Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Skid Row - Part 2

September 12 – 13, 2008

I went to Skid Row for the second time tonight. I think we had even more people this time, somewhere around forty people. We went to Del Taco where I had some fun putting together a makeshift mariachi band with some friends, making different instrument sounds with our voices and yelling occasionally like mariachis do! After that I got back on the road with my buddy Blaise and two other gents, Travis from TMS and Tim, and we headed down to City Union Mission. I appreciated his patience with me as I cruised the radio stations for quality Mexican jams. It was fun times in the “pod” (aka Honda Element).

I got to be in a group with Travis, Ashley (from Mexico City), and Savannah. We prayed then headed up to the street. Once again, it seemed so foreign and surreal in a lot of ways, tents lining the streets, people milling about. It was a quieter night. A lot of police were patrolling the area, which might have had something to do with it.

As soon as we began our walk we saw two transvestite men lingering by the side of the road. We offered them tacos and they accepted. We didn’t stop to talk with them, and it’s been bothering me all night. I admit that I was repulsed, but these guys weren’t on drugs or alcohol, and would have been coherent enough to understand what we had to say, regardless of their openness to the gospel. I’m praying hard that God would show me wisdom in handling that sort of situation in the future. I want to love people enough that no matter how repulsive or frightening their sin, I will still reach out to them and share the truth with them.

About then, I saw a man I recognized. His name is Chris, and I had the great pleasure of making his acquaintance last Friday. Chris is a believer who spends his nights preaching to the homeless people on Skid Row. He is uniquely qualified for this task because he used to be one of them. I don’t know much of his history, but from what I hear he has an apartment in the area.

What was so funny is that Travis, the seminarian, didn’t know Chris, and started sharing the gospel with him. It was actually another man that pointed to Chris and said “You should tell him about Jesus”. Chris totally pulled Travis’ leg, saying “Jesus – who’s that?” He kept looking my way and grinning – actually, he’s always smiling but he had that look in his eye like “Yeah, you know it”! Travis started sharing about Adam and Eve, and sin, and Chris kept throwing him curveballs ("Adam and Eve?", "You believe God told a bunch of men to write that book?"), seeming to be a very lost soul to Travis but totally playing “devil’s advocate”. I was trying not to blow his cover, but then one of our TMC guys walked by, looked back and said “Chris, he’s preaching to you?” and started laughing. About that time a bunch more people walked by, giving Chris hugs and saying hey. So the cat was out of the bag. Chris tagged along with us, and spent much of his time discussing the method of evangelism with Travis. They didn’t see eye to eye – it was interesting to me to see the seminarian meet the street evangelist, and to see how their respective Scripture knowledge compared/contrasted. I tried to soak up what I could from Chris’ experience on the streets and how he approached people with the gospel, with gentleness and with boldness, the balance of the two looking different depending on the situation.

We made it a little further down the road this weekend. I passed Clarence’s tent but it was zipped up. We crossed the street and kept offering people tacos. I actually saw the man who came up and asked Siona and I to pray for him when we were praying for Clarence. He was smoking a cigarette and didn’t appear to be on drugs. I didn’t get to talk to him. I’m not sure he remembered me, but he did raise his hand to me when I did so to him. We tried to offer a taco to a girl sitting on the sidewalk with her back to the wall. She refused, to hazed by the drugs she was smoking. Chris preached the gospel to a man standing next to her. It was so cool! He was very direct and confrontational, but the man was very open to listen to him, perhaps because of Chris’ ever-present smile.

About that time we met a lady named Maria. We offered her a taco and actually talked to her for the rest of our time there, probably an hour and a half or so. Ashley and I spoke to her in Spanish, Savannah tried to keep up the best she could listening. Maria is from Sonora, Mexico. Skid Row has been her home for ten years, out of the forty she’s been in the States. She is a house cleaner but doesn’t get paid regularly. She spends her nights inside at 38th and Broadway, but tonight she was trying to get in to a mission in the area we were at. She said most likely she’d have to sleep outside. After chit-chatting for awhile, we asked her if she attended a church, she said no. She said that she’d tried to commit suicide on the train tracks a couple of times and was rescued. Some of her attempts at suicide had left her almost dead in the hospital; three times she told us she’s felt herself “fading”, only to come back before dying.

I was able to share a very thorough gospel presentation with her, talking about how Jesus is our hope and telling her the story of how in Him we can know the end of the story (either Revelation 7 or 20 – eternal life worshiping the Father, or eternal suffering in the lake of fire). I explained how Jesus came to earth to show us the Father, and to die for our sins. Even though we explained that eternal life and peace and joy are found in following Him as Lord, and that a life without hope that ended in eternal suffering was to be found without Him, she wasn’t really interested. She said she didn’t think she could really do it and be faithful. She said she didn’t really think God forgives sin over and over. My heart broke for her, because even though we were showing her these things from God’s Word, the eyes of her heart were very clearly blinded and unable to see them (2 Corinthians 4:4). We prayed for her, that God would save her from the streets, but more importantly that she would repent and turn to Him. After that we talked for quite a bit longer. She warned us that further up the street it’s “really bad, that’s where they inject drugs into their veins”. I hope that our group has the opportunity to reach out to those people as well, as I know some have in the past.

As we were talking to Maria, a fight broke out in front of a mission we were near, a guy walked by and laughed, “free for all, just like the wild, wild west”. Periodically as we talked to Maria, people would walk by and say “Get out! Take your lies somewhere else!” cursing and hurling insults at us and the God we represented. It was an honor to receive these insults for the sake of His name.

A black man walked up and began to rant and rave, repeating over and over “Lies! Lies!” and going off about how white people used this religion to enslave his people. His language was foul and his attitude dripping with hatred. Chris, who is black, stepped in and was actually pretty funny as he countered the man’s assessment of Christianity as “white lies”. The man pointed out all the cops, and Chris made a fake “duck and run” laughing and eventually ignoring the man, explaining to Travis as he did so that sometimes it’s ok to just let people talk. After the man finally left, Chris told Travis, “Even though I don’t like you, God told me not to let the man walk all over my brother like that. I don’t like you – cuz you’re from Oregon, and you’re a Beaver (college football), but you’re my brother and I love you”.

That was the end of our night. Every time I go I can’t wait to go back. Every minute down there is worth it, and the benefit that it has been to my own faith and my own desire to dig into God’s Word even more has been incredible. We serve Jesus Christ, our hope ( 1 Timothy 1:1)!

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