Thursday, June 30, 2005

Xcel Summer

Xcel Summer 2005 = another opportunity to be resourceful. Lack of cash + abundance of volunteer interns = program innovations, including sports camp, architecture classes and more. Launch date: July 5. Note: Generation Xcel is still receiving donations towards the matching grant challenge presented by our loaves and fish donor from earlier this month. Join the party and donate online here.

Prayer Alert - June 29, 2005

Below is our most recent prayer alert. Normally I don't post these, but I want to invite readers of the blog to receive monthly alerts in the future. If interested, please email jeremy at generationxcel dot com and I'll add you to our prayer list.

Friends and Prayer Partners: This Prayer Alert is two weeks overdue. So sorry for the delay, but the last month has been a whirlwind as the testimonies below reveal. TESTIMONIES Billy Graham Crusade. It was a moment in time – and time (and the work that comes along with it) marches on – but what a special moment it was. I kept a diary of our involvement in the crusade online at my blog. Some of the highlights: three Xcel teens sharing testimonies at youth night; receiving an offering; and praying with Billy Graham before his final sermon. Read more here. Judah meets Jesus twice in two weeks. The first experience is here, and the second here. Celebration of Xcellence. The after school year officially ended for us on June 3 with our fourth annual Celebration of Xcellence. For photos, prize winners, and to download the commemorative program, go here. Matching Grant Opportunity. Two weeks ago an out-of-left field miracle came in the way of a $5,000 gift from an individual donor. This represents the largest single personal gift since 2001, and the third largest ever in Xcel's history. He challenged me to match it from other individuals 3:1 in order to fully finance Xcel Summer. The full testimony and online giving options (if God moves you to contribute) are available here. Interns. This summer God blessed us with twelve interns, nine from InterVarsity at Cal State Dominguez Hills (LA) and three from InterVarsity's New York City Urban Project. THEY ARE WONDERFUL! The Cal State group arrived on June 1 and staffed the celebration, experienced a mini-Chain Reaction, worked upstate at Grace Ranch, and have been an outreach militia the entire month. The NYCUP interns started last week and will be with us through July 29. PRAYER REQUESTS Xcel Summer. This week is Xcel Summer registration, open houses, and invite night on Friday, and July 5th officially kicks off Xcel Summer. This summer's program is a huge experiment for us, built around the fact that money is so tight but interns are plentiful. The lack of cash has forced us, once again, to innovate an entirely new kind of summer program. Please pray that the activities (sports camp, architecture class, and much more) run smoothly and that more kids are reached. More on the schedule and registration materials here. July Speaking Opportunities. I'll be keynoting TechMission's AC4 conference in Boston on July 8, and speaking for Chain Reaction in York, Pennsylvania, on July 12. Please pray for me. Chain Reaction. Matt Stevens and Joe Miller leave with their families and interns on July 6 to embark on a summer of missions in York, PA; Baltimore; Massachusetts; and New York City until August 20. Details here. In His Service, Jeremy Del Rio

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

This is my offering

Below is the scripted version of Saturday night's offering appeal. I didn't deliver it exactly as written, but the gist is here.

For 60 years Billy Graham has spoken live to more than 200 million people. Not as a showman or a salesman. But as a spokesman for Truth that transforms lives and empowers people to achieve dreams. He started out a Southern farm boy, and now, at 86, the greatest City in the world celebrates him as one of the greatest spokesmen for God that the world has ever known. Like Billy Graham, Jesus could hold his own in front of large crowds. Once, when Jesus got tired and sought a place to rest, the paparazzi found out. Word spread and 5,000 men, plus women and children met him at his destination. Moved with compassion, Jesus preached all afternoon. As night fell, the people were hungry, and something extraordinary happened. Jesus received one of just two recorded offerings. He turned to his disciples, the pillars of his ministry, and instructed them to feed the people. Their response: confusion. Was Jesus kidding? There’s no fast food in the middle of the desert. And even if there was, they would need a small fortune to feed so many. But into the confusion stepped a boy with big faith. He recognized opportunity that the adults around him missed. He had with him a bagged lunch: two small fish and five pieces of bread. He gave what he had. Nothing more. Nothing less. And Jesus took his offering, blessed it, and used it to feed everyone all they wanted, with leftovers. Young person, your destiny is right now. Today is the day of salvation. Contrary to popular myths, you are not the future. You have a future, that’s true. But like David, Esther, Josiah, Mary, and dozens of other Biblical heroes, you are the generation of today that holds the future. The Apostle Paul said it best when he charged Timothy: “Let no one look down on you because you are young, but be an example to the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity.” There is purpose and meaning in your life now, and you have an opportunity tonight to demonstrate it. Like Jesus’ little hero, I invite you to recognize opportunity and seize it. The adults will see your faith and be inspired to multiply your giving. Please take a moment and consider how you would like to participate in tonight’s offering, by cash, check, or credit card. Please complete the offering envelopes in full if you desire a tax deductible receipt. Checks should be payable to the Greater New York Billy Graham Crusade. Let’s pray.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

White people and black people and different colored people

"Everybody thinks of evangelism as being kind of a rural thing, kind of a country religion. And I think one of the messages that they wanted to demonstrate here was that evangelism is very big in a big city like New York. ... And I was watching some white people and black people and different colored people all being just as emotional about this chance to be saved. It is very dramatic. It kills your cynicism to see personal expressions of faith in a world that is pretty secular. And I think that‘s what separates this from another kind of public event here in the Big Apple."
- Chris Matthews, Hardball (06/27/05)

Ten Opinions

"THE SUPREME Court's decisions yesterday on displays of the Ten Commandments on public property were not a model of clarity or judicial consensus. To resolve two cases, one from Texas and the other from Kentucky, the justices delivered 10 different opinions -- one, we suppose, for each commandment in the Decalogue. ... "Context is obviously critical -- and the court's decisions reflect the fact that in context, these two displays are quite different." (Washington Post editorial, 06/28/05)

Translated into Dutch

I just found out that my "WWJD (What Would Jay-Z Do?)" article was translated into Dutch. Curious.

He's a stand-up guy

(Photo courtesy of the NY Times)
My friend Art Bailey, the crusade director. It's not easy shouldering the load of a legend's last anything, but Art carried the weight of Billy Graham's final American crusade with dignity and class. Through adversity from every side, Art's faith never wavered, although it was tested beyond measure. Thanks, Art for the pleasure and privilege of serving alongside you these last 18 months.
There's a great photo essay at Newsweek's website called "Behind the Scenes at the Crusade." The picture of Art driving Billy Graham's golf cart is a fitting tribute.

Monday, June 27, 2005

The scoop

From BGEA, here.

"By the end of his historic Greater New York Crusade, Billy Graham had preached to more than 242,000 people, and over 9,400 people of all ages and widely varying nationalities had committed their lives to Jesus Christ."

Never Say Never

"We hope to come back again someday," he said. "I was asked in an interview if this was our last crusade. I said, 'It probably is - in New York.' But I also said, 'I never say never.'
From "Graham Ends Crusade in City Urging Repentance and Hope," NY Times (06/27/05)

Sunday, June 26, 2005

An unmatched honor

This afternoon at Flushing Meadows Corona Park, 100,000 gathered for what might be the final chapter in Billy Graham's storied career as a Crusade evangelist. And there we were, 25 minutes before he preached what is quite possibly his final sermon, kneeling in his private compound to pray with and for him: my father Pastor Richard Del Rio, my colleague and friend Pastor Dimas Salaberrios, crusade chairman Dr. A. R. Bernard, pastors committee chairman Pastor Bob Johannsen, and me. I was positioned immediately to Dr. Graham's right, holding his hand as we prayed. Even now, some five plus hours later, I'm still awed and humbled by this unmatched honor, and will cherish it until we meet again in heaven.

How evangelistic are we, really?

Overwhelmingly, the media coverage of the crusade has been positive. But an op-ed from Sunday's NY Times, although similarly respectful, raised some hard issues.

"Indeed, most of those who come to hear Mr. Graham preach are already born-again Christians. Some may be 'backslid' in their faith or fighting drugs, but it is seldom the hardened sinner or the urban atheist who rises when Mr. Graham calls the folks forward to make a personal 'decision for Christ.' Typically, those who file down the aisles at a Graham crusade do so as a ritual of recommitment. It is a correction of one's compass, rarely a wholesale change of life."

From "A Voice in a Crowded Wilderness," NY Times (06/26/05). I'm not sure what qualifies the Times to write this, but it's worth considering.

De ja vu all over again

Friday night it suddenly hit me. Not that it wasn't known previously, but the spacial significance meant more about 30 minutes into the program. Three years ago this very weekend, 50,000-75,000 young people prayed and fasted for spiritual awakening to return to our city. We met for 12 hours in the very same meadow in Flushing Meadows Corona Park that hosted the Graham Crusade this year. And on Friday, my family and I found ourselves sitting in almost the exact place where we fasted three years ago. To Lou Engle and Call New York friends, God answers prayers!

My Dad on CNN

He's in the background walking behind Heber Revilla, along with my brother Jamie, sister-in-law Taina and nephew Seth.

Everyone wants to know

... how an 86-year old southern preacher is relevant to urban kids. Leaving aside the historical significance of a man who'se spoken live to more people (210 million) than anyone else in history; the transforming power of His message that life has purpose and can be lived to its fullest; and even the spectacle of the moment itself, there's another reason for urban kids to experience a man like Billy Graham. He's aspirational. He started out a poor farm boy from down south. Now 86 years later, the greatest City in the world celebrates him as one of the greatest spokespeople for God that the world has ever known. Graham himself cannot explain his success except as the result of faithfulness to the calling and gifts God gave him. If a po' boy from the sticks can become who God made him to be, and in the process touch a few lives and change the world, surely a brother from the barrio can too.

Simply Surreal ... It's gotta be a God thing

[More pics here.]

Saturday morning, Judah and his best friend Sammy invited Jesus into their hearts during Bible Man's altar call. Without prompting from mom or dad, Judah's arm shot up when the invitation was given, and he quickly rose to his feet. Along with Sammy, they raced to the front without so much as glancing over their shoulders to see if we were behind them. This was Judah's second encounter with Jesus in nine days!

The evening ended with Judah taking a picture backstage with (an unmasked, r to l) Bible Man, Bible Girl and Cypher.

In between, Dimas Salaberrios and I were given the privilege of sharing a stage with Billy Graham, President Clinton, Mayor Bloomberg, Dr. A. R. Bernard, and others. Dimas followed the mayor's greeting to officially welcome 80,000 people to the Concert of Hope, share the ultra-short version of his testimony (surviving a hit attempt on his life), and open in prayer. (Note to self: I realized tonight I've never heard the short or long version. We need to chill and just enjoy each other a little bit without working all the time!)

I followed Franklin Graham, who shared his testimony, and was asked to receive the offering. (The scripted version of the three-minute presentation -- which was not delivered entirely because of short-term memory lapses -- is available here.)

During Rev. Graham's message and altar call, we sat on the platform, behind Cliff Barrows and President and Senator Clinton. What a spectacular view as a sea of humanity flooded the altar area.

Afterwards, I had the privilege of introducing Diana, Judah, and my father to Rick Warren (whom I met a dozen or so time at Graham's Los Angeles Crusade in November), and catching up with Marcos Witt (who performed at the 9/11 anniversary Tribute to Grace and Hope). It's totally bizarre as a 30-year old novice to receive encouragement and congratulations from the likes of Anne Graham Lotz and Rick Warren.

"Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland." ( Isaiah 43:18-19 )

Proud poppa

Saturday's Crusade program featured two videos profiling six New York City teens who love Jesus. Four of the six are dear friends of mine. Three are from Generation Xcel: Loreal Torres, Amanda DeJesus, and Eric Velez. Lori I've known for twelve or so years, Amanda for eight or nine, and Eric for four. All were youth leaders in the youth group I pastored at Abounding Grace, and all three were honored at this year's Celebration of Xcellence. Amanda and Eric were quoted in Saturday's NY Newsday.

Amanda, jumbo-sized Loreal, al la jumbo

The fourth, Anthony Liatsis, I've known since he was a baby. His mom Nancy was my Sunday school teacher and is my son's KinderMusik teacher, and his dad was a surrogate youth pastor when my church didn't have a youth ministry. I can't overstate how proud I was watching their oversized faces on the jumbotrons and listening to them boldly proclaim their faith to 80,000 New Yorkers, and the world, via real-time streaming video webcasts and radio simulcasts.

More BG media

Frank Franklin Ii / AP

From CBS News:

From the Today show:

From NBC Nightly News:

From ABC News:

From Newsweek:

From NY1:

From WNBC:

From Time magazine

"Billy Graham, 86, is in New York this weekend for another crusade. Read what TIME has written about Graham and other American Evangelicals."

For example:

"If Billy [Graham] was the ultimate preacher, then Franklin made a run at being the ultimate Preacher's kid: fighting, taunting the police of Montreat into high-speed car chases and cultivating a fascination for firearms and rock music and a taste for hard liquor." From In the Name of the Father, By David Van Biema

Saturday, June 25, 2005

CNN news report ... live from the Crusade


See also, CNN's "People in the News": Watch: From farm boy to spiritual beacon Watch: Graham's family life Watch: Graham's star rises And Top 25: Fascinating people

A beautiful testimony

"Kevin Berwise bemoans the fact that 11 a.m. Sunday is usually the most segregated time of the week in America. But something very different from that dark underside of Americans at prayer is on view at the Greater New York Billy Graham Crusade, he said."
From New York Newsday (06/25/05).

Billy Graham on Hannity and Colmes


How people observe us

Andy Newman's been all over the Billy Graham Crusade. He's a reporter with the New York Times and I've met him half a dozen times. We first met one day several weeks ago when he grilled me for five minutes trying to get a reaction to the 10-story high billboard of an underwear model that faces the Billy Graham office on Fashion Avenue. It's incredible how a skilled reporter can ask the same question so many different ways fishing for a quote. That was one I chose not to provide. We met again at the press conference on Tueseday, where he was one of 500 credentialed members of the media. Then again last night, this morning at Bible Man and again this evening. So far, he's published four or five articles on the Crusade. One, "At Crusade, Spirit Meets Science in the Altar Call," from today's paper, is an interesting take on the central moment of a Crusade evening:

"The act of answering the altar call is understood to be spontaneous, personal and deeply felt. "But the structure of the event, like that of so many religious rituals and ceremonies, is also carefully choreographed and intensely overseen. And perhaps nowhere more so than at a Billy Graham Crusade like the one that began last night at Flushing Meadows-Corona Park in Queens.

"Indeed, when Mr. Graham issues his call and the candidates, known in the Graham organization's parlance as inquirers, begin moving down the aisles, their decision to stand up and start walking is just the beginning.

"The inquirer is met at the foot of the stage by a trained volunteer counselor, chosen on the spot from a pool of thousands to match the inquirer's sex and approximate age. The counselor offers a warm welcome, a copy of the Gospel of John and a quick tutorial in how to receive Christ. (Step 1: Confess your sins. Step 2: Surrender your life to God's control. Step 3: Ask for his strength daily to stay on God's pathway.)"

It's still amazing

... how such a simple message, delivered in such a plain spoken way, can draw so many so often. Friday's first Crusade evening saw thousands respond as Billy Graham gave the same invitation he's been giving for 60 years, following a basic 20 minute sermon on what it means to be born again. For all the pageantry, staging, lights, cameras, and action that goes into producing a Billy Graham Crusade, Billy's message is noteworthy most of all for its simplicity. No fluff. No bells and whistles. Just Truth, unadorned and life changing. And the news media's got it covered. For example: New York Times; Newsday; Daily News; AP; NBC Nightly News; and Fox News.

This is FUNNY

From New York Newsday (o6/25/05):

As Jeremy Del Rio tries to fire up kids to come Saturday night to a special "Youth Night" for the Greater New York Billy Graham Crusade, he's accustomed to blank stares. "For most of the kids I serve, Billy Graham is 'Superstar Billy Graham,' the wrestling icon," said the East Village youth counselor who is co-chairman of the crusade's youth committee. "But they don't know who Billy Graham the preacher is," said Del Rio, 30. "That's frankly one of the big challenges we've had to overcome." ... At Abounding Grace Church in the East Village, the pastor and youth director were beating the drum Thursday night to turn out their kids. The youth director, a thin young man wearing diamond studs in both ears, his right arm tattooed with "Jesus" and his left tattooed with a crown of thorns, was organizing a group subway trip to Flushing Meadows. "Hey, brother: Be here at 4 p.m. sharp!" commanded Jonathan Del Rio, who is Jeremy's younger brother.

Many of his charges nodded their assent. "I'm definitely going," said Amanda De Jesus, 15, of Brighton, Brooklyn. "I didn't know a lot about Reverend Graham, to be honest, because he's before my time," she said. "But I've heard a lot about him in the last few months, and I'm very inspired by his determination to come here. "Eric Velez, 15, from the Jacob Riis Houses a few blocks away, said he was on board, too. "To be honest, I didn't know who he was before this," Velez said. "Or I would have thought he was one of these guys on television who hold their Bibles in their hand and say, 'You must be saved or you'll go to hell.'" But Velez said he's been inspired by what he's learned of Graham's determination to help people all over the world. "I believe he's being used by God," he said. "And I'm thrilled to see what will happen this weekend and how New York may change as a result of his visit." A city like New York change? Is that possible? Velez grinned. "With God, anything is possible," he said.

Friday, June 24, 2005

The Family Business

As Billy Graham steps down, will his kids shape the future of American evangelicalism?
From "All in the Family," U.S. News (12/23/02)

Bono on Billy

Here. (Be forewarned: Bono does not sing the song.)

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Reading list

I just added four books to my summer reading list: 1776, by David McCullough; When Character was King, by Peggy Noonan; The Story We Find Ourselves in, and The Last Word and the Word After that, by Brian McLaren. I started The Story this morning on the train and missed my subway stop (twice). Any recommendations for a good novel or two? I enjoy classics like Les Mis and Uncle Tom's Cabin, modern legal thrillers like The Firm, and historical epics like ShoGun. I'm not much of a fantasy or Sci-Fi fan, although the Chronicles of Narnia, which I read as a boy, are among my all-time favorites. A mixed literary bag, I know, but if the story grabs me, I'll enjoy it. I haven't finished The Mystery of Capital yet, because it's too deep to fully digest with the whirlwind of activity right now. But I'll get back to it too before the summer's over.

Refl3ctions photo in New York Times

The Refl3ctions prayer and worship event on Friday night exceeded just about everyone's expectations. Between 750 and 1,000 teens from Korean, Chinese, and Spanish language churches gathered at Korean Presbyterian Church in Flushing in a sea of multi-ethnic beauty that foreshadowed eternity. The program included music groups Jesus Generation (Chinese), Joyful Praise Ministries (Korean), and El Trio de Hoy (Spanish), a message from Ezekiel 37 by Dr. Gabriel Salguero, and small group prayer facilitated by Peter Ong of Chinese Christian Herald Crusades and Rev. Steve Hwang of Crystal Evangelical Church.

On a personal note, El Trio was phenomenal. They performed twice, to open and close the evening, and returned for a much deserved and desired encore. Multiethnic faces worshipping to Latin rythyms in a Korean house -- my kind of church service!

Special thanks to our hosts and the tireless energy of Rev. Jimmy Lim of New York Council of Churches for facilitating this historic occassion.

The above picture from the Refl3ctions event appeared in yesterday's New York Times. The following correction dated June 22 appeared on the Times' website today: "A picture caption yesterday with an article about evangelical Christians in New York City referred imprecisely to the people pictured at the Korean American Presbyterian Church of Queens. They were attending a youth event in advance of this week's Billy Graham crusade; they were not necessarily members of the church."

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

New York: Bastion of Evangelicalism?

"[T]he Rev. Billy Graham, 86, his once-booming baritone reduced to a scratchy whisper, is set to preach to New York City once again, for what he and his aides say is probably his final crusade. But after preaching his story of God's love to more than 200 million people in 180 countries and territories, he comes this weekend to preach in Flushing Meadows, Queens, to a drastically changed city, according to many pastors and academics.

"It is a New York that while still populated by considerable concentrations of Roman Catholics, Jews, Muslims and others, is alive with a varied, vibrant and, by many accounts, growing population of evangelical Christians: young and old, wealthy and dirt-poor, immigrant and native-born."

From, "In New York, Billy Graham Will Find an Evangelical Force," New York Times (06/21/05)

Monday, June 20, 2005

Yankees lost

Judah and I went to his first Yankee game tonight courtesy of Uncle Richie and Aunt Ellen. Free tickets placed the four of us where the air thins, literally on top of the stadium in the very top row (tier 3, row x, seats 19-22. But since we were directly behind home plate, the perspective on the field was pretty awesome. The Yanks pitched Sean Henn, an emergency call-up due to brittle Brown's latest injury, and he was outmatched. An eighth inning rally highlighted by a three-run jack by suddenly smokin' GoneZilla Hit-sui made the game close, but the Yanks lost 5-4. Judah had fun though. Even better, he chanted "Let's Go, Yankess!" and renounced his contrarian 6-month flirtation with the Dark Side.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

A Letter to my Son on Fathers Day

"As you learn to love others, don't forget that your love for them can go only as deep as your love for yourself. ... [Y]ou are God's handiwork, crafted for His good pleasure. He uniquely designed you to be you alone, comfortable in your own shoes. Be ready to create your own path. Never will there be another Judah Jeremy. Never will someone else impact the lives you will as only you can. Imperfect though you will be, learn to appreciate your weaknesses, as it's in them that you will experience your Creator's greatest strengths."

Happy Father's Day, dad

This Father's Day is especially significant to my brothers and me because our dad nearly missed the celebration. Last August he survived a shoulda-been-fatal motorcycle wreck. Read the testimony below, originally written August 16, 2004.


Two weeks ago, August 4, 2004, my dad miraculously survived a near fatal motorcycle accident.

He and two minister friends of ours, Richard and Juan Galloway of New York City Relief, departed at 5 am for Sturgis, the annual Harley Davidson festival in South Dakota that draws half a million people every year. At approximately 3 pm, cruising through Ohio at roughly 75 mph, my dad wiped out on a rain slicked highway. His brakes locked, causing the motorcycle to fishtail out of control. After tumbling half a dozen times (into the left lane of a three lane highway) he sat up, realized the cars behind him had stopped (rather than run him over), got up and walked to the median in the middle of the road. A woman appeared and asked if she could pray for him. “God, I don’t know who this man is,” she said, “but you have a plan for his life.” The miracle is that about half an hour before the accident, my dad put on a full-faced helmet. I can honestly say I remember him wearing one of those helmets once in the last ten (or more) years. But he decided that for a 5,000 mile round-trip ride to the Dakotas, he would bring the helmet to protect his face while driving in the rain. As he lay in the ambulance, a paramedic brought him his helmet and said, “If you weren’t wearing this, we’d be shoveling your head off the pavement.” With his neck braced and stabilized on a stretcher, the EMTs raced him to an emergency room expecting he’d be admitted with serious injuries and broken bones. But after a battery of x-rays, cat scans, and blood work, the doctors concluded that he had no internal injuries or broken bones and discharged him that same night. “It’s a miracle,” they decided. To cap off the miracle, a battered, but definitely not broken Pastor Rick dedicated his second grandson Seth James at Sunday service on August 15, less than two weeks into his recovery! “Thanks be to God who always leads us into triumph.” And thanks too to Richard and Juan Galloway for staying with him that first night and to Mike and Linda Mowery for nursing his recovery.


Regular readers of this blog know dad is back on his new-and-improved Harley (see photo above, courtesy of Mike Mowery).

Friday, June 17, 2005

Judah, meet Jesus

[The following true story occurred yesterday.]

"Why didn't we help him?" As Judah's confused yet compassionate eyes gazed at mine, his words cut deep. We had just passed a panhandler in Chinatown on the way to introduce mom to Joe's Shanghai's soupy dumplings. I had taken Judah the night before, just the two of us, on a father-son date. He enjoyed the dumplings so much, and the practice chopsticks the waiter taught him how to use, that he wanted to bring mom last night.

"What do you mean, 'why didn't we help?'" I thought. "We're on family time." The rationalization didn't cut it for me, however, so I figured it would mean even less to him. I promised that if the man was still there after we ate then we could give him some money.

On the way back to the car, we passed the man a second time. No longer panhandling, he sat on a stoop with his head between his legs. I gave Judah a handful of coins and took him to the man. "Excuse me, my son has something he wants to give you," I said.

Slowly the man raised his head and watched Judah approach, hand outstretched. The man grabbed his hand and with tears welling up in his eyes, said, "God loves you, boy." Later Judah offered him ice cream from Haagen Daaz and the tears streamed down his face.

The ice broken, the man introduced himself as "Lonnie." He said he's been strung out for 30 years and homeless for 25. At one time he was a Christian, but he turned his back on God and became hooked on crack cocaine and alcohol. He said he's been off drugs for 12 years, but the booze he can't shake. He wept as he told me that Judah was the sixth person who stopped to tell him that God loves him that day.

He kept saying he was scared, afraid that he would go to sleep and not wake up. Judah looked at him lovingly, straight in the eyes and said: "Everyone is scared of something." With that, more tears.

Lonnie was chilly, so we gave him Judah's beachtowel from the car, and a brand new Bible I had bought for myself last weekend. But first he asked if Judah would pray for him. He did, along with mom and dad.

There we stood, on the corner of Bayard and Mott Streets, around the corner from Haagen Daaz, minutes removed from soupy dumplings, spending quality time with a homeless man.

Family time, indeed. The best kind.

"Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.'

"Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?'

"The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'" (Matthew 25:34-40)

Judah, Philosopher King

"Everybody is scared of something."
Judah, 4, responding to homeless Lonnie, appx. 50, when Lonnie said that he was scared (6/17/2005, corner of Bayard and Mott Streets in Chinatown).


"I love evangelicals. You can get them to do anything. The challenge is, you've also got to soften their judgmental attitudes before they can be effective."

Billy Graham on Larry King Live

Last night. Transcript here. Especially interesting (to me):

"I made one mistake as I grew up, I made friends with older people too much and they are gone. So I should have made more friends with young people and young clergy and very many people."

Thursday, June 16, 2005

This is the deal that just went right

Miracles always come from unexpected places. On Tuesday night, for example, a friend and his wife wanted to present me with a financial gift for Generation Xcel. First they shared their story. Both husband and wife are LES lifers, born and raised. He and his five brothers were thugs, running a wholesale drug business that distributed in excess of $100,000 each weekend. One night, a customer attempted to rob them of $40,000 by putting torn newspaper between sets of bills. When my friend found the scam, his customer pointed a gun in his face and said, "This is the deal that just went bad." He pulled the trigger, but the gun didn't shoot and my friend survived unharmed. Ultimately he gave up the drug game in part because his youngest brother was sentenced to 15-25 years upstate for an unrelated incident. Neither husband nor wife has been directly involved with Xcel, but for the last three years they have interacted with Xcel students who have become vital members of Abounding Grace. The kids we serve are just like they were 20-25 years ago. They had no idea until Tuesday that their cousins Mei-Ling and Ling-Mei were co-founding Xcel at roughly the same time he was giving up the drug business. The evidence of changed lives compelled them to invest $5,000 in Mei and Ling's legacy. For us $5,000 is a major gift. In fact it's the largest donation received from a private individual since before 9/11, and ranks as the third largest personal gift in our ministry's nine year history. But as significant as the size is for us, the timing couldn't have been better. Funding our summer programs the last two years has been incredibly challenging, forcing us to modify from a full-day summer day camp, which requires significant seasonal staffing, to an assortment of outreach activities and specialized programs that can be facilitated more by volunteers. This year's summer has been especially difficult with not even one significant funder rising to the challenge. Thus we're relying almost entirely on interns and volunteers (which have been abundant, thank God and InterVarsity, from Cal State Dominguez Hills and NYCUP) to craft a summer that's unlike any we've ever had. Despite the adjustments, we still need additional cash to fund the balance of the activities, which include:

  • the 10th annual 3-on-3 Hoops Tournament
  • the fourth annual Carnival
  • 20 hours per week of dance, drama, art, design, and recreational programming from 7/5-8/20
  • a week-long Chain Reaction of community service and random acts of kindness, and
  • a youth-focused and conducted community assessment to update our understanding of our ever-changing Alphabet City neighborhood
This week's donor challenged me to find individuals who would match his gift 3 to 1, giving us $20,000 to support these activities for the next three months. Collectively, they will allow us to impact 1,500 children and youth in the neighborhood. Would you consider helping us meet his challenge? All donations are tax deductible and should be payable to Generation Xcel, 9 East 7th Street, New York, NY 10003, or donate online via PayPal.

New York, a Billy Graham Experiment

"For better or worse, the church has typically followed the lead of secular society when it comes to our attitudes about race. Today racial reconciliation has become an evangelical buzzword. Organizations like Promise Keepers proclaim its importance. Christian books, magazines, and musical artists denounce racism and celebrate ethnic diversity in the church. When Billy approached me to join him in New York, it was more or less understood that white Christians worshiped with white Christians and black Christians worshiped with black Christians. Our evangelical churches seemed to believe that heaven, too, would be 'separate but equal.' We recited the Apostle's Creed and prayed 'Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven,' but then proceeded to bow at the altar of Jim Crow. ... "In New York, Billy [Graham] once and for all made it clear that his ministry would not be a slave to the culture's segregationist ways. He was serious about integrating the crowds at his Madison Square Garden crusade, which had registered a disappointing number of blacks during its first several evenings. Soon after my arrival in New York, he looked to me for counsel on boosting minority turnout. 'Howard, what can we do to get more blacks to the meetings?' he asked. "I looked at Billy and gave him the hard truth: 'If they're not coming to you, you have to go to where they are,' I said. 'Billy, you need to go to Harlem.' "This is a cardinal rule of evangelism and missions: You have to go where the people are. ..."

From "The New York Experiment," by Howard O. Jones with Edward Gilbreath, as excerpted in Christianity Today.

Originally written about the 1957 crusade, but just as timely in 2005.

A man, two horses, and memories of his daughter

Frank Deford of Sports Illustrated gives a moving tribute to his daughter and Afleet Alex.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Help for SEX talks

UYWI has back issues of SHOUT magazine online, and Issue II deals with sex and sexuality. The article "Somewhat Out Of Control" is must reading for youth workers about establishing boundaries with students and student leaders.

Justice Delayed

Kudos to prosecutors in Philadelphia, Mississippi, for finally bringing murder charges against white supremacist and long-suspected lynch mob killer Edgar Lee Killen. Jury selection began yesterday, even as a KKK Imperial Wizard welcomed Killen to the courthouse. Killen, a former KKK recruiter, is accused of organizing the kidnapping and murder of three civil rights workers who vanished in backwoods Mississippi on June 21, 1964, in one of the most infamous crimes of the era. Forty-four days later their bodies were found, and forty-one years later, Killen, who previously went free after a racially charged hung jury failed to deliver a verdict in the 60s, is finally going to give account for his hatred. Some have decried prosecuting Killen, now 80 and ailing, claiming that it's unjust to put a man his age through the rigors of a trial and possible prison sentence. But justice delayed is better than justice denied. As the New York Times quoted one local, "If they'd done the right thing 40 years ago, they wouldn't have to be fussing with it now."

ONE Voice AGAINST Global Hunger and AIDS

Join evangelical leaders such as Billy Graham, Rick Warren, and John Stott, along with celebrities such as Bono, Brad Pitt, Penelope Cruz, and Cameron Diaz (who said evangelicals and Hollywood can't mix?) in urging President Bush and ordinary Americans to increase support for the fight against global AIDS, starvation, and extreme poverty. Check out the promo video featuring, among others, a cameo by Pat Robertson along with a veritable who's who from pop culture.

Lend your support by "signing" the declaration online, today. I signed last night.

“WE BELIEVE that in the best American tradition of helping others help themselves, now is the time to join with other countries in a historic pact for compassion and justice to help the poorest people of the world overcome AIDS and extreme poverty.

"WE RECOGNIZE that a pact including such measures as fair trade, debt relief, fighting corruption and directing an additional one percent of the U.S. budget toward meeting basic needs – education, health, clean water, food, and care for orphans – would transform the futures and hopes of an entire generation in the poorest countries.

"WE COMMIT ourselves - one person, one voice, one vote at a time - to make a better, safer world for all.”

Sonsored by the ONE Campaign.

Generation Xcel (i.e. CoCo) produced the Voice of Silence in partnership with World Vision's 30-Hour Famine this past February to raise awareness locally about global AIDS and hunger. Nice to see so many others lending their voice to the campaign.


The rivalry between the NY Daily News and NY Post took an unexpected turn today. The papers are bitter competitors with antagonistic politics, publishers that resent each other, and a penchant for headline one-upmanship. But today the ice thawed as, for the first time in my memory, both papers agreed on a headline and printed frighteningly similar covers.

Monday, June 13, 2005

The gospel according to "Missionary" Mike Tyson

"I want to develop my life into missionary (work). I'm not going to be a Jesus freak. But that's what I'm going to give my life to. I love Jesus and I believe in Jesus, too — and I'm a Muslim. Listen, I got a imam, I got a rabbi, I got a priest, I got a reverend — I got 'em all. But I don't want to be holier-than-thou. I want to help everybody and still get some (sex)."

Pressing on

On the first Sunday of every November for the last 36 years, the greatest city in the world effectively shuts down in order to accomodate 35,000 crazies who want to run outside my apartment building for the annual New York City Marathon. It's quite a sight. For nearly an hour a seemingly endless mob of people stream along 4th Avenue in Bay Ridge, on the Brooklyn side of the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, where we live somewhere within the second mile of the 26-mile course. Much to my slovenly chagrin, several friends of mine have completed the run (it's not really a race for 90% of the runners who simply want to finish), including Dan Stoltzfus of New York City Relief. Dan successfully launched a fundraising gimmick running the marathon the year before P. Diddy raised a million dollars in the same way. (Note to self: it pays to get in shape.) Why am I writing about November marathons in June? Two reasons. First, today felt like a mini-marathon, with meetings regarding various unrelated subjects straight through from 8:30 am - 6:20 pm, without breakfast or lunch and a break only to take a subway from midtown to downtown. Then I crossed the finish line getting home and my son made it all worthwhile. Second, because every summer at Xcel is an extended marathon. The summer months are our most exciting and critical outreach season, but the grueling hours and oppressive heat and humidity (and no air conditioning at Xcel ... anyone care to make a contribution towards AC units?) combine to drain energy and invite challenges. I've read that the hardest part of any marathon is approximately mile 20. By then, one has run a far enough distance for the onset of physical and emotional exhaustion, but enough of a distance remains to urge one to give up. For the New York Marathon, this distance also coincides with a desolate industrial area of the Bronx. At Xcel Summer, it equates roughly to the 1st week in August, historically the most difficult week of every summer. We need to pace ourselves.

"Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus." (Philippians 3:13-14)

It makes the world so much smaller

I don't know who this is, but she said my blog, along with several others, inspired her to return to posting. Moyra Jean, glad to be of service. If you're reading this, feel free to make an introduction. I love cyberspace because it makes the world so much smaller. I've "virtually" met so many wonderful people online that I have yet to meet actually in person. Someday, soon, I hope.

From one Mike to another

"I'll never be happy. "I believe I'll die alone. I would want it that way. I've been a loner all my life with my secrets and my pain. I'm really lost, but I'm trying to find myself. "I'm really a sad, pathetic case."

- Mike Tyson, as told to Michael Jackson (not really)

Not Guilty

It's a legal standard that means a prosecutor failed to prove a suspect's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. A jury decided today that Michael Jackson is not guilty of molesting one particular 13-year-old-boy because Prosecutor Tom Sneddon failed to meet that standard. In post-trial interviews, the jurors mostly pinned their reasonable doubt on the boy's mother lack of credibility, specifically her shady past, suspect (greedy) intentions, courtroom antics, and inconsistent testimony. Jury verdict aside, Michael Jackson is still a wierd middle-aged man, innapropriate, pathetic, and quite possibly, a sexual predator. I feel for him. The excrutiating details of his childhood have been well documented in the press, along with his resulting loneliness, narcissism, self-mutilation, marital dysfunctions, and much more than any of us have a right to know. He needs prayer, and intervention from people who won't exploit him while helping him heal. And 24-hour security to prevent pre-pubescent boys from getting too close.

Friday, June 10, 2005

NCAA Semifinals feature ...

... my girl, Ahndrea Allen.

Tonight, she's competing in the semifinals of the 400 at the NCAA Track and Field Championship in Sacramento, Califoria at 10:40 p.m. (EDT). PRAY for her! (Ahndrea's brother Andrew was named one of Xcel's "Volunteers of the Year" at last week's Celebration.)

(One of) My life verse(s)

I've gotten reflective again this week. Perhaps it's from the Celebration or Monday's board meeting or orienting the interns to the ministry or the anticipation that the BG Crusade is nearing its end or all of the above. Who knows why exactly, but who really cares anyway?

All the reflecting reminded me of one of my life verses:

"Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. "Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy." (Proverbs 31: 8-9)

Although I quoted this passage below, it deserves special mention here.

I "discovered" the verse a month or so into my first year of law school, right around the time I first started questioning how much I really wanted to be there. The year prior, I had worked full-time as the youth director at Abounding Grace and eight months earlier we began the process of founding Generation Xcel. By June we opened the first Xcel center, and after running at full speed through the end of August I had to abruptly shift gears and remember that I was back in school. Not just any school, either, but at a law school where the professors masochistically assigned hundreds of pages of reading before the first day of classes. Why was I there?

On a humid, Indian summer night, God reminded me why through the book of Proverbs. I felt called to law school as preparation for ministry, not ministry in a traditional sense, but in a way that married God's heart for Justice with the real needs of urban communities. God was preparing me for advocacy on behalf of those who cannot advocate for themselves, where my skills and talents would serve the destitute and defend the defenseless.

Anyone else feel an affinity to this, or am I sounding more and more like Don Quixote?

Aliens in the world

Noel Castellanos has a great post about the church's responsibilities in immigration reform. One would think that Christians, whom the Apostle Peter and the writer of Hebrews both refer to as "aliens in this world," would be especially sensitive to the needs of immigrants in our country. Yet often the most strident "close-the-borders/send-them-home" activitists are evangelicals. Just the other day I overheard a dear friend and respected urban pastor reference the supposed need to get rid of illegal aliens. I definitely concur that an antiquated, unenforceable immigration system that begs to be violated needs substantial reform. The questions are how and to what extent. Call me idealistic, but I still believe in the American Dream, etched in stone at the base of the Statue of Liberty:

Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me: I lift my lamp beside the golden door.
These ideals sound much more similar to Matthew 25, Isaiah 58, and Leviticus 19 than much of the rhetoric we hear from church leaders today. As American citizens continue to clamor for change, we Christians must measure our advocacy and proposals against this Biblical standard:

"Do not exploit the foreigners that live in your land. They should be treated like everyone else, and you must love them as you love yourself. Remember that you were once foreigners in the land of Egypt. I the Lord, am your God." - Leviticus 19:33-34

Thursday, June 09, 2005

I've known her since she was 5

Lorreal (aka Lori) Torres, recipient of the 2005 Xpress Writing Award and Xcel board member since January, is one of my heroes.
(Photo courtesy of Mike Mowery. Check out more pictures of Lori and the rest of the cast of Xpress' Life in Translation here and here.)
At seventeen, Lori is finishing her junior year at the High School for Leadership and Public Service and aspires to a career as an attorney (or investigative journalist ... one guess where my biases lie). She'll be spending the summer at Syracuse University's Summer College for high school students before returning for her fourth year as a class representative to the student government.

Lorreal is an LES lifer who's lived in Bracetti Houses on Avenue C for as long as I've known her. In July 1993, her mother Carmen enrolled 5-year old Lori and her two younger sisters, Leann and Alexis, in Vacation Bible School at Abounding Grace back when AGM was still a tiny church plant meeting in the basement of a row house on 6th Street. Carmen and her girls became part of the Abounding Grace family that week and have remained vital members ever since then. Over the years, I have watched Lori grow from one of a handful of Sunday School children, to one of Xcel's original students, a youth group volunteer, dance team member, Xcel intern, Xpress cofounder, and respected young leader.

At our April board meeting, one of the new board members asked about how Xcel measures outcomes, the kind of quantifiable measurements that funders and social scientists demand. I started to answer when Lorreal cut me off. "I am a product of Generation Xcel," she said, and proceeded to tell the story of a shy kid who found her voice participating in Group Club and Boot Camp and dance and drama activities at Xcel After School. She talked about the influence Xcel cofounders Mei-Ling and Diana had on her, and how Dorothy became a mentor. I'd never heard her share in quite that way before, but her testimony that night reminded me of all the other gems Lori is helping to polish and shape today.

Just another day in the city

Ran into (actually walked past) Dikembe Mutombo Mpolondo Mukamba Jean Jacque Wamutombo during lunch.

Next Stops, Boston & York

To the Red Sox faithful in New England, your favorite Yankee fan is coming to town for the annual TechMission conference July 8-9. I'll be speaking Friday night. Co-founded by Rudy and other visionaries in 2000, TechMission "supports Christian Computer Centers around the world as they address the digital divide by providing computer skills to make a living and a spiritual foundation to make a life." Check them out. Then Tuesday, July 12, join us at First Assembly of God in York, Pennsylvania, for Chain Reaction.

Celebrating Jacob Riis and the fight for economic justice

Generation Xcel opened its first youth center nine years ago this summer in a New York City public housing project named after Jacob Riis. A Dutch immigrant in the late 1800s, Riis employed new technology as one of the first photojournalists in exposing the harsh living condions of the urban poor. His most influential book, How the Other Half Lives, demanded economic justice for the poorest of New York City's poor and helped galvanize public opinion in support of some of the first housing reform efforts in the nation. It's an honor to carry on this tradition.

"Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. "Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy." (Proverbs 31: 8-9)

A walking tour of Avenue D

For a primer on our neighborhood, check out the walking tour map by New York Songlines.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

"Xpresser of the Year" is now a UN Consultant

Seriously. Generation Xcel's own Kevin Cedeno missed our Celebration of Xcellence last Friday to attend the North American Regional Consultation for the United Nations Secretary-General's Study on Violence Againt Children as a youth delegate in Toronto. That means we couldn't present him with his award for "Xpresser of the Year," and that he wasn't there to hear us gush about his work with Xcel's Board of Directors, the Youth Justice Board, his upcoming high school graduation and acceptance to John Jay College. I guess he had a legitimate excuse. Thanks to World Vision/Vision Youth for sponsoring his participation.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Average students; world leaders

President Bush and Senator Kerry were both C-students in college, and contrary to popular perception, Pres. Bush actually had a slightly better GPA (77 to 76). If C-students from Yale become President and runner-up of the most powerful nation in the world, what do A-students accomplish? Or do GPAs not really matter as much as we're led to believe?

Monday, June 06, 2005

Judah's workin' it at Youth Explosion

Some of the highlights:

The harder he pumped, the faster he went. Judah's in the lead.

The dolphin show was tight.
Uncle John, Elsa, and Chris fly through the air with the greatest of ease!

Check out the rest of the pics here.
Congratulations to Youth Explosion for pulling off a terrific outreach at Great Adventure this past Friday. Normally, GA draws 10,000-15,000 the first Saturday in June. This year, Youth Explosion drew 37,000! More info here.

What really matters

From Friday's

June 3, 2005 Dear Friends and Family: Generation Xcel is not about programs, budgets, or buildings. It is about young people, real lives with real value and real purpose. The “stuff” we do is simply an excuse to establish meaningful relationships with real kids — your kids. We love them for who they are and are privileged to help shape who they will become. Thank you for trusting us to play a role cultivating character and competence in them. Tonight’s Celebration is less a show and more a reflection on the value of these relationships. Relationships require work and consume time and resources, especially if they are to produce the kind of authenticity that kids crave. But it's in the transparency and relevance of genuine relationships - with self, parents, family, teachers, peers, and mentors - that young people become who they are meant to be.

In Service,

Jeremy Del Rio Executive Director

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” - Margaret Mead (1901-1978)

More here, including pictures and award recipients. Download commemorative program.

Comics reach kids

Someday the church will understand.

Friday, June 03, 2005

Random thought of the day

"Never bend your head. Always hold it high. Look the world straight in the eye." - Helen Keller

Thursday, June 02, 2005

"I'm just a, 'Daddy, love me,' girl"

A friend of my wife's used that phrase to describe herself recently. Yet she's a self-made women with a successful business and ambitious vision for her future, a no-nonsense go-getter who creates opportunities for success. And she appears fearless. But beneath it all, she still perceives herself simply as a, "Daddy, love me," girl. Now approaching her 40th birthday, she's still motivated by the most basic yearning to be loved by daddy. Hmm. ... And 19 million children live without dads in their homes. 25 million live without either or both parents. More pressure ... How to respond? Xcel produced a music video to Pink's song Family Portrait which deals with many of these same themes. Download it here.

Teter's crew arrived

Nine InterVarsity students from Cal State Dominguez Hills arrived from L.A. late last night for a six week internship at Generation Xcel. After site seeing today, they'll be thrown into the mix tomorrow as staff for the Celebration. Then Monday and Tuesday they get a Chain Reaction intensive, followed by youth outreach LES style through July 13. They're part of the More than Conquerors ministry directed by John Teter. Welcome to New Yawk, home of the Yankees. To all you Dodger-loving southern California-types, the greatest sports franchise of all time has definitely conquered more than its fair share.

"You are a sinner, not a superhero"

Great reminder, here.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Celebrate Xcellence

generation xcel presents
the fourth annual Celebration of Xcellence
friday, 3 june, 7-9 pm (doors open at 6:30)
Location: Abounding Grace Ministries
9 East 7th Street (corner of 3rd Ave.), NYC
celebrate the after school achievements of Generation Xcel students live music, spoken word, dance, & drama awards and honors light refreshments
admission is free please come prepared to make a donation to support Xcel Summer
or donate online at RSVP to loucarlo at gmail dot com

You gotta love him

(Well, maybe you won't, but ...) Bono's making waves for kind words about President Bush and -- gasp! -- Senator Jesse Helms. It takes courage for any celebrity, but especially one of the world's biggest rock stars and its most outspoken activist, to speak kindly about archconservatives like W and Helms. But he manages to do so. Why? Because, (in his words) Bono chooses not to

... respond to caricature — the left, the right, the progressives, the reactionary. Don’t take people on rumour. Find the light in them, because that will further your cause.

More here.


Any Freudian insights here? Normally I loathe David Bowie's music, but the hook to his song "Under Pressure" has been pulsating in my mind for the last hour. So I looked up the lyrics and found these, which I never knew before:

Insanity laughs under pressure we're cracking Can't we give ourselves one more chance? Why can't we give love that one more chance? Why can't we give love give love give love? ... Cause love's such an old fashioned word And love dares you to care For the people on the edge of the night And love dares you to change our way Of caring about ourselves This is our last dance This is our last dance This is ourselves under pressure Under pressure pressure

Full lyrics here.