The Blacklight Effect

My Backstory

Most people don’t know this about me, but I grew up in a black community in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. My middle class neighborhood was almost entirely black and my public schoolmates and friends were also almost all black. I guess my parents were pretty progressive in this sense, because they definitely could have afforded to live in a more homogenous white neighborhood or pay for me to attend a private school where I would not be the “minority” in a majority-minority community. 

This was the 70’s and the era of the big afro. During my childhood from ages 5-10, it wasn’t uncommon for me to be called “honkey” in a disparaging way on the school bus or in the hallways of my school. It was a little scary sometimes, but I also had many black kids who accepted me as their friend and equal, especially as we roughhoused together on the playground. We also got paddled together as equal offenders by our teachers when we got into trouble in class.

After my family became radically saved from a life of addiction, and depravity, we moved out of the states to become missionaries in St. Thomas and Tortola in the Virgin Islands. My parents started a church in which most of the congregation were black West Indians. From there we moved to Puerto Rico where they built the first Christian television station on the island, beaming out the gospel in Spanish for free to all who had a tv with an antennae. 

Additionally, not everyone knows that my brother is Mexican American and was adopted as a child from Guadalajara, Mexico. I say all this to express my unique and rich upbringing in multicultural and ethnically diverse environments. It prepared me for my work at New York City Relief. Today, I serve a population of people in New York City and New Jersey who are predominantly black and hispanic. Unfortunately, the people I serve are also plagued with homelessness and disproportionately so.

Homelessness Brought To Light

Most people are familiar with blacklights and how they can reveal hidden blood, urine and semen by making them glow in the darkness. These are contaminants that are invisible to the human eye in the light of day, but are magically revealed by this tool. 

New York City Relief is still serving food to many hungry people
during the COVID-19 pandemic.

This COVID-19 pandemic has been like a blacklight revealing tragic truths that have existed for years in New York City. With the largest homeless population in America (80,000), the greatest city in the world has actually been a humanitarian disaster zone for a long time. 2019 showed a 39% increase in homeless deaths over the prior year. 

The crisis became normalized over time as people got so used to seeing droves of beggars that they began to accept this as an unchangeable reality. Recently, because of news media coverage revealing thousands of homeless men and women packed into COVID-19 infested shelters in New York City, the public’s eyes were opened to a dark reality. One man who struggles with homelessness named Luis said of the congested shelters, “It was like a death camp.”

There are 961 documented cases of homeless people infected with COVID-19 and 87 now dead from the virus. The actual infection and death rates are likely much higher as many never got tested for the virus. The poor are typically very under resourced when it comes to health care. 

Luis tells his story of homelessness during the pandemic.

See a powerful video of Luis’ story about what it’s like to be homeless during the COVID-19 pandemic here.

During the pandemic, while the average citizen was concerned about their own health and hunkered down in their homes, they began to imagine the hell people were experiencing who had no home to protect themselves. The homeless had no place to run and people were starting to take notice.

Racial Atrocities Revealed

This COVID-19 virus has not been an equal opportunity infector. Most of the people who have been infected and who have died are people of color. New York City identified death rates among Black/African American persons (92.3 deaths per 100,000 population) and Hispanic/Latino persons (74.3) that were substantially higher than that of white (45.2) or Asian (34.5) persons.

All of us are experiencing brokenness and suffering in America, but our brothers and sisters of color are being hit especially hard. People of color were already struggling in America. Blacks were unemployed 64% more than whites. Blacks make up 12.7% of the US population, but 33% of the prison population. I could go on, but I think you get the idea. Ethnic equality has suffered and social injustice seems to continue unabated.

The recent deaths of George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery have also been like blacklights, but this time revealing the systemic racism that has existed in our country for hundreds of years. White America has had their eyes opened through the technology of cell phone video cameras capturing senseless violence inflicted on black citizens. The dirty secrets of hidden racism have been thrust into our faces and into our homes. It forces us to ask ourselves if we are part of the solution or part of the problem. 

Christians Called To Action

Recently, Bishop TD Jakes wrote an excellent opinion piece for Fox News in which he said, “Americans – and Christians in particular – have a moral imperative to tackle this problem.  “Learn to do good: seek justice, correct oppression,” the prophet wrote in the first chapter of Isaiah.”  

As a Christian leader, I stand in solidarity with my brothers and sisters who have been stigmatized by the burden of homelessness to the point of not being offered adequate protection from the plague of the century. As the leader of a nonprofit outreach organization, I will continue working to give them not only essential survival supplies during this health crisis, but also resources that will enable them to take their lives back and escape homelessness for good. 

I also stand in solidarity with my brothers and sisters of color who have been marginalized and brutalized through our lack of attention, care and equal protection. Our country has no excuse. Silence is no longer an option.

God will not just help those who help themselves. In fact, if we could all just help ourselves we wouldn’t need God at all. God will help those who we link arms with. Together we stand, divided we fall. Together, we are the vehicles for justice and change. Scripture demands that we stand up for others in need, aligning ourselves with the oppressed:

“Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.” Proverbs 31:8-9

The American Nightmare

Both the pandemic and the recent murders of black citizens have shined a spotlight on the underbelly of the American dream. Those on the bottom just keep getting crushed when good people do nothing.

Jesus threw a wrench into the gears of the machine of power and oppression when he came as a poor man born into an oppressed race. His very being represented his heartbeat for humanity, but he made it clear through his teaching and daily lifestyle that he was there to lift up the outcast. In Matthew 25, Jesus represented himself as the hungry, the naked, the prisoner and the sick–all people who were vulnerable. 

Jesus didn’t pity them, he called the weak strong and called the poor blessed. Followers of the Son of God must also honor those who have been disenfranchised, pulling them from the fringe into the center. As Bishop Jakes also said in his article, “You cannot be a Christian and stay silent.”

Could it be that the church and American citizens at large are finally being stirred by the crisis of the homeless during the pandemic and the barbarity we have seen inflicted upon black citizens? Will this compel us to do what we can to bring change?

All Is Revealed

Jesus himself says in Luke 8:17, “For there is nothing hidden that will not be disclosed, and nothing concealed that will not be known or brought out into the open.”

As God uses these “blacklights” I have mentioned to call out injustice, let this be our prayer of activation as we get “woke”:

“Wake up, sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” Ephesians 5:14

If we will wake up to our indifference, our silence and our sins of omission, God will use us to:

  1. Shine a light (demonstrate truth)
  2. Tear down darkness (evil and lies)
  3. Build bridges of reconciliation 
  4. Become agents of healing 
  5. Love like Jesus

All of this so that everyone–rich or poor, people of every color, will be welcomed to His feast where all are valued, enriched and loved equally. This is how we can be the answer to Jesus’ prayer, “your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”


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New York City Relief Covid-19 Update Video!

Thank you to everyone who supports New York City Relief and our work on the streets with our friends challenged with homelessness! Please keep praying, the war isn’t over. We are fighting for the survival of those most vulnerable. We all need resurrection power right now. Happy Easter!

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Standing With The Homeless On The Frontlines of Covid-19

Mother Teresa once said, “When a poor person dies of hunger, it has not happened because God did not take care of him or her.  It has happened because neither you nor I wanted to give that person what he or she needed.”

Last year, there was a staggering 39 percent increase in the number of homeless people who died in New York City.  From July 2018 to June 2019, over 400 people living on the streets passed away. In the current pandemic, that will pale in comparison for people living on the streets, unless we mobilize and take action now.

Serving hot meals in the Bronx.

March 26, ABC News reported, “New York officials have confirmed the first homeless death from the novel coronavirus, a grim statistic that homeless advocates fear could rise in coming weeks.” 39 people from 12 different shelters in New York City have now been diagnosed with Covid-19.

I am the president and CEO of New York City Relief, a mobile outreach to people struggling with homelessness.  Since 1989, our mission has been to connect people to what they need to have a better life. In this health crisis, we have our hands full serving those most at-risk: the elderly, sickly, addicted and lonely.  They are exposed on the streets with no way to “socially distance” themselves from each other and the infected.

Before the pandemic spread across America, news stories were full of headlines about the homelessness crisis.  New York City has the largest population of people who don’t have permanent housing. Now, over 80,000 people are struggling to find a meal as homeless services are closing when the need is greatest.  The fears are legitimate and we understand workers must be protected. However, during one day of outreach alone last week, we served 800 meals in 3 hours–a new record for our organization.

This tells us where things are headed.

Our staff and volunteers are stepping up to the frontlines during this crisis to help those who cannot help themselves.  Many are putting their health at risk for the sake of strangers who they consider to be their brothers and sisters. They are also potentially putting their families into harm’s way through secondary exposure.  In other words, it’s getting real.  

Now is the time for all New Yorkers to support community-service organizations like New York City Relief that are fighting for our homeless neighbors right outside our doors.  We need extra funds for safety supplies such as masks, gloves, hand sanitizer and forehead thermometers. I am calling on Americans to rise up, as we did after 9/11.  It’s simple: give so that others can live.

The city, state and federal government can only do so much.  It’s time for us all to sacrifice for the sake of the other. When preparing his country to face war, Winston Churchill famously said, “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat.”  It will take spine and grit for us to fight this war against the spread of Covid-19. 

If you are on the fence about helping, maybe this will bring things into focus: 

Helping the homeless helps everyone. 

Flattening the curve for our neighbors on the streets flattens the curve for all of us.

During my 17 year career serving friends challenged with homelessness, I have officiated at funerals for those who died alone on the streets. 

Flattening the curve for our neighbors on the streets flattens the curve for all of us.

If compassionate people step up to do what they can, many of these tragedies can be averted.  We have the power to effect change and protect those in danger. 

Now is the time to act. 

Courage.  We are all in this together.

PLEASE HELP IF YOU CAN. EVERY GIFT COUNTS. To make a donation to support our efforts on the streets, click this link.

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Death On The Streets & Hope For The Future

Recently I helped officiate at the funeral of the father of a good friend of our family. I was honored to say some words of comfort and encouragement to all of the loved ones of this very accomplished man. He wrote his own obituary and it was so inspiring to me that I even followed his example by writing my own.

I have been a minister for many years and I have always told people that I much prefer officiating at funerals rather than weddings. It’s not that I don’t like weddings. It’s just that funerals are an appropriate moment for people to think about death, life and eternity–even for those who don’t consider themselves “religious.” I like to speak into that moment to give comfort, hope and direction on how to prepare for their own death one day. I also like to be there in a time of great need for those who are mourning and need someone to stand up for them in a time of great difficulty.

Juan and friend at Harlem outreach

It’s a gift to me to be of service. I think that’s why I like working at New York City Relief. We get to be there for people during the worst moments of their lives.


I once knew a Haitian man named Freddie who lived in an abandoned building across the street from the New York City Relief headquarters in Elizabeth, NJ. He attended the church I pastored, and I remember imploring him to let me help him get off of the streets. Unfortunately, he didn’t take me up on my offer and one night, Freddie had a seizure in that abandoned building and passed away. I held a funeral service for Freddie and all of his family came to celebrate his life, including a daughter I didn’t even know existed. We sang hymns in Creole, ate Haitian beef patties and I shared the hope of salvation in Jesus Christ. Seven people responded to choose to follow Christ and together we found beauty in ashes.

Even in sorrow, we can find hope. It makes me think of this verse from Psalm 9:18

 “God will never forget the needy;

    the hope of the afflicted will never perish.”

Shocking Statistics

Recently, I read an article about the number of people living on the streets who died in New York City last year. Shockingly, the number of deaths of people experiencing homelessness rose by a staggering 39% over the previous year. From July 2018 to June 2019, 404 people living on the streets passed away.

The number of deaths of people experiencing homelessness rose by a staggering 39%.

Many of these individuals are buried in a potters field on Hart Island, located a few miles offshore from the Bronx. Wikipedia says, “The remains of more than one million people are buried on Hart Island. The dead are buried in trenches. Adults are placed in larger pine boxes placed according to size, and are stacked in sections of 150, measuring three coffins deep in two rows. Inmates from the Rikers Island jail are paid $0.50 per hour to bury bodies on Hart Island.”

The top five causes of deaths of people living on the streets last year were drugs, heart disease, alcoholism, accidents and cancer. Ten of the people committed suicide. The facts are that if you don’t have a place to call home, your life will be shortened by 20 to 30 years. It is tragic for these precious souls to pass away in such dire straits and hidden in anonymity–almost like they never existed. Once upon a time, these men and women were born to parents so eager for their beautiful babies to accomplish their hopes and dreams and experience a wonderful life.

Seeing A Brighter Future

I think it is important to remember the lives of those who died in a state of homelessness in order to acknowledge their value and remember that they are precious in the eyes of God. I believe that this can give us inspiration and courage to do something about those people who are still alive and trying to survive on the streets right now. We don’t have to wait until a funeral comes to honor someone.

NYCR volunteers making friends during outreach

The motto of New York City Relief was borrowed from the United States Airforce Pararescue. It says, “These things we do, that others may live.” I invite you to join us on the streets to build a life-giving relationship with someone who might feel very alone. Show them they matter by giving them your time and a listening ear. We’ll do the trickier part of connecting them to physical resources that they can use to get off of the streets. This is just one way you can help our friends on the streets see a brighter future. 

To volunteer, visit our website at newyorkcityrelief.org/volunteer

Please consider partnering with us by making a gift to help people see a brighter future at newyorkcityrelief.org/donate

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The Final Stretch- Part 14 of STREET PILGRIMAGE

Chapter 14 The Final Stretch

After an exceptionally long week (which is the understatement of the year) of living on the streets of New York City , it was finally the last day of my street pilgrimage. As my experience was concluding, I learned something very valuable from a man who was pretty rude to me. He was suffering from homelessness, and was grumpy from a long night of trying to sleep on the subway train. I wasn’t surprised at his behavior, because having had the exact same experience myself, I could relate and didn’t take his bad attitude personally. What did surprise me was when he actually apologized, leading to a very meaningful encounter…

I saw things during this week living on the streets that I will never forget. Here are a few memories that come to mind: While panhandling outside of Penn Station I saw a man walk by with makeshift sandals constructed from tape. His feet were swollen to the point of disfigurement which made my jaw drop. It was freezing outside and I was shivering. How could he just be wearing pieces of tape? I wanted to yell out, “NO!”, chase him down to find out what was going on and help him immediately, but I was held back. Although It was hard to see him suffering and not do something to help, that’s not why I was out there. I was on a spiritual pilgrimage.  My reason for being there was to understand his pain, not heal it. I felt terrible and powerless. Seeing the man in that condition left me shaken and weepy–probably because I was so exhausted and emotional myself after a week of sleepless nights.

As I walked alone down the sidewalk, I passed a drugstore and saw a little Asian woman curled up on the floor with some plastic sandals on–no socks even. Again I was shaken and wanted to go into savior/rescue mode. This was unacceptable so I looked , grimaced, questioned myself and then moved on. How could I see someone so elderly, frail and vulnerable and not do something to help her? Earlier that morning I saw men sleeping outside on the frigid sidewalk, one without even a blanket. I don’t know how they could stand it. Death was so close for these people and I felt the weight of it.

The homeless situation is worse than you could possibly imagine–people suffering greatly, self-destructing slowly or quickly like human time bombs. Despite all of this heartache, I also saw Jesus working amongst the lives of the burned out and brokenhearted. There was beauty hidden beneath the ashes. That week I experienced brokenness myself at a whole new level, but also experienced God’s presence along with peace and joy–a bittersweet experience that is still changing me. Your soul cannot be exposed to the depth of the human condition that I had encountered and come away unchanged. It reminds me of a quote by Bryan Stevenson in his book, Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption.

“There is a strength, a power even, in understanding brokenness, because embracing our brokenness creates a need and desire for mercy, and perhaps a corresponding need to show mercy. When you experience mercy, you learn things that are hard to learn otherwise. You see things you can’t otherwise see; you hear things you can’t otherwise hear. You begin to recognize the humanity that resides in each of us.”

Allowing myself to feel others pain was changing me. Although I had worked amongst the houseless for 16 years at that point, I could feel my heart of stone turning into a heart of flesh. I had compassion before, sure, but this was another level that the master potter was using to shape my heart to resemble his. 

The Father’s Heart

That last morning, I went to a place called The Father’s Heart for breakfast. Since 1997, this ministry has operated many programs helping people move from dependency to dignity and from poverty to prosperity. I was just there because I was hungry and boy was I glad that I had picked this place to eat.

When I arrived, there was a line running all the way down the block (see above). A regular volunteer named Jesse went out of his way to engage me while I waited in line. Jesse was exceptionally friendly and even prayed for me. When I finally got inside, the place was packed and jumping. They had 150 happy volunteers serving a hot breakfast to about 300 people. The eggs and hashbrowns were delicious.

As I sat down to eat breakfast, I kept my head down because my parents had been friends with the founders, Pastors Chuck and Carol Vedral for a long time (See Pastor Chuck above). They knew me and I didn’t want to be spotted and found out. As I ate my sumptuous breakfast, one of the staff, named Pastor Terry was befriending some men sitting next to me. He was pouring out love on them and was so encouraging. He was so genuine and the men could tell he was being real. This was my kind of place. The Father’s Heart truly lived up to their name.

After breakfast, I left to go panhandle in Washington Square Park (see picture below). I found a good spot under the famous arch. After not too long, a man pushed a full-sized piano in there next to me and started playing classical music. He was quite talented and the music reverberating off of the inside of the arch was sublime. He invited some of the crowd to lay under the piano (see photo above) to hear the beautiful sound of the piano resonating off the instrument and the concrete surfaces around it. I raised $16 and 2 hand warmers that morning. The pianist gave me $5, which I thought to be exceptionally kind of him.

St Joe’s

I stayed in lower Manhattan that day in order to visit St. Joseph’s Church for lunch. It was located only a block from Washington Square Park at 6th Avenue and Washington Place. I discovered St. Joe’s through a directory of New York City soup kitchens called Street Smarts. This booklet was a godsend to me as it provided a map (see above) showing every organization in the city that served hot meals. New York City Relief has been distributing these booklets to people for years, but this week it was keeping me fed. To my delight, I discovered that not only was the food delectable at St. Joe’s, but the customer service was excellent too. The team there decorated the whole dining hall for St. Patrick’s Day (see below), including the volunteers wearing silly green hats. Instead of the room being a dark dismal basement like some places, they had transformed the space into an uplifting environment. I can tell you as a recipient of their creative efforts, these personal touches matter. 

I sat down next to a disheveled looking man with a tired face and tried to make small talk. He was grumpy and callously gave me the brush off. Afterwards, he said that he was sorry for acting that way. The man explained that he was exhausted from sleeping on the train the previous night. I told him that I could relate to his experience and that I hated trying to sleep on a moving train. I remarked that I had stayed at the New York City Rescue Mission that week and liked it much better I liked it. The man replied, “Yeah, but you have to go in by a certain time.” I agreed with him, but related how much I enjoyed the hot shower and comfy bunk. 

I told the man that I had slept in Port Authority the night before and that it was preferable to the subway shaking me awake while it bounced down the tracks. He liked that idea and remembered seeing people sleep there before. I taught him the trick that a man named Jacques had taught me to avoid getting hassled by the police. Jacques and his wife are house painters who sleep on the streets during slow periods like winter when there isn’t much work available. 

I explained that if he bought a cheap NJ Transit train ticket, the authorities wouldn’t toss him out of the waiting area into the cold night. The man asked how much the ticket had cost and I replied, “$3.50.” I gave him my ticket to use and said that I wasn’t planning on staying there that night anyway. He was touched by my gift and quite thankful. I offhandedly asked if he’d heard of The Relief Bus. He wasn’t sure. I gave him a New York City Relief connection card and told him the organization had great soup and free socks, hoping that he would drop by the outreach sometime. This connection card is a tool NYCR uses to communicate the times and locations of all of our weekly outreaches. (Download and print your own!)

Had we not continued our conversation, it could have been very easy for me to base my opinion of the man on his first impression. His initial behavior was awful and he didn’t seem like a very nice person. This is how many people struggling with homelessness get judged–at their very worst moment. It reminds me of a quote by Brennan Manning in his book, The Wisdom of Tenderness.

“Most of the time we’re wrong in our judgement of others. The tragedy is that our attention centers on what people are not, rather than what they are and who they might become.”

Once I took the time to slowly and gently nudge my way through the man’s walls, he softened and I found that he wasn’t a bad guy at all, just incredibly tired. After we pressed through the awkwardness, I could start to see who he really was, and even who he might become. By being patient, I had made a friend.

Sonya, Back From The Dead

After lunch, I made my way towards Penn Station to begin my long awaited return home. In Penn, I met a lady in a wheelchair who was begging for change. The woman looked like she had experienced some serious trials in life. I was drawn to her at that moment and knew I was supposed to connect on a human level, not just coldly hand her some coins. I did give her all of the loose change that I had collected that week. It must have weighed several pounds and been worth more than $10. She was extremely grateful for the gift. I asked the woman her name and she said, “Sonya”. I told Sonya that I was helping her out because God had helped me out. 

Those few moments we spent together were quite poignant. Sonya told me some intimate details of her life–that she had died once, but had been revived. She had prayed that God would keep her alive for the sake of her husband and 6 kids. Fortunately, her prayers were answered. I asked Sonya how I could pray for her and discovered that she lived with her sister, but her “jerk brother-in-law” wanted to kick her out. I prayed for God to help Sonya in her difficult circumstances and gave her a New York City Relief connection card

It turned out Sonya knew our organization from an outreach she had formerly frequented in the Bronx. She explained that she currently lived near our Harlem outreach site and would gladly visit The Relief Bus the following Saturday. 

Being loved can get you through almost anything and not feeling loved could be the worst hell you could ever experience. 

One Track Mind

As I left Sonya and made my way through Penn Station to find my train, the transit hub was overflowing with St. Patrick’s Day parade-goers all dressed in green and ready to party the night away. I didn’t give them a thought as I had only one thing on my mind. I couldn’t believe that I was finally on my way home. I couldn’t wait to see my family. Each evening, as I had tried desperately to fall asleep on the streets, subway or shelters, I had thought of my wife and children as I attempted to drift into unconsciousness. 

Unlike the many people who I had met struggling to survive on the streets, I had people to anchor my soul to who were thinking about me and praying for me. These thoughts brought comfort and helped me get through those trying, uncomfortable nights. I knew that many others weren’t so fortunate. It was an important lesson to remember–that being loved can get you through almost anything and not feeling loved could be the worst hell you could ever experience. This highlights how demonstrating compassion and friendship to people who are alone in their terrific hardships could be one of the most significant acts you ever perform. 

Prior to my street pilgrimage, this passage from the the book of Lamentations was conceptual to me, but through my encounters with the people I met struggling to survive each day, it became more real and tangible: 

“The thought of my suffering and homelessness is bitter beyond words. I will never forget this awful time, as I grieve over my loss. Yet I still dare to hope when I remember this: The faithful love of the LORD never ends! His mercies never cease.” Lamentations 3:19-22 NLT

Stay tuned for my next article in my Street Pilgrimage series titled, Home Sweet Home.

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Corban’s YWAM Mission Trip

My son Corban is a great young man who has decided to serve others on the mission field. Please take a look at his newsletter below and consider partnering with him. Click here to see a video of him telling all about it and see how to give online. Thanks!

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Any Port In A Storm- Part 13 of STREET PILGRIMAGE


My final night of living on the streets of New York City during my spiritual pilgrimage was spent desperately trying to sleep on the floor of the Port Authority Bus Terminal (see left). Like most nights that week, it seemed to go on forever and yet I could never get enough sleep. It was very difficult and like all the people struggling with homelessness surrounding me, I was willing to take any port in a storm…

Grunge And Glory
That day I been panhandling in front of Trump Tower on 5th Avenue. After I was done there I made my way to a quiet, hidden place just blocks away. It was a public, indoor seating area with bathrooms that most people don’t know exists in New York City. It was an oasis for someone like me who badly needed a warm place to rest after a long day on my feet. It was a clean, safe spot for a grungy guy like me to recharge.

Throughout my week on the streets I was diligently seeking God through prayer, listening and reading. I only brought a few items with me that week and one was a new book by Jack Deere titled, Even In Our Darkness. I had this book sitting in my home for a while, but hadn’t read it. I felt that God wanted me to bring it.

As I read the book that day, I strongly felt the presence of God. It was sort of an out-of-body experience. It’s hard to describe how it feels when you experience the Holy Spirit in such a powerful and tangible way. Although my body was achey and depleted from life on the streets, at this moment my body and emotions were overwhelmed with his pleasure and love. It felt like waves of pleasure rolling over me. By the way, although this has happened to me before, it doesn’t happen to me very often. I wish! It was an answer to my prayers for this week-long experience, because my ultimate goal for this pilgrimage was not to understand what the poor are going through (although that did happen), but to come closer than ever to Jesus. I believed that if I drew close to the poor, that I would invariably end up drawing closer to God himself. That is exactly what happened.

Jack Deere’s book was such a perfect companion to me that week. The book was both heart-wrenching and inspiring. In it, he described the story of his success as a leading scholar, popular speaker and author while also suffering through losing his son to suicide and his wife to alcoholism. It was a powerful tale of healing in the midst of tragedy. I had seen Jack Deere speak before and there was something disarming and warming about his genuineness and authenticity that drew me in like I was having an intimate coffee with a best friend. God was using this book to draw me into his heart. (Buy the book!)

Along with the book I was reading a lot of scripture every day from a Gideon Bible I had been given at the New York City Rescue Mission. That day, a few scriptures really stood out to me and were actually prophetic in my life:

“If you seek Him, He will be found by you.” 2 Chronicles 15:2

As I was seeking the Lord that week I was truly encountering his wisdom, vision, grace, mercy and power. I went on to read 2 Chronicles 16:9:

“The eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth to show himself strong on behalf of those whose heart is loyal to Him.”

This felt like a promise to me that God was going to provide everything needed to fulfill his vision for New York City Relief–not only finances to keep gas in The Relief Buses, put food into hungry people’s stomachs and give a working wage for our hard working staff, but the spiritual and emotional strength needed to overcome whatever obstacles might come our way. I felt God specifically tell me to partner with more churches to accomplish our mission. That is exactly what I ended up doing over the next year and experienced a lot of favor from churches ready to link arms and partner with us to bring love and grace to those experiencing homelessness. With the help of church partners we even produced a video highlighting the power of partnering with New York City Relief to transform the church and our friends on the streets.

IMG112Transient In Transit
In considering where I was going to spend my last night in New York City, I decided to use my new friend Jacques’ advice and sleep inside the Port Authority Bus Terminal where many people find shelter every night (see left). He taught me how to buy a cheap bus ticket so that the police wouldn’t at worst arrest me or at best kick me out of the bus station into the cold. It can get down into the 30’s at night in March. I decided to give Jacques a call to see if he would be at Port Authority himself that night. I had been alone for days, so it would be nice to see a friendly face. There was also more safety in having someone to watch my back in the middle of the night when bad things can happen. Fortunately, I got ahold of Jacques and we made plans to meet later.

pa exterior

The Port Authority Bus Terminal (see left) is the largest in the United States and the busiest in the world by volume of traffic, serving about 8,000 buses and 225,000 people on an average weekday and more than 65 million people a year. How was I going to get a wink of sleep in such a busy public place and why would so many people experiencing homelessness choose to stay there at night?

Unfortunately, according to the NY Daily News (and many of my friends who have stayed in public city shelters) this is why,

“Rats, bedbugs and violence plague the city’s dysfunctional and overcrowded shelter system, built to house people temporarily but now straining under the weight of an expanding crisis. Nearly every homeless person the Daily News interviewed detailed stories of fighting, filth and widespread thievery at shelters. Some had even worse horror stories. Jermaine Williams, 39, a Brooklyn native who’s been homeless for a decade, said he was once awakened by a man masturbating in his face at the homeless shelter on Bedford Ave.

“Outside Penn Station Monday night, Charmain, 41, swore she would never return to a shelter. “I’m not going. They’re going to have to lock me up. The streets are a lot safer. I almost got raped (in a shelter)”, said the woman, who’s been homeless for a year.”

I arrived at Port Authority to find Jacques charging his phone at a charging station while his wife slept on the floor. He told me that his wife was bipolar and self-medicated with tobacco mixed with marijuana. If she didn’t smoke regularly she would flip out. He said even their doctor told him to just let her smoke. Jacques’ wife was stable enough most of the time to paint homes with him and they work regularly when it’s warmer out. She kept her face completely covered with fabric and I asked him if it was because they were religious. He said she just doesn’t want people looking at her. They have been together for 15 years, and married for 5.

Unlike most of the homeless I saw living in the transit stations, Jacques doesn’t drink. Jacques also told me he doesn’t panhandle because it would make his wife too sad. One time they fell asleep at Grand Central and woke up to lots of food and money that people had put down around them. He used the money to buy weed for his wife to keep her calm. Once, some guy even handed him a bottle of expensive whiskey. He doesn’t want to fall into the trap of using alcohol as a coping mechanism, so he gave it away to a homeless guy who was in turn ecstatic.

Not having a drinking problem helps Jacques gain favor with the police. As we were talking, the police came through waking everyone up. Before they could get to his wife, he headed them off to let them know that he was her husband. He woke her up, and as soon as the police left five minutes later, she laid back down and went to sleep.

A little ways down the terminal, I watched the police try to rouse a man. He would not wake up, so they physically picked him up by the arms and carried/dragged him out of the station. I wouldn’t sat that they were too rough–just doing their job. Left behind was a grey wool blanket, which I quickly snatched to use as a mat to sleep on. It was pure instinct, because I was imagining laying my head on the bare, hard floor all night.

Jacques couldn’t go downstairs yet to the Greyhound waiting area until his wife got up and went for a smoke. I was exhausted, so I headed downstairs alone. I put my mat down on the floor in the waiting area and began to read. A man asleep on the floor near me had his boots off and his feet smelled up the entire waiting area. I don’t mean that it smelled a little. It was like toxic fumes that would make your eyes water.

A bus passenger asked the man if he could put his boots back on, but he said they had gotten wet, so he had to let them dry out some. She, along with another passenger, relocated to some seats a little farther away to escape the feet fumes. Thankfully the man did eventually put his boots back on which helped tremendously. Honestly, I could have put with it, but it made everyone else nauseous.

I laid down on my mat, took off my own boots (no shame!), wrapped myself in my blanket and tried to fall asleep. I understood why the other man took off his boots and sympathized. My feet were hot, swollen and my boots were very uncomfortable to wear when trying to sleep. With all of the people around me, both homeless and travelers, it took a while. Even though it was late, there were a lot of people in the Greyhound waiting area. Regularly, loud announcements blasted over the PA system informing people of travel information. I finally fell asleep around 12:30am. At 1:30am the cleaning crew and police woke everyone up so that they could sweep and mop the floor. I stood along with everyone else watching them clean and waiting for our opportunity to get back into the passenger waiting area and catch more sleep.

Port Authority

I did finally pass out, but at 5:15am I woke up needing to go to the bathroom. After that I could not fall asleep again, so I headed upstairs and bought a coffee at Dunkin’ donuts with a gift card that someone on the street had given me while I was panhandling. Boy, was I thankful for that coffee.

As difficult as it was to sleep in Port Authority that night, I reflected that it was actually better than some of the other places I had stayed at which were run by the city of New York like The Main Chance drop-in center. No wonder some people opted to sleep on the hard cement floor here in this busy hub. All of the people who had laid on the floor next to me that night were refugees from who knows what kind of crisis and disaster in their lives. Joining their ranks was eye opening and reminded me once again of how Jesus joined our ranks and chose to align himself with us, despite our many flaws.

Many countries around the world struggle with abject poverty and homelessness. It is more difficult to understand how such a wealthy country like America can fail to help our most vulnerable citizens. I see this as an enormous opportunity for the American Church (big C!) to take our place as those who would come not in judgment, but in compassion to help lift up the broken and the burdened of our society.

I hope that I can be a friend to the downtrodden, the way that Jacques was to me. I hope that I can be Jesus to others the way that Jacques was to me. So often, God doesn’t call the qualified, he qualifies the called. It took sleeping in Port Authority to see that even clearer. You and I can be a port in the storm, whom others can run to in time of crisis. Like Jesus, we can speak peace and command that storm to be still. “Port Authority” has taken on a whole new meaning to me. We have been authorized and commissioned by Jesus to be a place of refuge for those in trouble.

Stay tuned for part 14 of my STREET PILGRIMAGE series titled, The Final Stretch.

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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:


“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.


“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.”


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.


“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.”


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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Getting INSIDE The Box Is The New Getting “Outside The Box”

I awoke at 1:30am in a parking lot. The pouring rain was starting to drench my sleeping bag as I lay inside of a cardboard box. I had to find a new place to sleep and fast! This was going to be a long night. Read on to find out how I got myself into this uncomfortable predicament…


Have you ever read one of the most bewildering stories in the Bible about a man who amazed Jesus? It’s one of those head scratching scenarios where the “bad guy” became the hero. No one could have seen this coming.

Take a look at this story through a paraphrase I wrote many years ago in a book titled, The Street Bible:

Jesus went to Capernaum and an officer in the Roman army came by. The officer said, “Chief, one of my favorite employees is in critical condition. He can’t move and he’s in a lot of pain.”

Jesus said, “Come on, I’ll go heal him right now.”

The officer retorted, “Chief, I’m not worthy for you to come to my place. Besides, you could just heal him long distance from where you stand. When I tell my soldiers to jump, they ask, ‘HOW HIGH, SIR!?’ My men respond instantly and know better than to mess with the boss. It’s the same way with you and anyone’s sickness. That sickness just doesn’t stand a chance. You the man.”

Now it was Jesus’ turn to have his mind blown. He said to everybody standing around, “This is the only person I’ve met who really believes there are no limits to My power and abilities! A lot of religious folks who should be believers like this guy just aren’t. When they die, they’ll try to get a spot with their crowd, but will be surprised by getting the boot instead.”

He told the officer, “You asked for it, you got it.” Sure enough, his employee was healed right when Jesus said that.–Matthew 8:5-13 (The Street Bible)

In this narrative, a man who should have been an enemy, an oppressor and religiously repugnant (unclean according to Jewish law) turned out to be the role model who Jesus affirms as having more faith than anyone in Israel. Say what?! This was the modern-day equivalent of pointing out the astounding spiritual walk of a member of ISIS. It was highly offensive and broke every political, religious and cultural rule there was at the time.

This was the modern-day equivalent of pointing out the astounding spiritual walk of a member of ISIS.

centurion (1)The man in question was a Roman centurion in charge of 100 men. He received high praise indeed for someone who was a foreigner hated by the Israelites and a member of the brutal occupying force dominating Jesus’ people. It’s easy to distance ourselves from the story and miss the outrageous audacity of the centurion and of Jesus in this situation. We would be wrong to imagine that Jesus is just speaking in hyperbole and maybe overstating his assessment of the Roman. On the contrary, I believe that Jesus is still pointing us to this anti-hero today so that we might follow in his footsteps.

What would cause Jesus to make such an outlandishly grandiose assessment of the centurion’s spiritual strength? I think it’s not just how he believed Jesus could heal, but the heart motivating him to ask Jesus to heal in the first place.

Courageously Crossing Boundaries
This Roman’s actions crossed every cultural, socioeconomic and racial boundary that existed at that time in order to connect with Jesus and save his servant’s life. He did this at risk of his reputation and status. Roman rule was all about retaining control through a power structure of dominant authority over their subjects.

As a Roman soldier, he had the power to simply force a Jew to do what he wanted. For example, there was a common practice of “impressment” which allowed a Roman soldier to force a Jewish native to carry his equipment for one Roman mile, about 1,611 yards. This was no small task considering a Roman soldier’s backpack could weigh upwards of 100 pounds.

This was most probably what Jesus was referring to in Matthew 5:41 when he said, “If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles.” Jesus taught that even if you were unjustly forced to serve a Roman, go above and beyond to serve that person the best you can. That’s what love does. Paradoxically, the Roman went above and beyond for an underling who was powerless and vulnerable. Again, that’s what love does.

By lauding the man, Jesus was welcoming those listening to follow the Roman into a new reality where, “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)


Soggy Boxes
Recently, I participated in an unconventional event with Liquid Church in Parsippany, NJ. My two sons and I joined 575 other people in sleeping outside in cardboard boxes in the church parking lot. It was an effort to join in solidarity with those who have no place to call home. Each participant was handed a cardboard box and some duct tape to construct their temporary shelter. Many wrote scriptures on their ramshackle structures like, “For there will never cease to be poor in the land. Therefore, I command you, you shall open wide your hand to you brother, to the needy, and to the poor in your land…” Deuteronomy 15:11. Another person wrote, “Break our hearts with what breaks yours.”











In the middle of the night, the rain poured down on the cardboard city and drenched all of us. We retreated to the church lobby where we sprawled out on the hard, concrete floors. It was difficult, smelly and beautiful as we experienced a little bit of the hardship of others while raising funds and awareness for our brothers and sisters on the streets. It was a tough, but meaningful experience for many of the participants.


One woman commented, “After this, I won’t be looking at people challenged with homelessness in the same way. Though I had sympathy for them before, I now have empathy too. I will make an effort to look them in their eyes and let them know I see them and I will try to do what I can to help them.” Another participant noted, “”Such a great event. It’s changed my perspective on who is homeless. I thought they had a choice. Now it doesn’t matter why they are homeless – it only matters how I help. No judgement!”

It took getting into a literal box for the participants to get “out of the box” of how they viewed people living on the streets.



I love my job as president of New York City Relief, a mobile outreach to people struggling with homelessness. I get to encourage people to come and treat others like gold, who many times get treated like garbage. Volunteers are stunned to meet Jesus through people who have been stigmatized and stereotyped as dangerous and to be avoided. On the contrary, when volunteers make friends with people living on the streets, the faulty social constructs crumble revealing a God who embraces everyone equally. It can be shocking to folks on both sides as common ground and genuine affection is discovered. Love melts judgment away as hearts intertwine.

Are there any cultural, socioeconomic or racial boundaries that you need to cross in order to encounter the power of God? If you want to be a part of making miracles happen like the centurion did, this might be your ticket. Are you ready to step deep into the lives of others who are different than you in almost every way? This is the way of great men and women of faith. Love compels them to get in the box with people in crisis.

Ultimate Authority
Why was Jesus so greatly impressed by the centurion’s request for help? One clue is found in James 4:3, “When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.”

The centurion rightly ascertained Jesus’ authority, because his heart’s desire was not to advance or profit himself in any way. The Roman walked in the Spirit as he embodied the greatest commandment, to love his neighbor as himself. This was a man of war trained in the ways of an empire that ruled with an iron fist, but the conqueror had been conquered by God’s love. This unbelievable love that he enjoyed gave him the unwavering confidence that Jesus could heal anyone, anytime.

Two thousand years ago, this centurion understood and embodied a truth that many of us struggle with today in the 21st century:

“Those of us who are strong and able in the faith need to step in and lend a hand to those who falter, and not just do what is most convenient for us. Strength is for service, not status. Each one of us needs to look after the good of the people around us, asking ourselves, “How can I help?”” Romans 15:1-2 (The Message)

The Kingdom of God was being manifested in this sacred moment. Jesus took advantage of the opportunity to point out this outsider as being one of the holiest men in the country. It’s hard to emphasize just how outrageous and scandalous this would have sounded to the listeners.

Through this true story, Jesus welcomes us to embrace one of our main purposes on the earth: to serve God by serving others, especially the weak. Like the centurion, will we lay down our wealth, power and position for the sake of the broken?

It’s time to get in the box like Jesus did when he left heaven and came to earth to be with people in trouble like us. It’s uncomfortable and maybe soggy, but this is where transformation happens. Ironically, this is how we can get “out of the box” of our self-absorption and small thinking to become the people God designed us to be. Bring on the cardboard and duct tape!

To watch a video of the message titled, Making Space At The Table that I preached at Liquid Church the morning after the big sleep out click here.

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One Of The Best Days Of My Life-Part 11 of STREET PILGRIMAGE

On my sixth day of living on the streets of New York City, I didn’t expect it to be one of the best days of my life. It certainly didn’t start out that way…

I woke up that morning in the New York City Rescue Mission emergency shelter and my talkative bunk mate below me wasn’t so talkative. He was sick as a dog and looked feverish. Throughout the night many men throughout the 100-person bunk room were coughing. As you can imagine, the health of those struggling with homelessness is very poor and when it gets cold outside things get even worse. The man I was about to meet at breakfast was an absolute physical disaster.

His name was Jim and he had just spent his first night at the shelter. He was thin, gaunt, scruffy and a little hard to understand. Jim had just arrived from Boston on a bus the night before and his physical condition broke my heart. He looked fragile, like he wasn’t going to make it long on the streets. Jim asked if he could partner up with me for the morning to learn the ropes in NYC. I said, “Sure” and found it interesting that even though I was a “new guy” on the streets, I would now serve as a consultant to someone even newer than me.

Jim had on hospital scrub pants that were filthy and a hospital wristband. I asked him about it and he told me that he had diabetes. He had gotten so sick that he had someone call an ambulance for him, then stayed overnight at a hospital.

On our way out of the mission, Jim dug through his bag and pulled out some old food of which he ate big mouthfuls. He wanted to store his bag at the mission, but they don’t do that. He said it was too heavy to lug around so he would stash it outside somewhere. I was afraid it would get stolen, so I told him I would carry it.

My plan was to take Jim to a New York City Relief outreach located at Chelsea Park on 28th & 9th to get him some help. On our way out the door, the front desk guys at this mission smelled him and thought he hadn’t showered which is against the rules. Jim said he did shower. I told him it must be his clothes which looked filthy. I noticed that he had a bottle of booze in his bag which was against the rules.

Even though it wasn’t clothing distribution day, the staff kindly got him a fresh pair of pants and shirt. One of the staff explained that Jim had defecated on himself last night and it had gotten on his pants. The staff asked me to explain to him that he couldn’t let that happen for the sake of everyone else’s health and that they keep the facility very clean.

Jim and JuanAfter waiting forever for Jim to change clothes they shooed us out. We only made it a few steps down the sidewalk before he started begging people for cigarettes. I told Jim that we needed to leave to get to Penn Station to panhandle, but he said he would meet me later. He was determined to find someone to give him a cigarette. I gave his bag back and told Jim that the mission staff warned that if he had another incident like last night he would have to leave to get proper medical care. He brushed me off and I left. Jim has become degraded to the point that he literally lives moment to moment. He was a shell of a person. I thought I could help him by partnering up for the day, but it didn’t last long. I was quite sad to part ways with him. Ironically, I met him again later that year at the same outreach location that I had wanted to take him to. (See photo above left)

I made my way to Penn Station where I begged outside for an hour. By the end of the hour, I was freezing and had to go inside to warm up. I had collected $7.50 and four hand warmers. Once inside the station, I dug through some trash cans to find a clean New York Post to read. I ate an apple leftover from last night’s dinner and journaled about my night’s experience.

At lunchtime, I headed over to the Holy Apostle soup kitchen which is the largest soup kitchen in the city. As I sat around the table I asked the people around me about the white bus across the street. I was, of course, talking about New York City Relief’s outreach vehicle known as The Relief Bus. The men shared with me that the soup was excellent and most were going over to get some after lunch. The man sitting next to me said that they give gifts out of the back of the bus. I asked what the gifts were and he said socks and hygiene items.

I saw my friend June at another table and went over to chat. (Read June’s story in Part 2, Night Train) She said that she had been looking for me all week and was wondering how I was doing. There was a nice elderly man next to her who started talking my ear off. It was obvious that he was very hungry for conversation. I chatted with him and June about my experiences sleeping in the various shelters that week. I admitted that my toughest night had been trying to sleep on the same subway car as June. The man’s need to talk reminded me of something Outreach Leader Lauren Lee had said:

“New York City Relief is combatting relationship starvation for folks facing homelessness. Men, women, and children living in the streets, shelters, and even subways are deprived of meaningful relationships and it affects every part of their lives. A lot of our friends on the streets have a hard time experiencing hope. We provide meaningful conversations, develop deep relationships, and strive to bring relief to our neighbors struggling in homelessness.”

As we parted ways, I watched June drag her broken suitcase down the street and was deeply troubled by her labored efforts. I knew that I had to do something to help this sweet friend of mine.

As I walked down the street I found myself in the fashion district where all the stores on the block sold fancy purses. I wondered if some of the stores might have rolling suitcases. I did find such a store where a nice Asian woman showed me some bags. I talked her down on the price from $50 to $45 and we struck a deal on a very nice pink hard-shell rolling suitcase. The bag looked feminine and just the kind that June might like. I was off to Penn Station to find her.

I gave her the new suitcase and she was utterly shocked and hugged me.

I found June in her normal spot at the New Jersey Transit waiting area. I gave her the new suitcase and she was utterly shocked and hugged me. I explained to her that I had purchased it with the panhandling money I had collected that week. I told June that she was a good friend to me that it wasn’t right for her to have to drag around a broken suitcase. She said that people had stolen her bags many times over the years, but that they weren’t going to get this one. June was so thankful that it pierced my soul in a way that was unexpected. It reminds me of another story that Lauren Lee had shared about a friend of hers named Warren (See photo of Warren and Lauren below):


“Warren has one of the most soft and genuine souls. For over a year now he has kept a gratitude journal and every week he would walk over to Chelsea Park to tell me everything he was grateful for that week and every week what he shared would be different. Warren has taught me that no matter how little we might have, there is always something to be grateful for.

“Warren sees the beauty in the person just not the beautiful of the person. So grateful to be learning from such a wise brother of mine.”

What Lauren shared reminds me of the verse in James 2:5,

“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?”

I know that I have a lot to learn from people who are rich in faith like Warren.


June suitcase

The next day I saw June sitting in Penn Station and because her vision is so poor, she didn’t see me. June touched her new suitcase over and over–stroking it and moving the handle up and down. (See photo at left) It was obviously a priceless treasure to her, which brought me to tears. Who knows when she had last owned something new? It was a reminder that she is loved and she is special-worth nice new things.

It’s hard to describe how grateful I am that God led me to help June. It was a moving experience that I will never forget. When you experience the love and compassion of God, it changes you forever. I felt the heart of Jesus for June, but also for myself. He came after me when I was broken and alone. He came to love me and bless me with everything I could never earn or deserve. He gave me everything my heart had ever craved for and his love restored my weary soul. Although I was having a rough week living on the streets of New York City, that day turned out to be one of the best days of my life.

Stay tuned for my next article, Flabbergasted On Fifth Avenue-Part 12 of STREET PILGRIMAGE.

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