I’d seen the guy a number of times since my arrival. He was a “First Nation” (Canadian vernacular for Native American) man probably in his 30’s, with a couple of missing teeth and an alcohol problem.

But every time I encountered Carter (name has been changed), he always had a smile on his face, even if he didn’t have the energy to keep his eyes open. He seemed good-natured and always ready for a handshake or a hug from anyone willing to extend either one.

On this particular Sunday evening service here at Sanctuary, I saw Carter sitting in the corner of the room, bent over in his chair and by all appearances, wrestling some inner turmoil. One of the staff members sat next to him, putting his hand on his back and providing needed support.

The service proceeded without much fanfare, but I’d steal glances in their direction periodically. While my time here has been limited, I’d never seen Carter at an actual service before, so I was curious how he was faring and how the Spirit might be moving in him.

Spirit Moves

I know I’ve mentioned it before, but I still struggle to find adequate words to describe the power of the Spirit in this place.

A Bible, written in the Cree language, is opened up to the book of Matthew. First Nation folks here in Canada have an uphill battle on multiple fronts.

During the week, the activities at Sanctuary are generally centered on members of the community who are in need of refuge…the “friends from the streets.” They are given a safe place to come, warm up, eat a hot meal, maybe get a shower and a bit of reprieve from the stresses of the streets. But more importantly, it’s a time to experience some normalcy, to share a meal with friends (and strangers) and to cultivate that ever-important, often-underestimated sense of community.

The weekday activities are generally focused on feeding the mind and body of the population, many of whom don’t show up on Sundays. While the spirit may be fed during the week’s activities, it tends to be far more subtle.

During Sunday evening services, however, the spirit of the community is the focus, and it’s fed in powerful, sustaining ways. With each service, I find myself shedding at least a few tears, most often due to the words of a song, or on this occasion, the power of prayer.

Humble Pleas

Near the end of each service, the floor is opened for anyone who wants to pray, and tonight, I heard a few that cut deep.

The first came after a woman prayed for those with alcohol and drug-abuse problems. Just as she finished, someone started reciting the Serenity Prayer, often heard in Alcoholics Anonymous and other support groups. Before I knew it, two other voices joined in…an unprompted show of solidarity among those with similar struggles, and a poignant illustration of this community – open-armed, interdependent and authentic.

Carter’s hands tell many stories, but his prayer was the first I heard. And it was a story of courage, honesty, humility and strength.

As the prayer time wound down, I suddenly heard a hesitant voice begin to speak about 20 feet to my left. It was gravelly and slurred, but it grew in clarity and passion with each word. My eyes were still closed, so I wasn’t sure who was speaking, but I hung on his every word.

“Father God, I know I haven’t spoke to you in a long time…”

His prayer came straight from the heart, and I was privileged to witness the moment.

“…I know you love me God, but I don’t love myself…”

I’ve said those very words myself, but certainly not in front of an entire congregation. I know who I am. I know the failures that plague my life. I know the upward climb that life entails, and I know how often I falter. I have shared this man’s prayer, but I often reserve those times when no one is around, when God and I can wrestle in seclusion.

The courage this man displayed was extraordinary. He was ripping back the layers and exposing his heart for all to see.

“…help me God…”

His words pierced through me like no prayer I’ve heard before. The grace of God filled that room, and this man was at the epicenter. No “impressive” words were needed…no long-winded eloquence. He spoke with honesty, humility and yearning. Church leaders take note.

With every word of his prayer, my spirit was flooded with that profound sense of God’s grace. I was humbled and inspired by the prayer of this earnest stranger.

Despite the darkness that surrounds it, Sanctuary provides a place for people to experience the light of God.

When I get a taste of the grace and love of Abba – of our Dad… Well, words fail me.

A Stranger No More

The service came to an end, and I just had to find out who had said that prayer. Sure enough, it was Carter who’d been sitting in the far corner throughout the service. Unbeknownst to me, he had moved into the circle of chairs at Sanctuary just before prayer time…reluctant but ready to take his wrestling match to God, with the support of the congregation that surrounded him.

A few days later, I saw him at one of Sanctuary’s midweek activities. With his Sunday-evening prayer still lingering in my soul, I felt compelled to go talk to him and tell him the same, though this would be my first conversation with the guy.

He was staggering a bit and likely inebriated in some fashion, but I’ve been there too and didn’t much care. As soon as I came up to him, he gave me a quick (though slightly confused) hug and extended a hand to me – a stranger. He didn’t let go until I finished.

I spoke of his inspiring courage, and I spoke of the power in his words. I spoke of my humble privilege to be a witness. I spoke of God’s overwhelming grace, and I told him that he had given me a taste of that grace Sunday night.

His gaze became more focused as I spoke. Finally, he looked me in the eyes, and still grasping my hand, he said in a hushed voice.

“Man, I was scared bro’! But thanks…”

No Carter, thank you brother.

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Next Steps
    • I can’t emphasize this enough, but we, as believers, must change our view of those outside our comfort zone, those outside our normal concept of Christian brothers and sisters. We are called to embrace such folks, and that call should take us straight into the margins!
    • Get a hold of a copy of God in the Alley, by Sanctuary pastor Greg Paul. It will broaden your understanding of the marginalized, and it should convict all of us to take action! He’s also written two other books: The Twenty-Piece Shuffle and most recently, Close Enough to Hear God Breathe.
    • Contemplate the plight of those in the margins. Pray for them, and for those who walk with them. Pray for Carter, and pray that God would continue to work in his heart. Like the father who waited vigilantly for his prodigal son’s return, even recognizing him “while he was still a long way off,” God yearns for all of us to return to him. Pray that Carter, and others, would come to understand that reality.
    Next Steps

About the Author: Stephen Crane is a year-long fellow with World Next Door. He has a bachelor's degree in theology from Calvin College and a master's degree in journalism from Indiana University. He has a passion for overlooked places and people and would snowboard at all times if it were possible!

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Comments

  1. Chuck Easton said... 

    Reply

    December 28th, 2011 at 8:55 am  

    ” “…I know you love me God, but I don’t love myself…”

    I know who I am. I know the failures that plague my life. I know the upward climb that life entails, and I know how often I falter.”

    This prayer from a man who lives on the “margins”. Stephen please tell him that this leader in Indianapolis will never pray the same because of hearing his words to our Father. Thank him for me!

    Help me God.

  2. Steve-O said... 

    Reply

    December 28th, 2011 at 10:10 am  

    You and me both Chuck! What a powerful moment I will never forget…

  3. joshua breen said... 

    Reply

    December 28th, 2011 at 4:47 pm  

    That was awesome. I felt like i was there. i’m glad no one could see me reading the screen at work, it would’ve surely led to a razzing. I know exactly how that man feels, and i feel that way every day of my life. I still wonder from day to day how the good Lord can love and bless me so much. Especially knowing everything i have done. The main thing though is that i know that he loves me and try my best to earn that love. It helps me to know i am not the only one. thankyou steven and carter for sharing that message.

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