The times I expect outdoor things have always been the times it ends up raining. For the first few weeks, including training, the rain pushed us off the streets and into the subway for Hands of Hope-- a homeless ministry that takes us out to meet, talk with, and pray with our neighbors here. It started to feel like "rain" and "Hands of Hope" were intentionally scheduled together, and by the third week of the summer I found myself asking The Lord to bring on the rain and push us into the subway again. I had been talking with the same woman every week. My friends were there! Why would I want to go anywhere else?
On a day when one of those symbolic storm clouds you see in movies had been following me all day, the sky was finally completely clear for Hands of Hope. I had gotten hard news and my heartfelt heavy, like it really was a rainy day and there we were in the sun, on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. All I wanted was some real rain so I could feel at home on my bench in the subway. I wanted the sit in the comfort of consistency. But there was the sun. I sat outside on the edge of a bench next to the Logan Square Fountain, with eyes on my group, swelling with unexpected joy as I watched them lock eyes with men and women, shake their hands, hand them bagged lunches, and engage with them just as they had with me all week.
It seemed as if the rain always came about when I was getting ready to engage the homeless through Hands of Hope. I had engaged with all types of people in Suburban Station, but I constantly longed to develop a deeper relationship with one of my new friends.
During my second week of hosting, I thought my opportunity to meet and greet my Logan Square brothers and sisters would not come. My youth group’s van broke down that week, the schedule flipped, and I had a site visit during the new Hands of Hope time. Fortunately, I was able to make it towards the tail end of this outreach experience, sitting on the grass as my group wrapped up a conversation with two men.
That is when I met Keith.
The group I was hosting introduced me to the two gentlemen. One of the men, Keith, reached out and shook my hand, and we spent only five minutes exchanging where our hearts rested for Philadelphia and the people there. I said my goodbyes to Keith and his friend and knew that I missed my opportunity to build a deeper relationship with one of the Parkways residents.
The following week, Hands of Hope went on as normal with my new group. We shook hands with those who laid on benches and the grass and exchanged bagged lunches for a warm conversation and prayer. I took a second to float through the park, being sure that my group was engrossed in this new experience. While walking along through cardboard boxes set up as beds, someone tapped me on the shoulder and stretched out their arms for a hug.
It was Keith.
“Keith! No way! You remember me?”
“Of course, Alexis. I wanted to see how you were doing and wanted to know if you had a new group.”Keith sought me out. I did not have to seek for him, and the weeks after went just the same. Keith found me, whether it was in the Parkway at Logan Square or at one of our other ministry sites, like Chosen 300. He was the relationship that I sought to have, but it did not come to be until I stopped seeking and waited.
Whenever I go out looking to meet the "homeless" or the "wanderers", I am instead met. I aim to grasp brokenness and am greeted there by good news. It is as if my schedule is not planned by CSM and is not based on dinner times or ministry partners or weather patterns but on carefully planned divine appointments. Our creator is intentional. We are confronted daily here with new heartbreaks and scary, scary pictures of what it looks like to be wandering or homeless or without the things we're used to and it is here where we see God's face more clearly.
In the thick of it, I know my savior more because He is calling out to us in Philadelphia. I meet with Him and I find myself locking eyes with a Friend, a Comforter, and a rainy day consistency. My heart gets heavy seeing where the people of Philadelphia are wandering to, but every single day I learn more about God's heart for this place and I say, "You! You're here! I had such a bad day and you found me!" or “I wanted to see how you were doing...” He knows this hurt and I am drawn into his embrace.
My prayer for Philadelphia is that when our hearts are heavy for our neighbors, we seek to look this Friend in the eye and to sit with Him, and if we cannot find our Friend, we keep going and continue to walk in His path. He looks for this. He waits for it. He is not simply a fair-weather friend, but a careful planner who knows this pain and loves it all gleefully and does not skip out on time with us, even in the rain.
─ Olivia C. and Alexis W.-W.