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Rumors of Hope

women-at-tombAnd entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe, and they were alarmed. And he said to them, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus… He has risen; He is not here… He is going before you to Galilee. There you will see Him…” And they went out and fled from the tomb… and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid. — Mark 16:5-8

It was almost 4 pm, and I was late for a meeting. The Ministry Center would usually be closed by then, but I had let “Sam” start his laundry late in the day. As we waited for his clothes to dry, I asked Sam about his spiritual background. He expressed regret about not attending church growing up, saying he thought it would’ve kept him out of trouble. Then he said, referring to past difficulties, “I feel like God is punishing me for all the wrong I’ve done.”

Sam isn’t the first person here to say that. Another client previously told me, “With all that’s wrong in the world, I feel like God is torturing us.” It’s hard enough for me to believe sometimes that God loves me, that He’s benevolently involved in my life, that daily He has new mercies. It’s hard for me to believe this, and I’ve never been abused. I’ve never been to prison. I’ve never had my body used as an object by an uncaring “john.” The gospel can be hard, I think, for most anyone to believe, but many of our clients have years’ worth of hurt convincing them that God is either not there or not good. How can God’s kindness lead them to repentance if all they see is pain and evil?

Maybe many of our clients just aren’t ready to believe the fullness of God’s good news, but they’re not alone in that regard. Many scholars note how unready Jesus’ peers were for His ministry to “sinners.” Surely God was only angry at those people, right? Similarly, His disciples weren’t ready for His resurrection. Surely the dead don’t come back, right? At the end of Mark’s Gospel, the women who see Jesus’ empty tomb and hear He has risen simply run away, afraid and keeping quiet, unsure of how to process what they have just experienced.

While I want our guys to fully grasp the good news of Jesus, as contrary as it is to their experience, a great first step would be an encounter like that of the women in Mark 16. I would love for them to catch just a whisper of His love and victory, even if they walk (or run) away, scared and confused. The women in Mark 16 are left with a challenge to meet Jesus in Galilee, leading one commentator to say it’s like Mark still asks readers today, “Will you go there and see for yourself?” For those among our guys who aren’t ready to fully meet Jesus, I hope some whisper of hope gives them just enough curiosity to head down that road, trusting that this risen Jesus they’ve heard rumors of will meet them soon enough.

Coming Soon: Monarch Thrift Shop

ministry-center-k-clothing

I am extremely happy to announce that Monarch Thrift Shop, Emmaus’s first social enterprise business, will open later this year!

Monarch Thrift Shop is the fulfillment of a 20-year old vision. Soon after we opened the Ministry Center in 1992, we began looking for ways to provide the men with job training and work experience. For almost as long, we have sought new avenues for sustainably funding the work we do. Through this thrift shop, we can accomplish both goals.

Monarch Thrift Shop will offer men’s, women’s, and children’s clothing, as well as furniture and other household items, at great prices. It will be a source of job training and employment for men who are ready to take the next step in their recovery. It will also allow them to reclaim their dignity, discover their untapped potential, and explore the deeper purposes for which God made them—all benefits of purposeful employment. And customers will get the satisfaction of knowing their purchases are contributing to the development of the men of Emmaus Ministries.

The men we serve have been involved in planning this business. The name “Monarch Thrift Shop” came out of a months-long process with a focus group of five of our men. It conveys the metamorphoses we all go through in life, as well as the beauty that results from the struggle to become the new creations God intended us to be. Like a butterfly’s chrysalis, this shop will be a vibrant place of growth and new discoveries for volunteers, employees, donors, and members of the community.

The men are just as excited about the store as we are, and their vision for it goes beyond the business as a job training venue. They describe it as a place where people can interact with Emmaus in a new and different way. They see it as both a means of serving the community and a way for them to bless Emmaus Ministries so that more men can find hope on the streets.

A thrift shop is a solid business model. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that Americans throw out over 25 billion pounds of clothing and materials every year. In the depths of the recession, when national retail sales were down by over 7%, resale shops saw an increase of almost 13% (according to The Association of Resale Professionals). Monarch Thrift Shop offers a great opportunity for success and growth.

We are tremendously grateful for everyone who is working to make this vision a reality. As in the parable of the talents in Matthew 25, we want to be faithful with what has been entrusted to us and invest it for the growth of God’s kingdom here on earth. With prayer and research, plus plenty of excitement and anticipation, we are taking a step of faith.

We invite you to join us! Right now, we need additional capital to prepare the space, and clothes, furniture, and household items to fill the racks and shelves. Soon, we’ll need volunteers to work in the store for a few hours a week. Please contact me at christa@streets.org for more information.

 
Note: This article appears in Emmaus’s January Newsletter.

Room to Grow

ministry-center-c-computer

The Ministry Center is the heart of our Ministry of Transformation. It’s where the men begin the difficult work of addressing the issues that drive them to sell their bodies on the streets.

When John Green started Emmaus Ministries 25 years ago, it was a simple street ministry. He and a few hearty volunteers walked the streets late at night, forging relationships with men no one else cared about and offering what limited help they could. These efforts made a tremendous impact, but John saw that it wasn’t enough to get men off the streets and out of prostitution.

That was when God planted the seed of the Ministry Center in his mind: a place where Emmaus could help the men transform their lives in ways that aren’t possible through street outreach alone. In 1992, the Ministry Center was born. Like a seed falling on good soil, it bore tremendous fruit: ten-fold, thirty-fold, and a hundred-fold.

The work of the Ministry Center has four main facets:

  1. It is a place of refuge. It is a safe place for men to be honest about their prostitution history without fear of being condemned for it.
  2. It is a place where men can meet their basic physical needs. We serve six family-style meals every week. We offer laundry services and showers, and we distribute clothing several times a week.
  3. It is a place where men can meet their spiritual and emotional needs. Both in groups and individually, we have regular prayer with the men. We also meet with men seeking pastoral counseling, and we offer more intensive one-on-one mentoring for men who are interested.
  4. It is a place where men connect to other critical services. We’ve developed an extensive network of partner organizations to meet needs that are beyond our capacity. We refer our men to these partners—addiction treatment clinics, hospitals, housing providers, mental health professionals, job training agencies, etc.—and manage the relationships between them to make sure the men get the care they need.

For the past several years, our current building has limited how much we can grow the services we directly offer. In our new building, we will have the space to expand those services. We will have:

  • a rec room for games and activities
  • a computer lab for GED and basic computer skills classes
  • private counseling rooms so men can count on having a confidential space when they speak with staff
  • expanded space for quiet areas so the men can sit and relax, as well as a larger dining space
  • an industrial kitchen to improve our meal service
  • much nicer showers and laundry facilities, a TV room, and a game area
  • space specifically set aside for other service providers to offer our men their services on-site

We are delighted and excited that we now have the space to accommodate the growing vision for our ministry that God has given us. By his grace, and through your support, we will continue walking the road of transformation with our men, awakening hope in their hearts, and welcoming men to the table of fellowship in the love of Jesus Christ.

 
Note: This article appears in Emmaus’s January newsletter.

The Next 25 Years…

Bob  KuhlmanThis year Emmaus celebrates 25 years of ministry to men involved in survival prostitution. As you probably know, it all started with then-college student John Green volunteering with a ministry to women in prostitution. The ministry leader pointed out a group of men on a street corner, saying, “Those guys are prostituting, too. But nobody works with them; nobody cares about them.” In 1990 John founded Emmaus Ministries to show these men that there are people who care.

Since that time, Emmaus has made a tremendous difference in the lives of the men we serve. We have helped hundreds of men escape prostitution and leave the streets. As we move forward, however, the Lord is leading us to grow our ministry in new and exciting ways.

Over the past 18 months, the staff, board of directors, and I have been creating a vision for the ministry over the next 25 years. This includes what we want to see our men achieve, how we can best empower them to reach their goals, and how we can become better allies, mentors, and spiritual leaders for our men to encourage them to embrace a life of health and wholeness in Christ. We want to share our expertise with others seeking to make a difference in male sex trafficking and survival prostitution. We want to form more meaningful relationships with our men who are in prison. We want to develop ongoing support programs for our men who are successful in their recovery. In order to achieve this vision, we as a staff must be better equipped.

To that end, we connected with outside sources and raised funds specifically for staff training in spiritual outreach and addiction issues. James Chambers, the director of A Faith That Overflows—a ministry dedicated to equipping other ministries with tools for evangelism and spiritual outreach—has been leading our staff in an evangelism and discipleship training course specially designed for Emmaus. It centers on our personal relationships with God, and how we can share that with men who, because of their experiences and circumstances, may not believe God loves them. And former Emmaus staff member Andy Young, who is now a licensed clinical professional counselor and a certified alcohol and drug counselor, has been providing monthly training sessions that address issues with which our men struggle, such as addiction, conflict resolution, sexual abuse, and abandonment.

Equipped with these tools, and anticipating what we will be able to do with the space in our new building, we are answering the Lord’s call on Emmaus with renewed conviction and expectation!

And there is more news to share! We are opening a thrift store this year. By training and employing some of the men we serve, we will further expand our services, and the store’s profits will help offset the toll these tough financial times have taken on our bottom line.

Not a bad start for the next 25 years, right? With God’s guidance and your support, we will see Emmaus prosper—in Chicago and beyond!

 
Note: This article appears in Emmaus’s January newsletter.

Bittersweet Farewells

goodbye-sunlight

I have been thinking a lot lately about losses and saying goodbyes.

My time at Emmaus came to a close in December. When I look back on the few months I was there, though, I’m in awe of some of the men who opened up to me. What a privilege it was to earn their trust so soon, to be their confidant, and to be called friend.

Near the end of my time, a man called me sister. I was hesitant to accept that title at first. Thoughts about my role as a sister are clouded by feelings of regret and helplessness. I also didn’t know if I would be crossing an emotional boundary. But as I questioned whether to accept that title, I heard God’s voice speaking to my heart, saying, “He’s right. You are family.”

So I thanked him and said that, while I was leaving soon, there were other sisters and brothers in the ministry that he can trust to love and care for him. My hope is that I modeled a healthy way of letting go and saying goodbye for him and all the men at Emmaus.

Saying goodbye to a place and people you love is never easy. I’m reminded of the words of a very wise woman who once told me that every gain, no matter how great, is actually a loss too. As the days go by, I’ve come to appreciate how much I gained in my months at Emmaus. I became part of a family filled with so much baggage, talent, beauty, color, and culture. Surely, this is the kingdom of God.

I pray that all who walk through the doors of Emmaus, though they’ve experienced great loss and suffering, cling to the hope that is God himself, for He is the greatest gain of all.

“…whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him…” — Philippians 3:7-9

Puffy Pink Coats and Bear Hugs

dad-daughter-hugAs I watched Aaron take several pink, puffy little coats out of his big, black bag, I wondered who the lucky little recipients of those coats would be. Aaron has one of the sweetest hearts I have ever encountered. Every time he comes into the Ministry Center, I get one of those wonderful bear hugs that I imagine I will receive in heaven when I finally come home to my Father. He’s even brought in gifts and food for my fellow Kaio interns and me. I went up and asked him jokingly, “Are those coats for you?”

He smiled widely and said, “No these are for my little nieces. Somebody’s gotta spoil them! I don’t have any kids of my own, so I have to spoil somebody!”

I have learned so much about caring for others, especially family, from Aaron. He is fiercely loyal to those he considers to be in his family. He loves people so well and he reaches out to those who are hurting, whether they are Emmaus guest or Emmaus staff members. I have so much to learn about loving people well and I have been learning from Aaron both through conversations and through his modeling to me in the center.

One question continued to baffle me as I considered his incredible generosity and propensity for bear hugs: “How on earth could somebody who has been burned, used, and abused so many times in his life still have so much love inside of him?” The only answer I could come up with was the transforming power of Christ’s love.

Aaron has told me about his life many years ago and how he used to be so angry, explosive, and addicted to life on the streets. If I met him on the street today, I would have no idea that he had those things in his past—I would probably just get a big smile and a bear hug! If there was ever a billboard man for a heart of stone changed to a heart of flesh, I think that it’s Aaron. The fruit of the Spirit is so evident in his life that it makes me want to get closer to Jesus.

It’s so interesting how the people you think you are supposed to be serving are oftentimes the ones who end up serving you. So when I think about those adorable little girls running around in those puffy, pink coats, it reminds me to focus more of my time on loving other people well and giving them my own version of a bear hug or a puffy pink coat.

Do you think i look too skinny?

jesus-on-wilson

This year, for some reason, the powers that be have not run off the homeless folks who sleep under the bridge where Lake Shore Drive goes over Wilson Avenue. So a larger congregation than any i can remember has sprung up this year. In addition to the usual piles of blankets there are even a few tents, though they still seem like little protection against the bitter Chicago winter.

Recently i was taking a walk during our Emmaus Day of Prayer, when we shut down all our normal activity and instead gather to pray. I was headed to the park and lake because i usually find it easier to tune into God’s station in open spaces and nature.

As i approached the bridge, a woman looked up at me from her pile of dingy blankets on the sidewalk. Having hung out in Uptown for nearly 20 years now, i recognized the look and prepared to offer an excuse for not giving her money today.

“Do you want something to eat?” she said. I stopped.

“No, i’m good. But thank you.”

“Okay, honey. You have a nice day now.”

Just on the other side of the underpass, a man sitting on the grass looked up at me as i walked by. When our eyes met, we gave one another the obligatory man-nod. Again, i braced myself for the inevitable petition. And again:

“Hey, buddy, you hungry?”

At this point i looked down to see what i was wearing and if i looked like i had suddenly lost a lot of weight.

“No, i just ate. But thanks.”

Over the years at Emmaus, Andi and i have accepted a lot of offerings from our men. It can be uncomfortable. If it’s food, we don’t always know where it came from. I’m sure a couple of the gifts we’ve been given were stolen. (The men we work with have a moral code, but it’s not always the same as the one i grew up with.) But, to be honest, the real reason it makes me uncomfortable is because these men, who often have so little, shame me with their generosity.

In the gospels, Jesus spoke powerful words and performed powerful miracles. But i think some of his most potent actions came in the form of receiving hospitality. He ate in the homes of tax collectors and sinners. He allowed a woman in prostitution to wash his feet. He accepted water from an adulteress. He dignified so many by simply accepting their hospitality and sitting with them.

In this season of so much material giving, may you offer all that you have to our Messiah, and may you receive from others in a powerful way.

Grammar Lesson: “I” vs. “Me”

grammar-lessonI vs. me. I am not referring to a terrible internal or spiritual struggle, nor am I obliquely hinting at a multiple personality disorder. This is a grammar lesson.

When you are the subject of a sentence—that is, the person doing something—you use “I.” Examples:

  • “I went to the store.”
  • “I wish you would shut up about the store already.”
  • “I’m sorry.”

Most people have no problem with this.

Now, when you are the object of a sentence—in other words, the person getting something done to you or for you—you use “me.” Examples:

  • “The store came to me.” (It doesn’t have to make sense for it to be grammatically correct.)
  • “He told me to shut up.”
  • “She told me she’s sorry.”

Here’s where people tend to go wrong. (This is the Listen Up! part.) If you are included in a plural subject OR a plural object, the rules for “I” and “me” are the same! Here are some examples of plural subjects:

  • “He and I went to the store.”
  • “Ellen and I wish you would shut up about the store already.”

And here are some examples of plural objects:

  • “Don’t you ever think about him and me?”
  • “She told my mom and me she’s sorry.”

It’s the plural objects that trip people up. I think it’s because “he and I” and “Ellen and I” are drilled into us when we are young so that we don’t grow up asking, “Can him and me go to the store?” So many of us want to say, “She told my mom and I she’s sorry,” because there’s a “mom and I” in there. But don’t. Just don’t. If she told me, then she told my mom and me.

This gets especially awkward when people twist up their grammar with possessives. Please, please, for the love of all things grammatical, avoid these painful convolutions: “Please come to Allison and I’s party.” “Don’t even consider missing her and my’s party.” Dear people, while it did not literally (oh, let’s talk about that later, shall we?) hurt to type those examples, be assured that it did pain me. Allow me: “Please come to Allison and my party.” “Don’t even consider missing her and my party.” If you just can’t bear that construction, rework your sentence altogether: “Please come to the party. Allison and I are hosting it together!” “Don’t even consider missing our party!”

Gluten-Free Friendships

gluten-free

Can you recall encountering the love of Christ in a mealtime?

When I first moved to Chicago in August to be part of Emmaus’s Kaio Community, I did not know anyone and was in desperate need of friendships. I found out that a married couple who had both graduated from my alma mater (Franciscan University of Steubenville) lived close by, so I contacted them right away. As it turns out, Jenny and Bob only live five blocks from Emmaus, and they invited me over for dessert my first week here.

I always dread going to people’s homes for a meal because I am allergic to gluten. Usually when someone invites me over for dinner, I suggest coming over later in the evening and bringing wine. Wine is safe. That way, I’m not burdening anyone with my dietary restrictions, because I feel bad when people make adjustments because of me. So when Jenny invited me over for dessert, I gave my allergy spiel and proposed wine, which she quickly declined because “creating a gluten free dessert is a great challenge.”

When I walked into Jenny and Bob’s kitchen that Friday evening, there were at least fifteen different ingredients splayed out on the countertops. Jenny was making brownies. Now when I make gluten free brownies, I just buy a box from Trader Joe’s. But not this couple. They were making everything from scratch, even though I highly doubt that they usually have flax meal, gluten free flour, etc. in their kitchen cupboards. Bob brought a chair into the kitchen for me while they were baking, and started the kettle because I mentioned I loved tea. They felt bad for not feeding me dinner, so Bob heated up leftover chili, even though I insisted I was not hungry. I was completely overwhelmed by their hospitality. That night, they lived to serve me.

The brownies did not taste like brownies, but I couldn’t have cared less. We had a beautiful conversation, and I felt completely and totally loved. Jenny and Bob bombarded me with questions about Emmaus and my life; they wouldn’t allow me to ask about themselves. I’ll never forget this evening with Jenny and Bob. I profusely thanked them at the end of the night, and Jenny said, “Katie, Bob and I are in awe of what you are doing at Emmaus. You are serving these men, so we want to serve you.”

I have been over to Jenny and Bob’s house a dozen times since that night, and every time they treat me like royalty. They constantly thank me for who I am and what I’m doing. When I step into their house, the tea kettle is on and there is always a dish I can eat on the table. They buy gluten free snacks just in case I ever stop by. I honestly do not know what I would do without them in Chicago. These friends have not only fed me extremely well, but they have showered me with love and affirmation.

I want to celebrate the men of Emmaus like Jenny and Bob celebrate me. My desire is that each man feels like a distinguished guest when he walks through the doors of Emmaus. I want to be the face of hospitality to our men. Preparing a good meal for them is necessary, but I also want to feed them with love and affirmation. Modeling my new friends, I will strive to remember small details about their lives and preferences so they know I care and am invested. There are few greater feelings in life than feeling welcomed and wanted. I pray I can embody the love Jenny and Bob have shown me and share it with the men of Emmaus.

The Paradox of Ministry

creation-of-adam

Saint Augustine said, “Pray as if everything depends on God. Work as if everything depends on you.”

I love that quote. It expresses the paradox of ministry, and of the whole Christian life, really.

Everything we accomplish is due to God’s power, yet he refuses to act directly. He is omnipotent, yet he insists on using flawed human beings to accomplish his will. C.S. Lewis captured this dilemma nicely when he said that God “seems to do nothing of Himself which He can possibly delegate to His creatures. He commands us to do slowly and blunderingly what He could do perfectly and in the twinkling of an eye.”

Just so. We can’t do this work ourselves. We’re called to do it anyway. If we work like God will take care of everything for us, he doesn’t act. If we work like we have to take care of everything ourselves, God works wonders.

I don’t pretend to understand this. I just know that it’s true.

Given how imperfect we are, sometimes it amazes me that we produce any results at all. But that is just the paradox of ministry again, because God doesn’t just produce some results through our work at Emmaus; he produces amazing results. Men no one else cares for hear the message of God’s love for them, and respond. They accept his grace and forgiveness. They take on the hard work of leaving the streets and rebuilding their lives.

If you haven’t already, I invite you to join us in this work. Pray with us as if all we do depends on God, because it does. Work with us as if all we do depends on you, because it does.

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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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Offices & Ministry Center:
Emmaus Ministries
4201 N Troy St
Chicago IL 60618

Financial Contributions:
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Wheaton IL 60187-0431

773-334-6063
emmaus@streets.org

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