Due to privacy concerns, some names in this article have been changed.
When church planter Aaron Bennett met Marsha in May of 2016, she was selling a publication in downtown Portland to help generate income. “The publication helps the homeless get a steady source of income,” Aaron says. Marsha was homeless and transgender. While out walking, Aaron gave his daughter money to buy a publication from Marsha. As they walked away, Aaron prayed about how to lovingly encounter gender identity issues with grace. “I hadn’t encountered these things at all in rural Georgia, where I came from before Portland,” he says.
In the summer of 2016, many mission teams came to Portland to help Aaron’s church plant, Spring of Life Church, conduct spiritual surveys with people downtown. These surveys ask people about their spiritual beliefs, and they help spark gospel conversations with the public. Every person surveyed was invited to one of Spring of Life’s summer preview services. “I went back to look at who talked with Marsha, but I couldn’t figure it out because we talked with several Marshas,” Aaron shares. “But I do know that when Marsha came to the service, she was holding a handout from the surveys, and she came with her friend Courtney.”
Aaron didn’t get to talk with Marsha or Courtney before the service, but his wife Andrea did. “Both Marsha and Courtney told Andrea they had talked to folks who were part of our mission teams,” Aaron says. “They said they were impressed with how kind and willing our team was to listen. They’d never been approached with that kind of respect and dignity before.”
During the service, Aaron preached on the Christian value of love. He says, “I was talking about how love is not permission to do anything you want. I related it to my daughter, how if I let her do anything she wanted, that wouldn’t be love. It’d be neglect.” Aaron talked about sin and how none of us fully meet the life God designed for us to live. Then he moved into the gospel and preached about the ultimate form of love being sacrifice. “I told everyone that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. I talked about how the hope of Jesus is available for everyone who wants it, but just like Jesus’ love required sacrifice, it requires sacrifice on our part, as well.”
Then Aaron had everyone in the congregation close their eyes and reflect on what he’d just shared. He asked them to lift their hands if the hope and love of Jesus is what they wanted for their lives. Aaron watched five hands go up in the air, and one of them was Marsha’s. Aaron could see she had tears in her eyes.
Both Marsha and Courtney marked their response cards as desiring to follow Jesus. “They really looked like different people from when they came in,” Aaron shares. It was clear to Aaron that the Holy Spirit was working in their hearts through the gospel of Jesus.
The problem was how to follow up with them. “Because they were homeless, it was really hard to get in touch with them again,” Aaron says. “The phone numbers they put on their cards wouldn’t go through.” The Spring of Life preview service Marsha had attended was the last of the summer, and she didn’t know where to find Aaron after that.
But two weeks later, by God’s grace, Aaron saw Marsha on the street again. Excitedly, Aaron asked how she’d been doing. “She said God had been doing things in her life and that she was no longer homeless. At the preview service, she and Courtney both felt God was entering their stories that day.”
Aaron and Andrea have begun meeting with Marsha on a regular basis to help disciple her. “We will get to the gender issue in time, but right now we’re just focusing on the basics,” Aaron says, “like really discussing who Jesus is. From Marsha’s testimony, I know she wants Jesus.”
Aaron and Andrea are constantly amazed by God’s power through the gospel. “It’s a long road of discipleship ahead, but we trust God in His power to save Marsha and transform her—the kind of transformation every one of us needs. We’re just there to walk alongside her in discipleship together.”