Bicycles, Beer Bottles, and Birthday Cake.

September 27, 2013

“Man, if I weren’t so gangsta I’d be cryin’ now.”

A rare occasion of speechlessness came upon Darren as we presented him with a birthday cake while we serenaded him with an off-key rendition of “Happy Birthday”. “Do y’all know that I spent nine birthdays locked up in prison? No one has remembered my birthday!” Just days before, our bicycle ministry team interacted with a distant and hostile Darren that told us his birthday was soon approaching.

Our team—a church-on-wheels—actively seeks to see Christ restore and holistically transform the community through prayer, service, worship, and the planting of more spiritual communities as we ride on bicycles. Over the last two months, we have come to know Darren as a sort of “overseer” of the streets. Though Darren warmed to us quickly, his sobriety often determined whether we would meet an engaging and cordial Darren, or a Darren whose anger gave way to violent outbursts.

Darren’s lifestyle and behavior led to hostility between himself and Lee—the owner of the convenience store where Darren conducted most of his “business.” Lee barred Darren for life from the premises which further exacerbated the tension between the two men. Still, on most evenings Darren can be found standing on the street corner near the convenience store.

The evening that Darren informed us of his birthday, I asked his favorite flavor of cake in jest. “Vanilla,” he replied. “Really? Vanilla???” I retorted incredulously. “Yeah… vanilla! Something wrong with that?” “No,” I answered “I just took you for more of a red velvet guy.” “Nah,” Darren said, “I’m on vanilla.” Before our team left, I asked if he would be around on his birthday. With his affirmation that he would be out on his evening an idea formed.  

As we parted ways, we began discussing the possibility of having a birthday party on the street for Darren. Two days later, sixteen people gathered under the street light to celebrate Darren’s 36th birthday. Lee—a Hindu—politely declined the invitation to join the celebration occurring in the lot next to his convenience store, citing his need to fast. I implored him to join us as I vouched for Darren by reminding Lee that no one is beyond redemption and that as followers of Jesus we believe in a posture of grace. Lee still declined.

As those gathered began to disperse, Darren and I made our way to a secluded spot to talk. Overwhelmed by a tangible act of love, Darren began to open up about his struggles in dealing and using drugs. Darren described being shackled to the lifestyle of the streets. He continued by admitting that the things that bind him continue to chase him on his journey—even when he makes steps in the right direction and doors of opportunity are opened. “Darren,” I said “your story sounds a lot like the story of the Exodus.” We opened the Bible and read Exodus 14. Together, we read how God’s people were making strides in walking away from captivity towards freedom in a new life—yet, those who once held them in chains were pursuing them. God opened up the sea and told the Israelites to “get moving!” I concluded by saying “Darren, check out what verse 13 says!”

Don’t be afraid. Stand your ground, and watch the Lord rescue you today!

“That verse is for you today Darren! Our God is a God of freedom! Our God refuses to leave His people in chains—even when they would rather be. Our God opens doors—and seas—to bring His people into new lands of abundant life. Darren, there are times when God tells us we’d better get moving to walk into freedom—or else we may too be engulfed with the waters of our captors. But Darren, do you want to watch God rescue you today?” A smile spread across Darren’s face as he replied “yeah.”

A small group of people passing by on the street began to watch and listen to our conversation. One of the onlookers was Lee, who witnessed the power of God’s Word and the Holy Spirit move to bring transformation into both Darren and myself. Lee walked over and softly said in revelation, “Darren is a good man. I believe you now!”

A holy hush fell upon that street corner as the Darren began seeking freedom from the streets in Christ. Heaven met Earth as these two men, once divided by animosity were reconciled with one another. The Bible came to life in a unique way as I contemplated Paul’s letter to the Ephesians in the midst of bicycles, beer bottles, and birthday cake.

But now, thanks to Christ Jesus, you who once were so far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. Christ is our peace. He made both Jews and Gentiles into one group. With his body, he broke down the barrier of hatred that divided us.  He canceled the detailed rules of the Law so that he could create one new person out of the two groups, making peace. He reconciled them both as one body to God by the cross, which ended the hostility to God. Ephesians 2:13-16

Blog Archive
« Back to Blog