Below is an article from Summer 2005.
One of the highlights of last summer was a ministry our Church (The Living Word in Plymouth, Michigan ) started among prostitutes in downtown Detroit.
Two female congregants, Vicky and Allen, were ministering courageously to those unfortunate women in some of the most derelict streets in Detroit. I remember that the police once pulled them over for some reason, but when he discovered what they were doing down there, the cop saluted them and noted: “Wow…we cops, with our guns, are afraid to go on those streets.”
Last August, Vicky planned to have a picnic for the “ladies of the night,” as she called them.
It was a Sunday morning when a score of “Living Wordies,” men and women, drove to the park, where Vicky planned the picnic. It was almost noon when we started the ribs’ barbecue, and set up two large table, with hamburgers, hotdogs, and drinks, but with no ladies of the night in sight, and the Wordies started looking anxiously in the distance, especially that our site was the furthest in the park, and any body who wanted to come would have to cross a long distance from the park’s entrance.
Vicky climbed on a chair that day and led us in prayer.
Then…looking in the distance, a tall and lanky figure started to approach the place. I could see in the distance, as that person came closer, a tall and skinny woman with a sordid face. Her cheek bones, ribs, and sinews, showed out of her cracked skin, an abused skin that showed bruises, bites, and old needle scars.
Vicky rushed out to her shouting her name: “Wendy..Wendy,” and hugged her.
I could not then think of anything but the scene from the return of the Prodigal Son.
But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his servants: ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate.
(Luke 15: 20 – 24)
After helping Wendy to the delicious ribs and other delicacies, it took her (Vicky) only a few minutes to trigger further action. She jumped into the big van of the outreach minister, Rennie, and together they rounded up the other “lost sheep,” from the streets.
One of those unfortunate women (a prostitute and a drug addict) refused to leave Rennie’s van, and we had to serve her food and drinks there, while she was swearing at us. But I could not forget when I handed her a glass of water with ice, when she exploded in tears and said: “No body has ever treated me like this.” Rennie commented: “Christ died for you, and we are ready to lay our lives for you.”
In half an hour, more than ten stragglers joined in, and we broke into smaller groups for prayers and fellowship.
What an experience! It was where the rubber hits the road; Christian faith in action, the way Jesus ministered to sinners. But are not we all sinners who sometimes hide in our comfort zones, that could be churches or homes, and refuse to reach out to our brothers and sisters in humanity?
Going back to the Parable of the Prodigal Son, it shows God’s inclusive love and grace. The forgiveness of the son is not conditional on good works (Dr. Martin Luther noted centuries ago), since he has plainly done nothing “good” throughout the story, other than to return home, symbolic of repentance; and although he formulates the intention of admitting his guilt to his father, his father accepts him even before he gets the chance to carry his intention out, although he indeed makes his prepared speech of confession in the end.
Hence, God is a common Father to all mankind, to the whole family of Adam. In that parable, our Savior, Jesus Christ the only Way, intimates to those proud Pharisees that publicans and sinners, like the ladies of the night, whom they thus despised, were their brethren. God is the God, not of the Jews only, but of all nations (Rom. 3:29): the same Lord over all, that is rich in mercy to all that call upon him.