There’s something in the air every time I go to the neighborhood where the AWOL outreach team ministers to those entangled in street prostitution and sex trafficking. There’s an absence: a poverty of the spirit awaiting and open to be filled with what the Holy Spirit wants to say through AWOL. Jesus says: Blessed are the Poor in Spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:3). This passage has brought a whole new meaning to me as I have volunteered with AWOL. I see many souls that were once alive, yet so broken down by wretchedness of the streets and the objectification they’ve had to endure. There is an absence of hope. We see the bondage of addiction, poverty, and prostitution grip women so tightly that the concept of freedom is foreign to them. We enter a community that freely shares pieces of their spirits, their scars, and their hearts. This is my best explanation of being poor in spirit. Yet, somehow through their bondage they still find a way to link their chains and unite. To share. To grieve. To inspire. To love.
Nothing could have prepared me for the radical transformation God had in store for me in this ministry. I knew this was a calling, but didn’t know what to make of it. I figured out that He doesn’t call the qualified. He calls the willing. I remember my first outreach and how eager I was to be able to love on the forgotten and the marginalized. I wanted to absorb all I could in those 2 hours of giving out sandwiches, praying, and befriending those on the streets. I’ll never forget the image of a young pregnant, high, and disabled woman who stumbled into a busy intersection. Let’s call her Lisa. I was certain that Lisa would get hit by a car. A few months later I saw her digging in the trash for food. She had given birth a few weeks prior and still had blood on her shorts. There was an unexplained, pure kindness about her. She did not say much, but her eyes lit up when she saw us. Lisa was the first among many that showed me who Jesus truly was. Broken apart, vulnerable, humble, receiving, and grateful.
I go on outreach and I am reached out to. I go to be like Jesus and find out how. I go to introduce Jesus to the lost and meet Jesus right within the lost. I see him in men who are part of gangs by the bowing of their heads, the closing of their eyes, and the whisper of, will you pray for me? I was shot last year. I see Jesus in the woman who sobs at our window explaining that her three-year-old has just died. We pray for comfort. I see Jesus in the woman who jumps up and down when she sees us and greets us with the warmest smile I’ve seen all day. We celebrate in her joy. When someone in the neighborhood passes I join hands with their family and friends as they call on Jesus to come down and heal their hearts. Sometimes their words echo into my dreams and I wake up praying their prayers. I go to love and get loved back. I go to be a light in a dark place and feel their light open up and convict my own entitlement, my own privilege, and my own warped mind. I go to share my time and feel time stop. My busy and selfish schedule stops. One woman asked us why we go out every week. We told her because she is worth it. Every soul is worth it.
Those who are poor in spirit are rich in love. They are rich in friendship. They are honest and they are humble. In the 9 months I’ve been a part of AWOL I have realized that I am not nearly half as vulnerable as the men and women in the streets. I am not half as strong or brave. I am not as courageous. I am not as giving. The women on the streets inspire me to love boldly and to humbly go to the cross with my shame and my sufferings.
Jesus hasn’t given up on the streets of Detroit. In fact, He has big plans for the souls we encounter. The stories of survival can reach millions who are still enslaved in this world today. At the end of the day it’s not about charity, evangelization, or humanitarianism. There’s no label to what AWOL does. It’s simply about doing as we’re called: taking up our cross and bearing our neighbors’ burdens with the least of these. It’s about bringing the kingdom of heaven here on earth.
As Pastor Timothy Keller says in the sermon “Blessed are the Poor”, Blessed are the poor in spirit means this:… it means that the Gospel comes to you only if you get rid of your middle class spirit and become poor in spirit…the Gospel only comes into the lives of people who are poor in spirit who say I have absolutely nothing of value and I have no power and no choices and I need to rely completely on the salvation of Jesus Christ.
Jesus wants us to have that absence. We have to have room to need Him, so He can make us whole. I have lived a privileged, middle class life full of education and opportunity. I have never had to worry about survival. Yet, I believe one of the biggest privileges I have is one that comes without a price. It’s getting to know the men and women in the streets. It’s having the honor to know their names, stories, fears, and dreams. It’s being convicted in my own middle-class faith.
The Lord says: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. (Isaiah 43:1). They are His and we are His. We have the honor to tell them that we share this reality that the Creator of the world desires to fill us with His sweet love. Some nights it seems as if brokenness and darkness reigns, but the Spirit of God is mightier, richer, and full of grace. He pours out his richness on the broken hearts of this world. He restores their lives.
I praise Him for the beautiful plan He has for His children. I praise Him because never in a million years could I predict that the Gospel would be made the most clear to me on these streets. I praise Him because I see how He will take the risk on one sheep and passionately pursue them to wholeness. I praise Him as I continue to encounter Christ’s face in the poorest of spirits.