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One Motorcycle Ride

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October 6, 2016

It is odd how a motorcycle ride can change your life. But that is what happened for us.

It was early last November. I was having coffee in Southlands, the beautiful shopping development close to the SE Aurora church I had pastored for 26 years. 5 months earlier I had stepped away from that role, knowing that Jesus was calling me to a new chapter but uncertain what it was. At 58, I was healthy and had a lot of energy to serve Jesus. But where?

I finished coffee with a young man, Sumner, who has since married our daughter Daviah. The day was cold and I was on my motorcycle, bundled up in a leather jacket. I felt a nudge to take a ride that would lead me to the urban poverty of East Colfax Avenue.

While I had a lot of options in my mind as to where I might serve, one of them was among the materially poor, something Diane and I had long had in our hearts. I’d like to say we had East Colfax on our heart, but it had been a couple of years since I had been there.

I meandered my way north and west until I caught Colfax Avenue east of I-225. Riding under the overpass at I-225, I saw the massive new hospital development that dominates the landscape, but just a bit beyond that were all the signs of poverty that defines East Colfax Avenue.

As I rode along I saw empty store fronts, ragged motels, new pot shops mixed-in with payday loan and pawn shops, ethnic stores and restaurants, I was gripped by a feeling that surprised me with its intensity. I felt like I had come home.

What do I mean by that? Just that there was something in that diverse, ragged and beautiful (at least to us) environment that seemed like the place we were to come home to. The place we were to next serve Jesus.

We took the time to pray and discern whether that sense of coming home was indeed from Jesus, but ultimately it was clear that we were called to be missionaries to the area. From pastoring a large church in a wealthy part of Aurora, we were to start over with just the two of us in the poorest part of Aurora, the area along East Colfax.

We started a ministry, we call “Jesus on Colfax” with a focus right now on the people who are on the edge of our world; those who live in the motels. Eventually we sensed Jesus calling us to move into one of those motels.  That same stretch of Colfax that I rode on my motorcycle last November is now less than 100 feet from the door to our motel room.

My hope in this journal is to tell you the story of life here. Mostly I want to tell you about the people we now live among, stories of their lives and of Jesus’ work in them.

I close my eyes for a few minutes as I write this and see a steady stream of the faces we now know and love. I am surprised by how many of them come to mind. But more, I am surprised by the depth of love I feel towards them.

Just now I find myself thinking about Shanelle and Tony, managers of one of the motels.  Both have lived incredibly hard lives. A couple of months ago they discovered, to their surprise, that Shanelle was pregnant with a little boy. Shanelle nearly died during a hard delivery. The boy, Anthony, was born with severe brain damage and died just 10 days later.

Diane and I went to Children’s Hospital and held him, feeling the warmth of his small body against our chest. I was there again just after Anthony passed away and again held his now lifeless body as we shared in the devastation that his parents felt. We got to show them Jesus through our actions and our words and I did a memorial service with 20 or so family and friends in attendance; most of whom live in motels along Colfax.

All that began with a motorcycle ride on a cold day last November, a ride that has taken us to the heart of East Colfax Avenue and into the hearts and lives of people we now serve and love.

It is odd how Jesus leads us.

But also beautiful…

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Stories and Updates

ranger-motelDear Friends,

I am sitting in my “office” on East Colfax Avenue in the heart of old Aurora. My “office”, as you might expect, is a coffee shop that I use to meet people and work out of as we develop our “Jesus on Colfax” ministry. It is called Coffee Canaan and is run by a delightful lady named Tina. She is from Ethiopia and is a believer. She sits in her shop and prays for the people and challenges of this area. When I told her my story she told me to feel free to use her coffee shop as an office. So I do! Diane and I had a chance to worship at her church a couple of months ago and were touched by that Ethiopian congregation

It has been a couple of months since I sent an update so I want to give you a brief snapshot of what we are doing. I continue to spend 3-4 days a week in this area, joined at least part of the time by Diane. There are numerous stories to share, but maybe the most important thing to underscore is this. Diane and I have really fallen in love with the area and its people,  and in love with the beautiful diversity and even the great needs that exist here. Our sense of call from Jesus to serve here and even, hopefully, to move here, grows deeper by the day. While we continue to view this year as a season of testing that call, we feel a deep nudge from the Spirit to make serving this area a central focus of the next chapter of our lives.

We came here “looking for Jesus”. We are finding him present and at work in a wide variety of people and groups. A few weeks ago Diane and I had a chance to sit with 4 young Nepali men, ages 18-24. Lucy Bruser works with Restoration Outreach Programs, one of our friends and partners in the area. Her work is with refugee and immigrant groups and she is leading a discipleship group for these young men who come out of one of the Nepali churches in the area. Diane and I were so impressed with these young men. They are on fire for Jesus and want to impact not only their people but the broader community for Jesus. We saw Jesus there.

We see Jesus in the work of Mean Streets Ministry. They are out most Monday evenings, knocking on the hotel doors along East Colfax, bringing food and offering prayer and resources for the folks living there, many of whom are trapped in both poverty and addictions. This past Monday I was out with Mean Street along with our middle daughter Spenser. One of the people we talked to was an older lady named Emma. She lives with her husband in one of the hotels. They have lived in the hotel for 8 years. She talked about her fears living there and about their hopes for getting into some low-income housing. The fears are real as much danger exists in these settings. When Spenser asked her if she knew Jesus she said yes. We got to talk for awhile–she seemed lonely–and then prayed with and for her. We saw Jesus there in the 15 minutes we had with Emma. We also see in those hotels the sometimes desperate needs that exist, needs that call for love, resources and wisdom in learning how to bring genuine help. Pray for Emma, her husband and those who call the hotels home, whether for a night or for years.

Yesterday I spent a couple of hours at Aurora Central High School, the biggest school in the area, often referred to as “the ghetto school”. I am a part of a mentoring program with seniors who are on the verge of not graduating. We are trying to nudge them over the finish line. It is hard to explain the combination I see in these students. At times, almost heroic resiliency in the face of overwhelming odds. At other times, the painful reality of poverty and massive family breakdown which leaves kids with few doorways or models of how to move beyond the world they are in. Later that day I spent time with a man named Pete, just out of prison after 6 years incarcerated. He is a believer and has to start his life over. I listened to his story and am trying to connect him to resources that will give him a leg up on that process. Like many ex-cons, he needs to stay away from his addictions and old friends to have a chance to succeed in this world.

A lot of what we are doing right now is simply trying to connect with people, love and help where we can, learn the community and its needs. We see Jesus at work and join in as we can. During this we continue to pray for his direction on what he would call us to specifically invest in. But we are feeling the joy of following Jesus around in this community and are excited to see where he leads in it.

I could go on with story after story, but hope that will give you a bit of a taste of this world we are spending much of our time in. We are grateful for all the interest and prayers for us on this journey and ask that you continue praying for us. Here are some specifics you can be praying for:

1. Pray for clarity for Diane and I as we move forward. There is much to do but we realize that at some point we will need to focus on what we can best bring. Pray that God reveals that to us.
2. Pray for the wide needs of the community and for the people and groups who serve Jesus here. Ask God to move in a powerful way.
3. Pray for some permanent space for me to work out of in the community. Part of what is developing is the possibility of some partnerships with other ministries so I am trying to be thoughtful about the kind of space I find. It may need to accommodate several ministries.
4. Pray for the people who are on the farthest edge of the community. This includes the homeless and those in hotels. Pray for kids who are in the system in one way or another–child welfare, abuse and gangs. Pray for the light of Jesus and also the light of practical help to come into their lives. Pray for hope in these darkest corners where life can seem hopeless.
5. Pray for us as we contemplate moving into the community. We will have decisions to make about our current house as a part of that process and are not certain about the timing of all that.
6. Pray for the financial resources we need to move forward in this. Thanks to those of you who have given already. We are a little less than a quarter of a way to our goal of raising $40,000 for the rest of this year. If you would like to give, details are at the end of the email.

In the middle of all that, other pieces of our life continue to move on. We have two daughters (Shea and Daviah) getting married this summer and are very excited about that. I am slowly developing my coaching/counseling practice at the same time as I give the bulk of my time to “Jesus on Colfax”. I am also working on a book project about my journey over the last couple of years, moving out of ministry at EHCC and into our new chapter in ministry.

In all that we would say that life is good and so is God. We are enjoying the chapter we are in.

My goal, by the way, is to get into a routine of sending out an update once a month or so. Thanks for all the interest you have shown in our life. We love you all.

Blessings,

Shawn

Our Next Step Toward the Motels

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Greetings from Colfax Avenue!
My goal today is a brief email, just to catch you up to where we are right now. A number of things are falling into place that I will fill you in on in a few weeks. But just a quick word about the picture. This is the motel that Maria, who I told you about earlier, manages. She is the lady whose husband was killed just outside the motel about 5 years ago. Notice the hand-written signs in the window. Although it is too small for you to read, one of them says that the parking spot is permanently reserved for the police and fire department. That probably tells you something about how often they visit! And, yes, that is my motorcycle partially parked in that space:).
Here goes: We continue to fall in love with and feel a deep call to serve along East Colfax as we live out our “Jesus on Colfax” ministry. And, we also have a deep sense that at this point our primary focus is to be on those living in the motels along Colfax. Diane and I are learning what it means to be “urban missionary pastors” to those who live in these seedy places strung along East Colfax.
As we do that, we continue to partner with Mean Street Ministry on Monday evenings as they do door-to-door ministry in about a half-dozen of the 25 motels in what we think of as our “parish”. At the same time we are also working in 2 motels that they are not connected with, The Radiant Inn and The Aurora Motel. We are in there on Tuesday evenings with just a couple of other people, starting to build relationships with people living there, bringing food, praying with them and seeing where Jesus might lead.
Our goal in all that is to move beyond simply knocking on a door and giving food. We want to develop long-term relationships with people who live in the motels that allow us to not only point them to Jesus but also helps love them and helps them find meaningful resources for the many needs in their lives. We are seeing that happen as we come back during the day time to follow up with people we have met on Monday and Tuesday evening. We also have a dream of being able to start some Bible Study/House Churches in a few of the motels.
Our plan is to move to North Aurora to be a part of the community and have even more regular access to the people we are ministering to. We would ask for your prayers for that. We want to be as close as we can be to the motels. There are two ways we could accomplish that. The easiest way would be to find an apartment just off Colfax. The other, more challenging and dangerous, is to actually move into the motels for a season, going there to simply be the presence of Jesus in a community of staggering need. At the moment we have a pretty strong sense that Jesus is leading us to move into the motels for a season but ask you to pray with and for us as we seek final clarity. Diane and I would put ourselves in places where there are many challenges–addictions, gangs, violence. But at the same time, it would give us tremendous access into the lives of many people who God created and whom he loves deeply. We will let you know more about that in the next email, but likely we would leave some of our kids in our house in SE Aurora and Diane and I would move by the first of September, either to a motel or to an apartment.
We appreciate those of you who have already given or jumped in in one way or another. We know many others of you are interested as well. In the next email I will give you a couple of clear ways you can join us on a journey, particularly over the next year, as we live in the middle of the urban poor and homeless. Will you be a “balcony person”, praying for us, learning with us and cheering us on? Or might some of you be interested in being “on the field” people, joining with us in this ministry in a more direct way? Details to come!
We are currently building a web-site that will give you a broader sense of what we are doing. We are also working on getting our own 501c3 designation that will allow us to take financial contributions directly rather than through Family in Christ. We think both of those steps will make us a bit more efficient and easier to access.
Speaking of financial donations, I will also give you a clearer sense in the next email of our financial needs and some ways you can help. But in the meantime, we would love it if you would consider supporting us financially in this. Tax-deductible donations can be made through Family in Christ Church. Details on how to give are at the bottom of the email.
We continue to be excited that God has called us to minister in and among the materially poor. As we do, we get to love them and also learn and receive from them. It is a rare and beautiful gift that Jesus has given to us! Keep us in your prayers and stay tuned.
On the personal front, we are busy planning our second wedding of the summer. Our 4th daughter, Daviah, will get married to Sumner Bradley on August 13. Say a prayer for them as they start their lives together. We are very excited for them.
Blessings,
Shawn

Colfax – The Motel Version

Greetings to all of you from my “office” here on East Colfax, the coffee shop that I work out of. I thought you might get a kick out of the picture I am sending along with this email. If you don’t understand it, find someone who has watched The Lion King:) It reflects some common perceptions of Colfax Ave.

Before I dive into an update, let me begin by saying thanks to all of you for your prayers and support as we continue our journey here along East Colfax. It means a tremendous amount to us to know that we are not doing this alone.

We came to East Colfax with the strong sense that Jesus was already at work here and that our job was to find those places where people were serving in his name and support them. That has been a delightful journey and we have met many incredible people who are loving people in the name of Jesus. In fact, Tina, who owns my “office” was telling me a couple of stories last week of praying for folks who wandered into her coffee shop and leading them to Jesus.

We also have had the sense that we need to be open to the specific work Jesus might call us to do in this community. Many of you have been praying with us for clarity. While we have a wide range of things we continue to be interested in, we have an increasing sense that a major part of the coming year for us will be to invest in the motel/homeless population.

I have told you a bit about this part of the population, but just a few more words to help you understand that world: There are around 25 motels in the area we consider to be a part of our ministry area. Built in the 1940’s and 50’s, they now house people who are just one step away from being on the street. Quite a few live semi-permanently in them, while others are very transient. The house the poor and include people struggling with a wide range of issues–spiritual lostness, addiction, mental health, family breakdown, violence, etc. They also house those just out of prison as well as gang members.

Because of our partnership with Mean Street Ministries, we are already in and out of 5 or 6 of the motels on Monday nights, but we see the need to both deepen the relationships in those motels and also the need to develop connections into the other motels. Even in this impoverished community, they are the overlooked and ignored.

We are viewing ourselves as missionaries and pastors to the people who live there. Our goal is to love people in the name of Jesus, point them to him, care for them and do whatever we can to steer them in the direction of things that will genuinely help them. In fact, the title I gave myself a couple of months ago makes perfect sense in this context. I call myself an “Urban Missionary Pastor” with “Jesus on Colfax Ministries”.

Right now we are trying to figure out the best pathways to connect in these motels. I am about a quarter of the way through my goal of talking to the managers of each of the motels to get their sense of the needs and also a sense of their openness for folks coming in to help. I am getting an education! I can see already that relationships with the managers will be important for us to have the kind of access we want.

Here is what we need prayer for right now as we focus more closely on this:
1. Pray that God will open the right doorways to get deeper access into the motels.
2. Pray for a clear and workable strategy for us. We have some creative ideas that we are praying through right now. Pray that God confirms some of the “how” of this. As that gets clear, we will let you know what that looks like and even how you might be a part of our journey.
3. Thank God for good partners we already have–Mean Street, Restoration Outreach Programs and a variety of churches that we have some connection with. They are also involved in connecting with this population. Many of them have good resources that we will be able to steer people to.
4. Pray for space for us to live in and work out of in the community.
5. Pray for the people who live in the motels that Jesus would seem real to them, that they would have their basic needs met and that there would be freedom from addictions and a long list of other struggles. Pray for change in their lives.
6. Pray for financial provision for us. Again, if you would like to support us financially, information will be at the end of the email.
7. Even as we focus on the motels, I would add another request. I love mentoring young men, and after doing some of that at Aurora Central High School, I have made it a personal goal to look for a chance to invest in mentoring 10-12 young men in this community in the coming year. I have no idea how to connect with them, but if you pray, God will make a way!

Let me close with a quick story that will highlight the need. Last week I stopped at a motel along the strip, one even more rundown than the rest. I met the manager, whose name is Maria. I asked some basic questions and came to understand that there were a lot of needs in the 22 rooms of “her people” living there. She was very touched and excited when I asked about potentially bringing in some people to love and serve them.

When I asked her if I could pray for her, she broke down and told me her own story. Her husband had been killed just outside the motel a few years earlier, leaving her with 3 kids to raise and no family around to rely on. She wept while I prayed for her. I left with a promise to return and a clear reminder of just how hard life can be here, even for those who manage the motels. So pray for Maria and for a way to serve her and “her people”.

On the family front, we are excited that our daughter Shea got married a couple of weeks ago to a wonderful young man by the name of Sean Hensley. So we are celebrating with them!

Stay tuned and we will keep you updated.

Blessings,

Shawn

Jesus on Colfax!

Greetings to all of you. As most of you know, I sent an email out about 8 weeks ago, letting you know some of our thinking about the future. Our sense was that I would start investing half of my time in the area in and around East Colfax and half of my time establishing a coaching/counseling/speaking/writing business. I have been doing that since the first of the year and am discovering that the Colfax piece is taking about 75% of the time. This email fills you in on the process regarding Colfax. That said, if you have interest in the coaching/counseling I am doing, email me and we will see where that leads. What follows is a letter about the work in and around East Colfax. I apologize for the length but wanted to give you a full picture:)

Dear Friends,

As most of you know, last year I transitioned out of my role as the Senior Pastor of EHCC. After nearly 26 years in that role and after 30 years of upfront pastoral leadership, Jesus seemed clear in saying it was time for us to prepare for another chapter of ministry. After taking 6 months to simply wind down and disengage, we are sensing the call of God to investigate what it might mean to return to something we have had on our heart for over 3 decades.

Diane and I have long had a heart for the inner-city. We lived and served in that environment when we were in seminary in Grand Rapids. When we graduated from seminary, it was our hope to spend our lives ministering among the broken-ness, poverty and diversity of those environments. Instead, with the sense of humor that only God can have, we were sent to the suburbs to serve there for 30 wonderful years.

Now though, it seems God is calling us to investigate whether our next chapter might be in the inner-city, particularly in the area along East Colfax Avenue in North Aurora and East Denver. We have long had a heart for this stretch of the metro area. Eastern Hills has connected with the area through a variety of ministries so we feel like we have good contacts there.

East Colfax Avenue and the community around bring a wide variety of “opportunities” disguised as needs. Homelessness is a huge issue, one that includes those who live in the old hotels along Colfax, hotels that were once there to serve cross-country travelers before there were interstates. Crime, drugs, addiction and all that go with that are a part of the area. The mix of the area is black, hispanic and white with the growing addition of refugee groups that are moving into the area. The population is and has been mostly on the extremely poor to lower class to lower middle-class end of the economic scale.

Adding to the complication of the area is the fact that the University of Colorado has moved their entire medical world to the eastern edge of the community, just west of I-225 on Colfax. In addition, Children’s Hospital moved there. So on the edge of poverty there are literally hundreds of millions of dollars of new medical facilities. The redeveloped areas of Stapleton and Lowry are communities of more wealth as well. Yet just down the street and in the middle of that, there is poverty in the extreme and diverse communities of various levels of need.

Here is the sense that we have at this point: We believe that Jesus is calling us to take 2016 to spend 3-4 days a week in the community as an investigatory step in the direction of whatever he might call us to. We sense the heart of Jesus for this community and are also hearing his call.

Our investigation is rooted first in a simple belief: Jesus is already working in that community. We don’t need to manufacture that. We do, however, believe that at this point there are 3 tasks that Jesus is calling us to do during 2016.
We need to prayerfully discover where Jesus is already at work.
We need to “go stand there” and support and encourage the work Jesus is doing and the people who are his hands and feet.
We need to prayerfully discern what the needs of the community are and also prayerfully discern what it is that Jesus might call us to do to serve the community.

At least at this point of the journey we are calling our fledgling ministry “Jesus on Colfax”, rooted in the belief that our job is to join Jesus’ presence there.

What is it that might emerge from doing these 3 tasks over the rest of 2016? At this point, we are not certain and are just trying to stay open to the Spirit’s leading. But here are some ministry possibilities:
Some ministry that serves the homeless, particularly in seeking a practical path out of poverty. The two homeless groups that seem prominent here are families and recently released prisoners. Many people come to this area to serve the homeless with food and clothing, but it is much more challenging to create a path for people to find a better life.
Some form of a church that addresses the deep spiritual needs of the community in a life-changing way by calling people to faith in Jesus. We are not at all clear what that might look like–a church on the corner, missional communities/house churches, partnering with other churches in the area, etc. There are many churches in the community, but many of them are small and do not seem to be very strong.
Some form of ministry that addresses families in an attempt to bring health to what is an essential building block for a healthy and godly community. There are many signs here of the tragic consequences of disintegrating families.
Some form of ministry that works with the refugee communities to address a wide range of needs that exist there as they try to assimilate into American culture. When we talk about the work of evangelism and Jesus’ call to reach the nations with the gospel, we are in a moment when Jesus is bringing the nations to us. That is certainly true along the East Colfax corridor.
Some form of leadership development, particularly for ministry leaders. I am already seeing that in the refugee community there are small churches with pastors who lack much if any training in biblical theology or ministry. We are praying about a potential role in supporting and training them. If we help them grow stronger as leaders it will help them impact their communities for Jesus.
That need for training ministry leaders also extends into some other areas that reach beyond East Colfax. I have long had a heart for working with young pastors who have seminary training but are often weak in ministry skills. Might it be possible to create a place in that area that would sharpen their ministry skills even while helping them interact with refugee pastors? And what about other groups that need support and training, folks that may never fit the traditional route to ministry? So I have been toying with the idea of a “street seminary” that would attempt to gather some of those groups together to lay a foundation for them to be biblically based and effective, all in the middle of the challenges of urban life.

As you can see, the possibilities are no doubt endless. What I just listed is enough to keep 10 people busy. Our task over the coming year is to see where Jesus might lead us. Are we genuinely called to invest in this community over the coming years? If so, what might that look like? We already have ministry friends in the area. Whatever God might call us to, we would do it in partnership with them. And, if God calls us to invest the next 6-10 years of our lives along East Colfax, Diane and I expect that we will also move into the community.

As of right now I am simply trying to get to know people in the community, starting with those who are serving Jesus there already so that we can support and encourage them. In addition, I am talking to people who have worked in various urban settings in the broader metro area and am trying to learn everything I can about the reality of bringing meaningful service in Jesus’ name to those communities. And, we are trying to get the pulse of the broader community.

In addition, Diane and I are taking seriously the call to do this out of a foundation of prayer for the area and for direction. We are spending time regularly, praying and walking the community.

We are excited about the place we are in and the road God has ahead of us. We believe that during 2016 Jesus will lead us to what needs to happen with us relative to this area.

We recognize that for us to make any of this work along East Colfax a reality, both for the short-term and the long-term, we will need to raise prayer support and money from people like yourself who feel called to partner with us in the work.

There are three specific ways you could help us:
1. Pray for us as we go on this journey. I will keep you posted on our needs, but for now simply pray for strength and clarity for Diane and me. Pray for the East Colfax corridor and the needs that exist there. Pray for the people God wants to partner with us in the community. Pray for the financial support we need.

2. Prayerfully consider partnering with us financially. We will need to rely on that as we move forward. While we are still working out some details on this, our goal is to raise $40,000 for the calendar year 2016. We think that would give us the time we need to fully and prayerfully investigate the community before settling on what it is we are most called to do there. Pray about supporting us as missionaries in the way God leads. We realize that for us to get to that $40,000 number we need folks who make smaller gifts and also those who can give larger gifts. Your support is tax-deductible as I have made arrangements with Family in Christ Church in Westminster to be a place your giving would be processed. If you would like to donate, you can send a check made out to Family in Christ Church. Just put Colfax or Sikkema’s in the subject line. Here is their mailing address:

Family in Christ Community Church
11355 N. Sheridan Blvd.
Westminster, CO 80020
Attn: Paul Jorden

You can also give online at www.familyinchrist.com. Go to the donate link and you will see “Jesus on Colfax”. That is where to direct your gift.

3. Let others know. Feel free to pass this on to those who you think might be interested in our journey and in the needs of East Colfax and the surrounding communities.

We will keep you posted as we move forward.

Blessings,

Shawn

PS: If you have questions about any of this, feel free to email me. We are thinking that somewhere in the next couple of months we will do a bit of an open house for those of you who would like to hear more about this journey.

Catching Up With the Sikkema’s

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Dear Friends,
It is great to finally have a chance to catch up with you and also fill you in a bit on our life. Before I do that, I should start with an apology. I had hoped to get an initial email out to you shortly after I stepped down from EHCC but I just didn’t get around to it. So this is overdue.
I will try to do keep this update reasonably brief and will answer the kinds of questions people ask me as I run into them around town.
Question One: How are you doing? Answer: I am doing well. I feel really good physically, mentally and emotionally. I have had a chance to get good and rested and also enjoy extra time with my family (more on them in a bit). I am sleeping really well for the first time in my life. My depression symptoms are pretty much all gone. I am grateful for all of that.
I haven’t really missed the day in and day out reality of ministry but I have missed the people I and my family are used to being around. That has been one of the hardest things for us. Lots of people change jobs but what is unique about ministry is that for me to step away from my role also meant that, at least for a season, we needed to step away from the church to give the church and the next Senior Pastor the space needed to move forward. So I think we are all going through some normal grieving around that. That is normal and expected but also hard. For us as a family, a huge part of what has defined our life is simply not there in the same way. So, say a prayer for us on that.
Question Two: What have you been doing? Answer: Trying to both rest and simply enjoy my family and take some extra time to think, pray and read. The first couple of months I found myself talking with people about several job opportunities but discovered that my mind and heart were not yet clear enough for that so I either said no or withdrew from everything I was looking at. Then, with the encouragement of Diane, I took a couple of months to just have a sabbatical and/or act retired.
So, from early September to the middle of November I just didn’t really think about what I wanted to do next. I traveled a fair bit, much of it by myself. I drove out to the West Coast and spent time in California and Oregon. Diane and I flew up to Spokane to move Jeff and Darrah and their kids down to Denver. I drove to Mexico and spent a couple of weeks sitting on the beach. That was fun! Adding to the excitement, I blew the engine on my little Suzuki on the way back, coming up the hill from Albuquerque to Santa Fe. Diane and I went to Canada for a long weekend to celebrate some anniversaries and also to be together for what would have been her Dad’s birthday. As you may recall, he died late last year.
It has just been in the last month that we have started thinking more seriously about what the next chapter looks like. I will fill you in on that in a bit. About the only thing I have been doing to produce anything during the last several months has been to start on a couple of books that I have felt nudged to write.
Question Three: How is your family? Answer: We are all doing well. As I mentioned, Jeff and Darrah moved down here in September with Marion and Alden. Darrah was over 8 months pregnant when they moved here. So, since arriving she has delivered a beautiful baby girl, Marjorie Ruth. Jeff took a job at the Denver Street School, a small Christian School for at-risk kids who have struggled to get through traditional school. The school is just off of East Colfax in Aurora so you can guess that comes with all kinds of challenges (more on East Colfax in a bit).
Here is where it gets even more fun. Until they find a house, they have moved in with us. What that means is that every member of our family is under our roof right now. 5 daughters, 1 son-in-law, 2 grand-daughters and 1 grand-son. Plus our dog! It is very busy, but we are loving it, knowing that our house will get emptier quickly. I am loving the time to be grampa (they call me Abba) to my grandkids.
Everyone is doing well. A couple of the girls (Shea and Daviah) are in serious relationships that we expect will lead to weddings in the future. Spenser stays very busy with work as a manager at Chipotle and a range of volunteer ministry activities. Shadia is still working on home-schooling and a range of other activities. Everyone is busy with work and volunteering and relationships but doing well. Diane somehow helps us all keep the spin of life together even while she invests in a lot of other relationships.
Speaking of Diane and those relationships, she has become good friends with a Nepali lady named Sabitra as well as her extended family. They are Hindu but just this week, after 3 years of friendship, Diane led Sabitra in a prayer in which she committed her life to Jesus. We are delighting in that!
Question Four: What are your plans for what you will do next? Answer: Great question! We are working on that and beginning to make some progress. I will try to give you the short form and then maybe after the first of the year give you a bit fuller description. While I talk about being retired right now, I know that will only last for a season. I can’t afford to be permanently retired and there is way too much to do!
We have looked at a few things: Starting a business with some friends, a position with the denomination and a couple of seminary positions. But to this point, for one reason or another, it hasn’t seemed that God is steering us in those directions. Nor do we think that our next step is for me to go back to pastoring a church. We are open to moving from here, but we don’t want to for a wide range of reasons (family being primary), nor do we sense God calling us to that at the moment.
What we do have is a tentative direction that we are hoping to investigate over the next 6-12 months to see if it is in fact what God has for us. It would consist of me having two major pieces to my ministry life. Here is a snapshot of each.
Part One: Investigating what it might mean to develop some form of ministry along East Colfax Avenue in Aurora.
As many of you know, both Diane and I have long had a heart for ministry in the inner-city. And, in particular, we have been drawn to East Colfax Avenue. That whole area of North Aurora has a wide range of challenges and needs. In the middle of the poverty and gangs and wide range of spiritual, emotional and relational needs, it is a community that is also being impacted by the massive hospital construction right at 225 and Colfax.
Diane and I feel a tug to at least investigate whether the next chapter of our life might include prayerfully figuring out how we might help make a difference for Jesus there. I don’t think it would be likely that we would start a church there (I’m not sure they need a 58 year old white guy doing that), but we are very open to whatever God might lead us to. So here is the plan: After the first of the year I will start spending a couple of days a week up there, trying to understand what is currently going on there, what the community is like and how we might best serve. We will be, in many ways, functioning like missionaries to the community.
We would love your prayers for us as we begin that. Also, if that is what God is calling us to, we recognize that we will need to begin the challenging process of raising money to make it happen. We will keep you posted on things as they develop.
Part Two: Starting my own coaching, counseling, speaking and writing ministry. As most of you know, I have a heart for working with other leaders, with men and with couples and, frankly, with anyone wanting to get healthier and to the place where they can become what Jesus wants them to become. And, I continue to have a desire to speak and write, using the things I have learned over the years to make an impact for the kingdom. So my plan is to begin the process of setting up my own ministry that will be an umbrella for me to do those things. Our hope is that this could also provide some of the financial base for what God might lead us to on Colfax.
So, prayers for that side of things would also be welcome. I will keep you posted as that part of my life develops.
Our goal in the next 6-12 months is this: We want to see if some combination of these two pathways is what God has for us for the next 6-10 years of our life. Pray with us that if that is what God has for us, He would make the way clear, including creating a way to make all this work financially.
This has been too long! But I send it with our love and gratitude to all of you.
Blessings,
Shawn