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Finding the instruction sheet

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

basketball-bench

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

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.

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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

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Wheaton IL 60187-0431

773-334-6063
emmaus@streets.org

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