Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Request for Help

If you've been reading this blog this year, you know that I am the mentor of a 12 year old fatherless boy. His mom, Delaine, is in need of a lung transplant. I, along with others from my church, are helping her to raise money for her operation. This is her story:

Hello, my name is Delaine Thomason and I am a single mother of a twelve year old boy named Cameron. A non-smoker, I suffer from Sarcoidosis, a disease that results in severe scarring of the lung tissues. Comedian Bernie Mac passed away after succumbing to this same illness.

Sarcoidosis is an immune systems disorder that affects tens of thousands of Americans. Symptoms include a persistent cough, shortness of breath, fatigue, and arthritis, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Most cases of Sarcoidosis are mild, but severe cases can result in scarring of the lungs, a complication that occurs in about one-fourth of Sarcoidosis patients. For those patients, Sarcoidosis is a progressive disease that typically leads to lung failure. Unfortunately, I am one of those patients.

It is not clear what causes Sarcoidosis, but experts believe environmental contaminants can help trigger a genetic susceptibility to the disease. Sarcoidosis cannot be cured. That is why I am in the need of a lung transplant, and your help.

Although my insurance will pay a large portion of the cost of the transplant, it will not cover the annual cost of the immunosuppressant drugs that I will have to take for the rest of my life. The first year after the transplant is the most expensive; thereafter I will be weaned from the high dosages of the medications. The first year cost for the medications is $10,000. With the help of the Georgia Transplant Foundation, I need only raise half that amount of money.

However, due to the disabling nature of Sarcoidosis, I have not worked in six years; my resources are very limited.

Please consider a donation to help me in my battle with this disease.

If you are a Facebook user you can learn more about Delaine and her situation by visiting my Profile page and clicking the Fundraising Project" Perimeter Church link next to the woman wearing the red sweater and oxygen tube. From there you can also donate if you are so moved. I hope that you are.

For those without Facebook:
http://apps.facebook.com/causes/418481

Monday, December 14, 2009

Prayer Requests

This is an account of my efforts to put into action what I learn while reading the Bible, an account of my journey to become closer to God.

A brief update on the Inmate Pen-Pal ministry:

We launched this effort with an effort to send Christmas cards to those inmates who had submitted prayer requests to the fellow who leads the weekly Bible study at the prison. Thirty-nine men and women were on the list. I planned to ask volunteers to stop in and sign cards during the 45 minutes between the Sunday morning and afternoon services of last weekend.

To my surprise and delight, ten volunteers showed up and they did so much more than simply sign cards. Instead, they wrote kind and thoughtful notes of encouragement in each card, specifically addressing the prayer request of the inmate they were writing. The volunteers spent so much time in each card we ran out of time before we could sign all of the cards (I wanted to get at least two to each inmate).

Looking at the list and realizing I needed to sign twenty-four more cards when I got home, I said something to the effect of “Guess what I’m doing after lunch.” The leader of the men’s discipleship group I attend (he was there signing cards too) heard me and said “Bring ‘em to the next meeting,” which happened to be the next evening. So I did.

In the discipleship meeting Monday evening eight men sat around a table and signed three cards each, also addressing the prayer requests of the inmates in their notes. But that’s not all – we also got in a circle and prayed out loud for each and every inmate, again addressing his/her specific prayer request. And then we put the cards, 78 in all, in the middle of the circle and prayed for the ministry and the provision of volunteers to become pen-pals to those inmates requesting one.

I dropped the cards in the mail Tuesday morning; each one including a response card for the inmate to sign and return in order to ask for a pen-pal.

Today I stopped by the church to check the mail. I found three response cards; one I’ve already assigned to a volunteer.

I don’t know how successful this ministry will be, but I’m going to give it my best effort. If you are interested in becoming a pen-pal to an inmate, please let me know. And I’d appreciate your prayers for this ministry, that God would provide enough volunteers that each inmate desiring a pen-pal might receive one.

Well, I guess that’s enough for today. Thanks so much for visiting my blog, and please pray for me and my family. Now go out and hug somebody!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Sleep Well Tonight

Twice now I’ve seen groups of people sitting on the floor or around conference tables hunched over large sheets of flannel. They were tying two pieces of flannel together to make blankets, blankets with knotted tassels along all four sides. Blankets that would be donated to provide warmth to someone sleeping in a cold drafty home, or worse, outside in the stark weather.

I wanted to know the story behind the blankets, and I learned they were the products of a ministry aptly called Sleep Well Tonight. I had the pleasure of talking with John Duke, co-founder and Ministry Director, about the origins and work of Sleep Well Tonight.

Greg: Tell me how your ministry began.

John: My wife Joanne and I frequent downtown Atlanta, and the more often we went downtown the more often we witnessed people sleeping in the cold on benches or the stone steps of city buildings. It bothered my wife so much she began tossing old blankets in the car whenever we made a trip into town. When we spotted someone who obviously needed it, we gave them the blanket. This went on a few times until the police actually discouraged us from doing it! That bothered Joanne even more, so we began to pray about the situation, asking God to reveal to us how we could help these people.

A short time later, in June of ’08, we attended an event sponsored by Community Outreach which targeted helping the homeless of Atlanta. As I was cooking and serving burgers and hotdogs, a fellow came up to me and asked if I would pray for he and his family. Joanne and I followed him to his home, a ramshackle place with broken windows. I asked him if he could use a few blankets and pillows, and he said, “If you could help us like that, we would sleep well tonight.”

On our way home Joanne and I talked about that experience and decided we were going to get blankets to the homeless somehow, and we were going to call our ministry Sleep Well Tonight. Ultimately we decided to collect blankets, sleeping bags and pillows and offer them to existing organizations which would then distribute them into the communities they served.

Greg: How did the knotted blankets and volunteers come into play?

John: As we were asking churches to donate blankets to our ministry, Joanne discovered how to make knotted blankets. It occurred to us this would be a great project for Goldrush (a week-long summer event for youth), and all of a sudden there were four hundred kids making knotted blankets for us. That gave us the idea of encouraging other churches to engage their youth groups in making knotted blankets, and it went viral from there. In short order we collected more than 4,000 blankets!

As these blankets began to stack up in my garage, we decided to make sure the recipients knew that these were not just free blankets, but was also God at work. We began asking people to include cards of encouragement with each blanket, and we began including Bibles with them. We met with some opposition from a few of our secular distributors about that, but when a homeless guy came up to me and asked for more Bibles, I knew we were doing the right thing. The Bible is an integral part of what we do, and now we only work with distributors who understand and support that.

Greg: Wow, this has really grown from a rather simple idea.

John: I haven’t been able to park a car in my garage for nearly a year! But as it is turning cold I’m growing fearful my garage will become empty, that we will give all the blankets away. If not for the generosity of the churches and small groups that support us that could happen. We have eight distributors and a number of times we could not fulfill their requests for more blankets, but we gave them what we had.

Greg: So you no longer give blankets directly to the homeless, but instead you use distributors?

John: The co-ops, Salvation Army and several shelters distribute for us. They are able to reach more needy people that we can, so I now concentrate on collecting the blankets and delivering them to the distributors, and telling organizations about the ministry and helping them organize drives to make or collect more knotted blankets.

Greg: In addition to offering blankets, how might someone support your ministry?

John: Joanne and I are using our own funds to purchase the packaging and Bibles. We could use cash donations to help with those expenses, and of course we would love to receive donated Bibles. This winter we expect to give away more than the 4,000 blankets we gave away last winter; in order for the ministry to grow with the demand for blankets we will need financial resources beyond what Joanne and I can manage ourselves.

Greg: Your ministry has grown so large and so rapidly it has outpaced your ability to fund it.

John: Exactly. It has grown so large we also need space to store the blankets, Bibles and supplies. Joanne and I are praying about that too.

Greg: How large is the homeless population in our area?

John: It is so hard to say because it is next to impossible to obtain an accurate count of people who by the very nature of their circumstances don’t stay in place. And don’t forget that it isn’t only the homeless we serve. There are people who have a home but that home isn’t heated. The best I can tell you is that even though we gave away 4,000 blankets last year, we had requests for 12,000.

I left the meeting with John grateful for my home and the means to heat it and adequately clothe myself and my family. It is 35 degrees outside as I write this post, but the wind makes it feel like 26. It will actually drop to 25 degrees tonight, and we don’t know yet how cruel the wind will be. Along with John, I too pray for his ministry.

The needs of this ministry are clear: operating funds, blankets and storage space. If you have a heart for assisting Sleep Well Tonight, contact John or Joanne at john@sleepwelltonight.org and joanne@sleepwelltonight.org

Monday, December 07, 2009

Zachariah

This is an account of my efforts to put into action what I learn while reading the Bible, an account of my journey to become closer to God.

It’s shaping up to be a busy day so this post will be brief; I have a lot of catching up to do. A lot of catching up to do because I have been secretly focused on an activity for ten weeks that, until this past Saturday, left me with little time to do much else.

So what secret?

Back in September I was pondering what to do with the rest of my life. Sure, I’ll continue writing as long as I can get published, but that is likely to come to an end one day and being a self-employed author does not leave one with an awesome pension. So I began to look at new career opportunities, trying to find something that would pay reasonably well, be emotionally and intellectually fulfilling, missional in its purpose, and timeless, i.e., something I could do until the end of my days providing I don’t start drooling and wetting my pants before then.

As I pondered, I opened an email from World Relief, an organization Jill and I support financially and one that is close to my heart. It relocates to America political and religious refugees from around the world. In the email was a request for a lawyer familiar with immigration law to offer volunteer services to the case managers trying to help families coming to Atlanta.

As I read the email I remembered God’s call for us to help the fatherless, widows, aliens and poor.

I could check off the fatherless, widows and poor, but realized I was doing nothing for aliens.

It bothered me, so I applied to law school.

Saturday I took the LSAT, the four hour, six part entrance exam. I hadn’t taken a standardized test since the GRE way back in 1981, hence the ten weeks I spent cramming, preparing, pulling my hair out and questioning my plan as I tried to retrain my brain to think on a level of logic and reasoning that I haven’t approached in many years.

I left the exam believing I performed well, at least well enough to be in the acceptable percentile ranks required for admission.

Today, as I sat reading Zachariah 7:10 (almost finished with the Old Testament!) I came to this passage: Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the alien or the poor.

So there you have it – two signs, one coming at the beginning of my question about what to do next, and the other at the end of my studious effort to tackle what I hope to be the answer to that question.

I think I’ve made the right decision.

Well, I guess that’s enough for today. Thanks so much for visiting my blog, and please pray for me and my family. Now go out and hug somebody!

Thursday, December 03, 2009

By Grand Design

I received this email this morning that beats anything I was thinking about writing today. This is from Drue, a friend I know from church:

"This past Monday, Nov. 30, we sent an email to our case worker at Covenant Care Adoption Services because we just hadn't heard anything from them in a couple of months. We were curious if they had forgotten about us :) Our case worker, Connie, returned our phone call this evening. Connie was amazed at the timing of our email because she was planning to contact us early this week (on Tuesday, Dec. 1) to let us know that we had been chosen by a birth mom to adopt her new born baby boy!

A little boy was born a week ago on Monday, Nov. 23. He weighed 8 lbs 15 oz and is 21 inches long. Both of his birth parents are African American. His mom is 31 years old and has 3 children (ages 12, 10, and 19 months). His dad is a single father with full custody of 3 children. His mom and dad are not together. Apparently, they knew each other in high school, had recently gotten intimately involved after years apart, and as a result, became pregnant.

This part of the story is incredible. The mom had seriously considered having an abortion. One day, while she was considering this decision, her 19 month old child (younger at the time) brought the phone book in and dropped it on to her lap. The phone book opened to the very page with the listing for "Covenant Care Adoption Services". The mom took notice of that, called Covenant Care, and immediately felt like this was a clear confirmation that God's plan for her was to make a plan of adoption for her child.

We are driving 1 1/2 hours south to Macon THIS Thursday (Dec. 3) to pick up our new little baby boy. We have decided to name him Micah Drue. We'll call him Micah. We have always loved the scripture verse from Micah 6:8 that reads, "He has showed you, O man what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God." That will be our prayer for Micah. On another interesting note, Micah is the Old Testament prophet who prophecied (600 years before the birth of Christ) that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem.

Needless to say, we're in a state of exhuberant shock and can't wait to pick up Micah on Thursday afternoon at 2pm. He has been cared for by one of several couples that volunteers by keeping newborn babies (who are being adopted) during the 10 day window when the birth parents are legally able to change their minds. Covenant Care most often waits to turn the baby over to the adoptive parents until after that 10 day window passes. In our case, the volunteer couple keeping Micah is going out of town on Friday, and asked if it would be ok for us to come get him on Thursday. Covenant Care has talked with Micah's birth mom and birth father face to face and has confirmed that they are confident in their adoption decision. So, we'll have him during the final 24 hours in which his birth parents could technically reverse their decision. However, we feel confident that all will be fine. Pray for us if you think of us. He'll be all ours on Friday, Nov. 4 at midnight.

Grace, our 4 year old, was VERY excited when we told her that she was going to have a baby brother! It's going to be fun watching her care for baby Micah. We are amazed at God's goodness throughout this whole process. God has provided all of the funds needed (through friends like you), He has orchestrated PERFECT timing, and He has provided us with a healthy baby boy. We are thrilled!"

Wow, just as Paul Young said a month ago, God is in the details!