I’m amazed lately by how the Spirit seems to be orchestrating encounters with people on the streets. The timing of how these meetings happen is inspiring me to be even more attentive, so I can more consciously participate.
Last week I called the jail to see if they’d let me meet one-on-one with a prisoner I know from the streets. The Sheriff’s deputy told me that if I could get down there before 11:30am there would likely be a visitor booth that would be open by then for a short visit– but he couldn’t guarantee it. So, I drove the twenty-minutes to the jail, only to learn that all the booths were still full… but hopefully one would become available.
Just then the big metal door separating the inside of the jail from the outer corridor opened, and a man who was being released walked out, heading past me towards the front doors. I couldn’t see his face because he was wearing a mask, but I noticed his long, dark hair and thought I recognized him from somewhere. I searched my memory as to where I’d seen him, as he kept walking out into the jail parking lot.
I went over and sat down on a wooden bench opposite the attorney booths and read a few psalms. When one of the attorneys walked out, I got up and checked with the deputy to see if a booth was open.
“Not yet,” he said.
I sat down again and after a second attorney left I went again to the deputy, who then told me it was 11:45am and they were telling him there wasn’t enough time for me to visit. I left the jail defeated, and headed to my car, and drove out of the parking lot and headed towards town, pulling over at the jail bus stop to make a quick phone call.
Right after I pulled over, the man who’d passed me leaving the jail approached, and tapped my passenger window. I motioned for him to wait till I’d completed the call, and he nodded that he’d wait.
When I finished the call I lowered my window. Now with his mask off, a visibly Native American man who’d passed me in the jail, asked if I could give him a ride down to the Westside Bridge in town. I welcomed him into my car, and after taking a seat he asked me:
“There in the jail you looked as me like you know me. Do you know me from somewhere?”
“I think I do know you, but I’m not sure from where. Do you know me? I asked.
“No, I don’t know you,” he answered.
I suddenly recalled that I might have seen his face a week before in a traumatic event in downtown Mount Vernon. I had witnessed a group of police officers gathering around some grocery carts filled with the belongings of some unhoused people, who were not visible from the road. Others were wheeling stretchers up towards grocery carts.
Since there have been many recent overdose deaths, and we know many of the people on the street, I decided to park as close as I could get, which was right beside the aid car. I ran up towards the police officers, identifying myself, and then asking them if there were any overdose deaths.
“No, there’s no one dead yet, just two more affected by the bad batch of fentanyl that’s on the streets right now,” an officer told me.
He went on to share that lately they’ve needed 3-6 Narcans to revive people, if they could revive them.
I noticed a visibly Native American woman lying unconscious on the grass. Police officers were checking her vitals. Another man was being wheeled off in a gurney towards the aid car, who I had walked beside, praying for him. I wondered if this is where I had first seen this man who was now in the front seat of my car beside me.
“Did you by any chance have an overdose last week in Mount Vernon near the freeway onramp? Did the police come and take you off to the hospital?” I asked.
“Yes, I did overdose last week right there. After they took me to the hospital they booked me into the jail on some outstanding warrants,” he answered.
“Why do you ask?” he said.
I told him how I’d seen police officers around two unhoused people and I’d run up to see if they were okay. I told him how I’d walked beside him praying for him as the police wheeled him to the ambulance.
“Seriously man! That’s crazy! Thank you!” he said.
“And what’s especially amazing is that right then I was seeing a vision of four eagles circling around me in the sky above– and they were golden eagles!” he specified.
As I drove him to the Westside Bridge in Mount Vernon I asked him if I could pray for him then and there. He gladly agreed, and I prayed for him and his wife and his people on the Swinomish Reservation, giving thanks that they were still alive, and praying for their protection, and that God would give them the desires of the their hearts.
“Are you sure you want me to let you off by the Westside Bridge?” I asked. “Isn’t that pretty close to the trap house across the river?” I asked.
He told me he wasn’t going to straight back to the drugs. I reminded him that since he’s just detoxed from fentanyl, his resistance is low and he’s especially vulnerable to overdosing.
I told him I was heading out towards the Swinomish Reservation as it’s near where I live, and that I could gladly drive him there.
“No, that’s okay,” he said. “I need to find my wife, and if I get all the way out there and then find out she’s here in town, I’ll have to find a ride back here. But thanks for the offer.
I assured him that I and our Tierra Nueva community would hold he and his wife in our prayers.
Pray for the people on the many Native American reservations in our region, who we are increasingly connecting with, and many of whom are attending our faith community– for deep healing, recovery, and spiritual growth.
On further reflection, I am glad now that a visitor booth didn’t open up in the jail, as I would have likely missed this beautiful encounter. I can see that my plans may not be in alignment with the Spirit, and feel freshly inspired by God’s words in Psalm 32:8.
“I will instruct you and teach you in the way which you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you.”
Please hold us in your prayers as we seek to minister to vulnerable people on the streets (and in the jail) of our community. May you experience being instructed and counseled by the Spirit, making yourself available to God-inspired encounters as you go about your daily life.