What A Difference A Year Makes

A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte by Georges Seurat

A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte by Georges Seurat

One of my favorite movies is Ferris Bueller's Day Off. It's a film about 3 teenagers who skip school to have fun in downtown Chicago with the goal of not getting caught. In one scene of the movie they find themselves in an art museum. As they are looking at the art on display, Ferris' friend Cameron stops to gaze at one in particular. At a glance it just seemed like an ordinary painting of people enjoying a day at the park. But the closer you get, you realize that this is no ordinary painting. The painting is not made by layers of paint spread over the canvas. Rather, this painting was created by placing thousands upon thousands of small paint dots together. Up close, as the painter (George Seurat) must have been, these dots seem random. But as one steps back a few steps a remarkable work of art is seen.

It would be easy to look at our launch date and think that it was just a matter of setting a few milestones, raising a few bucks, and making a website. But honestly, church planting is about thousands of dots being placed in such a way that a community of faith is formed. Our ministry this past year is not measured in attendance or programs but rather in God ordained, Spirit led conversations. Each of these a dot on the canvas.

The first dots began with God's call to Buffalo. Many more dots were placed as we spent a full year preparing and praying for Anchor Church. We now have spent a year living in the neighborhood on mission. And through this year we have seen many more dots painted. We found God moved through our partnership with Village Church, to bring us support, members, resources, and encouragement. Each of those a dot of paint.  It took many dots to form credibility, which has lead to me (Steve) becoming a board member for North Buffalo Organization (www.northbuffalo.org). Dots were placed slowly over a year to build a relationship with North Park Lutheran Church and North Park Community Pre-K, which has opened the door for us to have a space to worship. We saw God placing dots on the canvas as broken, hurting, and lost people have made their way to our doorstep and into our hearts. Dot by dot God has been creating a piece of art.

Now as we approach the launch of Anchor, we are beginning to step back and see how beautiful these collection of dots are. There are many more dots to paint. Many more people to meet. And many more dots of new faith, dedications, and baptisms. Dots of empowered service, generosity, and love.

Jesus said, "I will build my church...". We are seeing it happen. One dot at a time.

 

Brewing Adventure in Buffalo by Rebecca Anders

It’s a rainy autumn afternoon in Buffalo. A second helping of coffee and donuts? I think yes. Our two oldest (known in our home as “the beasts”) run around with blankets tied like superhero capes, while our baby is preoccupied chewing on a toy dinosaur her brother left on the rug. It’s days like this that I slow down long enough to actually process our life. What are we doing here? Even after a year it stills feels strange to write our return address as Buffalo, NY.

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Not long ago we were living comfortably on the plains of Kansas, in a beautiful new home, our third baby on the way. We had security. We had predictability. We had much of our earthly desires fulfilled. What were we still lacking that caused such discontentment? There was a void in our daily lives that we couldn’t ignore.  What was our purpose? We were mostly living for ourselves, stuck in the rut of fleshly comfort and safety. God was stirring up a storm of unrest in our hearts. We knew we wanted to follow His calling on our lives even if that meant giving Him our security, our safety, our home.

I will always remember the day we packed up our belongings and drove out of Kansas. It felt a lot like I imagine putting on a blindfold and stepping off a cliff would feel like. Our first year in Buffalo felt like a free fall. The church position Darin had taken, which had spurred our move to New York, eventually dissolved and with our lease ending quickly, we weren’t sure if we could even stay in Buffalo. We were frustrated and uncertain what to do next.  God continually reminded us, I’ve got this. Trust me. Don’t depend on your own understanding of things. But the bottom of our proverbial cliff was fast approaching, and I admit my confidence in God’s goodness and provision was wavering.

What happened next was simply God’s loving hand catching us at the bottom. Darin reached out to a good friend and mentor from Kansas (shout out to the Lawson family! We love you guys!) He helped us connect with a pastor friend he knew in Buffalo, Jeremy Hazelton. After Darin met up with Jeremy, we decided to check out his church. The community we found at Village Church was so loving and supportive. We met their worship leader, Steve Johnson, and his wife, Lindsey, who immediately started helping us find job opportunities and got us plugged in with their North Buffalo church plant, Anchor Church. Two days before we had to move out of our duplex in the suburbs, Darin found us a place in the city. Phew! So it was settled! We were staying in Buffalo!

The other day we took our kiddos to the park down the street. My oldest was trying to slide down the fire pole, but she was just too scared. Darin stood underneath her and was telling her not to worry. Even if she fell, he was there to catch her. But she was still struggling. “Okay, Rayleigh. We’re gonna do a practice fall. I want you to just jump off so you can see that I’ll catch you. Then you’ll know you can trust me.” Light bulbs went off in my head! Has this last year been a trust fall with God? Pretty much. And we learned we can trust this crazy Dad of ours. He is good. He calls us out of earthly comfort and safety, not to punish us, but to pull us into His movement so we will be able to reach a hurting world that desperately needs to know Him. How can we confidently introduce others to Him if we don’t fully trust Him ourselves? Following Jesus can feel reckless, but we would choose this audacious life over the alternative any day.

As I sit here listening to the rain, I’m filled with so much joy to be right where I am. God has good things for Buffalo, New York. I’m so grateful that He opened doors to allow us to be a part of His plans here. We are excited to continue meeting people and pour out the love that has been poured on us. We are eager to serve our neighbors, give to those who are in need, and be a light to our community.


Summer 2015 Update

The spirit of God is alive and well in North Buffalo, and Anchor Church is chugging along in our planting process. It’s been close to eight months since we’ve called the city our new home and the people we’ve met outnumber those we’ve known in our eight-year marriage combined. 

We wish we had time to share all of our stories with you, but we wouldn’t know where to begin. We can’t imagine planting this church without first just living, beingand moving about in this place. 

Residing on a corner lot in the city keeps life interesting. We would love to share that everyone we’ve met is polite and respectful of our little family, but that hasn’t always been the case. Things aren’t always as quiet as we’d like and we’ve had our share of frustrations of loud bar customers, blocking of our driveway and the occasional beer bottle left on our front lawn. But as we’ve prayed for God’s grace and love to flow through us, He has answered with exactly that. 

Our prayers continue for our neighbors and our community. We have moments where we see God’s kingdom here even when our new friends don’t recognize it. We see the gospel being lived out when people foster a child or care for one another although they’ve yet to recognize Jesus in their actions. We’ve fully felt God’s spirit present when hosting families and couples in our home or in our yard. We break bread together. We laugh. And we love our best the way Jesus taught us to. We’re building trust and bridges with new company. Our toasts at gatherings resemble sweet prayers. And we listen as people share their stories.

Steve’s reputation and nickname as “The REV” can be heard shouted across the lawn from the bar owner who lives close by. We laugh at the variety of new folks we’ve befriended. They all come from different backgrounds, unique families, big careers and blue-collar jobs. They keep life interesting and are a constant reminder on why Anchor Church is on mission. 

In the midst of being so busy working multiple jobs, keeping two children alive and finding sleep in between, we’ve been praying for committed Anchor team members to grow our team. Over the past few months God has brought us four new Jesus-loving people who are committed to walking through this with us. We’re so grateful. The harvest is plentiful but often the workers are in fact few. But God- He’s been so faithful, so loving, so gracious to us along this road that sometimes it just brings us to tears. As we near finalizing a lease & partnership with a small local church in our neighborhood, we praise God. When we recognize the prayers of believers that walked these streets long before us are coming to fruition, we’re humbled. And when a wildflower twenty-year-old Agnostic asks to hear our story and about our faith…well, we can’t even begin to tell you how it feels. 

We’re hoping late this September to hold our first pre-launch service! This will be a monthly service and as we work out the kinks and gather a group of people committed to starting Sunday services with us, we look to January as our official start date. The location and space is great, but needs our TLC and many updates. Our goal is to bless the small, dwindling congregation and our community by cleaning things up and making them a bit more appealing. We ask for your prayers for funding and workers to help pull it all off. 

We’re hosting a block party early September to love on our neighbors, connect with those who live close by, bless some kids and cheer on the Bills for their season opener. Food and good times bring people together and we’re hoping to do just that. Of course letting people know about the existence of Anchor Church and where they can find us will be included in all the fun.

So we thank you again for your support. We couldn’t continue without good people like you. As we’re stepping closer to launching services we covet your prayers all the more. We’re asking and anticipating for God to penetrate the hearts of many, using Anchor Church as a vehicle of God’s grace and love. 

                            Grace & Peace,

                            The Johnson’s

Broken Hearted Over Charleston

Our hearts are broken today.

Nine people murdered at a Bible study: Clementa Pinckney, Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, Cynthia Hurd, Tywanza Sanders, Myra Thompson, Ethel Lee Lance, the Reverend Daniel L. Simmons, the Reverend Depayne Middleton Doctor, and Susie Jackson. Nine black people were shot by a white man quoted as saying, “You are taking over our country; you have to go.” He reloaded his gun five times. FIVE TIMES.


My eyes fail from weeping, I am in torment within; my heart is poured out on the ground because my people are destroyed, because children and infants faint in the streets of the city.
— Lamentations 2.11

Anchor Church grieves with the Mother Emanuel AME Church. We weep with the Black community. 

We will not rationalize the motives of the murderer. We will not make excuses. We will not infuse the narrative of this specific hate crime with statistics of black-on-black crime because we will not be distracted by that symptom of systemic white supremacy in this country. We cannot be silent when prejudice and racism are manifest in acts of domestic terrorism.

We recognize that the white, evangelical Church has not done enough for our Black brothers and sisters. We acknowledge that our privilege and wealth contributes to the absence of privilege and poverty of others. We understand that it is our personal responsibility, and the responsibility of the white, evangelical Church, to listen to the Black narrative and to learn from the Black community; it is not the responsibility of the Black community to teach us everything we need to know.

Fifty-two years ago, the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave the eulogy at the funeral for victims of the Birmingham Bombing. He said, “[the victims] say to each of us, black and white alike, that we must substitute courage for caution. They say to us that we must be concerned not merely about who murdered them, but about the system, the way of life, and the philosophy which produced the murders.” 

We serve a God of love, mercy, and justice. Because of our commitment to Him, we must question the systems and structures in this country that reinforce prejudice and racism. We believe that each person is created in the image of God and reject the belief that any person or group of people is superior to another. We condemn any and all acts of violence perpetuated in the name of hatred. 

We will take the advice of Dr. Cornel West and love our way through the darkness.  “The Lord is close to the broken hearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” (Ps 34.18) We  stand in solidarity beside the people in our country and our local community who are hurting, broken, and oppressed. Our hope and strength are anchored in the God of justice.

Little Big Things

Before going into all this some people told us how church planting is hard. We haven’t but touched the surface and well, I’m pretty sure they’re right. Some days it’s easy to feel inspired and hopeful. We dream about what things could look like. A church plant success story…

Other people have warned us to disregard any and all assumptions of this journey and what a new church will look like. Most have told us that we’ll have far few people than we thought. Budget high, but expect less. Understand doing ministry in the city is harder. There will be less resources and more need. 

It is hard to find a balance in keeping perspective and valuing the insight of others. We want to keep dreaming God-sized dreams for our city, but statistics don’t usually lie. We find ourselves in this tension of realists and dreamers. This in between can get confusing. 

Since living in North Buffalo the past couple months, we’ve already wrestled with all of these things. We’ve met some people who are believers, but most who are not. People ask how things are going and it is usually hard to describe unless they’re people who have been deep in this with us over the past year. 

Do we have a location? No. What will our service time be? Not sure. When will we launch? We don’t have an exact date. How much money do we need to begin? A whole lot more than we have now. What about a core team? We’re working on it…

So what do we have to show you about our progress at this point? Well when starting a church from scratch our little feats are actually huge wins. We can tell you that we’re living exactly in the neighborhood where we believe God wants us and getting here has been a real-deal miracle. We can share that we’ve made some new friends- and no, we don’t have a secret agenda of converting them to the faith. We’ve had conversations with people who want to see good things happen in this city…we couldn’t agree more. 

We’re being intentional about what we do and how we do it. We’re still learning this culture because believe it or not, it is different than the suburbs, the cornfields and even other sides or neighborhoods in Buffalo. We’re attending community events, hosting play-dates, stopping by happy hours and hearing people’s stories. We’re identifying the needs.

So in all of this that doesn’t seem like much to the outsider, it already feels like a lot to us. We’re doing our part to help lay the groundwork for what comes next.  But we need your prayers. Pray that our surface relationships we’re making grow to something more. Pray that we can first build trust with our neighbors, love them, hear them and ask the right questions. Pray for wisdom and the right leaders to come forward. Pray that we wouldn’t stop dreaming of what God CAN actually do. Perhaps even pray we’d get a glimpse of that in the coming weeks.

Gratitude & Love,

Lindsey & Steve


Presence

Advent & Christmas are all about the presence of God in this world. In advent we recreate the anticipation and longing the world experienced in waiting for God to do something new. It of course culminates in Christmas day, when we celebrate the birth of Jesus, Emmanuel - God with us. Christians believe that God loves what he created so much, that his response to a broken, rebellious, and dying world isn't judgement or apathy, but that he responds with his presence.

God chooses to be present - with us.

As a young pastor I remember how terrified I was to do hospital visitation. I was so nervous and I put all of this pressure on myself that I needed to say some magic words that would bring comfort to families and patients. After a few of these visits I was humbled in realizing that there are no magic words. There are no easy answers. Thankfully, I found out that my role in visiting people was not to have answers, but to be present. There is something about just being present with someone that   brings comfort. We know people care about us not when they say the right things, but rather, when they are truly present with us. 

Presence is important. That is why we are so excited that our family is finally living in the  neighborhood of North Buffalo. We have spent months visiting and I (Steve) have commuted daily into the city for work. Lindsey has taken Ava to preschool in North Buffalo since August and has attended multiple school events.  We've been longing for the day when we could just be present. And so here we are, celebrating Christmas in our new home. We are so excited to be on the ground. In the neighborhood that we love. That God loves. And we are ready to be available for God's mission, to be personally present in the lives of many people who do not know him yet.

Peace & Joy,

Steve & Lindsey

 

In The Beginning...

The week of November 18th has been one to remember. Here in the southtowns of Buffalo our house is buried deep in snow and our belongings packed deep into boxes. We’re ready to move into our new home, but circumstances such as these put a damper on our plans. That has been the case with us Johnson’s over the past year. Our plans have not worked out remotely close to how we expected them to. I’m sure if you’re reading this you also know full well how frustrating and difficult it can be to be patient. Stranded during Snowvember eventually gets old. Growing in God’s patience and trust does not.

Maybe you know our story, maybe you don’t have a sense for where we’ve been recently or where we’re headed. To sum things up: we are two impatient, imperfect people trying our best to follow Jesus and the call we believe he has placed on our lives. We can’t exactly explain how we ended up pursuing church planting in North Buffalo and we have no way of describing the feeling we get when we walk down Hertel Avenue. Lindsey grew up in the suburbs of Buffalo and Steve, somewhere in between the cornfields of Indiana. Somehow our hearts have collided with Buffalo’s urban streets and the new found hope growing in our city.

These past few months we’ve been looking at homes, introducing ourselves to business owners, driving our daughter back and forth to her new preschool and better understanding the culture of North Buffalo. The people we’ve met are die-hard Buffalonians - a mix between young professional families and old-world Italians who make unbelievable deli sandwiches. We’ve connected with couples looking for good schools for their kids and singles eagerly forming monthly cleanup events to bring the community together. These are good people.

We are still waiting to move... better said, waiting for God to move.  As we get ready to load up the U-Haul, we’re also getting ready for a new season of ministry. With each setback or interference we continue to come back to the incredible love God has given us for our city. The good people of North Buffalo love their families, take care of their properties and want to see this world a better place. It is our prayer that they would also come to know the God who loves them and their neighborhood in a vastly greater way.

We have been warned that church planting is hard. We are still struggling in the patience and trust departments.  But with your prayers God has been refining us. We choose to pursue Anchor Church for our soon-to-be neighbors - for the unknowing and damaged hearts. May God be glorified and may his people come to know him.

With Love & Gratitude,

Steve & Lindsey