Entering the ‘Man Cave’
“As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.”
Getting men to share their feelings is often difficult, but not for this group.
The 25 or so men sitting around tables at the Pittsburgh, Pa., Temple Corps are here for “Man Cave Mondays,” a weekly time of in–depth Bible study, sharing, food, fellowship, computers, basketball, and weightlifting.
“I’ve been looking forward to this Bible study all day,” says Ron Ernst, who is going through a six–month drug and alcohol program at the Pittsburgh Harbor Light Center.
Lieutenant Jonathan Lewis, the corps officer (pastor) at Pittsburgh Temple, leads the men in prayer as they munch on pizza, share stories of their struggles, and ask for prayer for themselves and friends. Many come from the Harbor Light, the Pittsburgh Adult Rehabilitation Center (ARC), and the Pittsburgh Temple.
Ernst is typical of the men and says he now prays every night and wants to attend church and read his Bible.
“I was never a churchgoing guy, but I pray to God all the time and I want to get to know Him even more,” he said. “This Bible study is going to teach me a lot. I feel the strength of everybody. I’m hoping the strong faith they have in Him rubs off on me.”
The study, which began last August, covers the book of James. The teaching from Lewis is clear and direct and the feedback from the men is transparent and often heartbreaking.
“We learn from each other,” Lewis says at one point.
Lewis also gives the men pep talks about picking up their devotional game if they feel low on strength.
“Get into your Word and pray,” the young officer says. “Then you’ll continue to grow into the man God wants you to be.”
Charles K. said he is “not a big church person,” but he enjoys the fellowship at Man Cave Mondays and has attended almost a dozen times. When he walked into a recent meeting and saw that the lesson was about patience, he told the group it was clearly God at work.
“I’ve been having a real hard time lately with patience,” he said. “I’m in a depressed state. I feel like there’s no hope. So anytime something like that pops out, it kind of gives me a little hope. I need to get my spirit and my mind back to where they used to be. That’s what I’m working on.
“I get something out of it every time I come here. You hope you hear something and that it sparks something. You can repeat it to yourself over and over during the week.”
Finding the light
Leo Schoming, who was attending for the first time, said he enjoyed the discussion. Several of his relatives battle depression, anxiety, and other demons; some have committed suicide.
“The devil’s been on my back,” Schoming said. “He’s in the blood of my family. He’s working against me with all that. But since I found The Salvation Army, it’s starting to lift.
“I’m tired of all the anger in the world and the unfairness and darkness. This is a safe environment here and I feel God’s presence when I come to places like this. I haven’t been coming to church. I’ve been in the dark: addiction, alcohol, drugs.”
After the devotional, the men are free to visit the computer lab, play basketball in the gym or work out in a weight room donated by the NFL’s Pittsburgh Steelers.
“We’ve led people to the Lord on the basketball court,” Lewis says.
Leonard Young said he enjoys the food and working out, but that’s not the main reason he comes.
“The food for my spirit, that’s the most important,” Young says while shooting hoops. “I feel better about that than the activities they have for us here. The Word of God is where it’s at. Man shall not live by bread alone, but by the Bread of Life.”
Curtis Herring, a resident of the Pittsburgh ARC, said the Man Cave Mondays and his Bible classes at the ARC have taught him to be “all in.”
“It had me searching myself,” he said. “First of all, being ‘all in’ is loving God. If I wasn’t coming to these meetings here and at the ARC, I’d still be straddling the fence. Now, I feel like I’m ‘all in’ and no longer straddling the fence. I finally chose a side, which is God’s side. It’s a wonderful side to be on.
“I now read and study. I was never a reader or a ‘studier,’ but the Bible does say seek and you will find. There’s only one way to do that and that’s to surround yourself with this type of atmosphere. You can’t help but find God, but you have to be open–minded to do it. I now understand what it means to be ‘all in.’ You can’t be ‘all in’ if you’re not loving the Lord. It’s the only way to be ‘all in.’”
Herring also believes he has been delivered from his drug and alcohol problems. While he has had some clean time in the past, Herring said the ARC and Monday night study have “awakened me on the inside.”
“The sky’s the limit from here and I feel wonderful today,” he said.
Willie Beard, another ARC resident, likes Man Cave Mondays for the learning and fellowship, as well as the application of the Bible to his life.
“It’s more than church,” he said. “In church, we hear the preacher preach and we do some praise, but here on Monday nights, we get to fellowship with some people from Harbor Light.
“What I get out of it are the principles, which are priceless, including humility, meekness, loving your neighbor, loving God with all your heart, mind, and strength, and looking for His joy to be that strength. I’m learning to be a doer of the word, to be a light to those around us who are going through similar life experiences.”
Each week, at least one woman attends Man Cave Mondays. Major Ida Perez, the chaplain at the Harbor Light, brings up to 14 men a night and sits at the table.
“I like it because the men get a chance to see what The Salvation Army as a church looks like and also have a safe place where they can ask questions,” Perez said. “The greatest thing is how they’re relearning things they remember from their grandparents who brought them to church as kids. For some of them, it’s things they left aside years ago. Then there are the precious ones who have never gone to church before.”
For example, when Lewis referenced the story of Job during the study, some men were unaware of the biblical account until the officer explained more.
“We can’t assume this generation goes to church all the time. They don’t,” Perez said. “It’s been amazing to see some of the guys come alive who just started. They’re asking questions and looking for answers.
“It meets them where they are and it’s great because it’s geared toward men. It’s on their level and they’re met where they’re at and where they need to go.”
Several men were making their first visit to Man Cave Mondays, including Harbor Light resident Larry Knight, who said he enjoyed the “whole atmosphere.”
“It was informative and something I can apply to my daily life to help make me a better person,” he said. “You can have street knowledge and book knowledge, but to have spiritual knowledge is everything. It opens up your eyes to what God is doing, what He has done, and what He’s still doing to help make you a better person.”
Larry Sled, another first–timer from the Harbor Light, said he thought the group might be led by an “amateur,” but he was pleasantly surprised that Lewis “knew the Word.”
“I got a lot of insight on the Word,” he said.
Sharing and caring
Commissioner Israel L. Gaither, a retired former national leader of The Salvation Army, is a soldier at Pittsburgh Temple and can often be found around the table. Gaither agreed that Lewis is no amateur, calling the Philadelphia native not only charismatic and articulate, but “gifted” and “anointed.”
“He knows Scripture and understands it, but he has a beautiful ability to be able to relate Scripture in such a way that intersects with where we all are as men,” Gaither said.
“He understands the street, the urban scene. He knows what he’s talking about. He’s seen it, he’s lived through experiences, so he knows where these guys are coming from and they know that. He’s believable.”
Lewis said Man Cave Mondays has been a huge success in meeting his goals for the program.
“The spiritual growth of these men has been amazing,” he said. “One of the things we want is for guys to grow in their spiritual walk with God, but not just in that area, but in every other aspect of life as well. We want guys to be good fathers, husbands, and employees. We get that by getting into the Word, but also by getting into each other’s lives. Those two aspects coming together is the strength of the program.”
Lewis said his emphasis on Bible reading and prayer during the meetings is no accident.
“It’s the foundation of a believer,” he said. “What we do in private many times shows up in what we do in public. We’re reading the Bible together. We’re learning together. We can get aspects and insights that we wouldn’t have gotten by ourselves. It meets that need, especially in regard to men, to have fellowship and deep relationships. That’s what the goal of the whole program is; to develop deep personal relationships and soul friendships in which we can grow into the men God wants us to be.”
Lewis said he chose the book of James for the study because it’s easy to understand.
“Guys have just been accepting it,” he said. “We’ve been breaking it down, passage by passage, and trying to pull out every nugget of insight. We’re also learning from one another.”
One of the people the men are learning from is Gaither, who said he attends to support the event and his corps. “But I gain something from it myself and it feeds my own spiritual life,” he said. Gaither has developed relationships with some of the men and offers counsel.
“We have a chance to come alongside the guys and be listening ears and just draw from them as we kind of input our experiences into their lives,” Gaither said. “It’s kind of a unique pivot that ministry has seen, which I think is absolutely amazing.
“It’s really become, as the Scripture says, about iron sharpening iron and men speaking and sharing as men. It’s just really good on both sides. The receiver becomes the giver, the giver is the receiver. It’s beautiful to see how that’s been working out. It’s just an amazing ministry.”
by Robert Mitchell
The case for biblical literacy
“Biblical illiteracy is such a big problem because the Bible sustains us and is our lifeline and our spiritual food. If you’re biblically illiterate, that means you’re spiritually weak. You don’t have any divine revelation or divine insight that’s feeding your life. Prayer is an important aspect and you should pray as much as you can, but at the end of the day, we want God speaking to us and that comes through reading the Bible. I think the enemy tries to get us away from the Bible as much as possible. When we’re less influenced by God’s Word, we’re more influenced by the world.
“If you’re not in the Bible, you’ll be driven by any wave of new doctrine because at the end of the day, you have no foundation of truth. That’s another element of biblical illiteracy. If you don’t know what’s in the Bible, you don’t know if someone is just selling you their own opinion or a misinterpretation of Scripture that can actually be toxic to your spiritual life. Many times, if you read the Bible through and through, you can spot when something someone is telling you doesn’t align.”
—Lieutenant Jonathan Lewis,
corps officer of the Pittsburgh, Pa., Temple Corps.
Talk to Chris Honsberger for only a few minutes and her enthusiasm for women’s Bible study becomes obvious.
“Women’s Bible study and getting women into the Word is my absolute passion,” says Honsberger, who is the main teacher. “I love the Word and I love other people to know the Word and what the Word means and how powerful it can be in your life. It’s important that they know the Word and not get caught up in the culture and some of the other things you can get caught up in.”
While “Man Cave Mondays” is going on in the fellowship hall of the Pittsburgh Temple Corps, Honsberger and about 15 other women meet for Bible study in a special lounge featuring couches and other feminine touches. Many of the women attend the corps and bring friends to the Bible study.
The women also share and Honsberger said she only has one rule: No gossip. What is said in the Bible study stays there.
“Everybody contributes, even the shyest person,” she said.
Honsberger, who has attended the corps for 40 years, said the Bible study started six years ago. The women meet for about 90 minutes, and, while fellowship is a part of the evening, the main thrust is a “hardcore” Bible study.
“We get new women all the time,” she said. “It’s growing tremendously. It’s vibrant. We have a lot of fun, but we really dig into the Word. They want to dig into the Word. We’re vigilant about the Word. They want to know what the Word says and I’m passionate about the Word anyway.”