(... unless you're a pigeon.)
The overworked cliché* goes, “If you build it, they will come”. When it comes to The Lord’s Rain, there’s an element of truth to it, but something that’s even more important is, “if you build it … you will reach out”.
There was a sense that that was going to be the case, but it’s becoming more and more evident, the more the place becomes known and the more people come in who wouldn’t dream of setting foot in a “conventional” Christ-based Mission.
The opening this past Saturday was like that, although the way this latest example did not start out with any indication about the way it ended.
I’ve mentioned Axel, the street-tough-looking guy who has already been dropping his “street mask”. Lately, he’s had even more tragedies in his life: a sister died of an overdose, and his response – apart from telling me that he really hates God right now – has been to do even more self-destructive acts.
When his sister died, he came into The Lord’s Rain absolutely blasted on whatever drug du jour he had gotten his hands on. His sentences were totally disconnected, but the gist of it came through. (That particular day, most of the people coming into The Lord’s Rain were whacked-out on something, and getting a coherent sentence out of anybody was a challenge. Then I realized that the $100 “climate change dividend” cheques had arrived in the previous couple of days. Your tax dollars at work, folks: I haven’t done the required research to make a definitive statement, but you don’t have to be a Pulitzer Prize-winner to figure out what happened when an extra hundred clams reached people on the streets.)
Anyway, Axel and I have had a couple of serious and even quiet talks since then – including the day he told me he hated God. I quietly reminded him that God loves him, and is ready and waiting for him.
Then on Saturday (the 18th), Axel came in and announced, “I’m a pigeon killer”. He was carrying a pigeon. I remembered vaguely that he’d said something a week or so before, about having killed a pigeon. Now, here he was, walking into The Lord’s Rain carrying a live pigeon.
“No, you’re not,” I said. “Take that out of here and let it go.”
“I’m gonna kill it,” he said, as he left.
“No, you’re not – in Jesus’ Name.”
I went out after him, but he’d turned the corner in Pigeon Park. A moment later, he re-appeared, carrying the pigeon – now dead.
Ordinarily, my heart doesn’t bleed for pigeons. Indeed, a public health expert would probably tell you that they are rats with feathers. But in this case, it was a living member of God’s creation, and its life had been taken.
On the spot, I told Axel he was banned from The Lord’s Rain and Gospel Mission for 30 days. (That’s the penalty for breaking the House Rules – although I never really thought “no pigeon killing” would have to be a House Rule.)
The whole incident gnawed at me for much of the rest of the day. Initially, I was upset about the killing of the bird, but then I started questioning my own response. Axel is certainly messed-up: killing the pigeon was a crying-out of some sort; a demonstration that there was at least something he was able to control. For a time, I convinced myself that what I was hearing was the old bleeding-heart liberal rising up in me again, but the thoughts wouldn’t let me go. After all, Axel had been showing signs of being totally different away from The Street than he is when he’s in his “element”. I’d seen him drop the Street Mask, and I knew he was on the down-slope after his sister died. Duh! What to do?
Sunday morning, as I was starting a time of prayer and study, I got about five minutes into whatever I was reading and the Lord spoke to me. “Go downtown and find Axel.”
The message appeared to be that I was supposed to try to talk to him – or get him talking to me, at any rate. After all, I was one of the very few who didn’t tell him to **** off at first sight, and a recent time we’d met on the street, we high-fived and gave each other a “buddy hug”. He hung on me the nickname “Preacher-Man”, which might stick as a street name. If I condemned him, that might just make it worse.
So I headed down to Carrall Street, since that’s part of Axel’s turf.
I didn’t find him. I asked a couple of people, but they hadn’t seen him. I took a stroll around the block – past the Army and Navy, the pubs on Abbott Street, then down the alley beside the Mission. Nada.
As I looked over Pigeon Park again, I started asking the Lord to show me where Axel was and to give me an idea what I was doing there.
Then I saw Nicky. I hadn’t seen him before, and the way I knew his name was Nicky was that the people holding him up were calling him that. Nicky was unconscious on his feet, and two guys were walking him around the park trying to get him to wake up. Finally, they sat him down on a bench. Another guy came over to sit beside him, and I went over and started praying over him.
“Get him some water,” the guy said to me.
I ran to the Mission, and as I unlocked the door, I heard in the Spirit, “There’s your answer”.
I had, apparently, been called down to Pigeon Park at exactly that time to make sure this guy got prayer and water. Where else would he get either? I got two cups of cool water (hmm) and ran back. Horndog – an occasional visitor at The Lord’s Rain – came over. “Pastor’s here, Nicky,” he said. “Pastor wants you to drink the water.”
Horndog helped Nicky get the first cup down, then Nicky shook himself and grabbed the second cup himself. I prayed some more. Nicky started coming around, and Horndog went and got Nicky’s bike. Horndog walked the bike and the other fellow on the bench and I each took an arm and started walking Nicky. After maybe five steps, Nicky shook himself free and declared he could walk. Someone appeared with a cigarette and when I left them, they were lighting it.
Need one point out the connection between healing prayer and Nicky’s sudden recovery?
Again, The Lord’s Rain is in the right place at the right time. Incidents like this – or the time the young man came in with cracked vertebrae from a fall the night before – show how The Lord’s Rain is already way more than just four showers and a coffee-maker. It's a new source relief from pain, trouble, the street itself. Gerry Wall at The Oasis near Duncan prophesied over Pastor Barry some years back that Gospel Mission would expand its influence and reach out to more people in the street, and this is a prime example. People might not come into the Mission for sermons and worship, but the everyday contact will show people, steadily and surely, who Jesus is and how much He loves them.
*I suppose a cliché is, by definition, overworked, isn’t it? That redundancy actually emphasizes just how hackneyed it is. Pity: WP Kinsella only wrote “Shoeless Joe” (the novel on which “Field of Dreams” was based) just over 20 years ago and already one of its memorable lines is considered hackneyed. Ah, modern media!
**Someone might wonder if we’re taking gambling money by accepting a donation from a 50/50 draw. We don’t receive government funding at Gospel Mission, and that’s one of the reasons: the money in question usually comes from gaming revenue, which is essentially stolen goods – money stolen from people who’ve been sold a bill of goods by the glamorization and heavy marketing of something that is a leading risk factor for crime, depression, suicide and broken homes. I could bore for Canada on how gambling is a cornucopia of Things That Displease God (based as it is in an abandonment of faith in God to provide one’s needs, along with lust, avarice and laziness). Some could argue that receiving a portion of gaming revenue that’s earmarked for charities is a case of “the wealth of the sinner (being) laid up for the just” (Prov. 13:22), but (a) that proverb doesn’t say how that wealth will be turned over to the just, and (b) the real sinners are the gaming operators and loan sharks: were they to suddenly repent, shut down their gaming operations and write off the loans, and then hand over all their assets to those doing the work of the Lord, that would be such a case. The more charitable organizations – including some churches, I understand – receive that money, the more governments will receive that as validation of their policy. On the other hand, I believe that people who buy 50/50 tickets are doing so to support the organization that’s selling the tickets, not to win the pot.