Tragedies and Transformations, Part 2

May 18, 2013

by Maria Fontaine

Wherever, Whenever, However…

One of the first experiences I had on my trip to Tijuana, Mexico, was to visit a men’s shelter that houses up to 150 homeless men each night, from 6:00 in the afternoon to 6:00 the next morning. It is very basic. Each man receives a mattress, without sheets, and one blanket. Some of the more “permanent” residents have bunks assigned to them. Many of these men are struggling with alcoholism and drug addiction and some are gang members. There are clear rules in place for those who stay at the shelter.

The atmosphere is positive and supportive. It’s not just a flophouse, but a place of refuge where they can discover new hope and dignity in the midst of the crushing and dehumanizing lives that many have found themselves ensnared in on the streets. Often they have been deported from the US and have no other place to go.

Chairs are set up in the evening for the men to watch TV and to eat the soup and bread provided by the ministry. After that, they hear a 30-minute message about God’s love and salvation before bed. Then the chairs are removed and each man puts his mattress and blanket on the floor.

We visited the shelter the evening I arrived, where we helped to cut the many loaves of bread for the hungry men. Some of the men were milling around helping with the snack or just talking with each other, and we had a chance to converse a little with them. I was happy that quite a few spoke some English since they had lived either in the U.S. or places close to the border.

The manager of the shelter who had brought us there and with whom we had an immediate connect in spirit, asked if I would speak to the men. Apparently he had faith that I would say yes, because, without waiting for my answer, he laid hands on me, praying a beautiful prayer. I sensed that Jesus had provided this opportunity for me to express His love for the men. I asked the Lord for something that would speak to their hearts, and almost immediately I knew the general topic. He assured me that as I opened my mouth, He would fill it. He would give me the words that would bring hope and motivation.

Though I had an interpreter with me, I asked the manager of the shelter if he wouldn’t mind giving the running translation so that the men would be comfortable with having someone they already knew saying things in a way that they would be familiar with. Giving a message to 60 homeless men in a shelter was not something I had prepared for, but the Lord came through for me and gave me so much peace. I felt no nervousness.

This is a rough paraphrase of the main ideas that I shared with the men:

Yes, life is hard. For most of you it’s terrible, it’s horrible, hellish, and sometimes like one long nightmare. Life can be one of hardship, pain, fear, death, evil, separation, violence, homelessness, addiction, and hopelessness. God hates all this evil and His heart breaks to see His creations, His children, go through the torment of this world, but He, from the beginning, gave mankind the gift of free choice. They could choose to do good or evil. They could choose to love Him or not love Him. They chose to go their own way and not love Him, starting with Adam and Eve in the garden with sin entering the world.

But here’s the good news! The wonderful news! Someday God is going to say, “Enough!” and He’s going to rescue those who love Him and have received His free gift of eternal life. He’s going to make everything right. He’s going to make everything fair. He’s going to make everything just, everything beautiful. Those who love Him will be able to live in His home with Him forever and ever and be reunited with their families and be in harmony in heaven. There will never be any more fighting or death, any more war or violence, any more separations or wrong treatment by the governments of the world.

This life, as it is right now, seems so long. It seems so unending, but the reality is that it’s only a blink of an eye, a snap of a finger, compared to all of forever when we will live in a beautiful world with our loving Father and His Son, Jesus. So just hold on a little longer; keep persevering; keep reminding yourself of the wonderful things that are waiting for you in heaven. That’s going to help you to make it. You can encourage yourselves in what God is going to bring to pass and the beautiful world He’s going to bring you into if you love Him and have received Him into your heart.

In the meantime, one of the most important jobs we have is to encourage and help others. If you’re ever tempted to think that you are useless and your life doesn’t count for anything, I’m here to tell you that you can do one of the most important jobs in the whole world. If you are constantly trying to raise people up, encourage them, give them a boost of hope and point them to Jesus and His love, in God’s eyes this is major and you will reap great rewards in the life to come.

I haven’t had the kind of difficult life that you have had. I’ve had an easy life compared to what all of you have been through (and at this point I cried). But there is something that I can do. God has made it so that those of us who have more can help those who have less. Those who are not suffering right now can help those who are suffering; those who are stronger, in whatever way, can help bear the burdens of those who are weaker. And I can pray for you, which is a powerful and effective gift to strengthen you.

There is always someone worse off than you. You don’t need an education or any special talents to lift someone’s spirit and to help them out of their discouragement. I constantly try to help people in this way, but I didn’t go to school to learn it. I just feel Jesus’ love for people and I want to share it with them. You, my brothers, can do the same. You can listen to that one next to you. You can show you care. You can give them a smile, a pat on the back. You can tell them, “You can make it. Keep going!” You can say a little prayer for them. You can invite those you meet on the streets to the shelter or the church. You can do things for people that will be a help to them. Your lives can be worthwhile and valuable as you do what you can to ease the difficulties of those you meet.

When you are reaching out to people who are in desperate circumstances with little sign of earthly hope, I think it’s important to reassure them that no matter what circumstances they face in this life, when they receive Jesus as their Savior, they always have the hope and promise of the life to come. Of course, once people receive Jesus, their situation in this life will improve, if not always materially, at least emotionally and spiritually.

Later, as I was reflecting on how the Lord gave me the message for the men at the shelter on the spur of the moment, He reminded me that if we keep our connection with Him strong, He can give us tailor-made messages for those He brings across our paths. So wherever, whenever, however He shows you to follow Him, He will work through you. He can give something from His heart to those of others if you seek Him and are willing to be a faithful messenger of His words. He can give it spontaneously if need be, as He did for me and as He has repeatedly done for many of you over the years.

This was a good experience for me, since I’m not often put on the spot as I was on this trip. I became aware once again of God’s faithfulness and how He will always come through for us.

Arriving at the shelter.

Helping to cut bread for the men's evening meal.

Sharing the message with the men.

The manager of the shelter interprets for me.