I don’t want to be back out here.
I don’t want to be back out here.
I don’t want to be back out here.”
Over and over, she confessed her true thoughts to us a few yards away from her friends hanging out on the street corner, all with brown-paper-bagged beer cans in hand. It was a Tuesday morning, 10 a.m.
“You know I do drugs…you guys know that, okay? But I’m a good person. I don’t want to be back out here…I don’t want to be back out here.”
I could see the desperation on her sun-stained face. A navy bandana covered her unkempt hair and I found it ironic that she had both a cross and a devil tattooed on the same arm (with a couple barbed wire armbands). And yet, God wanted our paths to cross that morning…because this was His girl! Jesus hung out with the lowlifes and notorious sinners when He was on earth. When the religious leaders of the time judged Him for doing so, He told this story:
If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them gets lost, what will he do? Won’t he leave the ninety-nine others in the wilderness and go to search for the one that is lost until he finds it? And when he has found it, he will joyfully carry it home on his shoulders. When he arrives, he will call together his friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep.’ In the same way, there is more joy in heaven over one lost sinner who repents and returns to God than over ninety-nine others who are righteous and haven’t strayed away! (Luke 15:4-7)
I love getting to watch God’s intentional pursuit of people. It’s an even greater honor and privilege when He lets us play a small part in this pursuit. He leaves the 99 to find the 1. Because that ONE is worth it to Him. Because that ONE is loved by Him. Relentlessly. When I see it played out in other people’s lives, I’m reminded of how He relentlessly pursues me with that same tenacity and love. I, too, am that ONE whom He leaves the 99 to go find. I, too, am that ONE who is worth it to Him!
A few years ago, my team leader, Kyle, felt like God told him and the team at the time to carry a large cross around the city and that by doing so, they’d find people who were looking for God…they’d find those lost sheep looking for their Shepherd. This was obviously no ordinary task, so they asked God to confirm it over the course of three days if He really wanted them to do it, and sure enough, someone inevitably approached a member of the team about cross-carrying each of those three days. I know, it seems crazy. It is crazy! And so our team has been going on these “cross walks” around the city from time-to-time, trusting that God really will connect us with people who are looking for Him. To be honest, I’m not exactly jumping out of my seat to carry or walk next to a 12-foot cross all around the city, but it’s become a joy and honor to obey what God told us to do. It’s been really humbling to set my pride, self-image, and judgment aside to literally “pick up my cross and follow Him,” but it’s also been really amazing to see just how many people will stop or pull their cars over to talk with us when we carry it…to see just how God really does use it to bring His stray sheep back to Him.
Last week, my team and I went on a cross walk around Vickery Meadow, a small area in Dallas filled with immigrants and refugees from all over the world. As we walked, we prayed that God would bring the right people into our path. It was around 10 in the morning and I was amazed to see just how many people were already drunk or high at that hour. As we turned the corner to pass an area notorious for being the hang out spot for drunkards/addicts, we stopped by a group of Hispanic men and one white woman. They stood around with beer cans in hand and murmured to each other in Spanish. The woman called out to us, “Hey! That’s good!” and gave us a thumbs up. “Why?” I asked her. “Why? Because it’s God, and God is good!”
As we began talking with her, she quickly opened up about her struggles with drugs, alcohol, and relationships. A self-professed “thug,” she said in between tears, “I don’t want to be back out here. I don’t want to be back out here. I don’t want to be back out here.” She told us she had left her girlfriend and been out on the streets for the past few days and she knew it was time for her to clean up and go home.
“I know God brought you guys out here this morning for me.”
We arranged to meet her and her girlfriend at their apartment later that day. She said she knew she had to go back home but couldn’t promise us that she’d be there. “If I’m not there, please still go see her,” she pleaded. “Please, please, please. She needs God too. Please go see her.” We hugged her and told her we would.
Later that afternoon, we showed up at the address she had given us and prayed that God really did orchestrate this chance meeting with a stranger that we were about to have. We knocked on the door and called out the name we had been given and after a few seconds of silence, the door hesitantly cracked open. Two eyes cautiously peered out at us from the darkness and after some explanation and small talk, she opened the door and invited us in.
I looked around the dimly lit room as she shooed her cats off the couch for us to sit and marveled at the fact that God had so specifically led us to this apartment, to this woman. As we chatted, she confided in us that things had been really difficult lately. She speculated that her girlfriend had sold her cell phone for drugs so she had no way of contacting her to know where she was. She started crying, “I just can’t deal with it anymore. I know I need to go back to God.” When we asked her what she needed help with, she continued crying, “I just need a friend. I just need God to tell me what to do.”
Before we left her apartment we prayed for her, and she quickly added, “Thank you, Jesus, for sending my new friends to me today. I need Your help.” I opened my eyes and saw the sincerity on her face, eyes shut tightly, tears streaming down her cheeks. It hit me that we were all strangers just a few moments earlier and here we were, holding hands in her living room crying out to God together. What?? How does this happen? It happens because God does not give up on us, no matter how far we wander away. It happens because Jesus leaves the 99 to find the 1. It happens because that ONE is worth it and so loved by Him that He will stop at nothing, including sending a group of strangers into your home to love you, to find you and bring you back home. He doesn’t wait for us to clean up our act before He rescues us; He knows we can’t find our way back to Him unless He comes and brings us back Himself, just as we are.
“For God did not send his Son into the world to be its judge, but to be its savior.” (John 3:17) Thank You, God.