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25 years

At our staff meeting this week, we paid tribute to these lovely people:

Andi & Al on Tuesday: the picture of wedded bliss and faithful love at the Emmaus staff meeting

Andi & Al on Tuesday: the picture of wedded bliss and faithful love at the Emmaus staff meeting

Andi and Al Tauber have been a huge part of Emmaus over the past 16 years. A couple weeks ago, they celebrated their 25th anniversary. Back then, they looked like this:

Andi & Al 25 years ago: blissfully unaware that they would ever care what they looked like in this photo

Andi & Al 25 years ago: blissfully unaware that they would ever care what they looked like in this photo

We were reminded again during the celebration of how grateful we are to have them with us.

Andi: faithful friend, fastidious grammarian, angelic voice. Her beautiful singing has graced Emmaus events and staff meetings. Her gentle laughter has brightened many of our days. Her tender heart has touched the lives of hundreds of our guys.

Al: gifted scribe, talented musician, faithful friend. His wry sense of humor has helped us laugh when we needed to. His song lyrics express our guys’ stories more effectively in ten lines than most people could in ten paragraphs. His patience and love have shown the heart of Christ to the men we serve.

We were happy to celebrate with them. We are honored and grateful to work with them. And we pray that God will bless their journey together for the next 25 years.

Don’t judge a book by its cover

appearance-is-deceiving

Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart. —1 Samuel 16:7

We live in a very superficial world where people regularly judge on appearance. We would all probably love to say that we are not guilty of this, that we look beyond what is on the outside. Virtually all of us are influenced at times by appearance, however.

So often we look at what we can see on the outside, especially with our guys: who are unkempt, poorly clothed, and could use a shower and a tube of toothpaste. But God sees straight to the heart: our motives, intent, and character.

As we can see from God’s perspective, the outward appearance is not the best way to judge a person. We all know the old saying, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” Its meaning is simple: a person’s appearance, either their physical attributes or clothing, are no indication of their inner being. We need to be very careful because outward appearances can be very deceptive. There are people in this world considered beautiful on the outside, but their inside does not match their temporary exterior beauty.

A true child of God will reflect a humble spirit and love for God and others, as well as joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Gal. 5:22-23). This is truly a beautiful person in the eyes of God.

Our guys are in the midst of transition, becoming that true child of God. Many come to us with a humble spirit, broken by life circumstances, wanting to change. We at Emmaus have the privilege of helping them in this journey, one that takes time, patience and love. And we are blessed to do it.

More blessed are we, of course, if we realize that we are on the same journey as they are, and adopt the same kind of humble and contrite spirit in our own lives.

The crazy season

The crazy season is just about to begin here at Emmaus, and we can use your prayers.

We’re all familiar with this season; we usually call it summer.

A furniture store in Tottenham, London, explodes after it was set on fire during the first night of rioting. Riots spread across England during the worst unrest seen in Britain for decades. Twenty-six Police Officers and many civilians were injured on the first night of violence in Tottenham which erupted after a protest over the fatal shooting by police of Mark Duggan.  The violence spread to other cities across England with many more being injured and 5 killed, shops were looted and buildings burnt down. Social networking sites such as Twitter, Facebook and Blackberry Messenger were used to organise the unrest.Summer is when everything generally goes nuts for our guys. Temperatures increase. Tempers flair more easily. All kinds of activities both legal and not-so-legal heat up on the streets. There is more temptation for our guys to cope with, and much more instability for them to navigate. It’s also easier for our guys to deal with effects of poor decisions they make, such as losing their housing or relapsing.

We’re already starting to see the effects. Several of our guys have relapsed this month. This is a cycle we see every year. Please pray for us and especially our guys during this time, that the power of the Holy Spirit will come in and renew us and allow us to live in a way that is pleasing to him.

Tim is dead.

tombstone

Tim died ten days ago. We found out last Monday, during our day of prayer.

To say we were shocked is an understatement. His death was very sudden. Tim had been living in Arkansas and doing great there. No one expected him to die of a heart attack at his age.

You likely remember Tim from “the hazelnut cream story.”

That’s the tale of how our former Outreach Director, Doug Van Ramshorst, broke through Tim’s hostility and silence by buying him a cup of coffee every night he saw him on Outreach. Instead of trying to engage Tim in conversation, Doug simply placed the coffee next to Tim on the bench where he would sit each night waiting for his customers to drive up, and then walked away.

It took more than three months of these silent interactions, but Tim finally spoke to Doug. He spoke five words, to be exact: “I like the hazelnut cream.” That was it. So Doug began putting hazelnut cream in the coffee he silently placed next to Tim every night on the bench outside the 7-11 on Broadway and Waveland.

And after about another month, Tim began really opening up to Doug: talking with him, sharing with him, becoming his friend. He opened up about his family issues (he was the black sheep son of a preacher), his mental health struggles, and the shame he felt about not being a part of his young son’s life. He came down to the Ministry Center and began turning his life around. He overcame his heroin addiction. He got his CDL license and became a truck driver. He reconciled with his family. He became a part of his son’s life again.

And he relapsed. More than once, actually. But we refused to give up on him, so he refused to give up on himself. Eventually, he moved to Arkansas to work on his aunt’s farm. He did well there, and moved on to another job on his own. Recently, Tim was awarded partial custody of his son: a confirmation of both the enormous progress he’d made and the transforming power of God in his life.

But while Tim may have been done with hard living, hard living wasn’t done with him. Even though he had been clean and sober for years, it turns out that all the drugs and street living had taken a massive (and silent) toll on his heart. Last Sunday, it suddenly gave out on him. He was 39.

Death is never easy to deal with, but it is particularly difficult when someone is ripped away as suddenly as Tim was. His parents are without their son. His son is without his father. His girlfriend is without her partner. And we are without our friend.

At the same time, we are filled with gratitude for the gift the God gave us in Tim. We rarely get to see our guys transform to the extent that Tim did. The sense of loss we feel is partly the result of thinking that we knew how his story would end. His death is a reminder that we don’t know how anyone’s story will end, including our own. It is a reminder for us always to give thanks for the lives we have, for the other lives of which we get to be a part, and for the parts we get to play in those lives.

We miss Tim. We thank God for Tim. And we pray for Tim and for his family.

Flaky

This has been a brutal winter: the coldest four-month stretch in Chicago’s history, with more days at or below zero since they first started keeping records in 1870-something. As I write this, the days have started to warm, but it continues to be cooler than average, and I’m half expecting old man winter to raise one last middle finger salute to us in the form of one last snow.

Snow. In December it is so lovely. By March I could not have despised it more.

snowflakesOne night in early March we were hanging out with Gary. It was bitterly cold, as was the custom, and deep snow covered the ground, as it had for all of recorded history. But earlier in the day, Gary had been downtown pan-handling when a snowflake landed on the back of his black glove. “It was huge! I’ve never seen anything like it! So beautiful and all—what’s the word?—symmetrical.” Even as he described it to us that night, his face lit up like a little kid’s: like it was reflecting the beauty of God’s delicate creation he had witnessed earlier in the day.

“I must have looked like an idiot. My eyes wide and my mouth hanging open like, EEaueeaauugghh!”

We were all laughing now. Gary is incapable of telling a story half-heartedly. And for a moment we forgot how numb our feet and fingers felt, and remembered how beautiful snow really is. I’m really grateful to Gary for re-opening my eyes.

Later in the month, Andi and i were in Colorado doing some “Stories from the Streets” gigs. Toward the end of our trip we caught another eight inches of the white fluffy stuff. I pulled on my black gloves, went outside, and did my best to catch a few flakes, singing Prince’s “Sometimes It Snows in April,” and thinking of Gary the whole time.

The reason for the season

crucifixion
Our founder, Deacon John Green, has a wry sense of humor. For many years, he had a bumper sticker on his van that said SIN is the reason for the season, a message that seemed to subtly mock the “Jesus is the reason for the season” pictures and bumper stickers we often see during Christmas time. (No one who knows John will be surprised that he had this bumper sticker.)

And, of course, John wasn’t at all mocking the message that we must keep the true meaning of Christmas—the birth of Jesus Christ—in our minds during Advent and Christmas. He was putting out a reminder that the reason Jesus came into the world was because of our sin. That seems to be an increasingly important reminder for us. Today, we remember the reason why Christmas was necessary in the first place.

Jesus came into the world to die. And not in the sense that all human beings are mortal and must die. No, it was in the sense that the whole point of his life, his mission in life (or his secret ambition, for any Michael W. Smith fans out there), was to be tortured and killed in the most brutal way imaginable. And he did it for the most hateful, ungrateful person imaginable.

That would be me.

And you.

And every single human being who has ever lived.

We human beings are the apple of God’s eye, his beloved creation, the pinnacle of the creation narrative in Genesis. He has loved us from the first moment we existed. And we hated him for it — so much so that we murdered him in cold blood. Today we recall the amazing love of Jesus, who came to us as a human being even though he knew we would kill him for it.

As St. Paul said in Romans 5:6-8, “For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”

So that is what we celebrate today, on Good Friday. We remember the astronomically massive love God has for each and every one of us. We remember the unspeakably cruel death Jesus endured in order to break the power that sin and death had over us. We mourn the immense pain and suffering that our sin caused him.

And we wait expectantly for the triumph of Easter Sunday.

What Christopher said

doug-and-r
One of the last stories Doug shared with me before he left was a story from his first couple years on the job.

He had recently gotten to know “Christopher,” a young man we’ve been working with for several years. Christopher’s story is a sad one, and he has been a hardcore heroin addict for a very long time. Like many of the men we serve, he was very skeptical when he first got to know us. And yet Christopher’s also a very gentle soul; it didn’t take him long to trust us.

Some time after he and Doug had gotten to know each other, Christopher confided that many folks on the street thought that Doug really cared about him. Maybe Christopher had doubts too.

Some guys, they told me that you wouldn’t care about me if you didn’t work for Emmaus, he said.

I wouldn’t have met you if I didn’t work at Emmaus, Doug said. But now that I have met you, I’ll always care about you.

A perfect reply, and one that really sums up what it means to work with Emmaus.

Saying goodbye to Doug

Outgoing Outreach Director, Doug Van Ramshorst

Outgoing Outreach Director, Doug Van Ramshorst

Doug completed his term on staff with Emmaus on Friday. We’d say we’re happy about this development… but we’re not.

Oh, don’t get us wrong: we’re very happy for Doug. He wasn’t looking to move on or anything. It’s just that the perfect job for him dropped in his lap about a month ago. It’s a similar type of outreach job (for a local health clinic in Indiana) that pays him about what he got at Emmaus, is just a 10-minute drive from his home, and has a normal 9-5 schedule—which means he can actually spend time with his infant son Henry when he’s still awake. This is the right move for him, no question. As far as we’re concerned, similar money + more sleep + more time with family + less time on the road = the right choice.

And we’re excited to see what Caleb Anderson—who will be our new Outreach Coordinator, stepping into the role after almost 2 years in the Kaio Community—will do during his time as the director of our street ministry. Caleb brings a wealth of his own talents and experience to the job, and he was the unanimous choice among existing staff and our guys for who we’d like to see step into Doug’s shoes. We’re happy to know that Caleb will be sticking around for a while.

But still… we’d be lying if we said we were happy that Doug is gone. He’s been a fixture on staff for almost a decade. He revamped our Outreach ministry, helping us move away from the bar outreach we used to engage in and toward a more strictly street encounter-based model. He helped Emmaus build inroads among the alternative communities in Boystown. He’s been fabulous at managing interns and long-term volunteers, building tremendous loyalty that led some volunteers to drive an hour each way for the privilege of spending all night out on the streets and driving home bleary-eyed at 4:00 am. His Renaissance Man background means that he has something in common with nearly everyone he meets He’s been a blast to work with. And he’s been a great friend to all of us.

We’re sad to see Doug go. We’re excited to see Caleb start. We’re looking forward to what God has in store for us.

That is all.

I am “those people”

homeless-man-2When I first started working with the men here at Emmaus, I’d often wonder how they got to be where they are in life. I’ve always thought of people like the guys (especially those struggling with homelessness or addictions) as “those people.”

“Those people” are the ones that I pitied, but never wanted to be around. When I was growing up, they served as the prime example of what would happen to me if I didn’t work hard, do well in school, and get a good job. I’d end up like one of “those people.”

It only took a few months of being at Emmaus, though, for me to begin asking myself who “those people” really are. I mean, I had a clear image of what they looked like, and I could identify them really easily. But who are they?

After I started to answer that question— by building relationships with and getting to know them (especially the guys in the Ministry Center)—I began to confront the question of whether I am really better than these men at all. Living in my cozy suburban existence, I can pretend that none of the problems facing them touch my life.

Author Brené Brown has spent years writing and lecturing on the issue of poverty. When I started thinking about the stories and myths I have in my head about “those people,” I thought of a quote from Brown that really gets at the reality that we are—or easily could be—just one step away from joining the broken people I see all around me. Brown says:

We are “those people.” The truth is… we are the “others.” Most of us are one… paycheck, one divorce, one drug-addicted kid, one mental health diagnosis, one serious illness, one sexual assault, one drinking binge, one night of unprotected sex, or one affair away from being those people —the ones we don’t trust, the ones we pity, the ones we don’t let our children play with, the ones bad things happen to, the ones we don’t want living next door.

When I reflected on Brown’s words, I had to admit that in different circumstances I could be one of them: the poor, the pitied ones. So, how should I respond to those who are living these difficulties now? How do I make a difference in their lives?

I thought of Micah 6:8: “And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” It is an inspiring verse, but it seems so vague. How do I do these things? Give me a formula, or an easy answer, or something! But, as everyone in ministry learns sooner or later, no such formula or answer exists.

What I have found, though, is that living out this powerful, simple verse is not as difficult as it might sound. It just takes the willingness to take a simple step: to be open to love and connecting with another person. I’ve found that saying, “Hello! How are you?” is a good beginning. I let the relationship grow from there. Simple. Not flashy. But very soon I find that the ones I once called “those people” I now call “my friends.”

Why can’t you see the men we serve?

invisible-manAfter 5 years on the job here, I’d say that the biggest challenge I face in telling people about who Emmaus is and what we do is that the men we serve are invisible.

When I share the work of Emmaus Ministries, nine times out of ten I get the same response: shock. People are usually surprised by the existence of the phenomenon that is Emmaus’s raison d’etre.

“Wait a second,” many of them will say. “Male prostitution? Like, men to men? That happens in Chicago?”

People are even more surprised when we tell them that it doesn’t just happen in Chicago, that it happens A LOT. That it’s all over the city, and that Chicago is definitely an example of the rule, not the exception. Male survival prostitution afflicts every city of any kind of decent size everywhere in the world.

When people hear that, their response is usually something like:

Mr. Anderson learns about Emmaus

Mr. Anderson learns about Emmaus

There are many reasons why people are shocked to learn not only that our guys exist, but that they do what they do to survive.

First off, the men we serve tend to be poor and homeless. That alone makes them less-than-visible to most people. Plus, as I often joke, men who are out hustling aren’t generally wearing high heels and fish net stockings (or other stereotypical clothing people think of when they think of “prostitution”). So it’s pretty hard for most folks to identify men who are prostituting anyway, even if they do know that these men exist.

But perhaps the biggest barrier I’ve found to realizing that male prostitution exists is that we are not culturally conditioned to view men as victims. The terms men and survival prostitution unconsciously reside in mutually exclusive categories for us. Men just don’t do that kind of thing, most of us tend to think. I know. That’s how I thought, too.

When I first heard about Emmaus I was a student at Wheaton College in the Chicago suburbs. A couple of my friends there volunteered with Emmaus, and after I heard what the ministry did it was clear to me that my friends had lost their minds. My conversations with them usually went something like this:

Me: “Wait, wait. Hold on. Male prostitutes?”

Friends: “Yeah.”

Me: “We’re not talking like gigolos or something like that?”

Friends: “Nope.”

Me: “Well … I mean … there’s only like three of them, right? I mean, there can’t be that many. Why do we need a whole organization devoted to them?”

It just didn’t make sense. Even after my friends patiently explained that, actually, male survival prostitution was an exploding phenomenon and that it was everywhere in the world, it still didn’t compute. Men just don’t do that.

It wasn’t until an urban semester internship brought me into the same building where Emmaus is located and I got to know a few of the men Emmaus serves (and heard some of their stories) that it started to make sense. My assumptions about reality, assumptions shaped by my cultural conditioning, were just wrong. As the saying goes, there are none so blind as those who will not see.

I saw another example of that cultural blindness today in an article on the American Psychological Association’s website about a new study on victims of sexual coercion.

The article headline reads, Coerced sex not uncommon for young men, teenage boys, study finds. “Sexual victimization continues to be a pervasive problem in the United States,” the study’s lead author says in the article, “but the victimization of men is rarely explored.” The study found that almost half of the respondents reported being coerced into some kind of sexual activity by the time they were 25.

Now, if this was a study about women, my guess is that the author wouldn’t say that the victimization of women is rarely explored. I could see the study being a featured item on news programs around the country. I have no doubt that the plights of the study’s subjects would be viewed as another sign of a national crisis. And rightly so. It’s immoral and unacceptable for any society to allow a huge portion of its citizens to feel unsafe and coerced like this. The study’s subjects were men, however. My guess is that most reactions to it will probably be closer to bemusement than outrage. Think less, “Oh my God! This is terrible! We have to do something about this!” and more like, “Huh. Wow. Wasn’t expecting that.”

Do I think this because I believe most people don’t care? Not at all. This is more of the blindness we all share. We can’t see what’s in front of us. It’s just one more manifestation of our limited human nature. Our challenge is to recognize that we have these limits and step outside the boundaries of our own perspectives. As I have found time and again, stepping outside of what “I know” to be true about people is when transformation, love, and connectedness show up. That is when God can work in us, on us, and through us to heal the wounds of a broken world.

And, through the miracle of God’s transforming love, he opens our eyes to see men who are invisible.

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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:
Emmaus Ministries
Donations Processing
PO Box 431
Wheaton IL 60187-0431

773-334-6063
emmaus@streets.org

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