In her 23 years of running the Magdalene Project, she has asked for only one thing in return: someone to join her in prayer.
“Father, we thank you for his life,” the 62-year-old Lorenzo prayed with J.T., whom she found in a motel parking lot on a recent Friday night. “Father, help him to know he has the mind of a Christ … help him never lose hope.”
J.T., who wouldn’t give his full name, walked away with even more – resolve.
“I just want to get on my feet, get a job and do the right thing the rest of my life,” said J.T., who recently completed a jail term for robbery. “It really felt good to pray.”
The project’s name comes from Mary Magdalene, a disciple of Jesus whom tradition identifies as a repentant prostitute. The name reflected Lorenzo‘s outreach primarily to prostitutes when she began her ministry.
“She’s like a legend to us,” said Ted Colton, who took shelter in the city’s bus station on a recent frigid Friday. “She cares a lot. She’s always watching out for us.”
Many have accepted her help for months and even years, but don’t seem able to change.
“I have to remember, we can’t look at the outcome. We just have to do what God told us to do,” said Lorenzo, an ordained deacon in the Anglican church. “We want to tell people that Jesus loves them and they don’t have to live the way they’re living.”
It’s a message she spreads wherever her ministry takes her – motel parking lots, bus stations and dangerous street corners.
Friday night at the motels
It seems like a place bypassed by time and occupied by people ignored by society.
Fifteen or 20 people emerged into the cold, some shrugging on coats, others wearing only street clothes as they shuffled toward the back of the van, where a volunteer offered them food and blankets.[RELATED: Even on a brutally cold day, helping WNY’s homeless isn’t always easy]
The available items change from week to week, depending on donations. This was one of the better-supplied nights.
“Sometimes I’ll go out with just some Bible literature and some cookies,” Lorenzo said. “We bring a lot of things at times, but we don’t have to do that all the time. In fact, I used to go out with just the literature and myself when I first started out.”
Volunteer Kitty Pierce took the name of a man who said he didn’t have a winter coat. The team would try to bring him one.
“I literally feel power when she prays,” said an ex-convict, who declined to give his name.
“No. We’re gonna pray about that,” Joe replied.
“Thank you. I need it,” Michelle answered.
The bus station
There are plenty of seats. The tile floor is clean. There are restrooms. It’s open about 21 hours a day, and despite the glass walls, it’s warm.
“Take this one. It’s really warm and it would fit you,” Kitty Pierce told Archie Heard, who smiled and took the cap.
“I ran out of work, we came up $50 short, and we got put on the street,” the boyfriend said.
Another time, Pierce brought washcloths, which were a hit.
“You can use them as a scarf. You can put them around your neck,” Pierce said. “I’m going to bring these every time.”
“That’s when I rededicated my life to God,” she said. “I was in this bad relationship in Buffalo, and I felt like I couldn’t get out of it because I had no self-esteem. So I started praying and I started reading my Bible.”
Then she married another man.
One day, a friend asked, “Do you want to go over to the United States and pass out Bible tracts?”
“I called my job and they said, ‘Are you quitting?’ and I said, ‘Yes, I’m quitting. I have to quit this job and do this now.’ “
With no income, she stayed at Community Missions. Before long, they hired her.
“She was our kitchen supervisor and food pantry supervisor for close to 14 years,” Executive Director Robyn L. Krueger said. “She was doing Magdalene Project while she was working for us.”
Besides the Rose Café, a women-only event, Lorenzo offers a children‘s after-school program on Tuesdays; substance abuse recovery meetings on Thursdays; dinners for street people on Thursdays and lunches on Saturdays; and a Christmas dinner, which in December drew more than 200 people.
“Sometimes I wonder if we’re making a difference,” she said. “But then there’s always that one light where you see somebody’s not doing drugs anymore, somebody’s not going to jail anymore. That is encouraging.”
She’s thinking about returning to a job at Community Missions.
The Rose Café
The Rose Café, offered about once a month at Lighthouse Church, provides dinner, worship, a message, a clothes giveaway and drawing prizes to the women who attend. The café event helps women spiritually and physically. It makes them feel like they belong somewhere, a place abounding with unconditional love. Many of them have burned bridges with family, so they especially need a place where they feel they belong.
Over salad, spaghetti, mushroom soup and plenty of desserts, they talked, laughed and heard guest preacher Nancy Ridgeway discuss redemption.
Rowlett had recently battled a landlord for three months over a pest-infested apartment.
“I was at Social Services about a week ago,” Rowlett said earlier this month. “I came out of the room and here she is. She hugged me; we prayed together,” Rowlett said. “All of a sudden, that day, things started happening.”
Sheila Tatroe was a nurse until she was injured by a patient in an assault. She ended up on the streets, addicted to heroin and fentanyl.
“Joanne, the last two years, has helped me with food and clothing and spiritual encouragement,” Tatroe said.
“It’s difficult sometimes to love because you keep seeing them do the same thing over and over and over, but you’ve got to keep loving them, no matter what,” Lorenzo said. “We all think loving is easy, but it’s not.”
For more information on the Magdalene Project, visit magdalene-project.org.
[RELATED: Too many plastic bags? Help the homeless by making them into sleeping mats.]