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Friday, December 5, 2014

Entering Into a NEW Season...

In the past, I've shared how I've been experiencing much weariness, not just physically, but spiritually and emotionally…a weariness on the inside. Over the past several months, I began to be completely honest with myself, with God, with friends, family and mentors about what I’ve been feeling. Through this honesty, I realized that I have been feeling this deep sense of weariness and burn out for over three years.... this is too long.

Two years ago, Janell and I began taking steps to do ministry in a healthier way. I took a two month Sabbatical. We brought on more volunteers. We slowed down in the amount of monthly outreaches. We even took this entire year to pause our outreaches completely and work on building the foundational infrastructure and people-parts of the Dream Center.

After making these changes, things got a little better, but I still felt very weary on the inside. Each time we would try to take steps forward this year, we felt like we were bumping into a wall, that we were forcing something. We began to see that God’s grace was lifting.

After much prayer, journaling, talking and listening to friends and mentors, we have decided to take a two year-long, complete sabbatical. Please understand, I still adore East St. Louis, but currently I don't have the passion or the energy (at least right now) to continue plowing through. During the sabbatical, I will be pursuing other work and traveling. Janell will be doing whatever God leads her to do and also working at Crossfit Edwardsville, where she has been working part time for over three years.

If I had a solid answer for the question of, "What will happen after this sabbatical is over," I would most certainly share that with you. But, honestly, I don't know. I still have a dream to see East St. Louis radically revived from the inside out, from the ground up. During this time of rest, I also want to be open to the Holy Spirit leading me in a different direction or right back to doing the work of “pioneering an East St. Louis renaissance,” the words we have written in our vision statement.

When it comes to what God has put me on this earth to do, I sense that I might be in the beginning stages of a redirected, reformed and renewed calling. It would be presumptuous of me to say that 100%, without a doubt, after the sabbatical we will be starting ministry back up in East St. Louis. I really believe we need to leave the answer to that question open-ended, something I haven't been willing to do before now, because it scared me.

What I do know, is that with or without the East St. Louis Dream Center doing outreach in East St. Louis, God still has a BEAUTIFUL PLAN for the city. The verse below has been an encouragement to us over the years concerning East St. Louis and the young people.

Isaiah 54:11-12 (Msg) Afflicted city, storm-battered, unpitied: I’m about to rebuild you with stones of turquoise, lay your foundations with sapphires, construct your towers with rubies, your gates with jewels, and all your walls with precious stones. All your children will have God for their teacher— what a mentor for your children! You’ll be built solid, grounded in righteousness, far from any trouble—nothing to fear!

Friends have told me, "Rachel, this isn't the end, it's only the beginning, the beginning of the next phase for you." I believe this. This is where the excitement comes in.... I feel like my life is an open book right now, ready for anything new or different that God places in my path or in my hands.

Two years ago, a friend sent this verse to me. I began praying it over my life then. Now, when I look up, I see this is exactly what God has done and is currently doing in my life…

2 Samuel 22:21-25 (Msg) God made my life complete when I placed all the pieces before Him. When I cleaned up my act, he gave me a fresh start. Indeed, I’ve kept alert to God’s ways; I haven’t taken God for granted. Every day I review the ways he works, I try not to miss a trick. I feel put back together, and I’m watching my step. GOD REWROTE THE TEXT OF MY LIFE when I opened the book of my heart to his eyes.

Janell and I will be working on wrapping things up at the Dream Center at least through the end of January. Because of this, we are asking our financial supporters to continue giving so we can finish strong our assignment for this season. At the same time, we also wouldn’t want anyone to feel obligated in any way to continue to give, but we ask that you pray about continuing to give throughout this time.

We ask that you keep us in your prayers as we navigate through more decisions in the coming months. I'm very excited about traveling and seeing how God will use my experiences, adventures and the people I meet along the way to plant seeds in my heart about my future and the next phase of what I was born to do. I don't have concrete travel plans yet, but I will be posting on my personal Facebook page (Rachel Buttig) and Instagram (@rbuttig) if you would like to keep up with my adventures.

We also believe this is not the end for East St. Louis, but really only a BRIGHT BEGINNING. In the past, we've experienced that when we step out of the way and lay something down that God isn’t asking us to "handle" right now, it opens the door for God to do His thing, better than we ever could.

Someone recently told us that we have planted a “wonder seed” in East St. Louis. We couldn’t have planted this seed without you! We believe that even while we're not ministering during the sabbatical, God will be watching over, watering and causing that seed to grow into something solid and strong. East St. Louis, the Dream Center, and the youth all belong to Jesus; they are safe in His care, watchfully and affectionately being crafted into His WORK OF ART.

Thank you for all that you've done! You've invested so much into the Dream Center, young lives and coming alongside of Janell and me with amazing and unforgettable support and friendship.

LOVING East St. Louis,
Rachel and the East St. Louis DREAM Center Team

Friday, October 10, 2014

You Planted a WONDER SEED...

Planting seed into the lives of others has been in my thoughts a lot lately. A few months ago, I was talking to a friend about the Dream Center. He said, "You have planted a WONDER SEED in the community of East St. Louis." This phrase, "WONDER SEED" continues to come to the surface of my heart.

In a way, planting seed is a frustrating process. So often, with planting seed in the hearts of young people, we often don't see results (fruit) until many years later. In all honesty, we haven't seen much immediate fruit in the lives of the youth we reach. But, slowly, over time, little by little, we see gradual change.

Recently, I've been encouraged about the real power of planting seed into the lives of our young people. Before I started the Dream Center in East St. Louis, I had the privilege of serving at the Los Angeles Dream Center for a year and a half. While there, a small group of us worked with kids and teens on Skid Row. We took them out of their harsh environment on a regular basis, taking them exploring all over southern California, while also visiting them in their one bedroom homes in a homeless hotel on Skid Row, called the Ford Hotel.

These were actually the toughest kids I've ever worked with. They stole public transportation buses, stole the youth group van and drove it all the way to San Diego, they peed out the bus window when we drove them to church, they smoked weed and tried to have sex in the church closet, they made me chase them around the park in heels while they hid behind bushes because they left the church service without permission, they cussed us out in Spanish and English, they stole the keys to one the Dream Center offices and robbed short term missionaries, I could go on and on. But, we fell in love with these kids. Despite their craziness, we adored them and continued showing them the love of Jesus in very practical ways. In that short time, we planted a seed in their life.

That was 12 years ago. Gratefully, because of Facebook, we've been able to reconnect with most of the kiddos we worked with. They're all in their 20's now. In the past few months, I've heard from several of them about how well they're doing... finishing school, working steady jobs and volunteering with other kids who need help. My friend, Anna and I, who also spent a lot of time with them, are floored by how well these young people have turned out. To come from one of the worst living conditions in the U.S., to now doing great things with their lives, it was very encouraging for us to hear!

One of the boys, from a family who was living out of their car for a while, wrote to us, saying, "I miss you guys so much. I found a career that I can branch off the LOVE you guys gave to us. You guys helping us out showed us what real friends and family were about. So, I took that loving spirit and now donating every month to the Children's Hospital that's connected to the hospital I work at. I spend about 4 hours on my days off from work and school that I get with cancer kids. I just wanted to thank you guys again for all the love you gave to us and now we can share with other unfortunate kids."

When that small group of us were working with these young people, most of the time we felt like pulling our hair out, thinking, "Are we making a difference!?!?" But that is the wonder of a "WONDER SEED," you don't know for sure that you're making a difference. All you do know is that you're being faithful to the last thing God tugged on your heart to do. Often, we find out years later the impact our seed has made.

I want to thank you for the WONDER SEED that you have so faithfully helped us plant into the city of East St. Louis and lives of the precious young people there. We believe that we WILL see this WONDER SEED bear fruit, just how 12 years later we saw the WONDER SEED planted into the lives of the young people on L.A.'s Skid Row bear fruit.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

East St. Louis, I am so proud of you...

There are certain times that my heart is drawn to drive through East St. Louis. The other night was one of those nights. I was driving through downtown St. Louis and there was a beautiful lightning show in the sky. It looked like it was coming from the east, so I drove in that direction. It was dark and raining, sometimes the best time to see the true beauty of the city of East St. Louis at rest. I drove by John DeShields, our beloved neighborhood.

As long as I can remember, I've referred to East St. Louis as a "she." When I first felt prompted to start the Dream Center years ago, these words came up very strong in my heart, I believe they were straight from God's heart. These words rang clear, "It is time, She has waited long enough, She has waited long enough, it is time." All throughout the Bible personifying characteristics are given to Israel. According to Wikipedia, "She refers to abstractions personified as feminine, and also for the soul, a city, a country, an army, the Church, and others." So, it has only seemed fitting to refer to East St. Louis as a she all of this time.

As I drove by John DeShields, I saw several things that were new and beautiful.... new, bright white streetlights, lighting up every corner, brand new barriers around the dumpsters, new and very strong barricades to block people from breaking into the windows of an old school that sits vacant next to John DeShields and a new street sign on one of the side roads that has been sign-less for as long as I can remember. As I drove and pray, talking to God, I said this in my heart, "She looks good. John DeShields looks good."

I drove more around East St. Louis and I felt a sense of pride in my heart. Not sinful pride, but proud of my city. I know East St. Louis is not where she could be, but I believe God has been doing a work in her for many years. A work in the hearts of the people that we sometimes can't see. That thought kept coming up in my heart, "I am so proud of her." It was so strong in my heart that it came out of my mouth, "East St. Louis, I am so proud of you. I am so proud of you."

This is a mystery to me, but at different times throughout ministry, this city has felt like my child, my sister, my friend and my family. I remember times that I would be going through something personally and the city or the neighborhood seemed to be going through something similar. I'm not saying I know exactly every single thing that the people go through, but some how in some way, the Holy Spirit has bonded my heart to East St. Louis. It is bonded in such a way that it feels like a relationship with an actual person.

As I've mentioned in past newsletters, we've had our outreaches paused since December in order to work on strengthening the foundational parts of the Dream Center. In this time, I've often had concerns of, "Are we not being there enough for the people, will our relationships with them still be good when we return, etc." But as I drove in the rain, in the dark, watching and listening to the heart beat of East St. Louis, I sensed she was saying, "We're gonna be alright."

We've planted a lot of seed over the years. We have to trust that when a seed is planted, it will grow. So now, we wait to see it grow, to see the tree produce fruit. It will. 

Thursday, July 31, 2014

There Is No ART In Anxiety...

"There is no ART in anxiety. We try to manage the future, a time that doesn't exist yet, and we wonder why it makes our stomach hurt. ~Emily P. Freeman

Today, I was re-reading a journal entry from the beginning of this year. In my journal, I had this quote written down as a reminder to myself. I thought of you and wondered if maybe it would encourage you as well.

God created us as human beings, not machines. Sometimes I find myself living in a machine-like way, instead of in a human-like way. When I notice I'm doing this, I see less signs of life and ART in my life. And I see more signs of anxiety, pressure and a forced way of living.

My hope for you and what Janell and I are daily learning here at the Dream Center, is that our lives would slowly begin looking more like a work of ART, with less anxiety and stress. That we would learn how to flow daily in the "unforced rhythms of grace." (Matthew 11:28-30) (RB)

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Wild Provision

Lately we've been encouraged to remember the ways that God has provided for us here at the Dream Center as we move forward with the fresh vision that's been stirring in our hearts to pioneer and create an East St. Louis renaissance. Most of the ways He has provided have been practical; a check in the mail, a donation given on-line, someone donating a physical item like a desk or basketballs. As we've been remembering the ways God has provided, we are extremely grateful for all of the ways, but there are three stories of His provision that stand out. These have His creativity and miraculous ways written all over them! 

When I first started the Dream Center it wasn't incorporated as a non-profit, so I just paid for things out of my own pocket. We were a handful of volunteers and a small group of teenagers at that time, so our needs weren't huge... basketballs, baseball equipment, Little Debbie snacks, a boom box, etc. I was happy to make that investment, but my hope was that other people would catch the vision and begin investing in this dream as well 

The first people ever to give to the Dream Center were some dear friends of mine. They heard about what we were doing and came to me one day and handed me an envelope with $100 cash in it. They said, "We plan to start giving this same amount each month to help with the Dream Center." I was overwhelmed and overjoyed! I had determined to keep paying for the expenses that we had for the outreaches, but shortly after we stepped out with starting the teen outreach, God took care of it with this monthly gift.  

I've always believed that their first seed of giving they planted in the DREAM Center is what caused more donations to come in shortly after that. About a month later, a church began donating $300 per month for several years to help us rent an indoor gym so the kids could have a safe place to play inside.  

Another story that reminds me of God's desire to cause us to smile was when someone brought money to give to the Dream Center in a very creative way. We were in a very tight place financially with the Dream Center and we needed money to come in that very day.  

That morning, I was listening to a teaching by Keith Moore about God being our only Source. He said, "God is so faithful that He could send a dog to your doorstep holding a paper bag of money." When I heard this, I told God, "I know you can bring money to us in any way, shape or form and if you have to, you'll bring it to my doorstep in a paper bag."  

That night we had a teen outreach and all of the volunteers met at my apartment in the John DeShields Neighborhood. One of the volunteers approached me and handed me a fast food, brown paper bag. He said, "I've been saving up my tip money and there's about $150 cash in here. I felt like I should give it to the Dream Center. I'm sorry it's in a paper bag, I couldn't fit it all in my wallet. I figured the safest, least obvious way to bring all this cash into your apartment was to put it in this fast food bag I had in my car." I was in shock! I told him the prayer I had just prayed earlier that day and we rejoiced at God's amazing way He provided.  

The last story is the most precious to me and reminds me of God's wild creativity and care in providing for His kids. I was prayer walking one morning in the John DeShields Neighborhood and a 21 year old young man who I was slightly familiar with stopped me and said, "Do you have $5 I could have? I'm homeless and would like to stay in cheap hotel tonight, I haven't slept in a while."  

I didn't even have a dollar to give to him, plus I very rarely gave money to people in the neighborhood. He looked very tired and I didn't know for sure if he was homeless. After we chatted for a while and I heard his story, I believed that he truly didn't have a place to stay. I couldn't determine if he would actually use the money for a hotel, but my heart went out to him. I told him I didn't have the money, but that I could pray with him. We grabbed hands and I remember the specific prayer I prayed... "God, you made all the gold in the world and you can provide the money he needs or a place for him to sleep." 

We went our separate ways and I stayed out prayer walking longer than usual. On my last lap, as I turned the corner, I SAW A $5 DOLLAR BILL LAYING IN THE GRASS! In all of the mornings I had been out prayer walking, I never found money, except for pennies. I walked quickly to my apartment and wrote a card to him and put the $5 along with 50 cents in the envelope.  

I walked across the street to where he was hanging out. First, I asked him if he was honestly going to use this money for a hotel and not for drugs or alcohol. By the look in his eyes, in my heart I believed he was telling the truth. I explained to him what happened and that God was demonstrating His LOVE for him by miraculously giving him this $5. 

I explained that I added 50 cents in the envelope so he could give away part of what he received. I encouraged him to give the 50 cents to whoever God put on his heart. He was so thankful and I was ecstatic to have been able to see God prove Himself as his Source!  

God's Word is TRUE and He says that He WILL provide for us. Sometimes our circumstances are screaming at us that He isn't providing or won't provide, but in those times we determine to choose to believe our God before we believe what the circumstances are saying. Maybe you're in a tight time financially. We hope these stories encourage you to believe in God's wild, creative and caring ways of getting to us what we need.  

Would you consider making an investment in the future of East St. Louis and its young people by making a one time or monthly gift to the DREAM Center? Giving is easy at our on-line giving page, simply click on the button below OR checks can be mailed to P.O. Box 2456/East St. Louis, IL 62202 (RB)

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

God's Matchless Protection

In the history of ministering in East St. Louis, there were often things that happened that I never shared on the blog or in newsletters. Usually these were very intense things that didn't seem right to share at the time in order to protect those involved. Recently, one of these stories has been stirring in my heart to share.   

After moving out of my apartment in the John DeShields Neighborhood in East St. Louis, we were left without a place to serve lunch to the young men in the neighborhood. For three years, we had been grilling hamburgers on my back porch and serving them hot off the grill. After I moved, we needed a place that was still close by, within walking distance.   

The only option that we found was a shade tree at the end of the apartment building I had recently moved out of. We staked out the grassy shade area as our own and continued with the weekly lunch outreach. Even though it was only about 70 feet from my old apartment, there was a completely different feel. This was the shade tree that all of the men hung out under, a place where you had a good view of the corner store where the illegal activity was going on. It was definitely a more "hoppin' " spot than my apartment's back porch!   

Because this was a more active spot, we needed to be a little more aware of our surroundings since we didn't have a place to go inside for protection if activity began to pick up. Before I moved, if things began to get intense in the neighborhood (gun fire, fights, police activity, etc.) we could simply go into my apartment for safety. Now that we were under this little shade tree, the only place we had to go for cover was my car.  

One day, before our regular Wednesday Lunch Outreach, I felt drawn to read this specific magazine during my lunch break. In it, I stumbled upon an article about God’s protection. It was about believing and speaking out promises about His protection, reminding us that we have angels surrounding us. After reading this article, Janell and I specifically prayed together and spoke protection verses over ourselves.

The next day was our Wednesday Lunch Outreach under the little shade tree. On this particular day, our regular third volunteer wasn’t there, so it was just Janell and me. We were in the middle of setting up all of our equipment, getting the grill ready, etc. At that moment, Janell very calmly said, “Rachel, look at those two men.” 

We looked and saw two men dressed in black head to toe. One man had a bandanna masked around his mouth and a gun in his hand. They were quickly walking in the direction of the corner store and the main street where all of the illegal activity went down.

We didn’t have a place to go, so we jumped in my car and tilted the seats all the way back in order to avoid any possible gun fire that could have come through the windows. I regularly experienced this practice of ducking in my apartment when there was gun fire, but never in my car which was much more out in the open. 

As we heard the repeated gun fire, we sat there trembling and praying in tongues. We heard the gun fire, but couldn’t see what was going on. We could tell it was intense and from the looks of the two men we saw with the gun, it was evil too. We didn’t recognize the men as people from the neighborhood, but they were definitely after someone.

We continued praying and speaking peace over the situation. Once we sensed that things calmed down a bit, I opened my door a crack and looked out. We were parked close to an apartment of one of our young men that we had been serving lunch to for years. As I looked through the crack of my car door, he had his door cracked as well, our eyes locked and he motioned for me to come inside for protection. Janell and I moved quickly inside his apartment where we waited for the coast to completely clear. We were there waiting for a few minutes and graciously thanked him for looking out for us.

We looked out the screen door of his apartment to see if it was ok to pack up our things and leave. We saw another one of our young men and he gave us the clear that it was ok to come outside. He then helped us pack up our things and made sure we were safe.

We were definitely shaken up after this incident, but felt tenderly taken care of by God. He gave us the warning and encouragement the day before through the article about believing for His protection. We also felt very protected by our guys who we had been building trust with for years!

After experiencing other incidents like this, we knew the neighborhood would be tense and there could be possible retaliations. We decided to not go into the John DeShields Neighborhood for a few weeks to let things settle down. Later we found out that there was retaliation and tension stirred for a couple of weeks. Thankfully, the shooting was an injury to someone's leg and not something worse. We didn’t know the man who was shot or his perpetrators.

After this happened we knew we needed a safer place to serve lunch to our guys. We have a friend who has been serving in East St. Louis for twenty five years named Sister Dianne. She works with the Catholic Urban Charities. She has always been a warm smile and encouraging presence in the community and towards us as she can relate to the struggles we face. We asked her if it would be possible for us to use her space which is inside the neighborhood community center in the middle of the John DeShields Neighborhood. She immediately opened her doors to us free of charge! We served lunch to the men there for almost two years.

We had been pursuing to use this space several times in the past five years, by going through the East St. Louis Housing Authority. Their answer was always a stern “No.” But in our time of need, through someone completely different, God opened the door for us to use a space we had been desiring to use for a long time.

After we moved the lunch program indoors, our time with the young men became more meaningful and deeper. They began to open up more and share about their lives as we did the same with them. Our volunteer team also increased from three people to ten people! We began serving a family style, home-cooked meal each week instead of the grilled burgers we had been serving for three years. The young men began to tell us things like this…

  • “This is a safe place for us, a place we can get away from all the craziness that’s out there.”
  • “This is our ‘gentleman’s club’ where we can come and get things off our chest.”
  • “You guys have become mentors to us and you encourage us about things we’re going through in our lives.”
  • Thank you for the food. We feel loved and cared for knowing that someone takes the time to prepare this for us.  
  • At Christmas time when donors adopted them for Christmas, one of our super tough guys said, "I've never been adopted. Thank you so much for this gift, I really needed it." 

Remembering this story has encouraged me in several areas… It reminds me how God provides what we need when we need it. It reminds me of His watchfulness and matchless protection. It reminds me of all the favor God has given us with the people in East St. Louis, from men who "do life on the streets" to a sweet nun from the Catholic Urban Charities. We're excited to continue seeing God's faithfulness towards us and people of East St. Louis! (RB)

An Offbeat Path

Now that I live in St. Louis, I often take drives through the city and city neighborhoods. These drives help me to think, dream and hear what God is saying in my own heart. I do my best to stay off the highway, and instead, drive through the neighborhoods and city streets. On the highway, I miss out on the city's gems; the cobblestone roads, the historic homes, the small, corner cafes and the interesting people walking the streets.

One day, I was on one of these drives and I got lost. I used my GPS to try to get from the South Side over to the West Side. Even though I wanted to avoid the highway, my GPS (a man with a British accent) kept trying to send me there. At each turn he told me to take, I kept driving straight, hoping he would re-route me through the city neighborhoods. After his persistent attempts to get me on the highway, I was getting frustrated and said out loud, "Stop trying to send me on the highway!"

In that moment, a thought came to mind.... "In this season of the Dream Center, God is wanting us to see the beauty of the back roads. But, the opinions of other people, religious thinking and I, myself, keep trying to send us on the highway, the more fast paced route."
It seems there are times in life that God's heart for us is to take the scenic route. Sometimes, on a road trip, the major highways are required-- depending on your destination, time allowance or purpose of the trip. But, some road trips cry out for the back roads, the lookout points, the souvenir stops, and the roads along the coast.

The highway will get us to our destination quicker. Getting somewhere quicker can be good, depending on what season we're in. But, sometimes, getting there slower is better. Getting there slower allows you to meet the beauty along the way, whether that comes in the form of a sunset, an interesting person or a sight you wouldn't have seen while traveling the highway.

The slower route is also the route where you can learn more about yourself and ways of thinking that you didn't know you had--ways of thinking that have made you conform. Slowing down causes the noise to quiet down as well--the noise that has drowned out the whispers of your own heart.

Here at the Dream Center, we're learning to slow down. This path that we've taken to re-group and re-build the Dream Center from the inside out may not be the most popular or accepted path, but we believe it's the right path. So far, on this "offbeat path" we've discovered traveler's delights along the way, that I believe we couldn't have discovered if we stayed on the "highway."

Below are some of the sweet spots the slower road has helped us discover:
  • Connecting with creative artists who see East St. Louis as a city of opportunity and potential
  • A space to work that inspires creativity and new ways of thinking (Nebula Coworking)
  • A healthier foundation for the Dream Center that is daily being built on prayer, worship, and listening
  • Learning to not put God or ourselves in a box
  • Becoming more free from religious mindsets that have caused us to conform in the past
  • Connecting with people who have pioneered significant revitalization in urban St. Louis neighborhoods  
In May's Newsletter we shared about how we are re-grouping and re-building this year. If you would like to read more about this, click here.

We appreciate all of the DREAMERS out there who have supported this vision!!! If you haven't given before and you're sensing that nudge in your heart to INVEST in the future of East St. Louis, please consider a one time gift or a monthly recurring donation. 

Giving is easy! Simply click on the donate button below and give on our secure on-line giving page or donations can be written to "ESL DC" and mailed to P.O. Box 2456/East St. Louis, IL 62202. The East St. Louis Dream Center is a 501 c3 non-profit organization and all donations are tax deductible.