Friday, November 30, 2007
But after some praying, we found someone sitting at the local Mexican joint, where I find that it is often easy to enter into conversation with people. We'll call him Josh, although he goes by a female name, as he is transgender. He was very easy to talk to, receptive to what we had to say, and is friends with someone that I met a few weeks back and have had some good interactions with. It was both informative - as he told us some things we didn't know about transgenders and prostitutes - and also fruitful in that we were able to steer the conversation in the direction of Christ pretty quickly.
It was the first time I've had a conversation with someone there who didn't really know much about the bible or Jesus, and was interested in hearing what we had to say. I felt like we were actually able to share the gospel with someone who had no context for it and few pre-conceived ideas or arguments. It was incredibly exciting to share that Jesus died for our sins because he loves us with someone who had no idea. To explain that there is a heaven, and there's only way to get there. Quite naturally, the conversation came to "why does God allow all of this suffering?" which is a hard question that we only had a little time to begin to answer. We weren't able to continue a long dialogue, because 'Josh' was meeting a friend and couldn't come to our bible study. But I am praying that God would water that seed that was planted last night, and bring back Josh next week so that I can give him his own bible to read and learn more. I really want more time to talk with him. We tried to find him before our bible study started, so we could at least give him the gospel of John, but were unsuccessful.
At our bible study, several people showed up: Big Mama, who always shows up now, and a few new people. During the service, I noticed Sarah sitting with a girl who was crying and talking as Jerry shared his testimony. Afterwards, as usual, we grouped up to share, pray, chat, etc. We sat with "Lisa", a 16-year-old girl who had been drinking way too much and had been left by her friends when she wasn't allowed into the club. So, she ended up stuck with us for the next few hours! And at the end of our bible study, when Antquan led people through a prayer to accept Christ if they were ready, she prayed the prayer, and became our family member!
She broke down, feeling terrible from all the vodka she had drunk, bothered that she had used drugs over the last few years, frustrated that she's disappointing her loving and trusting mother, and extremely upset about an older guy who had been using her and said some very hurtful things to her, but that she felt that she loved. I almost cried watching her weep as she recalled the mean things he said to her, knowing how words can crush a girl's spirit, and reminded of hearing hurtful words and the feeling of all the nice things said to me being taken away; those nights spent crying over it. But because I'd been through some hurt, I was able to relate to this girl and encourage her in who God says that we are and what he thinks of us, and how any man is going to fail us, but that God NEVER fails. Words were just spilling out of my mouth like crazy as I rubbed her back and looked into her teary eyes. It was one of those moments that you think, "wow, I'm saying really good stuff right now without even thinking!" and realize that God's doing the work. Looking into this girl's big eyes as she watched me tell her that God says she's beautiful and perfect the way she is and that she doesn' t have to settle for men like that, how highly God values her, and seeing a slightly shy smile cross her lips....I don't even know how to describe it. I learned recently that sometimes it is by sharing our faith and ministering that the glory of God is revealed to us, and that's how it felt last night. Seeing hope in someone's eyes...it's an amazing thing. And how would I have been able to minister to her in a genuine way had I not felt some of that same hurt and learned the lessons myself?
Our bible study had been about letting go of control of our lives and giving it to God. I think back to the question of suffering that 'Josh' asked. While there are many reasons for suffering, I don't think they are something to blame God for. But when it happens, we learn to relinquish control, to lose desire for things that aren't God's best, and to find hope in Him. We value the better dreams in life, the delight in a Savior who created us without mistake, and who longs to walk with us through the hurt allowing us to know his peace that surpasses understanding. Without the bad, how can we appreciate the good? Hurt, worry, pain, and disappointment are not things we have to hide from or run away in fear of experiencing them. They are a refining fire that brings us to a greater depth of knowledge of who God is and his power, mercy and grace. I wouldn't pray that these people can go on to live pain-free easy lives, not at all. That's not good enough for them. I would pray against unneccesary suffering in their lives, but the bad is what makes us more like Christ and sanctifies us, and that is better than anything else in this world has to offer. What joy to tell a young man that this earth is not all we have, that it is fleeting, and when we trust in the crazy story of God come down to earth as man, that we can spend eternity in a perfect, tear-free heaven with our Father.
Please pray for these 2 invidivuals, that one would now live the life of a follower of Christ, and that the other would come to know Him.
Friday, November 23, 2007
A few weeks ago I saw a friend of our, 'Mark', who knows God but knows he's doing a lot of wrong right now and doesn't believe he would go to heaven at this time if he died. He is very quiet, very reserved, and seems to have a bit more awareness and shame at the life he leads. I saw him dressed as a girl (I knew he was gay but did not know he dressed in drag), looking very awkward and shy, hanging out with a pimp, then tried to talk to him a bit....and then watched him get in a car with a guy. That is just about the worst thing you can watch happen there. A 17 year-old kid, obviously lonely and confused about life, waste it like that.
Last week, however, we saw him again, this time dressed like a guy, saying that he had been 'trying out' the prostitution thing and it wasn't for him. He wants to move to Utah to get away from the city and find a job and get out of the life he's in right now. He was full of emotion (anger and passion and laughter), which was amazing because he rarely shows emotion, and he was more talkative and open than I've ever seen him. Granted, he had been drinking a bit, but he was very honest and chatty with us. It was so good to see him like this, so much easier to talk to him and share our lives. That was a huge blessing.
Recently, probably the most amazing story that I've heard since being in this ministry, is that our friend Precious, who wouldn't even talk to the group when they first met him, became so weary of his life that he finally laid it down for Jesus. He accepted Christ and left to go home to a family who wants nothing to do with him. He got on a bus and left behind hard drugs, prostitution, homosexuality and the rest of his life in Hollywood!!! This is a miracle that only God could do. It may have taken years, but it happened, and encouraged us all in the ministry that we are doing. PRAISE GOD! We are praying for him like crazy now, as this is a great opportunity for Satan to attack, and where Precious has little support.
The ministry is growing, more people are joining up, familiar faces are returning to our bible studies, and we have a website coming soon.
Not only all of this, but this ministry is one of the most amazing things I've ever been a part of. It's like another family, and while we are so different and have such varied backgrounds and experiences, we are bonded through Christ. Last night several of us sat around the Thanksgiving table, sharing what we are grateful for and breaking bread together. What an amazing time! People of all ages, races, cultures and pasts, sitting together and praising God for what he has done. And one of those people, now part of our ministry, used to live in Hollywood, doing the drugs and Escorting and porn. Now he sits at a table with us praising what God has done in his life. HOW GREAT IS OUR GOD?
Friday, October 19, 2007
Last night I met one of my new favorite people. I think what i enjoyed about talking with "Harry" was that he was a clear demonstration of God showing up in unexpected places and bringing such different people together. Nick and I were hanging out near the favorite Mexican food stand, meeting some new people who were very friendly. One very young, "Danny", and getting to know them (more on that later). In the middle of conversation, a 39 year-old black man, dressed in all black, about 6'3, holding a lighter in hand, interrupted us abruptly trying to find someone. He apparently knew the people we were talking to, and within the first three minutes he had yelled, cussed, used some other choice words, and told us he was trying to sell weed. He didn't pay attention to me or Nick for several minutes, and my first impression was, "uh, okay, can you leave so we can talk to these people...you're a little scary." After a few minutes of friendly banter between these people, the food that Danny and his friend had ordered was ready, so they went around the corner and left us with Harry.
That was when it all changed - "So what are you up to tonight?" he asked us with a smile. Right then, any worry or discomfort I had was gone, and I knew we were going to have a good chat. From there we talked about bible study, and he said he needed to come to a bible study...that he believes in God but is tired of churches always trying to get people's money. He reads the bible, he grew up going to church. He's from New Orleans, and we chatted about Katrina and the city. He told us about getting shot in the head and stabbed, and knows that he's only here by the grace of God. He talked of prison and working with youth in a mental facility while on probation, and how the kids loved him because they could relate to him. He could help them out of their rough lives and from getting into trouble because he'd lived it, and so they listened when he advised them. But his supervisor hadn't wanted him around because of his criminal record. We ended up stopping the conversation because our bible study was going to start, and thought he would come with us. He said he'd come, but we didn't see him the rest of the night, although he said he'd be there in the future...whatever that means. But I told him, "You gotta hang out with us, I like you, I want to talk to you more." He smiled and took off, but I really hope he comes back. He knows the truth, he just needs to experience it and have it drilled into his head a bit more. But you can't help but see God, chillin' with someone so incredibly different from ourselves, yet we can talk of church and God and laugh together. Maybe he needed us that night to remind him of what he's been letting slip from his life...
I realized last night that sometimes, because change is so small and gradual, and God often does it where our eyes can't see, that I am either miss it, or I just take it for granted. But He's constantly working and changing hearts, even if I don't recognize it at first. Allow me to share some of this change that I observed last night after talking to Harry.
Our good friend, "Big Mama" has recently gone through quite a bit. Let go from her job as security, and two weeks ago she had a seizure for the first time, with no previous instances or related health-issues. When she came to our bible study the week following her seizure, it was clear in her eyes, her speech, and her dimeanor that something had changed. She had stopped drinking or smoking pot, realizing it had effected her health, and she had been reading the bible and particularly touched by the Psalms. She was excited to come to our bible study, she is going to try and get back into relationship with her children who aren't talking to her, and she returned again this week. Seeing her smile and excitement to be there again with us...whew, that is God shining through! She was almost like a little child with her excitement to see us, talk about the Word of God, and with her attentiveness to our bible study. It may have been gradual, but that is major change to praise God for.
Also at our bible study was 'Tony' who is a new but dear friend, with news that he is going back to school and has been staying at friend's house, meaning he is no longer on the streets. Hearing him pray, and say, "Can we all agree on one thing? That God is good?"...what a joyful noise :) And his friend who has come a few times to our bible study was there again, a bit more outspoken than I had seen him before, sharing prayer requests for a job and asking for a chance to pray. His passion in prayer was surprising for me to see, I hadn't expected that. And Tony told us that his friend, who has touched my heart, has a place to stay right now as well. Their friend, Danny, who we had met earlier that night also came and joined with us in prayer requests and shared some of what is happening in his life. He shared how thankful he is for his family, a place to live. He reminded us to find joy each day, even if it's just in doing something different, that you don't always have to be sad. This is a young kid who has lived on the streets, moved from Chicago, and not sure what else he's been through, but has a beautiful smile and nothing but good things to say and praises to God for what he has.
All of these people are heading in the right direction, seeking God and wanting more than life on the streets. And that desire and will to do more is nothing short of a miracle.
Friday, September 28, 2007
There was something so powerful about that to me, that exemplified how Jesus lived, who he came for, who he associated with, and how he would have been able to befriend anyone who wanted to know him or needed him. He did not just preach, he shared his time and his life and showed people that he cared for them specifically. Yet this picture seemed so far from my own life. How many friends did I have that were not Christians? Maybe a handful. And how many were leading really terrible lives? Less. What relation did I have to this picture, how could I ever be that type of person, even as inspiring as it was. But it is what drove me each week, and I would listen to the song in preparation.
Reflecting on last night, as well as many other evenings in Hollywood…it appears that somewhere along the line, in just a few short months, that God made me into that type of person. I don’t know how…prayer and dependence played a part for sure…but I give credit to the Holy Spirit. I don’t like street evangelism, or being out of my comfort zone, or even staying up late. And yet, here I am talking to people about Jesus on the street by my own choice, giving up my own comfort, and befriending the types of people I would never have expected to meet.
Last night I didn’t have much deep discussion with anyone. But I got to hang out, laugh, and enjoy the company of so many fun people. We met a new friend on the street with whom we all shared stories with of crazy stuff we did as kids, and what kinds of movies and music we like, and laughed as he told us many of his stories. He even asked for our cell phone numbers and asked one of us to call him the next day, just because he enjoyed hanging out with us, even though he’s got tons of friends on the street.
After bible study I was grouped up with a guy that one of our team members befriended long ago and they have been very close ever since. He’s incredibly warm and funny and thoughtful, and we sat on the sidewalk talking about everything from the bible and forgiveness to text messaging and stories from the past. I sat at my desk laughing this morning, recalling his humorous retelling of how he sprained his ankle recently, which was probably one of the funniest things I’ve heard since being down there.
Yet this is not a one-time occurance…this happens fairly frequently, when we get time between serious discussions to just hang out and laugh and share stories and get to know each other. And that’s what struck me recently listening to that song again. I don’t know when it happened, but somewhere in these last few months I got comfortable with “the wounded and the poor” and sharing stories and fellowship with “the thieves and the whores”. It doesn’t seem like a stretch any more to have these types of relationships, to share my life with people so incredibly different from me. But I enjoy it, I get to learn from them as well, I get to find peace from my worries and joy in their humor and distraction from my miniscule problems when I’m down there. I have the exciting opportunity to invest in their lives, make them smile, listen to them and be an extension of Jesus Christ each week. And I know this has nothing to do with me, it is entirely God working through me - through my hands and feet and mouth and heart. That is why this is so exciting to me - I know i am not capable of this on my own, this story is only exciting because God is doing what he does best, and transforming me to be used by Him for his purposes. And I believe he can do the same with the people we meet.
Wednesday, September 19, 2007
Last night, in Hollywood, God in his mercy gently began to open my eyes to his grace in my life... I just returned from my lunch break, where I spent a good portion of it crying because of the darkness and depth of despair that I have witnessed in this sick world. Last night I spent my evening in Hollywood, as I do every Thursday. Our friend "Zoe" had just returned from rehab, now 28 days sober (from meth), which was the highlight of the evening.
For some time I wandered around with a young "girl" who even I have a hard time remembering that he is actually a transvestite, born as a man. He spent most of his time looking for work, getting groped by some strange man, and taking a few hits of marijuana. The week before he had come to our bible study, but was completely drunk and left with a scary looking man.
After our bible study I sat with Antquan and a homeless man that we know well. He talked about his time in prison, his transgender girlfriend, pan-handling, and the car dealership that he sleeps at.
The rest of the evening I sat with a17 year-old boy who recently ran away from a group home and is now living on the streets and prostituting for money. There are some people who seem to stick in my mind more than others, for whatever reason, and this was one of them. Many people either deny or hide their unhappiness..."Evan" was not one of those. He could barely smile, and almost started crying as he talked about how he has no hopes or dreams anymore, believing that they would never come true, so he never lets his mind go there anymore. It was hard to find things to talk to him about, because everything seems to be depressing to him. He has aboslutely no hope and no happiness, and the sadness in his eyes is still seared into my brain.
I offered to help him, asked about what kind of work he could do, only to hear all of his I.D. had recently been stolen. I told him we could hang out sometime....I tried to come up with anything to help him out..buy clothes, anything, yet feeling like I could do nothing. He's a Christian, but doesn't know how to reconcile that with his lifestyle...I can barely even offer the hope of Jesus.
And it hit me after talking to me...what makes me any different? He was born to parents who abandoned him and has been in and out of foster/group care his whole life. I was born to loving, middle-class white parents and well taken care of. I did absolutely nothing to deserve the life I've been given. Granted, I have probably made some better choices based on my family and God-given wisdom and the Holy Spirit's help, so my life has turned out well. And perhaps this young man has made some poor choices to end up where he is. But still, I have done nothing to deserve what God has given me. Why is that?...Well, His Grace. For some reason, God chose to give me great parents, great family, a nice place to live, and wisdom to make good decisions. I have a home, more food than I need, a great job to go to every day, and plenty of opportunity to do new things, see new places, continue my education, etc. When I look into the eyes of these people, I think...that could be me. I could be in the same place in my life if God had chose to put me in a different situation. There is nothing that makes me more deserving, except that God has been so merciful to me and allowed me to know him. How humbling an experience! I still have so much more to learn about his grace, mercy and compassion...so much that it causes me to fall to my knees every day...but this was a step in that direction.
When you see with your own eyes what you have been saved from, how can you not turn, cry out, and worship your Savior? How can I not give my life back in gratitude, forget my problems, and give to others until I'm worn out? I pray that God will always be my greatest pleasure, and am learning that understanding his mercy in my life is part of that. When that can be grasped, what else would I want to do but please him?... Dear God, thank you for demonstrating just a taste of your grace and mercy!
Sunday, August 19, 2007
This week, I sit at my desk, again thinking back on the events of the previous night, this time a smile coming to my face as I recall these words, “Father…..Thank you for allowing me to meet these people….I’m going to sleep better tonight than I have in weeks, ecstatic…I am so happy to have met you…Thank you for making me feel like I’m a part of something.” The words of a man we met on the street this week.Wow.
Satan is good, but He is no match for God. Last week was difficult and sad, we lost someone with so much despair and hopelessness. This week God brought a specific person across our path who truly believes that he was brought to us for a reason, can’t wait to come back next week to our bible study, and was probably more happy to meet us than anyone I have seen down there. His heart is already open and softened and ready to hear more and be loved. Several people had great conversations with him, we had a great time of prayer and sharing together, and it was so evident that God had been at work and this person had been greatly touched by his time with our group. I can't wait to see him, as well as a few others, next week. Satan had me doubting, and God brought us encouragement and hope.
God never fails to make me laugh with his irony. As I parked at the house that we meet at to go up to Hollywood together, I thought, "I don't really want to go tonight. Something is making me scared and worried. At least there's no "GO" trips coming, I can just hang out with the regulars so I don't have to use so much energy meeting new people." When we arrived in Hollywood I saw the large group standing outside of Del Taco and realized we had another "GO" trip out tonight. Meaning, I would be in charge of leading 2 other people that I had never met. However throughout the night I saw how God gives us responsibilities and tasks that we are not ready for sometimes, but always gives us what we need to handle it. A few minutes into the night I was excited to spend more time with a guy I have been getting to know, and the chance to get to know some great people from church, and introduce them to this friend. We all hung out at Del Taco for a while chatting and getting to know each other better and hearing more about "John".
A few minutes before midnight we headed over to our bible study. Once again, we were blessed with a large group of people because of the "GO" trip. I had the chance to meet some new people and then sit and listen to the message for the week which once again had few distractions or interruptions, and people seemed to listen pretty intently. After a short talk, we broke into small groups to share and pray together.
This was where I saw God at work, as I grouped up with the people around me, one new person from Hollywood, the rest Rock Harbor folks. They asked, "so, what do we do? who's going to lead our group". Oh, I thought silently. I'm the only Broken Hearts person here. I guess that makes me the leader." Funny, because I'm not much of a leader, and this evening I had hoped to stay in my own little box and not venture far out. But God placed me in this position, and it really was no big deal, not hard, and actually pretty cool. So I started us off by sharing some of what I'm going through and struggling with and asking for prayer, and set the precedent for others to share. This was the time that our new friend, "Ian", shared that through his conversations with some of the Rock Harbor and this "chance" meeting, he felt better than he had in weeks, he was going to be coming back next Thursday, and he thanked God during prayer time for bringing him to us and that he would actually sleep well that night. Someone with such a smile and such joy in meeting us is rare...God was doing a great thing in his heart that night.
I wasn't looking forward to the evening when it started, and by the end I had had many great conversations, laughed, smiled, prayed for friends and felt hope, and wasn't even very tired or anxious to leave. And now, I can't wait to go back next week!
Monday, August 13, 2007
The night started out like all others, and this week we also had another group from church with the “Go Campaign”, which makes for a more interesting evening and more “fishing” opportunities. I once again had the chance to show a couple from church Santa Monica Blvd and our hang outs and have a few conversations with people on the street.
We all met up at Del Taco as usual to prepare for our night out and pray and divide up into groups. Before we got to the point of praying, a friend of ours that the team has known for a while informed us that one of the transvestite prostitutes that we often see and talk to in that area had been found murdered. I am holding back tears as I write this…that news hit me rather hard and I don’t often fully grasp and feel things as big as that, especially being that I was not incredibly close to “Sam”. I wouldn’t even classify us as friends. But I did have a big burden on my heart for this person ever since meeting him. I believe I have even referred to him at least once in a previous blog. Beautiful, sparking green eyes, which I never really saw come alive – they were either full of sadness and trouble, or vacant with the effects of drugs in their place. A runaway from my hometown of Denver, CO, I had a few opportunities to talk to him, and we had discussed God before.
I had so badly wanted to just sit with him and hear his story and share Christ with him. Tears filled to the brim of my eyes as I thought, “He went to hell…we didn’t have enough time…we lost our opportunity – I lost my opportunity, I let him go.” In all honesty, it may have taken a few years to truly reach him, but now we won’t know. This broken young man, confused about his identity and selling his body no longer has the chance to experience hope in God. The one good aspect of his death was that it hit me hard, and I went out that night with an invigorated passion to “seek and save the lost”.
God did open up many good conversations that night. My group wandered for a bit, having trouble finding people to talk to. Eventually we ran into a friend that we see often who I was very excited to run into, although he seemed very distracted. “I would have never known that was a guy,” the girl with me said. A few minutes later, seeing a female figure in the distance she asked, “is that a real woman? I would be shocked if it’s not.” I ended up approaching this person as he sat at a bus stop, and yes, it was a man. He was not willing to talk to us, so we headed across the street where we saw the friend from earlier with a few other friends. We introduced ourselves to them and chatted for a few minutes. When one of them ran across the street to talk to someone, we entered into conversation with a man sitting on the sidewalk waiting for a bus. He spoke only Spanish, however the couple that I was with both spoke enough Spanish to hold a conversation with him. He said that he doesn’t really care much about God or church, he sees God as being absent from these streets when he looks around. He was a very nice man, but had to catch a bus to go home, so our conversation couldn’t continue for very long.
So we headed to bible study, where once again we had a large group because of all the people from church who had joined us. Several people were in intense conversations with people they had met. Before bible study started I met a young Hispanic man named “Al”, who was drinking at the time, but was able to converse very coherently about God and his beliefs. He believes in the holy spirit, but doesn’t believe the bible, and says that being good will get him to heaven. He steals from stores, but only the ones that “deserve” to be stolen from, and then gives the stuff away to friends. Clearly, being such a good Samaritan and not doing anything really bad will keep him from hell…..
This young man was also very attentive during bible study and had tons of questions throughout the entire service, which was new. Most people zone out or walk away, but he was highly involved, which was exciting. Matt, who did the sermon, seemed particularly passionate that night and spoke in a way which commanded attention and kept people focused. The cars were not that loud that night, no one interrupted our service, no one even left. It was one of the best yet that I have witnessed.
Afterwards I talked with a young man I had met a few weeks ago, “John”, and his friend “Frank”. A good reminder that people have some strange beliefs…and from what I can tell, it’s because they don’t really know what to believe, so they just come up with their own ideas with nothing to back it up. This led to an interesting discussion about reincarnation and hell being only for Satan, but not a place that anyone else goes to.
I made sure that night that all discussions got to God and salvation quickly, realizing that our time with each person is limited and cannot be wasted. And yet each of these conversations were also filled with some laughter and small talk. We got to know each other and connected on some level. In light of “Sam”, I know when I talk to each person it may take a very long time for them to recognize their need for God and to be brought to their knees; but I cannot waste my time there, I cannot let conversations go by and not steer them back to God. We are not guaranteed another conversation with any of these. I can no longer pray for Sam, I can’t pray for his family because they don’t even know where he is, I can’t pray for his friends because I’m not sure that he had any. But there are lots of people I can be praying for and that I can devote my time and compassion to. If there’s hope for even one person to get off the streets and escape the same fate as Sam, then I believe all of our team will do all that we can to save them.
Tuesday, July 31, 2007
A few weeks ago I posted an excited praise about "Zoe" going to a recovery center. While there, a few of the leaders got high with him, and 2 days later he was gone from the center, back on the streets. Oh, Satan is good. 2 weeks ago another friend who hangs out with us each week was planning to check into the same center on the following Monday after he got a legal situation straightened out. He ended up having some trouble with his hearing, going to the doctor, and now afraid he's permanently losing his hearing. And he doesn't want to go to a recovery program until he can get this figured out. Again, Satan is good.
Of course there are glimpses of hope...people entering shelters and recovery, even if it's briefly. A young transvestite who brings friends to our bible study and listens intently - when he actually makes it.
If you read this, any prayer on Thursday nights would be greatly appreciated for extra defense against Satan and his crew of demons. Thanks!
Monday, July 16, 2007
I drove home from church last night, and tears began to flow as pondered more the life of a prostitute, and things that I have heard from our friend "Zoe". I began thinking much more in depth about what that must be like, the hurt and pain and fear that I have heard from many of the people we have met on the streets. My heart completely broke for them as I drove, and I began to think of what kinds of ways we can help them get out and heal their lives.
Anyway, that's another story...but I came in this morning to an e-mail from one of the Broken Hearts team. A couple of our girls got "Zoe" checked into a recovery program this weekend! He has finally submitted to a plan to get rid of his drug addiction and off the street, and this could be his turning point to give his life to Christ. I'm not sure exactly what the program entails, but this is a HUGE step and an AMAZING sign! Praise God, He is good...He gives hope to the hopeless!
Friday, July 13, 2007
It’s truly surprising how warm and friendly people on the streets of L.A. can be, when you just take the time to see past their appearance, past the fact that they’re “weird” or “scary”, or they’re just out of your normal realm of acquaintances. I’ll be honest, if I were just walking down the street with a friend, I would not make eye contact with most people and just try to get to a safe destination as quickly as possible. But when you look at people with new eyes, with eyes like Jesus looking for the lost, that fear is replaced with compassion and love, and the outward disappears.
Old Hispanic lady sitting on the sidewalk, head down, bags around her feet = she’s probably crazy or mean, don’t talk to her…
Tall, large, black man walking down the street, watching those who pass him = scary guy, could be dangerous or perverted, avoid him and walk quickly past…
Woman, er, Man, dressed scandalously, walking with a friend = freak, that’s so inappropriate, can you believe he’s trying to be a woman? Keep going, don’t stare in case they get mad when you do that…
I think perhaps these are the typical thoughts which flow, sometimes unconsciously, through a person’s head in this situation. People who do not live in the city, or aren’t used to the atmosphere downtown. Heck, thoughts I’ve had in other situations in my life.
But these are the exact people we met last night. You remove those thoughts and replace them with, “Who can we talk to, who can we invite to bible study tonight?” and this is how it turns out.
Old Hispanic lady sitting on the sidewalk = sweet, friendly old lady, happy to take the granola bar we offer her. She’s very sick and can’t get much medical help. She’ll be sleeping on the street tonight, because she has no place to stay. We pray for her, invite her to bible study, and spend some time getting to know her. “Muchos muchos gracias” she tells with a smile us as we leave.
Tall, large, black man walking down the street = An easy guy to say hi to. He stops and we ask how he’s doing and what he’s up to. His car got towed and he’s trying to find a way to get back home and has a long way to go. He asks us what we’re up to, and is very interested in our bible study. He’s a messenger that works nights here a lot, and says he’ll come back next week. “You wouldn’t think I’d come, but I’ll be there. That’s right up my alley.” Perhaps one of the friendliest people I’ve met yet.
Woman, er, Man, dressed scandalously, walking with a friend = This is about half of the people we talk to on a regular basis. But this week, it’s a guy I met a few weeks back, who’s a Christian and is trying to reconcile his lifestyle with God. He remembers me, gives me his new phone number after I tell him I tried to reach him before, and says he’s definitely coming to our bible study and bringing his friend.
This past week, I think I was a bit more in-tune with what happens each week, because we had a group from church who is spending their week in Watts and Hollywood, immersing themselves in the culture and getting to know people they normally wouldn’t interact with. We get to “show them the ropes”, tell them what it’s like down here, and have them join us as we wander the streets. I see Jonas, who I met last week and chat for a few minutes passing on the street. I’m ecstatic to see “Sarah”, because I have been praying for him and trying to get a hold of him so that he’ll come to our bible study, and possibly to church with me sometime. We walk the streets and see familiar faces, greet each other with hugs, and introduce them to our new friends from church who are joining us. And I love it…there’s a small community that has been built down here by Broken Hearts. A number of people who hang out with us every week, who expect us and want to share their lives with us. We’ve all got numbers in our phones and people we want to look for each week, and a desire to share God with them in their state of brokenness.
Our bible study made me rejoice this week…of course it was bigger because of the group from church. But “Zoe” was there, “Sarah”, Jonas, Jose, and most of them had brought friends. They actually want to be there - prostitutes, drug addicts, homosexuals, homeless…they like hanging out with us. A loud, perhaps schizophrenic man interrupts our bible study with foul language and yelling, spiritual warfare no doubt taking place. But “Zoe” steps up finally, gets in his face and says, “Don’t talk to these people like this. You don’t mess with my friends,” in our defense.
During small group time, one “girl” shares his fear and prayers for safety on the street, a look of bad memories and worry in his eyes. “Zoe” is trying to beat a Crystal Meth addiction, “Jess” doesn’t seem to know exactly why he’s here, but seems interested in talking and shares that he’s looking for a job. “Sarah” stands up excitedly at the end of the study and is one of the first to jump into a prayer group. I just love it, this is such an awesome community of such random people, and such broken hearts. They are the farthest thing from innocent, but something about their vulnerability is child-like, just looking for someone to say everything is going to be okay, and hold their hand through it.
I just hope I’ve touched their lives like they’ve touched mine. I grieve for them and their hurt, I want to make it all better and help them out of the pit they’re in. Only God can do this, that is clear, but I just hope I’ll be around to see some of their changes, supporting them and cheering them on, simply being a friend. There aren’t many friends out here for these people, they’re all fighting for themselves.
There was one Sunday at church a few weeks ago that we sang “Oh Happy Day, Happy Day, You washed my sins away…I’ll never be the same, Forever I am changed.” It’s an upbeat, joyful praise song. And I envisioned what it would be like to sing that with any of the people in Hollywood, to see them redeemed and rejoicing that God had changed them. It brought tears to my eyes, and gave me a passion to be part of that change. Dear God, let us see that day when we can stand beside them as they sing, “Oh Happy day, Happy Day, Forever I am changed”!
Sunday, July 1, 2007
This past week was slightly disappointing; we talked to just a few people, some who rambled and complained or told crazy stories, many of which probably aren’t true. Clearly, they need love and attention and someone to care for them just as much as anyone else. It’s tough to think, however, that some of them have wasted their years on drugs and time spent in prison, and as a result, their minds just aren’t quite right.
I did meet two new prostitutes, and spent a few minutes talking to one who was noticeably upset. He told me I was pretty, which I assume is a pretty good compliment considering he spends his time trying to be a woman. I looked into his beautiful green eyes, sparkling against dark skin, and listened to him complain about how “Dutchess” gets more business and makes it harder for the other “girls”. Across the table, a man was complaining about the way he’s treating by cops, the corruption and hypocrisy he sees, and the foul ways he’s been treated by cops.
My emotions can be weird, I’m generally fairly unemotional, but moments of intense emotion come in spurts, often at random times. Last week, sitting on the sidewalk observing bible study, and again standing in a donut shop, I just wanted to cry. The sadness of so many of these people’s situation, the way they spend their lives, the hurt they carry, and the way they have to numb themselves to feeling so that they can stop hurting, is overwhelming.
After a short time at the donut shop, we headed out for bible study. Zoe came again, still not making an attempt at rehab or getting out of prostitution; a few other regulars came, and one new man who chatted with Matt throughout the whole service. We prayed together, but did not split into groups this week, just hung out and chatted afterwards, and a few people took off right after. I ended up talking to a man I had met the week before for about an hour, as he yapped my ear off about stories from his past, things about Jesus, and dirty jokes. A very nice, and apparently lonely man, but not much of a discussion.
Perhaps what stood out most about the night was driving home, passing an accident which must have taken place shortly before, as there were no cops and no traffic yet. We pulled over to help, and luckily a man who had formerly been an EMT was already there helping two young men out of an overturned truck, which now looked like a sedan. While Jen and I stayed with the car, two others went and helped out, prayed with one of the guys as blood gushed from his head, shared a bit about Jesus, and encouraged him to not let this event go unwasted.
These times exist, they will not stop us from what we are doing. As I quoted Robin in my first post, “Persistence pays off.” They’ve been at this for 3 years, and it’s come a long way. Sometimes ministry takes a lot of time, some pain, tons of patience and lots of sacrifice. I can see a great future here, and return each week with the excitement of what will happen down the road.
Sunday, June 17, 2007
This Thursday was very good evidence and demonstration of these concepts. Almost every week, Broken Hearts holds a bible study at midnight in front of a Laundromat with whomever chooses to show up off the street that night. Here, we are ministers. Sitting on the sidewalk with cochroaches crawling around and clubbers yelling on the streets, we hold church and fellowship.
Jesus was there this evening, working in maybe one or two lives specifically. We only had 3 visitors, one who wasn’t really a part of things, but was interested enough that he stood off to the side drinking his coffee and trying not to be nosy, but listening to the whole message and small group sessions. Another was our friend Frankie, who hangs out with us almost every Thursday. Another was man named “Bill” who some of the team had met earlier. He was pretty much wasted at the time, and though Greg had bought him food earlier, he still managed to have money to purchase a large bottle of beer. So, he reclined on the sidewalk, drinking and intermittently breaking into a rap about something in the bible. Or, if it wasn’t about the bible, it was expletives about Jesus or Christians, or something else that was very difficult to understand through his slurred speech. Matt spoke about a passage in John about Jesus being the shepherd and us the sheep, and all of the wolves that are out to get us. About halfway through, Bill wandered off with his beer and we didn’t see him again.
Following the message this week, we broke into two groups to ask for prayer for specific challenges and worries, etc. We were intentional in being genuine in this, so that church on the sidewalk looks the same as in a building. And by doing so, our visitors also see us being real and honest about struggles and sin and may feel more safe to be vulnerable as well.
Church is interesting to do on the streets, with cuss words flying out of people’s mouths as they walk by, having to pretend you don’t hear a ranting visitor, and trying to stay focused despite all of the distractions, cars and partyers walking by. Though it may be an unusual location and procedure, the Holy Spirit is still there. And perhaps God was most available to Frankie this night, because He met us on the streets where he’s comfortable, and not in the warm, fuzzy, standard church sanctuary full of people knowing all the songs and having the right things to say.
I witnessed something that I never expected to see, not any time in the near future anyway. But of course, it is so easy to limit God and expect less than what he can truly do. Maybe he had to use a rough year, a stint in prison, a drug addiction…but he began to break down Frankie. Normally so bubbly, dancing around and distracted by getting business, I was not used to this person who seemed upset, depressed, down and unmotivated. He sat on the sidewalk and talked about some of his pain, more honestly than I would have ever expected to hear from him. Tired of the life he’s living, tired of the attitude from other “girls” on the street, no longer enjoying the physical pleasures that he’s paid for, tired of getting in trouble, drugs, etc. Several people discussed with him the idea of going into a Christian rehab program, but he was very hesitant. So we worked through his obstacles – his pride getting in the way, and more that this life is his identity: “this is what I know, this is what I do” he explained. If he leaves, who is he? What will he do? He’s comfortable here, he's familiar with this life.
I understood listening to him just a little bit more of why the news that Jesus loves us and died for us is “the good news”. Sometimes it sounds so contrite; or we get caught up in simply converting people over to our side. But this person truly needs to know the love that his creator has for him – that anyone has for him. And I wanted so badly for him to understand, to accept it, and to believe that he can be more. I’m not sure what happened after that, because I had to go home.
On our way, we caught a glimpse of Precious, another transvesitite prostitute we had met a few weeks ago. This was another awesome moment of the night, because he didn’t have his hair done or make-up on, and was dressed in regular clothes, and not as a woman. He told Jennifer that he’s trying to change, which again was shocking and wonderful to hear.
Besides that, we didn’t have too many interactions with other people throughout the night, just a few short conversations. But those two moments made it, in my mind, one of the most exciting and successful so far. People are making slight changes, perhaps God is softening and breaking their hearts. Of course, for me, I have only known Frankie a few weeks. But the team has known him for probably about a year, and he’s been a prostitute for a year and a half. So this change is a long time in the making, and may not even be a full turnaround any time soon. But any indication of future change or a desire to change, is massive in this environment. And in His time, God will bring about new life in these people if we continue to be willing vessels and demonstrate his love and power.
God is good...he does not require a temple or church building, loud praise music or 3 point sermons. We are a community of ministers, and we can be pastors and teachers and leaders whovever we are and wherever we go.
Sunday, June 10, 2007
I find it fascinating that each week as I venture down to Hollywood to meet and spend time with people on the street, that I come away with a greater understanding of people, and a greater understanding of God. The smallest things amount to great hope, and God’s miracle-working abilities become clearer each week.
These past two weeks I heard two different testimonies from guys on the team. And both stories ended with a knowledge of God from a very subtle, yet almost tangible recognition of his peace and fulfillment in their lives. They both sought out God – one as a means of rescue before killing himself, the other as a challenge – and both felt an overwhelming peace and sense that Christ was there with them, and that He was real. Both turned their lives over to God and now share him with people on the streets who need that same experience.
People don’t even need us, God is the one who does the work. And many times He will work through his servants, but we are not the reason they come to Christ – his Holy Spirit is, we are simply his tools. And this is strangley encouraging, because sometimes it feels hopeless and nearly impossible to convince people.
To my delight this past week, I actually saw a familiar face, which can be rare as we meet so many new people each week, and many don't live around the area. I met him a few weeks ago, “Carl”, and shortly before leaving this past week, we ran into him. It still brings a smile to my face, remembering that he had come earlier to join in our bible study. All we had to do was invite him once, and on his own accord, he came two weeks later to see our bible study. Unfortunately he came too late and missed it, although it was short and informal inside a Del Taco. But he came! So we chatted again for a bit, about what he had been up to, and what he had thought about since we talked. We got into a discussion about the purpose and meaning of life. In general, he ignores those questions when they pop into his head because he knows it will be very hard to figure out. He said that every once in a while, however, that there’s a very small voice in his head that makes him wonder about those things. He also admitted that he had thought about hell since we talked, and wanted to know more about Satan. As stated in a previous blog, he didn’t think hell was a big deal, wasn’t worried to go there. So while it might not seem like a big deal, I believe that the fact that he had even thought about it was huge headway. So I told him I would help him out and send him things to read in the bible about it. I got his e-mail address this week so that I could send him that, as well as info about purpose from the Bible. I also invited him to church once again, although this week he declined as he was helping with the Gay Pride Parade (great). But we’ll shoot for the week after. He may also come to our bible study next week (be praying!)
11:10pm: Earlier in the evening, at the same Del Taco location, Krista got into a discussion with a guy, “Jim” that we met, high at the time, newly out of prison, and also claiming to be a Buddhist. So while she talked, another person asked to talked to us. So 3 of us girls sat with Salma in Del Taco while he(she) ate, and she told us of how her friend recently died, and it had her thinking about what would happen to her if she died. Apparently, he had grown up in the church, believes in Jesus, and has given his life to Him. But he is worried about his lifestyle, and it is making him question what God thinks and if he really will go to heaven. He said he has prayed about his lifestyle, and doesn’t 100% want to change, but it seemed clear that he wants to live this way, but knows he shouldn’t and is thinking about trying to change.
Side note: I’ve noticed something in talking to transgenders, and some of the more flamboyantly homosexual men. They often seem to me, to be sort of a shell of a person – lacking in distinct personality, they all kind of act and think the same. It’s evident that they are entirely confused about who they are and what they should be, and while speaking to them it’s hard for me to connect and really figure this person out. They don’t seem entirely real, perhaps because they are both trying and pretending to be something that they feel inclined to, but just aren’t. They let that become their personality and identity, and it’s hard to figure out exactly who they are, what they like, how they think. Even as I write this, it’s very hard to figure out if I should say he or she, because he was a very convincing she.
Salma however was encouraging, as he really was seeking the truth and wants to know what to do. I offered to help him find a church near there, and perhaps will go with him if he feels awkward. He said he gets some pretty funny looks and attitudes when he goes, which is understandable. But even if he appears to be a female, that shouldn’t stop him from getting to know God.
12:00am:After praying together, we all split up and walked around, ending up back at 7-11 where we met a teenager named "Dan", sitting against the wall waiting for a friend to come pick him up. He had been left by his friends at “Tiger Heat” because the bouncers don’t let obviously drunk people into the club. So by the time we met him, he was completely wasted, but perfectly willing to talk and even discuss religion and God.
In just a few weeks, I have come to see that people generally know more, think more, and have more religious experience than they first portray. “I don’t believe in God” and “I’m not religious”, after peeling back the layers of façade, turn into “I’ve been through too much, I don’t believe God is good,” or “I used to go to church and I learned about Jesus.” This was what happened with Dan. We probably talked with him for about an hour and at first it was the I-don’t-care attitude and he just likes to drink and doesn’t believe in an all-powerful being, etc. Which eventually led our discussion to past experiences with church, trying to pray and find God, a past full of hurt, suicide attempts, and a boy who had basically given up on a good God and lives in hurt and pain every single day, so he lets alcohol take away the pain. We prayed with him, and he seemed open to investigating God by the time we finished.
Yes, God works in great, yet often very subtle ways. In the questions of a young man, trying to be a woman; in a drunk teenager amazed by hearing personal stories of tangible experiences with God and wondering if he can have the same; in an apathetic homosexual who has given the idea of heaven and hell a second thought. Seemingly small thoughts, but significant steps towards Christ. Just the type of ways in which God uses to get his foot in the door of their lives and begin his real work. We just have to crack the door open, and God handles all the rest. It may take years, but with Christ, all things are possible.
Saturday, June 2, 2007
“I’m not drunk, I haven’t even been drinking!”
I think that was the theme of the evening, as men and women, most near 21 or younger, tried to get into Tiger Heat, the local gay nightclub. Amazing how much people try to lie about that, and then 20 minutes later tell you they’re drunk…or pull out a personal flask. It’s really more amusing than anything else.
This week started out with prayer again, and chatting with Helen “Big Mama” at Del Taco. Then we proceeded on to walk around the area in small groups. As I have not been doing this long, I’m guessing this is usually how the evening goes…wandering until they find people to strike conversations about God. Not easy in the line at a club, where people don’t want to listen. Although some are very friendly…or like the bouncer at the club, a huge jerk who’s pretending like he’s tough, but just needs to have his façade broken through. We met “Kaitlin” and Nick in line, wondering why they couldn’t get inside the club as she tried to convince the bouncer, unsuccessfully, that she wasn’t drunk. And Connor, who fell down on the railing and with an incredibly straight, serious face told him that he hadn’t been drinking and had been pushed.
However, these are the people that basically get stuck talking to us because they have nowhere else to go- haha. Of course, they were drunk and trying to tell us that Christians are judgmental of gays and think it is the worst sin. We tried to convince them otherwise, and once they heard that, began hugging us. Very affectionate drunk clubbers seemed to be the theme of the evening. Eventually, we got them to walk with us to the 7-11 to get Kaitlin some coffee and time before she tried to get back into the club. We made it about halfway, when Nick found some old friends, and within a few minutes was making out with some dude on the wall of a building. Uh, ok…Being drunk they were fairly A.D.D, so we never actually got them to 7-11, and they went back to the club.
We ended up chatting with many different people in the parking lot where we were supposed to have bible study (which I have yet to experience). We ran into Connor, strangely enough, and he and I talked about Catholicism vs. Christianity, and his belief in God. Pretty normal, except that he believes his friends who aren’t Christians, but are good people, will go to heaven. He ended up having to leave, so we couldn’t finish our conversation, but gave me his phone number so we could talk more about it sometime. Another friendly drunk, he gave me about 3 hugs and seemed to enjoy our conversation.
Meanwhile, Jennifer was talking to a guy whose family started the Vineyard churches, and another girl who goes to Saddleback church. Greg chatted with an angry Muslim man, and others were talking with various other people, some of whom they had met before. Then I hung out in Magees Donuts with Jose, Anthony, Krista and Matt. Matt shared with me a short version of his testimony…one of the craziest stories I’ve ever heard. He seems like a pretty mellow, happy guy… but I now understand why he does ministry on Skid Row, he’s perfect there, even though he doesn’t fit in at all – from the outside. And it was a great reminder to us that God can change the most hopeless of people. A good thing to remember, as most of the people down here could be classified as “hopeless”.
After that, I saw Jennifer rushing by with Kaitlin and Nick, strangley enough. Kaitlin was now disheveled looking, scraped up, dirty, and had apparently thrown up on herself (and the sweatshirt that Jennifer had given to her to keep warm). And so the rest of my evening consisted of buying food for her, trying to help her and Nick figure out what was going on, and sitting with her as she shivered and threw up a lot of alcohol. All the while hearing, “What’s going on? What happened?…how did I get these scratches?...where am I?” Is this perhaps why Jesus didn’t seem so fond of being drunk? I think so…I’ve never seen someone so wasted in my life, she didn’t have a clue. She kept wanting to go back to the club, and I had to explain to her that she couldn’t go back, she couldn’t drink more, and while she wanted to have a good time with her friends, she wouldn’t remember it in the morning anyway. “Really?” she asked me with her big, empty eyes. “Yes, honey, just stay here.” Eventually they found friends to meet up with and drive home to Victorville.
Right after that, another two guys wondered around, one also completely wasted – messed up would be another way to say it – to the point of crying, upset, frustrated, shaking, and not really knowing what was going on. Apparently something bad had happened to upset him, and he couldn’t stop crying. He didn’t seem to really know what to do with himself either, or what was happening. The rest of the group stayed with him and prayed, as Krista and Jennifer and I left. I don’t fit into the same group as the “Broken Hearted” in the same way, but that left me with a broken heart.
It’s hard to go to sleep Friday mornings when I get in bed at about 2:30am. There’s just too much to think about, so much to pray about. Dear God, bind up their broken hearts…
Friday, June 1, 2007
I spent the past week writing the story of my previous experience in Hollywood with the Broken Hearts ministry, thinking through stories I heard, pondering what God wants our church to hear through this, considering how best to explain what happens each week and how to word it well. After several days of thinking, I was finally able to put my ideas on paper (which resulted in the prior post).
But my mind couldn’t stop at simply writing the story. Things I heard, sermons, ideas, etc, all made me think about what I could say in response to different people and scenarios, what I could use when I went back. But wait – wasn’t this supposed to be a one time thing, a trip up to see what it’s like and leave it at that? Well, yes, to me that’s what it was supposed to be. I guess God had other plans. Because I thought about the people I met, and about who Jesus hung out with and loved, and the story became much more than something for RockHarbor. I couldn’t get it out of my head. The idea of not going back almost seemed unnatural. I could no longer imagine sitting at home, watching TV, or going to sleep at 10:00, when others would just be meeting up to drive to Hollywood and get to know new people and chat with old familiar friends. I couldn’t sit comfortably at home, knowing people are dying out there on the streets.
I know it was not my doing, because 1) it’s a late-night ministry. I go to bed early every night, I work early, it’s just not reasonable. 2) It’s kind of a dangerous, not-so-nice neighborhood, and so out of my comfort zone. 3) I don’t even know the people in this ministry, I have no connection, no previous passion for the broken-hearted. 4) I’m not “gifted” Evangelically. So of course, this is not the ministry for me; no way. I was beginning to branch out by looking into a Soup Kitchen ministry once a month. Or by joining the RH newspaper, which I knew nothing about and had no connection to. I had looked at the Broken Hearts ministry online and thought, “wow, that’s cool. But not my thing.” And yet all week I kept thinking about it; praying about it, feeling like I would be there the following Thursday. And so, though my previous contacts with Broken Hearts were now on vacation, going home for the summer, getting married…I managed to find a new contact, hook up with them, and ride down once again, telling myself and them that it was for the story I was writing. And while that was part of it, I think I already knew that it was for many other reasons.
Alas, I write this a week after going back a third time, and now officially part of the ministry. God does some crazy stuff, that’s all I know. So, here’s the story of my second week. Each week is unique, and there seems to be a theme for each evening and that is how I will begin titling my posts.
This week began again at Del Taco, chatting with Big Mama and Jose, praying together before going out. But we started out with more of a “street evangelism” approach, finding random people to talk to as we split into groups. Luckily, I was paired up with a girl who knows how to start conversations about God. Granted, her approach is not my favorite, but it gets the ball rolling for me to comfortably join in. So we talked to a young, homosexual, Hispanic male named “Ray”. He barely knew English, but the girl I was with knew it decently enough to talk about God. They struggled back and forth until his friend came to pick him up. We figured out enough to know that he doesn’t know how to get to heaven and is not a Christian. Once his friend arrived, we were able to communicate much better. He was also Hispanic, but speaks English very well, and so our conversation ended up being more with him than with Ray, who sat quietly and listened unless we asked him specific questions. “Carl”, his friend, spent the next 2 hours, talking with us about God, church, heaven and hell. He explained that he doesn’t know how to get to heaven, but doesn’t really care. If he goes to hell, that’s okay, he’s not too concerned. He’s “weird”, he explained. After enough conversation, I realized that “weird” is another way of saying “hurt”, “emotionally shut-off”, “abandoned” and has convinced himself he doesn’t care about anything. Obviously, it’s easier that way. Use people, have fun, be “free”, and convince yourself that you’re happy that way. He admitted to me that yes, he has been hurt, had a rough past, and has put up walls.
Amazingly, and by God’s wisdom given to me, it was not hard to see that pretty quickly. I haven’t been that intuitive about things like that in the past, but God has opened my eyes. Hurt is everywhere, in everyone, and most people react similarly to it. However, he said that he’s interested in many religions, and in trying new things. He’d definitely go to church with me, try it out, see what it’s like. So we exchanged numbers with hope that he’ll actually come to church with me sometime.
I truly saw God at work in the conversation…giving me perspective to understand him, ask the right questions, talk about God and theology, and include conversation simply about him and his life, and know when to listen and chat casually. That seems to be a good balance with people – chatting like normal, but bringing the gospel into the conversation and seeing what they think about it. He told me that I was quiet, but that what I had to say was good whenever I opened my mouth. That meant a lot, as he seemed to respond better to that than to just being preached at. And it showed me that God can use me in these environments, too, not just the “evangelically gifted”.
Part way through that conversation, other members of the group came around with people they had met over the last hour. Jose had been with us all night, standing on the sidewalk…Frankie – a transvestite prostitute who hangs out with this group every night – was dancing around and trying to get business most of the time…and then Precious joined us – another transvestite prostitute, in need of “work” in order to afford a motel room to sleep for the night. Otherwise he would be out on the street. He wanted to go to a treatment center, but was offended when told that he would have to dress like a man. He was nice, asked if I would trade hair with him because he liked mine so much, and was trying his best to resist going across the street to buy drugs. Similarly, another prostitute, Sequoia, joined us in his red dress/skirt and knee-high boots, butt hanging out and face looking like he’s been beat up multiple times to the point of broken bones. He was crying, mascara running down his face, and desperately in need of dope. All I heard of their conversation with him is that he “is God, everyone’s God”, and “you can call me whore, because that’s what I am”, and “HIV isn’t real”. If it’s not obvious by now, it’s a different world out there.
Funny enough, Carl, who “doesn’t care” about hell, was here this whole time watching these people, and as Ray was trying to escape, looking entirely frightened, Carl told me, “That made me think about hell. That actually is making me start to think about hell.” Words wouldn’t do it, but seeing the outcome of drugs and prostitution on one man’s life, he was in fear of what hell might hold.
Those conversations pretty much concluded the evening. Several people stayed around to talk with them, while the girls I had come with all left together. And yet somehow after all of this, drugs and prostitutes and watching a fight break out across the street, I felt strangely grateful to God, and I knew I would be back.
When MOTION decided they wanted someone to go with the Broken Hearts ministry to L.A. and Hollywood to tell God's story, I knew I didn't want to be that person. It was at that same moment I felt God tell me, “Go”…
12:10am: “Aren’t you scared?” I nearly laugh, looking into the eyes of the man asking me this question. He is an African-American male, about 6’2”, roughly 275 pounds, and looks as though he could be working as a body guard. But his eyes are wide open, a “dear in the headlights” expression across his face. He explains that he is a limo driver from Rancho Cucamonga and has never seen anything like this strip of Santa Monica Blvd before.
11:00pm: Nearly an hour earlier, a car is pulled over and a man arrested as we stand across the street. Throughout the night, many more police cars drive by on patrol. Most of the women walking down the street are not real women, but drag queens and transvestites. Drug dealers and addicts congregate at the local donut shop, just across from the flashing neon sign of the adult video store.
11:20pm: In the same parking lot as the donut shop, a few members of the Broken Hearts team chat with an employee of the adult video store, as well as Jose and Anthony, friends they made ministering at Santa Monica and Highland.
12:00am: The whole team meets up in a parking lot outside of 7-11, where a small table is set up with donuts and bibles, the location of their weekly “church service.”
12:10am: Pondering the question that the limo driver had asked me, I glance to my right where Robin Lauterjung, a 20 year-old Biola student, runs and squeals excitedly as she sees a familiar face. She jumps up into a lingering hug with Romeo, a homosexual male she has known since beginning this ministry, and who has just found out that he is HIV positive.
12:30am: “Persistance pays off...This is 3 years in the making” Robin explains. “When we first started coming down here, no one would talk to us, there was no acknowledgment.” It is hard to believe, observing the numerous cell phone calls that the team receives from people they have gotten to know, seeing the hugs and conversations with those who have become their friends. Drug dealers and addicts, prostitutes, homosexuals, homeless, transvestites.
While trying to begin a ministry and gain trust on the streets, Antquan Washington says, “God was showing us common points within each of these different groups of friends. First, that we all started on the same level playing field when it comes to being a sinner. And second, that there is an area of brokenness that needs to be healed.” Now he spends Thursday evenings in East L.A and Hollywood, discipling men like Juan, who gave his life to Christ a year ago, and Peter, who recently left the homosexual lifestyle and sought out sober living. “I have seen God transform both our team as well as the lives on the street. We've been able to have church on the streets of Hollywood every Thursday night for the last year.”
1:00am: The rest of the morning is spent in conversation, as the team is disbursed among different groups. I spend the next hour and a half with a young man named Eric, a Christian who struggles with homosexuality and left the church after seeing too much corruption. While he tries to find a full-time job, he performs once a week at a local club, usually dressed as a woman. He shares with us that he has been homeless, deals with judgment for his lifestyle, and has a past full of nightmares.
“It’s not like Orange County,” explains Robin, “where you try to tell someone that they need God and they don’t listen because their lives are great. Here, they already know their lives are miserable, and it lends itself to sharing the gospel.”
So, am I scared? Surprisingly, “No, not really,” I tell the limo driver, because it is clear that God is at work here. Yes, there are gay nightclubs, gangs, weapons and drugs nearby. But God is here on the streets, protecting those who serve, developing relationships and giving hope.
While seemingly scary at first glance, I am reminded that these are the same people that Jesus spent his time with - the outcasts, the lowly in society, the “sinners”. People slapped with labels and often viewed as creepy or weird. Yet God loves and cares about these ordinary men and women who live with broken hearts—and he is calling me to do the same.