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:)
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.
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.