Some twenty years ago a group of us began a church plant, Up Town. One of the critical first comers was a dapper gentleman who would become key to the church taking root. Doug though living in the same poverty as others in the community was always ‘dressed to the nines’. This gentle man who suffered from a unique cocktail of mental illnesses would soon become our chief evangelist. He brought friend after friend to our little community and most remained for years and became core members themselves.
Doug passed away several years ago but his legacy lives on in those who found hope through his simple invitation. One of Doug’s early introductions was to Jillian. Jillian came to a deep and simple faith. It was a joy to listen to her earnest prayers. She was baptised in a borrowed tank one evening. She invited her mom and aunt to the service. Her testimony lived out before them brought them to faith. Soon her father joined her in living for Jesus. No one would see Jillian as influential in this world but in the Kingdom of God this often troubled soul was instrumental in salvation coming to her household. Jill was a fixture at our Sunday Café services. She was a regular at the Up Town Bible Study and at the Friday Night Drop In. She joined us for many of our holidays on Deer Island and our Roamin’ Holidays. She considered Linda and I as part of her family and though our café church ended and a few of us continued to meet in a house church setting, Jillian has always stayed in touch. Sometimes so often it would be exasperating, but that was a part of her illness and struggle.
This week while I was away at a conference in St. Andrews, I got word that Jillian had taken a bad turn and was in the ICU. A few days later I heard that she had passed into the arms of her Saviour. I will miss my sweet friend. I know she suffered terribly in this life. Mental illness crashed on her in her early years, but she was a kind, gentle and prayerful friend. She was my hero in many ways. I always hoped to be a bit like Jillian when I grow up.
I am reminded that our inner-city friends do not have the same life span as we seem to have. Doug, Donnie, and Jillian are just three of the many who have died younger than me. It is a tough life! I so admire those who do not lose hope or faith. It is heartening to know my friends no longer suffer. I am sad though that few of us got to know and be blessed by these folks of whom this world was not worthy.
Some six years ago my dear friend ‘Big Donnie’ and I were praying about where ministry would take us. Our imaginations were captured by the song “Dry Bones” sung by Lauren Daigle. The idea of God calling out to the prodigal sons and daughters struck us powerfully. The idea of invoking the Holy Spirit to breath life into dry bones stirred within us. We claimed the song as our anthem and dedicated ourselves to living this theme out.
It has been five years since Donnie died, but this anthem has continuously played in my thoughts and prayers. Life was very much like the Valley of Dry Bones. The newly renovated chapel succumbed to the wrecking ball and hope was on life-support.
Threshold House seemed to be a part of this dream. I imagined it as a place where prodigals could be restored and where God could raise up an ‘Army of Hope’. For a few years though it felt more like the barren valley of dry bones. Renovating an old college and staffing it seemed more foolishness than it felt like ‘prophesying’ to dry bones.
Today though I was listening to a new song, Zach Williams was singing “I hear the sound of rattling bones” and I realized that this described ministry life for me today. I hear the Spirit of God at work. I see the dry bones coming to life. I sense the reviving power of God stirring in the lives of the men of Threshold House. I hear the rattling of bones! This rattle signifies the work that only God can do!
I have begun to witness transformation in men’s lives. Unfortunately, not this work does not mean men live ‘happily ever after’ the valley leaves scars on each and does not loose its dry bones easily. The ‘rattle’ is not just of life stirring in restoration but is also of real struggle in coming to grips with this new life. All struggle and some fail, at least for a time. This new season of the stirring of God is not without challenge and even setbacks. It comes with new and perplexing problems, but they are the problems of life in all its messiness.
We held the first of our two-part workshop “Sharing Our Story: Glorifying God” last night. We were joined by several members of the wider community. We looked at the idea of making God the ‘star’ of our story by highlighting a characteristic of God that we have experienced through God’s work in our lives. We do this in such a way that we can recommend God to others in like circumstances. I think the evening went quite well. Next week we will gather to hear some of the participants share their story in this way and I will try to help folks hone their skills. We are hoping that the men of Threshold House will have many opportunities both in their private conversations and in public testimony, to share the Good News in this way.