The Road to Emmaus
- Sunday, July 01, 2007
"I love this work because I feel like this is where Jesus would be," the 23-year-old Florida native says. "There's nothing we can do that's ever gonna change these guys. It's God's work."
Both volunteers and staff appreciate how the ministry's joint Protestant and Catholic outreach unites them. "Emmaus is a great chance for humility," says Ronnie LaGrow, who graduated from a private Catholic college. "Your eyes are opened to all these Christians serving. There's such friendship and an underlying joy we share."
John Green's desire to heal divisions in the church developed from defending his faith as a minority Catholic among Wheaton College's Protestant student population. He discovered that misconceptions abounded among both Catholics and Protestants.
When John married Carolyn, the daughter of an American Baptist pastor, the couple committed to building unity in the body of Christ by serving the poor. An ordained Catholic deacon, John believes, "If we work together with integrity, and we do it well, there's real healing in the body."
Once a month on Saturday afternoons, Paul Horcher, 46, leaves his wife and six children to battle the traffic into Chicago. At Emmaus, Paul and other volunteers join the men who drop by for a family-style meal and maybe watch a movie. "It took me a long time to realize that hanging out is very important," Paul says. "I think the guys realize that volunteers like me don't have to be there, and it makes them think, I must be worth something for him to show up.'"
A former dairy farmer and the owner of a suburban construction company, Paul finds city life foreign. But three years ago the Archdiocese of Chicago challenged him to stretch his faith through a service project. He chose Emmaus.
Now Paul looks forward to these Saturdays. "We meet Christ when we engage the broken," he says. "These men tend to be very gentle people, and their opportunities have been limited to none. At Emmaus they can let down their street mask; they're safe and nobody is judging them."
The hospitality, consistent friendship, prayer, and discipleship at Emmaus embodies Christ's unconditional love. "One of our guys recently told me, 'Emmaus was for me what the telephone booth was to Superman—a place to change,'" John says.
Jim found the boost he needed to overcome his addictions and stop prostituting in 1999, thanks to Emmaus. Now on Wednesday mornings in the softly-lit chapel room, he leads a popular men's Bible study. A large framed print of Rembrandt's "The Return of the Prodigal Son" hangs prominently, a reminder of God's mercy.
Jim empathizes with Andy and seven other men present. "I don't want anyone to think I'm better than you. I'm just a little better than I used to be," he tells them. "Temptation is consistently bombarding me."
His corn rows are flecked with gray hair, and at 55, Jim may be the oldest man there. Both his testimony and age command respect. Many men who stay on the streets are killed prematurely by violence, drugs or illness.
Later Jim pulls a wad of folded bills from his jeans. "I have money in my pocket and no desire for drugs. I feel good when I wake up in the morning. I ask God, 'Make me an instrument to do your will.'"
Most volunteers can't identify as well with the men's brokenness. "I see our guys as so different from me, but I want to see how we're equal before God," Lindsay says. "In the book of Hosea, we're all harlots before God—we sell ourselves to other things."
Emmaus Ministries hasn't given up on Andy, but he's still chained to his addictions. Today Andy is paying a high price: AIDS. He vainly numbs the pain with alcohol and drugs. His body is falling apart; he can barely walk two blocks without sitting.
John and his team are waiting patiently for a breakthrough. "We are a place of faith where Andy can be honest with his struggles. I'm willing to journey with him," John says.
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