Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Satan's Posse lives in Hollywood

Satan hangs out in Hollywood, I see it every week. (Of course, he hangs out everywhere, but I see him at work here). Why is it that our bible study is almost interrupted? Or people fall asleep, or we're surrounded by distractions? It's almost guaranteed that each week our bible study will not go smoothly and the people who most need to hear it will be distracted and turn their attention away from what God is trying to speak to them. People's souls are empty and open to whatever Satan wants to do through them, from drunken rants to cursing God to fights. He's got plenty of tools to make our work difficult.

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

Praise God, Praise God, Praise God!

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

Motley Crew Community

I love these people.

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.

For instance:
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

Times Like These

Church on the streets is hard. It just really hit me this week, following last Thursday’s bible study. Church is not a building, it’s not confined by walls or defined by a specific pastor or team of elders, any day or place. But when you hold church sitting on a busy sidewalk, with people off the street, it’s an entirely different experience. There are interruptions, people constantly talking, loud people passing on the street, the noise of trucks and cars, and the people who attend are often very distracted, coming and going, losing attention easily. I have no doubt that God can reach someone’s heart just as easily there, but it can be trying.

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.