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.