A couple weeks ago I was out visiting a great ministry called Homes of Hope (San Diego). They build homes for the poor in Mexico (Tijuana, Ensenada). They also have a location in the Dominican Republic. My partner Tony Ratliff and I are creating a tech start-up called MissionKonnect and Homes of Hope flew me out as their interest in our new services has been high from the outset.
What we’re finding at MissionKonnect is that a number of ministries doing amazing work on-the-ground, but are pretty lousy at communicating via email to past trip participants. Many of them are not asking those past short-term mission individuals to donate after the trip! That’s where MissionKonnect is going to come in and keep volunteers like this engaged.
I was pretty certain that God was already blessing the Homes of Hope ministry. They had a record 4000 people in 2013 building homes of the poor. Bono has a great line that a wise man once told him, “Stop asking God to bless what you are doing. Find out what God is doing. It is already blessed.”
For my flight back home I was hoping for an aisle seat which used to never be an issue, but I have recently grown an irrational anxiousness about closed spaces. Small planes (“shuttles”) and jet-ways are no longer friends of mine. On my flight back from San Diego I was flying Southwest (which my wife won’t let us normally fly), but my ministry client had purchased my flights. So no arguments there. As you know, on Southwest you pick your own seats. And since I now hate packed jet-ways, I was one of the last ones on – on purpose. There was only one open aisle seat (which turned out to be divine) and I introduced myself to my aisle-mates Joe (and his wife). Joe shook my hand as I sat down. He asked me what I was doing in S.D. and I mentioned what we do at MissionKonnect and he says, “All right! A Brother” (as he glances at his wife) and shook my hand again.
For the next hour (the whole flight to PHX) this guy tells me how he went from smoking pot and cigarettes since he was 13, to his time in ‘Nam where he was shot at, put in civilian jail, and addicted to heroine. He said back in the States he spent most of his time selling drugs (with his wife) and drinking a half-case of beer or fifth of something (every day) interrupted only by time in jail. At 31 he was witnessed to by his welfare social worker, stopped the drugs and alcohol that day, and started attending her church 17 miles away. Long story short, he and his wife are now certified drug and alcohol rehab counselors for the state of Missouri (his wife has finished Christian counseling courses). They are now 61 and full of life and very vibrant. I’m sure that was not the case pre-rehab.
Joe, this man who said he tattooed his name of his forearm (which I could plainly see) so he could remember his own name, was aptly quoting scripture to me like no one I may have ever met. I have former pastors still as spiritual mentors that I meet with who don’t know this much scripture. Joe said he started soaking in everything he could 30 years ago and hasn’t slowed down since. He still looks like someone you might run into at a homeless shelter, a little twang to his accent, and some teeth that aren’t so straight, but before I sat down he said he was listening to Charles Finney on his MP3 player. [I had heard the name before. Rev. Finney was a pastor in mid-19th century in
New York City (that part I googled).]
Joe said he has tried all the hard stuff and has had no greater “high” in life, than God.
Joe threw down a challenge for me. He said he walked up to his Pastor one time and said, “I know it says that Peter was the FIRST to save a Gentile. I want to be the LAST!” And quoted more scripture to me. He told me that it says we all will be on earth until the last is saved. He said, “Unless this is a contest.” Looking at me knowing that I might likely be up for that challenge, he said, “I’ll be ok if it’s me or if it’s you.”
This guy was so wise and so not the person you expect that much wisdom to be coming out of that I nearly laughed right in his face. I think I did chuckle and I might have looked like I was laughing at a comment of his versus the fact I was laughing with God who sat me next to the unlikeliest of characters I may have met and this much scripture was flowing right out him. After we landed, I fully expected to not see these two after getting off the plane (were they angels?). I called my wife from the gate in PHX. I said, “I saw them get off the plane, so they still have ‘bodies’…” They were at the same gate then they disappeared.
Joe told me that they were 5 months behind mortgage payments on their home. They had no income after they stopped dealing drugs. The had $500. The bank called. He said, “This was before Caller ID”. So he picked it up and it was the bank. They were going to foreclose. Joe told them he had $500. They owed $1200 according to the bank. Joe said he had a message from God that told him to ask for another 10 days. Joe was thinking what is 10 days going to do anyone? He said to the lady on the phone, I have $500, can you give me 10 days? Nine days go by then on the 10th day a check arrives in the mail from tax return and it was $700. The difference he needed.
Joe said while they were just scraping by, day-to-day, and the banks were calling, he and his wife were brushing their teeth with baking soda. His wife complained one day and said I’m sick and tired of brushing my teeth with baking soda. Joe said, “Honey, we have $3. What we are going to do is use that for gas money (this was 30 years ago!) and we’re going to drive to church with this (17 miles away). God will honor this.”
The next morning they get a packet in the mail with a sample sized tube of tooth paste.