Jun-28-2019

Freaked Out On 5th Avenue-Part 12 of STREET PILGRIMAGE

5919It was day 6 of my spiritual pilgrimage living on the streets of New York City. It turned out to be the most shocking day of my journey in which I met God in the most disarming way through messengers who he sent to me in the strangest of places…

On a whim, I had decided to walk 20 plus blocks to Trump Tower on 5th Avenue to panhandle. It felt kind of symbolic to go beg and pray at the new White House–kind of like when I begged on Wall Street at the New York Stock Exchange earlier that week. It wasn’t a political move of any kind on my part. By the time I got there my feet were killing me. Some guy was selling silly anti-Trump buttons on the sidewalk. Lots of tourists were taking photos in front of the iconic tower. As I begged, I prayed for the people dropping change in my cup, for the city leaders to have wisdom and innovation to help those experiencing homelessness and for the president and national leaders to know how to help the poor. While I prayed I made a total of $5.39.

It was while I was praying that they most amazing thing happened to me. Three college-aged girls came up to me and asked my name. They sat down on the sidewalk right there on 5th Avenue and talked to me for the next 20 minutes. Their names were Bailey, Andrea and Tiffany. The girls asked if I was hungry and gave me some granola bars. These were some of the only people from mainstream society to give me the time of day all week. I was pretty flabbergasted that they were being so nice. They asked me questions about myself and how I was doing.

One of the young women who initiated the encounter, Bailey Kriebel, later wrote on Facebook about the experience:

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“Over Spring break, I chose to go on a service trip to the Bronx, New York with other students from Messiah College (see left). By the end of the week, my heart was full and I could not contain my excitement for Jesus or for the things He is going to do in my life. I would like to talk about a conversation that I had with a homeless man that really stood out to me.

“We were walking around Manhattan that day and we were encouraged to pray for anybody that we felt called to pray for. My eyes focused on a homeless man sitting across from Trump Tower. As I walked over to him, two other girls from my group followed. Let me remind you that it was freezing. For me, I can go back inside my warm, cozy house when I cannot bear the cold anymore. But for him, he couldn’t. He had no place to go.

“I walked over to him and I asked him his name. He looked surprised, as if his name was meaningless. He told me that his name was Juan. I asked him how he was, and he told me that his feet were sore because he had just walked 20 blocks. I asked him why he was walking that far, and he said he was on a pilgrimage. All he had was a backpack and a blanket. The girls and I offered him granola bars. We actually sat on the sidewalk with him for a while and talked.

“Instead of talking about his life and experiences as a homeless man like the other homeless people I have encountered, he talked about how badly the homeless are treated and how unfair it is because they are people too. He explained that homelessness could happen to anyone, because New York contains many areas that are in complete poverty.

Bailey

“After talking some more, he revealed that we were the only people to actually sit down and talk with him. Only two people asked his name before us. I was amazed. I prayed over him and thanked God for such an amazing individual. I prayed that he would stay safe, healthy, and warm.

“Before we left, he told us to friend him on Facebook. When we looked up his profile, we realized he was not homeless. He was the president of New York City Relief, which is an outreach program we helped with earlier in the week. If you do not know what New York City Relief does, they give food, hygiene kits and socks to people in need and they also offer direction to rehab and detox facilities. We worked there earlier in the week and when I mentioned New York City Relief to Juan, he acted like he had no idea what it was. However, Juan chose to be homeless for a week to find Jesus. We happened to reach out to him and move him even closer to God. He even gave a sermon about it. Around the 40 minute mark, he mentions us and our encounter in this video.

“I would have never even considered walking up to a homeless person before this trip because of the stereotypes I had of them. After this entire trip, I want to. I want to offer them granola bars and prayer. A $2 granola bar may not seem like anything to us, but it could mean everything to someone less fortunate.

“I am going to end with a verse from Isaiah 57. God says: “I live in a high and holy place, and with the oppressed and lowly of spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and revive the heart of the oppressed.”

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I was pretty blown away by the whole experience of meeting these young ladies. I had been mostly alone, isolated and ignored by the public as they walked past me every day. The only people to sit down and talk to me all week, feed me and pray with me were kids we hosted and trained on a New York City Relief outreach for one day that week. They had served on our mobile outreach called The Relief Bus at Chelsea Park in Midtown Manhattan and now they were an unstoppable force for Jesus doing things that most grown men were afraid to try. Watching their life transformation before my eyes felt like an out-of-body experience. I was freaked out, but in a good way.

One of the other young women, Tiffany Burrows actually wrote a college paper on the experience in which she explained:

Tiffany Burrows

“New York City Relief is unique in that they do not simply provide handouts; rather, they seek to commune with the homeless, hear their stories, and to demonstrate that they matter. Often, this inspires the people they serve to seek the opportunities that New York City Relief offers to better themselves. Four of the core values of New York City Relief are Compassion, Oneness, Revolution, and Excellence. Working with members in this organization truly revealed what it meant to be the hands and feet of Christ.

“Personally, it inspired me during my outreach on The Relief Bus to see the homeless in a positive light and to see them in general. In the past, when I saw a homeless person, I would not acknowledge them out of fear. I did not want to give them money to support any bad habits they had and I did not know what to say to them.

“However, what I gathered from this experience was that they want the three essential human needs we all want: to be seen, heard, and valued. Towards the end of the week, I was walking through the streets of Manhattan. I saw what appeared to be a homeless man sitting and begging across from Trump Tower.

They want the three essential human needs we all want: to be seen, heard, and valued.

 

“I decided to take a chance and live out some of the values I learned from on The Relief Bus outreach. I welcomed two other girls from the trip to join me and talk with the homeless man. We sat down next to him and asked him what his name was. He was surprised to be acknowledged and told us that his name was Juan. Juan asked us why we were taking to him and we simply responded that we wanted to get to know him. Our genuineness released some of his hesitancy and he opened up. He shared that he had been on a pilgrimage and had walked several miles before resting. He was cold, tired, and hungry. We offered him granola bars we had carried with us for our travels. We later asked to pray for him and he was receptive. Juan was filled with gratitude and hope. He told us that he had a Facebook account and encouraged us to friend him.

COREVALUES

“Later, the next week we did and discovered that the man we sat with was Juan Galloway, the president of New York City Relief! He messaged the two girls and myself to inform us that he spent the week being homeless to understand the lives of the people he serves.

“Throughout that week, he broke barriers, stereotypes, and was humbled beyond belief. Hardly anyone outside of other homeless people had spoken to him during that journey. He shared how much it meant to him for someone to authentically demonstrate that he mattered. He said that the example we set is the kind of culture he seeks to instill in his team that works at New York City Relief. After dialoguing with Juan more over Facebook and doing further research on the organization, I saw how effective they are. It was extremely unique for the president of the organization to take the risk and be homeless for a week. It showed his humility and compassion for humanity. It also showed that even as the president of New York City Relief, no matter how “high up” you grow in your organization, you are no more important that the people you work among and serve.

“Further, despite enduring many hardships during that week, he chose to focus on the small acts of kindness he experienced from the homeless community. For instance, one night, Juan slept on the E train in Manhattan. After still being tired and exhausted, he encountered another homeless man that offered him his last Dunkin’ Donuts gift card. Repeatedly, he saw the homeless community truly living in communion and giving their last resources to support one another. These are not the stories told about the homeless in our society. Therefore, Juan and New York City Relief make it part of their mission to share these stories with others.

“One quote from Juan’s dad, Richard Galloway, who had started this organization in 1989 stands out to me. He said, “The homeless are not a problem to be solved. They are a portal to the heart of God.”

“Personally, I cannot see a better organization out there that is seeking to remain humble and authentic in their work. They realize that their mission is not a one-way process, but rather a reciprocal one. Because of these experiences, I am now willing to risk comfort to get to know the marginalized. It will be my goal to risk leaving my comfort zone to see people for all that they truly are.”

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These three young women experienced the truth and the truth set them free. They experienced the truth of the commonality and humanity of the poor. Even more importantly, they experienced the truth of the love of Christ that looks past the symptoms of sin and bondage to see and value the hearts of his beloved.

This is what it takes to experience the transformational power of God–leaving what we know to walk by faith into the unknown. Living on the streets taught me that lesson well. I met Jesus through people struggling with homelessness, but also through three college girls who would not be held back by fear of “the other.”

This encounter was a sign from God to me–we were transforming volunteer’s lives who were then going out to transform other lives in the name of Jesus. They had a passion and energy you don’t often see. They were glowing with Christ and were spreading a compassion revolution. These mighty women of God had experienced personal revival and were on a mission.

They were a living example of the scripture which had inspired my father and mother, Richard and Dixie Galloway to start New York City Relief thirty years earlier:

“If you spend yourselves on behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday.” Isaiah 58:10

In Acts 21:8,9 it mentions the four daughters of Philip who were prophetesses. God had sent me three such women who were walking in the spirit and following his guidance. They were messengers and mouthpieces sent to confirm my mission, affirm my call and encourage me to persevere. God had my attention and I was listening.

Out of the literally millions of people walking the streets of New York City and the thousands of people begging, these girls found me, a needle in the haystack. This was no coincidence. The odds that they would choose to minister to me were beyond astronomical. This was an experience that I would never forget. It was a sign to me that our team at New York City Relief was on the right track and that we should keep going, full-steam ahead. When I heard God’s voice through his young servants, the Holy Spirit breathed on me.

Is he breathing on you as you read this? Do you sense him beckoning you to follow in his footsteps and become the blazing light that you were created to be? Do you hear the echoes of scripture when Jesus beckoned, “Come and follow me” and “Feed my sheep?” Be careful of what you wish for, because God might freak you out too. Worse things can happen. 🙂

Stay tuned to read more about my spiritual pilgrimage in Part 13 titled, Any Port In A Storm.


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  1. Peggy Said,

    It just blows me away how God orchestrated this divine set-up. Those girls are wonderful for sure… but His love for YOU is the thing that screams louder than anything in this post.