Monday, March 20, 2017

A Note From Tracy Hipps: WE'RE DEBT FREE!!!

When the Lord led me to CSM in June 2010, I learned that the organization was almost a million dollars in debt and had only a handful of faithful donors. I had no idea how God was going to eliminate this debt and breathe new life into this ministry, but I knew God had directed me to CSM and determined to trust that “He who calls you is faithful; He will surely do it.” (I Thess. 5:24) I also knew from Scripture that God calls us to be wise stewards of all of the resources He has given to us. During those first days, God brought together a new Board of Directors who were deeply committed to God, to CSM and to making wise and tough business decisions. We have been so blessed by their experience and faithfulness.

Over the years, I have seen God work in amazing and unexpected ways. He has allowed us to operate very lean and still impact the city in great ways. At this time, we have only seven full-time paid staff, but many full-time volunteers and over 5,000 seasonal volunteers who help us accomplish our mission. We have seen God bring financial resources in miraculous ways and have been faithful to put those resources toward the debt.

During our recent meeting the Board voted to make the final payment on the debt. As of Friday, March 10, 2017 we are DEBT FREE! God is so good and faithful. The money to pay the debt came through small acts of kindness and from many unexpected places. The day after the board meeting, we paid the final installment to the bank, and to celebrate, my friend Marc Malnati from Chicago sent Lou Malnati’s pizza for the staff. It was exciting to acknowledge together how far God has brought this ministry.

The Board of Directors busy at work to ensure the wise stewardship of CSM

From this new position of freedom, the staff and the Board can look forward and seek God for this next season. Each week this year, we have had pastors from our partner churches come to our staff meeting to share their heart and what God is doing in their churches and communities. Our staff is rallying around their efforts, building strategic partnerships, and are committed to changing our great city to a greater city with Christ as the center.

We have also watched our campus change from “just a warehouse” to a place where people come and feel connected and valued. More than 5,000 volunteers come annually and we are designing our campus to better facilitate those opportunities. This campus is a place where regular volunteers come to fellowship, grow, and work together. These volunteers work at the front desk greeting all who come to visit; work with our construction team improving houses throughout the city, and help with our food ministry and our gardens to ensure we provide great resources for our partners. We are also working to teach healthy living principles with our partnerships in small groups through Healthy Cooking workshops, with plans for an on-campus teaching kitchen.

Throughout the year we host programs with our partners. Our next event is our 6th annual Mother’s Day luncheon: Love For Moms. We have 15 tables that are sponsored by churches, groups, and individuals for $50. The ladies are from various churches and ministries around the city and we treat them so special. We also partner with 15 nursing homes and pair them with churches to provide more than 1300 gift bags for the residents. We Celebrate Moms is also a great way for your church to love on the elderly. If your church would like to sponsor a nursing home or a table for the luncheon, please email Jamie at

The Lord has guided us all along the way in this journey and we are now free to serve our Lord in special ways.

Pizza shipped from Chicago to celebrate the "Tracy Way"!

An Amazing Serve Day at CSM

A warehouse full of willing hands waiting for assignments

When someone tells you that they have almost 400 people with a heart for service available to serve with your ministry it can either incite panic or excitement. Depending on the leadership you have available and the plan you have in place, 400 volunteers with a mindset to work hard can get a whole lot done! That's what happened at CSM on February 25th in connection with Shades Mountain Baptist Church’s annual missions conference. Volunteers from the church began pouring into CSM at 8:30 that morning, and we were ready for them!

Tracy at the helm!
In every corner of the CSM property, fifteen leaders from CSM led fifteen different projects for 384 volunteers. In just one amazing morning, they had helped us to pave a walkway to our fish house, paint the baseboards for our front office "makeover," prepare our gardens for Spring planting, sort food for distribution, organize and count personal care gift items for our Mother's Day initiative, sort and wrap diapers with Bundles of Hope, and completely gut a part of our warehouse designated for our future kitchen ministry (#demoday)! This massive group of people included families with children (who pitched in to create hand-crafted Mother’s Day cards), missionaries in town for the conference from all corners of the planet, and lots of people who love to make a difference.

Two hours later, everyone was eating popsicles and heading home with much accomplished. Thank you to Shades Mountain Baptist for your continued partnership on this Serve Day and throughout the year! We are blessed and honored to host your GIC Serve Day every year because of the relational capital that you invest with us from February of one year to the next. God continues to use your efforts and faithfulness to advance His Kingdom and multiply His disciples! Thank you all!

Busy bundling diapers
Creating original Mother's Day cards 
Beautiful handiwork on display 
Painting baseboards and newly built beehives.
Clearing the raised beds in the gardens
Carpentry and roofing in our woodworking center
Sorting donations
Demo Day!
Busy in the gardens

Willie says it is time to knock off!
That means it is popsicle time!

Interns Infuse CSM With New Energy!

Josey Hartley is currently a junior at Samford University in the Nutrition Science program studying dietetics. Josey has made Birmingham her home for now, all the way from Wisconsin. Her awareness of the importance of nutrition was sparked at a young age when she developed many food allergies. It was through her personal experiences and various health complications of friends and family that she developed the desire to study nutrition. Her goal is to help bring nutritional care to community health by continuing on to graduate school and becoming a registered dietitian.

Here at CSM, Josey is learning to apply her knowledge and experiences by promoting nutrition and wellness in the local community. She is excited about creating needs-based educational materials, developing food boxes, and working with the team to develop the upcoming Cooking Well program. She shares that interning at the Christian Service Mission reminds her of the greater purpose behind her drive to become a registered dietitian. It is through working with the CSM team and giving back to the community where she is learning to develop community education skills to support her future plans of bringing nutritional wellness to Birmingham and beyond.

Matt Azemar is a senior at Samford University from Duluth, Georgia busy working toward completing a major in Sociology and minor in Geography as a member of the Samford University football team.

Matt says that he majored in Sociology because he wanted to help marginalized people and make a real difference in people’s lives. Christian Service Mission has now provided Matt with the opportunity to put this desire into action through his internship this semester. Matt says, “What attracted me to Christian Service Mission was all the ways that they positively impact the community, and the obvious ways that God is working through them. After only spending a couple of weeks at Christian Service Mission I can already tell that it is going to be a life changing experience, not only for me but also everyone CSM comes in contact with.”

Matt is currently busy assisting with our S.T.A.I.R. elementary school tutoring ministry and working with inner-city youth outreach through CSM partner churches.

Welcome to the family, Josey and Matt! If you are interested in our summer internship, please contact Judy Vann at

Intentional and Compassionate Food Ministry

Rhonda praying over ministry partners on food distribution day

“For we walk by faith, not by sight.” II Corinthians 5:7

After working as a banker with AmSouth for ten years, Rhonda Marshall took a step of faith and left her secure job for a new profession. Through much thought and prayer, Rhonda’s heart was led to begin her career working in ministry and with non-profit organizations. The change may have seemed unexpected, but it was Rhonda’s compassionate lifestyle leading up to it that anticipated the switch.

Before beginning this new career and life-shift, Rhonda had always been an advent volunteer in her community. Even as she worked for AmSouth, Rhonda would spend her extra hours volunteering and encouraging fellow staff members to join her. On Mondays she would tutor after work; Wednesdays she spent her lunch-hour serving meals at Pathways, and on Fridays you could find her leading a Bible study with local teens. Volunteering was not just an act of kindness for Rhonda, it was her lifestyle!

Rhonda has always found volunteering enjoyable. She explained that she finds giving back very rewarding because of the relationships and community you build through providing and serving those around you. She believes that as the hands and feet of Jesus we should serve those in need and glorify God by allowing people to see Christ in us... “It’s all about giving back. It may not be for everybody, but if you can serve your fellow brother or sister, even just one time, God is glorified.” With a career in non-profits since 1995, Rhonda has made many connections in the Birmingham community. She joined the CSM team in 2015 as the Food Ministry Coordinator, but her position soon adjusted to Resource Director to meet the needs and growth of CSM.

Rhonda Marshall, Food Ministry Director
Rhonda leads the food service ministry by collaborating with partners and organizing donations within local areas. CSM receives monthly and weekly donations from key partners, such as Publix, Wood Fruiticher and Bimbo Bakery, as well as donations from local businesses with an overflow of product. She shared that is is not uncommon for a truck to unexpectedly pull up to the CSM loading dock and deliver something like gallons of apple juice, simply because they had too many and were too close to the expiration dates to shelf.

As the Resource Director, Rhonda has applied her background in business and ministry by utilizing her power to meet the needs of their partners. One way the food ministry is able to serve the community is by meeting physical needs. But, CSM is unique in the way it provides more than what is available. Rhonda strives to perform her job with a focus on the recipients of the donations: “If we can make someone’s life a little bit easier, we can do that by giving specific needed items and not just sending out a bunch of random stuff.”

With nutrition playing a large role in the health of our communities, CSM is shifting to become more and more health-conscious. By asking for specific donations, Rhonda is able to gear the items CSM receives to meet the needs of the recipients. With the prevalence of food deserts and high obesity rates in Birmingham, the health of the city could greatly improve through healthier food and preventative education. As a ministry, the team at CSM actively works to improve their own services by gearing their resources toward improving the well-being of vulnerable people living in the Birmingham community.

Rhonda recognizes the need for the CSM food ministry and the power good stewardship of it has to touch the lives of people around them: “As a ministry we need to provide as much as we can. Healthy eating means healthy families in the community.” If you would like more information about our food ministry, you can reach Rhonda Marshall at


The Red Door House Renewal For Ms. Fannie

Ms. Fannie is so happy and thankful for her newly restored home

Ms. Fannie Bostick’s house rehabilitation is complete with new siding, new paint, new porch steps and railings! We wanted to update you with a picture of our precious Ms. Fannie proudly standing on her new front porch. The front door is painted the to match the original house paint color as a reminder of God’s faithfulness to her.

Our dear and faithful volunteer Fannie Bostick
We reported the early process of the work on her house, and are so thankful for the many groups and individuals who pitched in with painting and carpentry skills, including students from Samford who helped put new siding around the entire house.

If you ask Randy Sain, CSM front-line for all things compassionately constructed for the community, Ms. Fannie’s house renewal came straight from the hand of God. But then again, Ms. Fannie would say the same thing.

The order of events and the string of connections that alerted us to her need and the subsequent opportunities for the funding needed to purchase all the materials were nothing less than extraordinary.

Thanks again to everyone for making this very special lady feel how deeply loved she is. We love you, Ms. Fannie!

If you are interested in finding out how to contribute toward or volunteer with our housing ministry, please contact Aaron Parsons at

Ms. Fannie looked on and encouraged the volunteers working hard to install her new siding

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

A Note From Tracy Hipps: “Connect With…”

We are excited about the new year and what it holds for Christian Service Mission. After seven years of service and impacting hundreds and thousands of lives, we are looking forward to 2017. I believe the Lord has called everyone at CSM to “Connect with” people, communities and organizations for the Gospel. Seven years ago, the Lord lead me here with a clear challenge to bring critically necessary change to this four-decade-old organization and restore its roots in the Gospel. It has been an interesting journey, but I would not change anything.

In 2010, CSM lacked vision, mission, values, and was in a massive amount of debt. We immediately developed a new Board of Directors that reflected the vision of “Connecting Resources with Needs.” Then we began the process of cleaning up a 40-year-old organization and making it fresh and new for our Master’s use. Last month, with the Board's encouragement, we set a new course and path for CSM. We will be debt free next month with a new opportunity to move forward. We have been charting this course with the staff for the last few months. After the Board meeting in March, we should be moving forward with a 2020 vision.

Since the Lord lead me to CSM in 2010, the phrase “Connect with…” has been on my heart and in my mouth, and essential to how we work out the Gospel here at CSM. Micah 6:8 defines that phrase and has been an impacting passage for us. The call to “do justice, love mercy and walk humbly before our God” is the path we have chosen. The Word of God teaches us so much about justice as the way we should look at life, people and God’s love for humanity. To love mercy is the heart He wants us to have toward all humanity and His great commandment. To walk humbly with our God is the daily living out of our relationship with God and people. “Connect with…” is the path of our vision for 2020.

“Connect with…” our partnerships impacts people and communities to see the Gospel change us from the inside out. “Connect with…” our campus initiatives impacts lives through daily mentoring and ministering by our staff and volunteers. “Connect with…” resource-sharing maximizes the impact we can all have in our partnership with the Gospel.

“Connect with…” has been in my heart for a long time, and we are ready to live out Micah 6:8 through justice, mercy and humbly walking in the path God lays before us. Thank you for trusting and connecting with CSM in the past, and joining with this vision for the future.

Rebuilding Houses and Touching Hearts

Volunteers came to work with CSM from Maryland

“It is about people, what we are doing is about people.” -Aaron Parsons

God works through people in amazing and unexpected ways. In 2012, CSM joined with volunteers from Redeemer, a Lutheran church group from Maryland, to work on repairing Carl Jackson’s house as part of the Community Development Block Grant (CDGB). Years ago, Redeemer was the first construction team Aaron Parsons led with CSM, and one he will never forget.

During this recent project, the Redeemer volunteer team not only repaired the Jackson’s home, but through their service they were able to touch the hearts of a community in need. Aaron shares his story of their recent time in Birmingham with us:

Aaron Parsons (R) leads and pours into the volunteer team
“Our team was focused on building a new roof and repairing the decking of the house, when we noticed that there were a lot of people watching us from across the street. All week long as we continued rebuilding the house, this crowd of people would stand on their porch and watch us as we worked.

It was tradition for our volunteer team to gather around each night and enjoy Bible study together. As we participated in our Bible studies, we felt the need to talk about this group of people across the street. They seemed isolated, and those passing by would keep their distance. However, even though these people were different from us, they still needed to hear about Christ.

We deliberated on the idea of inviting them over to the Jackson’s house, but we knew that we first wanted to pray about it. We needed to let the Spirit lead us. As days passed, one of our team members from Maryland, Dwayne, decided to walk over to their front porch. But as soon as he reached the sidewalk across the street, he stopped walking. He explained that he felt as if God was saying, “No, do not go, this is not the day.” The next night, Dwayne walked over again, but he stopped at the sidewalk. He felt in his heart that God was still saying it was not yet time.

The following day after lunch, Dwayne began to walk over to the community house yet again. However, this time Dwayne reached their front porch. He began to talk with the group of people gathered there, explaining to them the purpose of our roofing project we were working on across the street, and that they had traveled all the way from Maryland to volunteer their time and skills to help someone in need. As Dwayne talked, he handed out little crosses and asked the group of people if he could pray for them.

The crowd continued to get larger as more and more people gathered to hear why this stranger had approached them. Dwayne continued to share his message and pray for the darkness to be lifted from the house. Many of the people introduced themselves to Dwayne and asked him to pray for them individually. You could see joy growing within the group as they began hugging and loving on each other.

God moved in the heart of the one He needed to speak to that day. The right man went over there and ministered at just the right time. Dwayne was able to truly carry out our mission of rebuilding the community by sharing Christ’s love with a group in need. Those people will be in our minds and our hearts for a long time because we know there is a future for them. CSM continues to bring people together to transform the Birmingham community by restoring houses and touching hearts.”

Mrs. Jackson (L) looks on the work being done with joy and appreciation

What it feels like to bless others!