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.