MAJOR NEAL HOGAN says goodbye to a vendor at the street fair, who gave him “The Salvation Army” written in Chinese characters.
Nearly every Sunday for 13 years—that’s how long the vendors at Portland, Oregon’s Saturday Market have been exposed to the gospel, thanks to the quiet, steady commitment of Major Neal Hogan.
Having been transferred to Denver, Colo., this summer, Majors Neal and Carla Hogan said goodbye to a 13-year appointment at the Portland Harbor Light. Saying goodbye to the Saturday Market “congregation” was one of the hardest parts of their move.
Just three weeks into that appointment, Hogan saw a field “ripe and ready for harvest” just outside his office window. Saturday Market is a well-known Portland icon in the heart of the city, with vendors setting up their tents, crafts, handiwork, food, and talent every Saturday and Sunday from March through Christmas Eve. The first tents begin just outside Harbor Light’s back door.
Hogan began by walking through, handing out scripture verses to the vendors, admiring their work and sharing a “God bless you” as he moved on to the next tent. As time progressed, he began to gather a small group of vendors before they set up for the day to hold a short devotional. Some have been there for all those years to see the fully uniformed major each week; others have come and gone. The devotional and scripture verses became a weekly part of many of the vendors’ lives. This was their Sunday church, the only one they had access to.
This was never more evident than at Major Hogan’s farewell Sunday. Word was out that “the Major” was leaving. Vendor after vendor had prepared for his last visit that Sunday. The relationships that had been built, and the respect for the major’s faith and commitment were apparent. At tent after tent, he was choosing a gift to “remember them” by. By the end of the day, he had four bags worth of handiwork from Saturday Market vendors, including beautiful photography of Portland and “The Salvation Army” written in Chinese characters for his “new office wall” in Colorado. He received even more kind words and tear-filled eyes saying farewell, and a card that had been passed around and signed with well wishes and words of gratitude by over 60 vendors.
Hogan pointed out several of the vendors who refused to accept his promise cards at first, including homosexual couples, and people of other faiths. But as time went on and they saw that he wasn’t there to pound them with the Bible, but rather to offer an encouraging word and the truth of “God loves you” week after week in his friendly and quiet manner, more and more accepted the Word. One vendor, in particular, who refused the promise cards for several years, but eventually began to receive and read them, quietly told the Major, “I became a Christian because of you.”
Just as Jesus spoke truth to the Samaritan woman as she went about her daily business, Major Neal Hogan offered a cup of the Living Water to those at Saturday Market earning their living from week to week. Representing many nations and faiths, those vendors truly became a field “ripe and ready for harvest.” And because he had the eyes of faith to see this unusual congregation at his back door step, we will meet many of them one day before the throne.