As Kyle and Shaun made their way down the street back toward the ramshackle house they called home after that day’s Roving Feast, one of Grace and Main’s leaders (Ed) caught up with them to ask after Jonathan who was missing from the meal. Ed fell into step with Kyle and Shaun as they told him how he was sick and had stayed home. A medical professional by profession and a missionary by calling, Ed asked if they minded if he checked in on Jonathan. The guys looked at each other for a moment before Kyle responded, “Ed, we’re going to do the devil’s work right now. You don’t wanna come.”

With a puzzled look, Ed asked, “The devil’s work?”

“We’re going to pay the devil his due,” Shaun explained with a hand gesture indicating the particular addiction they were going to satisfy. “It’s not the kind of thing you want to be around, Ed,” Shaun continued, “we appreciated the lunch and hanging out, but this isn’t your kind of thing.”

Ed considered, but replied soon after, “It’s okay. I’m a sinner too, brother.” After a short walk, they arrived at the barely-there-front-door of their home and Ed paused, asking, “Is it okay with yall for me to come in to check on Jonathan?”

Kyle shook his head and said, “We’re gonna do the devil’s work, Ed. But if you want to come in, Jonathan’s in there.” With those words, Kyle and Shaun made their way to the back of the house. In another room off to the side, Ed found Jonathan half-sleeping on a thin mattress on the floor, surrounded by trash and dirty clothes. But before he even spoke with Jonathan, Ed knew he was sick. The smell of pus and infection was an overbearing presence in the drafty room. The mattress upon which Jonathan slept fitfully was soaked with urine. You see, it was apparent that Jonathan has an abscessed tooth due in part to his own consuming addictions and in part to his lack of medical care. Jonathan’s mouth had become so infected, in fact, that his infection had eaten a hole through his cheek.

After some very basic first aid and wound care, kneeling on that urine soaked mattress, Ed told Jonathan that he really needed to go to the emergency room and offered to call an ambulance. But, as Ed was leaving he felt the Spirit speaking to his heart, reminding him of a line he had prayed that morning at morning prayer, “Stop. Don’t leave. It is Christ.” So, Ed turned around and knelt back down beside Jonathan and asked what he wanted him to do. In the midst of filth and infection, a place where “the devil’s work” was done on the regular, Jonathan asked Ed to read to him from the book of the prophet Isaiah. So, sitting on the floor with the smell of pus blanketing the air, Ed read the particular passage Jonathan wanted to hear: Isaiah 6.

Consider how it must have sounded in that room as Ed read aloud, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.” Even in this place, Lord? Even this place is full of your glory? Consider how it must have felt to hear, “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” Where God? Where can we find you in the midst of this suffering? After quite a while spent reading about Isaiah’s calling in that dark place, Jonathan asked Ed to pray with him. Jonathan led them and he prayed, “Lord, you know how much we suffer…” before being unable to continue. Ed repeated the line and Jonathan repeated it back to him again. Ed closed with an amen.

Ed promised to check in on Jonathan that evening when he came by to get Shaun and Kyle for our Thursday night dinner and to take him to the hospital if Jonathan didn’t call an ambulance in the meantime like he should. Ed said goodbye to Kyle, Shaun, and Jonathan and headed back up the street to what was left of the Roving Feast, still considering the odd arrangement of Isaiah’s words with Jonathan’s present suffering. He’d gone down into the place where he was told they were going to do “the devil’s work.” Yet, it was in this place of darkness and suffering that he had once again found the Spirit speaking not only to his heart but to the heart of our enslaved and suffering brother, Jonathan. It seems that even in the midst of the place where the “devil’s work” was overwhelming, the Spirit was still calling, leading them to join with Isaiah in saying, “Here I am, Lord. Send me.”

After visiting the emergency room, Jonathan got the antibiotics he needed and recovered from the abscess. He is still struggling with a particularly crippling combination of challenges and addictions. But, change and recovery doesn’t happen overnight and we’ve learned the power of consistent and determined love. We see him regularly on the Roving Feast, at our meals, and in our homes. After a recent Thursday night meal, he was one of the last folks we dropped off at the same home where Ed found him on the mattress. As we pulled down the road, he was singing along loudly with the radio. He’s got a nice voice under the ravages of addiction and it didn’t escape our notice that the lyric he was belting through closed eyes was, “Don’t let me go, don’t let me go.” As he stepped out of the van, the chorus came back around and he called out to the van, the houses, and the streetlights, “Don’t let me go, don’t let me go.” As he climbed the steps to his home, we pulled away to take the borrowed van back to First Baptist, but his song echoed again through our minds. Jesus told us that the gates of hell itself would not withstand the Kingdom of God. It seems that even in the places where “the devil’s work” is done, the Kingdom of God is still taking root. God is still calling people–people who will say, “Here I am, Lord. Send me”–to find those places where the Kingdom is secretly flourishing and to stand alongside those who keep saying, “Don’t let me go, don’t let me go.”

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We at Third Chance Ministries want to wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

This is our prayer for you in this season and in the new year:

May the Father prepare a feast for you in an unexpected place that somebody else calls home.

May our Lord unite you to unexpected people and bind your life to theirs so that their good is your good and their suffering is your suffering.

May the Spirit lead you to open your own life and heart to a world in desperate need of love and hospitality.

May the Father guide you into all righteousness and show you the power of justice rightly administered.

May our Lord teach you the value of listening silence in the face of brokenness and the power of mercy wildly distributed.

May the Spirit give you not only words to say, but also silences to keep and may you know the difference between justice and mercy.

May the Father continually call you one step further than you’re comfortable and continually surprise you with the depths of God’s love.

May our Lord simplify your life and frustrate your best laid plans if they don’t bring you closer to him.

May the Spirit mend the broken parts of you and soothe you when you’re worn and sore from God’s holy formation.

Merry Christmas from the staff of Third Chance Ministries (Josh, Bruce, Ben, and Tracy) and thank you for your continued support of Third Chance Ministries and its effort to develop and support missionaries and leaders among the homeless, near-homeless, poor, addicted, and hungry.

It seems that something changed when we finally got our first good cold snap here in Danville. All of our own peculiar markers of the season changing have become unmistakable. As the temperatures dipped to frosty, even our last hanger-on (Bruce) began to admit that it might be too cold for a milkshake. Our weekly meals began to see more chili, cornbread, and hot, buttery potatoes. Grace and Main’s budget began to show a little more stress to accommodate the dozens of folks who had not yet found warm shelter. The hospitality rooms in our home finished filling up for those who would be taking shelter in our homes through the winter. Some of our faithful congregational partners began refilling our coffers with “Urban Survival Bags” for those for whom we cannot find sufficient shelter. Finally, I began to receive one of the seasonal questions I’ve come to expect: “So, any plans for Thanksgiving?”

It doesn’t seem like it should be that hard of a question to answer. After all, it’s an innocuous question at best; but it gives me pause and an opportunity to consider what we’re doing in Danville as our intentional, Christian community of hospitality, service, and discipleship struggles to live in the Kingdom of God and by the Sermon on the Mount. Usually, I give a short description of the big Thanksgiving meal that Grace and Main hosts every November and say that I’ll be having Thanksgiving with a hundred or so folks.

It’s one of the quiet traditions we have in our little community—having an outlandish meal as we near the anniversary of our start and as our budget grows thinner under the stress of need and cold weather. Since 2009, the plan has always started with the commitment that we’ll be having a big meal even though we’re not entirely sure how we’ll pull it off. Invariably, our congregational and organizational partners step forward and offer us space, food, and more. In 2011, we ate the meal in our home and didn’t have a turkey (or somebody who had experience cooking turkeys!) until the day before. That year, it was the biggest meal we’d ever hosted not in a park, but we were breaking that record every week only two months later. In 2012, we ate at God’s Storehouse (our lovely, local food pantry) and were overwhelmed by the number of partners who were eager to participate.

This year, we were hosted by our beloved partners at Ascension Lutheran Church, who have cooked a big meal for us every month for a while and stepped it up even further for Thanksgiving. I could spend many paragraphs just telling you how much of a blessing they have been to us this year and at this most recent meal, but there’s so much else to tell! Seven turkeys and twenty-five pies and cakes were just part of the feast we held with a mixture of folks from regional congregations, our neighborhoods, local recovery groups, and all of our many regulars with whom we have, and continue to develop, mutually beneficial relationships. There were a few faces missing from our meal this year—Miss Betty, Linda, Mr. Oliver—and they were recalled with fond thoughts and grateful hearts. There were many new faces at our meal this year, as well. It seems that God continues to call folks to join us in building new families in unfamiliar places—we’re thankful to have them. Members of one our partners, Clarksville Baptist in Clarksville, Virginia, even made the hour drive to eat with all of us—with a blessed youth bringing us bags of coats and blankets she had collected for cold folks in Danville. For these (both people and also coats and blankets) we give thanks, as well.

We start this big meal off like we start all of our meals: with the Body and Blood of Jesus. As we pass the loaf and the cup, we proclaim to the world and to ourselves that what binds us and connects us is so much bigger and more powerful than all those things that try to separate us. When we gather around all those tables, we’re one big family getting to know each other better.

When I answer the question of Thanksgiving by talking about this dinner that I’ve grown to love so dearly, usually folks will respond kindly and ask, “Yes, but will you be travelling home?”

Sometimes the answer is, “Yes, we’re going to be headed for a quick trip home.” Other times the answer is, “No, not this year. We’re not going to get a chance.” But the answer always ends with the truest words I can utter around such a question: “But we’re having at least one really big, really wonderful family meal this year. Do you want to come and meet all your brothers and sisters?”

Honestly, we weren’t prepared for that much bread. It had all started when he called me out of the blue and told me that he worked for a bread company and they wanted to know if we could use some of their “day olds” in our Roving Feasts around downtown and the Northside. Mike had heard one of us speak at his congregation’s Wednesday night service and had taken with him some of the written information about what we were up to. When Mike called me a few days later to ask if he could bring his truck by to donate some bread, I thought he meant maybe a dozen loaves in the back of his pickup truck.

So, when I showed up in the parking lot of a downtown church to receive his donation, I was surprised to see Mike leaning against a big box truck with a hydraulic lift on the back. When he rolled up the back of the truck, there were nearly 20 pallets full of loaves of bread that he wanted to donate. We live and serve among lots of hungry people for whom bread becomes something dear in the last week or so of each month. So, we thanked him for his generosity and began taking bread into some of our neighborhoods.

Mike started coming to our meals and worship services shortly after he started flooding our ministries and homes with bread. Since we already had a “Mike” who had been around from the beginning of Grace and Main, we jokingly started calling our new friend “Bread Mike.” The nickname stuck and Bread Mike did, too. Nowadays, you’ll see him just about anywhere Grace and Main gathers whether it’s in a home for worship and prayers or on a street corner for the “roving feast.” Bread Mike has become one of the pillars around which our Wednesday morning breakfast has grown and thrived, becoming not only its bread supplier but also one of its most loyal and dependable leaders.

Several months ago, Bread Mike opened his home to a young man who had been kicked out of his house and had nowhere to take shelter. Unable to watch the young man become homeless, Mike offered the extra bedroom in his home and insisted that the man stay with him. In doing so, Mike’s home became the seventh home connected with Grace and Main to begin offering a kind of radical hospitality. That young man is enrolled at the local community college now and is getting his feet underneath him again. If you asked Mike why, he’d tell you that he does it because Jesus would want him to do it and because he’s learning how to follow Jesus by uniting himself with a community of folks on a similar journey.

A couple of months ago, Mike was helping a couple move to their first secure shelter in quite a long time. He had loaded up his truck with their meager possessions and was eager to get them moved in to their new place. However, when they got there, there had been a change in the lease agreement and the couple could not move in. Once again facing homelessness, the couple didn’t know what to do. Mike barely even hesitated before offering the master bedroom in his own home to the couple “for as long as it takes you to get on your feet.” Shocked by his hospitality, the couple was hesitant at first to accept, but they eventually moved in and began to contribute to the house’s needs.

By the world’s standards, Mike doesn’t have much to offer. He can’t write big checks or move mountains with his influence and power. No senators, princes, or CEOs call him to ask for his input. He is, after all, just one man living on a meager salary in a depressed neighborhood and city. But, Mike isn’t content to let the world tell him how generous he can be—he has been called by our Lord Jesus to give of himself and to spread the fragrance of Christ about him wherever he goes. He’s not gaining the esteem of the world, but he is changing it—one person at a time.

Mike will try tell you that he’s learning how to follow Jesus by spending time with our little community, but the truth is: he’s as much a teacher as he is a student. It’s our privilege to live and serve alongside Mike and to be challenged by the way he lives to give more, sacrifice more, and live even more hospitably in a world that is being changed by love like his.

Joshua and Jessica have been getting used to being new parents to their daughter, Lucia Marie Therese Hearne. Since Josh enjoys doing most of the writing for this newsletter, we thought we’d give him a break and just reprint a previous story that ran in June of 2012 when there were far fewer readers. So, you may have read this one before, but it’s still a great story and worth rereading. If you’ve not read it, then it’s “new to you.” Please keep Josh and Jessica in your prayers as they continue to transition.


Friends of the Wayfarer

As 2011 faded into 2012, I checked my voicemail to find a voice there that I’d never heard before. It was a man named Patrick whose voice resonated with a hard earned certainty that I wouldn’t actually get back in touch with him. He had just moved south from Massachusetts in eager pursuit of a new life and new opportunities, having left behind his family, friends, and community. When we finally talked, he admitted that it was a complicated story that brought him to a city like Danville where opportunities are often in short supply for those who most desperately need them. He was close to finding somewhere permanent to stay but needed a couple more days to finalize the paperwork. Some of our leaders conferred quickly, keeping to our “no lone rangers” rule and we were able to provide Patrick with a place to stay that wasn’t cold or wet–that night Patrick rested comfortably for the first time in a while.

Soon, Patrick was getting on his feet and had a wonderful (and safe) place to stay. With a little bit of help every now and then, Patrick was starting to get established in our midst. He continued to come to our meals and Bible studies, not because he felt obligated but because he was finding comfort and peace as bread was broken and stories were shared. He soon began worshiping with us on Sunday evening and his gentle and kind spirit was revealed to everybody who met him in our little chapel. Once he had his feet underneath him, he felt comfortable enough to begin to share himself and his talents with us. Patrick is a lover of good coffee and conversation. Patrick is remarkably well-read in theology and ministry as well as science fiction and classic literature. Patrick is a talented artist and quick-witted—even some of his doodles and margin notes seem worthy of a frame. Patrick was quickly becoming an essential piece of our community and its gatherings and we were glad to see the leader emerging in him as he processed through some of the reasons he had left Massachusetts behind.

So, it came as a bittersweet surprise when he let me know that God was directing him to return to the home he had fled and to find the grace hidden there in relationships he had assumed dead. So, we helped him pack up with tearful eyes and a big Mexican lunch before praying for him as he left aboard the early-morning north-traveling train out of Danville. Patrick is back in Massachusetts now after having found his reason for being there in a little city in Southside Virginia where opportunities may be hard to find, but more and more grace is being uncovered every day. His note to us once he made it back was: “[I am] thankful for the experiences down in Danville. Eyes were definitely opened much wider down there. Big thanks to the Grace and Main missionaries who deserve all my love and gratitude. The love they show the homeless, jobless, and addicted is an amazing testimony to the power of love over the suffering plaguing society today. May God bless you even more.”

Patrick was only with us for a little while. Some might look at this as a little thing or as a missed opportunity, but at Grace and Main Fellowship we know that sometimes we are called to be a temporary home for brothers and sisters bound for some other place or community. When God brings such a person in our lives, we rejoice with, mourn with, and love them as best as we know how for the time that God has placed in our lives. Not everybody stays forever and that’s okay.

May God bless you Patrick, our wayfaring stranger from the north. You were a blessing to our community and remain in our prayers.

The artwork included in this newsletter was done by Patrick and hangs on the walls of Josh and Jessica’s home along with some of the other pieces Patrick made while he was with us. If you’d like to commission him to do work for you or your organization, please contact Josh and he’ll be glad to connect you with Patrick.

We’re excited to announce that Joshua and Jessica just had their first child–a daughter they named Lucia Marie Therese Hearne. Marie is a family name on Josh’s side of the family, Therese is Jessica’s mother’s name, and Lucia is the name of a particularly brave young woman who gave away most of her possessions to the poor in the early 4th century and who was martyred by Rome.

Lucy Hearne was born on September 1, 2013, at 6:19 p.m.. She weighed 6 lbs and 11 ounces and was 20 inches long. Jessica is resting comfortably and Josh is unable to stop smiling and is currently trying to teach little Lucy the words to the University of Kentucky fight song. Pangur Ban (Josh and Jessica’s cat) could not be reached for comment.

The most recent edition of Third Chances, a newsletter about ministry in Danville, Virginia, is available at: http://eepurl.com/C4mRT

You can receive future editions of the newsletter in your email by subscribing at: http://eepurl.com/j3EuP

Linda was one of us and she is most certainly missed not only in our hearts and minds, but also in our daily work and gatherings. When we gather at the home where she lived to put together breakfasts, it’s impossible to forget that a big part of the reason we do this is because she did it first. Linda and another brother, Robert, loved the meals that Grace and Main provides through the Roving Feast a few times every week. What they really loved about them wasn’t the menu, but the opportunities to meet and love the people in the neighborhood. She and Robert already lived there, along with Bruce (the missionary in that section of town, whom Third Chance Ministries supports) and the owner of the home, a particularly lovely and hospitable lady we’ll call Julia. They saw grace multiplied in a place of profound need and denied hope and it broke their hearts. So, they started a breakfast that grew from 8 to 50 over several months. Linda dipped into her own pocket on many occasions to buy eggs, sausage, bacon, pancake batter, butter, and all the other staples of a good southern breakfast. She had little to offer financially, but she gave it freely and graciously. Together, this little household offered hospitality, food, and love to those who gathered around the coffee pot on their front lawn.

On the morning that Linda was struck and killed by a car in a nearby neighborhood, she spent time in another one of her passions—the idyllic garden planted in their backyard. It seems that the watermelons needed tending if they were going to make it. It doesn’t take much to grow watermelons—some seeds, some dirt, and a whole bunch of water and sunlight. You don’t have to tell the vines where to go or stretch them so they’ll make it far enough—the watermelons seem to know what they’re doing. One day, you’ll go to your garden and find fruit in the place where once there were only vines. Those plants will have taken the dirt, water, and sunlight and made them into a fruit sweet and juicy enough to make your chin sticky.

As a Christian community that counts Linda as one of our sisters alongside whom we’ve worked, struggled, and lived, we intone to ourselves in our prayers that Linda now rests with Christ in God. Yet, we also know that Linda was like one of her watermelon vines planted in a place of need and justice deferred. In that place, she grew day by day and gave forth a harvest of love and compassion that taught us all how better to follow in the footsteps of Jesus, who taught us that all of the law and the prophets hang on the command to love God and love our neighbor. We don’t have to build a monument to our sister, Linda, because she built one to love with her life. Consumed by compassion for her brothers and sisters on the Northside, she cultivated life one bowl of grits at a time. When we walk the streets of the Northside, we find that we’re walking in Linda’s garden and seeing the fruits of her faithfulness and love.

For all good gifts, we give thanks. We give thanks for breakfasts and coffee, and for gardens and watermelons. We give thanks for new leaders who have stepped into the shoes left behind by our sister, so that the breakfast can continue. We give thanks for the hospitality of Julia, who invited Linda into her home. We give thanks for Robert and his involvement in the breakfast in those early days. We give thanks for Mike, whose generosity provides bread to the hungry and who was drawn by the Spirit to the fledgling breakfast as a leader. We give thanks for Bruce and his continued leadership and faithfulness on the Northside, even raising up new leaders in our midst. We give thanks for Linda’s family who welcomed us to her funeral service and gave us Linda in the first place. We give thanks for Linda, whose love continues to cultivate fruit—even when we’re not looking.

In the meantime, we’ll keep tending Linda’s garden.

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