We’re having our first cold snap now in Austin. The temperature has been working its way down for a few days now. One of the clients came up to me, a little drunk, the other day, and asked, “Terry. I don’t usually ask for things. And I know you don’t have stuff with you, but can you please find me a blanket? I know you’re a good guy. If you find one, I know you’ll give it to me.”
I said, “Sure. If I come across one, it’s yours!” Even though I had no blankets, had asked for no blankets, and wasn’t thinking of asking for any in the near future. “But you better keep looking for one on your own, too. It’s going to be near freezing in a couple of nights and it’s going to snow by Friday. You’ve got to get ready.” (As I write this blog, snow flakes are coming down. No accumulation, but it’s rares to see flakes of snow in Austin.)
Street-dependent youth need lots of things. But most of all, they need Jesus and love from an adult, like me or you, to work through their choices and options that will honor God. I focus on these latter two things in my ministry efforts and rely on volunteers to give me whatever can be found in the way of relief goods. This way, I hope to rarely lose my way in terms of ministering to the kids. It is far too easy to get lost in the huge sea of need: clothes, food, medicine, housing, education, counselling, healing, etc. And if this happens to Street Youth Ministry, I lose sight of the unique good that it can do. Faith is a huge strength that most of these kids have rejected. And they need to turn back and rediscover it.
Don’t get me wrong, I love to give out stuff. I just don’t want to get lost in worrying about how much, which stuff, costing what, paid for how, etc. I believe that volunteers can supply the stuff, at least for now. And so far, they have done so and love to do it! A good friend of mine wisely says, “It’s all God’s stuff. We’re just moving it around.” (He’s the lead worker in a ministry that takes second hand furniture and moves people into housing when they finally get housed. It’s called Movin’ and Groovin’ and is paid for by members of Covenant Presbyterian Church.)
So, as the really cold weather became a reality yesterday, I thought about this request for a blanket. I figured someone would be meeting such an obvious need, but after a bit of asking around, it wasn’t happening in the area I work. So I posted on FaceBook about needing blankets or guiding any blanket ministries to the area where these younger folks stay in Austin. (Please become a fan of Street Youth Ministry so you can see these posts in future.) Amazingly, someone had a dozen to bring by my house within hours. They had been in their closet looking for a place to be used. And a couple of other people brought a few more. And even a few more today.
I was tied up until 9pm last night helping my wife with her jewelry show. (It was a success, but it was a little late by the time I was able to go out and deliver blankets. You can still order jewelry online). I wasn’t sure who I might find on the streets at such a late hour. I hoped no one because everyone had made arrangements to be safe and inside, but I knew better.
I found a group of three kids left at a popular hangout. They said most kids were in hotel rooms, but these guys hadn’t had any money to kick-in for the room. Or they had been away when people left. In any event, these were left behind. I imagine that it felt lonely and abandoned. They were SO glad to get blankets when I rolled up. And I gave them some cookies to fuel a higher metabolism for the night.
I was about to get back in my truck, when up walked the guy who had originally asked for a blanket. I couldn’t believe his timing. And he couldn’t believe I had really come through on a night like this!
I stood with him and several others for a long time out in the 40 degree weather. Talk turned to Christianity. They somehow decided I was a “practical Christian.” I wasn’t sure what that meant exactly, but I liked the sound of it. I asked them about it. They said it meant: “You don’t try to make everything perfect. You just get out here on your own and help us, just like we are. And we know you don’t get paid. We know you’re using your own resources to be here. You have no idea how much what you do matters to us. And you still believe what you believe. It’s obvious your ministry is truly ordained by God.” (I promise… they really said this. I was blown away.)
Wow! They hit the head on the nail! But by their definition, can’t we all be practical Christians? I know those who donate to me are being practical. I know those who volunteer are being practical. I know those who donate relief items are being practical. Then who are these “other Christians” the kids seem to be comparing me against?
To tell the truth, I think they are all of us. It’s us whenever we don’t take the time to notice. It’s us whenever we don’t take the time to smile, It’s us whenever we don’t give a little so that everyone can have something. It’s us whenever we think that someone needs to conform before they can belong. It’s us whenever we think tremendous differences on the outside translate to insurmountable differences on the inside.
The kids set the bar very high. But then, so did another person in history. And he’s the guy through whom everything came into being. And through whom everything will be judged. But through whom, anyone can be redeemed. Thank you, Jesus!
This Christmas season, do what you can to live up to the idea these kids posed: Be a Practical Christian as often as you can. I think we’ll all like what we are becoming, through Jesus, if we open ourselves up to this idea.