By Juan Galloway
For the past two years I have been writing a book entitled, PROVOKED, How to Love People Relentlessly and Do Beautiful Works That Make You and Others Come Alive. This book is all about how God has been provoking me to grow and become more like Jesus through working with people who are challenged with homelessness.
PROVOKED is being released this spring as a part of the 30-Year Anniversary for the mobile outreach organization that I lead, New York City Relief. Founded in 1989, NYCR has mobilized thousands of volunteers to compassionately serve those struggling with homelessness by providing hope and resources that lead towards life transformation.
Below is an excerpt from a chapter in my upcoming book.
It isn’t by our philosophy or principles that we’re being assessed in Revelation 3:15-19, but by our deeds:
“I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see. Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent.”
Are we doing the right things or do we just know the right things to do? The world will know we are Christians by our acts of love, not our knowledge of doctrine.
As Carl Gustav Jung said, “You are what you do, not what you say you will do.”
Woman on Fire!
Kirsten Casteel is an inspiring woman who leads the charge to mobilize many teams from her church in Indiana to come serve on The Relief Bus each year. Her story started with brokenness, but took a turn to have a massive impact on the lives of many people in both the suburbs and the inner city:
At the time God tugged on my heart to go on the trip to serve at New York City Relief, I was incredibly far away from him. I was a divorced mom of an almost 4-year-old. I had left my husband for a man with whom I had an affair. I was financially supporting this man and his three kids. I was drinking too much, crying too much, and sleeping too little.
I remember standing in my kitchen just weeks before signing up and hearing God ask me what I was waiting for. I knew just what he meant. I had wanted to raise Brennan in a Christian home and here I was doing nothing resembling that. It was this life changing moment when I realized that this was my opportunity to make my life what I wanted it to be.
On Labor Day weekend, I packed up this man’s stuff and told him that he needed to move out. I started going back to Grace Church. It was in that first few weeks that I saw a video about the New York City Relief trip and felt incredibly compelled to go and serve. With no previous thoughts about serving the homeless, and despite knowing no one on the team, I signed up.
Serving with the bus changed my life in every way imaginable. I came back from this trip and started searching for how I could serve the poor and homeless in Indianapolis where I lived. I started serving dinner at Wheeler Mission’s Center for Women and Children on Tuesday nights. After work, my son Brennan and I started serving with Food Rescue. I would get Brennan bathed and ready for bed on Wednesdays and we would head to Panera to rescue food at closing time. We eventually traded in our Panera route for a Saturday Little Caesars route, picking up pizza at five locations. These pizzas were distributed to the hungry through Circle City Relief, an organization inspired by New York City Relief’s model.
My goal was for Brennan to grow into an adult who thought that serving others was a part of life, not a decision. We spent a lot of time in the car driving around to all of the Little Caesars in the region, but we had a blast. These are amazing memories that Brennan and I still talk about. He would sit in his car seat with a clip board and tally how many pizzas each location had. We would place bets on how many pizzas we thought each location would give us. He would hold the door as I carried stacks of pizza out to the car.
God used my experience at New York City Relief to rally my entire family around serving the poor and homeless–my parents, my sister, brother-in-law and now, my husband, and two additional sons. I met my husband at an outreach event that I would have never been at had it not been for this organization. I now have an amazing job as the Global Philanthropy Consultant for Eli Lilly & Company, also a result of my time with this outreach. I am grateful beyond words for the way God has used New York City Relief to change my life.
If you feel spiritually dry, stagnant, and coldly indifferent to the needs of others, it’s time to get hot again. Rather than more prayer and Bible study, let me suggest you stoke the fire of your heart through serving others. It’s the deeds of laying our lives down for others that break us free from our own self-serving nature.
I see this continually when people like Kirsten come to volunteer with New York City Relief. They leave their safe spaces to enter the risky world of engagement with the lost and broken. They start out nervous and unsure of how to even talk to someone challenged with homelessness or addiction. By the end of the day, they have listened to people’s stories, been moved with compassion, spoken words of encouragement, offered dignity, and given loving prayers. So many have found themselves moved closer to Jesus through the poor. These precious friends on the streets pull them back to the core of the gospel, which is also the core of life: LOVE.
One volunteer, Angiliea Stark, put it this way:
It was a little scary for me, to be honest. I wasn’t sure what to expect. I’ve become accustomed, like most New Yorkers, to ignore the homeless community. I met some really incredible people and felt my openness to connect with people on a human level did more than filling an empty soup cup. For me and hopefully for them. Looking forward to volunteering again. It’s such an inspiring community!
This is how we buy gold that is refined in the fire. This is how we store up treasures that moths and rust can’t destroy. This is how we keep the things we own from owning us. God’s treasures are people, especially hurting people. When we love “the least of these,” we’re loving Jesus Himself.
Juan Galloway is President and CEO of New York City Relief. This year, NYCR celebrates 30 years of “Making Space at the Table” for our friends on the streets. Find out how you can get involved at newyorkcityrelief.org.