Over the last several months I’ve been developing something of a ministry here in my little corner.
It didn’t really start out that way. In fact, the idea that a housewife like me could have any kind of ministry sounds a little far-fetched in my mind. After all, ministries are big deal projects done by professionals with lots of money and influence – super Christians – who have offices and workers and vast resources and a knack for quoting scripture effortlessly in any given situation.
Nonetheless, I’d have to say that this thing that God has put on my heart likely qualifies as a ministry, particularly given the merriam-webster.com definition of ministry as “a person or thing through which something is accomplished.”
I know that God has given me a heart for missions, and until recently I had missions categorically stored in a box labeled ‘overseas.’ In the back of my mind, someday I would be a missionary. Some day, I would serve God’s people in a real, committed way. But the desire for missions has only grown stronger and more difficult to ignore, and God has opened my eyes to show me that missions isn’t just something that you do over ‘there.’ It’s something you can and should do right here.
The idea of backyard missions started as an unidentified concept for me back in August.
My husband and I were in Billings for a weekend getaway while his mother was in town and could watch our four kids. We pulled in to a restaurant and I noticed a very young couple – in their late teens to early 20s – standing just off the road with a cardboard sign asking for $50 for a bus ticket.
She was quite visibly pregnant, certainly in her third trimester. This blond-haired pony tailed girl with the hot, sweaty, dirt streaked face wore a heavy black back pack over her dingy white tank top, and both she and her baggy-pants boyfriend looked like they hadn’t seen a shower or a hug in some time.
I’d seen lots of people with cardboard signs, having been to cities like Orlando, Denver and Omaha. Even living in small towns all my life, I’d seen plenty of drifters holding signs with requests for food, money or a ride.
From time to time, I’d been led to hand a five out the window as I passed by. But this was the first time a person with a sign really stood out to me. This was the first time I was ever compelled to talk to someone holding one of those cardboard signs.
All the typical American culture-infused doubts sprang up.
‘They’re probably just cons,’ I thought. ‘This is how they make their money while the rest of America goes to work at real jobs.’
‘If I give her money, she and her boyfriend will just blow it on booze or cigarettes,’ I thought.
But those doubts were far overpowered by this intense desire I had to talk to this girl. I had so many questions. Why are you on the streets? Do you have any prenatal vitamins? If not, can I take you to Wal-Mart and buy some for you? Where are you sleeping? Where is the bus going to take you and what’s there for you?
As we walked in the restaurant I noticed that my husband was looking at this couple, too.
I couldn’t believe it. He was thinking the same thing I was thinking. He wanted to go grab that couple and bring them in for dinner with us.
We debated a little, and clearly out of our comfort zone, decided to debate some more from the inside. We went in and sat down and talked about something, or nothing, or anything else. Neither of us could stop looking out the window, though, checking to see if the couple was still there. And they were.
We both felt very strongly that God was calling us to go get these people and visit with them, and I was ready to jump up and do it, but something held us back. We sent the waitress away twice, delaying our order so we could decide whether to go get them.
Shamefully, our wordly ‘knowledge’ that all homeless people deserve to be so and are really just professtional cons won out.
We didn’t go.
Instead, we ordered our $25 plates of food while the pregnant girl had none and tried to make ourselves feel better by justifying our behavior. After all, this was our time. It was our only break from our four kids in a long time. We deserved this break and this nice meal and this chance just to relax and be self-absorbed.
At least that’s the thinking that won out.
But the truth is, we couldn’t relax. We couldn’t stop looking out the window, checking to see if that couple was still there.
When our food arrived, it tasted like dirt. I’m not kidding. It was awful. Not because the restaurant was bad or the cooks were in error, but because we had turned our backs on what was an obvious nudge from the Holy Spirit to bring these kids in and love on them. It wasn’t about money, and it wasn’t about a meal. We knew we were supposed to talk to them. And we didn’t.
When we left, we noticed that by this time, another homeless man had begun to move in on their territory and the couple had started to fight. We could see that she was angry that her boyfriend wasn’t defending their spot by the restaurant. Guilt set in, and we felt quite responsible for the scene that we were watching. If only we had just listened.
I had $35 in my wallet, so we drove over to where the girl was standing and I rolled down my window in a feeble attempt to make up for my disobedience. I asked her how close she was to her $50 goal. She said $10. I asked her where the bus ticket would take her, and she told me she was going back home to her mom in another city. I gave her all I had in my wallet and wished her luck. Her eyes told me she didn’t believe she would ever have any, but she thanked me just the same.
Though doing nice things for people is usually pretty uplifting, this time, it wasn’t. I felt flat, deflated and inadequate. I knew I had been openly, knowingly and deliberately disobedient, and it didn’t matter how much money I gave away, it wasn’t going to make up for it.
We spent the rest of our ‘getaway’ repenting for our selfishness and disobedience, and we vowed never to turn away like that again.
God had given us a test and we failed. I was sure he’d never give us another opportunity to serve again. But just in case He wasn’t done with me yet, I prayed and begged for forgiveness, vowing that if He’d just give me another chance, another moment, another life to impact, I’d listen, no matter what.
In the months since then, God has answered that prayer over and over. I don’t know how many times I woke up asking God to give me someone to help that day and He did.
I’ve found myself in some crazy situations – the kinds of situations I never could have imagined. I’ve interacted with troubled kids, teen moms, abused and hurting women and drug addicts. I’ve watched God tear down all kinds of barriers including socio-economics, culture and language so that I could be His hands and feet to people right here in my town.
I struggle with whether I should tell my stories, not only for fear that I could infringe on someone’s privacy, but also because the Bible tells us that we shouldn’t let our left hand know what our right hand is doing.
But even more I’m burdened with the need to tell others about my adventures so that they might catch on, so the idea of backyard missions might be something that more people embrace.
To be sure, there’s no glory in this for me. Anything I write about will not be to draw attention to myself and any acts that I participate in. Rather, my hope is to inspire people to be the hands and feet of Jesus to those around them.
I’m not sure where this will go, but I know for sure that the world is a lot bigger than I ever gave it credit for. I know that we are not meant to sit comfortably in our living rooms on our oversized couches wearing our blankets with armholes staring at our ridiculously overpriced big screens while people all over the world, even in our own towns, are suffering, starving and hurting.
Even though I’ve always felt this way, it never occurred to me that when it comes to service, someday doesn’t have to wait. Someday needs to be now.
Thanks for being a part of this journey.