“Timothy, my child, I am giving you this instruction in keeping with the prophecies previously made about you, so that by them you may strongly engage in battle, having faith and a good conscience. Some have rejected these and have suffered the shipwreck of their faith.” (1 Timothy 1:18-19 HCSB)
I will write this post and leave for once my personal opinion out of it as much as possible. What happened is either spiritual warfare or simple self-piety…..or coincidence. You decide.
It was Thursday evening, the day after an amazing experience chasing after God for the entire day. It was an humbling experience to have God remove me out of the picture and then impose a ‘gag-rule’ by those in the team with me. I think that’s the longest I’ve ever been quiet since I learned how to make sounds into speech. He was faithful to show the wondrous plan He had made with Joan Bernard’s sermon and the effectiveness of her testimony….that coupled with the wonderful sounds of the Worship crew…and I thought it was a awesome worship that Lydia led as Nellie gave a sermon around a song she had written and Sarah added her voice to the echoes of God’s Word in the hallowed halls of the Bowery Chapel. Thursday morning was our final chapel that we were ‘responsible’ for and the whole house echoed with the men’s disappointment about that fact. Our time in the Bowery was winding down, so much more quickly than I realized.
The worship by the Mosaic Team and the Bowery Team went over and with Nellie’s sermon and Sarah’s the time rapidly disappeared……and it is very important as we have learned in our Bowery experience that everything end on time…they have listened to worship and service and are ready to eat. I passed on my ‘verse’ that I was going to read. I was a little upset about it, but realized that was selfish in nature and gave it to God. There really was no way to follow the powerful impact of Nellie’s gifting and offering. Which is why God ended the service as He did. I had spoke to Joan about my feelings and had them validated, that being a little jealous was not honoring to either my friend Nellie or God.
But for some reason I felt intense displeasure towards the evening and literally ran out of the Bowery Mission into the streets of New York’s lower Manhattan. I didn’t realize it then, but God removed His hand from me and left me to the wilds of the streets because I was burdened with self-doubt and uncertainty about my purpose and gift. Even if this is what God called me to, I didn’t feel equipped and purposed enough to do so, even though I was told I was more bold and confident in the pastoral end of the Bowery responsibilities than last year. Even though several members of the team expressed that they were blessed with the sermons and had been told by others in the Bowery the same.
A few nights when the duties of the Bowery were done, I wandered the streets of the area looking for homeless to invite to the shelter or to give some McDonald’s or to speak to so I could be immersed in the culture, the society and the experience. I felt it was important to God for me to do so so that I would be totally a servant to those who He had sent me and the team to minister to in the Bowery and the community who were served outside of the Disciple program that the Bowery runs. I was burdened heavily by the attitude of many New Yorkers towards the homeless; they were something to be ignored outside the community of the homeless shelters, something to be used for a sick type of entertainment in their environs and abused by those who were uncomfortable in the comforts of their lives that the homeless exposed as false satisfactions. It hurt and broken my heart to see these things. As Pastor Shannon said today, this is some of the things that cause me to pound my fists on the table with passion. I learned a lot about how the homeless perceive the ‘help’ and the ‘truthfulness’ of what they receive……………and some take advantage of while the core of them are simply surviving in grace.
One, constantly a source of amusement for both patron and employees at the McDonald’s across the Hudson Bridge I never got his name. He was one of the mentally challenged homeless that are scattered across the concrete environment of New York and a easy source of feeling superior to those around him. He was always being kicked out of the restaurant because he wasn’t buying food. He would sit there hunched over and very quiet, not muttering or making disturbing comments to patrons or even panhandling. But without fail, the employees would sent out the biggest and meanest looking among them to shame him into leaving. And the New Yorkers who were gathered there to enjoy their happy meals would watch. I approached him this night and asked him if I could buy him a meal….as I watched the employees gesturing and smiling at the thought of beginning the nightly eviction process. He swung around and pulled a switchblade knife on me. I guess I wasn’t too disturbed by it and we quickly resolved the problem. I bought him a meal and the employees hovered until he was done, promptly evicting him. Into the night he disappeared and I was never able to find him….I had followed him out as quickly as I could but he was enveloped into the darkness.
I wandered the streets for a while and came across one gentlemen who was hiding in the recess of a doorway. There was nothing unusual about this man, his dress and posture spoke of nights spent on the streets of New York and he made no threatening gestures or words to me. I simply said hello and felt the hairs on my neck stand up as he whispered a few words that I hadn’t heard in years…..”So, pretty boy, wanna play?” It was a phrase I had heard in several bars in several cities over the years when I was unsaved and they were the harbinger of a fight. I quickly turned and headed back to the Bowery, but the feeling of peace didn’t return and I tossed and turned all night long. Maybe, I reasoned as I woke up the next morning, it was simply coincidence and nothing to be upset about. I was invited to go out with my friend Mantell to do outreach in the Bronx with ‘Drew and I jumped full-heartedly into such an adventure. We dropped off extra donations at a small church in the South Bronx and over near Central Park where Will Smith filmed the movie “I am Legend.” We dropped off the rest of the bread and took some coolers with wheels over to the “Rescue Bus”, a ministry that travels from New Jersey over to New York and parks at various areas in the city with soup, hot liquids and occasionally clothes. It was our intention to see if some of the men wanted to come back to the Bowery in our empty truck and get showers/clothes for themselves. We had fifteen takers. In the clothing room back at the Bowery, one of the guys had problems finding a jacket. I emptied my pockets and gave him mine. He refused, until I offered to ‘trade’ him his windbreaker for my new coat. He finally agreed…….once the showers were over, the guys left the Bowery equipped with a Metro card to get them back to the areas they wanted to be. It was in the clothing area that the second ‘coincidence’ happened.
Several of the community homeless, those who were not in the Bowery Disciple program, were getting into verbal fights as they fought over the meager offerings of clothing at the Bowery. We managed to control the situation to a degree, with the calming influence of our teammate ‘Drew. But there were a couple that shook me to the core and I fled in fear from the Bowery’s clothing room. They were trading verbal abuses and I told them they would have to stop or they would both have to leave the Bowery. This is the rules and the homeless whom the Bowery serves are knowledgeable of them. One looked at me in the eye and said, “So, pretty boy, wanna play?” and made a gesture like he was going to ‘come at me.’ Maybe this was something surprisingly simple, but to me it was a full blast from my past down to the very gesture. My nose in slanted to one side because of the experience I speak of…..I still get migraines from the broken piece of my skull bone that lies in the indent between my eyes. It wasn’t the ‘blast from the past’ that caused me to flee, but the feelings familiar to those days of my past life that were suddenly in full force………I wanted to respond with the force he ‘threatened’ me with.
Maybe I’m making too much of a simple thing, mixing in my feelings of insecurity and my burdened heart about the insensitivity of communities all over the United States about the homeless. But the unusualness of the events and the feelings that they invoked make me wonder.
Spiritual warfare or something else?