Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Blessing the Prisoners

"Thank you so much for coming." said one of the prisoners before returning to his cell. "You guys showed us a fresh presentation and demonstration of the gospel."

What incredible words to hear from an inmate. They've had other ministries come to the prison, but it usually just consists of someone preaching a gospel message. This is all good and wonderful, but we saw that these men had a need to have love demonstrated to them. As we began our worship set, singing about the love of the Father, many of the men started weeping. One man in particular began to wrap his arms around himself, as if he was giving himself the hug he had never received. Tears were streaming down his face. The men on our team started to go around and give the men a loving embrace along with words of encouragement. They were so receptive and grateful. This display of love helped them open up to us about their lives and allowed us pray for them and share more about the Lord with them. 

We also went to a women's prison but, due to logistical issues, they were not allowed to come out of their cells and mingle with us as we ministered to them. Instead, we went in front of their cells, worshiped, and gave an individual gospel presentation to each group of ladies. It will be hard to forget the desperation and appreciation in their eyes. They are women who were desperate for change, and they were grateful to have a group of American's travel so far just to bless them with music and the hope of the gospel message. 

The people we met in these prisons may be hardened criminals, but God knows how to touch the soft spot of their hearts. He is so committed to rebuilding broken lives!

Worship at the Rooftop Bar

We knew it was a long shot, but after many years of faithfully ministering at the brothels, Tio Pedro was gutsy enough to ask the manager if we could do a worship set on the roof of the brothel. Surprisingly, she said yes! It was all of God's favor, and what an amazing night we had!

On the roof of the brothel is a bar with an open patio area that overlooks the city. This is where the men come to get drunk before or after being with the women. It's the last place you'd expect to hear worship, which makes it the perfect place to go and proclaim the King! 

All of our songs that night were focused on declaring the character and majesty of God. As we worshiped, we also sent teams of people down into the brothel to minister to the women who were working. The worship shifted the atmosphere and prepared the way for the gospel to be shared with the ladies in their rooms. 

One might think that the management might get upset with us or ask us to stop, but the woman running the bar that night actually demanded that we keep worshiping. She loved what we were doing, and even said she would have us back to do it again! How incredible is that?!

Even more remarkable is how some of the men reacted to our worship. One man arrived right as we were getting started. It didn't take long before he started tearing up and getting on his knees seeking forgiveness. At the end he said, "I came here to get drunk and see the ladies as I always do... I had no idea I was going to church." 

This just goes to show that God is able to open up unique ministry opportunities in the most unsuspected places! 

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Testimonies from our 5th Annual Gay Pride Parade

On June 24th we completed our 5th annual outreach to the Gay Pride Parade.

Why? Why do we keep going back to the parade every year? To put it simply, the Gay Pride Parade is an environment of deception, and it is exactly those places where Jesus went to minister truth, healing, and freedom!  So we believe that's where the "church" should be because we bring His love and light into darkness. That's why we go.

Outreach at the Gay Pride Parade isn't easy. You see things you wish you didn't see and hear things you wish you didn't hear, and you have a lot of very sensitive and difficult conversations. Yet, in spite of all of this, God has been faithful to open up some tremendous opportunities to discuss the nature of God, the gospel, and the wisdom of God's sexual ethic with the people we meet at the parade. So, yes, the parade is always very difficult, but it's also always very good. And it is worth a few hours of discomfort if it means you can share the saving message of Christ with people who are perishing.

We had a small team this year (only 7 people total), but we were able to engage about 30 people with our surveys, getting their opinion on a wide variety of questions pertaining to human sexuality. Conducting these surveys serves as an easy, non-confrontational way to initiate conversation with people and it helps them open up to us as we try to steer the conversation back to the things of God.

Here's three quick testimonies of good interactions we had this year:

1 - The Pain Behind His Self-Perception
One of our volunteers names Audley was doing a survey with a transgender man (biologically male, but identifies as female). When Audley asked him questions about his family relationships and family history, the man broke down and disclosed to Audley that he was raped by his father when he was nine years old. He recognized that this traumatic experience had an impact on his own self-perception and his own experience of gender-dysphoria. He was noticeably broken and still hurting from what his father had done to him. He continued to tell Audley that he has been seeing a psychiatrist to help him deal with this painful experience, and then he actually gave us his phone number and asked us to reach out to him because he wanted to talk more with us! How remarkable is that?!? Audley and I will definitely be reaching out to him this week so we can help him through his pain.

2 - Addressing Misconceptions 
One of the longest discussion I had this year was with a man named Sean. He asked us why we were doing these surveys and I explained that we are out here because we've noticed that there is a tremendous lack of communication between the Church and the LGBT community, and so we come to the Pride Parade every year to initiate conversations with people to learn more about their experiences and what they believe while trying to share our beliefs with them. He was pleasantly surprised by this answer, but then, after giving it some thought, he said, "If you guys are out here to talk with people and help those who are hurting, that's great... but if you're out here trying to save people from their sexuality, then I am going to have some serious problems with you." I thought to myself, "Save people from their sexuality?? Um... that is NOT what we are out here to do..." So I asked him if he would give me a few minutes to speak into that. I went on to explain that he does not need to get "saved from his sexuality", he needs to get saved from sin and the judgement that is coming because of his sin. I explained that God is not trying to eliminate our sexuality. After all, human sexuality and gender were God's idea in the first place, so God doesn't want to take that away from us. Rather, he wants to teach us how it is that he intended for us to function as sexual beings, and that, ultimately, we must submit our sexuality to the Lordship of Jesus Christ.

3 - He Came Back to Learn More!
There was another man named Richard, who identified as a "straight man". Even though he was not LGBT, he was just out at the Parade to enjoy the festivities. But he did tell us that due to the popularity of the LGBT community and all the friends that he has who are LGBT, he is thinking about experimenting with men and possibly becoming more bi-sexual (it was sad to see how the LGBT ideology was influencing Richard to experiment with sexual sin). He also told us that, even though he is not a Roman Catholic, he is currently attending a Roman Catholic College, and that he has been required to take a few theology classes. He knew some of the basics about Jesus and the Bible so we had a good discussion about Jesus' position on sin and homosexuality. It didn't seem like he was very receptive to what we were saying, so after he left I was a little discouraged. I just wasn't sure if anything we said would stick with him. But then, about 10 minutes later, he came back over to me and said, "Hey can I get your contact information? I really enjoyed our conversation and I think I want to learn more about Jesus and Christianity." At first I was speechless... I didn't think anything we said had gotten through to him, and now he's asking me to learn more - awesome! So I gave him my business card with my cell and email on it, and I also gave him the information form my YouTube channel so he could go and watch some of the videos. I told him to call me if he has any questions. I really hope to hear back from him!!

Overall, it was another good year at the NYC Pride Parade. Thanks for praying!

Trusting God and Leaving the Brothels: The Story of Fabiola's Faith

During our trips to Brazil, we reach out to a variety of people in a variety of ways. We go to prisons, favelas (slums), rehabs, and the crowded city streets of Belo Horizonte, but our main focus every year is reaching out to the women who work in the brothels. Over the years, we've seen many come out of prostitution and give their lives to the Lord, and some have even become missionaries. The transformation we've seen is remarkable. It's only explanation is God. I am grateful for the opportunities I've had to serve and care for these women. It has truly been one of the greatest privileges of my life.

One of the biggest and most famous
brothels in Belo Horizonte
We went into the brothels one morning to host a breakfast for the women who were working the night shift, to provide some nice food for them right when they got off work. We brought all the food into a small side-room near the front desk of the brothel. Once we got everything set up, we went to invite the ladies.

It's a heartbreaking environment in the brothels. The hallways are narrow and dimly lit with rooms on either side. The women stand naked in the doorways of their rooms, presenting themselves to try and attract potential customers as men walk up and down the hallways and essentially go grocery shopping for women. When a man finds a woman he wants, he goes into the room, pays her, does with her as he pleases, and then the process starts all over again. It is a horrifically dehumanizing experience for the ladies, which is exactly why we make the effort to reach them with the Lord's love and compassion.

As we walk the hallways to invite them for breakfast, many of the ladies will grab a towel to cover themselves. They know we are from the church, which can make them feel embarrassed to be in our presence. But we just look them in the eyes and greet them with a warm smile, paying no mind to their nude or scantily clad bodies. We refuse to treat them the way others do, and, as a Christian man, I refuse to look at them the way their customers do.

Some of our team members evangelizing
the men outside the brothels
After the first round of invitations, several women gratefully joined us for breakfast. We sat and talked with the women as they came in and out. It wasn't too eventful until one lady grabbed me, another girl on our team named Yudy, and our translator, Gaby, and asked us to come into her room to pray for her. It was obvious that she wanted privacy. I knew something interesting was about to happen.

Her room was small, with just enough space for a twin-sized mattress and a sink. After we crammed into her room, she closed the door and locked it. She then turned, sat on the bed, and introduced herself. "My name is Fabiola." she said, "and I want you guys to pray for me." When Gaby, our translator, asked her what she wanted prayer for, she looked at her with tears in her eyes she said, "I went to Church on Sunday and when I was there I decided to trust God and leave the brothels." We were stunned, but we quickly responded with positive words of encouragement and affirmation, letting her know how happy we were for her and that we supported her in this decision.

Fabiola was now sobbing. It seemed like this was the first time she had told anybody about her decision to leave the brothels. She was experiencing a lot of emotions that manifested themselves in tears. It was a mixture of joy, relief, and trepidation. She was joyful to share this good news and confide in us, and she was relieved to finally be leaving a profession that exposed her to some of the most horrendous experiences imaginable. But she was also experiencing feelings of fear and apprehension about her future. After all, what is a woman with little or no education that has been working as prostitute supposed to do to support herself and her family? 

These were the thoughts running through her head, so we seized the opportunity to encourage her with the promises of God's word and other scriptures about God's faithfulness. I told Fabiola that I was honored to be in her presence because she was a woman who was brave enough to trust God with her life. And after talking with her for a while about the trustworthiness of God, I remembered the passage from Exodus chapter 6 and the prayers I had been praying in preparation for the trip.

I asked her if she was familiar with the story of how God saved the Israelites. She said that she used to go to Church when she was younger, but had forgotten the story. So I took some time to remind her of the oppressive slavery that Israel experienced in the land of Egypt and how God delivered them from slavery and brought them into the Promised Land. I explained that God had compassion upon the Israelites and that he exerted all of his power to deliver them from their bondage so that they would know that He is the one true God and serve Him the rest of their days. Then I told her, "Fabiola, this is the same God that you are calling upon, and He is able to deliver you and lead you into a better life, just like He did for the Israelites. All you have to do is trust Him and follow Him one step at a time."

"I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the burden of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from slavery to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm, and with great acts of judgement I will take you to be my people and I will be your God, and you shall know that I am the Lord, your God, who has brought you out from under the burden of the Egyptians." (Exodus 6:6-7)

Every building on this street is a brothel
She was weeping. Our words seemed to wash over her and God alleviated every fear and anxious thought. I was also starting to tear up at this point. I couldn't believe God allowed me to be there with Fabiola to encourage her. I didn't know it until that moment, but all those prayers we had prayed to see God deliver women from prostitution - those prayers were for her! God's been pursuing Fabiola, and now she's redeemed. Our translator took her phone number so that they could stay in touch, and now the Church is starting to come around Fabiola to help her in this time of new beginnings. By the end of our time together, Fabiola eyes were filled with life, and she had the biggest smile upon her face. It was as though God sent us there that morning because his new daughter, Fabiola, needed some support and encouragement. 

Words cannot capture that moment. I cannot explain what an incredible honor it was to be with Fabiola in that moment and see first hand the work that God is doing in her life. I am truly humbled by God's power and Fabiola's faith, and I am so grateful to God to be His servant.

Fabiola has a long journey ahead of her. It's not going to be an easy journey, but I am confident that God will prove himself faithful. Please pray for Fabiola, that she would keep her eyes fixed on Jesus, the "author and perfecter of her faith" (Hebrews 12:1-2).

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Backpacks from Alabama

Shane and Trenia Oliver, along with their two sons, Isaiah and Bryson, recently traveled to NYC all the way from Alabama just to give backpacks to the homeless. It all started when Isaiah won a trip through his school for being one of the top five students in his graduating class, and he wanted to use this opportunity to serve the homeless in NYC. Additionally, their youngest son, Bryson, had the ingenious idea of giving out $5 McDonalds gift cards to the homeless. His mom organized a bake sale that raised enough money for them to give out about 80 gift cards! 

So on June 6th they joined us out at Tompkins Square Park, and they brought with them 100 backpacks filled with toiletries to give away and each person also received a McDonalds gift card. The people at the park were extremely grateful to this family and their generosity. It's awesome the way these boys are already demonstrating a heart for the poor at such a young age! 

You can watch the video of Trenia telling the story below. 

Here are some pictures of the family handing out the backpacks and gift cards

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Jesus is more Loving than Allah

I've really grown in my ability to dialogue with people from other world religions. I've also developed the mentality that I am always "on call" for the Lord, and that every place I go is a mission field. These two lessons converged for me recently when I was flying back to NYC and sat next to a Muslim man on the plain.

Ryan discussing the gospel with a
devotee of the Hare Krishna  religion
I knew I needed to try and talk with him about the gospel. Surprisingly, he actually initiated the conversation with me and started asking about my trip and where I was from. He was very kind. We made small talk for a while, just getting to know each other. His name was Tameen and though he was only a teenager, he already had ambitions of being a Muslim scholar, an Imam (one who leads prayer in a Mosque), and one who interprets the Qur’an and the Hadith (a collection of the sayings of Muhammad). He is currently enrolled in a school for Islamic studies. He’s 17 years old and he already has the ENTIRE Qur’an memorized! Seriously, that’s impressive.

We maintained a lively dialogue about our beliefs for the entire flight, but towards the end I realized something was lacking. We had talked about his religious practice, Islamic theology, and the history of the Bible and the Qur’an… but I had yet to actually share the gospel with him.

I was trying to think of a way to bring the conversation back to the cross, and I remembered that there was a question I’ve always wanted to ask a Muslim, but until that day, I had never had the opportunity to do so. The question was this: “When has Allah loved you sacrificially?” Muslims assert that Allah is the “all-good" and "all-loving” god, yet I don’t know of any instance when Allah has demonstrated sacrificial love – and isn’t sacrificial love the highest expression of love? If Allah has never done this, can he really be said to be “all-loving” in the highest sense? And if not, is he really deserving of our worship if he has not loved us in the most excellent way?

So I asked my new friend, “Tameen, thank you for all the information you’ve given me thus far. Now I just have just one more question for you - When has Allah loved you sacrificially?” He look at me, puzzled. “What do you mean? All that I have comes from Allah”.  

“I understand that.” I said, “But that wasn’t my question. When has Allah loved you sacrificially? When has Allah done good to you at his own expense?” He paused and pondered for a while. I said nothing and let the question sink in until he finally said, “I don’t know… I don’t think he ever has.” I turned, looked him in the eye, and said very gently, “Tameen, that’s why Jesus is more worthy of worship than Allah, because Jesus has loved you better than Allah ever has.” And from that point on I went on to explain the gospel from the vantage point of sacrificial love – that Jesus (who is God) actually humbled himself to serve us by laying his life down for us. That’s love!

We discussed this matter for a while and he acknowledged that it was an important point that he needed to think about more. I pray that our conversation would stick in his mind as he continues in his Islamic studies and that he would ultimately see that Jesus is more excellent than Allah. I’m grateful for all I’ve learned at Street LIFE Ministries that prepared me for my conversation with Tameen that day!

The Influence of Street LIFE Ministries Extends to Ohio

Emanuel Old Stone Church from Wooster, Ohio has continuously grown in their heart for missions since getting involved with Street LIFE Ministries. One year the ladies at the church made some incredible mats for the homeless out of spare plastic bags. Then they started bringing teams to serve with us in NYC, and last month they just had their first ever missions conference in which they featured Street LIFE Ministries and made a cardboard version of our Step Van! They served the soup we make for the homeless and even set up a Prayer Station! It was amazing to see how our simple outreaches have had such a huge impact on this body of believers!

A trip to Street LIFE Ministries could have a similar impact on your congregation as well, so come join us this summer to gain first-hand experience in living a lifestyle of worship, prayer, missions, and service.