Walking into the Rock House street ministry in Jackson, Mississippi was an assault to the senses. Carey, a youth from my youth group at my church, had invited me to come hear him play guitar in the praise band. All he had given me was an address. I had no idea what to expect from the evening.
Even though the old office building had received a facelift since I had last seen it; we located the address easily. Remodeling had changed the front of the building and new carpeting and gray paint covered up wall cracks and other structural problems. But nothing could hide the odor of the life that had been there before.
Mississippi's summer heat exaggerated the musky smell, which greeted us as we ascended the stairs. I had invited my husband to join me and right then I was glad that I had.
All I could see were dirty people with faces misshapen by the physical abuse of life and vividly scarred by all life on the streets has to offer. The occasional percussion of gunshots punctuated the praise music. I had no idea what God would show me amidst this rubble of life.
After the initial shock wore off, I began to feel at home. It was a strange feeling. To my chagrin, I realized I wanted to be here. There was neither rational reason nor understanding, but my heart longed for something of which I couldn't grab a hold and I instinctively knew it was here. This night became the beginning of a new commitment for service in my life.
From that point on each time the Rock House door opened I was there with my husband, taking an active part of the work to be done. Standing amidst the crowd one evening, I realized if I am going to be of any use here, I need to ask God to help me love these people.
Loving people was not something that came to me naturally. With me, God had His work cut out for Him. Yet, I did my part. My commitment remained constant. I went through the motions of caring, feeding and listening to the people, who came into the ministry.
One night after service, as was our policy, we fed only those who were in the worship service because we were short on donated food. This night we felt badly though. Since it was near the end of the month we knew there would be hungry people asking for food, anything to fill their empty stomachs.
We worked through this issue by rationalizing; after all, this was all the food God had supplied for the evening, so a "good sense" decision was made. We would only serve the physical food to those who had come to be fed spiritually at the worship service. With this attitude, we continued to pass out the fragments of mixed doughnuts and skimpy peanut butter sandwiches and prepare to close the doors.
Anxious to put the sight, smell and sound behind me after the service and meal, I dashed for the stairs. However, I slowed down to go around a coarse, smelly young woman blocking the stairway as she sat hunkered on the step.
Looking down at her I first noticed her matted hair, underneath it was brown, and on top there were streaks of blond. Her soup kitchen issue of clothes had either been done when she was less hefty or the clothes issued were several sizes too small. But it was clear she had made an effort to coordinate them in color.
When I stalled, she began to talk. Not wanting to be rude, I turned toward her to listen. As she began to ramble I suspected she had blocked the stairs as a means to obtain a listener. Her conversation centered mostly on her young life as a child of the streets. The quality of her speech startled me somewhat but her occasional raucous word rebounded me back to reality.
Her conversation went back to the time when she was 14. Her struggles of just finding a place to rest her head or obtain a decent meal stirred my sympathies. I would never have guessed she was only 25 years old had she not told me.
In her frank conversation several things became apparent. She was street-wise and had learned well the lessons of survival. Here sat a young lady with 11 years of experiences that would have crushed the spirit of the faint-hearted.
As we talked, an older man with whom she lived wandered across the street. She spotted him coming and quickly explained, "He didn't come to the services that evening because he wasn't feeling well". She elaborated about her hunger pangs and anxiety to consume her sandwich; yet she continued to clutch it in her hand.
From the corner of my eye I could see the old man ambling closer; she continued to share her experiences with me. Quietly and without any pretense or show, she slipped the sandwich into the hands of the old man. Without the slightest hesitation, he began to eat, indicating it had been a while since he had partaken of food. When she realized I had seen her pass the food to the old man, she commented, "I really wasn't hungry” and went on to share another experience of her life on the streets with me.
With the sharing of each experience the sag in her shoulders lessened, somewhat.
By this time, my husband, who was one of the other workers, began to try descending the stairs. The blockade impeded his descent. So he just stood and listened. From his vantage point he noticed the sandwich transaction. He turned and slipped back upstairs.
Again he descended the stairs, discreetly; he tucked something into the young woman's hand. She glanced at it and began stuffing it into her mouth in a manner that graphically expressed the urgent need of her body for nourishment. In my mind's eye I saw a flashback of the sandwich she had quietly slipped to the old man and was reminded of her comment, "I wasn't hungry".
Darkness began to fall quickly, closing the curtains on this drama of life. She quietly slid back into her world and I into mine. The place where our two worlds had collided was indelibly marked by this "child of the street" turned star.
In this theater of life, God had presented the drama to quietly teach me about love: staring an unlikely, yet touching, model. These days I look at The Rock House with new eyes. The sight, smells and sounds have become cherished memories; since God has closed the ministry doors. But I thank God, my Father, for intervening in my life through this drama and allowing me the opportunity to look beneath the rubble of life and see a jewel.
Note: One day, when none of us for-knew the time or the hour: Carol was caught in the senseless violence of the streets and no longer dwells in this world. By the grace of God and the faithfulness of His servants to present the gospel in this street ministry; Carol had the privilege of meeting Jesus. (It is our prayer that even though Carol is no longer with us here on this earth; her story lives on.)
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Beautiful! You use words like an artist to enable the reader to see the beauty in this act of love ... and your skillful use of language also helps us to smell the smells and experience a panicky 'But there isn't enough food','What am i doing here?' etc! May readers be convicted to get involved in that sort of ministry and make a difference through the Word of God, through giving physical food and through just listening. It's wonderful to know that Carol is with God. Thanks for sharing this story. Suzanne
This is such a touching story. We see love when and where we are not expecting to find it. It just warms your heart to see those most in need willing to share what they have in such a selfless manner. Thanks for sharing.
Brenda, I know that I have read this before and think it may have been in the Writing Challenge ... perhaps even a winner. I know it moved me powerfully before, and it certainly has done again. Thank you so much for sharing this. It actually made me feel, perhaps surprisingly, quite humble. With love, Deb
This morning I decided to log on to faithwriters to find something to read as part of my morning devotions. This was perfect! We take so for granted how blessed we are. Thank you for the story. It was beautiful!