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: http://vimeo.com/8613292 )

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?