During a recent string of LIVE dates in Northern California, my friend Scot and I found ourselves at my first stop: Golden Hills Outreach Center in Antioch, California. It was pouring rain outside.
As we approached the front doors, there were already people outside, waiting to get in and out of the cold. The center provides hot meals for the homeless and needy in the area, each and every day. They are not a shelter, so there are no overnight accommodations, but it's a warm place to get out of the elements for a short time, and fill a hungry stomach.
We were quickly greeted by the Pastor that oversees the ministry operations there, and he offered us a tour and pointed me in the direction of the sound system. It was a simple room, filled with long tables and chairs. Nothing fancy, just a chow-hall set up for a buffet-style meal.
After my sound-check, we followed the Pastor across the street to another set of store-front buildings that the church (Golden Hills) utilized for other aspects of this ministry. Mostly for reaching younger people in this sometimes forgotten segment of mankind. It was there that were joined by a few other gentlemen for prayer. As we went around the room, making our petitions know to God, I could feel His presence heavy already. My anticipation started to grow as one after another each man prayed.
Following the final 'amen' we walked through the cold and rainy streets back to the outreach center where the service was about to begin. As soon as we walked through the doors, I could see the people shuffling into the room, and out of the unkind weather outside. The Pastor opened with a word of prayer, and introduced me. As I picked up my guitar and pulled the microphone forward, the people were still coming in. I was reminded that God's word notified me, "whatever you do unto the least of these, you have done it unto Me." The least of these? In today's society these people would have been considered the 'least'. Most of them were homeless, living on the streets, while others lived in the local neighborhood made of up of small, tattered homes with worn paint jobs and over-grown or dead lawns. I silently thanked God for the opportunity to be there. Knowing that no honorarium or love offering would come out of this night. No monetary gifts, only Kingdom expansion. I smiled and proceeded to address the crowd.
They were hungry and distant. Almost unaware of my presence in the room. No doubt a response to the current plight of their lives, seemingly filled with misfortune. I could almost hear their thoughts of being tired, lost, cold, hungry, forgotten, hopeless... and perhaps thinking they would be better off dead.
As I strummed the chords and sang to the familiar melody of Bob Dylan's "Knock'n on Heaven's door" I could see their attention shifting toward the Hispanic-looking-Hawaiian seated before them... me. As the song ended, they filled the room with their applause and whistles. I proceed to play "Give your life to Jesus" to the tune of "Sweet Home Alabama". Their excitement grew, and I had their undivided attention. At this point, I turned my attention, and theirs, upward, as I began to worship God with "Open the eyes of my heart". When I reached the break-down, they followed me into a chorus of, "holy, holy, holy..." And there we were, singing unto the Lord...together.
"Silver and gold have I none, but such as I have give I thee...." I had no money to offer or material items of any kind, but what I did have, I offered unto them: my testimony. They listened intently. I could see by the looks on their faces, it could have been their story...just short of the victory and deliverance. Some cried as I recalled the acts of a little old lady named Rose Gunn, and others bowed their heads in defeat as I spoke of my battle with addiction and incarcerations. Their were women glancing back at their male companions as I walked them through my choosing of drugs over my own children. Something was happening in the room.
And then I reached the point of closing... and decision. In response to the calling God has placed on my life, with audiences big and small, and with a Gospel message that was authored by someone who is no respecter of persons, be they rich or poor.... I extended an invitation to meet Jesus. To call upon Him and believe in Him. To surrender ones life to Him. To accept His love, grace, mercy and forgiveness. To be embraced by Him. Then I walked away from the mic.
One by one they came. Many with tears in their eyes. I quietly began to pray, and thank God for the work He was about to do in that room. And still they came. Making their way down the narrow aisles filled with chairs and bodies, not swayed by the obstacles in their way, knowing they had to come forward. I waited on them, patiently.
We prayed together and jointly called upon the name of the Lord. It was glorious.
I hugged each and everyone of them, as the volunteers began to bring out the food from the kitchen. Many began to fill their plates, while others made their way to me with words of thanks. Everyone of them had a story to tell. It was heart-wrenching to listen.
At one point my attention was on a young, teenage boy. He did not come up to the front for prayer. He had anger painted on his face, and sadness in his eyes. He was their alone. I asked called to him, "hey, what's your story?" He motioned me out the backdoor of the building, as if to say, "I don't wanna talk in front of everybody here."
He had a rough exterior, no doubt the result of having to survive on the streets with many that are bigger and much tougher than he. Violence runs ramped in the streets, and children are often the victims of their peers, and fall prey to the homeless adults around them. He told me that no one in that room knew what real pain and despair was. He said he didn't know about a god that would allow all of this pain. He said, "....but you're cool." Then he proceeded to tell me his story, that included: his brothers all being killed by gang violence; his father in prison; his mother mentally disabled; and the recent death of his uncle in Afghanistan. His uncle was the only thread of normalcy in his life, as far as relationships were concerned. And after his passing he found himself on the street. I offered him a moment of compassion, and then asked him, "so what now?" I told him we could talk about all the drama and misfortune over and over, but that would get us nowhere. He quietly considered my question and comments.
Before I knew it, I realized that I was surrounded by 'the least of these." They all wanted to speak with me... to tell me their stories. I gave the young boy my phone number and told him I knew people in the area that could help him off the streets. He assured me he would call. Then I turned my attention to a gentleman, 50-something. He told me his story about how he and his son ended up on the streets, as he motioned to a teenage boy standing near-by. And then another come and shared, and another. Both my friend Scot and I found ourselves speaking with all these people. So much time had passed that we didn't even notice the outreach center close its doors and lock up for the night. And still more were waiting to speak with us.
The last two we spoke to was a teenage couple. The boy told us about his upbringing and how he was kicked out because of a disagreement with his stepfather. His girlfriend was living with him at the time, and now they were both homeless. Trying to apply for state aid, and attempting to keep her in school, they were both living on the streets. The rain was coming down. As I looked at them, I realized that they looked just like my own teenage children. They were polite and soft spoken. Well mannered, and educated. The looked clean and groomed. My heart broke as they continued to tell us their story. We were all crowded under an awning, trying to stay dry. I told them about City Team Ministries and how their were resources out there to help them. I gave them my number and told them to call me.
After Scot and I prayed with everyone, we made our way back to the car. We had to walk a little ways, in the rain, to get to the parking lot. It was really coming down as I threw open my door and jumped in to avoid being soaked. The rain fell heavy onto the windshield in front of me, and distorted my view, so I couldn't make anything out. Just the rain and the glare of the streetlights before me. As we pulled out of the parking lot, with the wipers now going back and forth, I could see all of our new friends going their separate ways. But where are they going, I thought to myself. Again my heart was hurting as we turned the heater in the car up a notch, and the teenage couple disappeared in the rear-view mirror. I quietly prayed again.
Many made decisions for Jesus that night as they came forward in the service, and many others reached out to us in the cold of night on the backside of that building. And still others never said a word to us, just sat in the room, ate their meals, and left.
Join me prayer friends for each and every person who heard my voice that night. That God would protect, deliver, and have mercy on them. That He would extend His hands of grace toward them, and open doors for them that lead to newness of life. And that those who took my phone number would call one day, as I wait.
That night only two men left in the protection and warmth of a vehicle, heading to the serenity of a home. Everyone else left in the rain.