Friday, December 20, 2013

Do we ever give up on someone?

We helped someone a few weeks ago who was homeless for 40 years until he decided to come off the streets.  Over the years, many people had tried to convince him to leave the streets, and he always said "no".  Until one day 18 months ago he said "yes" and then embarked on a new phase of his life.

He served in Vietnam and saw things he said were too horrible to describe.  When he came home, he was not welcomed back by his family or his community - he felt the brunt of society's anger for the Vietnam War.  Looking back, he understands that the lack of support, coupled with undiagnosed post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) caused him to detach first from his family and eventually society.  He entered the world of living on the streets and stayed there for 40 years.

When he agreed 18 months ago to get help, he was diagnosed and treated for PTSD and referred to the Veterans Administration (VA) for help in entering mainstream society.  He has received services from the VA, and at the time he came to CCSC, he had an apartment he could afford and was about to start a skills-building program that will help him to find work. 

He came to us needing food.  His benefits are enough to pay for his apartment's rent, but he often runs out of food before the end of the month.  His demeanor was serious and focused.  He has been through hell and is not light in spirit, but he is quietly grateful for the turn in his life. 

I have thought a lot about him these last few weeks.  I wonder why he finally said "yes" to coming off the streets.  I wonder how many people gave up on him: his family, friends and others who encountered him.  If I had been his friend, would I have given up on him? Or would I have persevered in trying to help?

Who knows.  But my encounter with this gentleman highlights an important spiritual truth: no one's life is disposable, and there is hope in even the darkest situations.  I am grateful to him for his living witness of life's redeeming possibilities, and I'll bet he has positively impacted everyone who has worked with him these last 18 months.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

My children won't eat cauliflower

One will eat a salad, but not carrots; the other won't eat anything green and is suspicious of most vegetables.  My children don't realize it, but they live privileged lives because they have the luxury of choosing to not eat everything we cook for dinner.  This is a gift most of us overlook each day: choosing what we eat (and when and where we eat).  So many in our community, state, nation and world can only dream of such choices. Hunger means being grateful for food that fills your tummy, even if it's not your favorite.

I share this perspective not to make my own family or yours feel guilty.  I share it to point out that some of the blessings in our lives are things we take for granted.  I also share this to give insight into one aspect of hunger that is lost on many of us:  having limited choices in satisfying basic needs.

So the next time you donate food to us or any pantry, donate something healthy, but make sure it is something you would eat with a smile on your face.  I can assure you that my children never donate canned spinach, and if it were all up to my son, we'd just give out lots of chocolate and Cheerios to everyone!

Happy Thanksgiving, and thanks for all that you do to make the community a better place.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Do we have to agree on everything to work together?

Recently I was in a meeting with some volunteer leaders, reviewing CCSC's Core Values. These values say that while we are a coalition of Christian churches, we don't agree with one another on everything, and that's okay. 

I really love this about CCSC. We provide a venue for people with different Christian perspectives to serve together.  For people outside the institution of the church, this comes as a surprise: often I hear people outside share that they view the church as argumentative and not unified.  That troubles me.

So do we have to agree on everything to work together?  Do you and I have to vote the same way to feed the hungry together?  Do you and I have to agree on what Jesus meant when he said, "I am the bread of life"?  Are Jesus's words meant to be taken only literally or also metaphorically?  Do we have to find consensus on these matters before we can come together as a Christian community to serve?

The answer is "no", we can agree to disagree and still work well together. What unites us is far more important than what divides us, and Jesus was clear that helping the poor, those who suffer, and the outcasts of society is a vital part of our faith walk.   

Below are CCSC's Core Values.  I'd love to hear your thoughts on them, so feel free to email me at

CCSC’s Core Values
The Christian Community Service Center (CCSC) is a coalition of churches working to alleviate poverty in the local community.  The ministry accomplishes this through various resources: volunteerism, in-kind donations, operating a resale shop, and cash donations from the private sector to include church, individual, foundation and corporate support. The ministry’s focus is to apply core business principles to the accomplishment of its mission so the agency is returning value to the community in an efficient and effective manner.
The organization’s core values are:
a.      Everyone is treated with dignity and respect.
b.      Staff and volunteers strive to live the gospel message.
c.       CCSC is an ecumenical group that serves everyone while respecting their religious, ethnic, or cultural differences.
d.      Out of respect for the diverse views that the member churches, volunteers and community members have on issues, CCSC does not engage in public policy work.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Patience & Strength

I recently sat through a client interview that was heart-breaking.  A couple about my age had their life changed two months ago when the husband was diagnosed with cancer.  Because his job is physical in nature, he cannot work post-surgery, and his employer does not offer disability insurance.  Meanwhile, their expenses are escalating. CCSC helped pay their rent and signed them up for our food assistance program.  He is receiving treatment in the medical center, and they are optimistic because the cancer was caught early.

His wife shared how hard this has been for them emotionally and talked about their need for patience.  They had to wait for the diagnosis; they are waiting to hear the results from surgery and subsequent treatment; they wait but want answers now.  She noted that their faith is giving them patience and strength

She wondered aloud how people cope without faith, and we agreed it would almost be like living without gravity.

So often when I speak on CCSC's mission I say that the clients inspire me, and this couple did. They have chosen to trust that God will not abandon them but will instead give them what they need: patience and strength.  Their trust is a gentle reminder to each of us that through the ups and downs of our lives, God is present and will give us what we need.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013


I was standing in the hallway of one of our food pantries, waiting for a camera crew to finish filming, and struck up a conversation with a client. She is older and physically limited. She is beyond what I would consider the age most of us would work, and she is indeed retired. She told me that she'd never heard of CCSC before, but a younger neighbor suggested she come to us for help when she runs out of food. My new friend's income is fixed, and while she lives in a home that is paid for, her other expenses (food, medicine, electricity, gas) are not fixed. So, she runs out of money occasionally.

When she received her food package a few moments later, she looked through it and said to me with a smile, "Tonight, I get to cook myself a decent meal." And then she left to go home.

Nearly every night, I come home and cook dinner for my family, and I can't say that I smile about it. It's a responsibility and a chore.

Or is it a chore? I wonder if I should instead view my responsibilities as gifts:
  • I have the resources to cook a healthy meal for my family.
  • We are literate and able to help our children with their homework.
  • We have a home that requires work, but also provides safe shelter.
  •  Laundry is ongoing, but we have clothes to wash and detergent to keep them clean.
Often the responsibilities we have actually reflect an abundance in our lives. Working at CCSC and seeing so many people struggle for things I take for granted is humbling and reminds me that we are called to be grateful in all circumstances of our lives. So the next time you feel the stress of your to-do list, ask yourself what that list says about the blessings in your life.

PS  If you want to see what the camera crew was filming, click here:

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Welcome to CCSC

The Christian Community Service Center (CCSC) is an award-winning, community-based non-profit organization serving the innercity Houston community. We were incorporated in 1980 and since that time CCSC has grown to encompass a coalition of 41 churches united in service.Thanks to over 1,700 volunteers, CCSC currently offers services through the following outreach programs: Emergency Services - Central, Emergency Services - Southwest, JobNet, Martha's Way, Jingle Bell Express, Back To School, The Louise J. Moran Vision Care Program and the Sunshine Resale Shop.

Our Mission
The mission of the Christian Community Service Center (CCSC) is to serve the poor, hungry, disabled, and otherwise needy while respecting their religious, ethnic or cultural differences.

CCSC was created out of faith, and founded in the belief that we are called to help all God's children heart to heart and hand in hand.