The hot August air sat heavy on the street, as though too tired to stir. Brooklyn, East New York, with few trees, just ripples in asphalt. The window fans whirred. Mama’s sat on fire escapes dabbing their forehead, watching children scurry after bubbles. I was here with Joy, a college sophomore from Minnesota, who was doing a great job living up to her name. Our assignment was Miller Street, an aged out, broken down block of subsidized housing, drugs and gang violence. Mr. Willie Branch had sent us here.
“Knock on doors,” the good reverend told us. We swallowed.
Joy and I had taken the three train to New Lots station, then worked our way back toward Miller Street, avoiding pewk-splatter, shattered whiskey bottles, and an occasional dog pile. A skinny balding white dude, and a scorching blond innocent. Why should anyone give us the time of day?’
When we arrived on Miller Street, we prayed and bent into our assignment. Not bravely, mind you, just pure obedience, and nothing more. People were kind, and wore polite smiles, knowing we were not from there. After a couple attempts at turning the conversation to spiritual things, we saw two men, probably in their twenties, seated on a porch. Both watching us, smiling! I swallowed, lifted the iron gate latch, and walked through. They both sat up and extended their hands to shake, then looked at one another in a kind of amused surprise.
“Can we help you?” The one man asked, and then he exchanged another glance with his friend, as if both knew something we didn’t. We weren’t sure what to say, so we waited.
“We’re sorry,” they explained, “go on, we’d loved to know why you’re here.”
It was straightforward, there to talk about a relationship with God. William, the talkative one, asked about God’s view of suffering, and mentioned the book of Job. Then I pulled out a copy of the booklet, Connecting with God, a light green and teal blue tract we use with teens. Their eyes grew wider.
“Would you mind if we went through this with you,” I asked.
“God ahead, we’d love to hear what’s in it.”
Joy and I took turns with each point, and after each section, paused to ask the transition question. Even before we could ask it though, our new friends were poking one another and looking more shocked every turn of the page. By the third point, my curiosity had been exhausted.
“Ok, guys, what’s up?” I asked. Smiling, I fondled the booklet lightly in my hands and waited.
“Do you want to tell them?” William asked his friend.
“Sure. You see, we both had dreams this week, of two white people, a man and we thought his daughter, coming to our neighborhood.” Pointing to Joy, “real blond,” he said. “In fact, for the last three nights it’s been the same dream, only each night they share one of the points in the booklet you’re holding. We were waiting for you to come, to give us the rest of it.”
“Well?” asked William, looking at us.
Joy and I looked at one another in shock, and then back to our company.
“Well what?” I asked.
“Are you going to tell us how it ends?”
We shared laughter, and then we turned the page and ‘finished it.’ They both prayed to receive Christ on that porch, in East New York, on a steel melting hot August morning, outside every comfort Joy and I had ever known, stripped of every excuse and strength, we simply showed up and watched what God could do in a heart He had prepared.
As Joy and I were walking on the street a short time later, we felt stunned. Did that really happen? No one’s going to believe us, we joked.
I imagine every soul a door, and in moments where God inspires, we are only asked to lean against it, ever so slightly, to see how far open it may swing. If it does give way, God is moving, and if doesn’t budge, there’s nothing lost. Joy and I leaned on more ‘doors’ that morning, and in the end, thirteen individuals, young and old prayed with us, all within the span of a single block.
Willie had told us to knock on doors, but what he really meant was to risk a lean, in the power of the Holy Spirit.
If everything good in us, is God in us, then a lean turns out to be just enough.