Three years ago, I met my friend Brother Sean Rogers. He is a Catholic Missionary to the lost, the disenfranchised, and the homeless. I cannot remember how we got in each others way, but I do remember the first time I met him in person. I was playing a solo acoustic gig to support his Deep Waters Ministry at the Old Tucker Fountain. It was a great night, with dear friends of mine that drove a great distance to come and hear me play. After the gig, Sean and I kept in touch. It was great to get to know Sean over the phone, from a distance, from the comfort of my home or vehicle. Each phone call with him revealed just a bit more light on how he thinks, and why he carries on this mission with such devotion. For three years we would talk, txt, and Facebook about what’s happening in our respective ministries. Throughout these dialogues, he would extend the invitation…”When are you going to come out and minister with me?”. I evaded, deflected, and gracefully had other things to do. My wife and I invited Sean down to Peachtree City for Cinco De Mayo. Peachtree City is a golf cart community, so we took Sean for a ride through the trails to dinner. On the drive home from dinner, I sent the family in the car so Sean and I could talk on the golfcart. I was brazen enough to finally tell him why I hadn’t been out with him. “Sean, you’re ministry is uncomfortable. I wouldn’t know what to say to a homeless guy. I can’t identify with the struggles of a prostitute or drug addict. I wouldn’t know what to say.” Sean paused for a brief moment, and said to me…”Why don’t you start with hello. It really is just that simple”.
On the Thursday before Memorial Day, I ventured out into Deep Waters with Sean for the first time. As I begin my drive into the city, severe storms are pounding the area. As I am backing out of my driveway, a microburst let loose and I sit there watching the trees buckle in my yard as my pickup truck swayed from side to side. “It’s a sign”, I thought. My stubbornness has me continue, and so I put the truck into gear and moved out. The storms intensify on my way out of town. I end up taking shelter at the parish where I work for fear of a tornado in the area. From the safety of my office, I call Sean, half hoping that with the dangerous weather in the area that we will agree to cancel the evening plans. “Come on up” he says. “The people we are visiting with are still out there”. He was referring of course, to the homeless and the prostitutes. Yes, they will still be out there, and I was still in my office. Back in the truck, and motoring out of town, there are power lines down and trees crossing the roads. This is way, far away out of my comfort zone. I eventually arrive in Atlanta and pick him up outside the motel where he lives and we begin driving down Piedmont road. I am apprehensive about heading out into the streets, and I’ll share that at this point I am completely under the influence of the Holy Spirit. As we come down Piedmont near I-85, Sean instructs me to turn under the highway. I couldn’t see an opening, but he insists that I turn just past this enormous concrete pillar. In faith, I pull the truck off Piedmont road and turn through this little narrow gate in the fencing. “Turn on your hazard lights and let’s go” he says. As I get out of the truck, I stand under the enormity of an Atlanta superhighway. It’s noisy, dark, and intimidating. Sean begins walking down a dirt hill towards a set of railroad tracks. I look back at my truck, probably a quarter of a mile away now. I can see the hazard lights broadcasting through the darkness. A thought comes to me that I have stored a great deal of my guitar rig in the bed of the truck, valuable gear that I cannot afford to replace. “Trust in God” I think to myself and turn back towards the path to the railroad tracks. We walk past a burning garbage pile, probably being burned for functional purpose. After crossing the tracks, I notice the dense woods surrounding the area. At this point, we are close to a half mile in from the road and heading up an incline towards the place where the earth once again meets the darkness of I-85. Sean stops and calls up into the shadows…”Greetings in the name of Jesus Christ, it’s Brother Sean here to see you”. Moments later, a woman comes down and eagerly embraces Sean. Sean introduces me to the woman, named Nicole, and Nicole walks over to me and gently takes my hands into hers and hold me by the hands like a treasure. She is looking into my eyes as she says to me, “I’m really glad that you’re here”. Immediately, my apprehension and fear subsided, just as the storms had earlier that night. I can literally feel relief pour out of my flesh. We speak for just a minute as she continues holding my hands, and then she turns and we all start walking up the hill to visit. At the top of the hill, the steel beams supporting I-85 are just a few feet overhead. There is an older gentlemen laying under a sleeping bag getting some rest, and another man sitting on the concrete pillar supporting the massive highway. There is broken glass and debris all over the ground where the man is laying down. We visit for a few minutes, as they share with us the news of the day. Someone had just raided Nicole’s makeshift home further down away from the structure that surrounds us. They had taken a few things and disturbed her entire setup. It doesn’t go without my notice that while she wasn’t thrilled about that, it wasn’t the end of the world to her. She just moved on. Sean wraps up the conversation by letting them know that he loves them, and that God loves them, and they matter to them both. They recite this with him. It’s obvious to me that it’s not his first time here. As we were walk back down the hill towards the tracks, it strikes me how the last bit of daylight is dancing on the trees outside the steel structure of the overpass. The trees that I am referring to along the rail path are below the highway surface, and are likely never seen by the cars passing overhead. The beauty of the setting makes me stop and stare for a moment. As I stand in the darkness, seeing the serenity of the trees and peacefulness of that space it causes me to realize that God is here. I turn and share my thoughts with Sean, and he replies to me that “yes, it is beautiful. I would come here anyday before I would goto a shelter.” For some reason, this exchange keeps playing in my head, even until now as I write this.
As we cross back over the rail line and begin to emerge from the dusky underpass towards my truck, a man approaches us. Sean, again, greets him in the name of the Lord. The man introduces himself to us as “Dwight”, and Dwight asked us how the people down under the bridge were doing. He explained that he had recently found a job, and was trying to watch out for the people we had just visited with. He was discouraged because the job he was working was “under the table” and paying him cash, and he wanted to be doing things the “right way”. He shared with us that he had recently been released from prison, and that he was doing the best he could to rebuild his life. He wants nothing more than to see and take care of his kids. When he finds out that Sean was a missionary, he gives him a big hug and asks if we can all pray together. Dwight put his arms around Sean and I as we pray for his situation. He pulls us in so tight that it’s physically uncomfortable at times. During our prayer, it becomes obvious to me that Dwight is soaking wet from walking through the rain. At the end of our prayer time, Dwight recites the 23rd psalm and knows it spot on. I can tell that the Psalm is a source of hope and inspiration for him. He’s grateful for the prayer, and Sean gives him his card so that he could reach him if he needs anything. After saying our goodbye’s, it’s time to get in the truck and turn towards Little Five Points, where Sean’s ministry began 20+ years ago.
To be continued…This blog post is the story of one night out on the streets with Sean. There is so much to share, that I will need to break this into a few separate entries. Pray for the poor today, pray for the homeless…pray for those in need.