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 spending freeze.
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 boots now.”
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 guy.
“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 are you?”
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 them.”
“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 life!”
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, 2012
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 homeless ministry.
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 volunteers too.
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 can come.
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 him.’”
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 mom.”
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 undertaking.
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 such work.
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 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 say?”
“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 very wobbly.
“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 here?”
“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 time?”
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 breaking down.
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 stay busy.
“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 despair.
“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?” Romans 10:15
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. — Pray

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, 2011
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 gushed.
“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 kids?”
“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 causes.
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 the poor.
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 offer.
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 Placebo.
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 universe!
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 us.
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 crazy?

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 World!
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 any kind.
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 belong here.”
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 Preschool Director.
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 right place
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, 2010

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 Jesus.
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,” (Luke 4:18).
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 very defiled.
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 her?
“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.