Wednesday, August 01, 2012

“Good Works” and “Good News”

For the past five weeks,  I have been trying to deal with the theological and Biblical topic of how doing good works should join hands with inviting people into life with Christ.

However, instead of trying to expound on the philosophy of ministry, let me tell you about an experience I had at one of our Denver ministry partners called Mean Street Ministries, an organization that visits transient motels to provide food, supplies and resources to the people living there.

While serving with Mean Streets Ministries, I asked their founder, Chaplain James Fry, to tell me about these dozens of places on the West Colfax strip. James said they are the last stop before living on the streets. For those who cannot get a lease or find other housing because of joblessness, homelessness, addictions, sickness, mental illness or an abundance of other crises in their lives, these motels are the only option.  According to James, the cost for one of these little, former motel rooms is between $700 and $900 a month, which explains why it’s so transient: it’s the only housing people can get into, but it’s far more than most can afford.
When you look inside these motel rooms, you see a space of maybe ten by fifteen feet with a bathroom.  The carpets seem to be original and are very smelly. The walls may have been painted white at some point, but that was many, many tenants ago.  Everything reeks of tobacco and alcohol, mixed with the musty odors of mildew. 

If you knocked on doors offering burritos, invitations to a local church, a “chaplain’s visit” request card and resource guide for other help as I did, you would be surprised by who answers the door.

I met some folks who were obviously very intoxicated or off of their medications, but on my second knock, I met Mike.  Mike’s door and window were wide open because there was no fan or a/c in the room.  He was lying in bed next to his sleeping wife and he was wearing an oxygen mask when we peeked in. Mike and his wife are both very sick and they are both in their eighties.  There’s no evidence that Mike ever abused alcohol or drugs and he spoke so articulately that you would be surprised by his age.  Mike told me that he worked for the city of Denver for forty-one years until he became sick.  He and his wife had no family and spent their life savings on medical costs.  After being evicted from their last apartment, this was the only place that would take them.

With another knock, I met another Mike. This Mike had just been released from prison and had no other place to go.  Aside from his parole officer, he had no other relationships.  He was eager to take the burrito and asked for a few more.  He had no way to heat them or keep them refrigerated, so he began to devour them as we spoke.

Another knock and Jaime stuck his head out the open window. “I’m two” was little Jaime’s greeting. His mother quickly came to the open door with baby Roy in her arms.  When we asked her what she needed, she said, “You got a fan?  I called the front office about the a/c unit in the wall and they said that it was 50/50 that those things ever work, but no one came to look at it”.

It was 96 degrees that night! I offered to take a look at it and found the knobs, so I got it going for her. This was her first night in this place, just her and the little boys. No explanation was provided for how she got there but you could tell that she just didn’t fit in and she was afraid.

As I was reflecting on our experience with one of the youth leaders the next morning, I started crying because, even though I grew up in poverty and in some awful places, it was never as bad as these motels.  I told this leader that the reason I was crying was because I just don’t know how people end up in awful situations like that while I didn’t.  You know what she said? “Yeah, you do; the difference is Jesus”.

You know she’s right.  I didn’t wind up in that place because when I became a Christian, I found the safety net of a congregation of people who cared about my family in our deepest times of poverty.  When my parents drank and we had to move out of one apartment after another, I found hope in Jesus.  Truthfully, the “Good News” of the Gospel of Jesus is that he has the answer to every human condition.  Jesus saved my dad from alcoholism.  He saves youth from gang life.  He transforms abusers, gamblers, thieves and anyone gripped in life styles of sin and destruction.  That’s why it’s called “good” news.

Thank you, Debbie, for bringing it home to me.  Thanks for helping me with this article, too.  CSM is a “holistic” ministry that cares for the physical, emotional, social and spiritual needs of people because the way to get off of the street, out of those motels, away from prison and gang violence, to find community and break addictions is still found in Jesus.  It may not be very “correct” to some, but true urban ministry happens when the People of God show up and offer Christ’s invitation: “come to me, all you who are heavy laden”.  That’s why we don’t separate “good news” from “good deeds”.

- Dan Reeve, CSM President 

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