July 27th 2007
It was one of those thick summer nights that was so close that you could feel your own exhales on your face. An average Friday night for Freedom House, meant setting up a barbecue on Market Street in Brantford and giving away hundreds of free hamburgers and hotdogs.
We did it because we knew that the community that existed around our church building needed transformation. It was a community of people with real needs, some of whom only really came out to play at night. Some just needed a meal. Most needed much more. So from 9pm until after the pub's last call bell rang, we stood on the streets asking God to draw people into divine encounters using street meat. It worked.
On this particular Friday night, the summer heat turned into thunderstorms and we moved the main event inside our church (which was a former bar so the setting was ideal). As the inside bustled about, I sat on a bar stool getting wet in the alley minding the grill and hollering "Free Burgers!" at passersby waiting to see who God wanted to draw into His "Holy Ghost Tractor Beam".
Soon after, a pair young men walked past very intently in the dark. I yelled "Hey, want a burger" to them from across the street. The larger one shouted back, "WHAT?" in an angry unsettling way. He led the way, storming across the road, as the smaller one followed close. I had become quite accustomed to encounters of many kinds on the streets and I don't spook easily. Before heading out on the streets, we always prayed, declared and believed in God's "zone" of protection. We believed Freedom House was "taken ground" and functioned as such. But this one felt different and I was by myself.
Junior (the ironic name of the big guy) looked at me with a deep rage in his eyes and asked, "Do you want me to stab you?". The knife he flashed told me that this was a real threat. It was confirmed by Ryan (the smaller guy) who warned me, "He'll do it. He just bit the nipple off a stripper!" This wasn't just a clever retort. Our church was located just up the street from a strip club and Junior had indeed done just that.
Part of me froze, the other part of me however confidently knew that the spiritual world was more real than the physical one, and that these two had a date with God that did not include me getting stabbed over a hamburger. I said pretty much the only thing I could say. "Not really no. Want a burger?" I watched as the seemingly ridiculous question (given the seriousness of the scenario) was processed through Junior's chemically altered mind until it reached a still cognitive pocket. "Uhhhh... yeah actually", he said thankfully putting away the knife.
I took them inside and introduced them to our team and got them both a juicy burger. Almost instantly after the crisis had be averted, God opened up the floodgates on Ryan. I caught Brian Beattie's eye and got him to run interference (as is our street strategy) on Junior. I quickly instigated a discussion with Ryan because it was clear something was going to happen and the two gentlemen needed some distance to avoid distraction.
My friend Eric and I listened to Ryan's life story that began pouring out of him almost without even asking. The most important detail was that he was running from a God he had heard about but didn't think was actually real, alive and interactive. We could hear Junior inside getting ready to burst in on us at any time, so we asked if we could pray that God do... SOMETHING... right there and then. He agreed to the "experiment" in a "I guess it couldn't hurt" way. We took a risk and asked God if He could sober Ryan up right on the spot so he could physically FEEL Him.
We prayed what Pete Greig's masterfuly describes in "The Vision" as a
"feeble, whispered, faithless prayer (that) invokes a thunderous, resounding, bone-shaking great ‘Amen!’ from countless angels, from hero’s of the faith, from Christ himself."
Ryan physically jumped backwards saying that he felt something like a shock. He found himself sober and stunned. We knew our time was very short as Junior couldn't be distracted for much longer. So we prayed one more time that Ryan would wake up in the morning KNOWING that God was real in a very personal way. Immediately after that, Junior tore out of Freedom House like the Tasmanian Devil, grabbed Ryan by the arm and blustered away down the street into the night.
I tracked Ryan down on Facebook when I got home and emailed him the question, "So when you woke up, how did you know God was real?" By mid morning he responded,
"I just wanted to say thank you for taking the time to talk to me last night. It got pretty bad after we left and I have a weird feeling today. I'll be where ya'll were last night on Sunday at 10:30 if thats where ya go. I'm not a huge believer but atfer the things that happened after myself and that guy left... and waking up safe today with this strange feeling over me, makes me want to find something to put faith it. It just feels like the right time."
As it turns out, Junior stabbed and almost killed a man shortly after our encounter. It was a person that Ryan was planning on going after as well. Ryan did come to church Sunday morning and gave his life to Jesus. That night, and every summer Friday night since, God keeps using a sacrificial group of servant intercessor evangelists to intervene and change a community (and it's people) BY good INTO good.