Welcome to my STREET CHURCH - STORIES page
Here you will find clips from my blog postings that describe some of the things that happen at the Another Chance street church gatherings. To find out how I ended up here, read the "Father's Call" page. And of course you can also take a trip over to the Another Chance website.
First, a short overview: The Another Chance Street Ministry has been happening for about 5 to 6 years now (as of summer 2010). I've been involved for about 2 years. In the beginning, it was just Pastor Pete walking around the streets of our community (and some other nearby communities), reaching out one-to-one to the people he encountered. (You can hear him talk about that in this YouTube video). He also began offering breakfast on Sunday mornings in a local park, every Sunday of the year, no matter the weather. At first it was just a handful of folks, but over time it has grown, and has also moved location, but is still mostly an outdoor affair. This past year, we also had some indoor space loaned to us, where we had weekday morning coffee times, and when the indoor spaces weren't available, we just did it outside. At the moment, we are back to Sunday mornings, and of course still visiting with people on the streets (and in our homes), and walking alongside Father wherever He takes us.
And now, the stories (and some reflections):
FREEDOM TO DISCUSS : "REALLY CHURCH"
I am loving going to this early morning coffee time, where people are just free to talk together about whatever is happening in their minds and hearts and the rest of their lives... there just isn't any "gossip" or "politics" although all kinds of topics come up... there is honesty and thoughtfulness... and people LISTEN to each other with respect... and freely ask questions ...
There was some discussion around the video topics (since a couple other people had also seen the video)... and it was worthwhile, because it wasn't just "pat" ... and yes, You, Father, were part of the discussion, but not in a "preaching" way, but as one of the guys said, who isn't a Christian, he doesn't mind taking part in discussions about You at the coffee time, because the conversation is "respectful" : I think he meant that questions are accepted and alternative viewpoints are listened to and discussed respectfully, even while making You an important and relevant part of the conversation.... Like someone said the other day about the coffee gathering, "This is really church!" (church as your people just being together, and You there, and others not only hearing about You but seeing YOU living through Your people.... Yay!)"CHURCH" IN THE PARK
"Church in the park" every Sunday morning from about 8 to noon, drop-in... there isn't a "program" or "worship team" or "sermon" or anything, and while it's pleasant to be outdoors in the summer, those rainy spring and fall days, and these freezing, snowy, gray winter days aren't quite so pleasant... but there's always lots of hot coffee and good, filling breakfast, and a half dozen or so people who love God are there just to be friends with the street people ... and to "walk the talk" ....ME TALKING TO FATHER ABOUT REACHING OUT (it isn't always easy!)
It IS "organized" in that they are faithfully there and there is coffee and food... but beyond that there isn't a program... what happens is pretty much whatever is needed (besides coffee and breakfast!)... talking to folks, praying, maybe giving away your mitts on a cold day to someone who needs them more than you, finding out needs and figuring out ways to help... whatever... following the Spirit's lead... giving a cup of cold water in His name...
I want to go out and do something for people I meet along the way as I walk about my community. But every time I go out, almost, it seems like nobody wants to talk to me at all… Everybody rushing about… And yes, I find it hard to initiate conversations… especially since it seems like most of the people hanging around here are all men! There are so many men sitting around in the coffee shops these days, way more than before, and so few women. I wonder if a lot of the men have been laid off their jobs, and the women are having to work extra (probably in the low-paying jobs that are still available…) to keep their families going? Well, when I walk around, at least the beauty of Your world makes me smile without even meaning to - and lots of times that causes others to smile back!
I want to be hospitable. Lord, You know how I long to have my door open, a pot of soup on the stove, my home a lighthouse and port of safety and Christian influence and growth and down-home, old-time hospitality to my community.WHAT DOES THIS HAVE TO DO WITH BEING THE CHURCH?
I was just thinking about Pastor Peter, who spends his days, every day pretty much, with You and Your church out on the street…. Anyway, one of the things he’s been doing for a long time, is “church in the park” on Sunday mornings, dragging his barbeque out of his van, and making hot “breakfasts” (and supplying other needs too if needed) for local street people… along with a few other believers who also join them there, talking, building relationships, listening to Your Spirit guide them, living out Your life all year round in all kinds of weather…. definitely an “alternative” expression of “church” but one that really, really seems to reflect Your church we see in the New Testament!
Anyway… he feels You are leading him to expand on church in the park by adding a somewhat more formal “teaching” time…. he might be able to use a local “church basement” for those who are interested to move into after breakfast outdoors, though he dreams in the long-term of a “non-church-building” place where outreach activities plus gatherings of Your church can happen every day…
And then there is “evangelism/ great commission” stuff. Well… beyond the breakfast feeding of the “poor” and the relationship building and sharing about You that happens there, Pastor Peter also does that every day as he walks our streets and brings the gospel to everyone he meets (the not-so-poor too… not to mention that he has a habit of going around and talking to the “pastors” of the “local churches” … and also listens to the advice of a group of them whom he refers to, with a chuckle, as his “board!”)…
Anyway, as he walks around sharing the gospel, one-on-one, talking, building relationships… yes he definitely has the “gift of pastoring/ shepherding!” as well as carrying out the “great commission” in very practical and daily ways… he also takes care of physical and emotional needs of a part of society that many consider “throw-aways” (if they consider them at all)… AND those he reaches, he also disciples… on-going, daily, relationships (he’s been at this for years…). No, he doesn’t “stand on the street corner and preach to the lost” … but I wonder if his way isn’t more effective in the long run because of the discipling…
So Peter’s people, those who have believed, ARE YOUR CHURCH too!…FEELING ACCEPTED! RELATIONSHIPS HAPPENING
Oh dear… I’m afraid I’ve been rather thinking of them (well, those who’ve come to belief in - into relationship with - You) as new converts that “need to be brought into the church family” and so they are… and so it has been happening, Peter and them together, in relationship, on the street… but now he’s just wanting to take it a step further, to integrate them to some degree into the greater community of believers, to
maybe expose them to new relationships and sharing and teaching and one-anothering…. by providing a place (and no, he really doesn’t want it to be a “church building” ...)
So after breakfast I went to the upper room coffee time... It was such fun! ___ was there... she's had a hard time the last few years, bipolar and stuff... yet I found out today she has degrees in law and psychology, and at one time was married to a pastor.... Wow! The secrets people have! Anyway, she is so sweet and humble... and I think wanting to really know You more, eh? (I'd love to have her over for soup) .... So all of us around the table had great conversation... and suddenly, I felt really accepted there, for the first time... so yes, relationships are happening!.... and I am so happy!THE GOSPEL AND THE POOR
A NOVEMBER MORNING AT STREET CHURCH
Reading Psalm 71... In this Psalm, the king of Israel's purpose includes to receive from God His judgments and His righteousness, and then in turn judge God's people with righteousness and bring about abundance of peace... and to have compassion on the poor and needy and afflicted, rescuing them from oppression and violence, delivering and saving them from the oppressor, vindicating them ... so all the people will fear God forever, and the righteous will flourish.
Anyway, I was thinking about this... over and over in both the Old Testament and New Testament, there is this constant theme of justice, righteousness, peaces, crushing of oppression, delivering the poor, the needy, the afflicted. And that reminded me that that is the theme/ reason of the kind of fasting God wants from us, as well. I'm becoming more and more convinced that the "salvation" that God has provided is not just a "ticket to heaven" or even simply "spiritual salvation now and in eternity" ... but it also includes the practical, lived-out character and purposes of God, constantly, in all areas of the lives of His people... love, justice, peace, an end to oppression, caring for the poor, and so on.
It seems to me that the "gospel message" I have heard most of my life has rightly proclaimed salvation by the blood of Jesus... but has too often neglected the rest... Not meaning to, I hope... but then I think of the "scorn" from "evangelical churches" that I have witnessed toward the "liberal" churches and their "social gospel"... It reminds me of Jesus warning the Pharisees, who tithed even the herbs in their garden... but ignored justice and mercy and faithfulness, that "these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others." (Mt 23:23)
I got up this morning at 4:45 and boiled 2 dozen eggs. Then I went to church-in-the-park/ basement and it was so neat! And I learned some amazing things! Thank You, Papa!
When I got to church-in-the-park (aka, at the moment, church-in-the-churchyard-and-basement, lol!), I started setting things up. Pastor P came in and told me we can start using the stoves in the kitchen! Yay! So I can make up cheese biscuits, bread dough, etc, at home, and bring it in and put it in the oven to bake! I can also make porridge there! Even boil eggs there!
Looking forward to that, instead of always having to make it at home, and bring it with me, pulling it in my "granny cart" (since I usually walk, and it’s a half hour trek, and the weather is cold now, everything ends up cold, which is not so great! It will be awesome to be able to provide hot-from-the-oven/stove stuff!)
So I was digging around to see what was available for today. Coffee, black and green tea (quite a few people happily taking a couple tea bags home as well), hot chocolate, juice (well, made from powder…). B was outside cooking hot dogs on the campstove grill. Inside, I put out brown and white bread, and Eggo waffles by the toaster (with a variety of toppings, of course). Also instant oatmeal packets.
There was no milk, so one of the guys donated a couple twonies (those are Canadian $2 coins, for the information of you non-Canadians!), and another guy hopped on his bike and went to the 24-7 Convenience Store to get some. Also dug around in the fridge and found mandarin oranges, apples, homemade cookies, some Hallowe’en candy. And also put out the boiled eggs. It was a feast! Everybody (almost 120 folks turned up! It seems to grow every week!) sure enjoyed it!
It was such a beautiful morning. Very little breeze and almost clear sky – nice when the sun came up. Most of the folks were hanging around outside, but would come in periodically for coffee and food, and to warm up. It seems to me like a lot of people are hanging around longer, instead of just “eating and running.”
About 7:30 or 8:00, a teacher and 4 students from a local middle school arrived with bags and bags of clothes they had collected, after hearing about homeless people, and wanting to help out. They spread them out on at least 6 or more long tables, and all the street folks came in and joyfully dug through the piles of clothes. There were a lot of winter items (jackets, hats and gloves, warm pants, sweaters, sweat shirts, etc) and they were so happy to get them. A lot of people are still sleeping outside, even though it is November and the weather has been pretty cold (below freezing some nights) and wet. There seem to be more people still sleeping outside in November this year, than in previous years.
One lady, who is in a wheelchair following a stroke, was delighted with all the pretty, feminine clothes she found. She filled up the big bag on the back of her wheelchair, smiling from ear to ear. She said it was like Christmas! She couldn’t wait to go home and try on her new wardrobe – dresses, skirts, pants, blouses, sweaters, even pyjamas and underwear. She was SO happy! I was helping her pick out items, but pretty soon all the students joined in to help, and then even some of the guys helped.
People were happily choosing clothes for themselves – but then someone else would need something they’d already picked out, but couldn’t find any more – and those who already had picked out those things for themselves, would dig into their own piles and share what they’d found with the others! They also were picking out clothes for people they knew who couldn’t make it this morning.
As often happens, one of the men came in, concerned because no one had seen one of the street guys for several days. He talked about it to Pastor P , who promised to check the hospital and make some calls. The family on the street really do look after each other!
Of course there are some people who don’t get along very well with some other people – but everyone understands that at church-in-the-park you leave your disagreements behind. Because it is known to be a safe, family kind of place, a number of these “dislike relationships” have over time turned into good friendships!
About 8:30, a pastor who is also a ventriloquist arrived, and everyone sat down for a show (an unusual event at street church). It was really entertaining, lots of good jokes and laughter… but also a clear message of the peace and happiness God brings into lives, and encouragement to get into God’s Word, and come to know Him.
About 9:15, after cleaning up the hot-dog set-up, as well as the table of free Bibles and some other Christian literature, some folks came inside and helped clean up there as well. More and more people are pitching in to help set up and clean up. It used to be really on Pastor P’s shoulders a lot of the time, with some help from 3 or 4 volunteers, but more and more the street community themselves are really pitching in and sharing in the work.
(Oh yes! Someone had donated a bunch of reading glasses – and people were happily trying them on. Little things like that make a big difference in peoples’ lives).
Then those who wished to do so, sat down around some pulled-together-tables (Pastor P would love to get some couches!) with their coffee. After prayer (which also happens together at the beginning of the morning, individually or in small groups throughout the morning as people need it, and again together before everyone leaves), Pastor P brought some teaching. He had some new business cards, and he handed one out to each person. On the cards were listed, besides his contact information, some verses that are key to Another Chance Ministries. He read each verse by turn, and explained why he had chosen it for the card. At all times, people were free to ask questions or make comments.
Some of the new believers really have no “background” in the Bible or Christianity at all. They ask some really basic questions, and it is neat to hear Pastor P and others explain things in simple terms that they can grasp, using examples related to their own lives….
Questions like “ Why are some words in this Bible red?” … and “Well, if that is who Jesus is, then who is Christ?” (which led on to an attempt to simply explain the basics of the concept of the Trinity!), and, after Pastor P was reading the passage about the “woman caught in adultery,” the question, “Why did they only go after the woman? Men are worse adulterers!” (which led to a discussion of 1st century society… and then to present day differences in religious beliefs and in different societies… and how Jesus’ teaching on equality before God really upset(s) a lot of people!). Finally, the young woman who was asking these particular questions begged, “Stop! Stop! That’s all I can absorb at one time!,” and everyone laughed and agreed!
This is typical of “church services” at church-in-the-park: while Pastor P more often than not has a short “teaching” planned, the Spirit of God often takes it in some interesting directions or a different “plan” altogether, and Pastor P is very sensitive and open to that (but also very wise in recognizing things that are “rabbit warrens” and keeping the conversation and teaching from going those directions).
Also, of course, not only Pastor P answers and teaches and shares; others are also free to contribute, and do. No question or testimony or other sharing is looked down upon, from any person (although purposely silly or negative comments and questions are quickly dispensed with). Also, everyone is always encouraged to take a free Bible with them when they go, and to dig into it, learning from God’s Word themselves, and getting to know God on an on-going personal basis, rather than just depending on the teaching at the gatherings.
So… we had to pack up about 10 am, because the generous folks of St. Andrew’s Church, who so generously offered free use of their grounds and their fellowship area (dining room, washrooms, kitchen) – were gathering together to do some choir practice before their own church service, and to set up for their own coffee time. But as usual, we continued fellowshipping outside, until it was time for folks to head off to the soupateria for lunch.
CHURCHY VS RELATIONAL?
One thing Pastor Pete said is that he gets afraid sometimes that "churchy" people will try to rush things to get "results" with the Another Chance gathering, and that he hopes that instead they will observe and listen and build relationships ("love walking") and let God work things out His way and time. Sometimes I feel like maybe I'm out of place because I'm not "doing" anything other than sometimes baking something and sometimes chatting - but a lot of the time just sitting there quietly... and yes, watching... so that helped me, to hear him say that.A "SERVICE/GATHERING" AT STREET CHURCH
Went to Another Chance breakfast and church gathering... breakfast starting outside about 6:30, gathering around 8:45... normally till about 9:30 - but it was such a beautiful day we decided to do that outside too - and it lasted till nearly 10:30! Some people who feel uncomfortable going inside (into the church basement next to the lawn where the breakfast is held) seem more likely to stick around - and with coffee and cinnamon buns set out beside the group sitting around in lawn chairs, others going by stop for a snack, and some of them stay to listen in!
It was great - so much discussion, prayer, really good teaching on faith and its practical outcomes (deeds, works, actions, whatever you want to call them!), scriptures... and stories from Mexico, illustrating those principles, by a guy who just came back (he goes down a couple times a year to help out at a orphanage and so on). Then a far-ranging discussion...
And because for sure not everyone there is "churched" some really unusual ideas (for "church"!) are brought up... and the people are treated respectfully, but steered toward Jesus, the Truth and the Way... and if the conversation starts to go down rabbit-trails, Pastor Pete brings it back on-track, sometimes with a bit of humor, like "I don't believe in the X-men either!" ... and always bringing it back to the truth of the Word of God. I can imagine that if some of the ideas people brought up were mentioned in a more traditional "church" setting, there would be some gasps, and discomfort, and maybe people charging in with the Truth... But here, people are listened to, and treated with respect, and then the Truth presented gently and patiently (and humorously!). It's an awesome learning experience for me.
Pastor Peter was saying how he's going to be "ordained" next month (he's been "walking love" on the streets here for 7 years, since he became a Christian, learning from studying the Word, and sharing with others as he builds relationships and cares for the people on the streets) ... and one of the guys said, "I thought you were a believer, not into that religion stuff" ... and he replied, "Well, the apostle Paul says he was "all things to all people," and when I'm trying to explain my ministry to 'churchy' people, and trying to encourage them to reach outside their buildings, for some people in those churches, a "Reverend" in front of my name will give me more credibility to be listened to." [Those he reaches out to on the streets already all call him "Pastor" ... but he doesn't have 'formal' training... and he doesn't "look" like a "Rev" either... which is hard for some "church" people to accept]. Anyway, the guy smiled and said, "Oh I get it! That's okay, then!"
It turns out that one of the people at the gathering had come to our house a couple times back in the day when hubby and I had "Sunday Soup" every Sunday afternoon for anyone who wanted to drop in (we did it for at least 2 or 3 years, and there were a lot of different people over that time, so I didn't remember him specifically, though he did look familiar, and then when he told me who he'd come with and all, I remembered him!), and he was reminiscing about the "awesome soup", and wishing we'd do it again (we stopped because hubby's new work schedule at the time interfered...).
Well, ___'s message on faith and deeds was right on for me, a lot of confirmation of what You've been teaching me, Father! Thank You!
STREET CULTURE, AND POLICE, AND CHURCH PEOPLE...
At coffee time, Pastor Pete was talking about his "rules"- no swearing, no drinking or drugs, no fighting... but he said if someone is really in a bad space, like someone they love died or whatever, it doesn't matter how drunk or whatever, some and I'll cry with you - like Jesus!BUT I'M NOT "GOING TO CHURCH" ... FATHER?
They were also talking about the local town "culture" and how the police enforce it.... People get charged for walking across the street on a red light when there are no cars in sight, down and out people (sometimes drunk, but sometimes just hanging out) picked up and taken to the lock-up for a few hours (mostly because they don't make the street look pretty...) ... but they so often don't go near fights, drug-dealing, wild parties in school grounds in the evening, etc, so long as it's not done out where respectable people might see it; but if
its in a higher class neighborhood or an area where tourists gather etc, different story!. It's like the attitude is that as long as things look pretty and safe on the surface (for well-off people, or for tourists bringing in the bucks), who cares what's happening in alleys, back streets, low class neighborhoods, etc. And sadly, that ends up pretty bad for an awful lot of decent, ordinary people, who can't afford to live in the pretty, safe places... And I was thinking, yes, that affects an awful lot of people!
And he was also talking about people who come out to "volunteer" with him and are all gung-ho and offer to help... but after 2 or 3 weeks they stop turning up... and so he doesn't feel free to give out responsibilities (even when they ask) until he can see they really do plan to stick around... And he was talking about all the "background" stuff he has to do that he's hoping people will come to help out with... like shopping, and setting up Sunday mornings, and buying food... and I'm thinking, I want to help, I want to do stuff... but I just don't know what You want from me... Anyway, Father, You know what You want me to do... and also, I want to do what You want, not just to rush in and "do" ... maybe You still have me at the listen-and-learn stage... not just charging in.
I started thinking about how, even though for the past couple months or so I haven't "gone to our church" ... still, I have been with Your church a lot... Tuesday and Thursday coffee times, church-in-the-park (yesterday was special, talking and praying with one lady whose mom is dying, and with another lady who had gone through some really hard times lately), emails to and from a friend who really shares his heart from the Word, phone calls from a dear gal friend and also calls from my daughters... so nice to feel free to bring You into my conversations with them these days! Yay! Thank You!), listening in on those podcast discussions, reading peoples' blogs and articles, reading and responding to peoples' comments on fb - all these things examples of "where 2 or 3 are gathered in Your name, there You are with them!"
I'm feeling I want to spend more focused time with You, Papa, Jesus, Holy Spirit - my God! Not only want to, but must... because without really knowing You, how can I share You and Your love with others? If we aren't in continual, vital, "living love" relationship with You, and with others (with the brethren, other believers, Your church) (and reaching out to bring Your gospel to those who are lost, so they can come into salvation and this awesome love relationship with You and with Your church... in the kingdom of God,of heaven!)... well, we really are at loose ends, aren't we? I need to know You, to be in that "living love" relationship with You, always, constantly! Please! help me not to go down the "loose ends" pathway, please... Thank You!GIFTS FROM FRIENDS
On Sunday, one of the street guys brought me a red jacket that someone had given him to pass on to someone who needed one (he noticed that I have a warm winter jacket but not a spring jacket). And today, when I was out walking, one of the guys, who makes and sells jewellery to make a little cash, gave me a pearl necklace! I never have dull or lonely walks anymore - all the folks from Peter's gatherings are so friendly... and I am so happy I can't stop smiling - and all kinds of people smile back and say hello! You are awesome, wonderful, good, loving - Papa! Jesus! Holy Spirit! Wow! I love You, three-persons-one-God!BEING LIKE JESUS
Isa 42:3 "A bruised reed He will not break and a dimly burning wick He will not extinguish; He will faithfully bring forth justice... 6... And I will appoint You as a covenant [a new one!] to the people, As a light to the nations, 7. to open blind eyes, to bring out prisoners from the dungeon, and those who swell in darkness from the prison... 16. I will lead the blind by a way they do not know, In paths they do not know I will guide them. I will make darkness into light before them..." [ I think about how Jesus treated the poor and "sinners" ... and I see that reflected in our "street pastor" ... and I hope - pray - it may yet be reflected in me... please Father, Jesus, Holy Spirit - God!]SUNDAY THOUGHTS
Got up 3:30 am, made bread dough, went back to sleep till 4:30 am. Then got up and made fry bread (also made cow pattie cookies last night). Went to Another Chance church-in-the-park breakfast and church gathering from about 6:30 to 10:00 am. A couple of of my new friends came home with me for a little visit and coffee out on the porch.CHRISTIAN GHETTOS?
I'm thinking that we are to love and neighbor and to love God... and in building relationships, let them meet Father through His love walking in/through us. I like what I'm part of right now because there really is no "agenda" - not what they can give me in return (though they've been totally surprising me anyway in that regard - fertilizer for my garden, red spring jacket, pearl necklace... and so much appreciation and friendship! Wow!)... and not how they can fill the church pews (and add to the coffers or volunteer in church programs etc), and not how "good" they make "our church" look to the community (because a lot of people in the community are not impressed with them and would just like them gone or at least be well hidden), and no guarantees of "success" by most "standards" of either "church culture" or "society" or whatever...)
Today Pastor Pete was talking about how it seems like evil used to be in pockets (certain people,LIFE ON THE STREET
certain locations, etc) within society ... but now it is all through (and accepted widely ... only bad to be a Christian now...)... [but we don't see it, do we? We seem to pull into our little Christian ghettos... and don't recognize when it follows us in and draws us in too, do we?]
A couple guys from coffee time this morning came over to my place to get 5 bags of pop cans, and stayed for iced tea on the porch - lots of wild funny stories!
On the way to coffee time, I was just reaching Nanaimo Square (where some of the guys hang out) when I saw G stand up rigidly, then fall backward rigidly to the ground. He started having seizures and foaming at the mouth. Those of us there (pretty much the whole crowd of "the crew") got a man to call 9-1-1 (we ran around asking a bunch of people; some didn't have cell phones, but others just didn't want to get involved...), and I stayed until the ambulance guys came and got him.
Then I went on to the coffee time. Not too many people there (Pastor P. having gone out of town for a few days) but then a few came by. Still had some cookies left at the end so stopped back at Nanaimo Square and left the rest of the cookies with the people there.
At Coffee Time this morning, one of the guys was saying he wished there was something he could do for me, because he appreciated how much I care for people. And I was telling him what a privilege it is for me, especially since I have so little family here in town now... and then walking home, I realized, Papa, that You have given me a great gift in giving me a "new family" to love and take care of! Glory to Your name! Thank You! Praise God!THE RESOURCES ARE IN THE HARVEST?
And I also realized that in arriving at Nanaimo Square exactly when I did, You were listening to what I was saying yesterday about how I couldn't seem to find any of the regular street people... and this morning You gave me a wonderful opportunity. Thank You, Father God, in Jesus' name. Amen! Amen!
Pastor Pete is away, so he "cancelled" street church, but I thought not everyone would know. So I made 12 dozen cookies - it's a big recipe - about 3 ice cream buckets full! I got over to the breakfast-in-the-park place at 7 am and only one guy was there at first, but other people kept coming and going, and then another guy came and stayed. Overall, about a dozen people came... but nobody with food or coffee after all, so everyone was happy to eat my cookies! We stayed till 8 am, and one of the guys prayed for everyone. Then I walked around uptown and gave away more cookies, almost a whole bucket full in the end. (And after all, wasn't all that really church?)
One of the things I read in the Rabbits and Elephants book was to "trust God to provide the resources" (Lk 10:4) and I was thinking about that in relation to God sending me out on the street to spend time with the people there and show them His love... the book says the resources are actually in the harvest: your provision comes from the people you are trying to reach! I thought that was a bit different approach to how church ministry provisioning is usually done! Then I thought: it's like the red jacket that street guy gave me because I didn't have a jacket appropriate for the cool morning air at church-breakfast-in-the-park - and the encouragement they give me... and even the pearl necklace (which I wear everyday along with my simple cross necklace!). To me it has been a necklace of encouragement and confirmation! ha! "a pearl of great price!" I've been receiving all kinds of provisions and resources (from the harvest!) and didn't even realize it.
THROWING OUR PEARLS BEFORE SWINE?
PRAYING FOR THE STREET FOLKS ... AND THE CITYMatthew 7:6 "Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine" (I've often heard people say to focus on those who are most likely to come to the Lord: and they are often thinking of those who are already to some degree living a "Christian lifestyle" ... which seems to mean that they are educated, dress reasonably nicely, hold down a job, act respectfully in a church-ish kind of way... like so they'd "fit in" I guess .... BUT Jesus acted like it is those who are really "in need of a physician" who are the "fields ripe to harvest" ... And yet, our society (and sadly, too often ourselves and our churches) too often tend to think of them negatively as dogs or swine, and that it is a waste of effort to bother giving the "pearls" of the gospel to people "who are too lazy to work/ people who are bums/ people who are druggies..."
I saw J sitting in his wheelchair, and offered him a cookie... but he was so battered that he can't even eat. His lips are all swollen and cracked, his face all scraped, and his hands all dry and puffy and cracked and caked. He is skin and bones and his legs are just shaking. And he keeps throwing up clear foamy stuff. I placed my hands on his back and head, and prayed for him. That was quite a breakthrough for me... I can't get him out of my mind... Father, please take care of him, please heal him if it is your will, not just physically, but free him, please, Father, from the bondage of alcohol (Pastor P says that J really loves Jesus... oh Papa, please free him from this terrible bondage! thank You!) ... And I am also wondering how the guy who had the seizure in the street is doing... Now, when I go out walking uptown, when I wake up in the morning, when I'm doing my Bible reading, and other times, I find I am praying quite a lot for the people downtown... but also for the businesses, and other aspects of the city.EFFECTIVE FASTING...
Isaiah says, if you want your fasting to be effective, if you want God to hear you and respond to you, to come near to you, you must live lives of true righteousness, even as you fast and pray. What does truly righteous living look like? (Isa 58:6-14).SOME PROBLEMS
- loosen the bonds of wickedness, undo the bands of the yoke, let the oppressed go free, break every yoke (which of course starts with becoming freed from sin yourself, through belief in Jesus and sacrifice and death to yourself... and then bringing the good news of liberty and freedom to others as you walk with and abide in the Lord... and love and serve both God and others... all the time, as Jesus did, and as the Holy Spirit empowers you and guides you.)
- divide your bread with the hungry, bring the homeless poor into the house, cover the naked, not hide yourself from your own flesh (like Paul said, take care of your own families... hmmmm... not just leave it to the church... or the government?). (Do we really do this? We live in such a divided society... do we even want "the hungry and homeless" to be in our homes and eat our food (dividing it! Which means giving away some of what we intended to eat ourselves - might be a good thing for our expanding waistlines, eh?!? What if they come back and steal from us? What if they make our house smell funny? What if they swear in front of our children? Wouldn't it just be better to donate to the soup kitchen, or even volunteer (staying safely behind the
counter, preferably... hmmmm..) or, if we are really brave, making up some sandwiches to pass out on the street, and taking our cast-off clothes and raggedly blankets to the thrift store? Wouldn't that be enough? After all, surely we don't want "those kind of people" wandering in our neighborhoods - or even walking through our churches where we have valuable expensive musical equipment and such! (Or, heaven forbid, moving ourselves into their neighborhoods and becoming truly neighborly with them!)?
And as for those folks in third world countries, does it really make any difference to them if we "get involved." Won't the money or food we send just end up diverted by some rebel group or some evil government, anyway? And if we do "go," wouldn't a couple weeks helping build a house for people, or doing some skits or whatever, be just as good as spending the same amount of travel money, but staying there for a long enough period of time (years maybe), and living simply, with them, as friends and servants?
- give yourself (literally, furnish yourself) to the hungry, and satisfy the desire (soul) of the afflicted. (What? I have to give MYSELF? What does that really mean?)
- honor God's holy day of rest, desisting from your own ways and your own pleasure and your own word. (Okay! But we are freed from the law, aren't we? The whole Sabbath thing is by-gone, right? Anyway, isn't it more restful to go golfing, or relaxing and watching an entertaining video, or chatting with friends about the weather and about your favorite hobbies and your successes and all, while you chow down in "good fellowship" around the barbeque? Anyway, didn't Jesus say the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath? So shouldn't we be able to do want we want, what gives us pleasure and enjoyment - that's truly restful and relaxing, isn't it? And isn't every day the same anyway? What? It couldn't be that "fulfilling the law" means going beyond the law, could it? Sure, maybe Jesus was right that looking lustfully is as bad as committing adultery (though, boy oh boy, that seems pretty difficult - and unrealistic - doesn't it? Maybe He was just using hyperbole to make His point?) ... but surely He wouldn't expect us to carry that "holy day" thing into every day being a holy day?? Nah, that's just carrying it way too far... isn't it?)
There are getting to be a lot of out-of-towners at the summer breakfasts; unlike the year-round people, some of them don't respect Pastor Peter's efforts, and don't appreciate the efforts of the city's soup kitchen (which is run by volunteers in a facility built by a local church). The soup kitchen is having a lot of problems, withFATHER'S GARDEN
more people coming than they are set up for (this community is known as a summer resort area, and has a huge influx of people who come here to spend the summer relaxing in the sun...), people fighting, butting in line, taking more than their share of the food. There is potential for it to close down if things get worse.
Oh! I see! The "little" things You have me doing are like the "little" lawn and garden (postage stamp size, as they say), that I have here in my little yard, and that, even as small as it is, I have so much pleasure and joy and excitement watching them grow and green up and develop (every day, sometimes several times a day, I run outside to take another look! And to do a bit more work, add some more water, rearrange all those twigs in the garden so the cats don't come in a dig it all up) -JOINING IN THE HARVEST
wow, just like You look down on Your little garden here in this town, with love and joy and care and anticipation, and You keep on gently weeding and digging, and especially, watering with Your living water! And wonder of wonders, maybe my "little job" is being the garden hose, or the rake perhaps, or the garden fork, or even the little kitchen spoon I used to make rows for the seeds... these tools don't seem very exciting or important, each one on its own, but they are all working together to transform a dusty, yellowed, dying landscape, very slowly but very surely into a beautiful green, growing, soon-ready-to-be-harvested garden - a small corner of a vision of a little paradise-to-be, imperfect as it still is (I can't affford professional gardeners and landscapers to come in and make it instantly perfect, and anyway, that would take away all the joy and anticipation... and participation... and reality!)... as imperfect as it may always be, this side of eternity, but a joy nonetheless! Thank You!
John 4:38 "I sent you to reap that for which you have not labored; others have labored and you have entered into that labor." That's how I feel about where I am at right now - entering into the labor of those who have already labored long and hard (always, of course, including You, Papa, number One, with Your graciousness in allowing others to help, to participate, to journey with You! Wow!), and now You're allowing, inviting, guiding me into doing my small part... a cup of cold water in Your name - no matter how small or simple, it's important, eternally valuable in Your eyes! And perhaps even the joy of helping to reap, to bring in the harvest! Yes! Thank You! It all seems so worthwhile now that You are showing me what You see, what You plan and purpose, what YOU dream and envision... and WILL - have already done so, from eternity! - bring to pass! Thank You! Amen! Praise God! Hallelujah!BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU ASK FOR :-)
Papa, I’ve been asking You to use me on the street… and last night ___ said, “Be careful what you ask for…” and this morning I began to see what he meant. I got some stuff together to take to Tuesday morning coffee time… Well, I got as far as Nanaimo Square, and Pastor Peter was there with some of the crew, smiling and waving and calling me over. So I went and sat down with them for a little visit, and then I realized I was standing (in my open sandals) in piles of spit this old guy kept spitting up. Yep, it kind of grossed me out!.
Anyway, I had this big bag of food, so I gave L a bunch of it to take home for her and D, but she turned around and shared with the others… and everyone happily ate some of the coffee-time cookies and orange slices…
… So I went on to the coffee time … And then I was heading back home and stopped at Nanaimo Square again to see if anyone wanted the few remaining cookies etc… and chatted with the people there a bit – and J asked me if I’d push him around a bit in his wheelchair, and as I did (stopping in the shade to rest every little while), he talked and talked about his life… and I got in a few words about Jesus when he was talking about people who’ve died, but it seemed like I was just squeezing those words in; he just wanted someone to listen, maybe… he kept saying “hi” to everyone who passed by; a few said hi back to him, others nodded and quickly hurried on, and some just totally ignored him, which obviously upset him. We stopped at one point (in a back alley – he feels better there than out on the sidewalks of Main Street…) and a couple other guys came by and chatted a bit. We passed a couple sitting in their yard, and the guy was talking to J, and was concerned that his wheelchair didn’t have foot stands, and when I passed there on the way back from dropping J off at the plaza, the guy called to me and said he is a going to get some for him. Sweet!JUST DOING IT FROM GRACE?
This morning after breakfast, I made a carafe of coffee and took it, along with sugar and creamer and leftover biscuits and johnny cake, out in the drizzle, asking Papa to show me who to share it with. None of the “regulars” were in the regular spots, and I am a bit nervous about people (especially men) that I don’t know at all. I went by the band-shell at the Park where street people often go to sleep dry when it rains, but I only saw people I didn’t know, so I walked on around the park/beach from the Peach to the other side of the Inn, then came back to the band-shell and saw GJ there with some young folks passing through from Quebec, just getting up and packing their stuff – and they were all happy to have hot coffee, and some had biscuits too.
One of them asked me if I am a nurse or just “doing it from grace” (he said some places they’ve been, nurses come out and bring coffee!). I said, “Grace, I guess…because of the grace of Jesus.” (Thank You, Papa, for giving me boldness… and the opening of the young man’s question). I also told them about morning coffee on Tuesdays and Thursdays. GJ said something about getting preached at about Jesus, there … I couldn’t tell if he was just adding to the conversation, or if he was maybe upset by something he’d encountered at coffee time before? He speaks freely and cheerfully about Jesus out on the street… but I know one or two others have felt “preached at” at coffee time, and I’ve even wondered if that’s why D and L stopped coming; if they were “pushed” or something… maybe not, though; I don’t know)…
Oh! The young folks wanted to give me something in return… they offered me some jam they had, to put on the biscuits, or told me I could choose from some hood ornaments they had collected! I have noticed this about most street people; if you treat them kindly, they generally want to respond in kind! Often more so than “regular folks,” who really have far more to respond with…
(Father, I just keep coming, all over Your word, to references about caring for the poor and strangers and aliens (foreigners…)… and I know that often the references are to “those among you” or “in the church” or “of the brethren”… but not all of them, I don’t think… and anyway, we often don’t even go that far…)
(Papa? I only want to do what YOU want!) (You love everyone… You died for “whosoever believes” didn’t You, Jesus? It’s not Your will that any should perish but that all should come to repentance, right?)
PERSONAL QUESTIONS AND DOUBTS - ASKING FATHER
Oh, Papa… I have a little question… feeling like maybe it’s rude (or at least “intolerant” or “not PC!”) but may I ask You anyway? Please? Listen, I was walking around yesterday, and as usual, there were some street people just hanging out at the far corner of the park by the mouth of the creek… which, undoubtably, is a nice place to hang out… but Papa (and I’ve wondered this over and over through the years), how can people just “hang out”… I mean, it’s nice and relaxing and friendly now and then, but day in, day out, week in, week out… yes, even year in, year out?!?!? They seem to wake up about 6 or 7, get a coffee if they can, go hang out near the liquor store till it opens at 9 am, find a spot to sit and sip till 11:30 or so when it’sAND A BUNCH MORE "WONDERING" QUESTIONS TO FATHER
time to go to the soupateria; then find a comfortable spot (like in the park at the mouth of the creek) and sit there for the rest of the day, finishing their bottles until most of them are pretty much dozed-out-drunk (which, I suppose, is why Pastor P visits with them early morning… and me, too… you can actually have a good conversation etc, but later in the day I find conversations increasingly inane and non-conversational, composed a lot of crass joking and crass laughter…
I am not comfortable (or even feeling safe, depending on who is there) going over and visiting them in the afternoon… Is that evil or prejudiced or whatever, of me? Or maybe just reality and common sense? Papa? Maybe I should ask Pastor P about it? …. Anyway, somewhere between 4 and 7 or 8 pm most of them just wander off and disappear for the night… (it really surprises me the difference in people when they are sober in the morning – and are lively, interesting, thoughtful – even Jesus-loving! people… and then they get the alcohol (and/or drugs… alcohol, generally cheap wine/sherry, seems to be the “drug of choice” among the “regulars” on the streets… there are younger ones who do drugs, but I think most of them don’t last too long… so sad all round…)
(It confuses me, Papa, how people can know and love You – apparently – yet remain in such bondage to the chains of the enemy in the forms of alcohol and drugs and the street life … there of course are some “success stories” for sure… but not so many??? But isn’t that true in the world generally – including among those whose lives look good… and even among those “in the churches” (with just as high or higher divorce rates, gossip, judging, not looking after one another, etc, as those “in the world”…)
Oh, Papa… the question I had (if I haven’t yet come right out and asked it – I think maybe I haven’t) – is, how can people sit around and basically “do nothing” day after day after day?!?! (Okay, that’s my question!) What kind of life is that?!?! And to be always “bumming” off others? And spending all their cash on booze etc? And deserting their real families for the “street family?” (Well, not everyone has a great “real family” to desert, of course…) (A lot of them really are family… really do take care of each other out there…) Is that why “churches” have tended to ignore them pretty much – because they “seem so lazy” and don’t seem to be interested in changing?
Okay, so I have more wondering (dare I say doubts?) about this whole street ministry thing. Warning: these are probably NOT PC questions….
By providing soupaterias, morning coffee and muffins, breakfast in the park, etc… are we really “giving a drink of cold water in Jesus’ name” or are we simply encouraging and sustaining a dependent, drug-addictive lifestyle? Are we being helpful or are we alternatively being co-dependent? What about the saying to the effect, “Give a man a fish and he’ll be hungry again tomorrow; teach him to fish and he’ll be able to feed himself forever”?
Would it be better to just focus on those who really “seem” to want to live “better” (more healthy, productive… I don’t know… “normal” lives)? If so, how does one determine who those people might be? Maybe, after all, it is the simple, practical, everyday caring (especially with taking time in all that to sit down and listen and become friends, building real, on-going, consistent, trust-building, practical loving and caring relationships – not just the “across the desk interview” type that is generally true of institutional/ organizational relationships) that in the end, gives people the personal choice (and even desire) to change their lives – or more precisely, to accept Jesus and allow Him to change their lives… because if a person doesn’t personally
desire and choose change, it isn’t likely to be long term, no matter how professional and well-funded and well-meaning the “change providers” might be… right?
I think the thing I see in what Pastor Pete is doing, in that he is very simply, day after day, year in and year out, with no expectation of personal “profit” or of any kind of “checklist of behavioral changes” or anything, other than a deep desire for everyone he meets to encounter the Jesus who loves them and whose love he himself has experienced in a totally life changing way, actually “living Jesus” – love walking, as he calls it – before people, and in that, letting them see that Jesus is real and worth knowing following and being in relationship with!
Pastor P himself, of course, probably wouldn’t fit a lot of peoples’ checklists: he still has long hair and tattoos and wears sweat pants and muscle shirts and looks more like – ha! a trailer park guy maybe! – and he doesn’t “work a normal job” although he certainly could if he wanted too; he has the training and experience, for sure… and he has his own family problems (which some folks would probably say he should focus on more instead of spending time helping this “street family” with their problems (although many “normal” men “work full time jobs” and still don’t focus much on their families…
Checklist type people, I suppose, just wouldn’t see helping out a bunch of “drunks and druggies and transients and bums and mental-health-issues-people” to be a legitimate full-time job… unless of course it was a paid position, in a recognized “professional ministry” or government organization or whatever… because apparently just being “called by God” and walking day by day up and down the streets with Him, without any formal support, formal training, formal job description, formal organizational backing – any formal man-designed and maintained and ordered framework, foundation, etc., is simply not acceptable nor potentially “successful,” in checklist, goal-setting, accountability-type terms!) Well, see, Pastor P wouldn’t fit a lot of peoples’ checklists… but he does, on second thought, look an awful lot like the Jesus we see in the gospel stories.
I suppose this all – this “living like Jesus” – is admirable in a way… but then the question arises, is it practical? What about the effect on his family (living very close to the “economic edge” financially (indeed, over the edge, according to any respectable “accounting”), supposed “embarrassment” for the children over how their dad looks and who he hangs out with (only they don’t look embarrassed to me…), his wife having to work full-time to support the family (even if it by her own choice), not being a “productive, dependable, committed” part of a specific “church” (besides the very real one “in the park”!), not having formal training and certified credentials… not to mention the simple fact that he doesn’t carry around a “success checklist!”
Sure, over the years, quite a lot of people have come into relationship with Jesus (hundreds... how many local churches can say that?)… and have gotten clean from their addictions, and some have even gotten “real” jobs and homes (simple ones, mostly, though, that allow them to stand alongside and work together with Jesus and with Pastor P…)… but what about the others who still are struggling out there on the streets, still struggling with addictions, still not “working”? (Well, of course, indeed, what about all those formal government-sponsored and church-organization-sponsored “treatment programs” that themselves only boast a 3 percent or so “success rate”??)
(Does this mean that maybe our “focus” is all wrong? Maybe instead of focusing on the already-down-and-outs, we should be focusing on keeping the “already-healthy” continuing to be healthy – and of course, ideally, providing the environment and resources and so on, to encourage the up-and-coming generations to choose to follow the “already-healthy lifestyle” … you know, with Sunday Schools and youth groups and sports programs and good Christian and/or good public schools, for the children and youth, and nice, busy, encouraging programs for adults… Then our society will surely be a nice (Christianly…) society, and the addictions and street people problems and crime and stuff will just die out, and things will be once again like in the “good old days when this was a Christian nation.” Right… sure… which good old days were those again? Has there ever been a time without poverty and exploitation and messed-up-lives? (And how many truly happy and “normal” and holistically healthy, rich, successful people have you ever know?) (Okay, yes, I’m going here beyond un-PC to tongue-in-cheek-irony-type questions….!)
But Jesus Himself hung out – lived – with the poor and dispossessed and generally the pariahs of society: traitorous tax-collectors and low-level-laborer types were among His closest friends and “inner-ministry-circle,” and He didn’t “work a normal job,” and the women who followed Him around and helped (and yes, also supported Him financially in some cases) included prostitutes and other disreputables (as well as a few “upper-class” women, go figure!). In fact, one woman brought a whole city to Jesus – and she’d been married 5 times and presently was “shacking up” with some guy, and was so looked down upon that she had to go get water from the well – a “community” kind of activity – by herself because the other women didn’t want to be with her. Yep – Jesus’ friends and followers were low-caste sinners for the most part. He and His close followers lived a lot of their lives “in the streets.” They didn’t habitually wash their hands properly before eating. They picked and ate grain and stuff from the fields as they passed by. When they went out to “minister,” they only had one outfit – no change of clothes, and no wallet with money for restaurants and hotel rooms. And they bunked in with whoever would take them in and give them a meal… and so on and so forth… They even went to wedding parties where not only did wine flow freely, but Jesus Himself provided extra wine: gallons and gallons of it!
(And don’t give me some weak excuse about how a lot of that was “cultural” and somehow “normal” in its “historical setting.” If it was, why would the wealthy, “righteous,” clean-living, good-guy, “normal” citizenry (scribes and Pharisees and such) have been so horrified and scornful (and feeling threatened, as the “unwashed masses” joyfully followed this low-caste, uneducated, upstart, self-styled teacher… who instead of trying to turn the masses into nice citizens who met the check-list requirements, was just feeding them and healing them – not to mention eating with them and even drinking with them – right there where they were!)
Oh! And bringing them the good news of a God who loves them and who has provided the way – the only real way – to be freed from the slavery to that which is at the root of all misery: sin! “God so loved the world” – that’s what people are longing for above all else: that true, perfect love. “Not as the world gives,” either! But the one real love relationship that lasts forever and is 100% dependable. Of course, even with Jesus, a lot of folks ate the fish and loaves, and followed Him around, and received healing, and witnessed “signs and miracles” … and then rejected Him in the end because they wanted “here and now” earthly solutions (like the conquering king who would smash the Romans… or even the nice guy who would continue to provide free meals…). But for those few (and they were few, a tiny minority, really) who genuinely accepted Jesus’ love and His message, not only were their lives changed (and not so that they looked like the “normal” nice-guy, righteous-living, Pharisee types), but they “turned the world upside down!” Even the Pharisees, amazed at
watching the disciples after Jesus ascended and sent the Holy Spirit, had to grudgingly concede the amazing lives of those uneducated, low-class followers, and note “that they had been with Jesus.”
So, I don’t know all the answers to all those questions. But I do know – take note! – that for at least a few (a lot of!)people out there on the street, they have encountered the love of Jesus and accepted it, because they have seen it lived, walked out, consistently and long term, in the lives of Pastor Pete and others who, without judgment and checklists, have loved them, fed the hungry, clothed the cold, visited those who’ve been in and out of prison, listened to their stories, comforted them… and introduced them to Jesus!
Well, then, that’s answer enough for me.
(Time to read Your word – thank You for speaking to me already by Your Spirit… Oh Lord… let this be Your day, Your way, I pray. In Jesus’ name, for His (Your!) sake. Amen! Thank You! (Sorry for all my doubts and questionings and wonderings….)
FATHER, YOUR WORD BURNS IN MY HEART...BUT...
Father, I like baking and visiting and stuff for people… but oh, Papa, Your Word BURNS in my heart and I want to SHARE YOU in word as well… both written and spoken/ teaching. Yet at the same time I have become more quiet, slower to jump into conversations… more of a listener… and I think that has been of You, too… I really have needed to learn to LISTEN!!
THE WORKER IS WORTHY?
CARING AND SHARING ... VS CO-DEPENDENCY?Father, Pastor Pete said that he is going to go around to the churches and see if they will help him out financially on a regular basis so he can take better care of his family. Well, it is sure true that he is taking care of the poor and downtrodden in a way that most churches are not, and as I read in 1 Corinthians 9 today, the worker IS worthy of his wages… and the church here, if the NT pattern is to be followed, IS “the church at Penticton” and so the believers should all be sharing in supporting those who do the work… on the other hand, it appears to me that Paul is saying that support should come from those whom the worker is leading to/ in the Lord… so does that mean that those P leads to the Lord should be supporting him financially as much as they can? (This might be a way to encourage them to put some of the extra income, from bottle collecting, fruit picking, whatever, to Pastor P and to the activities of the ministry/ outreach, which might also result in less money to be tempted to spend on drinks, etc??) Father?
CLEANING OUT MY CUPBOARDS
This morning at coffee someone had left (donated) some nice shoes and they were taken joyfully by someone else. One of the guys had no socks, and another guy gave him his extra pair. Pastor P gives out socks regularly…. I guess when people don’t have washing facilities or homes, they just wear their socks till they are unwearable anymore?... and one guy was needing a backpack, so one of the gals gave him hers. Sometimes I’m thinking, “Why don’t you just straighten out your life?” But I’m beginning to see how difficult that is. And, I am blown away by how these guys and gals are so real family to each other, helping and caring for each other far more generously than the rest of us do (when everything they own is in a backpack!). … Yet then I find myself thinking, “Hmmm… co-dependency…” and yet, when I read how the early church totally shared and cared, you don’t find me thinking, “Co-dependency!” about them. Of course, they also insisted that those who could work to support themselves, did… and that those who couldn’t, and who were supported by the body, were those who fulfilled certain criteria (like widows who had no one to take care of them, and were too old to remarry). At the same time, when circumstances (like poverty caused by famine, persecution, etc) occurred, the others pitched in joyfully and totally generously (even when they had little themselves) to support and help.
I guess it requires wisdom to know the line between “caring and sharing,” and “co-dependency.” (And getting to really know people… and understand the circumstances they are in… and find out how far they’ve already come… and know their heart… boy oh boy, what a difference that understanding makes… I’m embarrassed about how I’ve been thinking!) That’s why teaching and encouragement and edification and prayer and seeking and obeying and loving the Lord .. and loving one another with the love of the Lord… are so important… How long does it take to move new believers into a mature walk and relationship with God and with the body? How are we to “judge” when they’ve “gotten there”? (oh dear! I’d hate for my journey to be judged! I’m so slow!).
This morning I went to Tuesday coffee time, took a bag of little shampoos, pencils, notebook, bandaids, etc… stuff I gathered up when cleaning out the bathroom cupboards yesterday. The street guys joyfully dug through it right away. The only stuff that was left was some girl stuff (hair things, lotions, etc) as none of the gals turned up…PRODIGALS ?
Hot dogs were the breakfast menu today! Being a long weekend, and being so hot, there weren't a huge number of street people out for breakfast... yet at one point there were 19 people sitting in on the teaching/discussion time! The barbeque had already been turned off but people kept arriving so they turned it back on and made more hot dogs ... and people sat down and listened while they ate. The scripture was on the parable of the prodigal son ... a lot of people there could really relate to it... kind of neat! Well, really neat actually! Lots of personal stories and discussion.CONVERSATIONS
GJ came, I think it's his first time on Sunday. There is another young guy, he's on disability, originally from Quebec, trying to step out on his own. Anyway, he is a Christian. He had a Bible (King James, I think) and was reading it. I asked if he reads in French, too, and he said yes, but he had lost his French Bible. So I gave him the French NT/Psalms I carry in my bag. He was happy, especially since it was the Segond translation, his favorite. Then C, another guy, was telling me his adventure being in jail overnight (drank alcohol, which mixed with his meds - he has anxiety disorder – and he blacked out...). Anyway, then D told me that he and L had had an argument (she is bipolar, and her meds aren't working too well just now), and she went out last night, and didn't come home, so he was out looking for her this morning, and feeling really sad. And D was there with his new girlfriend. I had pictures of his baby from 2 or 3 years ago when I knew him and his former wife (his wife developed mental illness and got hospitalized, and he kind of went off the deep end, and their baby ended up being adopted out...), so I was going to give them to him, but his new girlfriend clings to him; I think she doesn't trust me, she won't leave his side when I'm anywhere in sight. Anyway, I talked to her, asked her about her kids etc, told her about my husband and kids and grandkids. I met a new guy, G, and we talked about logging. I talked to lots of others too..BABY PICTURES
Later on in the day, when I was driving to the store, I saw D walking. I pulled over and talked to him; he hadn't found L yet but was heading home to see if maybe she'd come back there. I told him I'll pray for them... oh Lord, please help their relationship - with each other and with You... and please heal L from her illness, if it be Your will, or else help her to turn to You for her help and comfort. Thank You, Lord! I told him if he can't find her, he can come over to our house and I can drive him around, see if he can find her, in case she's gone to the other end of town or something.
I took cow-patty-cookies (oatmeal unbaked cookies), puffed-wheat-squares and blueberry scones to church in the park. I was finally able to give D those pictures of his baby (since his girlfriend wasn't with him). He was so happy! He had no pictures of the baby, and so he was proudly showing them to everybody, and they were all saying how much the little guy looks like him. Thank You, Papa!OBSERVATIONS: "REAL" CHURCHES AND STREET CHURCH
While I as walking home after street church (yes! The whole time is church, isn’t it? Even the food prep ahead of time!); anyway, of course I walked by several "real" churches… and they were all surrounded by mostly fairly nice vehicles… and not a person in sight, not a sound escaping from the buildings… so quiet!
(I did see one guy sitting in his van drinking coffee… but it was packed with stuff… maybe he was just borrowing their parking lot space? Or??) Strange… kind of like those futuristic movies with no people… or like that series on the Discovery Channel that talks about what might happen if all humans suddenly died/disappeared…. The first few hours/days when all the signs of human habitation were still there – but no humans… there weren’t even any animals/pets in sight, for that matter!
Anyway, I felt lonely walking by those churches. Of course I know that I could just go in there and be welcomed (though I’m not so sure about my granny cart and/or backpack, and my blue jeans and wind-blown messy hair… especially if I wanted to take my cart into their sanctuary with me… )… but I’m
wondering, what do “non-churched” people think when they walk by those beautiful big buildings surrounded by so many cars… and not a person in sight? “Not a sign of life!”
Wouldn’t it be something if some of those church folks just stood around outside, on/by the public sidewalk, even during the “service,” and greeted and chatted with people passing by, maybe handed out coffee….
It’s so cool at street church. We’re sitting and standing around on lawn chairs, on steps, even sitting on the curb of the sidewalk and on the grass in warm weather, talking together about You, sharing our walks, praying with each other just naturally, eating and drinking coffee together, laughing, listening…. People walking by are always greeted and invited to have a coffee and snack… and they are chatted with (and the discussion takes a break to make them feel welcomed) and lots of them decide to have a coffee, and even sit down and listen in to, even join in, the conversation.
One couple came by this morning, and accepted coffee, but were apologizing for “interrupting.” And I just burst out cheerfully, “There is no interrupting around here!” And they said, “Really? Okay! Can we sit down for a bit?” And of course we told them to go ahead, chatted with them a bit, and carried on. And that’s typical at street church! That’s church! That’s being in fellowship with You and Your people – and reaching out, naturally, with friendship, relationship – to each other and to the world that’s passing by!
Hmmmm…. Wouldn’t it be cool if there were little street churches outside church buildings all over town – and if churches all built old-fashioned “stoops” out front, lol!
STREET CHURCH MORNING COFFEE TIME
(Just a note... I posted this to a writer's group I belong to, and the general consensus was that it was a nice story - though it needed some improvements in the writing - but that it wasn't realistic. So... just for the record... this is a true story, just one average kind of morning at coffee time). (At the request of the writer's group, I rewrote the story with explanatory details - you can find it here - but I think this original catches the flavor better!)
“Check it out!” Steve laughed, as he dumped half a dozen tattered plastic grocery bags onto the ground, and plopped himself cheerfully into a battered black lawn chair.
The rag-tag group, in the dirt parking lot, chilly hands curled around Styrofoam cups full of steaming coffee, turned to look in Steve’s direction. Joe remarked, “Looks like you’ve been busy already this morning, buddy!” Steve dug into the bag closest to him, and agreed, “Real back-alley treasure chests this morning!” He held up a pet dish with an attached water container, and handed it to Marie. “Your kitty is going to love this.” Next, he pulled out a couple pairs of slightly used leather shoes, one pair white, the other black. “Check out what great shape these are in! Looks like they might have belonged to a nurse. Anyway, they’re hardly used.” He held them out to the shortest guy in the group. “Maybe they’d fit you?”
Dave laughed and replied, “Don’t think so. I’d have to take a sledge-hammer to my feet to try to squeeze them into those. But yeah, they are in great shape.”
“%*@#%@*!” Bill hollered, as hot water splashed over his hand from the well-worn old thermos, which had tipped when he pushed down on the spigot. “Hey! No swearing around here,” Vicky called out, and everyone chucked, for this was rule number one of the five street breakfast rules. The other rules, as everyone knew, were no drugs or alcohol, no colors, no fighting – and rule number five, no yawning! Nobody was sure where number five had come from, but it was somehow appropriate. After all, coffee, juice, boiled eggs, fresh baked pigs-in-blankets or barbequed hot-dogs, and cereal and milk were placed out very early every morning on a battered old plastic folding table, year-round, no matter the weather.
A well-dressed couple, he in suit and tie, and she in dress and heels, walked sedately by on their way to work. “Hello there!” hollered Pastor Pete. The couple looked sideways rather nervously at the dozen or so guys and gals gathered round the table. They started walking a bit faster, the woman’s heels tap-tapping more quickly on the paved sidewalk. “Come on and join us for some coffee!” Pete offered. The couple peeked again over their shoulders as they hurried past, and shook their heads, “No thanks,” with embarrassed smiles. “Well, God bless!” Pete called after them.
The door at a nearby construction office opened, and a young woman stepped out, coffee mug in hand, and walked across to the group. “Hi! My name’s Joanne!” She walked around, shaking hands with everyone. “I work over there, and I see you out here every morning. The boss is out just at the moment, so I thought I’d come over and meet you all.”
Everyone cheerfully said hello, and Kevin asked, “Want some breakfast?”
“Oh, no thanks, I’ve already eaten,” she replied. “But if it’s okay, I’d like to hang out for a bit, as there’s nothing happening over at the office right now.” Within moments, Kevin and Joanne were deep in conversation about construction work, and others in the group were soon joining in.
Steve was still digging in his bags, and brought out a handful of keys and locks. “Can you believe this?” he asked June. “I actually found keys and locks that match!”
June laughed. “That’s a rare find, for sure.”
“Yeah,” Steve added, “but of course I also found some keys that don’t have locks that go with them.”
June looked at the two keys he held out in his palm. “Wow, those look just like the key I lost for my bike lock. I was thinking I’ll have to get the lock cut off.”
Steve handed the keys to her. “Here, take them and see if they fit. I’d just have to throw them out otherwise.”
Just then Mike ran across the street, a big grin on his face. Pastor Pete commented, “You look warmer this morning than usual.”
Mike answered, “Yeah, I actually slept well last night, even though it was raining and close to freezing! Say thanks for me to whoever donated that blanket, eh? First time I’ve been warm enough to sleep through the night since the downtown businesses got together and put those bars across the warm spots by the heat ducts!"
Three or four of the guys nodded sympathetically. “Know just how you feel,” Marv said.
Fred wandered in from the street, and went quietly up to Kevin. Fred was shaking with cold, even though he was wearing a jacket and warm gloves. “Hey, Kev, buddy,” he spoke quietly, “Do you think you could do me a favor?” He pulled off a glove and held out a hand with fingers that were stiff and white from the cold. “I got terrible circulation. Do you think you could pour me a coffee, so I can wrap my fingers around the cup and thaw them out? If I try to do it myself, I’ll probably spill.”
“Sure,” Kevin responded, and poured him a cup of steaming coffee, around which Fred gratefully curled his fingers.
Dana quietly sidled up to Pastor Pete. “I’m kinda having a rough time,” she confided quietly. Pastor Pete gently took her by the elbow and they walked a few steps away from the rest of the group. The others noticed, but respectfully kept their distance, as pretty near every one of them, at one time or another, had themselves confided in their street pastor. They knew from experience that Dana would find help – a listening ear, a prayer, a gentle direction to relationship with God, some warm clothes, a place to sleep, a connection to professional care, a toothbrush and toothpaste, clean socks, food for her children… It probably wouldn’t be fancy, but she would be treated with dignity and care, with God’s love shown in practical ways, and that was what mattered. She, like hundreds before her, would be given another chance.
The sun was finally peeking over the mountain top, and its rays began to warm the chilly early morning air. The thermoses of coffee had run dry, and the baked goodies had all disappeared. Everyone pitched in to pack up the remaining cereal and milk to be saved for tomorrow’s street breakfast, and the last few boiled eggs were tucked into pockets for lunch snacks. The table and lawn chairs were folded up and packed away into the truck of Kevin’s old beater car, and into Pastor Pete’s tired van.
Steve packed up his bags, and was getting ready to leave when he stopped, put the bags down again, and pulled out the shoes once more. “Here,” he said to June, “I don’t know who can use these. But you probably know someone. Can you pass them on?”
“You bet!” June responded happily. “I know someone who could use them, for sure!”
Once again, Steve gathered up his tattered bags of back-alley treasures, tied them together, and lifted them over his shoulder. “Thanks for the coffee and goodies! See y’all tomorrow morning!” And, laughing, he headed down the alley to check out another dumpster’s treasure chest.
INTERESTING BREAKFAST MENU
So this morning up at 4:45 am! Made dough for pigs-in-blankets. Also took boiled eggs… and all the stuff I got yesterday for amazing prices (24 doz wieners at $1 a doz, and large tins of coffee for $5 bucks, and lots more! Yay! Thank You, Father, for such great deals! You really are providing for your people. Thank You!). Anyway, my granny cart of full and way overflowing… and I had my backpack full too! Weighed a ton! Just ate a small yogurt before I left home, and by the end of my half-hour walk, I was so dizzy! Good thing R had made a delicious pasta salad with those mac noodles donated yesterday.FAMILY TIMES
And I made the pigs-in-blankets and some cheese biscuits: so good fresh baked. Thanks to the church who generously allow us to use their kitchen and dining facilities 4 mornings a week, for free! Wow! Please bless them, Father! Thank You again! Anyway, after I ate some salad and biscuits I felt a lot better. Of course there was toast, and cereal and milk, and boiled eggs, and coffee and juice too. People are sure hungry! But they love coming for our breakfasts, no matter what “strange” food combinations we might have available. Now that’s a joy – for me!
These morning “coffee” times started about a year and a half ago, and we thought maybe 4 or 5 people would turn up, two mornings a week. Well! Now we are doing 5 mornings a week (in addition to full breakfast on Sunday mornings, which often bring 80 to 100 people, and up to 200 in summer) and we are averaging anywhere from 30 to 50 folks for coffee (and whatever food we happen to bring along). While the majority are men, we are getting more women and children, too.LISTENING TO EACH OTHER AND ENCOURAGING
And it’s not only about food. People hang around for an hour or two, and many offer to help set up and clean up, and Pastor P always leads in prayer a couple times, and everyone stops and participate, or respectfully listen quietly. And there is always discussion going on about our Lord, and witness to what He is doing in peoples’ lives. And there is counseling and listening ears for those who need it.
I have always loved baking, and family time. And now that my five kids are grown up, I’ve sometimes felt pretty lonely. But Papa has filled my “empty nest” with a big new family! Awesome.
DIFFICULTIES: OTHER PEOPLES' VISIONS FOR US
I sat in a lawn chair and started to chat with those who came by. And this one guy was telling me about getting mugged and beaten up a few days back. And how bad things seem to happen one after another. And I was able to share, from his experiences, and from my own experiences, too, about how, when we come to the ends of our ropes, and there is nothing we can do, ourselves, to fix or solve our problems, then we are ready to turn to You. And so we can see that our piled-up-problems, when we are able to look back at them, are really a blessing. Because those seeming terrible problems and difficulties can really take us out of our self-sufficiency, and point us to You.
And later, one of the guys came over and hugged me and told me, over and over, how much they all appreciate me being there, and “what I do for them.” And I was able to thank him – thank them – for being a family for me now that so much of my family is grown and moved to distant locations. I said, “I feel like a mom again!” And he laughed and said, “But I’m probably older than you.” Then we compared notes, and discovered that we are the same age. “A very good year!” we agreed. So we decided we are twin-brother-and-sister in You. I was very happy.
This past week (weeks, at least a couple), have been difficult at street church. There have been several “incidents” – guys just acting “crazy” (at least one ending up in the psych ward at the local hospital), and Pastor P reacting – kind of over-reacting, compared to what I’ve seen before. Since a number of local church pastors offered to be a “board” for him, and recommended that he turn his personal street outreach into a non-profit “society,” I think he has been under a lot of pressure.
It seems like these “church-y” board members, who really are well-meaning, and excited about “reaching out” to a part of the local population which has not been “reached” by “churches” in the past, are laying demands on him that just are not in sync with what Father has led him to do: build relationships with street people and others who are “on the edges of society,” and live the Jesus-life with them – which has resulted in many of them coming to know and walk with Jesus themselves. I think the “pastors” on the “board” are pushing for more “structure” because that is what they “know.” They want to “help” and to “be involved” but it seems they cannot picture doing things outside the “structured approach” they are familiar with.
For example, in the past, “street church” or “church in the park” has really been that. But they think it would be “more effective” if it were “a mission” which seems to mean “held indoors” – and apparently that means preferably in a “church facility.” While it is nice, in really cold winter weather, to have an indoor space available – even the “street people” appreciate that – most of the street church guys and gals feel more comfortable outside in the park when the weather improves – and it certainly “reaches out” more effectively. So as the weather has improved significantly lately, with the arrival of spring, the street church folks were eager to get back to the park, and indeed, we had “Easter street church” back in the park, much to everyone’s delight. Everyone, that is, except the “board” and a number of “church people” who were quite perturbed, and wanted it back “indoors.” The “church” who generously shared their building over the cold winter months were quite disappointed, as they are happy to be “involved” in “outreach” by sharing their building. So today we were back at “the church” although we only used the indoors for the washrooms and for making coffee… everything else was outside on the “church lawn” …
Still, even though we weren’t where we’d really like to be, this morning there was a strong sense of joy and praise and freedom, and of the Spirit of God in our midst – and a bunch of people who haven’t come for some time turned up… so maybe Father is asking us to meet other parts of His church “in the middle” so to speak… Papa???
WHO ARE THE TRULY POOR?
(This was a long post, and I am only going to list some of the questions I asked. If you'd like to see the whole post, it is here).
Who are the truly poor? Do you ever wonder about that? Do we really have “poor people” here in our Canadian communities?OUTER APPEARANCE VS HEART
So, yes, I’m wondering. Who are the truly poor, right among us? We are called, as believers, to care for the poor. In fact, it is one of the most repeated commands/ directives/ principles in all of scripture. How do we fulfill those?
Who are the poor? The “working poor” who, even though they work hard, don’t earn enough to cover even the very simple necessities ? Children who don’t get enough to eat? (But what about the ones whose parents use up all the income feeding their own addictions? Are those families “poor?” If we help the children by feeding them, are we inadvertently encouraging the parents to carry on with their negative behaviors?
What about single moms struggling to feed and house and care for their children, while dead-beat dads earn good incomes but don’t take responsibility for their children? What if the mom won’t let the dad be involved or help out? What about dads raising their children, after mom has run off? Or grandparents raising their grand-kids when both parents have copped out?
What about seniors struggling to live on tiny government pensions, not even enough to pay low-cost rent, even if it was available (which it often isn’t)? Shouldn’t their families take care of them? But what if they don’t have families to care? Or their families just won’t or can’t?
What about people who’ve lost their jobs? And can’t find work in these times of recession? What about the ones who decide to stay on Employment Insurance until it runs out, and then collect welfare because it pays better than the only low-pay, part-time jobs that are available? What about the ones who refuse to take any employment other than in their chosen field and at their preferred pay level? What about people who lose their job because they have an accident or illness, and now have a “disability,” and choose not to retrain and take other work they can still do?
What about people who have “grown up on welfare” and have accepted it as a viable lifestyle or have grown up in situations where a good education and encouragement and good health – building blocks to “bettering oneself” – have not been available?
What does it mean to help the poor, right here in our communities?
Where do we draw the line? How do we “judge” who the “poor” truly are? Or do we? Can our best efforts finally overcome poverty? Or is it true, as Jesus said, that we always have the poor with us? Do we choose to help some poor but not others (the early church did, to some degree, in regards to widows with families vs widows without)? Maybe just care for the poor in the church – and of those, only the ones who “deserve” it? Who decides? Where do we draw the line? How do we choose to spread our own limited resources around? How limited are our resources anyway?
Is caring for the poor really the work of the church? (And if it isn’t, what do we make of all those scriptural injunctions?) (And how does the world see the church if we don’t?) (And how does our Father see us?)
(Another long post... outline here.... you can find the whole post here)
Matthew 19:23-26 The disciples were astonished to hear that it is very hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven, because, in their experience, the "righteous" people were the "religious" folks. And they were the ones who were wealthy enough to develop and parade their religiosity, so as to be perceived as
Don't we often see through those same eyes? We so easily assume that if people are "properly dressed" and "attend services regularly" and "give a lot of money" (which by the way, is not the same as giving generously, but that's another story) and "are involved in many church programs" and so forth, then they must be "righteous." At the same time we easily look down at people who don't fulfill those "religiously righteous" criteria.
And yet, many times people in poverty simply cannot meet the religiously righteous criteria. Truly poverty-stricken people spend their entire lives trying just to survive. And survival at that level can take a lot more effort and times than the jobs of many wealthy people. Also, because of their poverty, they often are not healthy enough to have the energy to "participate" very much. They cannot afford babysitters so they can attend and participate in events themselves. They are not well enough dressed (and often, not well bathed), and so they are looked down upon and snubbed by the religiously righteous, and thus are rejected from participating.
People in poverty also often have difficult underlying reasons for their poverty, such as mental illness, lack of education, or have been brought up in situations that have made it very difficult, if not impossible, to "fit it" with the "good, righteous crowd."
And yet my experiences with people on the street has shown me that many of them are open and willing and desiring to follow Jesus. (It's instructive to remember that Jesus and His disciples lived outdoors much of the time, with pretty scrappy meals, and pretty much just the clothes on their backs. Can you imagine how they looked - and possibly smelled?)
Hmmm... perhaps it is easier to follow when you do NOT have riches and places of honor.
People can change their outside.
Only You can change their hearts.
And the heart is what counts.
A changed outside does not change the heart.
But a changed heart changes everything!
Is the "established church" ready to equally accept those who are followers of Jesus, and yet are in poverty? It should be. But...
It has always been a problem, hasn't it?
FATHER TAKING CARE OF A LONELY MAN
You sent along that sad and lonely man whose wife of 25 years just passed away a few days short of their 25th anniversary. And he was wondering (and kind of angry at You, and certainly hurting) why You would take her, his best friend, away from him like that... and Pastor P was able to talk to him about that, and others too... And he was wondering why You would let his ID and money get stolen while her ashes were being scattered, so that he was stuck here and couldn't get back to his hometown. But I am thinking that maybe it was a gift to you so that he could come and join us, and we could share with him, and love on him, and be family for him in this time of loss (he and his wife were never able to have kids, and he is feeling so alone).A BIT ABOUT THE VOLUNTEERS
R longs for the day we have a mission building and she can make meals for the street people; right now she makes excellent coffee and organizes the food service. She knows that a "building ministry" isn't part of Pastor Peter's calling. It's what Father is calling her to - and will be an extension of Peter's part of Father's purposes; a place where Peter can send people he and Father are building relationships with out on the street.FAMILY CHANGES
I think M also wants a building-base, but in his case for a place for prayer, and for getting into the word together with Father.
K just happily pitches in and helps with whatever is happening. I don't know if he has any particular dreams, but he is a wonderful, friendly, very consistent helper. Hmmm... Gift of helps?!!
W and J come when they can, and both are good cooks - which frees up Pastor Peter (who used to do everything by himself) to reach out to the street people and build relationships with them and bring Jesus into their lives.
Pastor P is especially called to relational ministry. He relates so well to the street people, and they to him. He also is able to teach the word in ways that are easy to understand. For many of the street folks he really demonstrates the love of Jesus at very personal levels.
Interesting - everyone who Jesus has called to this "street ministry" is different than the others - and each one just does whatever Father has prepared them for. There is no special planning or organizing, no committee meetings. Everyone just pitches in and does their bit, and it works.
What do You want from me, Father? I don't know, in the "big picture" or "long term." I really don't need to know, do I? You only ask me to follow You moment by moment, step by step. And let You take care of the long term and the big picture. Like at street church. I can feed people (I love baking!). I can be friendly. And encouraging. And maybe even non-judgmental and accepting (wow, that really has come from You. It sure wasn't "me"...). But is that enough? I want to reach people's hearts and souls for You. And when I start thinking about that, sometimes I feel helpless and hopeless and useless. But that's just the enemy and my flesh talking. I don't have to listen to any of that. I don't even have to worry about tomorrow, never mind the long term. I can take that longing to You in prayer, and leave it with You. And meanwhile just keep my heart and eyes and ears open, and do and be whatever purpose You have for me, right now, right here.
Oh Father - where is everyone? I mean, there are lots of people, but it seems like people I really had developed relationships with have stopped coming. I guess that's the nature of a gathering of people who live "on the edge;" their lives are pretty unpredictable and transient
and just trying to survive a lot of the time, and it's hard to track down people who often don't have a settled address or phone number. And of course some of them have come to You, and have been healed of their addictions and things, and gotten jobs, and returned to families - which is awesome. But still - I miss them!
Where are the two D's? The guy with the big grocery cart? The young man from Cuba (is he even still alive? Last time I saw him he was so ill with his brain tumor)? But oh! GJ was there this Sunday - I was delighted to see him, as he's been gone from our community for almost a year. He was such an encouragement to me last summer, just loving Jesus every moment. But this time he was high on mushrooms which was kind of sad. And Father, T and D were both reeking alcohol, which I've never seen them be like at Sunday gatherings before (though D really wanted to help with the food serving: maybe she's just lonely too?).
And __ and her little boy who live in a room over the liquor store, and don't even have a fridge, and always were so happy to get the rest of the milk in the jug at the end of Sunday gatherings - they've not been around much lately. Nor have M nor J nor most of "the crew." Of course there are always new people. New relationships to build. New people to share Jesus with. But...
While I've been writing this, I've been trying to find those songs You brought to my attention the other day, but my MP3 player is being glitchy and just keeps playing the same song, over and over. Are You trying to tell me something else? What does this song say?
Everyday Lord, I'll learn to stand upon Your wordOh! Thank You! That's right! It's not about me after all. It's about You - and the places You take me every day, the places and people You choose for me to share Your name and light and life with. And if I'm focusing on YOU, centering on YOU, I won't be lonely, either!
And I pray that I might come to know You more
That You would guide me in every step I take
That everyday I can be Your light unto the world ... Everyday it's You I live for
Everyday I follow after You
Everyday I walk with You my Lord...
What to say, Lord? It's You who gave me life...
I give all that I am to You
That everyday I could be a light that shares Your name. (Hillsong United)
And Oh! I remember what those songs were that You pointed out to me last Sunday, telling me that Your street family is where You do want me still:
Which Jesus do you follow? .... my Jesus bled and died
He spent his time with thieves and liars
He loved the poor and accosted the arrogant ....
Blessed are the poor in spirit...
blessed are they that hunger and thirst for righteousness...
my Jesus bled and died for my sins
He spent His time with thieves and sluts and liars
He loved the poor and accosted the rich ...
Who is this that you follow...
If Jesus was here would you walk right by on the other side...
the word says He was battered and scarred
Or did you miss that part? ...
He spent His time with thieves and the least of these ....He reaches for the hurting and despises the proud ...And the other song:
And I know that He can hear me if I cry out loud ...
I want to be like my Jesus
not a poster child for American prosperity
but like my Jesus ...
You said to live like You, love like You
but then You died for me
Can I be like You, Jesus?"
(My Jesus, by Todd Agnew)
There is hope for the helpless, rest for the weary,Yes! thank You!
Love for the broken heart.
There is grace and forgiveness, mercy and healing,
He'll meet You wherever you are.
Cry out to Jesus ...
For the ones who can't break the addictions and chains, You try to give up, but you come back again,
Just remember that you're not alone in your shame and your suffering.
When you're lonely, and it feels like the whole world is falling on you,
You just reach out, your just cry out to Jesus..."
(Cry out to Jesus, by Third Day)
KENNY: GOING HOME TO FATHER
"Returning, forever returning, coming home
Belonging, forever belonging, never alone"
(John Denver, "Yellowstone, Coming Home")
Kenny was a cowboy. I know this because of the picture on the front of the memorial card. A young Kenny topped with a cowboy hat, sits on his horse.
Myself, I never saw Kenny wear a cowboy hat. That would have been something to see.
Actually, I only met Kenny a couple years ago. Kenny loved music. He loved to help organize the summer evening performances in the park. He could also sit down at any piano, even old ones in need of a good tune-up, and coax beautiful music from it as his fingers lovingly tumbled over the keys.
Kenny was born in 1969. He left us a week shy of his 41st birthday. My husband, who is a Care Aide at the hospital, was talking to Kenny a couple weeks back. Kenny was shivering cold, no matter how many blankets they piled on him. But still, he wanted to go outside and sleep on the ground. Maybe it was the cowboy in him. Maybe he was just ready to go home.
I suspect the funeral chapel really didn't expect many folks to turn up. As it turned out, the chapel itself was filled to overflowing. So was the adjoining foyer. There was Kenny's dad, Ken Sr., and Kenny's cousin. There were a group of elderly folks from the Friday night street-preaching group. Kenny loved their music. They loved Kenny. There were a few elderly folks who knew Kenny's dad, and were there to support him. There were folks who, I suppose, had met Kenny in the park, or who had listened to his music, when he dropped into churches before services and asked if he could play the piano while folks came in. There were health workers. Social workers. People from the street church where Kenny often dropped in for breakfast. Pastor Peter, Kenny's street pastor. Many of Kenny's street friends. All family.
Kenny's dad and cousin arrived a bit late. So the service hadn't started yet. One of the street guys got out of his chair. Walked right up to the front. Faced the crowd. Eyes glistening, he told of his love for Kenny. How Kenny had been his best friend. "Hallelujahs" and "Amens" came from the elderly folks. Tears started flowing. He rushed down the aisle and out to the foyer.
Another of the guys got up and stumbled to the front. Kenny was his brother, he told us. Kenny took care of everyone on the street. He f-ing loved Kenny. "Yes, he did," many voices responded.
A third street guy came up, faced the group, spoke words of care. Tears were flowing throughout the group. Happy and sad tears, all at once.
Kenny's dad and cousin arrived. Ken Sr. got up and told us about Kenny's younger days. His birth to a 15 year old young woman. Four foster homes in his first year or so of life. And how God brought him to a newly married couple in their forties who asked God for the child He wanted them to have.
He told us many sweet, happy stories, of Kenny's love for music, of his quick mind, and his sometimes mischievous nature. And most of all, of Kenny's love for Jesus right from his earliest years. And quietly, sadly, at the end, he mentioned that Kenny had also had his own personal demons. Wrapped up in drugs and alcohol.
Kenny's cousin met him for the first time on Saturday. She sat at his bedside and talked to him. He was unconscious. Could he hear her? She sat again by his bedside on Sunday. Held his hand. Talked to him again. Tears ran down his cheeks.
She picked up her guitar as we listened. Then she sang, clearly yet hauntingly, John Denver's final song, the song of Coming Home.
"oh-ooo oh-ooo oh-ooo oh-ooo"
The cry of the the wolf. Will you sing along, she asked?
"oh-ooo oh-ooo oh-ooo oh-ooo"
The audience joined in. The coming home call.
"... oh the buffalo free,
Oh, my brother the wolf...
Oh, the love in my heart, a wilderness song...
Oh, my brother the wind, my sister the sea...
Oh, the mountain top calling to me....
Returning, forever returning, coming home
Belonging, forever belonging, never alone
Oh, the mystery...
Oh, the beautiful way, the sweet coming home
oh-ooo oh-ooo, coming home oh-ooo oh-ooo."
Pastor Peter spoke. He told of meeting Kenny some years ago. Kenny managed a coffee shop. Not a busy place. Kenny used to come and sit by Peter. They talked about God. About Jesus. Kenny asked questions. But it was often Peter who was learning.
Kenny had his ups and downs. But Jesus was always there with him through it all. Peter spoke of how Kenny always wore a fanny pack, with bandages and vinyl gloves and disinfectant. How no matter how sick, no matter how low Kenny was, he always was looking out for, caring for, the guys on the street. Patching them up. Being their friend. Loving them because he loved Jesus. Sharing Jesus' love.
Kenny came by the Sunday morning street church breakfast 7 weeks ago. Someone had a video camera. Took a clip of Kenny and Peter. Sitting on the steps on a chilly morning. Reading together from the Word and talking about the Lord. Kenny was having a down time. But Jesus was with him.
We watched the video clip on a screen while Peter read a poem Kenny had written a week later.
"Thy will be done
Keep our family
strong for what
we do in life
echoes in Eternity
Strength and Honor"
That was Kenny. Kenny's love for Jesus extended always to those around him. To Kenny, they were not strangers. They were not good or bad. He did not judge them. They were family.
Pastor Peter prayed. It seemed that the service was over. But one young woman stood and spoke of Kenny's care for her. Another stood and spoke. It seemed that everyone wanted to speak.
We moved into another room where coffee and snacks waited. Peter said we could continue to share about Kenny there. And people did, in pairs and small groups. But still, there were those who wanted to share with everyone. So more folks addressed the group. This time the elderly folks. Those who knew him from the Friday evening street preaching. Others who knew him through his dad.
Tears dried. Happy faces reappeared.
Who could stay sad? Kenny had gone home. He was with Jesus, who had loved him always. Jesus, who Kenny had loved always.
Kenny's family. So many who had been touched by Kenny's care. Who had been strengthened by his care. Who have met Kenny's Jesus, because they met Jesus in Kenny. What Kenny did in life, even in his struggles and pain, is echoing. In eternity.
We'll see you again soon, Kenny. And meantime, you are with us in our memories and our hearts.
Strength and Honor.
BEING ACCEPTED, DEPRESSION AND ALL
This past couple months is the first time I have ever personally used meds. Or admitted that I really do need serious help. I think part of the reason I have been willing this time round is that my kids insisted - which shook me up as to the seriousness of my situation. And in the past 3 or 4 years I have finally come to know God in a relationship of love, rather than feeling guilt and judgment. So I have not feared to come to Him for help. And that's an amazing thing. I have come to the point where not only can I rest in His love, but also accept medical care for my depression, the same way I would accept medical care for any physical illness.
Another reason I have been willing to accept help is that the gathering of the church who I am most closely a part of these days, is made up mainly of people who are living on or very close to the streets. Many of them have struggled, and many still struggle daily, with mental illness that goes far beyond anything I have experienced myself. And they struggle daily with outfalls like drug and alcohol addiction, broken families, inability to maintain jobs, and so on. But as they have come to Jesus, and have experienced His love, he is changing them. And they are sharing His love with others, instead of turning away, or judging.
I was really embarrassed to admit I had a problem. After all, I am supposed to be one of the "helpers" at this street "mission." When I would turn up for a few minutes, and sit hunched in a chair, unable to really "participate" (never mind "help"), they just KNEW where I was at, although I was afraid to tell the truth. "Are you taking meds?" one of the gals asked, gently. I looked down at my feet, and nodded slightly. She just reached over and gave me a long, gentle hug. "I'm on meds, too, you know," she said. "It's okay." And instead of me running around flipping pancakes, and serving coffee, the guys started serving me. They checked up on me regularly. They even bought me, out of their very limited funds, a bright, cheerful "hippie-style" knitted purse and hat, "because they remind us of you!"
I realized, more and more, that Jesus really does love us unconditionally. That depression is not an unforgivable (and unmentionable) sin. That it isn't even, necessarily, "my fault" or caused by "my selfishness and sin." That the church can - and must - love everyone. Serve everyone. Not judge them. That Jesus wants to use Him people to bring His love and healing, no matter what. That He wants us to accept His love, His forgiveness, His salvation, His healing. And that He wants to walk with us through the process; not just wait until we get "good enough."
Thank You, Jesus. Father. Holy Spirit.
And thank You, church.
CHURCH - EVEN WHEN IT'S NOT TOO OVERTLY SPIRITUAL!
At our street church breakfast gatherings on Sunday mornings, sometimes we have what might be recognized as "services" after eating ... and sometimes we don't. And sometimes I worry a bit about the "don't" times.
But I just realized....
Although we didn't do much of anything "overtly spiritual" on Sunday at street church, YOU were there with Your people.
How do I know? I knew Your JOY! I had a wonderful time with Your children. Seeing them enjoying and being blessed by the food You provided to me to share with them, blessed me too! And You gave me opportunities to share and care (love!) over breakfast and as we visited and drank coffee afterward. And as we cleaned up after breakfast. Talking about You. Asking and answering questions. Hugs and prayers as You led. Between individuals. In small "natural" groups of 3 or 4. Not planned. Just being. With You.
And even that little chat (and big hug) with L as I was leaving and she was walking past. And the few quiet words we shared about the depression we've both been experiencing. And that we both know we aren't alone. Well, Father, You know what I am saying...
Thank You! It was Your church - and I was a part of it! Oh, Thank You!