God of the Mess


“You know, I want to be a pilot in the military, but no one thinks I can do it. I’m not even sure I think I can do it anymore.” It’s a rainy Thursday night on outreach and we’ve stumbled upon a young man who has taken up residence in a restaurant doorway for the night. The conversation started with a pizza and rapidly morphed into Adrian sharing his story with us.

Shuffled through the foster care system growing up, bullied, and verbally abused—it’s ugly. “I’ve always felt like everyone’s against me,” he explains to us. “I’ve never felt like I really had friends, or someone to just listen.” He’s starving for companionship, but the people of Boystown are only interested in his body, not the person within. His voice is thick with loneliness as he begins to explain how, in desperation, he’s been letting men pick him up at night. Finally, he stops. “Don’t you guys have anything better to do? Or are you just gonna sit here with me all night?”

My outreach partner Warren and I exchange a quick glance. Hesitantly, I begin, “Adrian, we’re out here tonight because we’re part of a group of people who want to help guys like you…” I trail off as Adrian’s expression changes. Oops. Wrong words. He shifts to lie down in the doorway and closes his eyes. “I don’t want to be anyone’s project, and I’m not into programs.”

I rush to correct myself. “No, no that’s not what I meant. Emmaus isn’t a program. It’s just people.” I reach into my bag for a map to our ministry center. “Please, come by some time and you’ll see.” Adrian opens his eyes slightly and takes the map, folding it up and placing it in his pocket. He closes his eyes again, and we recognize that it’s time to leave.

Before getting up to go, I say, “Adrian,” and he opens his eyes just slightly again. “Don’t lose that map. And remember, it’s not a program. Just people.”

Just people. I’ve only been at Emmaus for about a month now, and I’m quickly finding that there is no program here, just people walking with people on a journey of redemption that usually looks less like a set of steps to accomplish and more like sitting on a wet sidewalk in the middle of the night and praying that I don’t say the wrong thing. It’s messy; the men we work with are messy, and the more I learn about their messiness, the more I discover of my own.

But it’s also amazing, because God is in it! He’s in Adrian’s messy story, and he’s in mine as I stumble over my words. No matter how filthy we are, God doesn’t give up on us. Instead, he gives grace.

So, if there’s one thing that I’ve learned so far, it’s that Emmaus is people, and people are messy. But God is God even in the mess, and he doesn’t give up on us.

  1. Love and prayers Heather. You are an amazing person. God bless you and keep you safe.

  2. Great article! After all this time, we still learn from the experience of others. And something that I learned from you is to make sure that we never indicate to others that they are our project. We usually say we just “hang out”and not there to “help” them. I don’t see that as a big deal, but it’s interesting how something that you say to one person is perfectly fine where it is taken all wrong by the next person. I can tell you we have come out with some real zingers ourselves.

    Just a thought; when we leave, we ask them if we can pray for them (sometimes resulting in prayer right on the spot) but then, more importantly, we ask them if they can pray for US. It’s amazing the effect that that statement has on them.

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