I met Rhonda last week while I was on outreach. She was on the corner in front of the bank crying. My co-workers and I approached her gently, offering hand warmers and gloves. She couldn’t find her boyfriend and was upset about the way the burger stand’s security guard had talked to her. “I was in line to get a cup of ice and he yelled at me in front of everybody. It was humiliating.” She continues to cry, and I continue to listen. The homeless are in touch with shame and indignity. Getting yelled at over a cup of ice is embarrassing.
Rhonda doesn’t feel safe in any of the women’s shelters and is going to sleep outside. I hand her an emergency blanket and offer to pray. She asks for healing prayer for her stomach. While we’re praying, I’m overwhelmed by the humiliation and suffering of Christ. “They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him. They wove thorn branches into a crown and put it on his head, and they placed a reed stick in his right hand as a scepter. Then they knelt before him in mockery and taunted, “Hail! King of the Jews!” And they spit on him and grabbed the stick and struck him on the head with it. When they were finally tired of mocking him, they took off the robe and put his own clothes on him again. Then they led him away to be crucified (Matthew 27:27-31).”
This encounter also made me reflect on how I’ve endured my own dose of humiliation. Years ago, I worked as a chaplain for a ministry that served homeless youth. For ten years I visited kids in jail and in the hospital. I officiated weddings, baptisms, and funerals. I broke up dozens of fights. Providing pastoral care to young people that lived on the street was always life-giving. Late one Friday evening I received a phone call informing me I was being let go for budget reasons. My position was being eliminated. I was asked to clean out my desk, turn in my keys, and leave the building. How would I say goodbye to the hundreds of homeless kids I knew? What would I do for work? Where were the leaders I had served with in the “relational ministry?” The next nine months were humiliating. No one would hire me. I was too Christian for social services and not Christian enough for the church. After nine months of interviews and applications, I got hired with the United States Postal Service. My next lesson in humiliation.
I was thankful for my new job. The blessings of the Lord, etc. USPS reminded me of a drop-in center for homeless youth. The only difference was that the postal service was cruel and soul-crushing. The blue polyester shorts may be the root cause of people “going postal.” For nine years I worked sixty plus hours a week. I was bullied and intimidated almost every day. I had never worked so hard and been treated so badly in my life. In the middle of year four I went back to school. I took theology classes online and wrote papers in my postal vehicle. I did well and got credentialed with the Assemblies of God. I was eventually able to leave USPS, plant two dinner churches, and work as a street minister with Operation Nightwatch.
As I prayed with Rhonda, all the loss and humiliation I experienced during those last nine years finally made sense. God wanted to give me a righteousness that comes through faith in Christ ─ to depend on a righteousness that was not my own. To know that the power of his resurrection comes from sharing in his suffering (Philippians 3:10). Prayer on the street with Rhonda and my homeless friends is a sharing of shame, humiliation, and resurrection. And it’s in this sharing that transformation and healing begins to take place.