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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