Turning onto Colfax, I see her on a side road. I swing my pickup across Colfax and pull up beside her. My best visits are like this, seeing someone, pulling over, talking, praying.She is glad I stopped and fills me in. Living in an apartment in the burbs, she’s been doing better but has just had some bad days, using again.I remember meeting her, coming up from a filthy basement room in Motel 9. Our first connections were the same—same place, same activities, sometimes high. We connected right away and by the second time we met, she told me her real name. Her street name was Angel,** her real name Annie**.Learning a prostitute’s real name signifies trust. When Angel told me she was Annie, I said her name out loud. She immediately smiled, put her finger to her lips and went “Shhhh…,” like I wasn’t supposed to say it too loudly. Bad for business, I guess. Learning her name felt like a win!
Our encounters are brief, but honest. I add her to my list of the girls I pray for. I try to keep track of them, a kind and loving connection in their chaotic world. Often, they disappear for months, off in jail or with a sugar daddy. Mostly, they turn up again.
Awhile back I saw her after not seeing her for a stretch. She was walking the back alley behind a motel. Excited, I went over to see her. Amazingly, she was clear-eyed and confident, looking much better than I had ever seen. She filled me in. She was in a rehab program, her second time at this one. She was doing well, well enough that they were allowing her to provide leadership. She talked about her Bible Study, the church she attended, upbeat and clear about her relationship with Jesus.To say the least, I was delighted to see the change, especially in a world where change is agonizingly difficult. It was a win, one I got to witness. It felt great!A few days later, 9 a.m. on Monday, coming from a prayer meeting, I see her walking Colfax. Wanting to encourage her, I swing around the block and find her with another lady I know, also a prostitute. Betty** walks over first. Clearly high, she asks for money to celebrate her 50th birthday. I say “no.” Annie comes over and I say “hi” and notice her eyes aren’t focusing. I ask if she’s ok and she mutters about having something in her eyes, but I know the truth. She’s high, back to the street, progress lost.When I pastored in the burbs we asked this question: “Was that a win?” Those words focused us, making sure we weren’t just doing activities but were getting meaningful things accomplished. Ultimately, a win was seeing lives changed, people coming to know and be transformed by Jesus. There, we had a lot of wins.
Here it’s different, radically so. Most wins are small, microscopic, easy to miss. A few less tricks turned, clean for a week, out of a suicidal funk, money ok, being kind, getting an apartment. Even growing a bit in Jesus. We celebrate small wins, but in the context of longing for radical change, they seem almost laughable.Worse, gains made are frequently lost, like with Annie. Small wins vanish, turning into losses. Larger wins too. Not everybody, but most dance this way—up and down, back and forth. Progress gained, progress lost. I saw that in suburbia, but nothing like here. We have many we love and work with, but few big wins.Here I need a new definition of a win or I will burn out. People come and go in serving the poor, unable to deal with what sometimes seems pointless, investing love, energy and dollars in someone, hoping for change but seeing little. Easy to say, “This isn’t making any difference. Why waste my time?” Then, back to a world both safer and saner, where wins come easier.
Two things help me: First, my primary job is to simply love our people, do my best, then leave results to Jesus. Just loving someone is a win. Period. I rejoice daily in that.A second thing is even deeper, richer than simply loving someone. You see, while loving people I make many new friends, building loving, two-way relationships that bless us both. Those friendships are a beautiful thread, weaving our lives together through all manner of ups and downs. Being and having a friend, that is a big win. And we have a lot of those wins! I saw Annie yesterday at Goodwill. She is doing well—27 days clean. She had just turned down some drugs and we talked about our encounter not being an accident. We chat, hug and I pray over her. 27 days is a win! But tenuous. Having a friend is also a win! But not so tenuous. **names changed to protect identity.