Not easy; but definitely right

Hey friends,

Sorry for being incommunicado the last month—as I alluded to in my last email, things began getting a little busy with the addition of my ONE job; and they really didn’t let up in March. Here’s a quick update on both fronts:

  • ONE: we were aiming to have 250 signups for our Lazarus Sunday campaign (check the last email for an explanation), and have been overwhelmed by the 1,500 we got! Now the big task is following up with all of these churches and pastors, and making sure that at least some of them follow through with the event! Meanwhile, I’ve absolutely LOVED working there—awesome work environment, awesome people, awesome mission. (And I get paid.)
  • TDC: I led worship in mid-March, and preached last Sunday (“What Mary Did,” now available on iTunes and the church website; as usual, would love to know your thoughts and feedback). The small group I’ve had the privilege of leading has been going fantastically well: again, awesome people, and I think we’ve really been able to build some solid community there. And serving with Young Life at Cardozo High School has been a great experience as well—glad to be building some good relationships there, too.

I’ll end with a little anecdote: Aaron preached this morning from John 13 about “The Authority of Service,” about the difference between power and authority, and how Jesus’ authority was evidenced in his service. Now, in mapping out our Gospel of John sermon series in January, we didn’t plan it this way at all: we had no idea that John 13 would fall on this day, nor did we have on the calendar the three service opportunities that will be going on these next three weekends: Columbia Heights Service Day this coming Saturday, our Kids’ City Festival next weekend, and the 3-on-3 basketball tournament the weekend after. It’s sort of amazing to see how God weaved it all together. Just another reminder that God’s been in control, and even when we’re not totally sure what we’re doing, God does!

So life has been all kinds of amazing. Several times in the last few weeks, I’ve been struck by a strange sense of peace,  something I’ve understood as divine affirmation that I’m in the right place, doing the right thing, being who I was supposed to be. There have certainly been challenges, ups and downs, and difficulties—I’ve been pretty tired, and I don’t enjoy the numerous consecutive days of not getting home until after 9 or 10 because of dual responsibilities and activities. It definitely hasn’t been easy; but it has definitely been right.

And I pray the same for you, wherever you are: that you might walk where God leads you, and though those paths might not be easy, that they would be right.

Peace and love,
Jus.

My First Sermon

Previously on “Justin @The District Church”

  1. Washington, DC: Chapter 2 (October 11, 2010)
  2. Beginning November (and the Leadership Residency) (November 1, 2010)
  3. Why The District Church? (November 18, 2010)

Dear friends,

Well, I did it: this past Sunday, I tried something new … I preached for the first time ever!

I gave the second message in our Advent series, focused on joy and peace, and you can listen to my message, “Wanted: Some Joy and Peace, Please,” on the Media page of The District Church’s website.

I got a lot of good feedback and constructive comments, which will give me stuff to work with whenever I next get the opportunity to preach. For now, I’m just glad I got to engage in another part of what I feel God has called me to.

Have a listen and let me know what you think! I’d love to hear your thoughts, comments, and feedback. (Be warned: I start speaking a little quickly! And, apparently, I acquire a different accent.)

Oh Christmas Tree, Oh Christmas Tree

It took a lot of work; there was a lot of stress involved; at several points it looked like it wasn’t going to work out, and at others, we were tired enough of it to want to quit. But the inaugural Columbia Heights Christmas Tree Lighting was a resounding success given our limited resources and time. A lot of the folks in the community were very appreciative of our efforts and for the tree itself. The lighting took place this past Monday, which was windy and chilly (in fact, I think with wind chill, the temperature was about 14ºF)!

Anyway, you can read a couple of recap blogs (complete with photos) here at Prince of Petworth and No Limit, Just A Line. And here’s a pic that I took:

Prayer Updates and Asks

Your thoughts and prayers have been appreciated. To recap:

  1. The routine of life was just beginning to fall into place when Christmas season arrived and blew it all up with long days and late nights, especially working on the Christmas tree (see above). Hopefully in the new year, things will settle down again!
  2. An opportunity has come up for me to potentially babysit a friend’s kid—which would, if it works out, be an additional source of income. Will be talking it out this week, so I’ll have news one way or another by the time of my next update.
  3. No update on finding a house in the neighborhood for the church just yet. But we’re still praying and looking. Please also pray for the continuing fundraising as well so that at some point soon, I’ll be able to give Aaron and Amy their basement back. They’ve been most gracious hosts and I love living with them, but I also want to be able to give them some of their space back!

Moving forward, I’d appreciate prayer for the following:

  1. Our Christmas Eve, Eve, Eve (Eve3) service, which will take place on—you guessed it—next Wednesday, December 22. We want to invite people from around the neighborhood to celebrate Christmas with us, so please pray for our outreach, for me as I prepare the music for the evening, and Aaron, who’ll be speaking.
  2. Rest this holiday season. The last couple months have been amazing and extraordinary, but also exhausting, and I’m really learning my limits! I’ll be heading to Pittsburgh for the Christmas weekend to spend some time with some dear friends. Then I’ll be back in DC to ring in the New Year. Let me know if you’ll be nearby or in DC for the holidays—would love to see you!

Support Update

Out of the $30,000 I’d budgeted for the year (November to November) for rent, utilities, health insurance, food, transportation, etc., I’m now up to $13,400 or 45%, which is pretty stellar considering it’s only been two months since I started raising support!

As mentioned above, if the church were to be able to buy a house, this would help immensely, since it’d cut about a third of what I need to raise (for rent). Also, this potentially babysitting gig may not be substantial, but every little helps, so thanks to God for that possibility! Thanks also to all of you who are supporting me in love, in prayer, and in dollars!

For those of you who have given, I’ll be getting in touch soon (probably in the new year or when I get back from my Christmas break) to ask you to connect me with somebody you think would be able, interested and willing to support me!

Wishing you all joy and peace this Christmas time (and if you listen to my sermon you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about),

Justin.


If you’d like to support me, you’re most welcome to do so via the church website. Please make sure to select “Leadership Residency” when it asks you to “Choose a Fund.” All gifts are fully tax-deductible.

Why The District Church?

Hey friends,

Having shared some of my personal journey in Washington, DC: Chapter 2, I thought that you might appreciate knowing a little more about the church. (Let me warn you now: this email is long. Like, really long.)

A Church for the City

At The District Church, we want to be centered around and excelling in worship, community and justice; we want to be a church that seeks to love God, to love our neighbors, and to love the city to which God had called us. If you look on the church’s website (www.districtchurch.org), one of our first descriptors is “A Church for the City.”

This vision and passion is built upon God’s words to the Israelite people in exile in Babylon in the 6th century BC: “Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare” (Jeremiah 29:7).

Washington, DC is a fascinating city. On the one hand, it is a city rich in culture and history, a city to which movers and shakers from all over the world come, a city that leads the country in terms of life expectancy, education and income.

And yet it is also a city with devastating poverty, a struggling public education system, and an HIV infection rate higher than many sub-Saharan African nations—it’s estimated that one in every twenty adults in DC has the infection.

People come to DC to change the country, to change the world … and yet changing the city is often overlooked. We want to be a church that seeks to make a genuine, tangible difference in the place to which we have been called.

Moreover, community is hard to find in a city whose transience is so ingrained by the political cycles; in this context, we want to be a church that provides such to people. People may—and will—leave DC because God calls them to other things, but we don’t want people leaving DC because they couldn’t find a faith community and friends.

What We’ve Been Doing

As “A Church for the City,” we’ve been doing outreach into the neighborhood, including:

  • Cardozo HS Footballmaking connections with schools in the neighborhood, including cheering on one of local high schools at their football games with Young Lifers;
  • Central Union Missionserving at Central Union Mission last week;
  • sponsoring a Christmas tree for Columbia Heights, and organizing a tree lighting, complete with alternative Christmas marketplace. We’ve already got the support of the local councilmember, so we’re just working on getting a tree and lights!

In short, things are happening, and we’re super excited!

Prayer Updates and Asks

Your thoughts and prayers have been appreciated. To recap:

  1. Aaron and I have been figuring out job responsibilities, schedule and routine;
  2. I’ve applied for a couple of part-time jobs, as well as giving my résumé to friends at faith-based non-profits in case project/consultancy work becomes available; and
  3. I’m still (happily) ensconced in the Grahams’ dark (important when you’re a light sleeper like me) and warm (important when winter starts rolling in) basement.

Moving forward, I’d appreciate prayer for the following:

  1. For continued development of the job, and particularly for discipline and discernment on my part. It’s easy for me to get carried away doing work that I love, but I need to be consciously drawing boundaries and taking time off, otherwise I’m gonna burn out real soon!
  2. That fundraising continues apace (more below), that the church is able to purchase a house in the area to serve as a community outpost of sorts (which I would be able to stay in, which in turn would reduce the amount that I need to raise), and/or that a part-time job works out.
  3. That we continue making inroads into the community—it’s exciting to begin building some good relationships with folks in the neighborhood, and we want them to continue!
  4. For me on December 12 since that’s the date that I’ll be preaching for the first time (ever)! I’m starting to get really excited about it, and will post a link to the audio when it becomes available in a few weeks.

Support Update

The support has been slowly and steadily rolling in, and I’ve now raised about 33% of what I need for the year (November to November). To put this into context, I’m looking to raise about $2,500 per month (or $30,000 for the year), which includes rent, utilities, health insurance, food, transportation … everything, really! Through a combination of monthly and one-time gifts, I’m now at just over $10,000 for the year, which is pretty phenomenal for just a month of support raising!

Thanks to you all, whether you’ve given, committed to give in the coming months, or been willing but unable to give; your support and encouragement has been invaluable to me.

The next step for me is to ask each of you to connect me with somebody you think would be able, interested and willing to support me; I’ll be emailing again soon to follow up with this!

Thanks again, friends. Happy Thanksgiving (if you celebrate it)!

Peace,

Justin.

Previous installments:

  1. Washington, DC: Chapter 2 (October 11, 2010)
  2. Beginning November (and the Leadership Residency) (November 1, 2010)

Pasadena, CA ≠ Columbia Heights, DC

A little bit about the area (thanks to Rose Berger, an associate editor at Sojourners):

  • The population of Columbia Heights is ethnically predominantly black, with large Salvadoran, Ethiopian and Vietnamese contingents.
  • In 2007, the population distribution of D.C. in general was 55.6% black, 36.3% white, 8.3% Hispanic (of any race), 5% other, and 3.1% Asian.
  • Also in 2007, violent crime in D.C. was more than three times the national average, with the larger Columbia Heights area being one of the top three areas in the city for violent crime.
  • About 33% of D.C. residents are functionally illiterate, compared to the national average of 20%.

Also, this may be the first place I’ve lived where the police drive around with their lights on, just so people know they’re there.