Entering Jerusalem ©

On the edge of Holy Week the following story grips my heart.  It was sent to me Thursday morning, March 22nd by Rev. Amy Anderson, Pastor of Mart United Methodist Church.  I share it (with permission) as sent to me.  The additional commentary is my own.

“Good morning to you all. I pray this email finds you well and blessed. In a world of bombs, school shootings, and unrest in our nation…I have a story heavy on my heart to share with you today.

Last night, a 20-year-old young man from Mart that had become heavily involved in drugs, was beaten to death in a drug deal gone bad in Waco. Drugs were all he has known his entire life. This is a town where (for the majority) that is all that has been known for generations. We now see families trying to break loose from the chains of addiction and the struggle that comes with poverty. I can honestly say that I now see why God laid a vision on my heart so heavily for the young children in this town. We are being called to break the chains and break the cycle of addiction within this community.

A thank you letter for our New Faith grant is in the process but we wanted all of the children to be able to take part in that thank you. However, in light of last nights events, I do want to share one letter that was written from a 6th grade boy last week. He wrote, ‘JAM means that I get to come to a safe place and have something to eat. Pastor Amy teaches us about God and Miss Karen teaches us Bible songs. Both of my parents are in jail for drugs and I stay with my grandmother. JAM is teaching me a better way to live and how to make better choices. I have learned that God loves me no matter what is going on in my life and he will never leave me alone. Thank you for helping us to be able to come here.’” . . .  Blessings in Christ, [Pastor] Amy Anderson

Holy Week starts with such a great entry!  The children wave.  We read the story of Palm Sunday from one of the gospel texts.  The celebration enfolds in all its divine majesty.  “Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, ‘Teacher, order your disciples to stop.’ He answered, ‘I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.’” (Luke 19:39-40) This is right and proper.  God knows we need good news to celebrate.  We have enough bad news of shootings, war, and corruption.  The great good news of our Palm Sunday celebration is that the Lord God comes in triumph to the Jerusalem’s of our time. The reality is that, at the time of the original triumphal entry of Jesus into the holy city, Jerusalem was a divided city.  It was city living under enemy occupation.  It was city riven by clans and tribes and religious convictions.  It was a city where poverty, crime and degradation had taken hold. The same can be said for the Jerusalem’s of our day and time both literally and metaphorically.  Our cities and towns (as well as rural areas) know full well the clamor and heartache of sin’s devastation.  A sixth grader in Mart, Texas writes all too eloquently of sin’s grip on our lives. But despair does not reign.  It is challenged on the entry of our Lord into our Jerusalem’s.  “Hosanna to the Son of David!  Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!” (Matthew 21:9)  The cross may loom in the distance but a Savior comes who can conqueror even the cross.  Just ask a 6th grader in Mart. Post Script:  Cindi Blackburn, Executive Assistant and District Administrator for the Lamar Smith Center for Evangelism & Church Growth, passed on the following description of the New Faith Community called JAM.

Jesus and Me (J.A.M.) is a New Faith Community from FUMC Mart that began in September of 2017.  This ministry reaches out to the families of children and teens in our community that are not affiliated with any church in the area.  The vision was, and continues to be, to offer Christ and the love and grace of God in new ways, outside of typical Sunday morning worship. 

J.A.M. is an afterschool ministry (not program) which seeks to help children and their families come to experience Christ and to provide them a community of faith.  The ministry entails more than 100 families in the Mart area being reached by our congregation.  Each Tuesday and Thursday, we offer an afterschool ministry which resembles vacation bible school with rotations.   This requires 28 volunteers each week, which the congregation fully supports and is excited about providing.  The children learn to cook simple meals and these meals are shared each night with a full worship service.

For the children, this new faith community called J.A.M. has become “their church”.  Upon doing some shopping in Waco, Pastor Amy was leaving a store when a child’s voice could be heard yelling, “That’s my pastor! Momma, that’s my pastor from my church!”  In a town where drugs have torn families apart and ripped children from their parent’s arms, they are finding sanctuary and peace, and learning about a better way through Jesus within this faith community.

I would add to our narrative understanding of the WIG (Wildly Important Goal), as shared in the stories of JAM, some of the metric response as well.  Worship attendance for Mart UMC on March 19, 2017 was 78.  Worship attendance for March 18, 2018 was 145; an increase of 53.8%. Elvis may have left the building, but Jesus has entered the city and taken up residence!  (see John 1:14)