The Road to Emmaus
- By Dawn Herzog Jewell Copyright Christianity Today International
- 2007 1 Jul
When a gnawing crack addiction engulfed Andy's* life almost two decades ago, he abandoned family and friends. He was sleeping on park benches in Chicago's exclusive Gold Coast area when another homeless man suggested he earn an easy $250 from a car that sidled to the curb. To feed the drug habit, Andy gave it a try and began selling his body to gay men at night.
"It gave me a false sense of feeling good about myself," he says. "Guys driving around in big, expensive cars, staring at me and wanting to pay for my services … I wouldn't feel so ugly when they picked me up. Before I'd feel like the ugliest thing in the world—the ugly, homeless drug addict."
During a typical month Andy and about 40 other hustlers (prostituting men) enjoy reprieve from the streets at Emmaus Ministries. In the basement drop-in center, Andy finds hot showers, laundry facilities, home-cooked meals, Bible studies, and people such as founder John Green who care whether he lives or dies.
Male prostitution is a hidden but rising trend in American cities. Men comprised 4 in 10 prostitution arrests in 1998, more than double what the FBI reported in 1970. In Chicago, police arrest about 3,000 men and 5,000 women a year for prostitution. John attributes this increase to the growing gay community and continuing breakdown of families.
Andy once ran a successful barber business on Chicago's South Side. He enjoyed the gang members who crowded his basement, waiting their turn. But when he began snorting crack, "it took me for a different spin," he says.
Hooked, Andy sold his cars and barber tools for the narcotic. "I left the neighborhood and went to the Loop, 'cause I needed someplace to get out of the shame and guilt spotlight." In despair, Andy soon began prostituting.
"When I first saw men in prostitution, I thought, Dude, why don't you get a job?" admits John Green. He grew up Roman Catholic in a wealthy suburb of Akron, Ohio, on a 100-acre private lake. When he was 16, his parents gave him a 16-foot sailboat.
Later, two years with a homeless youth ministry in New York City revealed the cruelty of street life to John. He began asking how to act justly, show mercy, and walk humbly with God (
In 1990, John launched Emmaus Ministries (www.streets.org), an evangelical Catholic-Protestant outreach that incarnates Christ's love to hustlers. (In the Gospel of Luke, the road to Emmaus was one of the first places where the resurrected Jesus appeared to His disciples.)
Today, John, 42, directs the ministry in a three-story former crack house in Chicago's Uptown neighborhood. Behind the aging brick building, John and his wife, Carolyn, live in a condo with their three young boys. Where drugs once fed empty lives, the Emmaus team shows God's love to the city's forgotten people.
Surprisingly, prostituting men are usually not gay. "So many of our guys have huge starving hearts for a father," John says. By the time a man begins prostituting, he is bearing immense pain. "Most guys have been sexually abused, the majority are high school or middle school drop outs, and most don't know who their fathers are."
"They're looking for a place to call home, love, and acceptance in the world. But the streets twist those things," John says. "Every voice speaking into their lives is negative and dark."
Five nights a week teams from Emmaus scour gritty urban streets. Pairs of men and women offer hot coffee, cookies, and an invitation to the Emmaus drop-in center.
Lindsay Myers loiters in "Boys' Town" on most nights until 3 A.M., hoping to develop friendships with hustlers, predominantly African-American, in Chicago. She and three other recent college graduates are volunteering full-time at Emmaus for one year in exchange for room, board, and $20 a week.
"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.
"God incarnated himself into our world in the midst of all our humanness and crud. He came, was present, and walked with us."
Andy's longing for peace may foreshadow the transformation that John's team has prayed for. "I'm really tired of the whole thing," he said recently. "I just want some peace—inner peace, outer peace, physical peace."
- Visit Emmaus Ministries for an on-site educational hour.
- Invite John Green to speak at your church or youth group.
- Volunteer to spend a year in the Emmaus Community.
- Hold a food or clothing drive.
- Help Emmaus on the street, in the ministry center, or office.
- Sign up for the monthly newsletter.
- Become a financial donor.
Learn more at www.streets.org
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