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”!

No comments: