Some events, for me, drip with ink even before they come to a close. Woe that they should ever escape the pen. Tonight was such an event. And I barely know where to begin. So I’ll just start, ….at the beginning.
Firstly, I will tell you that I have always said, “If you weren’t surprised, then God didn’t show up.” Because you know how we roll, us Christian folks. We orchestrate, really well, the Holy Spirit and how He ought to function. Our Sunday services are especially predictable and we know how to corral Him in. We usually end up with a finished product lifeless in its finesse. But, hey, we did the deed and got the job done, there is no denying it. That is, until the Holy Spirit actually shows up. And everyone is….you guessed it…surprised! But when the Holy Spirit genuinely shows up, we are more than surprised, we are blown away.
So from the beginning, as promised.
I had allotted space for the Holy Spirit this evening and space for a little fun as well. Here’s how that looked: Our Friday night plan was an early dinner, then out to feed and minister to the homeless in the park and finally we’d close with some live music downtown. It’s a Friday night after all.
I must preface this with some information you may not know. We are called to minister to the homeless. But not just the homeless. We are called to minister to those that aren’t really down with traditional church. You know, the North American model. Not everyone is down with that. Some of us think it may need a little tweaking. Some of us see a slightly different model portrayed within the pages of the Bible. Some of us see traditional church as limiting and lacking in flexibility, creativity, and heart. Some of us believe that the church isn’t the building, but that the church is the people. And “wherever two or more are gathered there I am [Jesus/God] in the midst of them.” We also believe that a lot of great things happen within the walls of traditional church and many of our nearest and dearest go to traditional church. We see their incredible hearts, and the work they are doing and we applaud them. But we are called to the ones outside the “church.” The ones who the traditional church can’t quite relate to and sometimes display more justice than mercy; more doctrine than compassion; more fault-finding than understanding; more us-versus-them, than admission of the level playing field at the foot of the cross.
We’re not so sure Jesus sees it like that. Not so sure everything is that cut and dried. Not so sure we can wrap this worship thing up with a pretty bow, and present you a package. So God gave us a vision to work outside the parameters of the traditional church and to let Him lead us daily in this, and to let Him dictate how that pans out every day.
But honestly, I kinda had tonight all wrapped up. But it’s worse than that. I even tried to back out of our visit with our homeless friends.
The conversation went something like this:
“Ho! It’s too late now, Tim. It gets dark here by 8 pm. We won’t get there til 8. We won’t get out of the streets til nine thirty or ten, and all the live music will have ended or be close to ending. Our day is pretty wide open tomorrow. Why don’t we just do it then instead.”
In true Tim Morgan fashion, he nonchalantly replied, “No Mommy, I have it in my heart to stick to the plan. Come on, I want you with me. Everyone’s been asking about you.” (I’d been sick 2 solid weeks).
At this point, I had a choice to make and I’m happy to say that I made the right choice.
It was, in fact, dark and 8 p.m when we saw our friend Jimmy nodding off on his usual bench on the corner of Harrison and Beach Drive. I don’t suppose the good-hearted city folks who provided this bench had any idea that it was going to house the behind of such a gracious guest forever more.
When we first met with Jimmy several weeks back, Tim asked him,
“Why you not in the park with everyone else Jimmy?” (referring to the majority of the homeless in this town).
“I don’t go over there. Too much drama. I don’t need no drama. I steer away from it.”
Well, you gotta know that stole our hearts right from the get go.
Tim laughed, “Too much drama, what you talking about Jimmy, too much drama? I understand Jimmy, I understand.” And truer, faster friends were never forged.
(These pictures were taken in the daytime at our first meeting with Jimmy).
We began our usual visit with Jimmy and I knew how it was going to go down. We were going to have some laughs, we’d provide a snack and some water, we would preach a little Jesus, and hear about his family and his early days. The days when he wasn’t here….like this. We’d pray with him. Wish him well and depart for the park.
Everything was going as I suspected it might until they showed up. Walking right down the street like they stepped out of a limo. Her hair was perfect, of course. He had on a crisp blue shirt and as they looked at us, I was sure they were afraid. I could tell they didn’t know if maybe they shouldn’t cross to the other side of the street. But I was gonna help them out. I was going to be an example. I was going to show them how this thing is done. Maybe they’d catch the fire. Maybe they, too, would consider, then, treating the homeless like people in the future. I would greet them with the heartiest hello, and flash a lovely, confident smile.
“Howdy, folks! How are you all toni……..”
But before I could finish my pious greeting, she whisked past me and handed Jimmy a McDonald’s food bag and the charming gentleman gave him the complimentary soda.
“Oh”, he said as he looked at Tim sitting on the bench beside Jimmy, “There’s two of you. I’m sorry I only brought one.”
And there they were. Angels in a muggy city in the heat of the night. And respecting Tim’s already established rapport with Jimmy, worked in tandem with us to minister kindness and truth to Jimmy. Cindy and I talked quietly amongst ourselves concerning shower solutions for Jimmy. Al & Tim subtly extracted Jimmy’s pant size and persuaded him to at least consider a new jacket. His leather military jacket was no doubt a cherished treasure. But most of the back was torn away and the arms were almost equally disheveled. Keep in mind it is often 100 degree heat here and he wears it almost all the time!
“We want to help,” Al pleaded afterward in private. “We want to be a part of what you are doing.” Cindy shed tears. “To see my husband like this, to see him take to this, it is an answer to prayer. I have been praying for years that Al would find a place in ministry. He has been so turned off church. Meeting you both tonight, I cannot tell you what this means to both of us.”
We had reason of our own to rejoice. Even before we arrived here, we had been praying that God would send the right people to work with us. People with hearts for something a little different. People who loved HIM. People with vision and compassion. We stood out on the street for a long time, chatting, exchanging philosophies, ideas, and phone numbers.
Now, you tell me. What are the odds of this couple showing up just around the same time we did in order to minister to this beautiful man? Can you imagine if Tim had listened to my logic – for it was logical- and changed his plans? What if I hadn’t joined him dogged in his mission? Would we have met this passionate couple on the same path as ours? Would she and I have established comradery and excitement for a vision? Would Al have found a niche? Would Tim have….Well, would Tim have had opportunity to bless the lives of not one person tonight, but four?!
Surprised? A little blown away? Do you think God showed up? I sure do!
I can tell you that I do not know what this mission God gave us to do will look like in the end. I have learned not to micro manage these things and not to over-plan and just to let God, through His Holy Spirit, guide our footsteps every single day. I do not know what it is going to look like, but I can guarantee you that God is in it, and whatever it looks like in the end, it will be great. Tonight was great. What more could we ask for when all we have is today?
We do hope for open book Bible studies with our new friends soon and a gathering place to worship together with them in the great outdoors, with exceedingly great flexibility without agenda or program, or titles. Just friends helping friends.
Oh yes, I should tell you about the live music! It didn’t happen. We did end up going to the park and meeting with more of our usual friends and receiving even more blessings. Blessings that left me in tears. But that is for another blog. But I will share with you- as a little preview- that it was dark as you know. I was sitting on the bench talking to “Patty” and another homeless man, Alfonso (the ex NFL football player), was on his usual bench next to us. Tim wanted to leave for a bit to see about some others nearby.
“Are you okay here by yourself, Kathleen, if I go over here a while?”
I am never afraid to be alone with the homeless when I am doing God’s work.
“Oh yeah, I’m fine. You go ahead.”
But Alfonso stepped up, “Mr. Tim, you are a good man and you have my word that nothing will ever happen to your wife as long as I am around.”
Oh yeah, it went like that and it always does. And who needs the night life, when there is this kind of excitement going on?!