Oaks of Righteousness

They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor (Isaiah 61:3)

They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor. (Isaiah 61:3)

Pastor Heather Boone let us into the darkened building of the Oaks of Righteousness Christian Ministries late on an overcast Thursday afternoon. We, my sons and I, were dropping off a plastic bin of toys and clothes. A small donation to the homeless outreach we’d heard about just a week earlier.

While the boys explored the dimly lit building on their own, Heather gave me a guided tour and an overview of just what Oaks of Righteousness is about.

We started on the lower floor of the mid-century modern, split-level, yellow brick building. Down a short flight of stairs from the entry are the main homeless outreach areas: a kitchen and dining room, food pantry, clothes closet, and storage room with a handful of shiny blue mattresses and shelves for the homeless to store their bedding.

This is the core of the Oaks of Righteousness winter ministry as the only unrestricted warming shelter in Monroe County. There are other emergency shelters, but they have restrictions: only county residents, or only men, or only women, and many have a 90 day stay limit. As a result, Pastor Boone explained, Oaks of Righteousness shelters people from as far away as Toledo and Detroit, and all corners of the county. They have also been able to shelter whole families displaced by tragedy – or as in an event last winter – the closure of a slum-lord’s apartment building due to lack of heat and running water.

This is also where they shatter all preconceptions of who is homeless. Of the 191 people seeking emergency overnight shelter, seven were mothers with children, 80 percent were white, many had cars and full-time jobs.

Last year as Michigan suffered through the harshest winter in decades, Oaks of Righteousness sheltered as many as 37 people per night. The warming shelter is only open during the cold months, starting this year on Halloween night when the temperatures dropped and snow was in the forecast.

A few of the bed-bug and body-fluid resistant mattresses the shelter will need to get the homeless safely through the winter.

A few of the bed-bug and body-fluid resistant mattresses the shelter will need to get the homeless safely through the winter. Each bag on the shelf has a guest’s name on it. It is washed weekly and is goes with the homeless person when they are able to move out of the shelter into a home.

The mattresses in the storage room right now are not going to be enough. The outreach is in the middle of replacing former mattresses with new ones that are bed-bug and body-fluid proof, Pastor Boone explained. Their goal is to purchase 34 new beds. Right now they have enough money for 24, but are waiting to order the mattresses when they can buy them in bulk for the best deal on prices and shipping.

At every turn, Boone demonstrated the same sort of careful budgeting. Every dime has been carefully invested in a ministry that doesn’t hand out help so much as offer a hand up.

That “hand up, not hand out” mindset permeates the outreach. “We ask them when they check in for the night, ‘How can we help you in your homelessness? How can we help you take the next step?'” Boone said.

We walked back up to the ground floor where a narrow room lined with windows fronts the sidewalk. We sat at a long counter facing the street, cozy tables and seating fill the space. This is OHOP, Oaks House of Prayer, is so more than just a free lunch program for 100 to 150 people a day.

Oaks of Righteousness is in Monroe’s “East End” – literally on the wrong side of the tracks. The predominantly white residents west of the tracks are afraid to enter the East End, Boone said, a fact I learned shortly after moving to Monroe several years ago. Then she turned the tables and explained that East End residents are also afraid. They are afraid to go downtown, just eight short blocks away, to the cute boutique stores and coffee shops. They didn’t know what to expect, so fear of the unknown keeps them inside the physical lines of the East End: a triangle roughly drawn by train tracks, the River Raisin and I-75.

So while feeding the hungry is a major goal of OHOP, the other is psychological. In the summer, when cafe tables with umbrellas fill the sidewalk, and free wi-fi and banks of charging stations are available, OHOP becomes a window into the rest of the world. It is a place for people who have been born and raised in poverty can get a feel for what it’s like to move freely in the world.

“All we ask is that we pray for them,” Boone said as a smile spread across her face. “Sometimes people we come in and say ‘I don’t need lunch, I just want my prayer to day.'”

The single-pane, metal framed windows do little to keep out the cold. But they do offer a view of the property Pastor Boone is praying to add to the ministry.

The single-pane, metal framed windows do little to keep out the cold. But they do offer a view of the property Pastor Boone is praying to add to the ministry.

Up another short flight of stairs is a classroom with tables, chairs and huge white Post-Its stuck up on one wall. Hand written in marker across the top of one page is “Bridges out of Poverty”. Offered by the Monroe County Opportunity Program, Bridges out of Poverty strives to teach residents of this particularly hard-hit area of Monroe how to break the bad habits that keep poor people poor. Skills such as buying ingredients and cooking from scratch, the value of a dollar and how far money spent on manicures and expensive shoes can go when invested elsewhere.

Pastor Boone pointed out two computers in the corner set aside for job search and education. Boone’s ministry also offers resume writing classes and has a “Dress for Success” program that provides work clothes for interviews and almost any sort of job their clients might land from business suites to steel toe boots.

Across the hall is a small but well appointed sanctuary where Pastor Boone preaches every week. Oaks of Righteousness is non-denominational, but Boone’s Wesleyan training is evident in her passion for the “least of these” in Monroe County, Michigan.

Like any charitable organization, the needs often outstrips the resources. The building is old and desperately needs upgrading. The large single-pane windows do little to keep out the Michigan winter cold, their panes rotted and patched with narrow strips of wood. Oaks of Righteousness is only serving a fraction of the need in the community, limited by the size of their existing building. Boone is confident, though, that God has greater plans. Through the drafty the church nursery window she can see the back of a closed Catholic church property complete with a beautiful sanctuary, rectory and school. Her entire face lights up when she imagines the transitional housing, education and back to work training Oaks of Righteousness would be able to offer through that space. But for now the purchase of St. Joseph’s is an item of prayer and faith.

More pressing are the immediate needs of bedding, clothing – especially for smaller men, pants sizes 30-36, and non-perishable goods for their food pantry.

Please consider supporting this amazing cause or a similar outreach near you. Pastor Heather Boone can be reached at oaksofrighteousness@aol.com. Donations can be sent to Oaks of Righteousness, 1018 E. Second, Monroe, MI 48161.


The Mockingjay Part 1: Final Trailer

The Mockingjay Part 1 final trailer has been released – and it leaves me breathless.

Katniss walking through the devastated District 12. Peeta breaking down on camera, warning her even through Capitol-inflicted torture and mind control. Katniss’ first acts of war as the Mockingjay firing incendiary arrows at Capitol aircraft.

It’s all there and it is perfect.


Share the change with our Facebook Group

We have done some housecleaning on the Bird on Fire Blog – and added a guest room! Welcome to our new Facebook Group where you can share the change you are making in your community.

Has Bird on Fire inspired you or your group to collect canned goods for a food pantry? Has your small group raised awareness about homelessness or human trafficking? Let us know!

Share your story in the comments, link to your online story, or upload photos of your event. It’s all good as long as you are working to be the hands and feet of Jesus in this world.youreventgoeshere

Jaime the Very Worst Missionary and a cheap T-shirt

I know I’ve mentioned Jamie the Very Worst Missionary before, but in case you forgot, or weren’t paying attention, allow me to make a more formal introduction.

Jamie is… awesome. She is sassy, smart, heart-wrenchingly honest, occasionally profane, and always relevant. Someday I hope to meet her in person. I know at least we agree about coffee and that’s a really good place to start.

She wrote a post a few weeks ago called “Consumed by Thoughts of Consumerism.” And I have been consumed by thoughts of that post ever since. Maybe because I was wearing one of my very favorite cheap Target T-shirts that just seem to fit so right and cost so little. (In case you’re wondering, I asked if I could share this. She said, quote, “Please feel free :)” I even got a smile emoji! So, feeling special, we will move on.)


Consumed by Thoughts of Consumerism

Something is happening to me.
I want to say it’s bad, because it feels bad a lot of the time… but I think it’s actually good. Maybe even very good.
I don’t know. All I know is that I used to be able to go into a store, pick out what I needed wanted, pay for it, take it home, and enjoy it without a single irritating thought about where it was made, or why it was so cheap, or who made it. Clothes and shoes and jewelry and electronics and furniture and household goodies just seemed to appear, as if by some sort of hip, trendy, mind-reading magic, in the stores I frequent. All I had to do was have an idea about what I’d like to wear to a wedding and when I showed up at H&M it would be there waiting for me. If I thought about the perfect thing to hang above the toilet in the downstairs bathroom, I could run over to Target and, not only would I find it, it would practically jump into my cart and wheel itself to the checkout.
I totally look like this when I shop at Target. No, I don't

I totally look like this when I shop at Target. No, I don’t

I didn’t even have to try – I could always find just what I was looking for. Sure, sometimes I wouldn’t get it because I couldn’t afford it, but until recently, I’d never walked away from the perfect find because I wasn’t sure about the conditions of the factory it was made in, or the workers ages or wages.

I mean, I’m not a damn hippie. 
But, like I said, something’s happening to me.
I think it started on the busy streets of Cambodia, when I saw a parade of trucks carrying thousands of factory workers out of the city after a long day’s work. They were standing shoulder to shoulder, packed like lil’ smokies onto long, diesel driven flatbeds with wood slatted sides, bandanas tied across their noses in a vain attempt to keep the billowing smog and relentless dust out of their slight bodies. It reminded me of passing a cattle truck on a California freeway, and as one truckload of people after another went by, the labels in my cheap clothes started to make me itch. I wondered if any of them recognized their handy work in the Old Navy tank top I’d thrown on that morning, or if they could see their solid stitches in my trusty Target sandals. Seeing all this, I started to feel embarrassed by my own blissful ignorance, so I did the only appropriate thing…. I slid down as far as I could in the back of the taxi and avoided all eye contact.
That was like the first time I’d come face to face with where clothes come from. 
I felt like a child learning hamburgers are made out of cows and chicken is actually chicken, and then, quite suddenly, I was faced with a moral dilemma I hadn’t been prepared for. I knew my response would imply things about my character I wasn’t sure I wanted to even think about, let alone address, so I did the only appropriate thing… I tried to forget about it.
I came home from SE Asia and tried with all my might to forget everything I’d seen and every stupid idea I’d ever had about my role as a consumer and my consumer responsibility to the world and all of its inhabitants. I decided to forget, because averting my attention is the grown-up version of averting my eyes; if I’m not thinking about it, it’s not happening.
But it was useless.
I’d seen their faces, they’d seen mine, and for a brief moment, my comfortable retail world was invaded by the harsh reality of the people whose shoulders it rests on, people who are trucked in like cattle to make my every wish come true.
I’m telling you, the magic is gone. The fleeting tingle I used to feel when I came home with the latest, cutest, cheapest thing, has been replaced by something… significant.
I am consumed by thoughts of consumption.
“Where did this come from? How was it made? Did the person who made it get paid a fair wage? Is the person who made it a slave? Is the person who made it able to provide for her children? Wait, was this made by a child? Or, did the person who made this thing I’m about to buy arrive at the factory in the back of a truck, with wind whipped hair and a mouthful of dirt, and a dream of having her own one day but no hope of that ever happening?”
These kinds of questions haunt my every purchase. I swear, I can’t buy a box of tampons without wondering if I’ve made an ethical choice. I recently spent like 120 hours online trying to find a backpack for my 16 year old that was both ethically made and affordable enough for a pastor’s salary. And I’m really, really, really sad to say that in the end I got so frustrated I just ordered the first one he asked for and when it arrived directly from China, I did the only appropriate thing… I put it in my kid’s room, closed the door, threw all the packaging in the outside recycling can (so I wouldn’t have to look at it), and felt uneasy for a month. Actually, I still feel uneasy…
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t feel bad about buying stuff from China — I’m all for international commerce. The truth is, that backpack may very well have been made in an upstanding factory run by a kindly, benevolent old man who loves God and people and wants to make the world a better place. Like a Chinese Jean Valjean. …Though, it was cheaper than if I’d made a backpack myself using twine, garbage bags, and tree sap… so I doubt it.
Anyway. The point is, it’s a process and I’m trying. And I can’t not care about this anymore. The connection between the Western appetite for cheap goods – MY APPETITE — and the fact that there are more slaves worldwide than ever before is too blatant. So, even though I said I’m tired of caring, which I totally am, I haven’t been able to shake the idea that the way I consume is directly related to the way the world works.
Can I just be totally honest here? (Of course I can, this is my blog.) I’m probably not gonna start making my own clothes any time soon. Or ever. And, even though our family’s made a conscious decision to live pretty simply – which we mostly do – I still buy lots of stuff. I’m still a huge consumer. I still want to dress cute, I still enjoy a stylish space to live, and I haven’t shunned iPhones, or Netflix, or restaurants. I’m still doing all kind of consumer type things… I’m just trying to do them more conscientiously.
That’s the thing that’s happening to me. I’m becoming a consumer with a conscience…which really sucks, but in a good way.
Not gonna lie, using your consumer power wisely is a costly endeavor. It will cost you time, it will cost you money, and it may cost you a little bit of your pride, but I’m just gonna come out and say this, you can afford itYou can afford to do the research before you buy, you can afford to pay a little more, you can afford to shave off a smidge of that fat ego in exchange for the health and wellbeing of a person on the other side of the world. Or the other side of your country. Or the other side of the street. Our consumer dollars are a powerful thing, we shouldn’t waste them! 

Yellow Flicker Beat: Mockingjay News


The war has begun. Katniss Everdeen, played by Jennifer Lawrence, stands in front of flames set off by bombs from the Capitol from the upcoming release of The Hunger Games: Mockingjay

The war has begun. Katniss Everdeen, played by Jennifer Lawrence, stands in front of flames set off by bombs from the Capitol from the upcoming release of The Hunger Games: Mockingjay


Yellow Flicker Beat, the first song from the upcoming The Hunger Games: Mockingjay soundtrack, has been released. The song, written and performed by New Zealand teen superstar Lorde, captures all the pain and rage the main character, Katniss Everdeen, would be expected to feel after two years of incessant exploitation and endangerment. The lyrics, which you can read here, are dark, moody and full of  images of fire and revenge. It is exactly the mental state we will find Katniss in when Mockingjay opens November 21st. Click play below to hear the song for yourself.

Not Pandora’s box

I would love to send a package like this to everyone looking to book a speaker or youth event. It’s like a little Pandora’s box, beautiful and intriguing. Except where Pandora unleashed a thousand evils, with only a little hope as an afterthought, my box is filled with hope.

But I can’t sent it to everyone. What with the feeding of kids and dogs and cats, 10,000 fancy book-shaped boxes just aren’t in the budget…

So, instead, I’ve sent this beauty to someone who might make it possible for me to make more boxes to send to people, who might hire me, who might make it possible for more people to get lovely boxes. I covet this virtuous circle because it means I’m able to encourage hundreds or thousands of people to act. To stand up. To make a difference in their own communities. And if thousands, or even hundreds, of people do that, then together we can change the world.

Lionsgate Collage

It’s like Pandora’s box – but with good things.

Is Backpage.com complicit in human trafficking?

A lawsuit brought by three teenage girls who were caught up in human trafficking and repeatedly raped through ads placed on Backpage.com by their traffickers says, “yes.”

Three Washington State girls, seventh and ninth graders, are fighting back against the website that advertised them multiple times a day. Kevin Ryan of Covenant House writes in Huffington Post, the girls seek damages from Backpage.com — believed to sell the most online prostitution ads involving children in the country — for creating an illegal online marketplace and policing it in bad faith. After Backpage.com published their pictures and sales pitches about them, the girls, ages 13 and 15, were repeatedly raped by customers.

The reporting link leads to a pop up window of national and international agencies. Apparently if there's a problem, Backpage doesn't really want to know.

The reporting link leads to a pop up window of national and international agencies. Apparently if there’s a problem, Backpage doesn’t really want to know.

Even when family repeatedly followed Backpage.com procedures to report the girls as minors in illegal situations, the website stonewalled their efforts with a message that read, “If you accidentally reported this ad, don’t worry. It takes multiple reports from multiple people for an ad to be removed.”

The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children is putting their weight behind the victims’ lawsuit. NCMEC submitted a friend of the court brief saying, “Backpage guides traffickers through the process of developing ads, and prompts users to enter an adult age, rather than a child’s age, to create an escort ad. Backpage allows traffickers to pay to advertise children for sex using anonymous payment methods, making it nearly impossible for law enforcement to track the source of payments. For traffickers not savvy enough to think of using anonymous gift cards on their own, Backpage has advised them exactly how to get and use them. Backpage removes sting ads placed by law enforcement for investigating child sex trafficking. Backpage accepts and retains payment not only for ads it believes relate to child sex trafficking, but also for ads repeatedly reported by parents and loved ones of child victims. And Backpage does not remove from public view all active ads that it reports to NCMEC for suspected child sex trafficking.”

If that does not turn your stomach then you are hollow indeed.

As a reporter, I wondered if Backpage.com had perhaps become more proactive and was momentarily encouraged to see a link to report suspected child trafficking on the site’s opening page. But instead of an internal form allowing Backpage to act quickly on a charge, the link opened a window with links to NCMEC, National Human Trafficking Resource Center, the National Child Exploitation Coordination Centre of Canada and a list of global human trafficking hotlines. It seemed very much like, “if there’s a problem, we don’t really want to know.”