Today I’m taking a break from my planned article series to tell you about a great day I had! Thursday is my long day of ministry, but it’s also usually my best day. Yesterday was a great example.
It began with a worship set on the UT Drag Renaissance Square (the “square”) with my missionary partners Help For All Nations. As we sang, I prayed for all the homeless youth I could see across the square. They were gathered together, a mix of locals and new travelling kids. Apparently they had been rousted from their sleeping spots early by the police. After the worship, we opened the Cream & Sugar trailer. Normally 8 or 10 kids come over for oatmeal and some talking over coffee. However, today we had more than 25 kids come over. It was crazy. I felt like a waiter at the business restaurant tyring to get them all coffee, their flavor of oatmeal, their choice of ramen soup, water, and cookies. And they are so nice and appreciative. I try very hard to keep their names straight but on a day like today, it was impossible. There were many familiar people but about half I had never met before. It was an exhilarating morning.
Then I walked over to the Lifeworks Street Outreach drop-in center. Some of the same kids come there, also, but Lifeworks is limited to kids under the age of 24. Thursday is our medical and dental clinic day. I helped different kids get food, and access to the clinic. I was able to slow down a bit and check in with many youth whom I have been helping for a while. It’s important for them to have follow-up, to help celebrate their successes and help guide them past the difficult moments. It is such an honor to be taken into their trust and be able to listen to their struggles and difficulties.
Then I took a break and visited the “square” again. I met with a group of youth I have visited with many times before. They asked a common question, “Do you work there at Lifeworks?” I explained that I volunteer there. “So you don’t get paid?” No… I have to raise funds to support myself. I do this as a Christian missionary. “Really?” Their questions allowed me to talk with about 10 listening ears about my faith.
They’ve all heard the Christian story but have grown jaded to it’s message. I find that they believe Christians are hypocritical, judgemental (mostly anti-gay and anti-homeless), and generally only interested in them as converts to a particular denomination. I addressed these issues head-on by admitting this is how we are often labelled and that I’m sorry for that.
Instead of hypocritical, I pronounced that I am a a Christian, broken, and want to be transparent about that. I want to live a certain way that is described by Jesus and in the Bible, but I don’t. I do terrible things, just as terrible as they do. At that point, one of the youth completed the story by telling about forgiveness and grace! Everyone listened.
Then the youth moved on to the judgemental issue, asking me questions. I explained that I believe we must love one another, accepting each other as we are. This is what I understand of how Jesus works, but I flat out said I don’t deny what the Bible says on many issues. Jesus loves them, and I love them, but changes are needed in all our lives. They then brought up the issue of homosexuality, an issue they believe to be a primarily anti-Christian stance. However, I said that I believe the Bible calls me to love gay people just as any other people. I told them that the Bible says a few things about homosexuality. However, it also tells me that my job is not to be judgemental but loving. I am leaving judgement to God and Jesus. I want gay people to come to be Christians and to know Jesus. Jesus heals all our broken lives.
The youth then moved to the issue of how they feel as targets of conversion. They tried to get me to defend my choice of denomination or to even explain the differences, bringing many false ideas that they have learned from Christians to the table. I told them that I could explain some differences but that within the Christian faith the denominations all have more similarities than differences. It’s a false idea to think one is better than another. They all have different ways of governing themselves and a few differences in expressing how they go about loving God. I expressed that I was sorry they feel like targets in a denominational war for conversion. I told them that I believed relationship was more important that conversion. Jesus wants a relationship with them more than he wants them to join a church.
I left the square walking with a friend who opened up to me about how miserable he has been lately.
It was a great day. Thanks be to God!