Archive for October, 2009

October 28, 2009

Project Reaching Out

Covenant Presbyterian Church recently had a Day of Service. On this day, between 175 and 200 people went out on Saturday and gave their day to service. One of the groups came to Street Youth Ministry for Project Reaching Out. It’s a day of service that pairs volunteers with street youth. The common purpose is to bring community healing to an area of our city that needs it. This project focused on 12 blocks of West Campus, or “the Drag.” This area sees 100,000’s of people in foot and auto traffic weekly. The ambulance comes at least daily for medical emergencies including heart attacks, overdoses, and occasional violence. Several people die each year in this area from exposure or overdose or accident or murder. Businesses, students, residents, teachers, and street youth vie to call this area home, each with their own needs and concerns. This is an area needing love!

On this day, we focused on cleaning up trash. Almost 400 pounds of trash was picked up by about 25 volunteers and street youth. But more importantly, they talked all the while with one another. And they talked about issues in the area. They discovered commonalities and they discovered differences. Some found comfortable conversations and shared experiences, and some were very uncomfortable because of the huge differences. But everyone learned that day.

I asked participants to tell me what they noticed about the day. Here are some answer. The best is for last so keep reading:

“I found out that me and my street youth friend are both from Houston. That’s cool”

“I found out how they ride trains all over the country. Frankly, I’d love to try that. It sounds wonderful.”

“I found out how they feel when they ask for spare change. I will smile next time because it hurts to feel invisible.”

“I am really amazed at how articulate and funny my street youth guide is.”

“It is so cool that you volunteers came out here to help clean up all this mess. We try to clean up after ourselves, but not everyone does. Thank you!”

And now, the biggest observation of the day from my eyes, having done this project several times. If your church group or civic group wants to do Project Reaching Out, contact me at Bridges under 24th and 29th street are in desperate need of cleaning the street youth say.

Volunteer: “I was picking up trash around a dumpster when I all of a sudden realized that someone has been sleeping here. The cardboard was laid out just so and was crumpled where someone had slept. I felt so sad. This person has no home, sleeps here between the smelly trash cans with the bugs and rats.”

Street Youth: “That is really sad. This person sleeps alone. We don’t do that. We stay together in groups and take care of each other. I’m sad for this person because they are so alone.”

Wow! Both sides see truth here. How many people in beautiful houses are so alone? How many homeless are blessed and rich because of their community and togetherness? What will it be like when we combine and become a single community: house and street dependent together. We may always have the poor, but we can bond with them and enjoy each others company, share each other’s dreams, and lift one another up. Amen.

October 28, 2009

Street Youth Minsitry Video — Shaped to Serve

This 3 minute video was made to help show what Street Youth Ministry does. Not everyone is called to do what I do, but we are all shaped and called to do something. Find your thing! Make a difference! Many thanks to Whitney Milam and my home church of Covenant Presbyterian Church for this wonderful video!

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October 24, 2009


I recently spend time with “Mark.” He is older than most of the people I work with–he’s about 36. However, he is a street youth never the less. “Street Youth” is a culture and not an age.

Mark only shows up about once a month or so. He tries to stay away from the Drag because he knows that the Drag is trouble for him. You see–Mark is addicted to heroine. He is currently taking methadone to get off heroine. This is a terribly difficult path. Methadone has all kinds of side effects that are tough all on their own. Coming to the drag temps Mark to partake in other things that might dull the pain of treatment. He usually resists.
Today, Mark looked a little different. I asked, “How are you?” He replied, “OK… I guess. Do you really want to know?” I said, “I wouldn’t ask if I didn’t want to know. What’s up, dude?” I handed him a sandwich and tried to get him to sit down on a rock with him. He resisted. So I stood with him on the sidewalk.
Mark said, “I’ve not seen you in a while because I try to stay away from here. But I’m not coping very well today so I decided to come down. I’m going in for treatment next week. ” I didn’t know what he was talking about so I asked more. “I’ve been tapering down on methadone for a year now. I’m down to the last bit. Now I have to give that up next week.” His eyes welled up with wetness. I said, “That must be scary,” He just replied, “Yes.” His face said everything. He was frightened to death.
I asked, “What type of treat plan are you pursuing. Is it 12 steps based or something else.” “It’s twelve steps.” “So the first step involves a higher power. Where are you on that?” I asked. “I’m OK. I believe there is a God… my version of God anyway.” I replied, “That is a good start. It may eventually matter that you sort out more than that, but let’s start there. My God and probably your God is really big. He’s big enough to help you through this tough time. He probably already is taking care of some things that you’re going to need.” Mark said, “That kinds of scares me… like I don’t have choice.” I answered, “Not at all. You have choice. But God knows you so well he knows what you’ll probably do. You probably have friend you know so well you can predict their behavior. But there are always moments where they and we surprise each other. We have choice.” “OK… I can sort of understand that,” replied Mark.
“More than a God who knows us, we also have a God who knows what it’s like. He understands temptation. He understand pain. He understands disappointment. He understands fear. You can tell him about that. Do you want to pray together now?” “No… I’m not comfortable with that,” said Mark.
“OK. No problem. We can do it a different time. You understand that you can talk to God any way you need. You can be mad at Him or people and tell him about it. You can be scared and tell him. You can tell him anything.”
I continued, “Let’s try something. God. We want to have peace about what’s going to happen next week. Mark is scared. Mark wants to make changes in his life and wants them to go well. Send your peace to Mark.” We stood in silence for a minute. Mark said, “I do feel better.” I said, “We just prayed. Remember that prayer can look like anything. There are no rules. There is no right place. It’s just you and God talking.” Mark said, “I need to remember that. I tend to get all caught up in legal rules and stuff. It turns me off and away from religion. I just want to be authentic.”
I talked more with Mark that night. He’s a typical street youth. He left his home before age 18. His home life was poor. He’s burned all the bridges to his family. He’s been living on the street on and off for 18 years. He got addicted to heroine and has been using for 18 years. He has a long journey ahead of him. I pray he will have lots of support and friends along the way. I pray that he will be able to talk with God every single day of that journey. I pray he will find how to relate authentically all the time to his creator. And may we all find the same thing. Amen.
October 15, 2009

All God’s Treasures

Usually I write about one story. But tonight my head is so full of young people that I just can’t seem to pick one. So I’m going to share some scattered glimpses into ministry over the last couple of days. Perhaps this will give some insight to those of you who sometimes ask what a typical day looks like.

God has created so many wonderful treasures. Ants and bees, giant live oak trees, the grand canyon, gemstones, the stars in the skies. But I get to meet very special creations in the form of street youth every day. They are so wonderful to know and to care for. I am so blessed that they share a bit of their lives with me:
“Martha” came to Bible study. She hadn’t been there before. She had a million questions, but was polite enough to tell me I didn’t need to answer them all. I met her after the study to see if she had more questions. She didn’t. We just say talking. She shared that she could have gone to college, but made other choices instead. Now she things those choices might have been the wrong ones but knows she has to live with the choices. Drugs effected her choice. She’s free of drugs today. She writes poetry. Perhaps one day I will convince her to share her poetry and line drawings with my readers. But not today. I listened to page after page of her poetry. It is about the authentic human experience of love, pain, confusion. Very thought provoking stuff.
I caught up with “James” on the street. He’s 68 days sober. He gave up drugs and alcohol. He’s a Christian brother. He has a job now. And he’s looking for stable housing; right now he has to live on the couch of friends. And that’s bad because the friends are not sober. He told me how he had ministered recently to someone who was also not sober. That person listened and came back to thank him about 14 days later. James ministered by bravely proclaiming that there was a heaven and a hell, a God of the Universe, and a way to be right with God. And it profoundly mattered to the drunk enough to change his life. Way to go, James!
I ministered to “Adam” today. Adam is lonely. He wants a girlfriend, but he has decided that sex without emotion and connection isn’t good. So he’s no longer looking for a quick fix to his physical needs. He’s looking for someone to spend time with. But he’s never had that. He was not cared for as a child by his mother, a pill popper. He has much to overcome. The streets are hard for him. He’s thinking of turning to his grandmother for help.
I ministered to a scared young man today. “Jack” has changed in the last weeks. He doesn’t look me in the eye. He seems smaller to me; sunken in on himself. He’s using something. He’s afraid and disappointed. The life he planned just a few months back has come crashing around his ears, and he doesn’t yet know if it’s OK or not. He’s not ready to talk about it. He says everything is OK; his face says it isn’t. Where is the happy and confident young man I spoke with a few months ago?

I talked with a young lady today. Apparently I met “Angie” a couple of years ago, but I was not able to remember her name or face. I sat with her while she puked because of a bad hangover. I walked with Angie to get water and some aspirin. I don’t know her story yet, but she seems to polite and humble. She was so easy to be around, even when she felt terrible.
I talked with a young man, “Frank” today who used to be in a gang. He ended up convicted of some terrible things. Frank’s a tough guy–no doubt about it–but he has grown up a lot. He stays out of trouble now. He has a big heart and seems to really want to recover from years of street life. He comes to Bible study and puts quite a lot into participation. Now something has literally gone wrong with his heart. The doctors are looking into it. I asked if he was scared and he simply replied, “Hell yes.” He’s never said he was scared to me before. I listened and walked with him. We prayed together.
I talked with a young man “Bill,” who is no longer on the streets! He supports his wife and child. Bill is worried about his younger brother who is still on the street and still uses drugs. He brother got him in trouble by coming into the retail store where he works and stealing something. Now Bill faces losing his job. It just doesn’t seem fare. Bill is struggling with boundaries of maintaining distance, loving his brother, and looking out after his own family.
I pray for each of these young people. They are each beautiful treasures. I get to meet 60 or 70 of them every week. I try to love them just the way they are. I pray that many will come to know Jesus personally–that is why Jesus came! And through God’s redemptive and healing grace, these youth can be fully restored and guided into a fulfilling life shaped just for them! Amen.
October 7, 2009

Youth Want to Know How to Build Relationships

Lately, I have had a number of young men who are street dependent coming to me. They all are facing crises in their lives one way or another. After we’ve talked about their particular crisis, they each seem to be left wanting. I said to each, “I see something is still bugging you. I probably can’t fix anything, but I am a good listener. You can tell me anything at all, and I won’t judge you.”

One by one, they have each come to the conclusion that they are lonely and feel the need for a friendship and supportive relationship with a woman. And in one way or another, they have all said, “I don’t know how to do it. It’s so scary to put yourself out there. Oh sure, I understand what to do to get sex, but I want something more than that.” Wow!
After some thought, I offered this advice: “Some people just seem naturally charismatic and it seems like they just know all the smooth moves and everything right to say. Great for them! But most of us, me included, had to learn how to romance a lady. Even before that, we had to learn how to just be around women without being romantic or sexual… just enjoying their company, talking, and sharing a common experience.”
One kid said, “Yeah. I get that, but the girls I hang out with seem to go for the sex part with me but not the relationship part.” I thought for a bit, and said, “Maybe you need to hang out in a different place. Where might you find girls where you can have a shared relationship but not feel the pressure of sex?”
One answered, “Parties away from the street are good. I go to parties. But it turns into drinking and sex for me.” I suggested, “What if you went to the party early, didn’t drink but one, and left as soon as the party got going full blast. I know that might seem strange, but could you do that?” “Yeah… I guess. But why?” I continued, “If you did that, you’d have a shared experience of the start of the party. It can be awkward… it an be funny… people have to talk to each other and there are just a few people around. And you’d leave before everyone gets tanked. Maybe one or maybe even more girls would be saying, ‘Hey? Where did that cute guy go who was just here? I wanted to get to party with him a bit more!’ By leaving early, you got to start on the relationship and the shared experience without the sexual pressures and you left the people you met wanting more.”
“Cool!” he said. “Kind of like flirting?” “A bit like flirting, I suppose. But you are being interesting and showing interest in them to get to know them… not to pick them up. Maybe you go back to that same group sometime soon and they see you. One of the ladies wants to talk to you, maybe you get a phone number to go have coffee or go window shopping sometime.” “Cool! I think I could do that!” he said.
“Where else could you meet girls in some setting where you’d see some of the same people more than once?” “Good question. I’ve been thinking about church for that.” I answered, “I’ve heard that church is good for that, but I think you have to be careful. If you’re not there for what is going on in church, I think the girls can probably tell that and won’t be interested. But if you’re into what’s going on there, it’s a great way to have a shared experience and to start making friends. That’s really what we’re talking about. Making friends with the opposite sex, but not for the purpose of having sex. Just for the purpose of making a number of friends. Maybe one of these relationships over time will turn into a date. Maybe that will work or maybe it won’t, but once you start making friends without expectations, I think you wont’ be so lonely.”
“But it is so scary. I get in there and I just don’t know what to do,” one kid said. “Yeah… it was for me, too. I had to practice. Maybe it didn’t go so well the first time or two. Maybe it was awkward, but it got better over time. I think can for you, too.”
Many street youth come from the foster care system, and sometimes it was the more “boarding house” style of living where there were few adults around on which to see and model behavior. Many street youth come from unstable homes where the parent or parents were doing all they could to keep things going. Maybe the didn’t have energy or time or skills to model dating behavior. And to top it all off, media and pop culture romanticize dating and seem to only show us the charismatic prototype people when the truth is that the skill of conversation takes work and practice, dating is an acquired skill, and that most people must form lots of friendships, to go on many “dates,” to find relationships that last.
I applaud these brave young men who seem to have gotten in touch with themselves and realized that they are lonely. Sex without a relationship isn’t enough for them. And they want to improve their social skills to make friends with women and establish a relationship. Bravo! I pray patience, safe places to practice social skills, and self restraint as they seek to reshape their lives. There is always hope! God gives us that. He is the maker and perfecter of our souls, and His masterpieces are beautiful workmanship.
October 2, 2009

Chair Play

I received some training from a wonderful teacher from SafePlace in Austin the other day. It was about creating and using engaging activities in group therapy. I planned the following exercise. Little did I know how much I would learn. Nor did I know the surprise ending the activity would take.
The exercise I used was originally called “Power Play.” It is a safe way of examining power and in reading and understanding body language by placing chairs in different positions and talking about where the power is in what we see. It’s a simple but surprisingly cool way of accessing some things in group.
I often design my exercises to help the street dependent youth to them how they feel about the church and religious systems. They have definitely experienced church systems before and they have been largely let down by them, so it’s often a mixed bag of negatives and positives. Exploring these feelings helps open the door to discovering that Christianity can be relevant to their lives today.
I set four white plastic patio chairs up, the kind that stack. I told them to arrange the four chairs in some way that reminds them of church. At first they just stared, but then one guy got an idea. He jumped up and arranged them.
He placed all four chairs upside down, four legs sticking up on each. I asked him to explain. He said, “This is the church from Monday through Saturday.” I asked others to comment: “The chairs are empty.” “They serve no purpose.” “The legs stick up and look dangerous. You might hurt yourself.” Wow!
I asked for another arrangement. One girl got up and set one in front and three in a line facing. I asked her to explain. “It’s the priest upfront and everyone listening.”
Another jumped up and put the three facing chairs down on their sides, top faced to the priest. “This is the people worshipping the pastor instead of God.” Another added his interpretation, “And the leader is taking advantage of the people.”
Another guy had an idea. He arranged the chairs in two short lines facing one another, two chairs in each line. “This is the church arguing with itself over all the church stuff instead of doing what it’s supposed to do.”
I decided to try one. I placed three chairs together in the middle of the room and then put one chair far away against and facing the wall the wall. I said, “I’m not going to tell you what I had in mind until you try to guess. What do you see?”
One said, “That’s me there on the wall, and everyone over here in church wants to keep me out.”
Another said, “I think it’s the church over against the wall, turning it’s back on the world.” Not being sure what she might be meaning, I asked, “How do you mean?” She said, “You know… like not following the worldly ways.” But another interrupted, “No.. I think it’s the church turning it’s back on all of us.”
I asked if I could explain what I had in mind with the chairs. “I see each of these things you mentioned, but none of you have guessed it yet. I had something different in mind when I put that lone chair over their facing the wall. It’s a lonely chair…all alone by itself. And the three chairs over here are the world, happy and having a party. But that one chair over there was Jesus when all the stuff we’ve been reading about in Mark happened.”
Suddenly I had an inspiration. I always try to give them an overview of the Bible before we read whatever specific details we’re reading that week… the 10,000 foot view, if you will.
I began, “The Bible is a love story of God and his created people. These two chairs are the people. They started out perfectly white and unscratched like these were when they were brand new. But the chairs rebelled from God and ended up scratched and covered with problems likes these chairs that have paint splattered all over them.” (The chair we use are typical of those in a Sunday school classroom… covered with paint and scratches from years of use.)
“God tried several ways to get the chairs to clean up and be satisfied with loving Him, but the chairs preferred living their own way. They multiplied and God spread them all over the world.” I put a third chair with the other two and spread them out.
“But God had a plan. He chose one man and his wife and started teaching and showing him to live with God. This couple prospered and grew into a family… then a clan… then a tribe… and finally a nation. God blessed them.” I put the three chairs into a circle.
“And into the nation, God send his only Son, Jesus, to help them.” I put another chair into the center. “The chair was white and unscratched. It lived with them, knew them, and taught them. But eventually it came time for God’s amazing plan to bring the world back to how God wanted it in the first place.
“Jesus, who was perfect and knew exactly how to live with God, would assume all the sins of the world. At that the forth chair became scratched. It became covered with paint spots. So much so that you could hardly have noticed it… it was gray and dingy. That paint and those scratches came from the people living in that nation, from the people living all over the world. It came from me, from you, and from everyone who ever was, is, or will be. It was terrible.
“And then they killed the forth hair. They crucified it and it was totally separated from God.” I tossed the plastic chair (it’s light and nobody was over in the corner where I threw it) across the room into the corner.
“Jesus took all the paint and all the scratches with him. But three days later, he arose.” I walked over and got the chair and put it back into the center. “He appeared here and there very mysteriously.” I moved the chair around from place to place. “And forty days later, he ascended into heaven.” I held the chair high above everyone.
“But Jesus is bringing about God’s plan for the world. It will be restored the way God wanted it all along, with everyone who knows Jesus living in harmony and peace in Heaven. This is the love story of the Bible. And you can be a part of it.”
That day the kids taught me how they see the church and religious systems. And that day, I pray, I reminded them what it was really about.
Please understand that I do not share the viewpoint of the youth which they expressed during this activity. However, I listened to them. I have compassion for them. And I do pray that the church will be patient in helping and working with these youth one day. Street dependent youth often feel they have experienced the church failing them in a very personal way. By allowing them to express that and helping them go straight to the source (the Word), we open the door for forgiveness, healing, and restoration. Please let it be, Lord! Amen.