A Glimpse of Hope

She sways to the music with one hand in the air. It’s the old familiar hymn about Surrender, and she knows every word. I see her cry, smile, sing, and even dance a little. She looks happy, and whole.  While the song lasts, she has forgotten the torment of her pain, her addiction, and her life on the streets.

This woman, V*, walked into Hope Cafe for dinner that night and she stayed after for our worship hour. Many of us at Cityteam know her. We’ve seen her struggles and tried to help her in the ways that we can. Tonight, as I sit down beside her, I’m looking forward to the music and it looks like we have this in common.

The band plays a few songs, and the music is great. It sounds good, but it feels better.  I find myself settling down, chaos within me being smoothed out. I see that V is enjoying herself, too, and then the time comes to sit and talk about tonight’s Bible verses.

We are talking about Jesus. The passage says that all who are thirsty can come to Him for a kind of water that restores our souls. We all say a couple of things and V tells me she wants to go to rehab, this time for real. In the next breath, she tells me about her plans for her next drink. The demons of her past haunt her and alcohol has a hold that seems unbreakable.  Then she says the thing I’ll never forget.

“I know Jesus gets me,” she says and holds her hand to her chest. “He understands me, He understands my heart.” She’s right, He totally does. Sometimes we spend all this time trying to figure out God, trying to make sense of who He is. And there it is, the most important thing: Jesus has us figured out.

He gets us, all the parts of us. The parts that are not cleaned up, that are unhealed. He knows them all and He loves us richly. He understands and his response to our brokenness is not to abandon a seemingly hopeless cause but to make an offer to quench our thirsty souls. Thank you, V, I really needed that.

The music starts again and this is the one that gets her to sing. “All to Jesus, I surrender. All to Him I freely give.” I am moved by the peace she is granted in her momentary surrender. I join her, reminded of how good it is to sing to a God who knows it all and loves us still.

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*V’s real name has been omitted to protect her privacy

Kwinn Tucker, City Director

Kwinn Tucker, City Director

Thanks very much to Joel Gerlach for editing this story.

We’re Doing Something New

HOPEcafe_logo_CT_square“This is our restaurant, and these are our guests.”

If you have been for a visit to Cityteam, and if you’ve had the pleasure of talking to our chef and food coordinator, John Clifford, you’ve heard about his dream. His vision is that our cafeteria wouldn’t ever be called a “soup kitchen” even if there happens to be really great soup on the menu.

At Cityteam, we believe in helping people who have fallen on hard times. And we believe there’s a way to help people while preserving their dignity and  the respect everyone prefers to be shown. So it makes perfect sense that John would want people who are hungry–some without a home, others battling addiction, some elderly and alone–he would want the men, women and children eating dinner at Cityteam to walk into something as nice as what you might pay for somewhere else.

John Clifford, Food Services Coordinator

John Clifford, Food Services Coordinator


After a ten year battle with drug addiction I was left broken, homeless and in prison. Upon my release, I came into Cityteam’s recovery program in the spring of 2007. After God delivered me from addiction, I knew the only thing left was to serve Him and love those in need. Today I have the responsibility of serving over 21,000 people, physically and spiritually, in our food programs.


Serving dinner, well that isn’t a new thing at all for us. In 1989, Cityteam Chester opened its doors with only one offering for the community–a warm, nutritious meal and a kind word for people with no place else to eat. That first meal, donated and prepared by Woodlyn Baptist Church, was symbolic of the way Cityteam has continued to serve the community decades later–volunteers and partners pooling their time and resources to serve our neighbors in need.

Now, what began as a once-weekly community meal is now a full kitchen serving three meals a day, every day of the year. With each bit of growth, we have tried to remain true to our purpose of serving the way Jesus Christ did—filled with compassion, walking humbly and giving opportunity to share hope to people in the midst of painful circumstances. And somewhere along the way, as our food donations became more steady and we found more and more amazing volunteers, we began to think of ourselves as a kind of a restaurant.

“But this doesn’t really feel like a restaurant. Not really.”

Ouch. When a good friend of ours, an honest volunteer  who had been part of serving dinner at Cityteam spoke those words, John and I had to listen to her. You see, at a restaurant there are waitresses, and waiters, and people who help you find your seat. Your food isn’t plated up in advance and everyone’s plate doesn’t look exactly the same. Last year, after listening to this feedback, we realized we needed…more feedback. So we enlisted some faithful volunteers to be in a focus group to help us improve our meal program. They were honest, too. They shared the things they loved and they told us some of the frustrating parts of the meal program.

What resulted was an exciting idea. What if one night each week we turned our cafeteria into a café that actually felt like a restaurant? What if we did it in a way that gave volunteers and guests more opportunity to connect and share life experiences? What if we offered music and teaching about Jesus after dinner that was so inviting that people were excited to stay and invite others to come?

From those focus groups, Hope Café was born. Starting this weekend, our Saturday dinnertime outreach to the homeless and hungry members in our community will take new form by providing an outstanding personal dining experience, purposeful partner roles and appealing music and teaching. We are really excited and are looking for more groups to take on this project with us, almost like a mission trip right here in our neighborhood. Please help us share our vision and think about partnering with us!

Kwinn

Kwinn Tucker, City Director

Kwinn Tucker, City Director

Special thanks to Media Presbyterian Church and the Senior Craftsmen there who dedicated lots of volunteer hours and devoted their resources to help us spruce up the cafeteria in preparation for this project.

If you like our post, please share with your friends! For more information, reach out to us at chester@cityteam.org.

“All I Want For Christmas”

“Christmas time is here
Happiness and cheer
Fun for all that children call
Their favorite time of the year

Sleigh bells in the air
Beauty everywhere
Yuletide by the fireside
And joyful memories there”

Remember Charlie Brown’s Christmas? Watch this little clip here if you don’t. At different points this Christmas, I have felt a little bit like Charlie. In my mind I know that this is supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year, but recent events and personal losses of my own–well they are difficult. And sad. And I find it a little confusing balancing these things with the expectations of this season.

I keep finding reassurance, though, in realizing that a world seemingly overtaken by injustice, tragedy and loss is the very reason we celebrate the coming of Jesus. The reasons He came, then, are the very same reasons we still need Him, now. He brings hope, peace, and grace to us. And we still see this hope come to life, even today.

I want to share with you an update of a story I wrote a few months ago. (You can read it here.) Last December, I watched a heroin addicted man I know walk away from Cityteam and into the cold. He was without hope that he could change and I was losing hope that he might have any strength left to try.  Last Christmas, I prayed that he wouldn’t die before he could get the help he needed.

Now, a year later, everything is different. This man celebrated another milestone this month. He has over 9 months clean and he has successfully completed our learning center program and he is one test away from completing his GED. I look at the hopelessness we both felt last Christmas, and I look at what Jesus is doing in this man’s life today and I am inspired. The same Jesus the world needed, then–He is still changing lives, now.

Recently, this man  wrote a paper about what heroin addiction does to a person, one of many papers he wrote during his time in the learning center. And he’s given me permission to share it here, which I am proud to do. The last line moved me, knowing how differently he saw things not that long ago. It reads: “Heroin is a huge downfall in the United States today and we all have to join in the fight against heroin addiction and the war can be won.”

A war that can be won. That is real hope. “Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.”  Thank you, Jesus. Merry Christmas.

Kwinn Tucker, City Director

Kwinn Tucker, City Director

“The intense high the user seeks last only a few minutes. With continued use he/she needs increasing amounts of the drug just to feel normal.”

His research paper about heroin is really informative. Please take a minute and read it by clicking here.

One Man’s Miracle

Kwinn Tucker, City Director

Kwinn Tucker, City Director

Miracles are powerful things. In the first place, they benefit the recipient—a person sick beyond the help of anything but divine intervention. But miracles also resonate with their witnesses. We still talk about Jesus’ compassion, how he raised Jairus’ daughter, how he knew when a desperate woman reached out to touch His cloak. Those stories give hope: if Jesus did all these things, then he can heal us, too.

Last month, I was witness to a miracle. A thousand of us gathered on a church’s lawn for “Baptism Night.” An old friend from Cityteam was first to go. He stood before us, healthy and strong, happily telling us all how Jesus had given his life a new hope. His testimony was inspiring but it reminded me of when my friend looked and acted nothing like this man.

Only months before, I had seen him at his worst. He was losing his battle with heroin, in and out of Cityteam and other programs, each relapse taking a little more of him. He spent two nights in our temporary overnight shelter, where we have one rule: you can’t be high. On the third night, visibly under the influence, he was asked to take a drug test which he refused. He stalked out into the night.

The next morning, he bristled as we spoke, resenting the rules, me, everything but the real problem. With no place left to go, his desperation broke him and he began to beg. I felt desperate myself; I longed for a way to ease his pain but knew he didn’t want the help I could offer. My last words to him were, “When you are ready, we have a place for you.” His eyes glassed over as he turned to go out the door.All I could do was pray. I worried that I might never see him again.

Then the miracle began. Not long after that meeting in December, he returned to Cityteam, this time to our recovery program, ready to fight for his life. He was truly ready to surrender—ready to admit that he was powerless on his own, that he needed a power greater than himself, and that he needed to turn himself over to God’s care. Much like that woman so long ago who needed healing, he reached out—and Jesus went to work. Nothing less than his life had been saved.The pastor dipped him in and out of the pool.  Dripping, his smile beamed at us, a thousand hope-filled witnesses to his miracle.

A Father’s Story: Coming Back From a Life of Addiction

by Doug Black

“She won the lottery!”

He stopped me in the hall at Cityteam, holding his cell phone with the biggest, proudest grin.”Who?”, I asked. “My daughter! She won [a large amount] on her scratch-off ticket!”

He was excited. Whether or not you agree with playing the lottery, it’s pretty easy to get excited about a suitcase full of money. But, besides the money, he was excited about something else. “I’m so glad she’s provided for. Almost like God’s making up for what I couldn’t do.”

He relived the accounts of his time on the street. He told me how his wife would overlook his crack cocaine sales and stay home to take care of the kids. How he would make sure he wouldn’t use his own “product” like all the other guys. His plan to be a smart businessman, keeping from the arguments and gang violence that the other guys would get involved with.

He spent time telling me about how he began using crack “here and there” until it took control of his life. There were days he would wake up in an abandoned house, covered in his own filth and drug residue. His wife and kids, unaware of his location, would just wait and pray. Then, loud and heated discussions came once Daddy got home.

Until, ultimately, there was no home left to return to.

And that’s when he came to the Men’s Recovery Program at CityTeam. His attitude that kept him from interacting with folks in a happy manner dissipated. His lack of empathy that kept him far from his kids was washed away. Hours of hard work on his recovery, nights of praying to God for his addiction issues lead to a changed heart–and a new relationship with his family. One that continues to this day.

Addiction is a family destroyer; it doesn’t just break the bonds between family members, it decimates the emotional and physical strength of everyone involved. Typically, a male who uses drugs will find himself soon divorced, estranged from children, and ignored by other family members who deny they even know him.

Doug Headshot

Doug Black Recovery Manager at Cityteam

We’re grateful at Cityteam that we get to be part of the healing. Not just healing the body, but seeing souls mended. Witnessing finances come back on track, and broken families get pieced back together. Just like this man, who graduated our program, and returned back into his kids’ lives.

Click Here To See How Addiction Impacts Us All