Sometimes, it seems Satan is winning. There was a young lady, only 24 years old, who laid herself down in State Street at the corner of 16th street on January 24th. She was hit by two cars and pronounced dead on arrival at the hospital. The coroner ruled it a suicide. The papers said she had no known address. Was she homeless, one of the people who came by our table on Saturday morning for a little comfort, a little prayer? We are also on State Street, 14 blocks away. We don’t know who she was because there was no photograph of her.
I remember the thief crucified next to Jesus who asked our Lord to just remember when He came into His kingdom. Perhaps this poor young woman at the end of her life was given the same opportunity and took it, perhaps she heard Jesus say, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43). With all my heart, I pray it might be so! The victory over Satan was won on that cross.
It was so cold the last Saturday we were on the corner, my face froze solid; I tried to speak to Kim and it seemed only ice cubes came out of my mouth! I had to thaw all morning before I could speak a warm word to my wife, Sheri. It seems like God may be testing us, because it was warm all week and after Saturday’s deep chill Sunday was also warmer. I guess if I get up in the morning and breathe on the window and it turns white with frost, I will know it is Saturday, time for street ministry!
Despite this, we have had some new folks come and join us, for which we give God the glory. “Good” Ken, as we call him, was riding shotgun when Brian, a fellow we usually see every week, arranged transportation for his friend Preston, aka Tex, to get a ride home with me, a mostly unwilling free Uber service.
Tex took Ken and I for a ride through north Harrisburg, telling us many stories as he tried to get his bearings. He had been out all night, he said. I prayed for him somewhere near Reilly street and he surprised me by turning around and praying for us! At last, we arrived at a building which he said was home, but there was a red “condemned” sign on it. “You can’t live there, brother,” I said to Tex, “that building is condemned.”
I think it was the Swedish filmmaker Ingmar Bergman, writer and director of several of my favorite films, who said, “I could always live within my art, but never within my life”. I think, for Bergman, the prosaic life seemed an unlivable prospect, as indeed physical death played by Bengt Ekerod reminds the knight, played by Max von Sydow, in the Bergman movie The Seventh Seal (1957). The knight tries to avoid the inevitable outcome of the chess match he is playing with Death by knocking over the chess board and saying, “I can’t remember how the pieces were,” to which Death replies with a smile, “but I, fortunately, can,” as he sets the pieces up again. “You won’t escape me that easily.”
Without Jesus Christ, the condemned buildings of our souls in the bodies we call home will inevitably fall into destruction and decay. He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
Good Ken said something very good to me, after we dropped Tex off at his girlfriend’s uncondemned apartment. He said the more he looks at it, the more he sees it is the force of habit that lays people low. Even when they make a resolution to change, their habits come back to haunt them.
Ken used the example of Matthew 12:43-45:
“When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, but finds none. Then it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when it comes, it finds the house empty, swept, and put in order. Then it goes and brings with it seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and dwell there, and the last state of that person is worse than the first. So also will it be with this evil generation.”
I used a like example with our youth group. I had a fruit bowl with the words from Galatians 5:22 written around the rim. So, I consulted with our Commercial Research team to identify the four brands of candy most favored by high school students and I filled that bowl with Commercial’s research results. Sure enough, by the end of the class, there wasn’t a single piece of candy left!
Then I asked the students, “Can anyone tell me what was written around the rim of the bowl?” No one answered. I explained to them that candy is an impulse purchase. It isn’t something people usually write on a shopping list before they go to the store, but when they see the product displayed, the impulse arises. In the same way, our impulses, the force of our habits, often distract us from what God is trying to tell us. The kids gathered around the bowl after class to see what they had missed.
This was Outdoor Week at the corner of Church and State. We had tarps, flashlights, boots for Craig, thermal socks, men’s and women’s gloves, a coat for Wendell. The people who received from us were all very grateful, but it is to God to whom we must turn their gratitude. Who am I? Less than nothing, less than no one, only privileged to be used by the Lord even slightly to help the people He loves. My friend Joey, who knows his Bible much better than I do, reminded me of what the Book of Romans says in verse 1:21:
“For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.”
Is that where it all the long slide into darkness started? With ingratitude? Not giving thanks in the Garden for all the first of us had been given by God? Far be it, then, for us not to give God the glory in the streets. We are only the least of His servants.
I asked Jon, after giving him a pair of new socks, how I could pray for him. And Jon asked me to pray for nature, of all things. And so, I prayed that everyone would see the beauty of creation and through it the hand of the Creator, as I think many of those gifted in the arts can see, but instead use that gift to create idols. May everyone look out his or her own window at the sunrise, gaze up at the beauty of the stars at nightfall, and give thanks to the matchless God who made it all!
And that is the Word on the Street!
For more information, or to learn how to join us in reaching people for Jesus, please email Living Water’s Director of Outreach, Mike Bongo, at email@example.com and he will get you plugged in! You will be blessed as you become a blessing to others!