Last week I witnessed ministry. I go to a bible college so I naturally see a lot, but last night I saw something I wish I saw more. Also something I wish I did more. There were no bibles, churches, or any apologetics, but there were tears.
The other night I went out with a ministry that catered to the needs of the homeless of Chicago. We met up beforehand and prepared to-go boxes with peanut-butter and jelly sandwiches as well as a banana and soup. We also had a couple packages of socks to give out. Our plan was to go out into the cold evening of Chicago and walk the streets that are known for having a large population of homeless. We were looking to serve them by providing them a meal and some socks to keep warm. As the leader of the group liked to say, “Sometimes you have to feed them Jesus first.”
The night I went out was especially cold and most of the homeless had left to go to a warmer area. This was because they would not be able to live through the cold Chicago nights. However, we did meet a couple of people and have some good conversation. I remember being struck by how kind these people were, and some were even hesitant to accept help.
After we had given a couple of people food we started to head back. At this point I couldn’t feel my toes and my legs were even starting to feel a little numb. We had made about half of the walk back and we ran into one woman who was sitting on the sidewalk. I remember at this point almost being disappointed that we had found another person, because that meant we would have to stop and I would have to become even more cold. My feet would really start to hurt when I stopped moving.
I stood there thinking of how I could barely stand a few hours there in the cold when there were others who had no choice but to stay out on the streets all night. I knew when my next meal was. I knew almost for certain that I wouldn’t have to worry anytime in the near future about where I would sleep. I quickly saw how blessed I was.
I felt extremely humbled and grateful. I began to develop a heart for these people, and I had no idea what it was that I was about to experience in just a few moments. The woman that we had found was sitting outside alone. She clearly looked as if it had been a while since she had showered. Her clothes were stained and seemed very old. We approached here and asked her how she was doing. Her lip seemed to be swollen or disfigured and this made it difficult to fully understand her.
We offered her some food but she seemed to reject it for some reason or another. As the conversation progressed she suddenly became very quiet. She seemed to began to fight back tears. One of the people that was with our group knelt down beside her and asked what was wrong.
Tears began to spill over her cheeks. Through sobs she explained that her husband had died last night. She had found him dead that morning. He did not survive the cold and froze to death. Her words reached my ears and I felt as if I were in shock. People die from that. There are people who can’t stay warm enough to live. There are people losing their loved ones and are truly left alone.
I felt so much pain for this woman. What happened next was something that I have thought about a lot. The member of my group that was kneeling next to her began to hug her and she cried. Without hesitation he hugged her and let her sob. Now that is ministry. Sure, in that moment I could have opened a bible and explained how God was good and how he could work even this out for her good. How Christ is all and can fix the areas where she was broken. But she wasn’t ready for that right then. She needed love.
I’m reminded of 1 Corinthians 13 where Paul says,
“If I speak human or angelic languages but do not have love,
I am a sounding gong or a clanging cymbal.”
I don’t want to just make a bunch of noise. I want to love people. Paul goes on to say if we don’t have love then we have nothing. Love is what gives meaning, and what this guy was doing meant something in this moment of ministry. I pray that God would move all Christians to serve out of love for those to whom they are ministering. I think sometimes ministering means less force feeding of Jesus and more hugging and crying (Romans 12:15).
I’m extremely thankful for the man in my group. His Christ-like heart has not only worked in that woman’s life, but has made a difference in mine as well.