Most folks who know me know that I am a pacifist. My first book even took on common questions about Christian nonviolence. I often speak about nonviolence, turning the other cheek, dying rather than killing. I used to think I was a good bible teacher, but I am not so sure anymore. You see, a while back I began leading a bible study through John’s gospel. One of the regular attendees, a guy named “J”, had proven to be inquisitive, enthusiastic, and he was always kindly offering to help in various capacities during our Monday night ministry. “J” was homeless, and he had twice been attacked, stabbed and robbed over a couple week period while out and about in Lexington. I think many of us could sense “J’s” frustration and hopelessness growing even as we tried to offer encouragement and point him toward hope. We failed, miserably.
A few weeks went by without “J” attending. We didn’t think too much about it because many of our guests drop off the radar for weeks or even months at a time, but we heard through the grapevine that “J” had been arrested for allegedly beating a man to death with a 2×4. Sure enough the news reports confirmed the rumors. “J” is now in prison. Likely he will be there for a while, perhaps the rest of his life.
I sort of jokingly remarked on a few occasions that I must be the worst bible teacher ever. That may or may not be true, but I am beginning to realize that most of the change that happens in people’s lives does not happen because they sat in a particular class. There are a lot of ways in which God intervenes in the lives of people, countless different sorts of events that people can point to as places where they were changed for the better, but it seems that one of the most compelling reasons that people change is because they have others who love them through their mess. I will visit “J” in prison. I will let him know that he is still loved, that God still sees him as a person with infinite worth. I will pray with him, encourage him, challenge him to be a peacemaker and minister of reconciliation even and especially in the confines of concrete and barbed wire. I will declare over his life that Jesus does indeed set captives free and I will continue to trust that God has a plan for my friend “J” even though this detour has put him on an exceedingly more difficult path. I will challenge him to repent, to seek the forgiveness of God and the victim’s family.
Whether or not I succeed as a teacher, I am determined to be faithful as a minister of God’s redemptive peace.
Of course, not all of the stories of my time at Embrace are so dramatic, many of them are quite mundane yet eternally important. Sometimes they are even downright boring. A few weeks ago we had a baptism (that wasn’t the boring part), but since one of our worship gatherings takes place at a theater we have a portable baptistery. Our portable baptistery happens to be a plastic horse trough. Anyway, the theater does not have a particularly convenient way for us to fill the thing so I had to load it on to a small cart and wheel it into the bathroom. Me and two other guys took turns holding a small hose on to the end of one of the bathroom faucets. I know some traditions sprinkle water on congregants when a person gets baptized as a way to help others remember their own baptism. This was not a formal ritual, but we were sure getting wet as the water sprayed from the end of the hose since we could not get a tight connection with the faucet. We, I hope, remembered our baptisms as we prepared to welcome a new sister into the family.
After about half an hour of watching water slowly trickle into the trough we decided there was enough water to dunk someone. Of course a horse trough with 30 gallons of water in it is no light object to move, but we couldn’t really baptize this young lady in the men’s room, so we had to wheel the trough laden cart down to the front of the theater and up onto the stage. It took 6 of us to get it off the cart.
The baptism, like all baptisms, was beautiful. There is always something good about getting a soaking wet hug from a new sibling in Christ.
Of course once the baptism was over we had load the trough back on the cart, wheel it out the back door of the theater and dump the water out on the sidewalk. It created a small tidal wave that ran out into the street. I almost want to reconsider my stance on sprinkling for baptism after this, but it was great to watch someone die to sin and be raised to life with Christ.
Other stories at Embrace are still very much in process. In fact, most of them rest in that uncomfortable place of ambiguity between hope and hopelessness.
A few weeks ago a young lady who has been attending two of our weekly services on a regular basis came forward to ask for prayer. With the requisite tears in her eyes she told me about her addiction to heroin, about how she couldn’t see her children because of the drug’s hold on her. She asked me to pray for her. I prayed that God would deliver her from this demon of addiction. During our meal time after service I pulled “A” aside to talk more. I told her that helping folks with drug addictions was pretty new to me, but that I wanted to covenant with her to find her appropriate help. I told her that I would find her the following Sunday with information in hand ready to help her out.
For the whole week I sent messages to local friends who I knew would be able to help me out. My friend Kelly, the pastoral care coordinator at The Lexington Rescue Mission, had been working on a list of resources for addicts, which she kindly shared with me. I began checking into each program to see which would be the best fit. On Sunday, though I was teaching at another church in town, I rushed back to Embrace’s downtown campus at the Kentucky Theater to make sure I kept my word to “A”. I found her and told her about the various programs as asked her to meet me the next day at my office so we could look over them in more detail and at least get her on a waiting list or two.
The time came for our appointment and she never showed. I was angry, disappointed, and honestly sad because I still believe that she wants freedom from these chains that bind her. That evening one of her friends told me that she had hitched a ride to another city to follow her drug habit. That sort of thing makes me wanna scream and kick kittens (of course to be fair I don’t really like cats anyway), but instead I pray that God will continue the work that God has started in “A’s” life. Last week her friend said that “A” is back in town. Next time I see her, I plan to give her a big hug then a piece of my mind, then remind her once again that I love her with the love of the Lord and that I still want to help her though this mess. I don’t know where it will go. I don’t know if she will ever be free of her addiction. I don’t know if she will ever get back custody of her kids. I don’t know a lot of things, but I do know that I will I be waiting for her and working on her behalf, and I do know that as much as I am doing so that God will be infinitely more involved in her daily life, whispering to her that his grace is sufficient.
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