Friday, August 12, 2005

Night Strike

I complained a while ago about The Oregonian burying a story on local law enforcement officers driving homeless people out of state forests on page C12. Today, I got to see a very nice counter-example. The Portland Tribune, a local bi-weekly paper, had as their top story (including a full-color, above-the-fold, half-page picture) a piece about a local ministry that helps the homeless.

Now Portland has a number of homeless shelters and Gospel Missions, but this ministry looks special. The group is BridgeTown Ministries and the program is called Night Strike. Basically, they get together every Friday night under the Burnside Bridge and hang out with whoever shows up. They offer some food, of course, but their signature service seems to be foot washing. They wash and massage the feet of the people who come to them and offer them new socks. They also offer hair cuts and shaves. Above all, they offer dignity.

The Tribune article included interviews with a couple of the homeless men who come to Night Strike. One man describing the foot massage added this: "And the whole time they’re talking to you. They wonder how you’re doing, what your story is. They listen to you, and they ask if they can pray for you. The prayer is very soothing. It gives you a sense of encouragement and motivation." They listen to you. Imagine that.

In the suburb where I live now I hardly ever come into contact with homeless people, and my life is the less for it. Where I used to live, I took the light rail every day through downtown, and from time to time I'd meet homeless people. They'd approach me and talk to me. They're just about the only people who ever talk to strangers on the train. It sometimes made me uncomfortable, but it was good -- good for me. You get a kind of closeness listening to a person who has few people to talk to that you rarely get talking to people you know. They open themselves up. Reading the story about Night Strike reminded me of that, and reminded me how insulated I've let myself become from those in need.

The other interesting thing about Night Strike, and Bridgetown Ministries in general, is that it is a stealth ministry. It's not really a ministry to homeless people. It's really a ministry to young people. They minister to young people by inviting them to come and help out with this other ministry. They enrich their lives through service. I don't mean to downplay the ministry they offer to the homeless, and I certainly don't mean to accuse them of deception. But they are a youth movement. Their web site looks suspiciously like an emergent church site. It's got out of focus pictures, staff members with goatees, square brackets around titles, no one over the age of 35 (and only the directors over 25), and, sure enough, director Marshall Snider's blog reveals that he is currently reading A Generous Orthodoxy.

One of the complaints I've heard (and made) about the emergent movement is that there's no there there yet. Well, here's one proof to the contrary.

1 comment:

LutheranChik said...

I'm with you on talking to homeless/mentally ill people. Even though I've had frightening and/or unpleasant experences, honestly, some days the crazy folks make better company than the sane ones.

It makes you wonder...if some suburban church attempted to start a similar ministry, could they pull it off? How willing would 30-40-something professional types be washing homeless people's feet, smelling their smells and engaging in dialogue with them even when that gets weird.