Shift Destiny presents 'bride' of cross-section of churches

By Tony E. Windsor

The greater Seaford community came together on Saturday to rally for change, both from societal and spiritual perspectives. Deemed Shift Destiny," the event, as well as outreach that occurred over the previous week, were spearheaded by a unified front of spiritual voices from houses of worship representing a cross-section of races and denominations. The event, which attracted several hundred people, addressed not only an awareness of the spreading plague of heroin addiction in the area, but also served as a beacon of hope for those people who feel hopeless. For those who are facing the life threatening challenges of not only addictions, but poverty, homelessness and a variety of life's painful realities, the organizers of Shift Destiny want to ensure that they know there is help available and that there is a desire to shift" the atmosphere and provide spiritual support. Shift Destiny's Saturday event featured a host of presentations from Christian leaders and spiritually-driven music from a number of entertainers. There were activities for the children and local businesses, including Hungry Howie's and Vanderwende's Farm Creamery, provided pizza and ice cream. In the week before the event, Shift Destiny spiritual teams made up of representatives of churches throughout the area, visited homes in neighborhoods and developments that were determined by police and city leaders to possess some of the highest rates of crime and drugs. The teams knocked on over 300 doors, delivering a fresh loaf of bread donated by Davelli's restaurant and a gift certificate to Hungry Howie's. They then offered to pray with the families and invite them to attend the upcoming Shift Destiny event.

While the Shift Destiny campaign brought visible appreciation and a sense of needed hope to those who participated, or were touched by the events of the week, the story behind the birth of the outreach is not so happy a picture. It is a story now told by one of Shift Destiny's organizers and creators, local businessman John Rittenhouse. In January, 2011, Rittenhouse's world as he knew it began to fall apart. His wife, Lynn, was diagnosed with breast cancer. As the couple struggled to deal with this traumatic health news and worked together to try and wrap their hearts and minds around the frightening aspects of it, more heartache was heading their way. In the month following Lynn's cancer diagnosis, the Rittenhouse's learned that their youngest son had developed an addiction issue and was now using heroin. What for the most part had been a picture-perfect life in the Rittenhouse home was now falling apart. Our whole world just turned upside down," Rittenhouse said. We had sold our restaurant (Golden Corral) in 2006, and took a sabbatical through 2007. Our marriage was the best it had ever been; my wife and I are still madly in love with each other after all these years. The new business (financial advisor for Edward Jones) gave me much more control over my working hours and my life. The babies had grown up and were out of the house with good jobs. It finally felt like the fight of life was really worth it. Life was great." It was during this seemingly blissful period in his and his wife's lives that as Rittenhouse aptly puts it, All hell broke loose." He said that for the next year and half he and Lynn just reeled," working their job and holding tightly to each other for support. We basically held each other and prayed," he said. We had to watch our son as he struggled with this horrible addiction; watched as he eventually became homeless and living on the streets. It was extraordinarily difficult as his parents who love him so desperately, to suddenly realize that we had to start setting boundaries. This was so hard. I was the first to recognize that if we loved him we could not allow him to do the things he was doing to us and essentially enable him to be an addict. It was so much harder on my wife to be able to get to that point," Rittenhouse said, wiping away tears. He said there were times when the couple had no idea where their son was and in what kind of conditions he was living in. I remember one night at about 11 p.m., it was really cold outside and my wife came to me pleading for me to go find our son. I went out and found him wandering around in the woods and brought him home. We became very intimate with his journey. But, we began to recognize how many people his journey was impacting. It was a nightmare and an emotional roller coaster for all of us," he said. Feeling totally alone and frustrated by what was happening, John and Lynn Rittenhouse decided to attend Narcotics Anonymous. We prepared to attend the first meeting and I recall thinking about how embarrassed and ashamed I felt. Having been so involved in the community for so many years, I believed this would basically ruin our reputation," he said. I walked in the doors of the meeting and there were three of my clients sitting there. It was then that I realized just how many people, regardless of age, color, or income level, were being impacted by the horrors of addiction."

Rittenhouse said he was not aware at the time, but the unpleasant series of events that were making his and his wife's lives stressful and sometimes almost unbearable, were actually providing a catalyst for what would be a monumental change in his life; and eventually a conduit for change in many lives. In 2012, for reasons unknown to Rittenhouse, he started to become intrigued by the country of Nicaragua. He began to read about its history and its current state of societal affairs and found it extremely interesting. Two months later a cousin from Texas whom he had not spoken to in five years phoned him. She told me that she was preparing for an annual Christian mission trip and after having prayed about the plans, she felt led to contact me," Rittenhouse said. Amazingly, she revealed that the upcoming trip was to Nicaragua. I almost dropped the phone." Saying he had never been on a mission trip and realizing that the travel schedule made it impossible for his wife to go with him, he decided against going. I just felt timing was not right and I suppose I was making up a host of excuses," he said.

I was sitting in my office one day and I remember sensing this soft voice saying, 'If not now, when.' I picked up my cell phone and called my wife. I told her I was going to Nicaragua." The mission trip to Nicaragua proved to be something that literally changed Rittenhouse's life. He said in an e-mail correspondence to his wife after describing the day's activities, that he was created for this." He spent his time in the country ministering, feeding and caring for families he said had little or nothing, but were so appreciative for what the mission group was doing for them. This was the first time I worked side by side with spirit-filled people from a variety of churches and denominations," he said. The people were so excited about the food and other things we were providing, but most of all they desired to experience the love of Jesus Christ. There were apartment complexes we visited that required us to be escorted by men armed with machine guns and wearing bullet-proof vests. I saw gang members cry and accept Jesus Christ, asking for a new life. I witnessed an entire nation being changed. It is hard for me to describe in words, but it literally changed my life." Rittenhouse said the president of Nicaragua, Daniel Ortega, a former communist, and current socialist leader of the Sandinista Liberation Front, said he was so impressed by the work being done by the missionary group that he would authorize permanent visas for the mission members to enable them to travel freely back to the country to do their work. We were not there promoting the United States and the ways of the western world, we were there promoting the love of Jesus Christ," he said. It amazed me that President Ortega, who was formerly a communist, was so appreciative of the work we were doing."

When he returned home from his missionary work, Rittenhouse met with his pastor, Tom Birowski of Harvest Christian Center Church, to share his excitement for the work he had been doing with the mission group. It was then that the two came to the same conclusion regarding the missionary trip to Nicaragua in the form of a question. Why can't we do this here?" Rittenhouse said it was clear that if the work being done in Nicaragua could be fruitful, there was no reason why it should not be replicated in an outreach to the local community. Thus, the Shift Destiny concept was birthed. We realized right away that this was not a project to be carried out by one church," Rittenhouse said. This is what made the trip to Nicaragua so fulfilling. There were many churches and denominations working side by side as the bride of Christ; the way it should be," he said. Rittenhouse received the blessing of his Pastor to go out into the community and recruit other churches and spiritual leaders to join the Shift Destiny outreach. His first stop was Bishop Carlton Cannon of the Clarence Street Church of God. He absolutely got it right away," Rittenhouse said of Bishop Cannon. As I shared my vision with him he became so excited, saying this was something he had been praying about for years. I was not aware at the time, but after we both hung up the phone from our conversation, we separately fell to our knees, prayed and wept." In the following weeks and months Rittenhouse visited churches throughout the area sharing the vision of Shift Destiny. Some of the churches were on board right away, while others had existing programs that they supported. This was fine. We wanted them to continue placing priority on their programs. But, it seemed even in those cases there were individuals in the church who wanted to be a part of the Shift Destiny outreach," he said. In all, Rittenhouse said a dozen churches joined in the shift Destiny project, bringing diverse races, ethnic backgrounds and cultures to a common mission to share the message of Jesus Christ and help people break the bonds of addiction and other life challenges. We became the bride and the broken," he said. It was wonderful to be doing what I believe we are instructed to do and that is come together as the bride of Christ and serve our community. We are servants and we should be serving." The week of outreach to high crime and drug areas culminated with the Shift Destiny 2014 day of activities and worship that took place in the Nylon Capital Shopping Center on Saturday, Sept. 20. The venue did not come about by accident.

Rittenhouse said he was on his way home from work one evening and stopped in the parking lot of the shopping center, something he did on occasion. It was here that he says his heart experienced emotional confirmation that this should be where the Shift Destiny outreach should be held. I sat there and watched a young man walking along the sidewalk, wearing a hoodie and carrying a backpack. He looked just like my son, and I could see in the way he was walking and carrying himself so many of the things that had become familiar to me in watching my own son as he struggled with his addictions," he said. Rittenhouse said he remembered that the Nylon Capital Shopping Center was a focal point in his young life in Seaford. The place he went on a first date with his future wife at Seaford Bowling Lanes, and where his graduation party was held at the former Pappies pizza shop. This was the hub of activity when I was growing up," he said. The event at the shopping center and its success can only be measured by the number of lives that were touched and seeds that were planted. Rittenhouse would not say whether Shift Destiny will be an annual event. He would only say that the most crucial next step is to review the names of people who were invited and accepted the opportunity for a follow up visit from the Shift Destiny team. We will go through a debriefing, reflecting on the Shift Destiny week and event, and then assign the names to our teams for follow up visits," he said. In order for Shift Destiny to be what it was set up to be, we need to make sure that we stay united as the bride of Christ and ensure that we stay in touch with the people in our community who are seeking spiritual support. Otherwise this will have been nothing more than an event. And there are plenty of events." For more visit the ShiftDestiny2014 Facebook page.

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