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“I could probably quit, too, if I really wanted to do it,” Carl told me over one of our many meals together. As a dozen small conversations floated around us, this particular conversation suddenly felt especially important. We were celebrating Bruce’s first full year of sobriety and giving thanks for the good works God had done in our midst, so it seemed likely that maybe Bruce’s landmark was making Carl think about his own addictions. We’d been eating with Carl in our homes and hanging out with him in the neighborhood for many months. We had prayed with and for him many times, praying not only for his health and safety, but also for his freedom from the substances that made him a slave.

“Yes, you could,” Carl’s wife Tasha interjected. Tasha had addictions and challenges of her own, but she and Carl had stuck by each other through so many of them. As an interracial couple, Carl and Tasha had faced even more challenges than other couples struggling with addiction. “Let’s do it together,” Tasha insisted, “I know if we tried together, we could do it.” Placing her hand on Carl’s arm, Tasha pleaded with her eyes for a little courage and hope from her husband. It looked like the beginning of a beautiful work of God’s liberating love in our midst even as we celebrated a different one. Nodding along with Tasha, I waited quietly for Carl’s reaction.

2015-08-27 17.55.50

“But I don’t want to quit,” Carl insisted to my and Tasha’s disappointment. Turning to Tasha, he continued, “You don’t want to quit either.” Suffice to say, that’s not how I thought things would go.

For another couple of years, we would pray and hang out with Carl and Tasha through good times and bad. When Tasha was clean for several days at a time, we’d celebrate because all freedom—no matter how long or short its tenure—is a good thing. We helped Carl find some work to do here and there when he could manage it. Both times they decided to move, we helped them take their things to the new place and listened to Tasha talk about how this place would be different. When Tasha was released from the hospital, it was one of our hospitality house doors where Carl and Tasha came to ask for a ride home. We ate with them, we laughed with them, and we cried with them. Carl may not have wanted to quit—may not then have been able to cultivate the hope that he could be free—but he wanted family and we were glad to call him ours, as he was glad to call us his.

For years, we tried everything we could think of to help Carl take those first steps toward freedom. We tried every key we knew to unlock the chains of addiction in our brother’s life. Countless prayers, long conversations, offers of help and support, frustrated and blunt honesty, and a host of other approaches—even Tasha’s earnest efforts—seemed unsuccessful in loving Carl into recovery. We kept praying, but I didn’t have much hope that the story would change.

Sometimes—not often but always surprisingly—people don’t break their chains, but just slip out of them when nobody is looking.

2015-08-02 20.21.51One day while we walked the neighborhood and checked in on a handful of folks, Carl nonchalantly announced to one of us that he had quit using about a week ago. We were so far away from hoping for what he was confessing that we didn’t quite understand what he meant at first. We asked him to repeat himself and he confirmed that he had quit a week previous and added, “I was just done. I didn’t want to anymore.” After years of obedience to the idol of addiction, Carl just walked away, quietly going through withdrawals with Tasha. We celebrated with him and asked him, incredulously, what had made the difference—what made him want to change. He shrugged and said, “I was just ready to be done and ready to feel better.”

We didn’t convince Carl to quit, but the chains fell off anyway. We loved him as best we could and tried to find ways to make room for him and Tasha in our little community. Sometimes, God doesn’t call us to unlock the locks and tear the chains off God’s beloved. Sometimes, God calls us just to love them where they are and wait for the chains to rust away from exposure to God’s furious and pervasive love. Last week, Carl completed his first full year of sobriety. He has a couple of jobs, a bicycle, a fairly secure place to live, and is active in our community in a few different ways. With his jobs and his lack of addiction, he has money to buy bus fare for him and Tasha to go different places in the city and have their own dates and adventures. It turns out that you can go a lot farther after the chains fall off, even if you still have to carry somebody.

When Carl arrives on Sunday night to pray and sing, he is eager to talk about what’s going on in the city and at Grace and Main. Of course, he also wants to know the score of the Cowboys game if it hasn’t finished yet. He’s proud to be free, he’s proud to have a big family, and he’s proud to be a part of our work at the Urban Farm and around the neighborhood. But, he’s most eager and proud to tell us about how Tasha is doing. Sometimes, he brags on how many days it’s been since she’s used, while others it’s bragging about how next time is going to be the time. “I know she can do it,” he insists, “I know we can do it together.”

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It was one of those winter nights that will never grace the front of a postcard. Dirty piles of half-melted and refrozen snow lined the curbs and every awning threatened to drop ice cold water down the back of your jacket or onto any brazenly uncovered heads. You had to watch your step because the wet sidewalks and streets might have a patch or two of ice hidden somewhere. It was the kind of winter night that makes you think that even the winter has grown tired of itself, and is now sloughing off what moisture it had stored up for snow in a dismal drizzle. Looking forward to spring for many reasons, our little group of leaders gathered around coffee and cocoa in one of our house’s living rooms.

We were having our monthly meeting to plan and coordinate our work and talk about how we were spending the money in our common fund to meet needs around our neighborhoods and city. We’ve had a common fund in our community since even before we’ve called ourselves Grace and Main. The common fund is part of the commitment we’ve made to each other and to the Kingdom of God: we pool and share resources to meet needs inside and outside of our community. The way we’ve done it, and to what extent we’ve done it, has changed over the years by baby steps, but we remain committed to living simply and sharing because we believe that these are commitments to which God has called us.

But every winter, our common fund is stretched very thin as we struggle alongside sisters and brothers within the frigid grasp of homelessness and housing insecurity. We have a homeless shelter in our city and it is a blessing for most of those who stay there, but it is also a short-term shelter, so it cannot provide shelter to anybody throughout the whole span of the winter. Even if it could, its sixteen beds would be quickly overwhelmed. So every winter, we talk a lot about how to keep as many people as possible in shelter somewhere. This means filling as many hospitality rooms as possible, helping with more utility bills, and paying for hotel rooms for those with no other options. By the end of January and beginning of February, this means that dozens of people are sheltered, but our common fund is usually fairly close to depleted.

Sometimes, those monthly meetings become strategy sessions to figure out how we can keep people sheltered when money is tight and hospitality rooms are full. Sometimes, long winters try to convince us that there isn’t enough to go around and that homelessness is just a sad, but unavoidable, reality of our world. Sometimes, we are tempted to believe the winter’s story about scarcity. But, Lisa reminds us that the winter is a liar.

As we talked about how we were going to find several hundred more dollars to cover hotel costs for a half dozen brothers with nowhere to go, we became increasingly frustrated. As far as we could tell, there just wasn’t anywhere left to tap to cover the cost. As we sat in frustrated silence, lamenting the lack of funds, Lisa spoke up. “I’m not sure I always follow all of the talk about money,” she began sheepishly, “but are we saying that we don’t have enough money to keep people off the streets?”

“That’s what we’re afraid of,” I admitted, inwardly fearing that the lie of scarcity that sounds so convincing in the winter might be true, after all.

“Well, I don’t know if it will help,” Lisa said, “but if somebody can give me a ride, I’ll get my ring. We can probably sell that for $100.” As the room turned in shock to Lisa, she continued, “That should cover a person for a week at the hotel, right?”

We all knew which ring she was talking about. It was her wedding ring, and there were a whole host of good and bad memories wrapped up together in that thin circle of metal. Many tears had been shed together over all that ring had meant and failed to mean. It was a treasured possession, even if all of the memories it occasioned were not themselves treasured. That ring had graced her finger when she was homeless. That ring was on the hand that gripped mine when she told us, “If you guys ever stop doing this, I just don’t know what I’ll do.” That ring was with her when she moved out to a place of her own, safe and secure in its own way. That ring was a silent witness to her commitment to the community when she became one of our leaders. We all knew which ring she was talking about.

In our shock, we couldn’t find the words to say, so Lisa reiterated herself and added, “unless y’all think that isn’t enough.” But, the truth was that it felt like all too much—it felt like more than any of us could, or would, ask of her. Moments before, we had been tempted to believe the lie that there isn’t enough to go around, but our sister Lisa exposed the lie. She offered up something she called valuable to provide shelter to someone God called valuable. In that moment, she reminded us of Laurence, who held out his arms before a demanding Roman prefect declaring of the impoverished folks around him, “This is what the Church calls valuable.”

We thanked Lisa not only for her scandalously generous offer, but also for speaking aloud for the Spirit in that moment. Then, we prayed. By the following evening—before Lisa could sell her ring and before our brothers’ rent could run out—our common fund had been restored enough to cover the upcoming expenses. It turns out that Lisa was absolutely right: the winter is a liar.

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It’s already about twelve minutes after the time we’re supposed to get started when I step out onto the porch. “Five minutes and we’re going to get started, yall,” I say, knowing full well that I probably mean more like eight or nine minutes. There are cigarettes and cups of coffee to finish and at least one more conversation waiting for most of us. Answered by a chorus of nods and waves, I head back inside to pick up the remnants of a conversation with a sister who’s still learning who we are and why she’s a blessing by her presence.

Once again, we will not start our community prayers on time, but it’s hard to be on time when you’re trying to learn to pray without ceasing. Some of us gather on the porch, while others wander the garden, inspecting the tomatoes and eggplants in particular. Some of us have already found a seat in one of the house’s living rooms turned community prayer spaces. Depending on where we’re sitting or standing, we might be having a boisterous conversation or keeping silence and searching for the whisper of the Holy Spirit. We’re learning to see the unceasing praying in those moments when we’ve already started our prayers, even though we’ve not passed anything out and the only songs we’ve been singing are badly belted top forty hits or classic rock bass lines.

When the last car packed full of brothers and sisters from another neighborhood pulls around the corner, the folks on the porch and in the garden start making their way to our makeshift chapel. What makes it a chapel and not a high-ceilinged living room is the countless prayers it has heard and our agreement one with another that this is a place we all go to meet God. As we gather, each of us finds a seat or a spot on the floor around a beat up black coffee table. With everyone gathered, the children help to cover our altar with an old green curtain spotted with candle wax, but no less sacred for the mess. We place the steadily shrinking, white, pillar candle we use for our Christ candle in the middle of our table-turned-altar. Then we add our prayer book, a Bible, and maybe our plate and cup before our youngest brothers and sisters find a lap to sit on somewhere in the room. We light the candle and take a moment or two of silence, or as close as we can get to silence, to calm our minds and welcome Jesus into our makeshift place of prayer. Of course, he’s been there since long before the click of a stick lighter.

So, we sing and we pray. We gather up the prayers of the people packed into that room where the fan has to stay on. Some of our prayers are for loved ones, while others are for us. Many of the prayers will be for sisters and brothers struggling with homelessness, hunger, addiction, and deprivation. We lift up a brother, whose days remaining in jail will be counted and recounted like prayer beads each time we gather together. We clap, hoot, and holler for a sister who announces, with praise to God, that she’s been clean for eight days and this time she intends to stick with it. Some of the loudest “amens” come from our leaders who are also recovering, but the loudest comes from her husband who has been bragging about her for at least six of those eight days, and is quietly celebrating nearly nine months of his own recovery. We pray for people who have recently started sleeping on the streets, some of them in the room with us, while also praying for the brothers and sisters sleeping in our hospitality rooms. We pray for peace with our enemies and for peace with those who might name us as enemies. We pray for justice and mercy to be so wrapped up with each other in our world that we can’t tell which is which.

We pray for God to turn our every breath and action into a prayer, proclaiming God’s greatness and worthiness. We want to pray unceasingly and we no other way to do it than to turn the living of our lives into a prayer.

Praying together has taught us to slow down to make room for people to offer worship to God even in ways in which they are not strong by the world’s standards. Sometimes, we’ve learned that prayer sounds like a brother reading scripture haltingly but lovingly. After we read the scripture together, we interpret it and often find that the Spirit’s voice waits for us in unexpected places. We have to slow down, so we can listen carefully for God who may choose to speak to us in the happy tears of a brother no longer homeless or in the hard won experience of a sister with an empty refrigerator. God doesn’t always show up in the same place, but God does always show up.

Sometimes, we pass the plate and cup to remind each other that all of us are welcome at God’s table and God has died for all of us, regardless of what the world says about our deficits and gifts. Sometimes, we dip our fingers in water to remember the vows we made to follow Jesus when we were baptized into his death. Sometimes, we pray over each other with oil on our fingers and foreheads, asking God for healing of so many different kinds: physical health, recovery from addiction, mental health, spiritual peace, and as many other types of healing as there are ways of being broken.

We close with a blessing designed for all of us to pronounce. With hands joined and looking from face to face, we pronounce a blessing over those God has put in our lives to teach us to pray and follow. But, it will be another thirty or forty minutes most weeks before everybody has finally made their way home by foot, bicycle, or packed into a shared car. Our prayer continues in a dozen tiny ways: making a pot of coffee, picking up cooling conversations where we left them, catching a few more minutes of daylight on our skin while talking about bad days and hard weeks, drawing on the front wall with sidewalk chalk, talking a little more about what that scripture might have meant, and cutting cake to celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, or days, weeks, months, or years of recovery. We may not bow our heads and we may not fold our hands, but all these little things are just as much our prayers to our loving, gracious, and hospitable God who knows you can’t be late to prayer if you’re learning to pray with your life.

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Derek is hard to describe, but I’ll try. The first time I met him, he wanted to know if I could “lay down a beat” for him to freestyle over. He had had an idea for a new rap while walking to the meal in our home and was ready to try it out. Derek has a way of entering a new and unfamiliar place with confidence, his eyes darting to the left and right to take in his environment as quickly as possible. He is an astounding judge of character most times, but is also eager to assume the best of people even when his instincts suggest differently. Derek walks with an understated strut that we’ve learned to recognize from a block away, knowing him by his walk before we can hear him yelling our names. Derek has a sense of style that defies imitation, shifting subtly from day to day with his newest clothing creations—composed of other people’s castoffs and often given away shortly after their debut—but remaining consistent to a few themes, such as his penchant for handmade necklaces and redesigned skullcaps. Regardless of what’s going on in Derek’s life on any given day, he always asks me how my daughter is in the first minute or two of any of our conversations. He’s eager for us to know he loves us and tells us regularly.

Derek was one of the thirteen people who used to live at the apartment building that we called “Little Calcutta” and wrote about here previously. After four years of sharing countless meals together, planting flowers in the courtyard, taking turns playing the guitar on the porches of roach infested apartments that often lacked running water, and talking very seriously about what the tenants deserved, the tenants were ready to ask for better. Derek was one of the key leaders who helped cultivate justice in that neglected place and he did it with all of his characteristic soft-hearted swagger and persistent hopefulness. When the building was condemned, Derek celebrated alongside everybody and debuted new art and new fashion.

But, the condemnation of the building meant that once again Derek was facing the possibility of homelessness. For years, Derek had drifted between homelessness and near-homelessness, between lack of security and the hope of security. Though there are a particular set of material, social, and health challenges that vex Derek, it’s far too simple to say that those challenges are why Derek has struggled with homelessness. The reality is that Derek’s struggle with homelessness says just as much—if not more—about our society as it does about Derek.

We’ve been taught to expect people like Derek to act desperate and servile. We’ve learned to trade support and assistance, from positions of power and control, for dignity and flattering gratitude. Too often, we ask the Dereks to be somebody else, because we don’t know what to do with who they are. Sadly, when they don’t, can’t, or won’t fit themselves into a broken set of expectations for those in need, we write them off as ungrateful or undeserving. This certainly isn’t justice, and it’s hard even to call it charity. Rather, it’s something of a transaction where we trade some of our surplus resources for good feelings, and the Dereks of the world trade dignity and agency for whatever we’ve chosen to give. Frankly, it’s a bad trade for everybody involved, but it seems to be one we’re all accustomed to making.

So, we did what we’ve done dozens of times before and started going with Derek to make applications at better apartment buildings and to put together the documents and paperwork that he’d need to find a place to lay his head in relative security. The former tenants of Little Calcutta had ten days to find somewhere to go and we were able to relocate most within a week, but Derek kept being turned down for a variety of reasons. Finally, with only a few days left until the building was finally boarded up—a victory worth celebrating in its own right—one of our leaders, Ed, sat in yet another waiting room with Derek as his application was scrutinized in private. As Derek paced the room, Ed noticed that Derek’s shoelaces were tied together, forcing him to shuffle his feet to avoid tripping. Thinking this was a fashion choice, Ed asked Derek, “What’s up with your shoelaces? They make you walk like you’re shackled.”

Derek, normally cheerful and playful, turned his downcast eyes to Ed and responded, “That’s how I feel, that’s how I should be walking.”

So, what do you do when your brother makes that kind of confession to you? You wish it wasn’t true, but then you cry because, for the moment, it is. Then you tie your own shoelaces together, because it’s not just the Dereks of the world that are shackled by our broken way of looking at poverty, homelessness, justice, and charity. You tie your shoelaces together and shuffle through the next few days alongside the brother or sister that God gave you, because when that’s how you feel, that’s how you should be walking.

Together, we got there and Derek found a place to take shelter with less than 24 hours to spare. He untied his laces, he joined us at yet another meal and for prayers, and we all gave thanks that for a little while, everything was alright. That night, as we dropped him off, he walked back to his new home with victory on his shoulders, the love of his community around him, and with that familiar strut which fits him so well. After all, if that’s how you feel, that’s how you should be walking.

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This month’s newsletter was written by Kenneth Bond, a member and leader at Ascension Lutheran Church, a partner congregation with Grace and Main Fellowship and Third Chance Ministries. 
There’s an old saying, “If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.” I never planned on joining a church, I was just looking for a place to hang out at one Christmas and I never planned on spending one Thursday a month cooking dinner for 60 to 100 people. But God had other plans.

Like today, I was asked to read Bishop James Mauney’s sermon today as pastor is away, but after reading it over I asked if I could speak a little about my experience with the Grace and Main dinners, as in reading his sermon a couple of things touched my heart. The Bishop starts with asking us to look at today’s Prayer for the day, which I’ll ask everyone to do right now:
“All-powerful God, in Jesus Christ you turned death into life and defeat into victory. Increase our faith and trust in him, that we may triumph over all evil in the strength of the same Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.”

He then talks briefly about “the weariness of the land” and that watching the tv news can make you weary in two minutes! But then he says, “My Jesus is a rock in a weary land!” And that spoke to me, because in many ways that is what we have become and by the Grace of God will become more to the folks at Grace and Main. Part of the rock for a weary land.

You see in the 2 and a half years we’ve been doing this, I’ve seen the dinners grow from a—forgive me for saying it this way—but “let’s be good Christians and feed the homeless” to a community of people who love and care for each other and a church that has opened its heart in love and hospitality to some folks who do live in a weary land.

We were asked in the beginning to be part of what Grace and Main called [their weekly feasts] with [other congregational partners]. That’s now down to just one, us and—at the risk of sounding negative towards some my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, but I have to say with some pride—it was our attitude of hospitality and service from the beginning that made Grace and Main ask if we would keep doing the dinners when they [changed to their new way of doing meals]. That is because I’ve seen time and time again, members of Ascension come forward and give of their time, talents and money to help with love of Christ in their hearts.

And maybe it’s not so silly that God chose me to be the head cook, while I’m not “trained and professional” chef, I do come from a line of some pretty good cooks. I remember when I was younger never having to worry about inviting someone over at the last minute to our house for dinner as there was always enough food. Students of the college my folks taught at, their colleagues, friends or family. If you were in our house near dinner time you were asked if you wanted stay and eat.

And then there’s a family story about my grandmother, my father’s mother Sadie. It was during the 30’s, my grandparents were moving from Frostburg MD, to Riverdale MD for a job my grandfather had with the railroad. On the day they were to leave the Chief of Police came by the house and asked to speak with my grandmother. Now as they say, my grandmother was a “God fearing” woman and got very upset and wondered why in the world the Chief of Police would want to speak to her. The Chief said he was sorry to hear that grandparents were moving and they are going to have to do something that they had not done in a long time, repaint all the jail cells after grandparents left. When asked why, Sadie was told that in every cell was her address and under that for a good meal.

I didn’t hear this story until I was in my 20’s, but I can remember when I was younger and would go spend a week with my grandmother during the summer that every now and then a man would come to the back porch and knock on the screen door and ask if there was any work he could do for a meal. Sometimes there was and sometimes there wasn’t, but there was always a meal and a cooked meal at that, not leftovers. Sometimes it was fried chicken and if I was lucky enough I’d get a drumstick. She would cook the meal, put it on a china plate, roll the silverware in a cloth napkin and hand it to me to take to him as he was sitting on the bottom step and remind me to be polite and not bother the “gentleman” while he ate.

They were what they used to call hobos, though I didn’t know that at the time. But I never once felt from my grandmother that there was anything “wrong” with them. They were just people maybe a bit down on their luck looking for some hospitality and a good meal. A place to rest for a moment, a rock for a weary land.

And that’s what I see every 4th Thursday of the month, because as I said, I’m not a “trained and professional” chef and cooking for 100 is not the same as cooking for 10 and I wish I could carry the faith I’m learning doing the dinners into the rest of my life. Cause no matter how hectic it gets or what goes wrong (and if you been in the kitchen right before serving time you’ll know what I mean) or how much I worry and plan. God has a plan and the Spirit moves and for some crazy, graceful reason everything always works out.

I don’t see people with mental illness, addiction issues or other problems. Nor do I see “good Christians and feeding the homeless.” I see a group of people maybe a bit down on their luck looking for some hospitality and a good meal meeting a church congregation that have opened their hearts to do just that. So every 4th Thursday of the month at the end of the night I go home and post on my Facebook page: “God was praised and people were fed.”

Which brings us to Ascension House, I am in awe and am very proud of this church of how much support that idea has already gotten. I don’t know God’s plan, I know some of ours, finding ways to mentor people in the neighborhood. And that’s what touched my heart when I read the Bishop’s “a rock in a weary land.” I can see Ascension House being that and this congregation opening their hearts to do just that.

So in closing I would like to end with the last two paragraphs from Bishop’s sermon: “Our Synod Assembly theme this year is ‘Ambassador for Christ: Knowing your Congregational Neighborhood to do God’s Will.’ You see, from that font, it is extending the grace to more and more people, so that the thanksgiving that Jesus is a rock in a weary land may be felt by the ones who are so lonely near your church, that the ones who despair within one block, one pasture, one mile, one stone’s throw, may too know a rock in their weary land through your kind spirit that searches them out and invites.

My Jesus is a rock in this weary land. He is not just My Jesus, he is their Jesus, their rock too. But by our single word of knowing them, they too may triumph over all evil in the strength of the same Jesus Christ, OUR Savior and Lord. Amen.

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This month’s newsletter was written by Bruce Hopson, Third Chance Ministries Missionary to the Northside and a leader with Grace and Main. Bruce has been a staff missionary for almost two and a half years, now. You may have read about Bruce in this newsletter before when we talked about his road to recovery and his introduction to Grace and Main a little over four years ago. If you want to send him an email, you can send it to and we’ll send it on to him.


I would say there is much more growing in Iredell County, North Carolina, than just vegetables. On somebody else’s much loved soil, I got to see strangers form into a community over five weekends. I feel truly blessed to have had the opportunity to be a part of it. I will always remember what was shared over those weekends: a lot of love. I won’t forget how I ended up there, either.

A few months back, Habitat for Humanity donated some land in my neighborhood to Grace and Main Fellowship. All of us were very excited about this very generous gift and the possibilities that it presented. We had a lot of meeting about how best to use this land, hopefully to do something with it that would benefit the community surrounding it and involve them in it. So when the idea of a different kind of community garden sprang up, everyone was on board. We formed an Urban Farm Planning Team and started figuring out how best to proceed.

While working on the future Urban Farm one day—cutting down trees and clearing land—Matt got to talking to me about permaculture. I had no idea what permaculture was. Matt explained to me what he knew about it and I thought it was really interesting. The idea was brought up at one of the meetings and we decided to send a handful of our leaders to a permaculture class at “We Are All Farmers” in Iredell County, North Carolina, to learn how to make the most out of the space given to us. We wanted to learn more about how to grow good, healthy food naturally and in harmony with nature. So Jessica, Rachael, Matt, and I signed up for the class and Third Chance Ministries paid for us to attend as missionary leaders from Grace and Main. Without your support, it would have been much harder for all or any of us to go.

Not knowing what to expect, we set out for the first weekend excited about learning things that would help us in our mission to grow something good on the Northside. I am not usually comfortable meeting a lot of new people—especially in larger groups—and spending a whole weekend around them. But, what we found when we got there was a whole group of nice folks that were genuinely concerned about God’s creation and one another. The first weekend passed quickly and we learned a lot—even if it was a little overwhelming! During the following weeks, the class lost some people for one reason or another, but as the weekends passed and the group got smaller, something else unexpected happened. Over the course of several weekends worth of classes we shared a lot of lunches and dinners. But most importantly—and my favorite part—we shared a bonfire every Saturday night. With each meal and fire, we started getting a little closer, becoming more of a community instead of a bunch of strangers. We had made the trip to Iredell County to learn how to plant, grow, and cultivate and we found that, sure enough, something was growing in and among us.

This past weekend after dinner, I went up to prepare the fire after dark. People gathered around the fire, including a couple of people that had not previously been able to stay for our fires. After people started drifting away from the fire to bed, I decided to stay until the fire was out and safe to leave. But as it ended up, I did not have to stay alone. Wendy, one of those who had not been able to stay at the fire before, stayed and talked with me until early in the morning. I shared a whole big chunk of my life with her, starting with my addictions, my failures, and being homeless for a while, but also about how another group of strangers had become community for me, when they came into my life four years ago and so graciously took me into their lives. I shared about how they showed me so much love and kindness that it had a profound effect on my life and changed my mind about how life and love should be. In short, I told her about how God had planted something in me through Grace and Main and how that changed everything.

Wendy also shared a lot of her life’s story with me—her struggles, her fears, and her hopes and dreams for her life and for the life she wanted for her sons. That night was for sharing, and I found myself telling her things that I hardly ever tell anyone I don’t know well. Over shared stories, we continued to become community. After all, everyone at the class came for different reasons and looking for different things. I believe that everyone there found something special. Some found a friend or a confidant, and others found peace of mind or a feeling of accomplishment. Some of us found that God is a gardener and growing community in unexpected places. There is definitely more growing in Iredell County, North Carolina, than just vegetables, but there is also more than vegetables growing in Danville, Virginia, and in our hearts, as well.

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The good news of what God is doing in our world rings out most clearly and resonantly in the places of lack, loss, failure, and weakness. After all, God has always had a way with the wilderness and seems committed not just to forgiving sins, but also to cultivating life in desert places. Yet, I must confess that most months I’d rather tell you stories about the flowers than the sand or the heat. I’m tempted to tell you only the “good” stories or stories of “success.” But some of you remind me that you want to hear the “hard” stories, too. You want to visit the wilderness and I suspect that it’s because you know that God is hiding there, too, and is less obscured where confidence cannot venture. So, this month I’m taking a chance and writing this story long held close to my heart for fear of sharing.

One night over a year ago, shortly before evening prayer, Mason became a part of our household and moved into our hospitality room. It had been a long time since he had had shelter and we were enthusiastic (and scared) about sharing life with him in the way of hospitality and community. Our household, both families, had committed ourselves to the practice of hospitality in whatever way God was leading, but this was our first time welcoming a brother or sister into our hospitality room for a long-term stay. Mason had finally had enough and was eagerly pursuing his sobriety after a three day stay in rehab. He was also working on getting his identification and important documents gathered up in order to better support himself. For several months, Mason made us glad to be practicing hospitality, even if occasional messes, cigarette butts, and a faucet left on overnight tried our patience.

But one night broke that relationship in ways that we couldn’t immediately figure out how to repair. It was a night filled with a relapse, broken promises and broken glass, frantic phone calls, a few threats and hurtful lies, and a set of stitches. A couple of us took Mason to a hotel while the community broke its schedule to begin praying earnestly for wisdom and grace. There in the parking lot of a hotel two miles away and across a river from our home, we argued. I vented my disappointment into the April cool night and asked Mason if he was sorry. He wouldn’t—maybe couldn’t—say it and I still don’t know precisely why I wanted to hear it or what I thought it would accomplish. Mason didn’t have much new to say, but he was eager to walk back some of the kind things he had said over the previous months. Like a boxer dropping his guard to court a punch, he baited me with hurtful words.

I’ve thought about that moment numerous times since then and how I shivered not from the cold, but with a strange mixture of disappointment, guilt, and anger. Maybe Mason baited me with those words because he felt guilty and thought he would feel better if I hurt him back, or maybe Mason wanted to know if I’d meant it when I’d told him time and again that we loved him. Maybe he wondered in that moment if our relationship could be stitched back together, too.

But, I took the bait and harangued him for his relapse, all the while harboring the feeling that we had disappointed God with our hospitality gone sour.

Mason stayed in the hotel for three or four nights and tried to decide if he was ready to recommit to life in community and his pursuit of sobriety. Meanwhile, the community prayed about what to do if he said yes. At the end of the hotel stay, the community had decided to offer him a room in a different house if Mason thought he was ready. But, Mason decided that he wasn’t. To be honest, I was relieved because I wasn’t sure I had it in me to walk with Mason again if he said he was. Mason didn’t think he was ready to return to life in community, and I wasn’t sure I was ready, either. I wondered if I ever had been in the first place.

Mason found a couch to crash on whose rent could be paid in full bottles and cans, while we tried to dig out from under what felt like failure. We’ve learned over the last several years that doing our kind of work means hearing a repeated chorus of promised failure from a wide variety of people. Opening our homes and extra beds to people without shelter has also meant opening ourselves to criticism that what we’re doing isn’t practical. Inviting hungry people to our tables for meals has also meant inviting the scrutiny of well-meaning folks who want us to be more efficient at the cost of intimacy. Living in community and practicing hospitality has meant that there are many who love what we’re doing, but also many who are waiting for us to fail. “See,” I imagined them saying, “we told you it was a bad idea.”

But, to call our time with Mason a failure is once again to be baited by a lie.

Mason was with us for several months before that one terrible night and to call our hospitality failed is to profane that sacred time when we learned that Mason was our family and Mason found peace in the midst of chaos. To give into the temptation to render Mason into one night of glass and stitches—to call it all a failure—is to mangle the image of God still imprinted on Mason’s gentle heart and forget the laughter, love, and resurrection celebrated on our front porch and over countless episodes of Frasier and the Munsters. As one dear friend reminds me, “The story’s not about the results. It never is.”

Mason doesn’t live with us anymore, but for a little while he did and we are better for it. Over a dozen months later, we can see that we’re even better because of that hard night when we learned that hospitality isn’t a good deed, but a way of life where everybody’s health and sickness is wrapped up together under one roof to be healed by God’s love. If you want to call that a failure, think again about what you mean when you say you believe in the resurrection.

Mason stays in one of the other Grace and Main homes these days, having started coming back to meals and occasional prayers some time ago. He’s not “better”—this isn’t that kind of story—but he’s welcome. We still argue occasionally and there are days when one of us avoids the other, but a few months ago, Mason opened up the road to healing for all of us.

“You know, living with yall was good,” he began as I was dropping him off somewhere, “I’m not going to say I’m sorry for what happened, but I’m sorry I wasn’t there when the baby was born.”

“Me too,” I offered.

“But, you know I love you guys, right?” he asked with the hope of healing in his questioning tone.

“Yes,” I responded, though sometimes I wondered. I continued, “You know we love you too, right?”

“Yeah. I know you do,” he replied, though I’m sure sometimes he wonders, before continuing, “It was a good time.”

He’s right about that. It was a good time.

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