It is liberating to stand with homeless people and listen to their lives. Sitting in the pain of human suffering and listening to a broken heart amplifies the voice of Christ. Mostly, street ministry is me nodding my head in agreement and trying not to cry. It is amazing how listening restores human dignity. St. Vincent de Paul said, “If God is the center of your life, no words are necessary. Your mere presence will touch hearts.”

I met Carissa downtown. She was barefoot and sitting in a pile of trash. She talked with me about the church and her time in state run mental hospitals. She showed me her arms and how they were free of track marks. She had been shooting up in her leg, which was covered with bruises. While we were talking, her friends commented that she was acting differently. “It’s like God is here and she knows it!” She talks nonstop and I listen. Between her incoherent sentence fragments, I can hear a thread of logic. She keeps saying the names of different men, her way of sharing abuse received on the street. Between her mental health and addiction, she is offering up prayers of lament. She pours water on her sandwich to make it easier to chew. I ask her if there is anything, I can keep in my prayers for her. She pulls her shirt up and wants me to pray that she isn’t pregnant. We pray and she says, “thanks for thinking of me!’

Laura comes to the dinner church with a twelve pack of beer. She introduces me to her friend “This is my pastor. He has known me since I was seventeen.” She needs pads and we walk to the corner store. She hears voices and thinks the cashier behind the counter killed her friend. He sympathizes with her and we both listen. Laura taps me on the shoulder and tells him that I am “literally a pastor”. She realizes he is not the killer and apologizes for having an open beer in his store.

We meet Len in a tent encampment. He has a needle in his hand and tells us that it’s his friend’s birthday. I suggest we sing, and a delightful birthday party ensues. After singing Happy Birthday we pass out water, snacks, and socks. Len wants to pray, and we all gather in a circle, elbow to elbow. He leads us in a prayer of thanksgiving. I give him a Bible and he asks me to write a blessing in it. We talk about the Spirit and baseball. He loves Roberto Clemente and 1 Corinthians 13. “Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged (1 Corinthians 13:4 NLT).” He gives me a can of soda and says, “Thanks for the good looking out. I like being around people with positive energy.”

Connie is cooking potatoes and eggs in her tent across from the auto part store. We talk about her former life with a violent husband. “He broke my leg because I made waffles instead of pancakes.” Her friend was jumped yesterday and has a cracked rib. Business owners are fed up with homeless people and have begun spraying them in the face with fire extinguishers. We pray safety and protection for the homeless community. “If people only listened to the story of how we became homeless.”

Michael Cox

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