This was a short trip, combining spring break with a visit to the Streetscape ministry in Texas. I spent 4 days with Tam and friends in and around San Antonio, and then drove the 4 hours down to Galveston to meet up with my good friend Darren Smith at Streetscapes for a couple of days. Darren, a former pastor of a mega-church who, like me, realized how unbiblical the whole American church model was years ago, found himself on the streets of Galveston passing out tracts and preaching the Gospel back in 2002. He was wondering what God had him there to do, but knew he was supposed to be there. Then, in September of 2008, Hurricane Ike decimated the Island and Darren’s life changed forever.
“It’s hard when God takes you from a comfortable job preaching to a church of over 1,000, and puts you on your knees searching for missing loved ones in the rubble alongside grieving relatives. What do you say to them about the love of God? All of a sudden all the pat answers you had when you were preaching seem sort of insufficient,” he explains. But the Lord, as promised, worked all things together for the good as Darren was able to buy a number of damaged houses for pennies on the dollar, and over the years fix them up to where they now feed, clothe, and house a number of the formerly addicted, prostitutes, and homeless in Galveston.
I stayed in one of the houses a few blocks from “the ministry,” which is comprised of some additional homes along with one they have turned in to a cafeteria, showers, and laundry room for the 30-50 people who typically show up for a message and meal twice a day. A couple named Keith and Karla now oversee day to day operations, as Darren works and runs his farm in east Texas about four hours away. He gets down to the ministry 2-3 times per month depending on his schedule, but when he’s down there he lets Keith and Karla run the place and teach the messages. “This is all a God-thing,” he is quick to tell anyone who tries to compliment him on the impact the ministry has had on so many.
Streetscapes has been no bed of roses. They’ve faced pressure from local residents, pressure from the local government and some very tough times financially. “When I first started this, I was rolling in the dough and was able to support it when times got tough. Then I lost my job in the oil business when crude prices fell. I thought farming could support us, but last year we faced nothing but floods. I didn’t know what I was going to do, but I knew God started this and He would provide for it,” Darren says. “Now I have a new job and I’ve sort of gotten back on my feet, but I know regardless He’s going to see this thing through.”
Darren arrived about an hour after I did. We spent the next couple of hours catching up and fellowshipping with a regular at the ministry: a former Hell’s Angel/Cocaine addict from CA named Mike. Mike helps raise money for the children involved in the ministry at Ctmas by dressing up like Santa and driving his Harley through the restaurant/shopping district in Galveston known as The Strand. If you could see Mike, you’d see why he has no problem playing the part. “I love raising money at Ctmas for the kids, and then buying them gifts and giving them out. Last year a young man came, sat on my lap and asked, ‘Santa, why is it other kids get presents but I don’t?’ I was heartbroken because I thought I was out of gifts, but I reached in to the bottom of my bag and to my surprise there was one left. It was a yo-yo. You should have seen that kid’s eyes when I gave it to him,” Mike beams through that flowing white beard and moustache framing his big smile, just below those sparkling eyes. Like I said, no problemo with the Santa impersonation.
This morning Mike and I sat with a woman who confidently proclaimed she had been delivered from 14 years of drug use and life in prison, as she pulled up her sleeves to show the tracks to prove it. “I got helped here, I got saved here, I shower here, wash my clothes here, and eat here [she motioned to her Bible and her stomach to indicate both spiritual and physical feeding]. This is my sanctuary,” she said smiling. Funny, that’s the same description my friend John Callea gave for the Sunrise Café in Brooksville that started my ongoing search for true Ctan community that goes on until this day. “This is the sanctuary in the Marketplace,” Callea is heard quoting on the Fellowship of the Marketplace videos I produced back in 2011: [http://youtu.be/RED2Xit2ZsA http://youtu.be/iAiQHIzX1Zo ]
Stories like this are commonplace at Streetscape. According to both Darren and Mike, prostitution and “slinging” drugs were commonplace on all the streets around the ministry when they moved in. All the homes in the area had been left in tatters by Ike, and homelessness and drug abuse was rampant. Now Darren drives me around the surrounding blocks showing me all the homes that have been fixed up by new owners, kids playing in those very streets, and a new feeling of hope permeating the community. Later on brother Keith preached about believers “changing their environment” through a combination of standing strong and loving people. It made me take a long look at myself and ask the question, “Have I really changed the environment where I live and minister?” I had to admit, not like this.
These trips are always a wonderful/uncomfortable reminder of why I try to be obedient to God to the extent I am, and at the same time a challenge to do a whole lot better. We, as believers, are to change our environment for the kingdom of God, not have ours changed by the world. Perhaps we should all do a gut check and answer the question frankly and honestly. Then we perhaps should ask, “If not, why not?” We have the greatest force in the universe at our beck and call. It’s going to be hard to tell the One who gives us that power why we let the darkness rule the environment when He asks. And one day, we can be assured, He will ask.