Sunday, June 21, 2009


Thursday was vice night, so cops were prevalent and people on the streets were few. A pretty quiet night when we arrived, but from the beginning it was full of fun surprises as friends we hadn't seen in months and months kept showing up.

One of the Del Taco security cards, "Mary", was back from a several month trip to be with her mom in El Salvador. We all greeted her with excitement and she returned the joy with her bright smile and hugs. She speaks little English, so few of us can hold long conversations with her, but we all share a love for each other and speak through physical communication and times of prayer.

And before prayer, our friend Anthony showed up. He was one of the very first people I met in Hollywood, probably the first after Big Mama. So after catching up with him and lifting up prayer requests, we broke up into groups and headed out to meet the few people hanging out on the street.

Jere and I walked across the street with Anthony and the first people we found were 'K' and 'J', a couple we've been getting to know more over the last few months who usually come to The Refuge. They updated us on the latest in their life, and our conversation slowly turned towards fathers, as Jeremiah planned to talk about God as father, and it happened to line up with Father's Day. Not surprisingly, their responses about their fathers were fairly typical of most we meet there - K's father has been in prison most of her life, and J's is dead.

I'm still a little slow to how things work on the street, and that people or situations aren't always as they appear; but for once it didn't take me too long to pick up on the fact that they were some of the only people here, settled unnoticeable on one side of the donut shop for no apparent reason. I was under the impression neither of them deal drugs anymore, but after talking more to K later, I realized that she no longer deals, but J does and she just helps him hold it. I noticed what appeared to be some possible customers as we talked (observing we're clearly not good for business), and when K headed with us to bible study she said J would join us after he got some business. That's when she confirmed that he does still deal, because it's all he knows. On the other hand, she had just received a $25000 scholarship from school to get continued education for her nursing career.

Most of the rest of our evening was incredibly entertaining and informative for me. I think K is one of my favorite people out there, mostly for the paradox that she seems to be. Or maybe because she just often challenges the view that many would have of a stereotypical ex-gang banger, ex-drug dealer African American woman. Probably one of the cutest girls you'll ever meet - very short and petite, pretty face, and incredibly bubbly and talkative.

As we all talked she told Jeremiah how she'd been trying to retell a story he used as an example in one of her messages about a frog in a pot of hot water that started out cool and slowly boiled him to death, unaware how his surroundings were killing him. She giggled and recounted the story with delight: "What's his name? Leonard? He just stayed in that pot! All the other frogs jumped out, and he just stayed in there! hahaha". I smile even as I write it, remembering the innocence and laughter as she talked about it, finding it so entertaining. And whenever someone is giving a sermon (ususally Jeremiah), she sits engrossed in the message and giggles and vocalizes joy or resonance or entertainment at his funny stories or experiences in a way that resembles a 5 year-old hearing a teacher read them a goofy story.

I'd never expect that type of reaction from someone like that. Maybe disdain or annoyance with how little we understand or relate to her situations. But no, this 20-something year old woman loves hearing the analogies, and offers to pray for our pizza before we eat. And yet as we continue our conversation on the sidewalk before bible study, she educates us on gang life and tells us about how she and J jumped a guy recently who called her a b**ch. She fills us in on how most gang fights these days that she hears about are because of 'hood rats' (girls who are sleeping with guys from various gangs); and informs us about how gangs from rival neighborhoods will have barbecues and football games and hang out together. She tells us a story about one of those fun hangouts where everyone was cool with each other until they found out about a girl sleeping with 2 different guys, ending in one of her homies being killed.

I love meeting people like her, who break down stereotypes and continually give me a greater love for people who are so different from me. She and I have nothing in common, but we can kick it like I do with any of my friends. I think back to earlier in the evening when she got pissed off at a guy who was not from the area and was stopping in at the donut shop, but was very intrusive and rude in the way he approached us. She ranted as he left, "why's he gotta open the door like that right into us? He sees us standing here! And then he parks his car right there, like he owns the place!" and continues on why he doesn't need to be rude and why is he acting like he's afraid of the black people. She's angry because he seems to be treating them like dangerous black people that he needs to act tough around, afraid that they'll do something to him. And all she was hoping for was someone to be cool, treat them kindly and not expect that they fit into this dangerous, mean stereotype.

I understand that he was an area that he clearly doesn't hang out in and probably was a little nervous, so had to play it extra tough. But how often do others of us do the same thing? Type-cast a group of people (any group of people different from ourselves) and react in fear, when just like us, they expect kindness and politeness? I think that's one of the biggest lessons I've learned from coming to Hollywood in the middle of the night. BH has been going for 5 years, just hanging out on the street. And yes, we get some dirty looks at times, maybe some mean or mocking comments, but for the most part if we just want to talk and hang out with people, they love engaging in conversation if we're willing. Of course it's an area we have to be careful in, but there's really not much to be afraid of - especially when we have God with us! But we hang out with thieves, druggies, people who have killed and committed various crimes, male prostitutes, and if we come with love and a desire to understand, there's really no fear. They treat us just as well as anyone you could meet elsewhere. In fact, often they're more friendly than someone you might encounter in Orange County! :)

But, I digress. Back to the evening...

The other fascinating part of the evening to me (besides also seeing Andre from last week return and hang out and tell us about how much money he makes recyling cans and bottles from the clubs), was the activity around the dumpster during our bible study.

I'm not sure that I've ever actually seen anyone dumpster dive. Yes, I see people collecting bottles to recycle all the time, or maybe finding something they could use in the garbage near my apartment, or around the beach and other places I go. But during our bible study two people, with grocery carts in tow, literally dove into the dumpster and finished like they'd just gone shopping. I didn't watch too much, mostly so I could concentrate on the message, and also to not stare at them since they likely wouldn't appreciate that. Yet when I'd glance over, I would see more and more articles of clothing appear and be draped over the carts, and stacks of other various items pile up, and at once the guy actually diving in head first with just his legs still hanging over the side. I was amazed at how much they found and how diligent they were in discovering their loot. So interesting to see how, sadly, one man's trash really is another man's treasure.

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