Monday, June 23, 2014

Prostitutes Yearn for Christ

When I first began the ministry six months ago, I thought it would be best if I covered as many major streets as possible so as to reach all kinds of people in all kinds of neighborhoods.  This seemed to be God's will since I live in gritty SE, and yet he gave me the ministry while walking one of the tony streets in NW Portland.  But I quickly discovered that people in poor and working class neighborhoods were more open to my presence, and so I began to focus my attention on SE and NE Portland.   I also decided that it would be easier to build relationships if I became a familiar presence in the area by walking the same streets.  Well, I've now been walking the neighborhoods for long enough that I can spot some trends.  

One interesting phenomenon is that prostitutes often follow me around.  Some are young and some are middle age, some are hopped-up on drugs and others are sober.  Some will even jaywalk a busy street and then walk right in front of me or right behind me.  Some come up and stand seven or eight feet away while I'm sitting at rest.  They rarely strike up a conversation, but I notice that they secretly watch me.

Why do they follow me?

A cynical "realist" would say that they think I might be a potential "date".  But if you saw my tunic you would quickly dismiss that explanation.  A better explanation by the realist would be that they stay close to me so that the police will not question them.  They blend-in better when they're next to other people, and I'm a built-in alibi ("I'm with him--we were just talking.  Right mister?").  This explanation has some merit.  A more sensitive realist might add yet another layer of explanation: I'm a large but gentle man who wears a big red heart and cross on my shirt, and so they feel safe in my company.  That's true enough as well.  But there's also something more profound going on--something that can't be captured by "realist" or "naturalist" explanations.  The supernatural element is revealed in the way that they look at me.  Sure they often give me a cynical or ironic glance, but there is also curiosity and even yearning behind their eyes.  The Lord is calling to them.  Deep calls to deep.  Chords in their soul still tremble with hope that there is a God who is mindful of them.  Please pray for them.  

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

"The Lord Always Comes First."

Like everyone else, I always have a lengthy “to-do” list going into the weekend.  Some of the tasks are chores and part of what goes into being a good father and husband, but other items are basically recreation and leisure.  Lately I’ve fallen into the bad habit of putting the ministry at the very bottom of the list.  It’s easy to see why.  Just yesterday, several people tried to shout nasty things to me as they sped past.  But the speed of traffic was too fast, and so all I would hear was an unfinished insult: an angry “You s-“ or a scornful “Jesus w-“, and then the whir of wheels.  I would always break into a smile since the insults were lost in the wind.  So often the devil's noise comes to nothing.

Yesterday I was thinking about my to-do list habits as I walked up SE 82nd.  I prayed and tried to recover my sense that the unseen spiritual world is the true and real world.  I reminded myself that the noisy impressions around me are secondary and mere passing shadows in the plan of eternity.  I noticed up ahead a middle-aged mocha-skinned black man leaning against the wall of a convenience store.  He wore a black do-rag and baggy black clothes, and I guessed he was peddling a little dope.  I could also tell he had done time—ex-cons can always spot other ex-cons.  He sized me up and then we both noticed an elderly Asian couple speeding through the parking lot toward me.  I took a few steps back while the black man pushed himself off the wall and waved for the Asian couple to stop.  I motioned that it was ok for the couple to go since I always try to be courteous, but he shook his head and said, “The Lord always comes first.”  I reluctantly crossed and the man watched me the whole time saying, “The Lord always comes first.”  His complexion and eyes were sallow—tinted by Hepatitis—but his mind was clear about the honor owed to God.  I was embarrassed and humbled and gave him a big smile and an “Amen!”  He couldn’t have known it, but his little act and words were as piercing to my soul as if Jesus himself had said them. 

“The Lord always comes first.”

I marveled that I had so much to learn from this man.  I laughed at myself.  Here I put on the tunic, grab a book or two and go out to witness to Christ like a proper disciple, but I’m not the teacher.  I left that behind when I left the University of Michigan.  The Holy Spirit is the teacher, and the Spirit goes where it will.  I learn as much from those I encounter as they learn from me, and bless the Lord for giving us that kind of world.