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....

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Just want to say what a great blog you got here!
I've been around for quite a lot of time, but finally decided to show my appreciation of your work!

Thumbs up, and keep it going!