Louise is 25 years old and sells himself on the streets of Montrose. His work name is ‘Tony’ and he is from Mexico. When we met him, he was willing to talk with us, although visibly surprised by the three of us (David, Kim and I) with our bag of waters and snacks out on the streets. He soon realized we were the church.
“Are you familiar with Houston?” We asked.
“With the dark places only.”
“Do you like the dark places?”
“No, but it is the only thing I know. My spirit hates the dark but I am here because of my sexuality. I have to be here.”
As Kim began sharing the gospel message with him, David and I noticed a man on the opposite side of the street. He was very tall with dark hair and wearing a trench coat. He was also staring at us. After a moment of watching us he ran across the street towards where we were standing. When he got close he asked, “Are you the church?” Was it that obvious? Apparently we didn’t look like we belonged in the gay bar district. David told him that we were the church and I handed him a snack, which he ate in seconds.
“What’s your name?” I asked. Ahmed. I could here a strong accent, but couldn’t place it.
“How long have you been in Houston?”
“What brought you here?”
“This is where my boat landed.” I handed him a second snack, which he began eating as quickly as the first. “What do you mean?” I asked regarding the boat. “I sneaked here. I am from Kyrgyzstan.” We learned from him, in his broken English and between snacks that he learned English in Kyrgyzstan from American soldiers. He escaped his home country because “they were killing everyone there”. Now that he is in Houston, he has no idea how to find work, as he doesn’t have an ID. He pulled out a dirty wad of dollar bills from his pocket to show us, which he earned by sweeping a local tattoo parlor. He was saving up to pay for a nights sleep at the local YMCA.
“Be careful in this place. It is a very bad place.” He told us, describing Montrose. When we asked him if we could help him get an ID (one of the services we provide at Street Church), he responded, “You cannot help someone who is not a legal immigrant, who is running from his own country.”
My heart went out to this man, who came as a foreigner to our land, seeking refuge from a country in political turmoil. A man who has fallen through the cracks, sweeping tattoo parlors to make enough money to buy a bed to sleep in at night. I think of the thousands of immigrants pouring into Houston every year. How wonderful would it be if the church was here waiting for them with open arms, to show them how to navigate the paperwork, language barriers and other common struggles they will face.
As we finished praying for Ahmed, Kim was had finished speaking with Louise, whom we gathered around to pray over as well. As we prayed, I opened my eyes in time to see tears falling onto his arms and jacket pockets. We hope to see him again, to see him escape the “dark places” he mentioned with such despair.
Please keep Louise and Ahmed in your prayers.