I came to East Colfax to find Jesus; sometimes, I am surprised where I find him. Crossing Colfax, I noticed her on a bus bench and could tell, even at a glance, she was in trouble.I bend, half-kneeling, and look in her eyes. I ask if she wants food. Drunk, her speech is slurred but I get her name—Dawn Cole.**  She wears a blue polyester outfit, what we used to call culottes. It is replete with snags. She wears nylons with holes, and glasses so smudged that a clear view of her eyes is difficult.She takes food, but mumbles about it being for her daughter, like she is fine and doesn’t need it. Contrary to her words, when I hand her a burrito she engulfs it; tearing into it so frantically that she nearly eats the plastic wrapping. Clearly hungry, she shows the pride of the poor—don’t make me your project!

We load her with food and I ask if I can pray, commenting that things look hard.  Those words rouse her and she says in a loud voice – “But we’re coming back!” I hear the echo of a sermon, likely delivered by a powerful black preacher, a phrase repetitively woven through tales of despair, “Things are hard, but we’re coming back.”She repeats that phrase, over and over, finding a hope to cling to, drunk, disheveled, and lost as she is. Praying, I become her “Amen Corner,” affirming her comeback, believing God for it. Later, I ask this question: Was that Jesus? Here, dressed in snagged blue polyester, peering blearily through dirt-smudged glasses? Did I, kneeling eye level with Dawn, talking, feeding, praying, show love to Jesus Himself?

When we came here, Jesus made one thing clear: He was already on East Colfax and our first job was to simply look for Him. We aren’t first here to bring Jesus or be Jesus; we are to look for Him and love Him where we find Him. Jesus on Colfax is about finding Jesus on Colfax. We find Jesus here in those who lovingly serve in His name. Most who minister here do it on a shoe-string budget, giving themselves away in a brutal environment. The work is hard and the results, often small. I see Jesus in them as they serve. At times, we even see Jesus in the service of those who do not claim to know him, yet give Jesus-like service.Mostly, though, I am learning to find Jesus here in the Dawn Coles of East Colfax. Here in snagged blue polyester and torn stockings – lurking, peering through smudged glasses is He who is Creator of all, He the Savior, He most glorious. He is here!

Mother Theresa said this: “We must find Christ in the distressing disguise of the poor.” Her words echo Jesus—when we serve one of the broken, we serve him. Here, in the poor, the hungry, the naked, the prisoner, is Jesus himself.For many of us who follow Jesus, Mother Theresa’s words and the notion of finding Jesus in the poor has become commonplace, a truth we all approvingly nod our heads at. That idea no longer shocks us. But here, I am learning that the idea of finding Jesus in the poor is a universe away from the practice of doing it.

From a distance, it seems romantic, maybe even easy. Our heads fill with notions of stopping to feed a hungry person or say a kind word to someone broken, and we almost get spiritually buzzed, imagining seeing Jesus in them.Up close, romance and ease depart and I am left with an incredibly broken, dirty disheveled woman. Is Jesus really here? Would He wear blue polyester? Would He be drunk? Would He smell? Often, I walk away from these encounters feeling helpless, even sad. It takes gritty faith to see Jesus in Dawn. It takes trust to believe that in loving her I have loved Jesus. It takes persistence to show up and serve, wondering what difference it makes. Slowly, I learn.

Here, kneeling by a bus bench, eye-to-eye with a drunk woman in snagged blue polyester, I glimpse Jesus. He is here in Dawn Cole’s distressing disguise. I sense the beauty of loving Jesus in her, loving Him who loved us, even unto death. And I delight in the joy and privilege of loving Jesus in her.This I know: We cannot find Jesus in the poor from a distance. This too: For us all, part of fully knowing Jesus only happens when we meet Him in the distressing disguise of the poor.

**Name changed to protect identity.