Archive for August, 2009

August 22, 2009

Three Jonahs

Friday was just the way God intended it to be for me, but it wasn’t how I intended it. Overall, it left me unsettled. I decided to blog about it anyway. Here goes…

Ministry started like most Fridays. My volunteer brought the sandwiches–it’s a different one every week, twice a week–what a blessing! The snack bags had been assembled the night before by a group of deacons from my church. I was excited because I had given them my monthly prayer newsletter and they had prayed through it as they made sandwiches. I just knew it was going to be a great day! I had bags of snacks, a bag of sandwiches, a bag of socks, and a bag of bottled water. It was heavy and awkward, but I have never wasted food yet in outreach so I figured God must have lost of people available to me today!
When I got down to where I usually meet kids, there was no one. This happens sometimes, so I just sat down to wait. 30 minutes later… still NO ONE. I saw someone walking down a cross street I hadn’t seen in a while, I chased after him to talk and catch up. When I went back, one other person was waiting for me. One…
After about an hour and a half, I was sitting with three people. I soon thought I found the source of the “trouble.” It is rush week, and the police are extra diligent in patrolling and being present during rush week. [Don’t get me wrong… I appreciate and love the police. It is just a fact that most of my clients aren’t comfortable around them so they have an impact on my ministry when they step up patrols.]
Finally, I decided to go ahead and walk the 8 blocks that I look after. I really didn’t want to because my bags were still completely full. I usually have given out about half of the stuff before I start walking with it. As I walked I thought about what I was going to tell the volunteers who made the sandwiches because it looked like I wasn’t going to do much ministry today.
I got about half way through my “route” before I saw anyone else. I ran into “David,” who is about 27 or so, homeless, and using drugs. He and I have been working together a lot lately. He’s interested in change, but he’s not yet convinced he’s able to change or that it’s important enough to change. He was so wound up that he couldn’t listen to my offers of food or socks. His hand was swollen really big. He was in pain. “I don’t know what I’m going to do. Maybe I should just give up! Look at my hand! I don’t want to lose my hand or my arm! I went to the ER and they gave me a shot, but they said if I don’t fill these prescriptions I’m going to lose the arm!”
I tried to calm him down. I put sandwiches in his backpack because he couldn’t use the hand to do it himself. And I told him that since he has no ID and no MAP card (Medical Assistance Program), he really had no choice but to go back to the ER tonight. He showed me the script. I decided to call to get a price for him at the lowest cost pharmacy in town for generics. It was $27. I asked if he had that or could get that. He looked at me like I was crazy. Then he confessed that the only way he could get it was illegal. I asked when he last paid for drugs… he said three days ago. He had been living off “freebie” gifts from friends since then.
All the while this was going on, I was feeling two tugs. First, I needed to solve the problem of the giving away the huge supply of sandwiches, snacks, and water I was lugging. I needed to do ministry and pass those out. That was my plan, after all! But where were the kids and the people? Second, I was feeling a tug from God to get David his medicine.
Now you need to understand something about me and my ministry. I have strong boundaries. I have been blessed with mentors and tutors who have made sure I establish strong boundaries to keep me safe, sane, and well grounded. I see about 70 people a week and I need boundaries. The need that I see is practically infinite and I have to know that I can’t fix it all. I do the ministry that I’m equipped to do, and I have boundaries. I almost never give out money… who from the 70 would I choose? I don’t take kids places in my car… I could spend 100% of my time providing much needed transportation but that’s not what God has called me to do. I don’t go out and buy everything that I come to know that people need… that would quickly exhaust all the ministry resources and my personal resource. I have a family to care for after all. I hope that doesn’t sound hard hearted. And I hope it doesn’t discourage you from helping others one person at a time. One individual connecting to another is a wonderful thing. Generous people have a positive impact every day on the lives of the youth I minister to. Strangers can do things for one kid that I cannot simply because I have 70 kids instead.
So while I was feeling the desire to move on down the street, and while I was feeling the tug to help David with his $27 in prescriptions, and while I was feeling the instinct to respect my boundaries, I got very frustrated. I quickly decided to move on down the street. I told David I would talk with him more when I got finished with ministry that I came to do. He understood and I went on.
Still I met almost nobody. So soon I was at the end of my route and my work was undone. I was feeling undone. By now, God’s tugs had turned into whispers. I was figuring out that I had done the WRONG thing. Today, I was intended and expected to help David… I just knew it. And yet I had walked away from him. So I went to where I thought I could find him. And I motioned for him to come with me.
As we walked to my truck, I began to lecture him on how I don’t usually do this and how this was really special. I found thoughts of “conditionalality” forming in my head. I was thinking, what can I ask from David in exchange for doing this thing. But the Lord silenced me.
As we drove, I asked God what to say. I told David, “It seems to me that God is going to a lot of trouble to get your attention. All the stuff you’ve been going through and now this. What do you think?” David replied, “I believe in God. You know that. And I love God. You know that, too. I’m not as bad as the other kids who don’t want anything to do with God.” The word “submission” came to me as he spoke.
“David, I know you believe in God. And you have told me you love God, so I believe that. But… David… I don’t think you are submitting to God as Lord of your life. Are you?” This silenced David. He came back with a series of excuses and statements. I reinforced, “David, I don’t think God is going to leave you alone until you submit to his will for your life. He’s going to keep trying to get your attention.”
At the pharmacy, I sat down to tell David more. I apologized for some of what I said walking to the car and told him I was wrong. “This medicine today is a gift from God. God is buying it for you. I’m not. I wanted to make some deal with you and try to make you do something in exchange for it, but God just wants you to have the medicine. I’m not paying for this with ministry money. It’s coming out of my family’s grocery money. But God is giving you the medicine. I’m pretty sure God is even going to pay me back the $27 that the medicine is costing my family.”
David just looked at me. Then he said “Thank you, God. Thank you, Terry. You think the money will come back to you? Is that how you find that God works?” I truthfully told him, “Yes. Now that I’ve submitted to God’s authority in my life, I almost always find he works that way.”
Then I had a flash. While we continued to wait, I would tell David the story of Jonah. It’s a good story of submission and I was sure he could identify. Maybe he could take some hope from it. So I began…
“There was this guy named Jonah. He had a life and was doing his own thing. One day, God told him to go do something that seemed hard, scary, and dangerous. He told him to go to a really bad and tough kingdom to the East and tell them they were living wrong. God was going to destroy them if they didn’t stop. Jonah said, “No so much. You don’t need me!” And then, he ran away. He walked as far west as he could go. Then he got on a boat to sail as far west as he could go. He was going to huge extremes and putting himself at great risk because he didn’t want to do what God had told him to do. He believed in God. He even talked to God. But he didn’t trust God and he didn’t submit to God’s authority in his life.
“Now in the middle of the ocean, God stirred up some trouble for Jonah. The waves rose. The winds threatened. And Jonah knew the score. He knew it was God trying to get his attention. The sailors asked, ‘What did you do?’ And Jonah just gave up hope and said, ‘It’s my fault! Throw me overboard and God will leave you alone.’ They did and the storm stopped. But Johan was eaten by a while, a big fish really… ” David piped up, “I know this story. It seems far fetched.” I said, “Really? There are fish bigger than men in the ocean. That’s a fact. There are fish big enough to swallow men. That’s a fact. Do you really doubt that God would go to such lengths to get a man’s attention? Look at your own life? Do you really doubt it?” David stared at me.
I continued, “At this point, Jonah said, ‘OK… I’ll do it but I won’t like it.’ He pouted but submitted. He wasn’t perfect but he did what he had to do that was right in the eyes of the Lord. He went to that scary place and walked for three days proclaiming, ‘You people are living wrongly, and God’s going to destroy you!’ It seemed that God really wanted to get the attention of this place, just like he’s trying to get your attention. He sent me. He sent all the horrible luck you’ve been having. He sent this throbbing hand. When are you going to say, ‘OK… enough! I will submit and do the hard scary things that I know are right in your eyes?’ David had no answer.
I finished the story, “Well… Jonah was more powerful than he thought. The people stopped doing all the bad things and God decided not to destroy them. Jonah had that much power when he submitted to God. So can you. I know you think it’s too hard to stop using this drug. But it isn’t too hard… it’s just hard. I know you think it’s too hard to face your legal problems. Bit it isn’t too hard… not for you and Jesus together. And I know you think it’s too hard to get your life back together… to have a job again, to have a girlfriend again, to have an apartment again, to have guitars and play music again… But it will be easy once you submit to God’s authority in your life!”
The medicine was ready. Luke picked it up and God paid the $27 for it. I gave him no conditions and delivered the funds with an open hand. I was feeling pretty good about the two Jonah’s today… David was clearly in the middle of the storm… a modern day Jonah. God was telling him to get his life together but he was running the other way. And by telling him about Johan afresh, I hoped he would finally submit. BUT THERE WAS A THIRD JONAH today! I was Jonah, too!
I had to sit down to absorb it. I had my ministry plan and God nudged me to abandon it and take care of David. I sent David one way and literally went the other way! And ministry went badly one footstep after another. I grew frustrated and confused! Finally I turned around, and God put things into motion. When I wanted to lecture David and put conditions on this gift, God told me, “No.” And when I listened, he inspired me with the words that I hope can burn and churn in David’s heart to help bring David’s attention to God. God’s attention is already on David. I explained to David what I had just learned in this epiphany. I hoped it would help him see what submission looks like.
He and I rode back speaking more in terms of thankfulness and relief. I told him I was going to go back to ministry on the street, even though it was late, because now I knew that I would meet people and give out all the volunteers’ sandwiches. I explained that when you do what is right by God even when you don’t want to or when you have other choices that you’d prefer, that is submission. Before we rejoined everyone, we prayed together on the street for healing, for protection, and for submission. Sure enough, I sat on the steps with David and the people came. I gave out every single sandwich and was surrounded by great folks who told me their stories and listened to mine.
It was and continues to be unsettling to know that I can so easily be Jonah. I just thank God that He is present and cares enough to whisper and guide us when we start heading off in the wrong direction. I pray that David will heed God’s will in his life. He has a long journey ahead on the road to recovery. And I’m pretty sure he has his own city to minister to and save once he gets there. But he has to turn around first and stop going his own way. I pray that this will be today. Amen.
August 19, 2009

The Courage to be Real

I learn lots from street youth, but one young man unexpectedly challenged me to be real and authentic about my faith. He remains pretty much a stranger to me (although I hope to get to know him better). Here is how my encounter at the end of a long day went. I had run a Bible study earlier in the day and has some left over food to give out. I had given most of it out already but one guy caught my eye. He was leading a huge dog on a leash, and he was extremely tall. I had briefly met him the day before but couldn’t remember his name.

“Hey,” I said. “I remember you. I have some food here if that would be of help. It’s just some sweet breads and pastries, but if it would help then it’s your.” He checked in the bag and said, “No, thanks! I’m good.” Not being able to remember his name, I apologized: “I’m sorry I don’t remember your name, but I met you yesterday. I’m Terry.” He responded, shaking my hand, “I’m Daniel. That’s OK. I didn’t remember your name, either.”
I asked about his dog. He’s a mix but partly Great Dane. Huge and not yet fully grown. I felt a nudge to tell him about Bible Study and invite him next week. “Hey,” I said, “I have a Bible study every Tuesday at University Presbyterian Church. You’re welcome there. We have sandwiches, snacks, cold drinks, and it’s a chance to get out of the cool. We do Bible study, but you don’t have to participate or believe or anything.” The words that came out of my mouth must have sounded like an apology or something, because Daniel responded, “That’s OK. You can just say it’s a Bible study. I’ve met Jesus. Or at least I have encountered him.”
I remained silent and then David began to tell me his story…
“I have a son. He got cancer… a tumor. I was so sad I was crying and all at my job.”
He paused and then choked back, “It makes me cry right now. ” You have to picture this. I’m a 6’2″ guy (and kind of heavy). Daniel is a 6’8″ guy and skinny as a rail with this huge dog. We’re standing on a street corner with people going by us constantly. We just met, and he’s telling me this story. He continued…
“The young guy who was my boss came by and saw me crying. He asked me what was wrong. I told him and he asked me to go sit with him in a back room. He asked me if he could pray for us. He prayed. And so help me, in 10 minutes my mobile phone rang and it was the hospital telling me the whole thing was a mistake. There was no cancer! So I believe. I know Jesus is real. That was no coincidence or mistake.”
What courage to tell this to me, a stranger. What courage to believe God is moving in this way today. Bill Heibels used this scripture at The Leadership Summit from Habakkuk 3:2. This plea was written some 2600 years ago, but isn’t is so true today:
LORD, I have heard of your fame;
I stand in awe of your deeds, O LORD.
Renew them in our day,
in our time make them known;
in wrath remember mercy.
I was blown away and moved by Daniel, and I have recommitted to believing in the power of God here and now. And I am so thankful the ministry that God puts into my hands every day. Street youth help me so much.
What about you? To whom can you minister by being more authentic and open about your belief in the power of God? Let it be.
August 17, 2009

How I use volunteers in Street Youth Ministry

It is wonderful that so many people want to volunteer these days! Community service seems to cross all boundaries today, age, gender, religion, race. It’s a wonderful opportunity to do something outside of your career or normal routine. I currently use several volunteers per week, and I am constantly thinking and planning to expand volunteerism.

First let me say that my ministry is a very hands on ministry and some training is required to interact with the homeless folks on a regular basis in counselling and Christian ministry. I haven’t yet invited volunteers into this part of the ministry directly. I plan to one day but I’m just not equipped yet to be able to do that. Volunteers interested in doing hands on work should be insatiably curious, very non-judgmental, and have a gift of mission–that is, the ability to cross cultural barriers easily. I continue to prepare for the day that I am equipped to supervise volunteers directly in the field. In the meantime, I can refer interested parties to places you can volunteer in similar service.
So how do I use volunteers today? I ask volunteers to help provide most of the direct service items that go to help street youth. I ask for socks, I ask for bus passes and other items, and I ask for sandwiches and snacks. This might not sound rewarding at first and might get passed up by some volunteers. However, I work very hard to personalize the experience for each and every volunteer.
First, I provide education and awareness training. I will explain what is needed and why. This invites the volunteer into a world that they haven’t probably encountered. The volunteer will learn what the street youth need and why.
Second, I tell stories to the youth about the volunteers. I don’t reveal anything personal but I explain how the volunteer lives, what they do, and why they chose to be involved. This really helps the youth to get out of their own skins and think about other people in new ways. And it causes them to think about why the volunteer cares. This helps me get through to the youth in both my social ministry and my Christian ministry.
Finally, when I can do so with permission, I take a photo of a youth receiving the services of the volunteer. Then I send the volunteer the photo along with a detailed description of what was accomplished on the day I used their item. They get a pretty vivid picture of how their volunteerism made a difference today. And they get a accurate picture of one of the people who received their services. This helps the volunteer to understand and recognize who their neighbors are. I think it is difficult to love your neighbor if you don’t know them, and it is hard not to love your neighbor once you do know them.
So far this year, the ministry has received in-kind donations and volunteerism from 77 people. That’s a lot of activism. That’s a lot of stories told to the youth about the people who share Austin with them. And that’s a lot of photos and thank you notes explaining how each volunteer made a difference. It’s not really about value, but the estimated value of all these in-kind donations totals about $6,500 this year! And that means great help to me in being good stewardship of the limited cash donations for the ministry as well.
Below is an excerpt from a volunteer newsletter I sent out recently that gives a snapshot of how one day last week went:

You already know about Street Youth Ministry, and I thank you so much for your involvement and donations! I had such a blessed day last Friday that I wanted to share some of it it with you so you would know just what a role all these sandwiches, socks, and other stuff play in the ministry.
I carried 20 sandwiches, apples, and cold water bottles down to the front steps of University Baptist Church. They intentionally allow the kids to sit there as part of their ministry to the local homeless, knowing that sitting on the sidewalk almost everywhere else results in a ticket and fine. When I arrived, there was an unlikely pairing between a almost 60 year old man who has had many homeless episodes on the drag which started when he was a teenager and a 18 year old young man who is on his third day of homelessness. The young man was getting the older man a cup of water from a local restaurant that is willing to give water to the homeless. I was able to add sandwiches and snacks to the break they were sharing together.
As soon as I got there, a troubled young heroine user and another young client came running up. They were all abuzz because one of their friends had overdosed just now. The ambulance and firetrucks were on the scene. I had passed them driving in without knowing what was going on. They were so worried for their friend. I took the moment to lead them in prayer. They joined me in praying for miraculous intervention for their friend and wisdom and patience for the caregivers looking after him. After this, I served them sandwiches, snacks, and water on the steps — all from volunteers, of course!
Other street dependent young people came and joined us. We had great fellowship. We talked about the volunteer who made the sandwiches and snacks (no personal details are shared about you… just why you serve, that you have families and kids and friends, and how you show you care through your generous actions). The youth commended this week’s volunteer for their innovation of putting hummus on the sandwiches instead of mayonnaise. The most liked item was the water flavoring found in each bag. They explained, “Hot tepid water gets old so the flavoring really rocks!” As is my custom, I took a photo of one of the youth receiving this meal to share with the volunteer. Someone asked why I do that, so I explained that this is my way of humanizing the effort. The volunteer gets to see what a homeless street youth looks like and often says something like, “Wow! I’ve seen people like that before but not know what to do. But today, I made a difference for this one!” Now they are more likely to see homeless people in the future as they go about their day.
We relaxed together and talked on the steps as some asked for seconds. I also had some Girl Scout cookies to share and some snacks donated by a church, left over from a training seminar. One of the kids who is new to me asked, “Do you really quit your job to do this?” I said, “Yes. I used to be an engineering for 25 hear, designing parts and computers. My motivation is to share Christ with you, and you guys are not an easy group to do that with. Whenever I can, I also want to ease your life with food, socks, and other goodies (all of which come from volunteers, a different one every day usually), but my main goal is to meet you where you are and to share Christ.” They accepted this.
About this time, the person we had prayed for earlier came walking up! This was a huge surprise! He was angry and hostile over how he had been treated in the ambulance and hospital but OK. I sat with him and listened to his story. I counselled him on safer drug use and together we committed to stay in touch and see what happens next.
It was a great day! With your support and donated materials, I made a difference. We all made a difference together. People were seen, listened to, fed, clothed, loved, cared for, and prayed for. This is definitely why I serve!

If you want to become a volunteer, please click “Volunteer” on this web site ( If you don’t get excited about what you find there, please contact me and let me know ideas that might stretch and grow the volunteer program of Street Youth Ministry. We care for about 70 youth every week, making about 120 contacts per week with 60 old friends and about 10 new friends. You are invited to be involved in this ministry. I think it will be personally rewarding and I know it makes a difference.
August 11, 2009

An Encounter with a Prodigal Child

I thought I was finished with my day. It had been a good day. I had met and talked with about 12 youth at our local drop-in center. I had held discussions and prayers with about 10 people at the ministry trailer and a nearby hangout on the street. A new intern at the trailer, just arrived from Austria for a month of stay with us, had taken the three of us missionaries out for a treat at Jamba Juice! This is exciting because we work right beside the store but Jamba Juices aren’t missionary budgets! What a wonderful surprise on such a hot day!

I was walking back to my truck, when I saw James coming down the sidewalk. He didn’t look his best. James has been living a very fast life for a while, reminding me of the prodigal son as he parties and enjoys fast life, but he usually keeps himself looking quite nice. I wondered if he would want to stop and chat, but he was on the phone. (You may think a phone is an odd thing to have if you are homeless, but it ties street youth back to support networks of family and friends. A phone is usually also often involved if they have drug habits.) James circled back as soon as we passed signalling for me to stop and wait for him. He wanted to talk.
James’ speech was slurred. His eyelids were drooping a bit. After a greeting and exchanged of pleasantries, I asked, “How are you really?” “I have been better,” admitted James. I bluntly asked, “It seems like you might be a little bit affected by something right now. What’s going on?”
James paused and then began: “I trust you, man. You won’t snitch on me. I used today… I mean finally. I’m not proud of that. I didn’t used to be like this.” He began pouring out: “I used to have a house. I used to have a job. I had a car. I worked hard and got paid good. I used to have clean clothes.”
I continued to listen: “Look at me. I’ve got an infection here. Smell my shirt! My leg is covered with mud and blood where I slipped. I almost died yesterday. I woke up 3 hours later, face down in a puddle, and all my stuff was spread all over the street. I don’t even know what happened.” He stopped to hold back tears.
I took the time to tell him I was so sorry. And I helped him remember that he already has the knowledge to contact drug rehab resources that can help him. But help won’t be instant for James and certainly not without consequences. He remembered and still had the phone numbers to call that I had given him previously.
Then I let him talk some more. James continued to pour out, “I’ve been so sick because I couldn’t afford anything. You don’t know what it’s like. You know the flu… well, it’s 100 times worse than that. That’s what I’ve felt like all yesterday and today.”
He continued, “And day before yesterday, I got news that my girlfriend from years back, who has been in a hospital in a coma, was unplugged. She died. That really got me down.” James stopped talking again, unable to fight the tears anymore.
I stood with James. There was nothing to do in terms of quick relief. I already know that James was raised in the church and believes in God. I hugged him and told him that God loves him. James choked, “I hope so.” I reinforced, “I know he loves you. It’s a fact. I guarantee it. But he doesn’t like your posture right now.” James looked up at me again.
I pointed to a lamp post and said, “If that lamppost is Jesus, where are you faced right now.” James thought, and then pointed away from the post, “That way.” “Exactly,” I said. “And Jesus wants you to turn and face him now.” “He can forgive you everything, if you ask. It will be scary. Your heart is going to tremble. Your knees are going to shake. You probably need to do it on your knees or on your face and with tears streaming down your cheeks, but Jesus loves you and will not turn you away.”
James thought and I waited. He said, “I just need to be a little stronger. I need to get to a better place first.” “NO,” I exclaimed, “you don’t need to be better to seek Jesus. You can do this from just where you are. Sometimes people really need to get weak in themselves. You know… really hit rock bottom. And I won’t kid you… there will be consequences. The stuff you used to have… the life you used to lead… the friends you used to have… it probably won’t be able to come back quickly. It just probably won’t work that way.
“But you can say, ‘Jesus, I have screwed up. I can’t handle it, but I know You can. Forgive me.’
“After you say that, you can say, “Jesus, I don’t know what do to with all this stuff. I don’t know how to get out of this mess. I’m bringing it all here to you. Together, Jesus… you and me… we’re going to have to deal with all this stuff I have screwed up so badly.’ Together, you and Jesus can do it, step by step and piece by piece. Do you think you could say that?”
James said nothing, but his face said “No… I cannot do that yet.” His phone rang. He shut it off. It rang again. I could see that the phone was pulling him back into the reality of street life. He wanted to run away from the conversation we were having. I tried to bolster him, “You can pray this prayer to Jesus anytime you are ready. But you need to mean it.” I could see in his eyes that he wasn’t ready. He knew it, too, and hung his head.
I gave him a hug and asked if we could pray together before he left for safety. He said yes. We held hands, and I prayed for for him strength and determination to finally admit what he has done to Jesus and to ask for his help. I thanked Jesus that he is a patient guardian. I prayed for safety tonight for James and the ability for us to get together again soon.
That was it. Please pray that James can finally be humbled to the point of seeking forgiveness from Jesus and repenting. If he, like the prodigal son, can just turn back toward home, he will make it. Once Jesus does live in his heart, things will begin to change. He will find the courage to call the county medical team responsible for substance abuse and he can get help. Or he can continue to immerse himself in Spirit and seek healing and restoration that only God can provide. There are many options once he hits the point of true humility. And Jesus will come running back to this lost son. He will put on the best coat. He will kill the fatted calf for him. He will make plans to celebrate of the restored life. The prodigal son has a prodigal God. Amen.