Your Missionary to Capitol Hill, Washington, DC, Rob Schenck, reporting:
Last night I had the time of my life. No, it wasn’t some swank soirée on the Hill with movers and shakers—it was a night with the worn and weary men of the Central Union Mission.
The “mission men” have long and tragic stories. They wear those stories in the deep crevices of their leathered faces and in their rumpled clothing. Many of them suffer from alcoholism, drug addictions, violence and mental illness.
My responsibility was to preach their evening service in the chapel. It’s a bit of a raucous group, but only because of half the men. These are the ones who “call out” to the preacher in typical black church style, or yell and even complain. The others keep silent—utterly silent—and stoic or asleep.
I’ve gone to the mission before and I’ll do it again for two reasons:
One is, the Lord commands it (see Matthew 25:36). He instructs us to visit those in prison. The “mission,” of course, is only sort of a prison—but a very gracious one. Of course, anyone can leave if they wish. Some are put out prematurely for flagrantly violating the stipulated rules upon entrance. Yet, for the most part, the mission is a tough-love, regimented environment for broken human beings. Some feel trapped there because they have no other recourse.
Second is because I love being with these guys. They often have intriguing life stories and I collect those stories like stamps! (Others have sagas you don’t even want to ask about!)
Suffice it to say, the Central Union Mission is a wonderful collection of humanity that is delightfully transparent, genuine and humble. In other words, they are “real people.” The world is made up of a lot of pompous, pretentious people impressed with themselves, so, it does me good to get out with the “real people” and continue to experience the world from their perspective.
Because I don’t have a lot of money to give away (beyond my tithe, outgoing missionary support and my own little outreach project to a homeless woman at the Union Station rail depot), I try to offer something of intangible value to these men, but something that will last forever. I offer them God’s love through His Word as I preach it. More importantly, I give them respect and acknowledgment of their human dignity because they are made in the image of God.
What does it really cost us to show a person respect? A deferential handshake, a “Sir,” or “Madam,” a simple compliment: “You’re looking good my friend!” “Man, what a handsome smile you have!” “With that voice, you could sell anything. That’s worth money, man!” “God bless you, Sir!”
When somebody’s used to being blown off, ignored, insulted, demeaned, treated like a child or as if they don’t matter or don’t even exist, these simple verbal affirmations go a very, very long way.
Last night, one man, a disabled Viet Nam vet, cried when I addressed him as Sir and thanked him for donning the uniform and risking his life in service to our country and me as a citizen.
Earlier in the evening, as I had made my way over to the mission, my cab driver had asked, “Why would you go there?” It was clear he thought it highly unusual—maybe even improper—for a man in a coat and tie from Capitol Hill to go to such an unseemly place.
“Because Jesus is there,” I explained. Then I gave him a preview of my sermon. For my text, I took St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians, chapter 2, verses 5 – 10. Part of that passage reads, “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men.”
I told the cab driver, and later the men in chapel, “When I read these verses, I think of the lady at the US Supreme Court I call my ‘Kitchen Mama.’ She cooks up the best eggs you’ll ever eat, but she’ll never have a title beyond ‘cook.’ She’ll never wear a fancy robe, sit on a high mahogany bench or have reporters and photographers chasing after her, but she’s more like Jesus Christ than the Chief Justice of the United States. The Bible says Jesus emptied himself of his reputation and took on the form of a servant. That’s where you’ll find Jesus, among the servants!”
I got much more out of last night than I know those men did. A visit to a mission, especially after a day on Capitol Hill, centers me spiritually and in every other way. I love the Central Union Mission!
All this has made me think about the mentally ill homeless lady outside Union Station. When I passed her yesterday, she looked up from the broken magnifying glass she uses to read discarded newspapers and said, “Hi, Honey. You got anything for me today?”
She always asks so innocently. (Don’t worry, I’ve shed all my naiveté about homeless people—there are most certainly victims and victimizers among them. I have an almost airtight method for identifying the con artists, but that’s for another blog post.)
This time I said what I always do, “Of course, Madam, you’re my favorite spiritual partner.”
“How’s that?” She responded this time with a big smile.
“Because Jesus said there’s two things that really matter. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength, and the second is like it; you shall love your neighbor as yourself. When I take care of you, my neighbor, it’s like loving God Himself, and I like to do both.”
“Thank you, baby,” she said matter-of-factly, putting the $5 bill I gave her into her frayed bag. Then she went back to reading.
Of all the stuff I experience here with presidents, members of Congress and Supreme Court Justices, the men at the mission and the lady at Union Station bring me closest to God. They are the things that keep me focused and centered.
Gotta’ go now—I’m taking a small group to the Chinese Embassy to pray for the victims of the recent earthquake. Please pray our presence and our words will be a witness to this atheist communist regime—and more importantly—a sign of God’s love in Christ for the Chinese people!
Back later . . .
Rev. Rob Schenck
Faith and Action
109 2nd Street, NE
Washington, DC 20002