A few years ago I co-led a mission trip to downtown Nashville for a group of college students. I know downtown Nashville isn’t the first place you would think of doing a mission trip, but that’s because we tend to ignore God in the places we often see as normal.
God’s always moving around us.
It was a few days into the trip and we had just taught the group how to do ATL ministry (“Ask the Lord”). This is when you gather in a group and pray — asking God for clues as to where you should go, who you should look for, what you should pray for, etc.
You might think this is a little too “charismatic” for your taste (whatever that means), but trust me, it works.
Now, I should probably come clean with you about something before I get too far into the story. I have a dream of one day seeing someone’s leg(s) grow back. It’s kind of a thing of mine. And I know it sounds far-fetched, but according to Barna, I’m not the only one who thinks it’s possible.
But moving on.
After a few minutes of silence and listening for what we felt God was saying, we came up with a few things:
- We felt like we needed to walk downtown near all the tourist crap
- One of the students kept imagining the color blue
- Someone said “wheelchair”
- And I kept seeing an image of a wheat field
With our “clues” in hand, we headed out the door of the church and hit the pavement.
When we found all of our clues in one place
I don’t know if you’ve ever walked down Broadway during summertime in Nashville, but it’s pure chaos. (I already hate the touristy parts of towns, so the fact that I was helping lead a ministry excursion in the middle of one was a bit ridiculous).
Our rag-tag team of misfits walked cautiously through the crowd, looking expectantly for any of our “clues” to jump out in front of us.
We would see a blue sign here or a blue shirt there, but nothing really jumped out at us — that is until we rounded the corner.
Sitting invisibly in the middle of a crowd of pedestrians was a man in a wheelchair. His hair was unkempt; the look of defeat worn triumphantly on his face. He stared into the distance a hallowed, sad gaze. And did I mention he was wearing a faded blue sweatshirt and only had one leg?
Almost in unison, we rushed toward the man in the wheelchair and said hello.
His name was… Earl
To be honest with you, I don’t remember his name, so we’ll call him, Earl. But as soon as we approached him, Earl put on a smile that stretched from ear-to-ear.
He had been living in Nashville for several years, homeless for eight of them, and ignored by the tourists for almost all of them. But he liked to wheel himself downtown and watch the crowds.
Earl was fairly independent. He stayed at a local shelter, ate meals at the soup kitchen, and found clothes from a local charity. I’m not sure about his hygiene, however, because Earl smelled like urine.
Inquisitively, he asked where we were all from and what we were doing there.
We told him we were on a short-term mission trip and went downtown to specifically pray for people we felt God wanted us to pray for. It just so happened that he embodied all of the clues for us except one: there were no wheat fields around.
And would you guess? As soon as we told him that, I looked up and on the building behind Earl was a giant poster bearing the image of golden wheat!
We all laughed and then asked Earl if we could pray for him, encourage him, and how we might serve him the rest of the day. We ended up purchasing him a snack and leaving him with a good laugh (because to my disappointment, his leg didn’t grow back).
What about you?
I love it when I get to partner with something that God’s already doing; when I take time to intentionally seek out where He’s on the move and step into that flow.
That’s my challenge to both you and I today. Let’s quietly ask God where He’s at work today, then enter into that space and partner with Him in what He’s doing.
Because if I learned anything from that experience, it’s that He’s buried treasure in the hearts around us and He’ll give us clues to go and find it if we ask Him.