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.