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Missional Community Spotlight: Habitat Nashville

Serving, connecting and transforming. These three words perhaps best describe the work of Habitat Nashville Missional Community, a diverse and vibrant group that launched three years ago to support the efforts of Habitat for Humanity of Greater Nashville throughout Middle Tennessee.

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Christ Presbyterian member Anna King, who helps lead the group, grew up watching her parents volunteer with Habitat, an organization known for providing affordable housing to families in need. Often, these are adults who hold down either a full-time job or several part-time jobs but still find safe housing out of their reach. Habitat supports these families by helping them build homes and awarding interest-free loans.

“The full scope of the mission also involves fostering relationships, building community and preparing families to become financially responsible and care for a home,” King said.

This Missional Community, composed of both founding members of Christ Presbyterian as well as church members and friends who are newer to Nashville, plays an integral role in each of these areas. This month, the group will participate in its fifth “build day” as they gather on a weekend to construct a home for a family who has completed Habitat’s rigorous application process. Most of the homes are located in an area of Antioch where Habitat has built a total of 130 properties in four different neighborhoods since 2012, said Danny Herron, chief executive officer of Habitat for Humanity of Greater Nashville and a church member at Christ Presbyterian.

The families building these homes are representative of Antioch’s diverse population. One of the neighborhoods sits adjacent to Antioch High School, where the student body is comprised of families who speak 26 different languages as either their primary or secondary language of choice at home, Herron said.

Part of what makes the process meaningful is the way Habitat functions. Future homeowners must first help build a separate Habitat house before beginning construction on their own home. Often this occurs on their own street or somewhere in their soon-to-be neighborhood. As multiple homes are built in the same community, families who will eventually live as neighbors cultivate a sense of belonging as they help raise walls and hammer nails.

While assisting the Antioch residents to build connections and new homes, Missional Community members have also drawn closer and discovered a sense of purpose and passion in serving others. College students, young adults, professionals and seniors from Christ Presbyterian and other churches across Nashville have collaborated with the Missional Community on construction sites and designated days when the group volunteers at ReStore, the home improvement retail arm and donation center that Habitat operates to sell new and gently-used furniture, appliances, home goods and building materials.

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Another facet of the Missional Community’s role is financial counseling to future homeowners. Members of the Missional Community work with Habitat applicants to offer expertise on how to manage money, live within a budget and eliminate debt.

Former Christ Presbyterian member Don Drummond, who passed away in September 2018, served actively as a budget coach in the years before his death.

“He desired to share his financial knowledge and skills to better the lives of others,” King said. “His compassion was evident through all of his service.”

Herron realized the impact of Habitat on Drummond’s own life when, upon his death, Drummond’s wife, Fran, requested gifts be made to the organization in lieu of flowers.

“I was touched by not only what the Drummonds meant to the Missional Community, but what the community meant to them,” Herron said.

Other Missional Community members also participate in offering Habitat families homeowner-readiness skills as they prepare to care for their new home. Missional Community member Kelly Zetak initiated a homeowner engagement program last December while the group worked to build a home for Nashville resident LaShonda Smith. Their aim is to stay engaged by offering additional ongoing support in securing and maintaining new homes when needs such as addressing a leaky faucet, lawn maintenance or home winterization arise.

Zetak, who has participated in Habitat for Humanity for more than 25 years in four different states, is grateful to be part of the Missional Community at Christ Presbyterian.

“Through God’s loving and compassionate grace, we’re partnering with Habitat to provide positive change in the Nashville area,” he said. “People from all walks of life are being transformed as they experience true hope and personal success.

“Scripture reminds us that Christ came into the world not to be served, but to serve others,” Zetak continues. “Our prayer is that we would model this behavior and provide a loving and lasting outreach to all the communities we serve.”

To get involved with the Habitat Nashville Missional Community, email Anna King.

Missional community spotlight: magdalene

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Mary Lisa Gingras, a healthcare professional in Nashville, used to feel a twinge of dismay at the thought of a woman getting caught up in prostitution, addiction or human trafficking. But her emotions didn’t go much further than that. Until she learned about the work and ministry of Thistle Farms.

Six years ago, Gingras and her husband Mike, members of Christ Presbyterian Church, were looking for a way to serve their community. A friend invited them to learn more about Thistle Farms and its residential program, Magdalene.

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Thistle Farms and Magdalene were conceived in Nashville more than 20 years ago to help women survivors of trafficking, addiction and prostitution. Over time, the social enterprise has grown into a thriving company with bath and home items (handmade by the women) that have gained national attention.

While the organization had been successful in selling its products, securing financial support, and inviting people to frequent its onsite Café, it needed committed community members to engage in purposeful, healthy relationships with the women living at Magdalene, the residential arm of Thistle Farms. Under Magdalene’s services, women can experience transformative, sustainable recovery through two years of rent-free housing, healthcare, employment and community building.

Soon after learning about Magdalene, Gingras and a group of other volunteers from the Nashville area began organizing monthly activities with the women enrolled in the residential program. The group eventually grew into the missional community known as Magdalene MC and today includes 30 rotating volunteers from several different area churches.

As Gingras and others began getting to know the women enrolled in Magdalene, they learned that the roots of prostitution and trafficking are often found in severe childhood abuse, loss and/or neglect. It is these childhood experiences that can push women toward homelessness, addiction, prostitution, trafficking, and incarceration.  

Pictured: Mary Lisa Gingras (second from right) and other Magdalene MC volunteers.

Pictured: Mary Lisa Gingras (second from right) and other Magdalene MC volunteers.

“We realized some of them didn’t have normal childhoods,” Gingras recalls. “They’d never even been fishing, skating or to the movies—things that many of us take for granted.”

The missional community quickly got to work planning once/month outings—including visits to places such as Cheekwood Botanical Gardens and Brushfire Pottery. They also began hosting an annual etiquette dinner, where they take a light-hearted approach to teaching the women everyday manners. Someone in the group even created a humorous rap song that outlines proper placement of cutlery.

As friendships began to form, the Magdalene women shared their stories. Gingras remembers how her own heart shattered when she learned that one woman had maintained a fairy tale life with a husband and children until a surgical procedure left the woman in excruciating pain. She developed an addiction to pain pills in order to cope. Eventually her desperation for funds led her to prostitution.

Another resident at Magdalene revealed she’d been sold into trafficking by her family at age 14. Still others confessed that an addiction to drugs had overwhelmed them and led them to secure money the only way they could see how—through selling their bodies. Gingras realized in many cases these women were just trying to survive.

In addition to the ongoing monthly activities, the missional community also recently began offering a Bible study to interested Magdalene residents. “At first the women were skeptical,” Gingras says. “They thought we had it all made. They looked at us like, ‘What do these affluent, church-going women want to do with us?’

“The women thought because we had money, cars, jobs and a family that our lives were good,” Gingras recalls. “But we began to share our own pain—our worries, our failures, our sin. The private, fractured parts of our lives. Suddenly we just weren’t praying for these women. They started praying for us and supporting us. Our hearts became woven together as we realized our mutual brokenness and need for Christ.”

Members of the missional community shared the peace, joy and contentment that believers can experience when they surrender their pain to God. The group witnessed one Magdalene resident receive Christ this year as she began studying Scripture. Another woman, a Magdalene graduate, felt God leading her to start a recovery program for women coming out of prostitution in her home state of Texas.

“Engaging with these women has changed my life,” Gingras says. “They have become my dear friends. I repent daily of how judgmental I used to be. My eyes have been opened to forgiveness and redemption through observing our journeys toward wholeness. I’ve learned there’s great power in drawing near to the marginalized. I went in thinking I was going to serve them but they’ve served me through demonstrating God’s healing power and through reminding me that the Lord is always seeking us—each one of us.”

Sometimes all it takes is slowing down enough to love a person to help them change for the good, Gingras says. “I deeply believe in the Thistle Farms/Magdalene motto—Love Heals.”

To learn more or get involved with the Magdalene missional community, contact Mary Lisa Gingras at gingrasml@comcast.net, Susan Garvey at susegarvey@gmail.com or Sharon Kinney at Sharonskinney@yahoo.com.

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Missional Community Spotlight: Equipping Incarcerated Women

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Although she’s been involved with prison ministry for 18 years, Vicki Helgesen says God’s goodness, mercy and provision continue to amaze her.

One such instance recently occurred through her work with Equipping Incarcerated Women, Christ Presbyterian’s missional community that formed in 2015 to come alongside imprisoned or recently released women in the Nashville area.

Helgesen had issued a request to the group (comprised of about 40 members from 10 different area churches) for donations of new bed linens at the Tennessee Prison for Women (TPW). One lady she knew had been tying together torn pieces of linen from old sheets.

It briefly crossed Helgesen’s mind how wonderful it would be to provide new sheets for every bed in the prison’s annex, the transitional center where women live as they draw nearer to their parole date. The annex holds 143 beds.

“I thought I’d ask for donated linens and see how many we got,” she remembers. “Then perhaps we could raise money to purchase the remainder of what was needed.”

Twin-size sheet sets starting pouring in from the missional community. Soon Helgesen sat down to count how many she’d received. “Exactly 143 were donated,” she says. “One set for every bed. I couldn’t believe it.”

The women in the annex were ecstatic. “You would’ve thought we had given each of those girls a hundred bucks,” Helgesen recalls.

The purpose of the missional community is to continually look for ways to meet the practical, emotional and spiritual needs of the incarcerated and recently-released women. This includes offering regular Friday night worship services, Wednesday evening Bible studies and ongoing mentoring partnerships – all at TPW. The missional community recently provided the inmate participants with Bibles and Scripture study materials. The group also helps host an annual Christmas party for the inmates, where they’re treated to a meal brought in from Chick Fil A.

Throughout her work in prisons for almost two decades, Helgesen says she’s witnessed an increasing number of younger women entering the prison system. “They’re in their mid-to-earlier 20s—sometimes even as young as 19. I used to not see that,” she says. “But so much of this is because of drugs. These gals are committing crimes to get the drugs they need.”

More than 80 percent of the imprisoned women have been abused by a man who was supposed to be taking care of them, Helgesen explains. “When you hear their stories, you think, ‘No wonder they’ve made such poor choices.’”

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One major function of Equipping Incarcerated Women is to prepare and support women for life after their release from prison. Helgesen oversees a group of trained, state-approved mentors who begin meeting with women in the prisons before their release to serve as a healthy, caring presence in their life and establish a friendship.

On the day of a woman’s release, the mentor picks up the newly-freed prisoner. She takes her out to lunch before shopping together for new clothing at Goodwill. The mentoring relationship continues for the next six months, although many last much longer.

In the last year, members of this missional community have helped multiple women transition out of halfway houses and assisted them with needs ranging from finding a place to live to paying for an initial electrical deposit or providing home furnishings and a vehicle.

The group offered essential support to another woman who had settled in a home but then lost everything in a fire.

Mentors also help with daily errands, offering time-saving rides to women who may not have vehicles and need to get from work to doctor’s appointments.

“These women are doing the best they can—they are really trying,” Helgesen says. “We exist to lend a hand to these sisters, to be a good neighbor. Our main focus is to serve as mentors and friends, with Jesus being the thread between us.”

To learn more about Equipping Incarcerated Women or become involved, contact Vicki Helgesen at vickihelgesen@gmail.com.



Missional Community Spotlight: Celebrate Recovery

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Nearly three years ago, Christ Presbyterian member Mary Linda Hardman walked into a Celebrate Recovery meeting when she realized her life had spiraled out of control.

She’d recently sent her youngest child off to college. Then her father died. Their relationship had been complicated—he’d been verbally abusive to her for years, yet driving him to appointments and errands had given her a sense of purpose.

She was hurting not only from the broken relationship she’d endured with her dad, but also from years of dysfunction she’d experienced with her mother.

“I’d lost a lot of connections,” she remembers. “And I harbored pain from wounds that had never healed. I was alone, living in isolation.”

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She turned to food and drinking to cope. Her life began to feel more and more out of control. And she began to suffer from deep depression as her weight ballooned and she became addicted to alcohol.

“When I initially went to Celebrate Recovery, I thought I was going to get help so I could stop drinking long enough to heal from my depression,” she says. “I didn’t realize I was spiritually sick.”

Celebrate Recovery, one of our missional communities, is held at Christ Presbyterian Church weekly on Thursdays year-round, emphasizing that spiritual restoration is the root of all true healing and flourishing. The group is a 12-step, Christ-centered recovery program for anyone struggling with hurt, pain or addiction of any kind and is comprised of people from throughout Nashville (non-church goers are always welcome.)

The group offers support to those who’ve faced issues with abandonment, abuse, adultery, anger, anxiety, depression, divorce, perfectionism, porn, rage, substance abuse, or workaholism, just to name a few.

“It’s for anyone who wants to grow in Christ and recover from any form of brokenness,” Hardman says.

Hardman’s journey through Celebrate Recovery’s program began with acknowledging she had no power to change herself. “I started practicing surrender, confession and extending forgiveness,” she says. “I chose to trust that God could restore me to sanity.

“Before I got sober, I questioned why being a Christian wasn’t enough to cure me from my alcoholism,” Hardman continues. “Through Celebrate Recovery, I learned a difference exists between merely believing in God and believing that God can work in my life and transform my soul.”

Hardman now has been sober for two and a half years and has lost 60 pounds. She currently helps lead Celebrate Recovery at CPC, welcoming and mentoring new participants.

For those considering whether to join Celebrate Recovery, Hardman poses these questions to consider: Are there things in your life that you do to hurt others? Is there something you wish you could live without? Is it time to face your denial and admit you’re not in control of your life? Do you seek freedom from a painful habit or hang-up?

She welcomes prospective attendees to preview Celebrate Recovery’s weekly group meetings, which take place at 6:30pm on Thursday evenings at the Hope House (adjacent to our Old Hickory Blvd location).

Hardman says she’s grateful for the community she’s discovered through her participation in Celebrate Recovery. “The people there have become like family to me,” she explains. “We need each other to realize that everyone struggles, and we’re not alone.”

Beyond her sobriety, the most significant aspect of her experience is the intimacy she’s discovered with Christ. “Instead of numbing myself to cope, I’ve learned to go God for comfort and peace,” she says. “Experiencing the comfort of God has changed my life.”

To learn more, visit christpres.org/care/celebrate-recovery/



Location 3 Update: What the Process of Coming to Faith Often Looks Like

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In a previous post, we discussed why the process of coming to faith often looks like a process. You can read it here. In this post, we take a look at the path that process often follows. Perhaps you will see your own story here.

As with the prior post, I’m drawing this material from Tim Keller’s book, Serving a Movement: Doing Balanced, Gospel-Centered Ministry in Your City.

According to Tim Keller, the process of coming to faith often looks something like this:

1. Awareness:“I see it.” 

People begin to clear the ground of stereotypes and learn to distinguish the gospel from legalism or liberalism, the core from the peripheral. They make mini-decisions like these: 

  • “She’s religious but surprisingly intelligent and open-minded.”

  • “A lot of things the Bible says really fit me.”

  • “I see the difference between Christianity and just being moral.”

 

2. Relevance:“I need it.” 

They begin to see the slavery of both religion and irreligion and are shown the transforming power of how the gospel works. Examples of mini-decisions here are as follows:

  • “An awful lot of very normal people really like this church!”

  • “It would really help if I could believe like she does.”

  • “Jesus seems to be the key. I wonder who he was.”

 

3. Credibility:“I need it because it’s true.” 

This is a reversal of the modern view that states, “It’s true if I need it.” If people fail to see the reasonableness of the gospel, they will lack the endurance to persevere when their faith is challenged. Examples of mini-decisions include thoughts like these:

  • “You can’t use science to disprove the supernatural.”

  • “There really were eyewitnesses to the resurrection.”

  • “I see now why Jesus had to die — it is the only way.”

 

4. Trial:“I see what it would be like.” 

They are involved in some form of group life, in some type of service ministry, and are effectively trying Christianity on, often talking like a Christian — even defending the faith at times.

 

5. Commitment:“I take it.” 

This may be the point of genuine conversion, or sometimes a person will realize that conversion has already happened, and they just didn’t grasp it at the time. Examples of mini-decisions include these:

  • “I am a sinner.”

  • “I need a Savior. I will believe in Jesus and live for him.”

  • “Though there are a lot of costs, I really must do what Jesus says.”

 

6. Reinforcement:“Now I get it.” 

Typically, this is the place where the penny drops and the gospel becomes even clearer and more real. For this dynamic to occur, at least three factors must be in place: interaction with believers with relational integrity, pastoral support, and safe venues.

 

Evangelism is truth-telling—giving a reason for the hope that is in us. And it is a process God is pleased to use us in, even though he clearly does not need to. Our involvement in helping others come to faith is part of his sanctifying, humbling work in us. It is one way he shapes our hearts to keep the great commands to love God and others—to love by laying our lives down for the sake of others. There is no greater love than this. May the Lord use us in the process of calling people to himself, and may he deepen our love for others as he does.