Monday, September 29, 2008

Skid Row - Part 1

A dear brother in Christ, Dan, is a senior at the Masters College in California. This semester, he's been involved in a ministry that goes out to the notorious Skid Row area in Los Angeles, to share the Gospel of Christ. They go out on Fridays and Dan writes an online journal on Facebook afterwords. I asked him if I could post these here because they've been very insightful and eye-opening. Enjoy.

Hey everybody,

I'm going to start posting notes about Skid Row. These are not in any way for bragging or looking good, but just to share my experiences down there with you. I hope that it is encouraging and challenging. Please pray for the groups that go down every Friday night!

Skid Row – September 5-6, 2008

Tonight I stepped into what felt like another world. At about 9:00 PM I stepped out onto Skid Row. Skid Row is where the greatest concentration of homeless people is found in L.A. From what I am told, it is the greatest concentration of homeless people anywhere in the United States. A group of college students from TMC goes down every Friday night to pass out tacos from Del Taco and talk with people, trying to show Christ’s love physically while at the same time pointing them to the Gospel and their spiritual need for a Savior. This was the first night that I went.

We parked in the underground parking lot at City Union Mission. After praying together, we took an elevator up and exited the building. The word that comes to mind that best describes the atmosphere is “surreal”. The street was lit well enough to see but the poor lighting cast a strange tinge on everything. Tents and cardboard boxes lined the sides of the street. As the night went on I realized that however strange and removed this place seemed, it was very much a reality and filled with people who desperately need the Lord.

I was in a group with Siona, Corrie, and Katie. We talked with a gentleman named “Si”, “Like yes in Spanish”, as he said to us. He was sitting in his tent selling cigarettes and paper flowers in plastic tubes. I didn’t realize until just as I was writing this that these plastic tubes were the same tubes being used to smoke crack. The girls kneeled down to share with Si and his companion, a woman, in the back of the tent. I stood and kept an eye on all that was going on around us.

Siona was to my left being approached by a man with an almost-empty bottle of Jack stuck in his sweatpants. He began to tell us about how we were doing things all wrong – that we “needed to be living like the people, in tents, smoking crack, etc. etc. etc. because that’s how we would be in tune with the truth and communicate love”. I can’t recount everything that he said, both because of the blasphemy and the language and the utter confusion of his theology. He was funny at times, and Siona and I did laugh at some of the statements he made. The sad thing was to see someone who knew so much about the Bible, and so many true facts, but at the same time be so utterly lost and blasphemous in his drunken state. Corrie attempted to counter his false utterances, to no avail. I suspect that in situations like that it is better to listen, learn, and pray for the unreceptive spirit demonstrated. He continued for a good twenty to thirty minutes.

As all this was going on I was struck with the feeling that I was in a whirling cloud of wickedness. A couple feet away was a panel van, and men were coming in and out of it every couple of minutes. I suspect that it was either drug related, or prostitution. Three feet behind me a car played loud music, and several men were gathered around the car “getting their groove on”, very drunk. A very tall transvestite walked up and began to say the most grossly immoral things I’ve ever heard someone say. I didn’t turn around and see all that was happening, but just the thought that directly behind me a man was propositioning himself to men, directly to my right a man was drunk and blaspheming and twisting truth and Scripture and mixing it with utter lies. As we continued listening to Israel (the man with the bottle of Jack and the grievous understanding of Scripture) a man behind me apparently tried to make a move on the transvestite, because I was bowled into when the transvestite shoved the man into me, almost creating a domino effect and sending Corrie and I into Si’s tent.

Eventually Israel left, and I talked with Siona about what had happened. He told me that in situations like that he is constantly praying for grace and wisdom when to speak and when to keep silent. I told him that even though Israel was so lost and blasphemous, some of his comments had some truth. If we are going to reach these people for Christ, can we do so by coming from Santa Clarita once a week, only to return to our warm homes with internet access and soft pillows? When we prepare for foreign missions, we learn to live in the geographical and cultural reality, and trusting God to protect us in his sovereignty, we go. We send people to China, Baghdad, Northern Africa, and hostile tribes across the world, where death, disease, and hunger are very real prices paid for sharing the Gospel. However, I can remember being told on many occasions things such as “Oh, you’re going to downtown KC? Keep your windows rolled up!” Would I be willing to learn to live among the thousands of homeless people in L.A., risking my life and health, in order to share the gospel? Would any of us? If not, are we being inconsistent? Prejudiced? Cowardly?

After Israel left, we moved a couple feet down the sidewalk and were able to talk to a man named Clarence and his wife who were from Tucson, vacationing! He told us of his belief in God, and what he knew. The girls told me later that the woman was a believer, as far as they could tell. She suffered from a football-sized tumor and bleeding ulcers, causing her incredible pain. We were able to give them tacos and pizza. Siona and I saw the girls praying for the lady so we asked Clarence if we could pray for him. I placed my hand on his shoulder and began to pray for him, thanking the Lord for his belief in Him, and asking that God would continue to reveal himself to him and that he would become His child if he was not already. Instantly a man who I’d seen walk by before with a couple people ran up, and joined our “prayer circle”, asking us to pray for him to quit smoking. He was quite noticeably high. He placed his hand on mine, which was on Clarence’s shoulder. Siona prayed for that man. I kept my eyes open, keeping an eye on the girls, and saw that a man was hunched down right behind our prayer group, between the wall and Clarence’s tent lighting a plastic tube filled with drugs. I saw his hazed look almost instantly. It was incredibly sad, because the look I saw in his eyes a hopelessness, a “now what” expression as the drugs took over.

We moved over a couple more feet to talk to a young man named Louie, sitting on a suitcase wrapped in a blue blanket. I had seen him roll up and settle in, with a look of feeling all alone in the world in his eyes. We gave him tacos and conversed with him. He was from L.A. He was less than 24 hours sober, really hoping to get out of drinking and off the streets. I was a little concerned with the way we interacted with him, but I think that he heard a clear presentation of the gospel. He said that he had been saved and baptized. I don’t think he was a believer. I asked if I could pray for Him, and again prayed that God would be merciful and that he would come to know Him as Savior.

By now we had spent three hours talking with people, making only about 30 feet of progress or so down the sidewalk from when we began. The other groups were starting to come, so we finished for the night and headed back to TMC. We arrived on campus around 1:00 AM, but sleep didn’t come until 3:00 or so, because my roommates and I were debriefing our experience together.

I’m looking forward to going back as often as I am able. While maybe I didn’t feel safe, I certainly didn’t feel unprotected. God was with us. I’d like to write some more about what evangelism (around Santa Clarita as well) has started doing in my walk with God, but for now I wanted to get this out there so that 1) I wouldn’t forget the details, 2) You will pray for us as we do this and 3) You would think over some of these things that are rarely thought of.

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