During my first week on the streets with Christ in the City, I was very much getting used to everything: new surroundings, a new ministry, new people, a new team, and a very new dynamic.
On our second day, we met a new friend named Jeremy. As we spoke, the conversation very quickly turned to faith. Jeremy, it turns out, is a Bible nut; He began to preach to us and I found myself annoyed, uninterested, and judgmental. As he was speaking about the Bible and his personal interpretations, all I could think was that this man was crazy and all I wanted was to get away, but my team continued the conversation.
We spoke for a while, until Jeremy asked us what we were doing for the rest of the day. We said that we were just walking around and seeing who we found. He asked if he could come with us and before I could come up with a polite way to say no, my team agreed. So Jeremy ended up showing us to Christ’s Body, a day shelter for the homeless not far from our route.
When we got there, I found myself talking with Jeremy and two of the members of my street team. Again, I was uninterested and wanted to be somewhere else. I was caught up in myself and in my own image of “success” in ministry. But God flipped the script on me big-time. In that conversation with Jeremy, I found myself lightening up. As God was softening my heart, Jeremy made a comment that struck me to the core: “Man, I’m just so lonely. . . . Well, not right now, though, because I’m here talking with you guys.”
Seeing his demeanor deflate like a popped balloon as he began that sentence, only to see him come back to life at the end, I realized that I was far too concerned with myself throughout that whole encounter. I realized that I missed the mark, that I failed to be completely present to my new friend Jeremy. God flipped the script on me to show me that my new ministry was not about quotas, was not about “success,” conversions, or life-changing moments. On the contrary, my new ministry is all about the little moments done with great love, in which God is present, in which He bestows His grace.
What an incredible realization this was. And how beautiful it would have been on it’s own. But God kept going.
From 850, as Christ’s Body is known among our friends, we all went to Mass – including Jeremy. Mind you, Jeremy is not Catholic and had just met us, but he wanted to come with us, so he did! While we sat in the beautiful little church waiting for the noon Mass, we took a moment in the quiet to recollect and pray. As I was sitting and praying in front of the tabernacle, I was overpowered by the powerful scent wafting from my friend Jeremy. I was trying to make do, to put up with the smell when I remembered Pope Francis’ exhortation to “smell like the sheep.” I silently prayed in a bit of defiance, because I didn’t want to smell bad, nor did I want to be smelling such powerful aromas!
In the midst of my interior prayer and argument, I was convicted by Christ’s presence. Yes, in the Eucharist within the tabernacle in front of me, but also in my new friend Jeremy. Jesus’ words in Matthew 25 came to mind and I was pierced by his presence in the poor among us, in my friend Jeremy. Absolutely, Christ was present in front of me, in the tabernacle, but he was also present sitting on my right.
Yet again, God flipped the script on me. This day, this ministry, was not about me. It was about my friend Jeremy. It was about seeing Christ in him; indeed, it was about seeing Christ in each and every moment and every person along my route that day and every day. Jesus was calling me, was inviting me to draw nearer to Him and to “love until it hurts,” reaching out to his beloved poor as His hands and feet. Thank God for this realization, which came so early in my ministry! Thank God that these grace-filled epiphanies broke through my hardened heart, my preconceptions, reservations, and misgivings.
This past month has not been perfect; it’s been difficult with so many opportunities for growth. Even still, it has been beautiful beyond belief. Please continue to pray for me, my street team, our new friends, and all my fellow missionaries and those we serve!
By: André Escaleira, missionary at Christ in the City