Grace Community:
An Ancient Future Church
News from the Front
From the Home Front
February 29, 2024
Christmas Again! Heck, It's Leap Year!!!
by John D. Richardson

February 29, 2024

Dear People of God,

It has been a while. May this find you well.

It was a big year for us. Madison married on October 21, 2023. We welcomed Sterling Ridgeway into our family. He is a decent enough bloke. lol It is Madison after all. Actually, we like Sterling. A lot!

Why has it been a while?

Honestly, with regard to writing, I have been less than passionate. At some point in 2021 it became obvious, to me at least, that my newsletters were not being delivered much less received and read. Literally, letters just like this didn't arrive in in-boxes. It was a battle I was not looking for and one for which I had no energy to fight. What am I going to say anyway, put up your dukes algor . . .

Why I am writing now? Out of necessity. I need your help. Times have changed. Like everywhere else, inflation has been causing pain here. Costs have increased tremendously especially in the area of transportation. It takes 500 miles a week to make this life-changing ministry happen.

By the way, I will continue writing because this is a story that must be told. God is up to some extraordinary things.

So I am asking family and friends to stop, as in at this moment, and consider again giving generously to this cause. A dozen contributors at $500 annually would knock out Programs like books for Book Club, Movie Nights, Birthdays, and Baptism Celebrations. Can You believe it! I had the honor of baptizing 40 in 2023. A dozen more contributors at $1,500 annually would knock out Transportation expenses. The number of partners needed is not so high. Many hands make for light work.

Please, reply now, right now, and let me know you are in for 2024. Be one of the 24 in 24! See the "24 in 2024" Campaign here or click the gigantic red button below! Yes please. Be on Team 2024 to make Programs and Transportation happen. Below is a story at the heart of what I do every day. This is what makes this ministry so worthy of your generosity.

It was Christmas Eve. Celebrating a birth was imminent.

I was in a juvenile detention center to hand out 52 Christmas bags. The bags contained travel size deodorant, body wash, lotion, candy, cookies, and chips to celebrate the season. They had been carefully prepared by my wife and sons. All Souls Anglican gladly picked up the tab.

“Jay” was his normal respectful and positive self. He was pleased to receive his Christmas bag, as were many of the other young men. That seemed unusual in itself. In years past, it seemed the bags were received with some indifference and occasionally with some sense of entitlement. In 2023, they were anticipated and received with gratitude.

Jay took his and said, “I guess we will have to do that tombstone thing some other time.” That pierced me. Jay was 16. He was to turn 17 on Christmas Day. On December 26, he would be transferred to an adult prison – the holiday spared him one more day at “juvie.”

A few weeks earlier Jay and I stumbled on the fact that I had not done “the tombstone exercise” with him previously. When I met Jay back then, he was in no shape to listen.
The tombstone exercise grabs the attention of some. Certainly the exercise is not original to me, though I can't recall where I learned it. It is probably rooted in “A Christmas Carol”. It is simple really. What will be written upon your tombstone? What will your legacy be?

I sit with a young man and start drawing a tombstone. I ask them, “What is it that I’m drawing?” After the outline, most of them guess, “A window.” I add a cross at the top. “A church?” Then I add their name. If that doesn't give it away, I add the year of their birth. Seems to amaze them that I know that. "The grave thing" or "a tombstone" finally emerges.

Then I ask who will place the tombstone over their head. “My mom.” I reply “No,” unlikely unless tragedy strikes (which is much more likely with these kids).

“My kids?” Right. “How many are you going to have?” Their response is rarely more than two.

Then I draw a box on the tombstone and ask what it is they will put in there. I ask if they want what they are now. Thug? Plug (drug dealer)? Gangsta? No, no, and no. Then what? RIP they say. Eventually, after a pulling teeth ordeal, something summed up by "Best. Father. Ever." comes out.
Why is this exercise so important? I tell them that it is their destination; they must make all the right turns to get there.

I also draw a hearse and a U-Haul. Ever see those two things together? No. You know why? Because you can't take anything with you. All you have when you depart this world is what your kids put on that tombstone.

I had never done the exercise with Jay. He was a basket case when he came in. His life was coming apart. What appeared to be a Leave it to Beaver middle-class existence was over. His crime was coming to light. Breathing was about all he could muster.

He wanted the truth of grace. On the edge of leaving for an adult prison he wanted to be grounded in truth and reality. 

That Christmas Eve I told him, "No, Jay. We will not wait to do the tombstone. We will do it now." Slowly we made our way through the exercise. Like most, tragically not all, he wanted a legacy, "a life worth living."

Jay left the youth detention center with a greater sense of direction and a super enhanced understanding of what difference a turn makes.

It was Christmas Eve. Celebrating a birth was imminent.

We soldier on. In the face of it all, we live with a reasonable hope. All things are possible with God.

Under His Mercy,

John, for us all
Ways to Contribute
Live are being touched! Souls are being saved. We would be honored by your gifts to help us. Here the ways in which you may give.

You may mail checks directly to Grace Community at P.O. Box 190523, Atlanta, Georgia, 31119-0523.

We are a ministry approved by the National Christian Foundation. So you may give to the Church of Grace Community Atlanta Inc through NCF.

And below, at the bottom of this letter, is a donate button through which you may give through PayPal, the preferred manner for many in younger generations.

We are a a qualified 501(c)(3) with determination letter in hand.

Again, considering sustaining life giving ministry as we seek the lost and disciple the found.
3140 Governors Court
Duluth, GA 30096-3568
(205) 807 4907