Wednesday, July 9, 2008

How We Got Started

I was recently asked how we got started in homeless ministry.

The quick answer is this: God tricked me into it.

My wife and I had been planning and preparing to go to Bangladesh to minister to the poor both physically and spiritually for about 8 years. Suddenly, all of our plans fell through and we were left with nothing to do.

So I did what I often did when left to my own devises—I preached a message to the church they didn’t want to hear.

I began handing out tracts in front of churches. Mostly they were about the need to meet the needs of the poor and to surrender our wealth. After doing this for a number of weeks, I realized that we weren’t actually ministering to the poor in any way at the time. So I prayed a sincere prayer: “Lord, help us meet poor people here in Portland so we can minister to them. Perhaps a homeless person whom we could have for dinner a night a week.”

As is usual for our sincere prayers, God answers in ways we didn’t expect. That afternoon my wife and I met Ed.

Ed was a drunk who lived in our area, and though we never took opportunity to meet a homeless person before, Ed thrust himself upon us. We invited him to dinner.

He came to spend the night. That didn’t work out so well, as his yelling kept us up all night. Mind you, he was asleep, but we had issues.

But he did come for dinner that night.

And the next night.

And the next night.

And the next night he brought a friend.

Eventually, we got to know all the homeless folks in the neighborhood, and have them for dinner. Sometimes with Ed, often without him. For two years, we had homeless folks in our two bedroom apartment for dinner, and, on rare occasions, staying in our living room. We sometimes spoke of God’s word, but more often we didn’t. Our purpose wasn’t to preach, but to serve. And to listen.

Because of that listening, over a long time, we were able to prove the need of a worship service that would preach God’s word and would offer an opportunity for street people to worship. It’s pretty intense, but that’s the work God placed upon us.

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