I had finished Friday outreach, or so I thought. I had dismissed the volunteers with thanks, but I had a few more sandwiches so I walked back to a place we had seen many youth earlier. Sure enough, there were a few people there who wanted the last of the food.
Just as I was finally leaving, “Jesse,” a young man I’ve known for a year or so, approached me and said, “I need a favor.” “What?” I asked. “I need you to keep my clothes… a basket of clothes.” “Why? Where are you going?” He said very matter-of-fact, “I’m going to the hospital for a while. I’ll call you when I get out.” I don’t usually hold things for street youth, but I was curious. “OK, but make sure there is nothing in the basket but clothes. Don’t put me and you at risk with anything I can’t have.” He agreed and said he’d meet me at my truck in a few minutes.
As I arrived at the truck, I was finishing answering questions for a young girl who was quizzing me about Jesus. Jesse listened quietly to it all. When I finished, I took the clothing. It was a beat-up plastic basket filled with a pair of tennis shoes, and a bunch of dirty tee-shirts and socks. He assured me, “I went through everything. There is nothing there to get you into trouble.” I thanked him. Then he asked, “I need another favor. Can you take me to the emergency room?”
I don’t usually provide transportation because there is an almost endless need for it and I would do nothing else. However, when life is threatened or when the Spirit nudges, I agree. Tonight I felt both. I agreed.
As we left the parking lot, I asked, “Why are you going?” He looked at me in a way that answered the question. I continued, “Are you a harm to yourself or others?” “Yes, if I don’t go there, I’m going to hurt myself. I can’t stand being the way I am anymore. I’ve been on heroin for 10 years. I already need their help. I’ve taken some pills.”
I won’t share the details, but I assessed the risk. It was real but not acute. So we continued on to the E.R.
On the way, I asked him about faith. He answered, “I know all about Jesus and God. I studied the Bible on my own. I heard what you told the girl and I know all that already. But I don’t usually use the J word or G word. With all I’ve done and continue to do, I’m not ready for Jesus. Maybe one day I will be.”
I responded, “I know what you mean, but I need to tell you something. You do not have to clean up to form a relationship with Jesus. It may be that you’re not ready but don’t let being dirty stop you from going to Jesus. I know many people who have formed a relationship with Jesus while sinning. In fact, everyone does.”
This intrigued him. As we talked more it became clear that he was scared but interested. Both scared for what knowing Jesus might mean in his life and also scared for what continuing his life as he had been would mean. He had reached the end of a rope. Maybe he could find a way to go further but not today.
We talked all the way there. When we arrived, I parked and asked to pray with him. I prayed for courage and stregnth. I prayed for compassionate people in the E.R., who might take his addiction and desire for self-harm seriously and find a way to help him detox and eventually get drug treatment. And then I concluded with this: “And Lord, help Jessie to pray like this when he wants: Jesus, I have never asked, but today I’m asking something big.”
To my surprise, Jesse repeated this portion of the prayer aloud. So we continued together: “I have made a mess of my life. I don’t know how to fix it. I’ve come to the end of my rope, and I’m laying everything at your feet. You alone are strong enough and big enough. Jesus, forgive me and heal me. I don’t know how to fix my life, but together we can begin to do something about it.” He prayed every word with me. As we said, “Amen,” I looked up to see him wiping tears away from his cheeks. He said goodbye and went to the E.R. I went home with his dirty laundry.
Jessie called me with an update. He’s in detox and headed to a drug treatment plan. I know he can’t do it alone, and I pray that he will continue to ask Jesus for help. Jessie feels something new but isn’t sure what it is. I pray that from this small start, ten years of drug abuse can be ended and his life can begin to be set right, piece by piece, step by step. Most of all, I pray that he will stop waiting to know Jesus. He’s right there, Jesse! Right now! And ready to start right where you are. Amen.
And I’ll make sure Jessie has clean laundry when he calls.