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....