Like many inner-city ministries, we often have people show up who are at various levels of intoxication. We, as a rule, do not turn people away simply because they are drunk. If people come to a worship service intoxicated, or show up to our Saturday morning breakfast program intoxicated, they are welcome to join us so long as they do not cause problems. We don’t encourage drinking, and we don’t encourage people to show up intoxicated. However, it is difficult to minister to folks who are broken and hurting if you turn them away at the door.
I know a few people who have been alcoholics for most of their lives, and have been on the street for years. One of these people is Steve (not his real name, of course).
Steve regularly comes to our Saturday morning program, and he often comes for worship on Sunday mornings. Steve is involved with our church as well as a church a couple of blocks away. Steve is one of those people that I assumed would live out the rest of his life on the street and in various degrees of intoxication. I helped him get his photo ID after he was robbed, and I spend time and talk with him, minister to him, care for him and about him, but deep down, I have never really expected things to drastically change for him.
Today, however, I received a telephone call from the pastor at the other church with which he is involved (he brought me in because I am holding onto documentation for Steve that he needs). I was told that Steve had agreed to go into a Salvation Army treatment center for alcoholism. This surprised me, particularly for someone who seemed so averse to treatment before. I could almost hear the heavenly host singing about this news.
While this was wonderful news, it was also convicting news. I had all but given up hope that things would change for Steve. In my mind, I sometimes gave up on trying to encourage Steve to change, and I kind of resigned myself to the fact that things will be what they are. However, this was an important lesson for me on why we can never give up on people. There is always more at work than we can see.
God never gave up on Steve. We can’t give up on people, because God doesn’t give up on people. Perhaps the most important thing that we can do is not to change people, but to commit to walking with people through their brokenness, always trusting that God is working in them even when we might not be able to readily see it.