Thursday, July 19, 2012

A Late Night Confession

This late post is perhaps ill-advised and hastily written, but I feel it is a necessary act of catharsis and confession. Earlier this evening I joined the Emerge College Ministry in their weekly trip to serve Houston’s homeless. As is our custom, we broke into teams and distributed hygiene kits and offered prayer.

I enjoy this ministry. It is a chance to offer a little assistance to those in need. It is also a great chance for me to see downtown Houston and to deepen relations with our college crew. Yet while I enjoy this weekly excursion, I also find it very challenging.

Those who are homeless are often dirty. They tend to smell like bodily fluids or other substances. And they like to touch you. Over time I’ve grown accustomed to making physical contact because I recognize that touch expresses solidarity and Christian love. But that doesn’t mean I like doing it.

This evening during one of our final conversations with three homeless men I remember thinking that our team of five needed to leave. It was time to rendezvous with the buses. Yet we couldn’t leave just yet. One of our team was in a conversation with Stan, a homeless gentleman I had met three times this summer, and it seemed like their conversation would never end. Can you tell I was getting a little impatient? More than just wanting to make our departure site on time, I felt incredibly skeptical about Stan’s words. He was making all sorts of grandiose statements about Christian faith. He was lamenting his life on the streets. Unfortunately I found myself not only impatient but also very cynical. Do you really feel remorseful about being on the streets? Do you really feel the urge to pray every time a Christian ministry is present? Are your tears genuine? I was not in a particularly charitable frame of mind.

While I was being skeptical, one of the girls in our group was engaging Stan in very compassionate, yet direct, conversation. She took the time to ask him about his drinking and to direct him to professional help downtown. Kirsten was asking the appropriate questions. She was really expressing firm love. And, she was holding his hand.

My group finally departed this street corner and we made our way back to the bus. I got onto the bus and realized that all the good seats were taken. I stood there for a minute in the aisle wondering where I could sit comfortably. Yet before I could begin to find a place to squeeze in, a guy named Trevor jumped up and sat in a tight spot. I didn’t even have time to debate; Trevor had quickly taken the least desirable seat on the bus to make room for me. I was humbled, but grateful. Then I looked down at his feet. His shoes were gone. He told me that he had given them to a man who was homeless with blistered feet.

I was dumbstruck. Here I am in seminary, studying for ministry, and I miss what it is to serve. All around me were such beautiful and simple expressions of love. Tonight I failed to have a servant’s heart. I failed to be concerned with the big picture. I was busy determining a man’s sincerity when I should have been focused on his welfare and on offering grace and compassion. I was busy “keeping myself clean” rather than expressing love through simple touch. I was on a bus occupying my thoughts with my own comfort while others were embracing simple humility.

All of this I could easily brush off, but not after I saw those sock-clad feet. This moment suddenly compounded in my mind the whole of my selfishness that evening. I felt terrible. How can I preach and teach God’s grace when I am so slow to live it myself? I have to confess that tonight I was focused on Erik. I was not on mission, even though I walked Houston’s streets with backpacks full of supplies. I confess that my heart was not right this evening. I certainly believe that tonight I experienced conviction of the Holy Spirit. Unfortunately sometimes we are corrected in uncomfortable ways. This is my confession. Perhaps it will encourage you in some helpful way. At the very least, you now have some insight into my own journey.

A final and perhaps more uplifting thought to end on would be the positive example of ministry tonight. This evening I found a few new role models in the faith. They aren’t the oft-discussed saints of Christian antiquity or the renowned Christian speakers of the present-day. They are the faithful who hold hands with the homeless, who offer up their shoes to blistered feet, and who give up their own comfort for selfish interns. They are young men and women who have a passion for Jesus, a love for people, and a zeal for serving. I am humbled by their expressions of love and faithfulness.

*The names of those who are homeless are altered for privacy's sake. 

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