After almost a decade of travel, I thought I’d sung at a church in every denomination – even the ones that deny being denominations. But Saturday night was a first.
“I’ve never even heard of an Evangelical Covenant church,” I told Jim Black, one of the church’s two pastors.
He explained that the denomination split off from the Evangelical Free denomination in the 1800s – one was Scandinavian and the other was Swedish and he joked that those two cultures were obviously just too different to get along. “We’ve traditionally been big on social justice and service. We’re a very small group,” he said.
Seems like that kind always is, I thought.
Hanging out with Jim and a few other folks at Praxis Café and Community after Saturday night’s concert couldn’t have come at a better time for me. Like the first nose tickle of a cold I’ve felt a bout of cynicism and judgment coming on in the wake of my trip to India. But Jim boosted my immunity.
At Praxis Cafe and Community about 40 to 60 people come together to sing and talk about the bible every Sunday in a building that a small non-profit lets them use in exchange for a monthly donation. For that donation they get more than a place to have a Sunday service though. They also turned the building into a very lo-tech lo-priced café, which really is nothing more than a room with a TV set and a small window through which a limited menu of food and drinks is served.
The place doesn’t get many paying customers. It’s really a one-stop help center for down-and-out folks from the neighborhood. Every day people walk in hungry and leave full at no charge. They get counseling and other help they need. “We’re here if they need us,” Jim said.
If there’s a need Praxis folks can’t meet, they help find someone who can – someone like Oasis Compassion Agency, a ministry run by Sharon Gill – formerly the CEO of a law firm. Sharon started Oasis by herself in the closet of a big church in town. Now, just a few years later, Sharon and a small army provide food, clothing, biblical counseling, job training and life skills to about a thousand people in the area – and some of those find her by finding Praxis first.
A few guys found us Saturday night in fact.
Jim said it happened as I was singing, “When we love the least, when we love the weak, when we love these, we love Jesus.” A few hungry guys from the neighborhood saw all the cars and wandered in. Jim and some other folks served them a meal, poured them some coffee and ate with them. One of those men said he hadn’t eaten in three days, so Jim wondered why he didn’t clean his plate, why he wrapped up half of it and headed out the door. A member of Praxis walked the man home in the dark and when he entered his house he saw the man’s brother – also hungry – washing his clothes in a trashcan. He would finish the meal. The two brothers said they didn’t know the church was there until Saturday night. Now they do.
Jim’s co-pastor is a guy named Michael. I didn’t meet him, but I met his wife, Megan. She works for First Care Family Resources, a crisis pregnancy center in Boca Raton. They offer free and confidential pregnancy tests, sonograms and STD counseling – work made possible by donations and volunteers from the community.
I met a lady named Dovi at the Saturday night concert too. She heard me sing a couple years ago, bought my CDs and shared them with her daughter. Eventually, she brought her daughter to hear me talk about the kingdom and Dovi said the stuff we talked about that night changed the direction of her family’s life. “I came here tonight to kick you and thank you,” she laughed.
She said that after hearing about the kingdom, her daughter came home and wanted to sell all her stuff and give all the money to somebody – she didn’t know who. Dovi and her husband worried that this was just a phase Christina was going through and that when it ended she and her husband would have to buy her all new stuff again. “But it didn’t end,” Dovi said. “Christina’s in Egypt right now.”
Christina’s studying graphic design in college so she can pay her bills but she’s also studying world religions and missions and some other smart sounding stuff so she can use whatever wealth she generates someday and all the time she has left down here to do something – she doesn’t know what yet – to bring the kingdom to earth for more people.
As for Dovi and her husband, they decided they could “let AIG screw up the 401K” or they could pull the money out and screw up themselves. And maybe do something good in the process. So they’ve helped create what they jokingly call a “commune” – it’s a few friends who live in close proximity, share some food and other resources to get their expenses down, and then use a house Dovi donated, their combined skills and cash to provide transitional housing for people who need it, pay the first month’s rent for people who need a way out of homelessness, and hand out burritos to anyone who’s hungry. I had lunch with some other folks from the “commune” on Sunday. They admit they don’t really know what they’re doing yet but they couldn’t just do nothing so they’re just meeting the needs they come across in their neighborhood everyday and figuring things out together as they go.
Dovi and her husband and daughter were a typical upper middle class Christian family two years ago. “Now we’re hippies,” Dovi smirked. “So, like I said, I want to kick you and thank you.”
Thank you, Dovi. And Jim, Michael, Megan and everyone else I met this weekend who showed me how the kingdom is coming to South Florida through them – through churches and individuals. You saved me from myself. Thank you for letting your witness be more than words. Thank you very much.