Last week I got a disturbing text message when I least expected it. While I was walking through an Asheville neighborhood with my daughters trick-or-treating, my phone began to vibrate with the following message: "I've fallen off the wagon, and I am going to die."
The message was from a man named Chris, who had come to Exodus Church in late August. He had shared his story with me over lunch, and confessed that he been recently released from jail for a drug charge, and now he was living in temporary shelter at the Salvation Army. He asked me to help him stay on the right path, and vowed to stay clean and sober. He started showing up to church early, and helped to set up for the morning service... He even asked me to baptize him on Labor Day!
Two weeks ago, he disappeared. Multiple messages were left for him, yet he did not return my calls. Nobody had seen him, and the warning signs were flashing... As it turns out, he had relapsed again and had gone off the deep end. His text message on Halloween was a cry for help, literally. Chris had run up an outstanding debt to a local drug dealer. Fearing for his life, Chris had been hiding out in the woods, and in vacant houses. He called me to see if I could help him pay off the debt (nope), and admitted that he was strung out, craving more poison...
Later that night, I drove with my family through downtown Asheville, and I agreed to meet up with Chris for a minute. I saw him standing on the corner, wearing an oversized hat in attempt to shield his identity. I asked him what he was doing, and he said he was trying to get his hands on a bottle. I asked him to come with me to check into a detox facility, and I had even arranged for him to stay in a shelter that would help to provide medical care and rehabilitation.
Chris refused my help.
Last Sunday, during the morning worship at Exodus Church, Chris came stumbling through the front doors. He was bleeding from the head, and all of his fingers had been visibly broken. (The drug lord had found him, and beaten him severely). He was seeking refuge and forgiveness and hope... I met him at the front of the stage, and began to pray over him. The entire congregation engaged the surreal moment in silent prayer... tears began to fall as the worship slowed. Eventually, Chris fell prostrate on the stage and began to sob uncontrollably. "I am so sorry, God! I abandoned you... Forgive me, God!"
How is that for liturgy? Where does that fit in the bulletin?
The Spirit of God began to tear apart the hardest of hearts. Grown men began to cry along with Chris, and grandmothers stood in line to hug him! Never mind the fresh blood still pouring out of his forehead, or his broken hand folded together in prayer... I told him, "There is nothing you could ever do, to make God love you less. And there is nothing you could ever do, to make God love you more!"
We escorted him from the front of the church, where two members of our Family drove him to the local hospital. We took care of his medical needs, and have sought for a stable home for him to rehabilitate in a discipleship ministry. After all, this is the mission of the Church and the Hope of the World: Jesus.
* I don't know if Chris is going to receive our love, or if he will relapse again. I don't know if he will accept this gift of amazing grace. I don't know if he will allow us to help him...
But I do know that if sinners can stumble through the darkness and find a refuge in our arms, then we are doing what we set out to do. The liberation project is not just another church plant, it is a rescue mission! And word is spreading... "go down there to Exodus Church, they'll take anyone!"