Come on with it

Last night we had an epic five-hour rainy outreach. From sopping wet tents and tarp lined doorways, homeless men and women told me and my coworker Paul, that they loved us and appreciated us. Steve shared that he dropped out of high school at the age of sixteen and has been homeless ever since. He is now forty-three and hopes to get back to work and into a shelter. He vented for a half hour about his struggles with maintaining sobriety on the street, the shelter system, and his stepdad. “My mom basically picked him over me. I know that my criminal record is connected to what my stepdad did to me.” Steve’s stories of violence and vindictive street justice fill our time together, stories that all serve to cover up the terrified neglected little boy hiding inside of his rage. Our conversation ends with him smiling and thanking us for talking to him. “I mostly talk to myself and have nobody to hang out with that isn’t a drug addict.” I hope Steve hears the loving voice of God our father. “And behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased (Matthew 3:17).”

Casey is smoking crystal meth when we approach him. He is deeply moved that the church is out on such a rainy night talking to him. He wants to make sure we thank the church ladies who made the sandwiches. While Casey is expressing his gratitude he begins to cry. He wants us to pray for his grandfather who has been diagnosed with cancer. He wants to go home and see him but is ashamed of his drug use and criminal history. We hold hands and pray. He is crying and grips my hand tightly, like he is literally holding on for dear life. We hug and cry some more. We talk about how the Spirit intercedes and speaks things that are beyond words. How tears communicate the deep things of the soul. Casey and I talk about the Bible, and he shares his favorite verse. “For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate (Romans 7:15).” We then have a tearful conversation about how, in the eyes of God, we are not our bad choices. Casey knows that God’s path is true, and that at some point we have to turn away from darkness. I encourage Casey to ask God for his miraculous supernatural help. We both agree that we can’t change on our own. We need the power of God. “For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out (Romans 7:18).” We hug again and I am overwhelmed by the Spirit of God, and thankful to get my theology of sin and forgiveness from the street.

Our last stop of the night turns into a mini prayer service. Misty wants us to pray protection from the devil and asks for the cross around Reverend Pauls’ neck. Paul hands her the cross and leads us in the Lord’s prayer. We ask a young couple a few tents up if they want us to pray for anything. Without hesitating they smile and declare, “come on with it!” “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil (Matthew 6: 9-13).”

Michael Cox

God holds your hand

We had nine people come on outreach with us Monday evening. Staff from Public Health were offering flu shots and Hepatitis Vaccines. Lutherans, Methodists, Catholics, and Pentecostal Christians were offering socks, sandwiches, and prayer. The first person we spoke with wanted a flu shot and prayer. She asked me to pray that she wouldn’t hang herself. An image of a noose keeps haunting her thoughts. I kneel, hold her hand, and pray against the spirit of suicide and death. I speak life to her heart and mind in the name of Jesus. Her hand, like her entire body is shaking. She responds with tears of joy to the care and comfort that only the Holy Spirit can provide. When we are done praying, she stands up and gives me a hug. My friend James is at the bus stop. He is drunk and excited to see me. He always calls me Father Mike and asks me to bless him. After we pray, he thanks me and gets a pair of white Kirkland brand socks, my favorite. We walk toward the park and meet a couple that is organizing all their belongings in a shopping cart. They both wanted flu shots and were happy to chat. Linda had just sold some clothes to a thrift store. Her boyfriend both appreciated and tolerated my jokes. I asked if there was anything I could keep in my prayers for them? Linda wanted prayer for a messy legal situation. She was assaulted recently and had a restraining order placed on the individual. The police thought her boyfriend was the perpetrator and arrested him. She was assaulted again while her boyfriend was in jail. I started to talk about legal resources when Linda reminded me that, “somethings only God can take care of”. The prayer time was powerful and deeply moving.

We walked up to some tents and talked with our friend Jeff. He shared that when his dad died, he didn’t hear about it until a week later. It seemed that I was the first person he had talked with about his dads passing. His dad was hard on him. “He never hit me. I wish he had instead of yelling at me all the time. He made me feel so small.” We prayed about addiction, the shame that comes from relapsing, and the radical forgiveness of Christ. He got a flu shot and the Hep A vaccine. “That’s the one that protects you from poop!”

Theresa was walking by the Community Dinner with her dog. I invited her to the meal, she smiled and approached cautiously. Once in the buffet line, volunteers asked if she wanted to take a few extra meals for leftovers. Theresa began to cry and shared that she had no food in her apartment and had no idea what she was going to do. We prayed with her and discovered that she had no toilet paper either. I went to the corner store and bought a four pack of bath tissue to add to her armful of meals.

Prayer for people on the street, “Don’t be afraid. I am with you. Don’t tremble with fear. I am your God. I will make you strong, as I protect you with my arm and give you victories. I am the Lord your God. I am holding your hand, so don’t be afraid. I am here to help you (Isaiah 41:10,13).”

Michael Cox

Food tastes better when you can say hi

Jesus feeds people. He feeds huge crowds with five fish and two loaves of bread. He gives living water that causes people to thirst no more. He tells us that whoever eats his flesh and drinks his blood has eternal life. Jesus eats with people that no one else will. The professional religious power brokers want to know, “Why do you eat and drink with such scum (Luke 5:30 NLT)?” The Community Dinner Church likes to invite the disinherited to dinner. We like to gather with people who have found themselves excluded from other communities. “God sets the lonely in families; he sets the prisoners free and gives them joy. But he makes the rebellious live in a sun-scorched land (Psalm 68:6).” When I discuss the stories of Christ with people at the Dinner Church, I find people who are interested in the everlasting food of the Gospel. Marty shares with me that he isn’t religious or a Christian, but the words I share about Christ always move him to tears. He tells me that he thinks about the Gospel stories all week long. The Dinner Church is his community. Pastors from various denominations come to visit the Dinner Church and want to know, “how does the Dinner Church disciple people?” Even after hearing Marty’s experience and witnessing healing prayer in the middle of a meal, people who identify as “from the church”, are not convinced. How can the sacred happen with mashed potatoes, body odor, and the wet feet of homeless people? How will peoples lives be transformed by Jesus if a pastor doesn’t explain the “right way” to follow him. I find that it is the religiously experienced that miss the real meal of Christ. The broken body of Jesus is shared not taught. When we avoid the suffering of others, we find ourselves living a parched, hangry life, absent of freedom and joy. The sun-scorched land of rebellion happens when the church doesn’t care for the poor. “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me (Matthew 25:34-36).”

Last week, I visited a new Dinner Church that some friends of mine have planted. They are having great success welcoming and serving the neighborhood in the name of Jesus. One gentleman wanted me to pray that he could spend more time with his mom. I talked about cartoons with another man that was not wearing any socks or shoes. When I told him that I wished I had socks to give him he said, “Being barefoot is how I stay cool!” I sat with a man on a bench who was enjoying the meal. After a while we realized that he had been a longtime guest of one of the very first Dinner Churches in Seattle. He was delighted to know that the food was being prepared by the same cook. He asked if he could bring a meal to his friend that was bed ridden and dying of cancer. I threw his garbage away while he got a meal for his friend. As he was leaving, he thanked me and said, “food tastes better when you can say hi!” The presence of God is delicious. “Taste and see that the Lord is good. Oh, the joys of those who take refuge in him (Psalm 34:8).”

Michael Cox


 I had the opportunity to help a homeless friend get into housing. I met him twenty years ago, we reconnected recently, and he asked if I had any ideas for a new living situation. Miraculously, my idea worked. He was in a new place within a week. That never happens. As I was praising God for his provision, I had another idea. What if we interviewed my friend for the upcoming fundraiser? It would be a few questions like, how has Operation Nightwatch, (the ministry I work for), supported you? What impact has our relationship had on your life? At first my friend refused. He was uncomfortable being filmed. While I was reassuring him that he didn’t have to participate in the fundraiser, he quickly changed his mind. “Why wouldn’t I do it, You guys have helped me out so much!”

A week passed and I showed up at his place with the two-person crew to film. I introduced everyone, and my friend began to scream at us. “How dare you guys come and expect me to tell all of my painful secrets for free. I need five hundred dollars for this shit. And fuck you Mike, you should know better.” My friend was so upset that it didn’t matter what I said. He was not hearing any of my attempts to reason, comfort, or cajole. I decided to take the night off, eat ice cream, and play my guitar. Reflecting on the situation, I came to the conclusion that my friend didn’t want to be reminded of how much help he needs, how long he has been homeless, or how demoralizing and dehumanizing his life on the street has been. I thought about how many white people have offered to “help” African American men and how emasculating accessing social services can be. I thought, I help people process their trauma.

The next week I prayed with a man who told me that he felt like giving up. He has been homeless for a long time and was exhausted. He was thinking it might be time to end his life. We kneeled in front of his tent and prayed for continued perseverance. I prayed that he would be encouraged by how much he has overcome. I reminded him that God loves him and that the author of life would never leave or forsake him. We prayed against the spirit of death and praised Jesus, the God of truth, resurrection, and light. When we were done. He told me that he cries out to God all the time and thanked me. As I was walking away, I heard him say, “I needed that!” I also heard the Spirit of the living God say, “I help people process their trauma”.

The next tent I came upon was inhabited by a young woman named pearl. She was excited to talk with clergy and told me how much God had blessed her. She met a woman who gave her a ride into town. She had to leave the motel room because her friends were smoking crystal meth and were mad at her for sleeping. “It was three in the morning, and I fell asleep outside standing up. I woke up and realized there was a bush right next to me. Remember the story of Moses and the burning bush? I slept in the bush. God always provides for me.” We kneel in front of her tent and pray. She cries, and cries and cries. She thanks me for the prayer, and we do a covid, social distance, air hug. I am reminded again that God helps people process their trauma. “Then the Lord said, “I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters. I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey (Exodus 3:7-8).”

Michael Cox

Prayers for women

Last night, I prayed for two women. They both live in the park and cried while we asked the Lord for protection and healing. Jesse has a medical issue that has affected her voice. She speaks in a gravely whisper and it’s hard to understand her. I have a doctor, a nurse, and a social worker with me and invite Jesse to speak with them. She is excited and tells me the details of her medical issues. While we are waiting for the doctor, there is loud music and yelling, coming from several tents. There is a man smoking crack and a woman smoking meth sitting near us as well. A man who is agitated approaches, swinging a piece of rebar over his head. My outreach partner says, “heads up” and I prepare to engage in possible street drama. Another man, sitting next to my new friend Jesse, lets us know that he has our back. “Don’t worry, I see that guy.” I ask Jesse if she wants to pray while we wait for the doctor. I kneel and ask if its ok to put my hand on her shoulder. I pray that she would recover her voice. The folks on the bench listen, as I thank God for seeing and hearing us. I ask God to heal any wounds or trauma that may be impacting our health. I can feel her body shake and am in awe of how open she is to God. The doctor listens to Jesse’s fear about the emergency room. Jesse listens to the doctor’s concern about her health. I love to watch the medical professionals in action. I offer to take Jesse to the hospital and give her my card. She is appreciative and we agree to talk again next week.

Cathy is at the other end of the park. She is alone and scared. Her boyfriend has beaten her and taking all of her belongings. She tells me that, “He wanted to control me, and I can’t be controlled”. She lifts up her shirt and shows me a giant bruise on her side from being assaulted. I write down the address and number for a domestic violence shelter and introduce her to my medical outreach pals. Cathy lets us know that God is going to deal with her ex-boyfriend, and that she has done nothing wrong. I affirm all of her wisdom and am amazed at her resolve. We pray for protection, and I am in awe of how open she is to God.

I had the chance to pray for a woman that has dedicated her life to serving God. She works in a part of the world where her identity as a Christian missionary could get her killed. She lives her life with the understanding that, as followers of Christ we are to, “live dead”. “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him (John 12:24-26).” I am in awe of how open she is to God.

Michael Cox

It depends on your perspective

I offer a sandwich and water to a homeless woman. She is sitting on the sidewalk with a group of homeless people I have known for a while. She is nodding off from heroin and ignores my culinary offerings. I begin to talk with another gentleman, when I hear her yell, “hey, where is the food.” I apologize, saying I misunderstood and thought she didn’t want anything. Upon receiving the sandwich, she begins a series of interrogating questions. When were the sandwiches made? Why did you not pass them out in the morning if you received them in the morning. Who made them? Why do you think I need a sandwich? I answer each question and think, you are under no obligation to eat the food I am handing out. I do understand the frustration she is expressing. People often assume homeless people will be grateful to receive their rotten leftovers and dirty clothes. She asks me why I think homeless people are garbage cans and starts to pick the sandwich apart, throwing bread, meat, and cheese, from the Metropolitan Market into the bushes. I must confess that my inner monologue wasn’t, “oh she is having a rough day”. I thought about all the time I have spent trying to make sure homeless people don’t get treated like garbage cans and how I didn’t want her to throw food at me. I was hit by a glass of milk years ago and am not naïve to the possibility of projectile picnics. She continues to escalate so we walk over to my friend Matthew. We talk about the 80’s tv show Nightrider. I win older guy pop culture points for remembering that the cars name was Kit. Matthew says Kit was more than a talking car, he was artificial intelligence. He asks me how I am doing and how long I have been married. We shoot the breeze for a while before we move to a group of guys playing cards.

 I have learned not to interrupt gambling on the street. If someone starts to lose money while I am blabbing about socks and Jesus, I will be blamed for bringing them bad luck. A few men look up from their cards and get water and sandwiches.  A younger guy is walking through the park with a shirt on that says repent for the kingdom of God is at hand. He introduces himself and tells me how he has been called by God to warn people about the antichrist. He gives me his literature and I wish him well. We approach a tent and meet a woman who is eight months pregnant. She sees my collar and my coworkers’ cross necklace and asks us to pray for her. We hold hands and she begins to sob. We pray against shame and guilt. We thank God for being a God of life and we pray for her soon to be son. She is struggling with addiction and is struggling to remain hopeful. She is trying to “get right with God”. I share that Jesus is a cry baby and we read Psalm 56:8. “You have kept track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle, You have recorded each one in your book.” I give her my number and tell her to call me anytime. She is visibly moved from our exchange, and I am overwhelmed by the goodness of God. Later in the evening we visit are friend Marta in her tent. She always gives me a hug and thanks me, calling me Father. She is a little flirty. Last week, with a mischievous grin and giggle she called me grandpa. After she gets her supplies, she thanks us for remembering her. We see Ivan on a scooter by the waterfront. He tells us that he has cancer and that its not the worst thing that has ever happened to him. Before motoring off, he leaves us with some wisdom. “Suffering is relative. It depends on your perspective.”

Michael Cox


Rhonda is a regular guest at the Nightwach outdoor community dinner. She is always intoxicated and screaming obscenities. In the middle of her outbursts, she often breaks down and cries, asking for prayer. After we pray and hug, she will usually calm down for a while and eat a meal. She will eventually start yelling again, drink a beer at the bus stop, and then walk across the busy intersection into traffic. One evening she was extra aggravated, pushing a volunteer, and throwing a bottle of water at another. All I could think was, “this is who Nightwatch is built for”. When Rhonda left the meal, she grabbed an entire bag of Dicks hamburgers, walked into the street, and glared at me. All I could do was laugh. Rhonda is exactly who Jesus invites to dinner. Only God knows what has happened to her life. The next week Rhonda came to the meal and apologized, handing me a swordfish Christmas ornament she found in the trash. I thanked her and promised to hang it up in my office.

 Rhonda came last night to the dinner and hugged me saying, “Thank you pastor and thank you to the church.” She was clear headed and well spoken. She had been in county jail for twenty days and was clean from meth, alcohol, and crack cocaine. She participated in a jail house Bible study and was praising the Lord. The judge at her arraignment gave her a second chance and told her he wanted to see her succeed. I said so do I and so does God. Rhonda asked me if I hung the swordfish ornament in my office and if I would pray for her. As I was driving home, I could not stop crying. “But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling and fell down before him and told him the whole truth. And he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease (Mark 5:33-34).”

Michael Cox


It was the beginning of a record-breaking heat wave in Seattle. Warm weather shelters were being opened to keep the unhoused safe and alive. A homeless friend was stabbed to death in the park next to the courthouse. Our street ministry team was headed to the encampment, to perform a memorial service, and offer prayers for the deceased. We decided to walk a different route when we met Tammy. She was sitting in a stairwell alone, wearing purple crocks and a sundress. Her forearms were covered with open wounds that come from desperation and drug needles. Upon seeing us and our clergy collars, Tammy began to praise the Lord. She had been struggling with her addiction, resisting the urge to shoot up, and praying. “I was sitting here waiting on the Lord, and then you all showed up!” Tammy rose to her feet and began to pray. She shared about her upbringing and her family. Growing up in a predominately white neighborhood, Tammy said she had some “black girl drama”. After our prayers, Tammy declared that it would probably be best if she went back home.

We arrived at the park and posted up in an out of the way corner. The block is overwhelmed with tents and structures made of plywood and pallets. While praying, my heart is moved by the reality of racism, poverty, and the justice system in America. The people living in the park by the courthouse are almost all African American. It gives me chills to think about the literal, physical proximity of the encampment, the courthouse, and the county jail. They are all within a three-block radius, forming a web of oppression for the poor and marginalized of society. Pillars of destruction for communities of color.

We drive a few blocks south towards downtown and meet Adam and Beth. They both live in tents where the stabbing occurred. I mention that we were just there praying. Adam asks me what I felt while I was praying in the park. I fumble through my answer, using words like, chaos, and tension. Adam gently tells me that there is a spiritual stronghold in the park that is keeping people in bondage to addiction. I agree and can feel the anxiety and stress in his voice. I offer to pray, and we bow our heads. After we pray, there is a lingering sense of the Lord’s presence. We remain silent, savoring the comfort of the Holy Spirit, reminded of the victory of life in the face of death. “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly (John 10:10).”

Michael Cox

Angelic Lyft Driver

It is a beautiful evening in Seattle. Views of Puget Sound and the Olympic mountains are available to anyone willing to stop and look. The sun is setting, and Seattle’s homeless community begins to make plans for the evening. The Park that we are doing outreach in, holds these two realities of beauty and suffering in epic tension. An ambulance appears and paramedics engage with a group of rowdy beer enthusiasts. A woman tells me that she is a jazz singer and plans to perform soon. She has been homeless for twelve years and demands four sandwiches. She quickly becomes agitated, shakes my hand, and starts looking frantically for her phone. A man who is drunk wants to share a drink with one of our volunteers. Deacon Frank pretends to drink a beer and discovers that his new friend is an Eastern Orthodox Christian. A conversation of lament ensues regrading doctrinal divisions and church polity. A woman walks by and asks if I am a priest. I give her some socks while Deacon Frank blesses a cross for her. “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them (Matthew 18:20 ESV).” A woman in a tent asks us to pray for her. In between paranoid ramblings and compulsive organizing, she tells me that worship music helps her. While holding a dirty stuffed animal she begins to cry, and we pray. I pray about angels worshiping in heaven and protection. She lifts her hands in the air, praising God in agreement. “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come (Revelation 4:8 ESV)!” When we are done praying, she gives me a high five and says, “Jesus does stupid things that make sense!”

There is a man on a bench who is coughing and tells us that he has chest pains. Our friend Molly, who is a registered nurse, is with us, and immediately goes to work. He opens up about his medical history and agrees that a visit to the emergency room is in order. Molly calls a Lyft driver who arrives in under a minute. I walk up to the car, hoping to use some of my white privilege to smooth out the inevitable drama that is about to take place. I can’t imagine a Lyft driver wanting to chauffeur a homeless man. To my surprise the driver is not only friendly, but excited to help our sick friend. The driver tells me that he comes to the park with food and is frustrated when people take pictures of people living in tents. He tells me its disrespectful and dehumanizing when “do gooders”, hand out food to the homeless and make it a selfie. We put two, dirty, overstuffed backpacks with broken zippers into the trunk. Our homeless friend is invited into the front seat and arrives at the hospital safely. “Don’t forget to show hospitality to strangers, for some who have done this have entertained angels without realizing it (Hebrews 13:2 NLT).”

Michael Cox

Well-oiled machine

For the most part, street ministry is waiting. Waiting expectantly for God, for moments when a person is open to the possibility of new life. Sunday evening at the dinner church, I met Roland. He asked if I had a sleeping bag and explained that he was newly homeless. I offered to meet with him the following day. I would have a sleeping bag for him, and we could talk about different housing resources. I have a very low success rate for people showing up for appointments. One out of ten might be a generous estimate. Roland arrives on time and I am stunned. For street ministry this constitutes a miracle. We discuss his situation and some possible steps he can take. I give him three pairs of socks, two t shirts, and a windbreaker. He needs to get a negative covid test to get into a shelter. He has identification and a phone. Miracles number two and three. I tell him about the Tuesday dinner, and he writes the address and time down. Before we part ways, I offer to pray. I encourage him to stay hopeful. Because of the pandemic, it is not easy to get into housing or shelter. We pray and I think only God can help this guy. He is way to gentle and kind to survive out on the street. As were praying, I sense the presence of God, and can tell that Roland feels the goodness of the Lord as well.

The next day we meet at the dinner. He borrowed twenty dollars from his brother yesterday and was able to stay in a shelter that charges fifteen per night. Miracle number four. Roland has been busy talking with different service providers. He is enrolled with a mental health care agency and has what he needs to get referred into shelter. I call my co-worker and the dispatch center is ready for him. Through-out the evening I check my phone for an emergency, “They wouldn’t help me get into shelter” call. No such call comes, and I assume Roland is figuring it out.

The next day I receive an email that Roland has been placed into a Tiny House. This is literally, the greatest thing I have heard all year. I call Roland to make sure he doesn’t miss his appointment. He already has his keys. He thanks me and tells me it was just like I prayed. “God really does care about my life”. We make plans to meet for coffee and I lose track of the number of miracles in Roland’s life.

Michael Cox