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