Author’s note: The following “composite sketch” was based on two independent weeks and is basically accurate, although a small bit of artistic license has been invoked. Consider it “prose with a purpose”, based on a “real life story”.
For the Nth time, I attended what is known as “Bridges” (for short), or “Bridges Over Troubled Waters” (for long), which is a function of our church on Tuesday nights from 7 to about 9 pm. In short, Bridges is an outreach to the less fortunate. Most of these less fortunate people are what could be described as “street people.” They have no real place to live — and, for that matter, no real place to “hide”, either (as many are known to the police).
George (not his real name, and so forth with all names) is one such person. If you attend Bridges on Tuesday nights, you’ll find him standing at the front door, ready to greet you with a smile. In fact, he seems to be perpetually wearing a smile. If you are a woman, get ready to be flattered by George. George will ask you to perhaps marry him. “George, you might try taking a different approach,” one of the workers suggests. George is harmless, never having learned the ways to greet people while living at home.
Come downstairs with me, if you will, and I will introduce you to Harry. Harry is big and burly, and has how many tattoos imprinted on his body? Harry is busy eating his meal that they serve at Bridges after the preaching has finished. “Wise Dan” thinks he’ll make some cool conversation with Harry, to see how he is doing. Perhaps he can help Harry, in whatever it is that Harry is struggling with.
“Hi there … how’s it going?”
“Good meal, eh?” I add, hoping that Harry might at least turn his head sideways and look at me.
Harry continues to eat as though he hasn’t eaten in a week. And perhaps he hasn’t. And perhaps that’s why he’s not answering me. He hasn’t eaten in a while, and the only “real thing” that is on his mind is getting some food to fill his stomach. Besides, I’m afraid that if I “push it”, that Harry might lace me right across the face. I turn and go away, without so much as having gotten a word out of Harry.
Over at another table, Mavis is busy talking with a few other women. Surely this is a woman I can sit down and talk with about the gospel. She’s talkative — in fact, she is raising quite a stir at that table! Yes, that’s something that Harry didn’t have going for him. Here’s my chance (I imagine).
“Hi there. So, how’s it going?”
Eventually, I can get in the words,
“So, do you read the Bible?” It just seems to “fit”. After all, Mavis seems so approachable.
I was expecting a courteous reply. But this woman shoots back with a ferocious tone, as though she is about to hit me over the head,
“Now don’t you go talking to me about that stuff! I’ll call the cops! You just watch out!”
Ouch! It seems that I missed again.
Soon, my friend comes running up to me.
“Danny, can you talk with this guy over here? He really wants to accept Jesus but he just can’t. Something’s blocking him. Please, come over. I’ve been trying really hard. Maybe you can help.”
“Sure, Ian,” I respond.
The man’s name is Joe.
“Hi,” I say to Joe.
“Oh, hi there,” Joe answers back.
“What can I help you with?” I ask him.
“I would like to receive Jesus, but I just don’t know how to do it,” Joe answers.
There is a sense of urgency. Joe is not going to die (it appears), but he is “very eager” to make things right with God — or at least to find some “rest” with God.
“Oh, my mind!” Joe responds.
I don’t need to mention a word of this to Joe (right now), but I suspect that Joe has demon problems, so I rest my hand right on top of his head. There is power in the laying on of hands. Joe is open to receiving (it is obvious). With my other hand, I take hold of one of Joe’s hands and continue to hold on to it firmly. We are holding hands and talking at the same time. My other hand is resting on his head. We are both seated at table, and, by this time, it is getting late and people are getting ready to leave.
By his accent, I can tell that Joe is French Canadian. God has graced me with the ability to speak French, so I begin to speak with Joe in his own language. There is power in speaking to people in their mother tongue, especially if you can communicate with them through idioms and expressions which they are used to. I begin to express my thoughts freely with Joe. Yes, Joe is open. But Joe is disturbed, through unresolved conflict which he has either allowed to come upon himself, or which has come upon him, no fault of his own (or a combination of the two).
“Joe, you are loved,” I say to him, cutting through the chaff and getting straight to the point. Joe begins to cry. Tears begin to stream down his face. By this time (slow as I am), I begin to notice that there is a strong smell of alcohol coming from him. There is freedom, so I respond,
“Joe, you have been drinking.”
“Yes,” Joe responds.
“Joe, I want you to know that I don’t condemn you for drinking. Don’t do it. It is bad for you — yes, that is true. But Joe, I don’t think you’re a bad person because you have been drinking. I love you Joe. You are a special person. And God loves you very much. Don’t hurt yourself by drinking.” The tears are still wet. Joe is listening.
For about twenty minutes, we continue in on our conversation, which sometimes alternates between English and French.
“Joe, are you going to be coming back next week?” I say to him.
“Yes,” Joe promises. “I will be back.” The next week rolls around, and search as I may, I cannot find Joe. But there are many more faces to be loved, people to be prayed for and encouraged and discipled, and lives to be healed. God is doing that healing, one life at at time, through people like you and me.
If you want to get involved in something like this at a place where the gospel is truly preached in both word and deed (by the way of helping the poor in a practical manner), I really urge you to give it a try. You’ll be all the more fulfilled for having done so, and God will be pleased.