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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!’”
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.
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.
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.”
“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.
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.