Experiences in Outreach

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Prayer Amidst The Chaos

We just finished our annual Thanksgiving feast with the poor and homeless at the weekly food distribution and I am feeling quite drained but I'm sure not nearly as drained as the wonderful volunteers who purchased, prepared and served the food. I didn't count, but by my estimate the number was well over 100. This many being served and trying to find a seat in a small area can be quite chaotic and overwhelming at times.

While I was standing behind the servers watching the people get there food, a young lady who comes just about every week came up to me and asked if I would pray for her 4 month old baby who had been sick for quite some time with chest congestion. After discussing the situation with her for a while she pulled out a picture of "Junior" to show me what he looks like. As I sit at my desk and write this blog, I am looking at the picture propped up on my computer monitor. It is there because I told her I would pray for him every day and she gave me the picture as a reminder. After she gave me the picture, I held her close to me, head on my chest and I prayed for her sons healing and her comfort through the Holy Spirit.

Any one in the room could have prayed for "Junior" but she picked me, "the minister". I have been in my role for over seven years now and I still have a hard time getting used to the fact that so many that I minister to believe I have some special connection with God and that for some reason He pays more attention when I pray. A pretty overwhelming thought considering all the blemishes myself and others see in me.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

A Puddle Of Tears

Each Monday afternoon, the church sets aside a certain amount of money for financial assistance to those who are not members of Central. In most cases we are not able to solve all of their financial problems, but we do get the opportunity to help a little bit and more importantly, show them the love of Jesus through refreshments, conversation, and prayer.

A little over a week ago, a young woman, after waiting her turn, came into my office and said she was needing some assistance in getting her birth certificate. She further explained to me that she was four days clean from drug use and that she had been living a life of prostitution for quite some time, until child protective services took custody of her children. In order to start the process of getting her children back, she was going to have to change the way she was living and establish a stable home for her kids. The first step in that was getting her birth certificate.

As I was doing the paperwork to fund her request, she asked if I would pray that God would give her the strength to make the changes in her life and bring her kids back to her. I reached across the desk and held both of her hands and began to pray. As I prayed, I began to hear sobbing which is not that unusual. What I was not prepared for was after completing the prayer, I looked up and her head was still bowed with a puddle of tears on my desk. This young woman with her extraordinary volume of tears reminded me of the woman in Luke 7 who came to Jesus broken, washing his feet with her tears.

I don't recall the scriptures indicating if this woman continued living a changed life, nor do I know if the young lady in my office will continue her resolve for a life change, but they both came to the Christ broken and full of tears. One came to Him in person and the other through prayer.

What a privilege to see the same Christ in 2008 as He was nearly 2000 years ago.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The Cost of Breakfast

I sat across the table at a local coffee shop yesterday with a young lady who has been serving me breakfast for over 5 years. She is a waitress at a restaurant that I consider one of my connecting spots for new relationships in the community. Oh, no question, I do enjoy the breakfast, but better yet, I have developed some friendships with people outside of my church community.

Our conversations most of the time last only a few minutes, but sometimes they have gone longer because of some events that have taken place in their lives that I have been able to help with. Deaths, family problems, friends and coworkers who have gotten into trouble that I have visited in jail.

This young lady has suffered some significant loss in her family and has concluded that she needs God in her life. So, she asked if she could meet with me about how empty she was feeling and if I could help her connect with God. We started that process yesterday with a Bible study and she is like a sponge. So eager and ready to find the heavenly Father to replace the gods that she has relied on for most her life. She is one of four that have come to me about certain issues in their lives and perhaps someday the will want to know more about God and Jesus Christ.

Yes, I get teased quite often about how I frequent that restaurant but I can't keep from wondering as I sit across from her if I would have had the opportunity to show her God if I hadn't spent the money for breakfast. I'll let you know how it goes as we continue our study.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Looking Past The Repulsive

Today, we had a cookout at our weekly food distribution. Nearing the end of time to start cleaning up, five homeless men came up to get a hot dog and all the fix ins. There appearance was typical as you might expect someone to look after spending day and night on the streets. I did not recognize any of them with the exception of one who had been there before and is usually pretty intoxicated.

After they got their food and sat down on the ground, I went over to introduce myself to them and start a light conversation. Knowing from past experience that most homeless people are ignored for various reasons and they love it when people just speak to them, they immediately wanted me to listen to them and usually they want to get real close to you to tell their story. Most of these men had been drinking or were semi-high on something and hard to understand at times. Fighting past the smell, the appearance, the invasion of personal space that had me tempted to just get away, I listened to their words. They saw me as having some special connection with God that others didn't and asked me to pray for them and their safety because of the danger they face living on the street.

After they finished their meal in which they thanked me time and time again for, we gathered in a circle and started to pray. They took off their hats after being prompted by the leader of the group and respectfully bowed as I prayed for their safety and comfort while living a life on the street. When the prayer ended they each walked up to me for a hug and as they walked out they greeted, thanked, and hugged those who were responsible for serving the food. They experienced something special this morning. Maybe just kind people doing a good deed or perhaps God in the bodies of His children, the church. Either way, God is teaching us to look past the outside and seek the internal.

Sorry it's been a while since I blogged.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

I Became Angry

In just a few days, I will complete six years of my ministry on staff here a Central, and in the first weeks of the ministry I met a young lady who was needing some financial assistance. She would come to our food distribution and so I saw her just about every week. She basically lived in different houses of those who would take her for some reason or another. In the time that I have known her she has lost two children to child protective services and her life seems to have very little direction. She has been in jail a number of times on different charges. Most of them drug and alcohol related. She has what I consider a very calm and sweet spirit and a few years back I talked with her about her life and how I felt that she had a great deal of potential with some grooming, shelter and financial stability. I even offered to help her by entering her in a job program here at the church building which would open up a number of possibilites for her. She just looked at me, shook her head, and said, "Oh Mark", as if to say "you just don't understand". She didn't ever see herself as being any different than what she was. So I just resigned myself to pray for her and continue contact with her as long as I could. I don't see her now but about once a month.

Two weeks ago, I saw her again on the street corner approaching car windows asking for money, which is pretty aggressive based on the fact that most stand on the street corner holding a sign. She must have needed the money badly and probably not for good reasons. I sat in my truck finding myself getting angry and wanting to get out of my truck, shake her and tell her again, "You don't have to do this". I then remembered something that I have learned over the past six years. Many of these folks have layers and layers of issues that have to be peeled back to get to the root of what convinces them that they can't do any better.

So, I just shook my head and did what I normally do and that is give them over to God in prayer and ask Him to give me wisdom to deal with these complex issues.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

The Love In Doing Laundry

Traditionally, on Thursday morning, I treat one of our lady's to a breakfast who we met six years ago in a homeless shelter. She has a home now, and cleans the Upreach Center as a part of her ministry. We spend part of our time together during breakfast praying for the food distribution that takes place later in the morning. She brought a friend with her this morning who was homeless at about the same time. She was quite a talker and was going on and on about her washer and dryer she had gotten and what a blessing from God they were that she could get up and do her laundry each day. I thought to myself, "when is she going to stop talking about her laundry and move on to something more important"? Then it hit me. This lady used to haul her laundry to a laundry mat by walking or upon occassion got a ride from a friend.

I do my laundry each Friday morning and dread the fact that I have to gather the laundry basket full of dirty clothes, walk 30 feet to the garage, and put them in a washer and dryer that we have always had. In fact, I don't remember a time in my life that we didn't have at least a washer. When I was very young my mother hung the clothes outside. This lady felt so loved by God, being able to do her laundry without leaving her apartment.

The lesson to me was this. God loves us in the big things and the little things like: roofs over our heads, electric stoves and ovens, furniture, carpet, food, TV's, cars, lamps, beds with electric blankets, clothes and yes, washers and driers.

Thank you Lord for loving me in the little things.

Monday, January 07, 2008

I've Been Reminded

I love, but hate those who remind me to do something that I committed to do. I think it is called accountability and I preach that all of the time.

A friend of mine who I went to high school with sent me an email and reminded me that I hadn't blogged since Oct. 30th. Actually, last week I thought I should write about some of the experiences during the holidays in the outreach ministry. So to my good friend whom I am grateful that he reads the blog and holds me accountable, here we go.

The holidays are always a difficult time for those who are homeless and poor, but this year I felt it even more. God has lead me to base the outreach ministry on building relationships as we meet the needs of those we come in contact with. This involves listening to much of the pain that others feel and during the holidays that pain is magnified among the poor because many do not have family relationships, shelter, food, or other needs. A phrase I hear quite often during the holidays is "I hate this time of year".

This year we did some additional ministry projects during the holidays, where I heard even more of these stories. Before I left for some vacation time before Christmas, I was doing a devotional with a group of people who came to our food distribution we have each week. During the devotional, I broke down and confessed to them that I was feeling a great deal of stress from listening and seeing the pain that so many were in. After telling them that I needed a break and was going to hit the gym hard to release the bottled up emotion, some of them came to me and told me they loved me and hoped I would feel better soon. Powerful words from people who feel much of that pain all year.

The minister got ministered to. What wonderful people they are.