Serving in the Cold Under Watchful Eyes

Street Youth Ministry recently held a cold weather response because we had four days of freezing cold weather in Austin. That may sound insignificant to readers in northern areas, but we are not used to it and it was bitterly cold. The kind of cold that sometimes takes the lives of street-dependent people.

So I organized the SYM volunteers and supporters to respond. And respond they did! It was incredible. You can read about the response on our website at under Events. However, I want to relate something that I learned one of those nights.

It was the second night of the response. I had pulled my truck up the University of Baptist church steps, one of the places I commonly meet folks. And quite a few street youth had come by to meet me and get hot chocolate, sandwiches and snacks and to look through my cold weather gear to outfit themselves for what was going to be one of the coldest nights in Austin since years past. They took sleeping bags, blankets, coats, sweaters, socks, scarves, gloves, and all sorts of items. And they were polite and cordial. We talked and checked in with one another. I met a few new people and everything was just swell. I so love what I do.
In addition to the street youth, a number of older folks came by. Some I recognized and many I didn’t. That’s OK. I helped them out, too. However, on this evening a lot of older folks were coming by. Suddenly I realized they were coming from a food pantry down the street that often serves about 250 people! Many of the clients of the food pantry are not street-dependent but are working poor. They drive in from all over the Austin region to receive several bags of groceries, a good meal, and other care. It’s a great program operated by the coalition of Mica 6 churches. However, many of them were now coming to my truck.
Perhaps it was my imagination, but they seemed kind of “grabby” and they took a lot, much more than the average street youth. And they didn’t seem interested in a relationship with me. It felt like the opening moments of a wild and crazy garage sale. I gritted my teeth and stepped back a bit. I had to make a quick decision about what to do. Should I withdraw? Limit people on how much they took? I was leaning toward stepping in to say something.
I heard a voice in my head. It was the voice of Howard Butt, and the line I came came from one of his “Our Daily Work” broadcasts.  It said, “If you want to be a servant, you have to expect to be treated like one, too!” I was convicted by this memory. I stopped and reconsidered my next actions.
These working poor are not my target audience, although they obviously have needs. They are not the center of my calling, although someone obviously needs to serve them. They don’t peak my passion, although I know people who feel deeply about helping such dear folks. But I needed to serve them nevertheless and now! So I put on a smile and went to work serving hot chocolate. I reminded myself that I had already served all my street youth and these folks needed the support too. They just about emptied the truck completely!
After about an hour, the flow of people pretty much stopped. I walked over to the steps and had a seat and drank a bottle of water, the first break I’d had in quite a while. I heard a voice from beside me in the dark. It was one of my street youth from under his bundle of blankets. His name was “Joseph.” He’s a tough and independent guy. His dog was asleep at his feet. He’s a survivor, an experienced outdoorsman, and seems to pretty much need no help at all. Joseph really surprised me with what he said next.
Joseph said, “That was good.” I said, “What? What are you talking about?” He responded, “You served all those people. That was good.” I shot back, “You watched all that? I thought you were sleeping!” He continued, “I’ve been all over the country and have seen lots of street youth workers. Most won’t help older people… won’t do what you did. But you did. That was good.” I was shocked that he had been watching.
I then confessed to him that it hadn’t been easy. “My passion lies in helping young people like you, but I had to make the decision tonight to help these folks also. I almost went the other way. But that just wouldn’t have been right tonight. I know there are people out there perfectly shaped to work with these folks, just as I am perfectly shaped to work with street-dependent youth. God is amazing how he shapes us all for service in unique ways. Someday you’ll find exactly what you want to do, also.” Joseph listened and simply said, “You’re actions tonight speak volumes about you and what you believe. I respect that.”
Joseph and I finished up and I left feeling at great peace that night. I pray that all readers and all clients  find their calling and passions. I count myself very lucky to have found mine.

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