We arrived in the states two weeks ago. Our time here so far has gone surprisingly "easy". Normally we are facing the hustle and bustle of 50 plus people’ schedules, all of which want us to spend time with them (and us with them of course) and driving normally between 4-5 states, with no money, in order to see all of our family, supporters and whomever else we needed to see in order to make the trip successful. But this time it turned out to be a bit more simple. We made the difficult decision to keep our trip a bit less complicated and only do two states: FLORIDA & GEORGIA. The main focus of our trip is to record our next album (in Atlanta)! Which we will start tomorrow and go straight for the next two weeks (GULP). But we thought we would squeeze in some holiday time with the family (which I’ll talk about next post) and of course see our team in Sarasota.
Our first week we spent in Sarasota, Florida with our satellite base. The time was incredible. Two of our closest friends, Josh and Ruth Elke and their team set off on a mission in April, 2013 to start a satellite base to YWAM Herrnut in Sarasota, Florida. I remember when they knocked on our door in early 2013 and told us they wanted to go start this base. The emotions Uli and I felt went a bit like “NO!! Ok… yes… AHHHH DON’T LEAVE US… Ok….yes, YOU NEED TO DO THIS!” And well.. It’s pretty much been like that the past 2 years. We absolutely hate having them so far away, but the compensation of seeing them start this wicked cool base, is well… wicked cool.
These guys are rock stars. Every time we go to this base we are amazed by the incredible work they have done in such a small amount of time. DTS’s, ministries, local outreaches, international outreaches, church networking, YWAM USA networking… it’s incredible. But the most impressive thing to me is not the work, but the team. They went from 5 to 22 long term staff fairly quickly, and from what we can see, the community is very healthy. See, Josh and Ruth are community builders. They have always been. Which is why we’ve absolutely loved working along side them the past years. The first thing you notice when you come to their meeting times is how well this group of people actually get along and seemed to enjoy themselves. Which yes, I know, all christian communities should magically get along and love each other right?… wrong. Jesus loved everyone… but did he like everyone? eh, questionable.
It takes quite a bit of work, dedication and perseverance to create a community that actually is…a community. And I honestly give all the credit to the those two leaders. As we sat in on their meetings and staff interactions we observed the staff laughing and joking with each other. Running out for coffee on their breaks. Hanging out. Working out. Chillin (yes I said it). Hosting house warming parties for each other, planning their thanksgiving feast (which was pretty funny to watch the delegation of food for this feast seeings how only 4 of them are actually Americans. "Sauerkraut for all" hailed the Germans!) And although they come from over 7 or 8 different nations, they actually seem to be getting along and enjoying each other really naturally. Or maybe they just put on their “nice faces” for The Mannchens. But I don’t think so : )
What I’ve learned over the years through YWAM, which is fueled, built and existing entirely around community…. is that you create community by inviting people into an environment where people feel free and safe. You create freedom and safety by you, the inviter, being honest, welcoming, open to diversity, free thinking and most importantly vulnerable, vulnerable, vulnerable. With out you yourself being vulnerable, how can others feel free and safe to model the same?
You have to know some back story of how this base was started in order to understand how incredible the community aspect of it is. See Josh and Ruth pioneered this base 8th months pregnant with their first child. And I mean 8 months pregnant. Ruth basically snuck her way onto the plane when she left Germany. Not really sure how she did that...I guess they thought she ate a big lunch. When they first landed they had no where to live. They met some people who apparently had been praying for a YWAM base to be started in this city for years (cooool). So Josh and Ruth ended up living in this “random" couples guest room while their team (then 5, that for most of them had met each other the day they arrived in Florida) where living at a different ranky dank house 15 mins away. While trying to start this satellite base and pioneer a DTS (discipleship training school) a few months out, Josh and Ruth were also giving birth to Valor. Imagine bringing your new born home to a guest room, with no insurance (because Ruth is German) and very little finances… On top of that initial difficult first season to begin with, Ruth has been under Uncles Sam’s wrath the past 1 1/2 years since she's been their, unable to leave the country, for lack of a green card. Half her family has still not met Valor. She can not drive, because she can't get a license. She still has little to no health care and pretty much has no rights. Fun eh? But somehow these two were able in the midst of all of this to buckle down, have unbelievable trust in God’s grace, and obvious calling on their lives, and create not only an incredible YWAM base but an incredible community that not only is passionate about what they are doing, but passionate about each other. How, how did they do that?
They did this by staying open and honest with their team. Josh and Ruth never hid their struggles from their team. Sure they didn't daily let them know about the countless tears they probably cried every night, the absolute terror and insecurities they probably felt leading this huge endeavor amongst all the personal challenges they were facing, but they did open up and allowed their teammates to know they were struggling. That things were not easy and they needed prayer and support. And from what I can see, this allowed others to do the same. They all speak in ways in which they feel free acknowledging their weaknesses but also feel free to praise their strengths. And that its a really good sign of a community that actually trust each others. I asked one of their staff the other day how they felt about how things were going and immediately they talked about Josh and Ruth. They said “I’ve never enjoyed working with leaders as much as I have with them. I feel so comfortable under their leadership. I feel freedom to succeed and do the things I love but more importantly I feel freedom to fail.”
I believe vulnerability in leadership is one of the most valuable and needed things in order to create a community. In order for people to trust you and see that you too are human. This is something over the years I have been learning. At times I wish I would have been better at it. I used to think I always had to be tough. Have it all together. Always know exactly what to say and when to say it in order for people to trust me, respect me and follow me. But I realized that through the “perfect person/leader" I was modeling, no one was actually able to trust ME. Just the perfect version I presented of me. How could others feel safe if I created a structure where failure was not acceptable because I myself never showed it or allowed myself to admit to it? The more I acknowledged my failures personally and publicly, quickly forgive them, learn from them and moved passed them, the more freedom I give other in my team to do the same. This allowed more risk to be taken. More ideas and projects to be experimented with. All of which are pretty vital in the line of work we do .
So with Josh and Ruth… nope, they are not perfect leaders. (Sorry friends). They make mistakes. They fail daily. They forget things left and right and they for sure have had days where I’m sure people have been pretty upset and hurt by them. But they acknowledge it. They own up to those days. They take responsibility. And because of that, their team does the same. They took the struggles they went through with pioneering this base and allowed the team to be part of it. That created a sense of comradery. If you go through such struggle together, for the things you are fighting for, you will get through those struggle triumphantly and in unity. And that will create something unbreakable and unstoppable for whatever it is you want to build.
Their now house (thank God for that) has pretty much been the most stable “base” that the team has seen. Sure they have access to a church that has graciously opened up their facilities, but everyone seems to hang out daily at the Elke's. Their living room is everyone’s office/ meeting center. Their kitchen becomes a back up for everyones lunch, including the students sometimes and their front yard is constantly filled with staff cars, the team’s garden, hang outs and a work out center (did I mention the buffness of this team?… wow I felt like a lazy sloth). They are community. They live and breathe it. Sure they create boundaries for privacy and family time, but they have 100% welcomed their team into their personal lives and in turned, they have created an incredibly personal team. A family. They have gone through the agony, sacrifice and devastation which comes oh so naturally with pioneering, with grace, honesty and humor. Ruth always tells me “well, as long as you can still joke and laugh about something, you know you can get through it."
From MOTA DTS to SPORTS DTS. Ministering to the youth and artist of Sarasota. Creating a food truck that will hopefully go around the city and feed the homeless. Pioneering Pick a Pocket there creating a “Herrnhut feel”. To many more project and ministry ideas this team has... it’s an incredible base. And if you like the sun, good community and radical missions, well, you should think about joining this team because they are top notch.
Our personal time with Josh and Ruth was designated to focus on the future of Pick a Pocket. We spent a few days talking, wrestling through issues, praying, venting, and hearing from God about the future. One of the first questions we asked ourselves was “ok, 7 years later. Here we are. With everything that has gone wrong. Why do you we still want to do this?” Everyone gave their own personal reasons. Which were all very inspiring and humbling. However the main sense that we all felt was everyone answering simply “the fear of the Lord.” The Lord called us 7 years ago, wide eyed, naive 19 and 20 year olds on the beach of Scotland to take on this vision, pioneer this ministry, lead this team and use arts to end extreme poverty. And none of us feel that we have been released from that vision yet. Pretty simple. But boy am I excited to hear that because I got to tell ya… I love my job. And I love working with these people. I’m honored to be part of this vision and team and if I get just one more day to be in Pick a Pocket I am incredibly thankful.
We continued to pray about 2015. About how to restructure projects and the team. New ideas for how to move forward. What to do and what not to do again. It was all very good. Very needed and very helpful. We of course ended our time together by going back down to the beach and recommitting ourselves to the ministry. It felt a bit lonely not having Ashley and The Pools with us (our 3 other members) but it was wonderful to be able to stand next to the Elkes, who have stood with us for 7 year and recommitted ourselves again to this ministry. God is faithful. And God will always finish what He started. And man… we have barely gotten started with this ministry.
So please pray for The Elkes. Ruth is desperately trying to get home to Germany for Christmas, and wouldn’t that just be the most incredible Christmas present? Her green card in the mail one morning : ) Pray for this team as it continues to grow and flourish, they need a building, they need housing, and they need finances. They are amazing. Lets lift them up!!
PS: They are incredible parents. I love watching them with Valor and seeing them in their new role as parents. I snuck in the morning I left and snagged this picture of Ruth with Valor just as they woke up. Pretty precious. I just had to show it off here....