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Silence

aldridge_february_blog_silence_imageA wood-burning stove, cozy blankets, snow that is actually white instead of greyish-brown, and my favorite thing in the world: SILENCE. This was the experience I was blessed with last year as the Kaio Community went on retreat at Plow Creek. I love the city—the activities, the diversity, being able to walk to the grocery store—but being in the country refreshes my soul.

I was once talking to Timothy as he was whipping up some hot soup to offset the frigid weather. He’s been to Plow Creek a few times over the years. When I asked him what his favorite part of those visits was, he said, “I love the quiet and the lack of distractions there.”

Wow, I thought, this lifelong city-dweller and I have that in common.

Something important happens when we are able to quiet the distractions in our lives: we make room for God to show himself.

There is a spiritual exercise that really exemplifies that for me. You find a peaceful place, spend a few minutes quieting your thoughts, then slowly read this well-known Bible verse, removing a word with each repetition until you are left with the most simple (and also most difficult) way to hear God:

Be still and know that I am God.
Be still and know that I am.
Be still and know.
Be still.
Be.

During this Lenten season, please consider, along with me, ways in which you can remove distractions to focus on your relationship with God and how much he loves you. Be still and know. Be.

Go God!

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“You know how you guys always pray for me before I leave? I am really looking forward to that prayer today. I need it!” Franklin said when he arrived at the Ministry Center.

“We can pray whenever you want. Let’s pray now,” I said. Andrew, Sill, Franklin, and I gathered in a circle. “Franklin, why don’t you lead us today?” Andrew asked.

As Franklin prayed, his voice rose to a shout.

“God, crack is killing me! I can taste it and smell it and I want it so badly. But I know it’s killing me! God! Help me escape this!”

By the time he finished praying, tears were streaming down Franklin’s face. It was evident that God had moved in his life. Andrew, Sill, and I had nothing to do with it—we merely witnessed it. Go God!

“Go God!”

It’s become common for us to hear this on the streets. A short, animated, and typically drunk man yells it when he sees Emmaus Outreach teams. It’s always funny to hear, but it’s also become a great reminder. God is working through me, yes; but any successes, like Franklin’s prayer, are because of Him. Go God!

It’s always a temptation to put pressure on myself to make our guys change. But it ultimately has nothing to do with me. I have to be available to be used by God, and it requires surrendering and trusting God with our guys, but He’s got this! He is more than enough. He is hope. He is greater than drugs, depression, loneliness, and even fear.

When the men come face to face with temptation and have even just one victorious battle in that war, go God! When Payton tells me that prayer works, go God! When Victor retells the gospel story that he heard at the church he recently visited, go God! When Franklin prays for his addiction, go God! When God uses me to point the guys to Him, go God!

He deserves all the glory!

Sprinting for the Train

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Remember the 70s? Everything was blurry back then!

On a recent night, I was watching my phone tick away precious minutes as my Amtrak train crawled into Union Station. With seven minutes to catch my Metra train, I shot out the Amtrak doors as soon as the conductor stepped off. I sprinted through the bowels of Union Station, up the escalator to the street, down the two and a half blocks to Ogilvie Transportation Center, through the revolving door, up another escalator, down to the last track, and onto my train—with two minutes to spare!

As I sat in my seat shedding layers of clothing, I wondered why I felt so bad after such a short run. Three to four miles is usually a comfortable distance for me. I looked at the overstuffed weekend bag I had carried over my shoulder with a new appreciation for the ROTC students I had seen running with huge packs on earlier that day.

I also understand so much better the words that one of our men, Bill, said to me in a recent phone conversation:

“I am bearing down. I have a race to run, and I don’t want to run it with the baggage I have been carrying for so much of my life. God is liberating me. I don’t need to carry that baggage anymore.”

Amen, brother!

Toothbrush, Toothpaste, Deodorant…

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I was working in the Ministry Center when I saw Franklin sitting by himself, writing on a piece of paper. Grabbing a cup of coffee, I sat down nearby and peeked at the paper.

It was a list. It looked a lot like my shopping lists:

Toothbrush
Toothpaste
Deodorant
Mouthwash
A pair of blue jeans
Shaving cream
Vitamins

“Is that your shopping list?” I asked.

“Not exactly,” he replied. “I made this list to encourage me to not buy drugs with my next paycheck. The drugs are killing me, and I need the things on this list to make my life better. If I buy drugs, I can’t have these things.”

Jesus works through small, ordinary things to do big, wonderful things. He used water to perform his first recorded miracle. He used two fish and five loaves to feed thousands. And that day, in the Ministry Center, he inspired Franklin to make a list so that he won’t buy drugs.

I’m waiting for a big, wonderful miracle.

The Vine & the Branches

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I love being part of Emmaus, but what we do is hard.

We’re only a handful of weeks in, but this new year has had a rough start. A couple of the men have lost their housing and are back on the street. One of the guys tried to throw himself under a car and ended up in the hospital. Another had a free ticket to rehab and decided not to take it.

In the midst of all of this it’s easy to get discouraged. Our work with the men here sometimes feels like three steps forward and two and a half steps back, and I often feel completely powerless to do anything to help them.

Oh wait. Maybe that’s because I am.

The thing about Emmaus, or any ministry really, is that it doesn’t depend on us. In John 15, Jesus says, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”

It isn’t just things with the guys that have made life at Emmaus hard lately. Staffing changes in the past six months have left us all stretched a little thinner than before, and right now we’re all feeling our weakness. There’s a lot to do and fewer of us to do it all; you should know that the staff here is absolutely incredible to keep things going as they have.

But even with a team like us, we’re still not enough. It takes the whole Church. God didn’t create us to go it alone; every branch on the vine is a necessary part of the whole plant. We need others, too. We need you—the people who pray for us, read our blog posts, and support us. Together we’re the Church, and we’re all bound to each other by the body and blood of Christ.

It takes Jesus. Every branch only finds its place in the vine; without him, there’s no reason for Emmaus to exist. He’s the one who changes the men. He’s the one who rescues. Emmaus is only one small twig.

We can’t do this on our own, and thanks be to God that we’ll never have to! Thank you for being in this with us.

Men in Capes

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Sometimes working with Emmaus can get heavy. We often hear heartbreaking stories from our men. We spend time with guys who are on the streets, doing what they can to survive in desperate circumstances.

But sometimes we meet a man in a cape.

Andrew and I were sitting on a guardrail on Outreach when we spied a man in a cape across the street. We simply looked at each other and laughed. Over the next hour or so, we did our normal stuff: we hung out with Sylvester, danced around the parking lot with him, and walked to another gas station to grab our caffeines and snacks and sit on the curb.

Suddenly, the mysterious man in a cape approached. “Hello, Emmaus people!” he bellowed. “Meet my troubled entourage,” he continued, as he directed our attention to his two companions.

Gesturing toward a young man who clearly had a cold, Cape Man proclaimed, “He’s fighting death!” He turned to the young lady: “And she’s tired! And me, I’m just bored!”

We chatted and admired his black velvet cape with a skull border for a few minutes. Cape Man never mentioned his companions by name, and never explained how he knew Emmaus. Then he abruptly left.

Sometimes I sit back and laugh that this is my life. Two nights a week, in all kinds of weather, I hang out with people on the streets. I see, smell, and hear things that no girl from small-town Missouri expects to experience. I get to know people that the world ignores.

Jesus—the ultimate superhero—spent time with the homeless, the outcasts, the people hated by society. And he loved them. Normal people thought he was crazy for the ways he ministered to others. But his life was an example to us.

Some nights I go home and laugh and pray that in the weirdness, I will be reminded of this gift that I have been given: to serve our men. And when a mysterious man in a cape wants to talk, I remember Jesus’ service to outcasts. What a gift we have!

“Does anyone know how to break into a car?!?”

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Prior to moving to Ohio over seven years ago, my family and I lived in a condo that shared the parking lot with the building that housed Emmaus Ministries.

One summer day, I had just returned from taking my two young children with me on an errand. The baby, Daniel, had fallen asleep on the way home. I decided to let him sleep a few extra minutes while I got my toddler, Jonathan, into the house. When I returned to get Daniel I realized, to my horror, that I had locked my keys in the car.

And it was hot. Sweltering.

The last of the air-conditioned coolness had dissipated and little Daniel slept on as the moist heat began to dampen his soft baby hair. A bead of sweat trickled past his ear. I had to get him out of there immediately.

I suddenly realized that my little community of people across the parking lot might be able to help me. I sprinted across the parking lot and burst into the Emmaus Ministry Center.

“Does anyone know how to break into a car?!?”

Several hands shot up and one guy stood and said, “Oh, I’ll help you, Carolyn. It’s easy.”

He grabbed a coat hanger and began straightening it as we speed-walked to the mini-van.

He put both hands on the passenger-side window and shimmied it down a fraction of an inch.

“See, you don’t really need that much” he instructed as I watched. “Just a crack so you can get the wire through.”

A tiny space appeared at the top of the window and my friend slipped the straightened-out hanger into the crack, then straight town to punch the unlock button.

“OH, THANK YOU!” I said, opening the door and retrieving the sweaty, startled-awake five-month-old.

My Emmaus savior assured me it was no problem. “Anytime,” he said, and sauntered back to the Ministry Center, tossing the wire in the dumpster

Emmaus is about moving from old, bad habits, to new, healthy, Christ-centered ones.

But I’m still grateful to God for the day I was rescued by a friend who knew how to break into a car.

(Go here to read another car-door-unlocking story.)

Children of Light in Dark Places

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Back in October, I was doing Outreach with Sean and Sill on the South Side. We sat on our usual park bench with a bag of candy, pretzels, and granola bars, enjoying the fall breeze. A man was about to walk right past us when he changed course abruptly. “Oooh! I feel the presence of God coming off that bench!” he exclaimed as he approached.

He stopped only briefly, not even sharing his name, to chat about the weather and the Cubs’ amazing season, grabbing a little candy as he did. “I’ll catch you later,” he said after a minute or two, “but I want you to know: you guys do amazing work, ‘cause there’s a lot of darkness out here. No one’s out here doing what you do. So God bless you guys!” He beamed as walked away.

That’s not the first time I’ve heard that. Sometimes our Outreach teams are called a beacon of hope, or a light, or people who have the presence of God radiating out from us. In the literally (for our night-time Outreach) and spiritually dark places where we reach out, we are often the only people without ulterior motives that the guys encounter. We listen without judgment, sharing the Lord’s love as He gives us the opportunity.

This past Christmas season reminded me of the darkness of the world that Christ stepped into as Emmanuel, God-with-us. Matthew quotes the prophet Isaiah: “the people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death, a light has dawned” (Matthew 4:16). Jesus came during a time of great darkness, when oppression, persecution, and death at the hands of the rulers were unsurprising, even expected. And still he chose to enter our world, vulnerable as any of us, to be “the true light that gives light to everyone” (John 1:9).

As he was, so each of us is called to be light in a dark world, a living reminder that the Kingdom is coming, that “the night is nearly over; the day is almost here” (Romans 13: 12). Let us imitate Christ in this way, as he proclaims through his coming the dawn of a day when all things are made new.

A Great Adventure or a Terrifying Experience

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This piece was originally written for a March 2014 Emmaus publication.

There are so many things that you can only experience on Outreach. One night I saw a guy juggling fire to the left of me while another guy came up on my right and tried to sell me meat out of a TJ Maxx shopping cart. I have had snowball fights with drug dealers. My beard has frozen solid more than once. On two separate occasions, I have seen someone who was thought for years to be dead, walking around all casual-like. I have seen some crazy stuff, and I count it all as blessings.

The craziest thing I experience happens every night. I see white, middle-class, suburban, nineteen-year-old Moody Bible Institute students talking to drug-addicted, prostituting, homeless ex-cons like they grew up together. Discussing video games, food, books, and TV shows. Laughing so hard that they spit out their coffee. Encouraging each other. Praying for each other.

These moments are the biggest reason that I keep going out, night after night.

Over the years, I have found that when I tell people about volunteering with Emmaus, they think it sounds like either a great adventure or a terrifying experience. If you fall into the “great adventure” category and you have one night a week to spare, let us know. We may have a spot for you out on the streets, where you, too, can buy unrefrigerated meat out of a shopping cart.

The Little Things of Fall Outreach

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We bundle up and watch as the crowded streets become sparser, with the temperature dropping fast. Outreach is getting colder, and contacts’ requests for snacks change from sodas and slushies to coffee and hot chocolate. It’s quieter now, and I like it that way. With fewer distractions, our conversations seem to grow longer. The men that are out now are out because they have to be.

Our outreach team spent over an hour listening to Adam rant (gleefully) about the Bears’ mishaps, and praise the success of his favorite sports teams. By the time we had exhausted our sports small talk, the mood was light and positive, and Adam was very open to answering questions. For some of our team it was the first time meeting him. We learned a lot about what he has been going through lately, and the strength he has shown to get through hardships and stay motivated. He misses his twin daughters, who he hasn’t seen in years because their mother didn’t want him around; and his dad died just a few weeks ago. His bipolar disorder is what usually gets him in trouble—when his “evil twin” comes out, the world becomes his enemy. He recently started seeing a psychiatrist and taking meds, both of which have been hard, but helpful.

We listened to Adam float between serious and light-hearted conversation, trying to encourage him as he travels over a particularly bumpy stretch in his life. In return, he blessed us with a night of laughter and wisdom gleaned from his experiences. We asked him how he keeps going; he just shrugged and said that he has God on his side. When we put him on the train he asked us to pray for him. We all huddled up and prayed for as much of his situation as we could remember. He smiled, and we all said our see-you-laters.

I know Chicago winter is crazy, but I love the cold. It brings out the worst… and the best in people. Such a simple night, but so many little blessings. I love the little things, and winter outreach is full of them. Looks like a long winter ahead, full of opportunities—sounds perfect!

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To provide Christ-centered support to men seeking to escape survival prostitution and embrace a life of health and wholeness.

 

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