First of all, everyone is okay.
Last week I got a phone call that no one wants. My wife called to tell me that she had been hit in the face by a homeless person on the way to a hair appointment in Downtown Portland. I felt a thousand emotions in that moment. I’m still processing some of them.
My wife and I try to spend lots of our time downtown. We go to a play cafe in the Pearl district, we attended the Christmas Tree lighting in Pioneer Square, and we saw Santa in the downtown mall. Not only is this a strategic decision, it’s just more convenient. Without traffic, our townhouse is a 4 minute drive from the heart of the city. This is also the area where we are dreaming and praying about a new church plant. When it came time for Andrea to book a hair appointment, she chose a hair school close to the city center.
On that particular morning, I’d stayed home from the office. Andrea had a few other errands to take care of, and it was my chance to take Valentine to her gymnastics class across town. I had a great day with my daughter. Several parents asked, “Is she always this happy?”
I brought Valentine home, and it was nap time. We had a quick lunch, and I put her to bed. Andrea and I only brought one vehicle to Portland. Whoever has the baby has the car. The other person uses Portland’s awesome public transportation system. I knew that after her appointment, Andrea was planning to hang out for a little while in the city. This would be one of her first moments of baby-free time since we’ve been here.
Soon after I put Valentine down, Andrea called. She was changing the plan, and heading home immediately after her appointment. I wondered why she no longer wanted to hang out. Her voice quivered. She told me the basics of what happened. I ordered her a car that picked her up in moments. The driver had her home in no time. Even in this tense moment, God was looking out for us. The driver was a Christian, and during the ride, he really encouraged Andrea.
Here is the whole story. Soon after getting to the city, Andrea went to get a quick cup of coffee. She checked her phone for directions and made her way towards a cross walk. She stopped and looked up to check the street sign and noticed she was standing a few feet behind another woman. With absolutely no provocation, the woman turned and looked at Andrea, full of anger, and just LOST it. She began screaming and cursing at Andrea. The woman clearly wasn’t in a healthy mental state. She said something like, “YOU people just need to get away from me.” This all took place in a matter of seconds.
The woman leaned back with her right arm fully extended by her side. She then swung up with an open hand, and forcefully hit Andrea in the face. My wife was completely stunned. She had the presence of mind to walk in the opposite direction as quickly as possible. She looked over her shoulder to see that the woman was still screaming curses, unapologetically taunting her.
A kind man walked up to Andrea. He hadn’t seen the physical altercation, but he was compassionate when Andrea told him about it. Together, they called the police, and she was able to fill out a report. By the time the police arrived, the woman was gone. Andrea proceeded to her appointment before she called me. She didn’t want Valentine to miss her class. (Don’t worry - we’ve agreed that from now on, I will ALWAYS be the first to know.)
I am usually extremely clear-headed and unemotional in stressful situations. I don’t process what I’m feeling until long after the fact. However, I’ve never seen my wife experience such a threatening encounter. I was livid. I was so angry with this person who would dare to hurt my wife. I was angry that no one immediately came to her rescue. I was angry that I wasn’t there to protect the person I love most. I was angry that the lady did not go to jail. I was angry that homelessness is such a broken issue, and that I don’t know how to fix it right away.
After calming down, we were able to have a good talk. We were both ready to take wise precaution, to help prevent things like this from happening again. We acknowledged that she would never go downtown by herself again. We reflected on how different the city feels in the dark, damp winters than it does in the summer. In the summer, it seems like homeless people keep more to the edges of the city, but they cluster downtown during the winter when the cold temperatures cause the usual crowds to thin out. All-in-all, this really was a crazy occurrence.
After the dust settled, Andrea told me how she felt. She wasn’t angry. In fact, she expressed something that was far from my mind – compassion.
“I am not the victim in all of this,” she said. “At first, I thought I was, but the more I think about it, I’m definitely not the victim.”
Andrea went on to tell me that while her forehead still stung, she walked away from this situation completely free. Free from mental illness, spiritual affliction, or unbridled rage - whatever her attacker was dealing with. She quoted Ephesians 6, and reminded me that Bible clearly states that our battle is not with people. Our battle is with the forces of darkness that seek only to steal, kill, and destroy. While we’re both still processing all of this, Andrea found the ability to care about someone that many find unlovable.
Wow. That’s exactly why we’re here.
Ministry is rarely glamorous. Sacrifice is never easy. Safety is not guaranteed. I’ve always accepted these truths for myself, but it is literally gut-wrenching to realize that it goes for my family as well.
This Sunday, we went to church downtown. We walked by the area where Andrea was hit. We had lunch, and we prayer-walked the space where we want to plant a church. We were on alert, but by the grace of God, we didn’t walk in fear. We are still seeking God about what we have to offer this city. But one thing is certain – we’re still here.