DaRT: Planting Seeds and Prophecies (or Not) at West End

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Contributed by Julie Atwood.

On this balmy August evening, God calls us back to West End. Back to our old stomping grounds, teeming with people. Rows of ragged men like smoky shadows, propped against the flame-red bricks of buildings. Weary women plopped down on black wrought-iron benches, pillowing their heads against bulging garbage sacks. And beneath the sparkling stars and streetlights and neon flashes, faces colored chocolate, cinnamon, or cream.

Some veer away from us, dissolve back into shadows.

But others barrel toward us with flapping arms and yearning eyes, eager for handouts, prayers, or a listening ear.

Like Tommy.

“Hey, do you have any change on you?” The moment we cross the street, the pale young man zooms straight up to Natalie and me. “Me and my buddies over there, we’re stranded. Need to get back home, and we’re trying to raise twenty-five dollars for the buses and trains. . . .

“Prayer? That sounds great.” Far from shading into bitterness or disappointment, Tommy’s face lights up when Natalie explains to him our purpose. “I know about prayer, my dad’s a pastor. And I could sure use some prayer right now.” After receiving his blessing, he waves goodbye to us with the energy he used to flag us down. “God bless you!”

Radiant with smiles, Serena—one of the ladies parked on a bench in the square—shares the ways God has already blessed her. “He healed me from alcoholism. I’ve been sober for these past eight years. . . .” A young grandmother of five, grateful for her job at Denny’s, she receives with further gratitude Natalie’s words of blessing over her family and her work.

“I could use some prayer for my job,” Deborah, on the next bench, confides. “I’m a supervisor over several employees, and I believe I’m doin’ a good job. But the bosses over me don’t seem to appreciate me much. . . .” She too, however, appreciates not only receiving prayer—but also getting to share her struggles with those who take time to listen.

As we stroll down the street, Natalie chooses some people with whom to pause and chat . . . while bypassing others. How does she decide who to engage? I wonder. Her choices seem as varied as the cherry, lime, and blueberry flashes from the overhanging neon signs.

There are loving family units like Darrell, Cerise, and baby Melody. Seven-month-old Melody snuggles against her daddy’s chest, secure in his love . . . and in a baby sling the same coral pink as her fuzzy sleeper. Enraptured by his cuddly butterball of a daughter, who offers us a solemn gaze through melted-chocolate eyes, Darrell proves unfazed by all her girly pink. Along with his wife Cerise, he shares his relief over their child’s restored health. “She’s been sick with a fever of 102 degrees, but she’s over it now. The medicine the doctor gave her seems to be working just fine.” As believing parents, Darrell and Cerise join us in also praising God for this blessing.

But next we meet skinny, strutting Anton, a bit too over-eager at first to prove his manhood. “I’m all about turnin’ from a boy into a man, an’ there just ain’t no way to write no book ’bout that, sing no song ’bout that, nor philosophize about it. . . . Hey, babe.” He trains on Natalie a flirtatious grin. “Want me to give you a tattoo?”

Natalie is quick to turn the conversation. “Oh, so you design tattoos? That’s a real talent from God. Can we offer you His blessings over your business?” She soon learns Anton’s talents extend to painting lifelike portraits, which he demonstrates for us on his smartphone. And before providing prayer, she exhorts him to develop his God-granted gift as an artist.

Some folks she chooses, though, seem to want no part of anything close to encouragement or prayer. There’s the lady who continues gazing into space, responsive as the garbage sack against which she props her inert head. The young man who regards us with pursed lips and narrowed eyes: “I’m not into all that. . . . You know, God and Jesus and all that stupid stuff.” And the chubby man who simply barks out, “No!” as he thunders past us at triple speed.

Strangely enough, for him I do receive a picture. A full moon, pocked all over with small craters. But since the stranger’s sped on past, I refrain from sharing this strange vision. Besides, I suspect that moon might have been inspired by the man’s rotund moon-like shape.

Still, the vision lends me a sliver of hope. I remember our last DaRT trip when, for my first time ever, I received prophetic images that proved useful to Brandy in her praying with a teen on the homebound train. “Okay with you if I try this again tonight?” I ask Natalie. “Maybe while you’re praying with someone, I could be watching for a picture. And if you don’t mind asking me, I’ll tell you whatever comes to mind.”

“That sounds great. Let’s go for it!”

Bursting with the same enthusiasm Brandy showed on the last trip, Natalie goes for it with banners flying. She’s stopped to chat with Shaundra, a nursing student from El Centro College who dreams of working with trauma victims. “Oh, would you mind praying for my little nephew?” Shaundra waves us back after we’ve prayed blessings over her courageous gift and compassionate calling. “Jason’s only six years old, and he’s suffering from a brain tumor. If they don’t get it all out, he might lose his sight and speech and his ability to walk. . . .”

Before we offer prayer, Natalie points to me and informs Shaundra, “She gets pictures.”

While we pray, I close my eyes. Struggle. And see nothing.

“Are you getting anything?”

I open my own eyes to see Natalie’s eyes dancing with expectation. And I have to tell her no.

While we’re exchanging goodbyes, another lady—her skin the same cream-with-coffee shade as Shaundra’s—sidles up right next to her. “Oh, are you two together?” Natalie asks.

“Naw. I don’t know her.” It’s the newcomer responding, a short and chunky lady in pajamas. Then, as Shaundra boards her train, the second lady whirls toward us with snapping eyes. “I’m gonna kill him!” she announces. “I swear I’m gonna get my hands on a gun, an’ then I’m gonna shoot him dead.”

In the face of our shock, Gabriella rattles out her whole life story . . . revealing “him” to be a boyfriend involved in witchcraft. An abusive boyfriend. “He’s not only destroyed my car, leavin’ me to sleep homeless on these streets, he’s treated me real mean in every possible way. . . .” Her machine-gun voice softens as tears splash down her cheeks.

Embraced by Natalie, Gabriella listens to her words about the freedom from pain that God can offer us only when we choose to forgive. And, after a brief time, she fervently agrees. “Yeah, vengeance belongs to the Lord. It’s the job of the Holy Spirit to convict Travis. But I still need your prayers, ’cause I’m just this close to killin’ him myself.” She curls her right finger and thumb to a place of near-touching. “Yes, just this close. . . .”

In the course of dialoging with Gabriella, Natalie once more points to me. And make her announcement, “She sees pictures.”

“Ya do?” Gabriella spins to me, her eyes lighing up as though she’s seen a vision herself. “Well, praise the Lord. I know all ’bout dreams an’ visions, know plenty of prophets and seers who get them. Now, what picture have ya got for me?”

“Well, actually . . .”

Again I close my eyes. Struggle. And see nothing but the black behind my eyelids.

“What didja get?” As she shoots her question, Gabriella’s voice again takes on the force of a machine gun.

“She’s still new at this,” Natalie explains when I once more must confess to seeing nothing.

At just the right time, Henry, Abby, and Cheryl—who’ve split from us to engage in their own adventures—come dashing up to meet us at our train stop. And all three plunge into the action. When Gabriella turns to them and once more spills her story, they do have words and pictures to offer her. Prophecies of hope. Senses of a woman who has suffered much sadness in her life. And pictures of a ministering angel . . . much like the angel who bears Gabriella’s name.

Soon five DaRT participants and one tear-streaked woman in pajamas are engaged together in a major spiritual battle. From five among the six prayer warriors present (including Gabriella herself), prophetic words gush forth in torrents. Demons of witchcraft are cast from the lives of Gabriella’s sons. Words of forgiveness are spoken. Words of truth proclaimed.

Among the six participants, only one remains in silence. As I mutely pray, I still see no pictures etched upon my inner eyelids. I only feel tears begin to sting them.

Why not now? Why just that moon for that moon-shaped man who strode straight past us?

But on the train ride home, surrounded by the others’ warm encouragement, I remember the words Natalie shared earlier this evening. “Tonight I’m really enjoying myself, and that’s a gift from God. Sometimes I grow discouraged on these DaRT excursions, because I don’t see miracles taking place. When nobody gets healed or receives words or visions, I wonder what we’re doing down here.

“But this week God’s been showing me He doesn’t want me taking the credit for miracles, growing puffed with pride. He’s reminded me we’re down here just to show His love to others, and that’s what matters to Him most of all.”

And I remember her reply when I asked her how—or why—she picks some folks out to pray with and not others.

“I don’t know myself. There’s no set pattern,” she replied. “Sometimes I just feel a tug toward a certain individual. But it has nothing to do with anything about them—not size, shape, color, age, gender, personality—or even whether or not they’re likely to want or receive my offer to pray. You saw the people who said ‘no’ to me as well. I can just trust God with what He has in mind for the ones He gives me, with the seeds He has me plant in every person.”

And on the train ride home, I learn the other team—Cheryl, Abby, and Henry—faced similar mysteries and variations.

Like the absence of Buddhist Lan at the pizza shop, so requiring Henry to leave the article he’d brought for Lan with Lan’s co-worker Ravi instead. Yet when the group prayed God’s blessings for success over the often-empty shop, they turned around to see eight customers stream through the door.

Like nervous Manju, the Indian student who scurried off in a rush from their offers of prayer . . . followed by cheerful Chuck in the cowboy hat. An on-fire believer who followed them for blocks, Chuck threw in his own offers to pray.

Including for the lady with a bandaged wrist and medically-booted foot . . . who surprised them all by replying, “No.”

“Chuck hopped onto the train after that lady,” Abby would share with me later. “He found a seat right near her, too. We’re hoping he had the opportunity to talk with her and maybe pray with her again.”

Still later, Henry would mention our missed opportunities to pray. . . such as for the lady who rode the train back with us all the way to the stop next to ours. From time to time she threw us curious glances . . . then glided off the train in a motorized wheelchair. What was her story? Her hopes or needs or dreams?

But even though none of us may have thought to ask her, God still knows and loves that individual. And it’s not too late for us to place her into His hands.

Then there’s the boy who lunged after a still-lighted cigarette butt that someone else just tossed to the sidewalk. Abby, Henry, and Cheryl did grab that opportunity, praying for the young man’s addiction . . . and for the struggles with addiction faced by folks in that entire area.

And, finally, they joined us to pray for Gabriella. The pajama-clad prophetess facing abuse and homelessness, battling witchcraft and unforgiveness. The woman for whom they’d all receive special words and visions . . . to which she’d add her own fervent prayers and prophecies.

I may never know why no pictures popped into my mind for that lady . . . or for anyone tonight besides a fleeing stranger who said, “No.” But I can trust God with the meaning of the mental moon I saw . . . and with His Love that stays the same behind all pictures, planted seeds, and prophecies.

And, yes—even in their absence.

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