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.

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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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It’s not hard to write stories about the infectious grace of God. Sometimes, they just roll off the tongue (or the keyboard) as quickly as the words can be formed. It’s not hard to share stories with you about grand moments of redemption and epiphany—when all the circumstances of our ministry seem to click together for an instant and the Kingdom appears in an unexpected place. Those moments begin becoming stories to tell and retell even while the last sounds of laughter and joy echo off the walls. It’s not hard to update you on the ministry of folks like Bruce and Ben (who officially comes on staff at Third Chance Ministries today!) or Tracy and Laura. As I write those stories, it feels like I get to introduce you to some of my dearest friends and tell you why they are spectacular and I am so incredibly blessed to be among them and serving alongside them.

It’s not hard to tell the “good” stories, but there are certainly stories that are hard to tell.

Those moments when it seems that success sours and a beloved sister or brother who has struggled and fought with addiction relapses and takes up their chains again don’t flow easily from a pen. When a dear one dies—whether from cancer or a tragic accident—it’s not easy to find words to lift up over them as we grieve and mourn our loss and wonder aloud with the Church how long Jesus will tarry. It’s hard to tell about those moments when promise and potential melt away like morning fog to leave only loss, poverty, and failure on the ground before us where moments ago we were so confident we would soon see the pillars of the Kingdom of God standing resolutely. In short, we’re still learning how to hold out hope when it feels that the darkness presses in tighter with each shaky breath.

It takes a far greater storyteller than me to tell the hard stories in a way that still speaks powerfully of God’s great mercy and providence in our lives. Over nearly four years of being an intentional Christian community of mission and hospitality, Grace and Main Fellowship has been cut to the quick time and again by the hard edges of the circumstance in which we have invested ourselves. Living where Grace and Main has chosen to live means actively participating in sad stories that do not always resolve to anybody’s satisfaction—for every story of the grace triumphant, we can tell several stories of redemption delayed or aborted. Building relationships like we do means returning again to the shaky hesitation of vulnerability, self-disclosure, and the practice of hospitality, always knowing that the price of these essential elements may very well be pain and suffering. When a brother chooses a life of homelessness and addiction over hospitality and sobriety, it is no easier to watch him suffer simply because he chose it—not when you’ve shared your table and your life with him.

Simply put, not all of the stories are “good” stories, but all the stories need to be told. The good and the bad? The easy and the challenging? The hopeful and the despairing? They’re all wrapped up together in doing ministry in hard places. Neither living in community nor the Kingdom of God is solely about the good times and the inspiring moments. No, sometimes it’s about those moments sharp as a razor and hard as a stone that teach you to depend even more on those to whom you have committed and to the God whom you stumble after in the dark.

But, here’s the Gospel that hides in those dark places:

It shall not always be this way.
Love has won the battle at the cross and death is on the run.
Addiction cannot hold God’s beloved children forever
and even sin itself will one day be forced to release its captives.
Fear will be brought to an end
and suffering will be unwritten.
Our God is Love and is working a wonder over this broken world.
There are stories that are hard to tell,
but there remains a single shard of hope in even the darkest of stories–
God’s not done telling them.

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An Update on Brandon and North Main

In previous editions of the newsletter, you’ve read stories about Brandon. We change most of the names we use in this newsletter in order to respect the privacy of those among whom we live and serve. Brandon was no exception to this practice. You may have read about Brandon when we talked about the beginning of his liberation from the slavery of addiction–about how he found hope and love in unexpected places and soon became an essential part of all that we do at Grace and Main Fellowship. You can read a bit of that story here. We updated you on his progress back in November of last year and made an appeal to you to consider providing financial support to Third Chance Ministries in order that we could bring him on as a missionary on the northside of Danville (you can reread that newsletter here). In January of this year, it was our privilege to add him to our missionary staff because of the increased generosity of folks like you. Once he came on staff, we started using his real name when we told his story because he said it was okay and because it would mean less confusion when people came to visit us. Brandon’s real name is Bruce and he is changing the world around himself on the northside of Danville.

The first project Bruce undertook on the northside was to enhance the roving feast that had first reached him years ago under a house on North Main St. His home became something of a headquarters for food preparation within weeks of him coming on staff at Third Chance Ministries. Each day, you can drive by and see a full coffee pot or cooler of water (or lemonade on the especially good days) in front of his little corner of the Kingdom on the Northside. In a previous edition of the newsletter, you even read about the great weekly breakfast that Bruce helps lead out of his home, as well (if you didn’t, check it outhere). Another leader, Mike, joined with him and began providing baked goods and loaves of bread an an incredible rate, adding yet another piece of overwhelming grace to the mix. Bruce even began to fix up an old shed that once he had slept in. Over the course of several weeks (and several busy trips to local hardware stores), Bruce used his skills to turn that shed into a tool library and co-op workshop. Nowadays, Bruce can often be found in that shop or around town helping some of our brothers and sisters to find work and providing them with the tools to do it. Below the shed, they started a garden to provide fresh produce and work to the neighborhood. There’s a beautiful, calm peace that permeates that place–it’s hard to believe that you’re in one of the harder neighborhoods in town when you’re down there kneeling between rows of tomatoes and squash.

It is your support that made this possible! Individuals and families account for roughly 90% of the donations we receive in a year at Third Chance Ministries. These are individuals and families who have seen what we’re trying to do and want to participate and become a partner with us in giving people a chance to do a different kind of ministry in our midst. Bruce is able to do what he does because of the generosity of people like you. If you already give, then please let me say “thank you” as loudly as I can. If you’re on the fence and thinking about it, let me add one more piece of information to the mix: we’re going to do it again. In the upcoming months, we’re hoping to bring another missionary on staff for the Southside of town. His name is Ben and he brings an entirely different set of skills to the team. Already, he gives numerous rides to folks with transportation issues, provides pastoral counseling, develops leaders and disciples in hard places of profound need and incredible poverty, and provides spiritual leadership to our most marginalized brothers and sisters. He might not plant a garden (though he might!), but he is already changing the world around himself. Soon, he’ll be doing it as part of the Third Chance Ministries team. Of course, he needs your support, too. If you’re on the fence, or if you’ve been thinking about how you can help in work like this and ministry like this, please don’t hesitate to let us know. Email Joshua or call him at (919) 358-2131 to talk about how you might be able to partner with us in the work we’re doing. Your support could very well be what makes it possible for another of our brothers or sisters to find their way to freedom from addiction. Your support might make it possible for another person to see the Spirit move in their life and feel hope for the first time in a long time. Your hand reached out in partnership might help to give birth to the Kingdom of God in a place where the world seems all too powerful.

Thanks for everything (and enjoy the pictures of what the Kingdom of God looks like near us).

To view a collection of great pictures from the Northside, click here.

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Folks Need a Place to Stay

Roland had been homeless for more than a decade when we first met him. He was living outside, next to an abandoned hotel building with the remnants of some cheap mattress to lay his body down upon at the end of every exhausting day. At the end of each long, hard day he would ball up his one change of clothes and stuff it into a plastic grocery bag to serve as a pitiful pillow less for the sake of comfort than to keep his head off of the filth that inevitably accumulated in the mostly open concrete stairwell that pretended to be his shelter each night. For short periods of time, Roland had the slender mercy of a blanket to wrap around himself at night. But more often than not, he used whatever rubbish most closely resembled a blanket to shield himself from the elements as he struggled to get a few consecutive hours of sleep in a city where sidewalks may roll up at night, but which offers little comfort and privacy to those with no place of their own to lay their head.

Roland was well known around town as he wandered up and down Main St. and put in time at his favorite locations. Quite regularly, people gifted food and clothing to Roland which made it possible for him to survive many of the harder days. Yet, often in short supply were friends and relationships—people who sought him out simply to share an afternoon lazily talking about both things that matter immensely and things that don’t matter in the slightest. That’s how we met him and became fast friends—one of us sat down beside him on one of the very first “roving feasts,” and introduced ourselves, saying “I’m going to eat lunch and was wondering if you’d like to join me.” Soon, Roland was joining us at meals, prayers, and study with regularity. Months later, eager for a position of leadership and responsibility in the fledgling Grace and Main Fellowship, he accepted the position of minister of prayer. Lifting him up as one of our own and one of our leaders, we commissioned Roland to lift us up in his prayers and to carry the prayers of our community on his heart and in his thoughts—a responsibility he continues to take seriously.

During this time, we went with Roland to negotiate shelter with a landlord, insisting upon a written lease and reasonable terms. We found a bed and furniture for his new apartment and we continued to eat and visit with him regularly—in other words, we joined our lives to his and he joined himself to our community—making sure he kept up on medicine, food, and rent. The second night he was in his new home, he was already welcoming brothers into his home because he had been blessed with a couch but there was nobody sleeping on it. Not content simply to be the recipient of grace, this man who sets out to walk to church every Sunday morning in North Carolina—praying that one of his friends will pick him up on their way to Milton—opened his own home in hospitality to those most in need in his midst. He reasoned, “Folks need a place to stay.” Love goes a long way when it comes from a foundation of amazing grace.

Tonight, Roland will take another first step when he invites us into his new home—the one he found on his own—for Bible Study and fellowship. We’ll gather in his living room and give thanks for grace received and mercy shared in view of forgiveness granted to sinners like you and me. We’ll share a couple of Roland’s favorite pies (egg custard) and talk about the places where God is moving in our midst while giving silent but jubilant thanks for warm shelter and warmer relationships forged over meals and continued and continuing commitments. You see, Roland is changing the world around him, and we’re glad to be along for the ride with him.

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Broken For You

One of the best parts of my week is being able to serve communion at Grace and Main’s Thursday night meals. On some very special weeks, I may get to serve communion at more than one service or meal! There’s just something about that moment when the community stands in quiet recognition of what that bread and juice mean before reaching out their hands to partake in one of the great mysteries the Church has to offer. We come to our meals from so many different places and backgrounds, but we are united in that moment around a plate and a cup. With both our hushed reverence and our robust laughter, we are proclaiming something beautiful—namely, that God has made sinners into one body and called that body to be God’s hands and feet. You can see why this would be one of the best parts of what I get to do.

Most weeks, I have two or three willing helpers from among our younger brothers and sisters. They join me in lifting the plate and the cup before the eager audience and in quietly reciting to themselves the beginning of what I say each week, “That which I give to you is that which I also received—that on the night in which Jesus was betrayed, he took bread…” They are eager to hold the cup while I pour and always willing to lift the plate beneath my hands as I break the bread. In that moment, one of my most genuine pleasures is to watch their faces as I invite a crowd of prodigals, sinners, saints, and loved ones to “remember again our Lord’s death until he comes again”—they seem to know intuitively that something beautiful and shocking is happening around that plate and cup and that they’re an important part of it.

Usually, after one of our sisters or brothers has lifted their voice to give thanks for the food that lies before us, my helpers are ready to get into line to prepare their own plates. But, several weeks ago one of my helpers, an eight-year-old named Sean, didn’t put the cup back down onto the table when everybody else was remembering which water glass was their own and making sure they had a napkin. Instead, Sean asked me timidly if he could help me serve communion that night. I gladly replied, “of course you can, little brother” and told him to say “the blood of Christ” when people dipped their bread into the cup. He nodded enthusiastically and we began to offer the body and blood of Christ to a crowd of eager hands who were hungry for so much more than spaghetti and garlic bread.

After a few dozen folks had passed by us and heard Sean proclaim “the blood of Christ,” Sean asked if he could “do the bread, now.” We traded, and before I could tell him what to say, he was off like a shot among the tables of folks waiting for us to come to them. I moved quickly to keep up with him and was never much more than two or three steps behind him, always arriving in time to hear him declare, “the body of Christ, broken for you, sir” and “the body of Christ, broken for you, ma’am.” Faced with his youthful enthusiasm and genuine desire to serve them, even some of our folks who don’t usually partake were moved to join us in declaring our common bonds through Christ.

He was so eager to bring the plate to folks who otherwise might have not been able to partake with us because of mobility issues or their own social anxiety, that you might never have guessed that only two years previous this was the boy who had never heard the name Jesus before, but who was very interested in precisely why we were praying to him. Over the years, Sean has developed a number of meaningful relationships with many of our leaders at Grace and Main, but something has been changing slowly in him over the last year or so. He is still the boisterous boy he has always been, but he’s also the boy who wants to make sure everybody gets to participate in this thing we’re doing. He’s still mischievous, but he’s also the one who runs to get his friends any time we’re nearby on the chance that we’ll have time to play. He may still have so many things to learn about what it means to follow Jesus (don’t we all?), but we’re confident that he’s figuring them out—one week at a time—and it’s our tremendous pleasure to serve alongside him and run to keep up.


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