Portland Street Ministry Network

For several years I’ve taken steps to befriend leaders who minister to and with the homeless in the Portland metropolitan area. I’ve visited some of their places of ministry, shared in conversation, and mostly listened, asking questions so I may better understand what they do and why.

But that didn’t entirely satisfy my curiosity; it stoked the fires, inspiring me to dig more deeply. So with the encouragement and active support of my friends Pastor Steve Kimes of Anawim Community and Pastor Luke Sumner of HomePDX, I started a network designed to bring homeless ministers together every two or three months for encouragement, collaboration, prayer and inspiration. We’ve met three or four times as a group. We are on the process of planning our next gathering, likely on October 16, 2014, with details to come soon.

We are a varied assortment of people. There are pastors of homeless churches, homeless advocates, folks who run shelters, and even a box truck driver, namely me. Some are liberal, a few more conversative. We have anabaptists, Roman Catholics, baptists, Pentecostals, Charismatics, and so on. Our gatherings are characterized by kindness and compassion, flavored by authenticity and candor. We have nothing to lose by keeping it real, but we try to consider the feelings of others in the process.

It’s an organic, fluid conversation that is nuanced by the diverse perspectives of those who are present. That’s why we need you: your wisdom, experiences, dreams and hopes, even your pain and frustration. That way we can learn from and support each other.

You may be wondering how you can get involved. Here are a few ideas:

1. Join our email list by leaving a comment on this blog with your email address. Or you may message me directly using the contact page.
2. Come to our next gathering. Every month I use the email list to inform subscribers about upcoming events. I would love to see you at our next network gathering!
3. Pray: for the network and for all those who are doing the work of ministry among the homeless in Portland and beyond.
4. Volunteer: find a local shelter or homeless church and give time, money, food and clothing, and so on.

Got questions? Ask away! Meanwhile, go befriend and love someone who lives outside. It will change your life.


20130413-144922.jpg Last Saturday, my church began a neighborhood children’s ministry outreach called 180, Makin’ The U-Turn. It is full of high energy music, dancing, games, puppetry, teaching, bible memory work, relationship-building, faith-inspiring interaction, and prayer. We bought a small bus which goes into the neighborhood to transport kids to our location. Other children live close and walk.

We have many motivated, dedicated adult and youth ministers who trade in part of their day to do life with children and lead them to faith in Jesus and life-long discipleship. It is a privilege to participate in a small way. Last week 25 boys and girls made first time decisions to follow Jesus and be born again. This week 6 boys made that choice. It was a privilege to lead them in a prayer of commitment to Christ.

I’m thankful to witness the level of commitment my church is demonstrating to the local neighborhood. I look forward to seeing Christ’s impact spread throughout our community and beyond.

The best is yet to come and will impact all the generations and cultures within our influence which God has entrusted to us.

finding common ground in mission


4:30 pm

Twelve boys. Ready to play basketball. 1 1/2 hours early. Like me. I guess we are all pumped to begin this new adventure in the neighborhood. But we have to wait for my adult colleague to show up. Accountability and security are important in mission, as they are within a church program. One of the boys just stopped me as I typed that last line. He wanted to use my iPad. I smiled and told him I needed to finish some work. He ran off to play hoops in the back church parking lot. Single basket with threads of net remaining, the most recent remnant of rough treatment. Most nets last barely a few days. I have higher hopes for these kids and their families. My journey is intertwined with theirs as we learn to do life together based on common ground. In our case, basketball for now. But I pray for opportunities promising greater depth.

It’s a strange gig, this journey into the margins. It doesn’t feel like the margins at all. Maybe it’s because I feel like I belong here. Perhaps it’s also because I feel so honored to be with these people with all of their cultural, linguistic, and religious diversity. So much talent and creativity; so much intelligence and social acumen.

8 pm

Sixteen young people ended up participating in basketball tonight. Full court. Three teams. Attitudes were good most of the evening. A few tempers flared. One F bomb dropped. We got past it.

I conversed with an adult neighbor who participated. He asked me if this is a church. I said it is. He pointed out that most of the kids are Muslim. I asked him whether he is Muslim. He said yes. I then said that we try to offer fun things for the neighborhood. He agreed and said that is good as long as it doesn’t get into religion. I told him I respect that distinction; we just want to benefit the neighborhood with the use of our facility.

We continue to forge common ground. I handed out high fives and fist bumps as the night progressed. There were smiles and a growing understanding. There were also a few rough patches from kids who got out of hand and stopped following directions.

Mission tends to be messy at times. Frustrating, too. Aren’t all relationships? Opportunities to die to self abound. So that others may be introduced to new life in Christ. Doing life together in the margins: it’s painful and joyful, plus a lot of hard work. To find common ground and till the soil so that good seed might bring forth life eternal.

Five Ways to Learn the Culture of Your Neighborhood

Photo By Glen Alan Woods, September, 2011

Outreach without a foundation of relationships invariably leads to misunderstanding. Unfortunately, this is too often the norm for churches attempting to impact the neighborhoods in which their campuses are located. Good intentions are derailed by a failure to become a contributing part of a neighborhood. From the perspective of residents, we can seem like interlopers who zip in to hand out a track or give a show, and then zip out, leaving them to do damage control because of the distant nature of the outreach approach. No relationships have been nurtured. But hey, we got our photographs and our stories to share with applauding admirers in the church building, right?

But no relationships with the lost outside the walls our campus. One urban missionary says, “If you are not going to stay, please don’t come.” Sounds harsh, I know. But he has a point. Yet, it doesn’t have to be this way.

I offer below five simple ways to begin learning the culture of our neighborhoods. It is foundational to creating understanding. Rather than assuming we fully know the perspectives and needs of others, we should seek to learn them from the people we intend to reach. How might we do this? We should:

  1. Visit community events: Parades, fairs, carnivals, open air markets, flea markets, neighborhood discussions, movies in the park, sports events (especially for kids and teens), etc. Be present. Contribute. Ask questions and listen. Share in the local life and economy with no agenda other than to represent Christ with his love and kindness.
  2. Visit local restaurants, grocery stores, gas stations, speciality shops, parks, and so on. Do life with people. Always listening. Always gracious.
  3. Identify local conversation partners. Ask permission for an interview. Assure them you are not wanting to preach at them, but that you do want to learn from them. To the level of their comfort, ask about their lives in the community. What is the ebb and flow of local life. How do they perceive the church? Is it considered a part of community life as a positive influence or do they feel it is separate, closed off? What are their immediate concerns, worries, hopes, joys?
  4. If it is available for your neighborhood, do an online demographic study. For churches in the USA, the website www.census.gov provides a large quantity of data relevant to the needs of local neighborhoods. Compare the data with that of your church attendance roster. How is it different? How is it similar? You might be startled at some of the findings. But don’t worry, God isn’t surprised.
  5. If you live in the neighborhood, try to do life with others outside the walls of your home. Go on long walks, particularly in the warmer months. Take time to visit with the woman watering her lawn or the man scratching his head over how to put on the wiper blade. Ask the young couple about the baby in their stroller. Admire the new haircut for the toy poodle who simply will not stop yapping for someone to throw his ball…. You know, life. Do it with them. And listen.

In this process, and undoubtedly through other means you might create, you will begin to recognize themes emerging. Phrases. Words. Cries from the heart. Previous to this, for example, you could not have known that about 50 percent of mothers within the neighborhood in which your church campus is located are single. The reasons vary, but how might your church respond in a loving, caring way? Just an imaginary example, based on real research from my doctoral dissertation.

So there you have it. Five simple things you can do to begin learning the culture of your neighborhood. Be sure to focus on listening rather than talking, and caring rather than thinking up ways to refute incorrect doctrine. If you do so, you will gain something of far greater value than a photo-op and a heroic story to tell. You will gain friends. Only then will you begin the process of learning how to offer a gospel witness into the local culture. Off you go. Your neighbors are waiting.

What do you think of this post? Do you agree? Disagree? Sound off here or find me on twitter.com/glenwoods.

adventures of a reluctant protagonist

Last January I wrote a post on this blog entitled “the plot thickens in my life story.” According to the self-described WordPress stats helper monkeys, it is the most popular post of the year. I am under no illusions as to the reason. People like to search google for the term “statue of liberty”, which was featured prominently in the post. By mentioning it again, I am hoping this post will also generate some longevity in its readership. Calculating, I know. :)

This post is  a follow-up, nearly one year later. Much has changed since I last wrote of these matters in depth. I have learned some things about myself. By reading the previous post you may discover some of my backstory related to becoming a children’s pastor and later setting that role aside. Here, I reflect on my journey since that time and the obscure way forward.

For seven months after my resignation as Children’s Pastor and setting aside my ordination credentials I attended a great church near my home. I am grateful for their hospitality in allowing me to attend, even for a brief time. But I missed my tribe, my people with whom I have prayed, ministered, and laughed for so many years. With their permission and blessing, I returned a few months ago.

Slowly, I am re-engaging. I look forward to deeper connection and ministry partnership with the local church in the new year.  I admit to a slow realization: I am a reluctant protagonist in the larger story which unfolds around me. I prefer to fly low under the radar. I am reluctant, but mindful of my responsibility. I am still not sure how it will all play out. Much remains obscure, which is likely for the best. But I do know I miss working with children. I especially miss working with at-risk children who have little or no godly influence in their lives. I miss the theological conversations with their grown-up neighbors and relatives. I miss sharing laughs with their parents and families. Although I haven’t got the time  or desire to return to a pastoral role in a local church, I am liberated to engage ministry creatively and strategically as opportunities arise.

My challenge is to do this in a way that respects the leadership, particularly given my history with the church. This is why I have kept my distance from the children’s ministry in-house, and why I do not initiate contact outside the church sanctuary with families without the blessing of leadership. I don’t want to generate confusion, yet I am here and available as the church allows. Just yesterday I rode along with one of the church’s leaders to visit a four year-old girl and her foster mom in the hospital. During our Christmas Church service, I had the privilege of sharing communion and praying with three young sibling from the neighborhood, and doing so on a level they could understand. Both opportunities were a blessing personally to me.

Beyond that, most of my ministry focus lies outside the church walls in the marketplace and workplace. I do life with people, asking God to form in me Christ’s character so that through my words, actions and attitudes I may influence them toward repentance and faith in Jesus. Whether on loading docks, the gas station, the hair salon for my regular grooming, or in one of my employer’s several warehouses, opportunities always arise, challenging me to demonstrate the life of Christ. I do best in those environments, far from the glare commonly reserved for a protagonist. It is then, outside the fast pace of the larger story, that human pain comes to the surface. It is my privilege to be there as simply another human being who happens to love Jesus, the real protagonist of my story.

putting words into action for the sake of others

Christmas eve. Early afternoon. The quiet. Living alone is most profound in these seasons which emphasize togetherness. A choice is set before me: huddle in the warmth of my small apartment home, or go out on an adventure with a view toward blessing someone who has no home.

It brings to mind the birth of our Lord Jesus. Mary and Joseph were sequestered temporarily in a Bethlehem stable. There was no room in the inn. So in a sense, they were homeless. And despite the wonder of Jesus’ birth, despite the adoration of the angels, the shepherds and the magi from afar, a malevolent reality spread across the land. Herod wanted this new king dead.

In the natural, Joseph, Mary and Jesus were profoundly alone. But the Angel of the Lord warned Joseph in a dream. So, in a sense, the events leading up to this point were clearly ordained for the protection of this family. Perhaps it was for an extra measure of safety that God allowed them to be consigned to a stable, rather than in an inn, where a family might be expected to be found. God provided what they needed when they needed it. The inn keeper is not named in the biblical account, but clearly his role was important to offering them a measure of refuge from the elements in the stable.

In the natural it might be tempting to downplay the impact of even small acts of kindness toward the poor, the homeless, the elderly, the widow in her distress, and the orphaned. It might be even more tempting to be content to pray, or to throw a nickel in a red tin once a year. Far easier than making firsthand contact with someone in profound need of our love, our giving, our continued expressions of Christlike sacrifice.

So, off I go while the day is still young. This is no mere theoretical exercise. It is time to put my words into action. Will you do the same?

Break camp and advance….


I just returned from my excursion, a 20 mile round trip to the Hollywood District in Portland, Oregon. Everyday, on one of the street corners, a lady stands with her cardboard sign. But it isn’t just any cardboard sign. No witty sayings. No pleas for money. Rather, she sits or stands in rain or sunshine, drawing beautiful pictures with colored pencils. I am glad she was there today. Her smile lit up as I had the privilege of blessing her with a few gift cards from local food establishments near her regular spot. The great news is, I know I will see her again. I pray that God meets her needs in ways that bring her off the streets, and that she comes to know Jesus personally as her Savior.

concerning mysteries and their resolutions

Sherlock Holmes and his intrepid colleague Dr. Watson were an unlikely duo. Holmes was brilliant, though exceedingly peculiar, no doubt a consequence of his admitted cocaine habit. Watson served as his less astute conversation partner, asking those questions to which Holmes would invariably reply, “Elementary, my dear Watson. Simply elementary.”

As odd and dysfunctional as their relationship was, it worked in the context of their many adventures. Sadly, it suffered during those seasons between adventures, Holmes returning to his reclusive, depressed, drug addicted ways, and Watson lamenting the fact.

Watson sought domestic tranquility. That is to say he wanted to marry, which in fact he eventually did. Holmes only sought the next vexing mystery. He longed to utter, “The game is afoot.” Invariably, Watson would once again get caught up in the next great pursuit, both to chronicle it and to participate, if only to watch Holmes’ back. Continue reading