"... `Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.'"
Her body reeked of alcohol and urine and her hair was oily and matted. Unusually long fingernails created an eerie vibe about her and her eyes caused you to quiver a little. This was my first impression of her and I didn't expect to ever see her again. Many people visited our church once for a free sandwich while passing through. I assumed she would be one of these people. Or was it that I was hoping this was the case? Never-the-less I walked up to her and introduced myself and did my best to show her the love of Jesus by engaging in a bit of conversation. As a team we knew that we had to go beyond the polite 'how are you' and show that we genuinely care. She enjoyed having a listening ear and kept my ear busy until I had to politely end the conversation to go into church. I invited her to join us but she wasn't interested. She picked up yet another free sandwich and walked out.
Much to my surprise she started coming to church regularly to get as much as she could from us. Her manner was rude and she was clearly a heavy drinker. We reached a point where we received many complaints about her and were considering asking her not to come as she was taking more than her fair share of sandwiches on Sunday, leaving others with empty stomachs. She never stayed for the full service and never showed any interest in God. Many came for the free sandwiches only and we did our best to show them love. She was different though, her heart was hard and her intentions were clear. Most importantly she was damaging the atmosphere that we had worked so hard to create in the coffee lounge. Eric & I discussed how to deal with this situation and thought it may be best to ask her not to come. We justified this decision by saying that our other sheep needed us to protect them. It seemed right in our eyes and in other team members eyes, however we still needed to consult God. Eric and I prayed and came back with an entirely different solution!
Luke 6:28 "bless those who curse you, and pray for those who spitefully use you."
It seems God had another solution, an uncomfortable one, a bit more messy than the one we had planned. We obediently did what the Bible said and we began praying for her. As a result we also began paying closer attention to her, loving her beyond our natural ability and we paid extra affection to her. We learned of her difficult life. How she was an unwanted child of a prostitute. Having grown up in a children's home, she learned to take care of herself as best she could. Life threw some nasty challenges her way, including abusive relationships which I am sure hardened the wall around her heart even more. I grew fond of her. My heart was overwhelmed with love for her. She became precious to me. God gave me a glimpse of how He felt about her. We invited her to our home for meals, we threw a birthday party for her, we included her in our life. Slowly she started staying for church worship and then she stayed a little longer and started listening to the sermons. Finally she gave in completely and came for setup to help and stayed until pack down to help clean up. One particular Sunday after the worship I looked into her teary eyes and listened to how God was working in her life. She didn't say what you would expect, there is no miraculous, dramatic conversation to report. It was in her eyes, the lamp of her body. Something significant had happened inside of her that morning and my heart melted as I witnessed first hand what God was doing. Just to think that a few months ago we had written her off and were going to ask her to stop coming and taking all the sandwiches.
The past two weeks Eric & I needed to take a break from our Church duties to refresh our batteries, so we asked people to cover the midweek events for us. There was no one available so we informed our Thursday coffee group that we would have to cancel for two weeks as no one was available to lead the group. As you probably guessed it, this group wasn't cancelled, this precious lady offered to lead the group. I was thrilled and immediately agreed to her offer. She was a bit baffled and took a moment to assure me that she would not steal the funds from me that I gave her to buy coffee. I replied by saying that the thought never crossed my mind, I trust her. She looked puzzled and continued to reassure me of her intentions. I left the group in her capable hands and had a little break with my family for two weeks.
This past Sunday she walked up to me and I hardly recognised her, she looked radiant. Something happened, something changed. I had observed a gradual change in her appearance since we started praying for her. Her manners had come a long way too. This Sunday was different though, something significant had shifted inside of her. I gave her the biggest hug ever, I am so very proud of her. What we saw as a lost cause, Jesus calls precious. What a mother didn't want, God calls daughter. This lady has only begun her new life and is only starting to let God in, but I see her beautiful and bright future ahead of her. She went from being a street drunk to a leader in eight months, who knows what else God has install for her.
It is simply unbelievable to see what God is doing in our Church. I am going to be blunt, please don't be offended but there is no other way to say it! Most Christians that come to our church from other churches complain a lot and make excuses to do nothing. They tell us what to do and how to run the church. When given opportunities to get involved and help us, most of them don't last more than a month. They are too busy debating theology or questioning our methods. In the meantime street people are being saved, delivered from drug addictions, finding jobs and homes and finding life in Jesus. They are soaking up the teaching, getting stuck into church life and are so grateful for all that God is doing. They have no complaints or excuses! I am pleased to report that people are finding life in Christ while others who have known Christ for years have lost the joy of their salvation. It saddens me and the more I pray for labourers the more I realised that these street people are the answer to my prayer. Today, for the sake of privacy, I am going to name her Princess. Please pray for Princess this week, please believe with me that she has a bright future ahead of her and pray that she will no longer live in the enemies lies and plan for her life but in God's plan. Soon I will report back to you on Princess's progress. Please pray for the Christians in Gloucester, please pray that they wake up from their apathy and slumber. We so desperately need labourers to help us take care of all these precious people and the very people we thought we could rely on and too busy complaining and making exuses. Our existing leadership team consists of teenagers and street people! God bless these precious people.