From our dear friend, Rev. Steve Schlissel

Ministering in Corinth, NY
An intro to the texture of ministry in NYC
by Steve Schlissel

The report on the radio said a husband in Coney Island became enraged when he found his wife with another man. He stabbed his wife, his two daughters, seven and three years of age, then stabbed himself and set his apartment on fire, further injuring himself. No one died, all were hospitalized in stable condition. I wondered if I would meet any of them on my rounds as a volunteer Protestant chaplain at the local municipal hospital. Later that week, I did.

As I left off speaking with a patient in a ward I turned toward the Chaplain whom I assist and found him speaking in Spanish with a Black female patient who appeared to be in her early thirties. The woman’s head was bandaged. Her sister, a portly and pretty woman, was visiting her. The sister did most of the talking. My grammar school Spanish helped me to keep up with much of the conversation. She said the children were on the ninth floor of the hospital, the husband on the sixth. Yes, this was the wife I had heard about. Somehow, the sister detected that I was aware of the circumstances of the case. “You read about this?” she asked me in English.

“I heard it on the radio,” I replied

She warned me, “Don’t believe all that you heard,” obviously concerned about her sister’s reputation, “Thank you for telling me,” I said.

The Chaplain asked me to pray for the victim and I did. There was cordial conversation and good wishes exchanged. When we got into the hall I asked if we could go see the husband. The Chaplain consented. At the wing entrance was a police officer whom we informed of our plan to visit the prisoner-patient. We found him handcuffed to his bed in a regular population ward of six men. Face burns could be seen through an oxygen mask. There were also severe burns on his hands and body. He told us of his stab wound, the most serious injury. The Chaplain, a dear Black man of 67 and an all-to-eager Arminian, proceeded to tell this man of Jesus’ “love” for him almost immediately following our greeting. After a moment of antinomian “comforting,” he said, “The pastor [me] will speak to you now and pray for you.”

I always feel awkward when I am thrust, as it were, into prayer or counseling, but this time I was both more and less so. More, because ministering to a man who had just stabbed his wife and children is not something I do daily. Less, because I was eager to remove any false hoped of God’s indulgence that my Arminian friend may have inculcated.

While he was not openly enthusiastic about our visit (he was too weak to show it if he was), he certainly was not resistant to our presence. What should I do? What would Christ do? I try to bear in mind the background of some in the Corinthian church; former fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, effeminate, homosexuals, thieves, the covetous, drunkards, revilers, extortioners, as well as “regular” sinners (I Cor. 6:9-11). Sounds a lot like Messiah’s Congregation.

“Listen carefully to me,” I began. “After you did what you did to your wife and children, you stabbed yourself, you tried to destroy yourself. Isn’t that right?” He nodded, but seemed fearful.

“I am not the police, so you may speak to me freely, I am a pastor, a minister. The police are not your biggest problem. You must face God. Do you understand?”

“Yes.”

“When you tried to destroy yourself you began to carry out the punishment that you know you deserve for what you did. If you do not repent, what awaits you is far worse than anything the police or courts may do. Do you understand?”

He nodded. While I’m certain my companion would have wanted me to lead this man in “the sinner’s prayer,” I tried only to impress upon him the justice of God and His mercy. “What you tried to do to yourself, God did to His Son. He destroyed Him on the cross because of our sins. He is your only hope. You must repent.” Then I took his hand and prayed that God would impress upon him the seriousness of his sin, the enormity of his guilt, and cause him to flee to Christ for refuge. We prayed for his wife and children. We prayed for mercy. Then we went and did the same for the two beautiful children on the ninth floor. The stab wound on the chest of the three-year-old was visible when we approached her bed. How is one supposed to feel at such a sight? Compassion for the baby? Rage at the father (and possibly the mother)? Sadness? Illness? The sisters, fearful at first, seemed put at ease when they learned that, in the marvelous Providence of God, the Chaplain was a fellow Panamanian. They accepted prayer and managed a smile. I touched the cheek of the little one. She is such a beautiful child. What will her future be like?

There is no “dramatic ending” to this episode. The episode was itself the drama. It is a drama that is repeated in different forms, in different ways and in different circumstances on a daily basis in this field of service: Corinth, NY. Every day the sensitive soul can rightly cry out, “Who is sufficient for such a task?” How does one minister Christ? There is no one answer, except if it be, “Faithfully.” But learning from the Word and Spirit exactly what “faithful” means in any given circumstance, well, it is arduous enough to make one confess, “Our sufficiency is from God!” And after we have confessed this, we still feel inadequate and needy. Earthen vessels, indeed. Pray that God would grant us wisdom as we walk through the doors He opens.

Diverse doors. Examples: A Jewish police officer who was injured pursuing an escapee was open to conversation about things serious. A woman with AIDS (from shooting drugs), and whose brother had recently died from the same plague, politely listened to the gospel and the hope in Christ on several occasions before she, too died. A Cambodian woman visiting her ailing mom, expressed interest in coming to church. The daughter of a Chinese woman forced $5 into my hand as thanks for the prayer offered for her mother, who did not understand a word of it. God did. A twenty-six-year-old paralyzed Black man who was just released from prison talked with me about his other convictions- concerning God. He is interested in understanding life. I pray that Christ reveals Himself to “True” (how’s that for a hopeful street name?). A twenty-year-old Puerto Rican girl had a miscarriage. And speaking of names, hers if Providencia! As I ministered to her, sharing my wife Jeannie’s experiences with miscarriages and a stillbirth, I discovered that this darling child did not know what her beautiful name meant. I excitedly explained Providence to her and when I left, I think we were friends. I really could go on and on. It is wonderful and burdensome to minster in Christ’s name. He is what everyone needs.

Corinth, NY, is swollen with need. Jews and Gentiles, young and old, rich and poor. (And whoever said that the poor, in virtue of their poverty, are humble, has never ministered to the poor!) They are sinners all, like me. Through our actively-reaching-out membership, and through referrals, we are called upon to minster to more people than we can competently handle. A young Jewish businessman who stands to make it big in the Big Apple- if folly and cocaine don’t kill him first. A mother of two whose husband walks out on her. A woman in her thirties who was sexually abused by her father. A young man climbing out of the pit of using drugs, getting drunk and patronizing prostitutes. A middle-aged homosexual man who calls us to talk, but refuses to listen.

Experience shows that the vast majority of those to whom we reach out will also “refuse to listen”; they will not enter the fold. People who push for numbers can only be regarded as foolish or blind. Ministry is not a numbers game. At least, not here it isn’t. Yet we must do all things for the sake of the elect, whether they be many or few.

As the fruits of our human sin and national apostasy begin to appear, they appear in Corinth, NY, first. Sow a great wind, reap a greater whirlwind. The winds are blowing so hard, it frequently seems overwhelming. But the words that Jesus spoke to Paul in Corinth were never more applicable than they are now, than they are here: “Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent. For I am with you, and not one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city.” We must care about His many, to be sure, but they must be cared for as people. People who need our time, our love, and sometimes our money. Living in this city, ministering to these people, one finds that Paul’s words must be repeated with urgency: “Brethren, pray for us.”

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Now go to Messiah's website and donate as generously as you can to this faithful ministry. Or, if you prefer, you can send a check to:  Messiah's Ministries, 2662 East 24th Street, Brooklyn, NY 11235

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