Blog

Facing Adversity

coke-cans

Ryan’s positive attitude always seems to work its way into my system. When I learned of his plan to send his daughter to school by collecting aluminum cans, he quickly overcame my skepticism as he explained how he had already raised hundreds of dollars through friends, neighbors, and various organizations. So I was surprised to hear that he had put his plan on hold. As the story unfolded, it turns out that Ryan was carrying his cans when he was confronted by the police. Even though he obtains his cans by donation, they gave him a ticket for dumpster diving.

This incident caused me to reflect, once again, about the unfair challenges faced by the men we serve. I feel pretty certain that I wouldn’t be given a ticket for dumpster diving, even if I was caught in the act. And why is it that men who have recently been released from prison frequently ask me why, now that they are trying to do things the right way, life has become so much more difficult? Why do they share with frustration that it was often easier to take care of themselves, and those they care about, when following their old, destructive patterns and habits?

Sadly, this disparity happens all too often to the men we serve. Yet this is another reason that I’m glad Emmaus is here. I hope that when difficulties inevitably arise, the men will remember they can find encouragement and love at Emmaus. I hope that they will use Emmaus as a place to recharge and find respite from the storms of life.

Please pray that the men will find courage to press on, to fix their eyes upon Jesus, and to run the race marked out for them (Hebrews 12:1-2).

Those Steubs

IMG_1945-edited-2-reduced

This morning, José came by after not seeing him for two weeks—a very long time to not hear from or see him. We caught up and had a really lovely conversation. Please pray for him!

A week or so ago, the cops came by the viaduct he’d been sleeping under and trashed his tent and all his earthly belongings. I asked José how being stripped of everything he owned made him feel. José said that at first he kept asking God, “Why me?” because the cops didn’t take his neighbor’s tent. He said it was like the wind was knocked out of him. But then, he realized that he was too attached to his stuff and it was materialistic to think that way.

Our guys never cease to amaze me and teach me life lessons. José has no clue, but his words pierced me. Here is a man who was dispossessed of every single thing he owned, while I’ve been struggling with the desire to make more money, own nicer clothes, and have things that “normal” people have like a car. (This was probably fueled by riding my bike home in a hail storm this week!) But, that is an unholy desire, and we have the better part. José literally has nothing but the clothes on his back, and while he’s heartbroken about what happened, he also knows that “moth and rust destroys.” We have everything we need, and our God is a God who provides for and takes care of His children.

I also asked José about his drinking. José has had a drinking problem from the time he was very young, and I wanted to gauge if the reason we haven’t seen him in two weeks was because he had been on a drinking binge. This should teach me to not always expect the worse of our men and allow myself to be surprised!

José said that since the students from Franciscan University of Steubenville came to Emmaus during their spring break, he hasn’t had a single sip of alcohol and doesn’t plan on it. The students led a retreat one day that convicted José to quit the bottle. Praise God!

José shared that his friends and the other guys under the viaduct don’t understand what’s wrong with him, and keep pressuring him to drink. When I asked José what stops him from having one drink, he responded, “the hospital.” The week before Steubenville came to Emmaus, José was found passed out drunk on a city sidewalk freezing to death. If the police did not find him, he would have most likely died from hypothermia and an alcohol blackout/poisoning. But thankfully, José is alive and has not had a drink in almost a month and a half. That is the longest he has gone without drinking.

These are the stories that keep me going.

Before José left my office, I happened to sneeze, and he looked at me very intently. After the requisite “God bless you,” he exclaimed, “Katie, you know what that means, right? Your sneeze?” I laughed and said that I didn’t. José exhorted, “Every time you sneeze, Katie, it means that someone has you on their mind.” Ha! So if you sneeze today…

For Those Who Feel Broken

broken-face

“Can I just tell you guys something?” the man at the Circle K asked gruffly. I braced myself for whatever might come next; it was 1 am, I was exhausted, and I wasn’t sure I had the energy for something emotionally or spiritually draining. “I just broke up with my girl and I’m mad about it, but I’m not sure I did the right thing…” he went on.

I breathed a sigh of relief because it appeared that this conversation would be relatively superficial, with this gentleman venting to us about his ex-girlfriend. As he was talking, though, things quickly went deeper. He started talking about his childhood and growing up as a pastor’s son. We talked about his spiritual life, prayer, his views on Jesus, and much more. I was still completely exhausted, but somehow, I was finding words that seemed to resonate deeply with this man. I felt like my brain was barely functioning well enough to keep me upright. How was it that I was able to speak into this man’s life when, honestly, I felt more like the one who needed help and encouragement?

As I was preparing to wrap up our conversation, which seemed to have been very fruitful, “Joey” and another man who seemed like he might be hustling walked up to us and joined the conversation. We talked more about Jesus and what it means to receive grace and love others. After we had been talking for about 20 minutes as a group, someone suggested that we all pray together. I felt so honored to lead the prayer that night, after which we parted with handshakes and hugs.

As I drove home, completely exhausted, I reflected on my surprise at the events of the night. I had been sure that God would not choose to use me for anything spiritual that night because I was not feeling present enough or strong enough to handle it. However, even in those moments of weakness, God chose to use me for his Kingdom’s work. He gave me strength and wisdom for the moment and orchestrated everything so that we could share his love with three people instead of just one and have a deep, spiritual conversation instead of a superficial one. Sometimes I believe that God can only use me when I’m on the top of my game, but I have been seeing more and more that he loves to use imperfect, tired, and weak people to show his strength.

So, take heart! Even if you feel like a broken vessel, God can still use you to pour out his love.

Settling For Hell

resurrectionicon

“If you were to die tonight, do you know where you would go?”

I don’t usually start conversations this way. But Philip was in the hospital after relapsing, his body ravaged by crack, and I felt the Spirit leading me to probe him deeply about his spiritual state.

“I think I’d go to hell,” Philip replied.

“Why?”

“Because I don’t have a personal relationship with Christ.”

“What do you think hell will be like?” I probed.

“I’ve heard it’s hot,” Philip replied. “But I think I’d get used to it.”

Philip has gotten used to a lot of “hell” in his life: his father’s absence, gang banging, an alcohol addiction that he thought would mask his feelings of worthlessness but that landed him on the streets instead. Not to mention heavier drugs, homelessness, and prostitution.

As I drove away from the hospital and reflected on our conversation, the Holy Spirit turned the question around on me. “Christ came to give you life. But what hell are you settling for instead?”

The Bible says that hell is not just a hot place, but eternal separation from God; the absence of God. It also says that heaven is not just a destination after death; Christ shares eternal life with us now as we abide in him.

I thought of our men and the “hells” they often settle for: addictions, abusive relationships, homelessness. Sometimes they really are nearly powerless to get out of their situations—there is a severe shortage of good treatment, mental health care, and affordable housing options in Chicago. But often, after a lifetime of discouragement and hopelessness, people choose to settle for the “hell” they know rather than forging the unknown path to seek life.

“But what about you?” the Spirit asked. “Are you really abiding in Christ’s eternal life, or are you settling for a kind of hell? What habits and practices separate you from God instead of drawing you nearer to him?”

Our supporters are awesome!

I love the men we work with, the staff i get to labor alongside, and our board. But i also love our supporters. Because besides being Jesus-loving people with hearts for the men we serve, they are also the kind of people who, instead of lying on a hammock on a beautiful spring day in April, may come to Emmaus’s Open House, ooh and aah at our new building and the renovations we’ve done, then sit in a darkened room to see Stories from the Streets: Going Home.

And later, we may find a message on our whiteboard:

andi-white-board

Emmaus has some wonderful people in its corner. We are blessed.

Is it worth it?

lost-sheep

Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to [Jesus]. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.” So he told them this parable: “Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance. – Luke 15:107

As Educational Ministries Director, a big part of my job is sharing about Emmaus at churches, colleges, and universities. Last month I visited Christian Life College and spoke during chapel. Although I do this kind of thing fairly often, I have never gotten the kind of response I did that day.

After my presentation, a student raised his hand and said that he had a word of encouragement for our staff. One of his friends recently ended up on the streets after his parents had kicked him out of the house. This friend had been caught up in the wrong crowd, and his parents couldn’t take his behavior anymore. When he landed on the streets, he was broke and needed money. He was introduced to prostitution and had been hustling for about two months when he met an Emmaus Outreach volunteer. I don’t know whom he spoke with and probably never will, but this Outreach volunteer was filled with the Spirit and spoke a word into this young man’s heart. He later told his friend at Christian Life that something powerful stirred within him. He went home that night and reconciled with his parents. He’s now living back at home, no longer drugs using or hanging with the wrong people, and he hasn’t prostituted since that night.

Since I was standing in front of twenty or so students, I tried to control my expression, but in that moment I wanted to start crying or leaping for joy. Praise God!

Honestly, I haven’t heard a story like that in too long. Day in and day out, I ask myself if I’m doing enough and if this ministry is “worth it.” But I know that if I work at Emmaus for another decade without a success like that one, it will be enough, because one man is no longer selling his body to survive.

Thank you, Jesus. Thank you, Emmaus volunteer, whoever you are. That one sheep was lost and is now found.

The Best Medicine

minion-laughterI’ve been with Emmaus for over three years now, and was recently thinking about what it was like when I first showed up, wide-eyed and not sure what to expect. One fear I had early on was that I wouldn’t have anything in common with these men. Would I be able to hold their interest, or discuss things with them in a casual setting?

It turns out that the answer was much simpler than I expected it to be. In fact, it was within the first week that this particular doubt was permanently banished from my mind.

I still remember sitting around the table with the men and other staff. Or rather, I remember because it happens every single day. We share food, stories, opinions, jokes … anything you would expect a family to discuss over a meal.

Over time I have come to find that I share many passions and hobbies with various men I have met at Emmaus. Some I click with quickly and naturally, and with others our relationship has different dynamics. But as I sat back and observed the community around me that very first week, I saw that there was something much simpler, and perhaps foundationally stronger, that connected everyone in the room: laughter.

No matter who a person is or where they’re from, we all love to laugh. We love to sit around with the people we love and immerse ourselves in joy. Whether it’s sharing stories, exchanging one-liners, or telling good old-fashioned knock-knock jokes, everybody’s heart needs to be lightened in a way that only laughter can accomplish. I believe that if we can laugh, we can hope.

Laughter truly is the best medicine.

Hearts of Flesh in a City of Stone

heart-of-flesh

José walked up to the counter at a convenience store to buy some things for his sister. As he got up to the register, the man behind the counter gave him a quick up-and-down and then smirked. It was clear to José that the man behind the counter thought he was better, smarter, and more well-off than José. For a split second, José considered putting down his items and showing this man what’s what. Why wouldn’t he? That’s exactly what the world he grew up in had taught him to do. Slowly, José put his items down on the counter…

And left the store.

Now this might not seem like a very big deal, but the difference between the two possible endings in that scenario is the most important thing in the world. Why? Because it shows the transformation from a heart of stone to a heart of flesh.

If you didn’t grow up in a Christian home like I did, that phrase might sound a little weird. “Why talk about what a heart is made of? Clearly we all have hearts made of muscle!” This metaphor comes from the Ezekiel 36:26-27: “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh” (NIV). God is talking about bringing his chosen people back to himself and softening their hearts toward him and toward one another. In the Old Testament, the cleansing of things that were not pleasing to God was often shown through water. In the New Testament, God tells the story of how Jesus is able to cleanse us completely, once-and-for-all, by his death and resurrection.

As José related this story to me, I saw the evidence of the change that God was making in his life. José told me later, “I thought about what the ‘old me’ would do, but I just couldn’t do it. It just wasn’t me anymore.”

A year ago, I was blessed to be present as José went through the waters of baptism. And while he still faces struggles and gets discouraged from time to time, it’s amazing to hear how God is working in his life, and how the cleansing God is doing on the inside is actually coming to fruition on the outside.

These are the types of triumphs that really keep me going at Emmaus. José’s action was as simple as walking out of a convenience store, but it demonstrates the hope that we all have in Christ, who makes all things new.

Who Deserves Compassion?

social-outcast

Many people don’t “get” the work of Emmaus when they first hear about it. For some, it’s what we call the “ick factor:” a hustling lifestyle can sound too sordid. For others, they’ve never even heard of men being sexually exploited. It is so far out of their experience, they really don’t know what to expect when they see Stories from the Streets, hear an Emmaus presentation, or even walk through Emmaus’s doors themselves.

Larry was just such a person. As he walked up our steps and rang our doorbell last week, he didn’t know what would happen. But he was feeling desperate, so after hearing our name and that we worked with men, he called and set up an appointment. We sat down in my office and he looked at me steadily over the desk.

“I’d better start with telling you about my situation to see … to see if you can work with me.” I’m used to some men feeling shy telling me about sensitive subjects, so I assumed the best re-assuring look I could and encouraged him to continue.

“Last year I was arrested for a no-contact sexual offense—for distribution of child pornography.” He paused and sighed. “This is usually the part where you tell me to leave and that you can’t work with me.”

Did I want to ask him to leave? Whatever I might have expected, this was not it. But I didn’t know anything about his history, so I explained to him that I wasn’t going to kick him out right then; rather, that Emmaus believes that everyone is worth helping, but that we specifically work with men who have been exploited in some way themselves.

Everyone is worth helping. That is what the message of Emmaus boils down to. Emmaus believes it, but did I? What did I really think should happen to someone who was not the victim, but the victimizer? Larry did not fit my expectation of what a predator looks like; the evil, soul-less crime lords depicted on Law & Order did not prepare me to confront this beat-down, ordinary-looking individual who had lost his family, house, and income because of his first offense.

“I take responsibility for what I did. I’ve been going to therapy for depression and addiction, I’m working with a lawyer, I’m looking for housing. I’ve been trying for a year. But when people hear what I did, no one will work with me.” He said wearily. “It’s like, people understand murder, but a sexual offense is just too much to deal with.”

This made me think. Was he right? Did the “ick factor” that affects many of our men hurt him as well? Upon reflection, I’m forced to admit that it does. There are whole TV shows dedicated to the stories of men and women on death row—people who actually ended a life—where they are interviewed and given a back-story, where the viewers are encouraged to understand their lives. Can you imagine such a show for sexual offenses? What if you had one relative convicted of murder and one convicted of a sexual offense—who would you be more ashamed to tell your friends about?

What Larry did was wrong—no question. Should he be held responsible? Yes, absolutely. But, does his offense mean he is ever-after a monster who should be shunned and find no place to turn to for help?

If you’re a Christian, the answer is simple: How does God feel about him? If God loves him, then we should too. The Bible doesn’t have lists of sins that exclude someone from being eligible for God’s grace and love. Rather, despite your sin, God says you are worth saving (Romans 8, 5:8). Our society makes it so easy to hate people like Larry. Our social justice system and culture give reasonable justifications for why he is now an outcast. But does the Church have a pass to agree with these justifications, or a mandate to reach beyond them?

In the end, Larry denied being a part of Emmaus’s client base, and left my office after thanking me for being “enlightened” (his word) enough not to reject him at face value. The thanks may not be fully deserved, but his visit and honesty have challenged me to strive ever more to love the way God does and see people the way he sees them. Emmaus is one of the only organizations that exists to help men like our guys—who is going to help Larry?

Breaking Bad

walter-whiteOne day, one of my fellow interns, Katie, told me she had a present for me. She handed me a shirt featuring the now iconic, mustachioed, scowling face of Walter White—the anti-hero of “Breaking Bad.” The caption read, “I am the danger,” one of White’s more famous, self-aggrandizing lines.

“Breaking Bad” is one of my favorite things and one of the few shows I’ve watched from beginning to end. The basic, now well-known story is introduced in the pilot and keeps snowballing with increased dread and drama for six seasons. The descent of an ordinary man into a world of drugs, murder, and a ruthless lust for power is unrelenting. The structure of the show’s moral order is inflexible. Throughout the series, characters reap what they sow, and in a story bereft of any blameless protagonist, the harvest is almost always destruction.

This was highly intentional on Vince Gilligan’s part, the show’s creator. He once summed up a personal philosophy of his by saying, “I want to believe there’s a heaven, but I can’t not believe there’s a hell.” As Gilligan views the world, he sees evil and the need for judgment as primary and inescapable. With all we hear these days of moral relativism, such staunch commitment to some semblance of justice is refreshing, even challenging, though I would say it’s a tad underdeveloped.

Even so, it’s easy to see how someone could have this take on the world. Creation decays and has devastating potential for corruption, and if our gaze is exclusively horizontal, it’s tempting to see that decay and evil as primary. True life, goodness, and beauty come only from God, and when we’re cut off from Him, it’s hard to account for any possibility for these things; though seemingly by nature, humans can’t help but long for them, as many Christians have observed before.

When God makes Himself known, though, when He begins to interfere with creation’s decay and the evil in the world, we begin to see something else as primary and inescapable. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.”

In the beginning…there was not evil, decay, or a world of twisted characters deserving retribution. In the beginning there was God with His Word and His Spirit. The fellowship and love of the persons of God with each other is primary.

That is the fundamental reality from which all else flows and to which all creation will be united again, according to God’s plan set forth in Jesus (Ephesians 1:10). It’s a reality whose glory will one day dwarf all the evil in the world, as large as it looms now (Romans 8:18). It is this perspective which makes life more livable, especially for the men we serve at Emmaus. The more we can get this truth in our heart and, by God’s grace, convey it to our men, the more hope we can impart for the otherwise hopeless realities in which we find ourselves.

Page 5 of 14« First...34567...10...Last »

Our Mission

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

 

Contact Us

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

Connect With Us

Visit Us On FacebookVisit Us On Twitter

 

Newsletter Sign-Up

* indicates required field