When I first started doing “ministry,” I always felt like I wasn’t doing anything. One Easter, surrounded by homeless youth and a cross decorated with flowers, a staff person asked me if “I had brought the word.” I thought I had, but wondered if I should have brought it differently. Maybe sharing stories and meals isn’t powerful enough. Perhaps the problem was with my presentation. Yelling seems to be the preferred way of communicating the Gospel for many of the Lord’s anointed. Maybe pastors and evangelists think God is hard of hearing. In church I often thought, “Why are you yelling at me? I already believe all of this Bible stuff.”
Walking around the streets where homeless people live, you can usually find a few people yelling. Sometimes people are yelling about God. My approach has always been to get to know people. God is relational. Through conversation the hearts of people are revealed. We talk with Ronald in the park. He tells us where some pregnant women are staying by the freeway. “They could use some guys like you to talk with. You don’t give long speeches about God.” Pastor David offers him a cigarette. “Thanks, Mr. Cigarette Saint.”
A young man and his dog are spare changing by the grocery store. He shares wild stories of travel and adventure. He was prayed for by some faith healers in Los Angeles. “Hey, I’m up for anything. I felt some things lift off me when they prayed.” He thanks us for hanging out with him and listening.
We approach three people sitting on the sidewalk in front of a busy restaurant. A young woman begins to cry as she talks with Pastor Ben. She shares how she is tired of living on the street. Through tears of fear and sorrow she tells us that spiritual warfare is real. Her favorite verses are the ones from Ephesians. “Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil (Eph 6:11).” Pastor Ben prays a quiet, calm and loving prayer of protection. Her friend tells me his favorite verse is from Revelations 14, The Lamb and the 144,000—“That is some epic shit!” We take turns reading the chapter out loud to each other. We are all sitting on the ground. I look like a Little League coach that has lost his way. After we pray, they ask me if I have a Bible. I have The Backpacker Bible and three pocket-sized New Testaments. “Do you want a burgundy or black New Testament or the full meal deal?” The Bibles are all received with excitement and joy. Jack tells me his favorite verse, “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So, it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (John 3:8). Bible studies on the street are the best.
As we’re packing up at the end of the night, a gentleman selling Real Change newspapers walks by. We chat and give him our last pair of socks and granola bar. He’s trying to make enough money to buy a tub of rainbow sherbet. We pray for him and it’s a great end to the night. As he’s walking away, he yells “Thanks for the prayers!” I hope he got some ice cream.
We get back to the office and there’s a woman in a wheelchair, with her friend, by the front door. She’s crying and incoherently trying to figure out how to get a van cab. She uses our phone to try to make arrangements. There are no van cabs at night. We part ways and it seems like her friend is going to help her. As I walk to my car she cries for help, “Michael!” Her friend has left her, it’s 11 p.m., and she’s homeless, alone, and in a wheelchair. I push her up the hill to the bus stop. She doesn’t want to get on the bus and doesn’t want to go stay with her friend. We pray and say our goodbyes. I pray that the Word is made flesh. That the provision and protection of God materialize in practical and meaningful ways for our friends living on the street. I hope I was able to bring the Word.