Archive for November, 2008

November 27, 2008

Thankful for Grace

Today is Thanksgiving. I am taking a holiday from ministry until Monday. However, as I thought about thankfulness, this story came to my mind from this past Monday…

Mark was sitting on the bench of the trailer when I went in. He was an older man, rough and rugged looking, but very thin and slight. He smiled but didn’t say much to me. He followed the conversations but didn’t tell any stories of his own. When it was time for him to go, he asked for prayers. Everyone else was working to clean the trailer at closing time, so I asked Mark to step outside. I asked him what he would like me to pray for. He answered that his children needed prayer. One was about to lose his home. One was about to have a baby. And one was not in touch. He asked that the parents-to-be would be a better parent than he had been to his children. I asked Mark if he was Christian, and he responded yes without hesitation. I asked if his kids were Christian, and he confirmed they were. So I laid hands on Mark, and he grabbed my hand as I prayed. I first prayed as he had asked me to, but I was overcome with the need to pray for Mark to forgive himself and to receive healing. As I prayed about how Jesus has forgiven Mark of his troubled past as a parent, he began to cry openly. I prayed for reunification within his family, for strength and protection, and most of all for forgiveness and healing between them all — grace enough to cover them all. We finished and he gave me a big hug.
I heard yesterday that his daughter unexpectedly called Mark and that he is on his way to see her!
I am thankful on this Thanksgiving Day for the grace of God, the sacrifice of Jesus, and the gift of the Holy Spirit — they are all that separate us from disaster. And they are what brings joy into our lives, making it more than survival but true living.
November 23, 2008

Opening doors!

Today I wants to share two wonderful stories from the streets of Austin. Both are true. Both are changed to protect confidentiality.

Person 1: Frank is a homeless man in his 30’s. He looks young for his age. He is a Christian. He is a recovering drug addict and clean. He works every day in a local restaurant. He is trying to save the money for a deposit to get into an apartment. He sleeps outside everyday in the doorway of a nearby church. Frank keeps everything he owns in a backup. Since he is working, he can afford to go to Target or Walmart and guy some things (like toiletries, clothing, etc.). It was recently stolen during the night while he slept.
Frank has a friend who is also homeless. This friend is in need of glasses. Frank has decided that he will spend his own money to get glasses for his friend. This is true generosity and brotherly love and concern. Wow! I explained to Frank how much I admire him.
Person 2: Robert is a homeless man in his 30’s, also. He it big and clean-cut. He is unChristian, to borrow the label of a recent book by David Kinnaman. He was raised in the church but found that he felt he did not belong there over time. Robert came to me to ask about Christianity once more. His questions were typical of unChristian attitudes for this age group today (see book). He asked: “How can God be all powerful, all knowing, and all loving, but still let everything go on as it does?” I explained that this is a very old question and proceeded to help him understand how much God loves his creations, but that his creation chose to separate itself from him through sin. We can be reunited with God again, and a relationship with Jesus is the way. Robert then went on to say that he had rejected Christianity. When I asked why, it was because of the Christians. I asked him to label Christians anyway he wants, but not to label Jesus and Christianity itself with the same labels. What are the labels.
Judgemental: Christians judge him and others. I explained that I do not believe it is my job as a Christian to judge non-Christians at all. I leave that between him and God. However, my job is to love him, just as he is.
Hypocritical: Christians seems to say they believe in one thing but do another. I explained, “EXACTLY!” We believe in the values of the Bible but we find we cannot uphold them. No one can. I told him that I do as many bad things in a day as he does. Robert couldn’t believe this. I told him it was true, although in his eyes there might be a scale difference. But in God’s eyes, there probably was no difference. However, I had a relationship with Jesus that restores me and makes me right with God. He could have that, too.
The inquiry went on for some time. It was a good start. Robert summed it up: “You know… if there were more Christians like you, maybe I would want to be a Christian.”
I am no saint. I am no different than other Christians, but I am willing to be transparent about judgement and falling short of the glory of God. I encourage all Christians to share this truly good news with unChristian inquirers.
Let’s open the doors of the churches and invite the unChristian in. Let’s not close and bar the doors!
November 14, 2008

This is why I serve!

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!
November 11, 2008

What Causes Someone to Want to be on the Street

I got feedback that my postings are a bit too long. I’m going to try to tighten them up. If you have feedback, please leave comment!

Each young man or woman has different motivations for being on the street. I’m going to talk about two broad groups. By no means should you think every youth loves the street. They don’t, but the street is the best choice they see. I hope our society will address street youth lovingly so they can have and can see better choices.
One identifial group of street youth are travelling kids. They are highly skilled and independent. They move from city to city, by train, rail, bus, and car, are very social, and quick to find new resources to sustain themselves, often working and volunteering in very interesting places. Their lifestyle offers bohemian living and pleasures, rebellion from normal societal pressures, constant change and excitement, and self-control of mobility, location, and peers. These are strong pluses for the youth in this group. It helps us if we acknowledge that they are pluses rather than shaking our head and denying them in unbelief. However, at the same time, the bohemian lifestyle can become depressing. The rebellion can become isolating. The constant change can become boring and same-old. The self-control can become entrapping and out-of-control. These are the negatives. We see them and the youth feel them, often even expressing them after some period of repression. It can help us in reaching out to street youth to feel great compassion for these negatives but still acknowledge the positives. For this group, change can happen when the balance of positives and negatives is perceived by the youth to tip from being mostly positive to being mostly negative. They have skills and can often create different options for their lives given access to resources.
Another identifiable group of street youth are the local kids. They often come from foster homes and lack local support structures. For them, street life is often the first and most meaningful expression of self control they have been able to find. Instead of being told where to sleep, how to think and and what to eat as when they were younger, they are free to control themselves. Unfortunately, they also tend to lack skills to transition to independent living. They are slower to find new resources. They were in difficult environments when younger for a variety of reasons including residential treatment facilities for foster children with mental health or behavioral issues, residential facilities for law breaking, or, in some cases, simply very troubled homes. This group is actuely aware that they don’t like their life on the street, but see no other options. For this group, change is slower and more likely to occur as they gain coping and independent living skills.
I believe all street youth have choices for where and how they live (there are always options), but I believe that many of the choices are WORSE than street life. Sure, they could settle into a stable job, but a life of suburban chemical dependency alone is probably not better than a bohemian life of discovery on the street. Sure, they could return home, but continuing to live without independent living skills in a home of origin from which you were once removed is not necessarily better than living in a street community where you start to learn independent living skills. I do not recommend the street life, but I recognize that for many of the situations that the youth find themselves in, it may be the best of several bad choices for them. With time and training, some better options can be made safe for the youth and they can choose to leave the street.
Living on the street is hard. And it represents constant crisis. However, it offers the youth something that they cannot find for themselves any place else at the moment. We need to be compassionate and understanding of their reality. Hopefully, new choices can be created, either by making new choices available or by changes within the youth that create new skills and receptiveness to already existing options.