A page from my journal, inspired by Maya Angelou’s poem “Still I Rise”. 

 

My name is Veronica Maya Farrell. I am biracial.

I am often compared to a dog with terms like “mutt” or “half-breed”. Some days I am too much of one skin color for folks to handle, but most days I am not enough for them.

I Rise.

As a child, I begged for friends but was turned away because my dad was from “Africa” and we had “diseases.” As an adult, there are parts of Georgia I will not drive through because they are painted in flags that scream the message “YOU ARE NOT WELCOME HERE.”

I Rise.

I try to teach children about Jesus, I try to teach them about love. When I am finished, I weep with fear that they will experience hate from this world, simply for the way they look.

I Rise.

I am easily offended and highly sensitive. I have never had the privilege of not being this way.

I Rise.

I will never be silent about my stance on equality, justice, and people. Even when the church is.

I Rise.

I am angry.

I Rise.

My voice will be heard. I WILL FIGHT.

I Rise.

I will not fight on a Facebook post. I will not entertain ignorance.

I Rise.

Don’t make me reclaim my time.

I Rise.

I will educate myself. I will combat lies with truth from above. I will forgive. I will pray fervently and always. I will choose love over a throat punch because that’s just what Jesus would do.

I Rise.

I will encourage others to take a stand. We do the world no favors by turning a blind eye.

I Rise.

I want to carry the weight of every tribe, tongue, and nation on my back to let them know they are not forgotten.

I Rise.

I will fall. I will tire.

I Rise.

I am falling. I am tired.

But when I feel like I cannot rise anymore, the spirits of my ancestors passed and my children to come, combined with my Savior who connects us all will lift me up and again

I Rise.

 

The Morning

I woke up this past Friday morning not because of an alarm clock, but just simply because I had had enough sleep! Isn’t that a marvelous thing? For weeks I had been planning a whole entire weekend away with Jesus and now here it was. And I was rested and ecstatic!

As I lay there in bed, even before my eyelids were open the thought occurred to me to check my phone. I was used to checking for messages, missed calls and emails that had collected during the night… But I told myself no- not this weekend. The world could certainly do without me for 2 out of 365 days.

I began to mentally pack for my trip to the monastery, still in bed, when the impulse to check my phone took hold, again! This time a bit more urgent. This continued to happen on and off for several minutes until I realized that I was actually fighting the “need” to check my phone…

Astonished, I got up. My second thought was now of food. But I didn’t even feel hungry. What I felt was programmed… I was addicted to my morning routine and I began to realize that giving total space to Jesus might require some detoxing.

It’s not a usual thing for me to plan on going to a Monastery by the way… Or to be keenly aware of where my attention is focused when I wake up… But for months now I had felt called away. Not just to a new place geographically, but to a new place of silence and solitude with Jesus. And now on the morning of my retreat- for me to reach that place both internally and externally it seemed that I needed some major disconnecting from some things!

I decided to take a break from both food and phone until I got closer to the monastery to practice some self-control and open up those deeply wired places to the Holy Spirit.

 

The Country

It took an hour for me to get to Conyers, Georgia. Everything was back roads and the country scenery felt very familiar and friendly. About 3 miles away from the monastery I found a quaint little mom-and-pop barbecue restaurant and I stopped in for lunch.

Country as a Blue Tick Hound, I didn’t quip when the bread that came with my meal was untoasted white bread in a bag. I had even gotten the end piece of the loaf! Casually, I stuffed the bread into my purse with the thought of maybe seeing ducks or geese at the abbey later on…

I sat and ate my lunch, relishing the chance to be a “passer-througher” and eavesdropping on local conversations of the utmost gossiple importance about the, “preachers brother, Fred” and so on… I even broke my cardinal silent retreat rule and took a phone call from a friend. Because as I began to understand it- going from regular day interactions to complete silence needed an adjustment period.

Like scuba divers who can only dive down so many feet until they feel the pressure build in their ears. They stop the descent until the pressure equalizes and then they can continue… That’s exactly how I was feeling up until my barbeque and my phone conversation. But after that I was ready for another plunge!

 

The Monastery

I arrived at the monastery and after checking into my “cell” or “dorm” I had time to explore the grounds. I saw monks, nuns and other retreaters who kept to themselves and were completely silent, but they would smile at me in the hall if I made eye contact with them.

The grounds were extensive with a lake and beautiful bonsai filled gardens to stroll through or sit in. The sanctuary was tall and dark with stained glass windows. Visitors to the church could enter and occupy a few rows of pews located near the door, but they weren’t allowed access other than that. We retreaters on the other hand could move around freely. I still don’t like or understand that.

By the time orientation came around that night I had now gone hours in new surroundings in complete silence and was feeling the need to be with people. Thankfully, during orientation I spotted a posse of four Catholic ladies in their sixties and seventies. They sat giggling in the corner because apparently they had signed up for this retreat without knowing it was silent! Their laughter was music to my ears! In a somber place filled with crucifixes and pictures of the Pope, these I recognized, were my people!

Driven by the need to balance out my surroundings with lightness- I plotted to infiltrate and befriend the Ya-Ya Sisterhood that sat before me. How? I basically stalked them.

After orientation we all herded towards the dining hall where strict silence was observed… Thankfully there was a smaller room available in a different part of the building where people could talk quietly over dinner if they wanted.

I saw my future best buddies headed that way and I joined their table. We became fast friends and dinner time flew by quickly. After eating and saying adios to the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants- I grabbed my stack of books and headed to find a comfy chair in a quiet place to write… I figured it wouldn’t be too hard to come by.

I stopped by to grab some water from the kitchen and as I sat my books down on the table there, a monk walked in and seeing my, “Celebration of Discipline” book on top, stopped and asked, “Foster, isn’t it?” Meaning the author’s name.

Visibly surprised that he was speaking to me, I quickly answered, “Yes sir. Richard Foster.” He nodded, affirmed my choice and with that he was gone. I sighed with relief that the Kristin Chenoweth autobiography entitled, “Something Wicked” hadn’t been on top of the stack but resting right in the middle.

 

The People

It seemed to be that I was the only non-Catholic in the retreat. It was pretty clear since everyone around me were wearing gold medallions around their necks. I was also the only one to carry a Bible into service. When I did happen to even come across someone with a notebook and a pen I felt an instant kinship and had the desire to go into what I call, “Mulan Assimilation Mode.”

“Ah! I see you have a sword! I do too… They’re very manly and tough!”

I began to befriend my little retreat group of 25 or so. Because that’s what I do. I connect to people and I connect people to people. That’s the most natural behavior in the world to me.

But I was unconsciously shooting myself in the foot.

Before the end of the first night the YaYas had become my new high school lunch table, I had said yes to leading a worship session the next day (my guitar had been spotted *you could play outside on the grounds) and that night I actually helped Beatrice the janitor lady close down the place around 8 p.m. which is when Grand Silence began.

I felt like I had accomplished a lot. And I had! A ridiculous amount of energy had been spent on people considering that I was there on a silent retreat. Now in the quietness of my own little room I slowly began to see…

Having dinner with the ladies and sharing parts of our stories, making open-ended plans with other retreaters for the following day and stopping to intentionally love on people and meet them… I realized that something rare was slipping away from me… My anonymity.

Dallas Willard writes that solitude is, “the creation of an open, empty space in our lives by purposefully abstaining from the interaction with other human beings, so that, freed from competing loyalties, we can be found by God.”

Oh God, how quickly I had given my time and attention away. This, my one whole little weekend with Jesus and I was trying to fit in Lillian, Beatrice, Judy, Donna and Debbie. I was astonished at how quickly I’d given myself away to people.

Showered, ready for bed and completely prayed up by 9:30 p.m.- that first night I sat in my little cell with nothing more to do.

I thought about Whoopi Goldberg in Sister Act and my sense of humor took hold as I wanted to bang on the wall in Morse code to ask the name, rank and serial number of the retreater next to me. Alone with no distractions, noise or people, I began to exhibit raccoon-like tendencies. I think I even went through the little trash can in my room…

I made it two hours. And then I decided to watch, “The Kindness Diaries” on Netflix and I enjoyed every minute of it!

Equalization, my dear, equalization. On everyone’s own timeline.

 

Day 2

I woke up to the ringing of the steeple bells at 7 a.m. the next morning and felt like I had been run over by a truck. I woke up angry with the world. I wanted more sleep, I wanted food. I hadn’t realized that the Trappist monks were a vegetarian order until dinner the night before when we had been served a humble bowl of soup. I imagined myself wearing a t-shirt into the silent dining room the next day that read, “Non-catholic: give hamburger.” I had even, at around 4am that morning, finally fished the bag of plain white bread from my purse and eaten it. What irony.

But once I got out of bed and woke up fully- everything was 100% better!

Thinking back, that entire day blends together into a beautiful blur. I never once had to look at a clock. Not once. I worshipped with my guitar, prayed, memorized scripture, read, wrote, walked, napped on the grass in the sun.

I had equelized to silence and solitude with Christ more than ever before.

I remember even contemplating my taste buds as I ate singularly and slowly and thought about how unfathomable God is that he would create so many different flavors. Everything was worship as I spent the whole day- whether it be an activity or in stillness, focused on resting in His presence. I sought Him.

Once when I was walking, I noticed this big and beautiful tree. I stepped closer to investigate its leaves. “Sturdy,” I thought as I felt of them. It’s a funny thing to think about leaves on a tree but that’s what came to mind. And the Holy Spirit immediately spoke and said, “That’s how your life is going to be… In me.” And I walked on with Jesus, swinging my arms back and forth like a kid does, just for the joy of it.

In 2 Timothy 2:2 , Paul tells Timothy,

“You have heard me teach things that have been confirmed by many reliable witnesses. Now, teach these truths to other trustworthy people who will be able to pass them on to others.”

When I started attending a small girls group and eventually youth group at the start of middle school, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I had a very vague idea of who God was, but no concept of anything deeper. If left to my own strength and knowledge, who knows where I would be? What I needed was people who would step up, and teach me what they knew. Thank God, that is exactly what I got.

Andrea Evans and Deanna Atkins taught me how to build the foundation of my relationship with the Lord. They taught me how to pray. They showed me how to speak life to myself and to others around me. These women taught me to believe in miracles and a great big God. They showed me my first example of what community looks like by choosing to do life together outside of Sunday service. Andrea and Deanna gave me a hunger for more.

Brandy Dalton came along side of me. She brought me into her home for dinner and sleepovers. She never needed to say much. The way Brandy led me best was by example. I was watching. I saw how she loved her husband and her children. I saw how she served strangers.  I saw how she worshipped. I saw how she was the same beautiful bright light in every scenario of life. I wanted what Brandy had, and what Brandy had was Jesus.

Terri Howell sat with me (and still does) at coffee shops and diners asking me questions about my life and about God. Terri allowed me to process things in a way that I never knew I needed. She never forced anything on me. More than anything, Terri showed me that she genuinely cared about what I had to say. I began the process of learning how to be seen and heard in these moments.

Ryan Gallegos and Derrick Lane showed me that God has an amazing sense of humor. They taught me that it is okay to disagree and even fight, in the end Christ’s love always prevails. In knowing them, I learned how much forgivness matters. I learned that men could be both gentle and fierce. They showed me first hand what it looks like to be pursued by God and in pursuit of Him no matter what happens in life.

I deeply appreciate when the Lord works in full circle moments like this one. I have been given an extremely cool opportunity to lead a Kid’s Bible Club in our apartment complex. Last Thursday, 15 kids showed up to learn more about God. They ate pizza, played games, then cut to the chase and asked some really intentional questions about the Father. Some of these kids have a troubled home life. In one case, we have a teenager who fishes in the pond for dinner.  Some are provided for. Some are believers, and some have no idea where to begin a relationship with God. I now have the chance to be what so many people have been for me, and I am beyond grateful.

In the coming weeks, I plan on sharing with you how this all came to be. The Father is a beautiful story teller, and I would truly hate to leave out any of His details. In the meantime, I urge you to pray for us. You can pray that our Bible Club would be a space grounded in love. Pray that we would begin raising up a generation of passionate warriors of the kingdom. Would you prayerfully consider supporting us financially, for expenses like: food, crafts, curriculum?

Lastly, pray that we would be people that our kids could look back 10 years from now and say, “they made an impact on my life and more importantly my walk with Jesus.”  Because at some point along the way, someone did that exact same thing for us.

Last week I took you on a guided tour of Dunwoody Church, our first house church. This week, I want to take you on another guided tour of another house church, The Port. The Port meets in an apartment in a large apartment complex in Roswell, GA. Though these are both 320 Network churches, they have a completely different “feel” to them. Dunwoody Church is mostly young families – which includes children and teens. The Port is mostly young single adults. Many of them came out of the World Race. I worshipped at this church this past week – here’s a look at what happened.

We began with coffee and donuts and a lot of visiting together. Community is one of the big values of 320 Network churches, so we always make room for that. There were ten people there.

Then we came together to begin worship. Sometimes that involves music, sometimes not. We began with a question:  “What is it that is sapping your strength in worship?” We put some music on, and spent 10 minutes reflecting on that, and writing out our responses. Then we entered a time of sharing what God brought to our minds. (For me, it is focusing more on my challenges, and less on Jesus that has been sapping my “worship strength”.) It was so good hearing people openly share their struggles, and find encouragement from their church family.

We then got into God’s Word for a time of teaching. We just began a series on our identity in Christ. David Batchelder is the leader/lead preacher at The Port. He was a Racer on my first squad as a World Race coach, and now he’s one of my pastors. David is a gifted teacher/preacher, and I always learn something when he leads. Our Bible study is less sermon, and more discussion-based. But we are careful to always check our thoughts and conclusions against God’s Word. After all, it is only Truth that will set us free!

We wrapped up with more visiting. Folks usually stick around for a while.

Our planters are active in this community, looking for opportunities to meet people, build relationships, and be “salt and light”. They bake cookies and take them to their neighbors. They give out coffee and donuts. They help the apartment managers with events. They did a cookout at the pool last weekend. They try to be intentional about recognizing and stepping into divine appointments.

This church has recently been given an amazing opportunity. A woman in the apartment complex began a Kid’s Bible Club in complex a few months ago. However, due to personal reasons, she was no longer able to continue, and had begun praying that God would send some help her way. And, of course, God brought us together! So last week, The Port took over the Kid’s Bible Club! Roni Farrell, one of our planters, is leading. Fifteen children showed up the first week! It’s a lot like the Backyard Bible Clubs that a lot of churches do. But many, if not most of these kids come from broken homes. Some live with grandparents; some don’t know their fathers; some come from homes where drug and alcohol abuse are the norm. Getting to work with them and love on them is not just a joy – it’s a privilege. When we love them, we are loving Jesus. (Matthew 25)

Pray for us, that God will continue to open doors for fruitful ministry through The Port Church. Pray that the Lord of the Harvest will send laborers into the field. Pray that the Holy Spirit will awaken hearts and souls in this mission field.

Would you pray about supporting us? Your financial support allows us to continue to make disciples and plant churches here in the Atlanta area. With a population of 6.5 million, it is a huge city with huge needs. You can give to our network, or support individuals from this link, www.320.network. Thank you!

When people ask what I do, I know that it’s going to take a few minutes to explain. “I start house churches.” I get a variety of responses to that – blank stares, rolling eyes, genuine interest, etc…but the most common response is, “What is that?”

So, following is a “guided tour” of the house church I lead!

Dunwoody Church meets in the home of one of our elders every week at 10:30 for worship. We begin 10:30ish, and wrap up noonish. Because it’s an Indian home, we all take our shoes off as soon as we come in. (I’ve added that practice to my own home now!) Worship includes several elements, just like your church does. We worship together (sometimes with music, sometimes without). We share our victories and our struggles. We take time to pray over each other. Then all of our children are dismissed for Sunday School, led by my wife Mary Ellen, while the adults remain for Bible study. Right now, we are working our way through the Book of Matthew.

Bible study is discussion-oriented. I lead that most of the time, but over the summer we will have six different folks taking the lead. We sit in a circle, and learn together. We are very honest. We share insights, ask hard questions, make uncomfortable confessions, ask each other for help. We have become family.

And that’s the “secret sauce” of house church. Our churches will never have “rock star” preaching or a worship band with smoke and lights (though I like all that). But we can have a level of community that is very difficult to attain in a larger church.

We are a very eclectic bunch. Ethnically we are Caucasian, African-American, German, and Indian. We have a mix of single adults and families, children, and teens. Attendance ranges from 15-30. We come from a variety of faith backgrounds and experiences. It is our differences that enrich the experience! I like to say that it’s all very “New Testamenty”!

After worship, we share lunch together every week. Most of our folks will tell you that this is where church really happens. We take a lot of time to hang out over a plate of food, and really listen to each other. Often this is where the most vulnerable  conversations happen.

We are not perfect. We need to get much better in some areas, like relational evangelism and discipleship. But we’re off to a good start, and we’re pointed in the right direction.  If this sounds like something you would be interested in hearing more about, please contact me. I would love to talk with you!

Next week I’ll give you “guided tour” of one of our other churches. It is completely different from Dunwoody Church!

 

Would you pray about supporting us? Your financial support allows us to continue to make disciples and plant churches here in the Atlanta area. With a population of 6.5 million, it is a huge city with huge needs. You can give to our network, or support individuals from this link, www.320.network. Thank you!

 

Our church at The Port has been going through a series called Imaginary Jesus. In this series, the aim is to strive toward a much bigger, accurate, ever growing idea of who Jesus was and is. A few weeks ago, the topic of the message was Jesus’ royalty. His Kingship. Jesus as king over our lives, sitting on the throne of our hearts. Christians today are so familiar with Jesus as friend, father, brother, lover, etc.–that we often forget about the reverence, honor, and glory that he is deserving of. These are perfectly fine attributes and identities to perceive him as, but not to limit him as. I was inspired that Sunday to write a Psalm to and for Jesus as King.

 

“You are The King,

though not like David.

Even he sung praises to you

He delivered to you

equal reverence, praise, and

the tender love of a

guilty and lost child.

I forget that you are a King

sometimes, because I am

so busy running my own

kingdom of one.

I try to have dominion over

my own life. Daily

I have many more

thoughts of me than

I have of you—even if

I try to be generous, and

think of others. Still, I am

always thinking of what

I am having for lunch,

or how many miles I will

run, and what my future

will look like. And what

I am lacking.

Me

Mine

Myself

My own.

Fear and love can

Go hand in hand—

Reverence can reclaim its

due place in our hearts.

In a culture

that claims the RIGHT

to access to you, I must

approach you humble and know

that before my chin is

tilted upwards fondly

by your carpenter hands.

I must approach you

on my knees

On my face.

We don’t

Deserve,

have a right to,

or earn,

the right to enter

the throne room,

where on your thigh

it is written King

of Kings, and Lord

of Lords. In our

limited hearts and minds,

we have

let you become too human.

When the other whole of

you is all God.

May I wonder and marvel

in your majesty as

I approach your blistered

bloody, and sun tanned

feet. May I fear not in a sense

of what you may do to me

but fear how vast you are and your

mystery. For such

awe is worship.

Which is sweet honey

to your lips.

In 2017, we don’t know a

ruler who has claimed the

whole world. Much less

did it with anyone’s interest

in mind other than his own.

By nature of the conquest

they would be cruel, and

selfish, and endlessly hungry

for more power, they would not

know even a small fraction of their subjects,

and they would have to be unjust and

violent. For none could achieve such a

feat without domination.

Except Abba, and Emmanuel.

God with us. Over us, and

with us. Though you have the

only right, you don’t claim it.

Instead of a hostile takeover,

You whisper to us by name, by heart.

You offer the most beautiful

freedom of will—to choose

to call you our King.”

 

 

 

Many people have asked me about what I do here in Georgia- Because I
1. Work at a megachurch but don’t attend there.
2. Seem to have meetings all the time.
3. Am always on the go.

So here’s what I’m doing with my life in a nutshell.

What do you do?
I live in an apartment complex with a team of 6 people from 320 Network (a church planting organization) who have the shared goal of loving the people around us. Our prayer is that wherever our neighbors are in life- that they’re met with the reality of the love of Christ.

As a house church we meet in one of our apartments for worship and Bible study on Sundays at 10:30am and then invite people in to special things during the month like a girls night in, guys night out, Bible club and block parties. My role inside the team ranges from organization to leading worship to making sure that all the pieces are in place.

How do you feel about what you do?
Sometimes living and loving in such an intentional way can make me weary. Those times most often come in seasonal tides when I veer off towards doing things out of my own strength. Stress is, for me, always a tell tale sign that I have meandered away from adoration at the feet of Jesus and am crusading when I should just be lovingly still and then obedient.

What is apartment life like? 
An apartment complex is such a mixed bag full of people from every walk of life. People move so often that sometimes I feel like I live at the beach watching the waves roll in and roll out. Because of that nature the ministry here has become in equal parts a launching pad, a resting place and an intersection for countless people.
Hellos and goodbyes have become an ever flowing reality. The people in my space change often. Which is a challenging and humbling thing because I am a passionate gatherer of people.

I also find that the deeper my faith grows and the more things are added to my plate-the more I need and seek silence and solitude with the Lord.

Read more

For almost two years Mary Ellen and I have lived in an apartment in Sandy Springs, GA. We loved it there, but we have so many folks visiting us, or living with us, that we needed some more space. So about a month ago, we moved into a new home in Roswell, GA, about ten minutes away. There was only one drawback – I lost my “parking lot” ministry at the apartment.

Over our two years in the apartments, God opened so many doors for ministry, and most of them happened while I was in the parking lot there. Going to the mailbox, parking the car, walking the dogs – it seemed that more often than not, I got into a conversation with someone. Sometimes the conversations were nothing more than, “Hey, how are you?” But very often they quickly became spiritual conversations. I would get opportunities to share why we were there. I would get opportunities to invite people to one of our churches. I got to listen to people share their struggles. I did marriage counseling. I got to pray over a lot of people.

When we moved into a new neighborhood, I feared that those opportunities might begin to shrink. But God is good, and He’s given me a new ministry – my “Starbucks Ministry”.

Our new house doesn’t have internet yet. That has proven to be something of an obstacle to getting things done. So Starbucks has become my new center of operations. As such, I spend a LOT of time there. And God has opened a LOT of doors for spiritual conversations here.

In the last two weeks, I’ve had serious conversations, each lasting 45-60 minutes, with:

  • Five separate Starbucks baristas
  • A personal trainer from the gym across the parking lot
  • Four complete strangers
  • My realtor

We talk about their struggles, their dreams, their fears. We talk about our church. I offer to pray for them. We have become friends. Jesus has allowed me to enter each of their “faith journeys”.

I share this, not to point at myself. I share this because you can do the same thing. I just ask God to open doors for me to speak to people, and He does. You can do that. You can become an important part of someone’s faith journey. You can do that today.

Our world desperately needs people who will act out their role as “salt and light”. We need people who will share the love of Jesus to push back the darkness of our world. You don’t need a degree in theology. You don’t need to know all the answers. You just need to be willing to love people, and listen to them. Don’t worry – the Holy Spirit will take over from there.

I would love to hear you stories as well! In the comments section, please share how God is opening doors of ministry for you!

 

Would you pray about supporting us? Your financial support allows us to continue to make disciples and plant churches here in the Atlanta area. With a population of 6.5 million, it is a huge city with huge needs. You can give to our network, or support individuals from this link, www.320.network. Thank you!