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. 

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

The Big Difference of a Small Church

Jeanie in the center with the other ladies at The King's Fellowship
Jeanie made The King's Fellowship her home church in November of 2016, and in only one year's time, the Lord has done quite a bit in her life. Though she was raised Catholic, she was born again as a Christian while in college. Since then, she has typically attended larger churches with congregations ranging from 500 to 1,000 members. Though these churches provided her with plenty of good spiritual nourishment and helped her to kick-start walk with God, there were also some setbacks. She explained, "When I was attending larger churches, I would at times find myself 'going through the motions' on a Sunday morning." Jeanie also felt that the large number of people made it easy to get "lost in the crowd", but in a small congregation, like The King's Fellowship, such situations are impossible.

Jeanie and Carol out at the Prayer Station
"I never thought I would see myself attending a very small church, but since being at the King's Fellowship, I've been finding myself regularly involved and really connecting with David, Robin, and the SLM staff. Everyone is really welcoming, which is something I didn't always find in the large corporate settings. It keeps me accountable and there is no 'going through the motions'. It has stretched me in many ways, and it's a good thing."

One of Jeanie's favorite parts of the service is the fellowship meal. It gives her the opportunity to connect with everybody in a setting that makes her feel like she's part of the family. Since attending, Jeanie has been able to serve with SLM in various ministry settings and has even contributed her musical abilities to the worship team. We have certainly been blessed in having her attend!

She concluded by saying: "I have much more joy in my life now than I ever had before. I always look forward to going to The King's Fellowship."

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

"You Guys are Definitely Going to Heaven"

It was a brisk morning down on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. When the chill of autumn starts to set in, our friends at the park get very excited about the warm soup we bring. The soup doesn't last long out there.

As I was pouring a fresh cup to set out on the table, an older Spanish man from the streets came up for his second helping. "You guys are so nice," he said sincerely, "You guys are definitely going to heaven!" I didn't quite know what to say. I thought to myself, "My 'kindness' earns me a right to heaven? No way!" After a brief silence, I said, "Thank you for your kind words, but my kindness is not the reason I'm going to heaven."

He looked up at me as if he was confused. "What do you mean?" he asked. I said, "The only reason I'm going to heaven is because Jesus died to cover my sins and I have trusted in Him to save me."

He chuckled to himself. He didn't seem convinced that a "nice" guy like me would need a Savior. So he retorted, "Are you a criminal?" "I used to be!" I replied. My answer shocked him. I continued, "You're looking at one of the most wicked people on the planet! I'm not good and I definitely need a Savior."

We went on to talk about different sins that he and I had both committed. We shared a common guilt.  I explained what the Bible said about all of us falling short of the glory of God and how we can all be justified by faith. This is the only hope for sinners like us. The One Person who qualified for heaven was Jesus Christ.  We can’t get there on our own merit but solely through His.  The way to do that is to repent and believe in Christ and the all-sufficient atonement that He made on the cross!

It always amazes me the way God gives us these kinds of opportunities to explain the gospel in such a wide variety of circumstances - even over a cup of soup!

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

"Why haven't you asked for money yet?"

As soon as I saw him, I knew God wanted me to speak with him. He sat down on the bench across from the worship band, and watched very intently as we set up the music gear. Before we started our first set, I approached him and said, "What brings you out here today?"

"Oh, just enjoying the weather." He said. "You guys are playing some music?"

I replied, "We sure are!" When he asked why, I explained that we come out to worship Jesus in public places because he is worthy of our praise. He began to explain the confusion he's had about all the different world religions. He had tried to make sense of it all but couldn't, and he eventually settled into a frustrated agnosticism. We talked for a while about why I follow Jesus instead of other world religions and we continued to talk between each worship set the entire day.

After our third or fourth talk, I wondered if I was getting through to him. But everything changed when I sat down with him the last time. He asked, "Why haven't you guys asked for money yet? You guys don't even have a place for people to put money as they walk by like most street musicians do."

I smiled at him and said, "We haven't asked for money because we aren't out here for money."

"Well then why are you out here?" He asked.

This gave me the opportunity to explain that my motive was purely to praise Jesus and to share Jesus  with the people at the park. As someone who ran a very successful business, it was hard for him to process how we could do all of this work without asking for money. It really rocked him. He was humbled by what we were doing. I just continued to explain that this is the Love of God that he was witnessing at the park, and that he could also know this love if he turned and followed Jesus. 

Reaching Families with Kindness

The parks in New York City are just teeming with children! During Worship Warfare Week, these kids are a significant focus of our ministry. Our time spent with them often opens up opportunities to minister to the parents, who would otherwise take no interest us. As Hannah from the New Hampshire team told us, "I loved to watch the parents as we interacted with the kids. There was a lady at the third park who came to have her kids' faces painted but she stood at a distance, watching with a skeptical look and her arms crossed. After painting their faces, I sat down and drew chalk pictures with her kids. They loved it! Her face began to soften and eventually I was able to talk with her about her kids, their talents and aspirations. Eventually they left, but about an hour later they showed up again. She said her kids had such a good time with us that she had to bring them back. This time I sat with them just blowing bubbles and laughing. The mom stood and watched, but this time she had a smile on her face. It was cool to see that I was able to minister to her by loving her kids and spending time with them."

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Soothing Charlie's Sorrow

We meet some real characters on the streets of New York City. But behind every person there's a story, and within every story is an intricate trail of experiences that explain why people are the way they are. Our friend Charlie is no exception. He is an eccentric little man who roams the streets and stops by the Prayer Station every Saturday, often sporting a new piece of jewelry that he designed out of the various things he found on the sidewalk throughout the week. He has a childlike sense of humor, and a whole lot of energy. Interactions with Charlie are always an experience, to say the least. But as fun as he can be, he is also deeply troubled.

Growing up in a war-torn country in Southeast Asia, he witnessed family and friends die as he watched foreign armies burn down his village. He copes with these memories by trying to escape reality and often by self-medicating with alcohol. We don’t know if Charlie has any real companions, and it’s very possible that the reason he comes to see us every week is because he feels loved and cared for.

This was confirmed last week when I happened to see him while walking down Main Street. We hadn't done our typical Flushing Prayer Station for a few weeks, so I knew Charlie was eager to see us. I said, “Charlie! So good to see you!” The look on his face showed that he was totally shocked to see us, and the glazed over look in his eyes gave away the fact that he'd been drinking. Tears started running down his face as he asked, “Where have you been?” He whimpered and said, "I need you guys!" I opened my arms to hug him and he clung to me so tightly. He didn't want to let me go, so I let him cry on my shoulder for a while.

People may seem strange or scary on the outside, but we have to learn to look past those things and love them where they are. I can picture the Father loving Charlie through that hug. 

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Seeing Beyond the Sin

To be honest, I haven't always looked forward to the Gay Pride Parade Outreach. Sometimes I've even dreaded it. Don't get me wrong,  I completely believe in what we’re doing and why we’re there, but the biggest challenge for me has been being able to look beyond the sin and the "homosexual" label to just see the people. But this year, that changed for me. This year I saw the PEOPLE. It sounds obvious, but it was hard to get past what I didn't understand.

Our prayer walk prior to the parade was key in helping me see things differently. My prayer partner prayed how this outreach is about the people. This became a recurring theme throughout our walk, and when we arrived at the festival the next day, I recognized that something had shifted in me. After the first few surveys, I realized I wasn't feeling as awkward as I had felt in years past. I had a new confidence, and I wasn't afraid of the people we were talking to. Instead of thinking to myself, "Oh, I'm talking to a lesbian." I had a genuine interest in the person and what they had to say - even if I disagreed.

There were some moments where I felt my love was recognizable to the people. Instead of being afraid or repulsed, I smiled and was able to look them in the face. The parade is always filled with a lot of vulgarity and immodesty, but instead of being disgusted with them, I was able to see beyond that and see the person. Since the outreach, I cannot seem to escape the image of the crowds of people walking by and how each one of them needs to know what Jesus had done for them. This is why we go to reach them where they are.

Friday, July 14, 2017

"I was the Answer to His Prayer"

"I was the Answer to His Prayer"

He was drunk, but the music seemed to draw him in. He couldn't help but hear our worship since we were set up right across from his home, the street corner where he slept at night. The lyrics took him back to his childhood and the days he spent in Church. Our songs reawakened him to all that he learned about God, but he was simultaneously beginning to feel a lot of guilt and shame. Regardless of his experience in the Church, the present reality was this: He was living on the streets drinking away his sorrows. How could he come back to God after having strayed so far? How could He attend Church again after all this time in sin?

These were the questions that troubled his mind as the worship began to prick his conscious. I comforted him and reassured him he was welcome to be there with us. "This is church on the streets right now, my friend. Your brokenness is what makes you welcome here with us." I had him stay and watch the dramas. Afterwards, I reminded him about the cross and the prodigal son, and urged him to trust that God's love was strong enough to forgive even the backslider.

 As we spoke, he interrupted me and started shouting, "God doesn't hear my prayers! God doesn't hear my prayers!" I grabbed him by the shoulders, looked him straight in the eye and said, "Listen to me. The fact that God has called me here to Brazil and led us to come to this specific street corner tonight so that I could remind you of the gospel is proof that God has heard your prayers, and not only that - He is answering your prayers right now. This conversation is the answer to your prayers!" After that, he was silenced. He bowed his head and just began to weep uncontrollably. As he wept, I too was amazed at what just took place, and it began to sink in... I was the answer to his prayer. It's amazing how God positions us so that He can reach others through us!

He did not give his life to the Lord that night, but once thing was clear, God wanted me there that night to interrupt his unbelief and remind him of the gospel of grace.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Free Haircuts!

"What? You're giving free haircuts??" Our friends at Tompkins Square Park where overjoyed when they found out that Tyler, a professional hairdresser from Freedom Gate Church in Marietta, Ohio,  was offering his services free of charge to the people of the park. From the moment we arrived to the moment we left, Tyler had a line of "customers" eagerly waiting for a new "do".

As you can imagine, it's not always  easy to keep up your appearances when you're living on the street. Some go long periods of time without getting haircuts and they aren't always able to keep it well groomed. All the people who came  walked away looking and feeling good! Having Tyler give free haircuts was a huge blessing. There's so many different ways to bless people in Jesus' name!

Friday, June 16, 2017

Honoring Unsung Heroes: Walter Hoving Home

Founded in 1967, the Walter Hoving Home has been helping to restore women who's lives have been shattered by drug-addiction, alcoholism, and prostitution. This faith based program has successfully helped many women find new life and hope in Christ.

A few times a year, the Home sends small teams of women from their base in Garrison, New York to come serve with us at Tompkins Square Park, and they do so well! Their compassion and kindness towards others is so evident. They always enjoy our ministry at the park because they often meet people with a similar story to their own, which opens the door for them to share their testimony.

 We rejoice in what the Lord is doing through this wonderful program, and we are so appreciative of their willingness to serve alongside us!

Check out their website for more information!

The ladies from the most recent Walter Hoving team!

Angela Gets Introduced to Jesus!

Last week we had a team from Freedom Gate Church in Marietta, Ohio join us for a week of outreach here in NYC. The ministry times went very well, and after hearing them share at the final night debrief, it was obvious that God did a real work in their hearts. I've never seen so many tears! They each had their own testimonies of how the Lord had opened their eyes and softened their hearts through the experiences they had with us on the streets. However, there was one testimony that was particularly special, and we wanted to share it with you all. 

Playing Parachute with the kids at Moore Playground
On Saturday the team joined us for our Children's Outreach at Moore Playground in Queens. We go there to minister to the children through free face painting stations, bubbles, fun activities, and doing a Bible story time. It's in the very diverse neighborhood of Elmhurst. Due to the diversity, we frequently meet children who are being raised in non-Christian homes, many of whom have never even heard of Jesus. Naturally, this opens up tremendous opportunities for us to introduce the gospel to these unreached children at a very young age. Very exciting! 

While we were there, a little girl named Angela asked a guy on the team named Derek if he would come swing with her. As they walked over to the swing set, Angela started telling him that she frequently gets very scary nightmares. It was obvious that she was troubled by these dreams, and Derek listened carefully as she explained. He was patiently waiting to tell her about Jesus and to encourage her to call out to him when she gets bad dreams and feels scared. Derek was just about to mention these things when, all of the sudden, a group of her friends came running over and asked her to come play tag with them. Her attention was diverted. She ran off with her friends. Derek never got to tell her about Jesus. It seemed like the opportunity had come and gone. He was crushed.

Nathan reading the Children's Bible with all the kids!
Derek's heart became burdened for this little girl. She was experiencing horrible nightmares, but she couldn't call upon Jesus because she didn't know He existed! Derek began to pace back and forth quietly interceding for Angela under his breath. "God, please bring someone into Angela's life to tell her about Jesus. She has to know about you. Please, Lord, she must know who you are!" Derek prayed for a solid 15 minutes, not knowing he would eventually see the answers to his prayers. Some time later, Derek returned to playing with the other children. At one point he looked up from the games and, much to his surprise, he saw Angela again, but this time she was not playing tag. She was with one of the other team members, named Nathan, reading stories about Jesus from the Children's Bible! Derek's prayers were answered in an incredible way! Nathan later reported that Angela comes from a non-Christian home, and when he first mentioned Jesus, all of her curiosity was seized. They laid down on the ground and went through the Children's Bible for over 30 minutes, telling her all about Jesus and answering all of her questions. At the end, she asked, "Why can't I see Jesus? I want to see Jesus!" At that point, Nathan and a few other team members laid hands on her and prayed for her, and encouraged her to ask Jesus to show himself to her in her dreams. She did ask Jesus to show himself to her - and she asked enthusiastically! 

At the end of the day, both Derek and Nathan were amazed at what God had done. Derek was amazed at the immediate answer to prayer and the attentiveness of God towards this little girl. Nathan was also amazed. He said it was the deepest, gospel-centered conversation he had ever had with a child. We are all believing that a seed was planted in Angela that day - a seed that will go on to produce bountiful fruit!