"If you're writing a book about prayer, you should hang around the homeless for a while," said my wife, a veteran of inner-city ministry. "Street people pray as a necessity, not a luxury."
Her advice made sense, especially after I interviewed Mike Yankoski, a Westmont College student who, along with a friend, left school for five months to live on the street. (His book, Under the Overpass, tells the story.) Mike told me that homeless people, having hit bottom, don't waste time building up an image or trying to conform. And they pray without pretense, a refreshing contrast to what he found in some churches.
I asked for an example. "My friend and I were playing guitars and singing 'As the Deer Panteth for the Water' when David, a homeless man we knew, started weeping. 'That's what I want, man,' he said. 'I want that water. I'm an alcoholic, but I want to be healed.' As I spent more time with David, I realized that a connection with God is his only hope for healing. He simply doesn't have the inner strength. He relies on prayer as a lifeline."
Mike estimates that a quarter of the homeless people he knows have an active Christian faith. When I visited a coffee house for the homeless in Denver, I found no shortage of street people willing to talk about prayer. Bill, a wry, articulate man who attended a college prep school, told me of several answers to prayer while hitchhiking. Once, he said, "God sent a biker with the very tools I needed to repair the vehicle whose owner had offered me a ride. Think of the odds against that happening in Salina, Kansas!" As he talked, he packed and unpacked a hand-rolled cigarette.
Scott, a young man who could sell saltwater to a sailor, shook my hand firmly, looked me in the eye, and started witnessing ...