Manuel Labor

Street ministry often feels like working for the Post Office. Lots of walking, driving, and carrying stuff. When I am moving cases of Costco water up and down stairs and packing the trunk of my car with donated bags of shoes, I hear the hallowed words of my mom who carried everyone’s baggage, both physical and emotional. One time at Disneyland she had all of me and my two sisters’ allowance money in her purse. Probably thirty pounds of loose change! “I am done schlepping all this crap around. I am not the prospector’s donkey.” The blue-collar nature of street ministry is challenging for people who perceive themselves as enlightened and sophisticated. It’s easy to get mired in resentment, walking around in the rain with pizza casserole all over your coat, being yelled at by the people you are trying to help. Over the years, I have seen many well intentioned and kindhearted volunteers get frustrated and quit because they were not able to “be successful”. People who “know how to get things done” have a challenging time on the street. The kingdom of God accomplishes victory through forgiveness and vulnerability, prioritizing the social outcast and marginalized, using dirt, spit, bread, blood, and words for healing. Jesus is a terrible CEO with an even worse business model. “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross, and follow me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it. And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than your soul (Matthew 16:24-26 NLT)?”

 Steven ran across the street to tell me how God had saved his life. He suffered a stroke last week and now believes in the spiritual reality of angels and demons. In the two years I have known him he has been shot, stabbed, and had his tent along with all of his possessions burned to the ground. He is clean and sober now and can’t stop talking about the goodness of God. He walks with me through the encampment I am visiting and helps me pass out socks, gloves, and hand warmers. He tells me about his friend that he is praying for. She is stuck in the cycle of addiction, and he knows that she is being oppressed by the forces of darkness. He is manic in his sharing, and I do my best to listen and offer calm biblical instruction about spiritual warfare. We talk about the authority and power of Christ and how we can participate in his healing by giving and receiving forgiveness. We leave the encampment and continue talking. Steven introduces me to several of his friends and asks them if they need any beanies or snacks. We continue walking and run into Brian, a mutual friend from the street who shares the news that there has been another overdose death from fentanyl. The conversation briefly excludes me as Steven and Brian share conspiracy theories about how it’s impossible for the person who died to have overdosed. They don’t think he was a drug user and suspect foul play. Brian leaves and Steven and I continue talking about Jesus. About the light of the world overcoming death. I put my hand on Steven’s shoulder and pray, asking God for wisdom and protection. When we’re done praying, Steven takes a deep breath, thanks me, and tells me what I need to hear. “Thank you for doing the menial tasks. It’s the menial tasks that get people to open their hearts.” Thank you, Jesus, may we continue to schlep onward and upward!

Michael Cox

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