Today, I got a taste of the Kingdom of God.
And now, I’m supposed to write about it. I’m supposed to try to put into words something that is impossible to grasp.
I can start by saying that this has been totally different from any other experience I’ve had with homeless ministries. Most of the time, these ministries are geared to respond to the tyranny of the urgent. The needs are so immense, that we’re pushed into a kind of “survival mode” response where we feel like we can only focus on basic necessities.
Part of the heart behind this is good — of course we want to feed as many people as possible, and share the Gospel with as many people as possible. But, what often ends up happening is that we are no longer trying to care for people whom we love, but rather to solve issues which make us feel sad, guilty, or uncomfortable. We count the number of plates we pass out, but don’t even know the names of the people who are eating. We share the Gospel, but we do it in a way that is generic and impersonal — through tracts, sermons, and presentations. Instead of seeking the heart of God and the guidance of the Spirit, we can end up relying on ourselves.
All along, our team has desired to not only meet people’s needs, but to grow our Alhambra family. We’ve desired friendship, holistic transformation, and reconciliation — not only for our neighbors on the streets, but also for ourselves and our congregation. But let me tell you — in spite of all the planning and research, we had no idea how those things were supposed to happen!
COVID-19 forced us to scale back a ton.
It forced us to scrap months worth of planning at the last minute, and do something else instead.
But now, when people walk through the doors of that gym, their faces light up like little kids. A couple folks have even told us, “Being here makes me feel like a kid again!” They walk in and see people who know them and are genuinely happy to see them. They enter a space of prayer, where evil spirits are not allowed to have their way. They enter a place of rest, where pieces of the imago Dei are being restored — through a shower, a new set of clothes, an amazing home-cooked meal, and hearts that listen deeply.
And hallelujah, the imago Dei is being restored in all of us! We all walk in there feeling our need, and feeling our desperation for the Lord to meet us. And He’s doing it! We’re all getting wrecked by the presence of the Spirit of God and the immense beauty of Jesus in each other. We are all seeing barriers and strongholds fall in our lives.
Today, we met a woman on the street (I’ll call her Joan), and invited her to come. Like many people who walk in for the first time, she looked hesitant, fearful, and on her guard. She looked like someone who felt invisible.
Like a bee to honey, I watched Jeanette walk over to where she was. I could tell that Joan was genuinely surprised that someone was paying attention to her. Jeanette approached her with such incredible gentleness, and after awhile I saw tears wetting her face. Later I learned from Jeanette that this woman was leaving an abusive relationship. When they started talking, she had a notebook with her. In it was a picture of weeds, with the words, “Everyone loves a rose, but who would love a weed?”
Jeanette prayed that the Lord would enable her to listen well to Joan. Because Joan’s abuser had told her that her voice didn’t matter, she needed encouragement that God wanted to hear her and to care for her like the birds of the air. As Jeanette shared God’s heart with her, she began to weep, and the Lord began to break strongholds in her life. When she looked up from prayer, her face was visibly changed. Jeanette told her, “Joan, your face is glowing!”
Later that day, Jeanette asked her again what she was drawing. This time, it was a picture of herself climbing out of a ditch, with a dark and threatening figure in the background, holding a sword — but the sun was shining in the sky, and from the sun the angels of the Lord were shooting out in the form of the birds of the air, in the form of provision and protection.
The words to Psalm 34 had just become a reality before our very eyes. Sitting in a church gym in Phoenix, we beheld the glory of the Living God.
I sought the LORD, and He answered me
and delivered me from all my fears.
Those who look to Him are radiant,
and their faces shall never be ashamed.
This poor man cried, and the LORD heard Him
and saved him out of all His troubles.
The angel of the LORD encamps
around those who fear Him, and delivers them.
Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good!
– (Psalm 34:4–8, ESV)
May the Lord continue to fulfill His Word in us!
– Kristin Caynor