Tuesday, September 20, 2011

"For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood...."

On Sunday morning, as the early light was beginning to peek around my curtain and as I lingered in a half-dream, the nagging, hated feeling came back. Dread. Heaviness. And a thought: "You have to go on the streets again today."

I am called to the streets, to love the broken people I find there and to point them toward Jesus. When I am walking the dirty sidewalks of Troy, I walk, study each face, pray, and know a joyful serenity that can only come from the Holy Spirit burning inside of me.

But there is a war every time to get there. Hannah and I have talked about them, the voices that tell us we can't make a difference: What can two brand new priests do? You're alone. You'll do more harm than good. You don't really love them. There is no hope in a city that has known so many generations of despair and pain. Give up. Go find a real church where you can really uses the gifts God has given you.

And I know this isn't the voice of God. Sometimes it's my self-doubt, and sometimes it's a demonic whisper in my ear, appealing to my fear or to my ego. And in those times, I breathe the Jesus prayer. Or read a Psalm. Or, calmly and firmly, rebuke the voices with the only authority I have -- as a reborn child of my Father God, sprinkled with blood from the Eternally Begotten Son.

So it was again on Sunday. The nagging. A quiet prayer. And up, to worship, eat lunch, prayer walk, and hang out in the park with whoever our Father would send to us.

Our prayer walk led us to a part of town we don't often visit -- a part with a lot of Hell's Angels activity. It was a dead-end street with eyes in every window. As we prayed, I envisioned Christ on the cross, dying for the men who drove nails through his hands and feet. The Lord laid down his life for those men. He poured himself out for the Hell's Angels and for all who have loved the darkness instead of the light.

There is no doubt the powers of hell want me -- and every child of God -- dead. There is no way to measure their hatred. And, I am sure that some people in Troy have pledged themselves as allies of the darkness and enemies of the kingdom of God.

But, they are not my enemies. They are those who Christ died for. Beloved of God.

"For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places."

Lord Jesus, break my heart for those who follow death as their shepherd. Fill me with a restless love that seeks to bless them. And Lord, give me the courage to resist every spiritual principality and power, standing firmly in the strength of your might.

Friday, September 16, 2011

It's been a year...

I wrote a status update yesterday that made me stop and think about how much has changed in the past year and how little I have had a clue of what was going on. A year ago, we had a vision for working with college students and the people of North Central Troy ("the hood") together and bringing the hope of the gospel to both groups, seeing the miraculous healing power of God at work on the streets of Troy, and seeing churches come together and help each other in this work. And no idea how to go about this vision.

And there were many, many months of discouragement. Many months where all I was doing was praying in my own apartment, teaching the youth group in a church in another town (which was awesome, incidentally, but my heart was burning for Troy), unsure of how this priesthood thing that I was called to worked, and barely making ends meet while working as a cashier. Months of walking around the block in Troy praying, dutifully making pilgrimages to the Stewarts to get my cup of tea and talk to anyone who would make eye contact.

Months of just trying to obey. God would throw us a bone every once in a while - just enough to keep us going, but it was rough. And lonely. Walking the streets in winter praying for people whose faces I didn't recognize and names I didn't know. And we all but gave up on the college ministry side of it because we just couldn't get in. Every door slammed. Our mentors got slammed with all kinds of things and just couldn't meet with us. Winter storms pretty much killed any social endeavor.

But you were praying. And we just tried to obey and follow blindly one step at a time. And God is faithful.

Wednesday made me realize just how much things have changed already. In May, we started walking and praying at least once a week together with our collars on. God gave us some local clergy with the same heart and passion (and who had been here longer and are much wiser and more experienced than we are). And we prayed together. We joined with some of the local pastors at Compelled, the random, last-ditch effort to keep a Christian Missionary Alliance church going on Wednesday nights that unexpectedly brought in a bunch of college students. Now we're playing worship music and leading a small group there. And some of them have joined us in North Central. And some of them have joined us for ice cream.

Compelled folks praying with North Central kids

And we kept walking and praying. And God is bringing down strongholds. We started monthly barbecues in the park loosely structured around a bible story/game/craft/worship/prayer time. And God gave us a church from 2 hours away who have faithfully come up and helped us put it on, and the youth worker from a church across town, and some Compelled folk and some people from my youth group church and some folks we worked with at the summer camp last summer and we have always had enough help. And we got a small army of children.

First cookout; thanks to Scotty Gladstone for the collages and photos

We started going every Sunday in between and doing small snack/game/bible story time. Last week, three kids gave me a hug. The bully circled around and didn't disrupt and told us his birthday is this week. The older kids joined our softball game. One boy made us retell the bible story he'd missed (because he was rough-housing) just for him. A little girl told us her name for the first time. Two young brothers helped us unload the car (and hunted for cookies). A man rode around the neighborhood on his bike and brought his friends. We prayed for another. The the guys in rehab made a woman with a miscarriage let us pray for her. The former Jamaican Baptist evangelist who's always stoned or drunk and knows everyone in the neighborhood has decided that the two crazy nuns walking around are his friends.

September cookout
And then there was the "Sanctuary for Independent Media" lady who's doing a documentary on the neighborhood. She chased us down and asked us to share what we were doing on camera. So we explained about praying for hope and the freedom of Christ that we were praying for in the neighborhood with a smattering of spiritual warfare and freedom from drugs and crime and poverty. She'll catch up with us again eventually.

And then there was Wednesday. We had an hour. We took an hour and a half and finally ran away so we weren't crazy late to Compelled. But Pastor Willie, from the only open church in that side of town, the black gospel street mission church, was sitting outside. We'd encountered him before and were praying about how to work with him. He asked us to sit with him, and started telling us about his experiences in the past 4 years of being there and how he needed help. We told him what we were doing on the other side of the neighborhood, and he asked us to teach his kids bible study so he could separate the kids and the adults, who were all in one group. Pastor Willie asked us to teach his street mission kids!

And the two crazy nuns kept walking and praying and had real conversations with several people. And several people interrupted their conversations to wave and say hi. And some of our kids stopped us to ask about the cookout (and discuss birthday cupcakes). And a random kid stopped us to ask about our collars and if we ever got to take them off (which totally cracked up his mother).

It's been a year. God has given us a place, jobs (I even got to stop being a cashier, which is just a bonus) and people. The kids know we're there and that we'll come back. Some of them even know that we love them. The praying walking nuns are part of the landscape now and people often say hi. In one day, we talked with three different churches to work with them for the sake of the Gospel (plus preaching/celebrating at the cathedral, which was kind of a culture shock). God is doing things through the prayers of his people. Now we just need to pray for a place to continue down there during the winter.

Summary: God is good. He alone can fulfill the vision that he gave us - in so many unexpected ways. I know there will be many discouraging moments in the future, but if I can just look back on what God has already done, hopefully I can take heart for the future. And hopefully, this is encouraging to others of you who are on this journey with me.

Praise the holy, mighty name of Jesus!