I had an interesting conversation recently with a friend. We were discussing The Torch, and he had a lot of questions about how we do what we do. He was particularly interested in the fact we have zero strings attached for people to come have some food from the truck. Yes, we do hand out tickets, but that is so we can keep track of how many meals we served so we can responsibly plan for the next week. We count them, and make note of it, and that’s it. We don’t take any personal information at all, although I do like to learn peoples’ names, so I can be friendly. His questions led to a discussion about people and their needs, and I was thinking about it while I ran this morning. We have a lot of different definitions for a "need".
One day when we had the truck out, I was standing outside. A lady came to talk to me. I, of course, explained that the food was free and told her to go to the window and get something to eat. She refused right away, and told me she didn’t want to take the food from people who needed it, and said she was just curious about us and The Torch. We began talking and as we talked, she shared some heavy burdens she was carrying. I listened, because I could relate to her heartache and the painful experience she was undergoing. After quite a chat, I convinced her to take some food, because we pretty much don’t let people escape without feeding them something. As she prepared to leave, we hugged each other. I have never hugged so many strangers in my life as I do now working with The Torch. So, my question is - Did she have a need?
And the answer is: YES!
Who doesn’t have needs? Her need at that moment was not food - she needed someone to listen, and to care so she didn’t feel so alone in the world. When Sarah and I started talking about meeting people’s needs with the food truck, we acknowledged there is hunger in many communities. There is physical hunger, which we are happy to do our part to alleviate some of. But there are other hungers as well, and those needs are important, too. People need to feel like someone cares. Often they are hungry to be listened to. Sometimes people find themselves suddenly strapped for cash and they don’t qualify for any other type of help. We have had many of those folks give us heartfelt thanks for welcoming them to us without judgment, question, blame, or guilt. They were hungering for acceptance and hope that better days would come.
We have quite often encountered a need for community. People need to belong somewhere and to do something that matters; we welcome them to the Torch family. We have made friends with some pretty awesome and interesting people from all over the place through this adventure. We get asked to do some very cool things with some very cool people - and not everyone we end up serving always has financial or food needs - but they do have needs and if we have resources to meet those needs, we will help them. I understand many organizations and people are tied to certain governmental or other types of funding in order to sustain, and in order to keep receiving those funds they have to prove they are serving only one level of need.
We have chosen to avoid that path for The Torch. We want to be free to help wherever and whenever people need help with whatever situation they find themselves faced with. If we have the resources, we will do what we can. Most often, the need we encounter is for love and understanding, patience and kindness. Nobody is perfect and nobody does life perfectly. Sometimes we screw up, and sometimes things just go awry for no reason we can discern. Painful situations come, and nobody should have to feel like they must endure all alone. I will give a million hugs to a million strangers if that is a need I sense when I am out trying to be The Torch. I will talk to and listen to and pray for anyone who drops us a line and asks for it, and I will feed, without question, anyone who comes to the truck, because needs are not always physical or financial, and food can open doors to conversations that might not ever happen if we were not out and about doing what we are supposed to do.
A hot cup of tea, that is.
I just finished a wonderful jog, had a nice shower and am enjoying my tea as I look outside and marvel at the dazzling sunshine. My Sunday morning routine has changed often throughout the years, but at this point in my life it is far different than it was before. But, I guess so much of life is changed now. Not so long ago, I would wake up early on Sunday morning so I could eat breakfast, do my devotions, and head off to church. If I was really motivated, I would set my alarm an hour earlier than I had to get up - and I would get a run in before church.
Now, I don’t go to church on Sunday morning. Nope. Now I go to church on Monday nights.
Let me explain how this began. My daughter Madison lives in Ypsilanti. When she moved there, I thought she might naturally be able to find her way into a large church we had visited in the past that was located right near the University of Michigan’s campus. But that didn’t seem to be a good fit after she moved and had settled in. I was attending a very large church in Hartland, which was a great church, and I was content worshiping God there. I actually liked the fact I was pretty much invisible when I attended. Then a pastor from a church in Ann Arbor came one Sunday and spoke. He mentioned the church he pastored in Ann Arbor and it was called “the greenroom”. His message moved and engaged me unlike any message had in a long while, and, even though I know church is not about me, I was curious about the greenroom.
So I went home and I looked it up online. Look it up when you get the chance - http://thegreenroom-annarbor.com/. I learned the greenroom is a church that celebrates the arts and artists of all types. The pastor, Scott Crownover, and his wife Denise are actors-turned-pastors. They were called by God to start a church in Ann Arbor that appreciates and enjoys arts and artists, because, after all, God is an artist Himself! One of the interesting things I found out is they meet on Monday nights. I would later learn this is because many actors and actresses work on weekends and cannot attend traditional Sunday morning church. Scott and Denise are not traditional-type people, anyway, so they decided their church would meet on Monday evenings.
My daughter Maddy has always been a girl who loved the arts. She has a beautiful singing voice, (although she is too shy to use it), she used to play violin and dabbled in drama when she was in school. She is a hair stylist now and I think that is yet another art form - she is certainly very creative in what she does. So I started thinking about her and decided I would ask if she would like to try out the greenroom with me. She was happy I asked - and was particularly glad she didn’t have to get up early on Sunday morning to go - so we decided to check it out the next Monday.
Now, I do not remember ever being nervous before attending a church service in my life. But I have to admit, I was nervous the first day I was heading out to the greenroom. A church for artists? What was I doing? I was being moved out of my comfort zone, for sure! And it never seems like God just eases me out of those comfort zones - I get moved out with a bang! I had no idea what to think. I was expecting an eclectic group of people. I guess I thought the church would be filled with young hippy-types, and eccentric young artists setting up their easels while others strolled around playing their sitars and kettle drums. I thought there might be beads and incense. And I really thought I was going to stick out like a sore thumb. I had a feeling I was going to be the oldest person there - and certainly the least artistic of them all! I have nothing to offer in terms of creativity. I can’t paint, I can’t sing, I can’t dance, I can’t draw, I pretty much can’t create. I don't even scrapbook or make crafts! Those things are out of my league. I can appreciate those who do, though, but that is about it. I hoped it would be a church where Maddy had a place, and then I could move on and find where God wanted me to be.
What I found was a group of accepting, loving people who warmly welcomed me through the doors of the big yellow barn where the church meets. I found young people, and old people (some older than me). I found gifted musicians and actors and artists of all sorts, but my lack of talents did not put a target on my back, I was as welcome to be there as anyone. I found something you don’t often see in a church - a multicultural body of people - truly a blessing in itself. I found an amazingly humble pastor and family who are listening to God’s call on their lives and following Him no matter what it costs them. And overwhelming it all, was the presence of God.
In this day and age of the mega-church I found a church in which I never get the sense their ultimate goal is to build an enormous building to fill with tens of thousands of people. And the incredible thing about that is - people I talk to who don’t go to church often don’t go because they are tired of the megachurch movement. I sense and believe Pastor Scott is on the cutting edge of God shaking up His Church, and changing how things are done, particularly in America - and Pastor Scott is going to find himself leading the way.
If you find yourself looking for something to do on Monday evening, come on out to the greenroom in Ann Arbor. We meet at 7:30 in a big yellow barn. You will find Pastor Scott and a lot of amazingly gifted artistic people. Sarah and Maddy and I will be there - we sit toward the back because sometimes Sarah and I have to skip out a bit early to pick up Panera donations. If it is a truly blessed night - you will get to hear Scott’s wife, Denise, sing a song of worship. Beautiful.
But, most importantly, you will find God. And that’s what church is about.
We get approached by so many people with so many ideas and thoughts and requests. One of the most interesting requests - often which contains the richest blessings for us - is when small businesses want to partner with us in some way. Sarah and I frequently marvel at the amazingly creative, tenacious, and intelligent people we have met who have reached out and supported and helped us throughout these past two years. There is another side to that, though, and I have been thinking about it a lot this past week. Sometimes people who connect with us do not make very successful partners and end up finding themselves disappointed.
I think I partially understand what happens with those individuals. The successful partnerships we have had have been forged with people who got involved mostly because they wanted to help and support the concept and idea of what The Torch is all about. They understand sometimes people need help, and they want to be part of helping them. If their business is blessed because of that, so be it, but that is not the driving force behind their motivation to support us. That attitude is key, because generosity without looking for reciprocity is what God is all about. And people who are truly generous are willing to sacrifice their time or money or comfort to help others. Sarah and I don’t stand to gain anything personally from the success of The Torch. We firmly believe God is entrenched in every aspect of this organization. He gave Sarah the idea, and He has removed a multitude of barriers, and helped us become better people along the way.
He is also the reason behind the blessings. Proverbs 11:24-25 says, One person gives freely, yet gains even more; another withholds unduly, but comes to poverty. A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed.
Giving in order to get or not giving because you are not getting is a double-edged sword. People who come to us and express interest in partnering with us solely because they think we can help their business become successful are missing the most important part of the whole partnership. Ultimately, this isn’t about any of us. There is a supernatural aspect which involves hearts and generosity and faith. If Sarah and I were to lose the faith part of this adventure, we would lose The Torch. Of that, I am confident.
It is not my natural inclination to want to give up what I have so I can give more to others. Goodness, I work hard for my money. But in the end, it’s not about me. It’s all about my attitude and my heart, and my desire to see others develop Hope and to know life can and will be beautiful and positive. And it can be beautiful and positive even if everything does not work out the way I would have it, or if tragedy strikes, or if I lose all my material possessions. That’s where the faith part kicks in and helps me to stick it out. And that’s the part that some people neglect to incorporate when they want to connect with us. I think they look at our Facebook page and read about some of the other awesome sponsors and supporters and the successful partnerships we share, and they think all they have to do is throw a few dollars our way and POOF success will be theirs! People who don’t have the right attitude are pretty transparent to Sarah and me.
We don’t want those kinds of partnerships. They are not what we are all about, even if the individuals involved donate money to The Torch. Ultimately, we want to help others. We want to make a difference. We want to be a difference and to show others how they can be a difference, too. We count ourselves successful when we look out the window of the food truck and children and adults are sitting around happily eating and chatting. We count it a success when we have forged a little more community among our fellow human beings, whether they are adults or children or teens. We don’t want to get anything back from The Torch; we want to be an example to others of how to give, how to be content with what you have, and how to love others so much you abandon your comfort zone, turn your life upside down, and work harder than you ever remember working before to make a dream become a reality, so you bring hope to people who can sometimes feel like there is nothing worth hoping for anymore.
That kind of success can't be bought, and it can't be gained simply by hitching your wagon to ours. It's a matter of your heart and attitude and whether or not you really care about others and want to make a difference, or you simply want people to think you do.
I have learned so much about food trucks this summer.