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.

friendship

Friendship is what happens when two or more people hang out because they care for each other, simple as that. No leveraging of influence or expectation of financial remuneration for time spent together, as in consulting or coaching. Just a mutual interest in the welfare of the other. A concern full of hope and desire for the best.

Friendship is rare. The real kind. The kind that doesn’t evacuate when disagreements occur, or evaporate when one disappoints the other. It endures the vicissitudes of conflicting schedules and geographic distance.

Friendship expects the best out of oneself for the sake of the other. It loves, sacrifices, cherishes, gives. It weeps when a companion weeps; it celebrates likewise with joy.

It’s rare. It’s hard. It’s friendship.

purpose

When I rise in the morning there is no soundtrack to inspire would be onlookers who might happen upon my ordinary story. There isn’t even closed captioning. Just a comical middle-aged man, struggling to get up while it’s still dark. Another day of labor. Filled with purpose.

Film producers would throw my script into the scrap pile. “Who cares about an old guy getting up at 4:25 am and going to work everyday? No one wants to watch that. We need action! Peril! Conflict! Lots of exclamation points preceded by saucy language, receding hemlines, and pyrotechnics!”

Therefore I’m destined to live in the invisible background of contemporary entertainment, not even meriting a cameo as an extra. I do so with purpose and with joy.

It allows me margin to listen with compassion to two elderly friends as they grapple with physical infirmity and concern for wayward adult children. It provides me space to join a group of friends in comforting one of our own who is hurting deeply.

It reminds me that I am not the hero of my story; I’m not even the protagonist. I’m just a simple player in a larger ensemble which is being refined for God’s glory so that his story may take priority in all of our lives.

I’m a follower of Jesus. The degree to which his person and work are magnified through my life will mark my level of obedience to the purpose for which he has made me.

Less of me, Jesus. More of you. Truly, to live is Christ and to die is gain.

to each their own creative process

Musical silence foreshadows creativity. An imagined instrumental interlude is sometimes all it takes for me to dig deep and discover an artistic piece yet to be fully refined. It can reveal an emotion, a new way of thinking about a problem, a poetic turn of phrase, or a form waiting to be revealed on the drawing pad.

I’m sure it’s not this way for every person. For me, it normally requires discipline to do the work of creating art, whether written or some other form. But when the sweet spot of musical silence strikes, I feel as if I have entered the world which I am attempting to create.

I press in, exploring places I prefer to ignore. Pain. Sorrow. Regret. Evil. Vulnerability. Neediness. Through tears I write. I also explore places which unveil wonder, evoking joy, laughter, and worship.

Nuggets of creative inspiration strike me throughout the day, usually in the midst of the mundane: driving truck, manual labor, walking in the city or in nature, living ordinary life. I note those moments, reflecting on them. Later, if the inspiration persists, I act on them to the soundtrack of musical silence. It is in these moments that the ideas coalesce, forming into tangible creations.

Then I take the biggest risk of all. I put them out there for others to see, vulnerability on full display.

single living in the daily routines

I don’t often write or talk about singleness, especially with respect to much of what is being portrayed via the arts, literature, lecture halls, and spoken word venues. I’m too busy living a full life to concern myself with caricatures, misconceptions, and intentional distortions both within and outside of Christendom. Much of the Christian content dealing with singleness misses the point. The world would be better off if we simply stopped publishing expert opinions and began listening to real people.

Life is hard, single or not. Work must be done to earn a living and maintain a healthy household environment. Decisions must be made. About career, education, financial choices, how to spend time, how to recognize and obey God’s call to minister.

In some ways my life is simple. I work, I minister, I sleep. Then I work and minister some more until it is time to sleep again. In other ways it’s complex. I try to maintain friendships, but life is busy. People grow distant. Friends can sometimes regress into mere acquaintances. Friendship takes a lot of work and if you are an introvert like me, one or two dismissals is all it takes for you to get the message that it’s time to move on.

In the last five years I’ve carved out healthy margin in my life. I get my sleep. I’m able most weeks to relax sufficiently to counterbalance a physically demanding job. It took finishing academic work and firing myself as Children’s Pastor to make it happen, but I am glad I did it.

Many well meaning people have shared with me their opinions about my singleness over the years. Not a single one of them has understood me or correctly evaluated my needs. Too bad they didn’t take the time to listen. It might have saved them a world of disappointment in my failure to live up to their expectations. They said things like:

Them: “Wow, Glen. You must have the gift of singleness! That’s amazing. I guess that means you will be able to do a lot more for the church.”

Me: How do I respond to that graciously? First, what is the gift of singleness? Is it written about in the same biblical context as the gift of marriage? Show me in the Bible where a person is given a spiritual dispensation to live as a godly single. We are no different than married people, including the fact that we need God’s special grace and wisdom to focus our thinking and actions so that we honor Christ rather than succumb to inappropriate sexual temptations.

As for ministry availability, my service is to Christ, not strictly to a local church community, although that is the context of my primary spiritual covering. For most of my life, much of my ministry has taken place far from a church campus out in the marketplace, workplace, and the various iterations of online communication.

Them: “God told me that he will soon reveal the person he has for you. Here’s a book. Read it and if you want to talk about it please contact me.”

Me: Oh really? How come he hasn’t told me? Thanks for the book. I’m sure I will recommend it to someone who needs it.

Them: “When are you going to settle down?”

Me: When God decides it is time for me to go to heaven to take up residence in one of his rooms he is preparing for me.

I’m all for marriage. In fact I’m pro marriage. Next to committing your life to follow Jesus Christ, it is the most profound covenant a person can make. I admire those who do so and follow through on their covenant faithfully. I don’t know why it is not my path, only that I must obey Jesus to the end of my days.

My days grow shorter with each passing moment. I choose to live them in Christ honoring fullness. No angst. No regrets. Full of joy.

I may be alone in the natural. But since I am in Christ, I am his and he is mine. What more do I need?

pressing into the plot line

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I’m looking out my back window as I type these words. Spring rains nurture the green that I see as trees offer their array of praise to our Creator. The scene changes throughout the year, depending on the season. Just a few months ago there were no leaves at all as winter ran its course. It seems that nature understands it’s role in acting out its part in the story. But it’s not quite so simple for me. As I press into the plot line which God has designed for me, I do so with childlike faith in his providence, while lacking the clarity of future hindsight.

There is much I do not know and may never know this side of eternity.

Yet, I have a part to play to the best of my ability. So I seek God, crying out to him and striving to listen with an open, malleable heart. The two birds flitting among the trees just outside my window do so without a care for what tomorrow will bring. Their concern is the here and now. Food, drink safety, the stuff of a bird’s daily struggle to survive in a hostile, yet beautiful world.

God cares for those birds. In keeping with the words of Jesus in Luke 12:24, how much more does God care for you and for me?

The enemy of our souls tells us lies:

-you have no future because of your past decisions
-you are a fraud because you have sinned
-you have no value because who could possibly accept you?

or

-your future will be great, if only you do what I say…
-you can do whatever you want, if only you serve me…
-your value is vested in your willingness to bow to my wishes…

Either trajectory is full of lies from the pit of hell. They attempt to steal attention from Jesus Christ and place them on ourselves and on the devil.

But God reminds us in the text above that he does care for us, and in texts throughout Scripture that he does love us (John 3:16-17, Romans 5:8, etc). Therefore, my plot line is a carefully tended subplot to God’s grand narrative which expresses his love for all of humanity throughout history. So is yours.

That’s the promise and hope which the Holy Spirit seals in our hearts through Jesus. We have a relationship with God and he is involved in our lives as we submit ourselves to obedience to his Word. That is why I state with joy the memory verse the kids and I learned today in kids church: “Your statutes are wonderful. Therefore I obey them” (Psalm 119:129).

The darkness is now filtering out daylight as I take my final glimpse of the trees. The birds seem to be settling in for now. Their story continues. So does mine and yours. What will tomorrow bring? I don’t know.

But I plan and hope and continue to listen to what the Spirit of God is saying through Holy Scripture. Yes I press into the plot line, hoping that somehow my minor subplot will make a difference for someone tomorrow and in the days to come.

waiting in the quiet

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It’s the calm before the gathering. A group of friends who minister in the margins among the poor and homeless will arrive soon. I know a few of them already. I will meet others for the first time tonight. So I wait in the quiet.

I wonder how their week has gone. Has it been hard? Are they hurting? Are they feeling ready to give up?

I will be doing a lot of listening tonight. This gathering is not about me. It’s about creating a space for those who minister in often challenging circumstances to speak their minds, their hearts. The first question I plan to ask the entire group is, “What do you need?”

Then I intend to listen and watch them interact.

For now, in these moments preceding their arrival, I wait in the quiet. Ever mindful of God’s presence, I place my trust in his providence, understanding that real hearts with real hurts will be joining me soon. Brokenness senses the presence of its counterparts. So also do I sense that tonight may well be the healing opportunity that some need.

Photo above taken by me immediately before writing this post.