This weekend, a good friend of mine put together an outreach for homeless people downtown. His goal was to provide food, blankets and toiletries to help bless some of the people in our city. The main objective though, was to get the Gospel into their hearts.
I’m a missionary. I have shared the Gospel in front of thousands of people and had plenty of opportunities for one-on-one ministry as well. You would think that a homeless outreach was right up my alley – wandering the streets, talking to strangers and all that. Wrong. I repeat, WRONG.
Overseas, where the strangers don’t speak English – that’s my comfort zone. Give me a translator and a crowd of people and I’ll get the Gospel to as many as will listen. Give me a stranger who speaks English though and I suddenly revert to a terrified little six-year-old. My tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth. My thoughts get all jumbled and rarely come out in understandable words. In summary, I have a tendency to come across as a bumbling blonde idiot. And this absolutely kills every ounce of perfectionist in me.
It would have been easy to back out. Believe me. I thought of at least six different excuses. In the end though, no matter how uncomfortable the idea of going made me, I knew that this wasn’t about me. So I made myself get out of bed. Literally MADE myself. I got dressed and then dropped the dogs off at the sitter. Yes, my dogs go to their grandparent’s house when I’m away for more than a few hours. It’s ridiculous, I know. Unfortunately though, it’s a bad pattern that I created and now I just can’t say “no” to those sad puppy eyes. Don’t judge me – you probably have your own version of crazy. We all do – but that’s another blog for another day.
Back to this story… So I managed to pick up my eight-year-old niece, Catlin, along the way. She heard what I was doing and wanted to go too. She happened to be eating chocolate chip cookies at the time and felt she needed to go share her cookies with the homeless. How could I say “no” to that? Plus this kid’s normally a “talker”. It takes a lot; I mean a whole lot, to quiet her. So I figured if nothing else, she could start the conversations with strangers and I’d jump in along the way. Yes, this is pitiful, but that’s where I was.
My plan backfired and Catlin was so shy around everyone she barely said a word. That’s what I get for banking on an eight-year-old. Fortunately I had another friend, Bailey, with me. She’s one of those super sweet and friendly types. So I was a coward and totally let her start most of the conversations. You can judge me now – I’m totally judging myself.
A Ray of Sunshine:
One of our first encounters was with a woman, we’ll call “Sunny” (real names are intentionally changed out of respect for these precious people). She gave us a few of her nicknames and “Sunshine” was the one that really fit. She was quite a “talker” herself, which of course made things easy for me. So for 40 minutes, I did one of the few things that I am actually good at. I listened. Sunny was all over the place and talked 60 mph. I’m not kidding. I couldn’t help but admire her optimism when she told us she wasn’t “homeless” but rather “residentially challenged”. I hated the state she was in but had an unexplainable appreciation for her too.
Sunny shared of so many things she had faced. Things most of us couldn’t begin to imagine and some that made you wonder if she wasn’t making them up. Sunny talked of things that made me question whether or not my niece should hear what she was saying. Part of me felt the responsible thing to do was to politely end the conversation and walk away. After all, I wanted Catlin to learn the importance of helping people, but I didn’t want to give her nightmares. I fought the inner urge to leave and decided to trust God. I knew as uncomfortable as that encounter was, that this was exactly where Jesus would be.
This was exactly where my Jesus would be; out on a Saturday morning, downtown, wandering in a bus station, feeding the hungry and giving them the Bread of Life.
A few times throughout the conversation, Bailey and I were able to interject and share about the grace and love of Jesus and how He was the God of Restoration. Sunny told us that she had already asked Jesus into her life and with that, our next move was simply to pray. We asked if it would be okay and she gladly agreed. So together, Bailey, Catlin and I wrapped our arms around Sunny and began to pray for Jesus to do a powerful work in her life. I believe He is.
We continued to speak with people. Some opened up easily, some, not so much. We tried though. Seeds were planted and we did some watering too.
Ice Cream & Retired Pimps:
One of our final encounters came later in the afternoon. By this time, Bailey had to leave and I had joined up with two of my other friends, Deanna and Aftyn. I was so thankful to have a few more voices to help carry on conversations. We approached two, kind looking older gentlemen sitting on a bench. These two had a different look about them and I thought this would be the start of an easy conversation. The first gentleman immediately got up and walked away, wooden cane in hand. As he did, the next gentleman introduced himself. We’ll call him “Ray”.
“Hi, I’m Ray. Ex-Pimp. I’m retired.” He said with a grin.
I was torn between shock and laughter. I held it all in though, praise the Lord! I don’t know exactly what I was expecting, but that was not it. You have to picture the situation. Here we are, three single girls and an eight-year-old at a bus station, chatting it up with a retired pimp. Maybe it’s just me, but I found this situation quite funny. Perhaps I should have been more concerned with safety or something, but I wasn’t.
With a simple “fist bump”, Ray said “Hi” to Catlin and proceeded to inquire if she liked ice cream. Of course she likes ice cream… she’s eight. They connected. It was a strange but wonderful sight. He told us all about this place up the street where she could get some of the best ice cream. A few fist bumps later and we found out that Ray was hungry and would love some food. Unfortunately we had given out all the food we had with us. So I took Catlin and we went looking for some food to give Ray. We came back just as Deanna and Aftyn were finishing praying with him. They prayed for God’s peace in his life and later found out that was something Ray had wanted for a while. We got food to Ray, gave a few more fist bumps, then said our goodbyes.
These moments challenged me, for a lot of reasons. I hate to be out of my comfort zone, but that outreach reminded me of why it’s so important to force myself out. People need us. They need food and fist bumps. They need to hear that there is hope no matter what their situation. They need to see the real, tangible love of Jesus Christ in action. And in order for that to happen, we have to actually get into action. Jesus had a few words of His own on this topic.
Matthew 25:35-40 (NIV)
35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink?38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
I have so much growing to do and more than anything, I want to become more like Jesus. That means going where He would go and doing the things He would do.
Jesus went to the places others would not go. He did the difficult things. And because of it, the world was forever changed.
John 3:16-17 (NIV)
16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.