My wife, Kelli, has always had a heart of mercy and compassion.  She has always challenged me to see others from God’s perspective. 

In the fall of 2008, We discussed how God was using our son, Clay, (participating in a year long internship with the Mission Year organization) and how he was awakening my heart.  I was not alone. 

Kelli had also been sensing that God had something more for us.  So we sought His will with vigor and passion. 

Our church was participating in a 21-day “Daniel fast,” so we took this time to dive into God’s Word and seek his heart.  We each desired His voice to be the voice we heard, so as not to be influenced by one another, we chose not to discuss what we were hearing or sensing until after we had completed the fast. 

To our delight we had both clearly heard from God!  To our disappointment, neither of us heard a clearly defined direction as to how his Word was to be accomplished.  We felt a little like Abraham.  God said “Go” and then He would show us where. 

We knew it was time to go, to change our priorities, to alter our course…but how? 

Kelli: “A few weeks into Clay’s Mission Year commitment, he spent a weekend in something called “PROP” (Pauper’s Right of Passage).  Basically, Clay and his teammates spent a couple of days living as “homeless” in the streets of Chicago.  After the experience, he phoned and shared with me how most people that he encountered simply ignored him, pretending he was invisible.  He shared how one woman even yelled at him, telling him to “go get a job like the rest of us.”  As I listened to him, my first feeling was one of outrage.  “How dare they treat my son that way?” But, as I continued to listen to his description of the weekend, and how it had impacted his life, I began to feel a deep conviction from God.

I soon realized that my son had met me on the streets of Chicago that weekend.

No, I wasn’t physically present, but how many times had I passed by a homeless person in the streets of Memphis and refused to look him in the eye?  How many times had I crossed to the other side of the street so that I could avoid an encounter with someone I considered “beneath me?”  How sad this made me.  In fact, I hung up the phone and wept. Over the next several days and weeks, I realized that I did not want life to go on as usual.  I began to realize that it was time to make a change – a radical change – in life as we knew it.

It was time to walk the walk, and stop only talking the talk.

You see, we were bound to something that was preventing our movement into the heart of God.  We began to look at our lifestyle, and what we discovered is what many of us find when we slow down long enough to look and listen.  It’s funny (or sad) that no matter how much you have, you still want more.  We had lived in a pattern of excess and we were bound by it.

How could we move at the impulse of God if we are bound and encumbered?

And there was our answer… We realized our greatest asset and greatest shackle was our family dental practice.  At God’s leading, we placed the practice on the market and were told it would take an average of 2-3 years to sell.  Great, we thought!  By that time 2 of our oldest 3 sons would be out of college and on their own.  It would give us plenty of time to prepare for our future.”

Have you noticed that God’s timing isn’t always your timing?  3 weeks later we received a call from our broker that we had a buyer, and a few short months later, we found ourselves “unencumbered.”  So now what? 

We waited, wondered, and like Abraham waiting to have a son that was promised, we began to take our future into our own hands.  We began making phone calls, exploring job opportunities, building resumes.  We shared our journey with a pastor friend and then with our lead pastors a few days later. 

It was in their office that we began to discover our “Ur.”

Our pastors shared that they had been praying God would raise up a couple with a heart to serve the hurting in our city, and they believed we were the answer to that prayer. 

Honestly, I wasn’t so sure about that!  Remember, Kelli is the one with a heart of mercy and compassion. 

I wasn’t too keen on the idea of spending time with people who just didn’t have the drive to succeed.  After all, if they were just willing to work harder, they could have what I had, right? 

Well, it did seem that everyone else was hearing from God that this was the direction we should go, so I knew this must be the place to start. And, so began a journey that has forever changed my heart and life….

Fast forward 13 years– Through what is now known as the MEMPHIS DREAM CENTER, our lives are richer than we ever thought possible! God has expanded our world in ways we could never have imagined.

What a privilege it is to walk alongside so many in our communities and share the tangible love of Jesus.  Our lives are better because of those with whom our paths have and continue to cross.  WE are better. 

We continue to dream of a more equitable future for EVERY family, EVERY individual in our great city. 

To God be the glory!

Play Space Inequity: Understanding the Problem and Finding Solutions

Play Space Inequity: Understanding the Problem and Finding Solutions

Play is an essential part of a child’s development, but not all children have equal access to safe and engaging play spaces.

Play space inequity is the unequal distribution of quality play spaces, with some children having ample opportunities for play and others limited or none at all.

This disparity can have significant impacts on a child’s physical, mental, and social development, perpetuating a cycle of disadvantage that can be difficult to break.

What Causes Play Space Inequity?
Play space inequity is often the result of broader societal inequities, such as poverty, lack of investment in low-income communities, and discriminatory zoning policies.

Children living in poverty are often at a disadvantage when it comes to access to safe and engaging play spaces, as resources for play spaces may be limited or absent in their communities.

Similarly, discriminatory zoning policies that restrict the development of public parks and other play spaces in certain areas can further exacerbate disparities in access to play.

The Consequences of Play Space Inequity
The lack of access to safe and engaging play spaces can have significant consequences for children. Research has shown that regular physical activity and outdoor play can IMPROVE a child’s physical health, boost their immune system, and reduce the risk of obesity.

Play also has mental and social benefits, such as improving cognitive function, emotional regulation, and social skills.

When children do not have access to play spaces, they may be missing out on these important developmental experiences.

What Can Be Done to Fight Play Space Inequity?
Fighting play space inequity requires a multi-faceted approach that addresses the root causes of the problem. Here are a few ways to make a difference:

    •  Advocate for public investment in play spaces in low-income communities. Encouraging government agencies and non-profit organizations to invest in play spaces in these areas can help to improve access to play for children living in poverty.
    • Support community-led efforts to create play spaces. Encouraging local communities to take the lead in creating play spaces and ensuring they are safe, accessible, and engaging can help to promote equitable access to play.
    • Promote inclusive zoning policies. Working to change zoning policies that restrict the development of play spaces in certain areas can help to ensure that all children have access to quality play spaces, regardless of their socioeconomic status.
    • Raise awareness of play space inequity. Educating others about the importance of play and the impact of play space inequity can help to build support for efforts to address this issue.
two young girls smiling at camera

Moving Towards Change

Play space inequity is a serious problem that can have far-reaching consequences for children’s development.

By advocating for public investment in play spaces, supporting community-led efforts to create play spaces, promoting inclusive zoning policies, and raising awareness of this issue, we can work to ensure that all children have access to safe and engaging play spaces.

How Can YOU Help?

We know that you share our belief that every child deserves a safe and inclusive play space to explore, learn, and create memories that will last a lifetime. Sadly, play space inequity in Memphis means that many children miss out on this critical aspect of their childhood.

That’s why, this month February 2023, the Memphis Dream Center is working to build a trauma-informed play space at the Highland Street location, and we invite you to help us to make that happen.

By signing up to fundraise, you’ll be joining a passionate community of people who care about creating a brighter future for Memphis children. We’ll provide you with all the resources you need to get started, and you can track your progress as you help us get closer to our goal.

The clock is ticking, and every moment counts.

With your support, we can create a safe and nurturing play space for Memphis children who are missing out on this critical aspect of their childhood. This play space will have a significant impact on the lives of Memphis children, promoting healing and well-being for every child who comes to play.

Every child deserves a chance to create memories that will last a lifetime. By joining our #ShareTheLove campaign, you can help make that a reality. Let’s work together to give every child in Memphis the safe and inclusive play space they deserve.


The Courage to Cross the Road

The Courage to Cross the Road

As long as we move within the circles of privilege we are insulated from the experience of the poor. Closed to that experience, there is no reason to anticipate that we should be touched by the expectations of the poor, instructed by their perceptions, caught up in their agenda, or drawn in any sustained fashion into the companionship of those laboring to build a just society.

And yet that is what a maturing faith is all about.

A moral commitment may attract us to this endeavor and even convince us that we are part of it, but, confined to our own social class, we are prisoners of our own perception of things. And, as long as we are prisoners of our own perceptions, whatever we are about will not be the building of a just society.” (Ronald Marstin).

kids in line filling baskets of food

Critical to the process of crossing roads is leaving our circles of privilege and adjusting our perceptions of the world.

For example, when many people look at youth in the inner city from the outside they think they are violent, dangerous, lazy underachievers. Our perceptions have been shaped by what we have seen on television, read in the newspapers, heard on the news.

But building relationships with young people from the inner city can reveal a completely different scenario – determination, vision, thrift, perseverance, and an understanding of how life works.

,Changing our perception moves us to a place where we can start building a more just society. Genuine relationships with others help us to see life through their eyes. Their struggles and their ideas for social change can be heard without the filter of an intermediary source.

As our world becomes increasingly urban, increasingly diverse, and increasingly divided between the rich and poor, there is no time to lose.

 Without CROSSING THE ROAD, it will be difficult for the church to make the needed adjustment to understand and hear the voices of those beyond their church walls. It takes both a personal commitment and a commitment from the body of Christ to accomplish it.

If we are looking to Jesus as a model, as one who demonstrated this pattern of road crossing, we have the right to ask the simple question: When did Jesus cross the road toward the poor?

One example is the story of Bartimaeus found in Mark, Chapter 10. What I find remarkable about this passage is that Jesus, knowing that his life was coming to an end (predicted in Mark 8) stopped for a man of absolutely no social significance. While others rebuked the man, Jesus called Bartimaeus to his side. By acknowledging this beggar, Jesus entered the man’s world.

Jesus asks the man, What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus does not impose His agenda on the man. Instead, Jesus affirms his dignity by recognizing the only thing the beggar possesses – his voice!

Can you imagine what it is like to be the recipient of people’s charity month after month and year after year? Receiving charity from people over an extended period of time is humiliating and demeaning. Many underserved people resent their dependence. Bartimaeus does not want to beg for the rest of his life. He wants to be healed. He wants to see.

When the dust settled, Jesus crossed the road and engaged with someone who was a no one to anybody. Jesus took the time and gave to someone who had no worldly goods to give him in return. Jesus’ willingness to engage a beggar revealed what Bartimaeus REALLY wanted. He wanted to join the community as a full participant.

Critics might say, “This road-crossing stuff sounds like a wonderful attempt for people to appease their guilt by having ‘contact’ time with people from a different social class.” We do not cross roads to appease our guilt. We do not cross roads so we can check off an exotic life experience.

We cross roads to learn and grow.

By placing ourselves in the midst of the poor and experiencing a little of their existence, we see with new eyes, feel with new hearts, dream with new minds, and contribute with new hands and feet. This is how change takes place. Road crossing is an integral part of our faith journey and truly is what taking on the mind of Christ is all about.

3 volunteers outside distributing food to yellow car