How Do I Knock on a Homeless Person’s Door?

DSC_5012The doorbell rings. My dogs start barking their heads off.

“Maximus! Hector! Shut up!” 

The TV is on, my wife and kids are out, and I’m closer to a nap than I have been in weeks; I don’t feel like talking to people right now. I roll off the couch and sneak up to the front window to peek through the blinds.

As I do, I see a big brown truck pulling away from the sidewalk in front of my house.

UPS! My favorite kind of guest. They don’t come inside, they never stay late, and they always leave a parting gift. 

It occurs to me that having a house, a door, and a window with blinds all give me the power of deciding who I talk to and who I don’t. 

It’s my call. If I saw a Verizon FIOS salesman or a missionary from the great state of Utah, I could opt to just ignore them until they get the “message” that this homeowner isn’t interested. 

Why is it that we don’t often offer the same power to people without a door to hide behind?

Why is it that so many well-intentioned people assume that if someone lives in the street he or she would want the pleasure of my company, let alone my advice/criticism?

I was sitting on the floor of Penn Station once chatting with a new friend when a woman walking past us stopped abruptly, looked at my friend, and said, “my church feeds the homeless outside every Thursday. You should come. You need it!” 

She didn’t say, “hello.” She didn’t introduce herself or ask for my friend’s name. She didn’t even find out if he was homeless before declaring him to be one of “the homeless.”

My friend handled the interruption far more graciously than I would have. He smiled. Thanked her and explained that he was ok and she walked on without saying goodbye.

If someone just walked into my house without knocking, ringing the doorbell, or any other means of announcing his or her intentions, I would call the police. 

If you want to reach out to people who are in the street, and you want to start off on the right foot, begin like you would if you were introducing yourself to a new neighbor. 

Knock first. Make eye contact. Smile. Say hello. Ask them how it’s going. If they ignore you, cuss at you, or look the other way, just assume that either no one is home or that they, like me most of the time when I’m at home, just don’t feel like chatting.

The reality is that most of the folks who are homeless are so desperate to be seen, acknowledged, and cared for that they will run to the door, throw it open, and invite you in. For the most part, no body ever drops by for a visit. Everyone usually just walks into their foyer and tells them how to rearrange the furniture. 

Before you make a suggestion, make sure you have an invitation. Advice that is unsolicited is almost always ignored. Make a friend, then make a difference.

Grace & Peace,

Josiah

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Do People Choose to be Homeless?

DSC_4957Lots of people ask me the question: “don’t people who live in the street often choose to be homeless?”

It’s a loaded question.

For one, if folks choose homelessness then it removes any responsibility from me to actually do anything to help them.

Secondly, it generalizes a diverse population into a neatly packaged box that we can put on a shelf and forget about until a more convenient time. 

If life was a multiple choice test and human beings actually felt that out of four options, “homelessness” was the one to go with, then I imagine the other three would make most of us throw down our number two pencils and storm out of the room. 

Most of the people we meet in the streets of New Jersey and New York City would trade their lives for mine in a second. Most are struggling with pain that the general public couldn’t even imagine. 

Some people seem to be under the impression that folks who are homeless either want to be out there so they can be “free” to drink or use drugs, or that they struggle with some kind of mental illness. The reality might surprise you. I recently read an article that does identify one common issue that almost everyone struggling with homelessness has in common:

“Less than 20131018-111023.jpg4 in 10 homeless people are dependent on alcohol and less than 3 in 10 abuse other drugs, according to 2003 data from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Between 20 and 50 percent of the homeless have a serious mental illness, according to 2013 data.

The most widely shared problem among homeless people is not substance abuse or mental illness — it’s trauma.” http://www.healthline.com/health-news/more-homeless-bedeviled-by-trauma-than-mental-illness-032715#5

Anecdotally, I know this to be true. I meet people every day who have been abused by family members, sexually assaulted, robbed, hit by moving vehicles, seen death first hand either at home or overseas, neglected, born with a disability, shot, stabbed, you name it.

I had one volunteer express consternation because he didn’t understand why someone making such a small amount of money would choose to spend what little he had on alcohol instead of food. I told him that’s easy, “food fills your stomach, but it doesn’t help you forget.”

As a society we need to recognize that our homeless brothers and sisters are not simply rejecting the common good or rebelling against cultural norms. They are surviving. They are playing the cards they’ve been dealt; some cards are just better than others and some people are more skilled at playing the game.

So do people living in the street often choose to be homeless? No. I don’t believe that for a second. I don’t believe the people who tell you they choose to be homeless actually choose to be homeless. Sometimes it’s just easier to pretend than to fail.

Let’s start by waking up and taking responsibility for the people in our society who are falling through the cracks in the sidewalk that we created in our hurry to build a better world.

Grace and Peace,

Josiah

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Anger Management

191175_10150122214547945_500087944_6581388_7895578_o“Can you help me get a job?” 

A tall, soft-spoken, African-American man with sharp features stood before me. I was in East Harlem on Park Ave. The Metro North thundered on the tracks that towered over us.

I waited for the train to pass.

“We can try to connect you to someone who can. What’s your name?”

“Zatrinoto.” 

“I’m going to need help spelling that one, bro.” He spelled it out. “Do you have a nickname? Something your friends call you?” 

He smiled. “Call me, Z.”

“Z? I can handle that. So what kind of job are you looking for?”

“Anything, man. I have my degree in Business Management from Monroe College, but I have this thing where I don’t work well with others.”

“Oh yeah? That surprises me, you seem so chill.” 

“Nah. I have never been able to contain my anger. Someone will tell me to do something or look at me wrong and I’ll just lose it. I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I’ve never been able to hold down a job. I’m going to get checked out by a pyschiatrist next week. I can’t keep going like this.” 

“That’s smart. I think a wise philosopher once said, ‘know thyself.’ If you don’t know what’s going on in your own head or why you respond the way you do, you won’t be able to take preventative steps to avoid those problems. You’re doing the right thing. The smart thing.”

“Thanks, man. I just need to get my sh*t together. I have a little girl and I can’t see her because of an assault charge that’s pending. They think I’m not safe. It really pisses me off though, because I’ve only ever gotten physical with other guys, I don’t hurt women or kids. I’d never hurt my little girl. But right now I’m living in the shelter and because of the craziness there I know I’m going to get thrown back into jail and I’ll never get to be there for my daughter.”

“When was the last time you got into a fight?” 

“Last week. I got into a fight with my roommate because he’s friends with a drug dealer who comes into our room. I told him I’ve got to stay out of trouble. He can’t be bringing that stuff into my space. I want to stay out of jail so I can see my little girl. But he wouldn’t listen. He said, ‘you’re in a f*ckin’ shelter! You can’t tell me who I can or can’t bring in here.’ So I snapped and I punched him the face.” 

“Dude… How did you stay out of jail?” 

“He didn’t tell the staff at the shelter that I hit him. But I don’t know how I can keep living like this. I’m doing anger management, but it’s not helping.” He looked down at his feet. 

Defeated.

“Well, here’s the deal man: I’m going to refer you to a job training and placement program that’s nearby. They are going to call you to enroll you into a program that will get you OSHA certified and hopefully working as soon as possible. But maybe just as importantly, next time you’re in a stressful situation, just text me. I want to be able to pray for you in that moment. We all need friends to talk us off the ledge sometimes. I’d love to be your friend.” 

He looked up, surprised. “Seriously? I don’t think it will help, but I do need a friend.” 

“Me too, bro. And I’ll text you the next time I feel like punching someone in the face too. We can help each other. That’s what friends are for. And one more thing: if you ever lose it again and get locked up, please call me. Whatever happens, I’ll be there.”

Grace and Peace,

Josiah

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Fear Can Hold You Prisoner. Hope Can Set You Free.

imageIn my opinion, one of the best movies of all time is “The Shawshank Redemption.” In this movie Andy is a well-off banker who gets convicted of murdering his wife and his wife’s lover in a fit of rage and jealousy. He gets sent to Shawshank Prison for life without the possibility of parole and it’s there that the movie takes on themes like “friendship,” “betrayal,” “injustice,” “rehabilitation,” and “hope.” I have a Shawshank Redemption poster on the wall of my office with one sentence written in bold letters across the top of the picture that literally breathes life into me every time I see it:

“Fear can hold you prisoner. Hope can set you free.”

I was born and raised in West Africa into a family of missionaries. I’m the youngest of 4 kids and my older siblings loved to go rock climbing at the quarry just outside of the city where we lived. The cliff was about sixty feet tall and my brothers and sister would scamper up and down that rock-face every chance they got.

I was in 1st grade when I first attempted to climb to the top of that wall. I was so excited. I got my harness on, hooked the rope to it, asked the person holding me if I could start, and when they said the magic words, “belay on,” I started to climb.

There are a lot of advantages to climbing when you’re a 1st grade kid who does nothing but play outside in the African heat. I was pretty good. I was moving up that cliff like a monkey in a tree. The only disadvantage to rock climbing as a 1st grader was that I was short. The hand-holds that my siblings could reach easily, I could not.

I was about halfway up when I got stuck. I was hanging on to this tiny crack in the rock when I realized that I had nowhere to go. I could see the places that someone else might be able to reach if he or she was taller, but as hard as I tried I couldn’t get there. Someone was yelling something from down below, trying to give me directions, but I couldn’t hear them so I looked down to see who it was… Big mistake.

I’m not terribly afraid of heights, and when I was steadily moving upwards it was all well and good. But something about being stuck with no place to go but down made the distance from me to the ground below seem immeasurably worse. In that moment I was overcome with terror and I froze. I was a prisoner to my fear and I started to cry.

Have you ever been there? I realize it’s unlikely that anyone reading this has ever been rock climbing in a quarry in West Africa, but maybe you’ve reached a point in life where you feel imprisoned by fear?

Let’s be honest this world is a scary place. I talk to men and women every day who have seen the worst this world has to offer. People who have been attacked in the street, robbed, raped, abused, you name it. The reality is that most of us would be terrified if we stopped moving forward in life and looked “down” to notice for the first time just how far we are from safety.

“Fear can hold you prisoner. Hope can set you free.”

“Meanwhile, the disciples were in trouble far away from land, for a strong wind had risen, and they were fighting heavy waves. About three o’clock in the morning Jesus came toward them, walking on the water. When the disciples saw him walking on the water, they were terrified. In their fear, they cried out, ‘It’s a ghost!’ But Jesus spoke to them at once. ‘Don’t be afraid,’ he said. ‘Take courage. I am here!’ Then Peter called to him, ‘Lord, if it’s really you, tell me to come to you, walking on the water.’ ‘Yes, come,’ Jesus said. So Peter went over the side of the boat and walked on the water toward Jesus.” Matthew 14

When Peter sees Jesus and hears Him say, “Don’t be afraid,” he moves from being frozen in fear to being courageous in hope. He sees Jesus and is hopeful that Jesus is able to carry him on the water as well. He has hope that Jesus can keep him from drowning. The storm is still raging and the boat is still teetering, but seeing Jesus walking towards him on the water changes the lens through which he perceives the storm. In hope, he steps out.

The only antidote to the paralysis of fear is hope.

In this life, our circumstances can look really bad. In fact, in and of themselves, they are bad. Life is hard. Loved ones get sick. Bills pile up. Hatred is pervasive. Death is real. When we look at this life as it is, without any reason to expect things to change, fear is the only logical conclusion.

And yet:

“When Peter and his friends were far away from land and the wind had risen, and they were fighting heavy waves Jesus came toward them, walking on the water.”

I believe as bad as it seems right now, Jesus is walking toward you. I believe as hard as life can be, Jesus is walking toward you. I believe as scary as your circumstances are, and they are scary, Jesus is walking toward you. As badly as you’ve screwed up, Jesus is walking toward you. As lost as you are, Jesus is walking toward you.

When I was up on that cliff and I looked down, all I saw was the people that looked like ants crawling on the floor hundreds of miles away. I was so focussed and imprisoned by my fear, I didn’t see my older sister climbing up the rock toward me to show me the way out.

Maybe it’s time for you to break out of the prison of fear into the freedom of hope. Jesus is walking toward you.

Don’t be afraid.

He hears you.

He’s coming.

On the night that Jesus would be brutally tortured and killed, he said this to the same disciples who were on that boat:

“In this life you will have trouble. Take heart! I have overcome the world!” John 16:33

“Fear can hold you prisoner. Hope can set you free.”

Grace and Peace,

Josiah

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Consistency. Excellence. Dignity.

“Do you serve hot soup in the summer time too?” The question was from a resource partner I was introducing to our work at New York City Relief.

“Yes indeed. We serve the same soup all year round.”

“People still eat it when it’s 90 degrees out?” He seemed surprised.

“Yep. We sure do. We make really good soup.”

As the old adage goes, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” We have a profoundly simple operation. When asked to describe what we do, I like to steal Denzel Washington’s line from the movie Remember the Titans. As the new African-American head coach of a recently integrated high school, Denzel’s character, Coach Herman Boone, passes his play book out to the assistant coaches who used to run the team, prior to boarding a bus for summer training camp. One of the coaches remarks, “awful skinny play book ain’t it?”

Coach Boone replies: “I run 6 plays, split veer. It’s like Novocaine. Just give it time, always works.”

At New York City Relief, we don’t run a lot of plays. We don’t serve coffee with options for cream and sugar, decaf or regular. We don’t give out pants, shirts, sweaters, and underwear. We don’t serve meals with meat, dairy, or even deserts.

We serve the same vegetable rice soup, with juice or hot chocolate every day and we give away brand new socks and toiletry kits. That’s pretty much all we “do” but that is no where close to all we “are.”

The little that we “do” we do with excellence and we do with intention. We don’t “mix it up” a whole lot because, like Coach Boone says, “give it time, always works.”

Part of the reason we are able to be out in the streets week in and week out is because our operation is so simple. We offer consistency; rain or shine, we go. We have had some bad winters over the last few years, but we haven’t missed a scheduled outreach since Hurricane Sandy.

The people we serve can’t count on a lot, but they can count on us. One person we served described our consistency by saying, “they are faithful, like God is faithful.”

Beyond consistency, we also want to serve with excellence.

It’s the same soup every day, but like I told our new partner, we make good soup! There’s a rumor going around that it might be the best soup in NYC (I have no idea who started it)! We literally prepare our soup fresh every day with healthy ingredients. We also pick up a new batch of Portuguese rolls every day that are always delicious and never old. The socks we distribute run for the retail price of $20 for a pack of 6 and the hygiene kits are all prepackaged and even come with brand-name deodorant.

Not only do we serve consistently and with excellence, but we also strive to communicate dignity to each person that happens upon the Relief Bus or one of our Don’t Walk By outreach teams. We want each person who comes to the Relief Bus to be treated as a paying customer. Valuable. Empowered.

Too many people serving folks who can’t afford to spend money on their meals forget that none of us earns the physical capacity for wealth creation. None of us makes our heart beat properly and reliably. We all exist at the mercy of others, so we are not defined by our net worth or our ability to pay for stuff. Our value comes from God and He says that each person who sleeps in the street is worth Jesus being tortured and ripped apart from everything and everyone He loves. On the cross, Jesus does a price check on each human that has ever lived, and the sticker shock alone should knock us off our feet.

The people we serve have infinite value. They are literally priceless. The least we can do is act like it.

Ultimately, our end goal is to connect the people we serve to resources that could change the trajectory of their lives forever. We want to leverage the credibility we earn by being consistent, serving with excellence, and communicating worth and dignity to save lives. So many people living in the street are fighting for survival. We want to be the exit ramp off of the “highway to hell” and onto the road to redemption.

We build relationships with partner organizations that provide tangible help with things like detox, rehab, discipleship, housing, legal aid, counseling, food stamps, Medicaid, clothing, and many others. But we can’t connect anyone to anything if we aren’t consistent, if we don’t serve with excellence, and we don’t communicate dignity. Everything we do is designed to transform lives, both the lives of the people serving and the people being served. And in the Kingdom of God it’s not always clear which group is which.

Grace and Peace,

Josiah

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The Happiest Man in the World

IMG_5689I was walking the streets of Manhattan with two teenagers from North Carolina. The two teens were a part of a visiting team of 45 that joined us for our weekly Don’t Walk By outreach.

Every Thursday we split the center of midtown Manhattan into zones and we walk the streets from 6:30 – 9:15 PM in search of folks that the rest of the world has forgotten. We do a larger version of this outreach every Saturday in February with a consortium of Christ-centered organizations called the Rescue Alliance (www.dontwalkby.org).

On this particular Thursday I was leading a group from 7th Ave to Park Ave, and from 36th Street to 42nd. This area includes Bryant Park, which is right behind a massive public library that simultaneously attracts tourists and street-bound children of God. We had encountered a few people and had given away a few pairs of socks, but on the whole it was a slow night.

When we entered the park I saw a guy in a green uniform emptying out one of the trash cans so I decided to enlist his assistance.

“Excuse me. We are volunteering with an outreach event to help connect people living in the street to resources and help. Do you know where we could find anybody in need of a new pair of socks, hygiene kit, or a meal?”

“Right over there.” He pointed into the far corner. “God bless you, for what you’re doing.” He stuck out his hand with a big smile.

It doesn’t surprise me that there are angels working with the parks department.

We meandered over to where he had pointed and there was an older white man trying to plug his phone into an outlet. He was struggling. He had bags on a table nearby. His wrinkled face was rosy and he had layer upon layer of clothing to protect him from the elements.

“Are you trying to charge your phone?” I asked.

“Yes. But this doesn’t seem to be working. I don’t know how to use this thing. I got this ‘Obama-phone’ yesterday. It won’t charge.” While there are many folks living in the street who are tech-savvy, many are not.

“Let me take a look. I have some experience with these things.”

The “Obama-phone” is a government funded cell phone that is free for folks who qualify by being on food stamps, welfare, or SSI/SSD. One gets 250 minutes per month and free text messaging on a very basic device. I’ve spent hours over the last 5 years signing people up, charging, and calling folks with them.

I’m a huge fan of the program because it’s ridiculous to assume that someone can navigate a place like New York City, let alone get a job, if they can’t be reached. Those phones are often the difference between someone getting the help and encouragement they need and spending more nights in the street than they have to.

I plugged his phone in and the light didn’t go on, so I pulled it out and hit the power button. Sure enough the screen lit up like a Christmas tree and the little battery signal was saturated from top to bottom.

“It’s not charging because it’s already fully charged.” I told him, handing him his phone.

“Oh thank you. Thank you.” He replied as if I had pulled him from a burning building.

“What’s your name?” One of the teens with me spoke up.

“Bill,” he said. “What’s yours, young man?”

We told him our names and immediately Bill opened up. He started telling us about how beautiful the park is. How blessed he is to live in this magnificent city. He told us where and how to sneak into a Broadway show during the intermission because, in his words, “they don’t care at that theater, they are good people.”

When he told us he sleeps on the subway, he wasn’t complaining.

When we asked how we could pray for him, he directed us to pray foIMG_5686r others because, as he put it, “I’m truly happy. How could I not be happy? Look around.”

He dropped scripture on us, Matthew 6 to be precise. Bill was a living breathing example of a man who lived “like the lilies of the field.”

“Stop worrying,” he commandeed us. “Your Heavenly Father knows what you need.”

He prayed over us. For the “young man” he prayed that he would always trust God and not get distracted by what the world tells him is important.

Towards the end of our conversation, Bill said, “you never know how God is going to bless you. He sent me three beautiful people to talk to and make my day.”

People often think that we are the ones with something to offer people in the street. That they “need what we have.” And to a certain extent that’s true. We all do have something to offer. But in the same breath that I say that folks who are homeless need you, I will also say, “you need them.”

I needed to learn from Bill that night. I needed to sit at his feet and let him be the voice of God in my life. I needed to receive what he was giving away.

Next time you feel like serving in a soup kitchen, clothing bank, food pantry, or doing some other “good” or “charitable” deed, remember that each life that you touch has the capacity to touch you right back. And just as you give, if you are open to it, you will also receive.

Grace and Peace,

Josiah

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Peacemaking Starts with, “Hello.”

20131018-111246.jpgI interrupted my conversation with the new director of a local house of recovery in the South Bronx because I heard a commotion outside. I jumped through the front door of the Relief Bus to see two men staring each-other down with a woman between them caught in a spider’s web of tension and betrayal.

The man closest to me was new. I had never seen him at the Relief Bus before. He was easily 6 feet 4 with dark skin, short hair, wearing a blue winter vest and a scowl on his face. He was extremely drunk.

The other man was someone I’ve known for years. Significantly shorter, lighter skinned, jeans and a sweatshirt, Luis was a coiled spring just waiting for an excuse to explode on the much larger man who stood just paces away.

And then there was Mary.

Mary has been coming to the Relief Bus as far back as 2010. A Caucasian woman in her early fifties, she spent time in a partner rehab program upstate, but who for the last 5 years has seemed perpetually wired to self-destruct, be it through alcohol or men. This Saturday afternoon on Brook Ave was no exception.

I approached Luis first.

“What’s going on, here?” I placed myself directly between the bullets these men were staring at each other like a red light at a busy intersection.

“He’s drunk. He’s trying to take Mary down with him, so he’s going to take a walk or he’s going to get hurt.”

“Alright, let me see what I can do, just be cool.” I turned to look up into the face of the man I didn’t know, but in one second I realized he had absolutely no interest in acknowledging my presence, let alone heeding my advice. I turned back to Luis.

“Look, man. You know me. You know this cannot happen here. You know what we are about. So what has to happen for this to go away?”

“She needs to come with me and he needs to walk away.”

I sarcastically thought to myself, “Oh? Is that all?” I turned to Mary. “Mary, are you okay? What do you want to do?”

Mary took the hands of the intoxicated giant and pleaded with him, “Tony, the people at this bus are my good friends. I’m going to go get my stuff and I’ll meet you later.”

“Meet me at the liquor store,” he slurred.

“No. I’ll meet you here, with these church people. They are my friends.”

“No. Meet me at the liquor store. If he tries anything I’ll get my cousin and we’ll…” As he said this he started to try to get closer to Luis.

I stood my ground.

The light was still red.

Mary tried again, “Tony, I’m just going for my stuff. I’ll meet you here.” It was at this moment that I realized she was lying to him. She didn’t want to be with him. She wanted to be with Luis. For better or worse, her history with Luis was triumphing over her present with Tony.

“Okay… Meet me at the liquor store. That’s where I’ll be.”

“Tony, these people are here to help. You should talk to them.” She gave his hands one more squeeze and walked away. Miraculously Tony did an about-face and walked in the opposite direction.

He had no interest in talking to me. For a second I thought he might, but I quickly realized he wasn’t walking back for soup, he was walking back to the liquor store.

I’m convinced that the only reason that situation didn’t escalate into bloodshed is because of the relationship I was able to leverage with Mary and Luis. The conversations we’ve had, the prayers we’ve prayed, and the consistency with which we’ve served are like bricks that form the foundation of peace.

People seem surprised that we don’t often have violence break out at the Relief Bus locations. They figure the people we serve are volatile and the neighborhoods on edge: a recipe for disaster.

But what I’ve noticed in the 4+ years of doing this is that people will, more often than not, demonstrate whatever level of grace they have received.

I’ve witnessed a man who is hard wired for survival and self-defense receive a punch to the face and simply reply with, “the Relief Bus saved your a** today.” Folks we serve treat our outreaches as sacred space. There are obviously exceptions, but again, usually the exceptions are perpetrated by people who don’t know us well enough to know what we give and what we ask.

We go above and beyond to treat every man or woman who comes to the Bus as the children of God that they are. We use words like, “sir” and “m’am.” We apologize for being in the way. We ask for permission before we pray. We invite, we don’t demand.

We are creating a culture of humanity in a population that is too often treated as an “issue” or a “problem.”

We are only able to communicate the value of peace in a war torn world when we, as followers of the Prince of Peace, demonstrate consistently, and methodically, the substance that we proclaim.

Our message is only as effective as our relationships are strong. Peacemaking starts with, “hello.”

Grace and Peace,

Josiah

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The Visible and the Invisible

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There are two populations living in NYC: the Visible and the Invisible.

The Visible move like a river at flood stage between the towering trees of economic development and fashion. They move with intention and direction, guided by the downward momentum of train schedules, dinner appointments, and show times. The Visible blanket sidewalks and subways, unintentionally, sometimes intentionally, pushing the Invisible into the shadows. Like a broken tree branch floating on the tides of time and space, the Invisible are crushed beneath the waves of progress.

The Invisible live beneath the trees, either in small communities of 2 to 5 people or completely alone. They live off of the fruit that falls to the ground but doesn’t get swept away by the undertow of profit and productivity. The Invisible plant themselves against structures they can hold onto for stability. They stay geographically consistent because survival is not a philosophy to live by, but a necessity to live for. Moving away from the anchor upon which they are tied could literally mean drowning or starving to death, so the Invisible hang on for dear life.

Many of the Invisible were once part of the river, racing from north to south, from point A to point B. But now they have been cast off by circumstance and hopelessness: stagnate.

The Invisible are camouflaged by the bark of cement and glass. The Visible step over them, around them, and through them without any awareness beyond the subtle change in direction or pace that is required to adapt to the “obstacle” they only felt for a second before the mighty river has its way.

I am one of the Visible.

Wealthy.

Privileged.

I have somewhere to be and a deadline to get there. I am not suffocated by the pressure and the pace; I am sustained by it. I can pillage the trees for my sustenance without fear or trepidation.

I am blinded by my own visibility.

Too often the only way for the Invisible to move from the shadows is for one of the Visible to choose to fight the flow of the river and stand side-by-side with those that are unseen.

Too often, the only way for the Invisible to become Visible is for one of the Visible to trade his place for hers.

Grace and Peace,

Josiah

 

 

 

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Resurrection

The Relief Bus was parked 50 feet away. I was asked to follow one of the guys who smokes K2 away from the high traffic area so we could talk about his situation in a more “private” setting (“Private” being some place he could keep smoking and still not be overheard by anyone interested in his business).

He asked me about the best way to get into rehab. He smokes crack, K2, and drinks. But he wanted to visit his kids, so rehab seemed like a good first step.

I agreed.

But as we spoke another guy from his community of mountain climbers got my attention and said he wanted to talk to me too.

It was just that kind of day.

I made a few calls for David, but he wasn’t quite ready to go at that moment and his insurance was going to force him to wait until Monday. I prayed for him. I found his friend.

“What’s going on, man?”

He was short, light skin, with a beard, rags for clothes, and dirt under his fingernails. He was as high as the peak that shares its name with the drug of choice that’s sweeping the nation.

“It’s complicated,” he said. He dropped his voice to a whisper and continued. “I’m from Argentina. I came to this country illegally; I have no papers. I was a drug addict in Argentina and when I came here I started using dope. I don’t know what to do. I have no family. Everyone who knew me before has died.” Tears started to flood his eyes.

“How much do you use-a-day?” I asked.

“When I have money, I can use up to a bundle. But today I robbed my boss to buy enough to get me through. I’m starting to get very sick.” He continued. “I hate my life. I hate myself for not being there with my family in Argentina. My mother died, and I wasn’t there. I feel so guilty. Sometimes I want to die.”

“Listen to me. Do you know what we are celebrating tomorrow?”

“Easter.” Maybe not as high as I thought.

“Yes. Tomorrow we celebrate resurrection. Life conquering death. Jesus died on the cross so that you and I can rise from the dead too! There is hope! I know a place that will detox you from heroin with no papers and no insurance, but you will have to make it until Monday.”

His tears were now streaming down his cheeks as he fell into my chest shaking.

“Thank you. Thank you.”

“I’ll tell you how to get there, but you will need to find a way. Can you do that?”

“Yes. Yes.”

I wrote him a referral with step by step instructions. As I gave him the paper I told him, “this year we can celebrate your resurrection too!”

Grace and Peace,

Josiah    

 

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The One that Got Away

NYCskyline3Serving at New York City Relief is bigger than me. It’s bigger than you. It’s bigger than New York City, New Jersey, and the United States of America. Every time we have the privilege of walking the streets in search of lonely people who desperately matter to God, we are participating in a cosmic search party that started when humans first started running.

The narrative of scripture is consistent: God loves his children. God’s children run and hide. God pursues the one that got away.

“This is my story.
This is my song.
Praising my Savior, all the day long.”

In Genesis Adam and Eve betrayed their very nature, by trying to become like God in a way that they were never meant to be “like God.” They ran. They hid. God pursued. He’s been pursuing ever since.

God set apart a people that would be a blessing “to all nations.” The story of Israel, from Abraham, to Moses, to David, to Isaiah, is the same: God loves his children. God’s children run and hide. God pursues His children.

“This is my story.
This is my song.
Praising my Savior, all the day long.”

Then God doubled-down in his pursuit. For thousands of years He was sending messengers: prophets, judges, and kings, as ambassadors and spokespeople to track down his wayward kids. But then the story changes: God himself walks the streets in the person of Jesus.

Jesus touches people and makes them well. He speaks life into dead bodies. He speaks hope into hopeless hearts. God is so desperate to find his children, all His children, that he will stop at nothing to find the one that got away.

“This is my story.
This is my song.
Praising my Savior, all the day long.”

But Jesus is interested in finding more than one lost generation. The story goes that He died to find the lost children that were hiding where no one could ever go looking for them. This cosmic search party is not limited to the dimmensions of time and space.

Jesus came back from the dead, bringing with him a multitude of those who would be found.

“This is my story.
This is my song.
Praising my Savior, all the day long.”

From start to finish the Bible tells the story of a God who refuses to sit back and wait for people to “get it together.” 

From beginning to end we see a God who doesn’t assume that we will just “figure it out.” 

From the first page to the last page, God sends out messengers of hope, redemption, & restoration to the hopeless, forgotten, & broken, culminating in the person of Jesus literally going to the grave to make sure that no one gets left behind. 

So today I have the privilege of serving with New York City Relief. But it’s bigger than me. It’s bigger than you. It’s bigger than New York City, New Jersey, and even the United States of America. God is still out there tipping over furniture, ducking into subway stations, waving down complete strangers, all in the hope of finding the one that got away.

Grace and Peace,

Josiah Haken

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