Persistence

On Thursday I was about to start a meeting with two gentlemen from an organization in New York City called Housing Works. They were filling us in on a new case management database that we were interested in learning more about. The meeting was supposed to start at 10 am. The door bell rang at 9:55.

I didn’t even answer the door, but the person who did found me and said that some guy was asking for me by name. My plan was to greet him, politely tell him I was in the middle of a meeting and ask him to come back later.

I asked him his name. “Brian,” he replied. “I spoke to someone in Newark who told me I should come and ask for you.”

“Well, it’s not really a good time, how did you get here?” I asked nonchalantly.

“I walked,” was his answer.

“How far?”

“3 hours… I really need help.”

It was in this moment that I realized my meeting with Housing Works could wait. I mean the guy did walk 3 hours to come and speak to me! Did I mention he was wearing slippers? As we made our way back towards my office I thought of the teachings of Jesus about persistence: “So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” Luke 11:9

Brian went on to tell me that he had just been released from jail, was doing everything possible to stay out of trouble, but needed a place to go since he was only able to remain in his shelter for 2 more weeks. We worked out a plan for him to go to a men’s discipleship program in New Orleans called Bethel Colony South (www.bethelcolonysouth.org). We found some sneakers for him that were a size too big, but that he happily put on right then and there.

Brian was worried about all the free time he had since he wasn’t working, and drugs and shelters, understandably, go hand in hand. All the people close to him had either passed away or walked out of his life. He had no family and no one left who cared. So I volunteered to care.

I never do this, and as a rule I don’t encourage the practice, but in Brian’s case I made an exception and gave him money for the bus so he could come serve with me on the street the next day. He promised me that he would beat me there the following morning and he even called me when he made it back to his shelter just to confirm the start-time. Sure enough at 7 am when I arrived at the Relief Base, there he was.

After wrapping up our first conversation the day he walked 3 hours to find me he said “You’re not what I expected.”

“Oh yeah? What did you expect?”

“Someone older. And in a suit.” He laughed.

“Well, I don’t need a suit to tell you that God has a great plan for your life, brother. 3 hours to get here is just the beginning. Just keep walking, one step at a time.”

Grace and Peace,

Josiah

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If you’d like the privilege of helping Brian get to New Orleans by helping pay for his bus fare or some personal items he needs to bring with him, please email me at josiah@newyorkcityrelief.org. We are planning on sending him Thursday afternoon so that he will arrive by Friday. Thanks!

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Pride Isn’t Cheap

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I’ve shared before about the power of Communion vs. Charity. I can’t stress enough just how critical this is to everything we do at New York City Relief. This is the center of the center. I met a guy in New York Penn Station a little while ago. He approached me because he saw that I was giving new socks and toiletry-kits to a few gentlemen who were across the hall. He walked over and very bluntly and brusquely demanded, “what you givin’ out?”

A lot of people who engage the homeless in an attempt to do a good or charitable deed get irritated when their deed isn’t appreciated or received with joy. The attitude can be summed up like this: “I go to all this trouble to volunteer my time to serve and give, the least ‘they’ can do is be appreciative.” 

Honestly, when my new friend approached me with “what you givin’ out,” my heart immediately filled with resentment and I judged him for not appreciating my philanthropy or, even worse, thinking that somehow he was entitled to the gifts that I was so generously and sacrificially offering.

This is the intrinsic problem with good deeds, or charity: they are entirely about me. My goodness. My deeds. My, my, my.

When I bring charity to the table expecting the poor or homeless person to recognize and validate my generosity and they don’t respond the way I expect or, dare I say, need them to, I resent them because they are not fulfilling their end of this self-absorbed equation.

Now contrast that attitude with communion. Knowing myself and knowing my propensity for judgmentalism, I moved past my resentment and asked the name of my demanding new friend. I asked him where he was from. I asked him what kind of socks and toiletries he could use the most. Then I told him I was hungry and I would be honored to buy him something if we could sit and eat together. He agreed.

When we sat down to break bread at that KFC and I asked if I could thank God for the food that we were about to enjoy the entire dynamic of our relationship changed. Yes, I had paid for his food but we were sitting at the same table, eating the same meal. And in that moment of communion we were no longer two needy souls feeding on each other, him on me for socks and necessities and me on him for validation and self-righteousness, we were two needy souls feeding on Jesus.

He shared with me that he fell out of a window from several stories up when he was 3-years-old because he was with his grandma and she lived in a room with no bars on the windows. Because of that fall he suffers from seizures. His family abandoned him. And just 24 hours earlier he lost track of his girlfriend when he went into the hospital. It’s easy to lose people when you have no common meeting place to lay your head and no phone to touch base. He shared and he shared some more. It was beautiful.

Did you know that when you give someone who is financially poor or without a home something for free that they are actually paying for it with emotional capital? They are paying you with their pride and trust me when I tell you, that their pride doesn’t come cheap. 

So next time you volunteer at a soup kitchen, food pantry, homeless shelter, or drop-in center, remember that the people you serve are not receiving “hand-outs” because in exchange for your time and resources, they are offering you the privilege of being in the position of the one who serves. By accepting your generosity, they have paid with their very selves, and they owe you nothing more.

Grace and Peace,

Josiah

NYC Relief

 

 

 

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Rest Area

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I’ve been serving in the streets of New York City for 3 years now. It’s hard to wrap my mind around a lot of the things I’ve witnessed. One thing I struggled with initially is why folks who are homeless, or nearly homeless, have such short triggers.

I mean I thought I got it, it’s “obvious.” But then I found myself getting very impatient with the guy who decides to throw-down because someone bumped into him, or the woman, not-so-patiently, waiting her turn who screams, “hurry up” at the person getting prayed for in the back of the Relief Bus while he or she receives a new pair of socks.

On the surface this just appears to be poor upbringing, bad manners, impatience, immaturity, or all of the above. But what I’ve come to conclude after 3 years of serving this precious population is that this behavior is simply the result of an emotional gas tank that is running on empty.

The majority of the folks reading this blog will have slept in a warm bed with minimal fear of being awoken every 2 hours by patrolling police, like many of those who sleep in subways and train stations do. For the most part, you probably didn’t share a room with complete strangers who learned the hard way that survival is easier as the predator than as the prey, as many of those who sleep in NYC shelters like Wards Island have.

Every night that you wake up in a relatively safe and secure environment without fear of violence or victimization, your emotional gas tank fills up little by little. Every time you and I can go a day without spending every ounce of energy we have just trying to get our basic needs met, our emotional gas tanks fill up even more.

On the other hand stress empties our tanks. Fear and abuse empty our tanks. Sleeplessness, anxiety, self-worthlessness, & poverty of all kinds empty our tanks as well.

So when I go night after night, day after day, barely putting any gas into my emotional tank, all it takes is someone cutting in front of me at the Relief Bus to completely set me off. It’s not irrational. In fact, it makes perfect sense. The raw truth is that you or I would probably lose it long before many of our friends who are in the street.

Our goal when we serve at the Relief Bus is to create an environment that fills emotional gas tanks. With a decent meal that doesn’t cost anything, a new pair of socks, hygiene kits, referrals, helpful information, and most importantly friendship, prayer, and hope, we are trying to function as a filling station or “rest area” for anyone who could use it.

This means that we need to be diligent in facilitating an atmosphere that is conducive to “filling-up.” We try to think not only about what we give away, but how. Are we keeping things orderly? Are we allowing space on the sidewalk for people to pass by without much difficulty? Are we communicating how things work and where things are? And are we doing so in a friendly and patient tone?

What would happen if your car was on the highway, about to run out of gas, and you see a sign for a rest area but when you exit you couldn’t actually find the gas pump? What if every time you thought you were getting closer to the fueling station someone else jumped in front? Or what if you wait in line for 30 minutes to get gas only to find out the station ran out 2 cars ahead of you? If you are anything like me, or seemingly everyone else in New Jersey, you would probably freak out. Don’t they know you are about to run out of gas?

It is up to those of us with full tanks to “yield” to those on “E” because this is exactly what God calls us to. Jesus tells a woman on empty,

But those who drink the water I give will never be thirsty again. It becomes a fresh, bubbling spring within them, giving them eternal life.” John 4:14

Let’s remember that as followers of Jesus we are called to always love and never judge. Let’s remember that instead of just getting irritated with us and our empty tanks, Jesus became a filling station for the entire world and calls his people to do the same.

Grace and Peace,

Josiah

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Evangelism?

Jesus commands his followers to make disciples. At New York City Relief this is foundational for everything we do. I often get the privilege of preparing teams of volunteers for their journey into the streets of NYC. Part of this preparation involves equipping the volunteers with our methodology of “making disciples” or in christianese, “evangelism.”

Many of the people we meet on the streets today have heard about Jesus. They have been preached at and they often associate the Bible with the head of the hammer that it was attached to as it whistled towards their choices, mistakes, and life experiences. So many of our homeless brothers and sisters carry knowledge about Jesus that they received from well-intentioned parents, friends, pastors, and random passers-by, who offered some version of a salvation message complete with tracts and promises of a better life.

At the Relief Bus, we take a different approach. We do not push or bully anyone into any prayer or exhortation that will allow us to check a box or mark a score card. We are going to make disciples by first learning to be disciples. We are going to follow the lead of our Teacher and Lord, who would often feed the hungry and heal the sick first and offer deep and transforming spiritual truth second. It’s hard to hear the words of Jesus over the growl of an empty stomach. It’s even harder to hear over the din of “evangelists” who care more about themselves and the propaganda about Jesus that masquerades as the Gospel of Jesus.

We can all agree that every single person we meet, rich and poor alike, needs the saving truth that Jesus died on the cross for our redemption and that he wants nothing more than a relationship with us. We can also agree that communicating this reality is paramount in allowing others to enter into this life-saving existence.

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But here’s the thing, every word that you speak about Jesus needs to come from a live demonstration of the love of Jesus, or your words will bounce off the mile-high walls constructed specifically to fight off the guilt of false-teachers who confuse the love of God with the hatred of sin. See, God doesn’t hate sin because sin is sinful. God hates sin because he loves us; and sin is a poison that kills the life that God created us to enjoy.

Evangelism doesn’t always look like a sinner expressing belief in Jesus’ metaphysical and spiritual accomplishments. Evangelism sometimes looks like one sinner sitting across a table with another, enjoying a cup of soup while listening to the story of his or her life. Sometimes the best weapon in our spiritual arsenal is not the words that penetrate the heart of the person we are communing with, but the silence that allows time and space for the child of God we are reaching to voluntarily disengage the alarm system that was installed to protect against “evangelists” who speak out of emptiness instead of fullness.

Sometimes, just listening and empathizing will cultivate the soil of someone’s heart far more effectively than any clever presentation.

Does that mean we shouldn’t speak or declare the reality of Jesus? Absolutely not. Of course we should share about our experience with Jesus and the reality of his transforming love in our lives. But speaking to someone’s heart is often like navigating a dark and unknown living room. It helps to have some knowledge of the layout so you don’t trip over the furniture and break the family heirloom that was passed down from grandma. In other words, if you can listen first and humbly merit an invitation from your host, you might actually be able to see where you’re going and use words that actually hit home.

The solution to evangelism in a post-Christian society is not to be silent, but to be faithful and patient. To allow the words of Jesus to penetrate our hearts so deeply that our “love of neighbor” will drown out the thunder clap of hatred and judgmentalism, making room for a relationship where two-way communication is possible.

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The problem with many “evangelists” is that they “know” what they have to offer is “more” important than what they can receive, inevitably blocking themselves off from any soil that is ripe for planting. If you have tried sharing the “Gospel” with a loved-one only to hit alarm after alarm and wall after wall, try a different approach. Try assuming that God has something to tell you through your unbelieving loved-one and go into your next conversation with ears that are open and a heart that is soft. You may not see the harvest, but you will see growth as you are invited further and further into his or her experience allowing every seed you drop to be welcomed and watered instead of attacked and rejected.

Making disciples is a lot more seed planting than it is fruit harvesting. God is the one who makes any seed grow, we need to remember that any fruit we get to see is a grace and testimony of His faithfulness, not our persuasiveness.

Grace and Peace,

Josiah

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Could You Cut Off Your Arm to Save Your Life?

“And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.” Matthew 5:30

Jennifer is 23 years old. Barely an adult by our society’s standards, but living with the same fears and struggles that many will only read about. Her drug of choice is heroin. She averages 2-3 bags per day. Which, for those of us who don’t know, is a solid dependency but probably not too far in the wilderness of addiction that she can’t see where she started, allowing space for some hope of turning around at any point. The highs allow her to escape the physical and emotional pain of bad choices and bad luck, both her’s and others’. She lives with a boyfriend who makes demands that carry the very real threat of homelessness should she refuse to comply. So she exists. She sustains. But make no mistake, she is not living.

The heart break for those of us who work at New York City Relief is that there are countless Jennifers out there. There are some who have walked down the path of heroin or crack addiction and lost sight of where it all began, using 6-10 bags per day, stealing, hustling, and prostituting to keep existing, to keep sustaining. There are some who haven’t even wandered into the jungle of addiction yet, but are flirting with the idea. And then there are some who have walked that path to its inevitable conclusion only to be lost to loved-ones by way of overdose or prison. For those of us on the outside looking in, we often wonder, why?

The answer I’ve come up with is simply this: Jennifer is not ready to cut her arm off to save her life.

Do you remember that story about the guy who was out hiking in the wilderness and got his arm stuck beneath an 800 pound boulder? The story goes that after 5 days of being pinned to a cliff, this guy, Aron Ralston, used a multitool to cut his arm off and escape with his life. Yep, he actually broke his arm and cut it off.
Read the story here

Sometimes I think that those of us on the outside of Jennifer’s story don’t realize just how painful it is to put down a substance or a lifestyle that has, from her perspective, sustained her for years. We look in through a lens of judgment that only sees the ends and skips right over the pain and sacrifice of the means.

From the comfort of my living room I am shocked that Ralston didn’t leave a note or take a friend with him when he went hiking that day. I’m appalled that he got himself into that perilous situation in the first place. He was an experienced hiker, he should have known better. Why didn’t he realize that getting stuck was a legitimate possibility and take steps to avoid it?

Oh right, because he is human, just like me.

From the comfort of my living room I am shocked that Jennifer started using heroin. Why didn’t she ask for help? I’m appalled that she got herself into that perilous situation in the first place. She has friends who have overdosed, she should know better. Why didn’t she realize that getting addicted was a legitimate possibility and take steps to avoid it?

Oh right, because she is human, just like me.

Sometimes, all it takes is one mistake, one oversight, one lapse in judgment. Sometimes, it takes several hundred. Either way, the way out of a pinch is often more painful than we can imagine and what looks like an “obvious” solution might appear equivalent to losing a limb to the person stuck under an 800 pound rock. For Jennifer, the arm that she would need to cut off might be relationships with people who have deep meaning to her. She might need to cut off the arm of freedom by going into a residential treatment program with rules, curfews, and structure. Maybe she would need to cut off the arm of pride that keeps her from apologizing to family members she has hurt and asking for forgiveness. Or maybe, she needs to cut off the arm of self-sufficiency, and die to herself in order to live for the first time reconciled to her Creator and Lord. Cutting off a limb is no small sacrifice. I can’t even imagine the pain that Ralston experienced as he shoved that metal blade through skin, muscle, and bone. He will live the rest of his life without the hand that he left on the mountain. He will feel its absence every single day.

I think we judge people like Jennifer too harshly for being unwilling to see the “big picture” and cut off her arm to save her life. For a self-professed follower of Jesus, like myself, to judge Jennifer for refusing to cut off her arm is the epitome of hypocrisy. Jesus never said that we could have it all. Jesus understood the reality of sacrifice better than anyone. He never sold anyone the idea that choosing life and following him wouldn’t cost us anything. He said the exact opposite:

“Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.’” Matthew 16:24,25

Jesus compared the Kingdom of God to a merchant who found a priceless pearl and in order to keep it, sold everything he had, because the pearl of great price was worth the sacrifice (Matthew 13:46). He talked about the relationships we have with family and how love of God should be so much greater than love of family that the disparity should be equal to that of love and hate (Luke 14:26). In the gospels we learn about people who genuinely wanted to follow Jesus but were not ready to cut off the arm of comfort, wealth, or family obligation, so they missed out on true life that is found in Jesus (Luke 9:57-62).

So before we castigate Jennifer, or anyone else who we think is obviously foolish for refusing to make the necessary sacrifices that we know will save their lives, let us remember that every single day we are offered the same exact choice.

And time after time, we choose the 800 pound rock over a life of freedom because we are scared to walk through pain and discomfort in order to get there. So yes, Jennifer is unwilling to cut off her arm to save her life, and that is why she is still in the situation she is in. But I’ve got some bad news: so are you and so am I. Let’s pray that God gives Jennifer the courage to cut herself loose before it’s too late. That’s my prayer for you as well, and I hope that is your prayer for me.

Grace and Peace,

Josiah

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There is no Answer to the Question “Why?”

There is no answer to the question, “why?” I know that as finite humans who can think just complexly enough to tie ourselves in knots, we always struggle to tackle questions beyond our understanding. But allow me to be completely candid for a few moments. ***Feel free to disagree with me, especially if your theory on death gives you comfort. But I lost my friend and Ship-mate, Joe Song, yesterday and I need to process out loud a bit.

I believe in God. I believe that God is good. I believe that God is love (as it says all over the book of 1st John in the New Testament). I also believe that God looks and acts more like Jesus than any other person to grace the pages of the Judeo-Christian scriptures (John 14, 1 John 1:1, Matthew 16, Hebrews 1), even more so than Yahweh as described in the Old Testament (I hear the gasps).

See my theological framework is that the prophets, the priests, the kings, and the disciples were all given glimpses of God and they did their best, with the help of the Holy Spirit, to publish their experiences. But Jesus didn’t need to glimpse God, because while he was fully man, he was also fully God. That’s our orthodoxy, that his disciples worshipped the man, called Jesus, as God. From Peter’s declaration of his divinity in Matthew 16, to Thomas declaring “my Lord and my God” after seeing the resurrected Lord and touching his scars, the message that we proclaim is that Jesus is in fact the best and truest revelation of the Creator of all life (also see John 14, Jesus’ exchange with Philip).

So what does that have to do with the question, “why?” Jesus had a dear friend named Lazarus. He tragically died. Jesus went to his family and Lazarus’ sister declares an “answer” to the question, “why?” She says: “if you, Jesus, had been here my brother wouldn’t have died.” She had been asking why and in the absence of clarity had come to a conclusion: Jesus was to blame. Because he had the power to heal her brother, but he had arrived late to the party. Therefor, it’s his fault.

It’s tempting to blame God for tragedies. He’s “all-powerful” right? So where was your power yesterday when my friend got plucked from this earth way, way too soon?

Too often, I think we look at scripture and we emphasize the parts we like and step right over the parts we don’t. In the story of Lazarus, most of us know how it turns out. We’ve heard the Carmen song, “Lazarus, come forth!” We know that he is raised, and while that part is awesome and we need to know that Jesus has the power and desire to raise our friends from the dead, we step right over Jesus’ initial response to this tragedy. It says:

“When Mary arrived and saw Jesus, she fell at his feet and said, ‘Lord, if only you had been here, my brother would not have died.’ When Jesus saw her weeping and saw the other people wailing with her, a deep anger welled up within him, and he was deeply troubled. ‘Where have you put him?’ he asked them. They told him, ‘Lord, come and see.’ Then Jesus wept. The people who were standing nearby said, ‘See how much he loved him!’” John 11:32-36 NLT

I’m not a biblical scholar. I don’t know the context of the original Greek words used, but this translation hits me as I weep for my friend. “A deep anger welled up within him.” God’s heart for my friend Joe is the same as Jesus’ heart for his friend Lazarus. God didn’t “take” him from us. God didn’t “decide” that it was “Joe’s time.” I believe with all my heart that it was not Joe’s time, because God never intended for humans, made for eternity, to experience and process the consequences of mortality.

I believe Jesus gives us a glimpse of God’s feelings about death. I believe that while it’s true that Joe is in the presence of Jesus, and there is no better place for him in the entire cosmos, it is also true that Jesus is welling up with anger for the loss that we’ve experienced. I don’t believe that death was part of the original plan. And while God will bring good out of this tragedy, I don’t believe for a second that God caused this tragedy or is pleased that it took place. He is weeping with us. He is weeping with Joe’s family and girlfriend. He is weeping because we are living in a world where death is even possible.

So no, I don’t struggle with the question, “why?” Because there is no answer to the question, “why?” But there is hope. Because God doesn’t leave us to weep alone. He entered our mortality to offer us back the eternity that we rejected. God is going to raise my friend to life. I will see Joe again. Not nearly soon enough, but soon.

See, as Jesus reflects God’s heart about death, he also reveals God’s solution to the problem. We were never meant to experience death, but as Jesus died on that Roman crucifix and was raised 3 days later, he cured the longterm disease that has caused our short-term agony.

Because death could not hold him, Jesus proves that death would not and could not win against the Giver of life. As I mourn for our loss, I celebrate God’s victory. Not the victory of Joe’s death, because death is never a victory (1 Corinthians 15:26). But the victory of Joe’s resurrection. Because Jesus was raised from the dead, I trust that Joe will also be raised.

I loved watching Joe worship at Church. It was as tho his body couldn’t contain the love of God within him. I know that today, he is worshipping with more freedom and joy than anything he could have experienced while living under death. And that is hard to imagine.

“Then, when our dying bodies have been transformed into bodies that will never die, this Scripture will be fulfilled: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?’” 1 Corinthians 15:54, 55 NLT

Grace and Peace,

Josiah

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The Lowest Low to the Highest High

Anyone who read my last blog, Heartbreak, got to witness the pain that often accompanies serving on the streets of NYC. Well, today I get to let you in on the joy that keeps us rolling forward day after day.

I got another call from an unfamiliar number this afternoon, it was Eileen. It turns out that after she realized that I would be unable to pick her up at 1 am, she scrounged together $3.00 and was miraculously able to turn that into a ride via taxi to another hospital downtown.

She walked into a waiting area where several folks were passed out on chairs around the exterior of the room. She tells me she had no idea why they were just sleeping there, but she was tired (it was 2 am after-all) so she found a chair and went to sleep herself.

She woke up soon after to the sound of someone saying, “anyone who needs detox, get in line.” So Eileen got in line! She is now safely in a detox and discussing the possibility of going to a 28 day program on Friday. At the end of our conversation, she even said, “God bless, I love you.”

I’m still in shock. I’m in awe. I’m so grateful for all your prayers for Eileen and for me. I’m embarrassed to say that God’s faithfulness still surprises me. Please continue to lift her up in prayer,

Grace and Peace,

Josiah

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Heartbreak

I should warn you up front that I’m writing this from a very ugly place. You know, that place where it feels like everything you do is a waste of time and energy. That place where if you are even remotely honest with yourself or God it feels like there might be some lightening involved. Last night I went out on an amazing adventure in Manhattan.

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The Relief Bus is pioneering an outreach that doesn’t involve any buses. Ironic maybe, but it’s catching fire. We take volunteers into Penn Station at Madison Square Garden and we give them bags with bibles, socks, hygiene kits, and information. We teach them to engage random people on the street and we send them out 2 by 2, or 3 by 3, to walk the streets in search of the people who everyone else is pretending don’t exist. We refer to it as Search & Rescue, but last night I felt the joy of a rescue only to wake up to the pain of disappointment.

Her name is Eileen. I had just finished a great conversation with 3 guys who were hanging out in the triangular park at 6th Ave and 32nd. I walked around the corner and I saw her: sitting alone with a cup outstretched to passers-by, panhandling.

She was older, 65, I think. Caucasian, wearing a big black jacket and in obvious distress. I asked if I could sit down and we started chatting. She told me she needed drugs because she hadn’t gotten high since that morning. I told her I wasn’t going to give her any money to buy dope but I would love to get her to a detox. She hesitated, but ten minutes later we were in a cab on our way to a local hospital. She told me she needed a smoke and I had promised her food, so when we got to the hospital I left her with a volunteer and ran across the street to a deli where I bought her a burger and cigarettes. We walked her into the ER, got her registered, and prayed for her. She believed God had abandoned her. We tried to convince her otherwise. We left.

This morning I woke up with a voicemail from Eileen and the social worker at the hospital. They were releasing her and she was alone and scared. So here I sit. Heartbroken. I have no deep theological epiphanies. I did literally everything I could do. I know that. I was trying to save her life. But ultimately I left her stranded and alone across town with no money for a train or taxi. What now?

Well, I know that I’m doing this work because God loves Eileen. But I also know that people who God loves very much also experience disastrous disappointment. It happens every day. Maybe it’s happening to you. I heard a pastor once say that one of the best reasons he has for believing in Jesus is that if God had created a world where Eileen can feel such bitter emptiness and then just walked away from it, then that God would not be worthy of our adoration. But the God revealed in Jesus knows exactly what Eileen felt when she called my cell at 1 am and received my voicemail message. Jesus cries out from the cross, “my God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” And now here I am, crying out the same thing.

God knows what I’m feeling. He knows what Eileen feels. He knows what you feel. He knows. Because of Jesus, Eileen, you, and I can trust that while God doesn’t fix all the problems of the world, he does enter into them. And I would rather serve a God who knows what I feel and enters into my world than a God who just says, “yay or nay” fixing problems on a case by case basis.

I’m going out to Newark tonight. Please pray that I have something to offer someone else and maybe he or she won’t end up alone, cold, and scared outside of a hospital ER.

Grace and Peace,

Josiah

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Update on Team Haken

Dear friends,

I thought I would send out a quick update on our state of mind and being today, October 14, 2013. I’m writing this from our couch in Roselle Park, NJ. We find ourselves in a house that God has graciously provided. We started this year with so much uncertainty regarding our living situation and throughout the last few months we have walked through the waters before us on dry land; mostly, in my opinion, because of your prayers and generosity.

We continue to walk forward, because as we know, walking through the water is only the first of many steps that precedes worshiping God in the Promised Land.

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Chelsea and I celebrated our 8th wedding anniversary on September 23rd. We are so happy to celebrate with Eden and another little one on the way. She is working right now, although it is getting harder and harder as the little boy growing inside of her gains momentum. The due-date is January 7th, but as our health insurance deductible rolls over on the 1st of the year and the tax rebate for a new dependent is substantial, we are praying this little boy out by the end of 2013.

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We still have all 3 dogs, however we are still praying the right home for our beagles will present itself so they can play and bark without any fear of reprisals. So if you know anyone with lots of space who loves dogs, please let me know.

Currently, we are hosting an intern from the great state of Indiana and our even greater partner, Grace Church. Caleb is an amazing young man who is actively seeking the will of God in his life, which has brought him to us. Please pray he gets everything out of his time with us that God has for him.

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The Relief Bus is rolling on and we are also launching more tactical strike teams to walk the streets in search of God’s lost kids on Thursday nights. Lately we have seen our soup numbers spike. So many hungry people are coming to the Relief Bus for emergency food relief. We are also reaching out and praying for more people than we have in the last several years. Our Outreach Team is working it out with great perseverance and personal investment.

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Just last Saturday I was able to celebrate with a man named Andre who came to me looking for a job the week before. I was able to give him job hunting advice which he took and that managed to land him an interview on Tuesday. Sometimes, the best thing we can do is simply show up and offer the hope of one idea or simple step that with the hand of God can transform someone’s life forever.

It’s that simple. We go. We pray. We serve. We hope. And because you guys make it possible by supporting us month by month, we continue. We are toying with different ideas for our big “end-of-year” fundraising push and have some things in the works, so stay tuned!

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Please keep praying for us, as always. I am slowly learning that fighting systems of injustice, poverty, drug addiction, and hopelessness is one of the best ways to live in perpetual struggle. We have struck our enemy in the mouth, but the counter-punches come fast and heavy. It sometimes feels like we are behind enemy lines and the concept of peace is a hypothetical one. We fight, day by day, month by month. Trusting that because of Jesus we will see a great victory!

We can’t do it without you, we do have some pretty specific needs that will come with a 2nd baby. Please know that your financial support is literally sustaining us and continues to allow me to direct and lead our Outreach as it grows and expands. This is where we are, thank you for taking the time to read this,

Grace and Peace,

Josiah

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Help Me Serve the World More Like Courtney

My wife and I are celebrating 8 years of marriage today. I took the weekend off since we were determined to at least spend this time together in honor of the anniversary. On Saturday we decided to stop at Chick-Fil-A for lunch. It was here that we met a woman who will forever be the standard of service that I hope to push for in everything I do. Her name is Courtney.

Now, if any of you have been to this particular location for chicken consumption you would know that it is busy. I mean, perpetually busy. Nonstop, all day, every day… except Sundays of course. So Chels, Eden, and I grabbed the first table we could find and gratefully sat down. While seated, an incredibly pleasant African-American woman wearing a Chick-Fil-A uniform and wielding cleaning supplies came over and apologized for the state of our table. There were a few napkins on the table left-over from the previous guests, but nothing that warranted an apology. Not to mention the fact that in a dining room of maybe 30 tables, it would be physically impossible for one person to spray, wipe, and clean every table, every time someone finished, with the level of turnover that this store experiences.

But even so, her apology was not hurried, sarcastic, or terse. She seemed genuinely concerned about the fact that we should enjoy a clean space. As we ate our meal, another family walked in and the husband decided to reserve a table for his family while they got in the line that seemed to wrap throughout the building.
“Which table is cleanest?” He asked her.
“This one” she replied with a smile and she immediately sprayed it and thoroughly wiped it down. He stood there as she cleaned it, remarking about how he appreciates cleanliness. She smiled the whole time, graciously trying to attain the Everest-esque level of sanitation that this gentleman expected.

After she had finished cleaning that table, he changed his mind and decided to take two different tables. He asked her if she could do something about the debris under the new table selection. “Let me get a broom” was her response. Honestly, at this point in my eaves-dropping, I was annoyed on her behalf. But again, she gave zero indication of anything but pure joy: no sarcasm, no bitterness, simply service.

He then must have realized that he may have been coming across as a bit high maintenance, so he thanked her and asked her for her name. “Courtney,” she replied. She smiled and walked away to find someone else to take care of. I was in awe. I looked across at Chelsea and said, “Courtney must have Jesus living inside her or something.”
“Really? Most Christians I know don’t behave like that.” She replied with a smile.
“No, I’m talking about the good stuff, the real powerful stuff. The real Jesus. That’s the only explanation.” We laughed.

Now, quite frankly, I don’t know if Courtney would claim to be a Christian. I didn’t ask her. Maybe she is just an outstanding employee with a great work ethic. Maybe we just caught her on a really good day. If so, more power to her, and she should be promoted to help others in her position go above and beyond. But it got me wondering about all the theoretical “beliefs” and “theology” that come with the religion of Christianity, and it hit me that in a 30 minute period I was impacted and changed by someone who demonstrated the fruit of the Spirit that Paul talks about in his letter to the Church of the Galatians:

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” Galatians 5:22,23

When witnessed first hand, these characteristics, or fruits, are like rocks thrown in a pond. The ripple-effect is immeasurable, the impact is unquantifiable. I wondered about the work we do at the Relief Bus and how many times I’ve served people with the same attitude of Courtney. It also makes me think about another line from the person of Jesus:

“In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and praise your father in heaven.” Matthew 5:16

I left that store, praising God because of one person’s attitude. I left that store thinking that the same power that raised Jesus from the dead is inside me, but too often I allow the worry and stress of this world to choke out any fruit that could be consumed by hungry people who might just bump into me at a Chick-Fil-A. How many times have people wondered aloud about me, “man, that guy must have Jesus living inside him or something?” I can’t think of a higher compliment. So, this is my prayer today: “Lord, help me serve the world more like Courtney.”

Grace and Peace,

Josiah

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