Why had I agreed to go? I posed that question to myself as I reviewed my recent conversation with a church friend. Speeding toward home, I wondered out loud, “Will I ever learn to say no?”
That innocent chat at the grocery store resulted in an unwanted commitment. Before thinking it through, I’d agreed to be the special music for the group from church going to the rescue mission the following week. I not only didn’t know anything about rescue missions, I wasn’t a vocal soloist.
I’d sung in large and small vocal groups most of my school years, but me singing by myself?
Why had I mentioned to Glen that I was studying voice at Moody Evening School? That’s why he’d asked. He thought I’d be a great addition to the regular group who went every month to present one of the nightly programs.
Over the next few days I wanted to call him to cancel, but I’d been taught to keep my commitments. Instead, I looked through music and prayed about what to sing. I kept coming back to “I Believe in Miracles,” a favorite since I’d first heard it sung at church several months before.
Before I knew it, Friday arrived, and so did I, promptly at 6:30. The rest of the group was already there, so soon we headed downtown in several cars. I kept one ear cocked to the conversation around me, but I didn’t participate in it. Butterflies had already started in my stomach as I thought of my upcoming solo. I kept chiding myself for agreeing to go.
The car stopped, breaking my reverie. “This can’t be it,” I thought. “This looks like an office building.” However, the lighted sign on top of the building indicated we were at the right place.
We entered the mission and followed the superintendent up the side aisle and across the front of the auditorium to the prayer room. Curious, I glanced around trying to take it all in.
Framed Bible verses hung on the front and side walls, and grand pianos stood on each side of the platform. The men sat on folding chairs facing the platform.
Arriving at the prayer room, I was introduced to the superintendent. He asked me several questions, talked with the men, and then left. The church men and I chatted for several minutes, and they tried to put me at ease, knowing this was my first time in a mission. Then each of us prayed for the speaker and special music, but especially for the men attending, that their hearts would be receptive to the gospel message.
All too soon we filed to the platform. As I sat facing the men, I noticed their dirty and disheveled clothes, matted hair, and unshaven faces. The forlorn, hopeless expressions gripped me. I’d never encountered such despair.
I started asking myself questions. “Why were the men there? Were they hiding? Were they there because of alcohol and drugs? Had they fallen on hard times?” With my limited knowledge of rescue missions, I had no answers. I’d seek answers to those questions and others I might think of on the way home.
The leader got up and stood behind the podium. He greeted the men and asked them to open their song books and named a page. As the singing started, my butterflies increased.
“What am I doing here?” I asked myself. “I don’t belong here. I don’t even want to be here.”
My solo grew closer with each hymn sung. As my apprehension mounted, I began a conversation with the Lord, asking Him what I was going to do.
The leader interrupted, and I heard him say, “Joyce come sing for us.”
With my knees shaking, I walked to the podium. My conversation with the Lord continued.
“Lord, you know the reason I’m here is because I can’t say no. It’s just you and me now. Please give me the strength I need,” I pleaded silently.
Then, listening to the introduction to my song, my eyes swept again over the dejected expressions before me. An overwhelming desire to share the love of God with the men enveloped me.
I stood a little taller, smiled a little wider, and began to sing “I Believe in Miracles.” My heart’s desire was to convey that message. Since taking Christ as my personal Savior the year before, I was a miracle–a “new creature in Him.” The men needed to hear that they, too, could be one. As I sang that message from my heart, I began to relax.
Relief washed over me as I sat down. Soon my pounding heart started to return to its normal rhythm and the butterflies began to subside. Leaning back in my chair, I watched and prayed for the men as they listened to the speaker.
Suddenly, unbidden thoughts crossed my mind. “Would it be easier next time?” I chided myself.
“Would there be a next time? Did I want there to be?” Yes, I realized I did. A strong desire had been borne in my heart. I wanted to minister in song to the homeless people of Chicago’s Skid Row; men and women I’d known little about just a few hours earlier.
As I’d watched a flicker of hope pass over several faces during my song, I felt compelled to come back. Perhaps my music could be a catalyst to help bring the hope of a new life in Christ to some of these men and women who seemed to have little or no hope left.
What had seemed an impossible mission that night, became a possible mission with the Lord’s help; a mission and ministry that lasted for 20 years until the Skid Row area was razed for urban renewal.
Joyce Heiser copyright 2004 [email protected]
Joyce Heiser treasures her memories and is grateful for her many years of ministering to some of Chicago’s forgotten people and knows that she brought a little sunshine and hope into their lives, if only for a few minutes. She has several stories in the 2theheart.com archives and has a story featured in the new book.