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!
An Encounter with a Prodigal Child
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.