DaRT: Preachers, Prayer Teams, and a Second Brandy

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Contributed by Julie Atwood.

On this nippy April evening at West End, almost nobody wants prayer.

Except, that is, for Pastor Andre . . . and the members of another prayer team.

We meet Andre first, the moment we leap off the train. He’s propped against the brick wall near our stop, resembling most of the homeless men scattered all around him. Hands shoved into his jacket pockets, a striped knitted cap pulled low over his forehead, a gold ring glinting from his right ear. But as we approach, his lined face creases up into a dozen welcoming smiles.

Turns out James is an ordained pastor. “Naw, I don’t have a church of my own. But I come down here to bless the folks livin’ on the streets.” He pauses, gazes off with a thoughtful air. “Ya know, I found out folks respond best to the preachin’ of people who been there, who gone through what they been through. Like a drug addict will hear the message best from someone who knows what it’s like to be on drugs. . . .”

After offering this friendly advice, Pastor Andre receives our prayers with gratitude—“I can always use a million blessin’s”—then blesses the DaRT team members with his own prayers. We leave the beaming street preacher mulling with amusement over Brandy’s prophetic words for him . . . that he’s like a “playful zebra.”

Next we head over to Dante’s Pizza Shop, check on Lan and Ravi. But tonight the friendly proprietors are far too busy serving to receive more words from us than our responses to their cheery greetings. Abby blesses them through her purchase of a hefty stromboli sandwich, and Henry through buying a scrumptious slice of chocolate-swirl cheesecake . . . with which he, by turn, blesses Brandy and Julie.

Munching pizza alone at a table, quiet Phil studies Brandy through his owlish glasses as she draws him out with questions. He confides to her he’s a doctor and that he’s studying computer science. But he assures her he has no need for prayer.

So does our friend Robert, still a shadowed silhouette against his Dumpster home in a nearby parking lot. He greets us with his usual sunbeam smile, chats about this morning’s thunderstorm. “Yeah, it rained a little bit down here. I got a little wet, but not too much.” But when asked if he has prayer needs, he responds in his usual way—waving both lanky arms as though brushing away pesky raindrops.

The one-legged man on the next block doesn’t want prayer either. Spindly and tall, clearly a vet in his camouflage fatigues, he perches against his crutch with the grace of a green-and-gray flamingo. And when a younger man approaches him, asks him the same question we were planning to, he turns and melts into the crowd with camouflaged stealth.

But his concerned companion is glad to receive prayer. “My name is Rick, and I’m with a ministry team from Baptist State University. Twelve of us come down here every week to pray with people on the streets.” Rick is soon joined by three of his praying companions—John, Sara, and Melinda. The four young students pump our hands or wrap us up in hugs after finding out we have some friends in common with them—the folks from the Upper Room.

We all burst out laughing when Melinda asks us, “Have you guys ever ridden on the train?”

“That’s how we get down here,” Brandy informs her. After both groups laugh together we exchange mutual prayers, blessing each other’s respective ministries.

While waiting for the train ride home, Brandy engages a pale-faced young man in conversation. She learns Steve has been visiting a close friend in the Dallas County Jail. When she explains to him what we’ve been doing, he offers her a pleasant smile beneath his limp shock of corn-silk hair. “That’s nice,” he tells her. “But I don’t need prayer for anything. I’ve already got a good relationship with God.”

“It’s a funny thing,” Brandy muses after Steve hops onto his train. “The people who say they have a ‘good relationship with God’ always seem to be the ones who don’t want prayer. But the pastors and people doing ministry down here are always glad to pray with us.”

Abby considers this. “Ya know, I’m not too surprised by that. A few years ago, I would’ve really been turned off by anyone asking me if I ‘wanted prayer.’ I’ve found a lot of folks respond a whole lot better if I tell them I’m down here just to love on them.”

But on the train ride home, Brandy meets Brandy.

This second Brandy does want prayer.

Beneath her outward display of color—a silver stud poking from her chin, a ring piercing one nostril, her hair a bright pink cotton-candy cloud—Brandy Number Two is a loving mom whose heart breaks for her drug-addicted son in the Dallas County Jail. Gentle and soft-spoken, she pours out her story with tears streaming down her cheeks . . . while Brandy One listens with compassion.

“We raised all our kids to trust in God, to be good Catholics. And they all do trust in God. Even Mike did, before his senior year of high school. But then he got mixed up with the wrong crowd. . . .”

Brandy Two’s narrative, punctuated by the concerned questions of Brandy One, fades in and out between the strains of a haunting soprano melody. Glancing two seats behind, Julie sees those flute-like notes are streaming from the throat of a lone passenger with his head flung back in a blissful smile. She marvels at the co-mingled sounds of joy and sorrow. The voices of the singing man and the grieving woman weave together from separate seats to form a single tune.

But around the time the train stops to let off the soloing stranger—who’s still trilling notes as he rises to disembark—she sees his joy also lighting the tear-puffed face of Brandy Two. Because Brandy One has plopped beside her to engage her in heartfelt prayer. For jailed, drug-addicted Mike. For his one-year-old daughter, who lives with her devoted grandparents. And for Brandy Two and her husband.

Afterwards, when the two Brandys find out they share the same name—and that they each know only one other person with that name—they exchange hugs and burst out laughing.

The second Brandy’s also thankful when Henry and Abby offer her train advice—describing to her a route that will get her downtown faster than the two-hour trip she normally takes. She receives with gratitude everything the DaRT group has to offer her. For whether it’s in the form of prayer or practical advice, asking concerned questions or taking time to listen, offering hugs or laughing together over a shared name, she can tell it all falls under the act of “loving on” her.

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