The ‘playfulness of God’ evident at new La Mesa location

Barber_diningroom

About 100 guests dined and worshiped together at La Mesa’s new facility on Tuesday, Jan. 12, at First Christian Church in Mesa.

Thanks be to God for growing Christ’s Greenfield Lutheran Church’s year-old homeless ministry, La Mesa, to the point where an expansion to a new site was required. On Tuesday, Jan. 12, about 100 brothers and sisters gathered for the first time in buildings on the campus of First Christian Church in Mesa to dine, study and worship together.

Last fall, Vicars Jake Boessling and Joe Beran began prayerfully exploring a relocation of La Mesa from its first home, First Evangelical Lutheran Church in Mesa, to a building that had more space for its weekly meal and worship service, which also includes a growing men’s Bible study and children’s program.

Vicar Jake Boessling welcomes the crowd to La Mesa.

Vicar Jake Boessling welcomes the crowd to La Mesa.

Both admit they were “sweating it” a bit when, as the time for La Mesa to move loomed at the end of the year, no place seemed suitable. But when they took it out of their own hands and put it into the Lord’s, He used a CGLC La Mesa committee member to open the door to a wonderful facility on Country Club Drive between Brown Road and University Drive.

In November, Michelle Nedry attended a networking event for women entrepreneurs, where she met women from First Christian. Michelle told them about La Mesa’s search for a new home, and learned about the First Christian space, that it was available on Tuesday nights and that the congregation was looking for ways to

God brought together Christ's Greenfield and First Christian in His time.

God brought together Christ’s Greenfield and First Christian in His time.

help the homeless and working poor.  The next thing you know, on God’s time, meetings were being held between leadership at both churches, and an agreement was made for First Christian to donate space — a large building with a dining room, kitchen and serving area, an outdoor ramada, a classroom for the men’s Bible study and children’s program and plenty of parking to Christ’s Greenfield for La Mesa.

“Jesus had this all along,” Vicar Jake said. “We needed to only trust in His greater plan to provide for our every need. And boy did He, in our new location at First Christian.”

Norma, second from left, and her family members were glad to be at First Christian.

Norma, second from left, and her family members were glad to be at First Christian.

The topic of Vicar Joe’s sermon on La Mesa’s first night at First Christian, “The Playfulness of Jesus,” was apropos to how Christ’s Greenfield was led by Him to a new space. You could imagine Jesus showing a thumbs-up, a wink, a nod in approval, as he may have done when, as chronicled in Matthew 17:24-27, he had a playful way of dealing with the tax collectors.

“When they came to Capernaum, those who collected the two-drachma tax came to Peter and said, “Does your teacher not pay the two-drachma tax?” He said, “Yes.” And when he came into the house, Jesus spoke to him first, saying, “What do you think, Simon? From whom do the kings of the earth collect customs or poll-tax, from their sons or from strangers?” When Peter said, “From strangers,” Jesus said to him, “Then the sons are exempt. “However, so that we do not offend them, go to the sea and throw in a hook, and take the first fish that comes up; and when you open its mouth, you will find a shekel. Take that and give it to them for you and Me.”

Chili was on the menu Tuesday at La Mesa's first meeting at First Christian. Brothers and sisters were thankful for the warm food.

Chili was on the menu Tuesday at La Mesa’s first meeting at First Christian. Brothers and sisters were thankful for the warm food.

Chili, not fish, was on the menu this night at La Mesa, and the kitchen volunteers were thankful to have a new, fresh space to prepare and serve it with fresh fruit and dessert.

“It’s very user-friendly, clean, bright, cheerful,” said kitchen crew member Marlene Trunkenbolz.

Beneath the ramada, La Mesa brothers and sisters were carefully choosing from piles of donated warm clothing to take with them. Among them was Norma, who has four young daughters.

“It’s wonderful,” she said, looking around the space. “We’re so excited to come back to La Mesa and grateful to be here.”

The children's ministry at La Mesa now has its own comfy space.

The children’s ministry at La Mesa now has its own comfy space.

Ten-year-old Angel agreed. “It’s better and bigger. And now we have our own personal space,” he said, referring to the children’s room.

Mary Lou Hirschke, a Christ’s Greenfield member who comes to La Mesa with her husband, Irving, each week, said the new space is a blessing. “I pray it will give more people the warmth to be fed spiritually and physically,” she said.

And to be free to be happy and playful, as Vicar Joe pointed, because — and only because — Jesus paid the price for our sin by dying on

Worshipers laid hands on walls and the ceiling at La Mesa to ask God to bless it.

Worshipers laid hands on walls and the ceiling at La Mesa to ask God to bless it.

the cross. The worshippers enjoyed music by the La Mesa band, and communion was offered, as folks filled every space in a big circle around the 12 round tables and several long tables in the dining and main serving area.

We’re going to need room for more circles.

The evening closed with everyone laying hands on one of the walls in the new space to bless it. Many were prayers of thanks.

God is so good — all the time. Hope you will join us at La Mesa, starting with dinner at 6 p.m. and worship at 6:30 p.m., every Tuesday at First Christian Church, 805 N. Country Club Dr. in Mesa. For more information and upcoming message topics, click here.

By Janie Magruder

 

La Mesa celebrates first anniversary

ONE

Happy anniversary, La Mesa, from the awesome kitchen staff.

Nearly 100 people recently crowded into a space in central Mesa that for a year has been used to bring God’s word and a meal to people from all walks of life — from those living on the streets by their own choice or life’s circumstances to successful business owners, nurses and teachers.

They gathered in the cafeteria at First Evangelical Lutheran Church on Oct. 6 to celebrate the one-year anniversary of La Mesa, an outreach ministry of Christ’s Greenfield Lutheran Church in Gilbert that feeds God’s word and nutritious food to a near standing-room-only crowd each Tuesday evening.

TWO

Vicar Jake Boessling leads La Mesa every Tuesday night.

What started in October 2014 with a couple of dozen Christ’s Greenfield members, led by the church’s vicar Jacob Boessling, has since exploded to a gathering which has created bonds among the homeless, working class families and retired people. Many say La Mesa is the best part of their week.

“This is my family,” Daniel said during the celebration which included prayer and communion, a series of emotional testimonials, songs and artwork by the La Mesa children’s ministry, phenomenal music, and, of course, pizza, birthday cake and ice cream.

Daniel, who said he travels 3-1/2 hours to get to La Mesa, introduced his new wife, Teresa, whose birthday it was that evening. The crowd burst into the “Happy Birthday” song, and Teresa, visibly moved, joined Boessling at the front of the room, took the microphone. “Thank you. I love you,” she murmured.

THREE

Martin is always a welcome face at Christ’s Greenfield Lutheran’s outreach ministry La Mesa.

Martin, who had attended La Mesa about 10 times, said his old self “has been run out of the building. God has placed me to do what he needs me to do. I feel the spirit here.”

La Mesa begins at 5 p.m., with a circle of men in the courtyard sharing a Bible study, as community members pitch in to make coffee and lemonade, set up tables and chairs, carry musical instruments and equipment into the cafeteria, and help in every possible way.  The meal and service run from 6-8 p.m. and just as they do at the beginning of the evening, everyone pitches in to clean and pack up.

At the anniversary celebration, Tommy, a longtime La Mesa member, said he wanted to thank three guys — “the Father, Son and Holy Ghost.” But he called Boessling, “the star of the show. If it had been anyone else giving a sermon, I don’t’ know if I would have listened,” said Tommy, who has since become a member of Christ’s Greenfield.

Brian, a beloved brother at La Mesa

Brian, a beloved brother at La Mesa

Brian, who called himself one of the “O.Gs” or “Original Gangster of God,” said he had walked down the “boulevard of broken dreams,” but clung to his faith in God. La Mesa members have helped him, and many others, find work and places to live. Bus passes are available every week, last winter’s clothing distribution will be repeated this year, and baptisms and a wedding also have been celebrated.

Doc, who came to La Mesa in January at Boessling’s invitation, also gave a testimonial of sorts at the anniversary celebration. The professed atheist said La Mesa lets him hear Biblical laws to live by and gives him a good meal. But there’s more, Doc said.

Doc Ingalls, left, with Boessling, who first invited him to visit La Mesa last January.

Doc Ingalls, left, with Boessling, who first invited him to visit La Mesa last January.

“Here, you are more than a number,” he said. “Instead of getting a government stipend, they say, ‘Hello, come sit with me,’” he said. (Scroll down on this blog to read more of Doc’s story.)

Later in the celebration, La Mesa’s children’s group, led by college student and future teacher Shauna Becker, sang songs for the audience and showed some of the art projects they’d worked on over the year. As many as 20 children of all ages are part of the group that weekly learns a Bible lesson and works on a craft.

Boessling ended the party with communion and a reminder that Jesus, who was nailed to the cross, placed in a tomb, rose again and is victorious and coming back, is the be all and end all.

God's children of all ages come together at La Mesa to "Be Fed."

God’s children of all ages come together at La Mesa to “Be Fed.”

As Romans 8 says, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering.”

—Janie Magruder

Blessings, friendships, the Gospel expanding at La Mesa

A man who was welcoming people into a dinner line at a Lakewood, Colo., church ministry for the homeless was asked how he became comfortable talking and ministering to those with whom he seemingly had little in common. How had he avoided coming off as a do-gooder? What did he say about Jesus?

“God puts you outside your comfort zone,” he replied, “and then it becomes your comfort zone.”

That was nearly 18 months ago when a group from Christ’s Greenfield Lutheran Church (CGLC) in Gilbert, Ariz., traveled to Denver to visit The Table, a weekly meal and worship service at Bethlehem Lutheran Church. The CGLC parishioners, led by Vicar Jacob Boessling, represented La Mesa (Spanish for The Table), a ministry that was in the early planning stages.

Vicar Jacob Boessling (left) of Christ's Greenfield Lutheran Church and the pastoral leader of La Mesa, first met Doc Ingalls last January. Doc had been on homeless for nearly a year.

Vicar Jacob Boessling (left) of Christ’s Greenfield Lutheran Church and the pastoral leader of La Mesa, first met Doc Ingalls last January. Doc had been on homeless for nearly a year.

A committee of a dozen people met and prayed for nine months in 2014 before launching La Mesa in September of that year. Now at its one-year anniversary of feeding body and spirit from a church cafeteria in an older, low-income neighborhood of nearby Mesa, Ariz., La Mesa has become a ministry where an average of 125 people from all walks of life gather weekly to Be Fed. Already, La Mesa has outgrown its space.

Followed by a home-cooked meal that is lovingly prepared and served by smiling, dedicated volunteers, the worship service always opens with this Bible verse:

“Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.” (Colossians 3:11)

As the man in Denver said, God has opened up a new comfort zone for His people in Arizona. Under His guidance, one wedding and three baptisms have been performed at La Mesa, and the Word has been spoken and the Lord’s Supper served about 40 times. The CGLC congregation has embraced La Mesa with prayers, time and monetary and in-kind donations, and the homeless community has hugged La Mesa right back, showing up early and staying late to set up chairs and tables, prepare hot coffee and icy lemonade, and take out the garbage.

“Homeless people need advocates,” said Leila Woodard, community outreach chair of the SouthEast Valley Regional Association of Realtors, who is such an advocate. “There’s such a stigma about them. People turn their heads when they see them, but most are people who have had some unfortunate circumstances and are working so hard to get out of it. They just deserve a chance.”

La Mesa offers brothers and sisters a chance to come in our of the heat or cold, to dine and worship, to sing loudly, pray steadfastly and care for each other incessantly. There’s Stephen, the artist, Tomas, the cook, and Brian, a Jack-of-all-trades and La Mesa cheerleader.

And then there’s Doc, the wise.

Meeting Doc at La Mesa

Doc Ingalls

Doc Ingalls

Among the brothers at La Mesa is Doc Ingalls, a tall, handlebar-mustachioed man with a grey ponytail, a colorful past and a recent bout with homelessness. He lost everything in a messy divorce, was hit hard by the recession and was relegated to sleeping on a bedroll under a tree for a year.

Doc is an atheist who said he needs tangible proof that God created the universe and sent His Son to die on the cross for the redemption of sinners. Doc’s strength, he said, has always come from inside himself.

“Religion is based on who you know, what you know,” he said. “Did Jesus really make people see? Did He really die for your sins? I wasn’t there, I didn’t see it. Was He a good man? He probably was.”

Doc was among the first people Boessling met at St. Vincent de Paul when he visited last year to introduce himself and invite the “Vinny’s” guests to La Mesa.

“I vividly remember him saying, ‘No thanks, I’m an atheist,’” Boessling said. “But he was still so open and personable about himself. I sat down and talked with him as much as I could each week. But some weeks I didn’t even talk to him because he kept telling me, ‘I’m an atheist!’ Doc had seen so many different churches come and go in his community, and the jury was still out on ours.”

Debbie5

Doc with La Mesa leaders Laurie and Rick McClellan

Doc comes to La Mesa for the food and to hear scripture. “When the pastors talk about gentleness or kindness or giving or taking, they are good rules to live by, and you start to think, ‘Was I a little too harsh on the guy who asked me for some change?’” he said. “Within my own mind, I decipher yes or no, I was or was not hard. That helps me.”

Doc first visited La Mesa in January and got back on his feet this spring (he and Boessling disagree on who gets credit for that, Doc or God). Doc has an apartment and a good job, but it angers him that, despite dozens of productive years, the homeless label still sticks to him.

“I’m 63, and it doesn’t define me,” said the self-taught carpenter, leather artist and contractor, a former U.S. Marine who has owned businesses, worked on an urchin boat and tried farming. “Being homeless was an experience. It wasn’t my life.”

The rise and fall of Doc

Mark Dennis Ingalls was born in New York, the youngest of four children, and the family soon moved to Southern California. He “always thought a little differently, marched to my own drummer,” and by the time he was in first grade, Doc said he had his own corner “to put my nose in.”

High school, Doc said, was his social playground. He joined the Marines after graduating, serving from 1970-74 as a supplies sergeant, and grew up quickly. Shortly before being discharged from the military after contracting the measles, he picked up the “Doc” moniker while unloading supplies on a dock. A fellow Marine needed medical attention, and an officer, seeing Doc’s name listed on the roster as “Ingalls, M.D.,” (last name, first name and middle name as initials), called for the doctor.

“I said, well, I can wrap him up and ship him to the hospital, for cryin’ out loud,” he said. “The name just stuck.”

Doc at La Mesa

Doc at La Mesa

Back in California, Doc took up an interest in riding motorcycles and collecting guns, and started working a series of jobs. He assembled lamps, sold firearms in a shop in a sketchy area of south Los Angeles, refurbished antique furniture and bent sheet metal. He co-owned a bar and a video equipment sales and installation company with customers that included pro athletes and Muslim dictators.

Doc was a film and broadcast major in college, attending Moorpark College and Ventura College, where as an intern he recorded commercials and did the weather reports for a local radio station. But he was short a couple of classes and did not graduate, preferring instead to be a student of opportunities.

In 1974, Doc learned he was a father. He met his 5-year-old daughter from a brief relationship he’d had before he joined the Marines. He supported his daughter and also her mother, who has since died. But Ingalls has not seen his daughter, nor his two teenaged grandchildren, in some time.

“My father always asked me do you have a plan? Well, I didn’t then, and I still don’t,” he said. “I’ve been flying by the seat of my pants since I was born, and I prefer it that way. I’ve given up good jobs for lesser jobs and enjoyed them just as much. They may not have lasted as long as that first job, but I learned something. I want to learn as much as I can.”

Working as a cook on a pack train, Doc met a man who taught him to harness and drive horse teams. He found work driving stagecoaches at charitable events, private weddings and parades, and then took off with a circus, heading the horse department and seeing the western U.S.

In 1982, when Doc’s mother asked him to care for the dying man, he didn’t hesitate. His elder Ingalls died two months later, and his mother soon relocated to Arizona.

Doc has become a regular fixture at La Mesa.

Doc has become a regular fixture at La Mesa.

It was a billboard on the California-Arizona border that convinced Doc to move, too: “Welcome to Arizona, a California gun-owner’s sanctuary state.” Doc settled in Chandler, and soon found work, as an artist’s model for western painters, selling western clothing and being an interpreter for the Pioneer Living History Museum in north Phoenix. He was an expert on life in the late 1800s, the buffalo hunters, wars with Indians, the proliferation of stagecoaches and how long Wyatt Earp and Buffalo Bill lived. For many years, Doc was an interpreter for the Arizona State Historical Society.

By the, Doc was dressing smartly in Victorian suits — checked or striped trousers and vests, overcoats, hat, ties and stick pins.

“I feel comfortable in these clothes,” he said. “I would never want to live in that era, but cooking utensils, cups, plates, just feel good in my hands.”

He favors biographies and histories from the 1800s to 1910, but also loves Jules Verne for his revolutionary science fiction. For a period of time, he was a clerk at Tombstone Old West Books, where he bought more books than he sold.

By 1998, Doc was doing well. He owned three homes and three undeveloped lots, and he was married, he thought, happily. It didn’t last.

“I was all into the marriage and taking care of my wife, and she was all into ‘let’s see how much I can get,’” he said. “It took nine years, and she wiped me out. When the money was gone, so was she, and before I knew it, I owned nothing.”

Doc said he had an incompetent lawyer and no way to recover when the economy turned back, beginning in 2008. He lost his apartment and started working temporary jobs, moving rocks and digging ditches and doing other hard labor that he wasn’t accustomed to. With his motorcycle, two changes of clothes and a blanket, Doc set up home alongside a Mesa canal in February 2014.

“I had my spot and I had to shoo people away from it. You have to get tough or you have nothing,” he said. “You don’t have walls, you’re out in the open, you have to hide your things and if they find them, they’re gone.”

Doc works long days as a contractor, but he still attempts to get to La Mesa every week.

Doc works long days as a contractor, but he still attempts to get to La Mesa every week.

Doc needed a permanent address to land a better job, and so he went to the Veteran’s Administration for help with rent. He said he “got the royal runaround” and was denied help because he didn’t drink, take drugs or have a mental illness.

“They were telling me that because I lived the good life, I was being penalized,” he said. “I was fortunate in that I had the McDonalds to go to to write letters to congressmen, senators, local officials, the VA, to tell them what I was up against, and to fill out job applications. But I had no place to clean up, no clean clothes.”

He went to the Mesa Public Library and continued to look for work and fill out applications and wrote letters to the library to suggest better open hours for the working public. “It gave me something to do rather than hang out on a street corner,” Doc said.

No one wrote back.

Doc remembered lashing out at a person who happened to be following him into the library and didn’t realize Doc was homeless. The man was criticizing homeless people, saying they were lazy and unwilling to work. Doc had heard enough.

“They haven’t been among them,” he said with exasperation. “They are seeing it from the outside and putting everyone into the same basket, when in reality there are a lot of people trying very hard to get off the street.”

Doc climbs back into the saddle

A series of fortunate events have helped Doc’s life turn around.

  • At Boessling’s invitation, Doc dropped by La Mesa on a cold evening in January earlier this year. He’d been on the streets for nearly a year and was happy to receive a hot meal and warm welcome.
  • “Tony,” a security guard at St. Vincent de Paul, told Doc about its rental assistance program, and within two hours of applying, Doc had one month’s rent in his hand. He found an apartment and had 40 days to worry about coming up with the next month’s rent.
  • A homeless friend at Vinny’s told him about a community garden that Woodard’s realtors’ association was building at Paz de Cristo, another church-based nonprofit that provides services to the homeless. Doc hates – hates – gardening because it was used as punishment when he was a child, but he showed up anyway and shoveled sand to help create a brick patio. There, he met Woodard, who insisted on helping him.

“Leila called, and asked me if I needed a dining room set, and I said sure. Well, she brings over that, plus end tables, coffee tables, bed, pots, pans, food, just everything. She gave me a TV, even though I had one,” Doc said.”

Doc was not looking for a free hand, but the association and its members were undeterred, collecting four truckloads of furniture and other goods.

“I learned from the homeless community that Doc was the guy who helps everyone else, and I thought that was admirable,” Woodard said. “And I could see from his work at the garden that he was a very skilled workman.”

Woodard knew a busy contractor, Phil Habib, whom she thought would hit it off with Doc. She put the two together, and Phil made Doc a job offer, apologizing that he could only offer him $20 an hour. A living wage, Doc thought, accepting right away.

“That first weekend, I made my second month’s rent in three days,” said Doc, who’s been working for Habib’s company, PTMJ Services, for four months and is pleased that his boss values his opinions and ideas.

Habib feels like he’s hit the jackpot.

“I’m amazed at my luck in getting hooked up with Doc,” he said. “His story seemed like one of those where everything was chugging along and then – oops – he didn’t just hit a speed bump, but about 50 of them.

“It was easy to become comfortable with Doc,” Habib said. “He turned out to be extremely reliable, he gives his honest opinion on this, and I trust his opinions. I’ve got a small business, and I can’t afford to have a ‘yes’ man.”

Habib is picky about handling his customers himself, but said Doc is someone who can handle that, too.

“If I have to leave a job or drop him off at a job and go somewhere else, I know he’s going to be professional,” Habib said. “I trust him with my truck and my tools, and I’d ask him to babysit my kids.”

Vicar Jacob Boessling and Doc

Boessling and Doc are friends who have frequent discussions about God.

Boessling said the good things that have happened recently to Doc are a God thing.

“My prayer for Doc is that he will soon realize that Jesus has been orchestrating his whole story and ours in his life as well. Jesus sent us to Mesa and knew we would meet up with Doc at Vinny’s,” Boessling said. “I pray that Doc would not only see that our church is different than his other experiences have been in the past with churches, but that they living risen Jesus Christ is directing us all towards His grace each and every week.”

Doc, along with Brian and Tomas and other new friends from La Mesa, recently have started attending church at Christ’s Greenfield.

Doc at La Mesa

If there’s a takeaway from Doc’s experiences as a homeless person, it’s this: being homeless is dehumanizing.

“I’ve been through agencies — veterans, housing, welfare, DES, some churches — and when I’ve tried to talk to them to get something, my time is limited, I understand that,” he said. “But to go to these agencies is so dehumanizing. It shouldn’t be that way.”

Boessling has noticed Doc practicing the Golden Rule, doling out smiles, kindness and wisdom at every turn. He brings joy – and a large cowboy hat – to La Mesa.

Doc with the kitchen volunteers

Doc with the kitchen volunteers

“He respects people, opens doors, listens well and cares for people,” Boessling said. “I consistently see Doc taking the person who has recently found themselves living on the streets under his wing to give them advice about how to survive.”

One of the reasons Doc keeps coming back to La Mesa (other than the constant adulation from the kitchen crew) is that there is no pressure to sit in one place or behave a certain way.

“Too many religions they feed you, but you’ve got to stay,” Doc said. “Usually they feed you the sermon first and then your body after. But I feel comfortable there. These people don’t judge you, don’t pressure you. I would do anything for them.”

There’s that comfort zone again.

By Janie Magruder

Being neighborly goes both ways in La Mesa community

photo 2God has richly blessed La Mesa, Christ’s Greenfield’s outreach ministry in downtown Mesa, over the past nine months.

He assembled a group of talented people, led by Vicar Jake Boessling, to launch the weekly meal and worship for the community around First Evangelical Lutheran Church. He opened the hearts of the Christ’s Greenfield’s members to support, with their time, money and prayers, the new service. It has been so rewarding to see how many of those congregants are as big a part of La Mesa as the original team. They serve in the kitchen, make welcome and dine with homeless men, women and children around tables in the gym and pitch in to clean up after.

God recently persuaded a woman who lives with her children in First Evangelical’s neighborhood to help get the word out about La Mesa to other Hispanic families in the area.

photo 1On Saturday, May 2, La Mesa hosted a barbeque for the neighborhood, with grilled hamburgers, hot dogs and picnic fare, and balloon animals, face painting, games and gift bags for the kids. About 200 people attended, said La Mesa team member Jayne Adams, who painted little faces for three hours, never pausing to look up.

Adams credited Norma Garcia with boosting attendance by helping hand out fliers in her neighborhood during a prayer walk before the barbeque. Garcia, who with her children has been coming to La Mesa since its soft launch last summer, said it was her pleasure.

photo 3“I really appreciate all the kindness these nice people have shown to us,” she said during a recent La Mesa evening. “To know my girls are learning about God, and they are telling me stories about Him, and for them to be able to come and enjoy painting and other crafts time, it’s a treasure.”

Garcia and her daughters, Emily, 12, Jennifer, 10, Nataly, 9, and Stephanie, 6, have become welcome fixtures at La Mesa. Garcia now brings with her two friends and their children, and the kids not only enjoy crafts with Shauna Becker and her team, they have become enthusiastic nametag-makers for other La Mesa guests.

photo 4The Garcia family lives a block away from church and the children attend Concordia Charter School on the campus of First Evangelical. Jennifer Garcia said her favorite craft was painting a paper plate bright blue, drawing fish over it and covering the plate with cellophane to symbolize the sea. The story that evening was about Jesus’ feeding of the 5,000 with five loaves of bread and two fish.

“We learned that God is so awesome,” Jennifer said. “He made a lot of food!”

Nataly liked working with palm fronds in late March as the group was learning about Palm Sunday and Jesus’ triumphant journey through Jerusalem just days before He was nailed to the cross.

Garcia said there’s something “magical” about La Mesa. “The friendship, the love we’ve received here, we want to give back,” she said.

***

Please join the La Mesa crew at the annual block party at St. Vincent de Paul’s. “Vinny’s,” as it is affectionately known, has done a great job of supporting La Mesa, and we want to return the favor. The free party is from 3-6 p.m. on Saturday, May 16, at 67 E. Broadway Road in Mesa.

God is so good — all the time. Hope you will join us at La Mesa, from 6-8 p.m. every Tuesday at First Evangelical Lutheran Church, 142 N. Date St in Mesa. To see upcoming message topics, click here.

Janie Magruder

Can you relate? A parable that applies to all explored at La Mesa

Do you buy in to birth-order stereotypes that parenting experts use to peg the oldest child in a family as the bossy overachiever, the youngest child as the spoiled baby who always gets his or her own way and the middle child as the poor kid who’s stuck somewhere in the middle?

The parable of the prodigal son in the Bible doesn’t address middle-child syndrome, as it only involves two children. Found in Luke 15:1-32, the story is about a recklessly extravagant younger son who demands of his father his share of his inheritance early, squanders it and returns home to that father’s open arms and forgiveness. Father even throws son a party.

Man, does that tick off the eldest son, who’s been patient and faithful and, well, perfect while his brother has been off partying. “Give me what’s coming to me,” he says.

During a recent worship service of La Mesa, Christ’s Greenfield’s outreach ministry in downtown Mesa, Pastor Tim Ahlman said this well-known parable is a small story with a big idea.

No matter their birth order, all of God’s children sin and fall short of the glory of God by demanding, “Give me what’s coming to me.” If sinners got what we deserved, we’d get eternal damnation.

But with even greater love than that of the prodigal son’s father, our Father responds with recklessly extravagant love and forgiveness, time and time again.

He runs after us, in fact, as Christian artist Benny Hester sings in “When God Ran.”

When He ran to me
Took me in His arms, held my head to His chest
Said, “My son’s come home again”
Lifted my face, wiped the tears from my eyes
With forgiveness in His voice
He said, “Son, do you know I still love you?”

Pastor Tim said, “The height of His pursuit of us is in the sending of His son, Jesus. He’s running to you.”

As our Father continues to pursue his older and younger sons and daughters, let our prayer not be, “Give me what’s coming to me,” but “Give me more and more of You.”

***

Michelle Nedry and Michelle Boyd are longtime pals.

Michelle Nedry and Michelle Boyd

And speaking of more of Jesus, La Mesa recently baptized its second member. Michelle Boyd, who first attended La Mesa as a representative of the nonprofit Save the Family, was brought into God’s family through baptism by Pastor Tim and Vicar Jake Boessling on March 17.

Her sponsor is Michelle Nedry, a CGLC member and La Mesa committee member who has known Boyd for 30 years.

Shawna Joiner was baptized at La Mesa on Dec. 23, 2014.
God is so good — all the time. Hope you will join us at La Mesa, from 6-8 p.m. every Tuesday at First Evangelical Lutheran Church, 142 N. Date St in Mesa. To see upcoming message topics, including a continued series on parables, click here.

Janie Magruder

La Mesa launches 40 days of Lent with powerful “cardboard confessions” revealing inspiring changes to God’s people

Bruce and Debbie Barber

Bruce and Debbie Barber

At the recent Ash “Tuesday” service at La Mesa, Christ’s Greenfield Lutheran’s outreach ministry in downtown Mesa, Bruce Barber stood up with a cardboard sign in his hand. Bruce wears his curly, greying hair in a long ponytail and his emotions on his face, and he’s tall, so it’s hard to miss him.

He quietly displayed one side of his sign to the congregation — “40 years lost” — then, blinking back tears, turned to show the other side — “But the Lord never left me.” He was among several brave people in the room at First Evangelical Lutheran Church, La Mesa’s home, who introduced “cardboard confessions.” It was an unusual, emotional way for worshippers to disclose their sins and receive God’s grace and forgiveness.

Bruce is a new, but increasingly familiar face around Christ’s Greenfield and La Mesa. However, until about 12 months ago, he had not stepped into a church for 40 years.

Bruce, 59, grew up in a Southern California church-going family, was baptized a Baptist and confirmed a Lutheran, but then he fell away from the fold as a teenager. He married Debbie in 1976, started a family and worked hard to be a good provider. Bruce enjoyed getting together with his buddies for a beer or a pickup basketball game, a camaraderie that vanished when he moved his family to Arizona in 1990.

“Debbie allowed me to be out, and I took advantage of it,” he said.

The absence of his friends had such a negative impact on Bruce that he became moody and temperamental, and his feelings grew to anger, which he took out on his family. At one point, Debbie moved in with her daughter and left him for 6 months.

Bruce had vowed never to go to church again because he’d been so turned off as a youth, but God wasn’t about to let him get away. Four years ago, He put in Bruce’s path two people — a stranger who “shared his spiel on Christ” and a friend who gave him a copy of “The Shack” by Canadian author William P. Young.

“I picked that book up and never let it go,” said Bruce, who was moved to tears by the memory. “After that, I got down on my hands and knees and prayed to God to change my life. It was killing me. It was killing Deb. It was killing my kids.”

Bruce told his wife about his experience, and she wondered what that meant for their relationship. She had grown up an atheist, and her married life had been spent making sure her family was well cared for and working her way up the ranks at Intel.

But Debbie was suffering on the inside and nearly two years ago, when she was at an especially desperate point in her life, she had a vision. God was speaking aloud to her.

“I knew who it was,” she said. “He told me to say the truth, that the truth would set me free. I told Him, “I’m not afraid of you,” and He said, “I know you’re not.”

Debbie told Bruce about her vision, and he believed her. He gave her “The Shack,” “The Message Bible” by Eugene H. Peterson, “Jesus Calling” by Sarah Young and “The Story,” and this non-reader became someone who couldn’t devour the Word quickly enough. At the same time, she had noticed a change in Bruce since he’d started reading Christian books.

“I figured a change would come around in her sometime if I showed her the way by the way I lived my life,” he said.

But it wasn’t until Christmas Eve 2013 that the Barbers found a new church home at Christ’s Greenfield. Bruce’s parents were in town and wanted to go, so they did. That night, Bruce and Debbie saw Jesus through Pastor Tim Ahlman and Vicar Jake Boessling. They’d found a church family.

Debbie felt “a push” to be baptized, which took place at Christ’s Greenfield nearly a year ago. “The baptism was kind of ‘whoa!’’ she said, tears streaming down her face. “Yeah, it was good.”

So good that Debbie, at the Ash “Tuesday” service, displayed her own hand-written cardboard sign. One side: “Atheist, non-believer, thought I knew it all.” The other: “Baptized, 3-26-14, 60th birthday.”

God is so good — all the time. Hope you will join us at La Mesa, from 6-8 p.m. every Tuesday at First Evangelical Lutheran Church, 142 N. Date St in Mesa. To see upcoming message topics, including a continued series on parables, click here.

Janie Magruder