Three Card Monte

Nov 18, 2015 | City Lights

Fordham Road, a very busy street just around the corner from me, I encounter a game called Three Card Monte. It’s a version of the old shell game. The game is usually played with a red ace and two identical black cards. You watch closely for the red ace as the dealer moves the cards around, side to side in quick succession. When he stops you place your bet and point to the red ace. If you get it right, you “win.”

In this particular episode that I witnessed, they managed to garner quite a boisterous crowd, the more the merrier and better the likelihood of finding a mark and fleecing him of his money.

The scam involves lookouts (for the police) and a couple of confederates. They use an upturned box for their table, something they could easily abandon in case they would have to hot foot it out of there.

The ones in on the scam play the game, lay down their bet and lo and behold they win, doubling their money.   The unsuspecting mark is enticed by their success. He steps up places his bet and loses. Oh, they might play with him a bit and give him a “chance” to win his money back but this only serves to draw him in deeper. Ultimately he has to lose in order for the scam to be profitable.

Like a magician with card tricks, the dealer is quite good at slight of hand. He always wins in the end. If anyone should begin to smell a rat, well, there are ways to deal with him. What do I do? I look for the police to alert them.

The game is a microcosm of life in a fallen world. The kingdom of this world draws you in, promising a life of chuckles and grins, but fails to deliver the goods. It’s amazing to me how people can still be taken in by the time-worn Three Card Monte scam. Then again, it’s amazing to me how people can still be taken in by the parody of happiness that the world offers.

For years television advertising has been selling the idea that people out there are having a great time and you’re missing out. More recently the electronic narcissism that is the social media gives the particular individual the opportunity to show what a great time he or she is having. Are you missing out? It’s all about fun, don’t you know!

The problem with making fun the goal in one’s life is that when it’s over it’s over. Yes, it’s fun to go to a Yankee game but then you have to ride the number 4 train back home.

The world entices with its multifarious voices but it doesn’t suffice. It cannot give what it promises yet like the mark in Three Card Monte, people keep coming back for more, the end result being more disillusionment and the amplification of cynicism. What is worse is that each choice seems to dig a deeper hole.

This thought came home to me in a recent conversation I had on the street with a young man who, as a boy, had attended one of our youth clubs. His life has gone nowhere. Every time I run into him he is involved in another new philosophy or plans to “help” the youth in the community, something to give him meaning and purpose in life. This time it’s tapping into the energy fields that permeate the universe (!).

“Why is it?” I asked him, “That you’ve tried just about everything except the one answer that can give meaning to your life.” “I’ve been there,” he said, “I’ve been to church with my grandmother.” I’m not certain of this but I have a feeling that the Christianity he was exposed to was more of the folk religion type than the real thing. Yet he, like most people, do not want reality, it’s too costly.

He’s not the only one. You and I rub shoulders with people like that all the time. There are those who have come to the end of their rope and are ready to respond. We need to be ready and available to offer the good news. Opportunities abound.

Our conversation ended rather abruptly but I know that I will see him again. We pass each other on the street and chat regularly. By the way, this is one of the ways we do evangelism here. We live in the community, get to know people and then when the opportunity presents itself, we speak to them about the Lord.

Thank you for praying for us as we continue to bring the Gospel to the streets of New York.

Household Words

What a mighty God we serve! The Bronx Household of Faith is totally debt free! There was a small, “no pressure to pay it back any time soon,” private debt remaining on the building.

That has now been fully paid. We continue to be amazed at the Lord’s miraculous provision through people like you. The property on which it stands was once a place of Voodoo occult and criminal activity. They seem to go together. It is now a place where people are hearing the Gospel—a true lighthouse.

We had a great summer and a great Vacation Bible School, presenting the Gospel through the life of Jonah. It’s a real BHOF team effort.   It’s now fall and our club ministries are in full swing:

With an average of nine 6- to 12-year-old girls per week, Pioneer Girls has gotten off to a great start. Bible memory, games, crafts, songs and more are packed into two hours of fun, fellowship, and learning. This year we are starting with a 13-week journey through the Bible to discover God’s plan for salvation followed by a study on staying on God’s path instead of choosing to walk the way of the world. Please pray for these girls as they become increasingly curious about God’s word and seek to gain a better understanding.                

After a rocky start with some unruly teenage boys, our Christian Service Brigade “Battalion” ministry is off and running. Almost all of the 20 plus teens who attend have been coming to our clubs for years. We are studying various aspects of what it means, through the Scriptures, to have a relationship with God. Please pray for their salvation and opportunities for us to develop deeper bonds that consistently point them to our Lord and Savior.

Hope Academy of the Bronx welcomed 16 scholars to our classrooms this fall.  What a privilege to daily work with students who struggle academically or behaviorally, helping them persevere through difficult circumstances and cultivating a love for learning about God’s Word and His world!  Our staff of 5 is committed to teaching our scholars diligence and discernment not only in their academic studies but in all of life.  

Please pray for God’s transforming work in the lives of our scholars and that He will raise up partners to pray and give, building a strong foundation for our new school and impacting our community for the years to come. 

We are excited about the start of Pacesetters this year! Pacesetters is a club for young women, ages 12-18, to grow deeper in their knowledge of God. The club meets every other Friday night at The Eagle’s Nest, where the girls enjoy a home-cooked meal, engage in a Bible study, worship together, and have fun playing games! This year’s study is focused on Scripture as God’s Truth, allowing the girls to think about the importance of seeing all of life through the lens of Scripture. The highlight of the month for Pacesetters was adventuring through a corn maze during a “flashlight night.” It’s a joy to see young women deepen in their relationships with one another and with the Lord. This year’s leaders are Sarah Rybaltowski, MeiLing Roberts, Vilmaris DeHoyos, and Zuleima Reyes. 

New York City Christian Athletic League is in the middle of its fall flag football season. There are about 40 to 50 teenage boys involved. This year we have broken down II Corinthians 5:17-18, “Therefore if anyone is in Christ he is a new creation . . . ,” into six lessons. The young men hear a Gospel presentation. They then break up into their respective teams where there is a discussion of the talk. What encourages the leaders is how attentive these otherwise rambunctious teens are. What is discouraging is the shortage of mature Christian men to be mentors for these teens. Where are the men! Please pray for mentors and for the teens to respond to our Lord’s call to come to Him for salvation.

            As always, thank you for standing with us.