As I am spending more and more time on the streets, talking to the people who live there, it is becoming increasingly difficult to succinctly describe my experience to friends and family. When people ask me what street ministry is like, I struggle to answer genuinely because so many of my encounters are imbued with an inexpressible beauty and gravity.Read More
It’s weird to say that I’ve received so much from Christ in the City. I don’t think an organization is any better than the people who compose it, but my sense of gratitude expands beyond any specific person or group that has served under our banner.
Perhaps the greatest irony is that I was supposed to offer something to the organization. When I was serving the poor in the Andes of Peru, I was asked by my superiors to move to Denver to direct the male missionary formation of Christ in the City. If anything, it seemed like my mission was getting “easier”. With all of the prosperity of the U.S. compared to the third world, how hard could it be to be homeless on the streets of Denver?
Well, it turned out to be harder than I ever expected. It’s on the streets of Denver that I truly understood the inspired words, “One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.” In getting to know the reality of the streets, the homeless themselves have told me over and over, “Nobody starves in Denver,” but still they are unsatisfied. They have told me that the most draining aspect of living on the streets are the glances or comments that make you feel “less than a person.” And as they struggle to find relationships to satisfy them, they realize that not just any relationship will do. They want a relationship that’s pure and unconditional.
But I’ve also found that the homeless aren’t the only ones who suffer through this. Having encountered and accompanied numerous missionaries and volunteers, it seems like so many people are starving. In the end, the homeless don’t seem much different from anyone else who wants true friendship. It’s amazing to think that a whole society of people can be lonely and living side-by-side, and yet I’ve seen the most subtle and dramatic proof that it’s happening in our midst.
I’ve known for a long time that I’ve wanted to be at the service of those who most suffer. This has always drawn me to be close to the poor, who suffer in the most visible way. What I am convicted of now is that the world will always be drawn to isolation as long as it isolates itself from Christ. Perhaps the gratitude I feel towards Christ in the City is actually direct to a single person after all: our namesake and inspiration for this mission; the One who has shared with us His Spirit and preserved us in faithfulness despite weaknesses and limitations; the One who gives us strength to confront this messy and lonely world despite how small we are.
I am the recipient of what God has given to Christ in the City, and I am all the more convicted of the power of encounter and communion. Though the fruits I see and experience are silent and unquantifiable, I continue to be astounded with what God borne through our humble “yes”. It is an honor to share in this mission… to share in His mission.
Phil is a consecrated layman in the Sodalitium Christianae Vitae. He joined Christ in the City staff as the Director of Homeless Outreach in 2015 and currently serves as one of our Directors of Spiritual Formation. He enjoys Chipotle, praying to Jesus, and a good day of skiing.
I can’t make this person talk to me.
It is very easy to let a rejection with the homeless, or in life, get to me. Realistically, I know when I approach someone on street ministry I cannot expect them to want to talk to me, but I really hope they want to.
We often say that the first gift we give to the homeless or a stranger when we introduce ourselves is taking the awkwardness of a first encounter upon ourselves. We offer a free gift of our time and presence to the homeless, which means they have the free will to accept or reject this gift, but man, I want them to accept it.
Intellectually, I know what a free gift is. As a gift giver, I give the freedom of the other to accept or reject the gift. There is a risk with every giving of a gift that it will be rejected. It’s a risk we take regularly. And in all honesty, I’m really used to people accepting my gifts. So much so that it’s easy to get discouraged or put my identity in a rejection. This summer my understanding of the freedom of a gift was tested.
During the Summer of Service in Los Angeles, I got rejected and denied a lot. I got yelled at and cursed at in a way that I couldn’t help but be impressed by the creativity of profanities so eloquently put together in a sentence. During these rejections, I had an overwhelming sense of peace in knowing that I did all I could in the moment. I knew that I was walking into these people’s “home turf” and taking a risk. A risk for the Gospel and to show them the love of Christ.
This is the closest I have ever been to understanding the gifts God has given to me. As our loving parent, God the Father freely gives me gift after gift. I am in disbelief at how, regardless of my acceptance or rejection of His love and gifts, He still continues to give them.
It is easy to give when I know my gifts will be accepted and embraced. But I can barely think of any occasions where I have continued to offer gifts to those I know will reject them.
The saints show me a different way to give: in imitation of God the Father. A Father who gives with total respect toward the freedom of the recipient. A Giver whose identity is not changed or even affected by acceptance or rejection. For these things are out of our control when we accept the other’s free will.
It is not my duty or responsibility to control how the recipient receives. All I can control is my response to the simple nudges of the Holy Spirit throughout my day to give. This makes my aim simple. To each and every person I encounter, small things or big things, spiritual gifts or material gifts, I am called to freely give.
“The success of love is in the loving—it is not in the result of loving. Of course it is natural in love to want the best for the other person, but whether it turns out that way or not does not determine the value of what we have done. The more we can remove this priority for results the more we can learn about the contemplative element of love.” – Mother Teresa
Blake served as a missionary from 2015-2017 and is now Christ in the City’s Program Director. His favorite saints are JPII, Mother Teresa, St. Joseph and St. Monica. He enjoys Husker football, Dr. Pepper, and road trips.
My community this year has loved me where I am at, but refused to leave me there. At Christ in the City, one of the most important ways we build community is through fraternal correction, where we challenge and call each other higher.
As missionaries, we talked a lot about fraternal correction. Thinking fraternal correction resembled the self-condemnation and mental self-deprecation I was used to, I avoided it at all costs. Yet as I grew in my understanding of real friendship, I began to see its value.
I love people. I am wildly happy encountering our friends on the streets. I thrived when college students visited on spring break mission trips every week of March. But encountering the people I live with? Something has held me back.
The devil wants me to believe that I’m alone.
I have no idea how to be seen in my failures. Knowing I make mistakes is hard to live with. It’s terrifying to know my Christ in the City community sees all my weaknesses too. I have tried to hide, putting up walls and masks so they don’t see all the things I don’t like about myself.
Fortunately, my fellow missionaries love me too much not to challenge me to grow.
The first person to fraternally correct me was one of my teammates. As we walked the streets together, we shared stories, processed encounters, and teased each other. As our friendship deepened, we were able to gently call each other out in a spirit of trust and openness. I challenged the false perceptions he seemed to carry about his worth and identity, but also affirmed the good that I saw in him.
Then, he did the same for me. Gently but firmly, he showed me the ways I responded from a place of woundedness and of weakness. He challenged my defence-mechanisms and the way I hid my heart from my community. Because I trusted him, his words weren’t hurtful. My experience of his fraternal correction was an experience of being known.
In the months that followed, we continued to correct and hold each other accountable. Through his friendship and friendships with other missionaries, I began to see myself more objectively. And when the masks and walls I had built to hide my weaknesses began to crumble, I was surprised to discover that I was still loved.
Though I often resisted this love, my eyes were opened to the importance of being real with those around me.
I don’t have the courage to be honest about myself on my own. That courage has only come through a deeper relationship with God. Before I can be open with others, I know I have to be honest with Him as my Father. Placing myself before God and allowing Him to love me in my weakness has given me the courage to allow others to encounter that weakness too.
Fraternal correction still makes me uncomfortable. It is hard to be correct, but I am learning how to do it from a place of humility and real love. Similarly, I am learning not to shut down when others correct me, but to receive it with trust and gratitude.
I came to Christ in the City desiring authentic friendship, but afraid of the growth it would take in my heart to find it. The love I have been shown by my community has changed that. These friendships have finally made me believe that I am not alone.
Amy is a yearlong missionary from Derwent, Alberta, Canada. She enjoys music, old films, and walking in the rain.