Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Learn their names.

This is Reilly during our Oregon road trip
Reilly is likely the greatest man I've ever met and ever will meet. Growing up together, he was constantly getting me involved in his crazy capers, and every ounce of whimsy and spontaneity I have is a byproduct of his influence on me. Yet perhaps the greatest thing about Reilly is the way he prays. He prays for huge stuff, and his prayers always seem to result in him being thrown into adventure. My favorite example is the time he sent me an e-mail telling me he was moving to Cambodia for 8 months to work at an orphanage - he flew out within a matter of days after praying about it. Every time I talk to Reilly, he asks me: "what are you praying for BIG?" I rarely have a decent response for him.

A few years ago, I worked out of one of my company's workshop and warehouse locations, and to say it was in the bad part of town is putting it way too lightly. Fulton Industrial Boulevard is as rough as it gets - I dare you to google it. I did in preparation for this post, and one of the first results was a recent news story about two gang members being charged for sex trafficking girls as young as 14 on that street. You probably won't be able to read the article without crying, but it's what I witnessed every day during my commute. I would see the prostitutes stumble out from the cabs of tractor trailers or out of the many sleazy motel rooms, the evidence of meth addiction showing on their faces, and often times carrying a crying baby in their arms. This reality confronted me every single day, and it constantly chiseled away at my heart.

Reilly built a corn maze in CO with homeless people once
Tired of feeling guilty for not doing anything to help these women, I decided to tell Reilly about them and ask him to pray for them. I figured Reilly would tell me a special rosary prayer for me to recite so I didn't feel bad for them anymore, or perhaps even tell me about an organization I could give a few dollars to. But that's not how Reilly prayers work. Instead, he proposed: "Why don't you learn their names?" This was clearly the most preposterous idea I'd ever heard. I explained to him the roughness of this crowd - these were not high-end escorts by any stretch of the term, and they likely had pimps, pimps with guns, standing nearby. Yet he was insistent: "How many people do you think actually learn their names? I think that would be really special to them." This is how Reilly thinks - even before thinking about their material needs, he's wondering what would make them feel special, without any regard to my safety or comfort whatsoever.
Reilly as the best man on my wedding day

Two days later, my truck (yes, I actually drove a pickup truck during this season of my life) needed gas. So after work, I pulled into one of the gas stations on Fulton Industrial. Within 5 seconds, one of the prostitutes was walking towards me. Time slowed down, and as sweat gushed from every orifice of my body, I pondered what her initial marketing statement would be. As she approached me, she asked "Can I come with you?" (that was not one of my guesses) as she simultaneously reached for the crew cab's rear door handle. I responded "No thank you" in my politest voice, and hit the lock button as fast as humanly possible. She turned to walk away, but I asked her to wait. I stuck out my hand, and said, trembling: "My name is Jay, what is yours?" She returned my handshake with great skepticism and answered: "My name is Victoria." I asked Victoria if she was hungry, and she said yes, so I bought her a few items of her choice from the convenience store while the shopkeeper stared at me judgingly. Every time I needed gas, I would stop at that station, sometimes running into Victoria again (and addressing her by name), sometimes meeting her colleagues. They eventually got tired of the gas station food, so we started walking over to a nearby McDonald's to share a meal together. Each time, I would rush home, excited to write down their names and begin praying for them.

I think God has a special place in His heart for prostitutes, and the Bible is full of stories of God selecting hookers to carry out His most adventurous works. Perhaps He just knows the immense amount of pain their profession causes them, and wants to show them He created them for something so much greater, or perhaps they're the only ones who have lost enough of their pride to be capable of such adventure - I don't know. Regardless, I think my favorite prostitute in the Bible is Rahab, who God chose to help Him with one of His all-time greatest capers - the battle of Jericho. It's too grand of a story for me to do it any justice in a blog post, but I encourage you to check out the book of Joshua to see the full picture. Before the battle, Rahab hid Israelite spies in her house, and when rumors spread that spies had been seen in her area, Rahab sent the authorities off on a wild goose chase. When the spies are wondering why Rahab risked her life in order to protect the spies, she tells them the God of Israel is greater than any authority in her country. Quite the statement of faith considering she was well aware she would be executed when the authorities found out she lied to them! Yet instead, Rahab and her family members were the only residents of Jericho to survive the battle, and she was remembered as a hero for generations. Centuries later, even the brother of Jesus described her as "righteous" (James 2:25), and the writer of Hebrews includes her among the great juggernauts of faith such as Jacob, Joseph, and Moses (Hebrews 11).

I'm sorry for the way I've presented God. All too often, I've preached a small gospel. I've spouted a god of boredom, a god of Republicans, a god of money, a god of comfort, a god of rules, a god of a weird Christian sub-culture, and a god of self-righteousness. Yet that's not God at all - it's just what humans do to make a god who's convenient to them. The God of the Bible is one of epic adventure, of ridiculousness, and of preposterous ideas. He's the God who could choose kings to do His work, but instead chooses Rahabs, Victorias, and broken people like me.

This week, I find myself in the prostitution capital of the world. As I walk on the sidewalk, every 100 yards a different person attempts to give me a flyer advertising whores delivered to my door. As I try to fend them off, I'm reminded of Victoria, and I realized something awful: I can't remember any of her friends' names. My office moved a few years back, and now I commute to a nice, cushy place in the suburbs. Accordingly, I've reverted back into living a small, suburban gospel and praying lackluster, small prayers. It's time for me to end this post - I need to call Reilly, I need to start praying big, and I need to start planning my next great caper.

What I'm listening to during this post:

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the reminder to pray Big, remember names, and love like Jesus did.