February 23, 2009

The Power of Presence


I have had some pretty interesting conversations lately. Ever since I moved into the Cherith Brook catholic Worker House, there have been a whole slew of people asking me questions about what and why it is we do what we do. One such conversation caused me to reflect a great deal.

There are many ministries that do great work in town. Some assist with refugee resettlement, some provide emergency shelter, some help with job placement and housing, and some help people break free from different addictions that enslave. All of these programs are great, but none can claim that their work is complete or perfect. There will still be people who slip through the cracks, people who give up or blow up, and people who don’t quite fit the mold. Cherith Brook exists for these people.

What we do at Cherith Brook is both simple and profound. Simple in the sense that we do very simple things to help restore dignity to those who have been marginalized--through a hot shower, a shared meal, clean clothes, and life giving words. What makes this work profound is experiencing how God uses these simple acts to bring about surprising change that brings us both closer to him and closer to one another. There is no real elaborate formula we follow in the work we do. Everything has been birthed out of a spirit of listening and acting. Whenever a few people started coming by and asking for showers, we happily agreed. After these people kept coming by and then more and more started showing up, we worked to create some space to accommodate our friends from the streets. We live in this way in order to better meet the needs of those who have been tossed aside and deemed worthless.

I hear so many people ask me what else we do beyond our hospitality and works of mercy--implying that what we do does not better people in the long run. Every time I hear that question it makes me wonder how we qualify what is successful and what is not. Are we really so focused on numbers that we lose sight of what’s right in front of us? Throughout the gospels we see Jesus meeting people in very ordinary ways. Whether it be over a shared meal, on the road, or at a well, Jesus met people where they were at. Not only that, but he also treated them with love, dignity and compassion. He listened, interacted, and transformed the people he encountered. He offered an invitation to join his family, and many accepted that invitation.

At Cherith Brook we try to remember to be present to every person that we interact with. We try to treat everyone who knocks as though they were Jesus coming to our door. It is crucial we do so, or we may do as Martha did in Luke 10, who was busy running around instead of sitting and listening to Jesus. Mary chose to be present while Martha was wrapped up in programming and entertaining.

One thing that has struck me since arriving at Cherith Brook is how profoundly important it is to have a place to call home and a people to call family. There have been a number of times I have heard people call this place their home, their family, or their church. Sometimes they say it after a shower and sometimes they say it through tears in a hospital room. This would not have happened without a genuine desire (and pursuit) to know and be known by each person. When we choose to love people as Jesus loved, people begin to feel like they belong; like they matter. Once people have this as their foundation it is much easier to live into their identity and calling as a child of God.

I can’t help but think of people like Mike, who was once homeless but is now living with us and seeking employment. People like Marvin, who has decided to end his drug addiction and is now in therapy to regain control of the right side of his body after having suffered a stroke. People like Cindy, who married and lost a husband all in the scope of one month (and was thankful for the time she was able to spend with him). Yes, these people have truly taught me the power of presence, and what it means to be a part of God’s beautiful family.

Let’s not underestimate the power of God as he redeems and renews people through simple things like a shower, a meal, and some good conversation.


  1. Your continued kindness and simplicity are profound, humbling and encouraging. I love you and am in inspired by you always. Keep up the Kingdom Building work.

  2. Nick, I am so proud of you and the way you openly give yourself. Thank you for giving a cool cup of water for Christ.