Saturday, November 28, 2009

Thanksgiving 09

Another Thanksgiving celebration in Hollywood is behind us. Once again, Broken Hearts hosted a meal with the help of Hope Again and their home on Sunset. Several of their residents joined us, along with a few people from the boulevard, some volunteers from Basileia and The Hollywood Church, as well as a small army from RockHarbor (okay, maybe not that many, but there was an outpouring of people who wanted to serve on this holiday).

About 50-60 of us crammed into the dining area, talking about thankfulness with strangers and catching up with old friends. Big Mama and her baby, Jorge, were there along with her boyfriend Bear. And a guy, "Mark" that we'd met on the street last Thursday. Additionally we had several people who live at Hope Again who probably wouldn't have had a place to go for Thanksgiving otherwise.

To me, it was a great blessing to see everyone intermixing and excited to serve however God wanted. Family from various churches were getting to know each other, people from different backgrounds, ages, ministries, etc all participated and got to shre in the experience of God's family. I know I came away from the day knowing several new people from my church I'd never met before and excited to see them get a glimpse of what's happening in Hollywood.

After we cleaned up the meal, several of the volunteers from RockHarbor stuck around and we took leftovers to the street. Because we were there so early, it was VERY quiet. There were about a handful of people on the street, so it took a few hours to hand out the leftover food. We met a man I hadn't seen before by Donut Time (which was closed. The first time I've ever seen it closed!) and chatted with him for a while about his day. Then we headed down the street and saw several of the security guards we know, and with some convincing, were able to give them some of the food. As we headed just a few steps further down, we ran into Zoe, who I've written about just a few times, but WAY back in earlier blogs. Zoe was one of the first people I met on the street, and then saw again about 6 months ago. But other than that never see him anymore. So, I was shocked to see him, to say the least. Me and a few others including Big Mama and Bear stood with Zoe for the next 45 minutes or so, catching up and hearing some hard stuff about life.

He told us that his dad has just passed away, and his mom is in the hospital expected to die fairly soon. He said he planned to commit himself to a mental hospital when his mom dies. He already feels like he's losing it and thinks that'll just make him insane. He told us he'd been in and out of recovery places and rehabs as well as jail, and is back on the street to make an easy buck. As Big Mama said, "this one's a rock. It's like talking to a wall." Bear and Big Mama offered help, as well as the suggestion to get into church and off of the street. But Zoe isn't ready. Hasn't been yet. He said he hasn't been scared into changing, and that he has to be scared to stop. Essentially, he has so little value for his life and so little hope, that the life he's living seems perfectly fine. Why not stay high and make easy money prostituting when you have nothing else? What's the point of setting goals or making plans or trying anything else?

I didn't go too much into the hope God can give, because we've had that talk more than once before. And I reassured him that the BH team is always there for him if he needs anything. But truly, he's like talking to a brick wall and until he's been softened or even more broken or is ready, he won't hear any of it. It killed me to see that, to hear that he's not grateful for anything and always sleeps through Thanksgiving and Christmas. But that he won't accept any help and won't change, even though he hates his life. That's how hopeless he is. Please pray for him!

I think one of the coolest parts of the night for me was how, during that conversation as well as two others later with people we met walking around, that Bear and Big Mama were able to offer help, encouragement, and wisdom based on their own experiences. I had a lot of time to get to know Bear better and hear about his life. 15 years in prison for murder, cage fighting, uncountable acts of extreme violence towards others, drug abuse, etc.  And now he lives in the Open Arms program, running a transitional living home and helping others get in and through the program. He and Big Mama (who has quite the story of her own - living on the streets, years of being beaten, prostitution, etc) are planning on moving into an apartment soon to raise Jorge and their new one on the way and getting on with their changed lives. Both attend church regularly with Open Arms  and when I asked Bear about what had changed him he said, "God changed me."

He and Big Mama were able to share their lives and testimonies and experiences with others who are in that same position and tell people that they need God. Which I think can often have a bit more impact than coming from someone like me, who many feel they can't relate to.

In all, a good night, although slightly bittersweet seeing that there is still SO much pain here that simply can't be healed apart from Christ. And so many people running away from their one source of healing. But praise God for the encouragement from other people from church who were able to experience another way of life, and the encouragement of those lives he's already changed and will continue to use.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Sometimes we say the craziest things someone's ever heard on the street

This week we had a smaller group on the street, four guys and myself. So two of them went to get pizza while three of us went to invite people to bible study. I've written before that when there's only a few of us and the streets seem quiet, things just don't seem to go well, or go as planned. There were maybe 15 people on the street total  ( and only that many if you count the six people who the police had lined up against the wall on one of the side streets). On the surface, things didn't appear promising.

As we crossed the street from Del Taco to Donut Time, we passed a man on crutches. We made eye contact and exchanged smiles. After arriving across the street and glancing around to see who was there and who we might talk to, a young man hanging out outside quickly said hello and we began a conversation.
 "A" recognized us quickly as "the church people" and told us that he's been going to church his whole life (until he was 18). We told him about our Thanksgiving meal we'd be doing next week and he quickly promised he'd be there. He was easy to talk to and get to know, as the world seemed a very happy place to him that evening (clearly pretty high as he was also doing some drug deals in the donut shop).

After several minutes of chatting, he insisted that we meet his friend, the man we had passed in the crosswalk. He was sure that his friend would want to come to Thanksgiving as well. Eventually, he came back from Del Taco with some food and we were introduced. He scoffed at the idea of joining us for church, but continued talking with us. "A" told him about Thanksgiving, and he began a rant about how he doesn't celebrate Thanksgiving or any holiday. We weren't really trying to convince him of anything, but he argued his point and defended himself and kept trying to convince us of how wrong our traditions and plans seemed to be. It only took a few minutes for me to realize that, without him saying anything, he's harboring a lot of anger and has probably had some really bad experiences with holidays, likely related to family. So I left the topic alone, but we bantered back and forth about it all evening.

It was an interesting contrast with A and Lou, the guy on crutches. A was laughing and happy and excited about everything from free pizza that night to Thanksgiving. Lou wanted to argue with just about everything that came out of our mouths, but luckily not in a mean way.  We persisted in mentioning church and free pizza, even though Lou said he wouldn't go and it was too far to walk. But God must have been having a similar yet unseen conversation with them too, because just as we were on the verge of walking away  they decided to come with us and bring another friend.

Jeremiah gave a sermon about the bad patterns of behavior that we get ourselves into, and then we all talked more afterwards. I expected at least two of the guys to leave, but they hung around for a bit. We had some good conversation, along with more banter. Once again, Lou brought the conversation back to frustrations he seemed to have pent up...telling me we don't have street smarts and that I wouldn't make it a day on the street. "Yep, you're right. I'm not saying I would" was basically my response. I mostly agreed with what he said, because it was true and I'd never stated otherwise. He just seemed to want to argue about how different we all are. Then he brought it back to Thanksgiving and how he thought our dinner was the craziest thing he'd ever heard.

"I've never heard anyone say something like that to me before. That's crazy. There's something not right about that. I'm gonna have to marinate in that one for a while. That's got me thinkin," he went on. The idea of us asking strangers to Thanksgiving and offering to pick them up sounded to him like some weird, unsafe, sketchy situation. I assured him we were safe, but that he didn't need to come and was free to feel freaked out by it if he wanted. So...not sure where that might lead, but hopefully some trust will be built with him as we hopefully  see him more.

 I spent most of the evening talking with them as Jeremiah spent time talking to their friend Mario. I'm not sure what happened there, but I know they talked about him getting out of a bad cycle he was in and they seemed to be in a really good conversation. A and Lou then decided to bust out their dope and  roll a joint. That was about the time they decided to go, as we told them to put it away and  as our security friends rolled up to say hi.

After that we chatted with the security guards for a few moments, who have been coming more and more. Please pray that they'll continue to enjoy visiting us so we can get to know them even better. And for the three  men who came, that we'd see them again and be able to build good relationships. And that while they consider themselves Christians, that they'd really experience Jesus and be filled with his spirit for transformed lives.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Catch and Release: do we mean it when we say 'friend'?

Last Thursday, Charlie and I walked around the block and met a few people, then circled back around to a large group of young guys we'd seen earlier. I hadn't seen some of them in a long time, but had thought of them often and was anxious to say hi.

"You guys are still coming out here?" 'Rick' (who'd been gone for about 3 months) asked.
"Of course!" I responded "We've been coming for 5 years. And we're going to keep coming."
"Why?" he asked.

I said something inconsequential, and then Charlie answered: "We have friends out here."
"Friends?" he responded in a negative, skeptical tone. "Friends call each other, friends hang out. They don't just come up once a week..."

That reaction has stayed in my mind throughout the week. Now, in this instance, it actually turned out fairly well because in fact, I had tried calling and emailing him a few months ago when he'd showed interest in going to church. I had driven up to Hollywood to pick him up, only to be stood up. And I reminded him of this. So he kind of laughed it off and it smoothed out the conversation and we were able to continue on finding out where he'd been and what he'd been up to. And invited him to another hang out we have coming up this weekend.

Now, I do keep in mind that even if we all lived in Hollywood and were there all the time, there are a lot of walls. People don't want to be our friends. They don't want to share their lives or trust people or be open. So even if I called him everyday, he might ignore me. But I think that God requires us to keep trying, keep loving...and often times do so without result. More often, there will be a result of a relationship, but it takes time. We have to keep pursuing - just as He does us - keep caring about them, keep investing, even if we never get much in return. Because they see our efforts and consistency and recognize it. Even if they don't respond, they're aware (this applies across the board wherever we are, not just in this particular ministry).
But how many other people think what 'Rick' vocalized? Obviously, we care about relationship. That's why we're there...that's why Antquan moved to Hollywood, and why others of us hope to. We know real relationship - not just drive-by evangelism - is critical for sharing Christ. Especially in this neighborhood of darkness, skeptics and distrusting individuals. If we can't share our lives, they won't ever be able to see the gospel fully lived out as well as discussed with us (although hopefully God would put someone else in their path to do so!)
Though we know the importance, it doesn't mean we always act on it. We spend the majority of our time in Orange County, only giving them a few hours each week. Our hearts are in the right place...but if they don't know that, it loses a lot of importance (again, not specific to Broken Hearts).

I also spent time in the last few days thinking about the influence that our true friends from the street have on those whom we are trying to befriend. They have influence because they're there, they share their lives, they see each other around and know that, at least to some extent, they can trust and listen to each other. When we actually befriend someone and they hang out with us and trust us, others are much more willing to do so as well. And ideally, our hope is that those we help get off the street, get through rehab, give their lives to Jesus, etc, will then be able to go back and inspire others to do the same while sharing the grace and truth of the gospel just as we strive to do. But we actually have to be friends with people for this to occur. Not make them a project, not see them as a mission to accomplish, but actually love them, pour into their lives, and let them pour into ours as they choose.

As I was reading a book today with these thoughts far from my mind, I was struck as I read a page and realized it perfectly captured this idea. It's a true story called Same Kind of Different as Me that, up to the point that I've read, is about a couple who began serving meals at a mission and took an interest in those they interacted with. The husband is trying to befriend one of the coldest, toughest people they know. And after expressing that he desires friendship with the man (because his wife wants them to be friends), the man (Denver) responds this way:

"I heard that when white folks go fishin they do somethin called 'catch and release."..."That really bothers me," Denver went on. "I just can't figure it out. 'Cause when colored folks go fishin, we really proud of what we catch, and we take it and show it off to everybody that'll look. Then we eat what we other words, we use it to sustain us. So it really bothers me that white folks would go to all that trouble to catch a fish, then when they done caught it, just throw it back in the water...
..."So, Mr. Ron, it occurred to me: if you is fishin for a friend you just gon' catch and release, then I ain't got no desire to be your friend....But if you is looking for a real friend, then I'll be one. Forever."

When we walk out on the streets of Hollywood and tell people we want to be friends, or when you go into your workplace or neighbors home or mission to serve food and say that you want friendship in order to share the we think about what that means? Can we introduce our 'friends' to everybody that we know and use our relationship to sustain each other? Are we ready for 'forever'? Because if not - if we don't have that real love - aren't we just resounding gongs or clanging symbols?

This is something I have to catch myself on a lot, and will continue to do even more now, so I'm not saying I have this down. Hopefully others will read these thoughts and we can walk through this Jesus thing together, gathering up friends as we go...

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

"Meaningless" Conversation

It's taken me a while to write about last Thursday, because my main thoughts were around other parts of the evening, which I put on another blog (Thursday Night Thoughts). So, that has more detail about various going-ons, but I will briefly write about our evening on the street.

Once again, only a few of us out there (please pray for more members to join our teams), but the boulevard was pretty quiet as well. We saw a guy in the donut shop who we'd talked to before, who works in the area and has come to a few of our bible studies before. Jorge chatted with him for a few minutes before he had to leave to catch his bus. We said hi to those sitting in the shop and hanging around, but few were interested in talking. So we lingered for a bit, then continued down the street. When we got to the block with 7-11, I noticed  a cop car was in the middle of the street, blocking traffic and pedestrians. Down the street a bit several more cop cars were parked by 7-11 with their lights flashing. The officer at his car instructed us not to go down the street for at least 10-15 more minutes.

"What's going on down there?" I asked him.
"Robbery suspect," he replied simply. Came to find out about 30 minutes later after we'd been able to get through and had been hanging out for a while that apparently there'd been a robbery by someone with a gun, of someone parked in the parking lot. Antquan commented that the crime always seems to go up the closer we get to Christmas. Great.

The rest of the night, as last week, didn't quite go according to plan, but then again how often does it? Though no bible study actually took place, mostly due to lack of people, some cool conversations ended up taking place. A guy I mentioned last week who had kind of stumbled into our service before it got interrupted, ended up back in the area for work and heading straight to talk to us. Once again, Jeremiah was able to talk to him for a long time, bonding over some of their shared stories and experiences. Though nothing incredibly deep was talked about, it was  a valuable time of building a relationship and opening that door to us and The Refuge wide open...where inevitably the door to God will be wide open. Sometimes not talking about spiritual things feels like we might have missed an opportunity. But I think that so often jumping straight there without even knowing a person can be more damaging. When you've built rapport and trust, then real and meaningful conversation comes much easier and a person is much more willing to listen.

Which seemed to be the theme for the night. While Antquan talked to a somewhat mentally-unstable guy who often joins us (wearing a Dodgers uniform, no less), I ended up chatting with 3 security guards. They work down the street, doing security for the area, and  I'd met one of them before and we'd had some brief conversations. People on both teams have relationships with several of the security officers. They rarely come hang out at our bible study, although we often get brief conversations with them elsewhere...mostly because they're always working and can't stay and hang around. But for whatever reason that night, the 3 of them who had just started their shift didn't seem to have anywhere else to be. So they joined us for pizza, and since an official bible study never happened, they stayed until around 1am. It's possible if we'd done bible study they would have left...and it's times like these that it's better that dump our plans and be available to what God's doing right in front of us.

Though our conversation never turned particularly spiritual either, we had  a good 30-45 minutes of interaction, of getting to know each other, laughing, and building relationship that I know will be easily built on in the near future. In fact, right at the end I found out that one of them is Muslim, and has had some good chats with Nick about religion. He repeated more than once that it was good talking. He took Antquan's card. And he and the others made sure they knew our names. I felt that it left off at a perfect place to allow me to pick up next week and dive into deeper discussion. Or if not, to just keep getting to know them and build that trust that allows for deeper discussion.

And to top it all off, I'd gotten  a chance during some down time to talk with Jorge about his passion to follow God - and everything the bible says, not just some of it. We talked about his experiences in Skid Row recently (witnessing a drive-by, for instance) and how he's hoping to take some of what we do to those streets. His passion just made me that much more excited to serve God and follow wherever he leads me.

I had other down moments to get to know the guys who'd come to videotape what Broken Hearts does for a promo. The giving of their time, interest in what we do, and fact that they stayed out until around 4am hearing stories and recording showed me that they are passionate about God's work as well...and hopefully those are more relationships that will continue.

I heard a sermon recently from Chris Barksdale at the Hollywood Church wherein he mentioned that if you don't like people or being around people..well, now I'm forgetting exactly what he said. But essentially that it's something wrong with us or our need to separate ourselves and not how we were created. I can't agree 100% because for us introverts, we legitimately can't be around people all the time. And yet, for someone who is (or was) really introverted, I find myself enjoying and craving more and more time with people. Especially those that are walking through this life pursuing Christ and trying to model him. I rarely get tired of my brothers and sisters and would rather be with them than alone almost all of the time. God made us relational. So from those in BH to those on the street that couldn't be more opposite, every conversation is a blessing and moment to be seized and treasured.