I was looking forward to attending a Friday night church service, though. Every Friday night there was a regular church service followed by a meal served to the homeless. News of ministries and organizations that provided meals always spread rapidly throughout the community. The homeless walked from different locations to attend. We also sent a couple of busses to CASS – Central Arizona Shelter Services – to pick up the homeless every Friday night.
Various churches and organizations volunteered to bring a prepared meal. They also served the meal and ministered in prayer or a listening ear to those attendees. It will always stand out in my mind as the epitome of a true servant heart to the less fortunate.
Angel Rosa often had guest speakers for the Friday night, and I decided to go when Iverna Tompkins would be preaching. I had read several of her books, seen her on Christian television, and had heard glowing reports of her preaching and Bible teaching. I was excited, and just a tiny bit giddy with awe about getting to see and hear her. Her book How To Be Happy In No Man’s Land had ministered to me after my twenty-two year marriage ended in divorce. She had had a husband who left and divorced her.
After leaving work that Friday, I went home to change clothes and grab a quick bite for dinner. Church had started by the time I arrived, so I slipped in and found a seat near the back. Eddie James, the Music Minister for Phoenix Inner City Church, was still leading. I loved his style of black gospel music. He was, and still is, a gifted, talented young man passionate about serving God through music.
When Iverna stepped behind the pulpit, I leaned forward with expectation. Because I was seated in the back where most of the homeless sat, I soon discovered they could be very distracting. They shuffled, wiggled, talked to each other, and hollered out responses to the preaching. The constant commotion would be unnerving to many preachers, but Iverna never missed a beat. I don’t recall what she preached about, but I do remember being riveted by it – or as riveted as I could be with all the distractions.
They’re not paying any attention at all. They’re only here to eat a meal afterwards. They don’t care about Jesus. I felt sad as those thoughts ran through my mind. I could see the Teen Challenge students seated on the front row. They were paying avid attention, and taking notes. Taking notes was something they were required to do. Their notes were turned in to a staff member. Rehabilitation, as Teen Challenge viewed it, isn’t for the non-committed, or just-biding-my-time person.
Surrounded by the disruptions, the thought came to me that if Jesus walked in at that moment, he would find great delight in sitting among these poor souls. In fact, it would be his preference for where to sit. Jesus would have probably smiled with compassion when one of the men waved his arms and yelled, “Uncle Sam took our jobs,” in response to Iverna saying that God would meet our needs.
The outburst startled me, and I jerked, but neither Iverna nor anyone else seemed disturbed by it. I guess you just get used to it.
When Iverna Tompkins asked that we all bow our head for prayer as she gave the altar call, I dutifully bowed my head. As she asked for those to come forward who wanted prayer or wanted to surrender their hearts and lives to the Lord, I was pleasantly surprised to hear the shuffling of bodies and the stampeding of feet.
They were listening after all! They’re going to the altar. When I opened my eyes, I was disappointed to see only a couple of homeless people at the altar. Most of those who responded to the altar call were a few church members and several students. The stampede I’d heard was the rush to get in line outside the dining hall for the meal.