That was one of the craziest nights I’ve had in a while…

No, not in the “we got so wasted” kind of way, but in the “this is ministry” kind of way. At the beginning of the night I posted on Facebook: “Oh , this is gonna be an interesting night. It’s like the perfect storm of crazy…..” and the prophecy did not disappoint.

I arrived to a tiny group, one of whom was a guy who comes around every now and then that is clearly mentally ill and only answers questions with something about Jesus, speaks very randomly, stares and talks at people, loud and out of place. One of those that no one really knows what to do with. His interruptions would have been enough to deal with in one night…

Just a few moments later, strutting down the sidewalk dressed in a leather outfit (outfit…or pieces of material?) we’ll just say will cause any man to stumble, comes…my neighbor. I’ve just recently met her and don’t know much except that she clubs and drinks a lot. She’s very friendly, and quickly joins in our group, not knowing we’re Christians.

But now one of our regulars, with her boyfriend, is annoyed at the blatant sexuality and not ready to be friendly to this woman. She’s easily bothered by people anyway, and very aggressive and protective. It was at this point I knew things were going to be interesting…

Both my neighbor we’ll call “Maria” and the other guy we’ll call “Sam” keep talking incessantly with no normal conversation flow. “Eric”, another regular, is getting angry at Sam, about to start a fight. Maria flaunts her highly exposed and sexualized body, so the whole situation is just awkward. But she draws “Eric”, a new Christian, away from the fight, and all I can now see is lust in his eyes as she dances around.

I’m thinking, “Ok, we’re basically in church, with a very sweet woman dancing barely clothed with a young, lustful guy saying he basically wants to take her home, a guy that everyone’s yelling at because of his constant random chatter, and an angry woman about to go off on all of the them, and none of whom are listening to anything we try to say….um, what now?”

It’s not the usual situation one runs into in a middle class church, so I’m not sure whether to get in between Eric and Maria, or pull Helen aside to explain about loving people who are difficult…or just sit with the other guy on the wall and watch…

Antquan’s trying to get us started, but everything he says is interrupted by at least one person. It’s like trying to corrale children on a sugar high. Children who are drunk. Using logic they don’t understand, and who all want to be heard.

So that’s Mpanda round 1.

narrow-mindedly Round 2: Just before Bible study, Sam is standing way down the street talking at air, but apparently does something that causes about 4 of our people to run down the street, ready to beat him down. One of our volunteers follows to calm the situation.

A few minutes later The Refuge has started, and a few others have joined us, or simply said hi and then left again to do…what they do. Several who often join us are just a few feet away in the parking lot , and I’m wondering why they’re basically ignoring us, a bit sad that they’re hanging with a big group but not coming to the Refuge.

About 10 minutes into an already highly-interrupted sermon where Antquan is talking about grace, mercy, and PEACE, a fight starts on the street in perfect viewing distance to distract the whole group. Half of our friends get up and run to whatever is going on…even Antquan pauses to go talk to them.

It quickly disperses, but has everyone so angry that almost all of them leave to calm down and smoke. It seems at this point it might just be an early ending bible study since it’s getting no traction. “Oh, Jesus come and help us,” I whisper, half joking, to our prayer leader sitting next to me. We laugh because the whole night has been so chaotic, bizarre, and uncontrollable.

So the crew is much smaller now, while those who left are all sitting or pacing not far away in the parking lot. We get back into the study where we left off at….PEACE (ironic, eh?) Then, it’s like God heard the joking prayer and said, “ok, sure.”…

Barreirinhas Round 3: Something shifts. Chaos and fights have been the theme so far, but a few minutes later our friends decide to come back to the Bible study after cooling down. And they bring the whole crew with them. They all sit, remain quiet, and participate. Focus comes back, everyone’s engaged, asking questions, listening intently.

Antquan shares the truth needing to be heard from scripture, about how we choose our own way rather than obeying God, and it always leaves us worth off or with second place. How we have to start with him, not the temptations of life around us.

Police drive by again who had previously come to the fight, and gaze onto an entirely calm group. Antquan asks about how to avoid temptation, and people begin volunteering their stories and how they stay strong, have sobered up, gotten over meth, found strength in God.

I’m blown away. We’re suddenly in an incredibly redeeming and spiritual moment. It’s like nothing can make our friends leave now they’re so focused.

From a group that seemed hopeless this particular night, to that same group encouraging each other with their testimonies, clapping about temptations beat, and throwing out so many questions Antquan has to end with prayer, and finish with an “open mic” for discussion.

Maria, not a Christian, has talked and argued so much that I see half of the group signaling their desire to punch her or make her shut up. Yet at the end she tells me, “You know what? I didn’t go dance tonight, but I still had fun” and says she wants to come back and help, too. Antquan tells me that after some of us left that night, she had a breakdown, crying while talking about her life, and took a Bible home.

After chaos ensued on the streets, everyone involved who had previously avoided us, ended up coming to The Refuge. Wow, I realized, this is legitimately a refuge. They could have gone anywhere or done anything after that fight, but because the church was there, they came. Now passerbys would see a provision of peace.

A guy I gave a bible to several months ago had also been there through the night, and upon leaving he showed me that he still had the Bible, and said, “I almost always take it with me when I leave home. When I do things are good, but every time I haven’t taken it with me, something goes wrong.”

I guess that’s kind of how Jesus is.


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