In a few weeks I will start my annual trip to America to itinerate, raise support and visit family and friends.
Around this time last year, I had an unbelievable experience in my home town of Phoenix at the beginning of last year's trip.
I wrote this story last year but held on to it. It seems like now is the time to publish it here on my blog. It is rather long and I have tried earnestly to shorten it. But there is too much to share in order to communicate the impact this event had on my life and ministry.
So for those that like to read and have the time, you'll be in heaven. For those that have limited time or only like "pics and snippets"... sorry. But try just this time to take seven minutes out of your already busy day. I think at the end, you'll be blessed. LB
So we begin...
By Rev. Lawrence Blakeslee
6 March 2007
A few months ago, I was tramping around the Hill Tribes Villages of Myanmar and Thailand ministering everywhere I could. In those villages, you expected to see the poorest of the poor, with a wide variety of animals roaming around the villages with their associated odors.
Shortly after this particular missions trip in Asia, I traveled back to the America to itinerate. While in Phoenix, Arizona, I needed to travel to the other side of town. Being a missionary, I was used to taking public transportation overseas, so I decided to use the Valley Metro, the local Phoenix metro bus service.
The trip would take me from a middle class neighborhood in Scottsdale, through the heart of Phoenix. The first half of the trip was uneventful. Being an avid people watcher, it was interesting to observe the variety of people that were riding the bus. You wonder about their lives and if they have any relationship with Jesus.
I Bailed Out…
When it was time to make a simple transfer to another bus to continue my trip, it became a real challenge. Before boarding the connecting bus, I checked the sign at the front of the bus to make sure it was the right one. The bus proceeded up the street a few miles but took an unexpected turn and started heading down a “wrong” street. This unexpected turn threw me off. So rather than get totally lost, I bailed out at the next stop, crossed the street and took a bus that returned me to the point of the unexpected turn.
Bewildered, I asked the returning bus driver where I had to go to catch a bus going northbound. He didn’t say anything and pointed vaguely down the street. I didn't think he heard me so I asked again and he refused to give any verbal direction. He again just lazily pointed vaguely down the street. This was frustrating and added to my confusion.
Stepping off that bus, I looked around and saw another bus stop located up the street, on the correct side of the street, in the direction in which I wanted to go. As I walked up to the bus stop, I noticed some street construction signs which were gathered up on the sidewalk, near the bus stop and not in the street redirecting traffic. They were not in effect, since all the vehicle traffic continued to use the street normally and no obvious road construction could be seen.
When I arrived at the bus stop, I saw another temporary street sign saying the bus stop was closed. Out of frustration and without knowing what to do, I just simply sat down on the bus bench to think.
I couldn’t figure out how to take the correct bus that would head up the street to my destination. I didn’t have the answer and didn’t know where to go to get one. My frustration level was rising rapidly.
Earlier when I checked the bus company website it had not indicated any detours on this route and now without the help or cooperation from the previous bus driver I was stuck. I didn’t have a cell phone to call anyone. Pay phones on the street are now nearly non-existent.
The only honest way to describe my feelings was that I was fuming in frustration. I didn’t have this much trouble getting around in a foreign country and in other language.
I Do Not Need This…
After about 15 minutes of sitting and “contemplating” my situation, a short, slightly unkempt, middle aged, lady stopped and said to me in a bit of a harsh and slightly sarcastic voice, “You know this bus stop is closed.” I thought to myself, “I do not need this right now.”
But – I replied nicely that I saw the sign on the sidewalk but was confused and had no idea how to catch the bus that would take me up the road to my destination. She quickly pointed down the road to the temporary bus stop that was at the beginning of the “wrong turn”.
She then proceeded to tell me that for some reason the buses continue to detour even though the road was open to normal traffic. She continued to explain in kinder terms, that the bus would eventually end up back on its normal route, after a considerable detour through a local neighborhood. I thanked her and was relieved to have help from anyone at this point.
As I walked towards the bus stop, she tagged along and started to tell me that she was taking the same bus to Wal-Mart to buy milk because it was much less expensive there, than at the nearby 7-11.
She then introduced herself as Sally and that she had diabetes. She needed the milk for that condition. With her still tagging along, step for step, she asked if I had any spare change. I gave her some money believing in my heart that it would actually buy milk and also possibly end her shadowing me. Besides, it was the least that I could do since she offered me more help the than the last bus driver.
As we continued down the street step for step, she volunteered that she went to a nearby church and that God had helped her. Strangely for me, I didn’t mention that I was a missionary or even that I was a Believer. Now I wanted to see where she was going with the conversation and to hear what she had to say.
Sally told me about her pastor and how the church had really helped her. When I asked her the name of the church, she couldn’t remember but pointed down the street and told me roughly where I could find it plus the Sunday service times. When I asked her the pastor's name, she only remembered his first name, Mike. Interesting, I thought.
We arrived at the temporary bus stop and she continued to tell me her "life story". During this time, my overall frustration level had dropped and I actually began to listen to what she was telling me.
The bus arrived and we boarded. When asked, this bus driver confirmed that this bus would be going to my destination. Even though there were plenty of other seats available, I decided to sit down next to my new friend Sally. Now she intrigued me.
I noticed that when Sally boarded, others already on the bus knew and acknowledged her as she walked down the aisle. She greeted nearly everyone.
Sadly, she told me that she had recently lost her husband after six years of marriage. She admitted that she was having a hard time dealing with his death and that her diabetes was also bothering her. Her eyes began to tear up as she explained that life had become increasing difficult for her to handle without her husband. Her voice gave away that she truly loved him and missed him. I felt sad for her loss.
God’s Little Angel & The Bus Pastor
A few minutes into the ride, a lady seated across the bus aisle started a conversation with Sally. Sally asked the lady about someone’s health. The lady told her that her friend was getting much better and believed that Sally’s prayers had made the difference. Both of them were happy with the good news. She seemed to be God’s little angel to everyone on the bus. A few stops later, Sally arrived at her stop and left the bus. Another lady boards at the same stop and she takes a seat near the rear of the bus.
Immediately as the new lady settles in, other riders acknowledge her. As people leave the bus she bids them a warm “God Bless You”. While the bus is making its way up the street, people come back to her area of the bus and talk to her about their lives. This lady seemed to know many people. At nearly every stop, new people boarded, saw her and came back to her to discuss their lives with her. It struck me that she seemed to be the “Bus Pastor”.
As more people got on and off the bus, she greeted them with a genuine blessing and a concern for how they were doing. At one point a slightly mentally retarded, middle aged man, boarded the bus and sat down across the aisle from me. Listening to a CD player, he did not start a conversation with anyone. But as each person left the bus from the rear exit, he said, in a timid, almost unheard voice, “God Bless”. It was amazing. I’m not sure anyone leaving noticed his blessing them.
It was a warm day and the bus air conditioning wasn’t working very well. The bus was taking on a variety of aromas that were not very pleasant. I say this with all respect, if you’ve ever worked with the homeless and street people, you know this smell. It is the distinct aroma of the poor, living and surviving on the street.
The Rose of Sharon
I propose to you that it is not the sweet distinct aroma of the “Rose of Sharon” but it is a smell that God might even prefer. As I became aware of this odor in the bus, for some unexplained reason the presence and love of God filled my heart as I began to see these people through God’s “eyes” and smell this aroma through God’s “nose”.
Some twenty-plus years earlier, at the very beginning of my walk with The Lord, I was blessed to work with the homeless, street people and the working poor on the Phoenix's Westside. It was at ministry called “Love In Action”. Now some twenty-plus years later, I seemed to have forgotten my “ministry roots” and God took this opportunity to remind me. At the same time, He revealed some flaws in my character and thinking.
Honestly, I realized that I started this bus ride with a bit of hidden pride. Now that pride was being stripped away and a sincere sense of humility and humbleness was replacing it. The Holy Spirit was reminding me of the sincerity these people had at Love In Action, when God was their only hope.
Yes, I was tired of the “inconvenience” of being on a bus, the detour problems, the uncooperative bus driver and overall frustrations. But during this time, God reminded me of a "world" in my own country that I used to be familiar with, the helpless, the homeless and the working poor.
My guess is that our Heavenly Father would find the “odor” of the poor or homeless person more pleasant to Him, when they are living in righteousness and holiness; than of those who are more "well heeled" and have the ability to wear expensive perfume or cologne but are not living for God.
We know God loves all people. Christ died for all people, not just those of a certain income tax bracket, title, position or country. But sometimes I think the Body of Christ forgets this basic tenet in the air-conditioned, carpeted, cushioned pew church world in America. This fact is not overlooked by the many missionaries serving both overseas and at equally important, home missions.
Earlier, I was perturbed about the bus “detour” in my life. My little world was focused on my needs and my frustrations. Now, the very tangible presence of God, through the Holy Spirit surrounded me on Bus 19.
No Place to Hide…
As His presence hit my spirit and soul, I tried to hunker down low in my seat.
I had no place to hide. Behind my oversized Aviator sunglasses, my eyes filled with tears that streamed down my cheeks. I realized the earlier “inconvenience” of my bus ride was actually a ministry reality check. Sally and the "Bus Pastor" were obviously an extension of His love to everyone they touched on that bus. Had I become so annoyed and distracted in my little world, that I forgotten how much God unconditionally loves these people too?
As I looked around with my tear filled eyes and thought about the people on Bus 19, I tried to imagine their lives and their inconveniences. I knew that my Heavenly Father counted them precious and loved them just as they were — just the way they smelled or didn’t. He loved them so much that He sent His Son Jesus down to earth, to be the ultimate and final sacrifice, to die on a cross and rise again — so all mankind could receive their eternal salvation.
You don’t have to be a missionary working on the nomadic plains of Mongolia, ministering in densely populated India or working with the Hill Tribes in Thailand, to be able to minister God’s love to people.
Yes, God had given me that privilege as an overseas missionary. The inconveniences of those trips, lack of plumbing, cold showers or no showers, strange foods, and strange smells, etc were counted as “merit badges” of sorts. The inconvenience of riding a city bus, with bad air conditioning, a driver with a bad attitude, construction detours and the smell of the poor was not “ministry” or was it?
My Challenge to You…
You may not be called to be an overseas missionary. You may not have a full-time ministry for any number of valid reasons. But you can have a ministry of sharing God’s love right outside your door, if you want it.
Buy a bus ticket and ride your city bus. Pick the same time of the day, the same day of the week, the same route. Get to know and be known by the other riders. If you want an additional challenge, pick a bus route that takes you through the inner-city. Pray before you go to have an open and sensitive heart to the Holy Spirit and to those around you. Be ready to give God's love away.
Please don’t “hammer” anyone with a “Hell Fire and Brimstone” speech. God touched all of our hearts with His love for us when we needed it. Rather be ready to share God’s love with people that you encounter. After all, all of us are His hands, His voice, and His love expressed to those loveable and unlovable. You too can be a missionary and minister the Good News of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Copyright © 2007 - 2008 Lawrence E. Blakeslee All Rights Reserved Reprint with permission.