Our usual Tuesday Bible Study happens in the not-so-usual location. We drive through a part of town some won’t venture into ~ even when the midday sun is shining bright across the old buildings and cracked asphalt. We pass through the wrought iron gates, leaving behind several men laying on the ground next to their battered grocery carts or trashed baby carriages. These contain the entirety of their life’s possessions. Stray dogs remain unchained and faithful next to their owners – loyal to the dirty and destitute ones the world has neglected and forsaken. We wave to the guard in the shack and drive to the back of the property. Walking in under the archway where the saying, “You are loved,” raises a reminder over our heads, we enter the women’s unit. These sisters of ours live here – at the Homeless Mission. They have committed one year of their lives to a goal: sobriety and a renewed life in Jesus. To say mountains must move would be understating the challenges each of these women face.
God speaks and calls in such detailed ways. We need only tune in. How I want to hear His voice as I did when He made it clear this was my mission – my privilege. It was December and our homeschool group sent out an invitation to go caroling. We were scheduled to go to the local nursing home and then some of us were going to make the trek across town to stand out in the street and sing to the men, women and children – yes, homeless children – who stand in line to get a hot meal for lunch. We stood, facing them, singing songs of hope and promise – each carol ringing out the gospel of grace to a world in need. We walked down the line, extending candy canes, hugs and smiles. Then we went in. We were allowed to enter the women’s unit. We stood at the perimeter of the dining room as they sat at their tables. Our eyes met as we sang. We lingered afterward, listening to their stories. As I drove away, I said a silent little prayer, a prayer I almost forgot praying, “Lord, could I come back here? My life is already so full. I don’t know how you could possibly make room for me to come here again. I love these women and I want to be a part of their healing.” Sometimes prayers are just quiet longings. Often they are seeds planted in our hearts by Him, the one who will produce great fruit from the smallest inkling of willingness and obedience.
A few months later, I looked down the aisle one Sunday to see a woman I had served with in a prayer ministry at our old church. She had always been someone I admired deeply. When she speaks, her conversation is literally soaked in Bible verses – not contrived, never churchy, just so full of God and His Word, it spills out and blesses those who listen. I was thrilled to see her attending our church.
Throughout the service, I felt this urging: “Go ask her what she does for Bible study and prayer.” I had this feeling she and I might be able to work out getting together once or twice a month to be in the Word and pray together. The pressing feeling got stronger as the service ended: “Go ask her.” I made my way past people, feeling this push to get to her which went beyond merely a personal interest. After a hug, I stepped back and asked, “What do you do in this season of your life for Bible study and prayer?” She surprised me by saying, “Well, I have a ministry to the women at the mission and I spend most of my private Bible study time preparing for that class on a weekly basis. You’d be welcome to come with me sometime.” So I did. And through this turn of events, God answered that almost forgotten prayer to serve at the Mission.
Situated in a forgotten and avoided section of town, the Mission is sacred ground. We aren’t reaching “down” to bless the women who reside there. When we walk under that archway, we enter into lives of fellow sisters – women seeking to grow as disciples. We talk about subjects most Bible studies won’t touch with a ten foot pole: abuse, addiction, pain, broken relationships and our own sin nature. We belong to one another. We laugh together. We shed tears together. We speak truth to one another. We admit our weaknesses and we call out His strength. These women have seen the pitch black darkness of the ugliest sin – their own and the sins committed against them.
This past Tuesday we were discussing the necessity of a healed heart. Our anchoring scripture was Hebrews 12:1:
Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us
Encumbrances – the sins committed against us which leave scabs on our souls and bruises in our hearts – so that every time we are bumped against, we feel the pain afresh – these hinder our running along to Jesus. As we gently, but openly navigated a discussion about childhood abuse and being a battered woman, one woman left the table in tears. Sometimes our pain resides so near to the surface that a word can reissue trauma. After the class was over, as we were leaving, she asked for time with us. She poured out her heart, recalling as if it were current, the details of sins she endured and witnessed as a child. The heinous brokenness of humanity causes such unspeakable acts. We sat with her as she sobbed, holding the space for her to release agony and receive freedom. We comforted her and stayed by her side. Light into darkness – God touching our most tender places to heal us in ways only He can – this ministry of the Spirit happens and we are grateful witnesses.
My friend’s pain came pouring out in the meager setting of a side room at a homeless shelter. Her story resonated in me for the duration of the week. After living a life where the hideousness of sin plagued her for years, she was able to speak the truth and receive the freedom Jesus died to bring her.
We don’t have to travel across town to extend messy grace – God moving in the midst of brokenness. Right in our neighborhood and church are women who feel they must mask hurt, hide reality and keep things tidy instead of letting another soul near the aching places in their hearts. Jesus offers them what He poured out into this brave woman. When we share burdens in safe places, He meets us to extend healing and freedom. We can be His hands and feet to one another – whether it be over a coffee at Starbucks or in a dilapidated apartment building with drug deals going down around the corner.
I’m not exceptional for going into the places He has called me. I’m a broken woman, redeemed and called like every follower of Jesus. What I do comes from my abiding relationship in Him. He extends His power and love through the most broken of vessels. When we listen, we can hear His nudges – urging us to reach out and be present, to be conduits of His messy grace into the lives and hearts of one another. This is body life.
It simply doesn’t get any better.
God’s grace is for the messy. When you see behind closed doors, you enter into the messy places we all experience – it is there His grace is needed most. … Where is Jesus nudging you? How is He calling you to step out and allow Him to extend His love through your willingness? I love hearing from you. Join the conversation here or on the Hearts Homeward Facebook page.