Saturday, July 23, 2011

The Tempest is here!

If anybody would like to see Urban Impact's The Tempest, here's when and where!

8:00, Thursday, July 28, 2011
Allegheny Center Alliance Church
Pittsburgh, PA

8:00, Friday, July 29, 2011
Allegheny Center Alliance Church
Pittsburgh, PA

8:00, Friday, August 5, 2011
Christ Church at Grove Farm
Sewickley, PA

8:00, Wednesday, August 10, 2011
Lake Harbor United Methodist Church
Muskegon, MI

7:00, Thursday, August 11, 2011
The Chapel, Green Campus
Green, OH

One prayer request: LIGHTING

Better updates to come!

Friday, July 1, 2011

Them Not So Dry Bones

Picture this:
A young lady digging through barrels of newly-extricated, cartilage-covered animal bones with her bare hands.
What would drive her to such madness?
Her love of Jesus, Shakespeare, and the kids on the North Side.

"What does this have to do with Jesus, Shakespeare, or the kids on the North Side?" you may ask.

Well, last year, when we began the Shakes program, we realized that, although we know about acting and directing, we don't know a whole lot about Shakespeare as literature. We needed a Shakespeare expert to help us and the kids explore Shakespeare to the fullest. So we sent out a job description to some local Christian colleges, and one English teacher said, "I know exactly who you need."

Enter Brittany- an enthusiastic, bright, Godly woman who LOVES Shakespeare. And I mean LOVES. She was invaluable last year- teaching interactive English classes, helping plan the trips, driving kids home, working on lines after rehearsal and on weekends... she really gave her all. She was also in charge of props last year. She had never before looked for a 1930's gun that fired blanks or a dummy gun that matched exactly. She had never thought about what kind of flowers a priest would have or painted dozens of wooden hangers black. But she dove in enthusiastically and did a fantastic job with the props.
So when we asked her to come back this year, she said yes!

This years show, however, is very different from last year. And one of the props that Eric wants is bones. Real animal bones. Skulls, specifically. So Brittany got to work! She called slaughter houses and meat packing companies around Pittsburgh, until one said, in an Eastern-European accent, "Yes. You may have bones. Come and get."

So Brittany faithfully followed her google maps through a cute little neighborhood, and right in between the picket fences, she found her slaughterhouse. She didn't know what to expect, but she describes it as "a scene out of Rocky" with animal carcasses hanging from hooks in the refrigerated room. "It was a forest of meat," she says, and that image alone would be enough to send me running!

But not Brittany. Our Florida girl waded through a half-inch layer of who-knows-what with her flip-flops until she got to a room with three barrels of bones. "Here you go," the man said. "We no have gloves." He got her a cardboard box, and Brittany dug through three barrels of fresh bones with her bare hands.  Let me say that again: She dug through three barrels of fresh bones with her bare hands.

And that's not all. He had also promised her skulls. "Is goat good?" he asked. And he reached into a fourth barrel and pulled out an entire goat head by the ear. The eyes were still there. The brain was still there. The thing still had fur and a tongue! "Yes," Brittany said, keeping her breakfast down, "Goat is fine."

Brittany left with a box full of cow and sheep bones, and the promise of four cleaned skulls if she came back in a few days.

The day before she had started praying for an interesting life. :)

Stay tuned for more updates on rehearsals, the show, the kids, and the bones!

Prayer Requests:
A performance space we're having some problems with.
Tech, tech, tech!
Our wonderful kids' safety.
Sanity for the leaders.

Monday, June 13, 2011

And it begins...

Every time I start to panic about Shakes this year, I remember last year. I remember the miracles that happened! Here are just a few:

The billy club:
We needed a billy club. Not a fake plastic one, but a wooden one that could actually do some damage if the user wanted it to. It needed to do some serious stage combat and couldn't have that awful, fake, hollow plastic sound. It was a week before the show. We had looked everywhere. Our marvelous intern, Brittany, Shakespeare expert and props mistress, finally found one at a costume supply store for around $20. Kind of pricey if you are doing a show for next-to-no budget. She walks in, looks at it, and the young guy behind the counter (who was previously chatting up a pretty girl, also behind the counter) goes over to her and says, "I'll give it to you for $10 if you leave right now." Done! Brittany buys the billy club and leaves immediately. Thank God for miracles! (and starry-eyed young guys)

The tuxedo:
One of our characters needed a tuxedo. A fancy, high-class, high quality tuxedo. Nobody sells tuxedos. People rent them, they sell tuxedo vests or t-shirts or bowties, but they do not sell a full tuxedo. I was going to one of my (many) estate sales. I had a hard time finding this one, and when I finally did, it was nearly over. I walked into the garage into the furthest back corner and found... not only a tuxedo, a 100% wool, authentic, 1930's tuxedo. In perfect shape. With seams that could be let out and taken in, as only a hand-fitted tuxedo can. I brought it to the front, said, "How much for the tuxedo?" and she looked at it and said, "I don't remember seeing that at all... let's see... how about $15?" Done! Paris had his tuxedo.

The set (now this is a good one):
Eric had designed a beautiful set. He had one corner dedicated to Friar Lawrence, one as Juliet's dressing room (she was, after all, a 1930's movie star), one with a pile of crates for the rag-tag Montagues, and a final corner that had a 2 foot rolling platform that locks in place with a red carpet, a lit marquis and steps on both sides. Well, he hoped to have a 2 foot rolling platform that locks in place with a red carpet, a lit marquis, and steps on both sides. He planned on having one. He had blocked tons of action around it. It was our most necessary set piece. But we didn't know how to build it. We didn't have the tools to build it, either in our heads or in our hands. It's getting down to the wire: 3 weeks before the show opens, 2 weeks until tech week, and we need that platform. We plan a trip to Eric's family's house, hoping to put something together that will function. And three weeks before the show opens, a woman walks into the Urban Impact offices and says, "Hi, my name's Rachel. I don't know if you can use me, but I'm a professional set designer." Done! We had a 2 foot rolling platform that locks in place with a red carpet, a lit marquis, and steps on both sides. And this year we have a set designer named Rachel.

"Who of you, by worrying, can add a single hour to his life?" Matthew 6:27

That being said... prayer requests:
* Pray that God will prepare and protect the kids in the program this summer.
* Pray for somebody with expert knowledge of theatrical puppets. (Doesn't that make you want to see the show?!)
* Pray for one scene that really knocks it out of the park- we need a 3-minute scene to show to churches that are thinking of supporting Shakes.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

I'm back!

Well, this isn't actually Eric.

After many beggings and pleadings from forlorn former readers, I, Laura, have taken up the honor of blogging! My schedule is much more flexible and my writing standards are slightly lower, so I was happily chosen to update you all on the inner workings of inner city ministry. Hopefully, this will happen once every couple of weeks.

To begin, I'll give you the Cliff Notes for the past year...

*Summer Shakespeare program was GREAT. Wonderful cast, wonderful rehearsals, wonderful show, wonderful tour. The kids loved it so much that nearly all of them are coming back to do it again this summer! Last summer's show: Romeo and Juliet. This summer's show: The Tempest.

* Fall semester of the Performing Arts Academy was great. We had a good chance to build on the skills we were teaching last year, and our Shakes kids became closer friends in their weekly class and Bible Study. The new Children's Choir was a huge hit and all 60 slots filled up immediately.

* Christmas, 2010- Eric and I bought and house and a puppy! We are truly a North Side family now, living in the community we love. Our puppy, Trooper (short for Sand Trooper, all you Star Wars fans), is a lab/mastiff mix and his goofiness and wagging tail make us so happy! At 6 months now, he's around 55 pounds and still growing.

* February, 2011- Our Shakes kids entered the Pittsburgh Public Theatre's Annual Scene and Monologue Competition. They were the very first group to perform out 1,200 students. Two of our eight students placed in the top 75. That's right- 25% of our group placed in the top 75 out of 1,200 students. We couldn't be prouder!

* April, 2011- The Urban Impact Choir sang at Heinz Hall! A benefit concert featuring Jerry Butler was held for Urban Impact, and the choir opened the show spectacularly. Eric did all of the print work (posters, flyers, bookmarks, t-shirts, programs, etc, etc) and it was so classy, Heinz Hall was proud to display it!

* Spring semester of the Performing Arts Academy was a huge success. The final show was attended by  many parents. In fact, more parents attend the final PAA show than any other Urban Impact Activity! Eric wrote a gameshow-style short play for his Elementary Drama class called "The Choice is Right," and it was a huge hit. Picture the Israelites (along with the Angel of Death) vs. the Egyptian Pharaohs (aka the Tut family) in a Family Feud-style game in which the winners get to go to the Promised Land! All the questions had to do with the 10 Commandments, and the Burning Bush was one of the phone-a-friends. My High School Acting class did a Human Video (movement set to music that tells a story) called "Storms," which told the stories of people feeling attacked, but also showed the power of God to rescue them.

* Eric and I just finished a fascinating and fun vacation to Scotland to visit my sister and her family. It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and we were thrilled to have bought our tickets before gas skyrocketed! Joy was the perfect travel agent, David was a very knowledgeable tour guide, and our niece was a remarkably bubbly and flexible traveler! We had such a blast catching up with them and being introduced to their lives, as well as seeing sheep, highland cows, castles, churches, ruins, cemeteries, monuments, gorgeous mountains, waterfalls, islands, bed and breakfasts, fudge doughnuts, sticky toffee pudding, kippers, and haggis!

Now that we are back and rested, it is full-speed-ahead for this summer's Urban Impact Shakes. We are praying hard, as neither of us can see how this summer can top last summer. God's provision was so evident last year, we are trusting Him for more miracles this year!

To God be the glory, great things He has done!

Opportunities to pray for us at Urban Impact:
* Our Shakes kids this summer (that God would grow in them and they would grow in God)
* Our Shakes staff this summer (Brittany, Rachel, Matt, me and Eric- for peace amidst the stress)
* Our Shakes audiences this summer (that God would prepare them for the message)
* All of the production aspects of this play (costumes, set, props, lighting, sound, etc)

Saturday, April 3, 2010

45 Cute Minutes

April 8th is Coming!  To most of the world this is just an ordinary day, but to me it's a day where God looks down and judges whether or not I'm an effective missionary.  Okay,  I know that's not true, but that's the thought that slips into my mind as the Performing Arts Academy Parents' and Performance Night draws closer.  We had a dress rehearsal this past Thursday, and boy was that rough! Yes, people say a bad dress rehearsal means a good performance, but I think some one just made that up so I can sleep better at night.  To tell you the truth it hasn't been working.  I wake up in the middle of the night think what do I need to do tomorrow, pray for some of the kids, and read a comic book until I fall back asleep.   One might ask, "What's the big deal?"  Well, I (by the grace of God and help from great volunteers) run the Performing Arts Academy, and on April 8th the academy has their big shindig performance.

Right now the performance is looking like this: some really talented young singers, cute elementary art students, a middle and high school acting class that is so great (when they choose to be), an improv troupe that call themselves "The Unfulfilled Awesomes", and 18 little girls that don't know their lines.  The part about 18 little girls that don't know their lines is the part that makes me toss and turn at night.  At the dress rehearsal their short ten minute play took them 45 minutes to get through.  Albeit they were very cute for those 45 minutes, one can only take so much.

After the dress rehearsal I was exhausted.  I turned to my wife and said, "If only they could memorize their lines like they do the Bible studies."  Then it hit me; I just said, "If only they could memorize their lines like they do the Bible studies."  The young girls had been learning a lot this semester, and what stuck is much more important than their lines.  What stuck is their relationship with God.

Sometimes I can get stuck, stuck on what I think is important.  Those are the times when I am thankful for God's gracious priority checks, even if it comes in the form of 18 little girls standing quietly on the stage.

Prayer Requests:

  • The 18 little girls (and their lines).
  • Praise and continued prayer for a student who was in Jail and now is in a half way house.
  • Summer Program and the students that will be involved
  • April 8th 
    • Parents to come and support their kids
    • Students to use their talents to glorify God
    • Me and my priorities
Galatians 5:6

Sunday, March 7, 2010

When the Jonas Brothers visited Urban Impact

When I first felt led to join Urban Impact I knew I would spend time building relationships with young men, live in the inner-city and talk with them about Jesus.  One thing I did not think of a year and a half ago was teaching 18 1-5 grade girls.

Now every Thursday, I teach the elementary drama class.  18 little drama princesses convene for fun, Bible study, acting, and whole lot of smiling.  From my perspective it's a hour and a half of Bill Cosby's Kids Say the Darnest Things and me thinking, "Dear God,  please help me."  Fortunately, God does hear my pleas and knows I don't have a clue when it comes to nine year old girl with a sassy attitude.  Because of this every week I have some amazing story of what God is doing in the class despite my inexperience.  The past few weeks it has been awesome to see the girls get incredibly curious every time we start our Bible study.  This year Sheri and Karen, two volunteers, have written a "Special Agent" theme study.  The young girls are members of the CIA: Children in Action and get "codes" found in the Bible which tell them about the KOK, LOL, and the POP (King of Kings, Lord of Lords, and Prince of Peace).  This may sound like your standard Sunday school study but Sheri and Karen have blended James Bond-ness, Disney Princess, and Jesus to make something that these young girls love.  And when I say love,  I'm thinking about changing the class name to Elementary Awesome Bible Study and Some Acting Stuff.

Last week the CIA code was Isaiah1:18 "Though your sins are like scarlet, they will be as white as snow."  With the code came a big box of snow, which the girls took handfuls of and held it up to the light to let it sparkle.  This of course provided much giggling and some oo's and ah's, but nothing like the reaction of what was yet to come.  In the snow laid another box with a code on top.  This code read: Isaiah 62:3, "You will be a crown of splendor in the Lord's hand, a royal diadem in the hand of your God."  I slowly opened the box and pulled out...  SCREAMING, instant, high pitch, Jonas Brothers concert type, screaming.  And in my hands lay a small, little tiara. All the girls took turns setting the tiara on each other's head and announcing to the anxiously awaiting class that Quiante, Samira, Emily, Mycah, etc. were each a crown of splendor to the Lord.

At first I thought the reaction was hilarious and a bit much.  Yes, it might have been, but each one of those girls they realized they were precious, beautiful, and sparkled like the tiara and the sun hitting the snow.  That deserves a reaction.

Prayer Request:
  • April 8th PAA Performance Night
  • Getting ready for new Shakespeare summer program
  • A former student who recently got sent to prison
  • Praise for what God is doing in the PAA Bible Studies
  • New Ministry Associates and Support Raising
All of you who pray for Laura and me,  you rock more than the Jonas Brothers.

Saturday, February 13, 2010


I don't really have any New Years resolutions because I think, "Why wait for the new year to have a resolution?"  I realize this sounds a lot like my dad who is often crabby around Christmas time saying, "Why only give gifts on Christmas?"  To which I reply, "That's what Birthdays are for."  (FYI mine is February 18th.)  But back to the thought of resolutions.  

I have now been involved in Urban Impact for over a year, and through this time I have been privileged to be a part of and run many great programs.  Because of this I have been able to befriend and get to know a lot of young kids, but I know the need is much greater than friendship.  The kids of the North Side have a bunch of friends.  Many of them are great, but most pin each other down with expectations set by past generations: Welfare, drugs, and lots of sex with all of its consequences.  This reminds me of what Principal Rick, one of the founders of the UI: Choir, told me, "Our kids don't need friends, they have enough of those.  They need people to keep them out of jail and off of each other."  We went on to talk about what really makes a difference.  Urban Impact programs keeps kids off the street, tell them about God and the great rescue through Jesus, teach them skills, and feed them.  Not a bad list,  actually pretty good,  really good, down right snazzy, but what in that list helps them beyond choir or basketball practice?  Yes, you might answer Jesus and I wouldn't argue with you, but have you ever heard of a Sunday Christian, the guy who goes to church, sings, sits, listens then goes home and forgets.  It's no different with our kids; they are Program Christians except when they go home and forget they sell drugs and guns.  What makes it stick?  How can our kids take what they learn and put it into practice instead of throwing it into a Proverbial trash can?

If you have the answer to this let me know.  Until that time we have found that we must live the life of an incarnational  missionary....  What!?  Despite incarnational not being a real word I believe it means that I need to walk in the shoes of those to whom I minister.  I know I'm not black and there is no way I'm going back to high school, but I do want to be a part of my kids' lives.  I want to be there when they are making the hard choices, to help them with home work, and show them God at work in me and them.  This will be tough, but it doesn't always have to be.  A couple weeks ago I took a group of guys to hunt zombies at a local church youth event (they had a biblical metaphor of those who were truly living as opposed to the walking dead) and last week Laura and I had a Super Bowl party and had them all over to our apartment.  The only thing tough about those was getting up off my cow derriere and doing it.  So, if I challenged myself to a New Year's resolution I would say it's walking the walk with the kids to really make an impact.

Prayer Requests and Praise:

  • Praise for the volunteers who have stepped up to help in the Performing Arts
  • Praise, one our students made it into CAPA (the best public high school)
  • Prayer for the Performing Arts Academy
  • Support raising for Urban Impact's Ministry Associates
  • One of our PAA kids who is going through some "stuff"
  • Continued challenge for myself and others to get more involved with our student's lives

Thank you all for your prayers and continued support.