“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
The tired, poor, huddled masses … the homeless and tempest-tossed … those are the people Juan Galloway and New York City Relief serves.
Less than an hour away from the Statue of Liberty, on whose interior are engraved the words from Emma Lazarus’ poem, “The New Colossus,” is The Hope Center, the hub of New York City Relief. This outreach ministry based in Elizabeth, N.J., was founded in 1989, when Juan’s father, Richard, moved his family to the New York City area with the goal of putting Isaiah 58:6-12 into action. The Galloways spent hundreds of hours converting a 1971 GMC school bus into what they termed a “mobile resource center” that would provide food, medical care and other resources to the thousands of poor and homeless in the area.
Today, New York City Relief has a two-pronged approach to ministry: First, The Hope Center, which includes Overcomers Outreach (an addiction recovery program), crisis counseling, a food pantry, referrals to a variety of resources that include shelter and job training, and is home location to two Foursquare churches, Street Light (formerly known as CityTribe) and The Bridge; and secondly, The Relief Bus.
A mobile food service and counseling/referral office, The Relief Bus is designed to meet basic needs at the first point of contact. Each day, volunteers arrive at The Hope Center at 7 a.m., prepare large quantities of soup and hot chocolate or lemonade (depending on the season), and then depart on The Relief Bus for various locations where homeless currently are congregating. As the food is served, the team circulates among the people eating, identifying needs and providing liaisons with resource providers, via the office housed within the bus.
On any given day, Juan may be found recruiting church teams to come serve on The Relief Bus, developing new training materials and tools for urban ministry, performing songs about God’s heart for the poor, or simply talking and praying with any of the hundreds of homeless people in the Hope Center neighborhood. He serves as director of communications and outreach partner development for New York City Relief, as well as an urban missions resource leader on the national Urban Resource Team for the Urban and Multicultural Ministries department of The Foursquare Church.
Titles and responsibilities aside, Juan’s heart for ministry is summed up in this paraphrase of a quote from Sri Lankan theologian D.T. Niles: “We’re just beggars, showing other beggars where to find the bread.”
“All of our souls are starving for food we cannot earn, create or grow,” Juan wrote in his mini-autobiography, God’s Beggars. “Unless we take a handout from God, we will starve to death.”
Bringing that “handout from God,” the gospel, to the poor and homeless entails a non-traditional view of church. “One of the neat things about homeless churches is that a large percentage of people are new all the time,” Juan said. “There are regular people there every week, but there also are always new people we’ve never met. The percentage of pre-Christians who come on a regular basis is enormous compared to the average church.”
The key, he said, is loving people—”whether they decide to become Christians or not. The church becomes a family,” he explained. “People have lost their families; they have burned bridges. We become maybe the only healthy relationships they have, because we like them, no matter what they may have done.”
Many attendees, Juan said, desire to serve, even in the smallest ways: making coffee, setting up a room before a meeting. “They may not be able to hold a job, but if they can come and give, it’s life-changing,” he said.
And surprisingly, they even give monetarily. “At Frontlines [another Foursquare church that reaches the homeless in nearby Paterson, N.J.], the homeless actually support an orphan in Haiti on a monthly basis,” he noted.
One by one, lives are being changed. Marlyn, a single mom whom the Lord healed from schizophrenia, went from living in an abusive relationship to taking ministry-training classes and volunteering on The Relief Bus, and has led many to a relationship with Christ. Others have been delivered from drug abuse and alcoholism.
Years ago, as a student at Christ for the Nations, Juan had prayed, “God, send me to the darkest places, where no one else will go, so that I can lead them to Jesus.” God’s Beggars concludes with these words:
“You are the beggar to whom he has given bread. Now go show the other beggars where you found it.”