Friday, January 30, 2009

Thursday night stories

Instead of talking about every conversation and moment of last night, I'm trying a new approach to writing this week by highlighting just a few stories:

Peter: He plodded into the donut shop and approached the small table where we were conversing with "Azul", dragging with him a potent smell that, if his outer appearance hadn't already made it clear, quickly disclosed the fact that he was homeless. The kind of sharp, pungent smell that universally signals one hasn't seen a shower in days...or longer. If not for that, his thin, frazzled hair, soiled t-shirt and sweatpants, and dirt-laden and greasy hands and fingernails gave it away, along with his slightly mumbled opening statement of, "I was wondering - you don't have to give me money or anything - but could you buy me something to eat...some soup or something?" We don't give out money, but will always buy food for people. The fact that he specifically addressed our hesitancy to give out money indicated to me that he really did just want food, which is why I quickly agreed.

I asked Jack for the Cup of Noodles that he wanted, just minutes after purchasing a tea for myself. So I grabbed my tea from the table and sat down with Peter to talk. The conversation drifted between where he grew up, where he stayed on the streets, and other small-talk such as how me and Nick (who was talking with us) should date; how relationships aren't about attraction but personality; and how he loves God and is okay being single and gave up pornography because he loves God more than anything else. But the talk also included comments about him kissing a transexual, no hate for homosexuals, and how he's a CIA agent and/or an astronaut (still not quite sure on what he was trying to say). Because of that, I was hesitant to get into religious beliefs knowing it may end up making no sense or going nowhere. Besides, he'd already spoken of his love for God multiple times, though sandwiching between it his tolerant and relativistic beliefs that so many others out there profess when expressing their belief in Christ.

He asked us for a blanket or jacket, and Antquan happened to have some jackets in his car. So he brought a sweatshirt and a jacket back for Peter. Who, upon accepting them, began to tear up and pulle the warm sweatshirt over his bare arms and thin t-shirt. All he said was thank you, but he was clearly moved or just grateful for the provision. We offered to buy him more food, but he said he was satisfied. We invited him to our service we'd be having the following night, and he seemed excited at the prospect of pizza and donuts. And with that he took off for the night, probably to go find a place to sleep.

I often battle with when, how, and if to take conversations to the gospel....especially with people like Peter whose minds don't seem fully capable of that kind of discussion or understanding at that moment. But my mind was drawing back on an article I had just read, referencing scripture about whatever you do for the poor and needy, that you do it unto Christ. But it's not as "tangible" or as "worthy" in my mind as sharing the gospel. It's hard for me to grasp that God is as pleased with doing as he with talking about him. I don't know if he is or not, but I know that scripture encourages doing and giving, simply for the sake of showing love and serving Christ in that way. So I "did"....and hopefully, whether through our ministry, through someone else, or through the Holy Spirit, the doing will lead to open conversation and acceptance of Christ. And if nothing else, it teaches me more about giving, loving and obeying Christ in his love for the needy, just for the sake of obeying and giving back to Him...

Bryan: We sat on the fixed barstool-type seating on the edge of the now shut-down Wings joint, clearly unwanted in the territory known for prostitutes and drug dealers. One young guy walked up, looking around and eyeballing each of us scrutinously with an air of caution, and then asked if we had to some concert (I didn't hear which one he made up). Antquan shook his head 'no' while the guy was asking Nick (who had no idea what he was actually looking for). I probably woulnd't have guessed the truth either, if it weren't for where we were sitting and his paranoid demeanor. "Tickets"...a safe way of asking for drugs from people he didn't know and who looked too unlikely to be dealers. When he realized we didn't have what he wanted, he moved on quickly.

A few minutes later, a middle-aged blonde man rode by on a small yellow bike, rode into the street, circled around as if just killing time, and then pulled up in front of us on the sidewalk. "You guys know anyone who wants to buy a bike?" Out of the corner of my eye I could see the smirk on Antquan's face as he told him no, already seeing straight through the guy's question. For the slightly naive, like Nick and I, it took a few more minutes to catch on. But it took very little time for me to know that it was an odd situation. A young-looking, 40 year-old white guy, riding a bike, and stopping to talk to us...that doesn't happen too often out here.

"You could put it on Craigslist," Nick told him. "No," Antquan interjected, "he's trying to sell it now - within the hour. Right, man?...You selling it for cash?" he asked, looking to see what the guy would say. "Not necessarily" he replied. I could go on into more of the conversation, the truth and real meaning shrouded beneath what sounded like shooting the breeze. But here's the translation: he stole the bike, and was trying to get rid of it - either for cash to buy meth, or for an even trade - as soon as possible. Both to get a fix and to get the stolen property off of his hands before cops found him.

When he realized we weren't buying - or selling - he eventually parked the bike and sat down beside us, willingly entering into conversation. Maybe because we looked safe...although after asking, "are you guys Christians?" he mentioned that, especially after looking at me, he knew it was either that, or I was an undercover. I laughed, "yep, that's what I always hear." It's true...we don't fit out there. So people assume we're undercover cops quite often. And if not, well, then they realize we're Christians or something along those lines.

As he rolled a cigarette (after so-politely asking if it was okay and assuring us it was just tobacco), he quickly disclosed his story to us. He'd been at the LA Mission for 94 days straight. 94 days of sobriety...where he'd also heard about Jesus, learned scripture, and "stopped bearing his cross" - just 4 hours earlier. (Translation: he'd just left this place of restoration and sobriety and "fallen off the wagon". He'd already had a drink (or several), stolen a bike and was looking for meth.) He was quite honest about the fact that he knew he'd messed up, he knew Satan was telling him to just keep going since he'd already messed up, knew his family would be disappointed, was smoking and drinking to calm his anxiety even though he knew the correct answer was to turn to Christ and focus on him, and didn't want to go back to the mission.

Antquan told stories of his own mess-ups, times of succumbing to Satan's lies, and the truth of hope and change that the man had already heard, but hadn't quite bought into. Bryan hoped he didn't go to hell, but admitted he had his reasons for not making the choice he knew would lead him to Heaven. But he wasn't willing to share what those were. The conversation was real, personal, respectful, open and centered on Christ. But just as it seemed we might be there late, diving into the issues and how we might help (after already assuring him we were there to help), he stomped out his cigarette, climbed back on his bike, and said goodnight before we could convince him to stay any longer. Maybe it was his desire for meth, or fear of being arrested (a cop had already stopped at the corner once while we were talking with him, and he noted that they passed by because he was protected by us. That we "saved" him), or his discomfort with the truth, but he wasn't willing to stick around and talk any longer. So we circled up and prayed for him as he rode away...the only thing we can really do with these types of interactions...that, and hope that we'll see him again when he's ready to talk, or ready for change....

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Prayer Works

In recent weeks I've been trying to write down my prayers more, as well as things that God is teaching me. Because I've come to realize that I'm a forgetful person. I resonate pretty well with the Israelites who seem so foolish and ignorant and ungrateful for what God did for them, such as in Exodus:
"When the people of Israel saw the mighty power that the Lord had unleashed against the Egyptions, they were filled with awe before him. They put their faith in the Lord and in his servant Moses...

"But tormented by thirst, they continued to argue with Moses. 'Why did you bring us out of Egypt. Are you trying to kill us, our children, and our livestock with thirst?"...

"After the victory, the Lord instructed Moses, 'Write this down on a scroll as a permanent reminder, and read it aloud to Joshua: I will erase the memory of Amalek from under heaven." Moses built an altar there..."

This is just one example of the many, many times in the Old Testament when God provided, saved, or did an astonishing miracle. Then His people were filled with awe and faith and trust, only to forget and complain shortly thereafter, lacking faith in what God could do. There are also multiple instances like that above of God commanding his people to write something down, create an altar, or leave something to remind them of what he had done. He knows we're forgetful, that we lose faith. And that we beg and plead with petitions and wishes, but when he answers we either don't praise him because we forget that we even asked, or we praise him and then forget what he's done as soon as something hard happens again. I see myself do this way more than I would like to admit; which is why I'm finally learning to discipline myself to write it down, commemorate, or do anything that will help me remember and continue to turn to him with my requests and with faith. Heck, I even went so far as to get a tattoo recently as a constant and permanent reminder of important lessons that God has taught me about brokenness, humility, healing, and serving the broken-hearted for his name and glory.

All of that to say, I write this post in recognition of ways that God has worked mightily through the prayers from and on behalf of the Broken Hearts ministry. In ways that I either forget, or was never even aware of.

This week was probably the first time since I've been going that we didn't start the night at Del Taco for prayer. All of us, including friends, 'Ravi' and 'Azul', arrived and parked in the same place at the same time - down the dark steet halfway between Del Taco and our bible study location. As conversation proceeded, we naturally conveined where we were at.
As we circled up and began bringing up prayer requests, light rain drops began to fall, as they had been sporadically all day...

Azul - who we met a long time ago but has recently been coming out regularly to spend time with us - shared with us his prayer requests. But more than that, and all evening long, he shared his praises. Last week we had prayed for him - for his relationship with his parents, for transportation, ability to manage his activities, and to be able to get through his current trials and tribulations. This week when he arrived, he had a car, told us he was living with parents, that his recent audition had gone well, and basically that all of his prayer requests had been answered. He couldn't have been more excited or expressive about his appreciation. And as we shared prayer requests, he said something about how when our team prays, that God listens and answers; the sense that if we pray about something it will likely happen.

That was new to me, I'd never heard anything like that from anyone before. It was awesome to hear, but I guess I still had some skepticism due to his optimism; maybe he just thought that because these issues had worked out this time.

But then Jeremiah broke in and said, "Seriously, when we prayed that my kids be able would move to Orange County, the next week they were able to." Antquan followed saying, "yeah, actually, I was just thinking about how we've prayed for 3 different people who have been cured of cancer." Wow. In past months we had prayed for people's relatives or friends within the ministry - one of them ended up not having cancer, one is finishing radiation but the cancer is gone, and the other had been healed.

Then the rain made me think back to one of the most miraculous stories that Broken Hearts has, which I'm not sure I've ever written about on here. When the ministry first started with just 3 or 4 people, (before I was ever involved), they said it would rain all the time. It got in the way of ministry, people wouldn't come out as much, and was a big discouragement. So they prayed that when they were out there God would cease the falling rain. And just like God stopped the rain for 3 and a half years in the time of Elijah: "As surely as the Lord, the God of Israel, lives - the God I serve - there will be no dew or rain during the next few years until I give the word!"(1 Kings 17 & 18), he stopped the rain in Hollywood on Thursday nights. After the team first prayed against the rain - though it might be raining on the way there, or everywhere nearby - when they set out for ministry the rain would stop. It might come back as soon as they got in their cars to go home, but it never rained while they were on the streets. I witnessed this myself in the first year that I was in the ministry; it never rained while we were there, even if the streets were still wet from a shower we'd just missed, or if it rained the whole way there but stopped near Santa Monica blvd. Sometime after my first year - about 3 and a half years after the team had presented their request to God, it rained during 3 or 4 different nights over the next few months while we were on the street. And since those nights, it hasn't rained again.

The rain drops were very light this night as they had been all day...but before we were done praying, they had stopped. And as we drove home, rain covered the windshield on the freeway, but the time we were out it was perfectly clear- even warm!

I'm sure if I sat and thought about it and tried to remember the many answers to prayer that I've forgotten, I would think of many more times that God has heard our prayers for others and for ministry and answered 'yes'. What an encouragement, especially since I often feel like God disregards my prayers for those on the street; and as someone who often lacks the faith to truly believe God will answer God-sized prayers.

And if he's answering those kinds of things, couldn't it be that he's doing so much more that we're completely oblivious to or just can't know about? I think so...

Tuesday, January 20, 2009


Fridays are hard. After a late night of being on the street, I dread waking up in the morning. Not just because I'm tired, but because after only 3 hours of sleep, I usually wake up with a stomach ache and burning, bloodshot eyes. And all day long at work I feel a little off, a little physically uncomfortable, and ready to go home to bed. Some days are much easier than others, but that's the general Friday for me after Thursday night ministry. It's also harder when things don't seem to be going great on the street. That tiredness is almost like a battle wound to be proud of when the reason I was up so late was because of an amazing conversation, or great progress in a relationship, or seeing God do his thing. But, like this Thursday, I was already feeling discouraged with ministry by lack of fruit, lack of progress, and questions for God. And so that 'Friday feeling' just felt defeating. .

It wasn't a bad night at all...but I also didn't feel particularly useful. I saw some old faces, and got to catch up with a kid, 'Mark', I've written about on here before, as well as an old friend of Big Mama. I met a few new people outside of the donut shop. And at bible study we got to spend some time in discussion about denominations, prayer, and love with some of the people who came to the study. One - Tom, an older gentleman who loves our ministry and Antquan and has come around many times before. And another older man who lives on the street and believes in God but has some arguments and questions. And Irving, who asked for specific prayer and was very grateful for what he received. We reflected together on the message about Cor. 13 - on love - and what stood out to us in particular. It's been a while since we've had good, structured group reflection time after a message so that was a good chance to also share our lives with those who came.

Two of them who came also checked to see when we're there and showed interest in coming back to spend time with us. We gave one info to our favorite local church as well, as he was interested in getting back into church. Ha, even writing this I'm beginning to see that perhaps it was a better night than I had realized!

On Friday night, I went out again with the Friday team. There were a lot more people out, which usually makes for a more interesting evening, and often allows for more and sometimes better conversations. An old friend, Nigel, joined us with a bright smile, early on in prayer and then hung out with us for a while. He found me, Nick and Dave in the donut shop and we all engaged in a debate about God and how many paths there are to him. He believes the bible and in Jesus Christ for salvation, but doesn't necessarily think that means it's right for everyone.

Part way through that discussion, two young guys, one with a guitar strapped to his back, sat at the table behind us and Nick quickly engaged in conversation with them. Probably one of the only times I've met two straight, young, masculine looking males in that area who weren't there for the club or for work. They had been at an open-mic night somewhere to perform and like hanging out in the area just to people watch. We talked to them about nearby churches and how one of them had kind of tried church a while ago at a church we partner with, but hadn't been back since. He was hesitant to go back to church, but we invited him to join us any Thursday, and Nick got his info to keep in touch.

After ending our chat with Nigel, we walked back down the street corner where the other donut shop is and hung out outside for a while talking to 'Ravi', Nigel, Willy, Warren, and some others that we see regularly. Willy, who I haven't been quite sure about his religious stance, had me listen to a song on his ipod, a gospel track about leaning on God through the trials and tribulations. He said he listens to it all the time, it's his song right now for fighting his own trials and trying to make it through. The past few weeks I've seen him spending more time with us, opening up to more people on our team and becoming a friend that most of our team knows. Those moments are always exciting to me, because it shows that a relationship is truly being built and the conversations can continually grow deeper.

For the second night in a row, we saw our friend, Silent, that we had met while with Cassandra. The previous night I had honestly thought he had been drinking for how excited he acted when he saw me. But this night he flashed a huge smile as he bent down and geared up excitedly to give me a massive hug. Our conversation with him didn't last too long, but again, I know a relationship is growing there, and to know that someone is actually excited to see us and knows exactly what we're about it always a good thing.

But something about the vibrant life and conversations on the street, the mix of people, the change from typical Thursdays for me, was refreshing and restorative and brought back some excitement that I had been lacking after the previous night.

I just continually pray that God opens doors for conversations and that we are never too slow or shy to bring up the gospel and confront the mess that people have made of their lives and that we love them enough to speak the truth and help to bring them out of the mess.