"The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad; the desert shall rejoice...Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees. Say to those who have an anxious heart, 'Be strong; fear not!'...Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, the ears of the deaf unstopped; then the lame man leap like a deer and the tongue of the mute sing for joy."
As we came down off of the mountain, we began meeting the people that the Lord had in store for us. He immediately began to reveal to us people whose lives were full of dry areas in desperate need of some living water. We met Tammy, Sammy, John, Charles, and Jerry. Jerry was our first friend. Thomas, our new friend and temporary VanGoer, picked him up off of a corner because he was holding a sign that said "Hungry." We met with Jerry a couple times to feed him physically with hopes of feeding him spiritually. Jerry grew up in foster care. He moved from family to family and says that "some of them" treated him ok. He dropped out of high school after deciding that his one and only goal in life was to get out of the government's control. When he turned 18 he emancipated himself. As far as we know, freedom from foster care brought Jerry the most happiness that he has ever felt. What is even sadder, Jerry has no desire to find happiness beyond that. He is content with living on the streets. He brags about how much money he can make on the corner some days and admits that he spends most of it on alcohol and marijuana.
John and Charles have been friends for about 15 years. They met each other on the bridge and have been roughing it on the streets together ever since. John was married in 1993. Together they had a baby girl. He said, "We were going to church, baptized, and saved...I guess I have just backslidden." After the divorce John says that he just stopped caring. To John life became seemingly meaningless. He hit the streets and the alcohol and has been content there for far too long. Charles has three kids that he raised on his own after his wife left him. His 2 girls became nurses and his son, a computer technician. They really want their daddy around but they do not want the drunkenness that comes with it. Charles says, "I ain't gonna lie to ya, I really like alcohol. It helps me stop hurting for a little bit." Some nights the beer makes him feel ok about his life and some nights he "still goes to bed crying." Both of them are finally ready to get out of their lifestyles. They just cannot find the strength and the courage to do so. John said he is finally ready to live his life again and Charles said that God has been calling him to Himself for awhile. He felt the power of God when his knee started feeling better after we prayed for it and is continually feeling that power as God asks him to set down the bottle and pick up the cross. Though they are still so deep in their walks away from the Lord, they are now beginning to see a small light at the end of the tunnel.
Tammy and Sammy are a married couple from Knoxville. They've lived a life of hard drugs and alcohol until seven months ago. They decided there was more to life than the bondage they were in and it was time to take hold of the life God intended them to live. After throwing out their needles, the dark world they were in got even darker. Sammy lost his job, they couldn't afford housing with heat or electricity, and they found themselves worse off than they ever were while doing and selling drugs. They felt Satan tempting them to return to his world of lies and temporary satisfaction so they packed up and fled to Chattanooga. In their words, "If you wanna change your ways, you have to change your playground." They both brag about the freedom the Lord has brought them and how the joy He has given them is better than any high they've ever gotten (and they've tried it all). Since we've met them, we've watched as God provides for them in such a timely fashion. When they ran out of money for a motel, a church deacon showed up to cover the fees. When they needed clothes for interviews, a man named Greg clothed them. When they were overdue for a hot meal, the Lord allowed us to feed them. After applying at every place they could find, Sammy finally said, "I've done all I can do and now I feel like its time to wait on the Lord." Two days later he gets a roofing job making $12 and hour. They admit that changing their ways was far from easy and they still have a long way to go but because they were willing to live according to the Spirit and set their minds on what the Spirit desires, the Lord has become their rock.
Charles told us how its hard to be looked down on and judge by those who "have it together." They either glance in pity, look past them as if they aren't even there, or change routes to avoid them all together. We forget that these people on the streets, no matter why they are there, are still people with beating hearts and feelings just like ours. They have faces, names and stories to go with their lifestyle. No one dreams of being a drunk or wants to grow up and be homeless. Nobody wakes up and says to themselves "I hope people look at me in disgust today." Each of the people that we were blessed with in Chattanooga is in a different stage of their life and we are in no position to judge them or to justify our choosing not to help them. We are called to love at all costs. For Jerry we may have watered and for John we may have planted but either way we played the part that God called us to play in their lives...and all we had to do was show up. As followers of Christ we are called to invite people to the sweet life in Christ through loving them beyond, and even because of, their choices.
We are learning that we lead people to salvation through walking alongside them towards the cross. We help them as they work out their own salvation with fear and trembling. We just have to be there with love....and they will see the sweet Spirit of Jesus in us. A random man named Tom told us today, "There is something sweet about your spirit." After showing up over and over for John he said, "Nobody has ever treated us this way." So....we are challenging anybody that made it all the way through this entire blog. We want you to pick somebody in your town. Pick one person to be consistent with. Consistency shows somebody that you care about them, that you are concerned about them, that you respect them, and more importantly that you love them. Love your neighbor this week by giving them whatever they need and then watch as God gives the growth. If you decide to commit, let us know who you pick and everything that God does because we want to pray with you.
Isaiah 35 goes on to say....
"For waters break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert; the burning sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water...and a highway shall be there, and it shall be called the Way of Holiness."
Let this be true of our country.