Thinking Out Loud

March 18, 2016

Doing My Evangelisitic Duty

This Yonge Street Mission fundraising album's cover shot sees the street in warmer days than described in today's article. See today's footnote for a song from the L.P.

This Yonge Street Mission fundraising album’s cover shot sees the street in warmer days than described in today’s article. See today’s footnote for a song from the L.P.

“A bunch of us are going downtown on Saturday night to hand out tracts? Wanna join us?”

The invitation seems so straight forward. I was a Christian youth leader and I should really not try to avoid these evangelistic opportunities. It was the 1980s and tracts were still considered a viable form of outreach. Plus, it was downtown Toronto and I was committed to urban ministry. I’d also been spending a lot of time preaching to the choir; it would be good to do some genuine outreach.

And so, on Saturday night at 10:00 PM, there I was, one of two lone figures standing on the corner of Yonge (pronounced young) and Dundas in the bitter cold. Looking several blocks north, the time/temperature sign flashed minus 20° and that was -20 Celsius, not -20 Fahrenheit. And yet somehow it was snowing. Usually in weather that cold you don’t get snowfall. Furthermore, it was downtown, so when the snow stopped falling from the sky it would start blowing from the office tower roofs.

Probably well over half of the passersby refused to take a tract. Some would take one and drop it a few feet up or down the street, but others, including those who had refused, would see the bright colors on the front and bend down to pick them up.

When it got too cold one of us would go to the Yonge Street Mission to warm up and someone else would take their place. Rob was a young Christian with zeal for Christ and a desire to get into conversations with people. Craig knew his Bible well, but was distracted by the prostitutes who used Ford Drugs as a base. (I think we were standing on their corner.) “I have a ministry to beautiful women;” was how he described it.

They weren’t that beautiful. They were career hookers; a plight made more pathetic by attempts to wear something skimpy on a freezing cold night. It was the only time in my life I really had direct contact with people who ply that trade, and they looked like the years of working the sex industry and doing drugs had taken its toll.

I should not have been out there.

I’m not saying that because of the weather, although this was a stage in my life when simply looking at the ice cube in a soda would mean catching a cold. I mean that I wish I knew then what I know now. (And will say that someday about what I’m writing now.)

I didn’t know the basics of apologetics. There’s no training course or prerequisite for buying some packages of tracts and launching out into the downtown core of a major city. I didn’t consider that you reason differently with a pseudo-intellectual than you do with a guy working on his doctorate in philosophy.  I didn’t know the basic objections people have to Christianity and how to respond to each. For that matter, I didn’t know my Bible all that well.

We also weren’t trained in the dynamics of people who frequent urban centers. The runaways. The psychotics. The addicts. The homeless. The wounded. We didn’t know what to say or what not to say. How to diffuse an argument. What to do when people asked us for money.

We also had no follow-up plan. I do remember some of the tracts being rubber-stamped with a phone number, or maybe it was an address. But I can’t remember — and this totally embarrassing to admit — who it was we claimed to represent, aside from Jesus. I know in one case it was a church, but one night the tracts were stamped with a different church, and we also encouraged people to go to the Yonge Street Mission to warm up or continue a conversation.

If someone had asked to be prayed for we might have been helpful, but if they said they wanted to accept Christ right then and there, you could probably knock us over with a feather. (Okay, we were better equipped than that, but it was a potential weakness which I had remedied in my own life one or two years after.) We weren’t trained to see the question behind the question, or know when they were sincere or when they were just baiting us.

It was a lot of zeal, a lot of desire, a lot of commitment (in view of the weather); but not a whole lot of anything else. We just showed up and went to work, oblivious to any other ministries working in the downtown or even the fact that our ‘spot’ on that corner actually belonged to the ladies of the evening.

So…good memory or bad memory?

It was part of my personal spiritual development. There are aspects of it that I can say I would do all over again, but certainly not without training, a better battle plan, and greater accountability. We’ll never know in this life what the fruit of that ministry was, but I think in the long run it was better to do something than to do nothing.

 

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June 9, 2012

Weekend Link List

Breaking News!

Two major staff transitions at very influential churches to report today:

  • Shane Hipps,  who only recently succeeded Rob Bell as teaching pastor of Mars Hill Bible Church in Grand Rapids will step down as soon as the church finds a permanent replacement. “I knew instantly my internal shape did not fit the role they created.  But I had to ask the question, is this something God wanted me to change about myself?  Or was I simply not tall enough for this ride?  That is a question easier posed than answered.” 
  • Tony Jones’ response: “While I can understand the Elders’ decision to move in a more conventional direction — with a pastor who does the majority of the preaching — it seems odd that this person will report to the executive director of the church. It makes you wonder: What gifted preacher would come to Mars Hill without also being able to lead the staff?”

And now on to the rest of today’s links.

  • Church break-ins are nothing new, but sixteen in one county of one state just days apart?
  • After years of being told why men hate going to church, we learn that boys hate going to Sunday School.
  • The tour bus of Sanctus Real was involved in a fire early Wednesday morning, destroying the entire bus and resulting in the band losing all of their personal belongings. 
  • Prince Charles dropped by Toronto’s Yonge Street Mission on his recent Canadian tour to hear how charities and businesses are working together to create employment opportunities for young people. (Personal note: The YSM coffee house was the first place I performed as a Christian music artist.)
  • Author and televangelist Creflo Dollar was arrested early Friday on charges involving the choking of his 15-year-old daughter. He was taken into custody at his home and charged with simple battery and cruelty to children.
  • In the last 12 months, over 17 million American adults who don’t regularly attend worship services visited the website of a local church or place of worship according to a recent study.
  • Popular teen’s and women’s author Dannah Gresh on why she’s passing on the opportunity to read Fifty Shades of Gray.
  • A military chaplains’ organization is speaking out against a lesbian ceremony held at a U.S. Army chapel in Louisiana. “While the ceremony was not a marriage, it is clear that this was in fact a marriage-like ceremony…”
  • New York City Pastor and author Tim Keller offers fellow-pastors a behind the scenes look at the ministry philosophy behind Redeemer Presbyterian.
  • Veteran Christian blogger Bill Kinnon joins a disturbing number of people who “no longer” believe in the inerrancy of scripture.
  • Your friends in youth ministry might want to know about this four-week, interactive discipleship program for new Christians.

Devotions Department: After a week at what our British friends would call “the seaside”  Stephen and Brooksyne Weber offer devotional thoughts on some older hymns inspired by the ocean.

March 4, 2010

Homeless Teens: Life on the Street

I stood beside her coffin.  She looked she was sleeping.  I suppressed the urge to reach out and touch her.  I wanted to talk to her just once more.

But she was dead — found in a construction site, in suspicious circumstances, of unknown causes.  She was poor; she was aboriginal; she was a street kid; there would be no further police investigation.

I looked at her young face and remember the times we had share, times when I had hugged her, telling her I loved her.  She had come from a troubled and violent home.  Incest was a way of life for her.  Three months ago, she had given birth to a baby girl.

Once she came to Evergreen particularly distressed.  She cleared a table with a sweep of her arm and grabbed a pen.  Then, with deliberate strokes, she put her heart on paper:  a striking scene of two friends sitting together on a bench.  When she left, she smiled and said, ‘This is the best time I’ve had in a long time.’

She had come to Evergreen the day she died.  Now she was gone forever.

How very hard and short life is for some; how essential is the need to minister the Kingdom of God every moment, because that moment could be the last.

I looked at her once more and through my tears, I said, ‘Good-bye.’

She was only 14 years old.

~from Prayer for the City, a quarterly publication of Yonge Street Mission and the Evergreen Centre in downtown Toronto, Canada.   Pray for the young people at Evergreen for whom life is hard and sometimes very short.  To learn more about YSM, click here.

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