An Easter People

“What you missionaries do is amazing. How do you do it?”

This is a question I hear often and one I’ve asked myself a few times as well.

Not only do I walk the streets of Denver on a daily basis, talking to the homeless, but I’ve also watched my friends on the street carry their crosses. Tom, who wants to get off the streets and start working, but still struggles with his addictions. Mark, who almost died after his kidney failed due to the drugs he took in the past. Tracy, Stephanie, and Jess, all victims of abusive relationships, trapped between violence and being lone women on the streets. David, my closest friend on the street, who lost his daughter in a car crash last October and has since turned to alcohol, violence, and despair to the point of suicide.
I’ve seen how dark the streets can be, how much suffering there is, and my heart has broken time and time again. How do I do it? What is my life right now?

Christ in the City missionaries are fond of the image of Our Lady and St. John at the foot of the Cross. It reminds us that it’s not our job to “fix” our friends, to carry their crosses; rather, that sometimes all we can do is to be there for them. But what do we say when they ask us: “how can God let me suffer like this? What is the point?”

This Easter season reminds us of the answer to these questions. I had to see my friends, people I have come to care about, suffer before I could truly grasp its meaning: Christ’s ministry did not end with the suffering at the Cross, but continued with the hope and promise of Easter. It is up to us (not just the missionaries, but you too, dear reader) to remind others that we can have faith in each other despite our past mistakes, that there is hope beyond suffering, that we can love and be loved despite our brokenness. Christ willingly suffered and so united our suffering with His. It is up to us to spread the Gospel, to let everyone know, “Lent is over. We are an Easter people. He is risen! Alleluia!”

Joe Lugue is a first-year missionary from Rancho Cordova, CA. He likes puppies, babies, Oxford commas and irony.

Ten Minutes with Mary

“You look like Mother Mary,” Rob told me as my long hair peeked out from my hood. I didn’t feel at all like Mary. I had only gone on this street walk because I was forced to. My “yes” was cold and begrudging, unlike Mary’s.

We were visiting San Antonio for the SEEK conference and doing street ministry while there. I had been cold all day, and it was now five o’clock, freezing, and getting dark. I reluctantly headed out with my street partner, Trey, and two volunteers; we found Rob, who I had met earlier that day. We started talking to Rob and the conversation turned to our Blessed Mother.

I never had a close relationship with Mary. Maybe it was feminine competition, but I thought she probably judged me and disliked me because I am so imperfect. If she had never sinned, how could she relate to me? Why would she like me?

Several months ago after a friend’s recommendation, I began to spend ten minutes each day speaking with her. These ten minutes usually seemed to drag on. But gradually I started to speak to her spontaneously throughout the day. I started going to her when things happened in my life even before I went to my earthly mother. She was becoming someone I knew.

“Why do Catholics like Mary so much?” Rob asked. We explained that just like a mother knows their child best, so Jesus’ mom knew Him best. Wheels started turning in Rob’s head. “So it was really Mary who defeated the devil,” Rob said in a moment of realization. “I want to know her better!”

We prayed together and Rob humbly begged God for the opportunity to get to know his heavenly mother better. I asked him before we left if he’d ever had a rosary. “No,” he replied, “What is a rosary?” As we fumbled through our pockets, Trey pulled out his old, worn wooden rosary.

This wasn’t just any rosary. Every missionary gets one at the start of their year, and it’s made from a special rose-colored Brazilian wood that slowly darkens with each use as the oils from skin stain the wood. He had also attached his own crucifix that had been touched to the Jordan river and other holy places in Israel. The beads glistened a dark mahogany after three years of prayers.

I wanted to cry out, “No, don’t do it Trey!” I knew how special this rosary was for him. But he carefully placed it in Rob’s hands and explained gently the significance of the cross and all of the holy places it had been. Our fingers barely worked due to the cold, but we wrote down the words to the Hail Mary and practiced it with him, preparing him for this special encounter with his long-lost mom.

We left the city the day after, so I don’t know how Rob’s new friendship with our mother is going. But I’m grateful for Mary reaching out to me so that I feel more confident leading others to her.

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Makena is a second-year missionary from Denver, CO. This Denver native enjoys wiener dogs, kombucha tea, painting, and rolling down hills.

Seven Years of Trust

“My first impression was, “Wow… This man is definitely homeless.” His shoes were falling apart, his pants had huge holes, his sweatshirt was dirty, and his face was worn and old. He looked like your stereotypical homeless man.

After talking to him for a little while, I slowly began to see past his ragged exterior and realize how incredibly beautiful he is despite his appearance. Dan is a delightful, joyful person. He’s been on the streets now for seven years, but because of his faith, he isn’t angry with God. He’s actually quite the opposite. “They took everything from me, but they couldn’t take away my faith.”

There is so much I learned from this incredible man. Despite the sufferings and hardships, I know I can turn to the Lord for guidance. Always trusting in Him is something I learned before coming to Christ in the City. I had no idea what I was doing with my life. I left college, I didn’t have a job, I lived 8 hours from my family, and I was struggling with anxiety and depression. Finally, one day, I realized that He had always been there for me, but I had to make a decision to say “yes” to let Him help me. And after 19 years, I laid my past and my struggles at His feet. I said “yes” to God. Dan inspired me to renew my “yes” and realize that no matter the circumstances, I can always turn to God and place myself at His feet. By placing my trust in Him, I know I can overcome anything.

Screen Shot 2017-02-05 at 1.30.47 PMClaire is a first-year missionary from Lawrenceburg, Tennessee. She loves Mama Mary, photography, and going to Target. Her goals include: to make a movie about the homeless population and become a Saint.

Under a Bridge

My best moments of the SEEK conference were spent under a highway bridge. A group of us missionaries went on street walks around San Antonio and one day, I met a guy named Quinton at a spot under a bridge. Quinton was different from the other homeless people we talked to around there. He allowed himself to be seen. This was the fast track to understanding who he was. Taking a few seconds to fully look into his gaze, I saw pain, sorrow, and suffering but also a man who wasn’t afraid to let himself be seen by another. Broken, but still open to the love of four strangers who just happened to stop by to talk.

“What are you kids doing standing here, still talking to me?”
Without thinking I replied, “we are friends, Quinton, we’re just hanging out.”
He held up his hand, “I can count the number of true friends I have on my right hand.”
“I am lucky to be one of them,” I don’t know what moved me to say this, but deep down I truly felt it.

As I continued to talk with him, he started saying, “He knows what I’ve done.” Quinton kept repeating this over and over again. “He knows what I’ve done.”
I didn’t really know what to say back to him but, “I have to admit, I’m right there with you, Quinton. It is so beyond me. How does God do it? God knows all the mistakes I’ve made and all the mistakes I am going to make. Yet He still loves me. All we can do is receive it.” I gave him the Litany of Trust and showed him my favorite line: “that Your love goes deeper than my sins and failings, and transforms me… Jesus, I trust in you.”
Not too long after, something happened that rarely ever happens with a friend on the street. Quinton said he didn’t want to live like that anymore. He wanted to get off the streets. He wanted to go to rehab. So quickly, I went into missionary mode, shuffling around important documents, as he handed me copies of his licenses and birth certificate- the things worth pure gold when you live on the streets. I called rehab, but they couldn’t take him until the next day. I told Quinton to go at 9am and offered to meet him and walk with him there. He wouldn’t let me because he didn’t want to bother us. But I reminded him, “you are not bothering us, Quinton. We’re friends, remember. “

I never saw Quinton after that day. I don’t know if he went to rehab, but I pray for him every day and hope I get to see him again one day. I don’t know how we became friends in 45 minutes or why God put him into my life. I don’t know how Jesus can jam so many people into my small and weak heart. But He lets it happen, and I’m thankful for that. I’m thankful for Quinton and for that time spent under a bridge.

Screen Shot 2017-01-30 at 4.25.28 PMEmily is a second-year missionary from San Antonio, Texas. She enjoys cat shirts, vintage things, dancing like nobody’s watching, and laughing at random times.

Dear Lee,

Dear Lee,

What joy a friendship can be, and mine with you is one I am constantly overjoyed to have. Arriving at CIC, God couldn’t have surprised me more than to provide such a unique friend. You may be an old geezer, but I appreciate you nonetheless. Friendship is described as “taming” by one of my favorite books, The Little Prince:

“I am looking for friends.” said the Little Prince. “What does that mean — tame?”
“It is an act too often neglected,” said the fox. “It means to establish ties.”
But if you tame me, then we shall need each other.
To me, you will be unique in all the world. To you, I shall be unique in all the world….”

l know you love professional drag racing, so let me try for a metaphor to explain our friendship with some horsepower attached to the engine. The faster acceleration and the higher top speed are both components to make the car win in the race. In a friendship, what makes the friendship “win” is sharing life- its sorrows and joys, as well as what makes us unique; it’s a gift of one’s self to the other. I get it, right? But I think you will agree with me, every highway needs a lane going in both directions for cars to drive safely. Just as for a friendship to survive, we both need to share ourselves to the other without judgment. You have done that for me and I have been able to do that for you.

Do you remember that first day we were at Lunch in the Park and you came up, and said, “I have never had a white friend before, Robby. In the south, it isn’t like it is here. They are still stuck in the old days, the past times, you’re the first white friend I have ever had.” I don’t know if you know, Lee, but where I’m from there aren’t too many black people. I even remember at one point praying to God asking for more diverse friends, and lo’ and behold here you came with your swag and southern Louisiana style. Because of you, I’ve learned that there is diversity among us, but that we have more similarities than differences. You’re human just as I am; no color difference, no difference in dignity or difference in being a child/son of God.

“People have forgotten this truth,” the fox said. “But you mustn’t forget it. You become responsible forever for what you’ve tamed. You’re responsible for your rose.” – The Little Prince

What a gift friendship can be when it’s revealed in the most unlikely of places. Every one of us has been gifted with unique encounters. Mine just happens to have a big toothy white grin and a bald head with charm for everyone! I really do appreciate our conversations about Bandimere and fast cars, food from Louisiana, and crazy girls in America no matter the state.

My prayers will be you, my friend.
Your friend,

Screen Shot 2017-01-23 at 5.20.12 PMRobert is a second-year missionary from Garden City, Kansas. He enjoys playing sports, playing Settlers of Catan and various other board games, and long walks on the beach.