Today, Ellyn von Huben interviews Deacon John Green, the author of "Streetwalking with Jesus: Reaching Out in Justice and Love." Deacon Green's ministry reaches out to male prostitutes on the streets of Chicago, and he speaks to Ellyn about this life changing ministry here.
Prostitution does injury to the dignity of the person who engages in it, reducing the person to an instrument of sexual pleasure. (CCC 2355)
Male prostitutes don’t make adorable poster children. Cute and deserving gets our attention. There is sentimental satisfaction in making up Easter baskets for the disadvantaged children at a neighboring parish. Or bringing food for our deserving ‘neighbors’ at a soup kitchen a safe distance from home.
The deserving poor; the cute, deserving and grateful poor. Where do men who sell themselves for the anonymous gratification others find charity - which is often bound by the limits of ‘prettiness’? Deacon John Green knows. And his new book, Streetwalking with Jesus: Reaching Out in Justice and Mercy, shares his path from the banal, safe suburban upbringing common to many of us to his work with destitute male sex workers on the streets of Chicago. Green is a man who truly felt convicted to live his life among this unique sector of the poor, with his life, family and wealth totally woven into the mission of Emmaus Ministries- bringing solace and the good news of the Gospel to men who are considered by many to be disposable.
I had the pleasure of speaking with Deacon Green. His good humor, enthusiasm and love of his ministry were palpable even over the phone. As I initially broached the subject of how he was able to throw himself into this ministry, he mentioned one of the anecdotes in the book which, coincidentally, I had flagged as being the most telling:
A man dies and appears before St. Peter at the pearly gates of heaven. St. Peter looks at the fellow and says, “Before I can let you in, I need you to roll up your sleeves.” The man is puzzled but does as he is asked. St. Peter examines the man’s arms and asks, “Where are your scars?” Still confused, the man answers, “I don't have any scars.” With tears in his eyes, St. Peter asks him, “Was nothing worth fighting for?” [p. 48]
Streetwalking is the story of Green’s scars; how his heart was literally opened by the words of the prophet Micah, “You have been told, O man, what is good, and what the LORD requires of you: Only to do the right and to love goodness, and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8) Beginning with the pivotal moment of witnessing a suicide in Times Square, he traces the path back through a privileged youth, to Wheaton College in Illinois, all the way to his personal call to reach out to the male prostitutes of Chicago’s north side.
Green’s is not a ‘day job.’ He and his wife give themselves totally to living the ministry with true compassion and raising their four children in the midst of this reality.
“What does God see on Halsted Street?” [p. 150] Deacon Green pulls back the curtain to reveal it to us. The showing of mercy can be messy, especially among the sordid realities of the streets. We meet the men who have come to the life of prostitution, through lives of abuse, addiction and “learned dependency.” Early on we are disabused of the notion that this is a ministry of “warm fuzzies.” The ups and downs are exhilarating and devastating; the messy business of mercy that can only be sustained through a diligent prayer life. This is a man who lives a life ordered and nourished by the Liturgy of the Hours, the Rosary, study of the lives of the saints and other devotions. (And for refreshment, he enjoys Sci-Fi reading and outdoor recreation when possible.)
Green described himself as “generally an optimistic guy.” This came through in our short chat, as he shared his dedication to the work of the Church Militant. The Holy Spirit is at work everywhere and though many of us may not have the extreme opportunity for ministry that Emmaus provides, Green and I talked a bit about one lesson that all can take from his book. The three Ts: Time, Talk, Touch - which the people of Emmaus Ministries dispense with such liberal compassion - are something within the grasp of all of us. What do the suffering hustlers of the streets need? What do any of our suffering neighbors need? The three Ts.
Streetwalking with Jesus is constructed not just as stories but also as challenges for individual readers or those who may wish to use it as a group exercise in deepening their capacity for compassion. Each chapter ends with an opportunity for “Digging Deeper.” Carolyn Green, John’s very talented wife, shares song reflections that are apropos to each chapter. There are scripture verses for reflection, questions to lead to deeper understanding and, of course, prayer.
The Holy Spirit is working everywhere. The most heart rending moments in the book are when we are allowed to see the love of God working through hustlers to save others; Green describes them as “street level deacons.” He shared with me that there have been instances in which the men themselves, at moments of relapse into the life of the streets, have had opportunity to minister to the johns – men as sad and broken as the men they patronize.
As the Holy Spirit works, John Green and his coworkers minister on. There are more stories of despair and joy that he is preparing to tell and I look forward to the privilege of reading them. In the meantime...check out the Emmaus Ministries website. Not just for inspiration but for ways that you can share in this outreach . . . to see what is worth fighting for.
Ellyn von Huben is a regular contributor to the Word on Fire Blog. She also moderates her own blog, Oblique House.