Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Love in Action

I had an incredible experience the other night. I've been getting to know some women from another church, New Life Covenant Church in Humboldt Park and they invited me to join them on their Friday night ministry called "Rose of Sharon." A group of women meet every Friday night and drive the streets to hand out roses to women they see out and about. They target different neighborhoods throughout Chicago, but they focus on the neighborhoods with a high volume of prostitutes. 

When they asked me to join them, I gladly accepted but acknowledged my reservations -- I wasn't sure what to expect nor was I sure I would be any help to this team. What would I say to a woman in prostitution? Would she and I be able to connect on any level? Would I have the boldness needed to strike up a conversation? I'll have to admit that at first I was thinking "Pretty Woman" but as we got closer to the date of our meeting, I started to sense it would be nothing like Pretty Woman. In fact, I was praying God would prepare me for the unthinkable so that I wouldn't be too shocked by what I saw.

I brought three TMC women with me on this adventure because I wanted to learn together and debrief afterward. We arrived at New Life around 9pm...Starbucks in hand because we were nearing my bedtime! After some prayer time, we prepared the roses. Each rose had its thorns removed and attached was a business card with information about New Life Covenant Church and the Chicago Dream Center. They gave us a quick demonstration of what happens when they approach a woman with a rose. It was something to this effect: 

 "Hi, how are you? Can I give you this rose? I want you to have it as an expression of God's love for you...He thinks the world of you. Attached is a card about the church we are with and information about our Chicago Dream Center. Maybe you know someone who needs help...a fresh start or a better life. If so, let them know that they can come to the Center anytime for anything." Then the volunteer would ask for the woman's name and if we could pray for her.

At first, I wondered how this would really go. Would women really accept a rose and prayer? And if she was "working" would we be a distraction? Is this at all dangerous?

Now that we had prayed for the night, prepared the roses, it was time to go. We piled all 15 of us into a van. I tried to take note of where we were going just to keep my bearings...and it wasn't far. Just a few blocks west and a few block south and we arrived in what seemed like another land. However, one of my TMC girlfriends commented that we just a few blocks from where she lives. AH-HA moment number one: a lot happens on the streets of Chicago, not far from where we live our lives, that I'm unaware of. 

We were divided up in to teams of 3 or 4 with a group captain. After 10 or 15 minutes of circling a few blocks, someone yelled out "Team One!! Go! There is a woman on that corner...go, go!" Thankfully I was not on team one so I stayed in my seat and watched with wide eyes. Three woman, including one of the TMC girls, jumped out of the van and sort of jogged over to the woman on the street corner. It was clear that she was a prostitute, and I had no idea how this was going to go down. But to my amazement, she accepted the rose. And as the conversation proceeded, I eventually saw all four women bow their heads in prayer. WOW! Right there in the middle of the night, on a very dark street corner, four woman were praying to God. AH-HA moment number two: when the Bible speaks of Light piercing the darkness, it is literal. Not only did I see God's Light penetrate this dark moment, it was almost as if I could see His Light touching the soul of this precious woman. I didn't see her as a prostitute, I saw her as a broken woman clinging to any beam of hope that was offered to her. After the prayed, she hugged each one of the volunteers, clutched her rose, and walked on. The entire ordeal was less then 10 minutes. 

The night carried on similar to that except not every women we encountered was "dressed" or "looked" like a prostitute. I realized that this ministry reaches out to women who are walking the streets late at night in an unsafe environment. Some of them could have been "working" or some not. We saw many disturbing things -- children that were clearly up past their bed time, pimps or AKA the boss, intoxication, liquor store activity that made me really nervous, and more. But one thing remained the same...just about each woman accepted our rose and offer of prayer. She would give her name, hold our hands, and even share a prayer request. 

AH-HA moment number three: we don't have to travel to foreign countries to bring the good news to the poor, offer hope to the oppressed, and help set the captives free. We can travel to Madison and Pulaski at 11pm at night.  As dark as some of these encounters felt, the Bright Light of the Gospel was able to make a difference. I'm not sure if any of the women we met will ever follow up and attend New Life or visit the Chicago Dream Center. But I witnessed seeds being planted. I was reminded of just how empowering the Gospel is and how hopeful prayer is. And I was especially struck by how quickly women can form a bond...I sensed these women believed us when we said we just wanted them to know how valuable they were and that we cared for them. 

This night was for me an example of love in action. As 1 John challenges us, "We know that we have come to know him if we keep his commands" (2:3) The Greatest Commandment of God is to (1) Love Him and (2) Love others. Tim Keller defines love as the "Commitment, action, and self-sacrificing necessary to make people great, build them up into all God intends them to be..." Think of that definition toward the women who are out roaming the streets, some of the working, perhaps selling their bodies to make ends meet, and picture what WE are doing to make them are WE building them up to all God intends them to be? Our job, Christian women, is to put Love in Action.

We've been invited to go back and join this team as much as we'd like. I hope we can put another group together and do it again as well as find other ways we can reach out. Be in prayer with me and let's see what God has in store for us.

With love,

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