Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Seth Update

Greetings All,

The latest on Seth is that as of this morning, the latest MRI shows no change, which means there is still swelling around the Coccyx, which is as I understand it the lowest part of the spine. More importantly, there is still no feeling in his legs. The doctors have yet to discuss with us anything specific about the present condition of the spine.
So, please keep remembering Seth and praying for him. I know it is different for us, Seth's family. For us the intensity is naturally constant and consuming. But as much as you all can, we appreciate you keeping the prayers for Seth rising like incense before the Father's throne. I know God hears.
For those of you who were sent information about the Caring Bridge, it is now accessible for everyone. There seems to be a problem with the signing in requirements, so when we get that working properly, we will let you all know the password stuff. As of right now, though, you can go to http://www.caringbridge.org/, type in sethandrewjackson, and that will take you to Seth's website. It has just been started, so there isn't much on it right now, but you can leave comments and encouragements for Seth.
Please also pray for me as I travel up to the hospital tomorrow. First of all that God gives me wisdom in talking with Seth as he is now asking when are his legs going to get feeling again. Also, for safety, as on our way home to Cedar Rapids last Sunday we hit a deer (or more accurately the deer hit us). Thank God no one (except for the deer) was hurt and the van is still drivable. Our Windstar just has a more interesting driver's side which looks like someone kept running into it with one of those little "Smart" cars. Oh well, we now have no problem identifying our van from all the other ones in the Walmart parking lot.
Also, please pray for Jackie and I to find some more work. Jackie's employer (a security agency) wasn't happy about her staying longer at the hospital last week, so she was forced to resign Monday when she went back to work. She still has a part time cafeteria job at the Toyota Center here in Cedar Rapids, but obviously she and/or I need to find something to replace the income before serious problems happen financially. (This would be a real good time for a good church to get real interested in me becoming their pastor, or maybe God is telling me it is time to get on with starting a new church. In the present circumstances, the only thing that seems clearly ruled out is returning to mission in Croatia. Oprostite, Hrvatski prijatejli.)
Again, thank you all for your prayers. So many people who we do not even know have let us know they and their circles of friends are praying. What a great big wonderful family of God! While it is in times like ours that this unity of the Holy Spirit is cherished, it is a real unity that exists all the time, everywhere, and forever.
In Christ's Peace,
Will and Jackie Jackson

Friday, March 27, 2009

My Little Boy

Here I sit typing this blog entry in a contorted attempt to deal with my devastated heart. My ten year old son lies in a hospital bed in the intensive care unit of Gillette Children's hospital because of a very hopeful surgery having gone so terribly wrong. In what was to have been the final installment in a series of surgeries to enable Seth to walk as well as everyone else, instead it looks as though all ability to walk has been robbed from him.

The surgeon has no idea what went wrong. The surgery went perfect, he says. Everything was ideal. Yet, for some totally terrible reason unknown to anyone but God, feeling has not returned to his legs as it should have a few hours after surgery. It is now going on 72 hours without any feeling returning, and the surgeon is now speaking the unspeakable, that we should begin treating this as a permanent condition. Instead of a spinal cord correction, we now are dealing with a spinal cord "injury."

Oh the flood of feelings right now. Do I claim a strong faith that God will intervene and restore feeling to Seth's legs, that the doctors are wrong in their assessments? I've pounded the wall of the shower as my tears ran down with the water, crying out to God, "No! No! No!" Is this denial of the inevitable, or a plea that God hears and answers. A bruised reed God will not break, Isaiah says. What about a bruised ten year boy whose only mistake was to trust that his parents and doctors were doing something good for him?

I am overwhelmed with grief, grief for my son, for my wife, for myself. Yet, do I dare believe the miraculous can happen? I believe God can, but do I dare believe God will actually do something amazing here. Obviously, I desperately want God to give my son feeling in his legs and the ability to walk again. I don't know what to hope for, what to claim in faith for my son. Is what I want something God will honor, or must I again submit to the mystery of God's will? Perhaps the best I can do is humbly submit to what God wants, but at least approach God with open hands ready to receive a desperately desired gift.

I know God will do something marvelous - ultimately! I know that somehow out of this will come great glory for God. Of these things I am sure. But how and in what way I don't know. Right now, all I know is that my little boy is hurt real bad, and that he trusted me for the best when he went into this surgery. Right now, all I know is that I can only cry out to God in anguish, as so many other parents have in similar situations. All those "Bible stories" about fathers and mothers coming to Jesus and crying out to Him to heal their children are so much more than interesting lessons with nuanced meanings in Greek and Aramaic. They are raw human reality slashing through my heart like a double-edged sword. They are the fire of the Holy Spirit searing my innermost soul. I too come to Jesus in sheer desperation and cast myself down at His feet to plead for my son to rise up and walk.

God have mercy. Christ have mercy. God have mercy on my little boy!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

A Ministry Fondly Remembered (And Lessons Learned)

Perhaps this is a sign of aging, but lately I have been recalling some of my more enjoyable times of service as a pastor. A ministry I am especially fond of is the Cortland-Chenango Rural Services, a community self-development organization for the poor residents of a predominantly rural area about 60 miles southeast of Syracuse, New York. This grew out of an outreach initiative of the United Presbyterian Church of Cincinnatus, New York in 1987.
When I came in the spring of 1986 to serve as the pastor of this thriving little church in a breath-taking picturesque Appalachian valley, I was quite unprepared for the abject poverty afflicting so many people in this area. We are not just talking about low income! We’re talking about people with dirt floors in drafty shacks, little knowledge of basic health issues, pervasive tooth decay, undernourished infants, little or no reading ability making it impossible to fill out a job application, and no reliable transportation to get to a job. Most of this population eked out a living by cutting, selling, and using firewood. I even met people in their late 90’s who had never been further than a few miles outside the valley.
I really never had a plan for developing the Cortland-Chenango Rural Services. It was a ministry opportunity that was obvious and demanded my response. I discussed this problem with people in my congregation who knew the area far better than me. They and the local school officials were helpful in developing an understanding of the obstacles involved. I also networked with as many community leaders (both informal and official) as possible. After a year of getting to know the people, area, and culture, I asked several concerned individuals to sponsor a “Business Forum,” to be held as the outreach segment of a renewal week planned at the Presbyterian church. At this gathering I simply focused on the local poverty issues and opened discussion for sharing ideas on what we could do to make life better for the severely impoverished in our valley.
My wife, Jackie, and I were able to add to the discussion our personal relationships and experiences with this population. Most of the local pastors, including me, had some of severely poor in their congregations. In my case, I had become good friends with some of the “backwoods” men, which was significant because these men considered male ministers to be “sissy” and believed church was primarily for women. Jackie knew poor families through going into their homes to help people work on getting their GED and assisting young mothers in the basic care for their babies and young children.
To telescope the process, the “Business Forum” led to a series of community discussions which grew to include all the churches (even the local fundamentalist Baptist church) and community leaders. Ideas were developed for addressing basic parenting needs, educational help, personal skills development, and marketing native crafts. A local funeral director and his wife were able to communicate the exciting possibilities of this ministry opportunity to their regional church leaders, which led to the Roman Catholic Diocese of Binghamton, New York giving us a grant for the first three years of operation. The most significant contribution, however, was the willingness of three sisters of the order of St. Joseph to come live in the valley and develop this ministry to the rural poor, which late 1987 became known as the Cortland-Chenango Rural Services.
The ministry continued to be ecumenical and community-based, with the headquarters located initially in the Catholic church building. Within three years we expanded to two buildings where a number of ministries were offered: family counseling, basic skills development, reading classes, marketing workshops for local products such as maple syrup, crafts, and firewood. A twentyfive acre field was donated, which was divided into parcels for local poor families to grow gardens. It became known as “the field of dreams.”
I led and spearheaded this ministry until the three sisters felt they knew the area well enough, and a strong community board had been formed. Naturally, as pastor of the Presbyterian church I had encouraged people in the congregation to find places of ministry and leadership, which included some working with the Rural Services. The particular issues (which are related) the Presbyterian church became particularly involved with was addictions and families in crisis. We developed a strong AA group (led by members of the church who were just beginning to face their own alcoholism), and our Christian growth small groups typically had a few members who were wrestling with drug addiction. Our announcements in worship included such things as “Brian has been clean from cocaine for three months now” with applause following. The local fundamentalist Baptist pastor even started sending his “troubled” members to the Presbyterian church, telling them “They fix broken people at that church.” Certainly, this remains one of the best compliments to any ministry of which I have been a part.
In the fall of 1987 I was invited to participate in a group advising then Governour Mario Cuomo on rural issues in New York state. While this was a nice honor, and was fun to get free trips to Albany, the closest I ever got to the governour was almost crashing into him when we were leaving one of our “advisory” meetings (where he did 98 percent of the talking).
Not everything I’ve tried to do has come together as nicely, worked as well, and been as long lasting as the Cortland-Chenango Rural Services. Just ask Rev. Michael Romero (now executive pastor at Desert Son Community Church in Tucson, AZ) about our attempt (in Denver, Colorado) to develop “GraceTech,” a ministry to help people have access to low cost training for computer careers. We tried to do too much too soon with too little support (although we still had lots of fun even in failure). However, my basic premises in how to approach any ministry are similar. I seek God’s call to a situation, trust God’s leading, come into the situation being open to the Spirit’s guidance, assess the needs, set my objectives, learn the culture, network like crazy, find and encourage emerging leaders, develop equipping structures to reinforce present ministries and promote the development of new ones.
One thing I have learned both through doing it right sometimes and wrong other times, is to concentrate on two basic resources before attempting or continuing a ministry. The first is to have the core group of people who are called and passionate about the endeavor before them. It is critical to find this group and do adequate preparatory work on the relationships before engaging in the challenges and stresses of developing the ministry, whatever it may be. The second resource comes out of the first, the finances and skills needed to accomplish the goals of the ministry. These are obtained through a number of ways, but primary to their effectiveness is the work of the people who are committed to the ministry. It is their diligence, passion, and risks that inspire others to give to a ministry project, sometimes even inspiring others to give themselves to the project (as God so leads, of course).