Monday, December 27, 2010

Cultivating and Commissioning Disciples

A few years ago, our friend "Big Mama" hit rock bottom and finally agreed to go to a transitional living program to get back on her feet and off of drugs and alcohol. Since then, she moved to a new program, graduated, and now lives with a couple who also went through the program and help to raise her two children.

I visit her and her kids almost every Wednesday to hang out and fit in a bible study when there's time. Every Thursday she comes out with us to the boulevard to spend time with us, attend The Refuge service, and see old friends. She worked security on the boulevard for years, so she knows everyone.

Last Thursday, we saw a friend "Jerry" who had recently lost his apartment and was back out on the street and struggling to keep his job. He'd been looking pretty down for several weeks and said he was ready to get into a program. We told  him about the same program that Big Mama had gone to and he was very interested - even knowing there are many restrictions, that it's a Christian program, etc. 

I brought him over to Big Mama so she could fill him in on even more details than I could. At a point I was able to step away as I had to attend to the laundry ministry ("White as Snow") that we do each month. When I came back, they'd arranged a ride for him from a friend of hers who could take him into the program.

When we all left that night, I was hopeful, but skeptical at the same time. People often say they want to go into a program to get off the streets, but then change their mind, get scared or just flake out. This last week when I talked to Big Mama again, she affirmed that Jerry had gone to the program and that she'd seen him at church that week!

Later that night, Krista (back from Hong Kong for a few weeks) came out and talked all night to a guy I'd never seen before, who we'll call "Chuck". He told her how he was lost, depressed, hopeless, had nothing to live for and sells and uses crack every day. He wasn't quite ready to give his life to Christ, or to get into a program, but Krista made sure to give him a few of the leader's contact info so he can get help when he's ready. As usual, Big Mama already knew him, and also made sure she had his info and was ready to help him get into the same program as soon as he was ready.

This is one of our big goals with Broken Hearts - to cultivate relationships and commission disciples  to disciple others. I wish I had the time and ability to help everyone, but I don't. That's why we're called the body of Christ - we all have our part to play. Big Mama is still learning and growing in her faith and being discipled. But as she goes through experiences, she's able to help others. She did far more for Jerry than I could at that moment, and may again for Chuck.

It's a slow process, but these moments remind us that God IS working, changing lives, and expanding his Kingdom in the broken city of Hollywood.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Hip Hop, Teens, and Changed Lives

I could only assume that last night was going to be a good one. Why? Only a few hours earlier I had been informed that a group of kids on a missions trip would be coming out with us...and I was tired, unmotivated, and lacking energy to "host". That typically means that God's going to do something great to display his glory in my weakness.

Arriving at the 7-11 parking lot (our new meeting spot because Del Taco has shut down), I saw a massive group standing around Antquan. "Oh my gosh...are you kidding me?" is what I believe I muttered under my breath. Having groups come out with us can actually be very refreshing and bring new energy to what we do...but over 30 teens and a few adults looking very out of place made me very uneasy. Relationships and trust take a long time to build on the street, and naiive one-time visitors can affect our witness and trust with one wrong word or evangelistic approach. And of course we never want to make people feel like they're being put on display to be rescued by the privileged white kids.

However, that naiivete can also be of great benefit...they will approach people in bold new ways, without prejudice or expectation and often form great bonds. This group had been trained earlier in the week, and practicing sharing their faith in two different contexts each day. They were excited and expecting God to do big things. 

When our Refuge service started, about 10 people had come to join us. The group was also helping to run the service this night...with music, a short drama and hip hop dancing. Again, I was apprehensive about the small amp set up for music, and the very large circle taking over the parking lot. So were the security guards who rolled up often, looking suspicious but not saying anything. 

But as usual, my concerns were no match for God's plans, and the hip hop circle went over well and drew in a few more people...causing me to think about a similar idea we'd had a while back and never put into action. Seeing it happen helped me see it might be time to start thinking about implementing that. An interpretive drama followed - a well-portrayed demonstration of Jesus taking our "chains" and setting us free. After some music and a bit more hanging out and pizza-eating, we all sat down on the curb while Antquan shared a short message, expanding on the drama.

Though he didn't specifically determine groups and ask people to split into them, the teenagers were on it. They formed their own groups quickly and began discussions about all that had just been seen and experienced. 

I'm not sure of what took place in each conversation, but I did see many long conversations, prayers, and excitement at the conclusion. As we find out these stories, we can continue on with these planted seeds and relationships even though the teens will be headed back to Dallas soon.

Please also pray for the Broken Hearts teams, as we are few in number right now and need more volunteers and leaders to carry on these relationships and bring our own new excitement to the mission.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

the Process of Relationship

Relationship is a process. 

Trusting Christ and coming into relationship with him takes time. Friendship and trust between individuals is equally as challenging and requires just as much patience.  So hard to remember, though! When it comes to ministry, most of us want the quick fix. An immediate response to an altar call. A change of heart when someone hears about Jesus' love for the first time. Seeing someone so lost turn from their old ways and change. And not that the Holy Spirit can't create immediate change or display a miracle in an instance - he can and does. But more often than not, it seems that God takes his time with us, and wants us to do the same with others. 

When people come check out Broken Hearts, it seems that if nothing major happens, it's a bit of a disappointment. Like one night of coming to talk about Jesus to people hanging out on the street should result in an immediate conversion. And based on the number of people that come in and out of Broken Hearts, I'd say the process of relationship and lasting change is wearying. I know it is for me.  

But I know I'm stubborn and hard-hearted and change in my own life takes a great amount of learning and time. So should it be any different for anyone else?

This Thursday, however, was a great reminder to me of how far many of our relationships have come. When I arrived, "Ravi" and Big Mama, two of our oldest friends were already there with  the rest of the crew...

The first time I met Ravi, he barely spoke to me. He looked completely disinterested and  hesitant, but I kept plowing through conversation as if I didn't notice.  A year and a half or so later, he and I talk every week and hang out on a regular basis. He consults with me for questions, as well as about concerns for people on the street. He is a big part of the men's bible study and of Broken Hearts each week. He prayed for Big Mama this week and it was so evident to me how much God has matured and changed him. He has been in close relationship with Antquan since we met him, and it is evident that God is using Antquan to disciple Ravi as he becomes more and more like Christ. Lasting change through relationship demonstrated.

The more I spend time with Big Mama recently, I see greater maturity in her as well. She trusts God more, prays more, loves more, refrains from bad habits, and speaks truth to the many people she knows from her time around Santa Monica Boulevard. Watching her react differently, act more calmly and think more clearly is evidence of the Holy Spirit at work in her life. Again, relationship with her husband, her church, and those in Broken Hearts have been used to influence her greatly. 

When we split up in groups, one of the first people I saw was Jonas, who immediately got on my case about not calling him that week. We'd talked for a long time about hanging out, but he had just gotten a phone and I could finally reach him. But the hectic week prevented me from calling. And he noticed - he wanted to hang out. Our first meeting a few years ago was brief when I started ministry. About a year later I saw him again, recognized him and remembered his name. The look on his face was confusion and almost fear, wondering how this random girl on the street knew who he was. Again, conversation was a bit like pulling teeth. Now, any given week, when I hear someone yelling, "Holly!!" from across the street to get my attention, I know it's Jonas without even having to look. And on the most basic level, he has a place to live, attends church every weekend, and is one of the most active participants of our Refuge service each Thursday.

We saw another old friend this week who preaches about Jesus all the time...but also gets caught up in the street life. He asked about Krista, saying  that she had such a big impact on him and would call him out on the sketchy activities he was engaging in and taught him so much about the Bible and God. He jumped in on our prayer time right away when he saw us, just as an old friend would.

Today my friend "Jake" prayed with me over the phone for a situation with a friend and his words showed it was clear that he's drawing nearer and nearer to Jesus and trusting in him more all the time. 
These were just a few examples of the evening, but there are plenty more. I often get so used to what our relationships have become, that I forget where they started. When I do, and I think about how these people used to think, act and feel, I see God's hand powerfully at work in their lives.

But it's not easy...and some of this has taken place over 3 years. And I've grown in the process just as much as they have. I think about what my pastor told me about his friend who has lived and worked as a missionary in Hong Kong for over 20 years. She grumbled to him one day about "short-term missionaries": people who stay only about 10 years. It makes you laugh...but then it makes you think. 

"Missions" or "ministry" is not short-term or one-time. It's an ongoing, every day, messy-part-of-your-life-process. But be patient. And look back to remember in order to continue ahead. God is always at work.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

My friend Jeremiah wrote the following as part of a blog about this past week in Hollywood and church....

...I absolutely marvel at what happens every Thursday night on Santa Monica Blvd in Hollywood! Every Thursday for the past five-plus years, a small team of young people (many of whom are white college students from affluent homes) have assembled on a street corner in the middle of the night, prayed publicly, and then went and mingled with the prostitutes, drug dealers, addicts, transgenders, and other outcasts of society.

I have witnessed countless illegal transactions and scantily clad boys. I have been spit on and cussed at. I have been solicited by dealers and prostitutes, and harassed by security guards and the police. But I have also seen lives changed. More than once, I have seen someone become pleasantly surprised when they learned that the enjoyable conversation they were having was not with a fellow street person but with a Christian who drove 40 miles (each way) in the middle of the night just to show them the love of Jesus. I have a handful of stories I can tell of real growth and restoration that has occurred in the lives of these people that society wrote off years ago.

Mind you that we encounter many people on the streets and it's not like they just decided one day to have a sex-change operation, start snorting cocaine, and begin selling their body to strangers on the boulevard. Every person has a unique, and always sad, story about how they came to be who and where they are. Most were abused or abandoned at a very early age. Many people we encounter are bitter and resentful. They gave up hope long ago and don't want any pity or help from us. They do their thing and we do our thing. It's a minority that accepts us and talks with us.  It is this minority, and the prompting of the Holy Spirit, that has kept us coming back each week.

 There were just two team members last night, me and Holly.  After praying, we quickly went inside the donut shop and bought some drinks and began seeing some people that we did know. We talked to some people we hadn't seen in a while about recent family issues, recent deaths, stints in prison, and more. Holly and I made a point of inviting at least three people to our midnight church service - and  loudly enough that everyone around got the invite as well. One guy heard one of my loud announcements, and drunkenly turned to me and asked "You guys gonna have pizza tonight? I haven't eaten in days."

No one wanted to follow us, so Holly and I walked down to where the church services are usually held, bought a dozen donuts, and proceeded to sit on a window sill and talk while we waited to see who would show up. After roughly ten minutes, a group of people rounded the corner and approached us. There were six people. We smiled and greeted them and asked if they came for the donuts. Four of them said, "We came for donuts and to hear the sermon." The other two said, "We came just for the sermon."

We all gathered in a circle, held hands, and prayed for the food. Then everyone sat and I gave a sermon. As I often do, I left the sermon open for discussion. So, in the middle of it, one guy asked who wrote the Bible and another guy mentioned that his favorite book of the Bible is Revelation. Two people in particular reminded me of elementary-age kids in a Sunday School class. They added their thoughts to the lesson and wanted to make sure they answered every question I asked. They were proud of their involvement, excited even.

The six people who came to the service last night left with an air of accomplishment, a bit of a glow even. They had learned something new and seen old things in a new way. A part of them had been cleansed a little such that they were refreshed. They said they'd be bringing more people back next week, because lots of people need "this".

Allow me to put all this into proper perspective; most people who linger in our area of Hollywood do so for one of the following reasons: to buy or sell drugs, to buy or sell sex. That means that it's highly likely that these people put off making financial transactions long enough to come and hear a message about God. When was the last time that you left your cubicle, your shopping cart, your check stand, your desk, or your place in line to attend an impromptu church service? If someone approached you next week at your place of work or while you were out shopping and invited you to a 15-minute Bible study in a parking lot, would you consider that an inconvenience or an opportunity that's worth putting everything else on hold for?

Only God knows what's going to happen to these six people and what exactly was going through their heads last night, but one thing is certain. They felt that the word of God was worth forgoing all else, at least for a moment, in spite of any temporary inconvenience...

Friday, June 25, 2010


I often pray: "God, give me opportunities to be your hands and feet today", and ask him to open up doors to share the truth and love of the gospel. Then I walk out the door and my mind is quickly consumed with thoughts of me - my plans, my problems, my agenda.  I walk to the gym or run an errand to the store or go to meet up with a friend, and anyone who gets in my way or makes me slow down is suddenly a nuisance. And I wonder why I don't have more chances to tell people about Jesus. 

Thursdays are a constant reminder to me that it's all about making ourselves available. If you really break it down, all that Broken Hearts really does on a Thursday or Friday night is carve out some space and time to make ourselves available to whatever God wants to do. No agenda (except for midnight bible study) or place to go. Just blocking out time to hang with people and intentionally starting up and building some relationships, sharing about Jesus at every opportunity. 

It makes me realize that being "on  mission" or sharing the gospel isn't really so's just that we don't make the time or opportunity for it. I find if I'm just hanging out somewhere or wandering the streets without any real destination, it's easy to enter into conversation with all types of people. 

If someone asks me for money on the way to the gym, I might stop to talk if I'm having a good, seriously-filled-with-the Holy-Spirit kind of day, but most likely I'll politely let them know I don't have any money on me and continue on my mission to workout. Yet when that same scenario happens during Broken Hearts, it can turn into an entirely different matter. 

As I approached Del Taco last night, I saw that I was the first one there. Before I'd stopped walking, a tall, could-be-a-bodyguard sized African American man standing in the parking lot hit me up for cash. I didn't have any, as all I'd brought with me was my keys and phone. Though he wanted a little money, after a few moments of talking, it seemed like the conversation may have been wanted even more, because he barely mentioned the money again. Instead told me all about his homelessness, playing the rap game, and ranting about trying to make it in the music business and the politics that go with it. He told me many stories about friends and family who will barely help him out as he's struggled with trying to pursue his dream, and how they all want something in return. 

His vocal adherence to one or two points may have been due to the influence of alcohol making itself known from his breath as he stood very close to talk....but the issue seemed to be a legitimate hurt. "Terrell" paused briefly to meet Antquan and Katrina when they arrived, but otherwise just continued venting to me until Antquan finally called all of us together to pray. He repeated some of his sentiments to the group until Antquan politely interrupted to pray. 

Before Antquan had even finished praying for Terrell, he interrupted to thank God and thank us for praying for him. He was so encouraged by the prayer and intercession on his behalf he just had to shout out a praise. He apologized for interrupting, but said it just meant to much to have someone pray and ask God to watch out for him. That it was more than any of his other friends had done or given to him. 

He didn't stick around much longer because he had to catch a bus. But for just a few moments that night we'd been able to share some love, compassion and the peace of God with Terrell. Which is more than I can say for my other days most weeks. All just because we were standing outside of a Del Taco with no plans other than to love God and love people.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Harsh Realities

Oh, the crazy realities of Hollywood life.

When I got home yesterday around 2pm, I kept hearing helicopters and police sirens nearby, wondering where they were going and what was happening. I found out before hitting the streets last night that there was a shooting at an apartment complex just over on the next street. Driving to ministry, the street was still blocked off as a crime scene and news had hit the streets...

After splitting up into groups, Charlie and I went to talk to our good friend Jesse who works at the liquor store. He's been telling just a few people in our group about his past and some of the hard memories and issues he's been dealing with.  He had brought a few picture albums for us to look at of his junior high and high school days, filled with photos of his gang life, his friends and their guns, their tags they'd left on walls around their East LA city. It was crazy for me, someone who knows very little about this lifestyle, to see the reality that many young guys live...

Arriving at bible study, our small group had somehow brought a crowd of at least 10 people, several whom I'd never met or had only talked to once before. Many left before we'd finished, as people often do, but many also hung around afterward to talk and pray. One asked about Michelle's cute pink bible, and she gave it to him to keep. He later told me about dealing with the loss of a family member and best friend and how hard that's been.  In particular, I didn't have any incredibly deep conversations, but did have a chance to simply get to know a few of these guys and build rapport. The more I'm out there, the more I see the importance of this, even if the "spiritual" conversations don't take place for a few weeks. Because building that trust and friendship opens up the door to even more impactful converstions.

For instance, I've recently been spending more time with our friend Jake, who by this point  of knowing him for close to a year, will specifically ask my opinion on various issues in his life, because he values my opinion and actually cares to hear what I have to say because he knows I care deeply about him. That's the place I would love to be with more people. Where they know they can trust me, and therefore actually want to hear my opinion about their choices, decisions or questions and allow me to speak truth into their lives.

In the middle of a conversation, Jake actually showed up on the street (where we never see him anymore because he's trying to stay sober and out of this lifestyle). He was in a panic about not being able to get into the place  he was staying, having his cell phone stolen, and having no idea what to do. After letting him use my phone to call a short list of numbers he'd gotten from a friend, and driving him around to find someone to help him or let him stay there for the night, he was feeling hopeless and panicked and that he'd end up staying up all night, using, and not being able to get to his job interview the next morning.

His options had run out around 1:45 in the morning, so my roommate agreed to let him stay on our couch for the night so he could get some sleep and get his head together for the next day...

Violence, crime, loss, pain, anxiety, shame, homelessness, desperation...these are everyday realities of so many people living in LA and Hollywood. Sometimes it feels there's so much need and so little we can do. But we can always make Jesus known...taking hope and love to those crying out for it. We may not be able to save everyone's lives. But we can point them to the One who can.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Share Your Story

Before we could even gather as a group and pray last night, we strolled up to Del Taco to be met by three guys, one we'll call "Ely" and two of his friends I'd never met. We see  him on a regular basis, but at least he and I don't talk much. He usually seems to be preoccupied with friends or business or going somewhere, so I've never spent too much time talking to him. 

Last night, however, he was in a great mood because his 21st birthday was just hours away, and he was ready to chat it up. He told us how he wants to live for Jesus, but couldn't point out a single thing in his life that indicates that he's trying or believes it's really important. He told us about how right now he's doing things that aren't great and concerned with things that don't matter. 

At about the point I wasn't quite sure of what else to say, Michelle jumped in with her own story of when she stopped living for Christ and started living for the world. She shared how empty it was, how much she regretted spending those years in that way, and how much better life has been since she surrendered it all back to Christ. And about the fulfillment and peace and true joy that has come for living for Jesus alone. 

I already know that sharing our own stories can have huge impact on people. But it was a great reminder to me. Michelle or I could have told him that following Christ produces that joy, that  life is full of blessings when we're living for him and not ourselves, that it's so much better than living for drugs and alcohol or anything else. But when Michelle told her own, unique story, the look in Ely's eyes showed that it had a major effect on him. "That sounds exactly like my story," he said. As she talked and I glanced back to him, his demeanor had changed. He was intensely focused, his eyes looking a bit misty, like something she'd said had struck a chord. 

Just a few nights before, another one of our friends we'd met here called me, having suicidal thoughts and feeling hopeless about his life. Something he said made me decide to share a story from my experience at Columbine High School, and the instance that the thought of God was all that kept me hoping. This made him want to hear the full story of my experience of the shooting at my school. At the end of it all, he said hearing that helped put things in perspective for him. That he'd never been through anything like that and couldn't imagine dealing with that kind of trauma. How it was so encouraging to hear that I made it through without turning to substance, because that's all he would have known for how to cope. 

In my  perspective, all I'd done was share a story I'd told a million times and didn't seem all that extravagant. But to him, hearing my story of pain and trial and how I got through it had a big impact on his situation, and he encouraged me to tell the other people I meet on the boulevard. 
Two simple instances of telling people what we'd experienced...not long, drawn-out, dramatic stories, but just a shared experience with someone who needed to hear. I've been reminded lately that we all have some type of story, no matter how simple or trivial it may seem. And sharing it can have more profound impact than we would ever guess. 

"But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have." 1 Peter 3:15

Tuesday, April 27, 2010


A few weeks ago, a girl in the donut shop stopped me mid-conversation and asked if we help people find housing. We spoke a bit about her needs, her challenges (just getting out of jail) and how we might be able to help. She left early that night to get some sleep, but I saw her the following night in the same spot, where our conversation continued. A friend and I chatted with her for a while about her desire to find out more about God, her needs for housing and getting off of the street, etc. She wanted to come to church, but didn't show up that Sunday when I went to get her.

Later that morning I received an email that she'd tried to come but the clock on the computer she was using was behind and so she missed meeting up for church. The following week, I saw her on Thursday again and, after having her fill out an intake form so we could help, she ranted and raved about why programs restrict  drugs, why they're not bad, why the president and cops and so on are not doing any good and don't help people like her; how she doesn't want to be told what to do, how God has let her down and she's anti-Christ...but still interested in finding out more about him. It was one of those times I felt I just needed to listen, as irrational as some arguments were and despite multiple questions she was firing off  without much room for me to answer. At the end of the night she said she still wanted to come to church. But once again didn't show up.

This past week, I didn't see her on the street, but she called me Friday morning to let me know she'd found temporary housing. She'd had a dream about me and it made her decide to call. We spent some time just talking and catching up, before she once again asked if she could come to church. She promised she'd be there this time (again). Sunday morning, right on time, she was there waiting.

Unfortunately she'd stayed up all night and was so tired that she slept through most of our church gathering. But she also said she had an amazing sleep and it felt like she was in Heaven. Afterward, she and I and two others went out to lunch. At this point she was much more awake and we were all able to hold a great conversation. Once again turning to drug use, our friend 'Jake' was able to speak to her in a unique way because he had been exactly where she was. My friend Branden was able to speak some truth and call out some issues, but in a gentle way that she seemed to truly hear. We talked about many topics, from God to drugs to relationships and desire for friends. And had many humorous moments as well as we talked and talked over Mexican food.

She realized some issues with drugs and problems they can cause....realized there might be something to another way of living based on the way our lives seemed to be going (which was huge!) ..and asked to hang out with us and come back to church again. On the drive to drop her off, we kicked back in the car, jamming to the music on the radio and having fun.

I couldn't help but smile the whole ride. Our day had been amazing - great conversation that flowed naturally, awesome dynamics between four completely different individuals, and a lot of fun. She may have fallen asleep during our church service, but surely she did not miss out on Church that day. God was present, and I couldn't be happier to be a part of His ministry.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Livin' the Dream

Taken from my personal blog, regarding ministry this week:

Somewhere along the line, God changed my dreams quite  a bit. Sitting in a grey cubicle at work, I often day-dreamed of an afternoon at the beach instead of sitting at a desk. But  as time progressed, especially on a Friday after a night of street ministry, those dreams became more about being in Hollywood and having time and availability to spend with the people we met.

Well, this weekend I got both.

The joy of working at home is that, on Thursday when I had some work to do, I headed to the beach to get it done out in the wonderfully warm weather. That night, I went out to Broken Hearts for street ministry, where I had several memorable encounters. First, I saw a guy I haven’t seen in weeks but pray for often, and got to catch up with him  a bit. Just seeing him again was great, as was knowing that now I have much more opportunity to spend time with him if he ever wants to hang out because I live in the neighborhood.

During that conversation, a girl interrupted us as we talked about church, asking if we do housing for people. That led into a conversation about the help she needed and how we might be able to help. That’s rare – people don’t just ask for help unless they’re really ready. In fact, that’s my regular prayer, that God would send us just those type of people…the ones so hungry for change and help that we don’t have to offer or convince them of anything because they’re desperate enough to ask. Which also means the chance of sustained and lasting change is much more likely, because we’re not coercing, we’re simply available to help in their need.

Tonight, a friend was visiting, and after coffee and dessert, we couldn’t decide what to do with the last hour or so of our night. We decided to take a stroll and go by way of the boulevard, just to stop and say 'hi' to a few people and see the Friday night Broken Hearts team.

We ended up seeing that same guy friend mentioned previously, which then led to us seeing a few other people we know and getting to catch up with them as well. But it also took us inside the donut shop, where once again we ran into the girl who’d asked for help.

For the next 30 minutes, my friend and I got to hear more of her need and situation and talk a bit about God. Which, again, she brought up and we didn’t even have to. She asked about going to church and agreed to meet up this week to come with me to church where we can start the journey of meeting both spiritual and physical needs.

Our plans didn’t quite pan out tonight like we’d planned…but clearly God had something much better in store. And it brought me so much joy to simply take a stroll late at night, and end up seeing the Broken Hearts crew and many friends on the street who, normally, I’d have to wait a week to see.

We encountered someone in need and got to talk and pray with her, journey the streets and wander in areas that Broken Hearts always avoids. Because now it’s not just an intimidating, unfamiliar neighborhood, but it’s my home and much more comfortable to spend time in.

The idea of “incarnational ministry” has appealed to me since I heard the concept in those terms. It swirled in my mind as a longing and dream for over a year…and now I get to see it lived out. Not quite what I had planned, or could have ever imagined for myself.  This move, this crazy neighborhood, this cut from full-time to part-time work…it’s a far cry from the beach house and comfortable life I always planned on. But now, this is what I call “livin’ the dream”.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Not what we planned on...

This past Thursday was just slightly unusual...

Antquan and the men's bible study was going late, and I had lost my garage door opener and couldn't get out to the streets without a ride. So Jeremiah was the only one there around 11pm. He texted that there was a bomb at Del Taco and they were making everyone leave the area. So in a flurry of phone calls, texts and confusion in the midst of noisy helicopters, we all eventually ended up at Antquan's because no one could get to Del Taco or nearby.

Apparently, one of our friends who is a security guard had told Jeremiah about the bomb and that he'd have to leave. We arrived at Antquan's at the end of their bible study and all made ourselves at home. Our friends 'Ravi' and 'Romeo' ( who we'd just re-met a few weeks ago in need of help) were there, along with Antquan, Jorge and Antquan's friend Branden.

For the  next several hours, our group comprised of Biolans, cross-country visitors and Skid Row-and-Hollywood-dwellers ate pizza, played Monopoly, and talked about what was going on in our lives and got to know each other better.

Not exactly what we had planned, but often those chill times of hanging out and experiencing warm, loving community and fun are more powerful, bonding and trust-building than anything we could have planned.

Monday, March 29, 2010

The Value of Listening

The following is adapted from a blog written by Jeremiah Jenkins, part of the Broken Hearts team - a recap of this past Thursday night. 

When I arrived on the streets of Hollywood last Thursday to meet up with the rest of the Broken Hearts Ministry team I quickly encountered a drunken man stumbling down the sidewalk toward me.  I made eye contact with him as we approached each other and he seemed to have enough sense to fall onto a windowsill before I passed, presumably to avoid falling on me. As I passed him we made eye contact again and I smiled but we did not exchange words. After I had passed I heard him shout something angrily at me but I could not make out his words over the sounds of the rushing cars. Seconds later I met up with the team... who was being told a thing or two by a second drunk man.

The second drunk man, whom I will call 'Mike', was having a mostly one-way conversation with Antquan,  shouting his opinions and random thoughts to everyone within earshot.  In lieu of trying to do a play-by-play of everything said, let me just say that Mike has a lot of anger directed at a lot of people groups, but most of his anger is reserved for religious people and wealthy white men.

Antquan politely excused himself from the conversation with Mike but Mike was not interested in being quiet. Antquan tried to get us organized and lead us into prayer but Mike's shouting made it extremely difficult to focus on anything else. Eventually, I broke from the group and tried to lead Mike away to talk with just me. He wasn't interested in an audience of one though so he sidestepped and otherwise ignored me. Then one of our friends from the street helped me out by standing directly between Mike and the group.At one point Mike stepped directly into the center of the group and I gently tugged at his shoulder to nudge him out, to which he reacted with a swift turn and an angry "Don't touch me!" That was the last time I touched him, but I never stopped trying to maintain eye contact with him.

In case you are wondering, standing face to face with an angry drunk man in a parking lot late at night is just as scary as it sounds. My heart was trying to escape my chest nearly the whole time and at certain points I thought perhaps that it had succeeded. The whole time, though, I prayed. I prayed for safety, discernment, and wisdom. In trying to keep Mike from disturbing the rest of the group, I continually insisted that if he wanted to vent he should direct it at me because I was ready to listen. After several minutes of our sidestepping game of cat and mouse, he calmed down and had a seat on some nearby grass. I followed him and postured myself as if to say "Okay. Here I am. I am all ears."

Before Antquan and the rest of the team dispersed, Antquan came by and invited Mike to join us for pizza later. My immediate gut reaction to Antquan's gesture was, "Are you kidding me?! Have you already forgotten the last 20 minutes of madness?!" But then that internal voice went away and a softer but firmer voice said, "God loves this man just as much as you and everyone else. Regardless of what society thinks, no one should be excluded from God's love."

So I spent the next twenty to thirty minutes sitting with Mike on the grass hearing some of his complaints. I also listened to some heartbreaking stories. After a while he felt guilty for some of the things he had said and done moments earlier so he said, "I don't really hate God and I am not an atheist. I have just had a lot of bad experiences with church and religion. I wouldn't say I love God, though, either."

When midnight finally came around, I tried to wrap up the conversation and reminded Mike of the invitation to join the group for pizza. As he stood up, though, his personality seemed to shift. He insisted he needed a cigarette and after being denied by a few nearby club-goers he resorted to picking up used cigarette butts from the asphalt. Then he started shouting at the club-goers, the same remarks he had shouted at us earlier. As we slowly made our way down the street, Mike shouted at every single group of people. I felt like a parent with an ornery toddler in a grocery store. I was a little embarrassed.

In addition to shouting at every group we passed, Mike seemed to waiver about whether or not he actually wanted to join our team for pizza. He wanted the pizza and wanted to express himself but he was hesitant to get involved with a church group.

When we did finally approach the team, the Refuge service was already in progress. Mike spotted everyone and seemed to shift into automatic. Can you guess what he did? ... He quickly walked away from me and straight to the group where he started right into another one of his rants about how rich people suck and how our group, by extension, is personally to blame for all that is wrong with society. My thought as I witnessed this happen before my eyes was "Oh no!! What have I done?! I have brought a curse on our group!"

Some folks from the streets had joined the team for the church service and some of them shouted back at Mike. . I thought for sure that something very bad was going to happen... but it didn't. Mike realized how outnumbered he was and he went away. I was then able to join the team, for the first time, for a calm discussion.

Almost immediately after the group discussion ended and we broke up into smaller groups, Mike returned. This time, Antquan took on the role of listening to Mike's rants but he also offered him some pizza and since there was no large group to disrupt he did not try to push him away.

Frankly, only a small part of me saw much hope with Mike. Although there was that period where he had sat and entrusted me with certain secrets from his past, he had switched gears moments later and became "angry Mike" again. In my limited-capacity mind, I thought, "Once a drunk angry man, always a drunk angry man."

Fortunately, that night, I acted in accordance with my hopeful self. I acted the way I felt God wanted me to act. I listened and I empathized with Mike. I truly felt sorry for him and I know that my face expressed that to him. In fact, moments before we approached and disrupted the church service we stopped on a street corner and I faced him while he ranted. His complaints were totally legitimate. We maintained eye contact and I connected with his pain. My skeptical self, the part of me that would have wanted nothing to do with Mike, took the night off.

Eventually, at 1:30 AM, I went home. When I left I think Mike was sitting on the sidewalk with a few last members of the team. The next day I received the following message from one of my teammates, Michelle. I will close with this because I believe it speaks for itself.
Jeremiah- the time you invested in Mike last night, God really used, in a bigger way than we will ever know. I know God used all of us in his life last night. He continued to hang out with us on the street till we left at around 2:30am. He asked us "why did you guys give me the time of day, and listen to me? No one listens to me. Why did you want to hang out with me?" We just said "because we love you, and God loves you even more." He teared up and thanked us.

Saturday, February 27, 2010


One of the reasons I was drawn to Broken Hearts, and continue to be, is that there is a level of rawness to the people hanging out on the boulevard. Everyone, from them to cops to the community, knows what goes down on that street corner and the type of people who hang out there. So there's no hiding. Most people are pretty open about their illegal activities, as well as their brokenness. 

I hear people who have been on missions trips to third-world countries feel similarly - that people are so down and out that it makes it much easier to reach them. Yet in Hollywood, we're not seeing hundreds come to Christ like you might on a trip to Africa or India. And it finally clicked me with the other day that while people are openly broken, they've also got up some of the thickest walls you can imagine.

For some reason I think I've often taken that rawness for transparency and vulnerability, but I think I was wrong (as I often am about my thinking in this ministry). Last night Antquan explained to some new volunteers the idea of the people we meet being in imaginary prisons, like walking around with a cage around them that they think they'll never get out of, and that others can only enter into so far without the key. But that finding that key is the hard part. I'd never heard him explain it quite this clearly before, and it totally captured what I was wrestling with. 

One of the first barriers is getting people past years of learned thinking that this way of life is just how it is and there's no getting out, and now it's just learning how to survive in that jail cell they carry around with them all of the time. Which, from the brief counseling knowledge I've acquired, probably takes a loooonng time to get through. Then there's finding that key. How do you find it? What unlocks the cage? How many failed attempts will there be? And do they even want you to unlock that cage? 

Last night I spent about a half hour with a guy I've known for a while, hearing about how he's abstained from meth for a month already, but is high on weed 24/7, according to him. I tried to find out more, like why he feels the need to be high all the time. After peppering him with questions (only because I know subtlety doesn't work too well with him, especially when he's already high), the furthest we got was that he can't deal with people when he's sober. Without saying much, it was clear there's probably all kinds of hurt and issues that he just can't manage with a sober mind, so he has to cover it up with some kind of drug, even if he's clean of meth. 

That's how many of my conversations go...ask questions, try to hear what they're not saying, and not get very far. They might be open about what they do and their sin, but try to get to the reasons why, and you run into that nearly-impenetrable wall with no key in your hand. 

I believe more and more that two factors - the Holy Spirit, and time - are the only things that will break down these walls. I really wanted the chance to simply pray with our friend last night, but didn't get an opportunity. Because my words and questions can only do so much, but the Spirit has a completely different kind of power that can break through those barriers. And despite the lack of opportunity to pray, Antquan's sermon spoke perfectly to what we'd just been discussing, and he actually stayed and listened to the whole thing. Antquan had planned it earlier, had no idea what "Jay" and I had talked about, and yet God used the perfect words to solidify his message through us.

As far as the factor of time, continuing to get to know him, sharing our lives, letting him see how we live ours, and loving him through the day-ins and day-outs build trust and leave an open opportunity for that day that he just needs to have someone hear him out. But that might not be for months or years down the road. I know that because I've seen it happen with people...after months of befriending them and getting the short, simple, safe answers, someone will eventually take away one of those bricks from their wall and let you - and Christ -  in just a little bit further. And if I've learned anything, it is to be faithful to our calling just as God is faithful to us. Because when someone's ready to come to Him, he's there to set them free.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Good Discussions

Church on the street is great.

These days, I'm fully convinced that going out and being the church and meeting people where they're at is how the church should really be. But I had never really thought about it before Broken Hearts, and so I'm just lucky that I sort of stumbled onto it and am now part of a church expression that I value so highly.

The past few weeks, there have been a lot of people at The Refuge service at midnight. We'd had many weeks of 1-2 people in addition to our team, but these days the numbers have grown. But what I really love about it is seeing who shows up and how the discussion goes. Several different weeks, we've had individuals refuse to come to Bible study, totally disinterested...only to show up on their own accord.

This last week we had a few returners, who also brought disinterested friends with them. I'd asked a guy hanging out with us on the street corner if he'd come, and he kept saying no, although we did get to chat beforehand. And lo and behold, he not only came but fully participated in the service.

We had another guy come, and his face looked vaguely familiar, but it took me a long time to talk to him  because I was pretty sure I hadn't met him before. But as soon as I introduced myself and asked if we'd met, he said, "yeah, I'm "Ty", but I met you a while ago going by "Anthony"". Then it all came back to me, I knew exactly who he was - odd, because we'd only spent one night talking and I hadn't seen him since. But amazingly, I still remembered who he was and bits of the conversation we'd had. In fact, I'm pretty sure I had written about him on this blog.

The last we'd talked, he was temporarily homeless. He was really down and struggling a lot, and just trying to find a place to live and maintain his job. We'd talked for quite a while, prayed, and exchanged phone numbers. He called me a few days later letting me know he'd found a temporary place to stay. And I never heard from him again. When I met him this week, he was living in an apartment by Santa Monica beach, still holding his wonderful PR job, and seemed very happy with things. He also joined The Refuge and was a big participant in all of the discussion.

Please pray that these great discussions would not only serve to educate, make people think, and bring people together, but that they would always result in the opportunity and acceptance to hear the gospel and receive God's Spirit.

Sunday, February 7, 2010


I feel like I haven't written in forever. I suppose because the past few weeks have been fairly mellow and not particularly unusual.

Jeremiah has not really preached during The Refuge, but rather read through a chapter of Genesis and then we've opened it up for discussion and questions, which has actually been very cool. While teaching is necessary, it's also cool to see how taking a break really does bring out all kinds of questions. But rather than Jere just answer everything, the people who come to the bible study also participate in answering questions and giving their opinions. From 'did dinosaurs exist?' to 'why did God put a tree of good and evil in the garden?', we've had some great discussion.

But it always strikes me that some of these people on the street know the bible and have thought about these things just as much as us. Yet their lives don't match up to their knowledge. Granted, ours often don't either...but I think our desire to change and live by the spirit is the difference. The Spirit doesn't seem to be a part of their lives...or something. I can't judge each person and act like I know their spiritual life, but can a good tree bear bad fruit?

I'm just praying that so many of these who join us each week and hear the Word of God would actually internalize it, receive the Holy Spirit and be transformed for his glory.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

All Kinds of Backward

Things seemed to be  reversed on the street this week. While Fridays are normally busy and crowded, Thursdays are pretty chill. But this week the Friday team said that almost no one was out, while the Thursday team had more than enough people to interact with (especially considering there were about 4 of us).

As we got across the street to the donut shop, I immediately recognized several people. Strangest of all was a transgender we've known for a long time, who we'll call "Nancy". He's typically dressed in short skirts, hair all done or a wig, lots of make-up, etc. This night - probably one of the most extreme changes I've ever seen - he was completely the opposite, in the most dude-ish of ways. His head was shaved, no make-up on, baggy sweatshirt and shorts. I'm surprised I even recognized him, but I did, and we exchanged brief hellos, as he seemed otherwise occupied. I desperately wanted to ask him about the change, but didn't get a chance between other conversations and him coming and going. If I find out, I'll be sure to write about it here.

Inside the donut shop were several of the younger guys we often see, who we quickly started up conversation with. Midway through that, another transgender - very pretty - sat right by us and joined in the conversation. I'd never met "Stacy" before, but he said he's seen us several times but never talked to us. Tonight he was very friendly and we chatted for a bit before I invited him to come to bible study. He said he'd like the free pizza, but didn't want to stay for the bible study. So, rather than be disrespectful, he just wouldn't go. I rarely hear that...most people are happy to take the food and run. It was refreshing to have someone express some sense of respect for "church" and God. A few other guys were there at the same time, who actually seemed somewhat interested, but also didn't really want to come.

In the midst of that conversation, I saw our friend "Jay" outside, who motioned that he wanted me to come out. We caught up for a bit, hearing about what was new with each other, in between guys rushing around and stopping to say something to Jay every once in a while. White guys, no less, which always looks weird in this area. Clearly some time of drug deal was going on around us, but I couldn't quite tell what all the commotion was about. So, we just went on talking about his desire to stop using meth - mostly for health reasons - and about the possibility of rehab. Though it was a good conversation, I told him I didn't think he was ready and wasn't going to quit. I could tell he didn't want the sobriety that bad. And if someone doesn't desperately want it, it's not going to happen. Even if they do, it's still nearly impossible at times. But I told him I'd follow up soon to see how that was going and see what kind of rehab he might be able to get into.

Though the talk was good, I was aware the whole time that, at least at certain moments, I'm pretty sure he was talking to me just to keep him out of trouble with the cops around. I don't think that's the only reason why he had started talking to me, as we are friends and usually chat. But the whole situation was just sketchy....and looking back, though I was very mindful of all going on around me, it probably was not safe in any way. Especially because the guys I'd come with were inside the donut shop, and as we headed to bible study, I realized they'd left without me. But in my lovely naiive fashion (which to-date has not hurt me, praise God!), we walked down the street to bible study.

It was a pretty good crew this week, probably close to 10 of us at the Refuge service. And amazingly, just as we started to pray for the pizza, "Stacy" walked up and joined us. He ended up not just coming to get pizza, and not even just staying for the service, but staying afterward to chat! That may sound small, but for someone to come on their own accord when they've already expressed disinterest - that's just crazy! Most of the time even the people who promise to show up don't. Unless we drag them there, haha.  He and I talked for probably a good 20 minutes afterward. Apparently he grew up in church (like many out here), and believes in God and the bible, but explains himself as "spiritual" and that he's happy because he's found himself, despite lots of hardship and trials.

It's hard for me to look in the eyes of someone who's not fully man or fully woman, and believe they've found themselves and know who they are...but I hear that fairly often from some of these people. When we try to be something or pursue something other than what God created for, it seems that to some extent we are restless until our rest is in him (thanks, Aristotle). So, we pray for Jay and Stacy and Nancy and all of those caught up in the crazy lifestyle of Hollywood and Santa Monica Blvd, that they would come to know him and truly find themselves in Him.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The End of a Life.

The following was written in conjunction with Jeremiah Jenkins, one of our faithful Thursday night volunteers and Refuge "preachers".

Death is unfortunately common on the streets of Hollywood, thanks to the proliferation of disease and murder. On Wednesday, a few of us found out that the life of one of our friends from the street, Andre, was lost to complications from drug use, HIV and pneumonia. The memorial service was held on Thursday, just hours before our team went out on the street. As we received phone calls from some of our friends, and walked the streets on Thursday, we encountered several mourners (please pray for all of them!)

One of those was our friend "Jonah", who has been hanging out with us more and more, desiring more church and interactions with God and other Christians lately. He had a picture of Andre from his memorial service and aside from a security guard that my group talked to for a while, most of our time was with "Jonah". His good friend's death had caused him to think even more about death, heaven, hell, this life and how we live it. This sad occasion had opened his eyes even more (and probably many others) to the dangers of living our lives however we want, pursuing every pleasure and using little caution. As I shared with him, I was reminded myself of how God sets up rules for us, not to be a killjoy,  but to protect us. He shows us His love in that way - by setting up boundaries from things that will hurt and damage us whether physically, emotionally or spiritually.

 By God's divine "coincidence", the sermon prepared by Jeremiah before he even knew about Andre's death, happened to be about death. The scripture passages included Luke 12:13-21 and Luke 9:23-26. The former passage tells the parable of a rich man who lived only for selfish gain and whose death came abruptly causing all of his hard-earned wealth to fall into other's hands. The latter includes some of Jesus' words to His closest friends right after He has told them about his own imminent death: "...If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it. And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but are yourself lost or destroyed..."

As Jeremiah spoke, I had to smile (internally at least) at how so much of what he was saying and reading from the bible was addressing questions that Jonah had just been sharing. There weren't many of us at the bible study this time, but it almost seemed like God had prepared it just for those who did attend.

God has given us all a second chance at life and Jeremiah got to share that part of his story with everyone who attended the Refuge service. (The sermon is available online to watch atanytime: )

Death is not something that most of us choose to dwell on, but it is inevitable for everyone regardless of how much we try to avoid thinking about it. Last Thursday presented an opportunity for all of us to consider our own impending death and reevaluate the focus and purpose of our lives. Many of us spent several minutes talking about Jesus' words after the sermon.

 As we asked ourselves how we were living, the reality of the recent death of Andre made our answers all that much more important. How about you -  What are you living for? And will it suffice when your life ends at the judgement seat of a holy God?