When Al and i perform Stories from the Streets, we often have a time of Q&A afterward. Among the questions that often get asked (“So, on Outreach, what do you actually do?” “How did you get involved in this?” “Who does Al’s hair, and can i get an appointment?”) is the one that probably causes us the most chagrin:

“What’s your success rate?”

If we were a ministry whose mission was to help high school students graduate, or if we just focused on finding housing for the homeless, we’d have much clearer benchmarks to determine the answer to that question. But how do we pinpoint exactly when one of our men tips the balance from “not success” to “success”?

In the last year, we started using a database that helps us capture information and track progress better than ever. Now we can generate statistics and reports that we previously only dreamed of! But even that system cannot answer the nagging question, “When is one of our men successful?”

Frank got his GED last year, but he’s still occasionally using. Does that count? How about Robert? He’s got three years sober, and he consistently shows up for his minimum wage job, but he lives with an older man who keeps him in nice clothes and helps him make ends meet. And then there’s Vic. He has an apartment and a job, but no prospects, no close friends, no church…he seems to be drifting.

For years, Al and i answered the success question by emphasizing how complicated it was to figure out—how our guys face so many issues, and how a little progress in even one area is cause for celebration.

More and more, though, that thinking has been supplanted by a growing conviction: Emmaus’s success is determined by how faithful we are to what God has called us to do.

On Outreach, this takes the form of our consistent presence on the streets, some nights not talking to anyone but the random convivial bar-hopper. In the Ministry Center, it can be working on the same goal with Jim day after day, or offering encouragement and prayer as we take Chris to a recovery program for the fourth time.

I understand that people want hard answers. When i write a check to a ministry, i want to know that its staff strives to do the best they can. We want this, too—not just out of a desire to be good stewards, but because we want men like Frank, Robert, and Vic to be healthy and whole, and to know that God loves them.

In the end, i can’t tell you which of our men is a success. I can’t even tell you on any given day whether my own scruffy self has managed to slip into the “success” column. But i know what God asks of us, and i trust that if we respond to that with our hearts and actions, in God’s economy, that is success.

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Our Mission

To provide Christ-centered support to men seeking to escape survival prostitution and embrace a life of health and wholeness.


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Emmaus Ministries
4201 N Troy St
Chicago IL 60618

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Emmaus Ministries
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PO Box 431
Wheaton IL 60187-0431


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