In 2004 I sat in the parking lot of an abandoned shopping center, with the exception of a Chuckie Cheese and Chinese restaurant that seemed to be holding onto a dream of making a comeback in that desolate concrete wasteland. Stores that were run down with missing signs, broken glass…a local fast food establishment covered by weeds towering like trees and tagged by local artist.
Sitting there for about an hour or so, thinking there has to be more…a better way…a purpose that goes beyond forgotten buildings, trash covered parking lots and neglected urban fields. Then my mind drifted to what laid beyond the concrete and asphalt. What of the lives that pass by that are forgotten and broken, the families that simply exist in the day to day struggle of finding hope and purpose? What of the hearts of young and old that are covered in the trash of hurt and a love that has been neglected to them.
So like the Chuckie Cheese and Chinese restaurant, I began to dream. What if there was a place that no matter a person’s economic status, physical appearance, beliefs, age or any other box that society puts us in, they are welcomed? A place where anyone can come for help, a chance to “escape” from the pressures of society and life, a place to learn to survive, a place to fit in and be themselves, a place to have fun. A place that no matter what trouble they face, they can find refuge through a simple place of relief, provision and acceptance. Not a place that is giving a hand out but rather a group of people to ensure those hurting that there is a way to walk together and not be forgotten, ultimately by a God that is crazy about them.
As I sat and wrote out a dream plan of such a place, I heard in my own head this is too big. You’ll become another desolate concrete wasteland. So I took it and put it away. Every so often I would hear the call of that dream and pull out the paper, look at it….and then put it away again. Throughout the years I would hear a story about a man named Ezekiel who stood before a group of bodies…that just existed…no life in them…no breath. As it goes on, there is a conversation between Ezekiel and God. In the conversation God breathes life into these people, restoring hope to them.
Always remembering that there are people that are just existing. People that have lost hope and are trying to just survive for another day. Whether by choice, situation, or society…everyone deserves to know that there is hope, no matter the situation. I began to think what could I do as one person?
In 2004, driving through the streets of “rougher” neighborhood in MD, watching the children play in the streets, I decided I was going to contact a group of friends and start collecting toys. No plan, no idea what to do. I just knew I would collect toys and see what happened. Weeks before Christmas, my office looked like Santa’s workshop. Hundreds of toys, bikes, giant stuffed animals….all filled my office. We decided we would pack up the toys and head to a neighborhood unannounced and simply knock on doors and hand out toys. So that’s what we did. Along with Santa we began handing out toys to children that came running from everywhere. A mother stopped me and said, “Who are you and why are you doing this?” I simply said, “We’re just a group of folks that want you to know you are loved and not forgotten…and more so…by a God that is crazy about you.” She smiled, hugged me and walked away with her daughter in tow along with her new Barbie. (Mind you, come to find out through the elated shrills of the little girl, it was the very Barbie she had asked for in her letter to Santa).
Again, I pulled out the paper from that day in the parking lot. I heard again, you’ll become another desolate concrete wasteland. This time…it was others telling me this. So…once again…I put it away. All the while knowing that these same people were still walking around, just existing. After watching enough people wander around in circles, and then finding myself falling into that trap as well, I decided…its time. Time to tell the voices of the wasteland to be quiet and for me to begin living and not just existing. I decided that others need to know that they could do the same. That God had created each of us for so much more.