Sunday, October 25, 2009

You Never Know What's Gonna Happen

Interrupted bible studies. Lack of engagement. Violent crime on the street. For some reason, whenever there's a small group of us on the street, you never know what's going to happen. I can head out to Broken Hearts pumped about what's going to happen and how we're going to see God move. And when I see a circle of just 4, 5, or 6 of us, I get a little deflated. Not because the Holy Spirit can't use just a few, or that we're unable to accomplish as much with a small group. Maybe it's lack of energy from each other or just a weird vibe that comes from feeling outnumbered by the darkness...but it seems that very often when just a few of us show up to minister, all bets are off. Of course sometimes that small group can be unique to minister specially to one or two people and really have deep conversation. Last night, that was not the case.

We met up in the Del Taco parking lot as usual to find only 5 of us there, and right about then it started to feel weird for me. The streets seemed quiet and it was one of those "what's going to happen tonight?" nights. We briefly spoke to "Jay", a guy who's met several of the Friday nighters and some of our team, but he didn't want to join us for prayer because he'd been smoking weed. So we prayed and then headed out to the corners where eventually more and more people started showing up. I saw a few familiar faces that I hadn't seen in a while, including one who was actually excited to see me. One who, just a few months ago, would barely talk to us. He even asked if we were having bible study and said he'd be there.

We lingered around the donut shop for a while, observing and praying and trying to decide who to talk to or whether to walk around. There weren't a lot of people we knew and it seemed several people were busy with transactions of some sort. So after some quick hellos to various people, we walked a few feet where a man standing by himself said hi and asked what we were up to.

We stopped and talked to Luis for a while. I couldn't really tell you what the conversation was about, because after about the first 3 minutes, nothing made sense. He said he liked church and would want to come to our bible study at one point, later deciding he didn't want to come this time. Jeremiah and I politely listened to him, trying to follow along, but his thoughts were incoherent and unrelated from one point to the next. We asked if we could pray for anything before leaving and he just said to offer a praise of 'hallelujah'. So we bid him a good night and set off for The Refuge service.

Once there, we met up with the rest of the group plus Jay, who had come back for bible study, and one other guy who was sitting on the sidewalk. I met him, but didn't get a chance to talk to him; but according to Jorge, his thoughts weren't particularly coherent either and apparently he'd just gotten done shooting up. Jeremiah started talking to a guy who was getting out of his car, probably to go to 711, and ended up talking to him until we started bible study before he had much of a chance to leave. :)

Though the night had picked up some and didn't feel so quiet anymore, the conversations were a bit odd because of the mental conditions of those we met. 

Then, about 10 minutes into Jere's talk, some commotion started to arise on the street in front of us. 3 young men ran and jumped in the car parked next to us, squealing out of the parking lot amongst shouts and people beginning to swarm; nearly hit Antquan's car as they drove over the curb onto Santa Monica Blvd and away as fast as they could. Quickly, more yelling and ruckus caused commotion on the sidewalk, and more and more people began to congregate to see what had happened. Antquan had been keeping somewhat of an eye on the situation, sensing from when he'd seen the car (which looked stolen) parked there, that something was up as he watched the guys hanging out on the sidewalk while 2 others sat inside the car.

So his first thought was that it was  drug deal gone bad and someone had been stabbed. Jay, who had left bible study and ended up in the middle of the chaos, came back shortly and filled us in on what'd happened. Apparently the guys had tried to steal a car nearby, and the owner of the car caught them. Getting caught, they somehow had the steering wheel of the car and hit him over the head with it, then took off, leaving him on the sidewalk, bleeding. Jay had stayed with the guy until the ambulance came and took him away. Several other police cars arrived, and our bible study was officially over as a helicopter flew over head and it was all we could focus on. We prayed briefly, again because focusing was so hard, and ended up hanging around for a while to help police with details and their reports.

Strange night overall. One of those that, after things calmed down, and after we handed out our leftover pizza to our other friends on the street, we were just trying to process all that had happened. The night felt weird from the beginning and just got worse, ending with that reminder that this is dangerous territory...but also that we need to be here for that exact reason.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Sowing in tears, reaping with joy

Broken Hearts often refers to our ministry (and often our lives in general) as being a 'link in the chain'. For any Christian, at various times in non-believers lives, we plant seeds, we water, we sow...but God ultimately gives the increase in his way, his time, and in his power. Getting to be a part of any step in the process is a privilege...but I'd say few of us enjoy the sowing as much as we do the reaping. The reaping is exciting and faith-building and 'glamorous'. Being a link in the chain of that process just doesn't have the same hype or recognition. It's not always clear that God's at work, that our obedience to share Him is even doing anything.

It can be downright discouraging. If people ask about your ministry and you can name the number of people on one hand who've come to know Christ in several years, it seems to leave an unpleasant taste in the mouth of the person asking. When donors give to an organization, they aren't particularly inspired to give to a ministry who can't show numbers of lives changed or quantify impact.

More than once (or twice... or ten times), I've asked "what am I doing? What are we doing out here?" We see people take big steps towards change or towards Jesus, and then see them relapse into their old lifestyle...and it all feels pointless. But God will often do something major after those occurrences that leave me humbled and pretty embarrassed when I realize he was at work the whole time - I just couldn't see...and I was questioning him and his sovereignty!

God knows what he's doing, and if he wants us to be the middle man in the process of a man or woman coming to know him, then that's up to him. We just have to be faithful. But when we actually get to see someone through the process and see the end result...well, words can hardly describe how exciting that is! In fact, because we don't get this opportunity too often, when it happens it's almost hard to believe. Seeing someone change so drastically is nothing short of a miracle.

Ok...that was a long intro to the real story behind those thoughts that arose in my mind today. I went up to Hollywood today to attend church with Antquan and our friend 'Ravi' (which is another story for another time, but he's one who's being discipled daily and getting his life on track and quite the encouragement to me as well as our team). 'Jake' had planned on coming to church, but everyone in their rehab program had been put on restriction and he was unable to leave. So instead I went to visit him after church.

I've only talked to him/seen him a handful of times since he entered rehab. But each conversation astounds me. Especially when I think back to the day I first met him. In fact, as we chatted today in the outside patio/garden area of the home, he referred to that day saying, "I was drawn to you that first day we met. There was something compelling about you guys. And luckily I was still sensitive enough  to that..I was hard on the outside, but I was still soft inside." The context of that was that God had saved him before he'd gone too far down the path of drug addiction and prostitution, and his background in the church made him curious and sensitive to God's spirit working through us.

The rest of the conversation was about his deepening relationship with God, his prayer life, about his past and family history that had brought him to the place of drug-dependence; tears over the pain that he was learning to deal with. He said he's starting to tear down his walls and become softer and more real, and that the guys in the house are seeing him change. He said after talking with me on the phone the other day something had changed and he'd started to acknowledge some of his issues. He noted that he's the only person in the house not taking meds and attributes it to his relationship with God which is giving him peace and allowing him to heal and deal with those issues rather than medicate them. And that he hopes the guys will see that difference in him and want to know about it. He talked about God having  a plan for him, pondered about doing ministry in some way again one day, and about the opportunity to try everything the world has to offer which has brought him back around to realizing that none of it compares to God.

And that's all just a portion of our recent conversations. The words that come out of his mouth with no prompting are amazing; his vulnerability and willingness to get help are inspiring, and I'm getting to see God's work first hand...changing  a man day-to-day for His glory. 

He even told me that no one in the program is allowed to engage in any sexual behavior, either, and so they're all required to practice celibacy and restraint while living in a gay community. At first I was slightly disappointed about the fact that he was entering a gay/transgender rehab program (and there are still issues to be concerned about with that, of course), but never realized how even that might be a blessing for him. He's required to function there like God would require of him in normal life. If he has homosexual desires, God will either change him or help him to refrain from those desires as he's sanctified. And in a secular, gay rehab, he's practicing how he'll have to live when he gets out.

The sweet, thoughtful, focused young man is much different from the tweaked-out, hardened individual whose apathy and self-destruction once brought me to that angry, question-asking place of "What are we doing, God?! What are YOU doing?!"

Apparently God knew what he was doing. And graciously allows me to still be a part of it...while changing me in this process as well. :)

"When the Lord brought back the captive ones of Zion, we were like those who dream.
Then our mouth was filled with laughter and our otngue with joyful shouting; then they said among the nations,
"The Lord has done great things for them."
the Lord has done great things for us; we are glad.
Restore our captivity, O Lord, as the stream in the south.
Those who sow in tears shall reap with joyful shouting.
He who goes to and fro weeping, carrying his bag of seed shall indeed come again with a shout of joy, bringing his sheaves with him." ~ Psalm 126

Friday, October 2, 2009

Part 2 - Thursday Night

Below I posted another BHer's story from last night. To expand on that and share my experience of last night, I'm going to start off from when we walked across the street to the donut shop where several guys and a few girls were hanging out by the bus stop...

I was happy to see 'Art', who last week and come to bible study and actually talked for a bit. I'd asked him what he does down here and he dodged my question and took off last week. This week he told me that he comes down for regular clients, and that he's been prostituting for 3 months. I didn't realize it had been so little time that he'd been doing that. He said that prior he'd come down to hang out, smoke weed, kick it with friends, but wasn't 'doing business' at that time. But after a stint in jail and a crazy-expensive ticket from an accident and a suspended license, he'd started out here to make easy money. We actually had a pretty good talk (not only about Urban Outfitters and discounted designer shoes) but about how quickly this area can bring people down and put them in a cycle of drugs/prostitution/jail/etc. I tried my best to convey how badly he needed to finish his GED (which he's almost done with), get a job and get out of this area before it sucks him in completely. He responded, "you're speakin truth, girl, and I appreciate that."

A bit later we all headed down to service together...much of the group excited about it, the rest coming along as a result of nothing better to do. (see post below for more bible study details). Afterward, we broke up into groups as we always do. I was with a girl (a real girl) named Diamond, a guy who goes by Fresh, and another girl I'd never seen before but who knew them both. After a while, Charlie joined our group and the lively discussion about how stupid both Samson and Delilah were (at least that was their take, that they both seemed to be a disgrace to their genders). It was an interesting dynamic, because Diamond grew up basically being beat over the head with the bible by her grandma, and Fresh knew almost nothing about it except that he'd always felt condemned by Christians for being gay/bi-sexual. It opened the door for a lot of truth-sharing, setting the record straight about misunderstandings, and getting to share more of who God is and why we need him.

I was so energized by the conversation with Fresh, because if you look below, this was the guy in the blue baseball cap. He hadn't even really wanted to come, but as we discussed, he was so tuned into the conversation. Even when distractions abounded, he kept focused and kept going with the conversation. Even when his friends all headed off to the donut shop and asked him if he wanted to come, he kept telling them no and that he'd hang out with us a while longer!

We went off on some tangents and some things went undiscussed that would have been really good to clear up, but we still got the chance to share a lot with him. He told us he was glad he'd come and would definitely come back next week...and that he didn't feel that same marginalization that he'd felt at churches before. I also invited him to come to church with us on Sunday and he said he might. But he did want to take a bible and get a chance to read it for himself to see what it actually said. Please pray that he'd come back next week and would continue to have an open heart and mind to Christ.

Enthusiasm for a Parking Lot Church - Part 1 of Thursday Night

Guest post from a fellow Broken Heart member, Jeremiah Jenkins.

Last week, while hanging out on the streets of Hollywood with Broken Hearts, I met a real woman who calls herself Essence. (Many of the "women" we meet on the street are actually transgenders and transvestites.) I had just invited Jamal, a very familiar face, to our church service when Essence overheard and, with an attitude, exclaimed "You aren't going to church!" Jamal and a few others from the street walked to the church service with us. Essence stayed behind. Apart from the power of the Holy Spirit, I can't explain why Essence actually came to the parking lot where we meet for church service a few minutes later, on her own. She looked very out of place and bewildered as we passed out pizza and welcomed people into conversation. She reluctantly accepted a slice of pizza and then stayed for the message about "Playing the Victim" (the story of the man healed at the Pool of Bethesda and the story of Paul, Silas and the Jailor in Macedonia).

Last night, I spotted Essence in the Del Taco right after I arrived. When we made eye contact, she didn't recognize me immediately and had a look of disinterest. Then her face exploded into a smile as she figured out who I was and exclaimed, "Is there church tonight?!" When I told her that there was and that I was telling another story, she turned to the four or five friends who were with her and announced with enthusiasm, "I'm going to church tonight!"

Some time passed and Essence and her friends headed across the street to the donut shop where the dealers and prostitutes tend to gather. Meanwhile I met with the other Broken Hearts members outside the Del Taco. We always pair up (groups of 2 or 3, at least 1 male and 1 female) before heading out to the street. I was grouped with Holly and Jen Price. I spotted Essence and a few other familiar faces hanging out at the bus stop as soon as we crossed the street and so we engaged them in conversation. All but one person from this crowd dispersed almost as soon as we got there (presumably because they felt that we Christians threatened their fun and/or business), but they almost all came back eventually as Holly and Jen easily made everyone feel comfortable by talking about fashion and such with one (and eventually several) of the gay men. (Essence was one of the people that left for a moment, but only to get some food.) After a while, it was almost as though everyone in this hodgepodge group were old friends.

When midnight came around, we invited everyone around us to come to church with us. Essence and at least one other person eagerly accepted our invitation and began to follow us toward the Refuge (that's what we call our church). The others weren't so sure but several had grown so comfortable with us that they just kind of followed along. It helped that Essence and the other person were so enthusiastic. One of these reluctant people was a gay man who wore a blue Dodger hat. I loved it when, on the way to the Refuge, this man said aloud, "I can't believe that I am going to church right now. I so don't belong here." I was equally delighted when he was shocked to learn that the Refuge takes place in a parking lot. He was expecting pews or something. :) Last night's message was about the Power of Sex (the story of Samson and Delilah). After the sermon, Jen Price, Trang, and I were put in a group with Essence. We discussed the story, how it relates to us, past and present, and more. Essence was very involved in the conversation. When Jen asked Essence what she would like prayer for, she let us know that she expects to get her own apartment soon and that she just wants it to happen, for real, smoothly and quickly. I would like us to pray that she maintains this enthusiasm to hear God's word. I would also like us to pray for more people like Essence, people who are so enthusiastic about attending Refuge that others from the street confidently follow to the Refuge and to God.

-by Jeremiah Jenkins