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Living in Light of the Good Samaritan: Giving Value to the Devalued

A placard in the lobby of the Ace Hotel in Manhattan.

A placard in the lobby of the Ace Hotel in Manhattan.

Recently, according to the Coalition for the Homeless, homelessness in New York City (NYC) has reached the highest levels since the Great Depression of the 1930s. As of March 2013, there was an all-time record of 50,700 homeless people living on the streets of NYC. If you walk more than a block in NYC, you will be confronted with this reality.

After preaching the parable of the Good Samaritan at the Gallery Church(click to listen to the message), I was headed to Harlem for dinner with my girlfriend, Liz. As we were walking up the stairs to exit the subway, I saw him; a nameless elderly man dressed in dirty clothes, begging for change. This isn't out of the norm to see at a subway stop. But for me, this time was different. I watched as people walked by and refused to acknowledge his existence. Yet, he persisted, "can I have a dollar for a sandwich?" I watched as each person actively chose to look down rather than to look up at the face of the man. Honestly, I have to confess that I also walked by. However, with each step, my feet felt heavier to the point that I could no longer continue. I now heard two voices. One was the faint, defeated voice of the man asking for change. The other voice was my own, reciting the remnants of that morning's sermon I had just preached: "don't be the levite, don't be the priest, who walked by and refused to love the man who was vulnerable."

Too many times, we dehumanize the very people that God loves and values. Tim Keller in his book, Generous Justice, explains that "Jesus taught that a lack of concern for the poor is not a minor lapse, but reveals that something is seriously wrong with one’s spiritual compass, the heart." His point is that a heart that is not bent towards grace and mercy is one that has not experienced true compassion. The mere fact that we choose to ignore the poor whom God values  points to a "heart" that doesn't value God.

Dehumanization, or the active refusal to give value to other humans, drives all forms of exploitation. This is especially seen in commercial sex trafficking and labor trafficking. A person is "dehumanized" when the "personhood" of the individual is stripped away and they are left as nothing but an objective commodity to be bought and sold. From the moment that we dehumanize our "neighbor," it is not a far leap to objectification and commodification.

In the Newsweek article, The John Next Door, the reader is invited into the mind of someone who buys sex. Leslie Bennetts, the author, explains that "the attitudes and habits of sex buyers reveal them as men who dehumanize and commodify women, view them with anger and contempt, lack empathy for their suffering, and relish their own ability to inflict pain and degradation." In a related study, several "johns" were asked to comment on the women from whom they bought sexual services. One "john" explained that "she is just a biological object that charges for services." While another sex buyer said that "being with a prostitute is like having a cup of coffee, when you‘re done, you throw it out." Another man went as far to say that "the relationship has to stay superficial because they are a person and you're capable of getting to know them. But once you know them, it's a problem, because you can't objectify them anymore."

Unlike these "johns," the majority of us devalue other human beings unconsciously.  Whether we do it out of self protection, fear, or apathy, our response to those who are weak and vulnerable indicates where they rank in our value system. In the parable, Jesus did not investigate whether or not the reasons that the "priest and levite" walked by the dying man were valid; that was not His point. The issue was that regardless of their reasoning, they actively chose to walk away and not show compassion. They chose not to love their neighbor.

By giving this lesson in the form of a parable, Jesus challenges the reader to identify with the characters. He wants us to see our reflection as we see the lack of love of the priest and levite. He wants us to see our own neediness as we see the "man lying in the ditch." Unlike the "half dead" man, the Bible says that we are completely dead in our sins. In our sin and spiritual deadness, We are enemies of Christ. However, Christ did not leave us to die.  He didn't call to us in our deadness and say, "Now if you do this, then you will live." He spoke life into my death, when I could not love God and I could not love others. He didn't merely risk his life to help us, He freely gave it. Jesus Christ has fulfilled the character of the Good Samaritan. He came to us in our brokenness and rescued us by his grace. By his vicarious life, death, and resurrection in my place, He graciously saved me. There was nothing that I could to earn his favor.

As a response to his free grace, I am moved to act in compassion and trust God with the results. My response is to care for the vulnerable and to give graciously. Only as we reflect on the Gospel can we go from someone that desires self protection to someone that desires to protect others. The Gospel motivates us to see every person as someone whom God values, rather than merely a statistic. The Gospel empowers us to value those whom society rejects as those whom have been created in the image of God.

With that fact fresh in mind, I turned around and began talking with the man. Liz later told me that his face brightened up as I acknowledged him. I asked him what he needed and he told me that he just wanted a sandwich. So we quickly went to the local bodega and I told him to order whatever he wanted. As we talked, I began to notice a change in my own heart. This man, who I had originally chosen to ignore, had a name. Timothy, or "Dreads" as he liked to be called, told us about his life. He was so excited that we would stop to spend time with him that he invited us to swing by his shelter and ask for him anytime. He even gave us the phone number for his "brand new" prepaid phone. "What are you doing for the Fourth of July," Timothy asked. "Because a few other friends in the shelter and I are getting together to have a little bar-be-que, we would love for you to come and spend some time with us," he explained. After this invitation, I was moved as I realized that I now spoke to this man as if he were a member of my own family. Honestly by the end of the conversation, I could tell that the feeling was mutual and that we both valued one another.

People continually ask, "What should my first step be in fighting exploitation?" My answer is simple: return value back to those from whom you have taken it. Give value to those whom you have devalued.

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The Foundation of the Christian Abolitionist

In the "Parable of the Good Samaritan," Jesus calls an expert in the Torah to the metaphorical carpet. Though the man attempted to catch Jesus off guard, Jesus showed him that he wasn't as much of an 'expert' as he may have originally thought. Jesus frames his response to the lawyer in the form of a parable. His point is simply that if you are loving God with all of your being, you will love your neighbor as yourself. Jesus uses the "Good Samaritan" as a picture of what it looks like to love your neighbor. Last week, I examined the disconnect between having "good theology" and doing acts of justice. At this point, I want to address the disconnect by answering the question: "does the Bible REALLY call Christians to care for the weak and vulnerable?" Please take time to read, study, and/or memorize the following 20 scripture passagesphoto-3 copy

Deuteronomy 10:16 Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer stubborn. 17 For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who is not partial and takes no bribe. 18 He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing. 19 Love the sojourner, therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.

Psalm 140:12 I know that the Lord will maintain the cause of the afflicted, and will execute justice for the needy.

Psalm 146: 5-9 Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord his God, who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, who keeps faith forever; who executes justice for the oppressed, who gives food to the hungry. The Lord sets the prisoners free; the Lord opens the eyes of the blind. The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down; the Lord loves the righteous. The Lord watches over the sojourners; he upholds the widow and the fatherless, but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin.

Isaiah 30:18 Therefore the Lord waits to be gracious to you, and therefore he exalts himself to show mercy to you. For the Lord is a God of justice; blessed are all those who wait for him.

Isaiah 42:1 Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations. 2 He will not cry aloud or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street; 3 a bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice. 4 He will not grow faint or be discouraged till he has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands wait for his law.

Isaiah 56:1 Thus says the Lord: “Keep justice, and do righteousness, for soon my salvation will come, and my righteousness be revealed."

Jeremiah 21:12 O house of David! Thus says the Lord: “‘Execute justice in the morning, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor him who has been robbed, lest my wrath go forth like fire, and burn with none to quench it, because of your evil deeds.’”

Micah 6:8 He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?

Zechariah 7: 8-10 And the word of the LORD came again to Zechariah: “This is what the LORD Almighty said: ‘Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the foreigner or the poor. Do not plot evil against each other.’

Takeaway: God cares about justice. His heart breaks for the oppressed. God calls and enables us to be changed by His grace. But He also calls us to live in light of His justice. As we follow him, we will love and embrace what God values.

Psalm 10:17 O Lord, you hear the desire of the afflicted; you will strengthen their heart; you will incline your ear 18 to do justice to the fatherless and the oppressed, so that man who is of the earth may strike terror no more.

Isaiah 58:6 “Is not this the fast that I choose:to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? 7 Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house;when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh? 8 Then shall your light break forth like the dawn,and your healing shall spring up speedily; your righteousness shall go before you; the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.9 Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry, and he will say, ‘Here I am.’ If you take away the yoke from your midst, the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness,10 if you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday.11 And the Lord will guide you continually and satisfy your desire in scorched places and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water,whose waters do not fail.

Takeaway: Prayer and fasting focused on trusting God to bring justice will bring both personal and corporate revival.
Luke 4:18-19 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.”

Isaiah 1:16 Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil (repentance),17learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow's cause (Justice).18 “Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool (Gospel).

Luke 11: 42 But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and herbs of all kinds, and neglect justice and the love of God; it is these you ought to have practiced, without neglecting the others.
James 1:27 Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.

Takeaway: Resist the temptation to have a mere theological knowledge and a sense of religious duty. Christians are called to care for the oppressed. The Gospel that frees us from sin motivates us to see others taste freedom. As we live in light of the Gospel, we are motivated to do justice.

Acts 2:43-45 And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.
1 John 3:17-18 But if anyone has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.
Matthew 25: 31-46 "When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38 And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? 39 And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ 40 And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’..." (The phrase "least of these" refers to the those in the believing community.)
Galatians 6:10 So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.
Luke 10:25-37 The Parable of the Good Samaritan: 36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” 37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”
Takeaway: Christians are called to do 'justice' amongst those that are suffering and vulnerable within christian community as well as those outside of it.
Final takeaway: As you reflect on these 20 verses, rest in the fact that though the world is broken, God will bring justice and He desires to use you. Remember when we stand on the Gospel, we will stand against injustice.

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The Crux of Abolition Part 2

What do you need to be motivated to live a life of justice? Last week, we discovered that the character of God was a major example for the Christian to follow. However, a mere knowledge of God's character is not enough to transform us completely. For example, there are many of us that have grown up in theological traditions that emphasize theology and knowing God, yet they put little to no emphasis on caring for the "least of these." Somewhere between our belief in God and our practice, there is a disconnect. This problem occurs for a variety of reasons which vary from biblical ignorance to the fear of the "Social Gospel." For many of us, our "duties" as Christians go no farther than our church attendance and our evangelistic efforts. This is the status quo for many within the Christian community. Tim Keller, the author of Generous Justice reminds us that this is not enough. “If a person has grasped the meaning of God's grace in his heart, he will do justice. If he doesn't live justly, then he may say with his lips that he is grateful for God's grace, but in his heart he is far from him. If he doesn't care about the poor, it reveals that at best he doesn't understand the grace he has experienced, and at worst he has not really encountered the saving mercy of God. Grace should make you just.” In essence, if we are not actively caring for the needy in our communities, we have a problem.

At the showing of "Sex and Money" talking to pastors and leaders encouraging them to stand on the Gospel in order to stand against injustice

In January 2012 while at the Passion Conference in Atlanta, Ga, I was convicted by the fact that though I cared a lot about having my "theology right," I didn't care very much about those that are being currently being exploited around the world. For me, human trafficking was a "third world" problem and it did not affect me. God showed me, however, that it was relevant because though it may have not pierced my heart, God's heart was broken over the suffering of these people. I realized at that point that I needed to change. But I had absolutely NO idea of what a life of justice would look like.

As I stated in an earlier entry, "when we stand on the Gospel, we will stand against injustice." That means simply that the first step in biblical discipleship should not be to rush to do anything, but to rest in what has been done on your behalf. The Bible explains that we are absolutely powerless to save ourselves because in our natural state, we are spiritually dead. We have absolutely nothing to offer God to save us. Honestly, God would be entirely just to leave us in our sin and disobedience to naturally suffer the consequences that we deserve. But he does the complete opposite. He came and lived a perfect life in our place. He lived vicariously for you and me, obeying God the Father in everything. Unlike us, he never disobeyed God. Yet, he suffered as the most evil criminal in the history of mankind. Christ took our sins as his own and suffered God's wrath on sin in our place. In other words, it was as if He experienced Hell on the cross for us. Romans 5:8 explains that "God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." Understanding the Gospel not only saves, restores, and changes us, it also motivates us to action. As we ponder his grace, we will naturally begin to love and care for others. Christians must realize that we were once enslaved to our sin, but Christ set us free. Basking in this undeserved freedom is what drives us to action. In other words, recognizing that we have been freed from our spiritual shackles gives us the desire to see others freed from physical slavery. My friend Jonathan Walton, the director of Intervarsity's NYC Urban Project echoes this truth when he explains "to free people from physical and spiritual chains, we must be set free from our own physical and spiritual slavery. We cannot testify to a freedom that we don't know for ourselves."

Why would William Wilberforce risk his own livelihood to see that the English slave trade come to an end? Why would young professionals leave a promising career to work for struggling non profit organizations that are caring for victims of trafficking? They experienced the grace of God found in the Gospel and were changed forever. Realizing that the Gospel had set them free for eternity, their only response could be to seek that same freedom for others. Ultimately for Christians, the crux (latin for "cross") of abolition must be the Gospel.

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The Crux of Abolition Part 1

"Raleigh, what made you move to NYC? Why would you choose to work with Human trafficking abolition?" Believe it or not, I get this question all the time. If you are anything like me, you probably spend a good bit of time wondering what makes people tick, as well. You think to yourself, "why do they do what they do or why did they choose that particular career path over another possibly more logical choice?" Why would an 18th century English parliamentarian risk his political equity by seeking an end to the "socially accepted" slave trade in England? Why would a person leave a promising law career in NYC to work with a struggling non profit organization? What do you need to be properly motivated to live a life of justice?

To inspire NYC pastors to encourage their churches to fight human trafficking, we hosted a showing of the film "Sex and Money."

For the Christian, two motivations will stand head and shoulders above the rest; namely, the character of God and the Gospel of Jesus Christ. From cover to cover, you can easily see the theme  of God working through his people to bring justice to the world especially to the orphan, the widow, the refugee, and the poor.  This group of four is mentioned repeatedly in scripture. God's love for the weak and vulnerable stems from his character. Of the many passages that speak of the justice of God, one text in particular speaks of God's heart for this population. In Deuteronomy 10:16-19, the reader discovers that because God is "the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who is not partial and takes no bribe (all attributes of his character)... He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing." In verse 19, God pleas with his people to do the same. This passage is written in such a way that as the believer reflects on the character of God, he or she will be driven to respond in a similar fashion. Greg Beale explains this concept in his book, We Become What We Worship. His basic point is that “what people revere, they resemble, either for ruin or for restoration.” Ergo if we worship the God of justice, then we should naturally care for the things for which He cares, like the widow, the orphan, the refugee, and the poor. Jimmy Lee, the Executive Director of Restore NYC, reminded a group of pastors at an event called "Let My People Go, "that the scariest thing about human trafficking is that it's preying on the most vulnerable populations." These are those without a voice or an advocate. Through the light of scripture, we discover that though we may not actively care for the broken of society, God does. This love, grace, mercy, justice and overall goodness of God should be a motivation that drives all of his followers. Can this be said for you?

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"The Only Thing Necessary..."

...for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing." Edmund Burke's words serve as a solemn reminder that we have a responsibility to be an advocate for those without a voice. The issue of human trafficking is more than a political, regional or religious problem. Human trafficking is a "human" problem. We are all affected and impacted by this violation of human rights, whether we know it or not. Currently, approximately 27 million slaves are at work in the world today. "Trafficking in persons" is a $99 billion dollar industry as well as the fastest growing criminal enterprise in the world.

According to Polarisproject.org, over 100,000 children are estimated to be introduced into the sex trade in the United States each year. In light of the previous statement, it is no wonder that the average age of entry into prostitution is between 12-14 years old. Whether they are born in the US or elsewhere, they are being bought sold on a daily basis. This happens in your cities and your neighborhoods.

Human trafficking which equates to modern day slavery exists when people are coerced, forced, and/or manipulated to do commercial sex acts or labor services against their will. Whether they serve as a prostitute at a truck stop, a "masseuse" as an asian massage parlor, a maid for a wealthy family, a brick maker in India, or are forced to work on fishing boats in Southeast Asia, they are victims of exploitation.

In the face of such a global evil, what can we do?

Raleigh Sadler moderating the panel of abolitionists

On April 27th, 2013, I had the opportunity to moderate a panel discussion for pastors and church leaders which was aptly named "Let My People Go." The name of the event comes from the demand of Moses, God's spokesman, to Pharaoh who refused to release Israel from slavery. In a similar way, these pastors were challenged to stand and demand that those trapped in slavery today be set free. The goal was to equip these pastors and church leaders with the knowledge to equip their churches to fight human trafficking. The event featured three expert panelists, who are some of the top abolitionists in NYC; Jimmy Lee of Restore NYC, Diana Mao of Nomi Network, and Jonathan Walton of New York City Urban Project.

During this discussion, we wrestled with the nature of human trafficking and where is it found globally and locally. We also delved into where is slavery found in NYC, and how are we a part of the problem. Finally, we explored ways that the local church can be a positive force in the fight against the global slave trade.

In the next several articles, we will walk through several ways that Christians can practically fight human trafficking. We will learn that we don't have to wear a cape or have a Phd to be an advocate for the weak and vulnerable. As Christians we simply have to be disciples. Ultimately, true biblical discipleship fights trafficking. I will tease this out more in the articles to follow, but to put it succinctly, when we stand on the Gospel, we will naturally stand against injustice.

You may find this hard to believe. You may be struggling to read this article because your eyes keep rolling back in your head. You are saying to yourself, "What can I do? This problem is too big. Why should I even try?" Edmund Burke, who stood for the cause of the American colonies as a member of the British Parliament in the late 1700s, understood the need for freedom, even when it was not popular. He explained that "nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could do only a little." Regardless of your age or your occupation, you can do something. Remember that the only thing necessary for us to fight human trafficking is our willingness to do something... no matter how small it may seem.

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My Weak of Reflection

As I walked through the streets of Manhattan that were teeming with drunken green "20 somethings," a thought occurred to me; It was St. Patrick's day! For me, It was an anniversary of sorts. The St. Patrick's Day Parade. The people watching was more interesting than that actual parade.

Over two years ago, I told God that I would NEVER raise support to be a missionary and that I would NEVER visit NYC. However, God had different plans. For starters, He gave me a great opportunity to take students to Brooklyn for a mission trip. We arrived in Brooklyn on St. Patrick's Day 2012. Almost immediately, I began to realize that I was falling in love with NYC, even though I didn't want to. During that week, my friend, Jessica Minhas, who works as an actress and abolitionist in the city, looked at me and said bluntly, "you are great with your students. They love you. But here's the problem, you don't need to be in WV, you need to be in NYC." I promptly blew her off.

Months passed and I found myself actually considering moving to Manhattan. In July 2012, I met with pastors and students all over NYC to see what options there were for me.  But now, I was overwhelmed. The city was too much to handle. The more needs that I saw in the city, the more weak I felt. The more languages I heard, the smaller I became. There was no way that I could ever move here. With only a handful of college ministers to shepherd the 594,000 college students on over 110 colleges and universities, this task was bigger than I could ever imagine. I was humbled by what was before me. If God was going to use me in a city of 8.2 million people, He was going to have to do all the work, because the task was simply too big.

Fast forward to my "city-versary" on Saturday March 17th 2013. A year from the first day that I set foot here, I coughed. The next day, I began to feel weak and started having the chills. By monday morning, I could do nothing but sleep. My health had deteriorated to the point where I was physically unable to do anything. For a solid week, I wasn't able to eat anything. All I could do was to lay down. Again, I was reminded of my own dependance. I was reminded of my own limitations. After being told by several people to seek medical attention, I went to the emergency room. As I was walked to the hospital with a co-worker, I felt so weak that I thought that I would pass out at any moment. What caused my sickness? Something Bubonic? Something that the CDC warns us about? Nope. I had a "cold."

This "cold" leveled me. I have never been more tired in my life. The more that I pondered my situation, the more that I began to wrestle with the reality of spiritual warfare. Again, I was reminded of my dependance on God. The Apostle Paul wrote of a time of weakness, when he was attacked by a "messenger of Satan." But he came to the realization that his problem ultimately worked for his benefit because it forced him to depend on God. In chapter 12 of his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul wrote:

"But he said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong."

A year prior, I was humbled by the task to do ministry in the city. A year later, I was humbled by sickness. But with both situations, I was reminded that the only way that I can do what I have been called to do is by depending on God's strength and not my own. God will supply my needs and yours as well. Are you depending on him? Will you acknowledge your weakness, so that you can cling to his strength?

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How I Found Nemo

On February 8th, 2013,  Nemo happened. For the good part of that week, I heard warnings from everyone from the weather channel to my own mother begging me to stay safe. Evidently in a city still rebounding from our last weather related disaster, a blizzard sounded quite ominous. As I thought about it that evening, I realized that I had no idea what to expect. I had already severely underestimated Sandy, so now I found myself in my office on a Friday night: waiting on the inevitable. Regardless, this blizzard was an interruption to the general flow of my life in NYC. Seriously, a blizzard! What?! We saw what happened when it rained, now what will happen when it snows incessantly? Nemo begins... to slam 72nd and Broadway

The issue is simple. In NYC, it's easy to get into a rut. Honestly, I believe that in a city as unpredictable as NYC, we tend to enjoy our routines. We end up taking the same train from the same stop to transfer to the same bus everyday; That's just life in NYC. But when an unanticipated storm arrives, our lives are disrupted.

On that particular Friday night the city, known for the "new york minute," realized that it was going to have to go a little slower than usual. That evening there were less people outside than normal and not surprisingly there were significantly fewer cabs driving on Broadway.  For many of us, the negative aspects of a weather related interruption distract us from paying attention to any potential benefits. For example, it's difficult to focus on beauty when we are bombarded with brokenness. We struggle to find our delight, when despair is ever-present. How would I find Nemo as it arrived? Would Nemo be a problem or a blessing? Would I complain or would I be thankful?

To be honest, there are moments when I am confronted with the enormity of my task in NYC. I start thinking about the sheer need for the Gospel amongst the more than 594,000 college students and the severe lack of college ministers here to meet the challenge. I wrestle with the fact that so few people in NYC realize that our city is in the top three for most reported Human Trafficking cases in America. I struggle with the ever present need to raise support so that I can live in what is simultaneously one of the most lost and one of the most expensive cities in our country. More often than I'd like to admit, these concerns discourage me.

Sometimes, life beats us down. But no matter what providence sets before us, we all make a choice. Will we receive our daily routine altering disruptions as an inconvenience or a blessing?

When I woke up Saturday, I saw what Nemo brought to NYC. It was beautiful. I spent the large part of the afternoon walking ( albeit carefully) through Central Park. Though tourists were falling down all around me, I paid attention to the beauty that was before me. There were moments where I couldn't express how captivated I had become. What many thought would be an annoyance turned out to be a tapestry for God's Glory.

Central Park following Nemo

Saturday, I began to see the beauty in the midst of a broken city. Now when the sun rose on Sunday morning, I was all set to dive back into my normal routine. I hopped on my usual train and made my usual transfer and got off at the same exit on the same street that I get off at every Sunday. However, God sent another interruption. This interruption had a name as well; Kyle. Kyle's first words to me got my attention immediately. "Are you afraid of black people?" he asked. Now having served as a Campus minister at a Historically Black College and University, I quickly retorted, "no!" He then began to tell me that he was homeless and he had just woken up on the R train. He asked for money and when I said "no," he asked me if I would buy him breakfast. I was at a cross roads. On one hand, I needed to get to church. But on the other hand, there was someone that was in need right in front of me. So he and I walked over to Broadway pizzeria and I bought him and myself breakfast. You see, I had learned from Nemo that what appears to be an interruption is only an interruption from our perspective. If we see things from a divine perspective, we would realize that with God there are no accidents and his plan is never frustrated. Even the psalmist in Psalm 147:15-18 tells us that God is sovereign over everything even over blizzards. This "inconvenience" is ultimately coming from the hand of our God:

He sends out his command to the earth; his word runs swiftly.16 He gives snow like wool; he scatters frost like ashes.17 He hurls down his crystals of ice like crumbs; who can stand before his cold?18 He sends out his word, and melts them;    he makes his wind blow and the waters flow.

As we can see from the Bible, The providence of God does not allow for an unintentional interruption. Just like Nemo came to NYC on purpose, my encounter with Kyle was right on schedule. Interestingly enough, earlier in the week I began to pray that God would interrupt my life with opportunities to share the Gospel. God answered that prayer. Though Kyle rejected the Gospel, I do believe that God desires to save him. Are we asking God for divine interruptions?

So the question that faced me faces all of us, how will we respond to what life brings us? How will we find Nemo?

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What To Do with the Prodigal?

You have probably heard of the  Prodigal son. This is arguably the most popular redemption story in the history of Western culture.  The parable of the "Prodigal Son" (also known in some circles as the "Parable of the Two Brothers") exists to deconstruct and to reconstruct our Christian worldview. Truth be told, the way that we view God will dictate how we handle the rest of our lives. If we see the Father as an unloving disciplinarian that always wants us to do better before He will accept us, then we will be more prone to anxiety and less prone to worshiping God freely. On the other hand if we choose to view God as a giant teddy bear who embraces the "I'm okay, you're okay" attitude without the slightest regard towards our personal holiness, then we will sin freely without fear of divine discipline. Whether we would like to admit or not, our view of God affects the ways that we manage our relationships with others.

As Jesus spoke to religious leaders and sinners, Jesus' point was that both groups see God the Father accurately. He is a God of grace that loves us and desires to be reconciled to us.

As Jesus continues to tell this beautiful story, you can almost see the sinners and outcasts smile as they hear how the father (representing God the Father) runs to accept his son that has sinned so extravagantly. Their minds were racing. "If the father would accept his own prodigal son, who recognized his sin and returned home, then maybe... just maybe God the Father would accept me." You can also hear the Pharisees complain and murmur when they realize that Jesus is saying that they are just like the elder brother, who thought that God should honor him because he was religious.

However, the beauty of this parable is that the Father pursued both brothers: the rebellious and the religious. The father freely ran to the prodigal that tried to save himself by exploring pleasure in a far off land and the brother that tried to save himself through keeping a moral code. 

God desires to save us regardless of what side of the spectrum we find ourselves. God can save us because ultimately Jesus was the perfect son. He hung out with the religious, but didn't sin and he dined with sinners and wasn't corrupted. He lived his life perfectly and unlike the other two brothers, Jesus loved the Father completely. However, this perfect son died on a cross to take the burden of the rebellious and the religious. He died to take our punishment in order to declare us righteous before the Father. The Father, who exists in holiness, accepts us, because Jesus was punished in our place (For more on this, listen to this podcast from a recent sermon that I preached).

Now, what should we do with this parable? What should we do with this new found understanding of God's love? First, when we finally understand that God the Father loves us unconditionally, we will desire to seek and save the lost. Had the elder brother understood that love, he wouldn't have stayed home trying to earn "behavior points" with his dad, he would have combed the desert looking for his brother, so that he could bring him back to his father. Understanding the Grace of God will motivate us to see that other people experience that same Grace as well.

Jesus didn't just seek out those that looked like him or had common interests. Luke 19:10 says that the "the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost." He met with priests and prostitutes, criminals and church goers, the prodigal and the elder brother. Jesus desires that victims of trafficking as well as pimps be made right with himself. We can find out how we view the Father by who we are seeking. Are we seeking to introduce those that are lost to the Father's love?

 

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Enslaved in Plain Sight: Opening Our Eyes to Modern Day Slavery

"As I would not be a slave, so I would not be a master. This expresses my idea of democracy. Whatever differs from this, to the extent of the difference, is no democracy."    -Abraham Lincoln

On the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, President Barack Obama issued a proclamation designating January 2013 to be "National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month." In the proclamation, President Obama explains that:

"This month, we rededicate ourselves to stopping one of the greatest human rights abuses of our time. Around the world, millions of men, women, and children are bought, sold, beaten, and abused, locked in compelled service and hidden in darkness. They toil in factories and fields; in brothels and sweatshops; at sea, abroad, and at home. They are the victims of human trafficking -- a crime that amounts to modern-day slavery."

In essence, the same passion that led our 16th President to fight for justice should drive us to see world-wide slavery ended. Modern day slavery, or Human Trafficking as it known, is not a minor issue. It is the second largest and fastest growing criminal industry in the world. It is estimated that currently there are 27 million slaves, who are being forced, coerced, manipulated, and/or threatened unless they perform certain acts. Despite the opinion of many, they DO NOT choose to be sex or labor slaves.

You may think, "Well, that's simply a political issue and it isn't an issue in the United States." Cases of Human Trafficking have been reported in all 50 states. For example in NYC, you will walk by many asian massage parlors. Many of these employ trafficked girls, who came to the US in search of a better life. But this isn't just an issue facing those who come from overseas, domestic trafficking is alive and well. Joe Mazilli, a private investigator specializing in trafficking cases, told me recently that in NYC a runaway is approached by a trafficker within 48 hours of being on the street. This is a danger that affects all of us. As Christians, we must stand against this epidemic.

Last January, God opened my eyes to modern day slavery and I have never been the same. A year later, I am serving in NYC with college students to help open their eyes to different ways that they can stand against trafficking.

On January 1st, 2013,  I took students from the Gallery Church to the Passion Conference at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta. It was here that over 60,000 students heard the Gospel and heard about the horrors of Modern Day slavery. With speakers like John Piper, Francis Chan, Louie Giglio, and Gary Haugen, the students heard Gospel-centered messages that called them to action. The first step that these students took was to collectively raise 3.5 million dollars to be used in the fight against slavery.

At passion, there were "End it" stations, where students could give financially. Here we are at a station.

Louie Giglio, the founder of the Passion Movement explains that "the voices of this generation, what are called 'poor college students,' [gave] 3.2 or 3.3 or 3.5 million dollars in four days. That's a big message, and their voice has reached the White House, it's reached a lot of streams of culture, and we pray the White House is listening, engaging, and doing what they can," Giglio added.

Here we are on the last day of Passion

"It's not any one person or organization that's going to solve this. It's every one of us, doing what we can, at the level of influence we have, to not only shine a light on slavery, but to end it."

So how do we stand against slavery? Here are a few basic things that you can do to stand against slavery in a practical way.

First, as we ponder how the Gospel frees us and saves us, we should be empowered to see slavery abolished. If you stand on the Gospel, you should naturally stand against injustice. If you have time, listen to a message that I preached on the this recently.

Second, educate yourself on the signs of Human trafficking. Become prepared to report tips on potential human trafficking activity to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center at 1-888-3737-888.

Third, become aware of what is happening in your own state. Using Slaverymap.org, you are able to track cases of domestic trafficking in 'your own neck of the woods.'

Fourth, take the survey on slaveryfootprint.org in order to answer the question, "how many slaves work for you?" This is a sobering survey, which shows us that in many ways the goods that we consume have been touched by forced labor. Using the marketplace, we can stand against illegal trade practices. For other ways to fight trafficking, click here!

Fifth, take a stand and take the pledge to "End It!"

In closing, any 'Evangelical Christian" would agree that faith in the vicarious life, death, and Resurrection of Jesus is what sets us free from our slavery to sin and to Satan. As we think on the Gospel, we should be stirred to action. Our Gospel freedom is what sets us free to fight for the physical and spiritual freedom of others. May the Gospel propel us to see people liberated from their slavery.

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It's Christmas Time in the City

 ”City sidewalks, busy sidewalks Dressed in holiday style In the air there’s a feeling Of Christmas.”

Christmas time is here! It appears that all of NYC is in the Holiday spirit. Everywhere you look, there are decorations and Christmas lights. The Christmas tree in Rockefeller center still draws thousands.

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People race to such landmarks as the “Radio City Music Hall” to be part of a Christmas tradition that they have heard about since their youth. But the Holiday spirit doesn’t apply solely to tourist sites. Each neighborhood is decorated with their own peculiar flare. From Washington Heights to the Financial District, Manhattan is aglow.

As I braved 34th street yesterday, I was amazed to see the myriads of shoppers going to buy their last minute gifts. Here excitement is the norm. No one appears to be focusing on the negative, as they gleefully go from store to store. As I walk, I look up toward Macy’s and see one word scrolled on the side of the famous landmark: “Believe.”

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Could Macy’s have accidentally gotten the true meaning of Christmas?! If so then this is truly a “Miracle on 34th Street.”

“Believe.”

As I continue to walk the streets, I begin to notice some other things. On 20th street in lower Manhattan, I see a drunken man at a bus stop slumped over sitting next to a pool of vomit.  “It’s Christmas time in the city.“   I walk past a young girl at Lincoln Center on the Upper West side. She is sitting in the cold with a small sign that reads “I’m a good girl in a bad spot, please help.” I think about the many kids that will be sold into sex slavery on this Island that I call my home. “Soon it will be Christmas day.”

My heart is heavy as I try to balance the “Christmas Cheer” with the brokenness that is all around me. I pray as I think about how I can meet the needs of those hurting around me. “Silver bells” misses the fact that there are many this Christmas that are suffering and vulnerable in this great city. This brokeness is the result of sin. When Adam and Eve defied God’s kingship, the world was broken. With the introduction of sin came suffering and exploitation.

But there is hope. Christ came as a baby. Born as a fully human baby, the Creator became like his creation in every way, but sin. He lived for us perfectly. He obeyed God in every way that we have failed him. As a grown man in his 30s, Jesus suffered the wrath of God in our place. He took our punishment. In essence, He endured “hell” on the cross for you and I. But that is not all. Jesus rose to represent us before the Father. His life and death counts for those that believe in Him. Macy’s is correct. We must “believe.” But the most beautiful thing about Christmas to me is that it is a reminder that this world will not be broken forever. The King that was defied by our ancestors is coming back! The prophet Isaiah carefully wrote these words:

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace, there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.

So what are we supposed to believe? Believe that the pain and suffering that you see this Christmas will not always be. The King is coming. Every tear will be wiped away. The hurt that plagues you will cease.

Christmas day is not simply about a cute baby that was born in a manger in the Ancient Near East. Christmas is about the fact that the “baby” grew up, lived, died and rose for us. Jesus, who saves us from the penalty of our sin, will one day save us from the effects of sin. This is why I can smile. The King is coming and He alone can fix this broken world. Take Macy’s advice and “believe…” because soon it will be Christmas day.

It’s Christmas time in the city Ring-a-ling, hear them ring Soon it will be Christmas Day Soon it will be Christmas Day

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How did I get to NYC?

Two years ago I made it known publicly that I would NEVER do two things: 1) I would never visit NYC or 2) raise support. So how did I end up raising support to serve as a Collegiate Missionary in NYC? The quick answer would be that one of my best friends, Davin Henrickson paved the way for me. Davin was the first person that I met at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in 2003. Soon, we became friends and then roommates. Davin and I consistently challenged each other to grow closer to Christ.

Davin at my 29th Birthday dinner. He was not expecting the sudden Papparazi style camera action!

Davin was a renaissance man of sorts. I mean – the guy could do anything that he put his mind to. For instance, at my 30th birthday party, we forgot the spatula. By "we," I really mean "I." Regardless, here we are at the park: raw hamburger meat, a grill, and people, but NO spatula. I paced around for about ten minutes and then returned to find Davin holding a spatula. But this was not an ordinary kitchen utensil. No, Davin had built it out of a few twigs and a red bull can; that was Davin! Also, I remember one evening, he and I were talking through a struggle that I was going through and "blessed be your name" by Matt Redman came on the radio. As these words played:

"Blessed be Your name, on the road marked with suffering; Though there's pain in the offering, blessed be Your name . . ."

He stopped and looked at me and said "this is what it’s about." He understood that suffering pushes us to depend more and more on the Gospel and he challenged me with those lyrics. That was my friend, “MacGuyver the Theologian.”

Following our graduation from Seminary, we all took different directions, but that didn't keep us from keeping up with each other. While I was serving as a College minister in West Virginia in 2011, he came up for my ordination. This was an emotional time, because not only had I just been ordained to Christian ministry, but Davin told me that he was finally going to Idaho to serve as a minister. He was finally pursuing his dream and his calling!

A week later, however, Davin called me and told me that he felt a mass in his abdomen during his trip and that he was going to the doctor to have it checked out. The doctor confirmed that it was beta cell lymphoma. The chemotherapy regimen was launched immediately. I just knew that God had led Davin into this season of life, so that God could be glorified through his healing. But the days turned to weeks and the weeks turned to months without any marked improvement in his condition.

Davin and I at Baptist Hospital following his first Chemo treatment.

The treatments began to take their toll on Davin's body, as he continued to try new treatments at various hospitals. Our conversations began to change. No longer were they light and jovial. Now, we talked about "dying well." I'll never forget one day as we were headed to lunch, Davin looked at me with a face of solemn bewilderment and simply stated, "If God decides to heal me for his glory . . . I understand that, but what if His plan is for me to die. I don't understand." I tried to respond with a deep theological answer that would satisfy his question. But I struggled to find the words. All I could do was to point to the Cross.

During this time, I found that my position at the West Virginia Convention of Southern Baptists was being phased out across the board. So I was traveling, praying, and looking for a new position where I could serve in ministry. On April 24th, I was on my way back from meeting with a friend who was encouraging me to look into starting a church, when I read this email from Davin's wife, Lauren:

“We received the results of Davin's CT scan yesterday, and the cancer has spread throughout his abdomen. Any future treatments (chemo, radiation, etc.) are more likely to cause discomfort than to help, so now our treatment focus is on pain management. We are meeting with some staff from Hosparus (http://www.hosparus.org) tonight, to help Davin decide if he wants to try to remain at home for this time of waiting or if the hospital would be better. The doc said he isn't in the business of guessing, so we don't really have a guess as to how soon God will take Davin to be with Him. For now, we wait. It is bittersweet, but we can rejoice that Davin will be free from suffering soon. Praise God for the perfect healing to come! ‘For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.’ -Philippians 1:21”

I was speechless. Paralyzed by grief, I sat there trying to gather my thoughts. Trying to think of the next step, while simultaneously being rendered immobile. I tried to pull myself together enough to drive home so that I could make plans to visit Davin in Louisville.

The night before I went to visit Davin for the last time, I preached Philippians 4:13. "I can do all things through Christ, who gives me strength" was no longer a pithy saying from a Christian T-shirt. It was a promise that I needed. I knew that I needed to challenge one of my best friends to die well and I didn't want to. I didn't want to face the fact that my friend was no longer going to be here. Actually, I wanted to turn my car around and pretend that this wasn't happening. But God gave me the courage to walk into the house where I sat with Davin. I grabbed a Bible and began reading Philippians 3:8-11: "Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ
and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith-
that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death,
 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead."

 I reminded him that the Gospel not only saves us  but also motivates us to live in such a way that we desire to know Him in an intimate way through our sufferings. Looking into his eyes, I told him, "Davin, I don't know what's coming around the corner, but I do know that this is when you seek to glorify God like you have never done before." He agreed.

I stayed with my friend for the next 5 days. During this time, I wrestled with God. I realized that I wanted to be in control of my life, but I wasn't. I discovered that I was afraid to die. I could now see clearly how easy it has been for me to coast spiritually rather than learning to truly walk by faith. Davin was about to die, without ever fulfilling his dream to do ministry. How would I respond to that?! I realized that I have an expiration date and that I need to do what God has called me to do. So, I purposed to trust God even if the next step would be an uncomfortable one.

Despite my fears, God has led me to the NYC and called me to raise support. He called me to a renewed life of faith.

Ultimately, all of us have been called to cling to the Gospel and to live our lives in light of that truth. We have been called to live by Faith, even if it is uncomfortable. That is what Davin did.

Three days before Davin passed, his family and friends sat in the living room and sang together. Though Davin could barely speak, he sang these words from  Matt Redman's "10,000 Reasons:"

And on that day when my strength is failing The end draws near and my time has come Still my soul will sing Your praise unending Ten thousand years and then forevermore

As I saw my friend in his last moments, I was reminded just how short life is. Each one of us has an expiration date. We are called to live by faith. What will we do with the life that God has given us?

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After The Storm

Hey everyone! Thanks for you all of your texts, calls, emails and Facebook messages. Here is a quick update of what has been happening here in NYC in the past week and a half.At this moment, I am sitting at JFK airport, where I have been for the last 24 hours. Long story short, though I had plans to return to Florida to spread the word about collegiate missions in NYC, the Nor’Easter had different plans for me. But I did finally get to spend a night in an airport, which for some strange reason has always been on my bucket list... so that was good. It was kind of like a church lock-in except not as scary. ;) But honestly, this is a trivial problem compared to what many in my city are dealing with at the moment!

As you know from watching the news, life has been tough for those that live in NYC and Jersey City recently. There are so many without power, access to food, clothing, and shelter. Many have lost EVERYTHING in the floods that have ravaged our coast line. Now they are facing the punishing coldness brought by the Nor’Easter. The fact that CNN and other news agencies are no longer covering Sandy does not mean that everything is over. The relief efforts are just beginning.

Whether it is the cab driver that drove me to the airport, who complained consistently about the fact that he was unable to find gas anywhere, the lack of access to the subway system or the family in a high rise apartment in lower Manhattan that JUST received power and access to their elevator, everyone in NYC has been touched by this disaster. Before the Sandy visited us, I gathered with my small group from the Gallery church at an apartment in Harlem. This was by far one of the safest places in the city. There, we played games and hung out as we waited for the worst. Thankfully, God protected us. During this time, my small group realized that the storm changed my birthday plans so they threw me an impromptu birthday party complete with an amazing pumpkin pie!

Three days later on October 31st, we emerged from the apartment and were thankfully to step on to dry ground. As we looked outside, we could see that Mcdonald’s was open. This was a sign to us that the world was getting back to normal. But things are far from over... In the days that followed, the MNYBA and the Gallery church have been coordinating relief efforts all over the city. We are mobilizing volunteers to serve our community and be a Gospel light to those that are hurting. I arrived at the Gallery church on 27th and Broadway to help in any way I could. I was quickly directed to a room full of documents and hair dryers that were laying on the floor. “Raleigh, could you start drying the most important documents first?” In the next few hours, I helped to dry out birth certificates, ordination certificates, and tax forms that belonged to the Burton family.

The Burtons go to Gallery and live in Jersey city. Last year, their apartment was flooded by Irene and though they prepared for it Sandy flooded their apartment again. They lost everything!!!

But God is providing. Recently, I assisted several students from Westpoint that were providing for the Burton family, as well as other families that had lost everything in Jersey City. They brought baby clothes, shoes, shirts, towels etc.

We have also been going to the High rise apartments that have been without power and have climbed the stairs with flashlights in hand (many times at least 25 flights)to deliver much needed food and supplies to those that were stranded. One  such man told one of our team that he needed Kidney Dialysis and he didn’t know how he would get there; a ride was provided for him the next day by the NYPD. If you are interested in reading more, please click here...

Thank you so much for praying and caring for us. I also ask you that as you think about us that you would provide financially. As I am a self-funded collegiate missionary in NYC, it is YOUR monthly gifts that enable me to serve those that are helpless. Please go to the “Why Donate?” tab and give as the Lord leads. Thank you so much for your concern. Also, during the month of November, if you live in Florida, Georgia, Alabama, or Kentucky, I would love to schedule time to meet with you and/or your church, as I will be traveling through the South to raise up a ministry support team. Contact me at Raleigh.sadler@gmail.com.  Thank you and God Bless!!!

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I live in NYC!

New York City The arabic music playing in the cab reminded me that I was no longer in West Virginia. With each passing moment, the city became closer and my past adventures seemed further away. God had brought me to a new place, a different place: Manhattan!

The months of wrestling with questions of the will of God had led me to this moment. I was now no longer the WV Collegiate Evangelism Director. I had moved to pursue Gospel ministry with college students in the "Big Apple." The 594,000 college students in NYC warranted it. "How can there be only a handful of college ministers in a city so big?" What will it take for them to hear the Gospel?

It takes faith in the goodness and faithfulness of God.

Trusting that God is my provider, I will raise my own financial support and work with College Students and Human Trafficking abolition. For me to get to this point, one must know that God has stretched me more than ever. 2 years ago, I said that I would NEVER do two things: 1) Visit NYC and 2) raise my own financial support for ministry. The blog posts that follow will showcase the adventures that I have as I pursue God in the city.

If you desire to be a ministry partner, please click here mscsupport.namb.net . Type "Raleigh Sadler." This will lead you to my support page. Thanks for your partnership in the Gospel!!!

Enjoy!

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