Stories by Rob
Toilet Paper And Hope – by Dec 10, 2012
We sat in a church staff meeting discussing our financial
straits. Everyone knows we are a poor church hanging in there by
borrowing against the value of our building while we try to grow
the church congregation to a size that can stabilize our finances.
The going is slower than we have hoped. We recently had a Sunday
offering of $325 total. That’s right, and NO there isn’t a missing
zero. If we could add a zero to that total we would be at the
break even amount we need weekly. At the end of November we were
depleting our savings and in between draws on our line of credit
against the building – so our church treasurer had ordered a
At this particular staff meeting on a Tuesday morning we were
literally discussing if there was enough toilet paper, paper
towels and cleaning supplies to get us through one more weekend.
We thought there were. This is the deep stuff we dialogue
preparing for the busy Christmas season. “Do we have enough toilet
paper to make it one more week?”
I have to confess, sometimes it’s hard for me to see where
Jesus is moving and sustaining us in our work. I know I should
have more faith. Everyone tells me so. But discussions of toilet
paper were never urgent concerns at any of my previous church
positions so I find myself confused at interpreting God’s motives
and plans for us. Usually at this time of year churches are
ramping up their plans and rehearsals for the huge Christmas
pageant and vast crowds that will be coming in, not discussing how
much toilet paper they have to make it through one more Sunday.
Later that same week a woman came to the church door with a
jar of coins. She and her kids had been saving them to give to us
to help the homeless. She knew about our church because a year
earlier I had written a comment on the blog site of Donald Miller,
the author of “Blue Like Jazz”. (You can read a synopsis of his
blog and my posting on page ) The woman with the jar of coins had
read my response about our church situation and was stunned to
learn she lived in our town. For the previous year, God had laid
us on her heart. Every time she drove by the church (which 47,000
people a day do at our major intersection) she prayed for us and
thought to herself that she should try us out. But it takes
working up some courage to drive to our neighborhood on a Sunday
morning and walking into our building. We understand.
She told us she had attended every major large church in the
Spokane Valley for the last several years, first trying one then
another looking for a place to fit. It wasn’t working and her
restlessness was increasing. As she handed over the jar of coins
she said, “The final straw was seeing our church budget. Every
year at this time our huge church posts its budget for the next
year and when I saw that we are going to spend $36,000 on toilet
paper I just couldn’t believe it. TOILET PAPER!” she practically
shouted. “I just couldn’t do it anymore” she sighed, “It seemed so
excessive.” That’s when she told us about God speaking to her for
over a year about trying us out. She had no idea how what she just
said echoed in my heart and head as we stood there talking. Toilet
paper seemed to be the theme of the week. I thought about how two
churches only miles apart in the same town in the same state in
the same country can be living such incredibly different
existences. It’s more like we are living in an entirely different
civilization than they are.
I couldn’t help but think that somewhere in the deprivation of
resources and essentials there is a parallel to Joseph and Mary.
At the time of Jesus’ birth, Caesar Augustus was sitting on the
throne of the Roman Empire as sole ruler of the world. New
military campaigns and conquests were being put into motion and a
census was moving thousands of people around the empire. Millions
of dollars of goods were traded and shipped across the Middle East
and around the Mediterranean. Wealth was pouring out across
Europe, North Africa and Asia Minor. In Judea, Herod was partying
while planning and building glorius palaces even as he plotted
whom to kill next. Architects and engineers from Greece, Rome and
Egypt were working on a rebuild of God’s Temple in Jerusalem just
a few miles from Bethlehem. This was a project that costs millions
in today’s currency and would take 46 years to complete. All this
was going on while one young couple, mocked for her early
pregnancy were journeying to Bethlehem with no fanfare whatsoever.
The simple expectation is that a young mother would have her
own mom, a midwife, and family about her as she gave birth for the
first time. She could expect to be in a known home that provided
shelter, wisdom and support. A new dad should expect to be
surrounded by his friends and the celebration of the young son
should be a huge community event. The expectation was not that
they would be deprived of the most basic of items at such a
crucial time. No one assumed that they would discuss where to move
animals and where to place the baby after cleaning out the manure
from around them first. No one prepared for a novice dad instead
of a midwife to be the one there to pull the baby out, cut the
cord, and place the child in its mother’s arms. No one assumed
that even the simplest of things like buckets of water for
cleaning would be hard to find. No one wanted to feel alone,
afraid and helpless at such a time. That was certainly not the
expectation of where to find God.
And yet – in all that vast contrast of the Roman Empire – God
came to us in the small cave that was deprived of even the most
basic of needs and expectations for a baby’s birth. God didn’t
come in the wealth and majesty of the Caesar’s Rome nor in the
splendor of Herod’s new Temple. He came to a young couple living
in poverty deprived of even the most basic expectations. Maybe God
still comes in places trying to figure out if they have enough
toilet paper to make it through one more week. I suppose the
question is . . . . when he does . . . . will we see him?
You Just Never Know – By Rob Bryceson Nov 14, 2012
On the last weekend of October, as we prepared for our
neighborhood meal, Tonia felt strongly that she was to use some of
the Street Wise funds to buy a couple pairs of boots to give away.
“That’s not really needed”, I told her “The annual Winter
Wear Drive is happening in our church in a few weeks and hundreds
of pairs of boots will be given out then. You don’t have to buy
Never-the-less, she felt God wanted her to buy boots to give
out. To keep it modest, she only bought two pair of nice work
boots that were on sale for about $30 each. She bought what they
had left – a size 12 and a size 13.
That Sunday afternoon, CRAZY, one of our favorite homeless
guys who often comes to church told us he met a guy on the street
who was new to town and only had a pair of flip flops to wear. All
of his other stuff had been stolen. Temperatures were already in
the low 30’s and it hadn’t snowed, but it was still very cold to
be wearing only flip flops. CRAZY brought the guy to our meal and
asked Tonia if we could help his new friend find shoes. Smiling
she told him to find me. CRAZY introduced us. The fellow was a big
“I just happen to have a brand new pair of boots to give
out to someone today” I informed him, stealing Tonia’s credit
since she was working in the kitchen. She is rarely wrong on stuff
like this. “It looks like this is your lucky day because we
haven’t had shoes or boots to give out in several weeks. What size
He told me he was a size 12 and had trouble finding
anything that big. His eyes lit up as I handed him a brand new
pair of size 12! He quickly put them on and tried to hide his
discouragement when they didn’t fit right. With a slump of his
shoulders he took them off and gave them back saying “I’m sorry
but they’re just too tight for me, maybe someone else could use
“Actually we have the same thing in a size 13” I chirped
like an eager clerk at Nordstrom’s.
He put them on and they were perfect! He must have shaken my hand
and thanked me a dozen times before he left that day. I told him
that it wasn’t me but Jesus and Tonia who were the ones really
taking care of him that day.
We didn’t have a meal the next week since it was the first
Sunday of the month. So two weeks later we bumped into CRAZY
again. “Did ya hear what happened after you gave those boots to
that guy? He went to job interview the next day and got the job.
The employer took such a shining to him that he found him a place
to live too. He’s off the street already! Thanks to you guys for
all you do! That pair of boots actually changed that man’s
You just never know. People reading this send us donations,
those funds are used to buy food, blankets, help, and even boots.
Homeless guys who come to church here feel safe to invite others
and Jesus changes lives through the obedience of those who are
willing to follow his lead even when it doesn’t seem practical. We
all played a role in letting Jesus use us to change a life. You
just never know. Thanks!
Third World Church In A First World Nation — by Pastor Rob Oct 4,
Two Sundays ago my wife found herself sitting in church
desperately praying not to throw up. I know for some people the
thought of going to church makes them queasy and slightly nauseous
but since she’s a pastor’s wife that’s not the case with her. A
street woman who was a friend of ours came to church that day for
the very first time. She had been coming to our meals for three
years but had never been to a church service, even though she
called this her church and called me her pastor.
She came this day because her on-again-off-again boyfriend
was dying. His cancer had come back with a vengeance and he was
lying in a hospital bed that very moment with no hope for
recovery. We didn’t know during that church service but he would
die that night. Our friend had come to church in such a state of
shock, worry and agitation, that we were genuinely concerned for
her. She had obviously been out on the street for days and hadn’t
been home to get cleaned up or change clothes in quite some time.
She had come in early to service while I was rehearsing the
band and staggered up to the stage for a hug as she cried on my
shoulder. It was all I could do to keep my eyes from watering; the
smell radiating off her was so strong. In fact, after she walked
away and I resumed practicing the worship, the smell clung to me
like a vaporous cloud for the next ten minutes. All during church
she sat in tears, resting her head on my wife’s shoulder and
wrapped up in her arms. That’s why my wife was praying not to
throw up. The stench was overwhelming and she wanted so bad to be
there for our friend and not spoil everything by throwing up.
During prayer time this woman wanted to offer a prayer and so
half-walked and was half carried, to our prayer wall. She stood
for some time before being able to scrawl out a prayer. My wife
had to hold her pen hand to get her started in writing a prayer,
perhaps for the first time on behalf of her dying boyfriend.
Sometimes our church is like a third world experience.
“You just need more tithing members to join your church”
was the advice we recently received from someone about how to make
our church a success. Yeah, we know. But how many Christian
housewives do you know who live in the middle class of a First
World nation would willingly go to church every week in a third
world experience? How many of them do you know who would even
potentially be in the position to hold the hand of a street woman
whose boyfriend was dying of cancer, let alone spend their church
time desperately praying not to throw up from the proximity of the
stench all during the church service? How many churches would have
let that lady in and how many would’ve let her stay? Yeah we just
need more middle class first world people who willingly go to a
third world church every week to come on down and hang out with
us; should be no problem.
I don’t doubt for an instant though, that Jesus would hug
and hold the smelliest of us during a time of crisis or pain. It
never crossed my wife’s mind that there might be an alternative
action like simply avoiding contact with the woman who was
desperate for hope and love. There was never a thought by anyone
to ask her to leave - Jesus wouldn’t.
At our last board meeting the discussion took place about
the smell of people coming to the adult Sunday morning classes.
It’s getting cold so we can’t open the windows anymore. Can you
imagine little old ladies sitting next to homeless people who
smell of the street while helping them find verses in the
unfamiliar pages of the Bible? We have that. The board decided we
should buy several sets of brand new sweat suits or running warm-
ups to offer people who have been on the street too long.
“Seems like you’ve had a rough week,” we will say to them.
“I can tell you’ve been through a hard and difficult time because
the smell of the street is still on you. Would you like a fresh
change of brand new clothes this morning? You can use the restroom
to wash down and change and get a new start today. There’s even a
bag for your current clothes until you get a chance to wash them.”
If we had the money we would convert the old unused
men’s restroom downstairs to showers. Wouldn’t that be a nice
touch? Get cleaned up, wash that suffering, pain, and hardship off
you, change into this new stuff and come worship Jesus with us.
Everybody is welcome. People are accepted and lives are changed,
but it takes extra effort will, patience, endurance and cost.
Third world church has to think differently than first
world church. Most first world people would prefer a church
service where none of these things is even a consideration. But
where is Jesus in our suffering world to be seen today? Who would
Jesus hang out with and what personal price would he pay to be
there? In each moment we are all deciding where and how we will
show Jesus to the world around us. Sometimes we even get it right.
Hands And Feet Gotta Move – by Rob Bryceson July 30, 2012
On Friday nights here at First Covenant, Union Gospel
Mission has been coming down and serving grilled hotdogs or fresh
sandwiches to the street people. They set up in our gym and often
pray over people while passing out needed clothing or hygiene
supplies. They even do foot washing as they put clean new sox on
tired dirty feet.
Their original idea was to reach out one ring further than mission
itself and help to dispel rumors and stories that have risen among
the street population about the mission itself. Since the mission
requires passing a breathalyzer to get in, they wanted to have a
place to reach out where some of the rules could be more lax and
they could work to invite men and women to the mission by building
relationships first. Finally going to the mission is scary thing
for most people.
They often get church people who want to help. A couple of
weeks back a group of nice church folk from the suburbs came down
to “help out”. They didn’t give any funds, they didn’t want to
make sandwiches, they wouldn’t help set up, they didn’t assist in
cleaning up, nor did they actually talk to any street people
during the evening. They stood about wanting to “observe the work
being done”. I guess they wanted to be the Jane Goodall of
At the end of the night I was told the whole mission team
and these nice church folk gathered in a circle to pray while
holding hands. “Thanks for allowing us to serve you tonight by
being your hands and feet to the poor and downtrodden” one of
these church people prayed - OUT LOUD.
Now I don’t know what you think, but I believe if you’re the hands
and feet of Jesus you MOVE! You act! You serve! You touch! You get
dirty doing any job that needs done. You don’t stand around
observing then try to pray some credit onto your poor shriveled
wormy anemic soul at the end. No! And I really do feel strongly
about this if ya couldn’t tell. It offended the regular mission
Contrast this to that same weekend on Sunday afternoon. At
our Street Wise meal a team of social media experts came to cook
and serve our meal for the homeless. Most of this team did not
attended church anywhere and were a bit frightened to walk into a
church to help – especially the gay couple. But they put on a
brave face and dared to help since their buddy Mike Ellis, who
attends here, recommended us.
They worked like a harmonious team of bees or ants taking
direction from Tonia while chopping and slicing, cleaning,
sweeping, mopping, and standing over hot stoves grilling meat!
They gay couple was completely flabbergasted at how our team of
leaders treated them with unexpected love and acceptance as part
of the team doing Christian work. They were overwhelmed to the
point of actual tears when dealing with the homeless people they
met that day. One of them had never really looked at the face of
homeless person before much less talked to them.
A lot of conversation took place behind the scenes among these un-
churched people with our leaders during and after the meal. One of
the gay men holds an executive position at Red Lion Corporation.
That day – Red Lion Hotels picked up the tab for the entire cost
of the meal – several hundred dollars. What a contrast to the
Christian volunteer team from Friday night. The gay couple asked
if it would be OK to attend a church service with us knowing were
an evangelical church. They used to be Catholic; of course they
In Matthew 21:28-32, Jesus told a story about two sons to
show how obedience to God really works. “What do you think? There
was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘Son,
go and work today in the vineyard.’ “‘I will not,’ he answered,
but later he changed his mind and went. “Then the father went to
the other son and said the same thing. He answered, ‘I will, sir,’
but he did not go. “Which of the two did what his father wanted?”
“The first,” they answered. Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you,
the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of
God ahead of you. For John came to you to show you the way of
righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors
and the prostitutes did. And even after you saw this, you did not
repent and believe him.
John the Baptist preached a message of repentance for the
forgiveness of sins. Mark begins his gospel with the words in
Isaiah the prophet: “I will send my messenger ahead of you, who
will prepare your way” - “a voice of one calling in the
wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for
I couldn’t help but think of this parable when contrasting our
righteous Friday night church people from the so-called sinners
who worked and served Sunday afternoon. What does it mean to you
to - make a straight path for him? I think it’s breaking down any
social construct of injustice, offering mercy and grace to those
who don’t deserve it, and offering hope and healing to broken,
lost, and wounded souls. Dear Jesus – what am I to do with this
ironic twist of reality?!
I was struck by how I personally had more respect for those whose
hearts were moved to tears over the wretched state of the poor and
who had a willingness to humble themselves to do any job in order
to help; rather than those who refused to move an inch to make a
contribution, but thanked God in prayer for being hands and feet
of Jesus. Which of these do you think did the will of the father?
I Likes To Sits In Church – by Rob Bryceson June 21, 2012
I had one of those conversations again last week. It’s the
same introductory statement I’ve heard made by hundreds of people
over the years. Somehow the topic of church came up and I asked
the young couple across the table where they went to church.
“We go to Mega-Church”, the lady answered sheepishly. “We
go because we can just sit, nothing is expected of us. We really
like Pastor’s preaching though.” she added as if to justify her
answer to someone.
Actually Mega wasn’t the real name of the church but you
can use it as a good substitute because I’ve had this same
conversation with many people in different locations over the
years. The answer is often the same. “I like the music”, or “I
like the pastor’s teaching” are statements that suffice to explain
their presence there. The add-on “I can just go and sit” is the
troublesome part for me.
What I find interesting is that these people are long time
Christians who have been saved, discipled and trained at some
other church. They got involved and found the level of burnout to
be severe, the absence of appreciation to be scandalous, the lack
of meaningful relationships to be sorrowful, and the intensity of
church politics to be sordid.
Now they are purposefully picking a church to attend where the
main goal is to remain detached and isolated as individuals. They
just want to be part of an unnecessary crowd attending the most
entertaining venue on Sunday morning. I get it at one level –
believe me I know the nature of church, but not at another level.
Many of these people are at the stage where a Christian’s maturity
should be moving them into influential leadership positions, where
their years of study, testing, and sacrifice should be allowing
them to be entering their most fruitful years for the kingdom of
God. But then they pick mega-church exactly because they don’t
have to do anything and no one needs them they contribute as
little as possible personally, except for a tithe check which they
hope someone else is putting to good use. In essence, some of the
most trained and practiced Christians are choosing a church were
they aren’t needed at all.
When and where did we ever get the idea that the creation
and purpose of the church, which Christ created to advance his
kingdom on the earth, should be a place where we personally are
totally unnecessary and detached from others around us? Why do we
think church should be just a place where we are spiritually
entertained? I mean, why bother going at all if that’s all it is?
In reading a New Testament a person would never ever get
the idea that the church was to be a place where I can go and just
sit. Pick any of the Epistles and read it. You will find that the
purpose of the church is to unite a community in love – often a
love that needs to be polished and refined through difficult
processes. It’s supposed to be a place where the love of Christ is
poured out into the heart of an individual and then united in a
group in such a way that the very existence of the Holy Spirit on
earth working through people can be seen by the world at large.
The reason that we aren’t whisked immediately off to heaven upon
conversion is that we each have a long way to go as we are being
shaped by the relationship process under the Holy Spirit’s orders.
As we do this journey – Jesus wants us to greatly impact others
around us with love, justice, mercy, and righteous action!
“Oh, someone else does that part.” you might say.
But we study the Scriptures to create action; It is to be
“useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in
righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly
equipped for every good work (II Tim 3:16). We gather for the sake
of heartfelt worship. We gather to express our deepest longings,
joys, pains, and hopes to God. We gather to intercede in prayer
for others. We gather to praise the majesty of his name in a
corporate voice. We gather as influencers of others, as people who
share Christ’s love with others lifting up their spirits and
helping to carry their burdens.
The church is supposed to be a fellowship of real relationships
united under the power and guidance of the Holy Spirit. Church
should be a place of ultimate belonging to a genuine family
requiring a level of authenticity, trust and support on a deeply
intimate level. It was never supposed to be an entertaining show
where classroom programs substitute for kingdom building action.
The very thought that one could pick a church based on the power
of its entertainment while remaining personally detached would be
bizarre to the Apostles.
When I was kid I remember a popular poster of a cartoon character
perched on a stump. The caption read; “Sometimes I likes to sits
and think, other times I just likes to sit.” I wish more of us
would at least sits and think when it comes to our church.
God Watching – By Rob Bryceson, May 28, 2012
“One of my best childhood memories was when I was five or six. My
addict dad got in a rage again and was beating my mom with a beer
bottle when my mom grabbed me and ran outside. We slept outdoor
that night, I think it might have been on the neighbor’s lawn. As
we lay there looking up at the stars, my mom, who couldn’t speak
very good English pointed up at the stars and said, ‘See those
stars? You are going to shine like one someday’. I knew in that
instant that she loved me and she was doing the best she could.
But she simply didn’t have the skills or ability to be a real
Katie said this to us on a Sunday morning with a perfect
matter-of–fact straight face as her best, early childhood memory.
We have been working out a series of sermon dialogues on
Sunday mornings we call “God Watching”. We are calling it that
because through the stories of people in our congregation we are
looking for signs of where God has shown His hands have been on us
throughout our lives as well as looking for signs of where God is
moving people beyond their pasts. It’s been quite a ride listening
to these stories.
Katie and I sat down on Sunday May 20 to dialogue about
her life. Katie came to us a couple of years ago as an abandoned
street kid who had just turned 18 and been dumped by her adoptive
mother at the local woman’s shelter.
“Have a nice life!” her mother called out to her as she drove
away. A couple of days later, Katie was invited to our church by a
homeless man who attended our services and helped out.
For the first time in her entire life she walked into a
church to see if God might be there to help her. Although at the
time she didn’t even know it was a quest for God she was
Katie tells a great story of how God took that moment and
then worked her over for the next couple of years to bring her to
saving knowledge of Him. She speaks openly of her rebellion and
final surrender to Jesus Christ during that time. She became our
nursery director and is now making plans as she finishes her AA
degree and prepares to jump to a University where she will pursue
a degree in either teaching, childhood psychology, or early
childhood development. It’s a great story.
A week before that, on Mother’s Day may 13th, Lindsay Moss
was interviewed by Margot Cioccio on what it was like growing up
dirt poor on the wrong side of the tracks in Oklahoma City. Her
mom held the family together in spite of ghetto level poverty and
a drug addict father. The power of the church and prayer held a
family together long after it should have disintegrated.
She remembers being struck with death threatening childhood
asthma and her father stealing the saved up money for medicine so
he could go out and buy a fix. Her mom with bravery beyond belief
went to the drug dealer’s house and demanded the money back and
got it! Prayer, faith and desperation met in one instance of
outstanding motherly heroics to save a child.
On May 27 we interviewed Dianah Brubaker Toland who came to
our church after seeing a news story on our homeless meal Super
Bowl Sunday. She works for the station and was compelled with her
boyfriend to come and check out a church like ours which would do
Dianah’s story is painful to hear. She grew up in small town
in Montana in a very poor family with both parents being
philandering alcoholics. Her father would disappear for weeks on
end and mom would drop her off at a local church on Sunday
mornings with a baby brother and a diaper bag. Mom wouldn’t pick
them up again until 6:00 pm. She and her brother wandered the
streets with nothing to eat but the extra cookies she stuffed in
her pockets at church. No one ever helped or said a thing because
the grandparents were well to do contributors to the church —
though not attenders.
Dianah’s home was violent and she carried that expectation
of violent love into every relationship she ever had. She would
eventually become an informant for the FBI and DEA on breaking a
major drug ring her abusive boyfriend’s family ran.
Her first attempt to discover God was derailed by a Lutheran
pastor who wanted sex in exchange for baptism. Why she came to us
and stayed is beyond belief. But God doesn’t quit!
On June 10th we will hear the story of Lenore Three Stars who
will speak to us about the pain of being Native American and a
Christian in a world where the two rarely merge.
All of these interviews are on audio (we’re working on
video) on our website. I urge you to got to www.fccspokane.org and
download the full versions of these remarkable people. You will
discover that God is indeed watching out for us!
For Emergency, Try Service – by Rob Bryceson April 30, 2012
On a warm Monday night we walked out of a church board
meeting to discover a homeless man passed out cold on the loading
dock by the back door. Bill Richards discovered him initially and
Mahoney, after trying unsuccessfully to revive the man, came and
got me. I recognized him right away even though he was lying face
down in a puddle of his own drool. I’ve seen this guy get sober at
least twice in the last couple of years, attempting to change his
life around. But the allure of the street and the swampy quicksand
of decadence out here pulls them back under time after time. This
guy can play piano beautifully. I’ve told him if he ever gets 30
days of sobriety under this belt I would love to have him come
play piano before services as our guests come in.
But this day he was in the worst shape I had ever seen
him. I called his name and shook him forcefully trying to wake
him, but nothing worked.
“Call 9-1-1” I instructed Mahoney.
As Mahoney dialed I continued to try and rouse the guy. Finally
with his face plastered to the sidewalk in the pool of drool and
his eyes still shut tight he mumbled, “Schling flob muh”.
I was already on my hands and knees so I leaned over real close to
his face and gently spoke his name asking, “What? What did you
“Sching fo meh” he repeated slightly more understandable.
“You want me to sing for you?” I asked incredulously.
“Ya” was all he could say still face down with his eyes shut tight
and his body unmoving.
Not exactly knowing what else to do I put a hand on his shoulder
and one on his back and began slowly and resonantly singing over
him – Amazing grace, how sweet the sound . . . . his eyes snapped
open. . . . That saved a wretch like me . . . he began to stir
trying to lift himself up . . . . I once was lost but now I am
found, was blind but now I see . . . by then he had pulled himself
up on his elbows, rolled over wiped his face with his sleeve and
was trying to sit against the building.
I kept singing . . . . Twas grace that taught my heart to fear and
grace my fears relieved . . . by the end of the second verse he
could stand on his feet. He was singing with me now and trying to
raise his hands up in worship. We ended our third verse together
about being in heaven ten thousand years. He was on his feet but
“We’ve called 9-1-1 and they are on their way. I think you should
sit awhile till they get here. Hey, I’ve got to ask, why are you
“I knew if I could make it to the church I would be OK. I knew God
would be here and He would look out for me”, he responded. He was
trying to get up close to the church building like crawling under
the umbrella of God while in a broken, weak, and hopeless state,
before life rained down on him once more.
The fire trucks arrived and the paramedics were mad at us that
they came out for nothing but a drunk. Our guy refused care and
wouldn’t be taken to detox. There wasn’t much anyone could legally
do for him after that. The fire truck packed up and went back to
their real work at the fire station and we sat our man down to try
to talk with him.
He requested I pray for him, so I did, but in his inebriated state
I don’t think it took much hold. He was bobbing and weaving too
much like a punched up boxer in the 15 round, so my prayers
couldn’t land a good blow. I finally convinced him he couldn’t
just stay here and sleep on the doorstep of the church since it
wasn’t safe for him. I watched him stagger and stumble off into
the sunset heading to the homeless shelter two blocks away. It
hardly felt like a victorious moment.
I stood there awhile on the loading dock wondering if all our
work, prayer, conversations, meals and time really meant much. I
asked God “Are we really doing anything here at all worthwhile?
This moment seems so petty and miniscule” I thought to myself. “In
the grand scheme of the kingdom of God, are we wasting our
Jesus asked me to reflect a bit before going inside “What do you
see here? What do you know about what you see?” he asked.
I know that when people are drunk the studies show that they know
what’s right and wrong and they know what they’re doing. Morally –
they just don’t care. I also know people become alcoholics to numb
pain they no longer know how to deal with. Many can’t even name
the pain any longer. I know the addiction is a powerful force
physically and psychologically. More powerful than a mere
individual can fight by will power alone.
So this guy, whom I’ve never seen in this bad a shape was numbing
his great pain with total inebriation. When all his psychological
and physical defenses were down, he crawled to the church as the
one place where he believed he could find safety and security. He
was crawling to the one place where he might find a touch of grace
and get close enough to God to find protection and hope; the
prodigal son trying to get home to the father.
He has never attended a church service to my knowledge. If he has,
it’s only been one or two where he could hide in the back lobby
watching the service through the glassless windows like a man in
the court of the Gentiles, too unclean to come into the temple.
He felt God’s love here not because of great preaching or dynamic
worship music or creative brochures. He felt God’s love in this
place because almost every week somebody takes time to cook him a
meal and serve it without judgment or condescending expectations.
To this man, God’s love was evident because people serve. Our
mission to the poor is called Street Wise. It’s slogan is Love
them till they ask why. He already knew why. It’s because of
Jesus. The Holy Spirit reminded me – “His story isn’t over yet
and you don’t know the importance of this moment in this chapter
of his life.” In the end, he doesn’t stand before me or any other
person. He has to give an account of his life to God the Father
Almighty. And on that day he will stand alone. On that day I trust
God will point us out as one among many times in his life when he
was given a chance to see and accept the light of life.
If you serve others and worry you don’t speak enough about Christ.
Just keep loving them until they ask why and wait for your chance.
Some already know the answer!
The Nature of Preaching – by Rob Bryceson January 28, 2012
On Christmas day, a homeless couple came into church who
have been coming to our meals for over a year now. They had never
been to a church service before. I had taken time over the
previous weeks to go out of my way to invite them, assuring them
that they would be welcome and would like our service. So on this
particular day they got up early, packed up their campsite and
hiked over to church. They loved the service.
I spoke with the man afterward who is a friend of mine. We’ve
had many a great conversation over the last several months. He was
obviously, deeply touched by something which happened in the
service. I asked him why he didn’t come more often, because he was
always welcome here.
His eyes misted over as he started to reply. His lower jaw
trembled and with the first syllable he spoke, his voice cracked.
He had to stop to gather himself as he held back tears. He tried
and failed at a couple more attempts to speak. After a moment with
deep sadness in his eyes he choked out, “I can’t. I cry too much
in church”. With that he turned and walked away to avoid totally
Every three months or so, he comes in beaten and battered
with a black and blue face. He tends to be a mean drunk and he
gets drunk a lot. He’s tried to sober up many times in the last
year. Once, when he was tapering off his drinking to just one beer
a day, he would excitedly report to me a couple of times a week
about his progress. He got the shakes so bad during that time he
couldn’t put on a pair of socks. He would come early to set up
tables and stay after to help clean up the place. He needed to
“I cry too much in church”. Those words spoke so much about
lost hopes and lost dreams. Whoever aspires to being homeless man
when they grow up? When he sits in church he remembers what life
was supposed to be. He thinks of all the choices, the pains, and
wounds of the accumulated years. He thinks of all of the should-
have-beens and the could-have-beens, all of the if onlys; all the
lost chances, broken relationships and the evil he has done and
which has been done to him.
Does God still love me? Is his power big enough to reach
even the depths of my life? How did I end up like this? Is there
ever going to be a way out? Does anyone sitting around me think
I’m worth rescuing? -“I cry too much in church.”
He is around 50 years old now. He thinks it’s too late for
him and that he will die alone in the street someday. He feels
like he is on a runaway train and the tracks are washed out ahead.
It’s just a matter of when — not how. He believes that there is no
other true destiny for him. He’s tried and failed too many times
to hope anymore.
“I cry too much in church”. Those are the words of a heart
that is still alive. Those are words coming from the depths of a
soul that can still see clearly and can assess the situation with
truth. Those words indicate that when he comes into the presence
of the Holy Spirit and can no longer drown out the voice of God
with booze and brawling that something tender in him awakens.
These words are from someone that still remembers the hopes and
dreams and desires that a shipwrecked life still hold — way down
deep. Words that say the child of God in that broken, battered and
abused life is still in there; Locked and trapped in a prison of
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, Because He has anointed
Me To preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the
brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to the captives And recovery of
sight to the blind, To set at liberty those who are oppressed;”
Jesus said in Luke 4:18. How? What’s the plan? How does this man
experience that Jesus?
“How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed
in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not
heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?”
Preaching! That’s something a professional does from a
platform in front of a gathered crowd—right? Not in this
neighborhood. Oh, that happens too but something deeper is needed
to reach a black and blue heart that cries too much in church.
A group of volunteers came down to serve at one of our meals
and we spoke about reaching the deeply oppressed.
“These guys aren’t going to jump because some hot shot
speaker rallies them from a nice speech” I said. “Their only hope
to find the real Jesus is if a Christian picks a few of them to
befriend, and walks with them for many months through the
conflicts of life. Someone has to take time to hear their stories,
follow up with them weekly, advise, counsel, and train them in the
ways of God. One gifted speaker here won’t make much of an impact.
But 20 Christians willing to be real friends could”.
I often wonder where we can find those 20 Christians. It’s
still true — The harvest is ripe but the laborers are few. —
A Clash of Teen Culture – by Rob Bryceson Jan 22, 2012
On Sunday January 22nd, a group of high school students
associated with Mt. Spokane High School’s Young Life program came
down to our church to help cook and serve a meal to the homeless.
The Young Life leaders were all former or current students at
Whitworth University, dedicating their lives to making a
difference in the youth culture around them. Usually they gathered
to build relationships, have some recreation, study the Bible, or
talk about Christian ethics. This particular day they chose to add
a service project for the poor to their schedule. They found us
through a connection with Young Life from Ione, who have been
coming down for over a year now.
These students were fantastic workers and were totally
taken back by how kind and thankful the homeless population turned
out to be. Salvation Army had recently dropped off a bunch of
blankets for us to distribute so we put one brave young man to
work walking through the crowd and asking who needed a blanket. He
beamed as he felt the pleasure of God distributing the needed
goods. Afterward he said that he felt both elated and troubled.
“It was great to be able to help and I could tell they really
appreciated it, but it also felt so small. Like a single blanket
wasn’t much compared with all the need they really had”. We
agreed, but many times that’s where it starts; the food and the
blanket build trust, the trust builds confidence, which leads to
an invitation to deeper talk, and many times that deeper talk
leads us to Jesus.
The students and their leaders came out after serving the
food and sat among the homeless, talking and sharing stories and
learning what they could of life for those on the edges of
society. The most touching moment came when two young runaway
girls who are fellow students from a different high school, came
through the line to get a meal. The two runaways had come to our
meal last week for the first time and felt bold enough to attend
church earlier that morning. They had been kicked out of the last
church they tried to visit when the wandered over to the lost and
found table and rummaged through the apparel left there. It was a
huge step for them to try church again. One of them informed us
that they wanted to keep coming to church. “I went to your prayer
loft area during the service and asked God to come into me and
take over” she said, “And you know what? I really felt him! It was
like he was right there with me and I could feel his warmth and
love. I’ve never felt that ever before in my life”, she beamed.
We couldn’t help but notice the contrast of youth culture.
On one side of the counter stood high school students deeply loved
by their families, living in secure homes, planning on going to
college, active in after school activities, offering their service
to others out of their affluence and privilege. On the other side,
two high school runaways, neglected and abused by their families,
fighting to stay in school, living in poverty and hunger,
comforting their own pain with drugs or alcohol, gratefully
accepted the meal and scurried off into the gym to eat. Both
saying later – “I felt God here today”!
The Power of Small Things – By Pastor Rob Bryceson Sept 12,
Yesterday a young woman came up to me during the homeless meal and
handed me a card. It was a hand written thank you note for all we
have done for her and her boyfriend. She has been coming to our
meals for almost two years now. Her street name is Sunshine. I had
to kick her out once, a while back for going off on another lady
during Gonzaga’s Thursday night meal and almost getting into a
brawl. She came back the next week apologizing for her mouth and
behavior and she’s been cool since. A lot of these people need
more than a second chance.
“I just can’t thank you enough for all you have done for me” she
“What do you mean?” I responded since I couldn’t really remember
doing anything particularly grand for her.
“Last winter, me and my boyfriend got into our own apartment for
the first time in a long time – you gave us those sheets of
plastic?” she answered in a tone trying to helpfully remind me how
I had been such a crucial part of her year. We keep rolls of
painter’s plastic on hand so that whenever it rains, guys and
ladies camping out can cut off a good ten or twelve foot section
and cover their camp spot or lay it on the ground to keep them
dry. Sunshine and her boyfriend were given several yards of
plastic last winter after they had moved into their apartment.
“We used that plastic to cover our windows and our heat bill
dropped from $145 a month to $80 a month” She excitedly said,
adding with a sigh of relief, “That was the difference between us
being able to eat or pay the phone bill or sometimes getting a bus
pass each month. It literally saved us. We were so broke before
that, we fell behind in rent and thank God the landlord was kind
to us and let us stay anyway. With that extra amount we could get
caught up and back on our feet.”
“I thought your housing was subsidized?” I responded, “Doesn’t
that kind of guarantee your being able to stay?”
“Not really. You see, I have to support my three kids and my
boyfriend has one child to support with his check.”
I had never seen them with children so I asked, “Where are your
“They’re in the foster care system and one is with my mom. Most of
our government paychecks have child support taken out so there
really isn’t near as much to live on for us” she explained. “I
don’t mind though, I’m glad I can help them. Without your meals
every Sunday and Gonzaga’s every Thursday night, along with the
dog food you give us each week, we wouldn’t have made it.” Leaning
in close she added, “You know I used to be a hardcore meth addict
and heroin user. I’ve been clean for almost 11 years now. Without
you guys helping us, I know I would’ve gone back to using again
because I couldn’t take the stress anymore. I almost didn’t make
it as it was – but I did! Thank you so much!”
She then told me how she had been praying to God more than ever
before in her whole life and she felt like He wanted her to start
giving back somehow. At the homeless shelter, House of Charity, a
block away from our church there is a Hispanic man who is a
janitor. She said she always sees him with a smile on his face and
a positive attitude, even when he is cleaning up feces that were
spread all over sinks and mirrors by some psycho nut job at the
shelter. He always smiles and stay’s positive. She was thinking
about giving back when she saw him one day leaving a church
service somewhere. He had his seven kids in tow. Sunshine felt God
say to her – “NOW, HIM!” So she gave him $50 bucks she had saved
up. That was a ton of money to her. She was beaming at me when she
told me how she felt giving it away because God told her to.
“It felt great” she exclaimed!
Her card had a hand drawn picture on the inside of a sun peaking
over the horizon with a smiley face drawn on it and rays of light
shooting off into the heavens. The note read; “Thanks. Can’t
express our thankfulness for the support you’ve shown us. Knowing
you guys is a great blessing. It was the good of others not giving
up on us that gave us the strength we so need. Thank you for
setting a good example, for that is the true teachings of God”!
I couldn’t help but think of, Mark 12:41-44 “Jesus sat down near
the collection box in the Temple and watched as the crowds dropped
in their money. Many rich people put in large amounts. Then a poor
widow came and dropped in two small coins. Jesus called his
disciples to him and said, “I tell you the truth, this poor widow
has given more than all the others who are making contributions.
For they gave a tiny part of their surplus, but she, poor as she
is, has given everything she had to live on.”
“Painter’s plastic and dog food saved her life and kept her off
drugs”, I thought. WOW! Who would’ve guessed?! Sometimes it’s the
small things. Every one of you who helps us, shares in this
accomplishment! Her note is for you.
Just Maybe – By Pastor Rob Bryceson Aug 31, 2011
When I was in my freshman year of college at a Christian
University, I experienced my first “Foot Washing Ceremony”. Its
one of those rituals that some Christians do commemorating the
Last Supper where Jesus washed the disciple’s feet. In Jesus’ time
it was the job of the lowliest slave. He was saying we should be
willing to serve one another in humility, even being willing to do
degrading, dirty, thankless tasks for the sake of each other.
We sat on nice chairs in a lovely lit chapel while we each
took off our shoes and sox and got our feet washed by the person
on our left and then washed the feet of the person on our right.
We sang songs and prayed prayers the whole time in a rather solemn
ceremony. . . . . . I hated it. The symbolism is lost in our
culture. The one being ashamed was the person getting their feet
washed, not doing the washing. It was the opposite in Jesus’ time
so I thought it was a dumb, ritualistic ceremony about how to feel
low, humble, and degraded for the sake of service.
I had a flashback memory of that ceremony in June. I don’t know
what it was. Maybe the bucket of water I held at the time, maybe
it was the lighting of the sunset, or a just some sound unlatching
a forgotten memory in my cerebral cortex. Maybe it was the Holy
Spirit. I took the bucket of water and sloshed off a pile of
vomit on the back entrance steps of the church. . . . . . . . No
ceremony required. . . . . . . It was during a street evangelism
event we were doing in our parking lot.
The vomit belonged to Red Rob. He’s an alcoholic homeless man
who’s been coming to our meals for over a year. All summer he
lived in the third juniper bush from the right on the east side of
our building. He apologized to me recently for breaking one of our
faux stained glass windows which we currently cover with a plywood
board. He had been shoved into it during a fist fight.
The other guy in the fight came to me a few days later, very mad
and wanting me to do something about Red Rob.
“Why?” I asked, “What’s wrong?”
“Me and my woman been sleeping in the back alley behind the
church” he said. I knew where he meant it’s the outdoor hallway to
our office entrance, running right outside my office window.
“Well, me and my woman were getting it on the other night, and
when I looked up Red Rob was sitting on the stairs smoking a
cigarette and watching us!” he angrily explained. “You gotta do
something about him!”
I stood there for a long moment thinking . . . . (blink, blink,
blink). I didn’t even know where to start. I thought to myself,
“You’re having outdoor public sex outside my office window and you
want me to do something about the scoundrel smoking a cigarette
watching you”. . . . I know you might not believe this, dear
reader, but in all my pastoral counseling classes in seminary,
this one never came up. I mumbled something about how the whole
landscape was going to be torn out in a week or so and everyone
would have to move off church property and conduct all their
“business” somewhere else anyway. I was too tired to get into it.
He doesn’t have to worry about being watched anymore because a few
days after the bushes were torn up, Red Rob was found dead in a
back alley by a couple of passers-by. They said he died of natural
I often wondered what caused so much pain and hopelessness in Red
Rob’s life that in two years I never saw him sober. And I saw him
several times a week, what with him living in the third bush from
the right and all. I often wondered about his childhood. I mean,
what new mom ever holds their baby to the breast thinking he’s
going to grow up to be living in a bush as an addict and will die,
cold, alone and friendless to be found the next day by some
passers-by? Something in life had to really go wrong. Red Rob
used to tell me how he went to an elementary school in Sand Point
Idaho and Sarah Palin was in his third grade class. Boy is that
two different trajectories. What happened to that little Boy?
I wonder; does God Care? . . . . . . Do we care? . . . . .
Do you care? I know God Cares because its all over his word about
how much he likes the poor, the lost, the lonely, the oppressed,
the downtrodden, and the afflicted. Here’s an example from Isaiah
58:5-7 New Living Translation (NLT)
You humble yourselves by going through the motions of penance,
bowing your heads like reeds bending in the wind. You dress in
burlap and cover yourselves with ashes. Is this what you call
fasting? Do you really think this will please the Lord? “No, this
is the kind of fasting I want: Free those who are wrongly
imprisoned; lighten the burden of those who work for you. Let the
oppressed go free, and remove the chains that bind people. Share
your food with the hungry, and give shelter to the homeless. Give
clothes to those who need them, and do not hide from relatives who
need your help.
I wonder if Red Rob was sent to our church in this last year and a
half of his life as a “final chance”; As a last ditch effort on
God’s part to put him in the path of people who carry a message of
hope, healing and salvation for a guy living in the third bush
from the right. Maybe. . . . . . . Maybe.
I wonder what might have happened if more of us Christians who
attend this church would have joined these guys at our church
sponsored lunch each week. Would there have been enough of us
present that someone would have said something instrumental to Red
Rob by befriending him? . . . . . . Maybe. I wonder if all Summer
long, there were more than just two of us from the church eating
in a room with 100 of these folks, someone might have had the
chance to meet him and share the love of Jesus with him. Or If
there were more people willing to serve in the kitchen then the
three to four faithful workers there could’ve been freed up to
come out and mix with the homeless and someone could’ve offered a
prayer of healing and salvation, powerful enough to have changed
Red Rob’s destiny. Then he might not have died alone and
friendless in a back alley. Maybe . . . . . . Maybe.
Maybe if some of the many people who’ve visited our meals from
other large churches would have actually kept coming back like
they said there were going to do, one of them might have been
there to be used by Jesus for the sake of Red Rob. I hear a lot
about how young people today want to attend churches that are on
the cutting edge of works projects, doing ministry with the poor.
Maybe if three or four of the two dozen Christian University
students who have visited our church over the last two years
would’ve stayed and worked with us, instead of leaving to join the
cool big church with the hip pastor and the rocking band where all
the all the students attend, things would’ve been different for
Red Rob because one of those students would’ve saved his life.
Maybe . . . . Maybe.
Maybe if just one of the elderly people who continue to come to
church every week and sit in the same spot on the same pew like
they have for years and decades, listening to sermons and reading
the Bible, singing all those hymns of Christian inspiration, and
storing up godly wisdom two to three times longer than many of the
rest of us have been alive, would’ve gotten up to befriend the guy
living in the third bush from the right just outside the window,
he might not have died alone and friendless in a back alley a
block or two away from their church. Maybe . . . . . . Maybe.
I know our Sunday afternoon meals are terribly inconvenient. I’ve
been told so by other pastors and Christians. They tell me that
the Sunday afternoon time slot is just “bad” for them and if we
would move it to another day and time they might come and help. I
hoped that even giving up one Sunday afternoon a month might be a
reachable goal, but I’ve discovered that it’s just an inconvenient
time even for that much. But since Sunday is the only day no else
for many, many city blocks is serving a meal, we kind of feel like
the hunger of the poor is the determining factor of when we should
serve the meal and not how convenient it is for our activity
schedule. I know it’s very inconvenient. Believe me! Especially
when I can only get a small number of people to help in the
kitchen and it’s just two of us out in the room to share Jesus and
sometimes we aren’t very good at it. I’m terribly sorry and I
whole heartedly agree that it is darn inconvenient.
Maybe if I was just a way better pastor I could share some insight
and knowledge from God’s word to inspire and teach us; find
something to help us all with this predicament. But it’s a funny
thing, you can read every single one of the thousands of words in
the Bible and all the hundreds and hundreds of pages and you won’t
find the word “inconvenient” anywhere; Even if you use several
different English translations. So I’m stuck with how to help give
counsel about our problem here. I can find words like hardship,
affliction, pain, suffering, persecution, and perseverance, but
nothing on inconvenience. I even found some phrases that kind of
relate about “dying to ourselves”, “picking up our cross”,
“crucifying our fleshly desires”, “enduring the race before us”
and others but these seem too extreme to help us when dealing with
situations that are inconvenient.
It’s such a powerful word for us. It stops us from doing things,
it directs our choices, determines our activities, and generally
has as much force on our lives as the power of gravity. We do or
don’t do tons and tons of things based on how convenient they are.
But unfortunately for us, even though the word is one of our most
useful and powerful words, it’s not in God’s vocabulary at all. I
just have no counsel to offer us from His word on this matter.
I hope if God sends one more person to spend the last months of
his life close by us like Red Rob; A guy he already knows is
destined to die alone and friendless in a nearby back alley, only
to be discovered by some passers-by in the morning; that God will
understand our confusion on what to do since we don’t use the same
vocabulary as he does. We hope He won’t judge us too harshly.
Maybe . . . . . . . Maybe.
Placebo Christianity – By Rob Bryceson June 28, 2011
I found myself sitting in a coffee shop last spring with a
group of men once a week reading the book “Crazy Love” by Francis
Chan and discussing it .
It’s a great book by a (former) pastor of a mega-church in
Southern California. In it, he wrestles with the assumptions and
paradigms we have built in America about what church is and what
it should be doing and how people inside of it should operate. The
premise is that if we were crazy in love with Jesus we would act
in ways that others would think are crazy—particularly when it
came to helping the poor and needy.
I remember one section where he talked about buying a bag
of groceries to give to a poor family and then driving around his
neighborhoods for hours because he honestly didn’t know anyone who
might need groceries. Too much disconnect between the church and
You can read on his website that he is bridging that gap
now. . . . “In May 2010, he left Cornerstone to work directly in
mission with the poor locally and internationally. He is also the
Chancellor and Founder of Eternity Bible College and serves on the
board of directors for Children’s Hunger Fund, an international
humanitarian aid foundation to assist the poor, and on the board
for World Impact, an inner city missions organization dedicated to
planting churches among the urban poor in America.”
I thought it odd as we read Chan’s book and sipped our $4
coffees in a cozy north side, trendy, artsy coffee house, how
disconnected we all are. I watched while week after week the
dynamic and capable leader of the study tried to get the guys to
engage and interact and “go deep” with each other — to no avail.
We were just as removed as Chan was. Many of our guys talked about
how they wish they could go on a mission trip someday or wish they
could get more involved making a real difference against the
forces of poverty, loneliness, hopelessness, and degradation. I
invited them to come on down and help serve a meal and I would
introduce them to some characters, but no one took me up on the
The funny thing was, I came to feel like we all thought we
were growing in Christ and spiritual maturity because we were
doing our small group Bible study thing. It felt like Placebo
Christianity to me.
A placebo is that little sugar pill that drug researchers
give a test group telling them it’s the real medicine. They do
this just to see if the psychological benefit of THINKING you are
getting the real thing is as effective as the real itself.
That’s when it hit me that I think we’ve created a Christian
subculture where we think that if we sit every week in a small
group and reading and discussing the latest book, its the real
thing in spiritual growth. So, AGREEING with the book’s ideas and
premises became the important part—Not DOING them. It felt like a
James 1:22 says, “But prove yourselves doers of the word, and
not merely hearers who delude themselves.”
After eight weeks or so, the study ended. I told the leader I
was bowing out. I felt like too much of a Maverick and I just
don’t seem to fit the Christian world anymore. I couldn’t feel
like I was growing simply because I joined a small group and I
agreed with a book. Maybe I’ve just grown tired of deluding myself
for too long.
Living In a Parallel Universe – By Rob Bryceson May 25, 2011
A while back I met with a couple of pastor friends from other
downtown area churches. We meet regularly to talk and pray. One of
them asked me “So, how do the elderly like having the homeless in
their church service”?“Actually they don’t mind a bit,” I
answered. “Everyone knows that the only reason our denomination is
willing to fund us and keep our ministry going is because of our
work with the poor.” “So, in an odd twist” he laughingly answered,
“those little old ladies have to be thankful that homeless
alcoholics and addicts have saved their church?!”
“Well, now that you put it that way—you’re right.” I mused. “I
guess that would really only happen in some kind of odd parallel
universe.” We both laughed.
I got to thinking about that funny insight and suddenly decided
that I must be living in a parallel universe where the normal
rules of social life no longer apply. Our board had come to the
conclusion in December that we couldn’t financially survive past
March 31. We made plans to begin the process of closing the church
and dispersing come April of this year. Early talks with
denominational leaders had them advising us to close. So, I
submitted a plan for closure to them in early February. BUT a
homeless person who loves our church and it’s ministry gave us
$10,000 to keep going. Only in a parallel universe would the
financial answers to a church’s crisis come from a homeless
person. As a result, we could go to June. In March, with
Superintendent Mark Novak’s help the denomination decided to help
fund us instead. It was mostly due to our work with the poor and
our signs of church growth. What church board meeting would decide
that it’s answer to financial crisis and numerical decline would
be to invite in homeless alcoholics and addicts? Not in our
We cleaned out the church in late May and dumped 60 years worth of
accumulated stuff, totaling 2-1/2 tons! I heard some of the many
homeless people helping us comment, “Why can’t they clean up after
themselves? Why do these church people have to be so messy?” I
thought that was another parallel universe moment!
I’m finding new financial aid and having the best evangelism
moments I’ve had in years, inviting others to our church by
singing in the wine bar across the street. The Wine Bar helping
our church grow. Mmmmm.
I recently met with a group of agency leaders who do non-profit
work among the poor. I attend a lot of these kinds of meetings
since I’m on the Leadership Team of the Homeless Coalition.One of
the ladies on the board with me is an extremely liberal democrat-
type who supports the aggressive antiwar, pro-marijuana work of
the Peace and Justice Action League. She also has connections with
the gay community and is very proud of her liberal position. She’s
still stunned that she is actually friends with a conservative
pastor of an Evangelical Church. She insists on calling me Pastor
Rob rather than just Rob, because she likes to blow her friends
and family away with the knowledge that we’re friends who work
well together. Just to be shocking with them, she will begin a
sentence with “Pastor Rob says - “.
I had been invited to this symposium because she highly
recommended me. I listened while she told the other members about
her recent experiences. “You know how the underprivileged clients
come in to our offices very skeptical and cynical of the help we
social workers offer?” she began as the group affirmed. “Well all
I have to do is ask them if they’ve been to First Covenant Church
and when they say ‘yes’, I tell them that I’m friends with Pastor
Rob and immediately all of their guard drops and they trust me.”
she laughed. It is in a parallel universe where a liberal democrat
social worker has to name drop a conservative Christian to get in
good graces with the poor. It must be in that same universe that
the Christian and the social worker are genuine friends.
Peter addressed his first epistle to Christians who are “Strangers
scattered throughout the world”. He meant foreigners, aliens,
sojourners, who don’t really belong here but are only temporary
visitors whose home is somewhere else. In the book of Hebrews
chapter 11 the writer says this of Abraham; “By faith he made his
home in the Promised Land, like a stranger in a foreign country; .
. . . For he was looking forward to the city with foundations,
whose architect and builder is God. . . . And they admitted that
they were aliens and strangers on earth. . . .they were longing
for a better country--a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed
to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.” I
suppose if we belong to another reality, a heavenly realm, if our
true dwelling is in God’s house, then many of the rules and
expectations of how the world actually works come from a parallel
universe—a heavenly one. Living in a parallel universe should be
the norm for all Christians. But it’s still hard to get used to.
The Actual Mission By Rob Bryceson January 29, 2011
Many years ago I was in a church that jumped on the band wagon of
having a “mission statement”. It was the latest rage coming from
the corporate world so churches were following suit. I guess we
had forgotten why we existed and a cleverly assembled mission
statement was the perfect solution.
After countless weeks and months of development we put together a
pithy two sentence statement that was then put on posters and
brochures and promptly forgotten by most. The average person in
our large church couldn’t have recited it or identified it from
numerous other sayings. I noticed that we put the bulk of our
emphasis, time, money and staff hiring on the last three words . .
. “beginning with seekers.” That meant outreach events, evangelism
strategies, and counting conversions were the dominant forces
behind everything we did, That’s where the money got spent, the
staff got hired and all purposes ended. That wasn’t morally wrong,
it was just lopsided and out of balance with the Bible.
Years later, after serving in several other churches and sitting
through thousands of hours of board meetings, strategy sessions,
team planning meetings, conferences, and training seminars, I came
to the conclusion that the real, unspoken, and underlying mission
statement of most of the churches I experienced was . . . . “We
exist to get more people to come here, so that we could exist”.
I once wondered out loud “If our church ceased to exist, who
outside of our church would care?” In other words, it seemed we
were totally self-serving. We existed only for those to whom we
could gain a benefit if they stayed among us. But, If we
disbanded, almost all of these people would simply be absorbed
into one of the numerous other churches doing pretty much the same
thing and no one would even notice the absence after a year or so.
Only those who came and joined had any benefit from our existence.
It felt rather - Well,- selfish.
Last week when Gonzaga Campus Kitchen held it’s weekly meal for
the poor in our gym, their leader, Emily came to me with tears in
her eyes because she saw the For Sale signs on the building.
Another woman who has worked for Spokane Neighborhood Action
Program (SNAP) for many years, confided in me that a bunch of the
agency people had taken bets a long time ago about how long I’d
last. “You’ve made it more than twice as long as anyone thought”
she told me. They’ve watched a lot of Christians come and go in
this work. She used to be a Lutheran pastor’s wife for many years
and thought the church would toss me out or I’d give up long
before we got this far.
Numerous homeless people have quietly come up to me almost in a
state of panic and fear to ask “how long before this all goes
away?” When the homeless saw the for sale signs, their sorrow ran
deep, but they are so used to disappointment that they’re first
reaction was to use their words and spend their time trying to
console me. Which I thought was really touching. This is their
place of hope and safety and they’re afraid it will disappear—
even though only a small percentage has ever come to a church
service, this is their home. “Like sanctuary” are the words most
often used. They get dignity, respect and safety here.
A lady from another nonprofit told me at our last city-wide
homeless coalition meeting, she wanted to look up my number to
call me but couldn’t remember the name of the church. Sticking her
head out of her office at the shelter she works in, she called out
“What’s the name of that church where . . . . “, “FIRST COVENANT”
came the chorus of replies from the poor gathered there. They know
Two weeks ago on a Sunday afternoon as I was talking with a
homeless drunk, I couldn’t figure out why he was mad at me.
Finally through his slurred words he blurted out, “Because
everybody likes you! No matter where I go from one end of town to
the other, everyone here on the streets talks about you and how
great you guys are and how much they like coming here.” Why would
this anger him? In the end it came out that he didn’t think any of
those people deserved it. I found that ironic. None of us do, but
love shines through anyway.
That’s the Mission of the church — GRACE! God knows what will come
next. He loves the poor so we keep going. He has answers for our
future, as a collective and as individuals. We plan on holding on
in faith until he leads us to what is next. But now I know what it
feels like to be in a church where there are way more people
outside of our doors who care about our existence than there are
inside. It feels good.
I Guess I’m Crazy – By Rob Bryceson Oct 28, 2010
I’ve read about how poor downtown churches should partner with big
affluent ones to survive. Several weeks ago I met a guy from a big
church who is their staff person responsible for local outreach.
They want to work with street kids in the downtown area. He came
with a team to see what we were doing and they expressed a desire
to partner with us.
The idea hatched to create a Tuesday afternoon/evening event for
the street kids under age 25 using our facility and their people.
I introduced their team to some of our street kids who gave them
tons of ideas. “How crazy”, I thought “These irreligious street
kids are begging for ministry and their ideas are GREAT! This
could be good”.
“OK”, I told him, “But remember we are a very small and extremely
poor church. We only have about 60 people and a third of them are
homeless. We can’t afford to underwrite or financially sustain the
ministries of your huge church”.
“Don’t worry about that”, he laughed dismissively, “You won’t be
financially carrying us”.
We created a plan for them to bring a team down every Tuesday for
4-6 hours. They would do recreational activities with the youth
and develop educational and life goals with them all the while
sharing the love of Jesus.
We thought that asking for use of our facility’s gym, kitchen,
restrooms, and a couple of breakout rooms would work nicely. Our
board decided that asking $150 a night from them was fair, since
we cover the paper towels, toilet paper, water bill, cleaning
supplies, dumpster fees, etc. Our heat bill alone is $2,000 or
more a month in the winter months so their entire fee wouldn’t
cover even a third of that cost. But it would be a great help to
us. He put a plan together and submitted it to his board who then
asked to pray about it. Over the next month, no one called, no one
visited, no one came to investigate.
He called me some six weeks later. “They don’t like the idea of
paying that much money to only use your facility four times a
month.” he said matter-of-factly.
Having priced downtown real estate I thought the amount wasn’t
unreasonable, it was actually a DEAL! Had he said, “We can’t
afford it at this time”, or, “We just aren’t ready to pursue the
total costs of taking on this project”, or “Our missions budget is
tapped, could we only come twice a month?” I would’ve been fine.
But I was a bit ruffled by his words.
“I’m sure that your church charges a lot more when renting out
it’s facility for weddings”, I retorted. (I found out they charge
$450 for 4 hours use of just one room, $100 more for each
additional hour. Janitorial and other fees are on top of that.
But, I admit, their place is much nicer than ours.) There was a
long pause on the phone. “That’s not ministry” he said. “We’re
trying to help street kids” he answered in a tone implying I was
an evil, greedy, scamming preacher who should be on TV.
I didn’t want to get sidetracked discussing whether a marriage
union before the Lord God Almighty in His Holy church constituted
an act of ministry, so I said, “Remember when I told you that our
little church wasn’t able to support or underwrite the ministry of
your huge, rich church? This is what I meant. We just can’t pay
for you guys to do your ministry here.”
He told me they aren’t a rich church. I suppose it’s because their
cash flow is tied up in multiple staff salaries and benefits,
massive facilities, upkeep costs, huge program budgets, major
equipment purchases, and overseas mission trips. As our
conversation continued I began to resent his implications that we
aren’t about the kingdom because we didn’t give them our facility
to do this ministry; Though the double standard of them charging
for their facility didn’t seem to bother him.
Am I Crazy? I suppose I am. I’m learning what partnering with big
churches means; They tap our location and the good relationships
we’ve built with the homeless community, we give them our facility
for free to do their ministry, and we pick up the overhead costs.
In exchange, they give us . . . Well, um , . . . . nothing.
They decided not to do ministry with street kids here. Call me
crazy but I think the world is upside down. I think a tiny church
of 60 people in poor downtown shouldn’t be asked to pick up the
tab of an affluent church of several thousand attendees from one
of the richest neighborhoods in town. I had thought a big affluent
church would be excited to support and help sustain the urban work
of a downtown church full of poor people. Call me crazy. Too bad
for the street kids though. I wonder if I’m the only one who is
God Hunts Us Down To Give Us Second Chances
– By Rob Bryceson May 31, 2010
Katy walked into our church the last Sunday of May, dazed,
confused and scared. On the Thursday night beforehand she had
gotten into an argument with her mom because she didn’t want to
take an eight week summer camp job her mom had lined up for her.
The argument ended with her mom informing her that she had 15
minutes to pack her things and get out or she would call the cops
and have her eighteen year old daughter thrown out. An hour later
mom dropped her off at homeless shelter downtown, driving away
with the parting words “Have a nice life”.
Katy found herself with a small school back pack and two plastic
bags full of clothes checking in to Hope House, a shelter for
homeless women, many of whom are hardcore meth or heroin addicts,
prostitutes, or suffering severe mental disorders. Welcome to the
Katie is the biological product of a prostitute in San Francisco.
She and her brother were adopted as young children by a couple
where the father was the main care giver and the mother the main
bread winner. In their teen years, the father unexpectedly died
leaving mom to care for Katie, her brother, and two other young
children they had also adopted. Estranged from her own family and
extended relatives and unable to build strong relationships with
the father’s side, mom up and move the family to a remote area
north of Spokane, WA. She did this without consulting or
conferring with the children; Nor did mom notifying the extended
relatives of the move. They had no family, friends, or connections
in this state. Mom felt she could financially provide in a cheaper
area and it seemed she wanted to get away from California.
Katie and her brother begrudgingly enrolled in the high school
where Katie made 4-5 friends in her two months there. The grief,
conflicts, anger, and rebellion Katy had against the situation
caused so much hostility in the home tht mom shipped her off to a
reform school in Utah. Katie stayed there for the next two years.
Katie worked through a lot of her personal issues during that time
with counseling, support and professional help. A few weeks before
her 18th birthday mom had Katie sent back home against the
school’s recommendations and against Katie’s own desires. At home,
the conflicts with mom remained unresolved. A few days after her
18th birthday, mom gave Katie 15 minutes to pack and get out.
Katie wandered the streets for a few days lost and alone in a
state where she had no family, friends, or support structure of
At that time we had a volunteer soundman that had spent some time
as a homeless person himself. He turned out to be a pathological
liar and a thief, but he was, hands down, our best inviter. On a
Sunday morning sitting at the local Catholic Charities homeless
shelter, he approached her, took one look at her said, “You don’t
He invited her to our church since many of the local homeless
attend our services and many more eat meals here every Sunday
afternoon. Not knowing where else to turn frightened and alone,
Katie came to a church service of her own volition for the first
time in her life.
When she walked in the doors she nearly broke down in tears. Up on
the stage rehearsing for the worship that day were my teen
daughters, the only two high school kids in our whole church. They
just happened to be two of the few friends she had made two years
earlier, in a High School located 12 miles away. What are the odds
that she would walk into a downtown urban church with only two
high school kids in the congregation, in a state she’s barely
lived in, and find a known friend? That was God watching out for
her. They fell on each other laughing and crying, Katie with
relief. Katy stayed through the service, helped in the kitchen
with our feeding program and then we took her home with us for the
next few weeks.
We were able to help get Katie into her own apartment and
through church support, get her furniture as well. She enrolled in
one of the local community colleges and began to get stable in her
life. She gave her life to Christ a few months later, was baptized
in our church, and since has grown to become our Nursery and
I have watched Katie grow and develop as a woman and a
leader. Her starting point was so much lower than most people that
I give her extra credit for how far she has come. She literally
stood at a crossroads where her destiny could have been either a
drug addicted stripper or prostitute, or she could overcome
against all odds and establish herself as a productive, happy and
fruitful person. God intervened in her story saving her from that
first alternative. It happened just because we happened to be the
In the fall of 2012, Katie will take her Associate of Arts Degree
and go off to a University where she plans on getting a degree in
education or early childhood development. She plans on spending
her life rescuing kids just like her.
Preaching Good News To The Poor – By Rob Bryceson March 25,
In the last several weeks I’ve had some pretty wild discussions
with people about their lives and God. One woman I met told me how
she hated God because her ex-husband was building a meth lab in
their house while she had gone to work. The cops raided the place
and arrested her because the home was in her name. She did time in
prison and while there, the ex-husband beat their six year old
child to death. She hates God for not protecting her little girl.
She is now a drug addict and has had another child taken away by
CPS because of her habit. She was recently diagnosed with cancer
but they won’t treat her while she’s on drugs. Before our talk
ended she asked me if I would pray for her and that other baby
girl out there somewhere. So, in spite of all her fears and hatred
of God, we did. It was pretty cool.
Another man told me about how he punched a guy out at a nightclub
in an argument over his wife. He talked of wanting to change but
not being able. We talked of sin, God, righteousness and coming to
the place where we all realize he can’t become the men or women we
really want to be on our own. Sooner or later we all realize that
we need God’s grace to change. I gave him a Bible and told him to
read the gospel of John. I’ve seen him and his wife at church for
a couple of weeks now. She tells me he is changing since meeting
I took a van load of hand-picked homeless guys to my daughter’s
high school musical play this month. When afterwards I was
dropping them off at the shelter they stay in, the directions
consisted of “turn right at the prostitute on the corner, left
into the alley between these two old buildings and stop where it
looks like those two guys are making a drug deal.”
Getting out of the van one guy laughed and said, “Want us to write
those directions down for next time Pastor Rob?”
The last guy to exit said very “Thanks for reminding us that there
is another life out there,” Pastor”.
That guy is getting his class C driver’s license back now and
plans on entering back into the mainstream of life. There are so
many stories. Sometimes, all that is needed for some is a friend
to hare the hope of Christ and believe in them again. On any given
Sunday afternoon or Thursday night a Christian man or woman can
get into a half dozen deep discussions at our church when we feed
the poor. This last Sunday there were only four or five us
Christians in the room amidst the 85-100 poor people who came in.
That’s an awfully light witness.
I’m always amazed that the Bible speaks so much about our
Christianity impacting the poor but so few of us have any kind of
track record doing it. Jesus said of his mission, “The Spirit of
the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news
to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed,”
Years ago, when I worked at a large church that ran a 1.4 million
dollar a year budget, I would often read verses about the poor and
get a cold chill up my spine. We did very little for the poor
while we ran our huge program and spent the money on our staff and
facility. I often wondered how much of our efforts would burn when
Jesus came back. James 1:27 says, “Pure and undefiled religion in
the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and
widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the
world.” I guess my religion in those days was pretty impure and
If you are ever haunted that your faith might be just a sham full
of a lot of pretentious activity, maybe you ought to try living
out the commands to minister to the poor. Come down on any Sunday
afternoon or Thursday night. See if Jesus has a divine appointment
scheduled for you! Take a chance and see if the Holy Spirit will
use your life. You’ll be very glad you did!
What Would You Say? – By Rob Bryceson August 17, 2010
I found myself standing with a cup of coffee in a room full of
street people a few weeks ago thinking about Jesus’ words. “The
Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to
preach good news to the poor.” Lk 4:18
I had to confess— I don’t really know what that means anymore.
After all my years of training, experience and education, somehow
converting that phrase to “Jesus loves You” didn’t seem to have
much punch. It can’t be that “He died on the cross for your sins”
for that news is for everyone, not just the poor. What is the good
news for the poor? Is it, “Don’t worry the church has arrived to
rescue you?” It doesn’t look like it. I admit that I am in a
transitional time of my own life re-evaluating a lot of my own
Christian experiences and assumptions. I just don’t know what to
really say. Perhaps you are wiser than I am, and can answer the
question—”What is Good News to the Poor?
I looked around the room and saw “K” who has ovarian cancer. She’s
going to have a complete hysterectomy next month. She’s in her
early 30s. She has been saving up all her money for months to rent
a rundown little hotel room for a month in order to recuperate in
a bed with a roof over it. Her recent birthday money put her over
the top. She told me she spent 17-18 years in two violent and
abusive relationships. She said life for her those years was like
being “stuck in a closet”. She drank herself into oblivion to deal
with the pain. Her family will have nothing to do with her but has
set up a fund she can tap if she stays sober. She’s been sober a
while and is working on it, but lives on the street and the fear
is always with her. “You have to be really careful as woman out
here she whispers to me”. She likes coming to church because
people remember her name and say “hi”. So tell me, what would you
say to her? What’s the good news for “K”?
“T” helps out around the church a lot. He was once a big time drug
user and manufacturer—”cooker” is what he called it. He had a
plumber’s license once but lost it and his driver’s license when
he went to jail on a drug bust. He lost his family, home and
everything after that. No one in his life really knew what he was
doing. His last drug drop ended up murdered and he was the last
one to see the guy alive so he had to leave town for a long time
even though there was no further evidence against him. He wants to
get his life back somehow but can’t drive and has a bad back so he
can’t do the plumbing anymore. He came to church for the first
time in 30 years and likes it. What’s the good news for him? What
would you say?
I met “B” last week. He as deep scars on his wrists for the many
times he’s tried to commit suicide. He admits to doing a lot of
dope and to having been a cutter to cover the pain. Both his
parents and one brother committed suicide so he’s alone now. He
tells me he doesn’t believe in God since he went through a 2 year
span where 14 of his friends and family died. Most of those were
either killed in drunk driving accidents or committed suicide.
He’s in his 20’s and lives on the streets now. What would you say
to him that’s good news?
“R” comes all the time. I’ve seen him so high he scares other
people around him. His back was broken at eight by an abusive dad,
adding to his many scars. He watched his best friend blow his
brains out playing Russian roulette with what they thought was an
empty gun. Turns out the boy’s guardian had loaded the pistol
knowing the teen liked to play that game with the empty gun. The
guardian was tired of dealing with him and thought this would be
an easy out. “R” has some mental issues as you could guess, but I
like him. When he’s clean and sober he’s a good guy but paranoid.
He’ll talk to me though. He once tried to get off drugs by going
to UGM and enrolling in Moody Bible institute for a year. He’s a
tough street guy now. What’s the good news for him?
He runs with “D” who has three kids in Arizona somewhere living
with other family members because she couldn’t take care of them
from drug use. At 12 she was abducted by three Hispanics and gang
raped for two days in the desert, beaten and left for dead. A
lady’s dog found her. She’s got a lot of memories like that but
doesn’t want to explore them to get any potential healing. She
likes heroin for forgetting. What’s the good news you’d share with
“J” grew up in foster care until he was eight. He was adopted by
an abusive family with several other older adopted boys who were
all just as violent. He ran away at 14. he lived with another
family in Deer Park for a while but couldn’t conform and
eventually hit the streets. He’s 22 and been living on the streets
for six years now. He does drugs, has no education or skills and
still remembers the pain of growing up in a violent home. He
doesn’t tell his story to many people cause “What the use? They
don’t care.” He’s come to church twice and likes it. What is the
good news for “J”? There were three of us Christians in the room
that day among the 100 poor people, each with a story similar to
these. I stood around with my coffee and thought about how all my
answers seemed so tiny in the scope of their lives. They will
leave here fed but camping out somewhere in the shelters, alleys
and back ways of the city.
I’m not sure what to say to them that really is good news and
there weren’t enough other Christians “representing” to bail me
out. What did Jesus really mean when he said that? Perhaps you
understand better what Jesus meant and you know exactly what to
say. If so, email the office a note to any one of these stories
and we’ll pass your letter along.