My time with the Hope City Homeless Street Ministry.
My name is Daniel Sidler, I've been working for Hope City Church for a little over three months. I recently had the opportunity to experience the Hope City Homeless Street Ministry. The following is an account of that experience.
Not more than a month ago, I found myself in Matthew 25:40-45 reading...
And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me. Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels: For I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not. Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee? Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me.
In an honest response, I prayed "Jesus, I try really hard to live a life that's holy and pleasing to you but I don't know, that if you were to return TODAY, that I would have accomplished much of the work you deemed to be the most important!" I didn't even know where or how to begin. As a father with 3 young children, where should I go to practically get involved. I've helped support ministries and causes that help the needy in the past, volunteered in food shelters etc. but, when I really analyzed this I realized I'd spent much more time avoiding the dangerous "riff raff" in inner cities on the streets than attempting to look them in their eyes and serve them. I resolved to put a tack in it and pray about it some more. I finished journaling and began attacking the 50 things demanding my attention through email and daily tasks. The burden got pushed the the background noise and then forgotten altogether. I don't like to admit it, but it's the truth.
About 3 week's later I received a text from the Hope City Homeless Outreach Ministry.
"Hi Daniel! Sharp, caring Pastor Joshua just provided your contact info. regarding your desire to join me on our March Hope City Homeless Street Ministry trip, here are the dates you can choose from..."
"What!?" I thought. "I'd normally be happy to help... but seriously, now!? We are just TOO busy!" It's true, this invitation couldn't have come at a busier time. I began to type my apology for not being able to accommodate any of the dates presented when God tapped me on the shoulder.
God: "Hey, whatcha doin?"
Me: "I'm responding to this text. I wish I could go but I'm busy doing all of the things I was praying about earlier this morning... you know, the ‘to-do’ list I’m stressed about?"
God: "Yeah? You sure? You asked me a couple of week's ago how to get involved with feeding, clothing..."
Me: "I KNOW, I know... I'm just too busy right now."
God: "Okay. It just seems to me that if you really wanted to be about that work, your feet would already be walking in that direction."
Me: "Okay, I'll trust you. I'll point my feet in that direction, let's see what adventure you've got planned."
Now, if I told you I was extremely excited to go, we'd both call me a liar, but truthfully, I was really looking forward to the trip. After all, it was an answer to prayer. It didn't make it any less inconvenient; even the morning of, I was staring at a laundry list of things to do that had to get done, and I almost felt irresponsible for leaving it. A last-minute cancel even crossed my mind, but the words that God has spoken to me continued to echo in my mind. "If you REALLY wanted to be about that work, your feet would already be walking in that direction."
I fired off some last minute emails and prepped a couple of projects for work on the off chance I had time to work on them after I returned and then I headed out. I arrived at our place of departure about five minutes early. This outing was only planned for two people. Me and one other, her name is Mary Wood.
Mary Wood is a warrior. Her military background and love for the Lord combine to make an incredible powerhouse of prayer and action in the Lord's army. She is regularly doing battle in the trenches of the spiritual warfare most of us never see. I think the darkness shivers when it hears her feet approaching because when she comes, she's bringing Jesus and darkness is gonna hear that name loud and proud.
After a short time of prayer and communion, I was handed keys to the car. "You're in charge of supplies, Sir." She commanded respectfully as she pointed at the 45+ bags of individually rationed supplies to be handed out. I carefully loaded the car and realized that a place had been prepared for me in the back seat. The front seat had been moved forward and every remaining space besides my own had been stuffed to the gills with supplies for those in need.
As I looked at the carefully prepared vehicle it dawned on me, as I stared at the pre-made sanitization package with my name written in sharpie placed intentionally for me in the back seat with all of the rations, I realized that this wasn't going to be just a ride into downtown. This was a tactical operation vehicle. Everything that was about to happen was going to be extremely methodical. We weren't driving a car into downtown, we were boarding a military vehicle looking for spiritual warfare. This was a rescue mission!
Before our departure we covered safety guidelines and discussed how to be prepared to be ready for the unexpected. After a quick stop at McDonald's for energy we were on our way. We turned off grand and quickly toured the neighborhood looking for needy and then Mary pulled the car over to the side of the road. “Sir, a quick prayer if you would.” She requested. “Lord, protect us as we go! Give us the eyes to see those that need to be loved by you and then give us the courage to love them for you!” I prayed out loud. “Perfect prayer sir! Here we go!” She said as she clapped her hands, put the car in gear and then we hit the road.
Mary had explained to me that she would let the Lord lead us to those he wanted us to minister to. My responsibility would be to rely on her expertise to avoid the dangerous and engage the needy. Our route was carefully planned and the sage expert tested my aptitude with two quick stops in El Mirage. We wouldn't even have time to stop the car at the first couple of stops. “Here we go sir! Window down, this one right here sir!” - “Are you hungry? Jesus LOVES YOU! He wanted me to come feed you today. Do you know Jesus? ... ¿Tienes hambre? Jesus te ama! El me pidio te diera de comer el dia de hoy. ¿Conoces a Jesus?” (Actually, my Spanish was not nearly that strong. It came out more like “Hambre? Jesus te ama! Hungry? Jesus! Jesus! Conozco Jesus?) I would shout from the window and wave over those that were waiting on the side of the road hoping to find work. They smiled back and gladly excepted the food and water. Even through our language barrier they were able to thank Jesus and communicate that they know and love Jesus!
Moments later we were back on track “GOOD JOB, sir, you have a great spirit for this. You’re not afraid. You’re going to do GREAT!” - I realized that I had Just passed a test. A little further down the road we pulled into a Chevron. “This one, right here sir! Get out for this one. I will pick you up.” Mary said, as I swiveled in my seat to find the person she had seen. He was very dirty, tired and disheveled. He was seated on a guard rail on the property line. I grabbed a provision bag and waited for the car to come to a complete stop. I felt like I was jumping out the side of an HH60 helicopter as I closed the door behind me and heard Mary drive off. I approached the man with the bag out in front of me. “Are you hungry!?” I asked loudly over the noise of the main road just feet from where he was perched. His reaction was not what I expected. I expected to see his face and eyes light up at the promise of food. His Dorito bag was FILTHY and looked as though it had been used for months, so I thought the promise of real food would be inviting. Instead, I saw fear in his eyes and caution in his body language. I stopped in my tracks and just held the bag higher so he could see. When he realized that I was not a threat he cautiously let down his guard. When he came closer I could see several very deep scars that ran the width of his entire scull. “Do you know Jesus?” I asked as I handed him the bag. “... I do.” He said as his shoulders shrunk and his head began to hang as I watched the shame wave over him. “NO! I shouted, no! I’m hear to tell you GOD TOLD ME TO FEED YOU! HE LOVES YOU. He wants me to pray for you, can I pray for you?” I asked. “A smile waved over his face and his entire demeanor changed.” After I asked him how I could be praying for him and he shared his needs I talked with him for a couple of minutes and then prayed over him. Just as I finished I turned to find Mary on her approach to retrieve me. I opened the door, jumped in and we were off again. “Very good sir! It’s time for the real thing!” I had passed. We were headed into the trenches.
After driving about 20 minutes down the freeway we got off I-10 on 7th Avenue. We drove south into the neighborhoods and stopped at a few places where God would lead, eventually we ended up at a small strip mall on 27th Ave and Van Buren. We would spend the bulk of our time at this stop and it was as dark spiritually as you can imagine. Every person that we crossed paths with was in need. All of them carried weapons from culinary knives stuffed in the belt of their pants to nail spiked billy clubs on their bikes. The promise of food would bring many in to be prayed over as we would talk to them about Jesus while others were very disturbed by our presence. One woman angrily hurled curses at me and threw the bag of food away from her. She was sitting on the cement parking block in a vacant parking space in front of the liquor store. I asked her what her name was and she angrily avoided eye contact and cussed and threatened. I slowly backed away and prayed for her to be released from the spiritual bondage that was haunting her. I calmly backed away and continued to find others that would accept help. One man, also made my spirit uneasy as he slowly walked past. “What is your name?” I asked. “I don’t have a name.” he finally whispered as labored to limp into the liquor store. My heart broke as I prayed for him, realizing that in a few moments I would head out of this darkness back into my busy todo list distracting me from the reality that he would still be right here, in the middle of this darkness. I prayed for a miracle.
A few moments later the angry woman who had been hurling the insults popped out from in between two cars as Mary and I were distributing three bags of food to a couple where stood at the bus stop less than 10 feet from our car. Mary had called them from across the street and they gratefully and happily prayed with us as we talked to them about Jesus. They had begun to devour the food that we had given them when I jumped because the angry lady popped up out of nowhere. I thought at first her intensions were hostile so I quickly stood between her and Mary and asked if she was hungry. Again she ignored me and mumbled under her breath as she walked right passed me. Again, the spiritual weight I felt in my soul can’t be expressed but I knew what she was struggling with was more than a drug addiction. I can’t tell you how I know that, I just know it. I prayed for her again but felt helpless to do anything to really help her. Either way, I didn’t feel safe around her but we were headed out in a few moments anyway to move to another location so I turned my attention to other things. Three young boys approached and they each asked for a bag to eat. They hadn’t had a meal in while. I joked with them and gave them grief about avoiding church as they agreed to let me pray for them. They said they would get back to church and agreed to take a photo with me. That is the picture that titled this article. Moments later we were back in the vehicle and headed down the road to our next location.
We drove through the neighborhoods once more before, once again, stopping on the main road, Van Buren. In transit I looked over the remaining supplies because I was becoming used to Mary’s routine and she would want a status check on supplies before our next stop. After my count, I settled back into my seat and prepared for our final stop. As I waited in the back seat and watched Mary carefully select our next spot I listened to her passion behind this ministry. As I got to know her, I heard the Lord tell me. “You see? If you really want to be about my business, all you have to do is point the feet of your heart in that direction and you don’t have to go looking for it. You will just find yourself there... because My warriors walk!”
There was a lot more action on the main street than there was in the neighborhood streets so Mary parked the car again in another open parking lot and we continued to hand out food and prayer as we talked to prostitutes and drug seekers about Jesus for another 30 minutes. I couldn’t believe how many people were SO apprehensive and cautious to our help. Every single person we gave food to was extremely cautious but eventually most of them let their guard down enough to talk about Jesus and even pray with us. As we sat with only a few bags of food left, the angry lady showed up AGAIN! This time walking right past our open window. Again we offered food but got no response. She was already heavy on my heart but this was the moment that God burned her into my mind. “Remember to pray for her.” Is all I heard in my spirit, but I couldn’t help but feel that SHE was the reason God had orchestrated for us to be on the street that day. We had packed food for about 50 people and I couldn’t help but think it was all to find this 1. “Lord, I don’t even know her name!” I replied silently as I watched her disappear behind a building into an alley that made me uncomfortable just to look at.
On our drive home Mary began to debrief the mission. “What do you think you’ll remember the most about our time together.” After a brief moment for thought I answered honestly instead of with a canned response of how much fun I’d had. Mary and I had been through too much together at this point for that. “I can’t get that girl out of my head.” I said, knowing that she would know instantly who I was talking about. “I don’t even know her name...” the sentence trailed off a bit. “Well... then lets give her a name!” Mary suggested. “Jenny.” I thought without a second thought. “Jenny.” Mary confirmed. Let’s pray for Jenny right now she suggested. I did. I still do.
When I finally returned to the office, my to do list was still waiting for me. I hadn’t missed a thing but I had gained a much needed perspective. The feet of my heart have been corrected and I will do my best not to miss another opportunity to feed and cloth my Savior. His warriors will walk and find themselves surrounded by what breaks His heart. I urge you, if you have the opportunity, answer the call and go on mission with the Hope City Homeless ministry. You will regret not going!