Just one week before the battering of Hurricane Irma hit Florida, there was another storm pummeling individuals living in Orlando. It was wreaking havoc on their life. Living as dead and destructive souls, these people, whom I met, were being whipped in the storm of sin. Thinking they were free, “they themselves were slaves of corruption…enslaved to whatever defeated them” (2 Peter 2:19).
It was a Saturday. I flew in to visit my son, Nick, and his fiancé, Alaina. That evening we went to downtown Orlando to attend a comedy show. After parking the car, we walked down Church St. to get there. All seemed calm and clear. It was a beautiful night. We attended the family performance; we laughed, had a good time, and then we left.
I will never forget the next scene!
I knew something was wrong when my son wanted to keep me close to him. That evening, I received an education in the depravity of our sin-drenched culture. I experienced an array of emotions. I’ll be honest, some of them I’m am ashamed to admit. But being real, here’s my story.
As we walked, we first met three very thin, apparently ill and starved, homeless people. Begging for money, I saw their empty eyes. Void of all life, filled with despair, they just stared at me; it was not a look of acknowledgment, but one that was hollow and vacant.
Fear gripped my heart. Where are we? Are we even safe here?
On the left of me were two women, who were obviously intoxicated, heartbroken, and what appeared by their embrace, lesbians. On the right, I saw two men, frantically looking for someone to see them. They went into a bar, filled with men in which some were acting like women.
The feelings of judgment came upon me. How can they be this way?
I looked the other way, only to see a tall woman in high heels, dressed in a provocative white dress, with a blond hair style that looked like it came from the 60’s. She came closer to me, tried to hand me a paper she was giving out to everyone. The closer she got I realized she was not a woman, she was a man. I confess, in my state of judgment, I refused the paper.
I looked back to check on my son and his fiancé, Alaina. Alaina took the paper. My curiosity was up; I wanted to know what that man wrote. Later we read his version of “wisdom.” Confusing but underneath it all was a desperate cry for acceptance.
At this point, the Spirit of God began to convict me. And my heart began to change. Compassion taking root, I asked myself, “How did these people get here?”
We passed by another, more jovial, group of homeless people. All gathered together sitting on the ground smoking. One woman, bald, wearing khaki shorts and a white t-shirt talked loudly; she held up her lighter and joked, “And God said, ‘Let there be light, and it was lit.’” Laughing, she deeply inhaled the smoke of her cigarette.
It occurred to me that this woman knew some scripture. How did she know that? Did she go to church when she was young? How did she get to where she is on the street? What happened in her life to make her so cynical?
Crowded with people coming and going, it took a while to pass this jovial group. I looked to see them dressed in dirty ragged clothes, sitting next to their signs made from cardboard. One man held up his sign, pushed it in my face. It said, “F..K you. Pay me.”
That sign made me feel hopeless. These people needed the love and forgiveness of Jesus! But how do I tell them? Would they even listen? I had no idea where to begin or how to start.
This man’s sign communicated so much more than the ugly words he wrote, I saw anger. The whole group was sardonic.
The despair in the air became a thick blanket covering me.
God began to unveil to me what was behind the hostility and sarcasm; it was deep pain, disappointment, heartache, and an unrealized desperation for His Son, Jesus.
Lost in my inability to share Jesus with them, all I knew to do was to pray for each one. My one trip to Orlando was not enough to help these people. They needed relationship and time with someone who could talk with them, listen to them, and share Jesus with them on a regular basis.
But my son had that time and availability; he shared with me that he and his fiancé often went to Church St.; they talked with the homeless, bought them food, ate with them, prayed over them and began that relationship process of leading them to Jesus.
Alaina shared that her church had a ministry that specifically reached out to them.
While I wanted to be a part of this ministry, understand how to share Jesus with them, I knew that living in Virginia would not allow the opportunity. But I could pray. And praying is what I have been doing for those people since.
I see their faces in my mind, and I pray for God to forgive them, to save them; I pray that they would know the height and depth and width of God’s love for them. I also prayed that God would forgive me of my judgment and to change my heart of stone to a heart of clay; to mold me into His heart. After all, God reminded me that Jesus would have sat with them and eaten with them.
The thought occurred to me that all this depravity was ironically happening on Church St. Activity that seemed so far from what a church would behold. Or is it? Shouldn’t our churches be filled with such like this; open to the hard, cynical, angry, and hurting? Yes! It should.
One Sunday, I heard a Pastor say, “Our churches should be open to all people; even the one who walks down the aisle covered in filth and seaweed; for how can they know the love and grace of Jesus if we don’t first show them our compassion?”
We are the first pathway these people will pass through to find God’s love.
My channel that night was and since is prayer; Nick and Alaina’s is their presence. What way are you going to be that pathway for those who need Jesus today?
“What a beautiful sight it is to see messengers coming with good news! How beautiful to see them coming down from the mountains with a message about peace! How wonderful it is when they bring the good news that we are saved! How wonderful when they say to Zion, “Your God rules!” (Isaiah 52:7)
2nd Photo By Dmytro Zinkevych
3rd Photo By Africa Studio
Cover Photo By Eakachai Leesin