I’ve had a few run-ins with the police, usually because I was in the wrong place at the wrong time. At first, the officers assumed I was just another derelict, probably because I looked like one—and after having slept a few nights in heaps of dumpster garbage, I smelled like one, too! They soon learned, however, that I didn’t have to be there, but rather chose to be in order to minister to the men and women living on the streets. This made them no more sympathetic toward me when trouble broke out. I was just one more street person to contend with, regardless of my noble reasons for being there.
One evening an angry, drunk man stopped by the place where I stood talking with some of the bums. For no apparent reason, he swung a bottle, hitting one of the men, slicing his head open, and causing a minor riot to ensue. I stayed around to help the injured man and ended up in the police paddy wagon with everyone else.
One of the officers on the scene had tried many times to discourage me from hanging around the bums. He felt it was just too dangerous. As we arrived at the police station, I could see him talking to the other officers; though I couldn’t hear their conversation, I knew it was about me and that it probably wasn’t good.
This wasn’t my first arrest. Several times before I’d been mistaken as having been part of some disturbance. But this was the first time they decided to lock me up to teach me a lesson. Though I was only trying to help the injured, I found myself in the “drunk tank.” In the darkness, I felt my way down the wall and sat on the floor, which was cold and wet with urine and vomit from the drunks sharing my cell.
“How disgusting!” I thought. “What in the world am I doing here?” Overcome with self-pity, I complained silently, “Lord, there are other people who could do this kind of ministry. Why me?” Nothing happens by accident with God in control, and that night was no exception. As I sat against the wall arguing with God, explaining all the reasons I shouldn’t be there, some of the men began to talk. “Oh, great,” I thought. “The last thing I want right now is to get into a discussion with a bunch of drunks!” So I sat there listening, trying not to be involved.
As I listened, I learned that two of the men had homes and families. They’d been out buying cheap booze when the fight broke out, and now they were in jail, worrying about how upset their wives were going to be. These men were middle-aged and well-dressed. All kinds of people end up on the streets.
“Why are you here?” one of the men asked, pointing in my direction. “You’re not drunk!”
“Like you, I was in the wrong place at the wrong time. I was standing on the street corner with a bunch of the guys when the fight broke out.” The self-pity in my voice must have been obvious. I decided to get up and join the two men.
Trying hard to see me in the dark cell, the man asked, “Are you the preacher boy?” Perplexed by the question, I shook my head, no. I told them my name and explained that I was on the streets to show the people living there an alternative way to live through the power and love of Jesus Christ.
“Well, then you are the preacher boy!” the man pronounced. Chuckling, I asked him to explain. “There’s talk on the streets about a kid who lives here and likes to talk about Jesus. The word is that if you want to get your ear talked off, find him.”
“Well, I do tend to talk a lot about Jesus because I love Him with all my heart,” I explained, a little embarrassed by his comment.
“Then what are you doing here?” the other man asked.
“I don’t really have to be here. I choose to be here because I love these people,” I answered. Shaking their heads in disbelief, they asked me how I could love these unlovely, smelly people.
I looked around the dark room, barely able to make out the forms of the other men. Though I couldn’t see all of them, the moans and gut-wrenching sounds of their alcohol-induced vomiting made their presence obvious. “I love them because God loves them, and He has put His love in my heart. When I look at them through God’s eyes, I see His children instead of people thrown onto society’s junk pile.” Jail
They became quiet for a time. Unable to see their expressions, I wondered what they were thinking. Finally, one of the men asked, “Do you see yourself as having done any good?”
In complete honesty, I replied, “Not often, but God has changed some of those I’ve ministered to on the streets, and He’s given them a brand new beginning. Their hearts have been made new, and they have the promise of eternal life.”
They grew quiet again. Then I heard one of the men begin to cry. Putting his hand on mine, he said, “You know, I need something in my life. I look forward to weekends because I can’t handle the pressures of work. Then, on the weekends, I can’t handle my family.
I have nothing to look forward to.”
Nodding in the direction of the other men in the cell, he continued, “We don’t live on the streets, but we’re just as messed up as they are.” His despair was apparent as he quietly asked, “Can you give us the same encouragement and hope you give these guys?”
“Jesus doesn’t care who you are or what you’ve gone through. He wants to give all men eternal life,” I told him. The self-pity I’d been feeling turned into excitement as I shared the plan of salvation with these men. With tears in their eyes, they acknowledged their need for Jesus and accepted Him into their lives. Once again, a den of the Enemy had become God’s holy church.
I explained to the men that their walk with God was a process.
Some have had their lives changed immediately, and for some the walk was more gradual. I assured them of God’s promise in His Word to give new life and told them that when we trust Him as our Savior, we have that new life. It’s ours.
“I feel like a brick has been lifted from my heart,” one of the men said through his tears. “What do we do next?”
Because of my arrest, and because the police wanted to teach me a lesson by keeping me locked up for a few days, I was able to spend that time teaching these men what the Bible says about living a holy life. What Satan had intended for evil, God had intended for good! Finally our day of release came. After a lecture from the police about the dangers of alcohol and living on the streets, we were set free. We walked out with smiles on our faces, holding hands and praying. We hugged each other goodbye, reciting one last prayer together as the officers looked on. I encouraged my new brothers with more Scriptures. “It won’t be easy, but the Holy Spirit will be your teacher and guide.” I told them to find a Bible-believing church and to immediately begin sharing with others about the new life within them.
What a difference I felt as I left that place, compared with when I had first arrived. God always knows what He’s doing, and I was thankful to be a part of His plan.