We were headed out, like we do every Wednesday morning, with an airpot full of steamy hot coffee and a modge podge of assorted breakfast items. That morning we had a brief training because we had guests joining us. We went over some simple guidelines like, "Don't carry cash, so when folks ask you for money, you can honestly say that you don't have any money on you." And, "If you go to pray for someone, ask if you can put your hand on them before just assuming." And, "Go in pairs, never go alone."
Whenever we have new people, even if they're seasoned missionaries, we can still feel the slight nervousness about hitting the streets of a city that has a reputation for violence. We also serve in a neighborhood where there are multiple methadone clinics and it's home to the most concentrated transgender community in Baltimore. We love this neighborhood! God put us here, boots on the ground, to love in simple ways. One of those ways is through our breakfast brigade that heads out every Wednesday morning.
We almost always see Pops first, as he is often standing out on our corner with a street sign asking for money. He lights up when he sees us and opens his hand for this breakfast. We ask him how his head is feeling and if his surgery has been scheduled yet. He was pistol-whipped on the street just a week earlier. One of our staff was in the area and was able to give him fresh clothes and make sure he had a plan to get help. Our team takes turns hugging him and then a few offers to pray for him again.
After saying our goodbyes, we had over to our friends the security guards. These two young men have become friends. We usually end up here for quite a while, chatting about their kids, job, and music. They're happy for a hot cup of coffee and we're happy to see them.
As we turn the corner we see two of our favorites! Barbara + Chris* who are people of peace in this community. They are respected, kind and looked after by their neighbors and friends. As we get into a familiar conversation, one of our new guests, waved me over to meet a woman I'd never met before. He said, "She'd like services, to get off the street. She's homeless." I begin to ask her questions to learn a bit more about her story. I looked up the number and contact for a safe shelter in Baltimore and as she went to get her own phone, she discovered it was missing.
I knew right away that look in her eyes, the frantic racing that comes before a full-blown panic attack. She verbally retraced her steps to figure out where she had left her phone. She began to take off. And in that 30-second span, I quickly dialogued with God. "I'm about to go alone, with her, to where I'm not sure. Help her find her phone. It's her lifeline. Keep us safe."
I barely kept up with her as she was walk-running, across the street, up a block and to a back alley, where people were milling about. I was praying, watching my back and taking a spiritual pulse on my surroundings all at the same time. It's in these moments, I just cling to Jesus.
She ran up to a few men who were sitting where she had obviously been a bit earlier. She frantically searched the ground and yelled at the men, "Where's my phone!" They avoided her gaze and ignored her pleading. She got more frantic. She started to walk towards another group, then had a thought. She turned to me and yelled, "Dial my number!!!" I pulled my phone out, aware that I stood out like a sore thumb. I tried to keep up with the numbers as she dictated them to me. I prayed, "God, let her phone ring." We listened.
She went right up to the man who's pocket was ringing, "I knew you had it. Give that to me now."
He pulled it out and put it in her hand. She came right back to me, passed me without stopping, and I knew it was my cue to follow. We passed an older, hunched over gentleman as we were making our retreat. I smiled at him.
As we began our walk back, she went into immediate praise. I disappeared and she was talking to Jesus, worshipping Him as if her lost son was restored to her. Tears streamed down her face. She began to sing a time-worn hymn of thanksgiving and I joined her as I knew the tune. We worshipped together, celebrating a God who cares about even our smallest of needs and treats them as important.
When we were out of harm's way, she turned to me and said, "God saw me. He sent you and your friends. If your friend hadn't offered to find a shelter, if you hadn't had me pull out my phone, if you hadn't followed me with your phone, my phone would've been lost forever. I have nothing else left."
Jesus is in our day-to-day. He cares about the smallest of details in our lives as well as the ones that are huge, the ones that offer us a lifeline to others. I love this life with Jesus. It's not always easy, but I get to live in a place where I see His handiwork every day.