Mothers Hope How it Started
After serving as pastor of Church On The Street for seven years in Atlanta, Georgia, I asked God for a fresh idea. “Lord, show me a unique way to create a spiritual hunger in people whose lives have hit bottom,” I prayed. As an afterthought, I added, “If it’s all the same to You, God, I’d just as soon have an idea that won’t get me shot at or dragged into the police station to explain my presence in a place where trouble breaks out.” In the many years of street ministry, those were all realities.
As I waited for God’s answer, my thoughts turned to the upcoming holiday - Mother’s Day. The woman who carries a child within her own body for nine months, and then nurtures that child through the stages of life, maintains a powerful influence that carries even into adulthood.
In the United States, Hallmark tells us that 96% of American consumers participate in Mother’s Day, on some level. It has historically been the busiest day for long-distance telephone calls, the busiest day for florists, the busiest day for restaurants, and second only to Christmas in gift-giving. People in many ancient cultures celebrated holidays honoring motherhood, documented as far back as the early Greeks and Romans. Mother’s Day is a special day!
In the South, like no other place in the country, a mother is considered to be the key figure in the family - even more so than the father who is absent in many homes. If the homeless and the addicts connected with their mothers on this special day, perhaps tender memories of the past would spark an interest in getting help to turn their lives around. I have seen it happen many times. If nothing else, I thought, it would be good to reconnect loved ones for prayer and support.
As the thought grew stronger, I felt compelled to offer my cell phone free of charge to anyone who wanted to reconnect with Mom on her special day. This was in a time that cell phone companies charged its customers by the minute. Young people today would not believe their was a day when very few people had cell phones, especially the homeless. The idea of unlimited calling was not heard of as yet - especially long-distance calls. If disturbed by the possibility of running up a phone bill beyond my budget, I simply relied on a cliché that had proved true for me in times past as well as for many before me. When God calls someone into action, God provides the necessary tools to accomplish the task.
The name Skid Row is a place recorded first in Seattle, Washington, where logs were skidded into the water on dirt roads for delivery to lumber mills. During the great depression, the area went into decline, and “skid row” became synonymous with “bad neighborhood.” All of the larger cities in the country have an official or non-official Skid Row. My ministry has been focused on Skid Row of various towns in the United States. In most areas called Skid Row you will find the majority of homeless people.
Every night, somewhere in the inner city, we would hold a worship service with singing, preaching, testimony and food. Volunteers help prepare meals to feed and organize clean up after the crowds leave. We call that Church On The Street. Much of my ministry, though, takes place one on one. When someone comes up with a need, my volunteers and I do our best to meet it. The need may be for a job, clothing, a medical emergency, or protection from harm. Sometimes I’m attacked by an enemy or required to break up a fight, and I have a collection of knives and guns intended to do me in. The weapons remind me of God’s providence.
Along with providing tangible assistance, we are constantly on the lookout for an opportunity to point people to the healing power of Jesus Christ. Answered prayer quickly gets the attention of those involved in the situation. One day I huddled together with others under a bridge to stay out of the rain when a man needing employment approached me. A short while after our prayer on the spot, a man driving a truck came along asking, “Does anyone need a job?” Such incidents serve as faith builders to the community and to me.
Now I had another idea to put to work. On the Saturday before Mother’s Day, I parked my truck in the worst part of Atlanta and put up my cardboard sign outlined with florescent colors that read: “Call your mother for Mother’s Day–FREE.” Sitting in one of the two chairs, I waited. Not more than ten minutes later the first homeless man approached me and wanted to call his mother. I invited him to sit down while I dialed the number. On the phone I said, “This is Pastor Kurt with Church On The Street. Your son is sitting beside me and wants to say hi for Mother’s Day.” I handed the phone to him and listened to the brokenness in his voice as he took the first step toward home. My heart broke as I watched a flicker of hope mixed with sadness in his eyes when he said, “I love you.”
By the time he finished the conversation, several people had lined up. One man approached me with the question, “Is this a joke?” “No, it’s for real,” I said. “If you want to call your mother, stand in line, and you will be connected when it’s your turn.” The line was already two blocks long.
A large assembly of people on the streets that belong to the homeless population makes the police nervous because trouble often breaks out. Although the people in line were calm and orderly, a policeman stopped to ask what was going on. When I pointed to the sign, he smiled, nodded approval, and went on his way.
To make sure the cell phone wouldn’t die, I kept it charged with a battery charger from my truck. All day Saturday and after church Sunday the phone held up. Some people stood in line as long as four hours to make the call. During those two days my emotions ranged between heartbreak and hope – heartbreak because I observed the human condition at its worst. Hope because I know how Jesus Christ can change lives.
True conversions on the streets are rare, but then they aren’t exactly prevalent in the general population either. In Christ’s own words, “Small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it” (Matthew 7:14, NIV). In spite of limited returns, the value of one soul makes ministry on the street worthwhile. When someone in the ghetto experiences God in a life-changing event, the result is nothing short of miraculous.
Each person in skid row has a different story. Life before the streets. The downward spiral. Utter despair. I’ve heard the stories over and over–different stories with a common ending.
Mother’s Day weekend allowed me to look into the depths of human souls. Their private struggles to cope with life gone wrong are forever etched on my heart. In addition to what I learned to be true, I permitted my imagination to fill in the blank spaces. To me, several of the Mother’s Day experiences continue to read like a novel in my mind.
My purpose in sharing these stories is to show what happens when an idea inspired by God is brought to fruition. I know many people were touched and blessed. With each blessing bestowed on someone else, my heart was doubly blessed.
Each time my mind recalls the essence of a story, I find myself praying for the individuals involved. As precious people who have lost their way are introduced to you, will you please take time to cover them with your prayers? Perhaps you may look at a homeless person with different eyes. One of a mother who has lost her son or daughter.
Believe with me that Jesus is still in the business of changing lives!