Hope in America’s Heartland

The 140,000 square-foot Ray & Joan Kroc Corps Community Center in Omaha, NE, stands as a testimony to what can happen when civic leaders are totally sold on a great idea to benefit the community. A local foundation, Heritage Services, stepped up to the plate, helping to raise $15 million locally—making Omaha one of the 26 awardees of a Kroc Center across the nation.

Gary Gates, CEO of Omaha Public Power District and a board member of both Heritage Services and The Salvation Army, worked closely on the community center’s proposed business model, finances and other details. Heritage helped create the 1,100-page proposal in the competition.

The Omaha Kroc Center redefines what a community center is all about. This unprecedented place of gathering and enrichment houses an array of education, sports, faith, arts and supportive programs never before assembled in the Omaha metro. The programs, as well as the building itself, have been designed to stimulate the mind, body and spirit, to provide hope, and to transform the life of every member of the community. The Kroc’s construction began in May 2007 and the facility celebrated its Grand Opening in January 2010.

Image Face painting Winterfest

Love in action at a Winterfest event as a Kroc Center voluteer helps children pick a face paint design.

The partnership with Heritage Services led to connections that resulted in funds being raised for the Kroc Center.

An average 1,000 visitors per day enter the Kroc Corps Center and pass a wall displaying the names of 39 Heritage Services donors. The center occupies over 15 acres on six city blocks that once housed the former Wilson Packing Company. That fact alone makes the Kroc location in Omaha most appropriate.

“The fact is, much of the former Wilson Packing Company rests beneath the present Kroc Center,” exclaims Jonathan Kuebler, Kroc Director of Operations. “In fact, when we were installing lights for the ballfield, to install the poles they had to get a concrete drill to go through the concrete that is just below what is now ground surface!”

It’s an ironic reminder of the history of Omaha upon which The Salvation Army Kroc Center rests.

There’s no argument that the Omaha Kroc is the central-most facility of the 26—located just 200 miles from the geological center of the contiguous United States.

Image of Lori Miles & Angela Sheridan Winterfest

Children of God Lori Miles and Angela Sheridan run the Women’s Ministry booth at Winterfest.

The Wilson house was only one of many packing companies located around what is now the Kroc Center. Omaha was one of the largest meatpacking centers in the country—at one point even surpassing Chicago.

“In fact,” Kuebler continues, “when you come to the Kroc from the north, you pass the red-brick building that was once the Livestock Exchange Building.”

Jobs in the industry attracted immigrants in the thousands, but once hard times eventually forced most packing companies to close, this area of south Omaha became blighted. High crime and gang warfare became a huge problem.

Image of Omaha Kroc State of the Art Fitness Center

Neighbors and Kroc members running on state of the art treadmills in the new fitness center.

The City of Omaha came up with a plan to reinvigorate the area, long before dreams of landing a Kroc here were thought of. The original plan for the Livestock Exchange included a medical center and housing for seniors. The plan called for completely removing housing projects in favor of duplex housing scattered throughout the neighborhoods. A community college and a new library were also in the offing.

Enter Joan Kroc’s vision. The addition of the Kroc fit like a glove into the city’s reinvigoration plan.

“The Kroc coming here completely revitalized the neighborhood,” Kuebler says.

Image of Kroc Flag Football Team Members

As a fun extracurricular acrtivity, the Kroc Flag Football League gives kids a chance to play NFL ball.

“It’s a ‘Beacon of Hope’ in our neighborhood,” witnesses a lady who lives right across the street from the Kroc.

“This is an historically-rich community, and while Omaha may not be the first place you think of to build a center like this, it speaks volumes of the community support of investments that continue to be made here for future generations!” says another neighbor.

“Omaha stood behind it,” Major Thielke agrees. “It’s been a wonderful gift to the community.”

Major Frank Duracher, Assistant Editor, National Publications

We Need Bread

I used to hate the sound of a baby crying. When my wife Rebecca gave birth to Josh four years ago, he cried all the time. We hardly ever slept. Many nights before his first birthday, Josh would only sleep if one of us would carry him as we walked. Sometimes he cried even though nothing was wrong. We would change him, feed him, burp him, put him down, pick him up, spin in circles. Nothing would calm the child. As he grew, he became better at communicating his needs, and now only cries in times of deep distress, like if his sister has taken one of his toys.

As you can imagine, I began to hate any TV show, radio broadcast, movie, or advertisement with the sound of a crying baby. “Don’t I get enough of this without them playing it on TV?” I would yell at the screen.

Then two years ago when Anna was born, she was unable to breathe. Her little lungs were full of fluid which she didn’t have the strength to expel. Anna didn’t cry. Not for lack of effort. Every moment was filled with her excruciating efforts to breathe… And to cry… But she couldn’t cry. Nurses worked frantically, machines beeped, I was asked to stay out of the way, Rebecca was anxious and unable to see because of the sheet drawn above her belly, but the baby wouldn’t cry. Rebecca asked how the baby was and I said, “She’s doing great.” But in reality, I was scared to death because my baby girl wouldn’t cry.

They took Anna to the NICU, where she was hooked up to feeding and breathing tubes.

And for a few days, I dreamed of the moment when Anna would cry.

The first half of the Lord’s Prayer addresses the magnificence and omnipotence of God. “Father in Heaven. Hallowed be Your name. Your Kingdom Come.”

But one little line had confused me since I was a child. Now it serves as a pivot in this prayer. As a child I struggled to understand why we prayed for bread at bedtime. Lately I have come to see great meaning in this simple request: “Give us this day our daily Bread.” This little line moves us from the magnificence of God to the neediness of man.

In the ancient world, bread was essential to survival. He who had bread lived. Asking for bread daily is not asking for something we would like. It is asking for something we need, something essential to survival. And asking God for that bread indicates an understanding that, aside from God’s provision, I might not have bread to eat today. It is important that we understand that daily bread is so much more than just bread. We have the opportunity to bring any need before our Heavenly Father, with the understanding that we are not speaking about wants, or about those wants we mistake for needs.

 Day by day the manna fell;
O to learn this lesson well!
Still, by constant mercy fed,
give me, Lord, my
daily bread.”

— Josiah Conder
SASB #748 

When we ask God for daily bread in the Lord’s Prayer, we acknowledge that there are things we need that are only gained through God’s provision. God is like a father waiting for His child’s first sound. When we say, “God, I need bread” or “God, there are things I need which I am incapable of providing without your help,” we take a big breath and cry out to our Heavenly Father. He hears our cries and meets our needs, because there is something special about the sweet sound of a silent child crying out for the first time.

 As we realize the nature and weight of our sin compared to the immense power and holiness of God, we realize that the standards for eternal life with God are far greater than we could ever achieve by our own efforts. And we cry out, “God, I need bread.” We need a bread that can be broken for us, a bread that can bear our sins, a bread that can make us holy and pure before the mighty Maker of the universe.

God hears the sweet cries of His children, and in the person of Jesus Christ declares, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to Me will never go hungry” (John 6:35).

Our daughter Anna did learn to cry within a few days of her birth, and my opinions have shifted since those events. I no longer dread the sound of crying babies. Instead, I have gained a deep appreciation for the sweet sound of a small child calling for help. The cries of infants signify breath and life, and act as a call to parents who can meet that child’s deepest needs. Every 2 a.m. wail reverberates with a simple truth of the gospel: “I need.”  We all need. We need bread. “Give us, Lord, Our Daily Bread.”

Lieutenant Mike McGee is the corps officer for The Salvation Army in Rock Hill, SC.

Thanksgiving Every Day

Two young men in the Canton, Ohio area had a brilliant idea. What if every day was Thanksgiving? What if traditional Thanksgiving food was on the menu every day? The turkey and gravy, mashed potatoes and gravy, noodles and gravy, dressing/stuffing floating in gravy, green beans, sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce, and all the rest of the trimmings? And don’t forget the pumpkin pie. With the labor-intensive preparation required to create a thanksgiving dinner from scratch, cooks seldom roast a twenty-pound turkey outside of November. But if a restaurant could offer such a menu? Voila! TGD (ThanksGiving Every Day) was born, now renamed American Oven Homestyle Kitchen.

While we may not regularly want to experience the post-dinner stupor that a belly full of turkey can produce, we can benefit from the “every day is thanksgiving” philosophy that the young entrepreneurs chose as the guiding principle for their endeavor. The Apostle Paul made it clear that gratitude is to be a consistent part of the Christian life. In his letter to the Ephesians (5:20), he admonished his readers to “Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (NIV). Paul wrote a similar challenge in I Thessalonians 5:18 (NASB): “In everything give thanks, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

Catholic writer Henri J.M. Nouwen described this way of life as having the discipline of gratitude. “Gratitude goes beyond the ‘mine’ and ‘thine’ and claims the truth that all of life is a pure gift. In the past I always thought of gratitude as a spontaneous response to the awareness of gifts received, but now I realize that gratitude can also be lived as a discipline. The discipline of gratitude is the explicit effort to acknowledge that all I am and have is given to me as a gift of love, a gift to be celebrated with joy.”

As both the Apostle Paul and Father Nouwen understood, a life of gratitude doesn’t just happen. There is an intentionality to it, an active movement rather than a passive acceptance. We deliberately look around us, acknowledging with James that “every good and perfect gift comes from above” (James 1:17). We open our mouths with “psalms, hymns and spiritual songs” (Ephesians 5:19) to direct our gratitude to God. We practice expressing our thanks to one another, seeking for words to affirm rather than criticize.

Yet what about when we just don’t feel like being grateful, often with good reason? We’re bereft, unable to keep from staring at the empty chair at the Thanksgiving table. We sit alone, with a Styrofoam container on our TV tray, cutting into a piece of turkey roll with congealed gravy. We eat our turkey inside the penitentiary dining hall, angry at ourselves, the system, and those who have abandoned us. We long to be sharing a festive meal in our own home, but Harvey, Irma, or Maria robbed us of that opportunity. A brother betrayed our family, a dear friend seduced our child, a family is torn apart. There’s no room for gratitude in the heart.

Even then, in the worst of times, we can choose the discipline of gratitude. Writing in The Return of the Prodigal, Nouwen challenges us: “Gratitude as a discipline involves a conscious choice. I can choose to be grateful even when my emotions and feelings are still steeped in hurt and resentment. It is amazing how many occasions present themselves in which I can choose gratitude instead of a complaint. I can choose to be grateful when I am criticized, even when my heart still responds in bitterness. I can choose to speak about goodness and beauty, even when my inner eye still looks for someone to accuse or something to call ugly. I can choose to listen to the voices that forgive and to look at the faces that smile, even while I still hear words of revenge and see grimaces of hatred.”

Here’s how Ann Voscamp explains: “Murmuring thanks isn’t to deny that an event isn’t a tragedy and neither does it deny that there’s a cracking fissure straight across the heart. Giving thanks is only this: making the canyon of pain into a megaphone to proclaim the ultimate goodness of God.”

The ability to choose gratitude even when we think we cannot is the costly yet extravagant grace of the gospel. Because of grace, thanksgiving every day isn’t limited to turkey and gravy in a local diner; instead, the discipline of gratitude allows the thread of thankfulness to weave its way through the joys and sorrows of daily life. Until one day, we will stand before the throne of God, and will know the discipline of gratitude in all its fullness as we sing with all the saints: “Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving… to our God” (Rev. 7:12).

—JoAnn Streeter Shade is a retired Salvation Army officer living in Ashland, Ohio. She recently co-authored Women, Ministry, and Retirement with Major Lauren Hodgson.