Settling In – Our First 2 Weeks in Crown Heights

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CrownHeights

It is hard to believe that nearly two weeks have passed since we moved into our apartment in Crown Heights.

The transition did not come without its share of emotional challenges. We left friends and colleagues to step into the unknowns of incarnational living in an urban context.

There are other significant shifts that played into the emotional state during our first few days.  We needed to begin to learn to fall asleep to a new set of sounds and noises that were not the quiet calm ones we’d been accustomed to.  Rather than driving into a gated community where parking was ample, we drive around looking for where to park our car on our 1-way street.  Instead of a more-than-ample near-1600 square foot apartment, we downsized and squeezed into 800 square feet of Brooklyn apartment.

Joined with the impending realities of trusting God for job provision, these things added up to fairly constant state of emotional mush.

I remember moving the belongings into the apartment with some of the members of our new church community and being overwhelmed with emotions to the state of tears.  I didn’t know why I was crying.  I only knew that this change was taking it out on me and it was only the second day.  I needed to trust God.

Erica and I have both had some of these moments.  We have cried and realized our brokenness.  We have begun to grief.

ChildrensMuseum

But in the midst of the pain, we have found the comfort of God’s Holy Spirit as well as the embrace of newfound friends with whom we live in community with.

For our Georgia friends, picture the bulk of the church community living within 3 or 4 neighboring subdivisions.

We live within 8 blocks of at least 7 or 8 of the current church families.  The very school we meet at is 1 1/2 blocks from here.  The geographic realities of doing “community” in an urban context are quickly providing us a different taste of city life than what we’d previously been apprehensive to consider.

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… yet here we are… a group of families who have been called by God to live in this neighborhood and love the people God desires to redeem.

It is a neighborhood that has built a reputation which would often deter outsiders from stepping in.  I, myself, have been sometimes surprised by the ways in which those whom would stereotypically be “thugs” or “the bad ones” are the very ones who have begun to embrace our family as new members of their community.

Sure there are challenges we’re already facing with living in the city.  Loud neighbors, no parking, normal hustle-and-bustle, and the traffic… all part of living in New York City.

There are things that are simply out of our control.  Living in Crown Heights, I can assure you there will be many more things out of our control.

But God didn’t bring us here so that we could control things.  He brought us here to be part of the family of God in this neighborhood…. He brought us here to be living examples of the Kingdom that Jesus came to establish…. A kingdom that will require daily dying to self….

So Lord…. build Your kingdom here…. in us.

Moving to Crown Heights – Aslan is on the Move

It is somewhat redundant and unnecessary to use the words incarnational and missional when speaking of God’s call for our lives. The two are inseparable parts of the call of discipleship.

Jesus was incarnate as He became flesh and lived among those He came to redeem. There’s a a tangible “living with” that we are invited to participate in as we live the call Jesus gave us.

“Missional” is similar. Our entire lives should be missional.

So why use them? For us, it’s a separation of how we’ve compartmentalized our lives before and what is shifting. You see, we’ve subscribed to the separated and organized way of life where ministry happens “then and there” and private life happens “somewhere else.”

The truth is that all of life is a huge opportunity for ministry and mission, and wherever we are we have the incarnation propelling us forward to live as Jesus did.

So this move for us is just that… a shift where we are merging all of our lives into one big, sometimes messy and frustrating, yet rewarding canvas where we want to live in Crown Heights, incarnationally and on mission, and simply be part of the family of God in that neighborhood.

This is one if the reasons we’ve accepted God’s call for our family to move and live in Crown Heights.

It’s a move to live incarnationally in the heart of a neighborhood that has been overlooked.

While marred with negative perceptions and stereotypes involving violence, gangs and the like, there is a hidden beauty that is waiting to sprout in this neighborhood.

“Aslan is on the MOVE.”

Details About Our Move to Brooklyn

Questions, Questions, and more Questions.  That’s the first reality that many who we talk to don’t realize.  There are more questions than not regarding our upcoming move.  So why are we moving?  Simple.  God said, “Go.”

I love planning and setting up details as much as the next detail-oriented-number-cruncher.  That’s why steps of faith like these are so hard, because God seldom provides the entire picture of what He is doing.  Instead, we’re left with questions… which are really an opportunity to demonstrate our trust in Him.

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What We DON’T Know – Prayer Requests and Trust-Opportunities

1) Where will we live?  You got that right.  We arrive in Crown Heights in two weeks, and we don’t have a place to live.  In the “nuts-and-bolts” side, this has a lot to do with our financial situation, our credit situation, which points to the larger shift in Crown Heights in regards to what landlords are looking for.  They want impeccable credit and high income.  Sadly, many of the long-time inhabitants of Crown Heights (which are traditionally more low-income) either have to stay put, or miraculously move into another place in Crown Heights… but more often than not, they’re being forced out.  Whether intentional or not, gentrification is what’s happening. 

2) How will we survive; income?  We are not moving in response to a job opportunity or job offer.  Yes, we are partnering with a church that is launching on Easter Sunday.  However, neither of us will be on paid staff at the church.  Our desire is to eventually build up a network of support so that we can be full-time workers in the neighborhood through the church.  However, as it stands, two weeks from arriving in Crown Heights, we have no jobs.

3) Health Insurance?   This is tied somewhat to #2.  However, in this new Affordable Care Act season in our country, it is likely that we’ll find ourselves applying for relief, at least for our kids.

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Now… Here’s what we DO know

God Spoke, and God is Sovereign. This is the quintessential truth that is keeping our faith grounded.  When God told us to step out and move to Crown Heights, he didn’t promise to let us know the details.  He simply said Go, and then invited us to trust Him.

Believe me… there are more than enough reasons for anyone in their “human” mind to not go through with it.  It is a battle to choose faith over “common sense.” Common sense tells us to think twice or to do everything in our power to work things out.  We’ve tried.  And in big seasons like these, we find that anytime we try, our attempts are futile because God always comes through in a way that we did not look at.

So, instead, we’re trying our best to wait on Him once again.  You see, when Lazarus died, I’m sure it was not what his loved once would have considered the “best route.”  However, what Jesus was looking at was what would give Him the most glory.

Don’t second-guess God because things don’t pan out the way you want or humanly think best.  Choose faith today… choose faith every day.  Then, let’s do our best to wait and watch how God comes through.

I’m almost 33 years old… and to this day, He has NEVER let me down.

When the ‘world’ says “NO.”

The last few days, I have been walking the streets of Crown Heights, Brooklyn and drinking copious amounts of coffee as I somewhat aimlessly sought to secure a place for my family and I to live when we move up here on April 1.

I knew the layout of the land was more competitive in regards to getting approved.  The demographics of Crown Heights is slowly-but-surely changing.  The traditionally-known Caribbean and minority families whom have tended to be lower-income are getting weeded out.  How?  Gentrification at its best.  Crown Heights is beginning to shift into a neighborhood for young professionals, college students and graduates, and people whom either have a lot of money or who’s parents/connections do.

Those who live in the neighborhood have to either stay where they’re at, or move out, as the process to get approved for a new apartment in the neighborhood has drastically changed.

You need great credit.  Any blemishes will require a guarantor who has great credit AND makes 80 x’s 1-year’s total rent.  So, when a month’s rent is about 2,000 on average, you need someone making 160k/year to sign for you.  You’d be hard pressed to find minorities in the hood with friends like that in their circle of influence.

The landlords are at the front line of this shift, as they are taking advantage of the increasing attractiveness of the western parts of the neighborhood (which is also progressing easterly), and have meticulously raised rent to turn profits.

In 5 years, Crown Heights will be the next Park Slope.

I saw 15 different apartments while I was here.  I walked almost 17 miles in three days.  I used about 1.5Gb of data on my phone.  I text and spoke to approximately 30-35 different people.  All asked about me and my family.  All gave approval requirements.  All said the same thing.

 

“It’s not even worth applying.  You won’t get approved.”

 

The challenge is choosing to continue trusting in the Sovereignty of the One who called us.  We know what God said.  He simply said GO.  We’ve “GONE” in our lives before.  Foolishly, we always have a desire that the next thing God asked could come with less drama and heartache.

The truth is, it would be very easy to turn away and say “forget it.”  The challenges before us are seemingly insurmountable.  We won’t have a place to move “TO” (yet)… the provision isn’t “THERE” (yet).  It’s very easy to see what ISN’T there and walk away.

… and in our human condition, that’s the easiest thing to do… because doing so is the quickest way to avoid the pain.

 

But we cling… we can’t say we always hold on, because sometimes we don’t even have all of the strength to… sometimes all you can do is cling.. cling to that one thing that reminds you that God called you, and that God knows, and that God will make a way… and at that moment, all of the mountains fade into an abyss of God’s miraculous provision.

 

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We’re Moving to Brooklyn – An Unexpected Call from God for the Lara Family


This morning I shared with our church, Lilburn Alliance Church, that after several months of wrestling and prayer, we have accepted God’s call for us to move to Crown Heights; a neighborhood in Brooklyn, NY.

When it comes to unexpected news like this, there are always questions.  These are many of the questions that we ourselves wrestled with, the most appropriate of which was why.

I have created a video to invite you into our journey up to and including this upcoming move.  You can view it below.

[youtube http://youtu.be/Cz-hjc499Co]

What Will We Be Doing?

This is the million-dollar question.  Prior to this, we’ve always prepared ourselves for the Godly assignment.  We went to bible school and subsequently seminary.  I received two graduate degrees.  I do not regret this at all.  But I realize that I had not pressed into the deeper call that God had for me, and as a family my wife and I had not pressed into God’s call for us.

For the first time, we are actually not pursuing a job offer or opportunity.  God simply told us to go and be a part of what He is doing in Crown Heights and to be a part of the community of God there.

So, we’ll be more like Urban Missionaries.  We’ll be doing a combination of raising support and getting other jobs to pay the bills.  We’ll be a part of the missional community that is planting a church there.  But overall, we’ll simply be a family living in community with other believers and sharing God’s love, peace, and grace in the midst of a spiritually broken place.

More On the Neighborhood – Come and See

You can watch/listen to a little more of where we’re going via this second video.

[youtube http://youtu.be/mxtYYqvVvFM]

Join Us!

If you want to find out ways that you can partner with us, click the appropriate menu item at the top of the page, or go to http://thelarafamily.net/partner-with-us

Angela

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‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’ Matthew 25:40 ESV

I went grocery shopping today. Needed to buy a few things. As I made my way to the car with my shopping cart, I was greeted by a somewhat distraught lady. Her name is Angela. She apologized as she tearfully shared her situation. She’s in need. She’s at home with two grandchildren. Things haven’t been good for them. She didn’t go into all of the specifics, but by the looks of her clothing and the extent of her emotions, whatever she was going through didn’t seem to be easy. She was $42 short on being able to prevent her gas (cooking & heat) from being shut off tomorrow. She’d been at this for a few hours.

As she spoke, I prayed to God. “God, I don’t have the $42.” While it’s not a lot of money, we ourselves have a budget driven by when we receive paychecks. We are not in need. Everything is taken care of. But apart from not walking around with cash, I knew that I probably couldn’t cover it all. But, I heard God say, “give her $20 bucks.”

Got it. But the instant I heard God tell me that, the all-too-frequent voice of doubt came up, questioning the veracity of her plight. Many of you have perhaps been in similar situations, and would have probably asked yourself, “Is she telling the truth? What if she’s just pulling your leg? Does she even have grandchildren?”

The moment we entertain these thoughts, we inevitably begin to traverse a road that will lead us to cower back to selfishness under the sometimes thing guise of “not” helping because “oh, they’re probably lying” or “someone else will help them.” But we miss the main thing… What did God say?

So… I stuck with that. God said give her $20. So, I asked her if she could wait as I went back inside and got $20 for her. Her response was similar to a commercial of the Publisher’s Clearinghouse Sweepstakes Winners. She began to cry and thank me.

I’ve spent far too long questioning opportunities like these and justifying my inaction in sometimes superficial and spiritually arrogant ways.

You see… when Angela approached me… I was entering the groceries into the new 2013 CR-V that God blessed us with yesterday. How DARE I listen to God tell me to give her $20, and me not obey?

The greatest part? When I came back and met her tangible need… it opened the door for me to meet a spiritual need. So… right there… in the Walmart parking lot. I asked if I could pray for her. She said yes.

I didn’t lead her to Christ because from our conversation earlier, she already knew Him. However, the prayer time was one of the richest I’ve had in some time.

And to think… that was a way that I was doing that as unto Jesus.

— Macho