Seeking Goodness

It was 2011 and I had just moved back to Midland after graduating from the University of Alabama (Roll Tide!). The oil business was booming and I reluctantly returned to my hometown for what I thought would be a short time to start my career. Several months later, I was at the swimming pool with a friend and a little boy came over and wanted to play catch with us. That seemingly small moment was a spark in what has been an incredible series of God ordained events that have led my life in a direction I never saw coming.

 

After a while, the little boy’s dad came over to talk with me and invited me to a young professionals Sunday school class that was starting up at First Baptist Midland. A few weeks later I decided to go check it out, and I could have never imagined what was to come. I got plugged in with a men’s Bible study and a hunger for God began to take root. Soon after, I met a girl named Briana in Sunday school that had dogs and we started getting to know each other better while letting our dogs play together at the dog park.

 

Fast forward a few months and I invited Briana to join me and a group of friends for a camping trip to Fort Davis. She agreed to come and I was excited. I didn’t realize that the temperatures would dip into the 20s that night but she never complained once. That’s when I realized that I had found a woman that could put up with me.

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I finally mustered the courage to ask her to be my girlfriend and it soon became apparent that our feelings for each other were a gift from the Lord. We started talking about marriage 3 weeks in to our official relationship but decided to date for at least 6 months so people wouldn’t say we were rushing into things.

 

Briana changed jobs and one of her new coworkers was involved in homeless ministry.  We were invited to come check it out and I went with very little knowledge or understanding of homelessness. I only knew what I had heard which was mostly the typical generalizations about those that live on the streets. The first day we volunteered with the homeless, God began to open my eyes to see that homelessness cannot be accurately understood by stereotypes.  Hearing the stories of people experiencing homelessness absolutely broke my heart and simultaneously grabbed hold of it.

 

We married in 2013 and continued our service to the homeless on a weekly volunteer basis.  The relationships we built with the homeless in Midland began to draw us deeper and we continually wanted to give more of ourselves to those in need.

 

I was asked to serve on the Board of Directors for a local homeless ministry in 2015 and during my term I was made aware of a place in Austin called Community First! Village, a 27-acre master planned tiny home village designed to lift people off the streets and walk alongside them in community. This unique place was developed by Alan Graham and his organization, Mobile Loaves and Fishes. I thought it was an amazing concept but never imagined how much it would end up affecting my life.

That same year, Briana gave birth to our daughter Truma Pearl. Truma is a firecracker and has brought us so much joy. Having a child has helped us to understand God’s love for us in a deeper way and caused us to take an inward look at our lives. Our desire is to raise Truma to value and serve all people; that each person is a masterpiece created by God. We want her to grow up in a very intentional and servant hearted home.

 

In May 2016 I signed up for the Symposium for Goodness Sake, a 3-day crash course in the innovative and loving approach to homelessness at Community First! Village. It was unlike anything I had ever witnessed. Talking with the residents that had been lifted off the streets, I noticed a common thread; they were all thankful for the opportunity to serve others. That just blew my mind and I began to envision my friends on the streets of Midland having a place like that to call home; a place to help restore their dignity and give them an opportunity to serve others too.

 

We developed relationships with a few staff members at Community First! and I was informed about the Community Corps missional volunteer training program. It sounded like a cool idea but never thought it would be something that we would be able to do as a family. Four months of living and serving at the village while learning about the Community First! model seemed like a fantasy. I had a career and deep roots in Midland and I had been chasing after the American Dream but God had other plans. We were accepted into the program and through an incredible series of events, we received complete peace and confirmation that God was calling us to say yes.

 

From January through April of 2017, we will be living and working alongside the people of Community First! Village. I will be serving in Property Management, learning the ins and outs of community operations. Briana and Truma will be serving in Resident Care, helping people to transition from life on the streets into community. More than our serve duties, we are certain that the relationships we will develop during our time in Austin will change our hearts forever.

 

Our lives have been upended in the best possible way. We feel a sense of excitement but there are also moments where the uncertainty of our future feels daunting. While we cannot say with certainty what comes after our time at Community First!, we can share that our desire is to bring a village modeled after Community First! to Midland. We have already begun to visualize the impact a village would have here, and God willing, we will return from Austin to begin the process of building a community for our friends who live on the streets of Midland. We are selling our home, leaving our careers, and stepping out into the unknown, doing our very best to trust God completely.

 

We have decided to pursue the formation of a nonprofit tentatively called The Field’s Edge, after Leviticus 23:22: “When you reap the harvest of your land, moreover, you shall not reap to the very corners of your field nor gather the gleaning of your harvest; you are to leave them for the needy and the alien. I am the LORD your God." The verse speaks to our hearts and reminds us that our blessings are meant to be used in service to our neighbors. The name will not be official until the State approves, but we hope that happens in the next few weeks.

 

We feel that it is our responsibility as followers of Christ to care for the less fortunate; to remember the words of Christ from Matthew 25:40, “And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.” Being saved by the amazing grace of God, we are called to sacrificial service in order to point towards the radical love Christ displayed for us on the cross.

 

We also want to emulate the motto of Community First!, “empowering people into a lifestyle of service with the homeless”. The CEO of Mobile Loaves and Fishes, Alan Graham, said “Housing will not solve homelessness, but community will.”  We envision our village to not only be a place of refuge for the formerly homeless, but a place that brings all of the members of our community together to love and serve each other as Christ came to love and serve us.

 

By the time we leave for the program, we will have lifted 2 of our homeless friends off the streets and into RVs with the help of another local organization.  Our plan is to live alongside them in our RV upon our return. We are praying that God provides land for us to begin this community as soon as we get back. It will begin with 3 RVs, 2 formerly homeless men, and a family called to service. God is faithful and we trust that His design will be far more than we can dream or imagine.  We are stepping out in faith and obedience; seeking goodness.

-John-Mark