Beggars CAN Be Choosers


I have noticed that in many organizations that minister to the poor, the facilities are old, worn and generally lousy looking. That has always rubbed me the wrong way, because I don’t think it reflects how God really cares about the down and out. I think it sends the opposite message-that they don’t deserve any better. It may be that these places are doing the best they can with what they have, but it’s still sad for those who are already on the ropes to endure yet another environment that is depressing and grim.

A good friend of mine, Shawn Small, who leads an organization called Wonder Voyage which leads spiritual pilgrimages around the world, told me an interesting story. He brought a team of volunteers from out of state to work with The Relief Bus, our mobile soup kitchen and resource center for the homeless. A young woman was happily handing out delicious soup and bread to people when one man asked where the subway sandwiches were. She said that there were no sandwiches and that all they had to give out was soup, bread and hot chocolate. She followed up by lightheartedly saying, “Beggars can’t be choosers.” Immediately, realizing what she had said, the young woman was mortified and began to weep. The homeless man actually came inside of The Relief Bus to console and comfort her. Ironically, he ministered grace and forgiveness to the one who had come to help him.

In the kingdom of God, beggars can be choosers. Even if they are unemployed, addicted or suffering from their own bad decisions, their likes and dislikes matter. They don’t lose an ounce of value to God. Having preferences is part of what makes us human. To lose the ability to choose is degrading. I’m not talking about entitlement. Let someone else choose what you will eat and wear for a week and you will see what I mean. If you really want to test yourself, let someone else hold the remote control.

Poverty is not just a lack of funds or material goods. Poverty is also a lack of choices. Education, social connection and money give you more options in life. These things give us power to choose our preferred destiny. Some are born into families who have these resources, while others are born into generational poverty. Children are born into families that have not had jobs for generations. They are raised in an environment where they don’t know anyone who has ever finished high school, gone to college and become profitably employed. Never having been exposed to these opportunities, they are shaped by their environment and trapped in these pockets. This is unacceptable to God, so he intervenes by sending us, the body of Christ.

This is illustrated in a lesson that Jesus gave in Luke 14:12-14:

Then he turned to the host. “The next time you put on a dinner, don’t just invite your friends and family and rich neighbors, the kind of people who will return the favor. Invite some people who never get invited out, the misfits from the wrong side of the tracks. You’ll be—and experience—a blessing. They won’t be able to return the favor, but the favor will be returned—oh, how it will be returned!—at the resurrection of God’s people.”


Jesus told the dinner party that the social misfits in town should be the ones who get to choose the best dishes and wine being served. This lesson was pretty intense. When Jesus spoke about the type of people the host shouldn’t invite to the banquet: rich friends and neighbors, those were the very people were sitting around the table listening to his lesson. I’m sure it made them a little red in the face.

As my friend and CEO of the New York City Rescue Mission, Dr. Craig Mayes says, “We should give our best to the least.”

This wasn’t just a philosophical teaching that Jesus gave. He practiced what he preached. He fed thousands of hungry people and was himself publicly criticized for eating with the riff raff: “And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.”” Luke 15:2

Right after the lesson to the party host, Jesus doesn’t let up even a little. He continues by telling a parable about a master who invited people to a wonderful feast. The invitees turned down the invitation because they were tied up with their success and material possessions, which they considered more important. This made the master angry, so he sent his servants out to bring in the poor and handicapped. They gladly accepted the generous invitation, but this still wasn’t enough for the master. He ordered the servants to go out to the streets to compel complete strangers and commoners to also join the party.

We are all just beggars showing other beggars where to find the bread.


This is what New York City Relief does every week. We go to the streets and bring a feast to those who would never be invited to a high society event or dinner. We prepare a place for those who have no place and give the very best that we can offer. We treat them like royalty and guests of honor by coming to serve. We call these people struggling with homelessness, addiction, mental illness and poverty our friends.

birthday cakeA great example of this is when we sometimes celebrate one of our homeless friend’s birthdays. Recently, all-star volunteer Jan Conklin brought a birthday cake for our friend Keith. He is a Marines veteran who is a good friend. Jan didn’t just go out and get any cake. She baked his favorite kind with vanilla icing. Keith’s birthday wish upon blowing out his candles: “I wish that this joy would never end.” Watch this video (left) to see Keith blow out the candles.

We give our best because it is one of our core values at NYCR:

Excellence: Consistent and reliable in always giving our best for the broken, to instill dignity.

Excellence can be a weird thing, because in striving for excellence it is possible to fall into the trap of doing great work to impress others and puff ourselves up. That kind of excellence isn’t very excellent at all. It’s self-serving. It reminds me of the verse that says,

“If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don’t love, I’ve gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love.” 1 Corinthians 13:3-7

So being excellent for excellence’s sake or to feel good about ourselves is worthless. When we do our best out of true concern for those we serve, it builds up others up without causing them to feel bad for having received help. If they see that love is our true motivation, there is no shame in receiving, only comfort, healing and safety.

We aim to be consistent and reliable, because in the life of a person challenged with homelessness, they need a place where they can find refuge from the chaos around them. They need to know that if they show up at this one place, the staff and volunteers will treat them well and care about them as a person. Having people they can really count on brings great comfort and stability. Knowing they are loved just for being themselves is powerful and helps stave off despair and hopelessness. Like Keith’s Marines who have the motto, Semper Fi, we can learn that to be excellent is to be ALWAYS FAITHFUL.

How about you? Are you someone’s port in a storm? Have you let people around you know that you are there for them? Have you nurtured the relationships at work or school so that others know they are important to you?  Are you a safe place for the broken and failed?


Love that is truly excellent never gives at someone else’s expense. Love instills dignity and value. Jesus gave us the choice to enter into everything he offers us. Love is humble and realizes that we are all just beggars showing other beggars where to find the bread. We can choose to love like Jesus did. Beggars CAN be choosers.


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You Say You Want A R{EVOL}ution


JulieAn Introvert Unchained
Julie Stiefel first came to serve with New York City Relief through our mobile outreach to the homeless in 2003. She never imagined how dramatically her life would take a turn through volunteering:

“When first introduced to serving the homeless, street people, the poor and needy, the un-loved, I was terrified. Being, at that time, somewhat of an anti-social introvert without a solid idea of where I fit into God’s Kingdom.

“The eight plus years of serving with New York City Relief, and the Relief Bus, made such a major impact on my life that I am NOT the same person
that I was.

“Fast forward 15 or so years to the present – God has taken an introvert with a real fear of social situations, and TRANSFORMED that person into an extrovert with so much LOVE in my heart that it nearly BURSTS out and encompasses everyone around me. I have been told that God SHINES out of me!

“Though we now live in a small southern rural community I find that people here face the same issues, lacks, and needs in their lives. God has taught me, and given me, a boldness that could ONLY have come from Him! Many of our new friends keep coming back for more and I have been able to share the source of my Joy.

“In a nutshell, I credit God, and my friends and mentors at New York City Relief, with turning this once timid introvert into a bold, outspoken extrovert sharing His Love totally through relationship evangelism.”

LUISTremendously Changed
Luis Flores was homeless on the streets of New York City. He came to The Relief Bus every week for the delicious food. It was there that Luis met a volunteer who struck up a conversation with him. That volunteer offered to pray for Luis and he accepted. His life was never the same. Luis explained through tears,

“It was a simple prayer, but it brought tremendous change. I felt like a new man. I got housing and am continuing my education in aviation maintenance. The best part is my faith has grown stronger. I’m thinking about mission work and serving more on The Relief Bus and praying for others.”

It took months, but Luis tracked down that same volunteer. He now goes to the man’s church and worships together every week. Both have been forever changed by that day they met. Click on the video above to hear his story.

Both Julie and Luis were swept up in a LOVE REVOLUTION. Their stories illustrate our third C.O.R.E. value at New York City Relief:

Revolution: Life transformation for the homeless, the addicted and those who serve them.

The way The Relief Bus outreach endeavors to help our friends living on the streets to experience life transformation is to first build a relationship, so that they know we care. We start by breaking bread and sharing a cup of soup together. Then we offer connections to resources that can turn their lives around such as shelter, drug/alcohol detox and rehab, job information, and local churches. By using this strategy over the past 28 years, we have seen true miracles happen in people’s lives.

jesus chJesus himself was a radical revolutionary, but not like the zealots of his day that sought to throw off their oppressors through violent means. Jesus had come to infiltrate and subvert many systems: “might makes right”, caste systems, disenfranchisement of the poor, racism, patriarchal dominance, ageism and all other forms of injustice. In this Kingdom:

There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. Galatians 3:28

Many of the Jews expected the messiah to overthrow their Roman oppressors. Usually, when a system is overthrown, it is through force and violence. This Jesus revolution was also violent, but all of it was directed toward Jesus himself instead of his enemies. Even though he could have struck down his enemies, Jesus knew the real battle was for the heart of mankind.


“We journey not as those who have much to give and who have all the answers, but as fellow travelers toward light and liberation.”


Jesus came to start not a political revolution, but a LOVE REVOLUTION. Other rulers would fight and scheme for dominance, but Jesus’ followers would lay down their lives for widows, orphans, misfits and outcasts of society. It shook the culture and spread like wildfire. The world had never seen anything like it.

Strangely, Jesus was an agent of change not from the top down, but from the bottom up. He aligned himself with the common man. Rather than rule through power and coercion, Jesus led by example: washing feet, touching lepers, embracing the broken, treasuring the rejected. He called his followers to not Lord authority over others, but to imitate him in becoming a servant to all.

No one could believe what they were hearing. This ran counter to everything they knew and accepted. This message was contagious, and out of the unconditional love and acceptance that people received, they turned from their old ways, sold what they had and gave to those who had not. Rather than seeing what they could get away with, they tried to see how much they could give away. A revolution had begun.

This new movement was one of personal and societal life transformation, but not in the way we usually think it will occur. The way we experience life transformation is not through having all the answers and figuring everything out. As Henri Nouwen said,

“We journey not as those who have much to give and who have all the answers, but as fellow travelers toward light and liberation.”

In this new paradigm, we give up control, lay down agendas and simply start loving people the way they are with no strings attached. We don’t seek a platform as much as a personal connection. The Kingdom of God is grassroots. Life transformation happens one person at a time. Viva la rEVOLution!



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Escape From Fantasy Island!

Fantasy island

400 years ago, the English poet and cleric John Donne wrote, “No man is an island.” His meaning was that we only function healthily when we are connected to others. It’s true that we need one another way more than we could ever imagine. We are created to be intimately connected and since the fall of man we have been disconnected, disjointed and disappointed. Proof that, “It is not good for the man to be alone.” Genesis 2:18


Yesterday, I went out on a cold winter day to serve on a Relief Bus outreach on the streets of Harlem. I met many people who were starving for friendship, for intimacy, for oneness. A man named Ricardo (left) told me about the 30 years he spent in prison. After being separated from society all those years, now he lives in a homeless shelter, alone and trying to make it on his own. A woman named Daisy told me how she was abusing crack and was afflicted with HIV. A Peruvian man named Jim described his deeply dysfunctional family and how it led to his severe alcoholism.

Each one honored me by sharing the most difficult issue in their life. The burden was too much to bear alone. They needed a fellow traveler in the journey to help carry the load. Somehow they knew that pain shared is pain not doubled, but halved. That is a lesson that I need to learn. Maybe that is why we are commanded, “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.” James 5:16


One of the greatest human needs is to be connected to others. The more we are connected, the healthier we are. The more disconnected we are, the sicker we are–and we are generally sicker than we think. Whenever man becomes an island unto himself, he is living on Fantasy Island and is disconnected from reality. I can hear Tattoo shouting, “Da plane! Da plane!” Look it up Millennials. And no, Fantasy Island was not a reality show where they voted people off the island.

The Relief Bus is designed to become a bridge from these “islands” to family. The Bible calls this spiritual family a body. This body has many parts, but each one needs the other to function properly.

One of the cultural hallmarks that epitomizes what it means to be an American is “rugged individualism”. We are proud to be independent and free, to chart our own course and pursue our own destiny. The freedom we have been given is nothing less than revolutionary. Unfortunately, sometimes we get lost in our freedom and become so self-focused on our own destiny that we lose our sense of responsibility for our neighbor, our brother and the community around us. Even as Christians, it is possible to lose God’s heart for the other, the outsider.


Just as being born an American citizen allows us to enjoy certain inalienable rights, being “born again” as a Christian requires us to give up those same rights on behalf of others. Loving others isn’t about getting our way. It’s about laying down our lives for others the way that Jesus did for us. “He became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.” 2 Cor. 8:9

Family, community and deep relationships are essential to our wellbeing. Our friends challenged with homelessness are surrounded by people, yet find themselves completely isolated. Cut off from love, many times they wither and become shells of their true selves—ghosts who drift through our society, invisible to the masses around them.

One of our core values at New York City Relief is ONENESS which we define as:

Fighting for each other’s hearts” to achieve deep relationship and intimate community with our friends on the streets, and each other.

Jesus describes how oneness is the whole point and his recipe for changing the world:

The goal is for all of them to become one heart and mind— Just as you, Father, are in me and I in you, So they might be one heart and mind with us. Then the world might believe that you, in fact, sent me… Then they’ll be mature in this oneness, And give the godless world evidence That you’ve sent me and loved them In the same way you’ve loved me.” John 17:20-23 MSG

Cut off from love, many times they wither and become shells of their true selves—ghosts who drift through our society, invisible to the masses around them.



Some of us accept the concept of being one with God, but one with each other? That’s just asking too much. People are too difficult. This is where we are required to fight, not with each other, but for each other. That is fighting the good fight of faith. We were designed to be peacemakers.

Mother Teresa described it this way, “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.”


It is going to take a lot of effort to overcome the cultural inertia of just taking care of our own business and living a life of “every man for himself.” Many people really believe that God helps those who helps themselves. If that was true, we would all be doomed. God helps us because he knows we can’t help ourselves. That is exactly why Jesus came on a mission to rescue us.

Jesus doesn’t call us into oneness with those who have it all together or those who are worthy. He calls us into oneness with people who are messed up just like us. Jesus is the magnet that pulls us all together into himself.

This oneness looks like intimacy. Intimacy is the goal that God sets for us. We are called to be intimate with God and each other.

How do you know if you are achieving oneness and intimacy? One clue is that true friends tell each other the things that they can’t say to just anyone. To be intimate means to be vulnerable, and to trust someone with the real you. True friends trust each other with their flaws and failures–their secrets.

Ricardo, Daisy and Jim each told me their secrets, because I pressed in close enough to listen and hear their heart’s cry. Each one touched me and changed me. Each one was trusting God for breakthrough in their lives. Each one fulfilled this scripture to teach me about faith:

Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? James 2:5 (NIV)

They honored me with their dark secrets and I honored them with listening ears and a non-judging heart. We met as equals and our hearts united as one. We “drank of one Spirit” (1 Cor. 12:13) as we prayed together, experiencing Jesus in the midst of us.

We assume that it is the poor who need us, when it is equally us who need the poor. When we see our position accurately, the walls that divide us begin to crumble. It is the poor who Jesus used to free us from the illusions of being self-made people, trapped by our independence. We are the ones who are isolated. They are the bridge from our Fantasy Island to a life of interdependence with our brothers and sisters. They give us a place to live the love of Jesus and to share the material blessing we were entrusted with. They free us from narcissism, separation and indifference. Their lives are the richness our heart aches for. When we meet the poor, we meet Jesus himself. (Matt. 25) He uses them to feed us what we are starving for. The feast is ONENESS. Dig in!


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Love with TEETH
















I have four kids that I have tucked into bed throughout their childhood. Even now as teenagers I still try to visit them right before they fall asleep, so that I can have one more moment alone with them just to be closer.

cardboard-bedWho tucks in the homeless at night? Who watches over them and prays for their dreams to come true?

New York City Relief Outreach Leader Lauren Lee describes just such a thing. She said,

“Every Thursday night I have the privilege of helping Mardum make his cardboard bed right outside of St. Francis of Assisi Church (pictured left). He speaks very little English, but our weekly encounter has grown from a handshake to a hug, a smile to a kiss on the cheek, from a ‘How are you doing?’ to a ‘Can you pray for me?’”

Why would Lauren do such a thing? She is living out one of the core values of New York City Relief. She is living out the heart of God. Not a schmaltzy love that is just fuzzy feelings that are unquantifiable. This is love that has teeth. Lauren backs up what she believes with action. The proof is in the pudding and her actions speaks louder than words.

corevaluesAt New York City Relief, we have four core values and the C in C.O.R.E. stands for compassion. In our world, we describe this as: Tangibly demonstrating God’s love for the poor through humble service.




There is a famous phrase you may have heard, “Talk is cheap.” Sometimes in the church, we are quick to talk about compassion, but slow to do acts of compassion. Compassion is an experience, not a concept. If you haven’t experienced compassion, you may not have experienced Jesus.

The prophet Isaiah described what Jesus’ life on earth would look like:

Isaiah 63:7,9

Compassion lavished,
love extravagant…

So he became their Savior.
In all their troubles,
he was troubled, too.
He didn’t send someone else to help them.
He did it himself, in person.

The root of the word compassion is, “suffer with”. Pity is different than compassion. When I think of pity I think of someone encountering someone else’s suffering and thinking, “that’s a shame.”

The Shame 7

When Jesus encountered suffering, he suffered too. He felt people’s pain. The Bible says he was moved with compassion. His love was so great that he could not stand to sit by idly. He was compelled to do something for the sick, hungry, lost and hurting.

Rather than receiving compassion, most people challenged with homelessness get kicked when they are down. They get treated like con artists, leeches, and irresponsible losers. People with addictions are similarly treated as social lepers. We certainly don’t want to take on the burden of their problems. God helps those who helps themselves right? But, how did Jesus treat actual lepers who were diseased, despised and contagious?

Now a leper came to Him, imploring Him, kneeling down to Him and saying to Him, “If You are willing, You can make me clean.” Then Jesus, moved with compassion, stretched out His hand and touched him, and said to him, “I am willing; be cleansed.” As soon as He had spoken, immediately the leprosy left him, and he was cleansed.  Mark 1:40-42

Rather than receiving compassion, most people challenged with homelessness get kicked when they are down.


Here is a good litmus test to determine if we have the heart of God burning in us: Are we “moved with compassion?” Do the things that break God’s heart break our hearts too?

There is a reason why we don’t always go there. It hurts to love people in distress. It’s not easy. It’s what has compelled our staff and volunteers during a Relief Bus outreach to sometimes take off their own winter coats or shoes and give them to someone who is freezing. Compassion costs us something.

If our love isn’t tangible, if our love has no action, I’m not sure it’s really love.

The American way to help the poor can come across pretty high-handed. We swing in our rope to save the day with a bag full of oversimplified answers. Here’s four spiritual laws, here’s Romans road. Boom! Love goes deeper than that. Love gets down on the sidewalk like Lauren Lee (pictured below) and listens.lauren



But then the question is, “How do we act? How do we lead people who are hurting to freedom and healing?”

Mark 10:45 says, “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Like Jesus, we are called to serve. To become a servant means that we lower ourselves in order to lift someone else up. This lowering is called humility. An all-powerful God who came in the form of a weak human baby and then ultimately laid down his life for us by suffering torture and the death of a criminal paints the picture.

Philippians 2:7 says Jesus emptied himself, he became nothing by taking the form of a servant or slave. He threw away image and reputation. He humbled himself and became obedient to death, even death on the cross.

Jesus is calling us to walk in his footsteps, take up our cross and imitate his life of love. What does this look like? It looks like love that has teeth. It looks just like COMPASSION.





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Exciting News! Our new YouTube show debuts!

Introducing our brand new YouTube Show, On The STREET presented by New York City Relief, shot live on the streets of New York City! Click here to watch our first episode and subscribe!



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McDonald’s Is The New Holy of Holies…












Some people watched the documentary film Supersize Me and became convinced that McDonald’s and other fast food companies were a tool of the devil, being used to destroy our bodies and maybe were even hell on earth. Who knows, they might be right. Whether you think it is Heaven or Hell, however, I have to inform you that McDonald’s is the new Holy of Holies- a place where the presence of God fills up the room, healing happens and God’s love is demonstrated to the broken. At least it happened to New York City Relief Senior Outreach Leader Brett Hartford and a man named Shawn during an outreach one Thursday night in New York City…

“Can I have your leftovers, anything you’re going to throw away?”

“Excuse me?”

Again he clarifies. He is sunken down as far as the hard plastic chair will allow. He wants my leftovers… from McDonald’s. (I don’t even want my firsts… and all I got was fries)


On Thursday nights we lead an outreach called, Don’t Walk By. This outreach is a little different than our normal outreaches with The Relief Buses. On this outreach we walk the streets of midtown Manhattan in small groups, searching for people in need. When we find them, we usually offer much needed items like socks, hygiene kits and some friendly conversation.

Don’t Walk By is a collaborative effort in partnership with The Rescue Alliance. Because of this partnership with NYC Rescue Mission, The Bowery Mission, Hope For New York and StreetLife Ministries, we can get someone off the streets and into a warm bed that night and offer possibilities to enter a long term program to transform their lives forever.

Of everything we do, Don’t Walk By has be my favorite outreach, because it takes away all the extra stuff – bus, soup, volunteer rotations, etc. We are left with the pure and raw relationships. Not that the other stuff is bad, because it’s not, it’s beautiful in it’s own setting, but it’s just a refreshing break in the week to have this one outreach out of twelve be completely different. For someone like me, a relationship and conversation driven person, it’s amazing.

It’s amazing to see what happens wshawn-in-mcdonaldshen you make yourself available to whatever happens. No expectations, no agenda, just a “hello” and the available time to see where that “hello” leads.

Tonight I went down 6th Avenue towards a weekly meet up spot at a McDonald’s to connect with some of our long-time friends from the streets. It was in that community that there just happened to be a guy sitting a few feet away, a guy all alone who had been praying for community–a guy named Shawn. (left)

We were connecting with our friends that night. We had purchased dinner for everyone and ourselves as well – community not charity. We were listening, sharing, caring, serving, learning, and just be-ing. Just friends catching up and growing together.

All the while, there is this man a few table away, reading a magazine. I saw him, but decided to watch for a few minutes. He approached me and asked,

“Can I have your leftovers, anything you’re going to throw away?”

Will we welcome the outcast into community by breaking Big Macs together? Is this the missing piece of our faith journey that God is wooing us to dive into?




This really took me by surprise.

What must it take to ask someone that? What does it feel like to be at a point where you hungry enough to eat people’s leftovers from McDonald’s? I’ve never in my life been in that situation.

I’m a foodie. I don’t eat fast food. My family manages our budget in a way that we only eat out a couple of times a month, but they are at good restaurants. But now, at this moment, I am sitting at the epitome of “fast food”, being asked for my contaminated, used, cold, leftovers.

“You don’t have to eat my leftovers. What can I get you?”



“Yes please.”


“Yes, anything you are willing to get I will eat.”

This reminds me of a story from the Bible where a man of zero perceived value finds worth in Jesus’ willingness to love and act:

Matthew 8:1-3
When Jesus came down from the mountainside, large crowds followed him. A man with leprosy came and knelt before him and said, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.” Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean! (healed)” Immediately he was cleansed of his leprosy.

In both cases, men with nothing to lose and everything to gain, placed themselves in the place of humility. Jesus asked, “Are you willing?”.

In both cases, the response was, “I am willing”.

My job is to be the physical representation of Jesus on the streets of New York City and New Jersey. What would it look like if Jesus was walking around today? How would He respond to what he saw? Would he be too busy to stop?

Do I get it right? Sometimes, yep. Others, nope, not even close. But, I am willing to try.

Are you?


This isn’t just a Brett thing. This is an everybody thing. We all get opportunities every day to “be Jesus”, to love well. Be it someone asking for food, holding a sign in humility, or something completely different. It could be a co-worker who you know is struggling financially. Maybe you should buy them lunch. It could be extending extra patience to the waitress who is doing an awful job, a car who cut you off (I could grow in this area!), or a family member who is continually pushing you to the edge of your patience.

Are you willing?

Give it a try, you never know what type of healing you can bring to the person who is the recipient of your willingness.

Much love all,

Brett (left, with volunteers)


Brett is living in such a way as to be the answer to the prayer that Jesus taught us to pray: “your kingdom come, your will be done, in McDonalds as it is in heaven.” Matt 6:10

There are lepers all around us–people that society wants nothing to do with. Will we touch them with our lives and be vessels of healing? Will we welcome the outcast into community by breaking Big Macs together? Is this the missing piece of our faith journey that God is wooing us to dive into?

Consider making a date to do just this. Come volunteer on a Thursday night on the Don’t Walk By outreach. Email volunteer@newyorkcityrelief to book your date. See you at McDonald’s!

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Wild Harlem Wedding Party!


Many girls grow up dreaming of the perfect fairytale wedding. When that dream becomes a reality they spend tens of thousands of dollars procuring the perfect location on a beach by Caribbean waters, in a grand cathedral or maybe a castle garden. Every detail is coordinated to shape the perfect memorable event.

My friend Johanna‘s wedding looked a little different. Located in Harlem at E 124th & Park, Johanna was literally married on the street underneath the above ground subway tracks. It’s an exotic location alright. Many people are bussed in to this spot from the shelters they sleep in at Wards Island. The largest methadone clinic in the city is just across the street. I remember cleaning up a big pile of human poop up off the sidewalk there one day with my friend Rodger Parker.

Johanna was our Director of New York City Outreach and had invested years of her life into the people of Harlem. She is a tall, blond Finnish woman with blue eyes. Johanna first came to NYCR 15 years ago as an intern. Eventually she became a full-time urban missionary to the poor. In our 27 year history, Johanna was our first female Outreach Leader. She has the kind of personality that makes people feel special, wanted and cared for.

Many times on her days off, Johanna would take the train back into Harlem to celebrate birthdays, baby showers and special events with her friends there. It was this kind of woman that a man named Pauli Puirava fell in love with when she was on missionary furlough in their homeland of Finland. Johanna’s work visa had not been renewed, so she returned on a visitors visa to America to continue serving for a few more months. It was a sad time for her and our team, knowing that she had to leave us soon.


It was during this same time that Pauli proposed to her over Skype. He came to stay with our team and serve on The Relief Bus for a month leading up to the wedding (see picture to left). Many friends from the streets got to meet Pauli and give him a once over before they gave their approval.


The energy on the street that day was electric. It was a wedding I will never forget. The crowd in attendance was a motley crue of people challenged with homelessness, addiction and developmental disabilities. They cheered as Johanna walked down “the aisle” (the sidewalk) on the arm of my father, and New York City Relief founder, Richard Galloway.

My friend and VP, General Manager Bill Hoffman and I had the honor of officiating at this wedding. When I asked on the microphone, “Who gives this woman in marriage?”, many friends from the streets spontaneously yelled out, “WE DO!” The love in the crowd was palatable and there was quite a few tears and smiles when Pauli kissed his bride.

Why were so many people filled with joy that day? They told me that Johanna was a special woman who helped many of them. It reminds me of the scripture that says,

“Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.” Romans 12:15-16

Johanna had loved her friends well and they loved her back in return.

We served 500 pieces of wedding cake that day and danced under the subway tracks. There were many hugs and happy faces. It was a little slice of Heaven for those who didn’t get to attend many wedding receptions.




The New York Daily News featured a great article on this landmark event: Where Love Lives. Read the online version here. You can even watch the wedding video here.

This amazing day reminds me of the parable when the master invited people from the highways and byways, the poor, blind and lame to come to his feast. (Luke 14:16-24) He wanted his house to be full. Johanna wanted her wedding to be full of the people she loved too.







The next week after the wedding, I was out on outreach at the same location in Harlem with The Relief Bus. I met one of the wedding guests named Patricia (left). Patricia pointed down the street to where she used to sleep on the sidewalk for over 20 years. During that time, she was filthy, addicted to crack and weighed only 85 pounds. That all changed when Patricia had a life changing encounter with Johanna at The Relief Bus.

Johanna spoke into her life and gave her hope. Patricia was connected to emergency shelter, than got her own apartment. Today, Patricia has been free from addiction for four years and is a new woman. She weighs 145 pounds and is even getting some new teeth put in. Patricia is full of joy because she is free. She will tell you that it is a miracle that she is alive. Please take a look at her video testimony so that you can see and hear it for yourself.

The Bible describes a pretty special wedding. The groom comes back for his bride who is clothed in white. She is beautiful and has prepared herself to be united with her love.

“Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready. Fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear.” (Fine linen stands for the righteous acts of God’s holy people.) Then the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!” And he added, “These are the true words of God.”” Revelation 19:7-9

Seeing Johanna as a stunning bride reminded me of how we will look to Jesus when he comes back for us- beautiful, because of his grace. Patricia and I were both privileged to be guests at this unconventional destination wedding, and like all the others guests, we beamed with joy. The light of God shined in Harlem that day as we partook in the richness of his love together. It was a one Wild Harlem Wedding Party. I will never forget it.




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You Make Me Want To Puke

Recently during outreach with The Relief Bus, I met a young woman challenged with homelessness. Rosie (not her real name) is only 25-years-old. Rosie has suffered greatly on the streets, even been raped. She suffers from PTSD and is sometimes delusional. Rosie believes that the Social Security Administration uses mind control on her, causing her to walk around naked, not realizing that she isn’t wearing any clothes. Such a damaged soul. I have been praying for her and asking for God’s healing in her life. Meeting people like Rosie is the hardest part of being an urban missionary. My heart breaks for her. I feel God’s love for her.

Not grasping reality seems like one of the worst things that can happen to you. In the book of Revelation, God strongly addresses our own delusions. Sometimes we think we have it all together, but he sees the cognitive dissonance in our lives: believing one thing and doing another. Because he loves us he doesn’t sugarcoat this message:

“I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see. Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent.” Revelation 3:15-19 NIV


Ever eaten or drank something that you thought was something else, causing you to get it out of your mouth as fast as you could? One April Fools Day, during our commute to do outreach on The Relief Bus, Senior Outreach Leader Brett Hartford played a prank on Metro Relief Outreach Leader Paul Ballasteros. Brett shot a video of Paul drinking what he thought was coffee, but in fact was a disgusting concoction of coffee, olive juice and orange juice. His reaction is classic. You can watch it here. It’s a funny scenario when it’s a joke amongst friends, but it’s not so funny when I am the person that makes God want to puke.

Which one of these scenarios best describes you:

  1. On fire for God, continually pressing into the Holy Spirit for more power to love and serve those around you.
  2. So cold and spiritually dead that you don’t bother to even pretend that you care for the things of God. Not sure God even exists. Either way, you are over it.
  3. A seasoned believer who knows all the right principles, but doesn’t feel passion for Jesus or others. You find more self-satisfaction in things and accomplishments nowadays. Indifferent to the needs of others.

Are we doing the right things, or do we just know the right things to do?

It is not by our philosophy or principles that we are being assessed in this passage from the Bible, but by our deeds. Are we doing the right things, or do we just know the right things to do? The world will know we are Christians by our love, not our knowledge of doctrine.

If you feel spiritually dry, stagnant and indifferent to the needs of others, obviously it is time to get hot again. So how do we get hot again? Rather than just more prayer and Bible study, let me suggest you stoke the fire of your heart through serving others. It is the deeds of laying our lives down for others that break us free from our own self-serving nature.

I see this continually when people come to volunteer on The Relief Bus. They leave the safe place of the world they know and understand, to enter the risky world of engagement with the lost and broken. They start out nervous and unsure of how to even talk to someone challenged with homelessness or addiction. By the end of the day, they have listened to people’s stories, been moved with compassion, spoken words of encouragement, offered dignity and given loving prayers. So many have found themselves moved closer to Jesus through the poor. These precious friends on the streets pull them back to the core of the gospel, which is the core of life: LOVE.


One volunteer, Angiliea Stark (left) put it this way,

“It was a little scary for me, to be honest. I wasn’t sure what to expect. I’ve become accustomed, like most New Yorkers, to ignore the homeless community. I met some really incredible people and felt my openness to connect with people on a human level did more than filling an empty soup cup. For me and hopefully for them. Looking forward to volunteering again- it’s such an inspiring community!”

This is how we buy gold that is refined in the fire. This is how we store up treasures that moth and rust can’t destroy. This is how we keep the things we own from owning us. God’s treasures are people, especially hurting people. When we love “the least of these”, we are loving Jesus himself.

Although we haven’t been able to solve all of Rosie’s problems, she keeps coming back to The Relief Bus to see us. She knows that this is a place where no matter how bizarre she acts, people will love her unconditionally. She is our sister.

With all of my self-delusions, I keep coming back to Jesus, knowing that he sees my nakedness and will clothe me with mercy. Rosie and I aren’t so different. Maybe we can rub salve on each other’s eyes and be healed of our blindness together.

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I’ve Got The Power!

powerup got the power




Plato once wrote that, “The measure of a man is what he does with power.”

Power is defined as: the capacity or ability to direct or influence the behavior of others or the course of events. In other words, having power is having control.

You might feel powerless sometimes, but the fact is that as Americans we have more wealth than most people on earth. Most of us have some amount of influence, education, physical strength and knowledge. Many of us even have some level of authority. God requires us to be a good steward of whatever power we have.

powerup absolute powerThe problem is that most of us get caught up in whatever power that we gain, and it goes straight to our heads. We practically break our arms trying to pat ourselves on the back for achieving it. As Lord Acton said, “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

He also said, “Authority that does not exist for Liberty is not authority but force.” When power isn’t used for the benefit of others, it is just manipulation. When power is used to bless others, however, it looks just like love.

“When the power of love overcomes the love of power, the world will know peace.”—Jimi Hendrix


The Bible addresses our feelings of powerlessness, also known as fear:

For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.
                                                                                                           2 Timothy 1:7 (NIV)

This one verse encapsulates what God gives us and what God expects us to do with it. He gives us power to do what? To love. Even when we feel powerless and afraid that we can’t make a difference in this world,  we are still called to steward ourselves (self-discipline) in order to use our power to love. Playing the part of a victim is not an option.

We cannot claim to be powerless. In fact, we will be judged by how we use our blessings. God holds us to high standards when it comes to stewardship. Jesus was clear:

From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.       Luke 12:48

Or as Spider-Man puts it, “With great power comes great responsibility.”

“The measure of a man is what he does with power.”

Jesus was all-powerful, yet instead of using his power to rule with an iron fist, he held children, washed feet, embraced the rejected and laid down his life for others. He continually laid down his physical, material and supernatural power in order to love. The ultimate use of power is to love and love itself is the most powerful force on earth.

Power up foot washingI have seen this at New York City Relief, when a friend of mine who is a successful financial investor asked if he could come wash people’s feet at The Relief Bus outreach. This isn’t something we do every day, but we loved the idea, so special preparations were made. We set up a canopy, with two foot washing stations underneath it and seats for people to sit down.

As people passed by, they were asking what we were doing and once we responded that we were doing foot washing they commented: “Oh, just like Jesus?”

The volunteers were able to wash and massage the feet of 31 people during one outreach. Afterwards, people had a choice between getting powder or lotion on the feet and of course a fresh new pair of socks.

One friend from the streets said that he could barely walk before, but that after the foot washing he felt like jumping. When someone who is challenged with homelessness and has to live on their feet says they feel like jumping, that means something.

Every person who had their feet washed also wanted prayer. It was an intimate experience that really opened people up. All this because a power broker requested an opportunity to come and lower himself so that others could be lifted up.

In the Parable of the Talents in Matthew 25:13-30, talents are measures of money. Money is a form of power. For a moment, let’s replace the talents with God’s love in this fun and very loose paraphrase:


“Here’s another good illustration:

The Lord of Love got all of his young apprentices together to invest deeply in their souls. To one guy named Yaz, he gave fifty acts of love, to a lady named Johanna, he gave twenty acts of love and to a fellow named Juan, he gave one act of love. This was based on each one’s ability to receive his love. To each person, the Love Lord gave what he and she didn’t deserve. It was pure grace out of how he felt about them.

Then the Lord left town. Yaz, who had been loved fifty times couldn’t contain himself. He went ballistic in a good way. Out of a grateful heart, he went out and did generous acts of kindness for a hundred people. It wasn’t just charity. He performed each act from a sincere heart. It blew their minds.  He did it because he really cared. Those folks were never the same.

Johanna, who had been loved twenty times went out and helped forty people. She befriended the broken and gladly gave sacrificially of her time. Johanna just couldn’t contain herself. People thought she was the next Mother Teresa.

The guy named Juan, who only encountered the Lord’s love once, didn’t bother to do anything. He just holed up like a hermit with his video game system and ate Doritos. Juan knew that he should love others, but he didn’t want to risk getting hurt. He did receive the top online score on Halo, however.”

“The Love Lord was gone for quite awhile. When he got back, he brought in all the apprentices to see how they had done. Yaz said, ‘Boss, I loved a hundred different people and it was the best thing ever!’”

“The boss high-fived him and said, ‘Way to go Yaz! This has drawn us closer together than we have ever been. Now you can love even more people. When people encounter you, healing and freedom are going to be released.’”

“Johanna came in to report next. She said, ‘LL, I demonstrated compassion and mercy to forty people. I never had so much fun!’”

“The Lord said, ‘You passed the test with flying colors. I know now that you can handle even more, so I’m expanding your sphere of influence. My love will be the most tangible thing in your life.’”

“Then the deadbeat named Juan came by. He said, ‘Boss, I knew that you had high standards and didn’t want to hear excuses. I was afraid I might blow it and disappoint you so I decided to just love myself well by having more “me time”. I did however, listen to a sermon podcast which was quite edifying.’”

“The boss was ticked. He said, ‘You lazy good for nothing bum! You didn’t bother to lift a finger. At the very least you could have helped your dad mow the lawn or do the dishes for your mom to bless them. But nooo, that was too much to expect of you.’”

“I am taking back the Starbucks gift cards I gave you to treat your neighbors to coffee. I’m giving them to Yaz. He knows how to pay it forward.

He threw the gamer back into his parent’s basement where he would languish alone forever, never having a girlfriend. Even lonely strangers on Facebook wouldn’t invite him to be their “friend.”
______________________________________________________________________________________________powerup more power

I believe that Plato was right when he said, “The measure of a man is what he does with power.” God will judge us according to how we will or how we won’t use whatever power he gives us to love others. It is according to our love that we will be measured.

We were powerless to change ourselves until the love of Jesus set us free. Now he fills us with the ability to follow in his footsteps to empower the powerless. Love compels us and propels us. Love is the mission, the means and the reward. Love is the ultimate measure and love looks like Jesus. Power up.


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pet peeve dog loveMany people challenged with homelessness live on the streets with their pets. They love these animals so much that they will often feed their pets before themselves. Some cities actually provide not only housing for their homeless citizens, but a cat or dog to keep them company in their new dwelling. They understand that good pets are therapeutic and healthy.

I want to talk about another kind of pet that isn’t so healthy: pet peeves. A pet peeve is an action that a particular person finds especially annoying. Everyone has pet peeves and many of them are quite common:

1. Leaving the toilet lid up
3. Smoking
4. Chewing with your mouth open
5. Perpetual lateness
6. Someone eating off of your plate
7. Dawdling in the airport security line
8. Not picking up your dog’s poop
9. Letting your baby cry or your phone ring in the middle of a church service
10. Not wiping down equipment at the gym

Pet peeves are a lot of little petty irritations that can multiply over time into a lifestyle of perpetual disgruntlement or even petulance. They are the clutter of the mind and the mud on the lenses through which we view the world around us. Some see beauty all around us, while others see nothing but idiots getting in our peeve

Recently a man in New York was arrested for having a 6 foot pet alligator. Another man raised a tiger cub in his Harlem apartment that grew into a 400 pound beast that eventually attacked him.

The “pet” in pet peeve is descriptive of how we coddle and nurture our offenses. They are cute little things that we feed until they become big vicious monsters. Are we willing to clean house and get rid of our pet peeves before they bite us?

Pet peeves can cause perfectly normal people go from worshipping along to a song in their car one minute, to cursing and giving the finger to someone who cuts them off the next. It is an area of our life that we give completely over to the flesh.

I have been in the car when my father, Richard Galloway, is driving and someone cuts him off. It can be a scary thing that brings a visceral reaction in me like, “Whoah! That guy almost killed us!” My father, however, is never shaken. Most of us would be justifiably angry, but instead of losing his cool, he immediately forgives them in the moment. It is a mark of great character, especially when you consider what it is like to drive in New Jersey. It teaches me and amazes me to this day.

Pet peeves are not commonly well thought through. They are gut reactions that happen in the moment. Those reactions are usually of immediate disgust. One of my mentors as a teenager was my youth pastor, Spencer Nordyke. He described our hearts as barrels. When the challenges of life tip us over, whatever is inside the barrel spills out. If it is full of poop, we yell “Oh bleep!”. If we are full of honey, then that is what spills out.  “For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.” Luke 6:45. In other words, pet peeves are an indicator of what is hidden in our heart.

Let’s call pet peeves what they really are-areas of offense. An offense is an annoyance or resentment brought about by a perceived insult to or disregard for oneself or one’s standards or principles. In other words, “How dare you sir!” Pet peeves are our hot buttons.

pet peeve is pet peeve

When we take offense, we don’t think of all the similar offensive acts that we ourselves have committed (or are committing). We place all of the blame for our anger upon the offender and take no responsibility for our reaction. In fact, our reaction could be much worse than the actual act of offense.

“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell. Matthew 5:21-22


The word “Raca”, is derived from a root meaning “to spit.” Ever been so mad at someone that it made you want to spit? It’s easy for us to excuse our contempt for others, because it’s mostly happening out of public sight in our minds, but Jesus calls it mental murder.

When offense is given, no one has to take it.

There is a line in the song, “Baptize My Heart” by Misty Edwards that says, “I don’t want to be offended when it’s all coming down.” I love this song because it reminds me that petty offenses are a waste of my time and energy. They suck away at my soul and I just don’t have time for that nonsense.

The interesting thing about offense is that when offense is given, no one has to take it. When friends offer to give me their real pets, I kindly turn them down because I explain that I have four children and can’t manage any more wild animals. 😉

When a pet peeve tries to set up camp in my mind, I can reject it. I can put that pet down instead of letting it take up residence. I can be free to pardon others and hold nothing against them. This is the very gift that Jesus gives to me-mercy.

mercy_triumphs_over_judgementWho is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy. Micah 6:18

Mercy is the lifestyle that I want to nurture, develop and feed. Mercy isn’t based upon others performance, but upon the forgiveness I myself have received. It is light and not burdensome, because it lets go of the right to punish and judge. Mercy embraces the opportunity to love-not as a chore, but rather a delight. Mercy fills your barrel up with honey. How sweet it is.

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