In the Midst of the Devil’s Work
As Kyle and Shaun made their way down the street back toward the ramshackle house they called home after that day’s Roving Feast, one of Grace and Main’s leaders (Ed) caught up with them to ask after Jonathan who was missing from the meal. Ed fell into step with Kyle and Shaun as they told him how he was sick and had stayed home. A medical professional by profession and a missionary by calling, Ed asked if they minded if he checked in on Jonathan. The guys looked at each other for a moment before Kyle responded, “Ed, we’re going to do the devil’s work right now. You don’t wanna come.”
With a puzzled look, Ed asked, “The devil’s work?”
“We’re going to pay the devil his due,” Shaun explained with a hand gesture indicating the particular addiction they were going to satisfy. “It’s not the kind of thing you want to be around, Ed,” Shaun continued, “we appreciated the lunch and hanging out, but this isn’t your kind of thing.”
Ed considered, but replied soon after, “It’s okay. I’m a sinner too, brother.” After a short walk, they arrived at the barely-there-front-door of their home and Ed paused, asking, “Is it okay with yall for me to come in to check on Jonathan?”
Kyle shook his head and said, “We’re gonna do the devil’s work, Ed. But if you want to come in, Jonathan’s in there.” With those words, Kyle and Shaun made their way to the back of the house. In another room off to the side, Ed found Jonathan half-sleeping on a thin mattress on the floor, surrounded by trash and dirty clothes. But before he even spoke with Jonathan, Ed knew he was sick. The smell of pus and infection was an overbearing presence in the drafty room. The mattress upon which Jonathan slept fitfully was soaked with urine. You see, it was apparent that Jonathan has an abscessed tooth due in part to his own consuming addictions and in part to his lack of medical care. Jonathan’s mouth had become so infected, in fact, that his infection had eaten a hole through his cheek.
After some very basic first aid and wound care, kneeling on that urine soaked mattress, Ed told Jonathan that he really needed to go to the emergency room and offered to call an ambulance. But, as Ed was leaving he felt the Spirit speaking to his heart, reminding him of a line he had prayed that morning at morning prayer, “Stop. Don’t leave. It is Christ.” So, Ed turned around and knelt back down beside Jonathan and asked what he wanted him to do. In the midst of filth and infection, a place where “the devil’s work” was done on the regular, Jonathan asked Ed to read to him from the book of the prophet Isaiah. So, sitting on the floor with the smell of pus blanketing the air, Ed read the particular passage Jonathan wanted to hear: Isaiah 6.
Consider how it must have sounded in that room as Ed read aloud, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.” Even in this place, Lord? Even this place is full of your glory? Consider how it must have felt to hear, “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” Where God? Where can we find you in the midst of this suffering? After quite a while spent reading about Isaiah’s calling in that dark place, Jonathan asked Ed to pray with him. Jonathan led them and he prayed, “Lord, you know how much we suffer…” before being unable to continue. Ed repeated the line and Jonathan repeated it back to him again. Ed closed with an amen.
Ed promised to check in on Jonathan that evening when he came by to get Shaun and Kyle for our Thursday night dinner and to take him to the hospital if Jonathan didn’t call an ambulance in the meantime like he should. Ed said goodbye to Kyle, Shaun, and Jonathan and headed back up the street to what was left of the Roving Feast, still considering the odd arrangement of Isaiah’s words with Jonathan’s present suffering. He’d gone down into the place where he was told they were going to do “the devil’s work.” Yet, it was in this place of darkness and suffering that he had once again found the Spirit speaking not only to his heart but to the heart of our enslaved and suffering brother, Jonathan. It seems that even in the midst of the place where the “devil’s work” was overwhelming, the Spirit was still calling, leading them to join with Isaiah in saying, “Here I am, Lord. Send me.”
After visiting the emergency room, Jonathan got the antibiotics he needed and recovered from the abscess. He is still struggling with a particularly crippling combination of challenges and addictions. But, change and recovery doesn’t happen overnight and we’ve learned the power of consistent and determined love. We see him regularly on the Roving Feast, at our meals, and in our homes. After a recent Thursday night meal, he was one of the last folks we dropped off at the same home where Ed found him on the mattress. As we pulled down the road, he was singing along loudly with the radio. He’s got a nice voice under the ravages of addiction and it didn’t escape our notice that the lyric he was belting through closed eyes was, “Don’t let me go, don’t let me go.” As he stepped out of the van, the chorus came back around and he called out to the van, the houses, and the streetlights, “Don’t let me go, don’t let me go.” As he climbed the steps to his home, we pulled away to take the borrowed van back to First Baptist, but his song echoed again through our minds. Jesus told us that the gates of hell itself would not withstand the Kingdom of God. It seems that even in the places where “the devil’s work” is done, the Kingdom of God is still taking root. God is still calling people–people who will say, “Here I am, Lord. Send me”–to find those places where the Kingdom is secretly flourishing and to stand alongside those who keep saying, “Don’t let me go, don’t let me go.”