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.

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