“Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you.”
September 29, 2017, Words By: Joel Van Dyke, Image By:
At Street Psalms we embrace a particular perspective that invites us into a grace to see from below. We do theology from below, celebrating the opportunity to read the Bible with the excluded and ostracized. We practice spirituality from below, together learning to see and celebrate good news in hard places. We share a spirituality of imperfection that delights in the Spirit’s dance among awkwardness and disarray.
A commitment to such a posture (a way of being), often leads to profound, disorientating questions about authority as it did between the disciples and Jesus in our Gospel text this week.
In the Dominican Republic, Pastor Francis Montas and his wife, Loly, shepherd a church of young people – Casa Joven – that meets on Saturday nights in a converted Santo Domingo nightclub. They have been engaged since the beginning of the work in Santo Domingo lead by Street Psalms Senior Fellow Mario Matos. Their work with street kids, incarcerated juvenile delinquents, and “Las Chicas de Sarasota” (prostitutes) has served as a prophetic wake-up call to many others in the Dominican church.
One Thursday night, Francis and Loly called a special prayer service because so many young people in their flock were having serious problems. They did not know what else to do in the face of such difficult circumstances. They met in a little house near one of Santo Domingo’s most infamous streets for prostitution – La Avenida Sarasota. Their prayers for one another seemed strained and blocked somehow in a way that they had not experienced before. They began to question their own authority related to their work as a church, and a prayerful attention began to shift to the young women working on the street outside of their prayer meeting. They began talking about the women and praying for them.
Eventually, they felt compelled to leave the comfort of their sequestered prayer meeting and spent the next several hours outside asking beautiful questions of the “Chicas de Sarasota.” I once had the opportunity to go out to the streets with Francis, Loly and Mario and there we experienced a numbness-shattering picture of God’s scandalous grace in the strange world of evening call girls.
Every sex worker we talked to lit up as the young women from the church called them by name and embraced each with tender hugs. The women on the street updated us on their week, shared stories about their children, and received prayer with eager anticipation – all the while completely ignoring potential clients who passed by.
We had just finished sharing and praying with a group of three sex workers when one of them, whom I will call Gloria, asked if she could pray for us. Needless to say, that was an inversion of roles I had not anticipated. We all joined hands on the sidewalk of Avenida Sarasota at 2:30 a.m., and I heard one of the most beautiful prayers of my life. When Gloria uttered her “amen,” a smile exploded onto her face. She sheepishly confessed that it was the first time she had ever prayed out loud. I pretended to cough while trying to wipe away tears. Gloria received more hugs from the ladies and an awkward handshake from me. She said that she planned to come to church that Saturday night where I was scheduled to preach.
I thought about her promise several times over the next several days, and on Saturday night, Gloria indeed came. When the service concluded, she received hug after hug from the young worshipers, including this guest preacher, whose awkward handshake on the street a few nights earlier would no longer suffice for Gloria. She approached me with arms opened wide and a smile erupting with joy. Authority remixed??
How blessed the church in Casa Joven has become, and how their vision and mission for their city has been recalibrated through their interaction with these young women! Casa Joven is living out the missional implications of questioned authority in which the outsiders “get it.” As a result they are encouraging many other “insiders” throughout Central America and the Caribbean to exchange hugs with the “outsiders” of their respective cities and neighborhoods. And in so doing, they are giving the question of “authority” a graced-filled facelift.
This WFB was adapted from an earlier version published in Sept., 2014.
Joel Van Dyke
Director | Urban Training Collaborative
Guatemala City, Guatemala