In the news this morning for Trenton, “…police received a call regarding a female screaming for help around 11:11p.m… they found a woman who appears to have suffered from multiple stab wounds.” They found her dead. The police have no leads, no description of the attacker.
This happened just a few blocks from where we do ministry. The article though brief and without much detail left me hurting, naturally, for the woman who had died. I just can’t conceive of a death like that, can’t imagine it. I can’t imagine calling for help because you are dying in that manner. Calling for help only to have none arrive, to be found dead, no help arriving in time. Horrible, it’s evil what happens in this place at times.
Earlier in the week in the “Homicide Watch” a member of our ministry found an article that caught her attention because we knew the offenders mentioned. The article mentioned two teens, both of which we met, one of which our ministry knew and was actively trying to reach, they were arrested for Human Trafficking and a number of other serious charges involving a 12 year old girl. Crushing.
We had known of the character of one of these teens, but hadn’t imagined it was as dark as this. His violent tendencies were known to us, but I also saw him struggling to be better. He always said hello to me, always treated me with respect, even when I was pressing down on him about his lifestyle, but I could never seem to reach him deeply enough to break through.
With my mind on all this, before heading out to study with the folks at the train station this morning, before any ministry in fact, prayer is a must; to cleanse my heart before the Lord, to place the day, my walk and the results of the days effort into the hands of the Lord, to ask the Lord to work before, through and in me and this morning after seeing that article and considering the prior week I was feeling a bit down so prayer for me was even more important.
Certainly the cloudiness of the morning and rain sets a mood, but considering the darkness we have seen this past week, I was feeling a bit low this morning during my prayers and time with the Lord.
Prayers completed, I set out, and often before studies with our folks living on the streets, I sometimes get into the city early to survey the area, to see who is out on the streets. I ride in, cruising past a few spots listening to worship, praying or listening to last Sunday’s message. I check out the normal spots for our gang and hope to see them well. This morning because of the rain, I didn’t see many folks on the street.
At this one spot I saw a homeless elderly man, sitting in the rain, under a sign with a cup of coffee next to him in a paper cup. Ugh, my heart broke a bit, because I couldn’t stop to talk with him because the schedule meant I needed to be at the train station study in just a few minutes, but hoped to stop back there later in the day….I went back afterwards and he was gone 🙁
That sight always kicks me in the gut and heart, it’s cold and damp and no man of that age should be alone and on the street, in the rain, that man should have a home. I thought, “Father, this world hurts so much sometimes.”
I drove to the train station to park and by the short term parking meters was a man named, Lorenzo. Likely in his early to mid thirties. I walked up and he said, “Sir if you are parking here for just under 2 hours this is the correct lot to be in. Please step up and enter your lot space and select the correct time and then just slide your card in for payment”… I giggled to myself because Lorenzo is homeless and not a parking attendant, but clearly he was looking for some kindness and a bit of financial support.
I introduced myself and asked what Lorenzo was looking for today in the way of help and he requested money for a train ticket, round trip, on the light rail to Camden and back. We as a practice in ministry do not give out cash, so I offered to buy him a ticket, realizing that this ticket could be used for a few things and sold, but hoping it would buy him a few hours in the station in warmth without harassment from the Transit cops. (With a ticket they can remain inside the station for two hours without being asked to leave) … also realizing the ticket could be sold for cash to others and that could roll into some things that wouldn’t be helpful, but my hope was that this would give me a chance to pray with Lorenzo.
We tell people all the time in ministry, people don’t care what you know, until they know you care, so if a $1.60 showed I cared and bought me a moment of prayer with Lorenzo, it’s an investment worth making. I bought the ticket, and we prayed together and then I headed into the station for study.
Though the streets were fairly empty, the station was packed with friends trying to stay dry and warm.
As I walked back into the train station to study with our friends, I invited a few folks to join us and some did, some did not. As I walked into the area where we study, some folks were waiting for us, others were just walking up and pulling tables together and chairs together, we ordered food for everyone – pork roll egg and cheese (the king of NJ breakfast sandwiches), and a mixture of other sandwiches, folks got coffee and we sat to study 1st Corinthians chapter 15.
Study at the station always comes with lots of interruptions, and questions, some on topic, many not, but regardless it is a good time of fellowship and study. It takes focus, sometimes extreme focus.
I’m embarrassed and sad to say, I was having issues reading the Bible aloud, my heart still struggling with the start of the day, the mood in the city, the dark feel of the station… so I handed the reading off so I could refocus to teach.
Graciously, the Lord responded and the study was effective and that was good. Sometimes effective is all that is needed and the power of the Word itself delivered as written is more then enough to break chains and encourage hearts. The study went well as it normally does, but even with prayer and a proper devotional time, sometimes the weight of what is happening around us is heavy and heartbreaking and simply giving the Word is all we can manage and the results are left to the Lord. Honestly my heart wanted to cry, but that might have shaken a few of the folks we minister too, including those I minister with.
Ministry isn’t always about joy, in fact recently it’s been pretty tough. Not a struggle, just tough.
Left to me this ministry would be a mess, but how blessed are we that we have a Lord that manages every result to His good end? How blessed are we to have a Lord that takes an open heart and works through it? How blessed are we that someone showed up to hear the Word of God? How blessed am I that some showed up to help minister? How blessed are we that hearts were lifted up to the Lord? How blessed are we that our “readiness” doesn’t impact the Lord’s goodness and love and His effectiveness?
People have a lot of perceptions about ministry and those that work in ministry. I suppose some expect those involved in ministry to be happy often, without a care in the world and often this is true but sometimes having Joy in the Lord doesn’t always mean being happy or at peace, sometimes it means being heartbroken for the City you love and the hearts within it and in that moment knowing beyond knowing that you don’t walk alone. That although your heart is sad and breaking, God is there.
Today is such a day. Pray for our capital city, and the homeless hearts within it. They walk in a tough place, in unsafe conditions.
So, even though it is memorial day, if you can remember it, along with your prayers for our nation, would you please also lift up the homeless today and this capital city of Trenton?