On Saturday mornings, God shows up right here on the sidewalk in front of our Hill apartment.
Over the years of being here in the Hill, both our church and, as well, Lisa and I (especially since we moved into the Hill) have encountered the homeless population. Sometimes on a Sunday morning, every year at our Park BBQ ministry, and now, almost every Saturday at the Sidewalk Breakfast and Sidewalk Church Service.
Are the elect not also among the homeless?
Is there not an obligation to make church available, accessible, and welcoming to the homeless?
While so many things break and burden my heart in this ministry, the presence of the homeless grieves me, perplexes me, and humbles me.
Over the past four months or so, we have come to know one of the local homeless. He collects bottles (a few of us save them for him). I encouraged him to start coming to our Saturday Breakfast and, perhaps, even to stay for the sidewalk church service. So he did. And, has been. Regularly. In fact, he’d bring one or two of his homeless friends (pretty much every Saturday), encouraging them, “We’re staying for the Church Service, too.” We have had, regularly, the homeless breakdown and cry, even a few times falling to their knees with their arms stretched out. We pray for them, comfort them. They’re just so grateful for the food and broken because they know they need God desperately.
This man, the one who brings people, was missing a few Saturdays. When he showed back up, he assured me he was alright, but had been in the hospital. “Well, actually, the police brought me to the hospital,” he said. “Why did they do that?” “They arrested me for fighting, but instead of jail, they brought me to Yale—New Haven Hospital.” He was in a bad way, he explained. “But, I’m good now.” In fact, he was so proud to tell me: “Pastor, look at me. I’m clean. My teeth are brushed. My clothes are clean. I’m taking showers. I am good now.” My heart was so glad. He hasn’t stopped coming for Breakfast and participates in our Sidewalk Church Service—and has been bringing his homeless friends.
Another regular gentleman also brings friends and many times his homeless friends to the breakfast and service. This week he brought a young lady (probably in her 30s). When we served her the food, she broke down and cried—she was so grateful. Drug use had ruined her teeth. In fact, she had told us she had a lot of teeth just removed. Ashen and thin—and being subject to the nightly elements doesn’t bring rest and renewed strength. This was very evident. She just cried and cried and said thank you, thank you, thank you.
During the Church Service, she broke down, crying through most of it. Afterward, she came up to me to thank me again, still tears flowing. I told he, “We are glad you came today. Life has been pretty rough for you. Please come back. Come be a part of what God is doing here on this sidewalk. Let’s learn about Jesus. He is here for you. He will forgive you. Doesn’t mean everything will get better, but you will get better. Jesus will change you and help you, but most of all, he’ll give you a new family, this church family. This is where Jesus will give you strength, encouragement, people to cry with you—and eventually, people for you to cry with.” The thank yous kept coming. She said she plans on coming back.
Are not the elect among the homeless?
God showed up this past Saturday.
Imagine the grill is smoking with sizzling hot dogs and hamburgers. Tables are set with various salads, some fruit, a few homemade dishes, and, of course, cookies. You notice a handful of people milling about the park, some are sitting on benches, and children with their parents watching are climbing on the playground.
You’ve already made the rounds to introduce yourself as Pastor Chip. You recall that most of these enjoying the park are broken and live rather messy lives and at this hour, some are certainly homeless. Now, in a few minutes a meal will be ready. You've told everyone you've met, “Come join us when you hear me shout, ‘The hot dogs are ready!’”
2019 CPC in The Hill Summer Park BBQ Ministry Fundraiser
You’re hoping for a good crowd, but at first you don’t see a high turn out this evening. The park crowd seems small. But, in time, that changes.
Our Nigeria, at the grill says, “We’re ready.”
You shout out, “Hot Dogs are ready. Come join us!” And in a few moments a small crowd of teens, children, and adults appear (as if out of no where) around the tables. Some even know you’re going to preach a little; but, yet, they still come. Now, you’re surrounded by 40-plus families (sometimes 80+) and a number of parentless teens. You welcome them and tell them, “We are Christ Presbyterian Church in The Hill and thank you for letting us be your guests in your park this evening.”
You open your Bible to Psalm 23 and begin, “The Lord is my _____________.” And, the crowd without being asked fills in the blank: “Shepherd.” You continue: “I shall not _____________.” They add, “want.” And then, you declare, “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of _________.” “Death!” they fill in. “I shall fear no ___________.” “Evil,” they shout without hesitation. You identify with them: “We all have seen too much ‘death’ in our neighborhood. We all know what “evil” looks like.” They all nod in agreement. Some even say, “Amen.” You have their attention. You let them know there is a Shepherd who wants to walk with them through that valley of the shadow of death so they can brave and even deliver them from that “evil.”
This happens every Wednesday evening, with different messages, throughout the summer. For nine weeks Christ Presbyterian Church in The Hill shares a BBQ meal in a nearby park. For some, it’s their only meal that day; for some, the only meal in a few days. This is what we call our “In His Midst” ministry—to show up where Jesus is already working, seeking to change lives. The good people of CPC in The Hill is in that park to share the love of Jesus over a meal, spending time listening to their stories and offering prayer, sometimes a scripture, and, mostly, encouragement. This year we have had many more intentional conversations about God and what Jesus has done for them. The “In His Midst” ministry is a natural megaphone to our community that CPC in The Hill cares about its neighbors. I even receive some calls during the week with requests for prayer or just to talk. Pray that the relationships we are developing in that park move toward Jesus, the Shepherd ready and open to change their lives.
Please consider helping us >> 2019 CPC in The Hill Summer Park BBQ Ministry Fundraiser
Wasted Blogger, Chip M. Anderson
I am the pastor and church planter for Christ Presbyterian Church in The Hill; a flawed practitioner of Wasted Evangelism. I am learning about Wasted Evangelism through my experience in The Hill and through the good people of CPC in The Hill.