When the “Right Words” Don’t Come

or-peter-41-square-400When I started at Emmaus three years ago, I fell victim to a common misconception: success depends on having the “right words.” I’ve since learned that success is simply the result of being present and available for God to show up.

My predecessor, Doug Van Ramshorst, told me a story illustrating this. He and his Outreach partner Andy saw “Alonzo” loudly and drunkenly holding court with friends. They said hello and made small talk, and as they walked away, Alonzo stumbled up between them. He kept his voice loud until they turned the corner, then he dropped a bombshell. “I have cancer. It’s wrapped around my spine. I may not have a year to live.”

Neither Doug nor Andy knew what to say. Then Doug blurted out, “That stinks. Want a taco?” They sat down in Taco and Burrito Palace, ordered food…and listened.

“Why am I dying of something I can’t avoid?” Alonzo said, his voice thick with grief and bitterness. “I could understand lung cancer—I smoke. Or liver cancer—I drink. AIDS? Yeah. Gunshot wounds? Yeah. But spinal cancer? I quit dealing drugs. I haven’t hustled in months. Why is God wounding me now?” Doug and Andy prayed for words, but none came. The restaurant closed, so they left and walked a few minutes before Alonzo stopped.

“Thanks for listening to me, guys. Emmaus is the only organization I trust out here.” He pulled out a syringe.

“I was going to use this tonight to end it all, but talking it out helped me a lot.” He broke the syringe and threw it away.

“On the way home,” Doug said, “I realized that the whole time, God was telling me to keep my fool mouth shut. We were there to be a listening ear, a shoulder to cry on.”

Alonzo went on to beat cancer and is still alive today. God’s power, made real through Doug and Andy’s presence, healed his spirit in ways “the right words” never could.

Equipping the Body of Christ to Respond to Needs

sfts-peter-20 We have three major ministry areas here at Emmaus: Evangelization, Transformation, and Education. The first two are pretty intuitive: Evangelization is our Outreach program, and Transformation is primarily the work of our Ministry Center. Education, though, is not as intuitive because we’re not educating our men; we’re educating the Church.

We created Education as a co-equal ministry area for two reasons: first, because of our clear sense that most people know almost nothing about our men or their plight; and second, because Christians are called to share the message of God’s life-transforming love, but they can’t do that without some understanding of who these men are. Our Ministry of Education is primarily about equipping the Body of Christ to love our men and respond to their physical and spiritual needs.

This sometimes involves calling attention to uncomfortable things (like male prostitution) that people would rather not think about. Yet Jesus called us to go into all the world and make disciples, and that doesn’t stop with people we are comfortable with. It means everyone.

We have many opportunities for you to answer this call. You can volunteer with us in the Ministry Center or on Outreach. You can intern with us or serve in our Kaio Community (a year of voluntary service living and working with Emmaus). If you’re not ready to take that plunge, though, we have other great opportunities to learn more about what reaching out to everyone looks like.

You come to us

We offer an interactive learning experience, called an Immersion Night, that involves spending an evening in Chicago, meeting and learning from people in their territory. Many people who participate call it one of the most impactful evenings of their lives, because the interactions with people they would normally never meet challenge their fears and preconceptions.

If you can’t spare an entire evening, we offer an hour-long Site Visit for groups, which includes a tour of the ministry, a presentation, and a question-and-answer session.

We come to you

You can bring Emmaus to you by hosting Stories from the Streets at your church, school, or small group. Stories from the Streets tells the stories of our men through song and dramatic monologue.

If you’d rather hear us talk than sing, Emmaus staff are available to speak at churches, small groups, classrooms, and workshops. We share at dozens of such events every year.

To learn more about any of these opportunities, please email or call 773-334-6063.

The Importance of Giving Back

Bob KuhlmanIn the late 1930s, Bill Wilson and Dr. Robert Smith, perhaps more familiarly known as “Bill W.” and “Dr. Bob,” received a letter from Carl Jung, the famous psychologist, explaining the missing piece for their new community of recovering alcoholics. What they needed, Jung wrote, was a way for members to give back by carrying the message of their own recovery. If they did that, Jung promised, their community would flourish. They listened to his advice, and today the community they founded, Alcoholics Anonymous, has transformed hundreds of millions of lives.

Giving back is also fundamental for our men’s recovery. They can’t find wholeness without it. As “Charlie,” one of the men who has been sober for almost 10 years, told us, “I learned that happiness is about loving God and serving others.” We make it a point to help the men find opportunities to give back.

Once a month some of our staff and several of our men head out to Oak Brook, an affluent Chicago suburb, to work in a food pantry run by Christ Church of Oak Brook (CCOB), one of our key church partners. When we started doing this, it struck many people as unusual: the clients of a ministry receiving support from a church going to help that church. To us, though, it makes perfect sense.

Most of our men have never lived outside of the city. They grew up thinking of the suburbs as a place where everyone is wealthy. They were shocked to learn that people also struggle with homelessness in the suburbs, even in places as well off as Oak Brook. When they volunteer at CCOB’s food pantry, our men feel the dignity and self-worth that comes from being of service. They experience being loved and appreciated. They are treated as equals—a powerful experience for men who are usually seen as “needy.” The people who run the food pantry couldn’t care less about their backgrounds. They know our men as helpful people who work hard, and they are tremendously grateful for them. We always come back from serving at CCOB feeling energized.

Just as we are blessed by opportunities like this to give back, we are blessed by the many people like you whose gifts of time, talents, and treasure make our work possible. We couldn’t run the Ministry Center or Outreach without dedicated volunteers giving their time to serve our men. We would have no ministry to speak of if not for the hundreds of people who support us financially. I can’t express enough gratitude for the way God works through the generosity of his people. I pray that you will continue to partner with us as we share the love and mercy of Jesus Christ with these men.

Weak Hearts


Bernard’s life has been particularly rough these past few months. His wife is divorcing him, and he’s witnessing his children making the same mistakes he did. Then a few weeks ago, he called from the hospital to tell us that he’d had a massive heart attack.

The Bernard we know has an infectious spirit, and is often joking and laughing in the Ministry Center. He always has a positive attitude and a plan for how to find a better housing program or a new job. He finds meaning in being in control of his life. But Bernard is also very open and vulnerable in sharing his struggles.

The day after hearing from Bernard, a few Emmaus staff members and I went to visit him at the hospital. Despite losing his wife, children, and health, Bernard was full of joy and energy. I was in awe of his cheerful spirit!

A few days later at our monthly staff Day of Prayer, we were encouraged to ask the Holy Spirit to place on our hearts the men who were most in need of prayer. Bernard kept resonating in my heart and mind. As I prayed, the Lord repeated to me multiple times, “It’s okay for Bernard to have a weak heart.” I was confused: Bernard had just had a heart attack that could have killed him!

I asked the Holy Spirit to clarify, and the Lord spoke to me that He desires for Bernard to know that He has a strong enough heart for the two of them. It’s okay for Bernard to have a weak heart, because the Lord wants to be his strength. Bernard does not always have to be strong spiritually, mentally, and emotionally, because the Lord is with him.

I was reminded of the verse in II Corinthians 12 when Paul asks the Lord to remove the “thorn” in his side. Paul writes, “The Lord said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ I will all the more gladly boast of my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities; for when I am weak, then I am strong.”

I wrote a letter to Bernard sharing what the Lord had said about having a weak heart. He wrote back, “Thank you for reminding me that my life is not mine.”

Bernard’s letter struck me because I realized that I do not allow myself to have a weak heart. I build a fortress around my heart so that I appear strong and impenetrable. I do not surrender and give up control, because I am scared. But this facade does not work, because I end up miserable. My life is not my own; it is the Lord’s. When I invite God into my weakness and junk, the Lord always reveals to me His true identity: love. The Lord desires our weak hearts so He can be the fullness of who He is: our Creator.

Finding the instruction sheet


“It’s like trying to put something together without the instructions.”

A new bookcase, a knitting craft, even a Lego set—we all experience the frustration and confusion of trying to assemble something with poor or faulty instructions. But imagine how much worse off we would be in such situations with no instructions at all.

Kyle knows how that feels, but he wasn’t actually talking to me about assembling a piece of furniture. He was talking about life.

Kyle grew up without a father. As he’s grown older, facing all the trials of life without a father to teach him right from wrong has felt a little like being given a random jumble of planks and screws without an instruction sheet. There are a lot of things that have made Kyle’s life hard, but missing the presence of a father has been one of the most difficult.

Where can you get a set of life instructions for someone who’s been born without them? What can you say to encourage someone who’s felt such a loss for over forty years?

No person can fill Kyle’s emptiness, but fortunately he’s found better than that. Recently he’s been introduced to a heavenly Father who has always been there for him, and who can show him the instruction he’s been craving. His heavenly Father will never abandon him or stop loving him.

Our heavenly Father is often the only one that can bring hope to those feeling hopeless and lost, but he is always more than enough. Even if it takes forty years, he waits ready with his instructions to teach his children how to assemble their way through life.

Kyle will still face many ups and downs, but he no longer has to do so without a guide to show him the way.

Coming off the bench for Jesus


I talk about my work as Outreach Coordinator a lot. There are certain phrases that I repeat nearly every conversation in an attempt to paint a decent picture of just what it is we do out there. But I love it when I am sitting down with one of the men we work with and he describes my work to me better than I have ever been able to do.

Recently while I was working in the Ministry Center, Mark and I were chatting in the office about his upcoming decision to move to Arkansas or to stay here in Chicago. Mark likes to talk, and he is constantly piping up as the devil’s advocate in anyone else’s conversation. On one of his trademark joyfully pessimistic tangents, he started telling me that nobody knows the guy coming in off the bench for Michael Jordan. Jordan gets all the credit, and the other guy just gets paid to be ready.

Suddenly turning serious Mark looked at me and exclaimed, “That’s just like you guys. Jesus is the star, and he gets all the credit… as he should. He does all the work. But you guys are just there to be ready. As soon as someone has a bad day, maybe they are suicidal or something, you are right there to encourage them and tell them they can do it. They can make it.”

How true for all of us! Jesus is the star of the show. He does it all and doesn’t really need any of us. His work will be done regardless of how many times I fall short. We are just here to be ready to love at any moment.

How Rent is making me more like Christ

rentOn Friday night, just a few weeks ago, I was sitting on my bed, all cozy in my pajamas, trying to get a little relaxation time in before braving the wintery weather for outreach. I popped in the DVD for Rent and settled in to enjoy one of my favorite shows in one of my favorite genres (I will always have a soft spot for musical theater after being in show choir in high school). As the familiar songs played, I smiled, laughed, and cried, all while singing along, of course. Then, one scene that I hadn’t taken particular notice of before came on and quite literally made my jaw drop.

The conversation that struck me was between one of the main characters, Mark, who is shooting a New York documentary, and a homeless woman being harassed by the cops. The homeless woman responds to Mark’s attempt to catch the moment on film (edited for language):

“Who do you think you are? I don’t need no dang help from some bleeding heart cameraman. My life’s not for you to make a name for yourself on… [He’s] just trying to kill his guilt. It’s not that kind of movie, honey… this place is full of artists. Hey artist—you got a dollar? Didn’t think so.”

This touches on so many things that I’ve been learning here at Emmaus, but the point that struck me the most was how the woman who was homeless exposed Mark’s selfish desires in shooting the footage of her ordeal. It is so important when working in a ministry setting, especially with those who are considered “the least of these,” to check motivations. Am I doing this so that I can look like a saint, or because Christ has called me to care for people as he has cared for me?

One thing that I think Emmaus does really well is using art to help convey the stories of the men through the Stories from the Streets presentation. That is what initially sparked my passion for Emmaus, because the people presenting it (Andi and Al Tauber) had actual relationships with those they were presenting about. They loved those men deeply, and I could tell; that made me want to be a part of what they were doing.

So, as you go about your daily life, try considering what your actions (job, home life, volunteering, etc.) are doing to benefit others. Philippians 2:3-4 calls us to “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than [our]selves. Each of [us] should look not only to [our] own interests, but also to the interests of others” (NIV).

Since that fateful night of musical bliss, I’m checking my motivations more carefully, and I invite you to do the same.

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


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 for more information.

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

Room to Grow


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.

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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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Wheaton IL 60187-0431


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