“Whoever believes in me . . ., rivers of living water will flow from within them.” John 7:38 NIV
Today, with 20/20 hindsight, it is hard to imagine the traditional Passover in Jesus’ day and what it had become by the time of the very hour it was to be finally fulfilled in the actual death and sacrifice of the true Lamb. The Hebrew Passover was instituted by God around 1300BCE when the Israelites were liberated from slavery in Egypt. Everything about the celebration denotes types and shadows of the eventual sacrifice of Jesus Christ around 33AD. It is written of that day and I quote from God’s Plan of Salvation written by author, Richard Rupe: “Jesus the Lamb of God, was crucified on the day of Passover. At 9 o’clock that morning as lambs were being prepared for sacrifice, Jesus was nailed to the cross. Then at 3 o’clock as the people are singing praises to God that echo throughout the hills of Jerusalem, the lambs are being slaughtered. At the same moment, as the shouts of ‘Hallelujah’ and ‘Praise ye the Lord’ ring out on the hill called Calvary, Jesus died.”
Today, as we wait for Christ’s return, it is important that we sort out what we have become spiritually. Are we like the loyal Jews, preoccupied with the symbolic “slaughtering lambs and preparing the Passover meal” according to our beliefs and not realizing that our praise and preparations have become empty without any true personal depth or principle? And as we go through the motions of “church” are we aware that somewhere in our community by our sins of looking the other way, Christ is being crucified over and over again, never resurrecting, always in a state of dying? It is interesting to note here that as part of the Passover tradition, the Hebrews were required to bring the lamb that was going to be slaughtered into their homes to live with them for three days before the actual day of the slaughter. It appears that a feeling of personal loss was meant to be experienced when the lamb died at their hands, as it was no longer just another animal to be butchered from the flock.
I observe this state of spiritual dying in our communities every day among the disenfranchised due to poverty, mental illness and drugs. Sometimes when I am working with the inmates at the jail, I feel so helpless to bring them anything that will make a lasting change in the system of justice and for them personally. One woman lifted my spirits one day by saying, “You are helping us, you give us encouragement.”
Sometimes I forget how powerful the sweetwater is that flows from those who believe and seek Jesus among the suffering to offer its healing properties. This living sweetwater that I have been writing about since July, 2013 is everything. When Christ came, He didn’t destroy corrupt systems that exploit the vulnerable or make everyone rich and in perfect health, He blessed those who came to Him and sought Him out. He gave them living sweetwater that they couldn’t find anywhere else. And then, He made the ultimate sacrifice for us and gave His life that we might have that sweetwater forever.
“It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life.” Revelation 21:6 NIV
What is conditional is that the sweetwater must flow from a true believer to the seeker in order for it to have the powerful living properties it takes to heal and resurrect those who thirst after it.
This is how God intended for it to work. That we would take on the image of Christ and that the living water that comes from Him would flow from each of us to benefit those who were seeking it. This water flows from those who are loving, caring people who share their testimonies and are without thought of their discomfort or social status or concern for what others who protect and maintain the status quo might think of them. They are the ones who follow Jesus into the places where only He would go to share the living sweetwater and lift others up and yes, be Him.
“My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.” Jer. 2:13 NIV
God continually had this problem with the Israelites. The prophet Jeremiah uses a common image in that time of the cistern to help them realize the difference. Today, we know about the catch pond that is not spring-fed. Most farms in the Ozarks have one or two of them. They are full to the brim in the rainy season and are dried up in the dry season with no ongoing living source of water to keep them replenished.
Right now, in the spring of 2016, we are in a very difficult time with the presidential election going on. It appears that many are giving up on being and doing the right thing as Christ taught us to do. Many are angry and no longer see the results of working together for the common good. Many are rising up in anger and dropping civil proprieties. Many are thinking only about what they want and how they want it to be to serve themselves. Divisive rhetoric and acts of hate are on the rise, visibly unchecked, stirring up the selfish side of our egos. This climate of hate, prejudice and selfishness that is erupting in violence and division that we are hearing and seeing now on our TVs everyday, unfortunately always exists. It isn’t just now occurring. What we are seeing is the dark side of our dual nature. Everyone has a dual nature. It is part of the sinful nature that is within each of us. In the Native American tradition, there is a proverb that defines this duality as two wolves inside us and the one that lives is the one we feed. As followers of Christ it is up to us to ask Jesus for help in controlling it for the sake of the common good and eventually rising above it as we spiritually transform. It has no place in God’s Kingdom where everyone is equal with opportunities for every gift of talents that God has given to his creation. Hate has no place in God’s kingdom, but again, if we hear leaders tell us it’s okay to hate and be prejudiced and take action accordingly, what else can we expect but to act that way. There are many important Scriptures that teach us about the side of our nature we are meant to transform through our belief in Jesus Christ. And there are many references that tell us that the wrong that is done in secret will be brought into the light for all to see.
Job 24:13,15,17 (NIV) “There are those who rebel against the light, who do not know its ways or stay in its paths… The eye of the adulterer watches for dusk; he thinks, ‘No eye will see me,’ and he keeps his face concealed… For all of them, deep darkness is their morning; they make friends with the terrors of darkness.”
Isa 29:15-16 (NIV) Woe to those who go to great depths to hide their plans from the Lord, who do their work in darkness and think, “Who sees us? Who will know?” You turn things upside down, as if the potter were thought to be like the clay!… Can the pot say of the potter, “He knows nothing?”
Ps 139:7,11-12 (NIV) Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me…” the night will shine like day….
Jer 23:24 (NIV) “Can anyone hide in the secret places so that I cannot see him?” declares the Lord. “Do I not fill heaven and earth?” declares the Lord.
Jer 16:17 (NIV) “My eyes are on all their ways; they are not hidden from me, nor is their sin concealed from my eyes.”
Mat 10:26-27 (NIV) “There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the housetops.”
Mark 4:22 “For there is nothing hidden but it must be disclosed, nothing kept secret except to be brought to light.”
1 Cor 4:5 He will bring into the light of day all that at present is hidden in darkness, and he will expose the secret motives of men’s hearts.
We are in times now that are spoken of in the Scriptures as fulfillment of prophecy. Jesus’ voice is still crying out “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink;” John 7:37, but his voice is being drowned out by other voices appealing to our sinful natures to hate and get what you want at the cost of others well-being.
In the midst of this toxic national climate that is gripping our attention and making us, like Peter, feel like we are sinking and lost as we become afraid of the crashing waves and storm all around us, there are many good things happening. Jesus is still working among us to teach us to love one another and to become constantly more creative about ways to help each other. In fact, this positive climate is growing in spite of what’s happening among the masses all over. Love is so powerful. I see it in action everyday. It is love that transforms everything. Every outcome that is influenced by love will be different than anything you can possibly imagine. Bring love to bear on every circumstance for the right outcome.
As a representative for Christos House, I am blessed to attend two interagency meetings, one in Texas and one in Wright counties every month. The comradery that we enjoy when we come together is inspiring. Our time together is up before we know it. In fact, in Texas County, we have set the meeting to start earlier so we have more time. These groups are the basis for Sweetwater Networks. Each group comes to the table to talk about their programs that are available at that time and how to access them for the community members of our counties. Sweetwater Networks will focus on the positive that’s happening around us.
Remember, as time moves closer to Christ’s coming, the Scriptures promise that our choices will become more black and white. Everything that once was bad will be good. Everything that once was good is now bad. Even the political climate right now is serving that purpose. What once was said and done in secret, we now hear and see blatantly out in the open uncontrolled. With knowledge and assurance of what Jesus Christ is about, we will weather this and our work of loving acts will be more powerful than ever for those who are seeking transformation in their lives.
Hate and prejudice takes a terrible toll on one’s spirit. There is no living water as a source within that condition. Their source comes from cisterns of stagnant water.
I almost don’t know where to start in sharing with you all the good things that are happening in our counties. It is important for us to start with the state of Missouri as it relates to the rest of the nation. In the latest Kids Count statistics, there is ratings for each state in the nation in four domains of well being for children. Missouri rates 24th for Economic; 30th for Education; 27th for Health; and 29th for Family and Community. In 2015, Missouri ranked number 50, which is last, for welfare reform. Rising above this rating in our state congress will take a will and understanding that when everyone has opportunities, our communities thrive. The God we serve uses words like “abundance” and “generosity”.
II Corinthians 9:13
“By their approval of this service, they will glorify God because of your submission flowing from your confession of the gospel of Christ, and the generosity of your contribution for them and for all others,”
I Timothy 6:17-19 “As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life. “
“One gives freely, yet grows all the richer; another withholds what he should give, and only suffers want.”
There are statistics readily available online, that tells a story of great need in Texas and Wright Counties.
The first one will probably be enough to create the picture as it truly is. Texas County Food Pantry served nearly 700,000 pounds of donated and purchased food and USDA commodities in 2015. This number is nearly double for all of the food distributed from food banks in Texas County in the 2013 Report from the Missouri Hunger Atlas. 24.7% of families with children in Texas County have food uncertainty. There were 783 monthly participants in the Women, Infants and Children or WIC program provided by the county health departments in 2013. In Wright County, 25.8% of the families with children have food uncertainty with 849 monthly participants in WIC. Changes in federal and state welfare laws taking effect April 1 will cut off food stamp benefits to 30,000 Missourians and is expected to deepen poverty and hunger. Executive Director Jeanette Mott Oxford of Empower Missouri is concerned that there will be an even greater dependency on food pantries already strapped. Mott Oxford also stated that Missouri ranks second in the nation in the number of people without enough food to eat. (Reported in the Houston Herald- March 31, 2016 issue)
In 2015, the Pantry also provided over $130,000 in emergency assistance for housing and utility bills to both Texas and to Wright (which began later in the year). Emergency assistance is just an immediate band aid to keep the crisis in check for that day or month. That’s all. It doesn’t do enough to change people’s future or how they manage their lives. The directors of the Pantry that I have known in the last 12 years continue to lament that they would like to do more about permanent life-style changes in those who they serve, but for some of their patrons, if the Pantry wasn’t’ there as an immediate safety net, their situation would become far worse. Due to the donations during the holidays to the red kettles in Texas County, the Pantry has discretionary funds that can be targeted to more specific needs that can make permanent changes in people’s lives. Other statistics that give us a better picture of the need I observe in our communities are: Texas County has $17,868 per capita which is arrived at by dividing the total income of all people 15 years old and up in the county by the total population in that area. Texas County has 21.4% below poverty level. Wright County has $14,752 per capita with 27.5% below poverty level. In my experience with the nearly 200 families Christos House served in Texas and Wright in 2015, single parent/single income families with a parent and two teenagers, 15 and over, are not making $44K or $53K per year. These figures show the vast disparity between those who are in poverty and those who are not.
At one of the interagency meetings, a Division of Family Services’ representative agreed that poverty is one of the main underlying causes in most of the cases where children are removed from the home.
I have begun meeting with a “think tank” of concerned community members of the wePRAY Ladies in Texas County, who come together to help create a path forward for one person, one family at a time. At one meeting, I expressed that one of the residents who I was working with from the Christos House Shelter was in need of a computer as she had an interest in working with E-Bay as a possible business. One of our group sitting next to me, stated that she had a computer she didn’t need as she had just purchased a new one. The client who received the computer, came to the think tank meeting the next month to express her appreciation and talk a little about what she was already accomplishing by having it. She was working on learning the E-Bay process of selling online and had gotten approved for government grants and loans so she could attend an online college for a social work degree. The members of the group were able to ask for her opinions about certain ideas we were considering with which to help a family.
Our latest endeavor is to help a young woman with the tuition she needs to be enrolled in the Church Army rehab program in Branson, now called The CORE for a heroin addiction she has had for all of her adult life, since her teens. CORE stands for Communities of Recovery Experiences. When I was at the jail for the Women Rising group, at some point a corrections’ officer came and got her to meet with her lawyer. She grabbed up the letter of support I had written for her to be presented to the court suggesting the option of The CORE as an appropriate sentence and ran out with a beautiful smile filled with hope. The court may or may not accept this option but we felt she deserved the chance that we had within our grasp to give her. Four donors gave $32.50 each to put with the Pantry donation for the $330 it would take for the tuition for one in this valuable program.
Our interagency meetings are exciting in the ways we can share what our programs do for the people who really want to change their lives. When you are faced with daunting caseloads as so many of the agencies are, it is best to focus on what you are doing in the individual lives of those who are successfully using your services.
Children’s Division has a new program called Family Centered Services where they are working with families who are hotlined – reported to the abuse line. Even if the abuse is not substantiated there may be a need for services to keep the family intact. They are providing a caseworker for an intervention that will help keep the family intact. This is a change in their policy and a new future direction which is greatly needed.
CASA of Southwest Missouri (Court Appointed Special Advocates) motto is “ordinary people doing extraordinary work”. The CASA volunteer coordinator, Leigh Ann Sigman, has trained 45 CASA volunteers since 2014. At the time of this writing, in the 25th Judicial District which includes four counties, there are 330 children needing advocates, one per child. As this program grows and more people become involved in these children’s lives and see the need as the statistics reflect, there will be gradual change.
I compare the work we do to a glacier. It may move only a few inches forward per year but nothing can stop it. As it moves, it changes and reshapes the overall landscape, leaving behind something new and different.
At the Texas County Food Pantry, Dana McGuire and Anita Collins from the University of Missouri Extension Family Nutrition Education Program provide nutrition information for the patrons who come to pick up food on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Dana and Anita also provide nutrition programs in the schools and to groups who make requests.
I’m working with the Pregnancy Resource Center and Newborns in Need currently in Wright County for a young woman who needs everything in preparation for the coming of her baby this year. This is definitely an area where anyone who is Pro-Life can actively be a part of helping meet this need. There are so many agencies in the Sweetwater Networks that I work with, it is impossible to name everyone who is working hard to make a difference.
Right now the annual project called Project Homeless Connect is building momentum at our meetings.
The following is a quote from the project’s website:
“Project Homeless Connect is being planned for (Jefferson City) – The Missouri Governor’s Committee to End Homelessness, along with Missouri Housing Development Commission, has selected Howell County as the 2016 Project Homeless Connect host community. The Project Homeless Connect committee of the GCEH will specifically be organizing Howell County’s first Project Homeless Connect event, which will take place sometime in 2016. The event will serve as a single access point on one day for homeless individuals and families to receive assistance and services including access to shelter/housing, dental/medical check-ups, access to obtaining photo identification/birth certificates, food, clothing, access to mainstream benefits, and other quality of life services. West Plains and Howell County will be the eighth host city for the committee since the PHC’s inception in 2008. Group officials say Project Homeless Connect is a national best practice model that has been planned and proven effective in cities throughout the United States.”
There will be a great need for volunteers on that day and transportation for homeless individuals who could take advantage of this opportunity for services. Churches will be an important asset with volunteers and church vans to transport individuals. Check out the Facebook page for this project to be held on September 27, 2016 at the Civic Center in West Plains.
The Samaritan Outreach Center in West Plains presented their program in February in Houston at the TEAM meeting. Director Penny Alverson is dedicated to keeping this program viable. The Center does random drug tests to make sure their residents are complying with the rules. Right now, she is part of the group spearheading the 2016 Project Homeless Connect in West Plains.
Also in regular attendance to our meetings are long-time programs like Houston Lion’s Club, who are celebrating their 75th year in 2016; Ozark Action – CAP (Community Action Program), Ozark Independent Living, Catholic Charities of Southern Missouri, our county health departments and hospice programs, again, to name a few.
Currently, in Texas County another area pregnancy resource center will be opening this spring called Southwest Pregnancy Resource Center. The Center in Mountain Grove that has been in operation since 2009 reports that in 2015 they served 200 clients: 73 enrolled in classes for parenting and Bible study to mention a few of their offerings; 26 babies were born in 2015 to the ongoing family base they serve. To date since ’09 they have served 715 clients. I am privileged to lead classes from time to time on codependence, boundaries, domestic abuse and parenting, etc. with an occasional fun craft project.
Christos House works with many agencies for social change. Just this week, Carla Johnson, Director at the Cabool Housing Authority, and I sat down with a client to help her put together a plan forward for her and her family which included finishing college and finding needed resources that would help her to eventually become totally independent. Carla in Cabool, Anita Kennedy in Houston and Becky Friend in Mountain Grove who are excellent in providing care and on occasion tough love with residents who need direction and support.
What feels like a trickle of sweetwater, the living water that Jesus Christ spoke of, can become a deluge of needed change if we tenaciously focus on the one to one approach in a climate of extreme need. There are many other programs that I’m aware of that are not being mentioned in this writing, but the representatives who attend our Team meetings are very committed to making a difference in our communities. It is my prayer that we can increase our volunteer pool through sharing the good news of all the advances being made by people spreading sweetwater as professionals and average citizens in each community. If you feel like you are being called to do something in your community, make it a matter of daily prayer. Take action led by the Spirit that resides in each of us, to share the sweetwater you are being given. The Source is endless. The need is endless. We welcome you to attend the interagency meetings and become acquainted with the opportunities there are to serve. It can be on any level you want for time and specific terms of commitment. You can check with Jen Russell at the Texas County Health Department and Karla Meiser at Hospice Compassus in Mountain Grove for meeting times.
I am happy to report that the court did approve of the option of The CORE for the woman who is a recovering heroin addict, and tomorrow, March 31, John and I are picking her up in Springfield to take her to the facility in Branson. This is only her next step forward in a long journey ahead for a lifetime of sobriety. I recommend the recovery programs that are being offered throughout our counties. I can always use recovery Bibles to offer inmates who I presently serve.
I work closely with the Texas County Sheriff James Sigman and jail administrator, Pam Tripp and her staff to improve the lives of the inmates who are seeking ways to change the destructive patterns.
If you have a project going on that you’re involved in that is meeting a community need, I would like to hear about it. Love through community service is the most powerful force we have to change the unchangeable. God bless the individuals, civic groups, social agencies and churches who are meeting the challenges through the love of Jesus Christ.
“Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and you will delight in the richest of fare.” Isaiah 55:1-2 NIV