Jesus told him, "No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back, is fit for the kingdom of God.” Luke 9:62
Forty years ago this month, I landed in New York City. I literally did not know a soul. My seminary degree was behind me and traditional church jobs or settings were put on hold. I walked into the Lamb’s Mission in Times Square at 130 West 44th Street and was greeted by Carolyn Rossi (now Copeland--still a longtime family friend). I literally had no idea what I was supposed to do, how to serve, or how a ministry should unfold.
I came to New York at the direction of Mother Columba, my spiritual director at Our Lady of the Mississippi Abbey, where I helped the nuns with their farming, and was attached to the Trappist monastery where I had lived as a non-vowed observer and worked for the previous 6 years. Mother Columba’s advice to me was “serve the poor-- they will teach you about love and humility.” So I dutifully packed what little possessions I had--a box of books, my well-worn Bible, a check for $500 that the sisters gave me; and I was left wondering what heck I was meant to do! I was assigned a small guest room in the mission, discovered that food (which served the homeless!) came along with my room. Hey, that’s all I needed. That is how I had lived for that last 6 years—just a room and meals, so that part felt very reassuring.
But leaving the beauty and bucolic environment of the monastery was a huge transition.
It was the noise, the every present cosmic hum, horns, sirens, jack hammers, and street cacophony that were rapidly causing me to doubt as why I should be in New York City. A week without sleep can cause a person to do any number of irrational things. So one sleepless night I threw on my jeans, bundled up in my winter army coat, and about 2a.m. on a very cold NYC morning I ventured out into Times Square to share the hope of Christ wherever He would lead me. Remember in 1979 Times Square was not like it is today, which is now a glittery NYC version of Disney Land. Back then it was a haven for pimps, drug dealers, prostitutes, human trafficking, and gang-related violence. There were more than 2000 murders a year. But I knew none of this! I began to meet people, seriously ruined people, most without any hope but an early death. My heart when out to them, as well as the few dollars that I had in my pocket. That freezing cold morning was the moment I prayed “Lord Jesus, I willingly lay my hand to this plow, and I will not look back.”
So forty years ago my friend and savior Jesus guided me toward the next steps of my life—marriage, our son and daughter, and a life filled with adventure, purpose, and love. Overseeing the development of many ministries--sports chaplaincy, discipleship of men, study groups, marriage interventions, church plants, drug/alcoholic crisis care, an orphanage in Bolivia, inner city Little Leagues, and so much more, can only be explained in terms of the miraculous. I simply laid my hand to the plow and through His amazing grace kept showing up!
Recently I was involved with young parents in distress and led the husband into a drug rehab program. He is now growing in faith, fun, and life. His new life was ushered in by God’s love through our initial intervention and many follow-up sessions. With tremendous enthusiasm, he asked me: “BJ, how in the heck do you know all this? This stuff [meaning 12 Steps...faith in Christ]... it really works.” I responded “It’s a long story that started in 1979 on a cold January night in Times Square.”
Thank you my friends and supporters for caring enough to help all these years. Mine is truly a story of God’s love and how He loves those who have gone astray, beginning with me.
Yours in Christ’s service....with gratitude,