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Deacon John Green And His Ministry To Gay Prostitutes In Chicago

Friday, June 17, 2011

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HH: Morning Glory and Evening Grace, America. It’s Hugh Hewitt and now as I like to say for something completely different. This takes a little bit of a set up. About a week ago, my friend Scott Bullock who is a pastor in Southern California at Irvine Presbyterian Church comes up to me and he gives me a book and said you got to read this book. Now I had just finished reading David Mamet’s The Secret Knowledge and I interviewed him last week on the program for 2 hours and I was going to Philadelphia and then New York and flying back and forth the country. I didn’t have book that could go into the carry-on. I’ve got my Ipad, but you can’t read the Ipad on take off and landing so I took it even though it’s got a pretty unusual title but the author John Green was a friend of Scott’s from his days at Wheaton and so I took the book which is Street Walking With Jesus Reaching Out in Justice and Mercy and I read it. In fact, I couldn’t stop reading it. Interestingly, the very first endorsement in the book is by my pal Arch Bishop Charles Chaput of Denver and so that it had it going for it, but here’s the real deal: It’s riveting, it’s very sad but it’s also optimistic and joining me to talk about the reality of the life of the male prostitutes in urban Chicago and the work of Emmaus Ministries is John Green, Deacon John Green. Deacon, welcome. It’s great to have you on.

JG: Thank you, Hugh. It’s great to be here.

HH: Now I gather that this book has been out since April 1st. Do you realize that it’s the kind of book that when someone’s reading it on the airplane that you get funny looks?

JG: [laughing] I’m sure it is!

HH: It is. People are – Street Walking with Jesus-its got the “J” word in it and it’s got the street walking word in it so it’s kind of like a double take and people really want to know what it’s about so let’s start with that. Just tell people what Street Walking With Jesus is about.

JG: You know my goal in writing the book was to encourage people to think about how they can live a deeper more missional life, and I think that’s what people in the church and society need to do and especially in ways that we can engage the poor.

HH: John, I had dinner Friday night with a couple of Wheaton grads, Jim Sweet, Bud Thoreen-these guys are older than your class with Scott, but (a) they were unaware that Wheaton had any Roman Catholic Deacons in its alumni.

JG: [laughing] You know they even have Roman Catholic Priests and Monks as alumni.

HH: See, I didn’t know that either. Just to set the stage here, I want to do a little biography before we come back to your ministry. You are-you have the great advantage in life of being from Northeastern Ohio, almost certainly a Browns and Indians fan and from Akron which is almost as good as Warren, but take people on your journey after that.

JG: I grew up here in Northeast Ohio and it’s a beautiful place and ended up going to Wheaton College. I was raised Roman Catholic and my best friend in high school was an evangelical protestant and he said that I’m going to this great school outside of Chicago do you want to go? I said sure and that was my whole college decision making process. I found myself 1 of 12 Roman Catholics out of 3,000 very intense, very intelligent evangelicals and it was phenomenal. I loved my time at Wheaton College and partly just because it is a fantastic school. Also, the challenges that I got from my evangelical brother in there really helped to deepen my own understanding of Catholic theology and the Catholic faith and so it actually led me into a deeper view of my life as a Catholic, but it also taught me the sad differences and misconceptions and stereotypes that Catholics have of evangelicals and evangelicals have of Catholics. That’s one of the hallmarks of our Emmaus Ministries is to really be a grassroots work where evangelicals and Catholics can work together, and we’ve done that really well over the last 20 years.

HH: You’re a middle class or an upper-middle class kid coming out of an ordinary high school experience in Northeast Ohio. Have I got that right?

JG: Yep. You got that right.

HH: So you go off to Wheaton. It’s actually one of the most elite colleges of the United States. It’s sort of the Harvard of the evangelical world for those that do not know and it produces enormous numbers of amazing leaders across the United States and you go into street ministry. Now (a) what is street ministry and how did you end of doing that?

JG: The first inkling of that was at the end of my freshman year in college I got a job as a youth minister at a local Catholic church and this woman comes and shares about her work and women in prostitution in Chicago with our youth group. The kids were kind of interested. I took them down and we helped them renovate this house that she was renting, and I’m pretty handy s I grab my tool box and once a month I went down and I started fixing things at this house. I watched as she worked with pimps and female prostitutes and homeless people and people coming through the house and it’s just fascinating to watch. This one afternoon she walks me down past the intersection of Halston and Madison and she just casually points over and says, “and those three guys over there on that corner are male prostitutes and nobody cares about them.” I looked over and I just saw these 3 guys blending in with the urban environment, just standing there. We actually watched as a trick pulled up-a customer and one of the guys got in the car and drove off with them. It just struck me that you know that-and I just thought why don’t they just get a job. Why in the world are they doing this, and that was the start to me getting sensitized to the life and the reality of what happens to a person when they get involved in prostitution. A few kind of years after that, I actually dropped out of college and I went to New York City and worked with Covenant House with homeless and runaway kids for 2 years and literally ran into hundreds of young men and young boys prostituting themselves on the streets.

HH: I just came back. I was in Times Square last night and just flew back today and, of course, I had read about three-quarters of Street Walking With Jesus when I was walking around Times Square and in the heart of New York and thinking to myself, this is where you started 20+ years ago-this sort of ministry. I don’t think it’s gotten better John Green, do you?

JG: You know it’s not. It’s kind of Disneyfied. You may have noticed that in Times Square. They’ve kind of pushed off all of the nasty things into the darker alleys.

HH: 8th Avenue, 9th Avenue, yeah.

JG: Yeah. It’s sad that that’s what we do. We don’t look for solutions to some of these difficult social problems like male prostitution or like people being incarcerated or substance abuse. We tend to try and push them aside and I think one of the reasons why I also wrote the book Street Walking With Jesus is just to encourage people to realize that you can be used by God to have an impact in these people’s lives but it takes proximity. It takes us getting close to people who are poor, close to people who are in the darkness of this world and shining our light.

HH: By the way, I want to tell people at the end of this there are 10 tops ways to be involved in the Emmaus Ministries, but there is also an invitation for interns, for college interns, to come and spend at the amazing rate of .50 per hour and internship with Emmaus Ministries. What is the reaction that you get from parents when they call you up and say my kid wants to come work with male prostitutes for the summer in Chicago?

JG: [laughing] I love talking to parents! We actually had one student call us, or one potential person coming in, and they said their dad wants to know if I should bring my gun!

HH Some where in here it says that courage is fear that has said its prayers and you talk about these emersion days as well. I just think this is such a completely different world from anyone in my audience right now that they can’t even imagine doing what you did.

JG: I hope that’s not true because I’m-like I said in the book and kind of mentioned early on, when I was 16 I got confirmed in the Catholic Church, and my dad asked me what I wanted as a confirmation gift and I asked for a sail boat. I got a 16 foot sidewinder sail boat. That was my confirmation gift in high school. That’s the type of world that I grew up in. In a world of comfort and privilege and security, and I think we have to ask ourselves if that’s the world we come from, why us? When you think about the billions of people that are born into poverty, born into suffering, born into slavery in this world, why us few that had this comfort, this privilege, this security and I think it’s because God wants us to do something with that whether it’s our entrepreneurial spirit or whether it’s our compassion that we have-these gifts, these beautiful things in our lives are given for us so that we can do something with them to serve others.

HH: I’m going to talk more specifically about the work that John Green does with the male prostitutes of Chicago and his book Street Walking With Jesus after the break. It get’s gritty so I just warning people that have young kids you may or may not want to hear this, but I want to ask you before we do a little more biography-you are married to this estimable woman, Carolyn, who’s a singer, song writer and she’s a PK so as you point out in the book she didn’t get a sail boat for her 16th birthday, but did she sign up for this?

JG: You know, she did. People ask that a lot. We were-I was doing this ministry about 2 years before we got married so she knew what she was getting into.

HH: And you have children-are you still living right in the heart of Chicago, in urban Chicago?

JG: We’re not. We’re actually living in Northeast Ohio. We moved here to care for my aging parents, and my dad actually passed away while we were here so we’re kind of in that end of time with parents and caring for them, but we still have our home in Chicago and we still get back there quite a bit.

HH: And is Emmaus Ministries prospering?

JG: It is going well. We’ve had a rough few years like most ministries have, but we have a phenomenal staff and a phenomenal board of directors and it’s an ecumenical group. They are just a dynamic group of people and we really miss working with them. They are a joy to be around.

HH: Thirty seconds. When did you become a Deacon? I mean that talks a lot. What did you say, it takes a 1000 hours in the book?

JG: It’s a 1000 hours of formation. I got ordained in 2002 and that’s just been another joy in my life of serving the Lord and serving the poor and being a Catholic Deacon.

HH: I’ll be right back to talk about what the substance Street Walking With Jesus is and Emmaus Ministries. Don’t go anywhere. A very unusual and riveting hour of the Hugh Hewitt Show. Stay tuned.

**

HH: Twenty-one minutes after the hour, America. It’s Hugh Hewitt. That is Lay it Down by Carolyn Green the singer, songwriter who is married to my guest John Green. John is a Deacon Roman Catholic Church, Founder of Emmaus Ministries in Chicago, author of Street Walking With Jesus, the book that I’ve been telling you about this hour. I’ve linked it over at HughHewitt.com. It’s at Amazon.com. She’s got a beautiful voice. She sounds like Joni Mitchell.

JG: Isn’t she great?

HH: Okay. Let’s get right to this now. Tell people what Emmaus Ministries is and with whom you work.

JG: Emmaus Ministries is an outreach to men involved in prostitution and our goal is to get guys out of prostitution and walking with the Lord.

HH: At page 171 is the most-it’s like a brick. You quoted “A Department of Justice study that says up to three million children under 18 are involved in prostitution in our country.” That is an astonishing number. That doesn’t mean that they are prostitutes I assume, but that their lives are somehow interconnected with the trade.

JG: Absolutely and you know male prostitution is rising in our country. Younger and younger kids are getting involved and I share one of those stories about a young man named Christopher who was a 12-year old who was being pimped by his mother on the streets. It was another one of our guys, Kenny, who came up and basically told us about him. Well, my wife, Carolyn, was walking down to the park and we had our new born in the stroller and Kenny came up to her and just said, “Carolyn, you’ve got to do something about this kid,” and he points over and he points to Christopher and it took us about 2 months to get this kid eventually off the streets because it was just this terrible thing, but at 12-years old being pimped by his mother it was just such a tragedy, but eventually the Department of Children Family Services did get him off the streets and into a safe house.

HH: Now John Green, this is as you write about in the book-not a lot of people want to talk about this or even think about it much less work side by side with these men, but who are they and how many of them are there? For example, just in Chicago we can extrapolate to every other urban area in the country, but in the loop area that you work in, how many are we talking about?

JG: You know, it’s hard to tell. We know about 500 guys through our outreach program out on the streets each year. Those are 500 different guys that we may meet. We’ll see about 200 of them then through the doors of our drop-in center each year, and we’ll see about 20-30 of them off the streets. The numbers-that’s our numbers in Chicago. There is an Emmaus Ministries, same mission, same key values, independent of us but we started them in Houston, Texas and they are doing a wonderful job down in Houston as well.

HH: So who are these guys?

JG: The typical guy kind of comes from your poverty background whatever your environment. So like in Chicago, probably about 60% of our guys are African American. The vast majority of them were sexually abused sometime in their life. Most of them dropped out by the fourth or fifth grade. Most of them don’t even know who their fathers are let alone have an intact family. Most of them grew up in homes that were just absent of any type of warmth of family at all. Again, when you grow up in that type of poverty setting there’s not a lot of safety net in your life. I think about my safety net. You know, my father who worked, who showed me and by his example that industriousness, my mother-the wealth that we had growing up. All of that is a safety net and these guys never had that.

HH: Now talk a little bit about their average age. By the way, it’s a surprise to me that many of them if not the majority are heterosexual. Some of them are married. They’re just making easy money from a trade I can’t even imagine getting out of once you get into it, but some do as you said do escape from this through ministry and through intervention, but what is their age and generally speaking how long do they stay doing this?

JG: Most of the guys that we work with in Chicago are probably 25-35. Although in the last few years we’ve begun to see younger and younger kids. Kids like Christopher who are 12-years old, but often times 14-15-year olds who are hustling on the streets as well. Most of the guys are kind of in that 25-35-how long they stay in it? It all depends on if how healthy they stay. Most of the guys if they make it until their 40th birthday, they are lucky. Just because the vast and incredible dangers of the streets, dangers of addiction, getting killed by a trick. We’ve actually had the police show up at our ministry center with pictures of guys that have been killed. When you think about the names like Jeffrey Dahmer or John Wayne Gacy those were serial killers who preyed upon male prostitutes. Why did they prey upon this population of guys, because nobody cares about them.

HH: Tell people what you actually do in the course of a night’s work as you said you guys live in the night and tell people how you do it.

JG: Well, we go out in male/female teams out into the streets, into the bars, parks, street areas where guys are involved in prostitution and we just try and have a pastoral presence. One of the guys that we met very early on his name is Mikey and he was about 18 when we first met him. Our outreach teams met him but he wouldn’t talk with us at all. He was young and he felt like he was king of the streets and a gang member pulled up one night and shot him point blank in the head. The bullet ricocheted along his scull, cut off a bunch of his muscles and sent him into a coma. When we found out that Mikey had been shot one of our staff Chris and I went to the hospital and we were providentially there right as he was coming out of his coma and we were the first people that he saw by his hospital bed and that started a relationship with this young man. We walked with him as he got arrested for different things in prison. When he got out, he ended up getting into a relationship and he and his girlfriend had a kid and we started getting them hooked up with some services and into a church. Today he is doing just phenomenally well in the suburbs of Chicago. He’s living right. He’s involved in his church community, but it’s been about 12 years that we’ve walked with this young man from that point of seeing him in the hospital bed. That’s what we initially do. We just begin a relationship with these guys and then we try and walk with them as they get off the streets.

HH: What percentage of them are drug addicted? It seems like it’s an awfully high number.

JG: It is a high number and part of it is the reality that most of these guys are heterosexual guys who are engaging in gay sex for money on the streets. Now if you think about what that means, they have to dull themselves somehow to go out and do what they do. A lot of the guys will start with doing a few shots at a bar before or they snort some coke or they will smoke something. That dulls their senses to go out and do what they’re doing for their money, but it also lowers their inhibitions and they start doing things that they didn’t want to do and then that get’s them depressed and anxious so then they medicate those feelings and then you get into the cycle of addiction and prostitution that will literally just take over a guys life.

HH: Where are the police? I mean they are in the book and some of them are very kind hearted. You had that funeral scene where one of your guys died of aids and a cop came in and gave it a moving sang-a-song tribute to this kid, but where are they generally?

JG: Well you know, the police in Chicago have an awfully rough job. They operate on the basis of public perceptions. That’s the thing, male prostitution bends into its environment. It’s not something that you can just walk down a street and see. Even young kids can identify a women in prostitution. Sometimes you have flamboyant clothing. Sometimes you have the presence of a pimp or something like that and just it’s just obvious if you see a woman walking by herself down the street scanning the cars, it tells you something. But male prostitution really blends into its environment and because it blends in, people don’t react as negatively to it because they don’t see it.

HH: I’ll be right back. John Green is my guest. His new book is Street Walking With Jesus is linked over at HughHewitt.com. Stay where you are.

**

HH: My guest is John Green. That’s his wife, Carolyn Green, singing. She is his partner in the ministry of Emmaus Ministries and is chronicled in the book Street Walking With Jesus which is linked over at HughHewitt.com. You know John, it seems like you have lived with a lot of not, I don’t know if you’ve ever been the victim of physical violence, but a whole lot of violence going around you and your family. What’s your attitude towards that and how did you develop to just live with that chaos?

JG: My principle that I’ve tried to live out is that I firmly believe Hugh, that I’m a mortal being until God chooses to call me home. I think if more of us in the Church lived that way, we wouldn’t be ruled by the fear that it so prevalent in our society, but I firmly believe that I am a mortal person until God chooses to call me home. Now I can’t be stupid. I can’t go jumping in front of a bus. That doesn’t mean that I’m indestructible, but it does-I don’t think we need to be afraid of some of the things of this world.

HH: Do you have to be afraid of these guys? I mean when you describe Joseph at the age of 28, and he’s sitting down with you and he’s never had a family meal in his life. Never! He sat around the table and 14 years in and out of different foster homes but he’s got all these scars and bullet holes and knife wounds when you camping with them. I mean these are not reliable guys.

JS: I got to tell you Joseph is one of the sweetest guys that has come through our ministry. He honestly is. I mean think about what these guys are doing. Male prostitution is a people-centered profession. So these guys have pretty high people skills. They are nice guys and their doing some terrible things and terrible things have been done to them, but they really are nice guys. We’ve had amazing times where guys have been incredibly generous and kind towards my kids, towards our family. It’s a joy to be around these guys.

HH: How do you get past, you write out in Street Walking With Jesus, a lot of people in the church and just generally say refuse just not worth my time. That’s not biblical clearly it’s not Christian it’s got nothing to do the exempt but it’s very understandable and you run into it a lot.

JG: You do. One of the things that I tell people is that I encourage people to engage people who are poor maybe somebody who is homeless, somebody who is asking for change on your way to work with the three “Ts”: Time, touch and talk. I’m a firm believer never to give out a handout. I don’t think handouts help people period. It helps in Japan and it helps when tornados devastate towns those are the people that need a handout, but not people on the streets. What they do need is our time, our touch and our talk and if we can give them authentically those things that’s when transformation of the heart, life and character really begins to happen.

HH: I want to come back because I have some notes on your attitude towards the homeless generally and not just your male prostitution clientele. I want to come back to that but I want to stay for a moment on your stray camels, your retired orthodontist, the people who write you checks large or small. One of them, the orthodontist, you says that I could a lot more bang for my buck doing something else so how do you say look investing in saving a 28-year old male prostitute who is going to be in and out of rehab 8 times is worth it?

JG: Well I tell people to read the three parables in the book of Matthew that talk about the lost coin, the lost sheep and the lost son and you see the action of God in those parables. You see that God has an interest in seeking out and saving that which is lost even to the risk and expense of the 99 and I think that’s where we need to-we just need to recognize that God works with an economy than the economy of our world. If we’re putting that bang for our buck or looking for that silver bullet for fixing deep social problems, we’re not going to find them but what we are going to find is that these problems can be solved but it means investing our time, our lives and our energy into solving them.

HH: OK but John, you’ve been doing this 22 years maybe you have 500 guys who are in that life and our now out of it and are saved and in wonderful relationships with families and the Lord, but with the same amount of time and money we could have gone to the Dominican Republic where I’ve been with another Wheaton guy and we could have built a clinic. What’s the response to that?

JG: Well the response for me is you got to do what the Lord calls you do and this has been clearly the calling that the Lord has put on my life for this period of time and when I received that call and it was actually-I had an amazing experience at a trappist monastery outside of Rochester, New York why I clearly felt that still small voice of the spirit saying this is your calling. These are your people. You go and help these guys. I’ve tried to do that to the best of my ability and that’s been my call and I think-you look at the profit of Jeremiah and the book of Jeremiah he preached for 40 years before anybody responded to him, but he responded because that was his call.

HH: I’ll be right back with John Green author of Street Walking With Jesus when we return to the Hugh Hewitt Show.

**

HH: Welcome back, America. It’s forty-four minutes after the hour. I’ve been spending this hour talking with John Green. Deacon John Green is a Roman Catholic Deacon, a graduate of Wheaton College, author of Street Walking With Jesus, founder of Emmaus Ministries in Chicago. My WIND audience listening on 560 may know it, but just for their benefit John, where is actually physically located in Chicago?

JG: We are located in the uptown neighborhood which is about a mile north of Wrigley Field.

HH: My question is who comes and helps you? Obviously, you got a forward for the book by Francis Cardinal George. Archbishop Chaput is one of your endorsers so you’ve got-you have the attention of a lot of people who matter and many protestant players as well, but who comes and actually does the work with you? Who are those people?

JG: We’ve got volunteers who are college students, a lot of college students from Wheaton ever since day one Wheaton College has been actively involved. We have this wonderful couple actually two women from a small church out in the suburbs that everybody calls the “church ladies.” They are two retired grandmothers and they come cook Saturday night evening meals and they just love on the guys and it’s wonderful. We’ve got all sorts of different people that volunteer. People from the city, people from the suburbs, Catholics, Protestants…

HH And in terms-I was going to ask the outreach to the Catholic Church. Does this get embraced very easily in the Catholic Church?

JG: I have been so impressed with how much support Cardinal George has given our efforts. You know you think about I’m an ordained Catholic clergyman and I’m hanging out with male prostitutes. Somebody in the Church somewhere there is red flags going off when they hear that.

HH: Yep.

JG: And in some ways I darkly joke that I’m the only Catholic clergyman that can hang out with male prostitutes and it doesn’t make CNN. It should!

HH: [laughing] At the back off the book by the way in Appendix i you also run a Facebook page if people want to learn about Emmaus Ministries. Facebook.com/EmmausChicago.

JG: Yep. We also have a Facebook.com/streetwalkingwithjesus as well.

HH: Facebook.com/streetwalkingwithjesus, ok. Now I want to talk about homelessness generally, because that is a woven throughout this thing and you said and I want to quote it from you exactly, “I’m a firm believer” this is on page 93 “that the last thing you should do is give someone money.” Now I often will give people money on the street. I’m curious as to why you say that.

JG: Well I curious why you give people why you give people money.

HH: Because you see them and I actually say Pascal told me to do it and he did in the Pensees. He said do not begrudge the beggar his relief.

JG: That’s true and his relief. What is more significant-I think sometimes when we just give people money it’s a quick easy in-and-out and if we’re going to enact lasting change in somebody’s life it has to be more significant, and it has to be something that get’s us into proximity with them. There’s a great evangelical missionary called Viv Grigg who talks about disciple making is a fire-catches fire in another person. Disciple making is a caught is not taught, and I think to really make a change in a person’s life we’ve got to get to know them as a human being so that’s why I talk about those three “Ts”: Time, touch and talk. The thing is those cost us more in time and energy to give those but they are so much more lasting in really make an effect in person’s life.

HH: Now John, I just guess that based upon reading Street Walking With Jesus you and I have like nothing in common on politics. This is just my guess. It’s like when I’ve sat down with Tony Compolo before etc., and stay away from the political stuff, but I’ve got to ask you because I was walking around Philadelphia and New York and seeing how many homeless people there are. I mean it is overwhelming. It’s stunning and so what works?

JG: Ah, that’s a great question, Hugh. You know-I’m going to go back. I don’t mean to be harping on this but I’m going to go back to proximity and being close to people. You know the Italian government has an amazing policy. They have a policy that for the mentally ill if you’re going to house people who are mentally ill, you cannot have more than 12 mentally ill people in the same building at the same time. What that has forced the Italian people to do is to adopt a policy of group homes all throughout their country for the mentally ill. What do we do in this society-in our society here in America? It’s that bang for your buck. It’s-let’s warehouse 500 mentally ill people all in the same building and expect to have a functional community. No. What we need to do is recognize that these difficult social problems accessed under the mental ill, the homeless-we can’t just push all into the one community to get them out of sight and out of mind. We need to recognize that these are our brothers and sisters and everybody needs to be engaging with them. I think looking at public policy like the Italian government has towards the mentally ill is one thing that could fix some of our problems.

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