Time for part 2 of 3 updates covering the summer…this part may be my favorite one 🙂
I’d like to share three of my favorite moments on outreach in more detail. What a joy to testify to the goodness of God and the ways He is encountering individuals across our own nation. People all around us are hungry (I would even say starving) for truth, hope, prayer – and, if you are walking with Jesus, you have an abundance of what they are hungry for! So, here’s to living in the abundance and practicing hospitality to our neighbors.
Pritchard Park, Asheville, NC
We spent much of our time in Asheville going to Pritchard Park, a park in the middle of the hip downtown area that is typically avoided by tourists and locals. Many homeless, travelers, druggies, and mentally ill spend their days hanging out at this park. I could truly imagine this park being a place Jesus would often be found if he walked the earth today – seeing, touching, healing, loving the outcast.
We partnered with YWAM Asheville, who consistently brings homemade food to the park and shares it with those who are there. It’s amazing how hospitality through food opens the way to speak to people. We prayed for a man and he was encountered by the Holy Spirit as he broke down and wept (he previously didn’t believe in the Holy Spirit, but let our team pray for this encounter!). I got to share the gospel with and encourage a 19-year-old girl who was in a rehab program to go to Jesus instead of meditation. Our team spent hours playing with a few kids of a single mom and pray for and encourage her. We listened to stories from “traveler Bill” who has been a traveler (choosing to be homeless) for 20+ years. I listened to Krystal’s (a homeless woman) story, and we bonded over our pink hair, favorite foods, and highs and lows of life.
One day there was a woman standing at the outskirts of the park with a few other people and I immediately felt in my spirit that I was supposed to go talk to her. I also felt a strong sense that she either was currently, or had been, involved in prostitution or sex work. As I approached her this was not at all something I planned on bringing up. First of all, that would be awkward if I was wrong (haha!), and, second of all, that was not my biggest concern in the moment. I just wanted to befriend her and love her where she was at. As the two of us started talking, the conversation turned from casual into deeper sharing about who we are and what we do. This woman opened up to me about having been a prostitute in that area (though she is not anymore, praise Jesus!) and how her heart breaks for the girls that she sees prostituting themselves. She shared with me that she has become a believer and wants to use her testimony to tell these girls that there is freedom and hope. I stood in awe at her strength, resilience, courage – and the fact that this is exactly the type of woman I have felt the Lord has called me to reach. Like the woman at the well, one who was taken out of complete brokenness, been radically changed by the love of Jesus, and now wants to go testify to those who are going through what she has experienced.
As she shared with me some of the trauma that had happened to her on the streets, she softened and began to cry, and I got to embrace her by simply sitting there and holding her as she cried. I love how Jesus is the great equalizer. How he could create instant friendship and comfort between two girls of completely different life stories. To me, that is more powerful and special than sitting with a bunch of people who are just like me.
Wilkens Ave, Baltimore, MD
In Baltimore the majority of our time was spent volunteering at a Vacation Bible School (VBS) with an inner-city church. Wilkens Avenue Mennonite Church, located in a really rough neighborhood, is a special place. For years this small church has stood as a light in an area that is full of brokenness. When our team arrived to serve them the pastor’s wife told us she had no idea how many kids would come to the camp. Last year they didn’t run the VBS due to Covid and they didn’t know if people would be ready to come back this year.
The first night of the camp over 40 kids (ages 4-16) from the neighborhood showed up. Some got dropped off by parents, grandparents, or friends. Some walked the streets littered with needles and trash. One of my favorite kids came a bit later in the week. Caleb pretended like he didn’t want to be there; yet desperately wanted his dad to sign the permission slip for him to join. Caleb was not a “sweet” kid. He was tough, mouthy, and would make you think he didn’t like you. He was a kid desperate for love and that’s exactly what we had to offer him. By the end of the week there was a noticeable shift in Caleb. A joy and softness emerged that was not there at the beginning. I loved that kid and was marked by the dramatic change in just a few days of knowing that he was loved, wanted, and accepted. True Love – the love of God –changes everything.
The last night of VBS we held a cookout for the neighborhood. In the church parking lot, we grilled food, handed out ice-cream, had face-painting, games, and worship. The party drew in quite the variety of people from the neighborhood.
In this little cracked pavement parking lot our YWAM team, the Mennonite church pastors and members, kids, parents, grandparents, homeless, and prostitutes shared food, laughter, and prayer. What a picture of the Kingdom of God.
That night I was marked by a real experience of what Jesus’ ministry must have been like. He hung out with the rich, poor, religious, sinners, men, women, children, disabled. And the fact that we were all gathered in one place for one reason – Jesus alone – that is something special. There is a depth and richness to that kind of connection with others that I have not found in anything else. I have not found that kind of love in “acceptance,” or “tolerance,” or “being kind.” That kind of community is only found through the uniting equalizer of the power of the Gospel. And by that power that Baltimore neighborhood, and my own life, are forever changed.
|The Strip, Las Vegas, NV |
During our time in Las Vegas we partnered with YWAM Las Vegas, and one of their specific outreaches to the showgirls on the strip. The Las Vegas strip is unlike any city I’ve been to. It lives up to the hype that it is known for – flashy lights everywhere, people handing out advertisements for shows, tourists galore, drinks on drinks, and promiscuously dressed girls.
The “showgirls” are women who dress in extremely revealing outfits and wear the large feather headdresses to take pictures for money with anyone who wants one. It was hard to witness the way that sexuality has become such a novelty in our world. That the value on these women has been reduced to their bodies and getting a corny picture on the Las Vegas strip with them. As we walked the strip I felt the Lord’s compassion for the people. Where would I be if I didn’t know Jesus? I would be right there with everyone else. It breaks me to know that these people are just missing the truth. Apart from knowing Jesus, I would be searching for affirmation, joy, and life in these places too.
One night we went out with roses, chocolates, and handwritten notes of prayers and words of encouragement to give to the showgirls. The women on our team got to take charge in handing these out, while the men stood by and prayed for our conversations. All of the girls that we gave the gifts to were so receptive and blown away that we would give them a gift “just because.” Most let us pray for them and stood to chat with us for a bit.
As my friend and I were talking with two showgirls I felt like God wanted me to ask the one girl if she had a brother. I was unsure but did it anyways (story of my life following Jesus ha!). When I asked her she looked taken aback, and then hesitatingly said yes…she was going to be seeing him in New York (where here family lives) in a few days. She then opened up that she doesn’t have the best relationship with him and that’s been a struggle for her. I asked her if I could pray for that and also encouraged her with a word about her future and school. The other showgirl that was with her expressed that it was crazy that I would say that because it was spot on!
I shared with them that the only reason I knew these things was because God knows her personally and wants her to know Him! I believe he revealed these specific things to me to encourage her because He is a specific God who cares about relationship and the individual. The conversation led to me asking if she had ever truly heard the Gospel. She grew up Catholic and was unsure if she really knew the full picture, so I got to share the full Gospel with her before praying for her.
Leaving that moment, I was in awe that God would speak to me and through me. He is so fun, you guys! When we make ourselves available, put ourselves in a place of being okay with failing, and not shying away from the Gospel, it is transformative. I can’t get over being an ambassador for Christ. Though I fail at it many times, He is gracious, kind, and so much fun.
The Gospel is what changes lives. These moments of hope with an ex-prostitute, a kid from a broken home, a Las Vegas showgirl, and countless other people with different stories…there is no explanation other than the power of a God who takes what was lost and makes it found. A God who wants relationship with us so dearly that He gave his life for it. A God who takes us in all of our fragile humanity and says I want to give you fullness of life. There is fullness in the suffering, the sacrifice, and the pursuit of what the world says is foolishness. I hope you find it as I have…and am continuing to find.
Until all have heard,