I pedaled my bike as fast as I could. I could feel my flannel coat barely able to keep me dry for much longer as the rain continued to beat against me. The Hope House was getting close, I could see it from afar. It had been such a long journey from the campsite I was staying at and I desperately needed hygiene items and a change of clothes. We parked our bikes as Bob and I walked into the small house that’s been transformed into a little warehouse for clothing and hygiene items. We stepped in and were greeted with a warm smile from the receptionist. “Welcome to Hope House!” she said. We filled out some minor paperwork and sat in the waiting room that was filled with people. Women, men, and children of all ages sat on folding chairs adjacent from a table that sat several coffee dispensers and a plate of cookies. As I look across the room, the gaze of a familiar man catches my eye. “TJ?” I said. “Jon!” he replied. He leaped into my arms as we embraced. He pulled back and looked me with intensity in his eyes.
“I’m 44 days sober, Jon. I did it for you. I did it for all you guys, but I did it for you.” He burst into tears and embraced me again as he continued repeating this over and over again.
“Praise God!!! TJ I’m so proud of you man. I’ve been praying for you for so long.” I said. I had not seen this man for nearly a year. He was someone whom I led to Christ with the help of a few other friends the year before. He destroyed his needle and accepted Christ at Christ the King Church one Sunday morning the week before Easter. It was almost exactly one year to that day that I had reunited with him again. He looked so tired, so worn out. That his battles were more than just against the elements, or the fact that he had been living in a dumpster for the past month. No, he wanted to be sober, and added to himself this challenge on top of everything else he was struggling with. But I could see it in his eyes. It was worth it to him because he remembered us, he remembered that day when he accepted Christ. He remembered the moments when he broke down and surrendered his life to Jesus, and asked for the one thing he tried all his life to achieve on his own merits: forgiveness.
As I sat with TJ drinking a cup of coffee, I eavesdropped on a conversation two homeless people were having.
“Everyone needs hope.” The large African American man said.
“Oh yes, of course,” said the older looking woman.
“Can’t give up. Can’t lose hope,” he said.
“No you can’t,” she said. “You lose hope, you lose everything.”
“We should always be ready to lay down our lives like Jesus,” said the man.
She replied, “There are always evil people everywhere. All they want to do is evil.”
“Without hope, fear overtakes them, they give up. You give into the fear, you let it overtake you; I saw a young man give up, he just overdosed and laid under a tree, and that was it. He was gone. Couldn’t take it out here,” he said. It was so interesting listen to their perspectives. These two, who have seen humanity at its worst, but hope at its finest. The struggle for survival was real and I was beginning to see why that was.
Afterwards, I began walking to the local Mission. My legs had been burning and hurting so badly that I couldn’t ride any longer. After only a couple of days, I had put in about 45 miles of bike riding, something I was definitely not used to before this experiment. I got to the mission and wolfed down my meal, only to still feel the hunger in my stomach. Had I been this exhausted, or was the food of this little nutritional value? I was still starving, and by the time I went for seconds, the cafeteria was already closed and people were asked to leave.
I went to another ministry called Church on the Streets for dinner. As I walked in, the initial access to bus passes, socks, and coffee were a delight to a hungry, tired, and cold me. But as I approached the pastor of the establishment, I began to feel a bit uncomfortable. The ministry was about to serve us a meal, however, the pastor began to approach his large, wooden pulpit that stood at the front of the room between us and the food. I took a seat and began to listen. Before any food was served, a mandatory 30 minute message was required in order to receive a meal. I looked around the room that was filled with tired, agitated people. After 30 minutes of the pastor bashing the other churches in town and telling us to “repent or burn,” we finally were given the feast he was promising: two (and only two) hot dogs and a piece of cake (to celebrate Jesus’ birthday aka Easter). The moment people finished eating, the room quickly cleared out as they began closing up shop. It was a shame honestly, to see the gospel used as a restriction, rather than access, to love and meeting human needs; as punishment rather than reward for our patience. And it was even worse that the people who were there to be a part of a community were really only there to serve as one man’s audience. I walked out of there with a smile, shaking the pastor’s hand and thanking him for his work, but inwardly I was beyond disappointed or even angry. I was saddened. And hungry.
It was Friday night on Day 2. Rising Hope was going to be the next ministry I evaluated, so as part of a challenge that I issued last week, I disguised myself as a homeless man and wandered the streets and under bridges, waiting for any of the street teams to find me. And sure enough, they did! I was met with tons of love and support as they opened their backpacks and began showering me with food, socks, water, and prayer. Not to sound biased at all, but it was everything I could ever want. I was hungry, and they fed me. I was thirsty and they gave me water. I needed new socks, and sure enough, I was given a couple pairs of socks. I was in desperate need of prayer as the week was draining me, and I felt so encouraged by their prayers. And conversationally, it was a breath of fresh air to be speaking with friends I hadn’t seen for a couple of days. I was met with genuine concern and they wanted to know everything that had been going on so far with me. It was nice to be cared for after a couple of days fending for myself. I was so proud of our team, and I can see now why what we do can make such a significant impact on the people we meet on the streets.
“What’s the biggest thing God has been teaching you so far?” One person asked.
“Man, the biggest thing is this: I can’t go any lower! I can’t go any lower than where I am now. I feel like the lowest human being in Bellingham right now. And then God turns it around and I feel like the king of the world!” I said. But the next day, I was about to realize there was still so much lower I could go. And nothing could prepare me for what I was going to experience next.
Stay tuned for Day 3!