Thursday, March 15, 2018

Building Trust with Women in the Sex Industry

Since 2013, Beautiful One has visited the same massage parlors once a month which has helped us build a good connection with some of the women.  We've even known one lady since the very beginning! This has enabled us to have many conversations with her about Jesus and her Buddhist beliefs. We prayed for another woman who had a pregnant daughter. Now she frequently shows us pictures of her beautiful grandchild and always reminds us, “You prayed for me.”  It's so important to share in the joys and the heartaches of these women.

Over the years, we have come to know several of the workers by name and they've opened up to us about some very personal and intimate details in their lives because they know they can trust us. This is the value of consistency and commitment. It took at least a year for most places to welcome us openly.  But trust takes time, especially in an outreach like this.  Now they know us and invite us in to sit down when they aren’t busy. We’ve learned so much about them and have been able to share the Gospel openly with them. Now we are working with with another local organization to offer ESL and Bible study classes with the ladies. We are still in the planning stages, so please be praying for this!

Thursday, March 8, 2018

No Romance Required

Starting in 2016, we have been making a focused effort to reach the LGBT community. So when I learned about "The Center", a community building for LGBT individuals in Manhattan, I knew I needed to go check it out. I saw it as an opportunity to learn more about the community and maybe make some friends. As I mingled with people in the lobby, I met a gentle, and soft-spoken man named Henry, who comes to The Center for their support groups. He’s had a life-long battle with depression and seeks comfort by attending these meetings. When I told him it was my first time at The Center, he took me on a tour of the building.

We had a good time just hanging out and making small talk, but when he told me he needed to leave to get to his next meeting, he reached into his back pocket and pulled out his wallet. In his wallet was a small scrap of paper with his name and his phone number on it. He paused for a moment, and hung his head in shame, and proceeded to say, “Ryan I’ve really enjoyed hanging out with you… I know that I’m probably too old for you, but if you ever wanted to meet up again, here’s my number.” Clearly, he was longing for companionship.

I started laughing because, at this point, he had no idea that I wasn't gay. Henry thought I was laughing at him, and so he started to apologize. But I explained, “No, Henry, you don’t understand. It’s ok… I’m not even gay!” He looked confused. So I continued, “I’m not gay, but I enjoy learning about LGBT issues and meeting people in the community. So even though I’m not gay we can still hang out – no romance required!”

To make a long story short, Henry and I have had dinner together a few times since, and have been able to talk extensively about God, the gospel, and the biblical standards for human sexuality. As of now, he wants nothing to do with Christianity, but I have a place in his life and he is hearing the gospel.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

"What do I have to do to get saved?"

A few weeks ago, as I was giving out care packs at the side of the truck, Jeremy* came running up to me, and with tears in his eyes, began to ask, "Ryan, what do I have to do to get saved?!" He went on, "I know the Jehovah Witnesses don't love me and their message hasn't helped me. I'm still in my sin and I don't have the Holy Spirit. What do I have to do to get saved?!"

The people of Tompkins Square Park
Even though Jeremy isn't homeless, he lives on a low income and benefits from the donations we give out at Tompkins Square Park each week. We see him almost every week, but until this point it seemed like all of my attempts to steer Jeremy away from the errors of the Jehovah Witnesses were  in vain. He routinely attends the  local Kingdom Hall and and invites the members of their congregation over to his house for Bible Studies. He's been deeply entrenched in Jehovah Witness theology for years, and adamantly opposed any attempts I would make to challenge those beliefs or direct him to the true gospel of grace. It seemed like we'd never get through to him, but God must have been working on his heart!

I was stunned and speechless. This man, who had always shut me down when I tried to explain the gospel, was now earnestly asking me how to get right with God. Not knowing exactly what to say, I grabbed a New Testament and sat down with him. I first led him to 1 Timothy 1:15 where it says "Christ came into the world to save sinners" and told him, "Jeremy, it's obvious you see your sin - that's a good thing - now you need to look to Jesus." But knowing that the Jesus of the Jehovah Witnesses is NOT the Jesus of the Bible or the Jesus of history, I took him to Philippians 2:5-11, the great hymn of the early church that extols the deity, humanity, suffering, and Lordship of Jesus Christ. We spent a good while discussing the person and work of Christ, and Jeremy has never been so willing to listen.

I haven't seen him around much since that day, but in our brief interactions he has told me that he's still considering the things I shared with him. The Lord granted me an open door that day, and I trust those seeds will produce life in him.

               * Name changed for privacy

Friday, February 16, 2018

The Beautiful Bride of Christ

 The "Ladies Luncheon" has consistently been a highlight of our Brazil trip every year. We rent out the dining commons at a mall and put on a very special lunch for all the ladies that work in the brothels. It is a very powerful and effective ministry in which the women are treated with dignity and honor, and are introduced to perfect love of Jesus Christ.

Prior to the lunch, Tio Pedro always shares a short message and update about all the Lord is doing through their ministry to the brothels. This year he showed us pictures of some of the women who have given their lives to the Lord, come out of the brothels, and have since gotten married. Their wedding pictures were beautiful, and each of them wore a wonderful white wedding dress. Some people might think that a former prostitute has no business wearing a white wedding dress on her wedding day. After all, white is supposed to symbolize the purity of virginity, something that we know is not true of these women. But their white wedding dress was a picture of a greater spiritual reality - that these women have been washed clean of their past sins and they now stand before God without blemish, free from accusation. As God said through his prophet Isaiah long ago, "Thought your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow."

Those women had every right to wear a white wedding dress.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

God's Heart for the One

On New Year's Eve, a man hobbled up to our Prayer Station on 47th St.  He looked over the bibles and tracts and someone from the team struck up a conversation with him.  After a while, I was called over to try and connect him to resources.  He talked a lot about the Bible and his battle with leukemia.  My partner and I took a moment to pray over him.  As we prayed, God's heart for him overwhelmed me.  Here was a broken and sick man that we got to meet on a cold New Year's Eve night.  Once again God had sent us the one that He wanted us to meet.  The one that needed to know God's heart for him.

These are only a couple of the testimonies like this.  Several others on the teams from Canada, New Hampshire, and Texas had similar stories.  It reminds me of the story of the demoniac man from the land of the Gerasenes in Luke 8:26.  Jesus crossed over the lake and calmed a storm to get to this man.  Once he was delivered and commissioned to tell others about what happened, Jesus got back in the boat and went back to the other side.

ONE man was worth crossing a lake and going through a storm.  ONE person on the streets of New York City is worth standing out in the frigid cold for.   

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Bringing Christmas to the Streets

Freshly fallen snow and the smell of warm cookies from the oven, family gatherings, presents, Pine Trees, Christmas music, stockings by the fireplace - each of these are emblems of Christmas, things we all hold dear during the holiday season. But for those living on the streets, this season can trigger painful memories from the past, of times long ago when they felt loved and cherished.

This is why, every December, we do what we can to bring Christmas to the streets. Each year we organize a cookie bake and make hundreds of Christmas cookies to serve at our different outreaches. Our neighbors look forward to the plate of goodies. The homeless always appreciate these home-baked gifts, and the ladies at the massage parlors always feel particularly blessed to receive them. It is the cookies, plus our friendship, that gives these people (whom the world would call “outcasts”), a sense of belonging and importance during the Christmas season.

And yet, even with all the cookies and carols, we would fail to bring Christmas to the streets if we left out the one thing that makes Christmas so special - The story of Jesus,  the story of God humbling himself to become a man in order to save us. It is this story that motivates everything we do and remains the central message of our ministry. May the message of Christ bring true peace to the hearts of those we serve this holiday season, the people he came to redeem.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Breaking out of Comfort Zones

The men's group from a nearby church recently joined us for a day of street evangelism. I could tell they were getting nervous as we prepped them, but I also knew God would give them the grace to face their fears. Most of the teams we serve are often intimidated by the idea of street ministry because they don't have much (if any) experience. But we exist to come along side our fellow believers and help break them out of their comfort zone. In the end, these guys ended up having a great day and really appreciated the opportunity to serve with us.

Perhaps the most notable moment was when one of the more reserved members of the team was able to answer the questions of a curious Chinese man. He came up to the table asking us questions in Chinese, and so this young man from the team used his broken Chinese to explain what we were doing. The man was very confused about why Jesus had to die on the cross - like why did he have to die like that? Why not die from an illness? Why not burn to death or drown? The young man went on to use his broken Chinese to explain. "God planned out the death of Christ on the cross because that's how the Romans executed the worst of criminals. So when Jesus died on the cross it was not because he was a criminal, but because he was bearing the guilt and punishment of our sin - our crimes against God."

What an excellent answer! I was so proud of him for getting out of his comfort zone and talking to a stranger about Jesus.