say he’s not won a game against Willie yet.

Willie is also a rabid Texans fan, so Chelsea invited Willie to watch the Texans-Colts game with her at a BBQ tailgate party at Trinity’s early childhood center. It was a good game, but the hard labor Willie has been doing as part of his community service got the better of him, and he was nearly asleep by halftime.

This isn’t about plugging a guy into a structured program someone came up with and that we all follow. It’s not about affecting change with a 10-step process and pre-defined goals. It’s about invitation. It’s about earning each other’s trust and having real, meaningful, positive relationships. At least one of the RighTrak volunteers is in contact with Willie, by text and/or phone, every single day. “How was your day, Willie.” “How are you doing?” He’s learning not only that we are here to help him (which, by the way, is a very difficult thing for someone who has lived ont he streets) but also that we want to be his friend. The challenge to be issued to Willie will come in time. Much has been and will be given to Willie, and soon much will be asked of him as well, but for now we’re just helping a friend in need.

 
 

2012-11-17 11.40.54On Saturday, November 17, we had the first missional community event for RighTrak Industries. (What’s a missional community? Read about it on Wikipedia.) The event was called the Poverty to Wholeness Housewarming, and it officially started at 9:31 a.m. (refer to Matthew 9:31). Willie’s day, though, started much earlier.

One of his goals was to start the first day of the rest of his life with a jog at 5:00 a.m. and a support group meeting at 6:30 a.m. By 9:00 Willie was showered, dressed and ready to entertain, having already arranged some of the furniture. Talk about ambitious!

We were incredibly blessed by a few large donations of furniture, as we previously wrote about, but there were still a lot of holes to plug. Willie had literally nothing but the clothes on his back. He was starting completely anew, both figuratively and literally. Have you ever been forced to do that before–move to a new place and start with absolutely nothing? How do you even begin to anticipate your needs? Toiletries, food provisions, socks, underwear, alarm clock, pens, paper, clothes for different temperatures and different occasions, kitchen gadgets, utensils, bus fare to get around, and on and on and on.

2012-11-17 11.15.12So we issued a call to action to Ecclesia, Trinity and some West U Rotary members, and the response was impressive. People wanted not only to help Willie out with material goods, but they also wanted to meet him. Who is this man that has attracted all this attention? Why him? (Why not?) So on Saturday, after enjoying some bagels and coffee from Taft Street Coffee, a dozen or more people met at Willie’s new apartment to help him move in, welcome him to the neighborhood and show their support of his effort to begin a new life. Excited about the opportunity that God has given him, Willie invited some family members to the housewarming party as well, including his niece and her husband (pictured at left). We enjoyed some great fellowship with one another and closed the housewarming party with a popcorn prayer that ended with Willie giving thanks and praying for strength to finish what he started.

testimony_captureWillie’s ambition continued into Sunday as he attended three (three!) different church services. At 7:30, dressed in his new slacks and sport coat, he went to Mount Horeb Baptist Church in the Fourth Ward, the church where he grew up. Willie was invited to give his testimony at that service. It was an impressive testimony, and he was very well-spoken. (More on this later.) At 9:30 Willie went to Trinity Lutheran to attend its contemporary ninethirtyone service. (Willie ditched the sport coat. He didn’t want to be overdressed.) Then at 11:00 Willie went up the street to Ecclesia’s new location on Elder to attend his third service for the day, where he rekindled the friendships he had developed over the last couple years.

The initiation weekend started and ended focusing on the most important thing in any kind of real, substantive transformation: our relationship with God. The first thing Willie did when he entered the program was pray for an ex-offender friend of his whose anti-schizophrenia medication wasn’t working, and the last thing he did before going to bed on Sunday was pray a prayer with his brother, Samuel, over the phone. If ever the Lord was at work, it is in this man at this time. We await with eager anticipation to see what He will do in and through him.

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