Posts

5 Ways to Support Church Planting

If you’ve spent any time at Clear Creek Community Church you’ve probably noticed the commitment to launching new campuses and building new buildings. For some people, this is confusing. Why put forth so much effort and time and money just so people don’t have to drive as far to go to church? It’s a valid question, but one Clear Creek leaders answered a long time ago.

The mission of Clear Creek is to lead unchurched people to become fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ.

There a few problems this mission focuses on. One is that the church’s aim is to reach unchurched people. Unchurched is, as you might surmise, defined as people who do not go to church. The second problem being addressed in this statement is to lead people to full devotion to Jesus. It’s not just about a decision or a good attendance record, but the heart and soul of a person. Clear Creek is intent on walking with people for the long haul.

Alright so, why the multi-campus approach?

Well, Clear Creek seeks not only to be a place people can come on the weekends to worship Jesus, but a community of believers that never turns off.

So, the strategy became creating opportunities; opportunities to come to church at a convenient location, where a family wouldn’t have to drive across town just to get to church; opportunities to join a small group in your own neighborhood; opportunities to be part of a visible impact in the surrounding area by meeting needs, showing support, and caring for people.

But what if we could see that happen, not just southeast of Houston, but beyond? What if we could see that same strategy for expansion all over the world?

I have good news: we can and we are!

On top of its commitment to reach the 4B Area (from the beltway to the beach, from the bay to Brazoria County) Clear Creek Community Church is committed to planting new churches.

In fact, Clear Creek has been directly involved in planting over 50 churches throughout greater Houston in the last 10 years in partnership with an organization it started for just such work, the Houston Church Planting Network (HCPN).

Clear Creek started HCPN to help train church planters as well as partner with other churches in the city that had a heart for church planting.

But maybe you have the same questions about planting churches as some people do about Clear Creek’s multi-campus strategy. You should know, Clear Creek’s commitment is to be a church that is committed to the great commission. To learn more about why Clear Creek plants churches, read the article “Why Plant Churches?” by Tim Keller.

But, this isn’t just something other people are doing, it’s something you can take part in as well.

Here are 5 ways you can personally support church planting:

1. Pick

Clear Creek works with a large number of church planters here in Houston and around the world. Consider picking one out to learn more about and discover ways to engage with the church planter and the new church. Read more about some of our current church planters we are working alongside here: 2020-2021 cohorts & 2019-2020 finishing residents.

2. Pray

After you pick a church planter to support, consider making them a regular part of your prayer life. Most church planters send out a regular church plant update with prayer requests. You can get on the distribution list for one of these planters so you know how to pray specifically for their church.

3. Partner

One of the greatest tangible needs of a church plant is resources to help get the new church launched. Consider coming alongside a church plant with a special gift or becoming a monthly supporter for a season. This greatly helps a church that is reaching new people with the gospel as it often could take multiple years for a new church to become financially self-sustaining.

Not sure of a specific plant to help support? Consider giving to the Clear Creek First Gifts Church Planting & Mission Fund (link to giving fund on clearcreek.org) which helps support church planters in Houston and around the world.

4. Promote 

A key component of church planting is meeting people. The church planter is always looking to meet new people and find ways to get word out about the new plant. Consider promoting the church to people you may know who live in that specific area, especially those that don’t know Jesus. Your social media promotion or call to a friend could go a long way in helping the plant form a community.

5. Participate

Consider actively participating in a new church plant. You could be part of a new church plant team. You could attend for a season, perhaps the first 6-12 months of a new church to help get it off the ground. Some people have gifts that would be especially helpful in the start-up stage.

Maybe it’s just showing up to serve on Sunday’s for a season to assist in a specific Sunday ministry area such as set-up and teardown, children’s ministry, or the worship team. It takes time for new plant to identify and develop people who will serve.

 

To advance the kingdom of God in our area and around the globe, church planting is vital. Grow your heart for church planting by getting involved with the church planting work here at Clear Creek Community Church.

If you’d like to get connected to any Houston church planters you can contact Chad Clarkson (cclarkson@clearcreek.org) or to find out more about some of our global church planters contact Kari Wilson (kwilson@clearcreek.org).


 

5 Ways to Love Teachers

Teaching is one of the most stressful jobs in the best of times. Teachers have to meet high expectations, often provide their own supplies, work early, and stay late. They love and counsel kids in addition to instructing them.

 

The restrictions and changes wrought by the pandemic have created an even more challenging and stressful environment for teachers. Many feel overwhelmed and under-supported. Class lists and rules are constantly changing, they are expected to fill even more roles, and many end up staying up late each night just to figure out how to adequately serve their students and meet expectations.

 

Teachers love what they do, but many are hurting, discouraged, and tired, especially right now. So, how can we come alongside them? How can we show them the patience and love of Christ when they are struggling?

 

I spoke with some of our teachers and they shared a few ways we can love and serve the teachers in our community today:

 

  1. Empathize

 

Teachers are trying to stay positive and make the best out of challenging circumstances, but things really are difficult and your empathy can go a long way. Know they are working more than they ever have, and believe that they care about your kids more than they can say. A simple way to show you understand their situation is to keep your kids at home if they are sick. Many teachers are worried about their own health, and showing them that you understand and appreciate their position is a simple and powerful display of empathy.

 

  1. Support

 

Teachers can always use help with school supplies, but right now that need is even greater. Ask your teachers if they have a wish list and then send them something with a supportive note. If you don’t have children in school, call a Title 1 school and find out what their needs are right now. Many schools and teachers are constantly running low on PPE and other pandemic supplies like hand sanitizer and Ziploc bags. Sending these necessities can ease one burden your teacher is facing this week.

 

  1. Stay Positive

 

Whether you are a parent, teacher, or  student, there is no doubt you will experience your own disappointment this fall. However, despite your frustrations, please do not post negative comments on social media. Before you post, or send an email, take time to think about the content and your tone. An angry or accusatory email can truly ruin a teacher’s week. It is always okay to try to make changes or ask for clarification, but just be careful and kind with your words.

 

  1. Encourage

 

Sharing a little love and appreciation will always encourage your teachers, and there are so many ways to do it. You can show your appreciation for their hard work by sending a coffee or lunch. Or maybe craft a quick email to acknowledge who they are and the great job they are doing. Little things matter: cookies, flowers, cards, or simply an encouraging word can change your teacher’s day.

 

  1. Pray

 

Teachers need our prayers now more than ever, so let’s cover them with constant prayer. Let’s pray for their safety and health. Let’s pray that they can find joy in their work. Let’s pray that they will learn to give themselves grace when they make mistakes and cannot do it all. Let’s pray that they find time for rest and fun. Let’s pray that they would know Jesus and rely on him now as they never have before.

 

 

Father, would you help us to love and serve our teachers well. We pray that they experience your love and protection during this season through our church community. We pray that they remember why they love to teach and that it would sustain them when teaching is really difficult. We also pray that they would be surrounded by encouragement and support as they navigate these uncertain and stressful times. Open our eyes to see opportunities to love and serve them daily. We pray that they would experience your presence and your peace, and find rest in your Son.

 

**Thank you to teachers, Sarah Paulk, Jennefer Arrington, Kirstyn Bullington, and Dalena Ryskoski for their contributions to this article.

CCStories

Being the Church

As far as Josh Fasske knew, it was going to be another long and cold work night driving around the greater League City area.

The last few days had passed like a whirlwind for him and his wife, Brittani, owners of Grand Slam Plumbing, a small business they started in 2017. As Winter Storm Uri wreaked havoc in League City, Josh and his small crew worked long days and nights and even into the early hours of the morning to restore running water to their customers.

They were already slammed just a few days into the storm, and Josh was exhausted physically and mentally. Not only was he working around the clock to help panicked customers, but he and his wife and young children were displaced from their apartment as their building went without electricity and running water.

It was on such a night the week of the storm that Josh received a welcome surprise from fellow church member, Vijay Rajaji.

“I was at a job in Seabrook,” Josh recalled. “When Vijay got there, he sent me a text that said ‘Hey, come outside.’ I saw it and thought he sent it to the wrong person, so I called him. He said ‘Hey, come outside. I’ve got something for you.’”

Vijay had brought Josh food.

“Not just food,” Josh said, “it was a warm meal, which I wasn’t getting a whole lot of.”

Before Vijay left, he told Josh, “If you’re out and about, I’m going to be out and about. However long you’re doing this, I’m going to be bringing you food every night.”

And Vijay kept his promise.

 

***

 

Years ago, Sonia and Vijay Rajaji experienced one of the most traumatic events of their lives. Their first child, Maya, was born premature, just shy of 26 weeks gestation. She spent the next three-and-a-half months in the NICU and the remainder of her first year at home under strict guidelines in order to avoid any communicable illnesses.

Sonia and Vijay were fairly new believers attending Clear Creek Community Church. Neither had been raised in families that invited other people into their personal lives, but this new church life was challenging all that they understood about community. For five months, the people of Clear Creek — a few friends, but mostly strangers — brought meals to the Rajajis three times a week in order to serve them and help them get through that tough season.

“I thought we didn’t need it,” Sonia recalled. “I didn’t understand how meals help. After I came out of that season and out of the shock, I realized this is what church family is all about. This is about serving people even when they don’t think they need it. And it’s hard to take help.”

“That was the thing that really changed me,” Vijay added. “When you’re a new believer, you pick up everything by osmosis. You say what people say, you do what people do, and you think that’s the baseline. And so, because we were so new, my expectation became if you’re going through something, the church takes care of you, period. That’s just the expectation.”

Maya thrived, and Sonia and Vijay continued growing in their faith at Clear Creek. Later, they took the Financial Peace University course in order to gain a better understanding of how to get out of debt as well as how to honor God with their financial resources.

“One of the things that came out of that for us was creating a line item in our budget for generosity,” Sonia said.  “When we have it in our budget, it gives us freedom to be generous. God has given us all this financial security. So, part of our responsibility as believers is to show people his love.”

As the years have passed, the Rajajis have given help to many church members and those outside the church in an effort to show God’s love. They’ve also received help many times from their church family and have had to learn over and over again to accept help.

“We just make people take our help,” she laughed. “We [have been] served so well that we can’t say ‘no’ to people when they say, ‘Can we help you?’”

The week of the winter storm, Sonia had been praying specifically for a way to serve someone “over the course of time.” When she saw a Facebook post Brittani Fasske made one late night about delivering dinner to her husband who was out repairing customer’s pipes, she knew God was leading them to serve the Fasskes in a specific way.

“A lot of times people don’t know what they need,” Sonia said. She and Vijay had known the Fasskes as acquaintances through church, having served together at different times through the years. She knew they had two young children, they ran their business from home, that they were currently displaced from their home and normal routine, and she saw that Josh was working a crazy amount of hours doing a very necessary job in a moment of crisis. Their need became clear.

“We can work this into our schedule easily,” she realized. “We can do this as long as we need to because he needs to eat!”

Vijay was totally on board.

 

***

 

Brittani excitedly answered the phone when her husband called that night. She knew Vijay would have delivered the meal by now, as she had secretly helped by giving Vijay the address where Josh was working that night.

“I could tell he was emotional so that made me emotional,” she said.

“It just made me feel pretty special and important that they would take time out of their day to bring me food, which seems like something pretty small,” Josh said. “But when you’re working that much and not seeing your family, it’s actually something really huge. It really made me feel loved and taken care of.”

Josh also expressed the importance of being appreciated for his hard work in an extreme season.

“A lot of times, working a lot of hours and irregular days in plumbing just seems normal,” Josh said. “Plumbing problems happen all the time, so it really becomes a normal thing that people don’t really think about. But when a natural disaster happens, long hours really get pushed to the extreme. A lot of times it goes unnoticed. But for somebody to realize, He’s away from his family. He’s not getting a good meal at night. For them to see that need and come running to help me out was really cool.”

The friends took notice.

“They said, ‘That’s the kind of church I want to be part of. That’s the kind of love a church should show to their church family,’” recalled Brittani.

Once over the course of serving Josh, Vijay and his son, Samir, were able to also take a meal to one of Josh’s employees who was on a job with him. The man was dumbfounded by Vijay’s generosity.

“Seeing him ask questions like Why are you doing this for me? was so awesome,” Vijay recalled. “I have been praying that I will get to see him at church someday, his life changed.”

And it was not lost on Vijay that his son got to witness the exchange.

“We hope that by the way we live our lives our children see how you love people,” said Vijay.

“Being the church” was a theme that had the greatest impact on Josh during his chaotic work season.

“We want people to see the difference of a church that takes care of each other… and helps any way they can,” Josh said. “The people don’t just go to church; they go out and they are the church.”

“When a community is in need, our church and community steps up,” Brittani added. “It’s just like This isn’t a burden for us. This is my way to serve you. And they do it with an open heart and open mind. I always feel proud to be part of our community and our church.”

 

***

 

Sonia and Vijay continued to serve the Fasske family for another two months. Both families made it clear that serving is not just about being on the giving or receiving end — everyone benefits from service and generosity because it is simply an expression of God’s abundant love for his people.

“At first I thought I didn’t want to inconvenience anybody from taking time out of their day, even though it was a nice thought,” said Josh. “But I remembered back to when we were in a small group with Aaron Lutz. He once said, ‘You don’t want to take away somebody’s opportunity to serve you because it might be a next step of growth for them.’”

That “next step of growth” can be something life-changing or just another small way that God molds us further into the likeness of Christ – the one who has served us most generously. Sonia emphasized the importance of serving as a way to take the focus off ourselves to see others more clearly, the way God sees us.

“When we are serving others,” Sonia said, “it helps us grow in our devotion to God. This is one of the things we can do to try to diminish our selfishness and serve somebody else without expecting anything in return.”


 

Serving in the Church: The Rachel Chester Story

“The thing is, even when volunteering doesn’t end up being the perfect fit, it is still a gift to serve Jesus and his people in any way. God is always, always, faithful to us when we walk through doors he opens.”

As told by Rachel Chester

Once upon a time I went to law school.

I had always known that this was the plan; this is what I was going to do. I really liked law school. I did well, and so I was recruited by some big law firms who offered some big salaries.

When I actually started practicing law, however, I realized that aptitude and vocation aren’t necessarily the same. I just didn’t feel like I was a part of something that matters. Eventually, I walked away from my legal job and decided to reevaluate my career path while my husband and I started our family.

A couple of years later, while staying home with my kids, I increasingly felt God was calling me into ministry. That felt strange to say, and sometimes still does. After all, what does that even mean? How did I know? Well, I didn’t have a lot of answers. All I knew was that the church, the body of Christ, and theology was all I thought about.

But, I am a woman, and honestly, I didn’t know what the possibilities were. I was not looking to become the next Beth Moore (as if I could), and outside of that, I didn’t know what it meant to be a woman and be in ministry.

So when I heard Bruce talking about developing a marriage and family ministry with counselors, I immediately thought, This! This is something I can do! This is a way to love and serve people and use the gifts God has given me for something that really matters.

I applied and began taking classes at Dallas Theological Seminary in the biblical counseling department. I loved every second of it. I loved learning more about theology and counseling, but the thought of actually getting my license and counseling clients all day began to make me nervous.

All the time I was surer of God’s call to be in ministry, but less sure of what exactly that was supposed to look like. The closer I got to finishing, the more frustrating this became. The truth was, I just wasn’t sure I would be good at counseling, despite my belief in the importance of Christian counseling and the insights the program was teaching me.

About a year ago, I asked one of our pastors to help me think through what ministry could look like for me. And, boy, did he! He made me list my gifts and strengths on his whiteboard and then sat down with me to discuss what this meant I should pursue. While we were talking, he described a position the church might need someone for eventually: a person who would manage content that the church was putting out. For instance, every article someone wrote for the church would go through this person. I honestly remember thinking, I hope he’s not looking at me right now because that seriously sounds like the worst. I don’t want to manage anything, but definitely not documents other people are putting together. Yuck, boring, and no. He moved on quickly and I forgot about it. It was a generous, intentional conversation and I was grateful for his time.

I thought that was that.

But it was just the beginning.

A couple of days later, I got an email from another one of our pastors saying he’d heard I might be interested in volunteering and that he had some ideas of how I could help.

So, I went in to meet with him, and he talked to me about this new ministry they were kicking off called Clear Creek Resources. Their hope was to have different types of resources available so that church at Clear Creek was more than just a conversation on Sunday; it would be a conversation that continued throughout the entire week and involved current events, deeper theological dives, marriage, family, devotionals – every aspect of our lives!

He said he needed help getting articles and podcasts going. It still seemed like a weird fit for me, more like organization (which I am terrible at), but, I said I would give it a try. I had decided a few years ago that when God opened a door, I would walk through it, regardless of whether I felt equipped for that particular door or not.

So, I did.

I did the best I could to generate ideas for podcasts and articles, to find people around the church who would lend their gifts, expertise, and stories for the benefit of the church, and to think of new ways to serve our church through this ministry. I wrote a few articles myself and was convinced to start hosting podcasts too, despite my hesitation.

It turns out, the door God opened was a really great fit. It was not easy immediately. It took patience and humility and second starts, but soon enough I realized that God had known where I was going even when I felt like I was walking blind.

So much of how God created me, the gifts he has given me, the experiences of my life, even my varied education, have equipped me for this particular ministry. Clear Creek Resources is everything I am passionate about: celebrating the beautiful diversity of Jesus’s church, collaboration and relationship between devoted believers, deep discipleship that affects every aspect of life, and compelling engagement with the world in the name of Jesus. I love that I get to work with so many people, I love encouraging others to use their gifts, and I love being a small part of something that builds the kingdom of Jesus.

I’m still learning. I’m still trying to find my way as I serve my family and our King. But serving in Clear Creek Resources is a great gift and I’m so glad I said “yes.” I am grateful to be part of this team, and even more, I am grateful for God’s abundant personal care and faithfulness in my life.

The thing is, even when volunteering doesn’t end up being the perfect fit, it is still a gift to serve Jesus and his people in any way. God is always, always, faithful to us when we walk through doors he opens.

I also serve in First Impressions – I have for many years now – and it still is not a perfect fit for me. I get nervous about meeting strangers, I’m not great at remembering names, and I’m pretty introverted. But, the people I serve with are great friends – family even – whom I treasure walking through life with. I love serving with them, and I also love that I get to see every person’s face who walks in the door to worship.

The fact that I’m not necessarily great at it?

Well, it’s just a reminder that God’s strength is made perfect in my weakness; that when I surrender to him and serve despite my shortcomings, he will use my meager offerings for his glory and the good of others, because of who he is, not because of who I am.

That’s what serving really is at the end of the day: an opportunity. An opportunity to play a small role in what he is doing; to surrender to him and then watch him work; where everything, our gifts and our weakness, are used as part of his great story.


God uses us all in different ways.

How can God use you to serve in the church?

Go to https://www.clearcreek.org/next-steps/serve/ to check out all of the serving opportunities.

You can also follow @clearcreekresources on Facebook and Instagram!

Air Support

If you want to join the ongoing Hurricane Laura relief effort, visit clearcreek.org/disasterresponse to find more information and ways to get involved.


“I think God was telling me, ‘Hey, you have the ability, and you have the resources. You need to go do something.’”

– John Williams

On Sundays that aren’t in the midst of a global pandemic, you might find John Williams behind a camera during services at Clear Creek Community Church’s Egret Bay Campus.

Last Sunday, he was behind a different kind of service: helping deliver over 4,000 pounds of supplies to the people of Westlake in the wake of Hurricane Laura… via airplane.

 

 

 

 

John, a former Air Force pilot, co-owns and operates Flying Tigers Flight School at Ellington Airport, and says he got the idea on his way to work last week.

“I remember after Harvey, all the Cajun Navy guys showed up to help us out,” John said. “I’m driving to work, and I’m like, I’ve got nine airplanes. How about I load ‘em up and take them some stuff?

So, John and a few friends blasted out a request for supplies on Facebook, Instagram, and Nextdoor. And then the donations started coming in.

“Those donations came in from total strangers,” John said. “Random people would show up, and just be like, ‘I don’t know you, but here’s some stuff.’ People just came out of everywhere.”

A friend of a friend even got John connected to a lady who had volunteered to set up a distribution center for supplies and aid in Westlake and the surrounding area near Lake Charles.

On Sunday morning, John, his friend and neighbor, Warren, and flight instructors from Flying Tigers loaded up the five available planes, and flew the cargo to Westlake.

“When we got there, they met us with pickup trucks,” John said. “By the next day it was all delivered, it was all handed out. They said it was gone.”

But that wasn’t all.

While John and his team were there, they asked if there was anything else they could do to help.

“She said, ‘People haven’t had a hot meal here in a week.’” John relayed. “So we decided we’re going to do a little hot meal coming up this Saturday, the twelfth. It started as this small conversation, and then my buddy Warren says, ‘You know, Jesus fed 5,000. Let’s do that.’ I said, ‘You’re crazy. That was Jesus.’ He said, ‘No, let’s do it.’ So bottom line, we’ve been planning all this week and we’re feeding 5,000 people on Saturday in Westlake.”

John and his army of cooks and volunteers will leave the planes in the hangar this time around, hauling 450 pounds of meat and 400 pounds of noodles down I-10 and preparing the meal on site.

“God provides everything we have. It’s all his. So how do we use his resources that he’s given us?”

– John Williams

If you want to join the ongoing Hurricane Laura relief effort, visit clearcreek.org/disasterresponse to find more information and ways to get involved.


 

4 Hours in Orange

Like many others in the League City area, Jason and Melissa Davidson kept close tabs on updates on Hurricane Laura as it prepared to make landfall last week.

The Davidsons, who live in Friendswood and attend Clear Creek Community Church’s West Campus, had experienced the horrors of Harvey three years ago (almost to the day), and were preparing again for what they knew no could ever really prepare for.

But that was all before Laura spun away from Galveston and crashed into the Texas-Louisiana border as a Category 4 hurricane.

The Davidsons were left feeling relieved for their own home, family, and community, but knew that just a few hours away people were hurting and would need help.

 

“I kept seeing all my old Facebook posts of our house under water,” Melissa said. “[During Harvey] we had all of these people show up at our house, and 80 percent of them I didn’t even know their name. I don’t know what we would’ve done without that. What a blessing it was for our family.”

“Whether it’s a hurricane and someone’s house has four feet of water in it, or it’s a tornado and their house is obliterated, for everybody it’s kind of the same feeling, like, Whoa! What I’ve known for so long is now gone, and, Who is going to help me get through this? knowing very well that you can’t do it on your own,” Jason said. “A lot of times there’s remorse of not being in a situation to help them. But this being a little closer to home makes it easier to do, and to give the resources that I do have.”

So at 5 a.m. on Sunday, August 30, the Davidsons, along with their two boys (ages 11 and 8) loaded up the car, and drove to meet a few other families from Clear Creek at the Chick-Fil-A on I-45 and El Dorado, and then headed out to go try to help where they could in Orange, TX.

Once they arrived in Orange, the Davidsons and the rest of their crew met up with a friend from a church in nearby Beaumont who set them to work removing trees and debris from the roads.

Because many homes are still without power, the removal of fallen tree debris is one of the biggest current needs in the community so that electricians and other specialists can get to where they need to go in order to do their work.

“For them this wasn’t a flooding event,” Jason said. “They had a ton of high wind, so they had a tremendous amount of tree damage. I mean, huge, huge trees just toppled over with the roots and everything.”

In total, the Davidsons and company spent about four hours working on a five-block stretch of road in one neighborhood, enduring hot sun and a short rain shower.

They hopped in the car around noon and headed home, exhausted, but glad to have gone.

“These are our neighbors as the Bible refers to them,” Melissa said. “It’s difficult to put into words what it’s like when someone does something for you in a sacrificial way – time, money, sweat. They do that for you, and they don’t even know you.”

“I’m not just going there to help clear a tree or help someone move a piece of furniture or something like that. But, hopefully in the area we’re going into, the people go, ‘Wait a minute, these people don’t even live here. They don’t have a stake in this community. But they came all the way out here to help.’” Jason added. “For me, I care less about how much work I actually get done, and more about am I potentially helping to change someone’s heart?”

(Swipe to see more photos →)

The Davidsons were adamant that the work is not finished in Orange, Lake Charles, and the surrounding area, and that the opportunity will remain open for the foreseeable future as those affected by Laura begin to move forward.

“Don’t think this is just going to be a one or two-week thing,” Melissa urged. “If you couldn’t make it out there last weekend or can’t this coming weekend, I guarantee you in five weeks there will still be work to do.”

If you want to get involved, visit clearcreek.org/disasterresponse for a list of opportunities to serve including trips with Eight Days of Hope, ways to pray and give, and a list of needed supplies and where you can drop them off.

“I don’t want anyone to ever feel like they don’t have a skillset that’s not good enough,” Melissa said. “We’re not electricians or contractors or anything like that. But we do have hands and when people break stuff down, we can shovel, we can sweep, and we can help carry it away. There’s always something you can do… if you’re willing to sweat.”

The Violin Boys: How Four Brothers are Spreading Joy Amidst COVID-19

It feels like the world has come to a screeching halt. People are stuck inside, left to mine the tumultuous caverns of social media and the bleak news on TV. Some without a source of income. Some with an ever-present fear of the virus making its way around the globe.

It’s scary.

It’s tedious.

It’s boring.

But, for four brothers on the west side of League City, it’s been an opportunity for them to use their gifts in a way they never expected.

“I told the boys I wanted them to do some kind of community service to help encourage people with everything that is going on,” Jennifer Keown said about her conversation with her four sons: Micah (15 years old) – a freshmen at Clear Springs High School – Caleb (12), Joshua (12) – who actually plays the viola – and Andrew (9).

The proposal: play violin driveway concerts for families in the community.

“They were agreeable to it,” Jennifer said. “But with teenage boys, you know, it can be hard.”

The boys felt a little shy about getting started, thinking most people probably wouldn’t want to listen to classical violin music, especially in the current state of things. So Jennifer posted about it on Facebook to gauge interest.

It didn’t take long for the responses to start rolling in.

“They were still unsure,” Jennifer said. “But then they actually played for people, and they started getting comments of just how thankful people were… And at the various places we would go, there might be other people we didn’t know who were around. You know, some neighbors, or some guys who were out mowing lawns or whatever that would end up listening to them, too. So that was kind of fun.”

They even got to play for a family friend with a daughter who has medical needs that put her in a high risk group for COVID-19. As a bonus, she is really interested in playing the violin.

The Keowns have now played at six different homes, and say they aren’t planning on stopping anytime soon.

“I just think it gives people a chance to see a familiar face, and someone smiling, and doing something besides thinking about this virus for just a few minutes,” Jennifer said. “So I think it’s just a way to spread joy, and to spread God’s love to other people. And to say, Hey, you don’t have to just sit at home and be afraid all the time. We can still do things that are fun and joyful and bring a smile to people’s faces.

“I think for kids, sometimes it’s harder for them. Because, even though they are kids, if they’re going to help somebody, they don’t want to do something that’s not actually helpful. I mean even real little kids, they realize the difference between doing something that’s actually helpful and doing something somebody says is helpful, because they’re a little kid.

“So, I think it’s been cool for the boys to be able to do something that’s actually brought joy to someone else. It’s real! It’s not something other people can easily do, because not everybody has that skillset. And so it’s been a good lesson for them, to just realize, Okay, I do have the ability to serve others in this. And it doesn’t have to look a certain way. It can be the thing that I’m good at.

After a day of playing violin in people’s driveways when they would have normally been at school or chosen to relax, Micah summed it all up in his own way.

“My oldest son always says, ‘Anytime Mom says, “Hey I’ve got a great idea!” that’s when you know it’s going to be a bad idea,’” Jennifer laughs. “But, on the way home, he said, ‘But this really was a great idea!’”

Take Up Your Pen: The Sarah Gadsby Story

 

 

 

You haven’t ventured too far off Baylor campus before noticing the tiny, ramshackle building on Speight Street that you’ve driven past countless times before. This time, amid its paint-chipped screen doors and fraying cream trim you register the shack’s invitation: a “Come In, We’re Open!” sign inside the window, hanging above the stockpile of fresh bread loaves heaped on red crates. The restaurant’s derelict appearance boasts a charming appeal that compels you inside.

Resounding conversations buzz around bits of spitting frying grease, as three children spin on rusting counter stools. In between twirls, they watch the short-order cook, as he goes back and forth between deep-frying batches of French fries and pounding hamburger meat on the grill. You make your way to the only empty booth, but your shoulders tense as you witness Frank turn so quickly in the single-lane pathway between the grill and the counter that he sends his sister flying into the cash register. The diner’s only waitress seemed unphased. You take your seat as the telephone rings.

“Cupp’s Drive-In,” the cook answers, tossing fries in grease with his free hand. “Let me check,” he said, turning to face the hunched elderly woman, who is spooning raw meat with an ice cream scoop. “Mom, do we need any produce?” She shakes her head.

“Not today, Wayne,” he responds and returns to the fryer.

His other sister sits silently at the counter, delicately wrapping fork and knife sets in squares of crepe paper. You open your notebook and begin to jot down your impressions. This hole-in-the-wall experience was the perfect local attraction to feature in your creative nonfiction story assignment. You spend many hours interviewing the owner, chatting up the cook, and listening to his sister’s stories about the family-run business.

You wish you could have said that your time spent here resulted in a beautiful narrative that the Waco Tribune-Herald begged you to sell so they could advertise “Waco’s best burger” since its 1947 opening. You wish you could have seen the owner’s beauty, her faithfulness to this establishment since her first days as a waitress in 1957. You wish you could have held onto the chance to talk about her braving the weather as a carhop to take orders under the tin-roofed carport in the restaurant’s actual drive-in days. You wish you would have listened to your inner voice telling you to honor this family as they united to maintain the restaurant’s legacy when the former car hop became the owner in 1988. But, you fixated on the missing teeth. You felt the cracked vinyl. You fraternized with these people, sat in their establishment, ate their food, and then chose to call your article “Razing Cupp’s with a Farewell Toast.” You wrote the last lines, “Unfortunately for Cupp’s, property taxes are high, the coffee tastes cheap, and the Burger King across 15th Street accepts credit cards. Soon, there will be nothing left of the original burger joint in Waco except, perhaps, silence and the lingering odors of frying grease.”

 

I am genuinely ashamed to admit this is how I started my writing life.

* * *

I pursued my Bachelor’s in Professional Writing because I felt confident that I could succeed in a writing-related field. I knew I had an ability to manipulate words and construct sentences, and I was aware that not everyone can do that well. But during that very first story assignment, I abused the power that lies within that gift. I “made an A,” but the reward was bitter. I grew up with rule-following, people-pleasing tendencies, so this dark motive took me by surprise. I betrayed the people at Cupp’s, but I also betrayed myself. I would have never said the words I wrote in person, out loud. I never was going to show them my article. It wouldn’t be published. So, I took the liberty to exploit them. And while I am guilty, I don’t regret my choice. It exposed a new and vital understanding about being human that has shaped my character since: we all have the propensity for good or for evil, but power lies in our ability to choose. I made the choice after that assignment that if I continued to write, I wanted to use my gifts to honor people, to celebrate them, to highlight their beauty. Never again would I use my words to tear people down.

* * *

I’m not sure if I’ve always been a writer. But I’ve been a storyteller for as long as I can remember.  In fact, it has become a long-running joke in my family that I only know how to tell a “short story long.”  

Before leaving for college, my high school youth pastor asked me what I would do if I could do anything in the world and money didn’t matter. I told him, “I would be a writer.”  

I didn’t know any writers at the time, but I really wanted to be one.  

When I didn’t have a job lined up after graduation, I tried to live into the whole “money doesn’t matter” mantra. I remember telling my dad that, after paying for four years of university, I was going to work as a barista at Starbucks and write for a living. Needless to say, he shot down my idea faster than an espresso has a chance to kick in. So, I earned my living using my technical writing skills at a local engineering firm. Soon after, I became certified to teach high school English. I thought, if I couldn’t work at Starbucks and write, at least I could teach writing. During this time, I felt called to write, but honestly, I wasn’t writing much.

When I moved back to League City after a three-year tour de Houston, I was looking to re-engage at Clear Creek Community Church by joining the East 96 campus launch team. As I explored ways I might be able to serve at this new venue, I noticed a volunteer opportunity called “Story Team.” I reached out to the director, and it was only minutes into our initial conversation that I felt connected to this mission. I would be a listening ear for people to share their vulnerable moments, facilitate self-reflection, and celebrate with them how God has redeemed their story. Because God has a history of redeeming. And every story points to Christ, the hero.   

I think we all have this innate sense that there is a tale to be told. The sense that there is this divine author with a unified plan for all of history. A story. And everyone wants to hear a good story, but writing requires a different level of commitment than storytelling. Writing takes time – time that I have to fight to find. So honestly, I write because I’m too busy to write. I write to slow down. To be still. To exhale.  

But it also hurts to be a writer. You have to empathize with the universal brokenness in the world.  You have to think deeply. Often, you have to travel back in time to your own past to channel the emotions you want to convey. And that’s not always fun. So, Story Team is no joke. The work we do, like all Kingdom work, feels weighty. It’s emotionally challenging to journey with people through their dark and tragic moments. When I write these stories, I feel I am walking on holy ground. It’s an honor and a privilege to be trusted with people’s holy experiences. Knowing I’m using my gifts to share God’s love and gospel to a broken world is the most satisfying work I do.

So, I am a believer in the power of story.  Everyone has a story. Every story matters. And when people use their voice to tell their story, they are sharing hope with the world. For me, joining Story Team, also, came at a time when I found that telling people “because the Bible says so” wasn’t always enough. Absolutely the Bible is powerful and effective in transforming lives. But in the time of history we live in, stories of real people who have been transformed by the Bible, are powerful change agents themselves. We all live within the world of God’s grand narrative. We’re all on a protagonist’s journey with tension, tragedy, milestones. Our stories inspire curiosity and draw people to God himself – the true hero in the stories we tell.  

I don’t tell a single story that doesn’t first change me. Victor and Ginger challenged me to love deeper and without walls. Cathy and Tricia showed me the power of presence. Tia convicted me to search the scriptures for wisdom and understanding that can only come from through God’s inspired word. Nate Fisher reassured me that there is no silver bullet to eliminate our struggles, but that it’s okay to still struggle. And the Sutherlands modeled for me how to choose joy through the excruciating and enduring pain of loss and to let your village share that burden with you. 

No matter how many times I change jobs, or move, or shift directions in my life, I will always be writing. This is my life’s work and the way that I want to contribute to my small part of the world. 

So, I’m a storyteller.  

I’m a writer. 

And when I write, I help give voice to the inspiring stories that people are living. Back when I made that promise to myself about the kind of stories I would write moving forward, I could have never imagined the opportunity I would have to hear people share their stories of their humanity and their faith.

As it turns out, even the story of Cupp’s Drive-in had an interesting plot twist and redemptive ending—believe it or not, they are still in business today despite what I wrote about them 11 years ago. Recently, they’ve even been showcased on the weekly television show “Texas Bucket List” as the best burger in Waco. Who knew?

So, even though every story reels with a messy, dark, or broken start, they all have the potential to end with hope—and somehow I have been given a front row seat.

Rewritten

By Tiffany Ravedutti

When my husband and I relocated from Illinois to Texas in 2013, everything about our move supported what I felt deep in my heart: my life was changing.

Around that time, my husband and I started our own martial arts academy and transitioned from employees to employers. We welcomed our first daughter into the world and transitioned from newlyweds to new parents. We left the comfort of living near our support system, and ventured away from everything we knew. We even traded iced-over roads for streets lined with palm trees.

Nothing felt the same. And as the feelings of familiarity vanished, so did the sense of safety.

Spiritually, I could feel the tides turning, too.

Immediately upon arrival, we started the church-hunting process. I found myself desperately searching for a church just like the one I left in my hometown. My husband immediately felt drawn to Clear Creek Community Church, but I kept asking to visit, “just one more” to see if I could find the Texas equivalent of my hometown church.

Week after week, we tried church after church and found nothing that felt like home. When we missed a service or hadn’t made plans to check out a new church, we’d go to Clear Creek’s Egret Bay campus.

At one point, we attended a morning service at a nearby church and we both left feeling uneasy. After the service, as we walked to our car, I looked at my husband and asked, “So…do you think we still have time to make it to Creek?”

“I was hoping you’d be up for that!” he replied with relief.

It was during that visit to Egret Bay that I began to entertain the idea that my husband’s discernment was right all along: this was where we belonged.

At the end of the service, when prompted to pray, I felt a strong conviction that I had been approaching this whole church thing the wrong way. Rather than searching for a church that perfectly fit my long list of criteria and could serve me well, I should have been searching for the place where God wanted to use the gifts he had already given me to serve his church.

I looked around at the crowded auditorium and found it hard to believe that there was any gift inside of me that couldn’t already be found in a group that size. Nonetheless, I tucked the conviction in my heart and promised God that I’d explore it further.

Over the next few months, my husband and I joined a small group. Suddenly, the intimidating size of Egret Bay shrunk to people we knew, faces we recognized, and lives that intersected our own.

A few more months later, I decided to follow through with that conviction I felt, and started serving in Student Ministry. As our team huddled, and relationships began to form, the church seemed to shrink even more. Soon enough, there wasn’t a week I walked in that I didn’t know someone.

I loved everything about serving in Student Ministry, but I still had a tugging feeling that I had something more to offer.

Inspired by my experiences serving others at our business and our church family, I began to write posts on social media about the ways in which I could identify God working in the world around me. Every time I wrote something, it was as if this hidden talent (that I never even knew was there) ignited a passion in my heart and grew until it became something I craved.

After writing a post, women I’d known from different times and places in my life would send messages encouraging me to keep writing because I seemed to write their own thoughts. It was when a friend asked me to get a coffee with her that I realized there may be something for me to pursue in writing when she reached across the table, grabbed my hand, and said with tears streaming down her face, “You wrote the words of my heart and reminded me that Jesus sees me. Thank you.”

Somehow, writing seemed to marry my creativity with compassion, and I could no longer ignore the overwhelming desire I had to point people to the grace found in Christ through the written word.

In one Student Ministry huddle, our leader, Aaron Lutz asked the question to the group, “What’s something you see in the world that God is breaking your heart about right now? What’s he asking you to do about it?”

I knew my answer immediately, but I hadn’t spoken it out loud before. When it was my turn to answer, I almost choked on the air I was using to speak.

“I…uh… well, I’ve actually been thinking about this a lot lately, and I think God’s been leading me to write,” I said, staring at the ground.

Startled by my own words, I immediately started dismissing them.

“But, I don’t even know what this is. All I’ve ever known is martial arts and it’s really all I know to do. I don’t know anything about writing…I just…I don’t know.”

Feeling flustered, I looked to Aaron with a hurried half-smile that said, “Okay, next person, please!”

His eyebrows raised in interest and said, “Hey! That’s awesome! Don’t leave today without me introducing you to my friend, Jon.”

After service, Aaron introduced me to Jon Coffey, the director of Story Team.

After a conversation about the power of storytelling, the vision for Story Team, and cultivating a culture of story at Clear Creek, I was hooked!

He explained the process that we’d follow: I’d meet members of the church for coffee and they’d share the story of how God has worked in their lives. I’d write their testimony and it would be shared on the church’s blog to encourage others.

I remember thinking, “So, I get to talk to people about Jesus while drinking coffee? Is this real life?”

What a perfect way to serve my church.

It only took a few minutes into my first interview for me to understand exactly why I felt convicted to shift my church-hunting perspective all those months ago.

To date, there hasn’t been a single, Story Team testimony I’ve had the pleasure of hearing that I haven’t silently swept tears off my cheeks as I’ve listened to the redemption and restoration and goodness of God. There hasn’t been a single story I’ve gotten to share, that I haven’t walked away in awe that God would be gracious enough to give me a front row seat for the work he’s doing in the world.

There hasn’t been a single story I’ve written that my own faith hasn’t been strengthened from hearing.

And along this incredible journey of discovering and using my God-given gifts to serve the church, there hasn’t been a single cup of coffee that I’ve regretted drinking either.

This is Ginger

 

Meet Ginger.

It was three years ago that God pressed a very particular mission on the heart of Ginger Sprouse.  Having recently opened up her own cooking school in Nassau Bay, Texas, she passed one particular intersection on her way to and from Art of the Meal multiple times a day.  And every day, she would see the same African American man standing at the corner of El Camino Real and Nasa Road 1.  He was always in the same spot, pacing or dancing, waving to those passing by, or sometimes just staring.  Presumably homeless, she couldn’t help but wonder: What was his story?  Who was he?  Why was he always standing at the same location?  But for Ginger, this tug of compassion had not always been a familiar feeling.

Hearing about God’s love was routine for Ginger, having grown up in church, but witnessing His love in action was much more foreign.  Her judgmental family upbringing critically impacted her outlook on both life and Christianity.  She spent most of her life pointing her finger at everyone else and never at herself, and she carried this self-righteous disposition into adulthood.  Nevertheless, Ginger succeeded in creating her own beautiful family.  She and her husband lived a peaceful farm life where she spent her time gardening and homeschooling her two children.  Until the day she threw it all away.

Ginger embraced a sinful lifestyle, left her family, and threw God away as a byproduct.  It was at this time that she was told, “You are the least compassionate person I’ve ever met.  You don’t have a shred of compassion in you that you can throw your family and life away.”  It was time to face the ugly truth about herself—she lacked the very compassion of Christ that she had learned about all those years growing up.

“You know, my prayer for a long time was, ‘Lord make me want to want you because I don’t have that,” Ginger admitted.  Having divorced her husband and strained her relationships with her children, she eventually came to a place in life when she determined to “grow up,” spiritually, and her focus began to shift from herself to Christ and Christ alone.  It was around this time that she discovered Clear Creek Community Church and eventually met her now husband, Dean, who also attended Creek.

Her prayer ever since the Lord brought her back became, “You have to show me how to be compassionate like Christ because I don’t have it in me; it’s not natural to me.”

The funny thing about asking is… you typically shall receive.

Although she was certainly feeling compelled to stop and talk to the man on the corner, she initially resisted the strength of the pull.  Instead, in Jonah-esque fashion, Ginger drove out of her way to work for an entire month so she wouldn’t have to pass by and reconcile the insistent feeling in her gut that she was supposed to stop.

“I didn’t want to stop.  But finally one day, I was driving by and I saw him again, and I called out loud to the Lord, ‘Fine! But you’re going to have to do something because I got nothing!’ and so I pulled over, and that was the first time I ever talked to him.”

Meet Victor.

“I remember it like yesterday,” the thirty-two-year-old autistic street resident recalls about the first time he met Ginger.  He has nothing but positive things to say about the woman who befriended him at his corner.

Ginger recollects a mentally ill man who was in a pretty bad state: unmedicated, unbathed, and not very lucid.  “It was kind of scary… but I looked in his face and there was such pain there; it was like he was trapped.”  And he was—it has been told that Victor Hubbard’s mother dropped him off on the corner years ago and told him to wait there for her to come back.

Victor was still waiting.

“How could I walk away?” Ginger reconciled.  “It was then that I realized: this was compassion. And I started praying for the Lord to heal him and give him enough lucidity that I could have a conversation with him.”

Thus began her regular visits with a man she now describes as sweet, gentle, and eternally optimistic.  “I would take my coffee and we would sometimes just sit there and sometimes chat and sometimes just watch the cars drive by.”

“I would always wait for Ginger to come around the corner,” Victor reminisced, “so we could go do something together and forget about everything else. ”

And then, suddenly, Victor disappeared for two weeks.  While Ginger’s husband, Dean, encouraged her that she was doing everything that she could do—hanging out with him, bringing him sandwiches, bringing him clothes—she struggled with the idea of just leaving him on the corner.  Ginger felt compelled to do more.

“I said you know what? He has 15 sandwiches; he’s got tons of coats; people are bringing him sleeping bags; he has all this stuff, which is good.  But this stuff is not going to get him out of this situation.” And that’s really what the Lord put on Ginger’s heart—what could she do to help transform his circumstances?

“I kept saying, ‘Lord, you have to break my heart for what breaks your heart.’  And the Lord has such a heart for the people who are helpless, and I just said, ‘Okay I have got to get out of my bubble and not be so consumed with myself that I don’t have time.’”  She spent many sleepless nights worrying about him until, finally, her husband agreed she could bring him to their home.

When the weather got cold in December, Ginger began asking Victor how he would feel about coming to her house to get out of the cold.  It was a day neither of them will likely ever forget, and not because of the ice-cold December rain.  As Ginger pulled up to the corner and got out of her car, she voiced six life-changing words: “Do you want to go home?”

To which Victor replied, ‘Yea, I want to go home.’”

Ginger, Dean, and their two teenage children welcomed Victor into their home to bathe, put on clean clothes, eat their food, and sleep—which he did for twelve hours straight that first night.  But Victor wasn’t just invited into their house, he was invited into their family.

Meet the community.

Ginger began making phone calls to rally the community to come together and find Victor the mental health help he needed.  Eventually, she create the Facebook page, This is Victor, as a way to advocate for resources and create a community of people to care for him.  Ginger believed in faith that at least 200 people in the community would recognize Victor as the man from our community, who they also drove past, and rise up to help.

The response from the community was overwhelming.

Today, the Facebook page boasts over 8,000 followers and Victor has received medical attention, meal gift cards, clothing, bicycle transportation, and nearly $15,000 in a gofundme account to go towards finding him a more permanent living situation.  He has become quite the public figure in the community over the past few months, and more recently, has even garnered national attention. After being featured on TV via KHOU, both CBS News and Fox News have also run his story as well as other major news avenues.

However, Ginger says the most popular response to the Facebook page has been people sharing how they have been praying for Victor for years every time they drive by the corner.  “Many people have seen Victor over the years, but not known what else they could do to help except to pray.  And that is what I love about God, that so many people were praying, and all the while the Lord was equipping me to stop.  I feel like I didn’t do much but just show people what they can do.”
Anyone who gets the chance to talk to Victor will tell you that he is an eloquent speaker who so effortlessly paints pictures with his words.  In fact, he is a writer and a musician, and now that he is officially off the streets and temporarily staying in a local hotel, he has his own space to write again.  When asked how he feels about how his life has changed, Victor says he feels like an eagle, “because they symbolize justice, equality, and freedom, and that’s how I feel; I feel like a bird that has been freed.”

And this eagle doesn’t stay inside all day, in fact, he sometimes goes back to visit the corner.  “I go back to the corner just to remind myself where I came from… I was in a war zone and I’ve been through the worst, but I never let it destroy me.  I let my friendships take over, instead,” he says. “You overcome something so it won’t overcome you. You stand over something so it won’t stand over you. I always remember that things can change, and I remember that they did change, so I can still look at the corner like he is my friend.”

Victor isn’t the only one who looks to his past to make sense of his life moving forward.  “It still breaks my heart when I consider the pain and disruption that I caused everyone else in my life,” Ginger admits without a single flippant note in her confession. “But he could never have transformed me if I was still sitting in the middle of my judgmental happy little self.  I feel so sad that I was so hardened that the only way God could transform me was that other people had to be hurt in the process, but I also know that he can use that hurt in their lives to bring them to himself as well.  So I’ve asked the Lord to never let me forget it.”

Ginger has recently given Victor a job at Art of the Meal and admits that they are, “going to be in each other’s lives forever.”  She hopes that one day she and Victor will see someone who needs help and then, together, they can bring someone else into their “circle of overcoming.”

Victor claims he isn’t going anywhere either, “Nobody has a friendship like we have and it’s a long lasting thing because once you become a friend you’re always a friend.” And with a big toothy smile on his face, Victor added, “Other people are already invited to the party, they just gotta come get their invitation.”  To which Ginger laughs, acknowledging she was invited all along.  She just had to show up.

Podcasts

041: The Sanctuary – Hope and Healing in Foster Care

God calls on his people throughout Scripture to protect the vulnerable and care for orphans. The Sanctuary offers a new kind of foster care service, designed to create healing, hope, and permanency for children and families.

Resources:

www.sanctuaryfostercare.org

Harding Adoption Story Podcast

Clear Creek Care & Support

033: Loving Your Neighbor During a Stay-at-Home Order

Driven by the desire to love their neighbors with the love they’ve received in the gospel, many people are asking how they can serve the community during this season. Obviously, the answer to question isn’t so straight forward during a stay-at-home order. On this episode, Ryan Lehtinen talks with Chris and Amy Alston about ways people are loving their neighbors already and how you can too.

RESOURCES:

Clearcreek.org/covid19

029: Serving in the Local Church – An Interview with Brad and Amy Thompson

Hundreds of volunteers serve each week at Clear Creek Community Church to help make ministries and services happen. Serving in a ministry area is a great way to connect with people around the church while using your skills and talents for others. Rachel Chester talked with Brad and Amy Thompson on the ups and downs of serving in a local church, discussing how serving has led them to a deeper faith in Christ and fuller understanding of what it means to be a part of community.

RESOURCES:

Find a place to serve!

 

011: Partnering With Schools to Make a Difference with Superintendents Dr. Greg Smith (CCISD) and Thad Rohr (FISD)

Chris Alston sits down with school superintendents Dr. Greg Smith from Clear Creek ISD and Thad Rohr from Friendswood ISD to discuss how their school districts are trying to address some of the challenges that students face today. They also talk about how they see partnering with other community organizations, including churches, as key to impacting the lives of students.