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.

Where is Jesse now?

snowy-sandalsThere was a time when I would see Jesse every night on Halsted, usually dressed in a manner totally inappropriate for the weather. Not in a scandalous way—more like, in a flip-flops in November way. Jesse slept at the park, on the train, at friends’ houses, and oftentimes, in the houses of strangers.

Jesse lives with the symptoms of his mental illness and all of the side effects that his correlating medications cause. I very distinctly remember a conversation that we had on a warm, early autumn night. I was concerned that he had no plans for housing as winter approached. He had no desire to try, no motivation to do anything positive in his life. He spent most of his disability check on junk food and other things that offered him temporary relief from the stress in his life.

After a couple of years of us seeing him at our Ministry Center during the day and on Outreach at night, Jesse really bonded with some of the volunteers. He was introduced to some friends of theirs at Moody Bible Institute. He started attending church and going to small groups. For over two years now, Jesse has been budgeting his check. He pays rent on his room in the suburbs, and buys groceries, clothes, and a bus pass. Now we only see him once a week, when he uses his bus pass to volunteer with an organization that provides meals to the homeless in Boystown. As he puts it, “I like to keep busy and give back. It keeps my mind focused and I feel like I should be doing something positive.”

Grammar Lesson: It’s vs. Its

grammar-lessonThat bit on forming possessives was unendurable. Who edits these things? To compensate, dear reader, this week’s grammar lesson is short and sweet, like some of my friends.

Remember possessives? Lots of apostrophes: Nicholas’s tattoo, the families’ houses. Well, throw them out the window when you consider it’s/its. It’s the opposite of what the whole possessives lesson taught us. (See what I did there?)

Here is the nutshell version – the guideline and some examples. I’m using capital letters to make it clearer.

  • IT’S is a contraction of IT IS or IT HAS. You realize it’s not okay to wear a fanny pack, right? Let me know when it’s safe to pass through the herd of zombies. It’s always been difficult to be this glamorous.
  • ITS is the possessive of IT. The dog pulled at its leash. The alien excreted an anesthetic, so Jeff never felt its tendrils reaching into his intestines.

Remember contractions? I mean the kind you learn about in English class, not the kind you learn about nine months after a snowstorm. If so, you should remember that the apostrophe replaces letters that you lose* when you lump two words together. “Can not” becomes can’t, with the apostrophe replacing the now-missing N and O. “Have not” becomes haven’t, with the apostrophe replacing the O. Should’ve puts the apostrophe in for the missing H and A in “should have”**.

If you memorize this sentence you’ll never go wrong: When a soul-sucking alien wraps you in its sweet embrace, it’s probably okay to scream.


*Not loose. Don’t get me started.
**Not “should of.” What does that even mean?

Come in, Travis

At one in the morning we took refuge from the cold in a seedy little all-night dive that serves Pakistani food to cab drivers. Andy and I discussed my feelings of uselessness over a platter of chicken biryani. I know that it is worthwhile for us to be out every night, but after a couple of long, cold shifts of seeing no one out on the street, it is tempting to go out and get a normal job. We cleared our trays as the Al Jazeera newscast squawked in the background, and headed out, despite the looming sense of futility that hung around us like a stench.

Standing in the entrance, we added a few layers of clothing and braced ourselves for the nine-degree weather. On nights like this we sit on a stoop until we can’t feel our feet and then we walk around the block to get the blood moving through our bodies again. Stepping outside, we thought we saw Travis, one of our older clients, cross the street two blocks ahead. “Oh man, if we could just talk to him for thirty seconds tonight, that would make this a great night,” Andy said while I nodded my head in agreement.

homeless-manWe picked up our pace a bit and tried to nonchalantly “bump into” him at a contiguous intersection, but as we rounded the corner Travis seemed to have disappeared. We walked around the neighborhood for about an hour to no avail before retiring to our stoop. After only 15 minutes, we were already starting to lose feeling in our butts when I said, “Okay, let’s go home.”

Andy and I walked to the van but were interrupted by a tall man in a colorful ski jacket. It was Travis. With a smile and a couple of handshakes Travis brought us up to date on how he has been for the past few months. It was good news for the most part. He found a room for rent in a quiet neighborhood a few miles from downtown and he picked up a job as a temp for a company in the Loop. The pay was decent, but he couldn’t get enough hours to afford much more than just his rent. It was Tuesday night, he wouldn’t get paid until Friday, and he was hungry. Without many other options, Travis returned to the survival tactic that he knew best, which was why he was walking around on Hubbard Street at two in the morning.

I sensed Travis’s ambivalence about being in this neighborhood, so I offered him a ride home. He told me that he was hungry and that he was hoping to stay out long enough to scrape up some money for groceries. We started to part ways, and I clicked the unlock button on the van’s remote. Travis suddenly turned around and let us know that he decided to take us up on that offer after all.

On our way to Travis’s neighborhood, we drove through McDonald’s and bought him a big meal to hold him over well into the next day. We wrote up a list of social services, churches, and pantries in his area that could help him with groceries and other needs until he could get some more hours at his job. Even after we arrived at our destination, Travis continued to talk.

“You know, if I stayed out there any longer I would have ended up making some money hustling. And I know me. Yeah, I would have bought a little something to eat, but then I would have felt bad about what I just did, so I would have gotten high. I am one hit away from losing my job and my apartment. I am not that secure yet. I could be back out on the streets real quick if I messed up like that again. I don’t know why you guys were out there in this weather, but I sure am glad that you were.”


Last week we were gathered around the table for lunch. It’s our practice for someone to read a scripture, then someone else to pray. During his prayer, Chris stumbled over “Alpha and Omega” and it came out, “Lord, you are the Alfalfa.”

alfalfaTo everyone’s credit (including Chris’s), the laughter didn’t burst out until after he said, “Amen.” We all knew what he meant, but the image of God as Little Rascal was too much. It took several minutes before any of us were capable of eating.

There are plenty of heavy discussions in the Ministry Center. Talking about the recent tragic death of actor Philip Seymour Hoffman was even more disquieting because heroin is a regular part of many of our guys’ lives. But laughter also comes easily around our beautiful table, and is a merciful balance to the difficulties each of us face every day.

Grammar Lesson: Possessives

grammar-lessonAh, possessives. No, we’re not talking about too-clingy boyfriends, though we could all throw one of those stories onto the fire, amiright? No, today’s lesson is the all-important one about turning a humble noun into a noun that HAS something.

Here, in a nutshell*, is what we’re going to learn: John’s book, Nicholas’s tattoo, the women’s accomplishments, the teamsters’ concerns.

Case One: Singular nouns that don’t end in S. To form the possessive, simply add an apostrophe and an S. Thus, the book that belongs to John becomes John’s book. The meow of the cat becomes the cat’s meow. The car that belongs to Ashish: Ashish’s car. The suit of that ace: the ace’s suit. (It doesn’t matter if the noun ends in an S sound. Same rule.)

Case Two: Singular nouns that end in S. Sing it with me: “Second verse, same as the first!” To form the possessive, simply add an apostrophe and an S. Look at that—two cases, one rule. The tattoo that Nicholas has becomes Nicholas’s tattoo. The bray of that ass: the ass’s bray. I’m not trying to be funny here—it’s a good example! Lots of esses. (Esses? Okay, we’ll have to tackle that sometime.)

Case Three: Plural nouns that don’t end in S. Aren’t they pesky, those plural-but-not-plural-looking nouns? Men, women, hippopotami, bacilli, fish? But again, sing it with me: “Third verse, same as the first and second!” To form the possessive, simply add an apostrophe and an S. Women’s accomplishments, hippopotami’s teeth, fish’s wariness.

Case Four: Plural nouns that end in S. Ah, here’s the rub. What do you do with the concerns of teamsters, or the duplicity of those politicians we love to hate? Here’s where the new rule comes in: To form the possessive, simply add an apostrophe. Then stop. So…the teamsters’ concerns, the politicians’ duplicity.

Here’s a summary—and really, there are only two rules. How nice is that?
To form the possessive of a singular noun, whether it ends in S or not, and a plural noun that doesn’t end in S, simply add an apostrophe and an S.
To form the possessive of a plural noun that ends in S, simply add an apostrophe.

And here’s the payoff—how this relates to Emmaus Ministries:
The volunteer training sessions that Emmaus provides = Emmaus’s volunteer training.
The mission of Emmaus Ministries = Emmaus Ministries’ mission.

Easy, right?! You’re welcome!


*An appropriate receptacle.**

**I stole that little witticism. I don’t know from where or whom.

Outreach Last Wednesday

It was cold and nearing 2:00 am, and I was tired and chilled enough to be seduced by the promise of two glazed doughnuts for 99 cents. I took my time in the convenience store, pretending to not know what I wanted while my toes thawed. A couple of loud young women came in, shopping the liquor aisle. One of the employees stopped by and told them it was too late to buy alcohol. “What?!” “Too late?!” they cried. Then one of their voices grew softer: “Can’t you make an exception, just this one time?” The employee said, “Sorry,” suggested another store, and walked away.

doughnutsI finally bagged my doughnuts and went to the counter. The man who was about to take my dollar pointed outside and asked, “Are you still walking around?” Surprised, I said yes, and he said, “Take all the doughnuts from the bottom shelf for the other people.”

I double-checked to make sure I understood him correctly. When I tried to thank him, he waved me off.

Gentle people, I want you to know that I did not take all the doughnuts from the bottom shelf. It was late; I didn’t think we’d run into any more guys. So I took five day-olds—one cake kind, a horribly sprinklified one, and more glazeds. As I made my way back to the counter, the employee intercepted me and handed me a serving of nachos with all the toppings. On the house. I paid my dollar, thanked the man again, got waved off again, and joined Al outside.

Al was most reasonably shocked at my fistfuls of food. I explained, and we set off to find whomever we could.

We didn’t find any more guys that night, but we found the other Outreach team. After the explanation (because I do not make a practice of walking around with nachos and bags of doughnuts), we found ourselves a wind-free spot alongside a building, spoke warmly of our benefactor, inhaled the scent of melted cheese, and tucked into our nacho-and-doughnut picnic.

Optimism vs. Hope

A good reminder for us today…

“Optimism is a matter of optics, of seeing what you want to see and not seeing what you don’t want to see. Hope, on the other hand, is a Christian virtue. It is the unblinking acknowledgment of all that militates against hope, and the unrelenting refusal to despair. We have not the right to despair, and, finally, we have not the reason to despair.” —Richard John Neuhaus

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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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