Written by Pastor Matthew Best, St. Stephen, New Kingsown PA
I used to drive around with blinders on. That’s how I described it anyway. I would drive down the Carlisle Pike with no clue about the challenges that the community along the “Miracle Mile” faces daily. I never saw any of the challenges directly, so to me, they never existed. That all changed when I arrived at St. Stephen Lutheran for the first day of my call when I discovered that the congregation was helping Michael, homeless man, by letting him stay under the church pavilion. I knew Michael from when I worked at Project SHARE before I started seminary. He took the blinders off of my eyes and showed me the challenges – homelessness and transient populations, human trafficking and prostitution, drugs, and immigration issues.
God has an interesting way of working – in this case through Michael on me and the disciples of St. Stephen. Because I take seriously what it is we claim to believe, I could no longer drive down the Miracle Mile without being so uncomfortable and inconvenienced that I had to respond. That’s where it all started. And that’s what keeps us going.
Back in January I wrote a couple of blog posts. In one of the posts (https://laceduplutheran.com/2018/01/09/outside-the-church-walls/) I made the statement “Faith isn’t about being comfortable, it should make us uncomfortable enough to get moving.” I was getting a hint of what we were called to – ministry with populations of people that Jesus would have hung out with. And they were just outside the walls of the church, down the road.
The vision is big – along the Miracle Mile. (https://laceduplutheran.com/2018/01/11/miracle-mile/) It’s about bringing the Good News of Jesus to people who desperately need to hear it. Since that time, I’ve been talking about how the Miracle Mile is where miracles happen.
Since then, there has been a dedicated group of disciples from St. Stephen who gather supplies, head over to Flying J truck stop and hang out in the lounge. We strike up conversations with truckers and the homeless who live in the parking lot, make sure people get showers, do laundry with them, and offer them a meal at Denny’s.
The last time we were at Flying J, a man was hanging out where we usually gather, and I struck up a conversation with him. I found out that he was a trucker, but that times were tough. He, his wife, and their five children moved from their home into a van and were living in the parking lot. Let that sink in for a moment. One of the children is non-verbal autistic.
Our people were happy to meet this couple, to get to know them, to do laundry with them, and to share a meal with them and some of our other guests who came that evening. While I was sitting at the table with our guests, Isaiah 55:1-2 came to mind:
Ho, everyone who thirsts,
come to the waters;
and you that have no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without price.
Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
and your labour for that which does not satisfy?
Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good,
and delight yourselves in rich food.
This was the kingdom of God unfolding right before my eyes – the great banquet feast. For a time, the people gathered weren’t homeless, or poor, or struggling, or any other label. They were human. They were children of God. They were feasting. They were experiencing a foretaste of the feast to come. All inside a Denny’s at a truck stop on a Thursday evening.
We don’t do this ministry to solve people’s problems – we aren’t trained to do that, we don’t have the expertise. We understand that many of the people we encounter have long term challenges that we can’t possibly fix. Instead, we are called to spend time with people, to remind them of their humanity, that God loves them and so do we. We open ourselves and our lives to people, share the resources we have, and are also served by these same people. They remind us of our own humanity. They share their gratitude and love with us. This is the feast. This is what it’s all about. And it’s just the beginning. This is the Miracle Mile – where miracles are happening.