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thankful

we are overwhelmed. and overjoyed. and awe-struck.

God is so good. so so very good.

it is impossible for me to describe how much i love what i do. what god has called me to do. the redemption and grace god allows me to be part of.

this week we’ve worked with a family from the midwest that lost track of their daughter. they were fearful that she had perhaps been trafficked. we networked with lots of other ministries and police departments and eventually FOUND HER!

today we were able to reunite her with her dad and she is on her way home.

sometimes you are able to see God’s grace and mercy in such a tangible way it overwhelms you physically, emotionally, intellectually and spiritually. and that’s what happened today. i can’t BELIEVE that God allows me to be part of bringing reconciliation and restoration to someone he loves SO much.

i wish i could share more of the story with you – more of the unbelievable and impossible details. but the most important details remains that God is good. and God is gracious. and God never ceases to amaze me – that just when i think the burden to rescue someone lays on me alone – God puts me in my place by letting me know that only he alone could orchestrate something so amazing.

 

i am thankful for the body of Christ that works together in times of stress and need. i am thankful for Jen Cecil who is the most supportive person in the world – and keeps me calm and collected and focused in the midst of high stress situations. and i am thankful that God is bigger than me and bigger than the lost daughter who has now come home. 

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Even though you might not see it...

"Even though you might not see my life changing what you are doing is changing me. Just to know that someone cares enough to come out here for us, nobody does that, not even our own families."

It's not a word for word quote but it's as close as I can remember. I've met N several times before and we always have a good connection with her. She told us last night that she'd been out there three years and that we had been with her all those years. She was grateful.

N is addicted to drugs and alcohol. She has given up everything to feed her addiction. She feeds her addiction so she can stay in the game. She is scared, desperate and heart broken. She knows the Lord and cries out to Him. She was in tears almost immediately and asked us to pray for her. She knew facing the truth was hard and our presence was causing her to do that but she wasn't afraid, she was comforted, because God called her worthy, beloved and was relentlessly pursuing her. And in that moment I'm reminded of the same truth, and comforted with her.

I don't know if N will ever be completely free this side of heaven. I pray that she will and won't give up hope but honestly, I don't know. But I do believe she'll be in heaven with me. If anyone grasps the gospel, it's N. She knows that she is undeserving and ensnared by sin. She knows that the only way she can stand in the presence of God is through Jesus, that she herself has nothing to offer. This, is the message of the gospel. And it's slow and sometimes unseen but the Lord is working, drawing her in and changing her heart.

It's easy to grow tired and weary, to focus on our own circumstances and want to give up and then we run into N and others like her and I'm reminded how incredibly privileged we are to do what we do. To walk the same streets week after week, to be the one to celebrate with God's beloved, to mourn with God's beloved. God intertwines each of our lives with many others and every relationship is an incredible gift. Some take longer than others to form and require more effort but all of them are a gift.

As you go through your days, look for God in the midst of your interactions with others. He is there, longing to reveal Himself to you. He's there in the extraordinary and the ordinary. He's there in the darkness and the light. He's there in times of faith and times of doubt. Everything around you will change, but God's love and pursuit of you will always remain. Even though you might not see it, He is there.

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Consistancy

She just stood there and wept. Tears running down her cheeks. She’d reach up to gently wipe them off only to have more instantly reappeared.

She began sharing about her addiction. Drugs and alcohol. And the insurmountable obstacles she faces in her life.

It's not so easy to just enter a rehab program, she tells us. Addictions are dark and heavy - so dark that she was willing to leave her three children. "WHO does that," she cries. She hates herself and the choices she has made. But she has to have the drugs and alcohol to turn the tricks and feels trapped. She feels like every car she gets into might be her last - she never knows which john might be dangerous and hurt her, or even kill her.

But at the same time, she knows the Lord and cries out to him. While other girls simply took a gift bag and walked away quickly from us, she stayed and chatted for almost a half hour. “If humiliating myself and humbling myself by crying and being a fool is what it takes for God to get my attention, then I am going to sit here and cry and receive prayer.” She believes God is real and every time she runs into us feels he is calling to her, pursuing her, but she just lacks the strength to make the changes she needs to in her life and face the obstacles holding her back. She prayed with us that one day the Lord would make the taste of alcohol horrible to her lips.

We prayed with her. We cried with her. We embraced her. We let her know that being a slave to your addictions is powerful and horrible and difficult. And we don't want her to deal with it alone. We want to walk with her - even before she's ready to go into a rehab program.

“Even though you might not see my life changing what you are doing is changing me. Just to know that someone cares enough to come out here for us, nobody does that, not even our families.”

It’s not a word for word quote, but it’s close. She told us last night that she’d been out on that track for three years and that we’d been there with her all those years. And she was grateful.

Consistency. Sometimes it’s the most powerful thing you can do – more powerful than any statement you could make or advice you could give. It is a really long road to recovery. These women have learned not to trust people in their life, so we have learned to be consistent in building a relationship with them week after week and week and year after year.

I pray consistency for you in 2014. In whatever area of your life you need it. May you be faithful, even in the smallest of things, and trust the Lord to do his good work.

Christ with us, Christ before us, Christ in us.

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This is What You Are Looking For

I've been struggling to write this post for some time now. Because I wanted to reflect on advent. On the hope, love, joy, peace…the anticipation of what is to come. But I've had a hard time "feeling" in the Christmas spirit this year. So I thought maybe I could write about that - but my lack of Christmas motivation couldn't really be pegged on something. I could not drum up some inspirational post about those going through difficult times, or struggling with family dynamics, etc. Because the truth is I love going home for the holiday's and I love spending time with my family. I think I've just been really busy, and I think the fact that California has had 80 degree weather has made it just not FEEL like Christmas.

But as I reflected more I thought - the anticlimactic-ness of it all is something I think we often struggle with. Something everyone has struggled with along the way.

I was re-reading the birth account in Luke the other day in my copy of "The Message" and was struck by this phrase: "This is what you are looking for: a baby wrapped in a blanket and laying in a manger" (Luke 2:12).

That's it?

That's what all the fuss and prayers and anticipation and planning and preparation and prophesy have been about? Do you think the shepherds cleared their ears and asked the angels to repeat themselves? I think most of our friends would think we were crazy people if that was our response to their years of lament and cries for help.

I am oppressed and need a victor to rescue me…This is what you are looking for: a baby wrapped in a blanket and laying in a manger.

I am tired. I need rest. I need help. I need relief…This is what you are looking for: a baby wrapped in a blanket and laying in a manger

I am lonely. I need love. I need to belong. I need to feel significant…This is what you are looking for: a baby wrapped in a blanket and laying in a manger

I have no more hope. I need to believe it will all get better and there is a point…This is what you are looking for: a baby wrapped in a blanket and laying in a manger

I am poor. I need money and resources. I am afraid of what will happen to myself or my family if I can't figure out soon how to make ends meet…This is what you are looking for: a baby wrapped in a blanket and laying in a manger

But it's exactly that anticlimactic-ness that makes the story the most amazing and relatable.

When there seems to be no reason to hope, we have hope.
When there seems to no one or no reason to love, Christ became love.
When there is no cause for celebration or joy, we have joy.
When our world is so turned upside down we shouldn't find peace, Christ is our peace.

Christ came to turn the world upside down. Came in powerlessness to adjust expectations. To help us realize it was not about what we could do: with our brute force, witty political prowess or celebrity status - it's the power of God. If God was going to redeem the world, it was going to have to be done his way - and his ways are not our ways. His ways (quite frankly) make no sense a lot of the time. But they are beautifully relatable - a Savior that understand rejection, loneliness, hunger, pain, boredom, tiredness, oppression, darkness, and abandonment. But a Savior that also understand love, joy, hope, peace, perseverance, power, relief, resources and true communion with God. Had he been born our literal version of a King like Israel expected, he couldn't have understood or experienced those thing. He had to flip the paradigm upside down - he had to be born in an anticlimactic way so we would adjust our expectations and he would truly suffer human existence.

So if you're having a hard Christmas this season - whether you can't get in the holiday spirit, or you have come from a rough year with difficult struggles, or you feel lonely, or you're lacking in hope - know that you are not alone.

 

…This is what you are looking for: a baby wrapped in a blanket and laying in a manger.

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Sitting in the Pain and Darkness

 It's one of the harder conversations you'll have out on the track. The ones that seem to have no hope. The ones that end in tears.

Running into a smiling face that you see week to week is both joyous and heart-breaking. Joyous because we love building relationships with the women out on the streets and it is a gift being able to see them multiple times and hear more bits and pieces of their story. Heart-breaking because each time we see them out on the track means one more week they've been trapped. One more week they've been a slave to the obstacles and lies in their life.

We saw "Sixty" on Friday (not her real name). And I love running into her. She always has the biggest hug waiting for me and a huge smile on her face. But this week was slightly different. She greeted me with that same hug and smile- the slight scent of alcohol on her breath - as she told us to "hurry up and pray for her so she could get on her way." But then she became deflated. She said she was sick of it all and wanted out.

"I'm serious. When have you ever heard me say this before? I mean it. Get me out of here."

My heart rate livened. I became excited. And I became hopeful that perhaps this was the night. I offered to call some places for her right there. We'd sit down on the curb and make calls all night until we found her a safe place to go, but she was discouraged by that. "You mean I have to call places? I might have to wait? I have to do intakes? I don't have all night to just sit around and hope something works out."

And so that was that. I was sad, but I know it's frustrating. I know when you are discouraged and at the end of your rope any small obstacle in your way feels enormous - but my heart ached in that moment that Sixty wasn't quite ready to take the steps to get free. And there was nothing I could do but sit in the pain and the darkness with her. Tolisten to her talk about the thoughts that go through her head in her darkest moments of wanting to take a handful of pills so it'll all be over. Of her pleas that I would make up a false complaint and call the cops so she might have a few nights of relief behind cell bars away from it all. 

And these are the moments it is the hardest. It is difficult to just stand in the chilly stillness and be present. And it is maddening to eventually have to walk away. Knowing that God loves this woman more than I ever could and he is working a bigger picture that I am only a small part of, but feeling like the only thing I am doing is abandoning her.

We spent last night as an After Hours outreach team talking about our fears, and the fears of the women we meet out on the track - and how many of those fears stem from our inability to grasp and truly believe our identity in Christ as his beloved. Loved. Enjoyed. Before we did anything. Because when we don't fully grasp our worth - it is hard to fight for even our own lives. 

 

I'm making calls and looking up places that might not have long waiting periods. I'm hoping the next time we meet Sixty will be in a space where she is more willing and able to fight those obstacles in her life. But until then, I pray. I wait. I weep. And I trust the God who finds her worthy beyond compare to come to her aid when my efforts are insufficient. 

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Sometimes I Forget

I remember the first time I met her, she was standing in front of a church on a track where she was being prostituted. Her belly was round and swollen with life. We connected instantly and over the next couple of months we would meet up over a meal or in the middle of the track.

This was her fourth pregnancy, her three children were in the system with little hope for reunification. Now in her seventh month of pregnancy fear and doubt and intense heartache began to set in and take over. How could she give another child away? What hope did she have of keeping this child? If she did what kind of life would she be providing?

She lived her days in fear and loneliness. Her pimp was controlling and violent and she had no one. She was alone. We were standing right in front of her, offering her friendship and unconditional love and yet she believed she was alone. Imagine trying to trust someone when everyone you know has used you for their own gain, has abused you and discarded you. Imagine trying to hope it would be better this time when it always seems to be getting worse, when it IS getting worse.

We know it's a lie, "it will be easier this way", "you're doing the right thing, to have this child would be selfish". We know because we are on the outside looking in or perhaps we are looking back on a choice already made. We know that it will not be easier to abort than to adopt, we know that we will never be able to talk ourselves into believing that we didn't take the life of our own child. But in that moment, when your world is caving in and the enemy is screaming in your ear and you have no one...you believe the lie.

We begged and pleaded with her, offering to adopt the child ourselves, whatever it would take, we were there and wanted to help her choose life. She made the appointment anyways.

The next time I heard from her, her words were barely recognizable. Taken over by grief she called me and through wrenching sobs told me she had made the wrong choice. She was devastated because she now saw, she now felt, she now lived the truth of the lies she had believed.

I heard from her once or twice in the next couple of weeks and then she disappeared. Her number was no longer connected, I had no way of finding her. For the next four years I prayed for her, that she would heal, that she would find freedom, that she was alive... This woman that God had brought into my life, who I loved, who he loved. Sometimes I forget or my view gets clouded...there are so many women with similar stories and I can't see what God is doing and I wonder if He's really there and if He cares or is able and then on nights like this one, He reminds me.

It had been four years since I had seen her... she approached with two other women, looked me in the eye and said "do you remember me?" I knew her face immediately but didn't quite place her so I asked her name. She said her name, the name I had been praying for, grieving for, believing for... We hugged for a long time and rejoiced together at our reunion. I told her how I had been praying for her, how thankful I was that she was alive. She told me that she'd had a son since I last saw her, he's one now.

I sensed that she still felt very alone yet I was reminded in the moment of the sweetness of God, the relentlessness of God...four years!! And He was here, with her, with me... He was whispering "I love you and I am always faithful". I prayed these truths over her and reminded her that she was not alone, that I loved her, that God loved her.

I share this story for a few reasons; first, because perspective changes everything. I believe in the sanctity of life, meaning I believe every life created by God is valuable and beautiful and I believe that it is His to give and take life. However, on some level, after walking through this woman's abortion with her I can say "I get it". I get why it is easier to believe the lie and I get why people sometimes make the choices they do. God granted me the ability to feel the fear and heartache with her, He granted me compassion and empathy much as I believe He felt for her. I know His heart was broken at the choice that she made, at the life that was lost, but I also believe His heart was broken with her's, He was in the midst of her hellish circumstances, grieving with her as well as for her. And the point is, He loves her. No matter what choices she has made, He loves her with a steadfast love and goes to great lengths to prove it. Maybe it's not as simple as "pro-choice" or "pro-life" maybe, like so many other things it's a heart issue, it's about believing God rather than about right or wrong. It's about overcoming terrible atrocities with life-giving love. I know it's hard to see God in the midst of death and destruction but perhaps that's where He is most present. So in saying I believe in the sanctity of life I am not saying that I stand in opposition to those who choose otherwise, I am saying I am willing to stand with them in their fear, in their loneliness, in their doubt, hoping that they will feel a little less alone, that they will see Jesus standing with them, offering them hope where there seems to be no way out... just, as I hope, they will stand with me.

That leads me to my second point, God is faithfully pursuing His own. That night there were 25 of us on the streets and I was the one who walked up to her. A face she knew, one that had loved her without judgment, without condition. In a world where she was sure she was alone, Jesus reminded her that she wasn't. Jesus reminded me. We are never really alone because God is with us, I believe that. But I think He often shows up for us through others. He gives us ridiculous amounts of love for the unloveable (you and me) and pours out his grace and mercy and love through us onto one another. Seeing her again was a beautiful and bittersweet gift. Overwhelmed with the knowledge that she was alive, with the evidence of God's love for her, for me and yet deeply saddened to find her in almost the exact same place where we first met my heart was grieved and elated at the same time. Through many tears I related this story back to my team at the end of the night and several people said they saw Jesus through me. I am sure that they did, because this was His doing. This is His heart.


"For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord...If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.  And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.  If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.  Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends...The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing." Romans 8:38,39, 1 Corinthians 13:1-8, Zephaniah 3:17

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The Burden of Hope

It wasn't so much the things she said as it was the look on her face. As I said the words her face crumpled and her eyes shown with desperation. I knew that face or at least I recognized the emotions behind it. I have felt them so many times myself. You know that moment when you almost have enough hope to believe that you are redeemable but the weight of your sin seems insurmountable? You feel unworthy of unmerited favor, you feel like it's probably available for others but not for you, it couldn't possibly be true for you. You're too far gone, your sin is somehow greater than everyone else's, if they only knew all that you had done they wouldn't be speaking such ill-fitted words of fantasy to you, words of...hope.

Why is hope so daunting? Perhaps it's easier to stay in our sin than to face the possibility that we'll fail again. Because if I receive grace and then slap it in the face I prove to be more unworthy than at the start and I cannot bear to feel more unworthy.

And can there really be a God so full of love that He can forgive me over and over again? That he can overlook my failings? Images of a bride dressed in white, clothed by her maker, in His righteousness, swirl in my head and I can't help but see the stains all over her and...what if others can see them too? What if they know how weak I am? What if they see my rebellious heart that has chosen the stains over the pure white gown time and time again? At the very least THEY will know that I am unworthy.

If I knew what the answer was to overcome this, to never have to make that face again or see it on another, I'd put it into practice today, this moment. But... I don't. What I do know is that every time I feel that way, God meets me there. He doesn't meet me with a shaking fist and a scowling face but He meets me with warmth, with open arms, with grace that covers me like a cloak. Grace that covers me. Covers my sin, covers my doubts, covers my fears, covers my shame. Again and again and again... He whispers words of promise over me, "those who know my name will put their trust in me, for I, the Lord, have not forsaken those who seek me" (psalm 9:10). He reminds of a beautiful truth penned by C.S. Lewis, "...the great thing to remember is that, though our feelings come and go, His love for us does not. It is not wearied by our sins, or our indifference; and, therefore, it is quite relentless in its determination that we shall be cured of those sins, at whatever cost to us, at whatever cost to Him."  He takes the burden and places it on Himself, wrapping me in a beautiful garment of His righteousness where grace and justice wildly intersect making the unclean clean and the desperate filled...with hope.

"I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my soul shall be joyful in my God: for He has clothed me with the garments of salvation, he has covered me with the robe of righteousness..." Isaiah 61:10a

The Burden of Hope, Part 2

This woman's face was a reflection of my own. In her I saw that though I know Jesus I often times don't identify with Him. What He has made clear from His word is that I am his daughter, I am beloved, I am chosen. I am all of those things not because of what I've done but because of what Jesus has done for me. He loved me before the foundations of the world. He knew what my failings and shortcomings would be and chose then to love me and then to give his life for mine. I so often give in to the temptation of believing that my identity is based on what I do rather than on who God says I am. So then when I fail, I somehow feel less than, not quite as righteous or accepted. But Jesus' righteousness covers me and He is never "less righteous" or "less accepted". So I can move forward in joy and freedom, knowing that God is transforming me into His image but not so that He can somehow love me more. He made the greatest demonstration of love that can be made by giving up his life for mine.

I know all this seems simple and basic but it's a place where my heart struggles and needs constant reminders. I pray that as I gain my footing in these truths, others will see that they are true as well.

"Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one's life for his friends." John 15:13

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A Position of Love

From "Theirs is the Kingdom" by Robert D Lupton

 

 

Why do Christians not agree on such important matters? Is it because some are more spiritually mature than others? Are some more hermeneutically astute and able to gain more accurate insight into the word of God? Surely God doesn't contradict himself. What shall we do when well-meaning Christians come up with different answers from the ones God has clearly revealed to us as his truth?

Perhaps we should try to educate these ignorant ones. If they refuse to accept the truth, we can cut them off from our fellowship...But one of the things that troubles me as I take up causes for the kingdom is this: our Lord has told us the essential I.D for all "card-carrying" Christians is "By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another" (John 13:35). There is nothing distinguishing about holding certain political positions, engaging in debates, staging protests. Whether we pledge allegiance to the moral majority or the radical minority, whether we vote Republican or Democrat (or Independent , Libertarian, or Socialist), there is no visible statement to the world about our commitment to the lordship of Christ. We may join pro- or anti-nuke, life, draft, NRA, Contra, or defense bandwagons and do so for all the right reasons, but this will not cause us to shine like lights in darkness. Such affiliations may express our convictions, but they do not set us apart as "Christ-ones." 
There is only one activity so unique to this world that Christ distinguished it as the proof of his deity and of our authenticity as his followers...It is more reconciling than Camp David peace accords, more convincing than arguments for and against abortion or gay rights, or the authority of scripture. It illuminates the minds of men and women more than Christian television or political debates, and it is not an option for a Christian. It is a command. It is love. Love of a special sort. 
Unfortunately, we seldom see this love. We talk about it, but quickly abandon it in the pursuit of "rightness." Perhaps building cases for issues is much more exciting than loving each other; issues allows us to win, or at least compete. Love on the other hand, lays down its ego, its case, its defenses for the sake of another--and that isn't fun.  
And yet our Lord saw love as so vital that he spent his last night emphasizing and reemphasizing it to his disciples. He assured them (and us) that he would reveal himself to them, give his Holy Spirit to teach them, grant all that they ask, give them peace and joy, and call them his friends of they would but obey him by living out his love (John 13-15). Would it be easy? Is laying down your life easy? Yet, said Christ, this is how love is measured.  
But what about the issues? Shouldn't we take stands on important issues like human rights, war, and even life itself? Of course. We must. This isn't to say that all Christians will take the same stand. As long as we are fallen and our perceptions are colored by our experience, as long as we have blind spots and different personalities, we will continue coming up with different answers.  
Yet somehow in the tension between the poles, God continues to work. Love leads us to an appreciative understanding of the unique contribution each member makes to the body of Christ, and thus the tension is creative. But without the willingness to lay aside, at least for a time, our own position in order to affirm a dissenting brother or sister, the tension will undoubtedly be destructive. I suspect that Christ is working overtime these days healing the ears (and egos) of those we have slashed in his defense. Perhaps it is time we put away our swords and began displaying the mark of "Christ-ones:" Love.


Enough said.

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Manipulated for the Sake of Relationship

 I started reading "Theirs is the Kingdom" by Robert D. Lupton. I might be A LITTLE behind. The book came out in 1989. But to be fair, I wasn't all that into reading when I was 6, so I feel I have a good excuse.

This book is great though! I love the unique angle he takes in talking about life and ministry in urban settings. Most of the book is just stories. And a whole lot of it is about failing. Wrong decisions, mistakes, struggles and fears. The book is raw, honest, challenging and convicting. I am sure I will talk about it a bit more later…but for now I want to engage one specific chapter.

It is the chapter titled "Kurt" and it is about a man he got to know in his neighborhood with a really difficult story. His mom was murdered, he had tried to take revenge and had suffered the ramifications of trying to take things into his own hands (beaten in skull with a baseball bat for one thing!). He was an alcoholic and drug abuser but was trying to (and seeming to succeed in his efforts to) turn his life around. 

He had gotten a job and needed money for the bus fare. So Robert gave him that money. Only problem was Kurt ended up purchasing liquor. 

Robert was devastated. He felt used. Lied to. Stupid. 

I think I deal with these thoughts, reservations, and this skeptical outlook often as we work with the women out on the track. I hear a lot of really sad stories. A lot of seemingly helpless situations - but I often wonder how true they are. When it seems like all they need is some money for formula and diapers - I wonder how true that is. If I were to give them that money - would that really solve anything? Would the money really go to buy diapers?

Robert goes on to say "I can see the conditions I place on my giving, my own subtle forms of manipulation. I am confronted with my pride that requires others to conform to my image. I see my need to control, to meter out love in exchange for the responses I desire. I will opt to be manipulated in person. For somewhere concealed in these painful interactions are the key to my own freedom."

Freedom.

I was in class in February and one of the other students told a story aboutMother Theresa handing out food on the street. Several of the people were going through the line three or four times! One of the volunteers came up to Mother and told her that someone should regulate the process better because these people were taking more than their fair share and trying to go around the corner and sell it!! Mothers response? "The rich get spoiled so often, it's about time someone spoiled the poor."

How profound.

I know there is so much more to this conversation and it is such a fine line (giving without regard and caring about unhealthy behaviors) - but I think I agree with Robert's line of thinking. I would rather be manipulated in person. I would rather build relationships, and listen to the half truths that spring from the deep need that resides within. Maybe the money or resources don't always go to where I wish they would or where I would choose - but the first step is presence. Consistency.  Love. And then freedom.

I don't know - maybe this doesn't make sense. But this is what I'm chewing on for the day….chew with me. And pick up the book if you get a chance. We can dialogue more.

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The Already....But Not Yet

 Last night out on the track it was Good Friday. And I couldn't help but think about our interactions with the girls in light of this significant night. This significant moment we stop to pause and allow ourselves to lament. To cry. Sunday is coming, yes, but it is not here yet. We are left with the tension of despair and darkness and hope and gratefulness. Kingdom Come. They say it is "already, but not yet" - and most days it just feels like not yet, because the "already" is so hidden. 

And this is what our girls face on a daily basis. They live on Friday night. They live in the despair and darkness of the defeat of death, and it is up to us to bring the power of the resurrection. To let them know that Sunday IS coming. That things can be different. That death is defeated and the Kingdom has come…and is coming.

But we have to be willing to sit with them in the darkness. In the pain. Not everyday can be Sunday. Friday and Saturday had to come before. And I think we are uncomfortable with those days. We don't like to hear about the mother who is out on the track because she just has to buy her kid some diapers and formula. We don't want to hear about the girl who is out on the track because she tried to get away several times before but her pimp found her every time. We don't want to hear about the young lady who is on the track because dad is in jail, mom is on drugs and she's got siblings at home to take care of. We don't want to hear about the young mother who is out on the track because her 9 month old got cancer and she has to find a way to pay the bills. Those stories make us uncomfortable. We want to jump to the success stories. To making it all better and offer solutions. It is hard to just sit in the pain. To cry with someone. And to realize all you have to offer them is hope.

Hope.

It is so powerful. But Hope with Faith is even better. Hope that is built on nothing less than Jesus love and righteousness. On Christ the solid rock, I stand, all other ground is sinking sand. 

Praying for the grace and ability to see the "already" while holding out hope for the not yet.

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Irresistible Jesus

 Last night's outreach was fun. We were able to talk to around 20 girls or so, and have some good conversations, but what I remember most about the night is how irresistible Jesus is. I'll just share one story….

There were two girls standing on one corner. We approached N* first, she was polite and took a bag but when we asked her if she wanted any prayer she was very adamant that she did not. So we moved on. 

We then talked to M* who was standing on that same corner just a few feet away. She was very open to chatting with us. She very much wants out of prostitution, she is tired and sad and beaten down. But knows that it is a battle within her own mind that is keeping her trapped where she is. We offered to pray for her and she eagerly accepted (Actually, I think she asked us for prayer before we could even offer it!). 

In the middle of our prayer for her, another woman we see quite often out on the streets, L*, walked up shouting "My girls!!!!" She ran to embrace us and join in our prayer time. Seeing us all embracing on the street and praying together, N* walked over and said, "okay, um…I want to pray to, I want prayer!"

It was a beautiful and holy moment. 

The woman who didn't want to engage with us and was very resistant to prayer couldn't resist it any longer when a community of people came together on a dim street corner to pray. When M* was vulnerable enough to acknowledge her weaknesses and need for God, it enabled N* to do the same. When L* was free in her excitement of seeing us and joining in our prayer, it enabled N* to do that same. It was a holy moment. Christ was irresistible, and he met N* in her resistance, hesitancy and vulnerability. 

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The Power of Prayer

 We ran into a beautiful young woman last night that we've had the opportunity to talk to a few times before. She was very friendly, and willing to engage in conversation for a while. But what really stood out to me was when I offered to pray for her. 

She got this sly smile on her face and told us that while she didn't necessarily MIND prayer, but the last time she let us pray for her - she got a lot of thing she wanted, but she also got a lot of answers to prayer in ways that she didn't want. 

This got me thinking about my own prayer life. My own relationship with God. How often do I dumb down my own prayer life because I am afraid of being bold enough to ask God for things. I think this plays out in two ways:

First, because I am afraid I won't get what I ask for. I think this will be a reflection on my stupidity to ask in the first place or my unbelief in being able to bring it to fruition. So I just avoid it. If I am not specific in my prayers - then I don't have to deal with disappointment. I avoid praying for healing. For vision. For clarity. Because when I don't get these things - It is less disappointing when I haven't specifically asked for them.

Secondly, I am afraid of how God will bring about the answer to my prayers. If I ask for greater faith - what sort of struggles will I have to go through? If I pray for humility how is He going to bring that about? If I pray for an understanding of God's great love for me - not seeing my worth through the eyes of others - what sort of situations will I go through to truly grasp and understand that?

So I could totally understand why this beautiful young woman didn't want prayer. Why she actually FEARED the bold prayers of those of us who believe in a God that deeply loves her and has an amazing plan for her life. A God that will never give up on her and desires to see her flourish in freedom and communion with Him. 

That's a frightening thing if you don't believe it for yourself yet. If you're afraid of how those prayers will be answered. 

While we were with her last night we said a prayer of blessing and protection for her children (that much she would allow!). But tonight - and in the weeks ahead - I will be praying for her - for her life and purpose - and I am excited to see how God begins to answer those prayers. And I'm excited for the next time I run into her and can check up on how she continues to be fearful of the power of prayer. Because prayer IS powerful. And we forget that a lot. It was nice to be reminded. 

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Red Hope

There's a girl I keep thinking about. I've met her several times out on the track, but two weeks ago was the first time she's spent any time really opening up or talking to us. I'll call her "Red."

I can't get Red out of my head because of how defeated she is. And how helpless I feel to assist her in any way, to give her hope or to make a difference in her situation. I feel defeated for her and wish so desperately I had more comfort to give, or more eloquent words, or better answers. But life is shit for her. And it is scary. And it really feels impossible.

Red has tried running away from her pimp two times before, and each time he has found her. Once, she made it three month and thought she was free, but he showed up one day ending the elated freedom she thought she had found. She had gotten rid of her cell phone, deleted all online presence and moved across the country. HOW did he find her? She still has no clue other than his interconnectivity with others involved in trafficking all across the U.S.

Having to listen to her tell us that there was no way we could ever possibly help her was maddening. It was depressing. And I froze in the moment. All I could do was acknowledge how impossible the situation feels and even sounds, but confess that deep within my heart I believe in a God that is bigger and can conquer even that which is impossible. She smiled a little at that and said, "I guess one day it'll work out, it just has to be the right timing, and I don't think that's now. But I'll try again someday."

I hope she will. I am inspired by her resilience, confidence and persistance. She is a fighter -and despite her impossible circumstances, she believes freedom can one day he be hers. She just has to fight both an internal and external battle with defeat each day in an effort to get to that place. I pray for Red everyday. She is vibrant and has a life of things waiting before her. She has our number, and I hope she'll call it when she feels that timing is right again - because I believe in my gut that God loves her deeply and passionately and will come to her rescue when she is ready to try again.

Will you pray with me that Red finds the courage to try again and that God would meet her with freedom and protection? 

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When is Enough, Enough?

I saw K on the street this last weekend. It took until about half way though our conversation, when she mentioned her last name actually, for me to remember having met her about two years ago. Two years. Two years and she's still out on the streets. Drunk. High. Wandering around, not making any sense.

I guess I'm not surprised. She was there long before we met her two years ago - and she very well may be out there for many more years.

But it was the conversation I had with her the other night that has stuck with me and made me think and rethink about that exchange.

She told me that she knew God. She gave her life to Him - she did the whole thing. But she's still here. NOTHING has changed. And she's tired. So that's it. She gives up and she's just hoping it is enough. Because she's tried to be a good person but there's only so many times a person can get knocked down before they can't take it anymore. "I better be going to Heaven, cause I don't know what else to do. And I've got nothing else to give."

I told her I thought she was. Maybe you would have said something different. But I honestly believed it. She gave her life to God - and it's been a shit life since then. Doesn't that go against everything we preach to people? We tell them to give their life to God and he will turn it around! But it doesn't always work like that. Sometimes, life is just hard! Sometimes, God just walks with you through the pain. But I am beginning to realize more and more that it take a whole lot of practice to recognize God in the midst of that pain and hurt. It is easier to self medicate.

All I could say to that woman was God LOVES you, just as much as the day you decided to love him. And he's never left you. You're frustrated, and you want to give up on the whole thing and hope it was good enough - well, it was. But don't give up, cause God won't give up on you. I know it sucks out here, but no one understands abandonment, mockery, loneliness and judgement like God.

I didn't say all of that. I wish I had. All I said was "I think you are. God loves you. Don't give up on yourself." But she wasn't really with it. She just shook her head and got more and more frustrated.

In Gary Haugen's book "The Good News About Injustice" he talks about the simple concept that his friends "knew that they could never understand the deepest part of me if they didn't have some understanding of the hard things I had seen." This was such an easy concept for me to grab onto. And then he related it to God. We can't truly understand the deepest parts of God until we have some understanding of the hard things God has seen. And God sees EVERYTHING! God knows the deepest pain of each individual heart.

I think I understood God just a little bit better after last weekend. Wanting so badly to help and love K, her wanting desperately to receive it as she clung so tightly to my neck in a hug she didn't want to let go of, while at the same time saying she was better off alone and didn't need love or help.

God loves you despite your frustration and resistance, K. And you have done enough. Don't try or run anymore. He's right there. Just hang on to that hug. 

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Stories from the Street

Each week our team hits the streets of Los Angeles to reach out to men and women involved in street prostitution. Every week we see God do miraculous things and answer prayers we barely dared to utter. Each week is different too... some seem busier than others, some more intense, there are always new faces.

Often we write and share with you about women who we've helped escape the life and the details of the dramatic rescue. But what you need to know is that we are seeing women make decisions right there on the streets on Friday nights. Whether temporary or permanent, decisions are being made that display the power of the Holy Spirit, sometimes we just walk up and we see the change happen.

There are a couple of stories from this last week I'd like to share with you...

N: She was one of the last women we met that night. Two of our volunteers approached her and gave her a gift bag. She quickly revealed that she did not customarily come out there to work but that she was desperate because she didn't have enough money for diapers for her son. Our volunteers shared with her about God's ability to provide and that we would even be willing to help with diapers. She admitted she knew she should not be out there....did not want to be out there... and immediately left and went home. Praise God with us for the choice she made that night and pray that she will not have to make that choice again. I don't know about you, but I've never even come close to feeling so in need that I would consider selling my body. Sure, I've had months where I didn't know how I was going to make ends meet only to watch God provide at the last moment but even in that I always knew I could call my parents or siblings if I really needed help. Imagine being so alone that you have no one to call for help to meet such a basic need.

A: While half the team was talking with N, myself and another teammate met A. She was young and a little nervous (fearing we were cops as most of the women do). Once she heard me offer her a gift she completely melted. "You guys are angels!" She was in shock that we had come there for her. And the next thing she said nobody could argue with, "Maybe this is God telling me to get off the streets?!" Well, I know there are a lot of other things God has to say to her such as, "You are my beloved." "You are forgiven." "I am the same yesterday, today and forever." "I have the power to raise the dead to life." I could go on and on but I am also sure that He clearly wants to communicate to her that this is not the life He has chosen for her. Would you pray for A and many of the women like her, who have a knowledge of God and even a sense of accountability to Him but are not walking in the power of His Spirit. His Spirit is able to set us free, able to lead us, comfort us, change us completely.

I guess what I'm trying to communicate is that we aren't just a bunch of dare devils kids who go to the ghetto at night and handout gift bags because its cool or we'll get some kind of reward for it. We are believers in Jesus. The same Jesus who died a horrific death for our sins and rose from the grave. We believe that same power is available through Him today and that He is willing and able to resurrect lives right in front of our faces. And it's not always some big dramatic scene.... she may simply turn around, and go home.

"Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live." John 11:25

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Redefining Success

I've started to write this post at least a dozen times. I feel like it's something I'm constantly faced with in this ministry. I also feel like no one else (save my teammates and those in similar ministries) will understand and so I struggle to put down in words what is so evident to my heart and mind but likely foreign to the rest of the world (ok, maybe not the WHOLE world!).

We are often asked what our success rate is in ministry. I think that means "how many people have been saved and are now radically living for Jesus, off the streets and walking in abundant life?"
To which I would reply "maybe one or two...". Then I start working on my resume and filling out job applications because apparently I'm just wasting everyone's time and need to do something else with my life, something "successful".

But God has changed my perspective and now my reply is different... now I say, "we have redefined success and we have new successes everyday." I didn't just come up with that to make all of us feel better about spending our time, money and talents on this ministry, but because I actually believe it.

As I write this my heart is grieving the choice a young woman made earlier today to leave the safe house we had brought her to and go.... well, I don't actually know where she went, but I would guess back to her pimp. She called just last night and we picked her up and took her to a safe place for the night. This morning the battle was intense and I honestly believe that she wanted to choose life but she just wasn't quite ready. And you, like me, may be really tempted to be discouraged by that story but we shouldn't be. We should see it as a great success that she held onto our number and called when she wanted help, that she took a step of faith even if it was small, that she saw that there are people who care and are willing to sacrifice to help her choose life...when she's ready.

So for us success looks like a young woman taking one of our gift bags, telling us part of her story, letting us pray for her, or calling us when she needs help. Last week I asked one of the women if what we were doing was a blessing to her. Not because I wanted her to give me a pat on the back but because I have no intention of wasting my time or hers, if we need to change how we are reaching out, I want to know. Her response was powerful. She said, "Sure it's just a gift bag and that's not what we really need, but everytime you come out here and give us one, we know that someone cares about us and that means a lot. No one cares about us, prostitutes die all the time and no one cares." And so maybe that's what success looks like, proving to someone who feels abandoned and rejected that someone actually cares and that that's not going to change.

We would love to see these women coming to Christ and leaving the streets in droves and perhaps we will someday, but for now, we have redefined success and we praise God for His faithfulness in each and every one of them. It is His work, done by His Spirit, in His time. Maybe success looks like us being faithful when we don't see the results we expect.

"Happy is he who has the God of Jacob for his help, Whose hope is in the LORD his God, Who made heaven and earth, The sea, and all that is in them; Who keeps truth forever, Who executes justice for the oppressed, Who gives food to the hungry. The LORD gives freedom to the prisoners.The LORD opens the eyes of the blind; The LORD raises those who are bowed down; The LORD loves the righteous. The LORD watches over the strangers; He relieves the fatherless and widow; But the way of the wicked He turns upside down. The LORD shall reign forever--Your God, O Zion, to all generations. Praise the LORD!" Psalm 146:5-10

*Would you keep praying for D, the young woman we were able to minister to these last 24 hours? She has tasted and seen....pray that she will return and receive life!

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I need help, what are ya'll going to do to help

 We had been out on the streets for about an hour when I approached Baby Doll (not her real street name) with a gift bag. As many girls are, she was confused why we were giving her the gift and why we were out on the streets of LA so late at night. I began telling her how special, unique and loved she was. That God has not forgotten her and loves her deeply. She seemed a little taken off guard, but then said she appreciated the message we were spreading because many of the women out on the streets needed to hear it.

Me: “But you don’t?”

Baby Doll: “Naw, I know why I’m out here, and I won’t be out here long. I’ve just gotta pay the bills and then I’m done. I’m in school to get my degree. I have a son! I’m just doing what I have to do to take care of myself”

Me: “How’s that going? Taking care of yourself? Is it working out? Are you sick of it yet?”

Baby Doll: “Oh hells yes. I am about at the end of my rope. But I’ve got no other options, just got to do it a bit longer until I get to a place where I feel like I can take care of my baby and me”

Me: “You really think you’ll stop? Think you’ll ever feel secure enough?”

Baby Doll: “I hope so.”

What would you have done to offer help to this woman? Out on the track we run into a lot of women like Baby Doll. They don’t think they are the ones in need of help, and yet they hate the circumstances they find themselves in with no real end in sight. When we try to offer help in getting them to a safe house, job skills training and other connections they are immediately skeptical because they have been failed so many times before and they’ve tried to get a job so many times before, they know going that direction is a long road that most often ends in disappointment.

In a news article from WAFB in Georgia a prostitute unknowingly did an informal interview with a police officer. Her responses were not uncommon:

“Department of Labor is giving no jobs. McDonald’s, Burger King ain’t hiring. The only thing left for a woman to do in Savannah is sell their body,” Rhonda said. “Prostitution ain’t nothing bad. It happened long time ago. It happened in Jesus Christ’s time.”

Rhonda and Edwards engaged in a 30 minute debate on programs and agencies available to help Rhonda, and others in her situation.

“What do you got to offer me? Nothing but the streets again,” she said. “I need help. What are y’all going to do to help?”

I asked her what she is going to do to help herself.

“Prostituting,” she said.

What advice would you give Rhonda? How would you respond to and help her? It is difficult for women with a “criminal” past and a serious lack of options to find viable options for supporting and sustaining themselves. And too often we as a society have failed them. We have done the easy work of getting them off the streets but gotten exhausted when it comes to the long hard work of walking with them through rehabilitation and reintegration into society. Rhonda seems like she does not mind prostitution and is fine with her situation – but I guarantee you that if she actually thought there was a chance for her to do something else with her life that would not end in failure and disappointment, she would jump at it.

How would you respond to Rhonda? What hope do you have to offer Baby Doll? What can the Church do to make it possible for them to find something sustainable other that prostituting themselves? Prostitution is seen as a choice – but it is a lack of choice, lack of freedom, lack of options and last resort of survival.

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Don't Give Up On Us

"Don't give up on us!" Those words hurriedly exclaimed as we walked away from M several weeks ago impacted me so much that I actually wrote them down next to her name where I take weekly notes. When we approached her tonight she was walking away from us, we called after her and when she realized who we were she walked towards us almost as if she couldn't help herself,  as if she was being drawn in.

"I remember you, you prayed with me and everything began to change," she said as tears filled her eyes. She began to tell us the steps she had made towards getting out of the Game for good and how she hadn't been out in weeks until tonight... She asked that we pray for her, that this truly would be her last night. We offered to take her with us but she said it wasn't safe then because her pimp was watching her and would come after her.

We exchanged numbers and assured her that we willing to be a part of the process with her as she continued to make steps towards freedom. She left us with the same plea as last time, "please keep praying and...don't give up on us."

Those five words are so simple yet so powerful. How many times in a day do I want to give up?
It would be embarrassing to say, but the truth is sometimes the battle seems too great and I feel so small. And then I think about how often I say those same words to God, "don't give up on me.I know I'm making the same mistakes over and over, I know I'm putting my trust in worldly things, I know I'm choosing my way over yours.... but please, don't give up on me." And He doesn't. He remains steadfast, immoveable. He loves without condition. He pursues relentlessly, He corrects with gentleness again and again. He comforts me. Teaches me. Waits patiently for me. He never gives up.

And though I look at the women we meet on Friday nights; the circumstances they find themselves in, the lies they have believed, the overwhelming destruction and sense of hopelessness and in my flesh I want to give up, by the power of God's Spirit I am able to press on and love as I ought to love...as my Savior has loved me.  And when I am overwhelmed and it looks like evil is winning and the battle rages on... I remember my Savior, the One who has overcome the grave, the One who has conquered sin and death, the One who is alive, the One who has made a way and desires that none should perish but that all should have everlasting life. I remember that it is He who is fighting this battle, it is He who sets the captives free, it is He who makes beauty from ashes.

I know that you who are reading this are in the midst of a battle too (whether you know it or not is a subject for another blog) and sometimes you feel like you will never overcome and you simply want to give up. Don't. But DO, run to the one who HAS overcome, run to Him and rest in Him. He has called you to this place, in this time, for His purposes. He will carry you through to victory which you already have in Him. In those moments when you feel like you're not enough (be assured that you aren't) trust in the one who is, who lives in you and loves through you.

And we have known and believed the love that God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him. 1 John 4:16

Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up;does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil;does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails. 1 Corinthians 13:4-8

"Don't give up on us." M, a young woman enslaved to prostitution and seeking freedom

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Ministering to Pimps and Prostitutes

 

 We are a street outreach to Pimps and Prostitutes in Los Angeles. As our world becomes increasingly aware of sexual exploitation and trafficking, we have become more conscious that it exists on our own front step. I get asked quite a bit what some of the first steps someone can take are in order to begin their own outreach to prostitutes in their own cities. So this is an attempt to help lead you in that direction. If you are a pastor that wants to get involved in ministering in your city this way or you have a group of passionate lay people in your church that are eager to begin an outreach. I hope this gives you some help and encouragement to get started. 

The most important thing before you try to begin something like this is to make sure you have the proper perspective: these women are victims. If you see them as the problem: dirty women who are out to make a buck and enjoy manipulating men for money – you won’t be able to help them. Too many people think trafficking is something that only takes place overseas – or when women and children from other countries are brought into the United States, but the truth is every woman we meet out on the streets is a trafficked woman.

The United States’ Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 defines “severe forms of trafficking in persons” as:

  1. 1. Sex trafficking in which a commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such act has not attained 18 years of age, OR
  2. 2. The recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for labor or services, through the use of force fraud, or coercion for the purpose of subjection to involuntary servitude, peonage (the practice of holding persons in servitude or partial slavery, as to work off a debt or to serve a penal sentence), debt bondage, or slavery.

 

In one of our trainings we had a person ask us “how do you see these men and women as people and not as just objects?” If that’s the point you are beginning at, the men and women will sense it, and you won’t be able to help them. 

Most of the women and children that end up in prostitution come from either a family history of prostitution or from a difficult home life where one or both parents are in prison and they are left to provide for their family. An overwhelming amount of children who end up in prostitution are also the result of abusive situations: either rape, incest or victims of hostile homes where their parents have made it clear that their gay, lesbian and transgender tendencies are unnatural and unwelcome. In the United States, approximately 40% of adult prostitutes began their careers when they were underage. It is a cycle of victimization and manipulation that keeps them in prostitution. All of her life she has been told she is a piece of property; worth nothing and incapable of making her own decisions. She is powerlessness, isolated and experiences a marred identity: she has become human capital.

The second thing to keep in mind when wanting to begin this type of outreach ministry is to do your research. If you want to be a street outreach ministry then you need to know what types of resources in your area are available to men and women that will reach our to you and ask for your help. When a woman says she wants to get off the street, what will you do? When she says she is afraid for her safety, what will you do? When she says she has children that she also needs to take care of, what will you do? These are the kinds of questions you need to take care of. What if she is an illegal immigrant? What if she has a drug addiction? What if she is underage? 

You also need to know the rules and psychological effects of The Game. The Game is what they call the network of prostitution, those involved and its rules. There are lots of rules and terminology in “The Game” and it is important for you to at least be aware of what that is so you do not go out onto the streets ill-informed and into potentially dangerous situations. You need to learn where the tracks are in your town, how they work the girls, when the natural rotations happen, when to pursue girls and when to respect the fact that sex worker’s time is money. You also need to respect the psychological trauma that has taken place, for example, insulting a woman’s pimp by saying he is a jerk that treats her horribly will make her cut you off and never listen to you again. You need to understand the psychological manipulation and deep connection that has been formed there and learn to work within those bonds to reach out to her. 

The third thing to keep in mind when wanting to begin this type of ministry is to adjust your expectations of “results” you need to be in it for the long run. In the time I have been working with After Hours we have had the privilege of seeing women come off the street and into rehabilitation homes. But many of those women have ended up going back to their pimps. It is a really long road to recovery. Going back and fourth out of rehab is not uncommon. And not many girls will make the decision to leave the streets in the first place. Results for us are learning a girls real name rather than her street name, getting a call in the middle of the week from a girl that wants to tell us her kid made honor roll or ask us for prayer, seeing a girl several weeks in a row that recognizes us and is excited to see us again “There’s my girl!” These women have learned not to trust people in their life, so you will have to be consistent in building a relationship with them week after week and week and year after year. They will not trust you easily and you will need to earn their respect. 

The final thing (for now!) to keep in mind when wanting to begin this type of ministry is to be spiritually prepared. It is important to take spiritual warfare seriously when engaging in this type of street ministry. Be sure that you are motivated out of a love for God and the broken; not seeking excitement, sensationalism or public recognition. Again, the women can sense this. It is not uncommon for strange things to happen before our outreaches: family quarrels, illness, stressful situations, tiredness, and lack of motivation. There are many things you will experience or see on the track such as partial nudity, violence, gang activity, johns soliciting you, pimps staring at you, trying to recruit or intimidate you, and in the worse case scenario bodily hard to yourself or others around you. It is only through the power of God that a ministry like this can make a difference. God loves these women so deeply, God has a plan for their life and the fact that God will use you to minister to them in any way is such an honor. Make sure your heart is ready to go out on the streets and engage in those types of conversations.

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When My Father Comes

Last Friday night we met a young woman, A. We spoke with A for some length of time. She seemed really open and shared quite a bit about herself. We asked her if she wanted prayer and she asked that we would pray for her father to be released from prison. She went on to explain that she felt unprotected and alone without him and that she believed her life would significantly change when he was able to care for and protect her. She believed the answer to her leaving the life of prostitution was to have her father back in her life. As I was listening I heard the Lord say, “tell her I am”. Over and over I kept hearing that and knew I had to tell her that all the things she hoped her earthly father to be, her heavenly was and more.

By the grace of God I was able to speak this truth to her and in the moment she seemed to respond. She went from saying “if” and “when” to “now”. I told her that her heavenly Father was able to deliver her now and perhaps we were sent just for that reason.

This interaction with A spoke volumes to my heart. How often do we say to ourselves “I will do this or that…if and when” when God is already there, ready to deliver us. We look to the things of this world, to other people to take a role that was meant for God alone. We will always come up short when we seek to fill God’s position with another. And yet, when God takes this rightful position we are free to be in a right relationship with others and the world around us.

“A” did leave the street that night, whether out of faith (that God had come to deliver her) or fear (of her current circumstances)… I don’t really know. What I do know is God met us there and will continue to do so. God knows the depths of our hearts and speaks straight to them. God comforts us, guides us, assures us, provides for us, and desires to be our all and the choice is ours. In the last few days as I have interacted with A, I can sense the battle taking place within her. To choose to be free is to choose to walk by faith, faith in a God who is not necessarily tangible (though even our presence on Friday night challenges that idea) and may even seem distant in light of her current circumstances, or to continue on bound up in chains always waiting for “if” or “when”.

Please pray for A to choose life. Pray that she will know God as God is, our gracious and merciful Father who longs to restore us. Jesus, who has come and made a way for us out of bondage and into everlasting life. May her image of an earthly father be changed and replaced by the gentle, yet firm love and faithfulness of our heavenly Father.

“For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, “Abba, Father. The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs–heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together. For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.” Romans 8:15-18

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