Saturday, November 29, 2008

Black Friday

I decided to join the Friday night team this week, especially since we hadn't stayed out as late on Thanksgiving, getting home around midnight instead of 3am. The streets were filled with many more cars, people, and noise than they had been the previous night. I escaped the cold air as I met the team in the warmth of Del Taco. They sat catching up with each other as well as our friend 'Ravi' as he ate the meal they provided to him. The night had a slow start as Michelle was interviewing Nick for a journalism class assignment, and we waited for everyone to arrive and set out. A few people took off to begin their night of meeting people at all of the usual places, and Francisco and I decided to go to 7-11 for coffee and energy drinks in the meantime.

As we arrived, there was a bit of commotion, as a guy bolted inside as the words, "there he is!" followed behind him from another guy. Figuring it was the usual ruckus, we continued on inside to get our drinks. As I stood by the coffee machine, Will ducked behind it and the snack rack on the other side, hoping to escape whoever was chasing him. It appeared that he was talking to people at the door, or just outside of it, and kept saying, "call the cops...can you call the cops? This guy's chasing me...I don't want to go out there." From the tone of his voice, it didn't sound anxious or overly dangerous, but that he was frustrated, a little angry, and slightly worried. Glancing at him, I recognized the 20-some year old black man, his tear drop-tattooed face and sleeves of tattoos. I had talked to him several times before, but in his state of worry, he didn't acknowledge me and it wasn't really the time to bring up recognition. But after saying he wanted someone to call the cops multiple times, I stepped aside from the coffee and asked if he wanted me to call the cops. He responded that we could, but what he really needed was a ride, that he needed to get away from the threat outside. After a few minutes of talking to him and debating in my mind what to do - since we didn't know the full story and weren't sure if there would be any threat to us if we involved ourselves in the situation - we ended up calling Jean-Eric to come pick him up with us. Because I knew him, and based on the sound of situation, it seemed that he was in more danger than anyone else involved, and if we could help him without being confronted by whoever was chasing him, we would be fine.

As we stood outside in the protection of the local security officers, Will told us bits and pieces of what had happened - jumped, bike stolen, couldn't run because of a hurt leg, framed and chased after...his anxiousness to just get out of the area because he didn't do anything and didn't want any trouble. We made sure that he didn't have any drugs or weapons on him before planning to give him a ride, and then the guys showed up in the 7-11 parking lot, going off again. One of them held his friend back as he yelled and tried to go after Will. The cops tried to get us all to leave until we explained that we were giving him a ride. I think it helped that a few of them were officers we had talked to last night and given Thanksgiving meals to.

Will needed to get to a train station to get home to Long Beach, but wouldn't be able to walk to one fast enough. As the cops got the guys to leave and head the other direction, we hid behind the wall of 7-11 as we waited for Jean-Eric to show up. He went on in his anger to tell more of the story, anxiously looking up and down the streets, saying he didn't know where they might show up and that he just wanted to leave without any trouble. That's when he also acknowledged that we'd met and knew each other and asked if I remembered him. He also asked about where we were from and if we were affiliated with a church, knowing what we were out there doing. When Jean-Eric showed up, we piled into the car and headed to the train station, Will continuing in his story of what happened, explaining why he was there, how he'd been homeless for a few months in Hollywood when we met him, now living in Long Beach but up here to visit friends. And from what he could tell the guys thought he was dealing drugs on their turf, even though he doesn't deal. He thanked us for the ride when we got to the train station and sent us off with a "God Bless you", and we headed back to Del Taco.

As we headed in, we ran into our friend "Cassandra" and a guy that he was with. He sat down with us, and we quickly entered into conversation about the latest gossip, as he always likes to share in his incredibly flamboyant and charismatic way. Turns out the previous night a man had been killed on one of the local bus lines, and a recent murder of a transsexual had also occurred. Apparently there's a truck that's begun being recognized with people who are out to get transgenders, or at least that's what we got from Cassandra's story, as he had had a recent encounter with the guys. The conversation quickly transitioned into religious topics as the guy he was with asked us if we were Christians. I don't think I've actually seen any boyfriends or dates of the transgenders that we talk to. It was slightly odd, and yet not all that strange at the same time, to sit with a gay couple, one looking and acting the part of the female. I guess at this point very little surprises me. But I always wonder about the people who date transgender prostitutes, and this guy was completely normal, and very engaging in our conversation. A Mexican male, dressed "like a gang banger" as he explained it, but let us know he'd never done the gang thing and didn't really understand it. He believed that Christianity was the only true religion, and knew that his sexual preference conflicted with the bible, and didn't feel right about following a religion or going to church while knowing he was acting against it. That topic led to a long, very interesting and productive conversation about the bible, God, homosexuality and sin in general, and forgiveness. Both Cassandra and Silent, as he goes by, both believe Christianity and know quite a bit about the bible, which made for an intelligent dialect. I would say maybe one of the best conversations I've had there, because 4 of us were talking to them, able to debate and discuss, but never in a confrontational, condemning, or angry way. It was completely calm with even exchange on both ends.

Silent expressed that he really enjoyed the conversation, finding these types rare, because people don't want to take the time to listen or talk about these things. And when Jean-Eric shared one of his struggles he'd dealt with since he was young, Cassandra expressed how appreciative he was that he was willing to share something like that and be real about it and asked the rest of us about our struggles, too. Clearly, it's important for us to be able to relate to people when we talk, not from a pedastal. And likewise, Cassandra told us some darker details from his childhood and some fears he'd recently had realized.

As the conversation rounded back to lighter topics, it struck me yet again how odd the situations we end up in probably appear to people. 4 young women and men - Mexican, Lebanese, Korean and American - sitting in a Del Taco in Hollywood, engaging in a deep conversation where the words "God" and "Bible" can clearly be overheard coming from a 35 year-old Mexican man and his transgender boyfriend. Laughter is interspersed through the conversation that anyone inside can hear, and then we continue talking with Silent as Cassandra stands behind me braiding my hair. From the outside it must be an odd scene...but it strikes me that even the people we don't talk to are seeing something different going on and probably notice what's happening. Hopefully there's a silent witness just from our presence and interaction with those that people on the street know well. In fact, some of the friends we've made out there have said that they saw us all the time, watched what we did and who we talked to before they ever talked to us. They knew who we were and what we were doing, even when they'd never talked to any of us, maybe had even avoided it. It's encouraging to me to think that maybe even when we're not talking to everyone there, that we're building trust with them just by being there every week and accepting 'their people', and that eventually that trust might lead to more relationships.

Friday, November 28, 2008


It's been several weeks since I've written anything, part of that due to the fact that I took a two week sabbath from ministry. And before that Antquan was taking a 2 week break as well, during which I filled in to facilitate our nights out there and work on planning Thanksgiving dinner, so I've been a little busy.

Every year Broken Hearts hosts a Thanksgiving dinner for our friends we meet on the street. We usually don't know who's going to show up or what exactly to expect. We start telling people about it a few weeks ahead of time, reminding them, and letting them know when and where we'll be to pick them up for dinner. The past two years Antquan had it at his house near Orange County, and the team would bring people down from Hollywood. This year we were blessed enough to be able to partner with the Hollywood Church and Hope Again, a transitional living shelter, to provide a Thanksgiving meal to those living in the shelter, to some friends from our awesome partner, the Hollywood Church, and to friends from Santa Monica Blvd.

It was a great turnout, as we had several men and women from Hope Again join us, though only a few of our friends from Thursday and Friday nights came. Because we host the dinner earlier in the evening, many of the people we know aren't out on the street yet to participate with us. Which is why after dinner, we pack up the leftovers into individual plates and hand them out to people who couldn't make it.

For the first 20 minutes or so, the 30-35 people in the room took turns sharing what we were thankful for. Everything from good jobs, friends and family, to a roof over a head, to thanksgiving for salvation, sobriety and healing. But pretty much everyone included their reason for all of that, our God who so graciously and faithfully provides all of those things, and who, for so many, has pulled them out of a life on the street and addictions to drugs and alchohol.

Dinner was a delicous array of traditional Thanksgiving foods, and we spent the next hour or so enjoying the company of our team, visitors, and getting to know new faces from Hope Again. One of the only faces I reconized from the street was AJ, a young kid who I'd talked to a few times and came out with our friend "Ravi". He told me he was tired, that living on the street was exhausting and that he hadn't slept much lately. That he and Ravi would be sleeping on the top of an apartment building, or in the stairwell that night. And asked what church I went to and expressed interest in attending the Hollywood Church. I hadn't talked to him too much in previous weeks, but I wouldn't have guessed when he came in that night that he was so interested in change, so tired, and ready for spiritual feeding.

After the meal, we made plates to hand out on the street and divided up to pass them out. In my car we took Nat, a sold-out-for-Christ woman we had just met, who lives in a camper a few blocks down. She was set on taking plates to some of her homeless friends who live near her, so we headed there first to make sure that they were provided with a warm meal for the night. Behind a tarp covering up their belongings, we found a man and a woman, covered in blankets covering them from the now chilly air, lying on a small mattress of some sort, tucked in for the night. We chatted with them for a few minutes, then took another plate to a man who was getting into his car for the night. That point in the evening causes me to think how many needs are out there that most of us probably miss so often; how deceiving appearances can be, especially when we either don't want to see the need, or don't want to assume a need in fear of offending someone. "Do you think that guy wants a plate?" Francisco asked Nat. My limited-view response suggested that from my perception, he seemed to just be a guy getting into his van to leave..on his way somewhere, perhaps home. Nat's reply: "no, he's staying here tonight. that's his van, that's where he stays." A brief exchange and we confirmed that the van was the man's home and that he usually sleeps there, and would probably want some food. Francisco took one of our last plates to the man while we waited in the car. He came back to tell us that the man expressed great thanks for the food, and that the look in his eye when he was offered food was one that made Francisco want to cry.

My abrupt and lazy judgement had allowed me to think that this was just a normal guy taking off for the night, not in need of anything. And if it were me, I would have missed giving a basic necessity for life and a moment of concern and caring for one of the most lonely, sad, and most grateful recipients we met last night....

After dropping off Nat at her camper, we headed down to Santa Monica blvd to meet the rest of the team and pass out the rest of the food. But the streets were practically vacant, some of our regular shops closed for the night, and very few people to accept any food. We spent a lot of the evening in the parking lot where we normally have bible study. Meals went to some security guards, police officers, a man we met in the liquor store while visiting a friend who works there, our old friend Miko who came by later and wanted to know what we were all grateful for, the donut shop owners, and a few others.

The streets were crawling with cops last night, people being pulled over, chased down, hand-cuffed, and watched scrutinously throughout the evening. We sat on the wall by the adult book store and security base for a while, talking to a man we'd given some food to, and then to a younger guy the team had recently met. We passed by a guy getting interrogated and cuffed as we made a bathroom trip, and then on the way back to that wall passed by some cops standing there. "Do you come out here often?" one of them asked me. I could tell that either a questioning of why we were there, or a warning, were about to ensue. "yep. We come out here every week," I replied, met by a look of surprise. "Well I'm just gonna let you know that you shouldn't come out here, there's a lot of robberies; this is a dangerous area." I let him know that we come each week to hang out with people and have a bible study...and implied that we're aware of the danger and have no plans to stop coming. Of course he looked at me like I was a naive idiot, and a "yeah, that's cute that you're trying to do something good, but give it up" expression. I think he said something along the lines of, "well, that's good that you're trying to help, but this is a dangerous area and I would advise that you don't keep coming out here." I let him know that I understood, that I appreciated his concern and would keep it in mind, but made no promises that we'd ever stop coming. And though safety is always a concern we need to keep in mind, I didn't tell him that in 4 years that team has never had any major saftey issues. A few threatening people, perhaps, but nothing beyond that.

It made me keep thinking though...surprisingly people don't ever seem to mind us being out there or have much of a problem with us. At least from the standpoint of us being obvious outsiders and encroaching on a turf that is far from our usual hang outs. From the standpoint of us being Christians and holding beliefs that conflict with their lifestyle, that's where we find more resistance and anger. As a cop, I'm sure that man sees all the bad, and gets endless attitude and anger expressed towards him. They're there to enforce the law, they infringe on the "freedom" that people have down there, they can be oppressive and they're the ones who send them to jail and give them trouble...often unfairly. But we've made friends with those same people...the people who are hassled by cops, who deal drugs, who pimp and steal and lie, and probably cause trouble for the law enforcement, are also some of the same ones who have our back, who come to our bible studies, who engage in conversations about God with us.

This year I'm incredibly grateful for that - for our ministry, for God's protection, for the relationships he's allowed us to build when it seems crazy to the outside world, for the way that he uses us to help people out there, and for the lives he slowly rebuilding and giving hope to.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

It's amazing in this type of ministry how the smallest thing can be such a huge encouragement. This past Thursday was...well, just kind of blah for me. I didn't feel like I had any productive conversations, didn't feel like the bible study had any major impact, and it was one of those days that I left feeling discouraged and useless.

Then today sitting at work, I got a call on my cell phone from a number in the LA area that I didn't recognize. I ignored it, as I usually do with numbers I don't know. But then they called back about 10 minutes later. Knowing there was a minor chance it could be someone from Hollywood, I answered. I couldn't have been more shocked to hear, "Hey Holly, I don't know if you remember me, but this is "Andy"...from Hollywood?..." I met him two weeks ago and wrote about him on this blog. He had been out on the streets for 2 days when I met him.

I can't even remember how many times I've given my number to people in Hollywood, told them to call if they needed anything or just wanted to talk...and never heard from them. Especially 2 weeks after the fact. I haven't seen him since, and two weeks later he called to check in. I'm still in shock. He wanted to let me know that he'd gotten into a shelter and wanted to say hi.

Two things stood out after we got done with a brief conversation. One was that our conversation must have actually had some impact. To remember me 2 weeks later, and actually to have kept my phone number and name and not lost it, and then to actually call me must mean that something stuck out to him about our talk. People rarely call even when we have deep conversations...and yet he called after about an hour conversation. Did God actually do something in that time? Crazy! Of course I like to think and believe that God is at work in those moments, but so often am truly in doubt because I never see anything come out of them.

The other thing that stood out, but on a much more somber note, was that he's staying at the gay and lesbian center. And if I remember right, I think someone else we know is staying there now as well. This also happens to be a place that several teens go to finish their GED, find housing, gets AIDS tests and find other kinds of help. It's a place they know will help them, and where they know they'll be accepted. It's a helpful place to this community, and it always breaks my heart that the secular world, and a place that embodies things we as Christians stand against, are the ones actually providing service to people and giving them a place to go. Shouldn't Christians be the first ones down there, providing for the needs in the community and being known as a safe haven and refuge for these types of people? A place that they can depend on for assistance, relationship, and acceptance? Why do we so often avoid this community, while the gay and lesbian culture provides a stronger light and hope than we do?

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Wow, lots to write about since I missed writing for a week. In fact, as I'm thinking what to write I'm blanking on a lot of what's happened.

Last week I went out on Thursday night, as well as with the group that goes out on Fridays. Thursday night I had several brief conversations...with regulars like "Ravi" and "Manny" and "Tony" and his friends, and the guys who work at the new Hoagies and Wings place that took over the Mexican food joint. But our bible study was full of people. Several hyped-up prostitutes, several new visitors, Tony and his boyfriend and friends, and "Mya" who's been coming for several weeks in a row. I also met "Sam", a good friend of "Alex", who I've written about regularly. Right after the service was done and the food was gone, most of the group took off. But we talked to "Siggy" and a few others for a while afterwards.

On Friday night, it started out slow and I planned to leave early, and had a feeling that I wasn't going to be having any good conversations. It was also freezing, with blowing wind, and a TV pilot was being filmed in the Del Taco parking lot, so there were a few obstacles to start with. But as we were walking around after getting coffee to warm up and trying to stay out of the way of filming, I heard, "hey you!" And realized that our friend "Alex" was trying to get my attention. So we ended up sitting at H&W for a while, chatting and catching up, although I was sad to hear the place he'd been staying at didn't work out and so he was back to staying in a motel.

After that conversation ended because he was going to be used as an extra in the filming, we met up with "Cassandra" on the other side of H&W and talked to him for a while. The black lacy bra and small gold jacket he wore was barely enough to withstand the freezing weather and wind outside, but he didn't seem to notice much as he chatted with us about his recent debut in a transgender calendar.

We ended up back in Del Taco after that for some warmth, and talked again to "Tony" for a while as they stood in line for food, before sitting down with Ravi and catching up with him while he ate. Cassandra ended up coming in and sitting down with us. This was around the time I planned to leave, but his loud, charismatic and over-the-top speech and personality kept me there for a while, wanting to get to know him more and being fully entertained by his stories. Again, around 1:30 or so when I planned to leave, the conversation turned more to spiritual things when he asked, "why do you guys do this?" We talked about Jesus and God, and he said he loves God and believes in Jesus, but generally associates Christians and the church with gay-haters. We talked about his bad experiences with church people, and we tried to explain why we're out there and how we're trying to show love and be different than stereotypical Christians.

Finally around 3am the conversation ended and we headed home. Sometimes it's hard for me to leave, feeling like I haven't been able to speak a lot of truth or biblical wisdom and proof into people's lives, or go deep about their stories. But I'm also realizing that to truly make an impact, sometimes it just takes time and patience of buiding trust and relationships, and showing our consistency in order to display God's faithfulness. Which seemed reinforced the following Thursday when we saw Cassandra again and he told us that there were some other Christians walking around and how he and his friend had been running from them. His story-telling was hilarious and had us all laughing, picturing them running in their heels away from the "Christians" as he said, "Girl, run away, they're gonna try to save us!" and "I believe in you guys and what you believe, not them". Which was an odd statement, and I'm not sure exactly who those people were. But the fact that this person - so incredibly different from us and isolated from the world in general, but definitely from the Christian community - trusts us and calls us his friend when he wouldn't do that with others. And that takes time and persistence and the Holy Spirit...and when the time is right he'll know exactly who to come to for help, with questions, and when he's ready to make a change. We just have to be there and ready.

The rest of the night, after hanging out on the corner with a couple of drunk transgender prostitutes, and having a mini-dance party on the street, I mostly spent talking to a young guy who had only been on the streets for 2 days after being evicted because his roommate had been stealing the rent money. A successful PR manager in the area, this was the first time he'd been on the streets, had little to his name, and experienced a totally new way of life. He was very down and incredibly tired and didn't know where to go. He had already put his name on every shelter's waiting list and was just waiting for his monthly paycheck to be able to pay for a hotel room until he could find a new place. He shared some of his story with me, and that he does believe in Jesus and trusts God, and how he won't prostitute even though several people were suggesting that's what he do.

While that conversation was going on, the guy Darius we had met a few weeks previously was there talking to Tessa, and "Mya" was talking with Tanya. By the end of the night, Mya had prayed with Tanya to receive Christ again and admitted he didn't want to prostitute, didn't want his gay lifestyle to be an abomination to Christ, and wanted to change!!

Please pray that the lifestyle of Hollywood and Satan will no longer have the power to suck him in and lie to him, but that he'll be able to fight the temptations and stay strong in this new decision!

Friday, October 3, 2008


As usual, we met many colorful characters last night while also getting to deepen existing relationships in Hollywood. But instead of talking about every conversation I'll just focus on one for this post.

We are currently going through Romans at The Refuge...a book which hits on so many issues that people are dealing with there. Last night was Romans 6, mainly focused on being slaves to sin vs. slaves to righteousness: "Do no let sin control the way you live, do not give in to sinful desires...Don't you realize that you become the slave of whater you choose to obey? you can be a slave to sin, which leads to death or you can choose to obey God, which leads to righteous living..."

We are all slaves to sin, slaves to something besides righteousness that pulls us away from God. There's few stories that exemplify that more clearly than a young Italian man we met last night. 22 years old, "Giovanni" says that he's a computer programmer and biochemist (grows pot in his house) and makes 3/4 of a million dollars per year. But that he comes to hang out on the street because it's interesting...and because he wants to meet women. He was born in Italy, hates his parents and was adopted by a couple living in America and now he lives in the Hollywood Hills and knows tons of celebrities. Not sure how much of that is true. But most of our conversation centered around his massochisitic tendencies, his many scars from enjoying pain...which crosses right over into his sexual life. Between the f-bombs, and his admittance that he enjoys vulgar conversations and talking about things that make people uncomfortable at times, everything pretty much had to do with sex. He said he doesn't even really enjoy it anymore, but has tried everything and loves talking about it, but has been single and celibate for a year. He definitely hit on Tessa and I several times and made more inappropriate comments than need to be discussed. Oh, and his other favorite topic was pot that he uses to relieve his constant pain from a blood disease and well as the feeling of wellness he has when high.

A lot of people out there are slaves to sex and drugs, we see that all the time. but when you can't stop talking about it and everything is XXX rated, it's clearly a problem. And one so bad that he has no idea he's a slave to it.

But he came to our bible study and listened and was willing to discuss, even if it was mostly arguing. By the end of the night he had actually agreed to be prayed for and said he might come back again. Why, I don't know, but whatever brings him back is fine with me.

It's so hard to meet people like that and know how much they're missing out on because God has allowed them to be given to their sinful desires, as it says in Romans. Pray for him, as well as others like him on the street who believe every lie Satan tells them and are completely enslaved to the world around them. That their hearts would be softened to Christ and his pure joy and hope.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

This week was a nice change of pace, because we actually spent the majority of our time with familiar faces. Guys who have been returning for several weeks in a row. That doesn't happen often, so it's exciting when we see people coming specifically on Thursdays to hang out, eager to hear the word and be prayed for.

A few of us got there early, so we headed into Del Taco to hang out and talk about how we might do a better job at reaching the transgender population, and why it’s so difficult. While we were there, our friend “Manny” we had met a few weeks ago came inside and joined us. We’ve seen him every week since meeting, and he’s also been hanging out with the Friday night crew. He told us he’d had a crazy week. He just got out of jail because when some police were harassing him, he ended up punching them and sent to jail. And he’s stopped talking to his girlfriend, whose house he was staying at, so now he’s back on the street.

After the rest of the group got there and we’d had some more time to chat with him, we headed out to start the night with prayer. Manny took off, but our friend Romeo joined up while we were praying. A passionate Christian, he shared with me and Francisco for quite a while, encouraging us to keep sharing Christ with everyone. He spoke on and on about how even though he’s homeless and has nothing, he’s got Jesus and as long as he’s got that, he’s fine. And everyone there knows he’s a Christian and he proclaims it all the time. It was good to hear that we have been able to be an encouragement to him also, seeing us on the streets sharing Jesus with others. He reminded us how it’s a place full of temptation and trouble, and he wasn’t even willing to come to our bible study that night because he knew heading down that direction would bring him trouble. He was trying to get out of the area that night.

On the way to bible study, we stopped to chat with the guys barbecuing at the hot wings place that has replaced what used to be a favorite Mexican food joint. It’s typically known to be a place that prostitutes hang out to get dates, and usually where people are doing drugs. It’s become a little bit more of a community place now, with the barbecues on the street and the workers hanging out at the seats outside to keep people from lingering there. I found out later that the following night, our Friday night group used the barbecue and brought their own food to cook and serve to the people on the street and drew a pretty large crowd. So awesome to hear how God inspired creativity in them to build some community and reach out in unique ways.

As we wandered on, I heard someone say hi from the opposite side of the stand, and recognized “Alex”, someone I know well even though I’ve only seen him there a handful of times. The first time we met, I and a few other girls had a very long conversation with him about how he’s a Christian, doesn’t want to be working on the streets, and wants to get into fashion. We hugged and chatted for a while as Alex updated me on what’s been happening. He was sitting with a friend, smoking a joint, until a couple of other guys I’ve met there before wanted to join in. Alex told one of them off as he touched him in a way that indicated he wanted more. Alex wasn’t having it that night, wasn’t wanting to be there on the streets, doing what he does to make money. So we took off to our bible study, which didn’t end up happening. People were engaging in conversations with Mike, a Christian guy who spent the evening giving Antquan some ideas and perspective on how to minister better here; and “Seth”, the guy who rededicated his life a few weeks ago and has been coming to our bible study regularly because he doesn’t have a church home of his own; and “Ravi” who came to hang out with us once again, but spent much of the night sleeping in Antquan’s back seat; and Alex and I headed into the donut shop to eat and chat. We talked again about how he wants to find a real job and is trying, wants to get into fashion and off the streets. Kayla and Jen joined us later and we continued the discussion about what God wants, why things might be going the way they are, how to go about finding a job, and how much God loves him, but might just want Alex to trust him to provide instead of giving into the temptation to make it on his own with his sexuality. Once again, it was a very good conversation and he said he would be trying to stay away from Hollywood this week and let God provide; but that he’d be back on Thursday to hang out with us. So we’ll see how that goes.

Overall it was a good night, good turn out and many long conversations for each person on our team. It’s encouraging to feel like we’re actually able to provide some discipleship for these brothers who are on the street and struggling, but still pursuing God.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

How Great the Father's love for us

How great the Father's love for us...

It struck me this morning just how great God's love for his children is - those who are following him and those who are running, but all his creation, regardless. Well, I can't begin to actually understand how great his love is, but I got a taste this morning, which was enough to overwhelm me.

To watch someone run after sin, buy into Satan's lies, make bad choices, and then see the repercussions of those choices to engage in sin is tragic. Of all places, I was working out at the gym this morning when it struck me again after last night, and I began to cry (I went to the locker room to get it all out so people wouldn't think I was crazy) :)

I met a teenage boy almost one year ago on Santa Monica Blvd, a runaway who had been in and out of group homes. His story changed a few times, I know he lied to me about a lot...but I don't doubt that the tears he cried the first night I talked to him were real. He felt he'd lost hope, had no dreams...and I wrote about him on here as he gripped my heart and I couldn't stop thinking about him. A few months ago he showed up back on the street after we hadn't seen him for months. Last night I got the chance to talk to him more...he was high and apparently that makes him much more friendly. In fact, all of he and his friends who were drunk and high were very friendly, including one who initially said he'd never met me before, lying straight to my face. I called him out in a joking way and he finally admitted he knew me, and then he was fairly friendly.

"Evan" as I've referred to this boy before, is generally elusive, hard to pin down and talk to, hesitant to share his emotions or life. But he's always been on my heart and mind, and I feel a unique love for him, despite how often he ignores me...which was what made me think of God's constant pursuit of us this morning. Even when we're running, making bad choices, ignoring him, giving him nothing about us to love, he still loves us just because of who we are...regardless of what we do or how we treat him. He loves us, and nothing can change that, and he'll keep loving us no matter what. I can't say my love for Evan is that unconditional, but I'm not sure I've ever experienced giving a love quite like that before-where I get nothing back, but for some reason I never get tired or frustrated of trying.

But Evan opened up more about his recent diagnosis of HIV/AIDS, how hard it is, how he's thought of taking his life, how he drinks and smokes to cover over the pain, and how he wants to be a dad for his son and for his son to have a better life. But his baby's mama won't let him see the baby. Now keep in mind this is coming from a homosexual boy who had just told me that I missed his 17th birthday, just days previously.
"It's so hard" he said several times on the brink of tears as we hugged and I tried my best to listen and encourage him. I hugged him, but not for long since he started to tear up and didn't want to cry.

Amidst that, we were trying to convince his group of friends, standing at the bus stop smoking weed, to come join us for free pizza and bible study. It took a whole lot of convincing, but they eventually came and some of them even stayed for at least part of the service.
Backing up, Francisco and I had earlier been walking along the street inviting others to the service and let 2 guys know that we were having free pizza. We chatted with them for a while, and they both seemed interested in coming. One talked more with us, and we found out that he had been in Hollywood for less than a year, but had been homeless here and in New York for about 6 years. He came out to meet his birth mom, but can't stay with her because she's in a senior's home. They both showed up to the bible study later, and while his friend left, he stayed for it all, even volunteered to read some of the scripture. At the end of the service, it was clear that both he and a transgender I've seen out there before were both thinking about what was said. "Mya" was hard to get to know, didn't say a whole lot, but just shared that he needed to make some changes, knew what they were, and just had to do them. "Manny", the guy from New York, however, had lots to say and was open to all that we had to say, and ended up shedding a few tears...tired of his life and hopelessness. In the midst of the service, some guys he knew from New York were drunk and interrupting the service, trying to get him to leave and cause trouble, and saying things like, "they've got you, man", referring to us. And yet he never seemed tempted to leave. He was solid in knowing he wanted to be at that service and hearing what God was speaking to him. By the end, we had all exchanged numbers and MySpace addresses and had plans to try and get him into a Christian sober living home that we know of. He said that he believes in God and prays every day, but the relationship is completely developed yet.

There were several others who came to the bible study that night that i don't know as much about, but won't go into to keep this from turning novel-length. But the other thing that struck me this week about ministry was the amazing body of believers we had gathered, and how much those people mean in my life. We had invited visitors out this week, anyone who's interested in the ministry to come and experience it. So about 15 of us gathered at the home of someone from a local church that we refer people to for it's solid theology and amazing spirit of servanthood and love for the lost in Hollywood. We met to pray and discuss the night ahead, and shared what church we were all from. About 4 churches represented, from South Orange County to LA, all gathered for a common purpose and able to accomplish much more as a group than on our own. And our common goal brought us all together in a way that nothing else probably would. We were comfortable with each other, got to know one another quickly, and then got to share God's word together. At the end of the night, I tried to spend a few minutes with everyone who had come, the Friday night crew I rarely get to see, and supporters visiting from other churches. I could have been out there for another hour or more, bonding with what feels like another family to me. The ease and ability to connect and enjoy one another astonishes me when I step back and think about it, because I barely know these people and we have little in common besides our reason for being out in Hollywood. And yet they bring me joy and lift my spirits and represent God at work in my life. I wasn't tired of being with them or being on the street, even at 2:30 in the morning, 2 nights in a row.

Overall, the night just flowed smoothly, brought lots of needy people, and gave me opportunity to make new friends and to encourage people on the brink of despair and utter hopelessness. The things I do and say, and comfort with which these types of nights go just show me how much God is at work here and in my life. I couldn't do this or be this way without him, because it's so unnatural for me. And yet at times it just comes so easy....and that's when i know that it's God at work through me and desiring me to be there, and simply making a way for me to serve Him. What an honor and privilege to be chosen and used and get to be his hands and feet, even if just for a few hours in the middle of the night. His love is astonishing and the power that he has in our lives is mysteriously wonderful. I feel like those two nights these week brought me life, fed me, and gave me greater passion for doing his work, even when difficult.

I pray that my heart continues to break and hurt for those out there, that I might never grow weary of doing good and serving him who is able to accomplish much more than I can ever hope or comprehend. Amen.

Friday, August 29, 2008


Last night was a good one in Hollywood. Some of our Biolans were back, David's mom joined us, and we had several good conversations...and pizza. :)

Oddly enough, I ended up at the same table in Donut Time as last week, once again talking to a 30-something Christian black man, doing his own thing and trying to avoid the fray. He said he knew who we were, he'd seen us around, and knew that we were Christians and what we came to do. When people say things like that, it just makes me more excited for the day when we will have our own building there. Because people recognize us for being there 2 nights per week...but if we were there every day, offering help and hope, so many more would know who we were, what we were there to do...ideally implying that they would also begin seeing Jesus on the streets and coming not only to hang out with us, but to get to know Him.

"Seth" was stuck in a bad situation, he said, homeless even though he had family nearby, but planning to move home to New Orleans in the next few weeks. He decided to join us for the bible study, and while I didn't actually talk to him after that, found out later that he had recommitted his life to Christ after the service!

Antquan was diving into our study on Romans this week, worried and asking for prayer knowing how harshly Romans 1 deals with sin, in particular sexual immortality (including homosexuality). It would have been easy for people who hadn't met us before to take it the wrong way, think we were coming just like all other Christians, to point out their sin, focus on their homosexuality, and leave it at that. But the service went very well, our visitors barely seemed to notice, and one even gave his life back to God.

On the way to the service we let everyone we passed know that we had free food and invited them to join us. 2 of those, who I assumed would not come because they barely responded (like everyone else), ended up coming. The guy took off after getting his pizza, but "Lindsey" decided to stay. Why, I'm not sure. Well, that's not true. I would venture to say the Holy Spirit...but if there was a reason that Lindsey could point out, I don't know. I just know that he was sitting on the curb in his short skirt and heels, enjoying the free pizza when I got there. I sat down in the open spot next to him and began to get to know him before the service started.

Afterward, we had small group time to get to know each other, pray and share. We heard a lot more about Lindsey at that point...he's been on the streets for almost a year, wants to get off of them after years of abuse from men, a drug addict, lives in his car, wants help, but doesn't seem to want it bad enough to actually make the change. But Lindsey isn't completely hardened yet, and in fact said that he sees himself becoming that way and doesn't want to be. That he has to be mean and act tough to handle the life out there...and as he said, "I go around looking angry and mad enough to beat someone, but inside I just want to cry." Maybe one of the most honest comments I've heard out there.

And he did cry, as we prayed with and for him, assured him that this is NOT what God has for him, and continued to fight against his feeling that while God exists, he's not sure he totally believes the bible or religion or that God answers prayers. It was clear talking to him that he doesn't fully believe that God has more for him and didn't create him for this life, as much as he'd like to believe it. And probably never has anyone encouraging him and letting him know that he is valuable and that God does care about him.

I'm finding that what can be hard is getting to the point of understanding that God cares and loves them...but they are still serving their sin and addictions and living for themselves. Until they recognize their need from him, God may be letting them succumb to their "evil deeds". And so I've been praying since that God would reveal himself to Lindsey in a new and powerful way, show him that he cares, and allow the Holy Spirit to do a great, renewing work in his life, and provide a way out of this lifestyle. Because at the end of the night, Lindsey had to leave to make money for gas to get to Palm Springs to pick up his stuff so he could come back and find a shelter to get into....

Sunday, August 17, 2008

A week for celebration

I think I've said this before, but my lack of posting lately is not an indication of a lack of things happening on the streets or things to write about, but just my own personal lack of time to record it all.

This past week we didn't leave the Del Taco parking lot the entire evening (all 3 of us who went out this week). As soon as we hit the pavement, "Ravi", a guys we had met a few weeks ago, met us excitedly, explaining that he had been looking for us since 9pm and was about to give up when he came to look one more time. And while a lot of people know that we come out there, or maybe hope to see us, very few pursue us with as much determination as he did. It was encouraging to think that for at least one person, knowing that they can expect us and seeing us during the week is of so much importance. That's our hope, that people know when and where to expect us, ad might look forward to that point in the week when they can talk to some people who will listen to them, who care about them, and who are ready to share some encouragement and truth.

His thoughts were consumed with what God had been doing in his life and with some ideas he had put on paper about dealing with people and situations in his life.

On the other hand, another guy we've known for a while also found us, but had more interest in getting a free drink from us than from actually hanging out. Months ago I wrote about him, and how well he was doding. He would spend hours talking to us on Thursdays, sharing his life and struggles and wanting things to get better. And though he's in school, he's back hanging out on the streets and acting very different than he used to.

So, one meeting of great encouragement, coupled with one of disappointment.
Which played out at the end of the night as well...when we dropped off Ravi, who was incredibly excited about moving into a shelter the next day. But he got out of the car with his two backpacks and said he'd be staying in a spot underneath a bridge that night. Thank God he now has a place to stay...

Then on Friday, we had the joy of taking Big Mama out to celebrate her many accomplishments over the past few months. A few months ago we made a list of tasks with her for her to do, such as getting her fingerprints, having her eyes checked, stop smoking weed, and checking out a shelter or transitional living center. Not only has she done some of those, but accomplished much more and is currently living in a Christian transitional living center to recover and get back on her feet. She is learning more and more to rely on God, pray instead of worry, and is trying to get her friends off the street as well. God is changing her using her to bring about change as well. So a small group of us took her to an Italian restaurant in Hollywood to celebrate her and how far she's come. Praise God for the tangible ways he's moving in her life!

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Re-breaking for the broken-hearted

After more than a year of doing ministry on the streets, it's easy to become slightly calloused to the unusual sights, sounds and stories that drench Hollywood and urban street life. Though I haven't asked other members of our team, I would guess they feel even more that way than I, after being out there even longer. Along with getting used to the strange lifestyle and personalities down there, I think spending so much time there has made ministry a bit easier, because I've gotten familiar with the area, the people that we see each week, etc. Which is a good thing. But at the same time, growing too familiar makes it difficult to remain compassionate, as broken-hearted for the lost, and as dependent on God. I don't have many days that I don't feel like going to ministry - most of the time I'm excited. I don't feel like I have to pray as much (even though I KNOW I do!) because it's not as scary or challenging. And I realized this week that I've forgotten how great the need is, how desperately people need God, and how lost and incapable I am without Him.

This past week was eye-opening for me. It was the July 3rd, the beginning of a holiday weekend. Which, to the rest of the world, apparently means party time in Hollywood. The street was packed this week, mostly with clubbers and boys dressed in drag. I don't think I've ever seen that many people out there. And I don't know if I've ever felt so out of place. I felt a lot of eyes staring us down as we walked the streets, from people who aren't there every week and aren't used to us. We got a few snickers from people as they observed our conservative clothing, white skin and clean appearances. It's understandable, I mean, we look like...Christians. Like THOSE Christians you see, fitting into the church mold and looking entirely out of place when they go to minister. But it's who we are, and most people there are totally okay with it. But when we're around crowds who aren't used to seeing us, all of a sudden I felt a little awkward and uncomfortable and helpless.

Our group was small this particular week, and we got started late and ended up deciding to prayer walk instead of talking to people like normal. We all ended up talking to people we knew at some point, but most of the time we spent praying, observing, and getting glares and second-take glances. And for the first time in a long time, my heart felt incredibly heaven and burdened. Conversations were difficult, talking felt like it took so much work (partially because most of us were also really tired), one guy that I know and wanted to talk to longer was dragged off by his friends, the donut shop we always go to was closed for the holiday. Nothing felt normal or familiar about these streets this week...and I didn't like that. It felt more like my first time out there - unsure, out of my comfort zone, no idea what to do or where to start.

Standing on a street corner, I heard some giggles about us, saw lots of people stare us down, and watched police car after police car pull people over, chase people down, go after trouble...and I had to hold back tears. With so many people out, I felt like I hit a wall that there was no way around of hardened hearts and spirits numbed and possessed by drugs, sex, alcohol, debauchery. It was a good time to prayer walk, because I had no idea what to do or how to be used. Quite honestly, I just wanted to go home to my comfortable bed and get out of the filthy city. I didn't even feel much compassion for the people out there, but more frustration at why they don't care, don't want to listen, and just want to numb out all of there pain and never turn to God.

But as hard as it was, it was a reminder of how much work there is to do, how badly it needs to be done, and how utterly dependent I am on God for my words, my safety, and my usefulness for his Kingdom. He may be sending us to bind up the broken-hearted, but if we're not relying on his power, it's utterly hopeless.

Friday, June 20, 2008

I'm not quite sure where to was a long, eventful night on Santa Monica Blvd...about 5 hours and 5 or 6 conversations long. I had a feeling as we pulled up to the Del Taco that it would be an evening full of opportunity for good conversation. Between the warm weather and school being out, the streets were full of more people than I have seen in a long time. What made me most excited - besides being able to wear short sleeves and not freeze - was that I saw several familiar faces which I have not seen in a long time. Faces and stories who I have thought about many times in recent weeks and months, the people I've been praying for and hoping to see again. (Well, hoping to see because I want to build a relationship and know how they're doing, not hoping to see them still living on the street). And not only did I see them, but they actually wanted to talk and seemed semi-excited to see us! You never know, sometimes people get in moods (often drug-induced moods) where they basically ignore us, even when we know them well. So easily entering into conversation is always a blessing.

I saw Alex, whom a few of us had a great bond with several months ago but hadn't seen since. He was happy to catch up as we talked about his plans for school, my haircut, and our clothes. A good conversation until a guy in a car got his attention and had picked him up before I knew it. After he left, a guy we had talked to a few weeks back picked up the conversation with us. The first time we met he introduced himself as "Ryan", and we talked about his family's Buddhist beliefs and how he believes it too because they do. He didn't have much knowledge on Christianity, but we were able to discuss it for a while, as well as just find out more about him. This time he came up to us as soon as Alex left asking, "Do you remember me?" with a friendly smile on his face. Though there was something vaguely familiar about him, I had no idea who he was. "I'm the Buddhist," he told me, which brought it back to me. And though that previous conversation was easy to recall, placing this new face in front of me was not. His hair was long, held back with a headband, and his small shirt and skirt a vast difference from the t-shirt and jeans he had worn when we first met. Sadly, this is not a rare know someone as a male, then one day have to adjust when you recognize that face underneath a wig a girl's clothing. The good news was that he has gotten a job, is going back to school, and said he had started looking into Christianity. He told us that he'd been reading the bible, even though it doesn't make much sense to him at times. I told him to come back with it and any questions next time and we'd talk about it.

That conversation then led into one with a kid who I have written about on here before, a 16 year-old runaway who had been living on the streets and selling himself for money. We haven't seen him in a long time, so I was very excited to see him again and hear that he is not living on the streets and doesn't plan to be out there next week.

When that group of friends headed off, we started up conversation with some guys who were visiting LA, from other states and outside of the country. My longest and most meaningful conversation was with a young guy about Jesus, God and the bible. He didn't have much knowledge of salvation, heaven, hell, or what the bible has to say about any of that. He said he hadn't thought about it much and didn't really believe in religion. It was a good, productive conversation, but I think the weed, or whatever drug he was on, was hindering his thinking a bit and he was having trouble connecting thoughts. I convinced him to come to our bible study... but unfortunately he left with his friends before it began.

Only two people outside of our group came to bible study, "Big Mama" and "Frank". Frank had met us when we started our night off with prayer at Del Taco. We had met the friend he was with before, but not him. When I introduced myself and he realized we were Christians, the only thing he said was, "my uncle's a Christian....I don't like Christians, they're judgmental." Based on his gentle voice and feminine characteristics, I had a pretty good idea of what he might be referring to. I didn't see or speak to him again until our bible study. His friend we had seen him with before came to get him so that they could get a hotel room for the night, but surprisingly, Frank stood his ground and decided to stay with us at the bible study. Though seemingly small, it is a rare occurence that someone will choose to hang out with us over doing what they're friends want to do...and in my opinion often a clue that the Holy Spirit is at work.

After bible study ended, the conversation pretty much went straight to Frank, his need to change, and many other issues. Most of our team stayed around while he talked and listened, though as time went on some of the team spread out again to meet more people and begin new conversations. I think one of the coolest parts of the next hour for me was watching Big Mama talk to Frank, and tell him how he needed to change, what he needed to do, and set him straight. She'd been there herself, she'd been in his shoes, she lives in the same place as he does. So she is able to say things that the rest of us can't quite get away with. And when he cried, sharing about his relationship with his mom and feeling like she doesn't love him, she also told him about her love for her own children - kids that she can't see and who won't speak to her, but who she loves more than anything. She was able to preach, and reach out to him in such a unique way, and it was so awesome to see how God has changed her and been shaping her, and even through some foul language and harsh words about people in her life, he is now able to use her to reach someone else. Several times she asked him the question that is perhaps the most important to ask, "Are you ready to change? Do you want to change?" Because without that, there is little that we can do to help those on the street.

I could go on and on about all he shared for the next 3 hours....hatred for his mom's boyfriend, lack of love from his mom, the amount he was paid for a sexual favor earlier that day, the love he seeks from other men, his anger for many people, the lack of being accepted for being a homosexual, his emptiness and dependence on drugs and alcohol to numb his pain, his addiction to prostitution and sex. It was not a PG conversation, but it was real and honest, and he had so much to share with us. It ended with us trying to determine tangible ways that we could help him in the process of getting an ID, a place to live and a real job, and praying for him. Of course, when God is doing as much work as he was at this moment, Satan is frightened and begins his attack right away. Walking back to our cars, Frank began to have an anxiety attack and we had to sit down so that he could catch his breath and calm his nerves. "Life is so hard...this is so stressful," he gasped as he cried and tried to breath. As he started to calm down again, he told me that he needed to make some money tonight so he could eat. Satan doesn't waste any time....

So I asked him to call Antquan that same day to arrange to get his ID and get some food, and begged him to borrow from friends for just the next few hours, be a "freeloader" for just a few more hours (an issue we had also discussed earlier), until we could help him get back up on his feet. To go for just a little longer without selling his body or services so that we could help him.

I haven't heard the update yet from Antquan or Big Mama on how he's doing, but please join me in praying that his soul will be saved from the streets before it's too late...

Friday, June 6, 2008

I finally got back to the now-familiar streets of Hollywood last night, after being gone for 2 weeks. It's always nice to get a break from time to time, but I was very happy to get back and see some familiar faces. There were a lot of people out as the night went on, and we had several brief but interesting conversations.

Our first was with a guy who several people on our team talk to every week, who works at the liquor store. I've never actually had a conversation with him, but George talks to him every week, so we joined him in hanging out in the liquor store for a while. Because this Muslim man knows what we're about and what we're there for, his conversation apparently always moves quickly to hot topics such as homosexuality and Islam. Though these parts of the conversation aren't particularly productive, in between we were able to have some normal dialogue and get to know each other a bit. Talking to the people who work in the area is generally a great opportunity for us to share Christ, because we know they will be there every week, they have no where to go, and they're generally sober. So we chatted in the store for a while and made conversation with some other people who came and went while we were there.

After a while we wandered down to where we hold our bible study, and stopped into the 7-11 to get snacks and chat with the clerk there, who is also working each week and knows most of our team. Again, another man who's there every week, knows us and what we're there for and seems to enjoy talking to members of our team. He has not yet given his life to Christ, from what I know, but that's where our prayer and consistency come alongside the Holy Spirit, and hopefully in time, we will see his life changed.

After chatting with him, bible study was about to start, so we headed into the donut shop to say hi to one of my favorite people down there, the owner of the shop who supplies us with food each week for bible study. He always gives us a few extra donuts for free, because he says it's his way of contributing to what we're doing. :) This is a man I don't think I've blogged much about...a man from Cambodia who works 7 days a week in his 24 hour shop, trading off shifts with his wife. They never have a day off, although he told me this week that Father's Day will be a day of vacation for him. He and his wife rarely see each other because they have to work opposite shifts to keep their store open in order to make enough money. I always hope that our brief moments with him each week will at least bring a smile to his face and some comfort and relief to his long week, and that he too will see the love of God through us and be brought to Christ.

During our bible study, Krista was having a conversation with a young man who knew he needed to get off of the streets and that the drugs and lifestyle would kill him eventually if he didn't leave. And who knew that his relationship with his transexual roomate was not pleasing to God. At one point after the service, she brought him over for prayer from all of us as we fought against Satan in his lies to this man and prayed that his heart would be opened and ready for change. I don't know the fully story, but I know that by the end of the night, Krista was so excited about her talk with him, seeing God moving, and feeling that it was one of the best encounters she's had there in 4 years as she watched him slowly surrender...

What maybe struck me more than these conversations this particular week, was how God spoke to me. Truthfully, I have been feeling slightly distant from God, knowing it's my own complacency, lack of dedication to prayer, and ease in life which Satan uses to tell me that I don't need God as desperately as I do. And I have been praying that this would change, seeking God and his tangible movement in my heart, hoping all week long to learn something new.

This week, in a brief 15 minute speech about the Good Samaritan, a story I have heard dozens of times, I understood the story in a new way. So many times I hear these types of stories, and like a pharisee, assume I'm just like the good Samaritan...always doing the right thing, helping out a brother or sister, knowing exactly what God wants from me. But looking at how the religious men in the story walked on by someone in desperate need, for whatever reason, suddenly struck me as mirror-images of myself. How often have I ignored a need, turned my face from someone I knew I should go back to help, or simply to talk to...or even on the streets of Hollywood, pretended like something didn't exist because I was too tired or scared or had more "important" things to deal with. How humbling...and humiliating, to come to this realization. I had asked God to challenge me, to grow me with opportunities of faith, etc. This challenged me significantly, and gave me a picture, though I've had it in my head since I was a child, to really grasp and look to as I go through my open my eyes, and pause and seek what God would have me to do whenever opportunities to help arise. Because more than just helping someone, it may be the only chance to share the love of Christ and the gospel with them...and a chance for God to change my own inwardly focused heart....

Friday, May 2, 2008


As temperatures start to rise outside, the sun shines longer, and summer approaches, the numbers on the street late at night seem to rise accordingly. The bitter cold is no longer threatening to people who usually like to linger outside of the shops and restaurants into the early hours of the morning. Last night seemed to indicate this, anyway, as there was a significantly greater amount of teenagers, prostitutes, drug dealers and homeless out on the street. The energy levels were much higher than I’ve seen in weeks, and that sense of “community” was beginning to percolate once again.

And with those winds of change came an exciting night of ministry. It started off at the donut shop, after prayer, where many people were congregating as usual. We ran into a friend, “Matt” who we’ve known for a while, who had just come from a job interview, saying he was ready to spend less time hanging out on the street and hold a credible job instead. While talking with him we met a guy who, when we asked, gave us no name besides, “Stayin’ Out of Trouble”. A pretty entertaining guy, but has clearly reaped the consequences of too many drugs, too much alcohol, and a messy life. He rambled on and on, making little to no sense at all, but with a great spirit and lots of laughter. As we talked with him, a cop car pulled up and began asking Rob questions (which happens occasionally, when the cops who don't yet know our group wonder why there's a gathering of people on the street).

After his conversation he informed me that they let him know that if they're ever doing a round-up, or a sweep, and we're with drug dealers or anyone else who might look suspicious, that we might be cuffed or arrested. We agreed that would make for an awesome story to tell. Knowing that we are not doing anything wrong (and also a bunch of white kids) the worst that would probably happen would be getting cuffed and interrogated, then let go. We have God on our side, so there's nothing to worry about....but it's also a reminder that getting mixed up with the wrong people, or being at the wrong place at the wrong time can be dangerous when we're there.

Eventually we decided to make better use of our time inside the donut shop, and invite some people to our bible study. About 4 other people from the team were already inside, and by the time we left we had a large group of about 12 people walking down the street together, headed to bible study. On the way, Greg talked with "Bobby" about how he wanted to change his life and get things together and maybe get into a program or shelter. Being on probation, however, there are few places that will take him at this point in his life. After the bible study, we broke up into smaller groups as usual to talk and pray, and a few of us sat with Bobby and his friends "Charlie" and "Lillie". Charlie and Lillie are both teenage boys, a couple, so young and pre-pubescent was Lillie that it wasn't until the end of the night I discovered she was actually a he. As a 15 year-old taking hormones and wearing a pink "dress" which left very little to the imagination, he's so convincing as a girl that I had no idea until Krista told me. The way he avoided all of our questions, answering with a simple 'no' or 'yes' and refusing to give details, and the way Charlie also avoided direct conversation was troubling to me. Most people on the street will give you a fair amount of details about their situation, but for these 2, it must have been so bad that they were that unwilling to talk. To see a kid, probably entirely confused and disturbed and scared, so lost hurts to see. And hearing a question like, "what's wrong with doing crystal meth?" because he literally doesn't know what's wrong with it. We will need a lot of prayer for them, and lots of intentional love and time for them to even possibly open up.

However, despite their stand-offish behavior, their friend Bobby wanted nothing more than to talk and talk and listen and hear and soak it all in. He told us much of his story - gang banging, armed robbery as a teenager, juvenile hall, jail, friends who'd been shot, a 1-month old son he's not allowed to see, a sister and brother-in-law who kicked him out because of the trouble he caused in their home, homeless because his mom won't let him come back home, the meaning behind his many tattoos, witchcraft, and even a past in the church and working with youth. He's pretty much done and seen it all, at least when he wasn't in jail. He also explained that his plan that night was to go steal from someone so he and his friends could eat and have a place to stay. But because he's on probation and trying to get his life back together, he made one significant choice not to do what would get him in trouble. And his other option, because he had stayed around and sat in the donut shop, was that he ended up meeting us. In other words, God spared him from one bad choice, and instead chose to reveal Himself as the one who relentlessly pursues all of us, no matter how far we've strayed.

Bobby said he'd like to go back to church, but it afraid of failing again and losing everything, not ready to face the people he'd failed once already. He admitted he wants to kill himself, is completely hopeless, feels like he's screwed up his life...but is trying to find a way to hang on, for his be there like his father was not there for him.

I rarely meet people who are so sincere, so ready to change, so aware of their brokenness and need to change their lives. He was asking for it, he was sharing his whole story with us, his eyes showed how desperately he wanted it, how he would pursue it even in his state of hopelessness. "I don't want to fall" he said, "I mean, I've already fallen, but I don't want to fall farther."

I have a friend at church who recently got out of jail and became one of the most passionate Christians I know while in jail. His advice to me several months ago when I told him about this ministry is to look for people who are broken. Who are aware of their brokenness and are ready to change. if they're not aware, and not ready, it's not of much use. And I realized sitting before me was someone I had been praying for...each week I pray that God will bring us people who are ready, who are willing...and here was Bobby, looking so young and innocent, thirsting after any ounce of hope and encouragement and soaking it up like a sponge. It's hard to believe, talking to this sweet 21 year-old guy, the things that he's done and been through...but that's the power of God. To give someone a hatred of their former life, to recount his stories of locking himself in his car for a week smoking crystal, completely addicted and paranoid and lost...of disappearing from his gang and knowing his life is still in danger if he runs into anyone from his gang or rival give someone the clarity to see what they have been doing and how it has messed up their lives, and to give them a shining hope of something more, in the pit of despair.

I could go on and on about all that we talked about...but at the end of the night, Greg took he and his friends to a motel room and paid for it so they'd have a place to stay. When his friends were anxious to leave, he said he could stay and talk much longer, wanting to hear all he could because it was of so much help to him to hear everything we had to say. He gave his number to Dave, whose plan is to pick him up today in Hollywood and see if he can get into a program at a Christian transitional living center, and to pick him up on Sunday to go to that he can get back into the body of Christ without the fear of facing what he had failed at before. To start anew...

There is little in this life that brings as much joy as seeing someone ready to give up their old life and start a new one with Christ, full of hope after so much despair.

...Even when light is shining in one spot of Hollywood, however, there is always darkness surrounding us, as we were reminded walking back to our cars. We ran into Krista and Rob at the Mexican food joint, along with a few cop cars and a few other people. As it turned out, during our bible study, some guys that they were talking to were laughing and joking about something from earlier in the evening. But a transgender prostitute who was also sitting there thought they were laughing about him, and it quickly turned into a fight as he went after one guy and threatened Krista when she called the cops. He was arrested and the guy was pressing charges as we walked up. Thankfully, everyone was safe and fine, and no major harm was done. Praise God for protecting our team, and keeping their spirits high and faith strong even in those circumstances.

All in all, a very eventful night on Santa Monica Blvd..I have no doubt that last night, and even now as I write, there is a much bigger battle that we cannot see going on between the demons and angels, fighting and wrestling for each soul on that street. And praise God that another team is out tonight, harvesting what God has planted in those souls!

Friday, April 4, 2008

Another Week...

"Jesus loves me, this I know; For the bible tells me so..."

The simple song generally makes one think of little kids learning a new song in Sunday school, singing about a Jesus that they can't fully grasp...a children's song, a joyful tune sung in a church building.

What a different sound it takes on when proceeding from the lips of a 30-something year old man, former gang member, living on the streets of L.A; singing it for a young man laying on the dirty sidewalk of Santa Monica Blvd who's ready to surrender his life to Jesus, giving up his addictions and homelessness and ready to be restored. A strange tune in the midst of darkness; outside of a donut shop surrounded by the sound of honking horns and police cars racing by, hurried footsteps of groups headed to a nightclub, neon lights and prostitutes working into the early hours of the morning.

At least for me, it was a unique time in Hollywood this week. The streets have been quiet for some time, more cops out apparently, more people in jail for prostitution and drugs. Less familiar faces, less conversation, a different crowd that we've gotten to know. I often struggle with being able to see what God is doing, trust that he's actually there and moving, wondering why we're out every week when no one is ready to respond, or to even come to a 15 minute bible-study. It takes a lot of time and patience, and I often wonder why God doesn't just speed along the process. But last night was a clear visual to me that God is at work and opens doors and softens hearts and is just as present in Hollywood as anywhere else.

Our first stop was in Donut Time to say hi to Willy, a friend to our group. We chatted with him for quite a while, getting the update on his life and stopping to invite him to bible study. "Maybe" was his response when we invited him, a typical answer from most people that generally means they won't come. But as it neared midnight, we asked him again and he said he'd come. That in and of itself was a unique occurence, and so we headed out of the shop with a quick hello to "Red", another guy we see frequently. Outside stood someone who looked somewhat familiar and who I assumed by appearances that he was a transgender working on the street. Greg had given us Tootsie Pops to hand out, so I offered one to him as we headed out. When offering food, and invitations to bible study, I generally expect a "no", and maybe an "are you kidding me?" you can imagine my surprise when he said, "Sure" to the offer of candy...and after I followed up by inviting him to bible study to hear "yeah, sure". Really? I thought. Wow! So he joined up with us without hesitation and we all took off down the street for bible study outside of the donut shop and 7-11.

A few more steps down the street, and we passed a guy sitting on a stoop, a hooded sweatshirt covering most of his face. Quite honestly, I didn't really notice him until we heard from behind, "hey, are you guys going to a bible study?" What? who asks us that? No one - would be the correct answer. When we respond that we were and welcomed his desire to join us, I realized that it was "Dave", a guy I had met several weeks ago. At the time he had been wasted at best, but I'm pretty sure he was high on something and oppressed by Satan in some way with tormenting thoughts and voices. It took me a second to recognize him without the crazy look in his eye, maintaining a calm demeanor. I reintroduced myself and he remembered me, and we begin catching up while we walked. He apologized for being so wasted that night, losing the info we gave him about the Set Free program, and expressed still having interest in going. When we got to our bible study, I introduced him to Antquan, who several weeks back I had let know that Dave would contact him to get a ride to Set Free. As I entered into conversation with "Alex" (the one who accepted the Tootsie Pop) and we headed to the donut shop, I left Dave and Antquan to talk.

As if this hadn't already flowed incredibly easily as God's hand has proved instrumental in these steps, Alex begins to open up pretty freely about struggling, being depressed, being disappointed with God, etc. A pretty rare occurence to meet someone who's tired of prostituting, wants a good place to stay, wants to get back in school and have more hope and joy. And to admit it so openly and be ready for help.

We took a break from talking to join up with the bible study, where Willy opened us with his version of "Jesus Loves Me"....

Afterwards, Antquan took Dave to the Set Free Ranch and several of us hung out with Alex for a while. He expressed his happiness in meeting us and God bringing us together, because he has very few friends who are genuine and supportive and actually listen and talk and show interest in his creativity (we thoroughly discussed his passion for design and fashion). He got our numbers and confirmed several times if we would be there next week. And at the very end of the night, Krista gave a ride to a guy she had met last week. She and Greg had gotten him a hotel room on a night that he was confronted by God and the fact that he's running from God and covering his pain with drugs. Still fighting and trying to run, God again used Krista, David, Greg, a birthday present and some Christian music to show "Chris" that He's still in pursuit of him.

And I believe he's as desperately in pursuit of every other soul on Santa Monica Blvd...we just have to continue doing our part to be available and willing to respond when they are ready.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

From time to time I manage to find just enough still, quiet, or even just a moment alone driving in my car in which God is able to use to speak. Luckily, God can find any moment to speak, but I know I don't make it easy, with the hurried pace of my life, constant thoughts and preparations and socializing and planning and doing. Part of the reason that we don't stop is because sometimes in the quiet we end up thinking about the things we don't want to face. For me, I sometimes ponder the whys and whats of life - why I'm here, what the point is, what all the striving and doing and planning is really for. And if it weren't for God, that would be a very depressing question. Actually, it kind of is anyway...because I realize that much of what I do quite often doesn't really matter - not unless it furthers my relationship with God, others, or brings glory to Him. It strikes me that what really counts is the time I give to him and the time I use to serve others. And even then, I so often miss Him in it. How tragic that is.

I had a time in Hollywood this week that showed what is important and how he really does use us up there...and kind of missed it, at least missed the depth and significance until several days later.

Because I was pondering this question of what the point is, what the significance of my life and my constant striving is...and I thought back to a conversation around 11:15pm in a Del Taco with 2 other Broken Hearts members and a woman we befriended long ago who has been the most consistent person out there. A few months ago she really started realizing more of what it was to follow Jesus and has committed to being at our bible study every Thursday night. Because she's always there, I think I take for granted what God was doing. He's totally changed this woman, he's shaping her circumstances to bring her closer to's such an obvious, drastic change that has taken place over time...and yet I practically miss it every week, looking elsewhere to see what God is doing and why he doesn't seem to do more. Turns out He is working and I'm the clueless one who's totally oblivious.

In our conversation she mentioned how she's thought about ending her life several times, and I forget her exact wording, but at least a big reason for why she hasn't is because she has us. "You guys are my family" she told us. "I know you're there for me." Clearly she has had many of these moments of pondering what the point is, what her life is worth, and questioning whether she should go on. But she has a group of people who keep her going, because she knows we care, we're there for her, and we love and value her. We're probably the only people speaking any encouraging truth into her life during the week, the only people pointing her towards her loving Father.

That's what we're here for, that's the point of this sometimes-seemingly pointless life. Bringing people to Jesus, expanding the Kingdom of God. At least for me, it shows me how sad it is to spend so much time working, striving, serving myself when all of that is meaningless if it's not serving to bring myself and others closer to Christ. How sad that I can miss what He's doing, even when I'm looking for it. And yet how encouraging that He is at work even when I can't see, and that he's really changing lives on Santa Monica blvd, one broken heart at a time.

Friday, February 1, 2008

God's Work

"But my life is worth nothing to me unless I use it for finishing the work assigned me by the Lord Jesus - the work of telling others the Good News about the wonderful grace of God." - Acts 20:24 (NLT)

Wow, it's been a long time since I've posted any stories on here. Although my lack of time to write has been no reflection on the amount of work we see God doing every week in Hollywood.

God has been so good to me in these last few months. I've had very few instances of feeling unmotivated, tired, sick, or any other reason not to go to Hollywood, as has so often happened in the past. I fought Satan on that for a while, but lately I lexpectantly ook forward to each Thursday. I never think about whether I will be tired or not, or what I feel like ahead of time. I just go, ready to see what God does and what paths he will lead us down.

We've had a few rainy nights and many cold nights when the streets are somewhat desolate and more quiet than usual. But it seems we can always find at least one person to talk to. Last week it was a man I've met many times before, who explained to us his journey of getting to know Satan right now. A Muslim man, he currently wants to know more about who Satan is and overcome fears of the unknown. He opened up more than many other times in the past when I have talked to him, and he was there again last night where people were able to pick up on the conversation with him and give him a blanket to keep him warm that night.

There have been too many other great conversations to list them all now...but the people we meet are fascinating and every week I go home thinking, "I love this." I love that God has given me a passion I never expected, and gave me the ability to something I never thought possible. I have prayed consistently for compassion, generosity, a genuine love for people, and a passion to make him known. And he has been growing that in me, and it's the best thing ever! I'm terrible at apologetics and talking about God with people...yet he allows me to do it each week, gives me words and the ears and discernment to listen and try to understand. I love that I get to see familiar faces every week, or every few weeks (depending on how often people come out). And I get to know people I would never get to know otherwise.

Last night I chatted with someone who previously I had a fairly heated discussion with about Christianity and religion and the bible. But last night we talked about his music production, his passions, and hip-hop music. It was a great, fun conversation, and through it I also met one of his friends. There's something awesome about building a relationship with a guy in a donut shop, being the only white girl in eye-sight and completely out of place, and yet talking about underground hip-hop and religion as if it's a normal situation. And we didn't even need to discuss God much, because this man referred to our previous religious discussion a few times and knows exactly where we stand. He just needs to see it lived.

After our church service, a group of us was talking to a man who we see almost every week. He's a great guy, an agnostic who loves socializing with us even though he is completely against our gospel message. But while shooting the breeze with him, I kept glancing into the donut shop that we were just outside of, seeing people I had never talked to, who were sitting alone with solemn faces on. God kept whispering to go in, think of something to say and enter into conversation. It took me a while, but I finally went in to talk to a young man who I had met briefly just moments before, through his friend who had just come to our bible study. It seemed like an open door as he sat at a table by himself, staring out the window. I recalled something I had just seen on a video about the Denver Rescue Mission - and which I had just gotten done discussing with a friend from ministry over dinner - that when people know someone cares and loves them, it can make a huge difference in their lives. Knowing that I didn't have to be brilliant, but could just care for this person gave me the push to go talk to him...with no great plans of what to say...

"Hey, where'd your friend go?" Was my brilliant opener. I expected a brief answer (which he gave) and then a cold shoulder. I hoped to maybe at least exchange a few sentences if nothing else, and begin building the relationship. And after those first few (where do you work, live, what are you doing out here? etc) it turned out he was entirely friendly and open to chatting. I was standing at his side, staring down at him completely awkwardly because someone he didn't know was sharing the other seat at the small table inside the crowded donut shop. But after a few minutes that other person moved, and I was able to sit with him and chat about general things, which eventually led to what I believe and what he believes, and his take on getting to heaven and assurance of an absolute truth.

I step outside of myself from time to time in these situatoins and think "who is this?" I'm a little shy, not very good at making small talk with random strangers who if I passed by in Englewood (where he lives...although why would I be in Englewood?) I would probably think was mean or dangerous, or would expect a dirty look being a white blonde girl completely out of place. I should feel awkward in these situatoins, maybe a little timid. But that's when the Holy Spirit takes over and gives me confidence that I would never normally have to make conversation about God with a complete stranger. To smile and joke around with someone who is essentially my complete opposite. And even better, He gives me the confidence and words to steer the conversation to Himself, and invite someone to think about their life, and about eternity. And it thrills me. I love it. Mostly because it's so unnatural for me, and yet I see God at work through me, using me for his purposes despite my shortcomings, like Moses and Gideon and so many more.

And now I can't imagine life without taking time to share Christ with others. This is how God teaches us as well, builds our faith, and brings us joy and undersanding and deeper relationship with him.

Greg Paul summarizes this well, telling his stories of people from the streets of Toronto, when he says, "As truth becomes something other than truth without love, and vice versa, I cannot recognize where Christ is present and the Holy Spirit is at work unless I am willing to be truly prsent as Jesus to someone, with all the peronal investment and vulnerability that imples."