June 20th 2010
It was a hot, sultry afternoon as Frank and I headed into Atlanta. Roadside temperature readings varied between 98˚ and 100˚. Downtown skyscrapers shimmered in the heat.
We were still smarting from a low turnout the previous Lord’s Day evening, when, also in high heat and humidity, we attracted only one person to the Bible study in addition to Pastor Frank, Elder Bob and myself, and, for the first time, Amy Work, the daughter of Stephen Work, pastor of Quinter Reformed Presbyterian Church in Kansas. Amy, a Christian school teacher in her twenties, had wanted to experience our downtown ministry but had been very disappointed at the lack of activity , and I was already anticipating that she would be disappointed again. The only person from the area who had attended last week was our faithful supporter Kelvin, who was still radiating excitement over his successful detox treatment and the possibility of reconciliation with his wife. But this Lord’s Day we knew ahead of time that neither Kelvin nor Mary were going to be with us, and I felt very faint of heart as we drove south.
So it was with little faith that we traveled on to The Bluff. This time we did not split up to distribute invitations, but spread out across the street, staying in visual contact with each other as we walked around the block. In spite of the heat there were several people out walking or sitting on porches. At one point we stumbled upon Nakisha sitting in the shade on an upturned five- gallon paint can. You may remember that we had already developed a relationship with her, and had been praying, at her specific request, that she would get off drugs and stay out of jail. She was busy wiping eyeliner off her fingers and was most concerned that we would know that she was clean, having just taken a bath. The subject of cleanliness came up several times, which was noteworthy for the irony, being in sharp contrast to her lifestyle. She was pleased to see us and was keen to talk. She told us that, since we had seen her last, she had spent 15 days in jail for solicitation, having been nabbed by an undercover officer. Remarkably, she also said that she had the opportunity to pay a $250 fine instead, which her mother would have paid for her, but that she decided it would actually be better for her to spend the time in jail. She went on to tell us that her mother lives in Marietta and longs for Nakisha to go and live with her but that she is just not ready to give up the drugs. She shared that she used to have a really good job as secretary at a heart-transplant unit, as well as a home and two cars. When she started taking drugs she thought that she could have it all. Obviously she couldn’t, and now she prostitutes herself to feed her heroin and cocaine habit. As we were talking, four police cars with lights and sirens blazing, swung round the corner and past us. We assume they were about to conduct a drug raid. Nakisha walked with us to the church steps but disappeared into a nearby house to get a towel, promising to return. With her disappearance, the three of us were left alone to “ring the church bell” by singing Amazing Grace.
Frank began the study in Genesis 3 and after a short while a man with an enormous amount of dreadlocks piled up on his head topped with an outsize woolen cap came and sat between Amy and me, creating somewhat of an incongruous sight. He did wander off eventually but not before others started to join us including Nakisha, Mike and Willie Dyck (pronounced Dyke). A total of eight of the local residents participated, making eleven altogether. Frank solicited responses as he talked about the tempter, the tempted and the temptation. Nakisha hit the nail on the head with some of her comments showing that she understood her sin and her need for a saviour. She asked again that we pray for her to have the desire to give up the drugs, insisting that she needed us to pray on her behalf because she wasn’t ready to give them up. Amy made a valiant effort to persuade her of the need to pray this prayer herself, and lively dialogue ensued between the two of them with Mike and Willie adding encouraging comments. Willie even sounded like a Calvinist as he insisted that God will make her ready in his own timing, and that when that time comes she won’t be able to resist him. Nakisha continued to insist, “I’m not going to play with God. I’m not going to pray for something I don’t really want.” However, we were impressed by her honesty and her refusal to be hypocritical. It was an amazing experience to witness this discussion on sin and repentance.
Frank spent time praying for the assembled company, after which we continued chatting for a while. Mike helped us to carry our ice-box and easel back to the car because, as he said, it can be dangerous loitering in that neighbourhood, even in daylight. That fact was not lost on us, of course, when we took on this mission. However, we have been providentially led to this street corner and believe that we will be providentially protected. Mike went on to tell us that he had been a pre-veterinary student at GeorgiaStateUniversity until he got hooked on heroin. He is keen to get out of the neighbourhood, realizing that he will never be able to get clean until he does.
As we drove away from The Bluff that afternoon we felt rebuked for our lack of faith. The fact was not lost on us that, no matter how often we find the Lord gracious in answering our prayers in a way that is beyond what we could think or imagine, we are still afraid of being presumptive. But where is our faith? The events of that Sabbath afternoon have reminded me that not only can we approach the throne of grace boldly but that we should also look to the Lord to answer our prayers boldly. It is true that we should not presume upon him, but we should also be more ready than we are to expect a blessing. In this case our gracious God showed us that he can and does use our feeble efforts to bring glory to himself and encouragement to us.