focus on the family’s
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Negative Thoughts Make
Sara Acker Saying “Hush” to Lies
most incredible people and the goodness of the Lord.” Mike’s story is amazing, but maybe the most amazing part is this: Mike did it all by choice.
vividly remembers the day he ate out of a trash can. It was during the same period he slept under bridges and in the streets. And that’s not all. He rarely had a bathroom to use. He was so poor he begged for money. He used tape to hold his shoes together. For a while, he walked barefoot. He was almost beat up four times. He was cussed at and kicked off property—including churches. And he said he was ignored and forgotten “by thousands.” In the middle of it all, Mike also said he “came to know some of the
The Vision Mike and a friend spent five months in six different cities living on the streets, dealing with hunger, danger, exhaustion, depression and more, all on a journey to better understand the problem of homelessness. For him, it was all about putting his faith into action. “I was in church one day, and the pastor was challenging us to ‘be who we say we are,’ ” Mike says. “I asked myself, ‘Am I living as a Christian should live?’ To me, faith was a lot more than memorizing some verses or going to church every week.” Over the next 16 months, God continued to give Mike a vision. He had already helped at homeless ministries through high school, and his heart was stirred. Through tons of research, prayer, talking to pastors and other godly counsel, he finally decided he needed to hit the streets. “There are so many ways to get involved with helping the needy, but this idea resonated so much because it required so much,” Mike says. “It’s so similar to our faith—we dive in, and it requires all of us.” There were plenty of questions. How would he survive on the streets? Could he actually impact people’s lives while having to focus on his own survival? What would happen when he left college for a semester, and what would happen once he walked away from a comfortable life in Santa Barbara, Calif.? Mike knew the answer to one question: He didn’t want to go alone. Of course, how would you react if someone asked you if you wanted to live on the streets for five months? “I asked guys at school and Bible school,” Mike says. “I got a lot of funny reactions.” Then just two months before he was planning to leave he met Sam, a friend of a friend who was visiting Santa Barbara. Only a few days later Sam told Mike he felt like God was telling him to go. So they left. >> april 2008 ` briomag.com
On the Road The guys traveled to Denver; then Washington, D.C.; Portland, Ore.; San Francisco; Phoenix; and San Diego. The lessons came quickly. Remember that first time they ate out of the trash? Well, Mike said it took only two weeks to be hungry enough to get to that point. “Poverty erodes a person’s sense of dignity very
quickly,” he says. “We saw a guy throw away his lunch. We were hungry, and it didn’t matter.” Another thing Mike learned quickly is how draining it was to live on the streets. “It’s really a hard, demanding, exhausting existence, even when you’re not doing very much,” he says. “At home when you need a restroom, you go to the bathroom. When you’re hungry, you walk to the refrigerator. But when you’re outdoors, the majority of your time is spent meeting basic needs: finding shelter, panhandling for money, walking everywhere.” The more he clung to his everyday survival, the more Mike clung to God. “Once on the streets, I realized the world is worse than I imagined it, so God has to be even more powerful than I imagined. It gave me so much hope.” He also learned how much a giving heart can mean to someone who’s in need. “When someone comes by and shows you the littlest kindness, it makes such a big difference—especially when it’s done out of the love of Christ.” Over the months, Mike and Sam learned the finer points of living on the streets: the best places to sleep to escape wind or rain, the best places and 24
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times to panhandle, and even tricks to getting around. “Sometimes we’d get someone’s bus pass that he wasn’t going to use, and we could hop on a bus,” Mike says. But even their best efforts came up empty at times. One night they played guitars for money at a busy intersection and made only $1.18 in four hours. “On those nights we’d try to find a doggie bag or takeout bag somewhere or maybe go to one of the missions. Trash was a last resort,” he says. The Challenges There were times he was scared— such as when he woke up at 3 a.m. and someone was going through his backpack. And there were plenty of low points where Mike thought about being back at school, hanging out with his friends. One of the lowest came in Portland in the pouring rain. Sam and Mike awoke to a surprise. “I felt dirt, grime and junk all over me. We realized the whole area we were sleeping in had flooded,” he says. “Trash, bird feathers, and dirt had caked itself on us. I finally thought, Why in the world are we here? I was tempted to quit.” But Mike says each low point was countered by faith in God’s Word. “I had to trust and say, ‘God, You are the One who protects me. You are my fortress,’ ” he says. Mike says four major points kept him going during the toughest times: 1. Mike realized they were homeless by choice, which was something so many others didn’t have. At some point he and Sam would get to go home. 2. They believed that God had called them both to live as if they were truly homeless. “You don’t just bail on something because it doesn’t feel good,” Mike says. 3. They had faith that the Lord would provide. “He doesn’t leave us or forsake us; we had to believe that.” 4. They had to understand homelessness so they’d know how to make a difference. Unfortunately, some of the low points came at the hands of other Christians. One time they asked a pastor for help on a Sunday morning. They were out of money, and both were sick and worn down. “He told us, ‘That’s not what we do here; we’re here to worship.’ ”
Read more about Mike’s experience Under the Overpass
them after so many months of feeling shame while begging. by Mike Yankoski And while he prepared to Item code: P00279B return to college, Mike still Suggested Donation felt the burdens of the people he in U.S.: $12 Order online at had met. “I wondered why I was resoures.family.org or call 800-232-6459 given the life I was given—I had Canadian price: clothes, a bathroom, a bed. I $11.99 plus tax Order online at foff.ca wasn’t trying to sleep while hearor call 800-661-9800 ing cars, horns and people while looking up at the stars,” Mike said. “I almost felt guilty. I had these luxuries, but so many people didn’t have that.” Mike finished college and now works with other ministries to the homeless and encourThe Bright Side Sometimes in the low points God sent hope ages others to do the same, reminding them through others. A guy in San Francisco bought that everyone—even someone on the streets— the guys bus tickets to their next city. They is made in the image of God. “Matthew 25:35-40 found a church in Portland that opened its doors to homeless people every Tuesday night talks about feeding to feed them and show a movie. And a main- the hungry and helptenance man at a church saw them sleeping ing ‘the least of these.’ outside and offered them breakfast, then had a I saw firsthand how big a difference those things pastor talk and pray with them. And sometimes they even had some fun. can mean to someone Occasionally Mike and Sam had a “jam session,” playing music with other homeless people, or had some good conversations. Other times joy came from watching the sun rise. “You kind of draw the good moments out,” Mike says. “We can glorify God or dwell on how difficult things are. We always had a choice in our circumstances.”
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However, Mike believes God used moments like this to add fuel to his desire to make a difference. “We meet together on Sundays, but how can it have nothing to do with how we treat others?” he says. “We make an impact for Christ not just by words but by coupling them with action. We need to live in such a way that people see Christ through us.”
Coming Home Finally the day came when Mike and Sam were picked up to go home—tired, hungry and drenched from rain. “I showered three times and still saw dirty water from my hair,” he says. In the evening, they went to dinner and didn’t have to hope for someone’s leftovers. “I ate more at that one dinner than I had in a month,” Mike says. While he celebrated being reunited with family, friends and his girlfriend, Danae (they eventually married), the transition was challenging. “I went from wondering how I’d survive one day at a time to a refrigerator full of food and a place with a lock on the door,” Mike says. “It took me almost four hours to fall asleep the first night even though I was exhausted.” He also struggled with simple things like looking people in the eyes when talking to
who’s in need,” he said. “You realize someone wants to bless you and help you even though they don’t know you.” Mike says efforts can be small: “Just say hi to someone on the street, ask how they’re doing, ask if they need coffee or prayer or bring them a cheeseburger.” Mike has seen how the smallest
gestures have led to other conversations, even leading someone to Christ, while helping fill a practical need. “It’s an amazing idea that God can use us to answer someone else’s prayers.” And while you’re helping someone else, who knows how it will strengthen your faith? It sure strengthened Mike’s. “It’s so easy for us to worry about rent, school, relationships and everything else, but God didn’t let us fall through the cracks even when we were on the streets,” Mike says. “He’s faithful. He’s worthy of our trust, but it may not always be easy.” m Patrick Dunn, from Colorado Springs, Colo., is married to Sally, Brio & Beyond’s senior designer.
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Behind Inhabited’s Sara Acker uses music and e-mail to help teens see they can have a fresh start. by Martha Krienke
t wasn’t your average 12-year-old’s dream—to rescue young prostitutes in Russia. After watching a TV show on the subject, she marched straight to her parents’ room and announced, “I need to go to Russia! These girls need Jesus.” While Sara Acker eventually did go on a missions trip to Russia and other countries as a teen, today she’s living a different dream: reaching young people wherever they may be. Riding in a dirty, stinky 15-passenger van with her band, Inhabited, she’ll travel 15 hours to sing in a concert for 30 to 60 minutes. It’s not glamorous, so she calls this her missions trip. “When I realized the power of music, it blew my mind. I didn’t realize how powerful the stage is,” she says. “Many young people say, ‘I’m too young to be used by God’ or ‘I can’t because I don’t have this.’ But I think I’m a perfect example of how God picked somebody who wasn’t even planning on doing this. He prepared and equipped me along the way.” Inhabited had its kick-start back in 1999. Sara’s brother, Marcus, played guitar, and her youth pastor knew Sara sang.
“He asked us to lead worship, and then he asked us to write some songs for a lockin,” she says. “That’s very strange to say, ‘Can you write seven or eight songs and perform them in two weeks?’ But there was no pressure to write a radio song.” Despite Sara’s stage fright, the two performed at this lock-in and found music to be an effective avenue for ministry. Later, Inhabited added other members and released an independent rock album, Innerview, in 2003. Shortly after signing a major record deal, the band’s second album, The Revolution, came along with the same edgy rock sound. Then they released Love in 2008. Love Letters The cool thing is God has used Sara to bless hurting teens through more than just her music. She receives countless e-mails (she’s not even sure how many) from her fans and works hard to answer every one. She remembers one girl who wrote, “Hey, Sara. I’m 15 years old. I’m on my second serious boyfriend, and the first one I had sex with, and the second one I’m having sex with. >>
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sionate about her ministry But I don’t want to. What do Sara Inside Out to young people. She invites I do?” How much time do their questions and honesty Sara’s first reaction to that you spend getting ready in the morning? about their struggles. Even girl wasn’t, “Oh, my goodIt depends on how many times I change though it’s gotten more difness! You’re only 15! Why my outfit, but ficult for Sara to reply to all are you doing this? You’re probably 45 minutes. the e-mails in her inbox, she’s ruining your life!” Instead, How would you not about to quit. her passion was to lovingly like to spend a free Saturday? “That’s always been a big help teens know what they At the beach part of what I feel our mindid yesterday doesn’t define When is your birthday? istry is,” she says. “Kids in who they are today. April 16, 1977 churches are really hurting. “I want them to know What would you like to The number of kids who that this grace and love be doing in five years? A lot of writing. I really write in about being abused you’ve been taught about in enjoy writing and reading and maybe in their homes is crazy! I the Gospel isn’t just for other some photography. guess they feel they can be people. It’s for you!” she says. What three words honest online with an e“Whenever you mess up in best describe you? mail or a MySpace message. your life, He really is there to passionate, fun, thoughtful I know there’s such difficulty forgive you.” in breaking the silence, but Sara was a child when she Favorite/least-favorite spring-cleaning chores: I always encourage them to gave her life to the Lord, but My favorite is washing the car outside in the break that silence.” when she was 13, her neighsunshine in springtime. At the same time, Sara rebor constantly questioned The worst is folding clothes in my room. alizes she’s not a professional her faith. “He was an atheist, so he was asking me the toughest ques- counselor and needs God’s help when she tions,” she says. “I’d go out and get all these responds to letters. If a girl writes, “I’m books by Josh McDowell and R.C. Sproul a cutter. I was clean for two weeks, but I to come back with these great things about messed up again,” Sara’s goal is to at least the faith. But at the same time, it made me offer her love and encouragement. She says in these situations, teens often get caught question everything.” Sara had to come to the point where in the rut of “I messed up again” and forget she took ownership of her relationship with to focus on the two weeks they were clean. “In situations like that, I try to encourGod. “He wasn’t [meaningful to me] just because my parents taught me to go to church age them that they did a really good job or read my Bible. I discovered a relationship and to get back up and keep pressing on. I with God for myself, to talk to God and think that’s true in a lot of addiction situahave Him talk back to my heart,” she says. tions. They need to realize, ‘OK, you’re on “It’s OK [to ask questions], because I came the road to freedom. It’s a journey. Keep back around to seek out the truth and came pressing on.’ ” Even then, teens should also seek help from a parent, counselor or back to find that [God’s Word] is true.” pastor to have his or her support in the hard times. Offer Advice Sara’s questions never caused her to outwardly rebel against Christ, but she definite- Music Heard ly went through times when she wrestled Inhabited fans also have a huge impact on with God but tried to fake that she wasn’t. Sara’s songwriting. “Song to the Fatherless” She says that’s the worst thing you can do, tells the true story of a young guy Sara met because then you feel forced to smile on the at a concert in Knoxville, Tenn. He had outside when you’re frowning in the inside. come from an abusive home and asked, “Is This is one reason why Sara is so pas- this Jesus you’re talking about real? Is He
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really like a Father to me?” She answers his questions with the chorus, God will never walk out on you. He’ll be the Father that you never knew. He loves you, more than words can say. One of Sara’s favorite tracks from Love is “Hush.” The song touches on spiritual warfare and the importance of protecting our minds. When the first verse says, ”Hush,“ it means stopping the noise of this world and listening to truth. “Teenagers have so many things bombarding them: images and messages,” Sara says. “We have to learn to guard our minds and not allow all this junk in, because it will affect our lives.” Specifically for girls, Sara points out the pressure to match a certain body image through plastic surgery. “It’s so crazy!” Sara says. “We’re reconstructing everything. We’re losing beauty itself and individuality. I want to encourage girls there’s a beauty in seeking God that can’t be found anywhere else. It’s that beauty that will attract a guy that’s a keeper.” Sara has been dating her best friend for about three years. In her early 30s, Sara says she’s met a lot of guys, but she’s so glad she waited for the one God has for her. “He’s such an encouragement to me spiritually,” she says. “One strength of our relationship is that God put it together, and second is that we were good friends for so long [before dating].” The song “Respect” is about respecting yourself but also demanding it from others. “Girls will do anything for attention or for whatever they think is love,” Sara says. “This song is to encourage girls to realize their value and not just settle for some guy who’ s just going to take advantage of them.” Sara says every girl has to learn to discern a godly guy from one who isn’t thinking about her heart. “The whole MySpace mentality—Oh, your profile is hot. Let’s meet. Let’s hang out. Let’s hook up—is spinning out of control. It’s taking out any respect for each other or even valuing anything,” she says. “ ‘Respect’ encourages girls to re-
spect themselves, and it talks about how it’s a new day. If they didn’t respect themselves yesterday, it’s an encouragement to start today.” The same is true for sexual integrity. Sara grew up in church and always heard the “True Love Waits” message, but she never heard the flip side. She wants her music to remind teens that “if you’ve ever messed up in your life, then check this out: This is one of the coolest things about God. We don’t have to run around and put a rock in our shoe for six years. We have a God that says, ‘If you Ready to do battle? ask for forgiveness today, I’ll Inhabited is recruiting teens give you a clean heart.’ ” to love their neighbors. Thelovesoldiers.com is a Web As a child, Sara knew that site where teens can get was the answer for the prostia monthly mission. Some tutes in Russia, and she knows examples could be going to a it remains true today for Brio homeless shelter to perform Sisses all over the world. m with your praise and worship
band, doing a Bible study or helping a widow at your church. “There’s a million things,” lead singer Sara Acker says. Once the mission is completed, teens can send Inhabited pictures to post on the site and give feedback about what God did on their hometown missions trip . “It seems that a lot of times when we go places, the youth pastors (all in a good heart) have so much entertainment like Xbox this and pizza this, but I think if people would realize how much kids would participate if they did events when the young people would actually reach out, it would change the whole church, and it would change the kids. “That’s what changed my life so much, being a part of outreach, street ministry in my own town and inner-city ministry. That stuff impacted my life forever. It showed me what Christians are really meant to be like, and I’m still learning that.”
april 2008 ` briomag.com